October 27, 2010 § 7 Comments
I can recall exactly two times when and places where I have loved donuts. The first was at 6 a.m. on weekend mornings, when my parents dragged me out of bed and into the car to head out of the city for my swim meets. We would stop at the Safeway by our house on the way — the only time in my childhood when I was allowed to eat this kind of junk food — and I got to pick out two donuts. One was always an old-fashioned glazed donut, which remains my favorite to this day, and the other was some variant of yeasted donut, chocolate-iced maybe, maybe dipped in sugar other times. When I stopped swimming, these donut trips stopped coming too. The only other times I have excessively enjoyed a donut were as a high school senior, when I used to run down to the Irish donut shop with my then-boyfriend. He always got the complicated ones — the apple turnovers and the cream-filled, glazed donuts — but I stuck true to my favorite, the maple-iced cake donut, which was topped with colorful sprinkles. I don’t play the field when it comes to my donuts.
Any other time I have eaten a donut, I have been disappointed by their dryness and have been left feeling predictably sick to my stomach. (Although Nopa once served these incredible, warm sugar-dusted donut holes alongside caramel sauce, and I’m a huge sucker for churros at the zoo, and I have been known to like Tim Horton’s chocolate donut holes, and I also tried deep-fried Oreos at the Italian Street Festival in NYC and will admit to liking them). I can’t say, with this challenge, that my opinion of donuts has changed all that dramatically. I stirred, I kneaded, I battled to the death with sticky dough, I tried it twice, I deep fried, I sugar dusted, I Nutella iced, I ate a couple, and then I wowed my French co-workers, who eagerly took them all off my hands to eat alongside the morning’s French-pressed espressos. The outside was a bit crunchier than I would have liked and the inside could have been a bit fluffier; maybe I’ll try making them again when I am home and not cursing the 12 inches of counter space I have here, but honestly donuts are not high on my to-bake list.
Still it was a challenge, and every challenge has its high points. For instance, I discovered that deep-frying is nowhere near as difficult or as messy as I thought it was. And the grease leftover quickly disappeared under the smell of warmed cinnamon-sugar, which instantly makes me smile when I walk into my apartment. Now if I could just have a slice of buttery cinnamon toast with that, I would say that this was a very successful challenge.
The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.
Preparation time: Hands on prep time – 25 minutes Rising time – 1.5 hours total Cooking time – 12 minutes
Yield: 20 to 25 doughnuts & 20 to 25 doughnut holes, depending on size
Milk 1.5 cup / 360 ml
Vegetable Shortening 1/3 cup / 80 ml / 70 gm / 2.5 oz (can substitute butter, margarine or lard)
Active Dry Yeast 4.5 teaspoon (2 pkgs.) / 22.5 ml / 14 gm / ½ oz
Warm Water 1/3 cup / 80 ml (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C)
Eggs, Large, beaten 2
White Granulated Sugar ¼ cup / 60 ml / 55 gm / 2 oz
Table Salt 1.5 teaspoon / 7.5 ml / 9 gm / 1/3 oz
Nutmeg, grated 1 tsp. / 5 ml / 6 gm / ¼ oz
All Purpose Flour 4 2/3 cup / 1,120 ml / 650 gm / 23 oz + extra for dusting surface
Canola Oil DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you want THREE (3) inches of oil (can substitute any flavorless oil used for frying)
1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. (Make sure the shortening is melted so that it incorporates well into the batter.)
2. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. It should get foamy. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.
4. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (if you have one), combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.
5. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well.
6. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes (for me this only took about two minutes). If you do not have a dough hook/stand mixer – knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
7. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
8. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch (9 mm)thick. (Make sure the surface really is well-floured otherwise your doughnuts will stick to the counter).
9. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) doughnut cutter or pastry ring or drinking glass and using a 7/8-inch (22 mm) ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
10. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 °F/185°C.
11. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side or until golden brown (my doughnuts only took about 30 seconds on each side at this temperature).
12. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.
October 25, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The days here are shortening, it is almost dark by the time I get out of class, and the cold nips at my fingertips yet I have not yet made it around to buying myself a pair of gloves. And I realized, as I hailed a taxi at 5 a.m. on Saturday, that the days of walking home across town in the middle of night are over. The kind lady who pulled over even though I wasn’t at a designated taxi stop had the heat turned all the way up and greeted me in a gentle, sing-song voice, saying that I would be her last passenger of the night before she returned home to take care of the kids while her husband went to work. I woke up three hours later, freezing in my own bed — I didn’t discover the heating system in my apartment until last night —, and dragged myself, bundled in an assortment of workout gear and jackets, onto the Metro to La Defense.
A short walk along the water found me at the boathouse: it was windy, slightly sunny but so, so cold. We took out a rickety pair, the footboards and seats barely attached, and rowed around the 4k loop, struggling and swerving in the stretches against the wind, before docking it a haphazard manner, barely avoiding getting pushed into the shore by the wind. We were glad when our feet hit ground again, grateful for the cup of coffee a British man purchased for us in the café above the boathouse, and then we were trust back out into the cold and the drizzle for the walk back to the Metro. All other plans for Saturday were scarified in favor of my bed.
But Sunday, I got an early start. After a full week of being sick and spending most of my free time lazing around in my loft bed, not fully sleeping but definitely not entirely awake, this weekend was a welcome change of activity. Slow paced activity. I put a bar of creamy, milk chocolate in my purse and set out across the river to the 11eme. A lazy look around Victor Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges. I saw a great depiction of Hugo’s Les Misérables by the Théâtre du Soleil called “Tempête sous un crâne” a few weeks back. Then a short walk to la Bastille, during which I ate a fudgy macaron noisette from Gérdro Mulot (the first macaron I have ever truly loved, but then chocolate-noisette might be my favorite flavor in the world so it hard to go wrong). I stopped at a vendor at Place de la Bastille to buy cinnamon, scooped from a large bin, and dates, for this cake I’ve simply been dying to make, before watching the children run towards in the carnival stands on the Bastille circle — food vendors selling churros and popcorn. There seemed to be much more interest in the food than in the carnival games of shooting hoops and the like, the kind where the prize is one of those huge stuffed animals that, right then, you desire oh-so-much but you never really look at again after that special day you won it.
On the way home from the Bastille, I snapped these pictures of the Sunday dancing at the bottom of Rue Mouffetard. One older woman keep swaying arbitrarily by herself while people coupled up to dance which made taking pictures quite difficult, but I found it hard to fault her for that.
Then just as I was getting settled back into bed for the rainy afternoon, I found myself dashing out the door for an impromptu coffee date with that cute waiter in the Quartier Latin right before his shift started. And somehow, the café went down better than usual without the crème. Hmm maybe I’m getting better at this French thing.
I would swear off cream in my coffee forever if I could have this cake with it every morning. Who needs cream when you have this?
Cinnamon-chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
The only changes I made were to substitute yogurt for the sour cream, which I haven’t been able to find out here, and add some dates because I ran out of chocolate. Mine didn’t bake up quite as pretty; I’ve been having some problems with my electricity these days, which likes to shut off at inopportune moments, like when my cake is in the toaster oven.
115 grams or 1 stick unsalted butter
300 grams or 1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
225 grams or 16 ounces sour cream/plain yogurt (If using yogurt, add an extra teaspoon of baking soda)
390 grams or 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
225 grams or 12 ounces chocolate chips
100 grams or 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar, then mix in the egg yolks and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and baking powder. Alternately add sour cream and then dry ingredients into butter mixture. Beat eggs whites until stiff, then fold into batter. Mix last 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon together in a separate, small dish.
In a greased 9″x13″ pan, pour in half of the cake batter. Sprinkle the top with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and half of the chocolate chips (and any other add-ins you want, such as a dried fruits or nuts). Pour remaining batter on top, sprinkling the top with the remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate chips.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
It was dawn when I awoke in the small room we had reserved in Marseille, the second largest town in France after Paris, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I dressed in my warmest fleece — though it was not too warm as I had been expecting beach weather — grabbed a couple mini pain au chocolats from the breakfast spread downstairs, and a tartine spread with blueberry jam, and struggled outside into the cold. I walked down rue Edmond Rostand, back under the arch welcoming you to the Quartier Antiquares, to the old port, where hundreds of leisure boats were tied up for the night. I took shelter from the wind at the Bar de la Marine, where I took a café crème at a small table alongside half a dozen old weathered men, who were reading the newspapers and making short comments to each other. Every time another man walked in, he would go around the tables shaking hands with them all, before grabbing seat. Obviously, a regular Saturday morning habit.
News of the French grèves topped the front pages of every paper, with an expected street demonstration in the afternoon, and the men commented that, in their days, they would never have asked to be paid for a strike day, which is one of the reasons people are still protesting. They handed me the women’s fashion section and then seeing that I was more interested in the news, gave me that one too. One man’s dog — a black furry little thing whom I initially thought was named Milou, like the dog in the TinTin comics before realizing that it was actually the bar patron whose name was Milou — came and sat beside me, quite still, just gently resting on my leg. And that is how the day woke in Marseille.
I walked by the water, taking in the fishermen haggling their morning’s take with passerbys and a couple of others selling good luck charms to tourists. I stopped at a market vendor for a hazelnut macaron, a rustic, hearty little cookie, which could not have been less like the refined Parisian macarons. For which I was very glad. I split two loaves of bread — one cheese-topped olive loaf and one flakey cheese twist — with a nice woman who wanted to try both at the Marché Castellane and then there was a slice of pizza, one of Marseille’s specialties, from a truck vendor on the Castellane circle. Next, we headed out to the Palais Longchamp and a walk around the area nearby, where we found the Eglise Saint-Vincent de Paul. A short Metro ride took us up back to the Vieux Port, where we intended to walk around the Quartier Le Panier.
However, as it was already the middle of the afternoon, the demonstrations were in full force. The grèves over the retraite conflict in France have come to a head, with on-and-off ground transportation for the past week —mostly canceled trains and the Metro running about half of the time —, thousands of people demonstrating in the streets almost every other day and the front pages of every newspaper in the country devoted to the multitude of issues, opinions and standpoints on the age of retirement and government finances. This can make it difficult to move around and between cities in France. While I admire the fact that the French public can be so impassioned over an issue of importance in their lives, so much as to take to the streets and demonstrate — I’m not talking the one-day protests you often see in the United States over one human rights issue or another, but real demonstrations with fire, chants, speakers shouting over the crowds and students bellowing campaign slogans to popular tunes — it is hard to not become increasingly frustrated with the situation. We took shelter by walking the length of the port to the Palais Pharo, climbing to the top and looking out over the Mediterranean waters. The wind was strong on the cliff, blowing in harshly from the shore and we soon decided to look for better shelter.
Dinner was bouillabaisse at Chez Michel on the cliff. Perhaps we went in with some grandiose expectations of bouillabaisse, and left a little disappointed with what is said to be one of the best ones in town. Perhaps I simply fail to see what the big deal is about fish stew.
The next morning, we took a bus up to Aix-en-Provence. A long lunch of tea and salads, with creamy fresh mozzarella, thick slices of salami and prosciutto and fig jam at Le Palantino. A quick stop for a cone of hot, freshly roasted chestnuts on the Cours Mirabeau. Most vineyard tours were closed as it was Sunday and lavender season is long over, so we opted for a 6 euro ride on the little train which took us more or less in little loops around the old town. Walking around on our own proved more fruitful: we stopped at La Cure Gourmande where they eagerly walk around with tins of sweets, shoving one cookie or chocolate after another at you for tasting. And really, who could deny them that. Finally a real lemon tart, without all that excessive sweetness that is meringue, at Paul Patisserie. Then it was to Les Deux Garçons, an old brasserie frequented by many famous writers, for a final cup of tea before catching the 7:15 p.m. bus back to Marseille.
Unfortunately, the bus didn’t have the same plans and was delayed until about 8 p.m. This meant a lot of time spent freezing at the bus stop in which we made friends with the boy sitting next to us. Turns out he was going back to Marseille for school — he is studying to be a watchmaker, which is his passion — after having been home in a small town outside Aix for the weekend. When we disembarked the bus in Marseille and were saying goodbye, his face light up like a little kid’s on Christmas and he declared that he had a present for us. A little bit of rummaging around in his bag later — during which I was sure he was going to produce either a watch, or a bag of candy — he produced a bottle of wine from his hometown of Luberon. And, as my friend said, you can go from loving the French, to hating them, to loving them again, all in a day’s travels.
October 6, 2010 § Leave a Comment
October 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
You know you’re in Paris when you are sitting in an open café at 4 a.m. across the street from a Metro station that doesn’t open for another hour and a half, taxis are nowhere to be found and you’re eating a lackluster tarte tatin — nothing like the beauties to be found at patisseries in the morning — alongside a steaming cup of chamomile tea with a spoonful of miel from a tiny glass jar. Just when you’re considering walking the two miles home in your 4-inch heels, and the boys in the convertible on the corner are trying to beckon you into their car, promising to take you anywhere you want to go, a taxi pulls up. Turns out it is the same man who fifteen minutes ago passed by, already with passengers, and has since been telling desperate people on the streets that he was reserved, just so that he could come back to pick us up.
If there is one thing I have learned in this city, it is to always keep smiling. Even if the British woman selling her wares at the flea market, desperately trying to be French, pretends she doesn’t know what you’re talking about when you ask for directions and can’t get past the issue of “are you American?” in her obnoxiously condescending voice, keep smiling. Because someone somewhere will take notice and help you out.
And there are a lot of reasons to smile in this city. From drinking chocolate at a patio café where the waiter takes a long time to bring the check because il “ne veut pas qu’on parte” to sitting on the edge of the Seine with a huge dinner crepe, watching the tourist boats pass by, food chews at the roots of all emotion in this city. And hurrying through the Jardin Luxembourg with my classmates from Boulevard Raspail to Rue Fouarre to the next class is never better than with a couple sweet treats in your bag.
I made these little brownies bites with dulce de leche in the center, mostly because I needed to use it up and I was craving chocolate. Unfortunately, I ran out of chocolate so these weren’t as rich as I had hoped, but they were good nonetheless.