Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

When I moved to Oxford I brought many baking supplies with me, including several essential American ingredients – chocolate chips, flaked coconut and natural peanut butter. I also brought slivered almonds, pistachios, cardamom and gum arabic for Indian mithai. I also transported a few cake tins, loaf pans and a baking sheet. The other night when I had a craving for chocolate chip cookies, I was devastated to find that my baking sheet was too large for the tiny oven in my kitchen.

Not one to be easily thwarted, I decided to make chocolate chip cookie dough and bake it in a brownie pan. I concocted a fairly traditional cookie recipe, which I am sure would taste even better with coconut or toffee chips. The upside of this method is that you have only a single pan to clean.

On an entirely different note, my friend Natalie sent an email on Monday to ask if I had a pumpkin recipe to feature this week in celebration of Hallowe’en. I referred her to my Spicy Pumpkin Gingerbread which is ideal for the fall and winter. Watch this space for other pumpkin desserts (including a pumpkin cheesecake) just in time for American Thanksgiving.

2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter and line a 9x9 inch pan with wax or parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, mix flour and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla and beat again.
4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Fold in chocolate chips.
5. Using the spoon or your fingers dipped in cold water, evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until lightly browned - 20 minutes for super chewy bars or 25 minutes for more crisp bars.
6. During cooking the edges of the batter will bake unevenly, causing the batter to rise up at the sides. To prevent this, wrap aluminum foil around the edge of the pan so that it shields the edges of the batter. This will ensure more even baking.
7. The mixture will be quite soft when it comes out of the oven. Let it cool for an hour or two, and then cut into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Spicy Hummus

Today I present one of the staples of my kitchen – hummus. I must admit that I usually purchase this from the grocery store, although it is very easy to make. Hummus is common to the cuisines of the Middle East, though I could not find much information about its origins.

This humble spread is incredibly versatile and I eat it regularly as sandwich filling or on toast, even better with fresh or roasted vegetables. It is also great with crackers, fresh or deep-fried pita, falafel and crudités. My friends John and Andrea recently served hummus paired with cubes of feta cheese – a lovely and unusual combination that I highly recommend. And today for lunch I had a hummus and harissa sandwich - a combination suggested by my friend Sarah.

Most store-bought versions have much more oil (and calories) and less zing than this natural version. The only downside is that, without preservatives, this home-made hummus will not last beyond one week in the refrigerator. I wonder if it can be frozen?
Makes about 2 cups

16 ounces chickpeas, drained and rinsed (pictured above)
3 tablespoons tahini
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
about 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon paprika, for garnish
sprig of parsley, for garnish

1. Place the first seven ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until well mixed. Add water as necessary, and add more than 1/2 cup if you prefer it to be less thick.
2. Garnish with paprika and parsley and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

It is officially Chocolate Week in the United Kingdom. Although it's a transparent ploy by food retailers to get people to purchase even more of their goods, I succumbed to the mania and made this simple, flourless, cinnamon chocolate cake.

The word chocolate comes from the Nahuatl word xocolatl, meaning "bitter water". The Aztecs and Mayans both associated chocolate with fertility, which is not dissimilar from our current associations of chocolate with sex and love (think Valentine's Day). New research shows that the Olmecs were the first to cultivate chocolate. These cultures consumed chocolate exclusively as a drink, often mixing it with chilli, vanilla and spices. Cocoa beans were also used as currency.

Like many products from the New World, the chocolate industry flourished through colonialism and slavery. Spanish colonizers introduced chocolate as a luxury for their monarch, and it was later used by the Catholic Church and the Spanish aristocracy. It was a hundred years before chocolate became popular elsewhere in Europe.

With the invention of the cocoa press, chocolate became a good for broad consumption. It was widely produced as a powder and paste, and was noted for many medical purposes including improving digestion, stimulating the nervous system, and encouraging breast milk production. In 1847 Fry's chocolate factory in Bristol, England produced the first chocolate bar for general consumption.

This cake takes inspiration from modern Mexican chocolate, which is a mixture of bitter chocolate, sugar, cinnamon and sometimes nuts. It is extremely rich and dense, and is an ideal post-dinner dessert. It can be served with whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt (or Greek yogurt, which is thicker), sour cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 12

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
6 eggs
confectioner's sugar and cocoa for dusting (optional)

  1. Melt butter and chocolate in the microwave or on the stove top over very low heat. Make sure not to burn the chocolate. Allow the mixture to cool while you prepare the cake.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and line a springform pan (9 or 10 inches in diameter) with wax or parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
  4. Add the butter/chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour batter into the pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature. This cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to one week. Bring back to room temperature before serving. Dust with confectioner's sugar and/or cocoa before serving. Serve with some sort of cream or yogurt, and dust with cinnamon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mango Ginger Pavlova

I am back from a glorious trip to Tuscany and the Italian Riviera (will post photos soon for those that are interested). I am confident that reflection on the many delicious things I ate will provide inspiration for new recipes. I am now living between Manhattan and Oxford for the next few years and I hope to bring you even more food from Europe.

Summer was officially over a month ago, but I didn’t have time to blog about this lovely pavlova I made for a dinner party in early September. I hope you will indulge this last wisp of summer scrumptiousness which I had promised in an earlier posting for meringue cookies.

A pavlova is a meringue topped with cream and fruit. Like a number of Antipodal treats, including Anzac biscuits, there is some controversy about its origin. What is clear is that the dessert is named for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (pictured above - can you see the similarity?), and is said to have been created by a Kiwi chef during the dancer’s 1926 visit to Wellington. The Australians dispute this, though the earliest known reference is in a 1929 New Zealand magazine.

Like many good things from the colonies, the British have fallen in love with and popularized the pavlova. My introduction a decade ago occurred in Cheshire, England at the home of my friend Marilla (who now happens to live in New Zealand). And last week my friend Emily invited me over for dinner and served a spicy Thai curry followed by mini pavlovas (store-bought meringue called a “meringue nest” topped with Greek yogurt and her mother’s rhubarb and peach purée).

Serves 6

6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup candied ginger, finely diced

1 large mango, diced
1 pint blueberries, washed and dried
1 pint raspberries, washed and dried

1. Preheat oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add sugar slowly and continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

3. Spoon mixture onto parchment paper creating a 12 inch circle with a slight, broad depression in the center (see photo above).

4. Bake for 90 minutes. Leave meringue in closed oven for a further 120 minutes. The meringue should not darken. If it does, the heat should be reduced to 150 or 175F (see photo above).
5. Carefully fold cardamom and ginger into whipped cream and spoon the mixture onto the cooled meringue.
6. Decorate pavlova with mango, blueberries and raspberries. You can use many types of fruit. Kiwi fruit, passionfruit and strawberries are popular.