26 November 2010

Subtle Coconut Cupcakes

Coconut cupcakes are usually my last choice on a cupcake menu. More often than not, they are cloyingly sweet and overly coconutty. But if that's what you like, you won't like my coconut cupcakes. No sweetened coconut, coconut cream or coconut extract--just a little unsweetened finely shredded macaroon coconut in a buttery vanilla batter. And a little of that same coconut, toasted and sprinkled over vanilla buttercream. Honestly, coconut is an assertive enough flavor; you don't have to beat me over the head with it!

And don't let anyone tell you cake flour, or at least bleached all-purpose flour, is a must. I've been using Bob's Red Mill organic unbleached all-purpose flour in my cakes for ages with excellent results. These cupcakes could not be more soft, light, fluffy, tender ... all those things they're not supposed to be with unbleached all-purpose flour.

If you like chocolate, these would be really good with chocolate frosting. How do you like your coconut cupcakes? Know what--if you like a big coconut flavor, why not try my recipe with a whole cup of coconut? Let me know how they turn out!

Subtle Coconut Cupcakes/Fairy Cakes
(Makes 24 plus several minis)

3 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 packed cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 to 3/4 packed cup unsweetened fine macaroon coconut

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 2½-inch paper bake cups in two standard muffin tins (and several mini liners in mini tin). In small bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs, 1/4 cup of the milk, and the vanilla.

2 In large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for one minute to "sift." Add the softened butter and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk. Mix on low speed until combined. With mixer on medium-high speed, beat for a minute and a half. Scrape the bowl.

3 Gradually beat in the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape the bowl. Stir in coconut.

4 Using a 1/4-cup measure, fill the bake cups with a scant 1/4 cup of batter (use 1 tablespoon for each mini). Bake at 350 degrees for about 22 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick (8 to 10 minutes for minis).

5 Immediately remove from tins and cool on wire rack for an hour or so. They must be thoroughly cool before frosting.

Buttercream Frosting
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound powdered sugar
1/16 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup unsweetened fine macaroon coconut, toasted and cooled

In bowl of stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Scrape the bowl. Add the salt, vanilla extract and milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You will likely have to add the liquid ingredients before adding all the powdered sugar. With a pastry bag fitted with a 2D tip, pipe closely spaced frosting flowers on cupcakes. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon toasted coconut on each cupcake.

16 November 2010

Wine - Justin Vineyards Visits Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

(Okay, I admit it, this post isn't strictly within my Comfort Food genre. But wine can be comforting, right? And I've always found a posh dinner very comforting.)

A wine tasting seminar, led by Justin Baldwin of Justin Vineyards & Winery, followed by a specially prepared vintner's dinner by executive chef Jamie West of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa got my week off to a great start. Held in the resort's Maravilla Restaurant, attendance was limited to about 70; and locals were joined by guests coming in from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange County.

The AAA 5 Diamond resort, a short drive inland on California's Central Coast, is elegant, yes, but with a laid-back vibe. My husband and I stayed there a few years ago and felt like we were in another world. Maravilla, the resort's fine dining restaurant, has that same elegant but relaxed ambience. The friendly, professional staff provides service that is impeccable without being ostentatious. I was delighted to accept their kind invitation.

Justin Vineyards & Winery, a bit farther up California's Central Coast, is entirely family owned and operated (I like that!) and its "main" wine, called Isosceles (after the triangle), is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.

I don't consider myself a wine connoisseur at all, but I know what I like. I enjoy tasting a wine with care, with and without food, and attempting to notice its characteristics. But I don't dissect it. And you'll never hear me using wine words like flabby or gamy or--heaven help us--naive, amusing or unassuming!

Justin Baldwin's tasting seminar was the best I've ever attended. He's so relaxed and imparts a lot of information for both the novice and the hard-core oenophile. So many people cannot talk about wine without sounding a bit stiff. But Justin, totally at home with his subject after decades in the business, is completely unstuffy. To my dismay, there were a few heavily perfumed people in attendance. I was very amused when Jason walked into the tasting room (the cozy Neff Lounge set up classroom style) and discreetly opened a few windows! (In case you don't know it--and apparently not everyone does!--wearing fragrance is not the done thing at a wine tasting.)

The Paso Robles appellation in the wine country of California's Central Coast is even larger than I thought, with 250 wineries and 30,000 acres of wine grapes. Cabernet sauvignon is the foundation grape variety of JUSTIN. Of the three wines in the tasting--2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Savant (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon--the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite.

Acclaimed chef Jamie West's dinner of what I called posh comfort food was fabulous, each of the four courses accompanied by the perfect JUSTIN wine. In the tasting seminar, Justin Baldwin said "We make our wines to open up and enhance dining pleasure." And that's just what they did!

Each food and wine pairing was so perfect, I could not pick a favorite from the four wines. The Obtuse was the big surprise of the evening for me as I had never before enjoyed a dessert wine half so much. The not-too-sweet, not-too-chocolately dessert, which would have been perfectly wonderful with a cup of tea or coffee, was even more so with the Obtuse. And the Obtuse, quite delicious on its own, was positively transformed by the chocolate fig bread pudding.

It was a delightful repast!
Chicken Roulade with Almonds and Goat Cheese
Pineapple Spiced Couscous, Apple Gastrique
2009 Chardonnay

"Pork & Beans"
Crisp Pork Belly, White Bean Ragout
Tart Cherry Reduction
2007 Justification (blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc)

Braised Veal Cheek
Root Vegetable Puree, Creamed Spinach
Blackberry Espresso Demi
2007 Isosceles

Chocolate Fig Bread Pudding
Mascarpone Vanilla Gelato
2008 Obtuse (Port-style fortified Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine)

12 November 2010

Pumpkin Pie with Gluten-Free Pie Crust

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite autumn and winter desserts. Sometimes I make sweet potato pie instead, if the Southern is coming out in me that day. But I make pumpkin when the Pilgrim genes are coming out (my paternal grandfather's people came over from England on the Mayflower).

Usually I just make a regular unbleached flour crust, but I had a special request from a friend who is seriously gluten-free. She's tried a few recipes that weren't entirely satisfactory in one way or another, so I set out to develop one I hope will please her. If you want to make regular pastry, rather than gluten-free, go to my Pecan Pie post.

Pumpkin Pie 

(Makes one 9-inch pie, 8 servings)

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell in glass pie plate (see below)
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) or 1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

1 Make pie crust as directed below. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2 About 10 or 15 minutes into the oven preheating and pie shell resting in the freezer, make pie filling by mixing the above ingredients in the order given in medium bowl; I use a 2-quart glass measure.

3 When oven is ready, remove pie shell from freezer and pour in the pie filling. As soon as you put it into the oven, reduce the temperature to 425 degrees; bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. After you've made pumpkin pie a few times, you can tell just by looking whether or not it's done. It should be fairly firm but still have a little jiggle left.

4 Cool on wire rack for 2 hours, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve with softly whipped cream. I sweetened and flavored 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 4 teaspoons of real maple syrup and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.


Gluten-Free Pastry 

(food processor* method)

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 10 minutes
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
Ice water to make 1/2 cup

1 With metal blade in place, add sorghum flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, salt and baking powder to work bowl of food processor. Turn on for three seconds to combine. Add half the frozen butter and process for 10 seconds or until mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Add remaining butter and pulse for six 1-second pulses, or until the frozen butter is the size of small peas.

2 In 1/2-cup measure, combine lemon juice or vinegar and ice water. Pour over all of flour mixture; pulse for six 1-second pulses or just until dough forms large clumps; do not over-process.

3 Do not refrigerate dough at this point as I do with regular all-butter pie crust. Turn dough out onto lightly floured (gluten-free, of course) surface--a piece of plastic wrap makes it easier. Form dough into a round disk, sprinkle lightly with gluten-free flour--topping it with another piece of plastic wrap makes it easier--and roll out to 12- to 13-inch circle. Transfer to Pyrex pie plate that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Crimp the edge in your favorite way, then pop the pie plate into the freezer while you prepare pie filling.

* I have the DLC-10E, which (understandably after all this time--I've had it since I was very young) is no longer available. See
Cuisinart DLC-2009CHB Prep 9 9-Cup Food Processor, Brushed Stainless and other currently available models.

05 November 2010

Hazelnut Shortbread - Variation on a Classic Biscuit/Cookie

Shortbread is one of the British classics I grew up with. Goes perfectly with a cup of tea! Whatever flavorings one might add, the predominant flavor of good shortbread must be butter. And I do mean butter; margarine will not do. My grandmother (from England's Lake District) was particularly fond of hazelnuts, as am I; so I decided to change up my usual shortbread with some Bob's Red Mill finely ground hazelnut meal.

It was delicious, perfectly scrummy, and a subtle enough addition to not overpower the aroma of butter as they were baking. (I say "they" rather than "it" because I prefer to cut the shortbread into individual biscuits before baking.) When developing recipes, I always cut back on the sugar as much as possible. This barely sweet treat has less than 1/2 teaspoon sugar per biscuit (that's British English for "cookie").

06/20/16 Update: You might also like to try my Earl Grey Shortbread.

Hazelnut Shortbread

(Makes 25 biscuits/cookies)

1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces/50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 packed cup finely ground hazelnut meal
1 dip-and-sweep cup (5 ounces/142 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 With electric mixer, cream butter well. Add sugar, vanilla extract and salt; continue creaming. Beat in hazelnut meal, then beat in flour. Scrape out onto piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap, shape into disk, wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

2 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. On very lightly floured surface, roll or pat dough into 1/4-inch-thick 7 1/2-inch square. Cut into 25 1 1/2-inch squares. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 16 to 18 minutes; edges will be just barely starting to brown.