Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hot Drinks for Cold Nights

Now that winter is really here and making itself a true pest, it's time to ramp up your repertoire of hot beverages. Besides the usual coffee and tea (my favorites are Earl Grey and Lady Grey), don't forget hot chocolate.

If you want to make a real treat rather than just something sweet, do yourself a favor and dump the little packets. Make some hot chocolate from scratch -- it's easy and so much better than the mix. There are a million recipes, but I like this one from the Hershey's Dutch Processed Cocoa container.

Hot and Creamy Cocoa

2 servings

3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar and cocoa in saucepan; stir in water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; stir in milk and heat. DO NOT BOIL after milk is added. Remove from heat; add vanilla.

Of course this is just a base for all sorts of variations. Give it some Mexican flair by adding cinnamon, or a grown-up kick with Kahlua or some other complementary liqueur. But now for something completely different ...

Here's an unusual treat that I found on MyRecipes.com recently. The combination of white chocolate and ginger is inspired in a hot drink -- the spice of the ginger intensifies the warmth of the drink and gives it a depth beyond the sweet smoothness of the chocolate. This is a Cooking Light recipe so it does use skim milk; of course you could use whole or any other type of milk. Also, I have used a good-quality, fresh powdered ginger in place of the fresh in a pinch, but fresh really is wonderful.

Hot White Chocolate with Ginger

Cooking Light, Dec 2002
8 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

2/3 cup chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
8 cups fat-free milk
1 cup chopped premium white baking chocolate (about 4 ounces)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is golden (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Add milk and chocolate, stirring with a whisk. Heat over medium-low heat to 180° or until bubbles form around edge of pan, stirring frequently (do not boil). Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Baby don't you cry, gonna make a pie

If you've seen the film Waitress, you know that the title of this post is also the first two lines of a song the eponymous waitress sings as she ... makes the pies that she loves to make. Pie IS a glorious, fabulous thing, sometimes shunted aside in favor of its showier cousin Cake. A good pie is heaven-sent, though, and should never be taken for granted. I think we've gotten used to the excuse for pie we're often presented with: Frozen, commercially-prepared products that may satisfy a sweet tooth but which fail to live up to the wonder that is good pie.

I could spend an entire post on the home-made vs. store-bought crust issue; let's just say I've availed myself of both. When time and circumstances permit, though, home-made is definitely the way to go. Don't let Fear of Piecrust stand in your way, though -- if using that frozen pastry crust or packaged crumb crust gets you into the kitchen to make a pie, then by golly go right ahead. I won't look askance.

For the holidays recently I made four different pies (plus a cake). Thanksgiving was a mincemeat pie, because that is my mother's favorite for that holiday. The filling was packaged but the double crust was made from scratch. The other Thanksgiving pie was a two-layer pumpkin: A cheesecake-like layer topped by a fairly traditional pumpkin layer. The crust for that pie was also from scratch, using the same recipe as for the mincemeat. I'm told the mincemeat was good -- I didn't have any -- but I did love the pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie - King Arthur Flour

The pie crust itself is a bit of a story. I didn't make the crust recipe that was part of the pumpkin pie recipe; instead, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible. The recipe, while not more difficult than others, has more steps and takes more time. Still, I think the results are worth it and it's my standard recipe. I plan on making some others for the sake of comparison (for example, Cook's Illustrated's version that uses vodka instead of vinegar). The techniques and science behind Beranbaum's is sound, though, and no matter what recipe I use in the future I'll carry what I've learned from her with me.

Basic Flaky Pie Crust - Rose Levy Beranbaum
(NOTE: I use about half the amount of vinegar called for in the recipe, and sometimes omit the baking powder, esp. if I want the crust to hold a decorative shape.)

I made the second two pies for Christmas dinner. I was in the mood for some old-school, diner-type pies, and I thought these fit the bill. The first, a coconut cream, used Beranbaum's crust again. While my parents and I like coconut and are especially appreciative of a good coconut cream pie, my siblings are strongly anti-coconut. So, I knew that pie was going to have a limited audience. The second pie was destined to have broader appeal because it was chocolate -- a real old-fashioned French Silk pie.

French Silk has gone out of style -- indeed, it can be hard to find a recipe for it -- because it calls for raw eggs. We now have pasteurized raw eggs available, though. I have heard of people using Egg Beaters or the like as well, but I haven't tried that myself. A French Silk pie is beyond decadent, though, without being heavy like the leaden, almost bombastic death-by-chocolate sort of desserts that are so popular. Creamy and, well, silky, a French Silk is everything a pie should be.

Instead of a pastry crust, I used a crumb crust made with the Nabisco "Famous Chocolate Wafers." I also grated dark chocolate over the whipped cream rather than making the chocolate curls.

French Silk Chocolate Pie - Pioneer Woman blog

Coconut Cream Pie - Bon Appetit