Two Brown Girls

Two brown girls, two countries, and two kitchens in which to play!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

And Now Presenting... CCR: The Cracker Cookbook Review!

Long in planning and production, TwoBrownGirls is pleased to announce the advent of the much-anticipated Cracker Cookbook Review. Concieved, we believe, over several glasses of wine and/or loaves of LaBrea Bakery bread, the CCR is the lovechild of our favourite Cracker-in-chief, Katie.

Now, I personally like to think of Katie as our Cracked-out-Martha-stewart-wannabe-of-joy but that gets a little long, and so in the grand spirit of political correctness that embodies TwoBrownGirls we often refer to her simply as our Resident Cracker. In any case, CrackerKatie has decided to honor us with some words of wisdom on food and fabulousness. What follows is entirely her own creation, for which the TwoBrownGirls (sadly) take no (or very little) credit.

Cracker Cookbook Review
The Last Course: Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, Claudia Fleming

I live obscenely close to Campanile and La Brea Bakery, and eat at both frequently, so I am naturally a little biased towards Nancy Silverton when it comes to the Pastry Chef Death Match. Both have been going downhill since Nancy left them (Campanile in particular is really suffering) but I still have very fond memories of one particular lunch when everything on the dessert menu was so appealing that we ordered it all.

However, I think she may have been unseated (although I will reserve final judgment until I eat at the restaurant she is opening with Mario Batali) by the author of this book, Claudia Fleming. Reading The Last Course made me want to fly to New York and eat at Gramercy Tavern so badly that I was twitching. The beautiful pictures featured throughout the book definitely helped, but her recipes had a good dose of imagination that I have found lacking in many others. She is also not afraid to share (which is one complaint I have about Nancy Silverton, who has yet to publish anything that even hints at the recipes behind her brilliant composed desserts – Desserts by Nancy Silverton was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever purchased).

I happen to love the organization and format of the book – it is ordered by ingredient under sections like berries, stone fruits, and spices. Each recipe also includes suggestions of other recipes in the book to serve it with for a more complex or composed dessert. For example, with Banana Sorbet she recommends Pecan Sandies to serve; Caramel Blood Oranges for a complex dessert, or Extra Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet and Milk Chocolate Malted ice cream for a composed dessert.

While many of the recipes are not for a beginning cook, they are for the most part clear and not overly complex. The most forbidding thing to a home pastry chef would probably be time – the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Rose Gelee (which I then served with her strawberry sorbet) required several hours of resting and chilling as well as a full hour spent over the stove watching the wine and strawberries reduce for the gelee. While this may not be an issue for a restaurant cook (who is simply glancing at it while preparing other desserts) it is mildly annoying for the home cook.

Gelee and panna cottas before unmolding (in the final presentation, which I don't have a picture of because we scarfed them
down, the panna cotta is unmolded on top of the gelee with a scoop of
strawberry sorbet to top it off)

Despite the small difficulties, I still recommend The Last Course as one of the most outstanding dessert cookbooks I have ever used, owned, or looked at (and I have a ton. No, really). Looking at pictures of Orange Cardamom Shakes, Blackberry Napoleons with Orange Shortbread Wafers, Passion Fruit-Pineapple Sorbet, Sugar and Spice Doughnuts, and Gingersnap Ice Cream made me get off my butt and get on the treadmill so I could start making and eating them.

Strawberry Sorbet from Desserts of Gramercy Tavern
As Ms. Fleming points out, this is absolutely not worth your time unless you have flavorful, ripe, juicy strawberries from your farmer’s market. If you do have them, however, the result is sublime. I recommend Gaviota strawberries, as they are sweet, juicy, and make delicious sorbet.

Gaviota strawberries

1 quart hulled fresh strawberries
_ cup sugar
1 _ cups simple syrup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar. Let the mixture rest for 2 hours.

2. Transfer the berries to a food processor or blender and puree with _ cup water until very smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all their juice, then discard the solids.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the strawberry puree, simple syrup, and lemon juice. Cover and chill until cold, at least three hours, or overnight. Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Yield: 1 quart

Simple Syrup: in a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 _ cups water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup simmer for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and allow to cool. Simple syrup will keep almost indefinitely in a tightly sealed bottle in the refrigerator.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pie Redux

A while back we made apple pie. In fact, it was our very first twobrowngirls entry. We've learned a lot about cooking since then, and about blogging (though you wouldn't know it from the frequency of our postings), and it seems that we've been teaching a bit too. What follows is an Apple Pie Redux -- a series of conversations between myself and Keerthi's little brother detailing the many vagaries of apple pie baking. Enjoy!

Kiran wrote
at 8:47pm May 31st, 2006
Poonam, my sister said you had a really great apple pie recipe. She's totally shafting me on it and not helping me out. Do you have some magical recipe you could share?

Poonam wrote
at 11:53pm May 31st, 2006
see: for apple pie joy (enjoy!)

Editor's Note: The Apple Pie Recipe can be found in the September 2005 Archives

Kiran wrote
at 12:16am June 2nd, 2006
Thanks very much - I'll be making it very soon. How many did you guys make for Piefest '05? Or was it early '06?

Poonam wrote
at 5:15am June 2nd, 2006
it was '05... tips: 1. the apples from your backyard are totally fab for this, just make sure to weigh them out after you peel/core them not before. 2. the recipe really gives a lot more filling/crust than necc. we made (i believe) 2 large pies (one with a proper closed bottom and top crust and another with a bottom crust and a crunchy topping -- the closed one tasted better) and then a series of smaller "apple pot pies" in ramekins (which were basically surplus filling topped with a bit of dough). Everyone liked the potpies a lot, if i did this again i might just make like a dozen of those. If you want whole pies though, I'm pretty sure the recipe will give you enough crust for 2 bottom and top pies.

Kiran wrote
at 10:37am June 2nd, 2006
Sweet. I recall that the pie you all made was delish. Then again, I don't know if i ended up having any. Maybe I'm hallucinating again.

Kiran wrote
at 11:22pm June 4th, 2006
Yo, sorry I'm bombarding you with pie questions, but you're basically my only resource. First, I need to store the dough for more than 2 days, so I should freeze it, yeah? Then what thawing shit do I do? Also, if I'm only baking one of the 2 large pies at a time, what settings do I do differently?

Poonam wrote
at 5:41am June 5th, 2006
yes, wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm and freeze it. to defrost, just bring it out onto the counter an hour or so before youre planning to use it (more, if the kitchen is air conditioned/cold). theres all that fat (i.e. butter, shortening) in it, so it'll defrost pretty quickly. and don't put it in the microwave! the dough will seize and taste icky and just be kind of ew. here's a tip, though, i'd say divide it into 4 portions even if you're planning on making 2 double crusts -- the dough will defrost more quickly in the smaller portion size, and its easier to work with. once your dough is defrosted, put it into the fridge to keep it chilled. if you leave it out for too long its going to get all mushy and thats bad. once you've defrosted dough it (in theory) acts just like fresh dough, so from defrosting you have at least 2 days of fridge-time. as to baking one pie at a time, i wouldn't worry about that affecting baking times and things.

Poonam wrote
at 5:44am June 5th, 2006
oops. maxed out the character limit. anyways, we baked 1 pie first as a "test subject" and then baked the rest together, and the temps/times seemed to hold true regardless. don't just leave the pie though, check on it when you reduce the temp (after 20 mins) and then again about 15 mins later, and then again about 15 mins after that. you'd be suprised a) what 5 or 10 mins of overbaking can do and b) how many ovens don't actually heat up to the temps that they say they are (they get hotter or cooler). so check on the pie. ummm. yeah. i think thats about it.

Kiran wrote
at 9:11am June 5th, 2006
Awesome, muchisimas gracias. I'll photodocument.

Poonam wrote
at 5:51am June 7th, 2006
photo-documentation would be greatly appreciated, as your sister and i are both far too lazy to come up with new foodblog material.

Kiran wrote
at 1:30pm June 7th, 2006
For sure. I'm trying to figure out if I can make 'rum apple' pie.

Kiran wrote
at 1:30pm June 7th, 2006
Which basically means rum with a pie chaser.

Kiran wrote
at 11:32pm June 8th, 2006
There is pieful glory updated.

Editor's Note: What follows is Kiran's pictures and commentary on his Adventures in Pie

I make decent pie, even when janked thanks to lack of rolling pinnage. Imagine what I could do with proper tools.What I mean to say is - I didn't have a rolling pin to roll out the crust. I used a metal lid and lots (and I mean lots) of flour. Those and my hands.Yeah, my hands were useful in making this pie.

I realized it looks un poco sketch. It tastes better than it looks.
Location: My Kitchen Table

And here, it must be mentioned, the ever elusive Keerthi appears to make a comment...

Keerthi wrote
at 11:40pm June 8th, 2006
ur pie es més que un poc sketch, és MOLT sketch. encara t'estimo xoxoxoxoxo

I concur. Then again, I don't speak/read/write Spanish; I base my concurment on the appearance of the words "pie" and "sketch" in that sentence. This is a pie and it is sketch. But I have a strong feeling that it was delish, especially with the addition of ice cream!

So YAY KIRAN for being brave enough to try one of our recipes! Post-pie discussion follows...

Poonam wrote
at 6:03am June 9th, 2006
hint --
lacking rolling pin?
use wine bottle. or vodka bottle. or random whole foods brand sparkling water bottle. basically use a glass bottle. it works well.

Kiran wrote
at 10:13am June 9th, 2006
Another problem was that I added too much water in the beginning, since I was impatient with the stirrage. I ended up compensating witih flour. I'm making a second pie today; I'll be rolling pinning it and adding more flour beforehand.

Hopefully we'll have some more photos and/or words of baking wisdom from Kiran in the near future re: PIE.

And keep watching this space kids -- there will be further guest posts in the near future.