Monday, October 26, 2009

Caramel-Coated Apples

When I went apple-picking last week, I bought a wonderful, vibrantly red candy apple. I knew, right then and there, that I would have to use some of my freshly picked apples to make my own. I ended up deciding to make caramel apples... and what a disaster it was. One of my friends was celebrating his birthday and my plan was to bring him a few caramel apples as a gift. I had never really made caramel apples, but how hard could it be? Well, as it turns out, it's not always that easy! I used a pretty standard recipe at first but for some reason, the caramel would just not stick to the apples. The lovely amber-colored deliciousness dripped down the side of the apples, leaving a pool of soft caramel at their base.

This morning, after a little research, I picked myself up and tried to tackle the monster again. What a difference experience it was this time around! The temperature of the caramel is definitely key to successful caramel-coated apples. You want the coating to be soft enough to be able to coat the apples, but not so soft that it drips and doesn't adhere to the fruit. I added a little molasses to the caramel this time around, which added great richness to the color and the caramel flavor. My tip is to dip the apple in the caramel while it's still hot enough, coat the apples, and place in the fridge immediately to harden for 15 minutes.

The moral of the story might be not to make things for the first time when the plan is to give them away... !

Caramel-Coated Apples

Makes about 10 caramel apples

10 apples (I used Spartan)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of light corn syrup
2 teaspoons of molasses
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup of heavy cream

Wash the apples and thoroughly dry them. If they are still wet, the caramel will not stick to the skin. Remove the stems, and insert a wooden stick at the top of each apple, about half-way through. The apples should securely cling to the stick.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease.

In a saucepan on medium heat, add the sugars, butter, corn syrup, molasses, salt and half of the cream. Swirl the pan to make sure all the ingredients come together. Once they have, add the remaining cream. Cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 240F.

Remove the caramel from the heat and wait for the liquid to slightly cool (2 minutes). Using a swirling motion and carefully tilting the pan, coat the apples with caramel, leaving an untouched apple circle where the wooden stick is inserted. Let the excess caramel drip off, and place the apples on the parchment paper. Immediately place the apples in the fridge to harden. You may have to do this in batches so that the first coated apples don't stay at room temperature for too long: the quicker they get in the fridge, the better! If the caramel starts to harden and is not thin enough to coat the apples, simply place the saucepan on the heat for a couple minutes before coating more apples.

Leave the apples in the fridge for 15 minutes to harden. Once they have hardened, leave at room temperature. Package as you please. Enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chocolate Pear Cakes

When you spend most of your time cooking, you end up being more and more of a perfectionist. The more you learn about cooking technique, the more you learn from watching great chefs put together a meal, and the more you test out recipe combinations, the more difficult you become on yourself. At least, that's the case for me. It's a great challenge on yourself really, and pushes you to try new things, and learn by practice makes perfect. I come up with a lot, a lot of recipes on a weekly basis - a lot of which don't make it on this blog. I've caught myself quite a few times being really disappointed when a dish I've been planning in my head just doesn't work out, or a wonderful dish proves impossible to photograph properly. "Don't be so hard on yourself" Oliver would say. But, really, it's being so hard on myself that keeps me wanting to come up with new flavour combinations that really work, or practice a cooking technique until I feel that spark - that spark that means that I got what it was all about.

When I was at the French Culinary Institute, I burnt my hand pretty severely. We were learning how to make crème caramel, and when pouring the boiling caramel in little ramekins, my hand slipped and fell into the scorching sugar. It was one of those pains that was so beyond the normal level of pain that I couldn't even cry. I just stood there in shock - after having removed the caramel from my flesh - and couldn't feel my fingers. Worst is, I don't even like creme caramel. I like caramel, but crème caramel is just not my thing. This would have made for an amazingly dramatic episode of Top Chef, or a screaming frenzy on Hell's kitchen. The point is, I can almost feel the pain in my hand if I think of boiling caramel for too long. For a couple months after this, I didn't want anything to do with pots full of sugar and water - until, I got my act together and started cooking with caramel again. I'm since painfully aware of how careful I should be when handling it but forced myself to keep on working with the sugary goodness... if only to get over my fear of it. In an odd way, being hard on myself has made me, I think, a much better cook.

All to say, that I've been toying with the idea of a chocolate cake using a whole pear. I tried a couple recipes inspired by cookbooks I had, but the texture of the cakes weren't what I was looking for. After some recipe testing, the image of the pear cake in my head was bubbling in the oven and before I knew it, it was waiting to be eaten. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and really about the pear flavor. When the pear cooks it releases a lot of its juices, which meddle with the chocolate batter and make the whole cake taste like sweet pears. I hope you give it a try - and if you do, let me know what you think!

Chocolate Pear Cakes
Serves 2

1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cake flour
1 good pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of milk
2 pears

Preheat your oven to 350F. Add the softened butter and sugar to a medium-size mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and beat until just incorporated. Using a small whisk, whisk in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter batter in small batches, whisking the mixture until homogeneous. Whisk in the milk.

Peel the pears making sure to leave the steam intact. Using a small knife or melon baller, carefully scoop out the core of the pear leaving the pear intact. Ladle the batter evenly into 2 individual ramekins. Form a well in the middle of the batter with the back of a spoon and place the pear inside the well. Gently press down so that the batter settles around the pear.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the top of the batter is set. The inside of the batter will be gooey so the toothpick test will not be a good indication here. Let the cakes cool and serve with chocolate ganache.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Apple Sauce

This recipe concludes my couple weeks of apple recipes. It was pretty exhilarating to look at my woven basket of apples everyday, with a dozen possibilities of what do with them, and then get excitedly into the kitchen to test different recipes. You'd think I'd be all appled-out, but I've planned to go apple picking again this weekend. I've got to make the most out of Fall while it's still here.

Apple sauce really is the perfect recipe to make when you have more apples than you can chew.. literally. It's easy to make, flavorful, and you'll find yourself enjoying it in many different ways. I used them to make caramel and apple cupcakes (by using the apple sauce in the batter), as a simple compote dessert, or as a great addition to a small bowl of thick Greek yogurt. I only wish I had made more... hence the continued apple-picking!

Apple Sauce

10 apples (I used a mix of McIntosh and Cortland)
3/4 cups of water
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
A pinch of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of loosely packed brown sugar

Peel and core the apples. Cut them into bite-size chunks. In a stock pot, on medium low heat, add the apples, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and lemon juice. Cook on low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the apples are soft. If you like your apple sauce chunky, remove from the heat when the apple chunks are soft but still hold their shape. If you don't, cook for a few minutes longer, or until the chunks completely break down. Taste and adjust seasoning. I added a couple extra drops of lemon juice, and a little more cinnamon.

Cool down, and enjoy! You can then keep the apple sauce in the fridge for several days.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Apple and Cinnamon Palmiers

Palmiers, I love palmiers. They seem like they're hard to put together, but honestly, these were ready in a matter of minutes. The only slightly tricky part is to fold the puff pastry tightly, but really.. you could almost do it with your eyes closed.

This is the second to last apple recipe for this fall.. my bag of apples seems a little morose now... there are only 3 or 4 left and I can't wait to go and pick more.

Apple and Cinnamon Palmiers

2 sheets of square puff pastry
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of kosher
1 apple

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

Mix the sugar, salt and cinnamon. Spread 1/2 cup of sugar mixture onto your working area. Place one sheet of puff pastry on top of the sugar. Add another 1/4 cup of the mixture on top and gently press down with the palm of your hand. Using a small brush, brush off excess sugar.

Peel and grate the apple. Tightly press onto a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Sprinkle half of the grated apple onto the puff pastry. Lightly press them down with the palm of your hand. Fold 2 sides of the square puff pastry into the middle of the puff pastry surface. Fold the sides towards the middle again to create double-layered folds. Then, fold one of the sides onto the other (as if you were closing a book). Reserve and do the same with the second puff pastry sheet.

Slice the puff pastry into 3/8 inch slices and place cut side up on a parchment-line baking sheet. Bake for 6 minutes, turn the palmiers over, and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until perfectly golden. Let cool on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dish Ideas

I'm taking a little break from my apple frenzy to bring you a few side dish ideas for Thanksgiving. Us Canadians (let's just say I'm Canadian for the sake of this conversation) will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming Monday. I've been working on holiday side dishes since the early days of September (ah, the joys of being a food writer!) so safe to say that I've been feeling the holiday spirit for a little while now.

Here's a small selection of the results - some traditional, some a little less so, so take your pick! What's your favorite holiday dish?

Beet and Potato Puree
Serves 4

10 small yukon gold potatoes
10 cooked and drained canned beets
2 tablespoons of soft butter
¼ cup of heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil the potatoes until soft, drain and mash.
Add the roughly chopped beets to a pan with 2 tablespoons of water and cook until the beets are soft (about 5-6 minutes). Remove from the heat and mash using the back of a spoon. Mix the beets and potatoes until the mixture is homogeneous. Transfer the mixture to a pot on medium low heat. Add the softened butter, heavy cream and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Once the puree is velvety and warm, remove from the heat and serve.

Lightened Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 4
3 large sweet potatoes
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
2 tablespoon of softened butter
¼ cup and 1 tablespoon of whole milk
¼ cup and 1 tablespoon of packed brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Using a fork, prick the skin of the sweet potatoes, set on a baking sheet and bake for 45 min-1 hour or until soft. Remove from the oven, and peel once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle. Reduce the heat to 350 F.

Place the sweet potato flesh in a bowl, and mash with the back of a spoon. Stir in the softened butter, the sugar and the milk. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Place the sweet potato mixture in individual ramekins or a casserole dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top of the mixture is golden.

Green Bean Salad with Roasted Almonds and Shallot Dressing
Serves 4

1 pound of green beans
¼ cup of slithered almonds
2 shallots, finely sliced
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle to cook the shallots
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook the green beans in a big pot of salted boiling water. The water should be as salty as sea water. Remove from the heat as soon as the beans are tender. Place them immediately in a big bowl of salted ice cold water with ice cubes to ensure that the cooking process stops and that the beans maintain their vibrant green color. Once the beans are completely cold, pat them dry using a kitchen towel.
Place a pan on medium heat, and add the slithered almonds. Stir frequently until the almonds are golden brown. Remove from the heat and place in a small bowl to cool down.
Place a pan on medium low heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Place the finely sliced shallots in the pan and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and reserve.
In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and lemon juice and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the shallots and stir. Spoon the vinaigrette over the green beans, and sprinkle with the roasted almonds.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Apple, Nuts and Gruyere Salad

I've always been a big fan of apples in salads. Add a couple cubes of Gruyere, a few nuts and some good greens and you've got yourself a wonderful filling dish. For this salad, I used this new nut mix from Back to Nature. If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you'll know that I'm a firm believer in making sure your food is as natural as can be (read chemical-free, and where you can pronounce every word on a product's ingredient list). These nut mixes fit the bill for me: they're 100% natural and made this salad easy to make and ready to eat in minutes. I used a mix of almonds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, pecans and dried apricots.

I still have about 15 apples to use up... any ideas on other dishes to make? I still have a few surprises to post for the start of my 2nd apple week, so stay tuned!

Apple, Nuts and Gruyere Salad
Serves 2

1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup of bite-size cubed Gruyere
2 big handful of mixed greens
2 tablespoons of mixed nuts

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
A slash of apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Add the olive oil to a small bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad just before serving so the lettuce doesn't wilt. Enjoy!

Tip: Don't cut the apples too long before you're ready to serve the salad or they will start to change color. You can toss all the other ingredients for the salad in your serving bowl and make the vinaigrette in a separate bowl. Just before serving, cut the apples and add them to the salad, then add the dressing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apple and Potato Fritters with Sour Cream and Herb Dipping Sauce

My grandfather made the most amazing potato galettes. Unfortunately his recipe was never really written down and my mother and grandma both have only a vague idea of how he made them. I enjoy playing around with potato fritter recipes and like to think that he lends his watchful eye when I get in the kitchen and try them out.

If you've been reading my posts this week you'll know that I have A LOT of apples to use! I grated a couple apples into these potato galettes and it really was delicious. The apple adds a nice and subtle sweetness to the starchy potatoes, and the crispy fritters dipped into a cold herby dip makes for the perfect snack.

Apple and Potato Fritters with Sour Cream and Herb Dipping Sauce

Makes about 15 small fritters

150 grams of grated potatoes
1 large macintosh apple, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons of Parmesan
2 tablespoons of rice or cake flour
1 egg yolk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil

Grate the potatoes and apple into a small bowl. Place the mix into a kitchen towel and drain out the water. Transfer back to the bowl and fold in the flour, Parmesan and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the egg yolk and gently mix so all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Add a good drizzle of vegetable oil to a non-stick pan or skillet. Once the oil is hot, drop a heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture and flatten to form a disc with the back of a spoon. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the side in contact with the skillet is nice and golden brown. Flip the fritters and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place on paper towels to soak up excess oil.

1/2 cup of sour cream
1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk the sour cream and parsley in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and serve alongside the fritters.

Apple Crisp

It's apple week in the Chocolate Shavings kitchen! This is the second apple dessert I've got my hands on since going apple picking this weekend. I still have a basket-full of apples to get through, so keep on sending me your favorite apple recipes! I had never made apple crisp before. In France, I was used to eating crumbles (fruit topped with a mixture of sugar and butter crumbles) but we don't really use oats as a topping. I got these amazing organic oats the other day though, so I decided this French girl should North-Americanize a little!

I used a Martha Stewart recipe for this dessert around and it worked wonderfully. Give it a try, and keep on eating those tasty seasonal apples!

Also, you can follow me on twitter @Chocshavings.
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