Gourmet S’mores

Homemade Marshmallows

Today’s Musings:
It’s a new year. Time to shove 2020 out the window and welcome a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter One

Peeling the skin back from my eyes
I felt surprised
That the time on the clock was the time
I usually retired
To the place where I cleared my head of you
But just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.
 – Matt Johnson

This is a food blog.  I am a food blogger.  As a food blogger, writing a food blog, I’m expected to write about, um, er…food; I’m expected to be light and bubbly and happy, bringing baked goods and witty banter to your world.  But, larger than this blogger’s persona, I am decidedly human with human emotions and, this morning, I am the antithesis of happy.  I’m trying…I’m truly trying to wiggle out of this melancholy, but today, I’ve lost the battle.

This morning, the kitty sprawled across my desk lacks softness, the candle flickering in front of my nose is scentless, my French-pressed coffee is water in my mouth.   Where is the sun? This morning, I am bereft, hollow, yearning for a missing piece of joy that darted from my gentle fingers. I’m trying to move my mind to other things, but a shower to refresh my thoughts brings him to my mind, a walk to clear my head recalls our evening strolls, the music from my speakers is the soundtrack of us.  Even my baking doesn’t distract…and I mourn.

Allow me my melancholy today.  Tomorrow, I will be better.

Today’s Recipe:
Making marshmallows is messy business.  Around step 3, and covered with goo, I was wondering if they were worth the trouble.  However, after toasting my first sample, no more convincing was needed.  Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat.  


Gourmet S’mores

Toasted homemade marshmallows are soft and gooey and not too sweet, adding refinement to this ubiquitous campfire treat. Ghirardelli chocolate squares in various flavors such as caramel or raspberry add sophistication.


Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • 32 Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares in various flavors (milk, dark, caramel, raspberry, mint, etc.)
  • 1 box graham crackers

Directions

  1. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with canola oil. In a medium heatproof bowl, mix the gelatin with ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes and then microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until gelatin is completely melted. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and ⅓ cup plus 2 Tablespoons water. Bring the syrup to boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until syrup registers 250⁰ on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour the hot syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the gelatin and vanilla and beat at high speed until mixture is fluffy, glossy and sticky, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Spread the marshmallow in the prepared pan and smooth the surface. It helps to smooth the surface by using a slightly damp hand to avoid sticking. Press a lightly greased sheet of parchment paper on the surface and set aside for 3 hours.
  4. Run a sharp knife around the marshmallow. Lightly dust top of marshmallow and work surface with confectioner’s sugar. Add more confectioner’s sugar as needed to avoid sticking. Invert marshmallow onto work surface and cut into 16 2” squares. Cut each square in half horizontally into 32 marshmallows. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
  5. To make S’mores, break graham crackers in half. Cover the lower half with a Ghirardelli square of your choice, cover with a toasted marshmallow (either toasted over a campfire or by blowtorch), and sandwich with remaining graham cracker half.

Recipe adapted from Dominique Ansel.

Walnut M’hanncha

A walnut M'hanncha Snake Cake

Today’s Musings:

I am a baker first, a writer second – and what’s baking away in my oven rarely coincides with the words sautéing on the page.  In most cases, I’m bustling around my kitchen to escape these very musings. Baking is my art.  My kitchen is my studio where I practice and play. At its denouement, my art is devoured, without regret. My passion lies in the crafting, my delight in the sharing.  My kitchen is bomb shelter and Band-Aid, my respite when I’m overwhelmed and my surefire reason for procrastination. It’s my voice, my meditation, my recreation and only occasionally my vexation. 

Conversely, when I write, I’m tortured; I lash myself to my desk, yearning to be anywhere else, struggling to create order from the chaotic ruminations pacing around my head.  I type words to release them from their cage, allowing them to organize and settle into coherent ideas on the page.  The process is cathartic, painfully honest and deeply personal, but never easy.  It’s an exorcism of sorts.

Born from the same mother, yet conceived in different moods at separate times, my baking and my writing are two distinct children.  My baking is my golden child; my writing, the black sheep.  I love and need them both, but in different ways.  Consequently, and unlike most food blogs, my musings rarely relate to the recipe on the page. 

Here, you will never read a 500-word memoir about apple picking as an introduction for my classic apple pie.  If this eccentric mash-up of a blog bothers you, there are thousands of other food blogs to satisfy your tastes. 

Two-Bit Tart unconventionally chronicles what’s in my head and in my oven on any given day.  It’s a candid account of my attempts to decipher life through my love of food and words; a window into an imperfect woman and chef chronicling her vices – culinary or otherwise.

Today’s Recipe:


Walnut M’hanncha

M’hanncha is made from rolled phyllo pastry, stuffed with nuts, spices and orange flower water coiled to look like a snake.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and cooled
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ¾ cup almond flour, toasted and cooled
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for brushing phyllo
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 Tablespoons orange flower water, divided
  • 6-8 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • ⅓cup honey
  • sliced toasted almonds, chopped walnuts, or powdered sugar for decoration

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a 10” springform pan with parchment.
  2. Place the walnuts in a food processor with the granulated sugar and process until the mixture resembles sand.
  3. Add the almond flour, powdered, sugar, melted butter, egg, cinnamon, cardamom and 1 tablespoon of the orange flower water to the food processor. Process until the mixture is a combined dough.
  4. Unroll the phyllo dough and place it on a work surface. Cover the phyllo with plastic wrap and then a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Remove one sheet of the phyllo and place it on your work surface, with a long side closest to you. Lightly brush the phyllo with melted butter.
  5. Take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a log about ½ inch in diameter. Place the roll of filling on the buttered phyllo, about ½ inch from the edge in front of you. Continue to form rolls of the dough and place them end to end, gently pressing them together until you have a log of filling that extends across the long side of the phyllo sheet.
  6. Gently roll the phyllo sheet around the log of filling. Brush the top and sides lightly with melted butter to keep the phyllo roll flexible. Starting from the center, coil the first roll around itself inside the pan.
  7. Continue rolling logs of dough in the buttered phyllo and placing them end to end to form a tight coil until you have used up all of the paste and the pan is full. Brush the top of the pastry with the egg yolk and water mixture. Bake until crisp and golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.
  8. In a small saucepan, heat the honey to loosen it slightly. Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon orange flower water. Brush the honey mixture over the warm pastry. Cool slightly, dust with powdered sugar and additional nuts, if using. Slice into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Today’s Tip:

Phyllo dough can be a pain in the ass to work with.  If it dries out, you’re done.  If it gets wet, you’re done.  While working with one sheet, it’s important to keep the rest of the phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Don’t stress if your phyllo tears a bit or comes apart when you are peeling off a sheet. It will not matter in the final product.  Work gently and slowly and you’ll be fine.

A decorated Walnut M'hanncha

Panforte

Panforte di Siena

Today’s Musings:
His drawings are dark, Schielesque (if I can make that a word), his dissonant music even more so; his lips a vertical line without hint of teeth below intense eyes.  He’s a loner, surrounded by his art and words and noise.  Before, I would have grasped after his complicated darkness – my preternatural talent to home in on the damaged and the wounded.  Beautiful, exquisite danger.

I’ve always been drawn to broken and frayed things.  Not to fix them, oh no, but to love them, for all their splendid flaws.  I cradle them tightly against my vulnerability and whisper, “I see your shadows and I love you for them, just as you are,” like my habit of gathering discarded objects from the sidewalks and the gutters, holding them up to the light, searching for their unique worth.  I find beauty in the things others judge as trash.

We are all broken.  We all have value. The darkness that resides in me sees the masked shadows in you. 

This time, though, my heart said, “No, Enough. You have learned your lesson.”  I have learned it well this time. I can love his art without gifting my heart to the marred soul that created it.  No, I will not walk in the woods with him today. A tear escapes from my eye.  This education is not without pain.

Today’s Recipe:
Somehow I’ve equated candied orange peel with holiday baking.  All of my annual holiday bakes, including gibassier, stollen, and eccles cakes, require candied orange peel.  This year, I’ve added mince pies and panforte to my repertoire, requiring even more peel. With nightmares of dreaded fruitcake in your head, you probably believe you’re not a fan of candied citrus peel. You most likely only know those chewy, tooth sticking, flavorless, processed nuggets that come in a grocery store tub. That’s what I thought candied peel was all about, too – until I made my own. Then, ooohhhh, I fell in love. Hand-crafted candied peel is pliant and juicy with the perfect balance between bitter peel and sweet syrup. Making your own takes a bit more work, but it’s the difference between a frozen beef patty and aged rib eye steak.

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. My recipe contains pistachios, walnuts, candied orange peel, chocolate and a shit-load of spices. Its chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.  The secret to its soft and pliant texture is baking the panforte just until barely firm in the middle. Otherwise, it will rip the fillings from your molars.  Panforte is typically served in thin wedges dusted with powdered sugar.

This version is only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe.


Panforte

  • Servings: 16 thin slices
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Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. Its yielding, chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup dark honey
  • extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment and dust with cocoa powder, making sure to dust the sides.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, cocoa powder, flour, candied orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and ancho chile powder.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Set aside.
  5. In a small pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF.
  6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well until fully incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top by using a spatula. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a dampened hand to press it completely flat.
  7. Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 minutes; the center will feel soft, like a barely baked brownie; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean. (Do not over bake or it will be too firm once cooled.)
  8. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely. Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands. Serve in thin wedges.

Today’s Tip:
 You can store panforte for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Holiday Mince Pies

This time last year, I was preparing for Christmas in London – buying sweaters, confirming the cat sitter, excavating the converter from the junk drawer, and dreaming of mince pies.

Christmas in London without mince pies is unthinkable.  These little parcels of perfection are as ubiquitous during the London holidays as sugar cookies in the States.  Love them or hate them, you can’t avoid them while the halls are decked with holly.  I, personally, adore these pastry jewels and longingly anticipated eating my weight in pies of mince. 

Mincemeat has a history dating back to the 16th century.  Originally made with meat (hence the name), the pies were much larger and oblong in shape.  The fruit and spices, rather than headliners, were there to flavor the meat.  Modern versions are smaller and forgo the meat altogether, containing a decadent mixture of fruit, sugar and warming spices. Their size can range from a diminutive mini tartlet to something heftier approximating the size of a British pasty.

As I walked the cobbled streets of London, I sampled a dozen versions of these buttery beauties.  My first, from St. John Bread and Wine, was a disappointment, filled with almost nothing but currants.  Their Eccles cake, on the other hand, was heaven in puff pastry.   I sampled posh pies at Ottolenghi and take-away pies from a small no-name shop at the Columbia Road Flower Market.  I ate pies served from bags and pies served on china.  Arteries be damned, I prescribed myself nothing less than a pie (or two) a day throughout my trip. Home again after eating my fill in London, I added mince pies to my ever-growing list of recipes to try.

 A tumultuous year has passed and I had yet to try my own version.  Surprisingly, while researching  for my own recipe,  I discovered that many versions – including ones from famous British chefs (I’m talking to you, Paul Hollywood) call for nothing more than opening a jar of mincemeat.  Jarred?  Oh the horror!  Jarred may be fine in a pinch, but not for the pies of my London dreams.  Next, you’ll be instructing me to unroll a frozen pie crust.

After some additional research,  I settled on my existing Eccles cake filling (flashback to St. John), doubled it, and added grated apple.  My final filling is packed with currants, home-made candied orange peel, brown sugar, warming spices and brandy.  It’s the ideal jeweled filling to nestle in a buttery pastry crust.  Maybe not entirely traditional, for me, it’s London Christmas in the US suburbs.


Holiday Mince Pies

Buttery, flaky pastry filled with a holiday mixture of fruit, warm spices, and a bit of brandy. You will need two 12-cup muffin tins for this recipe.


Ingredients

    Candied Orange Peel:
  • Peels from 3 oranges
  • 18 oz. water
  • 6 oz. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. sugar
  • Mince Filling:
  • 8 oz. currants
  • ½ cup candied orange peel, chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated (I use Granny Smith)
  • 1 stick (½cup) unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Juice of an orange
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy
  • Short Crust Pastry:
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter cold and cubed
  • ¼ cup Crisco, cold
  • ⅛ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • Water (cold, as needed)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions

    Make Ahead – Make Candied Orange Peel:
  1. Place orange peels in a pot of cold water, bring to boil, and drain. Repeat this two more times.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, and sugar in a pot. Bring to boil. Add drained peels, reduce to simmer and poach for 1 hour. Cool peels in syrup. Store in syrup in refrigerator until needed.
  3. Day Before – Make Mince Filling:
  4. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until butter is melted. Stir until well blended, cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften, about an hour. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  5. Baking Day – Make Short Crust Pastry.
  6. In a food processor, pulse flour, butter, Crisco, and salt together until resembling course sand. Gently pulse egg and add water until mixture just comes together. Wrap into two disks and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350⁰ degrees. Roll dough to ⅛” thick and cut circles with a 3 ¼” – 3 ½” cutter to fit inside muffin tins. Cut smaller circles or stars to fit on top. Press dough into each muffin cup and fill ⅔ full with mince filling, decorate with smaller shapes on top and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  7. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Bake for 22-28 minutes until tops are golden brown. Cool in tins for 15 minutes, remove from tins and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

TIP: To ensure the flakiest of crusts, freeze butter and Crisco for 15 minutes before using so that it is cold as possible before mixing with the flour.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake

Today’s Musings:  TRUST YOUR GUT

I tell him I don’t like talking on the phone
He says he won’t ask me out via text
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him I prefer coffee or a cocktail for a first date
He asks me out for dinner
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him casual is good for me
He says, “It will be casual but upper scale.” He’s a “sucker for fine dining.”
I relent
He’s not listening.

What troubles me more – my easy acquiescence or his utter disregard for my desires?  I soothe my concerns.  “Am I making too big a deal about this?” “He wants to treat me well; what’s wrong with that?”  TRUST YOUR GUT – the gift my last relationship gave me. 

I text him this morning.  Let’s start with a cocktail and go from there – please and thank you.  For once in my life, I’m setting boundaries.  He declines, speaking volumes. 

I’m thanking my gut for its sage advice with these little treats below. 

Today’s Recipe:  REWARD YOUR GUT


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12 generous cupcakes
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Sticky toffee bombs. If making 12, the batter will rise beautifully over the side of the tin. If you need to make a few more cupcakes, reduce the batter in each muffin tin slightly.


Ingredients

    Toffee Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, spiced rum, or brandy
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 oz. ( 1 ¼ cups) coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. For Toffee Sauce: Whisk sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add cream and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, until toffee thickly coats the back of a spoon, 10-14 minutes. Whisk in rum. Set aside.
  2. For Cakes: Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan. Boil until dates are soft, about 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Line 12 muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter to blend – the mixture will be grainy. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture, beating to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups (about ¼ cup each).
  4. Bake cupcakes until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cook cakes completely on a rack. Using a cupcake corer, make a core in each cupcake and fill with 3-4 Tablespoons of toffee sauce. You may need to wait for some of the sauce to absorb before adding more sauce. Replace cupcake core.
  5. Cover cupcakes with piped whipped cream and a drizzle of additional toffee sauce. [Note: for best results, the cupcakes should be served at room temperature, yet the whipped cream needs to be kept cold. You can keep the cupcakes on the counter and add the whipped cream and drizzle just before serving. Your gut will thank you.

** Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes