Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fudging Around: A Mackinac Island Jaunt

May's Famous Mackinac Island Vanilla Nut Fudge.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a food journalist.  Not forever, not for the rest of my life, but just for a year or two.  And, while I'm not exactly a food journalist now, and while it's not for a long period of time or anything, it's even a little bit better. 

Off the coast of northern Michigan is a little circle of land sealed off from the modern world called Mackinac Island (that's pronounced "Mak-i-naw").  There are no cars on the island and you must travel there by ferry, but the ferry will take you to rows and rows of creamy fudge, the slices layed out in trays under sparkling glass for your personal consumption like all the little Madeline girls conscientiously lined up and  waiting for little Madeline's appendix to be safely removed.  

A few weekends ago, courtesy of my husband's friend, Lee May, I had a very exciting opportunity to help make fudge at a famous fudge shop, an opportunity I seized gratefully. The Island is known for its fudge, and Lee's family store, May's Famous Mackinac Fudge, has been in business on the island since the 1880s and continues to operate 3 shops, two of which are on the main street as you walk off the island.  Plus, for those of us who are not able to make it to the Island often, May's has set up a mail order site here.  I can just see all those happy tongues watching as packages of fresh fudge are opened from the mail.  Mmm...

The fudge will delight you in a way that tricks you into thinking you have actually gone back in time, something that the movie, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeves, which was filmed on the island, also attempts to do.  With the horse-drawn carriages and absence of cars, it's not hard to be tricked.  

So Mr. May gave me an apron and a little hat.  The one thing no one bothered to tell me (apparently they just got some laughs out of it!) is that my hat was on the wrong way.  I was supposed to turn it so that the name faced sideways, but I guess that is just something you learn along the way...)  

And the fudge is made:  (Thanks for the lessons, Mr. May.)

Fudge tables ready for hot fudge.

Mr. May and assistant pour hot fudge from a copper kettle onto the marble fudge table for Rocky Road fudge.

Vanilla Nut fudge cools inside metal pieces before it is stirred.

Fudge Master Lee May stirring the fudge.

Mr. May showing me how to stir the fudge properly.  (He was an excellent teacher!)

After the fudge is stirred, Lee has a special method for shaping the sides, which he let me try.  

Flavorings are added after some stirring and are mixed into the fudge.  Here, marshmallows are added to chocolate fudge batter to make Rocky Road fudge.  I'm famous as tourists look on!

Vanilla Nut fudge after Mr. May has shaped it.  (Note the glistening sheen and the nice swirl.)

Lee finishes shaping the top of the fudge in a special swirl pattern, then lets it cool a bit and carefully instructs me in the slicing technique.  

Slicing commences on my own.  Unfortunately, I viciously ripped apart a slice of smooth fudge in this process...I guess practice makes perfect.

*The pictures on this post are courtesy of my husband, Steve Bartha, his mom, Margie Willson, and my mom, Karen Forzani.  Thank you, photographers!

The other night we went to a new pizza place near my dad's house in CT, da Capo, my dad's house being my current and temporary home as my husband and I look for a place to live.  My grandfather paid the bill and had some kind of conversation with the owner that resulted in three free desserts, a trick I really need to learn.  The owner was touting the treat skills of his fine pastry chef who "worked at Le Cirque for seven years," and so I asked if I might learn under her for a while.   I'm not quite sure he knew just what I was saying, but he did answer me in the affirmative.  

One thick piece of cheesecake, 1 spongy block of tiramisu and 1 bloated canoli later (I can do this!), I wondered if this means I should just waltz in next time and remind him of his promise and see what the man is good for.  The restaurant seemed to be doing pretty well, but in these hard times I wonder if smaller restaurants wouldn't want to earn an extra buck or two charging a helpless wannabe pastry chef for a night in the kitchen with the restaurant's finest.  In the meantime, I might just look for some other fudge-like opportunities that will allow me to pretend, even if just for a little while, that I make pastry for a living, or fudge, or other sugar-based products that make our hearts beat and our heads spin in a near swoon.  My food journalism jaunt (payed) will just have to wait for later.  But until then, I guess I'll just fudge it. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Decadence

My father in-law's birthday made me wonder something.  It made me wonder about cakes and birthdays.  More specifically, it made me wonder if we have to eat cake on our birthdays.  I think plenty of people probably don't, which I think is fine, but I still love cakes on birthdays.  

I am also always curious to ask people what kind of cake they would like me to make them on their birthday and see what they choose.  Of course, you don't have to choose a cake, I'm realizing.  Perhaps I should branch out a bit more with my birthday offerings.  What would people want, if they could have any dessert in the world, on their birthdays?  This I am curious to find out.  

And, although I almost ended up making my father in law an apple pie, which he almost requested  (is this okay? I wondered as he pondered the merits of eating apples in early June), this time, I didn't.  Not that I would have minded.  I mean, I wasn't exactly alarmed at the thought of baking apples in June, but lets just say I'm still warming up to the idea of a non-cake birthday.  

Thankfully, my father in law decided that early June was probably not "seasonable," and requested "gooey chocolate" instead.  Perhaps he could hear my heart rate going up.

In any case, with a pound of chocolate, this cake is very chocolately, but also very light.  You could eat it in a bowl with a spoon, and it goes very nicely with vanilla ice-cream, which is how we ate it.  Or, you could just make the individual version, which I have included below, and which I like a little bit better.  Not really appropriate for celebrating a birthday where you might need to share with lots of people, but hey, if it's your birthday, you can have anything you want.  

Whatever the case, I have a birthday coming up soon (okay, not until August, but I'm kind of an early planner).  Usually I request one from my typical list of birthday cakes:  coconut, ice-cream, German chocolate, or carrot.  But who knows?  This year I might branch out.  And if not, I hope some people will request some non-cakes for their birthdays in the future.  Until then, here is one more birthday cake to add to the list.  The name alone implies it is fit for a birthday, celebrating the decadence of another year.  

Flourless Chocolate Decadence

This cake is perfect for those who are gluten-free, or those who want to have a dessert that is both ready ahead of time and one that just came out of the oven.  You can freeze the cake after you make and pop it in the oven a little before you want to serve it.  The recipe comes from the 75th anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking, which my husband's parents own but I don't.  My older copy, one I bought several years ago at a small second hand store in New Orleans, is from the 70s and lacks many of the recipes that the new ones contain.  The Joy of Cooking calls for this cake to be served cold, but I served it warm straight from the oven.  Next to this recipe is one for individual cakes served warm, and I find this recipe more endearing due to the individual sizes of the little cakes.  Serve either one with any combination of whipped cream, vanilla ice-cream, or the raspberry sauce recipe (also from The Joy of Cooking and the one they recommend serving with this cake) that follows.  

1 lb semisweet or bittersweet chocolate 
10 T butter (1 1/4 sticks)
5 eggs, separated
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 T sugar
Confectioner's sugar (optional)

1.  Butter and flour an 8 inch cake pan.
2.  In the top of a double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate together, mixing until smooth.  Remove from heat. 
3.  Add the 5 egg yolks to the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. 
4.  In a separate bowl, beat the 5 egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form.  
5.  Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Then fold in the rest.  
6.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.  
7.  Refrigerate until cold.  

Bake for 40 minutes instead and eat warm.  The gooey chocolate center will delight you.  

Raspberry Sauce

12 oz fresh or frozen raspberries
1 T sugar or more, to taste
2 tsp lemon

Individual Molten Chocolate Cakelets 
or "Molten Chocolate Cakes" in The Joy of Cooking's 75th Anniversary Edition

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  

2.  Butter and flour 8 muffin cups

3.  In a double boiler, melt 6 oz bitter or semisweet chocolate, chopped and ¾ stick butter.

4.  Remove from heat and sift in ¼ c unsifted cocoa.  Stir until smooth.

5.  In a medium bowl, beat 4 large egg whites and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

6.  Gradually add 2 T sugar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry.

7.  Fold ¼ egg whites into chocolate mixture, then the rest.

8.  Fill each muffin cup ¾ full and bake until cracked on top but gooey in center, about 7-8 minutes.

9.  Let sit 2-3 min until the cakelets shrink from sides of muffin cups.  

*You can also freeze these after you fill the muffin cups.  Remove from freezer just before you are ready to bake them and bake for about 1 minute longer.  

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Failure Cupcakes and Other Little Victories

These, I'm sure you won't be surprised to find out, are what I call Failure Cupcakes: 

See how the batter oozed over the top of the cupcake wells and took over the pan like the Blob? 

Failure, my friends.  

Lucky for me, they say that you can learn more from your failures than from your successes, and I am a true believer in this.  See that little corner cupcake up there on the right?  Where I've scraped away the cake that spilled over onto the pan?  I was evaluating my failure and calculating all the learning that would take place.  

This should mean, consequently, that winning the Foodie Fights battle was a horrible, terrible experience.  I learned nothing.  I should go back to making Failure Cupcakes.  However, it's just not true.  Winning is actually secretly kind of fun, and I think it's important to celebrate the little victories just as much as  you learn from the Failure Cupcake instances.  

Just for good measure, however, I pulled one of those Failure Cupcakes out of my freezer tonight where it's been sitting since January (yes, I actually store things that long, as anyone who knows me will attest to).  The little FC is sitting next to me as I write, it's dark chocolate crumb looking a little like the skin of a morel, or maybe a lava rock.  It tastes just a little bit like fish, quite possibly from the tuna steaks that were sharing freezer space with it not so long ago. The little cupcake is worse off...I've failed it not once, but twice!  Oh, the learning!

In any event, once I got past the fishy taste, the cupcake still satisfied my sweet craving and helped me celebrate my little victory. 

And, I have all of my readers and voters to thank.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was really and truly excited when I saw I had won this week's Foodie Fights battle:  Battle Melon and Red Pepper Flake.  And, as you can see, it was all about the popular vote, so a huge THANK YOU goes out to everyone who voted for me, and to Neal of Burning Pasta for such a nice "evaluation."  It sure sounds sweeter than comments I receive on papers:

I loved how visual this entry was; food blogs, after all, are not just about recipes; they’re about description, presentation and aesthetic beauty as well.

This has a lot going for it; a very nice command of the featured ingredients, contrasting textures, seasonality, detailed, visual, meticulous instructions; this is an excellent presentation.  I also appreciate that, while the wafer and sorbet work well together in a contrast of hot and cold, each element could easily be adapted into any number of other settings on its own.  Finally, as someone who has little to no sweet tooth, I liked that this was light, bright, and not overly sugared; this is the kind of dessert I’m always on the lookout for.

If you ever visit me in person, I promise to make you yummy treats. In the meantime, I promise to deliver virtual treats here. My comments section also reached a record high for this entry--10 as of this posting--and I had several "first timers," which just thrilled me all day!  It's the little victories that count, right?  

I was, however, humbled by the other entries, all of which were intensely creative. My husband was practically drooling over Bake-Off Flunkie's Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Spicy Balsamic Glaze. With summer here according to my calendar, I have a feeling there is some grilled melon in my future, and I can't wait.  The salad on Charlie Sinden's page made my mouth water, as Humbolt Fog is an inspired cheese, and the combination of mango and red pepper in the dressing sounds so interesting.  Bake-Off Flunkie made the point that a sorbet duo of Cre8tive Kitchen's cantaloupe sorbet and my watermelon sorbet would be heavenly.  I can, in fact, imagine a whole dinner featuring all of our dishes (a future Epic Foodie Fights battle, perhaps?).  The meal would go something like this:  Bake-Off Flunkie's Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Charlie Sinden's salad and Prix Fixe's tomato confit with watermelon, along with Potato Candie's Spicy Cantaloupe Amba, (thanks for introducing me to a new sauce!) followed by the sorbet duo.  Wow.   All that pepper would certainly pack a lot of punch.  So congratulations to everyone who participated.  It was a close battle thanks to the quality of your entries.  

If you are a fellow blogger (or thinking about blogging) I would recommend doing the Foodie Fights battle.  I've been baking my whole life but have never actually invented my own recipe, apart from the crustless "quiche" I made as a five-year-old when I pretended I had my own cooking show.  Yikes.  Foodie Fights was a great opportunity for me to try something new!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Smart Minds Watermelon Sorbet with Spicy Chocolate Wafers

The Foodie Fights battle is on...
Please vote on Tuesday, June 2 at  You can check out the other competitors on the post beneath this one.  

You can also just vote here, but please look at everyone's entry first!

I am munching on a freshly baked chocolate pepper cookie and reading about how experts read text in different disciplines (think:  math, science, history, literature), and wondering if anyone has researched how expert bakers read recipes.  If only I could get a PhD in baking instead of education, I think.  Then suddenly I feel indignant.  

"I don't want to work!  I'm making sorbet instead and my paper is not getting any."  I drop my pen, throw my articles on the floor, and stomp into our tiny galley apartment kitchen.  My husband is appalled.

"What?  What have you done with my wife?!"  He sounds seriously anxious, genuinely confused about who is standing in his kitchen where his wife used to be.  

I know, it happens to the best of us Foodies...we find ourselves in a moment where our love for food just takes over our brains.  It's like a rage blackout.  

Which is kind of how I felt tonight, just before beginning my post.  

I come home from class, have a nice dinner of breaded chicken cutlet inspired by the recent New York Times article, spring greens with vinaigrette from the farmer's market, and potato salad.  I do the dishes and think about what to write in my post.  Then I go over to the computer, type in my blog address and my password, happily read and publish the two new comments (thank you Pink Stripes and Brewfus), excitedly notice I have a new follower (Brenda of Cre8tive Kitchen, who is one of my competitors in this foodie fight), click on her blog, and....



Cantaloupe....SORBET? With CHOCOLATE PEPPER ganache?!  How dare she!  That's mine. Mine.  Mine.  Mine.  At least the sorbet part. And the chocolate pepper thing.  Mine. 

The good thing about blackouts is that they are temporary.  So, in case you were concerned, I'm fine now.  Really.  In fact, I think I'm more than fine.  I'm great.  I've just made a new virtual friend, and I know without even talking to her that we have the same tastes.  And let me just ask you:  Have you ever heard the expression, Smart minds think alike?  Well, I think this is one of those instances.  That's right.  Smart Minds.  

Which is how this post got its name.  I was worried about what to call my dish, what to write about, but all I can say now is, Thank you, Brenda.  We should be friends.  

Rage blackouts and potential Fs on papers aside, I think Foodie Fights has done me pretty well so far.  And, in case it doesn't in the end, I have this cool sexy sorbet to cool off with.  

My husband's wife is definitely still missing, and I don't think she wants to be found.  I'm sure he'll be more than happy to share a dish of sorbet with his new one.  

Smart Minds Watermelon Sorbet with Spicy Chocolate Wafers

This dish is the perfect thing to cool you down. The combination of the sweet, icy sorbet that has just a little bit of crunch but a soft underlayer as it melts and the crisp, hot cookies give a person everything she wants on a hot June evening. For those of us who can never decide whether we want fruit or chocolate, cold or hot, spicy or sweet, this is truly the best of both worlds.  The rich chocolate is strong enough to hold its own against the pepper, and the cool, sweet sorbet is much wanted after savoring a bite of cookie.  The sorbet is based on a recipe by David Lebovitz from The Perfect Scoop and the cookie on a Martha Stewart recipe from her book The Best of Martha Stewart Living Desserts.  Serves 6-8, depending on how large the hunger.  

Note:  Although these tools do make the job easier, you don't need an ice-cream maker, food processor, or electric mixer to make this--just follow alternative directions. 

For the Sorbet:
1 small seedless watermelon  
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 lime
A handful of fresh mint, washed and dried

For the Cookies:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 c cocoa powder
1/2 c flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
2 T powdered sugar
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for decoration

To make the sorbet:

1.  Cut the watermelon in half, and cut one half into chunks.  Puree the watermelon in a food processor until you have about 3 cups of puree.  (Alternatively, you can put the melon chunks in a bowl and mash them with a potato masher, a fork, or some other such utensil.)  Leave some chunks in the juice.  
2.  Pour 1/2 c of the watermelon juice into a saucepan.  Add 1/2 c sugar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.  The mixture should look almost clear when scooped up in a spoon and should be smooth, with no sugar granules (see picture in how-t0, below).  Remove pan from heat.  
3.  While the mixture is coming to a boil, cut the lime in half and set one half aside for later. Juice half of the remaining half (does that make sense?!) so you have at least 4 tsp.  
4.  Add the rest of the watermelon puree (2 1/2 c) to the saucepan and stir well.  Add 1 T plus 1 teaspoon (4 tsp total) lime juice and stir well.  Save remaining lime juice for serving time.  
5.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until mixture is very cold.  
6.  Freeze in ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  (Alternatively, if you don't own an ice-cream maker, you can pour the mixture into an 8 or 9 inch metal cake pan, freeze until solid--about 4 or 5 hours--and then soften for 5 minutes, break up into chunks, and process in food processor or blender until smooth (alternatively, mash in a large bowl with a potato masher or similar utensil).  
7.  You can eat the sorbet at this point or freeze until firmer for later eating.  Yum.  

To make the cookies:

1.  Beat the butter in an electric mixture (or mix in a bowl with a large wooden spoon).  Add sugar and mix well.  Add egg and continue to mix until well combined. 
2.  Add cocoa powder very, very slowly to mixture, making sure each bit is thoroughly mixed in before you add more (otherwise, the powder will get all over your kitchen!).  Then add the flour and powdered sugar in the same manner, though you can add this a little bit faster than the cocoa powder.  Add the crushed red pepper and mix well.  
3.  Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper.  Flatten each half into a thick disk and chill for at least 1 hour.  
4.  Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  
5.  Sprinkle a little flour on a clean work surface and roll one disk out into about 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut with a round cookie cutter with small wavy edges, or use the end of a drinking glass.  Place cookies on baking sheets about  1 inch apart.  Continue to roll out the rest of the cookies, pressing the trimmings together into a ball, flattening it into a disk, and re-rolling. Repeat with remaining disk.  
6.  Sprinkle each cookie with a little of the crushed red pepper flakes.  Don't worry if some gets on the baking sheets.  
7.  Bake for about 12 minutes, until cookies are no longer soft.  Remove from oven and let rest on the baking sheets for 2 minutes.  Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  

To Serve:

1.  Take the un-juiced lime half and slice it.  Cut each slice into 3 wedges, so you have at least a total of 6-8 wedges, depending on number of eaters.  
2.  Scoop some sorbet into each bowl.  Take the lime half that is half-juiced and squeeze it over each bowl, taking care to get only a sprinkling of juice in each dish.  
3.  Stick a chocolate wafer into the side of each bowl.  Garnish with a small mint leaf and a lime wedge.  Serve and savor summer.   

Recipe Selection
I tried to select a recipe that would be cool to celebrate the "official" first day of summer, which is always June 1st in my book.  Melon ice-cream didn't sound very good, but sorbet sounded perfect.  However, even though I love eating sorbet when it's hot, I always feel slightly unsatisfied, like I haven't really eaten dessert.  I bet you know what I mean.  So I wanted to accompany the sorbet with something more substantial, and a crumbly, crispy cookie seemed like it would do the job.  My husband, Brewfus, who is my expert sweet taster, suggested I make that cookie chocolate.  With all the free tasting he does for me, I couldn't argue.  As it turned out, chocolate and pepper are the kind of match I want in my mouth.  While I don't think the Smart Minds sorbet will help me get an A on my paper, it just might make me, and therefore you if you eat it too, a bit smarter in other ways.  

How-to in Pictures:

1.  Cut watermelon.

2.  Ingredients
3.  Pureed watermelon

4.  Sugar is dissolved.
5.  Puree is chilling in the refrigerator. 
6.  Ice-cream maker is hard at work.  

Happy Summer.