Monday, April 25, 2011

Istanbul Part One - Turkish Sweets

Not surprisingly, I have more pictures of the beautiful desserts we saw in Istanbul than anything else. A city of 17 million people and a thriving tourism business can support a lot of bakeries, and so they were everywhere, and they displayed their sweets beautifully! There are a lot of pictures here to give you an idea of what the sweet shops were like.

The deep-fried dough, soaked in a sugar syrup were called halka. They were shiny and sweet and irresistible.

The Turkish Delight was nothing like the boxed varieties you might find in the states. The combinations were never-ending and made a beautiful display. I remember tasting a marshmallow-like confection filled with nuts that I will never forget - it was delicious! Speaking of nuts, they put them in everything, savory and sweet. I loved them, but I think it would be very difficult to visit this city if you were allergic to nuts, like my daughter is. The top picture and the next few photos below, show some of the varieties of Turkish confections.

Another Turkish favorite is baklava. We ate baklava every day, sometimes more than once! It was often made with pistachios here, but my favorite remains the baklava with walnuts. Just look at all the baklava varieties below. Mmm.

An interesting confection we tasted was made of tahini sesame paste, an ingredient found in hummus. I think they use tahini like we would use peanut butter in America. This confection is called halva with pistachios and was quite unique and delicious, soft and sweet.

After a long day of sightseeing, we just had to stop for a cup of Turkish tea...

...and a sampling of sweets - mini chocolate eclairs, truffles, baklava, and cookies. Oh my.

Some of the bakeries were simpler, and others were more gourmet, providing shelf upon shelf of beautiful cakes, truffles, and desserts to rival any top pastry chef's creations. The sheer volume of these desserts was amazing! Since they were displayed under glass, the photos just don't do them justice. You might just have to visit Istanbul yourself to get the true picture ... I'd gladly go back and be your tour guide!

Tell me you're not craving something sweet now! I still have a lot of pictures of Istanbul to show you, including more desserts and savory dishes and a look at the famous markets and historical sites. I think I'll go take a nap now though... how long after a trip can you blame jet lag for being so tired?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Coconut Macaroon Brownies

I'm back from Istanbul, and fighting some mean jet lag, but before I show you a peek at the sights we saw, I wanted to share with you one of the most delicious things I made before we left.

I have always been a huge fan of coconut and chocolate together and this recipe for Coconut-Macaroon Brownies caught my eye immediately as I was reading Alice Medrich's Bittersweet.

You can use any favorite brownie recipe as the base, even a boxed mixed if you are so inclined, but I would recommend the easy brownie recipe from Alice's book which I have provided below. If you can find a high quality unsweetened chocolate, such as Callebaut, I would recommend that too. {Note: I buy all types of Callebaut chocolate at either Whole Foods or our local Market District in one-pound blocks.}

A small piece will satisfy you, as the brownie base is rich and the coconut top is sweet, but the combination is heavenly!

Fortunately, these keep quite well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature, so if you can resist eating the entire pan on day one, you can treat yourself with a little morsel of goodness all week long. I imagine these would freeze wonderfully as well.

Classic Unsweetened-Chocolate Brownies
from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
Makes 16 brownies

Note: This is Alice's basic recipe for brownies, which calls for an 8-inch pan. If you are using this recipe for the coconut-topped brownies (recipe below), use a 9-inch pan and reduce the sugar by 2 tablespoons, and reduce the oven temperature to 350, as noted in the coconut brownie instructions.

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional - I omitted)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on at least 2 opposite sides.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium to large heat-proof bowl (big enough that you are able to add all of the ingredients to this bowl) over a pan of simmering water (a double boiler). Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is hot to the touch.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the flour and beat until the batter is smooth and glossy, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the nuts if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth to even it.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the side of the pan. The surface will look dry, but a toothpick inserted in the center will come out quite gooey. While the brownies are baking, prepare an ice bath with about 3/4 inch of water in a roasting pan large enough to fit the brownie pan inside.

When the brownies are ready, remove the pan from the oven and immediately set it in the ice bath. Let the brownies cool. Remove the pan from the ice bath and lift the brownies out of the pan using the overhang of parchment to help lift them out and place the brownies on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Coconut Macaroon Brownies
(called Lacy Coconut-Topped Brownies in the book)
from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

Note: This is the recipe as written in the book, however, I had only finely shredded unsweetened coconut on hand so I used that and increased the sugar by a tablespoon or two. If you use sweetened coconut, your brownies will probably look even better than the brownies in the photos above.

1 recipe brownie batter, {recipe above}, made with 2 tablespoons less sugar
1 large egg white
1 cup (3 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Spread the brownie batter in the lined pan and set aside.

Combine the egg white, coconut, sugar, salt and vanilla in a medium stainless steel bowl, and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. (Or you may place the mixture in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat and keep an eye on it so it does not burn.) Stir the mixture, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, until it is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned opaque, about 3-4 minutes.

Use your fingers to drop lacy clumps of coconut topping over the brownie batter. Bake until the brownies puff at the edges and the shreds of coconut look deep golden brown and crusty, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 25 squares.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Hiatus in Istanbul

I have so much to tell you about Istanbul. We are halfway through our week here and there are still so many things to see and so many baklava to eat! The city is incredible. It is full of rich history and beautiful sights. The streets are bustling and everyone is very welcoming to tourists. I have a lot more pictures, many of the wonderful food, which I will share with you when we return. Of course I will need to try to make some of these Turkish treats at home, but I may have to take a little break from over-indulgence before I do. See you all when we get back!
Foodista Food Blog of the Day Badge

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gianduja-Stracciatella Gelato

Gianduja-Stracciatella Gelato...say that three times fast! I would myself, except I have to look up how to pronouce gianduja first...and google says you pronounce it john-DOO-yah or zhahn-DOO-yah to be more Italian-esque.

Now on to vocabulary...

Gianduja - is simply chocolate (usually milk chocolate) combined with hazelnut paste most commonly, but any nut paste can be used. Nutella, the original gianduja, is spreadable, but you can also find it in a solid block form as well, like this one from Callebaut - 11 pound block of gianduja anyone?

Stracciatella - the super-thin chocolate "chips" in ice cream produced by pouring melted chocolate in a thin stream into the ice cream machine at the very end of the churning period. The stream of chocolate instantly freezes into very thin chocolate pieces which readily melt in your mouth, giving a burst of chocolate flavor in each spoonful.

Gelato - refers to Italian-style ice cream which has less milkfat, less air incorporated into it, and is stored and served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream so that it is softer and more dense. The lower milkfat is achieved by using a higher ratio of milk to cream than full fat ice creams. Cream can mute the flavors in ice cream, so gelato is thought to allow the flavors to be experienced more fully. High milkfat ice creams can also leave an undesirable film in the mouth after the bite has been swallowed. I'm not sure if this recipe is officially a gelato, as it has more cream than other recipes I've seen for gelato. Looks like I'll have to make a few more gelatos for the sake of research. (drats!)

This gelato/ice cream is full of chocolatey goodness with a hint of hazelnuts, and a subtle crunch from the stracciatella and hazelnut paste, but I still found myself wanting a stronger hazelnut flavor. The next time I make this, I might try to use Nutella instead of the chocolate and hazelnuts to make the recipe a little easier, or make a Nutella Stracciatella - now say that 3 times fast!

Gianduja-Stracciatella Gelato

from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1-1/2 cups (185 grams) toasted hazelnuts

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

3/4 cup (170g) sugar

1/4 tsp coarse salt

4 oz milk chocolate (at least 30% cacao solids), chopped

5 large egg yolks

1/8 tsp vanilla extract

For the Stracciatella:
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (not chocolate chips)

1. Toast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly toasted. Place them in a kitchen towel after roasting to remove as much of the papery skin as possible. Discard the skins. Chop the hazelnuts in a food processor or blender until finely chopped.

2. Warm the milk with 1 cup of the cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Once warm, remove from heat and add the chopped toasted hazelnuts. Cover and let steep for 1-1/2 hours.

3. Put the milk chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Heat the remaining 1 cup of cream in a medium saucepan until it begins to boil. Pour the cream over the milk chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set a mesh strainer over the top of the bowl.

4. Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a strainer into a medium saucepan. Squeeze the nuts with your hands to extract as much of the flavorful liquid as possible. Discard the hazelnuts.

5. Rewarm the halzenut-infused mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constanly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

6. Stir the mixture constanly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof plastic spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the melted milk chocolate. Add the vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.

7. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

8. While the ice cream is freezing, melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. At the end of the ice cream churning, pour the melted chocolate directly into the ice cream machine in a thin stream.

8. Serve immediately for a soft, smooth gelato or place gelato in a container and freeze for several hours for a firmer gelato.

Makes about 1 quart of gelato


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