Wednesday, April 5, 2017

10 April Favorites

There are two themes that seem to cover most of my cooking in the month of April. First, since the calendar is more convinced that it is spring than much of the great outdoors seems to be, this month is kind of in between seasons. Winter cooking is out of fashion, but it’s a bit too soon for even the earliest of spring harvests (although some local hot houses are producing pretty little lettuce heads, bok choy, and kohlrabi!)

The second theme is harder to explain, but really exciting: it seems that an unusually large proportion of my absolute favorite recipes have been posted in Aprils past. Some of them were made in celebration of this blog’s birthday (I started The Messy Apron on April 16, 2009), but others were simply celebrations of the simple and delicious meals, desserts, and snacks I make often and really love.

Here is a list of 10 favorite recipes posted in the month of April, the month in which this space took form. I hope you enjoy at least some of them as much as I do.

The first recipe I ever posted was Italian Chickpeas, a simple and absolutely delicious tomato and chickpea sauce loaded with garlic and served over pasta. I still make this whenever I need a low-maintenance meal and crave its savory flavors.

Another recipe I make a lot is this Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. I try to make a few loaves a month.

This Oatmeal Bread is also great. It bakes up lovely and the oats give it some extra-delicious flavor.

And there are 3 other oatmeal-intensive recipes that qualify as April favorites:

Oatmeal Cherry Bars, which I love!

Peanut Butter Granola, which is my favorite granola recipe.

And Apricot Almond Oatmeal Cookies, which can be endlessly varied to include your favorite add-ins.

I haven’t made many Easter-themed posts, but I always keep egg salads, like this Lemon Fennel Egg Salad, in mind for using up hard boiled Easter eggs. (This egg salad is good, too!)

Bananas often fill in the fruit gap for me until the rhubarb comes up and the strawberries are in. I love to make this Banana Bread when they get extra brown.

For April celebrations, like a blog birthday, I love these Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting.

And just about anything you can make for celebrations will go well with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Enjoy April, everyone!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Flourless Chocolate Torte

I almost didn’t get this recipe out to these pages. I just couldn’t schedule a photo shoot. Okay, so I don’t really do “photo shoots.” I slap something delicious on a plate and try to snap a few halfway decent pictures of it to gussy up my blogging. Whatever. I didn’t get it done until there were just two slim wedges of this decadent fudgy confection left.

This is really a simple way to produce a really great chocolate cake-type dessert. There are only 5 ingredients, and that includes the smidge of salt. Since there’s no flour in this (and so it’s gluten free, for those who need that!) or leaveners you have to beat a lot of eggs to a very thick and airy state, so they will hold up a rich chocolate-butter flavor base. I used my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and the balloon whisk attachment, but you could also use a hand mixer.

This torte bakes up dense and fudge-like, but not so dense that you feel like it has collapsed into a greasy mess. It’s more like a particularly fudgy brownie that still has some cake-like airiness. Kind of a wonderful chocolaty thing of its own. It’s sort of humble in appearance, but you can dress it up a bit with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream (such as this one or this one or this one), or by simply dusting the top with cocoa or powdered sugar.

Since it’s made with bittersweet chocolate and not a lot of sugar, this dessert isn’t very sweet. The better the quality of the chocolate you use, the better this will be. I used good quality bittersweet chocolate chips and the results were wonderful. I think that if you take the time to chop some premium chocolate it could be even better.

Much of this recipe’s appeal is its simplicity, since you get so much dessert goodness with so few ingredients and without having to do anything especially tricky. That being said, I think it could be a starting point to which other flavors and textures could be added: perhaps some liqueur or instant espresso, or a swirl of raspberry jam, or walnuts, pecans or almonds. Bittersweet chocolaty goodness forever!

Flourless Bittersweet Chocolate Torte
Adapted from Food Network magazine

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, or chocolate chips
6 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter.

2. In a double boiler, or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the chocolate and butter pieces. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is very smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly while you work on the next step.

3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, combine the eggs, sugar and salt. Using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color, about 8-10 minutes. (You could also use a hand mixer and a large bowl if you prefer.)

4. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir about half of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until just combined, being careful not to deflate the mixture. Gently fold in the remaining chocolate. Again, avoid deflating the mixture.

5. Pour into the prepared springform pan, spreading evenly. Bake at 350 F for about 45-55 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, and no wet batter.

6. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing the outer ring of the pan. Cut into wedges to serve.

Makes about 10 servings.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Marmalade Baked French Toast

There are so many things to like about this baked breakfast/brunch recipe. The most important one is, of course, it’s fabulous deliciousness! But when it comes to logistics and construction, it has lots more to offer as well.

To sum up this dish, it’s two layers of buttered French bread slices with orange marmalade and cream cheese sandwiched between them. A lightly sweetened custard gets poured over all of it, the whole thing sits in the refrigerator overnight, and then it gets baked.

I love the make-ahead nature of this as well as the ease with which it goes together. You can have it waiting in the refrigerator when you wake up, not really all that well-rested, on a weekend morning, get it into the oven and take a little nap while it bakes. (Is it just me?) The reward will be out of proportion to your small evening effort.

This bakes up firm, but moist. The flavor of the marmalade and that little bit of cream cheese (I took the liberty of stealing that idea from another recipe) stand out well within the mild flavors of bread and custard. It’s not overly sweet, since citrusy marmalade isn’t so sugary. If you want something sweeter, you could drizzle some syrup on your serving, but I found it not to be needed.

I’m sure you could use other jams or jellies in place of the marmalade. I’d like to try raspberry, myself. You could also go without the cream cheese, or add some nuts or fresh fruit. I’m going to keep this recipe close by, using it as a template for whatever flavors seem like they might be great. And, since I can put everything together ahead of time, I don’t have to worry about making those flavor decisions in the morning. Not my best time of day!

Marmalade Cream Cheese Baked French Toast

1 16-ounce loaf French bread, cut into ½-inch slices
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
12 ounces orange marmalade
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
6 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 ¾ cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half of the butter on one side of half of the bread slices. Arrange the buttered slices, butter side down, in the prepared baking dish. Overlap slightly as needed to fit.

2. Spread the marmalade evenly over the top of the bread. Distribute the cream cheese evenly over the marmalade.

3. Spread the remaining butter on one side of each of the remaining slices of bread. Arrange these bread slices over the marmalade and cream cheese layer with the buttered side up.

4. In a medium-size bowl, beat the eggs and the sugar together. Beat in the milk, vanilla and nutmeg.

5. Pour the egg mixture over the bread. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours, or overnight.

6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the egg mixture is no longer liquid. Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Leftovers can be refrigerated. Microwave individual leftover servings.

Another recipe like this one: French Toast Casserole with Cardamom and Pears