Ilona Chovancova: Mini cakes with Gruyère, Parmesan and Nuts

From Marvellous Mini Cakes, pp. 10-11.

I recently came across quite by chance a series called Les Petites Plats Français (Small French Plates), published by Simon & Schuster. The measurement are all metric, so I imagine this series was intended for a British audience. Because they were so cheap, I picked up this one, Sensational Cupcakes, and Meringue Magic — the kind of marketing that makes me want to retch — to draw upon for my contributions to the monthly drinks-and-nibbles party I attend. Of course, my new cookbooks provided me with the opportunity to acquire more cooking equipment (just what I need!). For the second time recently, Sur La Table has come through brilliantly for me. Not only did they have exactly the mini loaf pans I needed at an exceptionally reasonable price, I also found silicon molds for mini cupcakes, my preferred size for cocktail parties (but I couldn’t find a link to them on Sur La Table’s website).

Although the recipes produced only six mini loaves, those six go a long ways. Sliced, they are a good vehicle for cheese, bits of prosciutto, or a slice of fig. And from start to finish it took me about forty-five minutes to make them. Not bad, when you have to rush out the door for a party…

Preparation time: 10 minutes.

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Makes 4-6 mini cakes

2 eggs

70 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) olive oil

70 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) milk

140g (5 oz) plain flour, sifted

70g (2 1/2 oz) grated Gruyère cheese

1 teaspoon baking powder

50 g (scant 2 oz) Parmesan cheese, crumbled into large chunks

70 g (2 1/2 oz) grated Parmesan

6 peppercorns (black or Szechuan), ground to a rough powder

Shadowcook: Another reason to get the Kuhn Rikon ratchet mill at Sur La Table.

a handful of walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 180 C / 375 F.

Grease your cake molds and dust with flour.

Shadowcook: I used olive oil.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the oil and milk. Add the flour, Gruyère cheese, both lots of Parmesan cheese, the ground peppercorns and the walnuts. Season with salt and stir togethewr. Add the baking powder.

As soon as you have stirred in the baking powder, divide the mixture between the molds and put in the oven straight away.

Cook for around 30 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, keep an eye on the cakes and prick with a skewer if they seem ready. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done.

Leave in tins to cool slightly before turning out.

Tip: You can also keep aside a quarter of the crumbled Parmesan cheese and sprinkle it on the mini cakes just before cooking.

Mona Talbott’s Biscotti Lucia

from Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, p. 45.

Who doesn’t like cookies? My sister, for one, but practically everyone else does. They make a wonderful gift to bring to a party instead of or in addition to a bottle of wine. The friends at the monthly circulating cocktail party I belong to enjoyed these Italian almond cookies. Several people tried to pocket a few to take home at the end of the evening. A good sign.

My favorite cookie book is Martha Stewart’s. But, in this case, if the rest of the collection turns out as well as this first attempt, then Mona Talbott’s Biscotti is going to run a close second, a tie with Carol Field’s Italian cookies. Talbott’s recipes hint at how underrated Italian cookies are. My own impression, at any rate, had been that they tend to be bland. And in all the  years I visited Italy I ate nothing that dissuaded me of that impression. Good bakers are hard to find in Italy. Yet, when you find them, good Italian cookies are satisfying in a minimalist way.

I doubled the recipe proportions, because 1 1/2 egg whites seems a bit too fussy and I knew I’d find enough people to eat a double batch. So, the amounts below represent double proportions.

I have a couple of suggestions to supplement the simple and clear instructions…

For about 50 cookies

500g / 18 0z blanched almonds

400g / 2 cups granulated sugar

6 g / 2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 g / 1 tsp lemon zest

3 egg whites, lightly beaten

50 or a few more whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until the almonds are chopped medium fine.

Shadowcook: It’s okay if there are big bits of nuts. The pulsing took longer than I expected.

Transfer the nut-sugar mixture to a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest and mix well. Gently fold in the lightly beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Shadowcook: I put the egg whites in the Kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment. I turned the mixer on to medium and whisked the whites until they were frothy but not solid white, about 1 minute.

Roll the dough into 28 small balls (18 g / 3/4 oz) and top each cookie with a blanced almond.

Shadowcook: Rolling the balls is a lot easier if your hands are wet.

Transfer the cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them 2 cm / 3/4 inch apart.

Bake for 10 minutes. the cookies will be light in color and will form a nice crust as they cool.

Shadowcook: Be prepared to leave them in a oven longer than 10 minutes. You won’t be able to tell if the cookies are done cooking by touching them. If you want to be sure that you cook them the proper amount of time for them to finish cooking, try baking one ball on its own for 10-15 mins. My oven’s temperature is such that I wound up baking the cookies for 15 minutes.

And it’s true that cooling cookies on a rack is where the crust forms. Cooling is almost as important a step as baking in bringing a cookie to perfection.

These cookies will keep for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container.

Nick Malgieri: Sour Cream Cheesecake

Recipe from my aunt, perhaps available somewhere here.

Cheesecake. I know, so eighties. This one, however, knocked my socks off. I recently visited my beloved aged aunt in New Jersey. Age has not diminished her cooking. She’s the kind of relative whose food turns out to be as good in your adulthood as you remember it being in your childhood. I probably acquired my love of cooking from her.

If anything is responsible for the cheesecake’s fall from favor, I attribute it to the graham cracker crust. A shortbread bottom crust sets this cheesecake apart from all others I’ve eaten. The cake is creamy and light. The shortbread base stays firm to the cut of a fork. This recipe will make you nostalgic for the luscious sort of cheesecake that we all used to make in the ’80s.

Make this recipe the day before you plan on eating it:

Equipment:

1 (3-inch deep) 9-inch springform pan

a 10×15-inch jellyroll pan

Cheesecake base:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measure cup and level off)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:

1 pound (16 oz) cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1 (16 oz) sour cream

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of the springform pan and line with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside.

Shadowcook: I took this to mean: cut a circle of parchment or wax paper and place over the round buttered bottom of the springform pan.

To make the base, beat together the butter and sugar by hand until light and fluffy. Beat in the yolk until smooth. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. With a rubber spatula, gently fold into the butter mixture. The mixture will be crumbly.

Shadowcook: You’ll probably have to gather it into a ball of dough with your hands. It will easily fall apart. Don’t overwork it. Remember, this is a crust that does not go up the sides of the cake.

Place the dough in the pan and use your hands to pat it down evenly and firmly over the bottom. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and baked through. Transfer to a rack and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To make the batter: In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on the lowest speed just until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Add the sugar in a stream, mixing for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape again. Add 1 cup of sour cream and mix only until it is absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining sour cream. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed; stop and scrape after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Shadowcook: I suspect the reason for Malgieri’s insistance on underbeating rather than overbeating is that the cake is less likely to set firm during the baking the more you beat the batter. So, even if there are lumps, err on the side of underbeating the batter.

Wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan so it comes at least one inch up the sides. Pour the batter into the pan. Place the pan in a jellyroll pan or roasting pan and pour warm water into the pan to a depth of 1/2-inch.

Shadowcook: I used my big rectangular pyres baking dish and I poured in boiling water around the cake pan higher than 1/2-inch.

Bake the cheesecake for about 55 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from the oven and lift the cheesecake out of the hot water. Remove the foil and let cool completely on a rack. Wrap the cheesecake and chill overnight.

Shadowcook: Expect some condensation to form under the surface of the wrap.

To unmold the cheesecake, run a knife or thin spatula around the inside of the pan pressing the knife against the pan, not the cake. Unbuckle the pan side and lift off. Leave the cake on the base, or run a spatula under the cake base and slide the cake onto a platter.

Shadowcook: A few hours before serving, I roasted about 2 cups of hazelnuts in a 350 F oven. While they were still warm, I put the nuts in a tea towel and rubbed them vigorously to get the skins off the nuts. Then I took a kitchen mallet and crushed them into pieces. Using a long, thin spatula, I applied the crushed nuts around the side of the cake. Then I put the cake back in the refrigerator to set.