Cashew Cookies

Cashew Cookies

Cashew Fruit

Cashew Fruit

In a quirk of holiday cookie extravaganzas featured in so many publications this time of the year, my sister in law asked me what is a classic cookie in Brazil.

Pão de Mel? Bem Casado? I started to think about our Brazilian repertoire. As an unapologetic nibbler of nuts, my thoughts turned to cashew fruit, in Portuguese called “ Cajú” and remembered old versions of Gourmet magazines with its infinite cookie possibilities.

The beautiful mixture of red, orange and red color makes cashew fruit of the most used symbols of Brazilian tropicalism, and its delicious taste is quite different from other fruits, displaying a tannins trait, an astringent woody and pucker feel, common in black teas, red wines and other unripe fruits.

From Cashews to Cookies 3

Because of this quality, the fruit is rarely consumed in its raw state. It is mostly sold in pulps, and featured in juices, ice creams, jellies, drinks, and candies. But it is the castanha de cajú— the nut— that has the most importance economically speaking.

Brazil stands as a significant producer and exporter of cashew nuts followed by India and Vietnam. Most of the cashews nuts harvested in Brazil are destined for export to Europe, Japan, and North America. The US alone imports about 35,000 tons annually according to latest statistics.

Although cashew fruit is grown in all tropical states of the country, the biggest producers are the states of Ceará, Piauí, and Rio Grande do Norte.

Inspired by this bonanza of cashew nuts sold in Brazil, I decided to feature this recipe for cashew cookies.

Man selling cashew nuts on the beach

Man selling cashew nuts on the beach

The dough is as easy as shortbread but the taste of cashews give a nutty aroma, perfect to satisfy any nut nibbler. I also love how the texture of cashews never get completely crack crunchy, like other nuts, for cashew nut has a softer bite, and when combined with the crunchy cookie, it makes the perfect cookie combination.

This cookie is simple and versatile. You can omit the cashews on top and fill it with a chocolate spread. You can also dip into chocolate. You can sandwich with jam in between… the possibilities are endless.

If you like to make cookies for the Holidays, this recipe is a great way to add a Brazilian flair to a beloved cookie and will certainly bring the Holiday spirit to your kitchen!

Cashew Cookies  (Inspired by Gourmet Magazine)

Cashew Cookies

Cashew Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

¾ cup (112g) raw cashews

½ cup (75g) all purpose flour

1/3 cup (60g) cornstarch

6 tablespoons (82g) unsalted butter at room temperature

¼ cup (55g) sugar

Pinch of salt

Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 350˚F.
Pulse ½ cup nuts in a food processor until finely ground being careful not to turn into a paste, then transfer to a small skillet. Toast the nuts over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent from burning until it just starts to turn pale golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cool completely.
Sift together the flour and cornstarch in a bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy, about 4 minutes.
Add the toasted ground cashews and incorporate.
Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour-starch mixture; mix just until dough forms.

The dough looks like this

The dough looks like this

7. Place dough in between two parchment paper sheets and roll out about 1/8-inch thick. Chill for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, coarsely chop remaining ¼ cup nuts.

Dough Flattened

Dough Flattened

8. Using a plain round 2-inch cookie cutter, cut as many circles as you can. Gather the dough, roll again, and cut circles again. You should have about 20-24 circles. Place in a sheet pan lined with a silicone mat, about ½ inch apart. Spread chopped nuts in the center of each cooking, and press ever so slightly to make sure the nuts stick to the dough.

9. Bake in the oven until lightly golden, about 14 minutes rotating once.

10. Transfer cookies to a rack and cool completely.

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

7 Nov 2012 Blog, Desserts, Recipes
My dream Pecan Pie

My dream Pecan Pie

Welcome November! With the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and the elections behind us, I think we all want to move on. Onto Thanksgiving, just around the corner, and the perfect occasion to be thankful for what we have. This is my favorite American Holiday and truly the biggest gourmet feast on the calendar year.

As a Brazilian living in the US, it took me a few years to understand the deep meaning of Thanksgiving— especially the repeated menu every year. On the other hand, the chef in me loves to see the whole country talking turkey and cooking this one giant meal.

One of my favorite desserts from the Thanksgiving picture is Pecan Pie. Over the last few years I have tried recipes from magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, and web sites. They are all good but in every recipe I wish something was different. There are just so many variables that impact the end result of a pecan pie.

Should I pre-roast the pecans before adding to the filling? Most recipes call for this step, but I noticed that the pecans have plenty of time to roast while baking, especially because they tend to rise to the surface, so pre-roasting, in my opinion, yields in a bitter nut.

Another step very common these days is the addition of chocolate pieces to the filling. Hey, I am a huge chocoholic, but I have decided that chocolate has no place in the pecan pie of my dreams. I think it changes the silky texture of the caramel, overwhelming the flavor, impeaching the caramel to shine on its own.

And what about the butter? In older versions of pecan pie, the butter is simply melted and cooled before incorporated to the filling, but in more recent ones, it calls for melting to a nutty point (beurre noisette). Let’s do that. It really adds great flavor without compromising the texture of the filling.

And what pan should I use? Many recipes call for a round fluted pan with removable bottom, but I realize that my pecan pie needs deep support system (like me!) so I am opting for a deep-dish pie pan. Should I make a little whipped cream on the side? It’s in fashion today to jazz up the whipped cream, like bourbon flavored, or spicy whipped cream. But let’s get real, the pecan pie already faces competition from other desserts, after all, there is always more than one treat at the table. Ok then, no side dish needs to get in this picture.

After trying different recipes and analyzing all these points year after year, I opted to create my own version of pecan pie and I simply love the result! I hope you will try it in your Thanksgiving table—and love it too. It’s the perfect combination of silky caramel and crunchy pecans mixed with a sweet crusty dough.

If you prefer to prepare the recipe a few days ahead of time, you can, just make sure to keep it wrapped in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature the day of Thanksgiving, and warm it up for 15-20 minutes in a 300˚F oven. Let it rest at room temperature before serving.

Without much further ado, here is the recipe:

Leticia’s Pecan Pie

For the Crust:

1 1/3 cups (205g) all-purpose flour, sifted

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons (28g) sugar

1 stick (115g or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, lightly chilled, cut into small cubes

3-4 tablespoons water

For the Filling:

6 large eggs

¾ cup (135g) sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup (320g) light corn syrup

½ cup (140g) maple syrup

½ cup (140g) dark corn syrup

4 tablespoons (63g) unsalted butter, melted slightly nutty and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups (230g) pecan halves, coarsely chopped

Equipment: a 9-inch fluted deep-dish pie

1. Prepare the Dough: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, sugar, and butter until it looks like a coarse meal. With the machine running, gradually add the water until the dough just starts to combine. Depending on humidity you might not need all the water. The dough should look evenly moistened.

2. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead lightly, enough to incorporate and feel smooth, about 4-5 turns. Flatten the dough into a disk, cover in plastic wrap, and chill to rest for at least 1 hour. (Dough can be made 2 days ahead of time and kept in refrigerator, or frozen up to 4 months.)

3. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle large enough to fit the dish. Transfer to the pie dish, pressing onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan, leaving a ½-inch up-overhang. Fold the dough under itself, and crimp the edges in a decorative way. Chill the pie dough in the fridge until filling is ready.

The dough is nice and smooth, very easy to work with

The dough is nice and smooth, very easy to work with

4. Prepare the Filling: Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 350˚F.

5. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Add the sugar, salt, corn syrup, maple, and dark syrup, and whisk until homogeneous. Mix in the melted butter and vanilla. Mix in the pecans and fold with a spatula.

6. Remove the pie dish from the fridge, and pour filling inside the crust.

7. Bake the Pie: Place pie dish on a baking sheet, and bake the pie in the oven until the crust is lightly golden and the filling is puffed and set in the center, about 1 hour.

8. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least 2 hours. Cut the pie into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Happy Thanksgiving! And enjoy this delicious recipe!

Happy Thanksgiving! And enjoy this delicious recipe!

Brazilian Beignet (Bolinho de Chuva)

Brazilian Beignet (Bolinho de Chuva)

Erick

Erick Vittorino’s Bolinhos de Chuva (Photo by Robert Souza)

Bolinho de Chuva roughly translates into “rain cake” but really this is a Brazilian version of a fried beignet, universally loved all lover the world. Erick Vittorino has been making this recipe since childhood, and still loves to prepare it. This is an adaptation of his recipe.

Bolinho de chuva (Brazilian Beignets)

Makes 25-30 Beignets

For the Dough:

2 whole eggs

1 cup (250ml) whole milk

1 tablespoon (14g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cup + 3 tablespoons (255g) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons (30g) sugar

2 cups vegetable oil for frying

For the Spiced Sugar:

1 cup (220g) sugar

1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Filling: One jar or can of excellent quality, store bought dulce de leche (I like La Salamandra, from Argentina)

1. Prepare the Dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla.

2. In another bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, and sugar.

3. Make a whole in the center of the flour mixture, add the liquids and whisk together until well combined. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Prepare the Sugar: in a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

5. Fry the Dough: Fill a medium saucepan with oil up to at least 2 ½ inches. Heat the oil to 350˚F measured on a deep-fat thermometer.

6. Spoon the dough directly into the oil and fry them in batches until lightly golden brown all over, about 2 to 3 minutes.

7. Using a slotted spoon remove the bolinhos from the oil and transfer while still hot to the cinnamon sugar mixture and roll to cover well.

8. Place the dulce de leche in a decorative bowl and serve on a side. Serve with plenty of napkins.

Sweet Corn Pudding (Canjica de Milho )

1 Jun 2012 Blog, Desserts, Recipes

Festa Junina and Sweet Corn Pudding (Canjica de Milho)

Festa de São João, also known as Festa Junina, is on June 21st and its origin comes from the commemoration in the Northern Hemisphere of the longest sunny day of the year, the summer solstice. The celebration was brought to Brazil centuries ago by priests to celebrate harvest season.

Festa Junina is not exactly a holiday. It’s more of a festival of foods and traditions cherished in some parts of the country and completely neglected in others, especially in urban cities like Rio and São Paulo.

But in many rural parts of the country, like Paritins on the Amazon River, or Campina Grande in the state of Paraíba, the traditional cuisine more faithfully reflects many of the local’s lifestyle, and as such, Festa Junina is still a huge deal throughout the entire month of June.

In these places, this folkloric celebration has acquired a kind of Brazilian identity, with special decorations (typical cut triangles), people wearing straw hats, and dancing a folk dance called quadrilha and forró around a giant bonfire, which legend says, it keeps the bad spirits far from the lands of harvest.

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Guava Paste Thumbprint Cookies

Guava Paste Thumbprint Cookies

When it comes to thumbprint cookies, the possibilities are endless. There are so many types of dough, nuts, and jellies. Over the years, I have tried dozen of combinations; some are great, some are good, and some are just boring.

But one kind of thumbprint cookie I hadn’t tried yet was a Brazilian version. It’s not that I didn’t think it about before, it’s just that I am usually kind of attached to some specific recipes from bakers I trust (likeDorie Greenspan and Nick Malgieri among a few) and end up repeating them over and over.

It was just a while ago, during a visit to a street market in Brazil, that I came across the most beautiful guava paste I had ever seen. It was also one of the most delicious I had ever tasted.

Guava Paste

Guava Paste

I always worry when bringing foods from Brazil into the US, especially when I see those mean old officers with their dogs sniffing luggage at the airport. But still, why not take the risk? I thought. The worst that could happen is for my guava paste to be confiscated. Lucky for me, it wasn’t.

Since I had walnuts in the pantry and those are fairly common in Brazil, that’s what I used to create this Brazilian version of thumbprint cookies.

Guava paste has a thicker consistency than most jams, so I added a little bit of water, and melted the paste to a pourable stage over very low heat. The only thing it lacked was brightness, so I added a few drops of lemon juice. It is important to pour the paste while it is still warm, so that it hardens inside the cookie.

I have also made this recipe using guava paste from local Brazilian stores here in the US, and it came out just as wonderful.

I always find the baking part of thumbprint cookies a little challenging, because as hard as I try to create the perfect indention— the thump part— it tends to lose its shape while baking. So during baking time, make sure to rotate the pan, and re-enforce that indention by using a teaspoon. When the cookies are done, I even scrape a tiny little crumb off to make room for paste.

After just a few minutes of baking, my cookies were done. It was crunchy, buttery, rich, and fresh. A perfect way to apply Brazilian flair into a traditional cookie.

 

 Guava Paste Thumbprint Cookies

 

Makes about 60 cookies

 

2 cups (210g) lightly toasted walnuts

1¾ cup (250g) cups flour

2 sticks (227g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup (112g) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

1 cup guava paste

few drops of lemon juice (optional)

1-    Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats.

2-    Place the walnuts in the food processor and whir until finely ground, being careful not to turn into a paste. Add the flour and process until well combined.

3-     Working with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the extracts and beat to blend. Reduce the speed to low, and add the nut-flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl, mixing only until it is incorporated into the dough.

4-    Working with a teaspoon of dough at a time, roll between the palms of your hand to form small balls and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Secure each cookie with one hand down at the sheet pan, and use the pinkie of your other hand, or the end of a wooden spoon to poke a whole in the center of each cookie. Be careful not to go all the way down to the baking sheet. Bake until slightly colored, about 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet at the mid time point.

Guava Paste Thumbprint Cookies 2

Guava Paste Thumbprint Cookies 3

5- Remove the baking sheets from the oven, and let them cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When it’s cool, sprinkle confection sugar. Repeat baking procedure with all the dough.

6- Place the guava paste in a sauce pan and add just a few drops of water to melt the paste to the consistency of jam. Add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness (optional). You want to fill the cookies while the jam is still warm, so that it hardens inside the cookie. Fill the indentations of all cookies with enough warm guava jam to come to the level with the tops. Cool at room temperature.

Delicioso!

Delicioso!

Banana Flan (Pudim de Banana)

Banana Flan (Pudim de Banana)

3 Nov 2011 Blog, Desserts, Recipes

When I lived in Brazil and wanted to cook, people looked at me as if I was from a different planet. Regardless, I started to take my hobby more seriously as a young teenager and looked for cooking classes in my hometown of Rio de Janeiro. There was very little available, the exception being Gracia Wenna, the owner of Ma Cuisine, who was my first serious cooking teacher. I have such nice memories from that time and still keep old recipes from her cooking classes. Actually, I keep telling myself that I should try to track her down one of these days. Either way, we are talking here about 25 years ago, a time when cooking classes was a joke.

Boy, times have changed! On my last trip to Rio, I had the chance to visit a new cooking school called Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia. Suffice to say that my jaw dropped when I saw of a kitchen theater designed for large demonstrations classes, fully equipped with the latest cooking gadgets and appliances.

Located in Botafogo, a traditional neighborhood in Rio, the building was completely remodeled for the special needs of a cooking school, which by the way, was founded by Harold Lethiais, a Frech chef from the Normandie region.

He arrived in Brazil in 1987, as the chef for a cruise ship, and like many Frenchmen who come to Brazil, he fell in love with the country. Fast forward a few years, and he started his cooking school with the help of five other food enthusiasts as partners.

Each kitchen displays granite counters, mixers and blenders stacked on the shelves, and lots of bowls under each station— not that different from the facilities we see in some of the best cooking schools in the US.

The program is varied and interesting, offering classes to virtually everyone who loves to cook, weather an aspiring chef, a serious foodie, or a culinary tourist.

Unquestionably, Rio has always been a global tourist destination. Besides enjoying the beaches, music, and the famous Carnival, visitors to Rio now can also enjoy cooking classes, and learn to cook traditional local dishes at Espaço Carioca.

Tastings make for a fun evening. On the day I visited, Harold was presenting a beer tasting, with about 30 people learning the nuances of different beers. Kids also have a chance, with cooking classes designed specifically for the next generation of chefs.

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As I was leaving the Espaço Carioca, I kept thinking about how different my life would have been had a school like that been available to me back when. And then, as fast as I ran to grab a cab, I realized that if that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing about it here.

Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia

Rua Teresa Guimaraes, 26

Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro

Tel: (55 21) 3598-1216

e-mail: [email protected]

web: http://www.cariocagastronomia.com.br

Below, is a recipe for Pudim de Banana from Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia.

Pudim de Banana do Espaço Carioca

 Banana Pudding from Espaço Carioca

Serves 6-8

For the Caramel:

¾ cup (135g) sugar

3 tablespoons (45ml) water

For the Flan:

1 14oz can (396g) sweetened condensed milk

2½ cups (600ml) whole milk

3 large eggs

3 bananas, mashed (1 ¼ cup or 315g)

½ cup (62g) bread crumbs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon cinnamon powder

Equipment: one tube pan with capacity for 5 cups

  1. Place the sugar and water in a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook the sugar over high heat without stirring, until it turns into an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes.
  2. Pour the caramel into the cake mold and swirl it around making sure the caramel evenly covers the whole bottom of the pan. You don’t want to have any concentrated lumps of caramel in any part of the pan. Be advised that the caramel will continue to cook once it’s off the heat, so work fast.  Set the pan aside.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F.
  4. Mix all the ingredients for the flan in a blender or a food processor, until smooth. Slowly pour it into the prepared caramel pan. Transfer the caramel pan to a large roasting pan and fill it with warm water so that it comes half ways up the sides of the pan. Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the center of the oven and bake until the custard is set, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  5.  Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Transfer the custard pan to a wire rack. Let it cool at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. It’s important to invert the flan only when it is chilled completely, otherwise it might break.
  6. When ready to serve, run a smooth knife around the inside of the cake pan. Place a large rimmed serving platter on top of the cake pan, and holding the pans together with both hands, quickly invert the flan onto the platter. Hold the pans so for at least 1 minute to make sure all the juices of the caramel fall onto the platter.

Coconut Cake (Bolo de Côco)

10 Mar 2011 Blog, Desserts, Recipes

Recipe for Toalha Felpuda

This is Toalha Felpuda adapted from Colher de Pau’s original recipe.

Serves 8 to 10

Cake:

6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 ½ cups (250g) potato starch, sifted (**)

1 ¾ cups (350g) sugar, divided

½ cup (125 ml) coconut milk, heated and cooled (to soak the cake)

Coconut Pastry Cream:

1 2/3 cup (400ml) coconut milk

3 egg yolks

5 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons (25g) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup + 2 tablespoons (150ml) heavy cream

¾ cup (50g) unsweetened grated coconut

Coconut Meringue:

50 ml water

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (190g) sugar

125 ml egg whites

Pinch salt

¼ cup (60g) sugar

1 ½ cup (100g) unsweetened grated coconut, preferably fresh

Procedure:

1. Set an oven rack in the middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 325˚F. Butter a 10X2 inch round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter again, and dust with flour shaking off the excess.

2. To Make the Cake: in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whish the yolks with ½ cup (100g) of sugar until it has thickened and turned pale yellow.

3. In another bowl also fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. With the mixer running, gradually sprinkle the remaining sugar and beat until soft peaks forms.

4. Using a rubber spatula, fold one third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then the remaining egg whites.

5. Slowly sprinkle the potato starch over the mixture and fold carefully with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the potato starch from accumulating or making lumps.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake rotating the sheet about two thirds of the way through the baking time until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

7. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cake out and let it cool completely on the rack.

8. To Make the Coconut Pastry Cream: in a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and cornstarch.

9. In a saucepan bring the coconut milk to a simmer. Whisking constantly, pour the hot coconut milk into the bowl with the yolk mixture, gradually at first to temper it, and then more quickly. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. The mixture should thicken to a pudding-like consistency, about 3 minutes.

10. Transfer the coconut pastry cream to a bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes to cool a bit. Whisk in the butter and vanilla.

11. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar until nice and fluffy. Fold into the coconut cream pastry cream. Finally fold in the dried coconut. Press plastic wrap directly over the cream to prevent a crust from forming, and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.

12. To Make the Coconut Meringue: Place 1 cup of the sugar with the water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to boil. When bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, begin to whip the egg whites.

13. Place the egg whites, pinch of salt, and the remaining sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium speed until peaks form.

14. In the meantime, insert a candy thermometer into the sugar mixture. When the sugar reaches 250˚F (121˚C), pour the cooked sugar down the sides of the bowl while you continue to whip the whites. (Alternatively, you can check the sugar by plunging your fingers into an ice water then dipping quickly into the sugar to catch a sample – it should feel like what is called – a soft-ball stage). Continue whipping the meringue on medium-high speed until the outside of the bowl is warm but not hot, about 5 minutes.

15. To Assemble the Cake, use a long serrated knife to trim the top and sides of the cake. Cut the cake into three equal horizontal layers. Set one layer cut side up on a cardboard and brush deliberately with coconut milk. Scoop about half of the coconut pastry cream and spread over the cake with an offset spatula. Top with another layer, brush with coconut milk, and spread the remaining coconut milk. Set the third layer on top, cut side down, and give a very thing coating of the meringue to capture any loose crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes, until the meringue is set, and spread the cake with the remaining meringue. Gently press the coconut all over the cake to coat completely.

(**) Different brands of potato starch weight differently. If using Bob Red Mill brand, add 3 tablespoons of potato starch to reach exactly 250g.

Portuguese Flan from Priscos (Pudim Abade de Priscos)

Portuguese Flan from Priscos (Pudim Abade de Priscos)

10 Jan 2011 Blog, Desserts, Recipes

Pudim Abade de Priscos

My love for Portuguese sweets keeps on growing at the first sight of an eggy recipe. So after writing this 3 part series, I couldn’t resist to offer you a recipe for Pudim Abade de Priscos, originated in the Convento dos Congregados, in Braga, Portugal. Traditionally, this Pudim is made is a large single mold, but due to its richness I find it is better served in a small individual ramekin.

OBS: In Portuguese we use the word PUDIM usually referring to a molded custard, not to be confused with pudding.

Inspired by The Food & Cooking of Portugal/ Miguel Castro e Silva.

Makes 18

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

¾ cup + 4 tablespoons water

¼ cup (45 g) lard *

1 cinnamon stick

1 small piece lemon rind

15 egg yolks (about 250 g)

¼ cup (60 ml) Port wine

½ teaspoon lemon juice

18 one-once ramekins (or custard cups, or mini muffin molds)

Procedure:

1- Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F (do not use convection oven). Line a roasting pan or a large baking dish with double thickness of paper towels. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil;, when it boils, turn off the heat.

2- To make the caramel: Place 1 cup sugar and 4 tablespoons water into a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar turns into an amber-colored caramel, about 4 minutes. Distribute the caramel carefully and evenly among the ramekins coating the bottom. Set them aside.

3- To make the pudim: In another medium heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the remaining 1 cup sugar, ¾ cup water, lard, cinnamon and lemon rind to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the sugar mixture becomes thick syrup (about 215 ˚F on a candy thermometer). Strain into a bowl and chill over an ice bath for 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick and lemon.

4- Place the yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk in the port and lemon juice. Add the cooled sugar syrup and whisk everything until it’s nice and smooth. Strain once again into a large bowl with a spout.

5- Distribute the custard evenly among the ramekins pouring carefully without forming any bubbles. Place the ramekins inside the roasting pan and fill with hot water from the kettle to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the pudims are set, about 35 minutes. Be sure to rotate the pan once during baking time,

6- Remove the roasting pan from the oven, transfer the ramekins to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.

7- Run a knife between the custard and the sides of the ramekins to loosen it. Place a small plate over each ramekin, quickly flip the plate and ramekin over and remove the ramekins; the pudim will shimmy out and the caramel will coat the pudim.

* lard is rendered pork fat, easy to find at your regular butcher or supermarket. Technically you can also use bacon fat, but the smoky flavor of the bacon does not go so well with this dessert (at least in my opinion).

Tamarind Ice Cream

Whenever I think of tamarind, the first thought that comes to my mind is a small, round, dark brown candy that was sold by the street vendor in front of my school. When I was a little girl in Brazil, I use to eat one every day after school while waiting for the bus.

But the fruit of the tamarind is far more than a memory from childhood. It is one of the greatest sources of sour taste in cooking. It is broadly found in the cooking of India, Asia, and African dishes. In Brazil, although the fruit grows abundantly since the tall tamarind tree adapts perfectly to our tropical climate, it has never been explored to its full potential. But now in the wave of “wake up to our local ingredients” it’s nouvelle cuisine.

Recently in Brazil, I bought a small tray and devoured the whole thing by myself in a matter of minutes. To suck on a tamarind pit is to experiment the quintessential taste of the exotic. As you can see in the photos, the fruit itself is not your typical apple, orange, or banana. There is very little pulp, and the size of the pit occupies most of the fruit. In my opinion, this so called “fruit” is almost like a natural paste of tamarind that carries so much acid and so much sugar that it feels like eating that tamarind candy of my childhood.

The secret of cooking with tamarind is how to best extract the pulp. To use the fruit, you have to crack the fava, peel it, and clean away the “hair”. If you have about ¼ lb (125g) place that in a glass bowl and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes periodically mashing the tamarind with your fingers. Strain and discard the pit and any debris. Keep this concentrated paste in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tamarind can be used in many different ways: In Brazil it is mostly used in sauces, and juices. In India is common in chutneys and curries. In the US, tamarind can be found in the form of paste, cubes, or frozen pulp.

The recipe below is adapted from ©Joseluis Flores and Laura Zimmerman Maye cookbook Dulce, Rizzoli, 2010

Tamarind Ice Cream

Helado de Tamarindo

Serves 8

2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream

1 cup (240ml) whole milk

¾ cup (150g) sugar

7 egg yolks

1 cup tamarind puree*

1 – In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

2 – In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Continue whisking while pouring a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the yolks. This will temper the yolks and keep them from curdling. While whisking the hot cream mixture, gradually add the tempered yolk. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium – low heat until the custard coats the back the back of the spoon, being careful not to boil, about 4 minutes. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a clean bowl.

3 – Chill the custard in the refrigerator until very cold, about 3 hours or use an ice bath. Stir in the tamarind puree. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

* In the US tamarind paste can be found in many Asian or Indian markets. In New York, I recommend www.kalustyans.com.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are quite a few foods from the American cuisine repertoire that are now deeply entrenched in my vein and I just can’t live without them. Even when I am in Brazil, surrounded by passion fruits, pineapples, and other exotic fruits, images of the foods I eat at home in America often swim across my brain.

Chocolate chip cookies are on top of my list. My infatuation with this quintessential American treat started when I was a 14-year old teenager in a foreign exchange student program in San Diego, CA. I started my trip fairly skinny and came back with a generous 10 pounds extra, all on chocolate chip cookies. At that time, Miss Fields and David’s Cookies cluttered every corner of the sunshine state. So there I was, a declared Brazilian cookie monster, literally.

Fast forward 20 years, I have tried hundreds of recipes since then and became very particular about the subject. My children often eat chocolate chip cookies out of a bag, those small little quarter sized cookies, much too crispy and completely dried all around. They don’t even tickle me. Other times I see chocolate chip cookies the size of a salad plate. Not a chance– pass. In my opinion, the perfect chocolate chip cookie (a Brazilian talking about a chocolate chip cookie? I know I am being brave here) should be about 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter (7 to 8 cm) so that the edges are crispy all around and the center slightly chewy. In every bite I want a combination of both and only a cookie with those dimensions will really provide you with such memorable mouthful bites.

On my last trip to Brazil, already aware of my usual spasms of Americana homesickness, I came a little better prepared. I brough along a recipe that changed my life. About two years ago, food writer extraordinaire David Leite (publisher of the amazing web site www.leitesculinaria.com) published an article at The New York Times about chocolate chip cookies that captures every thing I always wanted from a cookie.

We don’t even need to talk about the kind of chocolate to use, do we? Take all those chips you bought in your regular groceries store from your pantry and throw them away – they are designed to resist melting. You want chocolate that melts; disks or coarsely chopped, either one will be just fine.

Back to the amazing recipe, the breaking ground of the article is … drum roll, please…that dough improves while resting in the refrigerator. That’s right, no chocolate chip cookie is worth eating unless the batter rests for 2 days in the fridge.

“ A long hydration time is important because eggs, unlike, say, water, are gelatinous and slow-moving”, David wrote.

I tried the recipe many times, and made a slight modification by trimming the amount of sugar. Other than that, the recipe is a winner. Another point that is crucial to remember is that the best time to eat cookies is 20 to 25 minutes out of the oven.

If a cookie has been sitting there for hours, here is what I do: bring the cookie back to life. First, take it home. I know you want to eat it immediately, but hold your horses and be a little patience. It’s worth it. Pre-heat the oven at 350˚F and re-bake the cookie for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cookie from the oven and transfer to a rack for another 20 minutes. Grab a glass of milk, and munch, munch,munch…

Like everything in life, a little bit of patience also gives chocolate chip cookies the best results.

Here is my adaptation of David Leite’s The New York Time’s Chocolate Chip Cookies from my Brazilian kitchen in Rio:

3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks (60 % cacao content)

Procedure:

1. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars together until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

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