Sweet

MaryMac Berry Farm

image_3There can be so much joy in picking your own fruit. I felt it yesterday while picking blueberries at MaryMac Berry Farm in Brownsboro, a few miles east of Huntsville.image_9The experience became all the more delightful when I took the fresh berries home and made a batch of blueberry muffins. Just knowing the berries were plucked from their stems mere hours before they were dunked in a dense batter and baked, made me feel good.image_7The farm is really wonderful. It’s tucked away along the foothills of Monte Sano, which provide a gorgeous backdrop by the small farm. We went early Saturday morning when the dew was still heavy on the bushes. image_4

frametasticThe grower advised us to look inside the bushes for the biggest, bluest ones and they were indeed bigger and bluer there. Some grow in little bunches like grapes while others grow alone on a solitary stem.

The best part of berry-picking is eating them as you go and noticing how one tastes curiously different from another. Each blueberry had its own distinctive sweetness and flavor. I even ventured to believe that certain bushes produced better-tasting berries than others.image_8They are splendid just by themselves or on cereal but I decided to make muffins out of them too. It was nice to liberally pour the blueberries in the batter because I had so many at-hand. I used about two cups of berries so that each bite would be packed with fruit.image_10I’m glad I did that. Just look at what happened inside these muffins. The fresh blueberries exploded into an amazing violence of dark, antioxidant-packed juices.

I hope you can also find joy in picking fruit. It is, after all, summertime! Stay tuned for more summer produce-related posts…

Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Okay folks, the verdict is in and I can say this cake is obscenely good. I never knew chocolate, eggs, butter and sugar could become something quite amazing when combined a certain way.

The ingredients are few but the technique is immense. This is the beauty of baking.

I give full recipe credits to Noah, who is a music producer and DJ in Los Angeles. He served this cake at one of his dinner parties years ago and I never forgot it. I saved the recipe to try making it someday.

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If you want to give it a go, use quality ingredients. The recipe suggests Scharffen Berger semi-sweet chocolate, Plugra butter, good vanilla extract and the freshest eggs you could find.

Thank goodness I found these items at an organic supermarket in Huntsville. I have a thing for exceptionally good ingredients and in this case, I assure you the extra expense will make a difference.

Before you begin, get your situation in place because things are gonna get a little crazy. At least, it did for me. I like to have everything set-up in advance… like making sure my eggs are room-temperature, getting the pan greased and having the measuring spoons and necessary bowls out and ready.

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Separate the eggs. I’ve learned the best way to separate eggs (especially if you’re separating many) is to crack them all in one bowl then, with clean hands, scoop out the yolks from the whites. You can go with the traditional way using the shells or if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can use a water bottle.frametasticMelt the chocolate. The chocolate I bought came in block-form so I used a large kitchen knife to chop it up. Put the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl along with the butter and melt over a pot of simmering water.
frametastic(2)You could do this using a microwave too. Stir until it becomes shiny. Set aside.

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Whisk the egg yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar. I didn’t go too crazy with this process but I’ve seen some recipes that tell you to beat the yolks and sugar until it becomes very light and air-whipped. Stir in the vanilla extract.frametastic(1)Stir the melted chocolate mixture into the yolk and sugar mixture.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat. You don’t want the whites to become chunky.
frametasticFold the whites into the chocolate/yolk mixture. Don’t stir too vigorously or whisk; simply fold as you turn the bowl around and around to incorporate the fluffy whites. The mixture will triple in volume but keep going until it’s all mixed in.

By this time I am thinking, wow. This is quite a journey. I felt like such a novice…

Pour the batter into a 9-inch, greased springform pan. Save about half a cup of the batter for later. Bake for about 30-35 minutes in a 325-degree oven.frametastic(1)Once it’s out of the oven, the cake is high like a souffle but as it cools, it will deflate and crumble deliciously, as shown above.

Cool completely before pouring the remaining batter on top for a frosting effect. You can skip this step if you’re worried about raw eggs.

Place in the freezer overnight to set then serve.

You can serve this with a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

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Just don’t faint after trying it because it is that good.

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In short:

Chocolate Mousse Cake
9.7 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325. Melt chocolate with butter over very low heat. Stir until smooth and set aside. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar. Gradually stir in chocolate and vanilla. Beat whites until soft peaks. Gradually add remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff. Fold whites into chocolate mixture. Pour 3/4 of batter into a 9 inch springform pan. Cover and refrigerate remaining batter. Bake cake for 35 minutes. Let cool completely. Spread remaining batter over top of cake. Freeze overnight.

Preview: Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Wow. So that’s what it takes to bake a chocolate mousse cake. I just took it out of the oven and it looks beautiful.

It is flourless, it is difficult, and as you can see from the picture above, it uses only top-notch ingredients. Too exhausted to write the full entry now. Standby for my post soon!

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Today was a chocolate chip cookie kind of day.

I already had most of the ingredients to whip up this batch on a last-minute whim but I still needed butter, chocolate chips and a baking sheet.

I picked up the needed items at Walmart and told the cashier lady, “guess what I’m doing today!” We chatted about baking and then she asked me, “are you a mom?”

I was surprised! I said no, no yet, (ha!) then said bye and left. I’m guessing she asked so she could wish me a happy Mother’s Day. If I were home, I would definitely have baked these for my mom.

This is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe ever since an old roommate introduced it to me during our grad school days. I didn’t use Scharffen Berger chocolate (Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels did the job just fine) but the recipe’s liberal use of butter always keeps me coming back to make these.

The recipe is as follows, courtesy of Chowhound.

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 ssticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (approximately 8 ounces)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts (your favorite), optional

Method
Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl.

Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture and blend well; scrape the bowl again. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just mixed; scrape down the bowl. Add the chocolate and optional nuts and mix until incorporated into the dough.

Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake, switching the position of the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are golden brown but the centers seem slightly underdone, about 13 minutes. Do not overbake or the cookies will be crisp throughout instead of chewy. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely. The cookies will crinkle as they cool. (Store at room temperature in airtight containers for up to 1 week.)

Key Lime Pie

Paestry readers, I present thee a Key lime pie. Let’s just say I’ve been on a pie-baking roll. I don’t recall what inspired this one — usually I get a sudden jolt of motivation to bake a pie from something truly inspiring — but this time I simply decided. When I made one for a July 4th barbecue I realized what a delightful summertime dessert it is: refreshing, sweet, easy.

Talk about easy! Upon studying recipes, most all of them have only three ingredients for the filling: egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. That’s it! For whatever reason I thought it would be far more complicated but it’s actually quite semi-homemade.

A note about limes:

So how important is it to use Key limes versus the regular limes we usually find at the store? Wikipedia says the Key lime is more bitter and tart in flavor. I completely agree. The pie I made had a distant bitterness to it which bothered me at first, but later became very pleasing for a sweet pie. Those regular limes, by the way, are also known as Tahitian or Persian limes. They’re larger, more deeply green and apparently less acidic.

In fact, seeing recipes for Key lime pie reminded me of another recipe I saw awhile back for Meyer lemon pie. It uses the same graham cracker crust, egg yolks and condensed milk and of course, Meyer lemon juice. I am very intrigued by this and plan on trying this version someday. Meyer lemons are less sour than the typical lemon and have an orangey twang to them. Can you guess that I’m in love with citrus?

Limes awaiting their violent death.

To be reincarnated into a pie.

I fresh-squeezed every single lime. Key limes turn out to be rather small and knobbly and thus very cumbersome to squeeze. But I did it using a teaspoon and gutted those bad boys until I had about 1/2 a cup of lime juice. One tip for squeezing limes is pushing them down with your palm while rolling them on a hard surface to coax the juice before slicing. Another tip per Rachael Ray is zapping them in the microwave for no more than 10 seconds to get the juices going — it actually works!

As with most pies, making the crust is the hardest part. I ground graham crackers in a food processor until they became crumbs and added sugar and melted butter. Press down the mixture on a pan until it forms a crust. This took forever!

Here’s the recipe from Epicurious. Don’t forget the fresh whipped cream on top.

Ingredients

For crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.
Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie:

Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).
Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.