Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let me eat brownies

The week after we moved into the new place, we had some friends over for a housewarming/my birthday party. We had the grill going on the terrace, which has a pretty great view of the neighborhood. Oh, you guys are right by the Bhering factory, one friend (who is way cooler than we are) said immediately. He explained that the abandoned factory has now been turned into an artist colony and that it's become quite well known within the Brazilian art scene. 

Bhering is a chocolate company. I know because it's the brand of cocoa powder I buy to make brownies. And although you can't tell in the picture, the red ball on the right atop the clock says BHERING, like the logo on the cocoa box.

Yep, cocoa powder brownies. I always used to use bar chocolate, a lot of it, when I made brownies. For many years I used Ruth Reichl's brownie recipe, which is pretty damn solid but requires you to beat the eggs for 10 minutes. The reason I switched to brownies made with cocoa powder, though, has nothing to do with my arm hating me and everything to do with texture. I know there are some people who like "cakey" brownies, but I can't say I really understand their preference. Like, at all...why wouldn't you just eat chocolate cake? Which is my way of saying that I want my brownies to be fudgy and chewy,  and as it turns out, using cocoa powder in brownies does just that, and it does it consistently. Whereas many brownie recipes that call for bar chocolate produce a batter with a fine line between goo and overdone, this recipe produces a batter with far more wiggle room and, in my humble opinion, better results. Actually, I should definitely mention that it's not just in my humble opinion-- the original recipe here is from Alice Medrich, a trustworthy source in all things chocolate if there ever was one. I've tweaked the recipe after making it so many times, but the basic blueprint is all her.

Every time I have brought these to a party people go crazy and they disappear in under 5 minutes (and then ask for the recipe). Which brings me to a big pet peeve of mine which I've ranted about before around here: Do not tell me you don't like American food. You just haven't had a decent version of it, I wish McDonald's hadn't taken over the world and sullied our name. And also, don't tell me you don't like American food especially when you WILLINGLY both go to McDonald's and pay outrageous prices for horrible versions of brownies and burgers at "American food" places in Rio. Not my fault. Also, ::cough::, the owners of those places are South American, no American would ever make a chocolate chip cookie with 5 chocolate chips placed on top of the dough (and none actually mixed in). Rant over! Go make some brownies.

News: Below the English and Spanish, my first recipe in Portuguese! I don't imagine it will become a habit quite yet, in this case someone asked for the recipe at a party recently, so the gauntlet was thrown (and a friend of mine helped proofread).

Brownies (with Dulce de Leche)
     adapted from Alice Medrich

5 oz. (140 g. or 10 Tbsp.) butter, salted or unsalted
8.8 oz. (250 g.) white sugar                                                                                 
2.8 oz. (80 g.) unsweetened cocoa powder (non-Dutch process)
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean
2 Tbsp. extra strong coffee (recently made)
2 eggs
2.3 oz. (66 g.) all-purpose flour
optional: dulce de leche, walnuts, pecans*

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 8 in. x 8 in. square pan with parchment paper.
Combine the butter, sugar and chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring until the butter has completely melted and everything is well combined. Remove the bowl from the stove and add in the salt, vanilla and coffee, stirring well, then beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well until the batter is thick and shiny. Add in the flour and mix well. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes (take them out when they are still a little bit wet if you stick a knife in but the top is dry and matte). Let the brownies cool before cutting.

*For dulce de leche, once the batter is in the pan, add small dollops of dulce de leche on top, leaving space between the dollops. Pass a knife though the batter so that it drags the dulce de leche into the chocolate (make sure that the knife doesn't touch the bottom of the pan so you don't cut into the parchment paper). For nuts and pecans, lightly toast them in the oven first, then stir them into the batter once everything else is mixed together but before transferring the batter into the pan.

     adaptada de Alice Medrich

140 g. de mantequilla 
250 g. de azúcar blanca                                                                                      
80 g. de cacao en polvo (sin azúcar)
una pizca de sal
1/2 cucharita de extracto de vainilla natural (o las semillas de la mitad de una vaina)
2 cucharadas de cafe fuerte, recién hecho
2 huevos
66 g. de harina
opcional: dulce de leche, nueces, pecanes*

Horno a 160°C. Molde cuadrado de 20×20-cm (aunque honestamente yo normalmente uso un sarten redondo de hierro fundido con diametro de 25 menos bonito, pero es lo que hay) con papel aluminio o papel de horno.
En un bol grande y calor-resistente, derrita la mantequilla, azúcar y chocolate con baño maria, revolviendo hasta que la mezcla esté uniforme. Quita el bol del baño maria y agrega la sal, vainilla y cafe a la mezcla, revolviendo bien. Fijate que la mezcla no está muy caliente (no debería estar, pero si lo es, dejala enfriar un par de minutos-- vas a agregar los huevos y no quieres que se vuelvan huevos revueltos), y agrega los huevos uno a la vez, batiendo bien después de cada adición hasta que la mezcla quede espesa y brilliante. Echale la harina y mezcla bien, fijando que no queda blanco. Echa la masa al molde, dispersando la superficie para que quede en una capa uniforme de grueso (igual en general va a disperciar sola con el calor del horno entonces no te preocupes mucho por eso). Hornea durante 20-30 minutos, cuando están listos los brownies van a tener la superficie seca pero fijate que los sacas cuando todavía están un poco mojados si los metes un cuchillo. Dejalos enfriar antes de cortar.

*Para dulce de leche, después de haber colocado la masa en el molde, echale cucharitas dispersas de dulce de leche encima y pasa un cuchillo por la masa para mezclarla (ten cuidado para no tocar el fondo del molde con el cuchillo). Para las nueces y los pecanes, echales a la masa, mezclando bien, justo antes de echar la masa al molde.


140 g. de manteiga
250 g. de açúcar                                                                                               
80 g. de chocolate em pó (sem açucar) 
uma pitada de sal
1/2 colher de chá de extrato de baunilha natural (ou as sementes de a metade de uma vagem)
2 colheres de sopa de café recém feito
2 ovos
66 g. de farinha
opcional: doce de leite, nozes, pecanes*

Forno a 160ºC. Tabuleiro de 20×20-cm com papel aluminio ou papel manteiga.
Manteiga, açucar e chocolate no banho maria. Tirar do banho maria e adicionar o sal, baunilha e cafe, bater bem, adicionar os ovos um de cada vez, batendo bem até que a mistura fique espesa e brillante. Adicionar a farinha, bater bem. Despejar a mistura na forma.  Levar a forno por 20-30 minutos (tirá-los quando ainda estivierem un pouco molhados). Deixá-los esfriar antes de cortar.

*Para doce de leite, adicionar pequenas doses separadas de doce de leite cuando a mistura ja estivier na forma e passar uma faca pela massa para misturar um pouco  (não toques o fundo com a faca). Para as nozes os pecanes, adicionar e misturar antes de despejar a mistura na forma.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Not Flan

I love the discovery process that goes on whenever people from different countries talk about food. When a Brazilian friend invited us to his family's house for Christmas, I asked him what the typical Brazilian Christmas meal is like. He told me that they always have rabanada and that they often have pudim.

          -What is rabanada
          -It's like, slices of bread that you put with milk and eggs and cinnamon and then fry...
          -Oh, French toast? 
          -What's that? 
          -Slices of bread that you soak in milk and eggs and cinnamon and then fry...
          -What's pudim
          -It's like, a cold dessert with milk and eggs that's creamy and has like a caramel syrup...
          -Like flan? 
          -What's flan? (this is where Google comes in handy) 
          -Yeah, it looks like the same thing.

Come Christmas, I dutifully tried (as if it really took a lot of convincing) both the rabanada and the pudim, and though they are both similar to what I imagined, they aren't quite the same either. Rabanada is a good deal richer than what I normally think of as French toast (it's dessert, after all, not breakfast), and the pudim has much less egg-y taste than flan normally does (I should say that I love flan just as it is, it's not that I'm looking for an improvement). My roommate's grandmother, who is a powerhouse of a cook, told me how to make pudim as she served me a large portion, and as far as I'm concerned it's definitely not flan. What it is is plenty delicious, and I think probably a bit more problem-free to make than flan tends to be. The large amount of sweetened condensed milk both gives it a really creamy consistency and I would imagine helps stabilize the mixture as well. The recipe is dead easy to remember as cooks normally use the cans of sweetened condensed milk, which are typically 395 ml., to measure out the milk. You can halve the recipe and make it in a loaf pan, as we did, and it will come out perfectly nicely, though Brazilians will tell you it's "weird" to make pudim in something other than what in the U.S. we call...a flan ring.

Two notes here: first, you could certainly add vanilla or any other flavoring (almond, cinnamon, cardamom etc.) here, and I would certainly be tempted to normally; I frankly don't think it needs it, but that's not to say that you could produce some wonderful variations. Second, when you make the caramel, you can either make a light amber one or you can make a slightly...overcooked (burnt) Just a little bit-- when it starts to reach a pretty dark amber color. I actually really like both-- with the darker caramel, you get a bit of a dark bitter flavor that contrasts really nicely with the sweet custard. Both ways are delicious.


     adapted from my friend Nico's grandmother-- although this seems to be a pretty common recipe here 
6 eggs
26.7 oz. (3 1/3 c. or 790 ml.) sweetened condensed milk
26.7 oz (3 1/3 c. or 790 ml.) whole milk
1 1/2 c. white sugar
6 Tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Have a flan ring ready (or a loaf pan if halving the recipe). Make a caramel with the sugar: in a sauce pan over low heat, melt the sugar with the water. Use a pastry brush to brush the sides down with water to prevent crystallization (this was never an issue for me until I moved to Brazil, I have no idea why. Now I know: crystallization in caramel sucks, and if it happens you will have to start over unless you want big chunks of sugar floating around in your caramel). Let it boil until amber colored (see note above.) Immediately pour into the flan ring, rotating it to cover the inside walls (be careful as the ring will get hot very quickly).

In a blender, pulse the eggs, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk together until well combined. (Alternately, whisk the eggs and milks together and then pass the mixture through a sieve.) Pour the mixture into the caramel-lined flan ring, then carefully transfer the ring to a deep-sided roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven and then add water (a teapot is useful for this) 1 inch deep to the roasting pan (you can add boiling water instead of cold water, and the custard will cook faster), being careful not to get water into the flan ring (and being careful not to burn yourself). Bake for 45 min.-1 hour, until a knife stuck into the pudim 1 in. from the sides comes out clean. (The center will still be jiggly.) Let chill in the fridge several hours to set, covered, preferably overnight.
To serve, run a knife around the perifery of the pan. Flip the pudim out onto a serving dish, letting the caramel run out over the top. (Or, if it's not for company, you can always leave it in the pan and cut slices as you go.) Any leftovers will keep for several days, covered, in the fridge.

     receta adaptada de la abuela de mi amigo Nico-- aunque parece ser una receta bastante común aquí     
6 huevos
790 ml. (aquí son dos latas) de leche condensada 
790 ml. de leche entera (puedes usar las latas de leche condensada para medir)
1 1/2 tazas de azúcar blanca
6 cucharadas de agua

Precalienta el horno a 180ºC. Ten un molde de flan listo (o un molde de pan si queres hacer la mitad de la receta). Prepara un caramelo con el azúcar: en una olla pequeña sobre fuego bajo, calienta el azúcar y el agua para hacer un jarabe. Deja el jarabe a hervir hasta que tenga un color entre oro y cafe (más claro y el postre queda más dulce, más oscurito y el postre queda con un sabor más amarguito pero en mi opinion, agradable), ten cuidado porque el jarabe va a empezar a oscurecer muy rápido y no quieres que se queme. Inmediatamente echa el jarabe al molde, rotandolo para que el jarabe se unta los lados interiores (ten cuidado que el molde se va a calentar muy rápido por el jarabe).
En una licuadora, procesa los huevos, leche condensada y leche entera hasta que estén bien combinados. (Si no tenes licuadora, bate los huevos y las leches juntos y después pasa la mezcla por un colador.) Echa la mezcla al molde que ya tiene el caramelo y, con cuidado, lleva el molde a una bandeja onda. Vas a hornear el molde con baño maria, así que coloca la bandeja en el horno y echale 3 cm. de agua (puedes echarle agua herviendo en vez de agua fria, así se hornea más rápido), teniendo cuidado de no salpicar agua al dentro del molde (y de no quemarte). Hornea durante 45 minutos-1 hora, hasta que un cuchillo metido al pudim 2 cm. de un lado salga limpio (el centro todavía estaría flojo). Sacalo del horno y colocalo en la nevera, tapado, a enfriar un par de horas o por la noche.    
Para servir, pasa un cuchillo por el periferio del molde. Voltea el pudim a una bandeja para servir, dejando que el caramelo chorree encima. (O, si no es para una visita, lo puedes dejar en el molde e ir cortando tajadas.) Se puede guardar sobras por un par de días, tapadas, en la nevera. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Back in the swing

We have officially moved, and after my first week of arriving late absolutely everywhere (Google maps' sense of time is a little optimistic, and I have problems with punctuality anyway), we've been settling in quite nicely. We have a backyard! And a hammock! And a coconut palm, in the sense that it hangs over into our yard. I'm hoping we can work out a trade with the neighbors-- brownies for coconuts? I want to plant stuff in the backyard. Last weekend I bought some seeds...lettuces, radishes, herbs. I have no idea what I am doing. I want to build a pizza oven. And have chickens. And a goat. Felipe is scared. 
                    -¿Qué rayos vamos a hacer con una cabra? -Hacer queso de cabra, obvio....         
                    (-What the hell are we going to do with a goat? -Make goat cheese, duh...)

While visions of clay ovens whirl around the back of my head, we've been getting back into the swing (hammock!) of things cooking-wise. I almost always have an adjustment period where the first couple of thing I bake in a new place suck...and it's not even necessarily an issue of the oven, I dont know, it just takes me a bit to feel comfortable. The loaf above, which is full of oats, cracked buckwheat and (normal?) wheat, was one of the indicators that things are getting back on track. I was very excited to find cracked buckwheat at Casas Pedro, which is a chain of bulk ingredient stores in Rio...there is not much that I love more than the bulk section of natural foods stores. Felipe always laughs at me when we pass by the dried fruits and nuts at the supermarket and I look longingly at the walnuts...without a Trader Joe's, they are way out of our budget.

I've yet to see if the cracked buckwheat will work for kasha (it's a bit beaten up and dusty looking), but I happily threw some into a multigrain dough and was very pleased with the results. I miss the distinctive, pleasantly bitter taste of buckwheat (this is the first time I've found it in any form on this continent), and adding a handful into the multigrain dough let the buckwheat flavor come through without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients. I´ve talked about my basic whole wheat bread here before; it's on regular rotation for breakfast, toasted, with salted butter and cafe con leche. I don't really like it when flavors are described as honest, but I'm at a lack for another way to explain what I like so much about this. It's not fancy, it's filling, and it's just right. The buckwheat helps to give it an extra kick, as do the oats and seeds. You don't even need a loaf pan (and you know what we realized? Even though they're made with the same amount of dough, free form breads last longer for us than ones in loaf form. It's a mental thing: a slice is a slice, I guess.) When making this bread I don't measure anything except the water, yeast and salt, and I don't time the rises or the baking either. The dough just kind of chills all evening, and I putter around the house, (mostly) pretending to work, bitching to Felipe about the news and Republicans, talking to my family on skype, and making oatmeal cookies. Perhaps (hopefully) you choose to spend your evenings in a more productive manner; all I'm saying is, like coconuts and backyards, this bread is a nice thing to have around.

Buckwheat-Oat Bread

2 c. water
2 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. cracked buckwheat
1/3 c. cracked wheat (bulgur)
1/4 c. muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour plus more for kneading
2 tsp. salt
olive oil
oats and sesame seeds for sprinkling

In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, oats, buckwheat, cracked wheat, muscovado sugar, and whole wheat flour. Stir well to combine the ingredients and then set it aside, covered (with a dish towel or a plastic bag) for about an hour. Stir down the dough, add in the salt, then begin to stir in the all-purpose flour until you have a shaggy, kneadable dough, adding extra flour as needed. I tend to err on the wetter side because it seems like it results in a bread with a more open hole structure, which I like, so I use just enough flour to allow me to knead the dough. Knead for 5-10 minutes on a floured surface, until you have a dough that gently springs back when you press it with your finger. Form into a rough ball, add a glug of olive oil to the bowl (scrape out any errant dough that's left over first), place the ball into the bowl, then turn it over, leaving both side of the ball lightly coated in oil. Cover the bowl once again and go do something else while the dough rises to double its size, 1.5-3 hours. 
Lift the dough out of the bowl and use your hands to fold the dough over onto itself several times, creating a tight boule (The Fresh Loaf has a good explanation of this process.) Place the dough, seam side down, on a baking sheet, cover once again and leave to almost double, which shouldn't take more than an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F. When the dough has almost doubled, mist it with water and sprinkle oats and sesame seeds over the top. Use a sharp knife or blade to cut an x into the top. Bake the bread for ~ 45 minutes, until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool before slicing. Really good toasted and spread with butter.