December 28, 2007

Tamale Festival

Well, I'm at home in the Midwest with the family, but not doing a whole lot of baking. Hopefully that will change soon, but in the meantime, here is a post that's been languishing in my "drafts" pile for quite a while.

Tamale Festival
Macarthur Park, Los Angeles. November 2007.

A beautiful day for a tamale festival. And yes, the name of the festival is grammatically incorrect.

Beverages- Horchata, Tamarind juice, Kool-Aid, etc.

Beautiful Macarthur makes this seal sad.

Bacon-wrapped hot dogs...mmmmm.


Don't know the name of this dish...we'll just call it "deep fried, with chicken"

And finally, the tamales! greasy.

December 18, 2007

L.A. Rain and World Peace (in cookie form)

Ah, Los Angeles in the rain...on the one hand, it's nice to have some weather to break up the monotony of constant sunshine (I know, I know...), and I do love the rain, but on the other hand....the rain does a lot to make an already disfunctional and unattractive city even less appealing. Dirty water pours down streets and sidewalks not designed to handle the runoff, puddles have oily slicks on top, sewage and toxic substances are washed out to sea via the Los Angeles "River", creating hazards for wildlife and swimmers.

And the people! You'd think they'd never seen rain before. Outside with a (SoCal native) friend, there was a nice steady rain, nothing too bad. The friend snuggles into her parka and says, "Wow, it's really coming down!". Traffic becomes even more of a nightmare, since drivers have no idea how to handle the rain. They become so confused by the missing sun and all that wet stuff falling from the sky that many of them drive even more erratically than usual, speeding through lights and barely missing innocent, wet pedestrians (yes, you, lady in the blue SUV from this morning).

Oh, and don't get me started on the local news. What with all their "MegaDoppler3000"s and "Stormtrack!" broadcasts, you'd think a hurricane was a-brewin'. Without fail, every major rainfall brings a story like this one, investigating how the average Southern Californian feels about the rain (short answer: some like it, some don't. Groundbreaking journalism!)

What's my point here? Actually, I don't think I have one. Perhaps the point is that this is a perfect day to stay in, listen to the rain, and bake your favorite cookie. And this is a good one- Dorie Greenspan's ever-popular World Peace Cookies. Insanely chocolaty and a little salty, they are amazing right out of the oven, but even better once they've cooled.

You can find the recipe here- I used the same recipe and Anita's notes are very helpful. I will add a few of my own observations:

-If you don't have fleur de sel, you can use fine sea salt (in this case reduce amount to 1/4 tsp). You could even use table salt if nothing else, but one of the joys of eating this cookie is hitting a large fleck of sea salt - you want the salt to be a prominent flavor and texture.

-When you add the dry ingredients, make sure not to overmix. The dough will look dry, but it should all come together when you press it into logs (kind of like pie dough). Too much stirring will make the cookies tough. My dough looked like this:

-I like to finely chop a block of chocolate by kind of "shaving" its edges with a sharp knife- this makes nice small bits of chocolate.


December 9, 2007

Honey Sesame Cakes

This recipe, originally from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert, has already appeared on a few other blogs, but it's popular for a good reason- it's unusual, yet easy to make, and the end result is a delicious, visually appealing dessert. I opted to make a dozen small cakes instead of one large cake because, well, who can resist a wee cake.

Thinking that honey would pair well with sesame, as it does in many Greek sweets and fun candies, I experimented with exchanging some of the sugar for honey. In the end, the flavor of the honey was indeed discernible, but did not come through as much as I would have liked. I might try (cautiously) increasing the amount of honey in future batches.

Honey Sesame Cakes
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

makes 12 small cakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda, plus a pinch
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
scant 1/4 cup honey (I used orange blossom)
scant 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/4 cup toasted black sesame seeds

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a muffin tin or 12 small molds.

-Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

-Place the butter in a large bowl and beat for a few minutes. Add the sugar and beat for several more minutes until it is light-colored and fluffy.

-Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

-Add honey, vanilla, and sesame oil and mix thoroughly.

-Add a third of the flour mixture, and beat just until combined.

-Add half the buttermilk and beat until combined.

-Add half of the remaining flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and then the rest of the flour mixture and sesame seeds. With each addition, mix only until just incorporated. If you're using an electric mixer, you might want to fold in the sesame seeds with a spatula so as not to overwork the batter.

-Divide batter evenly between muffin tins or molds.

-Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops of cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

-Let cakes cool in tins for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (once the cakes are cool) for extra fun and excitement.

Cakes will keep for a few days in an airtight container.