Friday, January 27, 2012

Kids Make Zucchini Bread

Squeezing water out of zucchini

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

The secret to a great zucchini bread, apparently, is getting the water out of the zucchini.

You don't want a wet, leaden bread. And as the kids in my food appreciation classes learned, squash--like most vegetables--is mostly water. Salt or sugar added to grated zucchini penetrates the cell walls on a molecular level, drawing out copious amounts of liquid. Left standing in a colander over a bowl for an hour (or overnight) will produce a cup of water or more from a pound of squash. You can then squeeze out even more with your hands, or by twisting the zucchini in batches in a tea towel.

(One of the kids wanted to taste the water after we'd given the sugar treatment. We did. Not bad! Green and sweet.)

So start your zucchini bread with a pound of squash. Trim off the ends, cut into manageable pieces and grate using the large holes of a box grater. Placed the grated zucchini in a colander set over a bowl and toss in 2 tablespoons sugar. Allow to sit at least an hour--or overnight--then squeeze as much of the remaining liquid out of the zucchini as you can. Set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. These are your dry ingredients for the bread.

In a separate bowl, beat two eggs. Add 1/4 cup plain yogurt, the juice from 1/2 lemon (strain out the seeds), 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and 6 tablespoons melted butter. Combine well. These are your wet ingredients. Stir in the grated zucchini.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour mix and gently combine with a rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Pour the mix into a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan that has been greased and dusted with flour. (We sprayed with Baker's Joy).

Place the loaf pan in a 375-degree oven and bake for 55 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Invert the pan to remove the loaf and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Scraping batter into the load pan takes teamwork

Our kids loved the zucchini bread just as it was. In truth, even though the bread is flaked with zucchini, making it quite pretty, you can't really taste the vegetable. In an ideal world, you would serve the bread warm, slathered with cream cheese and washed down with a tall glass of cold buttermilk.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kids Make Spinach and Mushroom Quiche

Filling quiche takes teamwork

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

How do you get kids to eat spinach? Make quiche!

Even I was surprised by how eagerly kids took to quiche when it was filled with spinach and mushrooms. Well, not every kid was overjoyed about the mushrooms. Or the spinach. Still, this quiche was a huge hit in our baking classes this week, leaving me to wonder why, in all the years I've been teaching food appreciation at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia, quiche had never made it onto the menu before.

It's a great project for the kids, loaded with all kinds of kitchen skills to learn.

First, the crust. No store-bought crust for us. The trick to a flaky, delicious, made-from scratch pie crust is to keep the ingredients--especially the butter--very cold and add only enough water to get the flour to bind together. You don't want to add too much liquid, or work the dough at all. And ideally you'll want to start on this a day ahead, or at least several hours.

To make one 9-inch quiche, whisk together in a large mixing bowl 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Add to that 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter cut into pieces. Using a pastry cutter or two knives (most people would do this pulsing in a food processor), cut the butter into the flour until the mix is granular, with a few pea-size pieces. The butter should be thoroughly incorporated into the flour, but you don't want to work it too much. In fact, when you roll the dough out later, you will see flecks of butter in the flour.

To this mix add 1 or 2 tablespoons ice water. That's right, we're dealing with tablespoons of water. Use a spatula to turn and press the flour to incorporate the water. Continue adding water a tablespoon at a time until a dough begins to form. It won't look like a dough yet, but you should be able to gather it with your hands and press it together. When it just holds together, you can stop adding water. Pour the dough onto a floured work surface, press it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick and wrap in plastic. Store the dough in the refrigerator several hours or overnight.

Pre-bake your crust by again turning the dough onto a floured work surface and rolling it out into a circle large enough to overlap the edges of a 9-inch pie plate. Now, wrap the dough around your rolling pin--dusted with flour--lift and transfer the dough to the pie plate. Press the dough into the bottom edge of the pan. Use a sharp knife to trim away the excess dough from the edges and crimp the edge with your fingers to make a decorative presentation. (We then lined the inside of the dough with aluminum foil and filled the bottom with ceramic pie weights--little marbles that hold the crust's shape while it's in the oven. Skip this if you don't have the pie weights.)

Do try this at home

Bake the dough in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until it is fairly firm to the touch and beginning to lightly brown. Remove and set on a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, for the custard, mix together in a large bowl 2 large eggs plus two yolks. (The kids always have a blast with this. We separate the eggs by cracking them into their cupped hands.) Add 1 cup milk, 1 cup heavy cream. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper and a generous pinch nutmeg.

Use about 2 ounces each chopped frozen spinach (wrung dry), chopped mushrooms and grated Gruyere cheese. The original recipe I used as a guide for this called for a ridiculous amount of these ingredients. We just eyeballed it, adding only enough to make their presence known in the finished pie. Add too much, and you won't have room for the egg custard, which binds everything together. As it was, we had some of the egg mix left over.

Place the crust with the filling on a sheet pan and place this on the middle rack of the oven heated to 375 degrees. Only now do you pour the egg mix into the pie shell. You don't want to be to carrying a shell filled to the brim with egg liquid across the kitchen after all.

Bake for 38 minutes, or until the quiche is firm to the touch and cooked through. Allow to cool for a while--but do try serving it warm. It makes such an impression, fresh from the oven. Serve with your favorite salad, breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kids Make Coconut Cake

It tastes as good as it looks

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

Coconut cake is a tradition in southern parts of the United States, but it also reminds us that somewhere in the world it's warmer, even when the snow flies here.

Traditional coconut cake calls for at least two layers. That presented a bit of a problem for our baking classes, since a whole cake made according to the original recipe would have been far more than we could have eaten. I talked about this with my wife, the baking expert in our family, and we decided to cut the recipe in half, but use a smaller, taller cake pan so that we could cut the finished cake in half and still end up with two layers. So instead of baking in two standard 9-inch pans, we chose a single 6-inch pan that's 3 inches tall.

The only problem with this approach is that it throws the cooking time off a bit. The taller cake takes somewhat longer to cook all the way through the middle. After a bit of experimentation, we came up with an ideal cooking time of 58 minutes in a 350-degree oven. I also placed a sheet of aluminum foil over the cake when there was about 10 minutes left on the clock to prevent the top from browning too much.

The result is just a teensy bit of crustiness around the edges of this cake. But no one notices when the cake is finally frosted. And the finished cake is just the right size for a class of 12 kids, and more than enough for the typical family. Otherwise, you can simply double this recipe and go back to making two layers in separate 9-inch pans.

Start by creaming together 1 1/2 sticks butter (16 tablespoons) and 1 cup sugar. Most people would do this in an electric mixer, but we do everything by hand. I make it easier by allowing the butter to come to room temperature and soften overnight. After incorporating the sugar into the butter, beat at least five minutes with the back of a wooden spoon or a firm rubber spatula until the mix is fluffy and lighter in color. Then, beat in 3 eggs, one at a time, as well as 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3/4 teaspoon almond extract. At this point, the mix will look like scrambled eggs but smell more like marzipan.

Creaming butter and sugar

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour along with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Fold about 1/2 cup of the flour mix into the batter, followed by 1/4 cup milk, then another 1/2 cup flour mix and another 1/4 cup milk. Finally, fold in the remaining flour mix until it is just incorporated. Stir in 2 ounces shredded, sweetened coconut.

Prepare your can pan (or pans) by greasing well with butter or oil spray. We also cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pan and gave it a spray of oil as well. Scoop the batter into the pan and tap it hard on your work surface to smooth it out. Place in the middle of a 350-degree oven and bake 58 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Then use a sharp knife to trace around the edge of the pan. Invert the pan to remove the cake and place it on a wire rack at least an hour to cool. If making a smaller, taller cake as we did, slice the cake cross-wise to create two layers.

Cutting parchment paper

For the frosting, cream together 1 stick butter and 1 8-ounce package cream cheese. As I did for the cake, I left the butter and cream cheese out overnight to soften. Creaming them together with a rubber spatula is easy at that point. Add 3/8 teaspoon vanilla extract and a dash of almost extract. Stir well, then work 1/2 pound sifted confectioner's sugar into the mix and stir until very smooth.

Spread frosting over one of the cake layers, top with the second layer and spread the frosting all over the top and sides. Sprinkle the top of the cake liberally with shredded coconut and pat more coconut along the sides.

Hard as this may be to believe, some kids don't like coconut. But the ones who do will love you for making this cake. (So will your adult friends.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kids Make Orange Poppyseed Cake

A delicious cake with seasonal fruit

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

What kind of fruit is seasonal in January?

That's the question I put to the kids in my food appreciation classes this week. The answer, of course, is citrus fruit. And where can you possibly grow fruit in the middle of winter? That's how cooking becomes a lesson about geography and climate. Toss in baking soda, baking powder and buttermilk and you also have a science experiment.

Everyone who tries this cake has the same reaction: "It's not too sweet." That's because the final flourish isn't a thick layer of sugary icing, but a drizzle of orange and lemon juice with just enough sugar added. It's an incredibly simple cake with just a few ingredients, but the poppy seeds also set it apart. The kids thought they looked like tiny blueberries, but then they remembered seeing them on bagels. Come to think of it, you don't see poppy seeds in many other foods.

Start by creaming 11 tablespoons room-temperature butter (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) along with 1 cup sugar, the grated peel of 2 oranges, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. We grated the oranges on our old-fashioned box grater. It doesn't take long at all. But you could do the same thing with a micro-plane. And while we did the creaming with the back of a wooden spoon, most people would opt for an electric mixer. Just keep beating until the mix turns a lighter color and becomes somewhat fluffy.

Grating orange peel the old-fashioned way

To the butter mix beat in 2 eggs, one at a time. Then add 2 tablespoons poppy seeds. Mix in 2/3 cup buttermilk, then gently add 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour. Stir, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the flour is completely incorporated.

Grease a 9-inch bunt pan (we used Baker's Joy) and pour in the batter. Actually, this batter doesn't really pour. We scraped it out with a rubber spatula, then smoothed the top even. Give the pan a good tap on your table top to help spread the batter around.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Invert the pan over a wire rack and let the cake cool.

To "ice" the cake, poke it all over with a toothpick. This will help the orange-lemon mix seep into the cake, rather than running off the sides. Then, in a measuring cup, squeeze out 1/4 quarter cup orange juice and the juice from 1/2 lemon. Add 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is complete dissolved. Carefully drizzle the liquid all over the top and sides of the cake. Slice and serve.

This cake would go perfectly with a cold winter's afternoon tea.