Monday, March 12, 2012

Loaded Hasselback Potatoes


The story of the origin of Hasselback Potatoes goes that this was a specialty item at a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden situated in what is called "Hasselbacken" (Hazel hill).  This is more of a technique than a recipe, in that you are essentially turning the potatoes into little accordions.  This means faster cooking time and increased surface area for all the goodies!  They turn out crispy on the edges, soft in the middle.  They are festive and appropriate for all types of palates... kid friendly to romantic meal for two.

Tonight, I'm making this for only two - my sweet husband and I have an evening with no kids, so we will be cooking together. - a little wine, a little music, and both of us working together around the chopping block!

Click here for Printable Recipe
Ingredients:  (for two)
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peelings left on
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 3 slices smoked bacon
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • kosher salt
  • cracked black pepper
Method:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry the skins of the potatoes.  We will NOT be peeling them.  Cut the bacon into 1" pieces. Cook them in a pan to render the bacon grease.  We will use this to flavor and crisp our potatoes.  Drain the crisp bacon on paper towels, but keep the grease!
Cut the potatoes into thin slices, but do NOT go all the way through.  If you put the potatoes on a curved spoon, etc., the curved edge will serve as a guide to keep your knife from going too deep.  You can always go back and cut the slices a little farther down if necessary.  Insert a thin slice of garlic in between the slices.  This will keep the slices slightly open and allow the air to circulate in between the slices... not to mention adding tons of flavor by roasting the garlic.  Put the potatoes into a baking pan.  Drizzle the warm bacon grease over the potatoes, then season with salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes about 45 - 60 min, depending on how large the potatoes are.... until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  This takes a while, so put them on first.  - but they are worth it.  After removing the potatoes from the oven, I sprinkled them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped thyme leaves, and the crisped bacon that I crumbled. 

Step-by-step
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash and dry the skins of the potatoes.  We will NOT be peeling them.
Cut the bacon into lardons (1" pieces). Cook them in a pan to render the bacon grease.  We will use this to flavor and crisp our potatoes. 

 Drain the crisp bacon on paper towels, but keep the grease!
Cut the potatoes into thin slices, but do NOT go all the way through.  If you put the potatoes on a curved spoon, etc., the curved edge will serve as a guide to keep your knife from going too deep.  You can always go back and cut the slices a little farther down if necessary.







Insert a thin slice of garlic in between the slices.  This will keep the slices slightly open and allow the air to circulate in between the slices... not to mention adding tons of flavor by roasting the garlic.

 
Put the potatoes into a baking pan.  Drizzle the warm bacon grease over the potatoes, then season with salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes about 45 - 60 min, depending on how large the potatoes are.... until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  This takes a while, so put them on first.  - but they are worth it.


The traditional Hasselback potatoes are seasoned with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, and bread crumbs.  If you want traditional, you can go with that formula.  I wanted a little bit more excitement on our potatoes... and that is the cool thing about these.  They lend themselves to almost any topping under the sun.  You could very well add a big spoon of chili, some mexican seasonings, and cheddar if you wanted that flavor profile.  Play with them!


After removing the potatoes from the oven, I sprinkled them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped thyme leaves, and the crisped bacon that I crumbled.

You could easily prep these ahead of time up to the point of putting them in the oven.  Just wrap them individually in plastic wrap in the fridge.  When you are ready, unwrap them, throw them into a baking pan, and pop them in the oven.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Butter Pecan Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

This cake was a collaborative creation for one of the most special days of my life.  Recently I was having a conversation with Sally Roach, the pastry chef of the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  You may recognize the beautiful old Stanley if you've ever watched The Shining.  Sally and I were talking about a cake she would make for our wedding, and I didn't want just a "regular" old flavor... no chocolate, no red velvet... I wanted something very unique and special.  We had to think about this dilemma for a bit.  She wondered what some of my favorite flavor combinations were.  She wanted to incorporate flavors of our Southern heritage.  Seriously, how often does someone go to this much trouble to make something totally unique for you?  

I told her that one of my favorite flavor and textural combinations is buttered pecan... as in buttered pecan ice cream, as in the flavors of pecan pie.   I could almost see the light bulb flashing over her head.  She got really excited and started talking really fast (as I do when I'm excited), and began telling me all the flavors she wanted to pull together - flavors of our beloved Southland.... rich and nutty browned butter, fresh chopped pecans, brown sugar, dark rum...Mmmm.

Fast forward to the main event.  The flavors of "our" creation were spectacular!  As I stood in the kitchen of the Stanley (yes, Mom, I was in the kitchen.) sampling her wares, I made it known very plainly that she WOULD have to share this recipe so that I could make it at home.  I adapted it a bit, but the general concept is the same.  Every time I have a bite of this cake, which one of my friends described as "every bite is like a party of flavors and textures!," I will think of the day that I married one of the most wonderful men that I've ever met.... in the softly falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. It's a lovely combination of tasting the South, but looking at the snowy mountains.     

Click for Printable Recipe 
Cake:
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Filling:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp rum
Icing:
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup browned butter, room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar 

Step-by-step
The first thing that needs to get done in preparation for making this cake, is to make the browned butter. Now if you are familiar with brown butter, you know that this is way up there on the scale of "pure heaven..." as it is  nutty and fragrant and takes on a whole new dimension of flavors that the "regular" butter does not have.  If you are NOT familiar with it... then have I got a TREAT for YOU!!

To make browned butter...
Over medium heat, book the butter until it is brown around the edges and it gives off a nutty smell. I like to use a really heavy saucepan for this to achieve even heating and to prevent burning.  Careful, there is a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter.
2 cups butter, cut into pieces
Here, it is still yellow.
Now, you can see that it is brown... under all that froth.
Strain the butter (to remove the milk solids). 
1st straining
2nd straining
 

Chill the brown butter.  We will bring it back to room temperature for use in the recipe. 


To make the butter pecan cake...
Prepare you pans before you begin.
 Cream the butter and sugars. 

Gradually add the eggs.
Add the pecans.



Sift the dry ingredients together.

Combine the milk and vanilla.

Alternating, add the milk/vanilla and then the flour mixture to the butter mixture.




Bake at 350 degrees F.  The time will depend on what size you are cooking.  I used three, 9" pans and cooked them 20 - 23 minutes.  If you used only two pans, the batter will obviously take a little longer to cook.  I used three pans so I would have thinner layers (which ultimately translates as more brown sugar rum glaze and more frosting!).  The batter should be cooked through and the top should be golden.  This is a fairly dense cake, so do not over bake it or it will be dry.  Check with a toothpick it you want to.  The toothpick should come out clean.

To make the brown butter buttercream frosting....
Whisk together the egg whites, brown sugar, and salt over a double boiler until the sugar has dissolved.  (Or in my case, I just set a pan over a pot of simmering water to achieve the double boiler "effect.").




Whisk the hot egg white and sugar mixture on medium speed until cool.  Then turn the mixer to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.



Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the butter, then the rum.  Add the confectioners sugar and cream of tartar.  Continue to whisk until it is glossy and smooth.






To make the brown sugar, rum glaze...
Since this does tend to be a dense batter, I felt that the addition of the glaze in between each layer would give me a moister end product.  I also wanted to mirror the flavor profile of the cake, so that each part of the cake is loaded with complimentary flavors and textures. 
In a small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, and rum until melted and slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool.



Assembly... 
Alternate layers of cake, rum glaze, and frosting.  Ice the outside of the cake and finish with clear sugar crystals and chopped pecans.  

I think it also works best if your refrigerate it for a while so that everything can set nicely.  This cake is better the following day when the glaze has really soaked into the layers, and those flavors marry together. 

But today, I am sharing this experience with two of my other favorite little people... dirty little faces and all! :-)

Does life get a whole lot better than this?

Method:
The first thing that needs to get done in preparation for making this cake, is to make the browned butter. Now if you are familiar with brown butter, you know that this is way up there on the scale of "pure heaven..." as it is  nutty and fragrant and takes on a whole new dimension of flavors that the "regular" butter does not have.  If you are NOT familiar with it... then have I got a TREAT for YOU!!
To make browned butter...
Over medium heat, book the butter until it is brown around the edges and it gives off a nutty smell. I like to use a really heavy saucepan for this to achieve even heating and to prevent burning.  Careful, there is a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter.  Strain the butter (to remove the milk solids).  Chill the brown butter.  We will bring it back to room temperature for use in the recipe.

To make the butter pecan cake...
Prepare you pans before you begin.

Cream the butter and sugars.  Gradually add the eggs. Add the pecans.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Combine the milk and vanilla. Alternating, add the milk/vanilla and then the flour mixture to the butter mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F.  The time will depend on what size you are cooking.  I used three, 9" pans and cooked them 20 - 23 minutes.  If you used only two pans, the batter will obviously take a little longer to cook.  I used three pans so I would have thinner layers (which ultimately translates as more brown sugar rum glaze and more frosting!).  The batter should be cooked through and the top should be golden.  This is a fairly dense cake, so do not over bake it or it will be dry.  Check with a toothpick it you want to.  The toothpick should come out clean.

To make the brown butter buttercream frosting....
Whisk together the egg whites, brown sugar, and salt over a double boiler until the sugar has dissolved.  (Or in my case, I just set a pan over a pot of simmering water to achieve the double boiler "effect."). 
Whisk the hot egg white and sugar mixture on medium speed until cool.  Then turn the mixer to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the butter, then the rum.  Add the confectioners sugar and cream of tartar.  Continue to whisk until it is glossy and smooth.

To make the brown sugar, rum glaze...
Since this does tend to be a dense batter, I felt that the addition of the glaze in between each layer would give me a moister end product.  I also wanted to mirror the flavor profile of the cake, so that each part of the cake is loaded with complimentary flavors and textures. 
In a small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, and rum until melted and slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool.

Assembly... 
Alternate layers of cake, rum glaze, and frosting.  Ice the outside of the cake and finish with clear sugar crystals and chopped pecans.  I think it also works best if your refrigerate it for a while so that everything can set nicely.  This cake is better the following day when the glaze has really soaked into the layers, and those flavors marry together.




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