Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wine and Cheese and Cheese

Well I’m way behind. Apparently I’m a lot better at eating the food and making it than I am at writing about it. This means I have pictures and recipes just waiting for their chance, but I have to get around to posting them before I make another recipe. Two weeks ago I had one of my brilliant ideas: a wine and cheese party. I know, I know, it’s never been done before and I’m the first one to think of it. Regardless of who first put two and two together, I thought an even better, revolutionary change was necessary: have my guests bring the wine and the cheese. I don’t know if they agreed with this ‘innovative’ concept, but I for one loved it. One of the things I appreciate most in life is a fine assortment of cheese, and when you tell your guests to bring their favorites, that’s what you end up with, along with some nice wines. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the beauty of the cheese, but if I do this again (and I have a feeling I will) I’ll capture it on film.

Because my guests were kind enough to bring the cheese (and even some special wine with cowboy boots on it) I thought I’d be decent and provide some dessert. To go along with the cheese theme (I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, and if I were lactose intolerant it would be the end of my life as you and I know it), I thought cheesecake would provide an essential top-off to the night.

Ahhhhh cheesecake. I’ve gotten into a slight habit now of making cheesecake every weekend, and I didn’t make one last night, and I think I’m going to venture into tart-territory tonight and I’m a little lost without my cheesecake (Dan is also lost without his cheesecake breakfast). There’s something magical about cheesecake and the idea that I didn’t like it growing up shames me and seems surreal. At some point though, I underwent a magical transformation (I remember Sundays in high school watching Sex and the City with friends centered around a cheesecake).

Now my daydreams are devoted to what kind of cheesecake I should make next, what flavors I can combine to create a new obsession. I can’t wait to try them out. For my first cheesecake posting though, and to play the part of the finale in the wine and cheese night, I went with a classic, plain cheesecake and it was very well received, alongside a glass of Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry. I was told afterwards it would be hard to live up to that cheesecake, so now, with every new cheesecake I make, it presents a challenge and I get a little nervous. As expected, the cheesecake immediately following this one, unfortunately was not up to par. But that’s for another post though, when I’m feeling stronger.

I’ve made cheesecake before but always following recipes pretty strictly. After looking at many recipes from other blogs and cooking websites, I realized that most plain cheesecake recipes are all basically the same with slight variations in amounts and kind of cheeses, number of eggs, crust ingredients, or inclusion of a top layer, so it gives you a bit of freedom to do what you want as long as you follow the fundamental steps and use the base ingredients (cream cheese, sugar, eggs). I decided to get the ingredients I liked, and throw things into the mix using what I trust the most to test a recipe, my tongue.

My Cheesecake

200 g MariLu cookies (something like that…in Spain they have round, graham-cracker like cookies that they eat at breakfast with Cola Cao or dipped in tea. There are many different brands, but they’re all pretty much the same, and I found I couldn’t tell a difference between them and graham-cracker crusts)
125 g butter

Crush up the cookies any way you can. I put them in two plastic bags, bang on them with various kitchen utensils then put them on the floor and jump up and down a few times. That usually does the trick. Melt the butter and mix it in with the cookies, then press into the bottom of a springform pan (I think mine is 8-inch, and I originally wanted to just do a bottom-only crust, but I had enough to go up the sides and it stuck very well…I’m always worried about it falling, but there was a good cookie to butter ratio). Put in an oven at 170 Celsius and bake for 10 minutes, until you can see the cookies have darkened a bit. Let it cool while you mix the cheesecake batter.

600 g cream cheese
150 g mascarpone
75 g butter
150 g sugar
zest from one whole lemon and juice from half
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt

After buying the ingredients, I leave the cream cheese, mascarpone, and butter out on the counter to get nice and soft room-temperature. In a big bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, mascarpone, and butter until they’re creamy and well incorporated. If you really like mascarpone, feel free to put in some more. Add or subtract ingredients as you see (taste) necessary. Now add the sugar, whisk again, then grate the lemon zest directly into the bowl and squeeze half the lemon, and whisk again. I think this helps the creaminess, whisking after each addition instead of adding everything at once and giving one big stir. Now whisk in the egg yolks and a pinch of salt. Lastly, I beat the egg whites until they were past soft peaks, but not yet stiff peaks (I got this idea from Tartelette. I don’t know if this really made a difference in the fluffiness of the cheesecake or not, although it was extremely creamy, it might have been so anyways. I’ll have to experiment). Fold the egg whites in. Put in a 180 Celsius oven for 30-35 minutes until it’s still very wobbly but a toothpick comes out almost clean and the top is browning. Cool and then refrigerate until you can't wait any longer, best if overnight.

I admit after I took mine out I thought it was underdone and I’d have to put it back in the oven, but I didn’t and I’m glad for it. The next morning the breakfast of cheesecake was perfectly smooth and creamy, melt in your mouth goodness, having been taken out not a minute too early.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Second Sugar High Friday (and my cravings...)

What do you crave? Easy. Chocolate. What one dessert do you crave, what do you dream about at night and drool over at restaurants? Not so easy. Of course some form or other of chocolate, but to narrow it down to just one dessert is like asking a mother to pick a child, if her children were made with sugar and came in endless textures and temperatures and flavor combinations.

First the usual culprits went through my head. Things I’d been making since childhood that are probably some of the most simple desserts, but for that reason some of the most satisfying for cravings because they taste like heaven and are easy to throw together at the slightest hint of a sugar pang…chocolate chip cookies (prefaced by many spoonfuls of chocolate chip cookie dough) is my usual go-to. In my mind, everyone knows how to make chocolate chip cookies, but they’re quite a novelty here in Spain and Europe in general. My second idea was brownies. Another recipe I remember from my kid’s cookbook that came with brightly colored measuring spoons, which I still use today (the spoons, that is. Alright, the book too). Again, it’s as much a craving for brownie batter as for the actual cooked brownies, and this week I’ve been especially fighting giving in to that craving.

I wanted to make something different, although in my opinion it doesn’t get much better than chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and a glass of milk. But I decided I could broaden my palette and focus on the main ingredient that my body lacks and demands: chocolate.

I usually have three main requirements for desserts: rich, creamy, and rich. This is why I’m not a fan of sorbets. Anyways, chocolate in its richest and creamiest state, without being a straight up chocolate bar, comes in the form of a little piece of perfection I like to call a truffle. This is what I would work with. Chocolate truffles give me the satisfaction of intense, melty goodness that I hold so dear to my heart, and they allow me to incorporate another craving: pesto sauce.

Keep reading. I’ll explain myself. I could just as easily get down a vat of pesto as I could a vat of chocolate. It was only a matter of time before I combined the two, and not in the fashion of Michelle on Full House trying to mix two foods she liked such as tuna fish and ice cream. I’ll claim inspiration from the recent outbreak of avant-garde chocolates that combine foods not typically associated with dessert, created by the likes of Vosges, Cacao Sampaka, and plenty of other chocolatiers that make everything from black olive to anchovy to fennel chocolates.

I go weak at the knees with the aroma of basil. I’ve been pondering now for a while how to incorporate it into a dessert, basil cheesecake, or some sort of basil cream or syrup, I don’t know how I didn’t think of it sooner: basil truffles. Even better, basil truffles made with olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan and pine nuts, to become my new best friend, or Pesto Truffles. Including all the greatness that is a chocolate truffle with the salty freshness of pesto sauce, this is the definition of my ultimate craving.

Pesto Truffles

preemptive apology: I’m sorry for the inconsistency with measurements, some things I bought and they’re clearly marked grams or milliliters, and other things I eyeballed and therefore estimated in cups because, well, I’m American and don’t think in metric.

400 ml cream
large bunch of basil leaves (depending on how strong a basil flavor you want)
400 grams dark chocolate
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped toasted pine nuts
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Ok, this is kind of a long process just because of all the waiting you have to do, or maybe because I'm impatient. First take the basil and put it in a bowl with the cream, cover with saran wrap and let sit overnight in the fridge, stirring occasionally to mix it up. This should infuse the basil flavor into the cream. The next day, take out about ½ cup of the basil leaves and cream and blend with a hand mixer so you end up with a greenish, slightly thickened mixture. You'll use this mixture later to add a really strong basil flavor, I think this is where the the truffles get their body from, so if you want a more subtle basil flavor, don't use as much. Now strain the unblended cream into a saucepan, pressing on the basil leaves to make sure and squeeze all the cream out of them. Pour in olive oil and heat over medium low, stirring everything together. While you’re waiting for the cream to heat up just under a simmer (turn off the heat when you see the first baby bubbles appear), break the chocolate into small pieces in a bowl. When the cream is ready, pour over the chocolate and begin stirring, and keep stirring until all the chocolate pieces have melted. Now take the blended basil and cream and mix into the chocolate and cream until everything is incorporated. Take a little taste and smile. Take another taste if necessary.

Put in the refrigerator until it has cooled completely and is hard enough to roll (I had to put mine into the fridge for four hours and then the freezer for an hour…I’m not sure if it needed overnight in the fridge or because of the olive oil it makes it harder to work with, but if you’re in a hurry, stick it in the freezer before you work it). While you wait for your basil ganache to set, if you haven’t yet, then grate your cheese, toast your pine nuts, and chop them, and then combine together in a bowl. When the ganache is ready, and you’re prepared with wax paper or a plastic container to store them in, or, as it was in my case, a plate to put them on before they were almost immediately eaten, combine the cocoa powder with the parmesan and pine nuts and a tiny pinch of salt (keep in mind, parmesan is salty) all in a bowl.

Get the ganache out and with a spoon, scoop out as rounded of balls as you can, although it’s not easy, I just scraped up the edges of my bowl and rolled/pressed the chocolate into a clump resembling a ball between my palms and then threw it into the cocoa powder mixture and coated well. Repeat until you can’t wait any longer to eat some, your hands get too dirty and need to be washed, or the ganache needs to be refrigerated again.
I tried a couple different ways of coating them, and in my opinion, this was my favorite. I originally only coated the ganache in the parmesan and pine nuts with a sprinkling of salt, but this doesn’t allow you to focus on the chocolate as much, so I think it worked best to combine those ingredients with the cocoa powder so that you get all the different flavors of the pesto along with the added bonus of chocolate. If you're one of those who really loves the combination of salty and sweet, I would suggest a final touch of salt after the truffle has been rolled, letting a few granules fall over the truffles after rolling them because that really brings out the pesto ingredients without overpowering the chocolate. As you can see, these below are the first truffles I rolled, without any cocoa powder. They look nice, but I prefer the mixture of flavors in the other ones.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hook 'Em Horns

There’s something to be said for the Fredericksburg peaches that are sold in stands on the side of the highway. You don’t need to sort through for the ripe ones, making sure that they’ll turn out juicy, but rather find the ones that haven’t reached their prime yet and aren’t oozing too much peachy aroma. When I was in Austin in May and the beginning of June, I didn’t see any stands on 360 that I was immune to when I lived there, which was sad, but it meant that I got to purchase some Hill Country peaches at my first visit to the Austin Farmer’s Market.

The Austin Farmer’s Market was quite tiny compared to European markets that I’m used to, and it only had certain products available, but that convinced me that it was only the freshest, most seasonal produce. There were a couple peach stands, some tomato booths here and there, a few places with squash, onions, arugula, a fresh herbs and potted plants stand, and a goat cheese stall.

I bought the first basket I picked up at the first peach stand I went to. All nine peaches were extremely ripe, soft, smelling sweet, and ready to go. I admit, all along I knew I would not eat these peaches raw; before I went home I was planning on making peach pie. It’s so simple but so good and it makes me feel at home because it’s not something you hear about everywhere. People talk about comfort food, things they like to eat that brings back a little memory with one bite, and provides some warmth. For me, peach pie is a comfort food to make, not just to eat.

So I went home, successful with my peach purchase and ready to make pie crust. I also love making pie when I’m at home because my mom seems to love it—I always receive lots of praise from her about my pie crust in the form of “oh my god. It’s the best crust ever. So flaky. And perfect.” I can’t take all the credit, I use a recipe from Cook ‘Em Horns, one of my parents’ cookbooks with a compilation of recipes from Texas graduates and fans. It’s a crust that uses Crisco, and although some people think crust should include butter and not Crisco (Dan being one of them), my mom tells me not to change a thing, so I don’t. It’s a great cookbook, with good dessert recipes (I’m especially fond of the pie ones) and you can’t beat the title.

Pie Crust

3 cups flour
1 ½ cups Crisco
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vinegar (I usually use apple cider vinegar)
1 egg
5 tbsp cold water

Combine flour, Crisco, and salt until mixture is in fine crumbs, using a fork or pastry cutter, whatever you have available. Pour vinegar, egg, and water over and mix in quickly until the dough forms (at the end it might help to bring everything together with a couple kneads from your hands). If it’s too warm to roll immediately, chill. I usually half it and put half in the fridge for later and roll the other half out, and put it into a pie pan. Depending on the recipe, you may need a raw or baked crust. Peach pie calls for raw, so after I roll it, I poke it with a fork all over and pinch the edges between my fingers, then stick it in the fridge covered with saran wrap. It makes enough for two 9-inch pies, one of them with a top crust.

Fresh Peach Pie

5 cups fresh peaches peeled and sliced (for me 9 peaches was more than enough)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
¾ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon rind
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 unbaked 9-inch double crust pie shell

Peel and slice peaches (mine were definitely ready to be used…don’t worry if you have really ripe peaches, they end up great in the pie). Mix sugars, flour, and spices. Combine peaches with lemon juice, then rind, and then mix with sugar mixture. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Dribble melted butter across peaches. After this, I roll out my top crust. Then put over the peaches, seal the edges, and bake 40-45 minutes at 400 F until the crust starts to brown. Serve warm with some Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean.
I’m not really one of those who likes to do the usual lattice-weave top crust. I love to try new shapes or cut things out with a knife, and I sometimes get my cookies cutters out. This time, in an ode to Texas, longhorns, Cook ‘Em Horns, and the orangey goodness of peaches, I decided to cut a longhorn for my top crust. Hook ‘em.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Breakfast Request

This is what my dad made the first night I was home:

So you can understand my surprise when he asked me to make this:

I’ve talked about my dad before, he’s more of a carnivore than a dessert eater. When he does want a dessert, it usually comes from a package, so whenever I’m home, I tell him I’ll make whatever he wants. Usually it’s something simple like chocolate chip cookies or brownies, but to me it’s all the same, I’m just happy that I can save him from using a frozen Pillsbury pie crust. This time when I was home, one of the first things he asked me was could I make crepes. Even he admitted the first time I cooked them, he didn’t think he would like them very much, and now look who’s requesting them…

I actually make crepes quite a lot at home, aided with the help of my crepe maker, a handy appliance (another one that longingly awaits my arrival) that my family got after a friend came and stayed with us one summer and we tried to make crepes for breakfast one morning and the results were less than perfect. The thank-you gift for letting her stay at our house? A crepe maker, followed in years to come by many, many crepes, and some satisfied crepe-consumers.

Having made crepes numerous times, I’ve tried all different fillings (ricotta, cream cheese, mascarpone, cottage cheese) mixed with different flavorings, and different combinations of fruits and sauces. I have a favorite, and very easy one that I like to do, but for this morning, because my dad had specially requested them without me having to beg him to pick something he wanted, I told him to get whatever fruits he wanted, and pick a cheese. That way I could throw something together, without using an actual recipe, and see what would happen. We ended up with raspberries and blueberries, a container of ricotta cheese, and some orange juice. A perfect palate to work with, and with the two kinds of fruits, I decided spur-of-the-moment to make two variations and get some different flavors going. I started by dividing the cheese in half, and then I got out granulated sugar and brown sugar and put spoonfuls into each bowl, and went from there.

Basic Crepe Batter

I always make the batter the first thing because most recipes say to let it sit for an hour because it will make more tender crepes.

1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup water
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp butter melted

Combine in blender or with wire whisk in order given. Blend 30 seconds, stop and scrape down sides, blend again until smooth, scraping sides down as necessary. Makes about 16 crepes.

If you do let it sit for an hour, stick it in the fridge while you prepare the filling and sauce for your crepes.

Raspberry crepes

8 oz ricotta (I used half the container)
granulated sugar to taste
Grand Marnier to taste
pinch of salt

Your own taste buds and preferences are very important when making these crepes. I started with a bowl of ricotta and mixed in sugar until I could barely taste it, the mixture was slightly sweet but not extremely so. I knew that the sauce I was making would be pretty sweet, so I didn’t want the filling to be too sweet. Then I splashed in Grand Marnier until I began to taste it. So, depending on how sweet you like things, how strong you want your crepes in the morning, etc., you are given free reign with your filling. Finish it off with a tiny pinch of salt and set in the fridge.

1 package of raspberries
granulated sugar to taste
1-2 cups orange juice

Once again, I relied on my own taste for the sauce. I began with a small saucepan over medium-high heat and threw in half the raspberries with about 1/3 cup sugar and enough orange juice to almost cover the raspberries. I stirred occasionally, making sure the sugar dissolved, adding orange juice or sugar if necessary, and always tasting to make sure it was good. I cooked until the raspberries were all broken up and mixed in well into the sauce and it began boiling, then I turned it off and left on the burner.

You can let it cool while you make the crepes, and then while you fill them put it on low to reheat it. The same time I was doing the raspberry crepes, I mixed the filling and made the sauce for the blueberry crepes.

Blueberry Crepes

8 oz ricotta (or the other half of the container)
brown sugar to taste
pinch of salt

Follow the same process as for the raspberry crepes. Trust your tongue and add slowly. Make sure you mix the brown sugar in well because sometimes it balls up. I found I had to use more brown sugar than I did granulated sugar for my desired degree of sweet because it doesn’t have as obvious sweetness as granulated sugar does. When you reach the flavor you like, leave the filling in the fridge until needed.

container of blueberries
lemons (2-4)
granulated sugar to taste

Before you start: I made this one along with the raspberry sauce which reheats very nicely, but found that this one cooked great, then as it cooled began to gel, like I had make jelly, and reheating it was just like making jelly warm because it wouldn’t turn back into a liquid very easily, although it still tasted good. Because of this, I would recommend waiting to make this one until you have filled and rolled all the crepes and then you can immediately spoon it onto them without it turning into jelly.

Start with a saucepan over medium high heat and put in half the blueberries and about ½ cup-1 cup sugar (you might need to add more. Again, this takes more sugar than the raspberry sauce because of the sour lemon juice). Use enough lemon juice to almost cover the blueberries. Stir occasionally, letting the blueberries release their color and the sugar dissolve and taste. Add sugar as necessary (I had to keep adding a lot until the tart lemon flavor wasn’t so strong). Let the sauce come to a boil and turn off the heat.

To make the crepes
If you have a crepe maker like me, you are lucky. If not, you can probably find better directions than what I’ll tell you on how to make crepes, but I’ll try even though it’s been about two years since I did it the “old-fashioned” way. Heat a large saucepan to medium and melt butter. Take a ladle and spoon a thin layer of crepe batter onto the pan quickly but evenly. It should start to bubble when it is finished (like a pancake) and if I can remember right, all you need to do is slip a spatula or knife underneath and it should come off.

Because I have my handy crepe-maker do the work for me, I just turn it over and dip in my pie pan of batter, wait for the light to turn, slip the crepe onto a plate, and repeat. No greasing necessary.

I do this until all my batter’s gone. Then I turn my sauces back on to low heat, and fill my crepes with a spoon of ricotta mixture spread down the middle of each crepe. (Remember which mixture you put in which because the sauces each go with their respective filling).I lay a few on a plate and drizzle with the sauce, then throw on a few of the fresh berries and viola. Breakfast fit for a carnivorous dad.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Finally! Mexican Wedding Cookies

Ok, I don’t think I need to go back over my decision making in picking Mexican Wedding Cookies to make for the rehearsal dinner for Brooke’s wedding. In case you missed it or you need a refresher, look at Chocolate Caramel Slices, County Line, and Everything Nice. So I’ll go ahead and get straight to the recipe for these wonderfully sweet and crunchy cookies. Before I start, I used the recipe from the Café Pasqual’s cookbook from the restaurant of the same name. In the book, the recipe is for Half Moon Cookies and says that it makes 12 large ones. I prefer the typical miniature Mexican Wedding Cookies in the circle shape, especially for the occasion of being served after lots of barbeque when people don’t want too much (or if they do, they can always grab more). When I made them into balls a little over the size of a quarter, I came out with 55-60, so if you make them small enough, you can stretch them a long way.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Adapted from Café Pasqual’s Cookbook

1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar (you might need more depending on how much you roll them in afterwards)
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup finely chopped pecans (I toasted mine in the oven until dark brown, then chopped)
¾ tsp salt
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
A large pinch of cinnamon (this was not in the Café Pasqual’s recipe, but in one I found on I think I should have put another pinch because you could barely notice the cinnamon at the end, it would have been nice just a tad stronger)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine butter and 2 ½ cups sugar in bowl. Using whisk, wooden spoon or electric mixer with paddle attachment set on high (words of advice: yall probably know this, but don’t set to high immediately when mixing powdered sugar, it will go everywhere. I speak from experience), cream together until well incorporated. Add vanilla, pecans, salt, flour, cinnamon, and beat until blended.

Lightly grease baking sheet(I put a piece of foil onto a baking sheet and had no problems with cookies sticking). Bake until light brown on bottom, 12-15 minutes.

Let cool slightly. After about 5-10 minutes, when warm but not hot, roll in remaining sugar to coat completely. Now the directions say to roll again when cool, but I found that there were only a few I needed to do this with, that looked a little lacking in sugar. Another thing: mine were very crunchy (delicious, nonetheless) so I’m wondering if I had put more butter they might be a little more moist. I’m a person who prefers cookies underbaked than perfectly baked, but with Mexican Wedding Cookies you can’t really do that, as you have to roll them around in powdered sugar and they need to be sturdy and not melting in your hands. Maybe next time I’ll try it…how could you go wrong adding more butter to cookies?

Makes about 60 little cookies. (You can see the already rolled ones on the left and the waiting-to-be-rolled ones on the right)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chocolate Caramel Slices, County Line, and Everything Nice

Whirlwind trip in Austin which was filled with eating, seeing friends and family, drinking, tour-guiding, eating some more, drinking, and being part of a wedding. It went by so fast, and Barcelona’s good to return to, but it was hard to leave Austin. I made sure to take plenty of pictures (maybe half of them solely of food) to document it. Because Dan went with me (his first time to Texas ever, and I think Austin was a wonderful, worthy choice), I had to take him to my favorite and the most representative restaurants, 6th Street and its bars, Town Lake and downtown, visit the “Austiny” streets like South Congress or the Drag, venture over to the East Side, drive through the Hill Country to see longhorns and such, marvel at Whole Foods, the list goes on and on. Don’t worry, you’ll read about it all.
I’m going to start in the middle of the trip at the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. Now this was a difficult trip to make: I was torn between all the places I wanted to eat at (Mexican, burgers, ice cream, barbeque) and cooking at home with a real, full-sized kitchen and all my wonderful appliances that were so hard to leave behind (like my Kitchen Aid mixer), as well as remembering that between all this eating, I had to fit into a dress at the end of the week and stand in front of hundreds of people (at least I wasn’t the bride). Well, I found an extremely happy medium and decided to eat out and cook and roll them all into one tasty experience.

The rehearsal dinner was held at a barbeque restaurant called the County Line. There’re two locations, the one we went to was on Lake Austin, which is great because it has a large deck spread on the lake with outdoor tables and a band was playing. About a week before I went home I was talking to Brooke (the bride) and I got a stroke of genius: I would make little desserts for the rehearsal dinner, because at bbq places, the focus is usually the meat, not so much the desserts afterwards (unless of course you get a great cobbler), so I thought why not top the meal off with a little something sweet? My main problem would be deciding what to make. I wanted something that could be done in tiny portions because after stuffing yourself with bbq you don’t want a decadent chocolate cake, you want something miniature and sweet to balance that brisket. Immediately the idea for Mexican Wedding Cookies came into my head. I don’t need to state the obvious, but wedding cookies, and Mexican, and we’re in Texas, not to mention the pleasing appearance, the powdery white sugar that makes almost a little frosting around the warm cookies when first coated, and the crunch of Texas pecans. And these usually come in little bite-sized pieces, very conducive to picking a few and clearing the palate after a plate of barbeque. So that was easily settled, Mexican Wedding Cookies it was.

Now I needed a second dessert, this one definitely including chocolate. (I strongly believe if there’s ever more than one dessert, at least one must include chocolate). This is when I headed to my trusty foodblogs and started searching night and day for little desserts, and I was leaning towards bars or cookies of some sort. Back before Christmas I had made the Traveler’s Lunchbox Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart, and it would’ve been delicious had I not cooked the caramel too long, which wouldn’t have happened had I found corn syrup in Spain. I’m straying. Anyways, when I got home my mom showed me a pile of magazines (mainly Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Gourmet) that she had yet to go through. I eagerly set to the task at hand and in the May issue of Bon Appetit, on one of the last pages, I found my perfect recipe: Chocolate-Caramel slices. There was a full page photo and my mouth was watering. Chocolate. Caramel. Crust. Enough said. I thought about making a third dessert, tiny cupcakes, but it was better I didn’t as everyone was stuffed as it was.
The County Line was a great place for our dinner (I was told there were around 60 people there), and they had set up a tent off to the side for us. We entered and there was a bucket of beer (including Shiner Bock, my favorite Texas beer, and the only dark beer I like), red and white wine, and also any drink you wanted to order from the waiter. Tables were arranged with bouquets of flowers in cowboy boots. The outside deck by the lake was shaded and perfect temperature, a beer in the hand could survive a song from the band without getting too warm. After a beer and some margaritas (I’m including others in this count), we headed inside for dinner and were greeted with the bread. Some people like it, some people don’t. I think it’s great, but you can’t eat too much or you won’t get any bbq down. They bring you giant loaves of wheat and white bread, cut in thick “Texas toast” style slices, and it’s sweet. Don’t know if that’s sugar or honey or what, but your taste buds will sense something. So I restrained myself by only having one piece of bread. Then they brought out the sides: pinto beans, coleslaw, and potato salad. I’ll admit it right now, I’ve never been much a fan of the side dishes at barbeque places. Unless it’s the new potatoes swimming in butter at Rudy’s, I stick to the main stuff, which is what they brought in platefuls next: beef ribs hovering over sausages and juicy, juicy (needs two) brisket, all surrounded by barbeque sauce. The word brisket makes my mouth water. Unfortunately I haven’t found it yet in Barcelona. So we split up the goods from the plate, although there was still plenty left. I took a bit of each, a rib, some sausage and lots of brisket. I don’t think this was the “extra lean” kind you sometimes see on menus. It was very tender and moist. Perfect. And the barbeque sauce was sweet, I was reminded how I liked County Line’s sauce. I’m sorry to say though that I ate my rib with a fork….a scandal I know, that might bring tears to many, but I was in a dress and the only girl at the table to even entertain the idea of eating one. It was good too, but I wish I could’ve picked it up and bit into it, like a real Texas woman. Next came a plate chicken, small pork ribs, and what I’m guessing was lean brisket, it looked drier, and I took someone’s word for it when they said it wasn’t as good. The chicken got good reviews, although I prefer to stick to my red meats. Servers even came around with extra barbeque sauce, which I gladly accepted. Finally there was homemade ice cream, but I like to think my desserts were better. Some friends helped divvy them up among the guests, but everyone was mostly stuffed of cow, pig, and chicken, but some bite-sized nibbles did disappear. The verdict? I think the chocolate caramel slices were the favored sweets. And the barbeque was just what I needed, but I’m still kicking myself for not picking my rib up and eatin’ it proper. But give me some Shiner, the lake, juicy brisket, and a bit of chocolate afterwards and I’m a happy camper.

Chocolate-Caramel Slices
(although I think Chocolate-Caramel bar is better. Or cube. That’s what mine were.)

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1 egg yolk

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which I didn’t have, but it says you can substitute dark corn syrup, which I did have)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Honey (not necessary, but can be added or substituted for other things, explained in method below)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I ended up using those two and dark chocolate)
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Flaked sea salt

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 11x7x2-inch metal baking pan. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor, or in a big bowl with a fork like I did. Add butter and get out your pastry cutter. If you don’t have one, continue with the fork. Using on/off turns (of your processor or hand), blend until coarse meal forms. Add 1 tablespoon ice water and egg yolk. Blend until moist clumps form. Press dough onto bottom of pan; pierce all over with fork. Bake until golden, piercing if crust bubbles, about 20 minutes (after 20 minutes it still felt a little cakey, but it was golden on the edges, so I took it out and it ended up being perfectly crumbly, for me didn’t need to cook longer). Cool completely.

For Toppings:
Whisk first 5 ingredients (for me, these included sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla and honey. I doubled the recipe without realizing that I only had one can of condensed milk, so I had to make up for it with honey and corn syrup. I didn’t measure though, I just poured in some, stirred around, and poured in more until it looked like a good amount to cover the crust) in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, butter melts, and mixture comes to boil. At this point I through in some big pinches of sea salt from Ibiza, even though it doesn’t call for it, I was inspired by many salted caramel recipes. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Boil gently until caramel is thick and temperature registers 225°F, whisking constantly, about 6 minutes. For me it seemed to take a while for it to go from 210 to 225, but it crept up there. Pour caramel evenly over crust. Once again, I took some sea salt in my hands and sprinkled it over the caramel, just a tiny bit. Then let cool for 15 minutes to set.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate with cream in microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring occasionally. Spread chocolate over warm caramel using a spatula, but do it quickly, otherwise it’ll sink into the spot where you pour it; sprinkle with sea salt (I skipped this because I put it on the caramel).
Refrigerate until chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. I made mine the day before the dinner and about a couple hours before pulled them out to cut into tiny cubes. Actually, Dan cut them, but I was there for some of it. Words of advice: cut fast, they melt. Cut a few rows (he used a metal spatula to cut out a large chunk, take it out of the pan, and then used a knife dipped in warm water) and refrigerate every few rows you cut because otherwise the caramel starts to melt and the chocolate slips and they still taste great, but not as pleasing to the eye. Serve them and make people get them. They will like.

The Mexican Wedding Cookies which were almost a divine act and so wonderfully described above will appear in the next post when I can get my loving mother to tell me the recipe, as I left my book at home...