Friday, November 27, 2009

Project 03: Turning Arancini Upside Down

Although there are no written records, the legend of Arancini started with a thrifty grandmother in Sicily and a pot of leftover risotto. She fashioned the rice in little balls in the image of the dainty oranges growing outside her kitchen window and fried them golden brown. When she served the little croquettes to her family, it was such a hit they asked for the name of the dish, to which she named it, “Arancini,” after the orange tree.

At least, that was what I was imagining when I had my first Arancini. Simultaneously crispy, gooey and creamy, it’s one of those rare dishes that make you smile and swoon.

After much experimenting, I am proud to present my own version as a playful dessert. Inspired by rice pudding, I started out with a sweet risotto base, scented with vanilla and nutmeg, to create the perfect backdrop to showcase Kahlua’s complex flavors. I’ve also made other improvements such as replacing normal breadcrumbs with panko for a more delicate crunch and the traditional marinara sauce with a bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Not only is this dish fun to eat, it also makes for a entertaining party activity. Gather up a few friends, roll up your sleeves, and have fun! It’s what the grandmother would have wanted. Thanks for reading and happy cooking!

Ps. If you’re ever pressed for time, the risotto alone makes for an elegant dessert. Just serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg on top.

Kahlua Arancini di Riso
Serves 4

Kahlua Risotto
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup arborio rice
1 1/2 cups water, warmed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk, warmed
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla bean paste (extract is fine too)
1/4 cup Kahlua Hazelnut
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 egg, beaten
Panko bread crumbs
Canola Oil

Chocolate Kahlua Sauce
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Kahlua Hazelnut

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and stir, making sure each grain is coated with butter to prevent them from sticking. Keep stirring for 5 minutes to let the mixture toast until lightly browned—this will give extra flavor to the risotto.

Add water, sugar, salt and cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates. Add milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition for a few minutes. When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add more. Remember to stir frequently as it's the key to a creamy risotto.

After all the milk has been added, stir in the vanilla and add the cream, again in 1/2 cup increments. Begin tasting the rice to gauge its texture. You'll want it to be al dente—tender, but with a little crunch. When it's at the right stage and all the liquid has been absorbed (you'll want it to be a little drier than the traditional risotto), take the pan off the heat and stir in the Kahlua and nutmeg.

Spread the risotto onto a shallow plate to cool. When it's cool enough to handle, cover with plastic wrap—to prevent a skin from forming—and refrigerate until fully chilled and firm. This can be done overnight.

When the risotto is chilled, start heating up the oil. Put at least 3 inches of oil in a heavy medium saucepan and heat to 350 degrees F. Whisk egg in a small bowl and pour panko in a shallow layer on a plate.

To create the arancini, moisten your hands and roll a heaping tablespoon of the cooled risotto into a ball. Dredge it in the egg mixture first, then coat with bread crumbs. Repeat with the rest of the risotto. There should be enough to make 16-18 balls.

To make the chocolate dipping sauce, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan till it simmers, but not boiling. Add kahlua and pour over the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Wait a few minutes for chocolate to melt before stirring to mix.

By then, the oil should have reached the right temperature. Fry the arancini in small batches until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with the chocolate sauce. Enjoy!

Big thanks to Allen for donating a bottle of Kahlua Hazelnut, Pauline for graciously offering her kitchen and Hann (as well as Allen & Pauline) for being my helpers and tasters. Allen, I'm taking you with me to NY if I win, it's a promise!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Project 02: If Life Gives You Bad Bread, Make Bread Pudding

I blame it on Martha. As I was making one of  my weekly rounds at the neighborhood library and flipped open one of Martha Stewart Living magazine, my jaw dropped when I saw her recipe for a Apple-Honey Challah bread. It was all due to that gorgeous glossy photo. Check out the photo and recipe here.

All my past memories of failed bread-making attempts went out the window, and believe me, there were many. Granted, I was in elementary school and first started cooking, but they were such failures (think inedible bricks disguised as dinner rolls) that I swore I would never attempt to make bread again. That is, until I saw that perfect photo on the last page of Martha's magazine...

So, I dutifully gathered all the listed ingredients (sans apple since I forgot) and took it slowly step-by-step. It was an intense experience, totaling over five hours of kneading, proofing, stressing and baking.

The end result was a bit disappointing. The loaf looked well enough on the outside, but the inside showed an uneven crumb and flatten air bubbles (according to bakers, that means I've used old yeast). Thankfully, it tasted much better than it looked—with strong tones of honey and wheat.

So, what to do with a dense loaf of bread? Let it sit out for a day to get stale... then make bread pudding! I had some ripe bananas and chocolate chips on hand, so I altered a basic bread pudding recipe and created the Chunky Monkey Bread Pudding.

Chunky Monkey Bread Pudding
Serves 8 (or 6 hungry monkeys)
1. Take a half loaf of stale bread, cube it into 1-inch pieces and toast briefly in an 350 degree oven for about 8 mins.
2. Mix 2 eggs with 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract) with 1/4 tb salt, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 1/2 cup whole milk.
3. Place toasted bread cubes in a casserole dish, sprinkle 2 sliced bananas on top and scatter a handful of chocolate chips (or more if desired).
4. Pour the custard mixture over, sprinkle sugar on top and bake for 50 minutes in an 350 degree oven till golden brown.
5. Enjoy!

It was warm, gooey, and had just the right amount of sweetness. I organized a small group of Sweet Tooths to help me polish it off with a movie—it was a good night.

Lessons learned from this? Bread pudding is a savior and never again will I scoff at $5 loaves of bread. Good bread is well worth its price.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Everything in Paris Looks like Pastries"

Stumbled upon this little morsel this morning and it made my day. Susan Hochbaum goes on a photography shoot to capture pastry forms in the city of Paris. Oh la la!

Project 01: Can Shortbreads Be Flavorful?

Deprived of the ubiquitous grocery store cookies growing up in Hong Kong, I've not the pleasure in participating in the Oreos-and-milk ritual or tried the Keelber elves' many baked delights. The closest I got to cookies were Walkers Shortbread that my mom seemed to favor. As she looks for value in all her purchases, maybe the shortbread looked to be a good buy because it's so incredibly dense, as if the Walker family jammed butter and flour in a compacting machine to produce those bullion bars.

To me, they were decent, but I always wanted them to have some pizazz, some extra flavor other than plain ol' butter.

After many years, inspiration finally stuck when I read a back issue of Bon Appetit and fell upon Molly Wizenberg's Coffee Crunch Bars. A quick scan of her recipe revealed basic shortbread instructions with the addition of coffee, almond and almonds as flavoring agents. Simple, yet genius.

I tore out the recipe (don't worry, it was my copy) immediately and altered the recipe to my taste preference du jour, which is salted caramel.

First, I substituted bumped up the salt content with sea salt. Then, instead of almond extract, I added vanilla beans for a vanilla caramel taste. Lastly, I subbed out almonds for walnuts. Even though I'm not a cookie dough person, I dipped my finger in the bowl quite a few times...

Note: I baked the shortbread 10 minutes less than the recipe dictated since it was browning quickly. It seems others experience the same situation.

The end result was a happy success. The shortbread was delicate because of the thickness of the cookies, yet rich because of the ingreditents. The recipe makes 4 dozen squares, so I used the bulk of it for my friend's birthday present and split the rest with my fellow sugar junkies.

Give the recipe a try and make your own alterations!

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