Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The "Royal Treatment" Buttermilk Waffles and Buttermilk Syrup

Last week I sang the praises of my wonderful waffle iron, but of course a waffle iron isn't any good without a great waffle recipe to go with it! When I was a kid, our weekday breakfasts were typically just cold cereal and toast, so having a hot breakfast on anything but a special occasion really was the royal treatment. Mom was a great cook and a loving mother, but she was also good at keeping her sanity, and especially during the years when some of us breakfasted at 5 am and others at 7, hot breakfast for the lot was just out of the question. On our leisurely Saturdays, however, we would often have something nicer, but Sunday dinners were an especially popular night to have a big "breakfast-for-dinner." Waffles were the usual favorite, and are still a big hit with my kids, too. This recipe for Buttermilk Waffles is regularly requested for birthday breakfasts and makes a great holiday morning treat, but that doesn't mean we save them for special occasions only. Every day should be royal! Top them off with Aunt Lynette's luscious Buttermilk Syrup recipe included below and you'll really feel like royalty.

Buttermilk Waffles 
Servings: 6
This recipe has an unusually thick though fluffy batter, making the waffles soft but substantial with a rich buttery flavor. The original recipe came from, but it has been through many tweaks since then getting it just the way we love it!

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups buttermilk
6 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
Start by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Remove from heat a little before it melts completely and allow to finish melting off the heat and cool slightly. Separate the egg whites into a beater bowl and the yolks into a smaller mixing bowl. Beat the whites until stiff. Meanwhile, sift all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Add the milk and buttermilk to the egg yolks and whisk until combined. Add milk & yolk mixture to dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Stir in melted butter. Batter will be quite thick. Very gently fold in beaten egg whites, until only small pockets of egg white are still visible. Spoon batter onto heated waffle iron and bake acording to iron instructions. (For mine, I use a medium-low setting for 4 minutes). Best when served straight off the iron, but you can also keep warm on a cookie sheet in the oven at 200° or less.  Serve with maple syrup, fruit, yogurt, whip cream, peanut butter... and/or this awesome syrup:

Buttermilk Syrup
Makes: about 2 cups
When we were on tour with Les Miserables, we spent a lovely week with my husband's Aunt Lynette and Uncle Matt during our stop near their hometown in Arizona. Lynette served us this amazing syrup with french toast, but we love to have it on anything that you can put syrup on. The recipe seemed simple enough, but it took me a little experimenting to figure out all the tricks behind getting it just right. Here I include my notes so hopefully your first time will be better than mine ;)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add buttermilk, corn syrup, sugar, and butter to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and allow to boil for no more than one minute (if you over boil, the milk solids will clump). Remove completely from heat and whisk together briskly to break up the milk solids. Whisk in baking soda and vanilla. It will foam up a lot (which is the best part). If you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. 

The best way to revitalize the leftover syrup for serving again is to rewarm it in a pot, but not to a boil. When heated sufficiently, whisk in about 1/8 tsp baking powder per cup. The baking soda you added the first time you made it reacted with the acid in the buttermilk, so adding soda again won't yield the same results as the chemical reaction is spent. Baking powder, on the other hand, is baking soda with acidic cream of tartar mixed in. Baking soda can react on its own because it carries the acid with it, therefore creating that lovely foam.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Waffle Iron of Power

In the Bayles home, we are serious about our waffles. That means I don't mess around with wimpy waffle irons. We got our first waffle iron (made by Chefmate) as a wedding gift. It got us accustomed to the nice, deep pockets of the Belgian-style waffle, and lasted us for over 12 years of waffley wedded bliss. Sadly, it breathed its last breath half-way through baking the first waffle for my son's birthday breakfast (thank goodness for good neighbors who loaned us theirs for the rest of the morning!) Since we were just a month away from moving, we decided to do without for a while and wait until we got here a year ago. Before rushing out and buying a new waffle iron, I did a lot of research. I was determined my new iron would last us much, much longer than just another decade, and I wanted to be sure it could cook waffles just the way we like them. It didn't take much reading before I realized if I wanted a superior waffle iron I was going to have to splurge a little. On the threshold of grad school, this was a tough budget choice, but one I have not regretted. Thanks to a thorough blog review from a person who had tested out several irons, I was confident in purchasing the "No Peek" Belgian Waffle Maker made by Calphalon. The point the reviewer made that really caught my attention was this: in his hunt for the perfect iron, he had been told that if he wanted even heat and durable construction, he should try to find a really old iron, like from the 50's or 60's. Back then they made appliances to last through regular use in bigger families who cooked more often, not on a whim and as a novelty for two. After owning one such iron and finally running it into the ground, he bought this Calphalon iron and was happy to report it was built like they used to make 'em. Retailing around $100, this was a big commitment, but thanks to a 20% off coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond (you know, the ones you find in the mail every single week?) I got mine for a more reasonable $80. It has been my best friend ever since. We use it at least twice a month and the results are always perfect.

Here are some of the features I love most about this waffle iron:

1. It is solid. According to the manufacturer, the plates are made of bronze. The outer structure has a sturdy brushed metal look. My last waffle iron took a bit of a beating from the kids who sat on it like a folding chair (never when it was hot of course!) or pretended it was a laptop (those little squares do look a lot like a keyboard). Its casing was plastic, and in time the underside cracked down the middle. The Calphalon iron is a lot more precious to me and doesn't get played with, but if it did, I think it would hold up to the abuse pretty well.

2. It is genuinely and perfectly non-stick. The waffles come off gorgeously every time. A note to all non-stick waffle-iron users out there: DO NOT spray your waffle iron! That will actually destroy the non-stickitivity of the plates as the oil accumulates and bakes on. If you have already used spray on it for a while, you will probably have to keep using it forevermore, but a new iron should never see Pam's face, so just keep her in the cupboard.

3. It has a temperature dial, something my last iron did not have. I love having the flexibility to raise or lower the heat level. However, I still use a timer. I had gotten used to ignoring the bell on my last iron because the waffles were never quite done when it sounded. With this one I found that cooking them to the darkness I liked (according to the bell) left the middle less cooked than I wanted (the batter I use is thicker than traditional waffles). So we set it lower and cook it a little longer, and they turn out perfectly. You'll probably want to play with this feature too to get it just where you like it.

4. The cord tucks away neatly and simply. My last iron had no such feature, and it may have been one too many tugs on that cord that did it in.

5. There is a locking slide to hold the iron closed for storage. It's not as stiff as I would like and it's easy to accidentally nudge the lock open, but since I don't carry it around very much I don't mind. It is enough to keep it closed if you store it upright and it's lots better than the floppy plastic "lock" that was little more than a hinge on the handle of my first iron.

6. It heats beautifully evenly. During my research I looked at so many bad reviews of disgruntled waffle makers including their frightening pictures of half-cooked waffles. You could see exactly where the heating element lay beneath the plates because a dark ring would be emblazoned on the waffles whilst the edges were still doughy and sticking pathetically to the iron. I looked at a lot of waffles like that. I really mean a LOT. But never in my kitchen. Nope.

7. It's big enough for our family. I couldn't do a little flip-over Belgian waffle iron. You can't chug out enough waffles for 7 people with one of those. This iron has a nice big four-square plate with nice deep waffle pockets. Just right for us.

So that's all the reasons I love my Calphalon waffle iron. If you're in the market for a new one, I highly recommend it.

Next week I will share my favorite Buttermilk Waffle recipe, along with our favorite thing to pair with it: Aunt Lynette's amazing Buttermilk Syrup!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Even More Cheesecake

A couple weeks ago I enjoyed a great night out with some girlfriends. And where did we go? Well, Cheesecake Factory of course! I was reminded that it has been a long while since I have written a cheesecake review, and we've sampled several since my last one, so I have lots to catch up on! In fact, we also observed National Cheesecake Day on July 30 and thanks to a half-off deal at the Factory two nights in a row, we had a double face-off: Hershey vs. Godiva and the War of the Citrus. I'll tell you about those, then add some previously un-reviewed cheesecakes. (Remember, overall scores are composed of a rating out of 4 stars, and a richness factor of 1-3, 1 being the lightest)

We are long time fans of the Godiva Cheesecake. It has no frills, layers, or culinary accessories, but who needs 'em when you have chocolate perfection? The Godiva Cheesecake is one solid slice of rich chocolate heaven, just the perfect amount of bitter-sweetness and richness through and through. I still don't recommend it as a meal finial unless you can share it because it is a lot of chocolate for one sitting.  

The Hershey's on the other hand had some nice layers to it, a little sample of various forms of chocolate: there was a layer of mousse, cheesecake, chocolate cake, and a frosting like layer, with a nice crust of chocolate chips on the outside edge. The quality of the chocolate was a little better than I expected from a "grocery store brand" of chocolate, but this is Cheesecake Factory after all, and they stepped it up enough to compete with its gourmet sister. 

The victor? Well, I think it more depends on what you like: bite after bite of the same chocolate perfection, or a strata of good chocolate in all its varieties. Still, I'd say the Godiva is the superior dessert. (Score: Godiva still at **** 3, Hershey's *** 3)

On the second night of National Cheesecake observance, I arrived at the Factory to discover a new friend waiting for me in the display case like a puppy at the pet store. I saw what looked like lemon curd beneath a smear of marshmallow creme and just had to ask the server, "Is that one new?" It was indeed just added that day. Lemon Merengue Cheesecake. Dallyn and I had already decided it was time to try the Key Lime, but this couldn't be passed up. Thanks to the half-off deal, we brought home both for the price of one.

This face off was another case of pure flavor vs layers. The Key Lime Cheesecake was exactly the way I like my key lime pie: tart and sweet, a little dense and custardy, and more creamy than fluffy. It had the classic graham crust and whip cream garnish like a regular key lime pie, but the filling was more than twice as thick. It didn't taste much like a cheesecake, but the tartness of the lime easily overpowered any hint of cream cheese sourness. Perfectly luscious. If you are a key lime fan like me, I highly recommend this one.

The new pie on the block was also stupendous, and a happy addition to the menu. The first pie I ever baked was a lemon merengue, and I've been partial to them my whole life. The Lemon Merengue Cheesecake featured a few layers with different textures: a fairly thick one of lemony cheesecake, topped with a nice spread of lemon curd. The layer above that of marshmallow creme was lightly toasted to resemble merengue, but obviously had a more creamy consistency than a true egg-white merengue. Add to that the whip cream and some candied lemon zest and you had a lovely combination. This one was less tart and a little lighter than the key lime with more variety of textures and flavors. 

Our favorite: the lemon merengue, but not by much, just for the lovely assembly of its parts.
(Score: Lemon Merengue **** 1, Key Lime **** 2)

On my girls night out I tried one my husband hadn't shown much interest in, the Fresh Banana Cream. It was really good, especially if you like banana cream pie. It was certainly a lighter cheesecake, and I could have easily finished it off myself, especially since I hadn't just eaten dinner but I wanted to share a couple bites with Dallyn despite his lack of interest. There wasn't much fancy about it, pretty simple flavors, not super sweet. I'm not likely to try it again. If you really like banana cream pie, like it's your favorite pie in the world, I'd say go for it, but there are so many other amazing items on the menu so honestly, this one is more of a toss-out for me. My score: ** 1

Now for some more reviews from cheesecakes past:

(New Review!) Dulce de Leche **** 1
I was surprised how much I loved this one! It is a perfect choice for when you want something a little lighter, not fruity or chocolatey, just creamy and delicious. It has a little more oomph to it than just a plain cheesecake because it has that lovely touch of carmel goodness. With a dusting of chopped nuts to add some texture, this is one of my very top picks.

(New Review!) Wild Blueberry White Chocolate *** 2
I was not a fan of blueberry flavor growing up, and even though I now love good fresh blueberries, I am still a little less enamored of traditional "blueberry" flavor. Nevertheless, I was surprised how much I liked this one. There was just the right amount of sweet blueberries and a lovely creaminess to the white-chocolate enriched cheesecake. It was overall a very light, flavorful dessert.

(New Review!) White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut * 2/3
This one is a rare case of "not so impressive." It sounded pretty good. I like all the parts, but the sum total was disappointing. While the flavors were good, there was a problem with overall distribution of the nut and caramel clusters. It was too much and too clumpy. Some bites were just too heavy with dry, pasty macadamia nuts and sticky sweet caramel, and others had hardly any substance to them. I think they need to work on the assembly of this one to make it a more pleasant experience.

(New Review!) Mango Key Lime *** 2
For some reason we tried the Mango Key Lime long before we ever did the regular Key Lime. I guess we just wanted a little something different. That little something was awesome. The thin juicy mango puree layered over a perfect key lime filling adds the perfect extra kick of flavor! It was a beautiful pairing for the tartness of the lime.

(New Review!) Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake **** 3
Of the two peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake offerings at the Factory, this is our favorite. It is definitely in the "rich" category. The thick peanut butter flavors mix like old friends with the moist chocolate cake and the creamy cheesecake, complete with chunks of classic Reese's cups. The flavor ratios are nicely balanced, and I have a slight weakness for the dollop of peanut butter ganache frosting on top. Don't forget to have some milk on hand!

(New Review!) Oreo Dream Extreme * 2
I was so excited to try this cake. My love affair with Oreos goes way back. I didn't know this was a well known fact, but apparently it is because I have had unexpected friends gift a package to me on a couple occasions (for future reference, I like the mint ones best). Cookies and Cream continues to be one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and the bigger the chunks of cookie, the better (PS my favorite brand is actually Trader Joe's "Jo Jo's and Cream", which I realize is technically not Oreo, but it is awesome!) So needless to say, this was on my short list of flavors to try. Sadly, I was disappointed. While the big chunks of Oreo hidden in the cheesecake filling looked inviting, we found that the sourness of the cream cheese flavor was not a good compliment. I was a little puzzled by that, and there may be those that would totally disagree with me. But when I eat an Oreo, I expect a sweet filling, and the milk I dip it in has to be cold and fresh. Maybe the sourness made me think of sour milk, which is never cool. So while it looks very pretty (the cross section full of Oreos is fun, and I especially like the oversized Oreo branded cookies they stick in the top) this is not likely one I will order again. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't the Oreo-like experience I was hoping for.

Chocolate Tuxedo Cream **** 1
This is a lighter more mousse-like cheesecake, perfect for when you don't have room for one of the knock-you-out rich plates, but hey, you're at the Cheesecake Factory, and how can you leave without dessert? Layers of cream and chocolate mousse topped with a super thin ganache.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle **** 3
Ready for some rich chocolate paired with the perfect complement of tart raspberry? In my opinion, chocolate and raspberries were meant to go together, and this dessert is the perfect marriage. On the richer side, with just the right amount of fruity tartness. Make sure you scoop some of the whip cream to lighten it up.

Godiva Chocolate **** 3
Yes, you can get them mail order,
complete with fun dry ice to play with.
This was my birthday cake in 2008.
Dallyn and I are huge fans of Godiva chocolate. In our less lean years (I mean financially, but I guess I could mean the other thing...), no special occasion was complete without a small box of Godiva, and we would stretch the joy out as long as possible by sharing one piece only per day.  We would tease our children that Hersheys is for kids, Godiva is for grownups and is wasted on the young, and would point them to the stash of kisses in the pantry. (They did challenge us once to a taste test to prove their palates were sophisticated enough to tell the difference, and they sort of passed, so sometimes we are gracious and will share, but mostly we hide it.) Yes, we're obsessed. So it is no surprise that this cheesecake makes our top 3 list. It is rich. It is basic, but basically beautiful in its chocolate perfection. No fancy layers or trappings, it's just the most exquisite pure silky chocolate experience available. Definitely utilize the whip cream.

Toasted Marshmallow S'mores Galore **** 3
Oh, wow. This was a surprise. We tried this one on a recommendation from a friend. Having seen it in the case, it looked like just another chocolatey one, and I wasn't really in the mood for that, but when I saw a picture the way it would be served with a perfectly toasted marshmallow melting all over the top, I knew I had to partake. Toasted marshmallows are my very favorite treat. Ever. We knew we had to have it on a plate at a table rather than the to-go boxes we typically grab (since presentation seemed pretty important), so it was a little while before we actually got to try it, but it was well worth the wait! The marshmallow turned out to be marshmallow creme rather than an actual marshmallow (the photo was a little deceptive), but it was still nicely toasted and tasty. The chocolate cheesecake was delicious and creamy, with little chunks of harder chocolate hidden near the base that added a scrumptious texture. Crunchy bits of graham were scattered over the lot, with a full square of graham cracker balanced attractively on top. The traditional graham crust was a perfect fit. This one is rather rich, so definitely grab a cheesecake buddy to share. I can't recommend saving the leftovers unless you first eat all the graham cracker parts, as those will get soggy in the fridge (as we sadly discovered).

Original ** 2
Several people said I had to try this one. I was skeptical. I'm picky about the consistency of my "plain" cheesecake. It has to be perfectly creamy and moist throughout, no dry cakeyness, and I especially love a sour cream topping. I usually like cherry pie filling on top, but in order to get the pure experience, I had it plain. It was good. Pretty basic. It was creamy enough, but not the to-die-for creamiest I've ever had. The best plain cheesecake I've had was at Junior's in NYC. There are so many other awesome options for cheesecake at The Factory that I'm not likely to have this one again, but if you really want one, go for it.

30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake *** 2
This was my desert of choice for my recent birthday. It seemed a nice compromise between cake (for my husband) and cheesecake (for me), and truly it was delightful! The cake was moist and flavorful, the cheesecake creamy, and the moussey layers in between were luscious. The big ganache swirl on top was a bit much to get through, but a little bit with each bite was a nice addition.