Tag Archives: baked things

Baklava

29 Aug

Baklava.

So delicious, and so intimidating.  We’ve all heard horror stories about working with phyllo dough.  And even if we haven’t (you really haven’t?  Huh.), it’s just hard to imagine being able to recreate something with so many precise layers, something so unbelievably delicious that it necessarily seems unattainable.

Maybe you don’t overanalyze your desserts like this.  Whatever.

I was intimidated by the idea of baklava.  I heard phyllo dough horror stories.  I was craving some and made it anyway.

It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.  But it did get done, and wow my baklava was (were?) insanely delicious.  So rich with butter, honey, and pistachios.  So sticky and good!

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And okay, actually?

Shelling the pistachios is the hardest part, no joke.  My thumb was in SO MUCH pain for days from wedging it under shells and prying them open.

You can use walnuts or pecans if you prefer, but I happen to love pistachios and for some reason the only unshelled ones that were in my grocery store came in little snack packs…  So I had to buy shelled ones.

But if, unlike me, your friends have not all left to resume college/left the country completely, you can enlist their help.

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Or you can do what I did, and shell pistachios while watching Orange is the New Black to distract yourself from the pain.  (You could watch the show anyway, you know, because it’s amazing.)

I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman.

Ingredients:

  • One package phyllo dough
  • 4 cups chopped pistachios, walnuts, or pecans
  • 1 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla

Recipe:

First of all, if your nuts have not come pre-chopped, food processor the hell out of them.

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Set those aside.

Now, about that phyllo dough.  The package will tell you how to defrost it, but maybe you’re like me and don’t want to follow the directions because the directions tell you to wait 24 hours for the dough to defrost.

Lame.

I did a lot of anxious searching for defrosting methods that didn’t take forever, thinking that surely there were people out there who went to make something with phyllo dough the night of some event or dinner and had to defrost in a hurry.

And I was right.

(Betting on the existence of human error is always a safe bet, especially when it comes to baking.)

Some people talked of a suspicious-sounding microwave method, while other talked about hot water baths.  Most, however, said to let it sit around for a few hours on the counter.  You might want to do your own searching for a method you like, or that is more precise, but I let mine sit out for about three hours and it was totally fine.

So okay, dough is out of the way.

Once you’re ready to work with the dough, butter a large pan.  Check the dimensions of your dough to determine the size of pan you should use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On your phyllo pile, butter the top sheet and lay it and the sheet below it into your pan, buttered side down.  Repeat two more times.

Sprinkle a single layer of nuts.  I would sprinkle sparsely, because I ran out of nuts a bit too soon.

Butter two sheets and lay them over the nuts.  Add a layer of nuts, then two more buttered sheets.  Repeat until you use up all your nuts, then lay four buttered sheets on top.

Slice into diamonds very carefully and with a very sharp knife.

Bake for 45 minutes, until a deep, golden brown.

While the baklava is baking, make the syrupy stuff.

In a pot over medium-high heat, combine one stick of butter, the honey, sugar, water, and vanilla, and bring to a boil, then simmer until the baklava is done.

When the baklava is out of the oven, pour half the syrup evenly over the pan and wait a few minutes for it to soak in.  Then, pour the other half.

Wait a few more hours for it to set and become gooey and wonderful (don’t worry, it’ll still be warm), and then go bananas and eat as much as you can stand.

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That’s what was left after family carved out their slices and after I ate many slices during many meandering, late nigh phone calls.

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Cover with plastic wrap to keep them fresh for up to a week and a half.

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You’ve probably heard of the new Netflix show Orange is the New Black, and maybe you’ve already watched it.  If you haven’t, this is your gentle reminder to get on that shit because it is pure gold.

I had my reservations about it, which is why I’m so late to the party.  I thought it would be a case of “Here is a real world problem that no one usually cares about, but we can care now because we have a pretty white female protagonist.”

I thought the other prisoners would be pigeon-holed and stereotyped, and that the main character would dominate the show.  They wouldn’t even be playing second fiddle; they’d be playing viola.  (No offense, violists, but you know.)

I was so wrong, and so happy to be so wrong.

In fact, all the characters are incredibly complex, well-written, well-developed and likeable.  I love all of them.  (Okay, most of them.)  Rarely do we get good ensemble cast shows where the ensemble is racially, sexually (there’s a trans* woman played by a trans* woman!  Sexuality is portrayed as a spectrum, not a “choice” of two options!), socio-economically diverse.

The show also handles prison life really well (I think).  It shows prison as being horrific and degrading without making the women look weak and like victims.

It’s a really well-written show with amazing characters, and I highly, highly recommend it.

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White Chocolate Mango Bars

26 Aug

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I have quite the recipe for you today.

These bars are SO GOOD, let me tell you.

The original recipe called for passion fruit, but I couldn’t find any, so I used mango.  However, if you have goji berries handy, I would highly recommend using those instead.

(I’m a little obsessed with goji berries at the moment.)

I think my favorite thing about these, however, is that the chocolate isn’t melted to make a white chocolate-flavored bar.  It’s chopped so you get delicious bites of white chocolate in each bar.

I love the texture.  I love the sudden burst of buttery white chocolate.

(You’re going to want to get the good stuff, by the way.)

These bars go very well with a chai latte.  They go very well with nothing at all.

These bars are good if you have recently been to the library and you found the despairingly small collection of feminist books interspersed with books about being single.

These bars are good even if you haven’t done that.

I don’t know, I feel like you should probably just make these bars.  You won’t regret it.

I found this recipe in a sort of funny way because I follow other blogs on WordPress, as one does… but I never check them.  I never see my WordPress dashboard because I have no idea where it is.  When I was writing my last post, though, my computer died before I could finish so I went to use a different computer and when I logged into my account, it showed me all the blogs I apparently follow.

One of them is a really beautiful travel/food blog that I wish I had paid attention to earlier called Le Pirate, which is where I got the recipe.

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Ingredients:

  • 7 tbsp butter, nearly melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp mango, chopped; goji berries; passion fruit pulp
  • 7 grams white chocolate

Recipe:

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Whisk the butter and sugar together until well-combined.

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Stir in the eggs, vanilla, and salt and whisk well.  Stir in the flour, chocolate, and fruit of your choice.

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Pour into a greased pan (or a pan lined with parchment paper).  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until just set.

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I’ve been reading a lot of David Sedaris lately.  I first read him in high school after I went to see him doing a reading at the Strand.  He signed my book very nicely (“To Kate – I can’t spell skateboard without you”) and my dad’s very snidely (“Your story touched my heart” – this to the man who barely said a word to Sedaris).  His stories never fail to embarrass me in public as I laugh out loud and disturb fellow subway-riders, park-sitters-in, and cafe-goers.  I highly recommend almost anything he’s written, and if you can’t get the audiobooks read by him, so much the better.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Comcast just re-imbursed me $65.41 so I’m going to have a Frances Ha moment and find some way to spend it.

 

 

 

 

Matcha Pound Cake

17 Aug

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I could never get sick of this place.  I think I’ve made my peace with living in Chicago at last because I know it’s temporary.  I’ve even fallen a bit in love with Chicago knowing that I only have another year left there.

I used to hate it because it wasn’t New York (and for other less petty reasons, I swear).  But while I do love Chicago, I’ll never live there again, whereas New York will always be the home I return to.  It’s where I grew up and it’s where I can always go back to.

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I love Chicago and I love Paris and I’ll probably love Beijing, and I have no doubt that I’ll live all over the world, but wherever I go there will be a string around my finger that leads straight back to New York.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that I can’t even begin to explain how much I love this place, so I’m going to stop before I veer too far into oversharing awkward sentimentality and actually get to the subject of this post.

Which is… some seriously delicious pound cake.

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Matcha, if you don’t know, is green tea powder made by grinding the whole leaf superfine.  You can use it in baking, you can make lattes (amazing lattes!), and you can brew a much stronger, earthier cup of tea than you would get from loose leaves or a tea bag.

I was very excited to get some matcha powder recently (thanks, Mom!) because I am a serious green tea fiend.  I’ll eat anything flavored with green tea (but especially ice cream).  This pound cake certainly being no exception.

Interestingly, it doesn’t really taste like green tea…  It tastes like your average pound cake, but it’s earthier, fuller tasting.  It’s got a very subtle something that pound cake doesn’t have.  Even if you don’t like green tea you will probably love this pound cake.

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The recipe is straight from Appetite for China.  The only thing I would change would be to grate 1/4-1/2 tsp of ginger into the batter, which I sadly didn’t think of until after I had baked it.  But you know it would be amazing.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp matcha powder
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp ginger, grated (optional)

Recipe:

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and matcha powder.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs.  Add the flour mixture and stir until well-combined.  Stir in the grated ginger, if you’re using it.

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for at least 45 minutes.  Typically, mine took probably 20 minutes longer.  I don’t know why I have such trouble with loaves.  A tester should come out clean when inserted into the middle, and don’t worry if the top gets super brown and crispy, as mine did.  It actually made it taste like it had a sugar crust, which was cool.

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I have books to recommend but I’m going to forgo them in favor of a film.  I saw Frances Ha last night at the IFC Center and I loved it to little pieces.  It’s a Noah Baumbach film, written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances.  It’s a slice of life film about being poor and in your 20s and kind of a human disaster in New York, but it’s got some things that those kinds of films usually don’t:

  • a super strong female friendship that totally eclipses any romantic relationship in the movie (possibly in any movie)
  • a modern dancer for a main character (that’s just cool)
  • some nods to Leos Carax
  • a main character who is a total mess and can’t handle basic adult things and bumbles through life so hard but isn’t an anxious trainwreck and isn’t depressed and isn’t ambitious.  She’s just happy.  She’s so happy.  In a city of 8 million crazily ambitious people and tons and tons of folks who follow the college degree -> job -> marry a person -> suburbs (give or take) and tons more who stop at “job” and become Career People, it was awesome to see a character who isn’t ambitious and really just wants to have good friends and be happy and bounce around wherever life might toss her.  She’s not immune to sadness, but she accepts the bad things and bends around them, accommodates them, and then moves on, fundamentally untouched.  She reacts badly to things, she gets depressed, she does stupid, impulsive shit, but she never spirals out of control and she always finds a way to move, if not forward, then at least in some direction worth pursuing, at least for now.

Salty Chocolate Cookies

16 Aug

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18 days to go and it doesn’t feel any more like it’s really happening than it did a year ago.

I’m going to make a list of things I want to do, things that I’ll miss, before I leave for Beijing.  Things like

  • Spend as much time on the Highline as possible
  • Eat oysters at P.J. Clarke’s with my dad
  • See American movies in American theaters (which I’m doing tonight, so hurray)
  • Eat a lot of tacos
  • A lot of tacos
  • And peanut butter.  Just load up on that stuff.
  • Bike to Manhattan at least one more time
  • Go to museums (like the Whitney!  I’ve still never been.  I’m such a bad art history student)
  • Read books that are not about China
  • Have Magnolia’s banana bread pudding (also might do this tonight!)

Okay, a lot of it is food-related, but a lot of my life is food-related, so there you go.  Also, something NOT to do–eat Chinese food!  I swear to god, I eat so much of it, and logically I know that I should eat things I CAN’T get in China…  But Chinese is my favorite.

I’ll work on it…

I also have a ton of video to edit, but that’s a totally different story and one that we will not be talking about anytime soon.

But okay, let’s talk about cookies, then!  These are, in terms of chocolate levels, pretty obscene.  You’ve go melted chocolate AND cocoa powder, so even though the dough needs to be refrigerated, they’re really chocolatey and delicious (I don’t really like refrigerated dough; it always seems bland).

The recipe is (adapted not even a little bit) from Butter Me Up Brooklyn, which is a really excellent blog that I highly recommend.  She has some really creative recipes that I want to try one day when I’m not feeling horrifically lazy.

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Ingredients:

  • 3.5 oz bittersweet chocolate (I may have used semisweet…)
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup coarse sugar or sprinkles
  • sea salt for sprinkling

Recipe:

Chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler of your own fashioning over low heat.

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Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until well-combined.  Stir in the melted chocolate completely and then the flour mixture.  BMUB warns that the dough will be stiff, so don’t be afraid to get your hands in there to thoroughly combine the flour.

Divide the dough in two and form into logs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the logs in parchment paper and refrigerate for an hour or freeze for half an hour.

Once they’ve chilled sufficiently, unwrap them and roll them around in the coarse sugar/sprinkles.  I had trouble getting it to stick, so I pretty much rubbed the sprinkles onto the logs, which sort of worked.

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Slice at 1/2 inch intervals and place them on cookie sheets.  You can space them pretty close together since they don’t really expand much.  Sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 350 for 6 minutes, until the tops begin to crack.

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I have been informed that they are particularly delicious when crumbled into ice cream, so there’s an idea.  Also, they stay good for a ridiculously long time in an airtight container (not that they’ll be lying around for very long!  Just in case.)

 

I finally finished putting all of my photos from my year-long photography challenge on they’re own website, so you can check that out here if you’re so inclined.

Today’s book recommendation is brought to you by a mysterious coincidence of the universe.  I was looking up books about the Peace Corps in my library’s database (as you do) and found one by a woman named Hilary Liftin co-authored with… Kate Montgomery.  (That is my name, if you don’t know.)  The book, Dear Exile, is a collection of letters between the two women from when Kate (!!!) was in Kenya with the Peace Corps alongside her husband.

And okay, as far as Peace Corps books go, it’s pretty disappointing.  In the end, Kate and her husband didn’t seem to accomplish much since the first place they went had such toxic water they had to be pulled out and the second place they went devolved into horrific violence as the students went on strike to protest the abysmal conditions in which they lived and went to school.  On the one hand, it was a good reminder that not every Peace Corps experience results in the building of a giant water pump and a career lobbying for Peace Corps funding… but on the other I am 100% not recommending this book if you’re looking for something about the Peace Corps.

I’m recommending it because of the letters.  These two women are so incredibly close (it seems like) and it’s really wonderful to read about such a lovely friendship.  They’re also really funny and touching (Hilary dates idiots, commutes super long distance, has a mysterious job that never does get described, looks for an apartment, deals with crazy neighbors, etc., and who can’t relate to at least half of that list), and it’s just an all-around solid read, good for the beach or what-have-you.

Off-the-Chart Ridiculously Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Aug

I’m having a great food week.  I just finished an elaborate crêpe breakfast with my sister, I’m looking at a rack of chocolate cookies I made yesterday, and I’ve got homemade yoghurt congealing on the buffet.

Yesterday I made some amazing kimchi stir fry noodles and my mom made shrimp and papaya for dinner.

The day before that?  Eating out around the Lower East Side and the brilliant Italian place in my town.

And so in the spirit of good eating, I offer this chocolate chip cookie recipe to end all chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Seriously.  I’ve compiled a lot of chocolate chip cookie recipes, so I like to think I’m speaking with some authority here.

Naturally, we all have Top With Cinnamon to thank.  She created these ridiculous cookies using basil + verbena infused brown butter.  I can only imagine.  How fucking epic that must taste.

I had neither basil nor verbena, but I did have chili pepper.  I am firm believer that everything in the world can be improved with the addition of some kind of chili.

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(Side note: I have Mexican Chili Chocolate ice cream, which is AMAZING, further supporting this theory of the power of the chili.)

If you don’t like spicy food you will definitely still like this cookie.  Trust me.  It doesn’t taste like chili.  It just has this subtle heat, a hint of spice, that make the dough that much better than your average, blasé, sugary cookie dough.  It’s divine.  Just have faith.

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And so, with minor adaptation from the lovely TWC, I give you chili-pepper-infused brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4-1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 10 tbsp butter, cubed
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • chocolate chips; I don’t like to include measurements because I think it’s largely a matter of taste and also I have a tendency to use entire bags oops

Recipe:

In a small saucepan, brown the butter with the chili pepper.  You’ll know it’s browned when it starts to foam and smell nutty and delicious, which should happen fairly soon after the butter completely melts.  BE CAREFUL because it goes from brown to burnt very quickly.  As soon as it’s browned, pour into a small bowl and set aside.

While the butter is browning, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, both sugars, and the salt in a large bowl.  When the butter has cooled, pour into the flour mixture and mix until well-combined.  Mix in the egg and then the chocolate chips.

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TWC warns not to stir for too long.

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With a 1/4 cup measuring spoon, scoop the cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets.  Interestingly TWC is adamant about using a spoon with a 1/4 cup measure.

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Apparently she has experimented with size and found a noticeable advantage to the 1/4 cup.  Trust.

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Space the cookies 3 inches apart and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

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I now have whole slew of books to recommend in the coming weeks (I have a lot of recipes to share, so get doubly excited), but I’ll start with a really excellent I read while in Rhode Island.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoirs of eating around China, beginning with her introduction to China and Chinese cooking in Chengdu, Sichuan and following her food-writing career to Hunan, Hong Kong, Fujian, Beijing, and other provinces and places.  She’s had a really remarkable career, exposing the world to so many previously unknown parts of various Chinese cuisines.  She’s fearless and bold, eating literally anything that can be eaten and forging a path through as many Chinese kitchens as she can.  Her memoirs are really lovely and funny and bizarre and completely absorbing.

My favorite thing about this book is that, while it’s about Chinese cooking and Dunlop’s life, it doesn’t ignore politics and social issues, it addresses environmental concerns that come hand-in-hand with Chinese haute cuisine, and it shows (I think) the ever-present danger to foreigners of forgetting that they are not, in fact, actually Chinese.  If you have any interest in China, culinary anthropology, or seriously crazy but endearing stories, you should read this.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Puffs

28 Jul

Hello hello, it’s been a while.  In the past few weeks I’ve moved out of Chicago…

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driven to New York…

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and spend a week on Block Island.

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As such, I have not had much time to bake or do Internet things such as blogging.  But that will all change beginning this week, not least because I have finally secured some matcha powder and can now make green tea pound cake.  At last!

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But first, a super simple, easy, and very tasty little recipe.  I got the idea from Joy the Baker, as per, but her puffs were much more legit.  She used puff pastry.  Puff pastry was mysteriously either unavailable/expensive in the places I was looking, so I got one of those Pillsbury crescent roll tubes that you peel the wrapping off of until they pop…  Do you know what I’m talking about?  If you want the fancier version, hit up Joy, but for the “poor” person’s version, continue reading.

Ingredients:

  • One tube of crescent roll dough
  • Peanut butter
  • ~1/3 cup chocolate chips

Recipe:

Open up the dough and lay it all out without breaking it up along the perforations.

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I recommend leaving the dough in the refrigerator for an hour before you use it since it tends to fall apart when warm.

Cut into an even number of rectangles.

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Spoon a teaspoonful of peanut butter onto half the rectangles (depending on the size of your rectangles; mine were fairly small so really you just have to eyeball it, but be mindful of ooze).  Sprinkle a few chocolate chips into the peanut butter.

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Take the other rectangles and press them on top of the peanut butter covered ones, pinching the edges tightly.

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Obviously tighter than that.  I was in a hurry because I needed chocolate like ten minutes ago when I started making these.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Like so.

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So I’m reading a number of lovely books right now, but I actually want to recommend  podcast I recently started listening to (confession: I’m listening to it while I write this) called Welcome to Night Vale put out by Commonplace Books.  I know nothing about how or why it’s made, but it’s in the style of a radio broadcast from a small and terribly mysterious town in the southwest of the US and it is quite absurd and excellent.

Here’s a summary from one of the episodes:

“A large, philosophical pyramid appears in town, announcing several messages, but is it what it seems? Plus, best practices for regular skin-checks, an update on the levitating cat, and whatever happened to that vile barber?”

I’ve been listening to it on iTunes, but there are some alternative venues for listening here.

Cardamom Custard and Brown Sugar Meringue

22 Jun

Hello dear friends of the internet.

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If you’re on vacation for the summer, I hope it’s awesome.  If you’re not… dude, I’m sorry.  I’ve never had such a relaxed vacation.  I’m finally realizing the potential of biking (especially in the Midwest where it’s so flat!).  I can cross state lines.  By bicycle!  A friend of mine also figured out that if you take public transport to the end of the line, you can bike to the Mississippi without much hassle, so that might be happening.

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Also camping.  As in, biking some tens of miles to some lovely state park on Lake Michigan.

What I really love about this whole vacation (what I’m trying to say, that is), is that I’m finally taking advantage of the autonomy of biking.  I’m so enamored with how self-powered biking is.  What is more awesome than propelling yourself through your own ability 50+ miles?

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You come here for baking, though, so let’s get down to it.  I was searching for recipes for cardamom custard when I was in my art history class a couple of weeks ago.  It feels like such a long time ago…

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I lazily adapted a recipe from The Kitchn and then used the brown sugar meringue recipe from Short and Sweets.

Ingredients:

For the custard:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar (the recipe calls for granulated but I used brown)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

For the meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • a scant cup of brown sugar
  • pinch of salt

Recipe:

In a saucepan, heat milk and cardamom together on medium-low heat until simmering but NOT boiling.

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In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy.  Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in.  Add a cup of the milk to the mixing bowl to temper the eggs (which gets them used to the heat so they don’t flip out and start cooking).

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Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Reduce heat to low/medium-low and stir frequently until thickened.  It should take about 15-20 minutes, but if it doesn’t seem thick enough, take it off the heat and just trust it.  It’ll thicken on its own off the stove.

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You can eat it warm, but I prefer it refrigerated.

Now, for the meringue.  In a REALLY clean bowl and with REALLY clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Preheat the oven until 250 degrees.  Then, add the brown sugar one tablespoon (ish) at a time, beating on high until the peaks go from soft to stiff and glossy.

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Spoon them onto a baking sheet or pipe through a ziplock bag and bake for 70 minutes, or until the outsides aren’t sticky.  You may need to go longer (I went much longer).  Then, turn off the oven and prop open the door, letting them dry out for another hour or so.  Serve with the custard or eat them out of the oven like an impatient motherfucker until you mysteriously pull out half the amount you put in…

Anyway.  It’s time for some shameless self-promotion: since I have a new camera that shoots video and since I’ve been biking so much, I’ve been making a ton of short videos of my trips.  They’re on my Vimeo account, so check that shit out.