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Archive for the ‘sweets’ Category

ritual

I’ve got pistachio on the brain.

It might be because I bought a huge bag for a certain salad that I’ve made several times in the past few weeks.

I keep a jar of these beauties on my coffee table and my friends and I scoop out a handful or two at a time.

Shelling them is half the fun. There’s the plip-plop of each shell half falling into the bowl, their sounds dampened as the empty shells pile up. Then the undivided attention we pay to one another as the repetitive activity occupies our hands but frees up our minds to focus on what we’re talking about. Finally the satisfaction of reward for work done.

After the shelling, there’s the eating. There’s the layer of salt that gets you salivating. Then the dusky purple papery skin that slips and slides between your teeth. Finally the bright green kernel that rolls around sweet and unctuous on your tongue and yields to a gentle bite.

It reminds me of the Israeli ritual of sitting around a few cups of mid-day or after-dinner coffee, kibbutzing about the day’s news while pausing every few seconds to pop another sunflower seed into your mouth, crack the hull between your teeth, find the seed meat inside, and casually drop the remains into the napkin lining your palm.

During these hazy hot humid days punctuated by flash storms, the pistachio shelling ritual is soothing, the plip-plop echoing the rain drops outside.

But there are only so many pistachios that one girl can eat before starting to think about baking. Especially this girl.  Especially on a rainy day.

And so, with pistachio on the brain and a few hours until the rain lets up, I sit and I shell and I skin and I toast and I chop.

Then I mix and I sprinkle and I bake and I slice and I bake and I cool.

And I crunch away. And the rain stops.

Pistachio rose biscotti

These biscotti are inspired by the flavors of baklava, studded with toasted pistachio and tinged with rose water. You can buy pre-shelled pistachos to simplify this recipe, but I find the act of shelling and skinning the pistachios very soothing. (I found a cool trick to remove the skins from pistachios and almonds by soaking in hot water for a few minutes.)  Do whatever is easiest for you. I adapted this recipe from one for biscotti di Prato in Lou Seibert Pappas’ Biscotti (you might remember seeing these cookies on here before). The rose flavor is very subtle and next time I make these,  I’ll amp it up to 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons of rose water.  

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

- 2 C unshelled pistachios (or 1 C shelled pistachios), divided

- 3 eggs

- 1 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 7/8 C sugar (i.e., one cup minus 2 tablespoons)

- 1 t baking soda

- pinch of kosher salt

- 3 C flour

- turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”) for sprinkling

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Shell. Remove the pistachios from their shells. You should end up with about one cup (assuming you don’t eat too many).

Skin. Fill a bowl with the pistachios and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 3 minutes until the water is cool enough for you to reach in and pluck out a few pistachios at a time. Squeeze them between your fingers and the skins should slip right off. This step also removes the salt.

Toast. Spread the pistachio on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes until they’re dry and fragrant. Let them cool.

Chop. Chop the pistachios with a knife or pulse a few times in a food processor. You should still have chunks, not a fine powder.

Mix. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, rose water, and sugar (I use my stand mixer). Add the baking soda, salt, and flour and mix until everything is blended. Mix in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Shape the dough into two long, skinny loaves (about 15 inches long and 2 inches wide). They will spread a lot during baking, so make sure to leave enough room between them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pistachios and a few pinches of turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Cool. Let the loaves cool for about 5 minutes until you can touch them. Lower the oven to 275ºF.

Slice. Slice the loaves on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide slices.

Bake again. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet (you may need two) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet(s) and flip the slices over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Store. Keep the biscotti in an airtight tin or jar. I usually put half of them directly in the freezer to save myself from them.

***

Update 4/14: Here are a few more photos that I took recently for an article in the Forward.

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Pistachio rose biscotti

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once upon a time

Hello summer. Let’s eat cake.

Not just any cake. A French yogurt cake. Which is really a lighter version of pound cake. And by lighter, I mean less dense. Which might make it a half-pound cake. Maybe? Maybe not.

It seems everyone has been talking about yogurt cakes for a long time. Even I made a yogurt cake last year, but I never talked about yogurt cake.

So, let’s talk.

As lore goes, yogurt cake is one of the few cakes that French people actually bake at home. Seriously, would you bake cakes if you had access to the best pâtisseries and boulangeries mere steps from your kitchen? The French take their pastries very seriously - while a boulangerie is a bakery specializing in breads, a pâtisserie is a legally controlled substance, and can only be called such if it employs a licensed maître pâtissier (master pastry chef). Yes, licensed.

The lore continues that this cake is so easy that children make it. It uses as a measuring cup a standard yogurt tub, measuring a half-cup. Two tubs yogurt, about one tub oil, two tubs sugar, four tubs flour, a smidge of leaveners, two eggs, a quick stir, and into the pan. If you’re like me, let’s also count the dishes to wash. One bowl, one spoon, one cake pan, one cooling rack. The yogurt tub goes right into the trash.

I set out to test the lore because in my several summers spent in France, I never met anyone who baked this cake. I asked all of my French friends, every single one of them, and none of them have every baked this cake. Neither have their mothers or grandmothers. The only French friends of mine who have ever tasted a yogurt cake are the ones that I’ve fed.

So yogurt cake is more folklore than lore, more fairytale than truth. It’s a cake that began once upon a time in a land far, far away. Little Red Riding Hood would carry it in her basket on the way to Grandmother’s house. The witch would feed it to Hansel to fatten him up. Snow White would bake it for the dwarves. Goldilocks would gobble it up while the bears were out on a walk.

Fresh from the oven, the cake’s crisp golden top and crunchy edges give way to moist messy crumbs that cling to your fork. Once cooled, the cake slices neatly and its lemon-yogurt tart and tang intensify. The next morning, a quick toast revives the last few slices. They emerge with a dusting of caramelized crumbs that soak up a slather of butter.

There may be no happily ever after, but this cake comes close.

Lemon yogurt cake

This is an easy, one bowl cake that doesn’t require a stand mixer, just a whisk and a spatula. I modified a recipe from Bon Appétit, adding a bit more lemon flavor with juice and replacing full-fat Greek yogurt with non-fat plain yogurt. The resulting cake rises a lot, with that classic pound cake golden hump and a cracked top. Serve it with berries – my favorites are blueberries and raspberries. The cake is great the next morning toasted and slathered with butter.

-  Nonstick oil spray

- 1 C sugar

- 1 medium lemon for zest and juice

- 3/4 C non-fat or low-fat yogurt

- 1/2 C vegetable oil

- 2 large eggs

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 t baking powder

- 3/4 t salt

Prep. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Spray a loaf pan (8.5 X 4.25 or 9 X 5) with oil.

Rub. In a large bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until really fragrant. This releases the oil in the zest and will make your cake really lemony.

Whisk. Add the juice of the lemon, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Stir. With a spatula, stir in the flour, baking powder and salt until smooth.

Bake. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool. Let cake cook in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from pan and turn onto a rack. Let cool completely (at least 30 minutes) before cutting if you want pretty slices. Or dig in when the cake is still warm and clean up the cut edge after it cools (you know, so it looks pretty for company).

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I’ve let you down. I made a tart and never shared it.

I’m generally a good sharer. My Montessori school teacher put sharing right up there with polishing silver and learning French, and I was an overachiever. But this one tart just slipped through my fingers and out of my mind and into a folder of photos that got lost between a handful of trips and Passover.

Until now.

Apologies aside, let’s talk about the tart.  It’s made with frangipane - an almond custard.

Have you ever tried frangipane? You’ve probably found it tucked neatly between a sweet tart crust and spiral of fresh fruit. Or nestled among the buttery layers of a flaky croissant. Good frangipanes don’t use almond extract. They don’t need it. Because they’re pure sweetened-but-otherwise-unadulterated almond  seduction.

Want to taste some excellent frangipane? If you’re in Boston, head straight to Harvard Square to Crema Cafe for their almond croissants. Make sure to get there early — as in well before noon, especially on a Sunday – because these house-made freshly-baked almond-only filled pastries go quickly.

But back to today’s tart (or rather, six months ago’s tart). I like to bake my fruit right into the almond layer. The juices from the fruit melt into the frangipane. The almond cream puffs up as it bakes and nearly buries the fruit under a crispy, caramelized crust that crackles with the first dip of the fork.

By this point, you’ve probably noticed that this tart has pears in it. On boy, you’re thinking, this girl is evil. Because pear season was months ago. Even worse, it’s months away. But let’s think about it this way: when the days start getting shorter and the leaves start falling off the trees, and the coats come out of storage, you’ll have something to look forward to along with the first snow of the season and a new pair of boots.

And I’m not entirely evil. Though, perhaps a bit of a tease. Next week (if the baking gods smile down on me), there will be a summer fruit frangipane tart to follow. I’ll share that one post-haste because then you’ll be able to go out and grab a few pints of berries or plums and make your own tart to bring to a barbecue.

Until then, happy drooling!

Pear frangipane tart

I have unfortunately lost the source of this recipe. I’ve looked through my usual cookbook suspects and online, and can only find  recipes that use either almond paste or blanched almonds.  I will keep searching, but in the interim, check out this other pear and almond tart.

Frangipane is an almond custard filling for tarts (or other amazing baked goods). The first time I made this tart, I used my stand mixer for the frangipane. The second time, I found it easier to just mix it up by hand. 

Instead of vanilla, I always use orange blossom water as a nice complement to the almond. You can make the pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough) from scratch or use store-bought pie crust dough or even puff pastry in a pinch. Whenever I have extra egg yolks, I quickly whip together a pâte sucrée batch or two in my mini food processor and freeze them until I need them.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here - make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also grind up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t orange blossom water

- 1 T orange liqueur (e.g., Cointreau)

- 2 eggs

- 3 pears – I use Bosc, but Anjou or Bartlett work well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes. Start checking the dough after 15 minutes – it’s ready when light brown. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Brown. While the crust is in the oven, melt butter in a small pan until it browns. The butter will sputter and foam as little brown bits collect on the bottom. When the butter turns to liquid gold and starts to smell nutty, take it off the heat. This takes about 5-7 minutes. Let the butter cool.

Mix. In a bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, orange blossom water, and liqueur. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled golden butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Peel the pears, slice them in half, and core them, making sure to also remove the fibers from the seeds to the stem. Carefully slice each pear from tip to end – you want thin slices (I get about 20 slices out of each pear). I say “carefully”  because you want to keep the slices together in the shape of the pear.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about 2/3 of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the pears. (If you have any leftover, use it to make a mini tart or two). Transport the pears on a chef’s knife or dough scraper and gently lay then, tip side in, on the frangipane in a circle. Lightly press the pears towards the outside of the pan to fan the slices out. Smooth out the frangipane and  move it around to even it out if necessary.

Bake. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the tart after 35 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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Look what I found.

They’re jars.

From Italy!

No, I didn’t bring them back from Italy, though that would have been the type of story I like to tell.

I could tell you about how I visited Rimini with my friend Lau for a beach holiday. How I ran to dip my feet in the Adriatic before we had even started to unpack. How as I walked back to the room, flip-flops in hand, I stopped by a little gelato place, drawn by the scruffy man behind the counter wielding a shallow scoop, caught by the indecision over gianduia versus espresso, satisfied by a double cone, and enchanted by the large jars holding nuts and tiny chocolate chips. How I inquired about those jars and was told that they had been made for the past 150 years by a company only three hours away in Fidenza that began its business making bottles for pharmaceuticals. How I rushed back to my room to find Lau resting on her bed, arm flug across her eyes to block out the ray of sunlight, and how I woke her up to taste that gelato and tell her my plan of renting a car to drive those three hours to the glass manufacturer to see a little history. How I said, “it’s only a three hour drive” with such conviction that she forewent a day on the beach to accompany me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you about how I visited Venice with my college boyfriend and how after a morning of navigating the canals and pigeons, we took a speed boat out to Murano to see their famous glass. How when ringing up a small decorative plate, the store owner stuffed her copy of the receipt into a glass jar. How I was so enamored by the jar that she emptied it, as she said she did every night, and arranged all the receipts in a neat pile, and handed the jar to me.

But, that didn’t happen.

I could tell you how I was just south of Naples on the island of Capri in the cold of November with a friend who was a serious shopper. How she introduced me to Prada and Gucci. How our little hotel in the cliffs welcomed us to our room with a glass jar filled with biscotti in lieu of a TV. How we took that jar of biscotti with us as we hiked out to the blue grotto (“La Grotta Azzurra”) and snacked on them along the way, holding on to the empty jar as we scooched down in our tiny rowboat to enter the water-filled cave. And how I carefully wrapped that jar in t-shirts to secure its safe flight home.

But that didn’t happen.

Here’s what did happen.

I found the jars in a store not too far from my apartment and I picked up one from the shelf. I went back to the shelf. I brought home five.

The other stories are better, no?

Regardless of how I got them, now I get to fill them. Let’s start with the biscotti that my Capri hotel make-believe baked for us.

Let’s bake them with cocoa and stud them with almonds.

Now let’s tinge them with orange – a little zest, a little blossom water, the smell of citrus.

Perfect for a hike (with espresso in a thermos).

Next, let’s fill another jar with some chocolate and nuts reminiscent of the toppings in the gelato shop with the cute scoop-wielding Italian man who served me two flavors. Let’s make a nutty crunchy sweet concoction that’s less trail-worthy and more I-need-an-afternoon-snack-worthy. Let’s bring in a jar to the office and leave it on the corner of a desk for everyone to snack from.

Finally, let’s fill a jar with receipts.

OK, that doesn’t make sense. But let’s say that I open my own restaurant (the one with the long communal table). And let’s say I keep each day’s receipts in a glass jar at the front of the house and keep a stock of glass jars in the back. And let’s say that if someone comments on the receipt jar, I’ll pull one out from that back room and send him away with a smile.

Let’s just say.

Chocolate almond orange biscotti

I based this recipe off of David Lebovitz‘s chocolate biscotti - he makes one hell of a biscotti. I think these are my favorite biscotti I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a lot. I did make a few changes to give them an orange flavor – I replaced the almond extract with orange blossom water, omitted the chocolate chips, increased the amount of salt, and added orange zest. It’s actually easier to make these by hand than using a stand mixer.

- 1 C raw almonds

- 4 eggs (room temperature) – divided 3 for the dough, 1 for brushing on top

- 1 C sugar

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 t orange blossom water

- zest of 1 orange

- 2 C flour

- 3/4 C cocoa powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1/2 t kosher salt

- turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Toast. While pre-heating the oven to 350°F, toast the almonds on a cookie sheet. This should take about 10 minutes. Stay close to the oven – when the scent of almond fills the kitchen, take them out. Let them cool and then roughly chop them.

Beat. In a bowl, beat together the first 3 eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom water, and orange zest.

Stir. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt and gradually stir into the wet ingredients until the dough comes together. Mix in the chopped toasted almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky.

Shape. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Flour your hands a tiny bit and shape the dough into two logs. Lightly brush them with beaten egg white (freeze the yolk for the next time you want to make pâte sucrée) and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes until the dough feels firm to the touch.

Cool. Remove the logs and cool on a rack for about 15 minutes.

Slice. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the cooled logs diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

Bake again. Lay the cookies, cut side down, back on the cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping them over after 10 minutes to toast both sides.

Eat (or store). In case you don’t finish these all in one sitting, store them in an airtight container for up to two weeks. As if!

I-need-an-afternoon-snack mix

It’s a bit embarrassing to call this a recipe. But I do believe that I have, though extensive testing and customer surveys, developed the best afternoon pick-me-up. Here’s how you do it:

Start with a few handfuls of lightly salted roasted almonds. Bonus points if you then toast them again in your oven until your kitchen smells like almonds. Put them in a big bag. Add in a few handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Add in one big handful of dried blueberries. Add in one big handful of dried tart cherries. Shake it all around. Pour into an Italian jar. Leave on the corner of your desk.

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our handiwork

For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through  Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.

Week two was tarts and pies. We skipped the food processor in favor of our hands.

There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.

I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.

There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just  barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.

There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.

There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.

There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.

There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.

There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.

We admired our handiwork.

Then I got a parking ticket.

Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand

The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.

This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/8 t salt

- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter

- 3-4 T ice water

Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.

Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.

Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces. 

Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.

Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.

Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of  fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just  barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of  flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.

Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.

Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.

Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.

Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.

Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.

Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.

Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.

Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).

 Pear and dried cherry tart

After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a  sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up  tart.

- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears

- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries

- 1/2 C light brown sugar

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 1 T cornstarch

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.

Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.

Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.

Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.

Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.

Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.

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the draw of the oven

You’ll never guess what I did.

No, really. Guess.

I threw a Superbowl party last weekend.

Correction. I offered up my apartment and TV to a few friends who were throwing a Superbowl party. If you want to throw a party, this is the way to do it. The original hosts organized. They brought salad and quesedillas and guacamole and vegetables and dip and beer and rice krispies treats. They brought paper plates. They told me not to make anything.

I tried. I really tried not to make anything.

But I couldn’t resist the draw of the oven and the promise of chocolate chips. So a few minutes before everyone showed up, I started whipping together a dessert.

Correction, whipping is an exaggeration. I did indeed start the recipe with an whisk, but quickly switched over to a spoon. This is a one pot, one bowl deal. The pot is for browned butter. The bowl is for whipping up, I mean mixing up, the blondies. You could even keep your pot hung up on its rack and melt the butter in the microwave instead of browning it. But I’d advise against it. And if I’m telling you to clean an extra pot, you know I’m serious.

Everyone arrived to the nutty scent of browning butter.

As the coats were hung and the table was set, the butter cooled and the oven pre-heated.

During kickoff, I held the glass bowl against my stomach and whisked the butter and sugar together. Then I set the bowl down to watch the first few plays.

In stolen moments between the game and the start of the first commercial, I snuck into the kitchen to switch to a wooden spoon and drop in the vanilla and egg.

A few more plays, a few more turns of the spoon, a few more seconds before a few more commercials, and I added the rest of the dry ingredients.

Back to the living room, I sat on the sofa and continued to stir, watching the game unfold. A fine layer of flour settled on my guests and sofa.

Back to the kitchen, a few handfuls of chocolate chips, a few more stirs, and into the pan and into the oven.

Out of the oven, the blondies stayed in the kitchen during the halftime show.

They made their appearance during the second half. They made their disappearance during the second half.

It was a sad day for the Pats, especially for the fans at a party that was half inhabited by Giants. It was all very civil, no brawls to break up.

When the game was over, we gathered the trash and packed up the leftovers and wiped down the remaining blondie crumbs spread across the table.

Brown butter blondies

I believe I have found the best blondie recipe in the world. And then, risking hubris, I bested it just a touch by browning the butter. The original recipe is from Garrett McCord’s blog Vanilla Garlic. I discovered it in a roundabout way when looking for an easy lemon dessert. I took a lemon mascarpone blondie recipe, contributed by Garrett to Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes, cheated by using bottled lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed, and baked it in a tart pan. While looking at that recipe, I clicked on a link to Garrett’s base blondie recipe and flagged it for future reference. I’ve been making the blondies ever since, and got the idea to brown the butter from the only brownies worth making from scratch.

Makes 16 blondies.

- 1/2 C butter

- 1 C tightly packed dark brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 2 t vanilla

- 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/8 t baking soda

- pinch of salt

- 1 C flour

- 1/2 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8X8 pan.

Brown. Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. After it has melted, it will froth and the solids will start to brown. You’ll be able to scrape up the brown  bits with a spoon. Once the butter starts to smell nutty and the liquid butter turns a dark golden brown, it’s ready. This takes about 10 minutes. Cool the butter to room temperature.

Whisk. Whisk the cooled brown butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract and keep whisking.

Stir. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips. The batter will be quite thick.

Bake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cut. When the brownies are cool, flip them out onto a cutting  board. Using a big chef’s knife or a pizza wheel, cut the blondies into 16 2X2 squares.

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here we go

I’m taking another course! Last time was six weeks of cooking. This time, we’re baking.

I can fairly confidently call myself a cooker. But a baker? Not so much.

Sure, I bake. But serious baking takes patience. I take shortcuts. Baking needs precision. I need to taste and modify as I go. Baking requires a scale. I require … oh wait, I do indeed have a scale.

Well then, I guess I shall try to be a serious baker.

Here we go … let’s talk about serious baking.

Our first class was on pâte à choux.

What? You don’t know what that is? Let me give you a hint.

Need another hint? You fill them with crème pâtissière.

Then you cover them with chocolate.

Éclairs. Éclairs! We made éclairs!

Need another look?

I thought so.

Pictures aside, let’s get down to business.

Pâte à choux is cream puff dough which is the base for cream puffs (duh), éclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs that you fill with ice cream instead of pastry cream and drizzle with chocolate), and gougères (savory cheese puffs).

The main leavening agent in pâte à choux is steam, created by the high moisture content in the dough. You bring a water and butter mixture to a boil before adding flour – boiling ensures that the flour expands to accept all the liquid. But quick, you don’t want the water to boil for too long or you’ll lose some of that moisture, so you have to whip it off the stove the moment it starts to boil. You stir and beat the flour into the dough to strengthen the gluten structure which gives the dough a lot of elasticity. You bake the pâte in a very hot oven so that the steam puffs up the pastry, and then lower the temperature to let the puffs dry out a bit (you don’t want a wet center). When you take the puffs out, you poke a few holes in them to let steam escape and to help them keep drying out as they cool.

The attention to detail here made my head spin.

Here are a few mistakes that you don’t want to make:

- Don’t forget to stir the dough continuously on the stove top.

- Don’t add warm half-and-half to the pâte à choux dough instead of to the pastry cream.

- Don’t scare your baking partners by adding a large pinch of salt instead of a half teaspoon. (They gasped!)

- Don’t get air in your pastry bag.

Oy. Can you tell it was a long night?

By the way, do you know why the dough is called choux? Choux means cabbage  (plural) in French and that’s what my baking partners’ little cream puffs looked like. Want to know something else about choux? A French mother might call her child “mon petit chou” – my little cabbage – when he’s behaving and cute as a button. Probably when he’s asleep like a doll and she’s showing him off to her neighbors.

Look at all mes petits choux!

Pâte à choux master recipe

We made the pâte à choux by hand, but you can cheat and use your mixer if you have one. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a ziplock bag snipped at a corner to pipe the pastry dough onto a cookie sheet and then a turkey baster to fill the pastries with crème pâtissière.

Makes about 16 small éclairs or 3 dozen small cream puffs.

- 1 C cold water

- 8 T unsalted butter – at room temperature

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 C flour

- 4 eggs

- Optional: 1 egg for eggwash

Boil. Add water, butter, and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding flour to it) and heat over moderate heat until the water comes to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat quickly.  At this point, the butter should be just melted. If the water boils before the butter melts and there are lumps of butter, take the pan off the heat and wait for the butter to melt.  Essentially, you don’t want to lose too much moisture by leaving the pan on the heat longer than necessary.

Mix. When you’ve removed the pan from the heat, add all of the flour at once. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Then return the pan to medium heat and stir vigorously to dry out the pastry. This takes about 5 minutes. When you stir, be sure to scape the bottom and sides of the pot. When it has dried out enough, the dough will be a shiny mass that small beads of butter will be on the surface of the pan (the pan will look like it’s sweating). When you stick a finger into the dough, a tiny bit of butter will pool in the depression.  At this point, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Keep mixing. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and beat in eggs one at a time. The texture will change dramatically. After the first egg, it will separate into strands. Continue adding each eggs and the dough will start to become more cohesive. With the last egg, the dough will sling to the sides of the pan or bowl and whatever you’re using to mix. If it’s not,  you might need to add a little more egg.

Store. You can pipe the dough immediately (see  below) or cover the surface closely with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t form a skin like pudding. You can keep it at room temperature for a few  hours, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months. If you are going to freeze the dough, pipe the dough into whatever shape you want, freeze, and then store in a ziplock bag.

Pipe. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (spray the pan with a tiny bit of oil so the parchment sticks. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip (#9 or 3/4-inch) and then fill it with pâte à choux dough. Hold the tip very close to the parchment, twist the end of the bag, grip the twisted part between your thumb and forefinger, and then use your other fingers to squeeze gently from the end (sort of like toothpaste) to form strips 2-4 inches long for éclairs or round puffs for cream puffs. Use a little water on your fingers to smooth out any mistakes.

Optional: brush. If you are not going to cover your puffs with anything (chocolate, glaze, etc.), use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the pastry with a beaten egg. Don’t let the egg pool around the edges of the dough or it will stick and make it more difficulty for the pastry to puff.

Bake. Preheat the oven to 475º. Place the pan in the oven and immediately drop the heat down to 375ºF. Bake pastries until puffed by double, golden brown, and firm to the touch: 20-25 minutes for éclairs 0r 30-35 minutes for cream puffs. Then drop the temperature again to 300ºF and bake until the pastries completely dry out: another 20 minutes for the éclairs or 10-15 minutes for cream puffs. Remove the pan from the oven and use a toothpick to poke a hole in each end of the éclairs or at the bottom of the cream puffs, move it around a bit to expand the opening,  and cool completely on a rack. Poking the holes helps the pastries to completely dry out.

Fill. Fit a pastry bag with a small tip and fill the bag with pastry cream (recipe below). Twist the end of the bag and, like with piping, squeeze gently from the end to fill the éclairs or cream puffs in the holes you made earlier.

Enrobe. Dip the filled éclairs or cream puffs into the chocolate glaze (recipe below).

Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

Makes 2 ½ cups

- 1 ¾ C half-and-half

- 1 t vanilla

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/2  sugar

- 1/3 C flour

- pinch of salt

- 1 C cream

Heat. Warm up the half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat (don’t let it bubble or boil). Remove pan from heat.

Mix. Whip the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick and pale yellow. This can easily take up to 10 minutes! Stir in the flour and salt. Very gradually, add the warm half-and-half to the yolk mixture, stirring with a whisk.

Cook. Transfer the mix into a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to bubble, lower heat slightly and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Strain. Using a single mesh strainer, strain the cream into a bowl.

Cool. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, placing the plastic right up against the surface of the  cream to avoid the cream forming a skin. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape. refrigerate until cold — this takes about 30 minutes.

Whip. Whip the cream. Fold it into the pastry cream.

Chocolate glaze.

- 4 oz sem-sweet (~55%) or bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

- 1 t vegetable shortening (we used Crisco)

- 1 T corn syrup

Melt. Using a serrated knife, shave the chocolate and put it into a bowl. Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and put over medium heat. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once about half of the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pot.

Stir. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted. Add the shortening and corn syrup and continue to stir. Let the chocolate cool until it reaches the desired consistency. I found it easiest to dip the puffs into the chocolate when it was lukewarm.

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thank you

Where to begin?

Thank you.

Thank you to my family.

Thank you to the friends who voted and recruited their frends to vote, and their friends’ friends.

Thank you to the colleagues who, when our network blocked them from voting, voted from their home computers, BlackBerries, and iPhones.

Thank you to the loyal readers who found me in the early days and stayed close while I fought my way out of crappy and embarrassing photos.

Thank you to those who serve as inspiration and muse for my cooking, recipes, and writing.

Thank you to the complete strangers who discovered Kosher Camembert through Joy of Kosher’s best kosher food blog contest and enjoyed it enough to vote.

Until I can send each and every one of you these almond and orange croquants (my lucky officemates … you were the first recipients), please accept my gratitude with this recipe.

Almond and orange croquants

Croquants are crispy French almond cookies, normally very sweet and merengue-based. I found a recipe for ones that are similar in shape and texture to biscotti on the blog that inspired me to start this one. If you like biscotti, check out these almond and chocolate ones. These croquants are not too sweet with almonds that are well toasted and only 1 ½ cups of sugar to 4 cups flour. The original recipe calls for half white whole wheat flour, but I prefer to only use all-purpose. If you taste the raw dough, it will taste a little bitter - don’t worry – this is from the orange blossom water and it mellows during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen.

- 12 ounces whole raw almonds (approximately 2 ½ cups)

- 4 C all-purpose flour (or use a scale to measure out 500 g flour) or 2 C all-purpose and 2 C white whole wheat flours

- 1 ½ C sugar

- 1 t baking powder

- ½ t kosher salt

- 2 large eggs

- 2 T orange blossom water

- 1 orange for zest

- approximately ½ C cold water

- optional: sugar in the raw ( also called “turbinado” or “demerara”) and fleur de sel (or kosher salt)

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toast. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Toast in the oven for about 15 minutes. They’re ready when the scent of almonds wafts over from the kitchen. When you take them out of the oven, the inside should  be light brown and the skins should start to crackle as the nuts cool.

Mix. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt (I used my stand mixer). Add eggs one at a time, orange blossom water, and orange zest and incorporate. At this point, the mixture will be very crumbly and will not yet come together. Add the cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together. Gently stir in cooled almonds.

Shape. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 2 or 3 long loaves on the parchment. The dough will be sticky – just go with it. I typically make the logs about 3 inches wide. You can make them wider, but make sure to leave enough room between the two loaves to allow them to spread without touching.

Sprinkle. Wet your hands and slide them over the loaves to smooth out the sticky dough. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and sugar in the raw.

Bake. Bake the loaves for 30-40 minutes. I set my timer for 30 minutes and then check the loaves every few minutes . They are ready when the dough sets and turns golden brown.

Cool slightly. Remove the loaves from the parchment (they should come off pretty easily) and cool for 5-10 minutes. If you let them cool for too long, they’ll be too hard to slice.

Lower temperature. Lower the oven to 225ºF.

Slice. Slice the still-warm loaves diagonally into skinny slices, about 1-2 cm (or 1/2 inch) wide.

Bake again. Lay the slices on a cooling rack and place the rack directly in the oven. This will allow the croquants to crisp evenly. Or, spread the slices out on your cookie sheet and flip them over half way through the second baking. Bake again for 20-25 minutes.

Store. Let the cookies cool and then store in an airtight tin. You can always crisp them up a bit on low heat in a toaster oven.

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Remember my mixer? The one that leapt to its death like a goldfish from its tank?

What? Am I the only one who had lemming-like goldfish growing up?

Well anyway, the old  has been been replaced  by a bigger, shinier model. I have not yet had a chance to make (or share the recipe for) the challah that challenged my mixer to a duel and won. But I have used my new toy twice already and I was very glad for the extra room in the big bowl. I broke it in with ka’ak b’sukar (yes, you do need to be careful when pronounching the name of these Syrian butter cookies). A pear frangipane tart quickly followed. The tart is on its way, but let’s first talk about the cookies.

I first tried sweet ka’ak b’sukar (sukar means sugar) in Israel when staying with my friend Zoe’s Syrian grandmother. Her Jedda (Arabic for grandmother) welcomed us into her home overlooking Jerusalem with a plate of pale twisted cookies and a pot of tea. My first impression was that they were a bit bland. By the fourth taste though, I was reaching for a fifth. I was hooked. Before going to bed, I’d find my hand making its way over to the cookie tin next to the stove. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d gingerly tip-toe across the cold ceramic floor, refreshing in the hot August night, and reach into that tin again. While waiting for the water to boil for coffee in the morning, I’d snag a few more. After three days, Zoe’s grandmother had to make another batch. The evening of my flight home, she gave me everything that was left in the tin.

I was so excited to find this ka’ak recipe that I didn’t look beyond the list of ingredients and the pretty cookies staring at me from the right side of the page. I threw four eggs and a cup and a half of sugar into my (new!) mixer bowl and started to beat. As I gathered the rest of the ingredients and finally read past the first step, I saw that the sugar was supposed to be divided – one cup in the mixer, the remaining half cup for coating the cookies.

The fix was easy — I made a larger batch. And it seemed fitting that my mixer’s six quart bowl easily fit the over seven cups of flour.

Ka’ak b’sukar (braided sugar cookies)

This is the recipe that I used, essentially one and a half times the original. If you have a smaller bowl, multiply all quantities by 2/3. Depending on how large you make you cookies, the full recipe makes about 50-60 cookies. They are meant to remain somewhat soft after baking (they’re not crispy at all).

- 6 eggs

- 1.5 C sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

- 1 orange (to make 1 T zest)

- 1 T vanilla extract

- 1.5 C vegetable oil

- 7.5 C flour

- 1.5 T baking powder

 Mix. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, zest, vanilla, and oil. Slowly add the flour and baking powder until you get a sticky well-blended dough.

Chill. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes.

Preheat. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Shape. If dough is too sticky to handle when you remove from the fridge, add a small amount of flour and mix everything together with your hands. Keep adding tablespoon by tablespoon of flour and mixing until it  no longer sticks to your fingers. Don’t flour the counter. Take a handful of dough and roll it on the counter into a strand about 1/2 inch thick. Bring the two ends together, folding the strand in half. Holding the folded over side, gently twist the doubled strand several times until it looks like a rope. Cut the rope into pieces that are 2 to 3 inches long. For me, most ropes yielded two cookies.

Roll. Pour some sugar onto a small plate. Lightly roll the twisted cookies in the sugar to coat.

Bake. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment. Place the cookies on the sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should remain very pale, with only a tiny bit of browning on the bottom where some of the sugar caramelizes.

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grill? yes I will!

In the months before Christmas, I started a class
of chopping and stirring and cooking with gas.

I dragged myself up every Sunday at eight.
Luck’ly they set out strong coffee to wait.

Knife skills and techniques were taught on week one,
but at home were dull knives that weren’t much fun.

Week two was eggs that we poached, whipped, and scrambled.
We made a soufflé even I could have handled.

On week three, we learned that a good stock should jiggle,
but without salt and acid, soup surely will fizzle.

The fourth week was braising, keep temperatures low,
to make cabbage and short ribs and osso bucco.

When week six was sauces, I made béchamel;
I took home a pear so the recipe I could tell.

But wait! You’ve just noticed — where’s the fifth week?
Oh you smart readers, nothing past you can I sneak!

Week five as you know, was on hot hot hot heat.
For my part, I set forth with grilling some meat.

Other types of dry heat, we also did try,
from broiling to roasting to deep deep fat fry.

You may not have realized, but until that day,
I’d never tried frying or grilling, no way!

I faced deep fat frying just earlier this week,
with sufganiyot – fancy doughnuts, so to speak.

But I think grill cooking and taking out trash
are jobs for a man, and I’ll flutter my lash.

Though I’m planning to try – only grilling, of course -
with a grill pan I own, or another resource.

I’ll start this “man’s task” with a feminine flair,
with fruit and with teacake and other sweet fare.

And, in case you are wondering, although I will grill,
the trash taking out will remain my worst skill.

 

Grilled fruit

A lot of different fruits can apparently be grilled. While my cooking partner and I were waiting for our meat to marinate, we scrounged around the kitchen for other things to grill. We found pears and grapefruits and set to work. We cut the fruit into good sized chunks that wouldn’t fall down the grill grates. For the pears, we made 4 cuts around the core. For the grapefruit, we made about 4 slices perpendicular to the fruit segments. We then brushed all surfaces with a little olive oil (I’m sure melted butter would be great too), a nice sprinkle or two of sugar, and a small pinch of salt (if you want). Fire up the grill. Or, if you are like me and only have indoor cookery, put your grill pan on medium heat. When your grill (pan) is hot, place the fruit on the grill. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side for harder fruit (apples, pears) or 2-3 mintues per side for citrus. Just like with meat, the fruit is ready when it releases itself from the grill (pan) – if you have to tug at it, leave it be for a minute more.

Grilled cranberry-orange zinfadel bread with orange mascarpone cream

We made these “breads” as tea cakes in mini loaf pans. They would obviously work just as well in 2 large loaf pans. I think the cake is great as is, but excellent with the extra texture and flavor from the grill. When you make the dough – think of it  like pancake batter – you don’t want to over mix. Instead you want the ingredients to just barely come together.

For the cranberry-orange zinfandel bread:

- 1/4 C oil

- 2 eggs, slightly beaten

- 4 C flour

- 1 1/2 C sugar

- 1 t salt

- 1 T baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C walnuts or pecans

- 3 C whole raw cranberries

- 2/3 C fresh orange juice

- 1/2 C white zinfancel

- 2 oz melted butter

For the orange mascarpone cream:

- 1 C (8 oz) mascarpone

- 1 t orange zest

- 3 T fresh orange juice

- 1 T orange liqueur (Cointreau, triple sec, Grand Marnier)

- 1 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter/oil and flour 2 loaf pans, 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 dozen muffin tins. Toast nuts in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes – the second you start smelling the nuts, grab them from the oven. Check them at about 7 minutes. When the cool a bit, chop them up into medium sized chunks.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix oil and eggs well. Then add the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir this all together until it just barely combines — the mix will be a bit crumbly. Fold in nuts and cranberries. Then add juice and zinfancel and stir until just blended.

Bake. Pour batter into the greased and floured pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out dry.

Grill. Turn on  your grill (or get your grill pan ready). When the bread is cool, slice it into 3/4-inch slices. Brush with melted butter and grill slices 3-4 minutes on each side.

Make mascarpone cream. In a bowl, whisk mascarpone until smooth. Add zest, orange juice, orange liqueur, and sugar and whisk until well blended.

Eat. Top a grilled cake slice (or two) with a big blob of mascarpone cream.

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