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Archive for April, 2020

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Right in the middle of Passover, my Girl Scout cookies arrived from California. Thin Mints, and they went straight into the freezer. There’s only one sleeve left. Thank you, Mia, for sending them!

Also in the box, nestled delicately in bubble wrap, lay several stunning citrus specimens. Meyer lemons. Thin skinned, some more spherical than ovoid, smelling of sunshine. Mia’s mom Joanne – whom I’ve known since high school – really knows how to spoil me. 

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Unless you have a tree in your backyard like Mia and Joanne and Evan and Jordan do, in which case you can use them with abandon, these lemons aren’t for just any old recipe. 

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In my home – sans tree – these lemons deserve to be the main event. And so, for now, I’ve zested and juiced enough lemons for three batches of lemon curd. I’ve got just a few left, and they’ll either make their way into more curd, or lemonade, or a cake that uses peel, pith, and pulp (similar to Claudia Roden’s orange and almond cake).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaking curd during Passover is perfectly logical because after baking macaroons and granola with egg whites, I had frozen over a dozen yolks in ice cube trays. But before we get to the recipe, we have to review a tiny bit of science so that you don’t make the same mistake I did. 

An egg yolk that has been frozen and thawed undergoes “gelation.” Essentially the water in the yolk freezes into ice crystals which causes the surrounding proteins (largely LDL) to cluster tightly into a 3-D matrix. When thawed, the proteins stay clustered and the yolk itself remains a gel, nearly solid with barely a jiggle. When you use these gel yolks for curd, you end up with a lot of small yolk chunks that don’t make it through the strainer. And your curd is a bit less silky. And straining is pretty messy. Not the end of the world, but still.

To deter ice formation, you need to add a cryoprotectant to the yolk before freezing. You can use sugar or salt. Different solutes work to varying degrees, so there’s something more than just freezing point depression. My understanding – after reading some of the scientific literature (I’m such a nerd) – is that sugar prevents denaturing (the uncoiling of long proteins which enables them to bind with other proteins and form a matrix) while salt ions prevent protein molecules from aggregating (the salt ions match up with the protein’s charge groups, blocking the proteins from hooking up). 

Conventional wisdom is that you need to create 10% sugar or salt solution with the yolks,  but despite calculating weight and volume concentrations, I can’t reconcile this with the most commonly cited recommendations (e.g., America’s Test Kitchen and the Egg Board) of 1.5 teaspoon sugar or 1/8 teaspoon salt to each 4 yolks. I’m tired, so I’m content to trust the food scientists, and call it a day. 

Now, I give you lemon curd. Thanks for attending this week’s session of food quasi-science and incomplete analysis.

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Lemon Curd

Makes approximately 1 cup

When not eating this by the spoonful, I love it layered with berries and Greek yogurt or spread on buttered, toasted bread with a sprinkle of flakey salt. 

Adapted from Glorious Treats, the recipe that Joanne sent me. 

– 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 Meyer lemons)
– 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest 
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 4 egg yolks
– 3 T butter 

Whisk. Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler (I use in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). Heat over low to medium flame, while stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens. It’s done when thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, or reaches 170F on a candy thermometer. 

Strain. Allow the curd to cool slightly and then strain it into a bowl or jar. 

Store. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. 

***

Freezing egg yolks

To freeze one yolk at a time, whisk it with 1/3 t sugar or a pinch of salt, and then pour into your ice cube tray. 

For bigger batches, whisk 1.5 t sugar or 1/8 t salt into 4 egg yolks. Divide equally between 4 cells of an ice cube tray (~1 tablespoon per yolk) and freeze.

Make sure to mark whether you’ve used sugar or salt. 

Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using. 

NOTE: no special treatment is needed to freeze egg whites. 

 

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I was speaking with my friend Veronica over the weekend, comparing stories about our daily COVID lives. In Lima, Peru, her family is in strictly-enforced lockdown with no outdoor excursions allowed. To get some exercise and fresh air, she and her husband and their kids run around – masked, of course – in the garage of their apartment building. And while I’ve been able to go outside for walks in Central Park and get groceries, I too spend most of my time indoors.

Another thing we share: we were both cooking while we chatted. Her, a prune cake for Easter. Me, oat-free granola for Passover.

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of granola, not having oats?” Veronica laughed, the same distinctive cackle that I’ve known since high school.

“Well, I guess it does. But it has everything else that I put in my granola and I like it on yogurt, so I’m calling it granola. Maybe it’s faux granola. Or faux-nola?”

She laughed again.

Anyway, I present you Passover granola. Faux-nola if you insist.

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Passover Granola (of Faux-nola)

Makes 6 cups

Adapted from Epicurious. Mix and match large coconut flakes with whatever nuts (and seeds if you eat kitniyot) you like. My regular granola uses a 1:1 oat to nut ratio, and here I replace all oats with coconut, same ratio. This year’s nuts are almonds, hazelnuts, and pine nutsI add egg whites to help the granola clump because though I like it as a topping for yogurt, I tend to eat it out of hand much more over Passover, and it’s less mess to eat large pieces than tiny ones. Though, I’m vacuuming and sweeping up matzah bits all day anyway, so what’s a few more crumbs?

Don’t overcrowd the baking sheets or the granola will burn on the edges before it crisps in the middle. And, you do need to watch it in the oven closely because the granola goes from a toasty burnished brown to burnt if you’re not paying attention as the last few minutes count down.

I tend to scale the recipe, but if you follow the basic ratios, you can make as much or as little as you want – 1 C coconut : 1 C nuts : 2 T sweetener (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup) : 1 t fat (olive oil, butter). A few drops of vanilla, pinches of salt, and an egg white or two for clumping are optional. 

– 3 C unsweetened raw coconut flakes (sometimes called coconut chips)
– 3 C assorted nuts, rough chopped
– 2 egg whites
– 2 T olive oil
– 4 T honey
– 2 T brown sugar
– 1/2 t kosher salt (or more to taste)
– 1 t vanilla

Prep. Heat oven to 300ºF and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the coconut and nuts. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl, and then pour them in, mixing until coconut and nuts are evenly coated.

Cook. Stir olive oil, honey, sugar, salt and vanilla in a small pan over medium-low heat until hot and easily pourable (but not bubbling).

Pour. Pour the honey mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until evenly coated.

Bake. Spread the mix thinly and evenly across the baking sheets and bake for 25-35 minutes, until the mix is dry and the coconut flakes are as brown as the nuts. After 10 minutes, swap the sheets top to bottom, front to back. At the 20 minute mark, stay close and check the color every few minutes. There’s about a 3-minute window between perfect and burnt.

Store. Store in an airtight container, in freezer if you want to keep it around longer.

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