The Great Cookie Experiment.

While I love all things food, what really nails it for me is baking. I am always in awe at the evolution of a fanciful treat arising from just a handful of ingredients. Butter, flour, sugar, eggs. These are the beginnings of something wonderful. I recall watching a video clip recently of Dorie Greenspan, famed writer and owner of Buerre and Sel, as she spoke with pure exuberance about the wonder of such simple things as these. If you have two minutes to spare, click here: http://doriegreenspan.com/2013/09/post-11.html.

Dorie is simply adorable. As I was watching her speak to her love of baking, I found myself thinking that this woman and I must be psychically linked. Her passion for baking, for sharing her food is astoundingly similar to mine; her words echoed my own thoughts about baking. I was awestruck.

As I’ve written before, I often find myself in the kitchen wanting a little bit of sweetness, and not wanting one bit to venture out again for ingredients. I’d had a mind for shortbread ever since I’d enjoyed a nibble of a colleague’s vanilla shortbread earlier in the day. I was craving that richness, that simplicity. Of course, I thought I could do something a bit more lustrous. What came through was this: an almond shortbread, rich with flavors of caramel and not a bit too sweet. I added a touch of cinnamon, just to give the flavor a boost, however it might be nice with a bit of orange zest as well. Perhaps I’ll try that with the next batch, as this is sure to be a repeat.

Go on. Put your feet up with a mug of earl grey and a couple of these babies. You won’t regret it.

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Almond and Brown Sugar Shortbread

(Makes almost two dozen cookies)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for ~1 hour

1 c. brown sugar

1 tsp almond extract

2 c. all purpose flour

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 c thinly sliced almonds

Egg white, for brushing the tops

Sanding sugar (optional)

Tools:

Stand mixer

Rolling pin

Parchment

2-inch round biscuit cutter

Pastry brush

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar 2-3 mins until light and fluffy, scraping down sides once or twice to ensure all sugar is incorporated
  3. Add almond extract
  4. Combine flour, salt and cinnamon. Add to butter/sugar mixture in two parts, mixing well until combined.
  5. Remove from mixer and shape into a disk. Allow to rest for ~20 minutes in the refrigerator.
  6. Remove and roll to ~1/2 inch thickness.
  7. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut disks from dough and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place tray in refrigerator while working on second batch.
  8. Lightly brush tops of dough with egg white; sprinkle on almonds and sanding sugar, if using.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden and the almonds are toasted, rotating about halfway through
  10. Cool on baking sheet.

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Enjoy, and much love,

J

Love in the Time of Pastry.

Often, I feel a natural pull toward the kitchen to get creative and make something sweet. I have an insatiable sweet tooth, admittedly. This desire generally peaks after I’ve gotten home from a full day of activities, donned my sweats and T-shirt, and simply cannot bear the thought of leaving my cozy apartment to be assaulted by the bright lights of a grocery. Oh, and people. Not that I am an unsociable person, quite the opposite. It’s just that once I’ve expended my mental and emotional energy of the day, I need a respite. That’s when having a somewhat decently-stocked pantry comes in handy.

Given that it’s Fall, I naturally turn to more things like pastries and pies and cakes; something fruity and not too sweet. I surveyed my cupboard and had odds and bits of different types of flours, a few apples in the refrigerator and a stick of butter. What emerged is destined to repeat, for sure.

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These apple galettes are quite possibly one some of best mini pastries I’ve made; perfect for breakfast, after dinner, or pretty much any time of day, really.

Feel free to substitute a combination of flours with this one; I’m thinking rye flour might be a nice addition.  However, if using a dense whole-grain flour, don’t add more than ~1/3 cup, or you’ll need to play with the fat and liquid components of the pastry dough.

Ooh! And adding some candied ginger to the filling might be nice as well. I would go for about two tablespoons, and cut back on the sugar by equivalent volume. And I would hold off on adding the grated ginger, as is it might be a bit overpowering.

~Mise en Place

~Mise en Place

Apple Ginger Galettes

For the pastry:
2/3 c unbleached pastry flour
1/3 c whole wheat, rye, or Emmer flour
1 tbsp unbleached sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 oz (1 stick) butter
For the filling:
4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced about 1/4 inch wide
1/4 c unbleached sugar
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tap cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
Additional ingredients
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
2 tsp coarse sugar, such as demerera
Method:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
1. Combine all of the filling ingredients; set aside.
2. Prepare the pastry; refer to this link for basic dough prep http://redflowerjlhcooks.com/2013/07/25/or-how-to-make-a-pie/
  1. Cut chilled dough into four equal pieces.
  2. Roll into ~1/8-in thin circles, You’ll want them to be about 8 inches in diameter.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment for the pastry, or put each circle onto individual parchment squares.
  4. Give the filling a quick stir to redistribute the juices, then scoop into the center of each pastry.
  5. Gently fold up about 1-2 inches, pinching each fold together to ensure a decent seal.
  6. Brush the edges of crust with egg, then sprinkle galettes with demerera (or other sugar on hand)
  7. Bake 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees F.
  8. Check the pastry in about 20 minutes; if the crust is browning excessively, cover with foil.
  9. Cook another 15-20 minutes; apples should be juice and bubbly at this point.
  10. Remove from oven, cool slightly and serve.
Bon Apetit, and much love,
J

Feed your soul…

It’s good to get a girl out of the city. Just a couple of days, immersed in the awesome wonder and beauty of nature.

Necessary rejuvenation.
White Horse Mountain

White Horse Mountain

White Horse Mountain

Stillaguamish River

And so we drove to Darrington to spend the weekend at the family farm. Nestled on a hill overlooking a small pond, far away from city lights, acres of lush land, trees, nothing to hear but the sound of dragonflies snapping themselves against the glass-paneled walls, denied access to the indoors. Being greeted by the sweet smell of cedar as I enter the cabin. It’s enough to just take a deep breath and…exhale gratitude. It was exactly what I needed; a place of respite, a place to disconnect, to ground, and to eat!
Ooh! and kiss the goats.
Kissing the babies

Kissing the babies

 

Africa
I had a few ideas of what I wanted to make prior to our departure. First, I am obsessed with the new collaboration by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi; Jerusalem. I was gifted this cookbook, full of gorgeous color photos and mouth-watering delights. I aspire to cook every recipe in this book. This weekend I elected to make the Lamb Stew with Cannellini Beans. The broth had an unctuous, mildly sweet profile, and with 20 cloves of garlic (twenty!), surprisingly didn’t leave us smelling like stinking roses for the remainder of our stay. I accented the stew with some crushed cilantro, mixed with lemon, sugar, salt, chile, ground coriander and olive oil. It’s kind of like loose adaptation of Zhoug, a gremolata-style condiment. I must say it was perfect; it brought a citrusy brightness complementing the heft of the soup perfectly.
Lamb stew with cannellini beans

Lamb stew with cannellini beans

I’d been dying to make something sweet and cakey ever since last week’s incredible uber-blueberry cornmeal muffins (of which I’ll try to write a recipe as soon as I recall my method!). David’s mother sent me a clipping from the NY times which served as inspiration:  almond cake with figs; dense, honey-sweetened and rich with eggs and butter. I had a couple of perfectly-ripened peaches on hand, and so the recipe underwent a bit of metamorphosis. this peach-blueberry almond cake is something between a cake and a tart, perfect with afternoon tea, or eaten cold with some Greek yogurt for breakfast. We served it after dinner with a bit of freshly-whipped cream.
With fresh whip!

With fresh whip!

Peach-Blueberry Almond Cake

Peach-Blueberry Almond Cake

Peach-Blueberry Almond Cake
*Adapted from NY Times Fig and Almond Cake
Ingredients:
1 c almond flour
1/2 c unbleached pastry flour (or all purpose flour)
1/4 c fine sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
4 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 med-large ripe peach, sliced into 1/4-inch crescents
1/2 c blueberries
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Butter a 9-inch tart tin with removable bottom (line bottom with parchment, if you prefer).
  3. Combine all dry ingredients in medium-sized mixing bowl.
  4. To a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, lemon zest and extract, then whisk in melted butter.
  5. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and fold in the wet mixture, stirring until just combined.
  6. Spread batter into tart pan. Fan peaches on top, leaving small amount of space between the slices. Toss the blueberries casually over the top, allowing them to roll into the crevasses.
  7. Sprinkle either a bit of Demerera sugar, or other granular sugar over the top (~3 teaspoons)
  8. Bake for ~30 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch.

Upon our return home, we made yet another of Yotam’s recipes for Cauliflower cake. You can find the recipe online. A savory cake, reminiscent of something between a quiche and a custard, this dish packs tons of flavor and is an excellent source of protein. I served it with a salad and a simple vinaigrette. So good!

Cauliflower Cake

Cauliflower Cake

With love (and full belly).

~J

…or how to make a pie

As mentioned previously, I like to do a bit of foraging in the city. While I consider myself an amateur, I think today I may have happened upon some purslane. Of course, I took a nibble, and then proceeded to take a handful to nosh on the way home. This is probably not the wisest of choices, however I’m fairly certain my ID was accurate. Take note however, as this may prove to be my second and last post!

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Moving on…

One of my most favorite things to make is pie crust. Something marvelous happens with the simplest of beginnings. Those tiny bits of butter, strewn throughout the flour which, when heated, burst into little pockets of air that buoy the dough, rendering it tender, flaky, crisp and golden. Pure heaven.

Pie crust involves a small amount of effort, however it does not require any special equipment. One can use  a food processor, a pastry cutter, or simply a fork. I find the latter extremely gratifying, especially if you like the tactile experience of working with pastry dough. I admit that most often I use a food processor, if only for expediency.

The key with pastry dough is to work the flour as little as possible; you do not want to activate the gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and becomes elastic when worked. Fantastic for bread, terrible for pie.

Note:

  • chilling butter in the freezer will keep intact when incorporating into the flour
  • This recipe yields one pie crust. For a top crust, make two batches
  • For sweet pies, add 1 T sugar to the dough

You will need the following:

1 cup + 2 T pastry flour (OK to substitute standard unbleached flour)

1 tsp salt

1 cup (8 T) very cold unsalted butter; roughly cut into ~1/2-inch chunks*

3 T ice water (plus more, if needed)

Method (Makes One Crust)

  1. Pulse flour and salt in food processor, or sift together in large bowl
  2.  butter to flour/salt mixture and pulse for ~20-30 seconds, or cut in with pastry tool/fork. The flour should take on a sandy texture; you want small beads of butter evident throughout; no larger than a bb.
  3. Add ice water, and pulse a few times, or work in with pastry tool. This is where being conservative is key; you want to work the dough only until it comes together when pinched. It should look a bit on the dry side, but have some cohesion. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve this. Pulse about five more times and pinch it with your finger. Does t stick?
  4. Turn onto a piece of plastic wrap or parchment; knead a few times, then press gently and quickly into a disk; this makes it easier to roll.
  5. Now – leave it alone! Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes
  6. Turn oven to 425* and lay out piece of parchment dusted with flour. Top with another piece of parchment and roll until it resembles a disk slightly larger than the diameter of the pie dish; ~1/4 inch thick

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  1. Loosely fold in half and drape over an 8-inch deep or 9 inch buttered pie pan
  2. Press gently into base and crimp the edges toward the dish to for a ring. You can get fancy if you like; I prefer a more rustic appearance.
  3. Prick a few times with fork and set back in the freezer for ~10 minutes
  4. Proceed with recipe, or follow blind baking technique below:

Blind Baking:

This is a key step in making any kind of pie that holds fruit that yield liquids (peaches, berries rhubarb), or for savory pies such as quiche. So termed Blind Baking, this technique of par-cooking the pastry ensures crust and bottom that is fully cooked, not soggy. Well worth the extra few minutes of effort.

There are pie weights available for purchase, however I find dried beans a more ready and reasonably inexpensive alternative; look for a larger, heavier bean, such as garbanzo or kidney beans; they may be saved for repeat use; store in a glass jar once cool.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. While pie is chilling in the freezer, pull a piece of tinfoil slightly larger than the widest diameter of  the pie plate. Butter one side.
  3. Lay buttered side down in pie dish; press lightly into dough.
  4. Fill the foil/dish with pie weights or dried beans completely.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for ~12-15 minutes, just until crust has a faint golden hue
  6. Remove from oven. Pull foil/pie weights (gently!) from crust. Proceed with recipe.

Stay tuned for…Berry Tartlets

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