…and it was like she never left.

In a more relaxed moment, I found myself scrolling through pictures and finding several that were part of a vision unfolding; scenes I’d meant to post and then got waylaid by frenetic holidays and activities that were heartfelt and fulfilling, yet left me a bit emotionally spent.
Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

With the new year, and clear(er) vision, I’ve created goals and aspirations, and been taking steps toward achieving them. All well and good, however it’s so important that I get lost in the process of Being at least for a small amount of time daily.
And the truth is that I haven’t dedicated time to my craft; writing about my experience, that spark that ignites when I have an idea and run with it. That bit of cleverness and openness; that flexibility that comes (truly) from an aversion to running back out into the cold for another stick of butter, fruit or cream.
That Delectable Poached Pear and Almond Tart

Poached Pear and Almond Tart

It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse. Writing, creating, sharing and remembering these experiences  are an essential aspect of my self-expression. It gives me great joy to make beautiful food and share it with friends and family.
Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

I’ve included a few visual samplings of things made recently that are worthy of a nod.
And so when overcome by the need for a bit of something sweet, I consulted past repertoire for this salted almond and honey pie. 
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Being a fan of tiny things, I thought I’d make tartlets, so as to enjoy and share more readily. I filled half of the tartlets with honey custard, and the remaining with homemade raspberry balsamic preserves; the latter lovingly gathered from my father’s garden this past summer.
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Recipes for pâte sucrée (aka: tart crust) abound on the internet, however I’ll include a simple recipe that I’ve been using reliably for some time. Feel free to let the imagination go wild with the fillings. These baked up nicely in a 375-degree oven in ~40 minutes.
Enjoy, and much love.
J
Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
ice water, as needed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor, or combine well in a large bowl.
Add butter and either process or use a pastry blender to cut into flour just until the mixture resembles fine peas.
Add egg yolk and pulse or mix until combined.
Add just enough water (no more than a tablespoon) to bring mixture to a somewhat cohesive mass; it should still be a bit crumbly.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
Press into well-buttered tart pan(s) and fill as desired.
Bake filled tartlets until set, ~40 minutes

Proofed.

There was a time when I made bread often. My daughter was a mere tot, and I found myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Initially, I’d started with simple doughs, such as pizza or focaccia, then graduated to more dense, hearty sandwich breads and rolls. My trusted Kitchen Aid mixer would start to fatigue from several minutes of hard labor, however I enjoyed its convenience and reduction of hands-on time. At some point, I transitioned to kneading by hand, and developed a love for the tactile communion with flour, yeast and water . I had a physical sense of when the dough was properly kneaded. I’d become lost in the activity as the minutes sped past with little awareness other than what I was feeling beneath and between my fingers.
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The elements of bread making are finding their way back into my life, and not without coincidence. Most mornings, I spend time reflecting and meditating to gain a bit of ground before getting captured by the day’s activities. There is a book I refer to frequently, Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, by Saki Santorelli. A passage I read recently spoke to the Author’s love of baking, and how baking can be both humbling and liberating. It made me think of the contrasting simplicity and attention that bread making requires. He likens the bakery to a crucible, “hot, containing, pressurized outwardly; hot, containing, pressurized inwardly”. A timely piece, as I find myself moving with elements that are somewhat beyond my control. Shortly thereafter, I was sifting through the NYT and discovered Martha Rose Schulman’s recipe for a yeasted loaf with apples.
You can find the link, here.
Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread

Evolution: Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread

And so,I found myself with a yearning to make bread. The sweetness of whole grain loaf, heady, yeast-y and studded with apples was the catalyst, however I wanted to provide influence in my own creative way. I dreamt up crunchy bosc pears, contrasted with bitter walnut and sweet honey. I gave the dough plenty of time to develop flavor by starting with a pre-ferment, or sponge.
And I waited.
And I shaped.
And I coaxed.
And I waited a bit longer.
Until finally the dough emerged a golden crown of pure heaven.
Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread
This bread is delicious simply toasted and spread with fresh cheese and honey. It can also pair nicely with prosciutto and fontina or gorgonzola.
Enjoy, and much love.
J
 
Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread
Ingredients:
1 c rye four
1.5-2 c whole wheat flour
1.5 c white flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c honey
1 1/4 c warm water
1 packet (2.5 tsp) yeast
2 tbsp butter; room temp
1 c walnuts
1 1/4-1/2 c bosc pear, chopped
Method:
  1. Make a sponge: combine water, yeast honey and white flour in a large bowl. stir to combine, then cover with a damp towel and let rest for ~1 hour or so.
  2. Add rye flour, walnuts, butter, salt and 1 cup of the whole wheat flour to sponge; stir and/or knead down, adding additional flour as necessary until the mixture is no longer sticky. Turn onto a flat surface and knead for several minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
  3. Set in an oiled bowl, cover with damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for about ~1-1.5 hours. I like to pop it in the oven with the pilot light; it sets a nice ambient temperature for coaxing the fermentation into gear.
  4. Deflate dough by punching down; fold in chopped pears. Knead into a round and then return to a neutral spot to rest again until doubled in size; ~2 hours.
  5. Deflate dough again and shape into a neat round and set on parchment or floured kitchen towel for another 1.5-2 hours until dough redoubles in size.
  6. As dough is entering the final rise, adjust oven rack and set a pizza stone or cast iron skillet in the center. Turn heat to 450 degrees and allow stone or skillet heat for ~40 minutes.
  7. Turn dough onto skillet/stone; slash decoratively, brush with milk and place in oven. Spritz oven with a bit of water to create a steam environment.
  8. In 15 minutes, spritz again and turn heat to 400 degrees.
  9. Bake for a further 25 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove from oven and tap bottom of round; it’ll sound hollow if it is done.
  10. Wait (patiently!) for a good 30 minutes as dough cools on rack before slicing.
  11. Store, wrapped in cloth or a paper bag on counter for 1-2 days. To preserve some of the bread for later, simply bundle in layers of plastic wrap and store in the freezer.

Nibble.

I’m always tagging recipes to refer to later; all of my cookbooks have dog-eared edges (don’t judge). I have boxes here and there with printed or hand-written favorites, tabs throughout my Cook’s Illustrated magazines, foodie folders in my email accounts. My organizational skills are a bit sub-par, so finding a reference when I’m in creation mode presents somewhat of a challenge.

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The other day I had a bit of time on my hands and so I sat, sifting through some recipes and came across this one from CHOW featuring a honey ricotta tart (you can find the link, here.
I’d saved it over two years ago, as soon as I saw it, I knew I’d found my template.
I’ve been on a bit of a honey kick, as evident from recent posts, and had a craving for a pie or cheesecake at strategic points throughout the week.
Or daily.
Whatever.
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When I saw this pie, it brought to mind the cheesecake I’d made with chèvre. And over the next several hours, my mind wandered. I dreamt of salted pistachio with bitter orange, and floral honey with the tang of goat cheese.
Sadly my cheese benefactor was out of town this week, so rather than relying on her supply, I had to settle on store-bought chèvre.
Sadly, Beatrice could not contribute to my efforts

Beatrice.

I did manage to include the last bit of wildflower honey produced on the farm. I love using ingredients that are local and familiar; it makes the experience that much more personal.

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The flavors couldn’t have been more well-matched. The scent of orange, woven through the crust…it was hard to refrain from nibbling a pinch before I added the filling.
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A simple dollop of crème fraîche with a bit of reserved pistachios and a drizzle of honey elevate this tart to center-stage.
Enjoy, and much love,
J
Salted Pistachio, Orange and Honey Hart
Ingredients:
1 1/4 c flour
1/3 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
8 tbsp unsalted butter, diced and expertly chilled
1/2 c ice water*
*Note: you will only need ~3-4 Tbsp
Filling:
8 oz goat cheese
2 large eggs
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/3 c honey
2 Tbsp sugar
Topping:
2 tbsp salted pistachios, chopped
Pinch of coarse sea salt
Method:

1. Combine flour, salt, sugar and orange zest.
2. Using either a pasty blender or food processor, fold in diced butter and blend just until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
3. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with either hands or spatula until the dough just starts to come together. Mixture should be a bit craggy and on the drier side, but should come together if pinched.
4. Wrap dough in plastic or parchment and allow to rest for about an hour in the refrigerator.
5. Remove pastry and using a rolling pin, roll into a flat disc and press into a 9-in tart pan with removable bottom.
6. Prick bottom several times with a fork and set in freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up.
6. Preheat oven to 425°.
7. Line tart pan with a sheet of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.
Bake for about 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, lower heat to 350° and bake for 10 more minutes, just until golden-hued.
While tart shell is baking, prepare the filling:
1. Cream honey, sugar, cheese and orange zest together in a large mixing bowl, scraping down sides as needed.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.
4. Pour mixture into prepared crust and place on baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then sprinkle top with a pinch of salt and the pistachios and bake for another ten minutes, or until the middle is just set.
5. Cool completely on wire rack.
Serve as is, or garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche, and a drizzle of honey.

Rêver de l’été (Dreaming of Summer)

The heaps of gray, shadowy, wet days and Winter’s chill have left me with a sweet longing for Summer. At the market, I seem to gravitate toward citrus; the shiny orbs of Cara Cara pink navels, with their pink-hued flesh and pucker-y sweetness; the kumquat, with its deceptively-sweet peel and shockingly sour insides; the crimson flesh and clean bright taste of blood oranges..mmm. And so to nurture my creative side as well as satisfy a roaring sweet tooth, I drew upon citrus as inspiration.

Orange Almond Sablés

Orange Almond Sablés

Often, I do my best creative work while running. That may seem odd to some, however I’ve found that running serves as an outlet not only for expending physical energy, it is a catalyst for new ideas. These seedlings are kneaded and churned about as I navigate urban trails and sidewalks; often as the sun is just starting to make its presence known. I see flavors and textures come together, then the vision takes form, and I’m off to the store, list in hand.

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I recalled a luxuriously silky buttermilk panna cotta I’d made this summer that involved steeping lavender buds and vanilla beans in buttermilk and cream. That fragrance! The buttermilk added a nice perky bit of tart, fooling the palate and masking some of the richness of the butterfat. A friend of mine with whom I’ve shared several meals over the years said it was probably the best dessert they’d had. A high complement, for sure!

Panna Cotta (honey orange rosemary)Rosemary-scented honey and orange panna cotta

And so this weekend, with citrus on my mind, I came up with not one, but two desserts to share. Neither of them yield instant gratification, however if you are willing to set aside an afternoon, I assure that dessert will be stunning. The honey panna cotta has only the faintest hint of rosemary and marries nicely with the orange zest. The cookies are based off a classic French butter cookie, the sablé. They make a perfect tea cookie; lightly scented with almond and the essential oils of orange zest. I recommend using unsalted European butter, if you can find it, as European butter has a higher fat content that is fabulous in baked goods.

best butter.

best butter.

Sablé dough

Of course, cookies are always good for sharing, so I managed to set aside a few for a neighbor.

Sablé, ready to go.

Enjoy, and much love.

J

Honey Panna Cotta with Rosemary and Orange

1 packet gelatin
1 c  whole milk
2 cup whipping cream (not half and half)
1/3 c honey
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 sprigs rosemary
*Simple Syrup (optional)
1/4 c orange juice
 2 Tbsp honey

/–

Method
pour milk into a saucepan; sprinkle gelatin atop and allow to soften for ~5 minutes.
Add cream, honey, and remaining ingrediets. turn heat to low, whisking steadily to combine.
Add rosemary and zest; furn heat to medium and stir occasionally until barely steaming. Remove from heat and steep ~15 minutes.
Pour into ramekinsand allow to chilll nthe referigerator for at least four hours
Pour into 6 ramekins and refrigerate for ~4 hours, until set.

*For simple syrup, combine honey and orange juice in small saucepan over medium heat; stir and allow to bubble softly for ~ 5minutes. remove from heat. Reserve and pour over panna cotta prior to serving.

Orange Almond Sablé

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter; softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
*Decoration
1 egg yolk
Granulated sugar

Method

  1. In a small bowl, mix orange zest with granulated sugar until fragrant. Add powdered sugar and sea salt to combine
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter. Add sugar and mix to combine.
  3. Add egg yolks and almond extract; beat until incorporated
  4. Lastly, add flour. Mix only until pastry forms a cohesive mass; this is reminiscent of pie pastry; you’ll want the end result to be light and crumbly
  5. Form dough into two, 9-inch logs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (at least 3)
  6. When ready to bake. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  7. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
  8. Remove dough from refrigerator, brush logs with egg yolk and granulated sugar.
  9. Using a sharp knife; slice into 1/3 to 1/2-inch rounds.
  10. Bake 15-20 minutes; longer if the cookies are on the thicker side. Cookies are ready when the bottom and sides are golden; the tops should remain pale.

Allow to rest for a couple of minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to cool completely on wire rack

Copy Cat. Or, if Baklava had a Sister.

Even though I’ve completely saturated myself with sweet indulgences this holiday season, I’ll never deny a good pastry. My oh so lovely friend Donna sent me a link a few week’s back to an online zine that featured a couple of pies from the famed Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. She’d made a pear pie with juniper berries that sounded fantastic. You can find the link, here.

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava's sexy sister

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava’s sexy sister

Once I saw the recipe for a salt-studded honey pie, I knew I had to make it mine. It looked simply stunning. And yet…I thought I could personalize it a bit with a few enhancements. I’d recently been gifted a jar of fabulous local honey.  I wanted to do right with it, and this pie seemed like the perfect vehicle to transcend it into something extraordinary.

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The recipe called for vanilla paste. I thought I could do a bit better by using whole vanilla bean. I scraped the seeds out of the bean and set them in sugar, with a bit of freshly-grated lemon zest. I love the sensuous feeling of using my fingers to combine the sugar with aromatics, the sugar crystals unlocking the essential oils and perfuming the air with vanilla and lemon-scented goodness.

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I added sliced almonds to the top, to accentuate the crunch of salt and contrast the silky filling. This pie and baked went from a pale sandy yellow to a dark caramel brown; the almonds developing a tan as the crust bubbled and spit.

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Drizzled with a bit of thyme and vanilla-infused honey, sprinkled with flaky Maldon salt and crunchy toasted almonds, this pie is pure heaven. Probably one of the flakiest pastry crusts I’ve made in some time, which I attribute to a bit of old-school pastry cutter technique. A quick blitz in the food processor flirts a bit too much with the gluten in the flour. If nothing else, this crust inspired me to go back to my humble ways of tactile experience with the dough. When you work with your hands, the hands become the intuitive barometer of when something is near completion. The bits of butter strewn throughout the dough formed delicate air pockets that left layers of flaky, meltingly-tender crust.

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Oh! And the flavor! The filling, similar in consistency to pecan pie, but without the cloying, one-dimensional sweetness of corn syrup. The elements of buttery pastry, crunchy almonds, and sweet honey reminded me instantly of baklava, the incredible Turkish sweet.

I am already dreaming of when I’ll make it again.

Much Love,

J

Honey Almond Pie

Note: I used a basic recipe for pate sucree; you can find recipes and techniques in previous blog posts, however I encourage you to try to make the crust without using a food processor. There are excellent tutorials for basic pie crust techniques available online.

For the filling:

3/4-cup sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

Seeds of one whole vanilla bean pod (reserve pod for later)

3/4-cup honey

1/4-pound (one stick) butter, melted

1/2-cup cream (not half and half)

3 eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp cornmeal

2 tsp white vinegar

You will also need:

1 prepared pie crust, frozen

~2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1/4 c honey

Several sprigs fresh thyme

Vanilla bean pod

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, rub together sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds until aromatic. Set aside.
  3. Combine honey, salt, and cornmeal; whisk together, then add melted butter, cream and eggs, one at a time, whisking until well-incorporated.
  4. Add scented sugar and whisk again well, then pour through sieve into prepared crust.
  5. Bake for ~35 minutes, then sprinkle with slivered almonds. At this point, you may need to cover lightly with parchment to prevent excessive browning. Bake for another 20 minutes until set. This is best tested by giving a gently nudge to the pan; it’s okay if the filling is slightly jiggly; it’ll continue to cook once removed from the oven. However, if it’s sloppy, keep pie in the oven and check at ~5-minute intervals until set.
  6. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a flourish of sea salt and let it cool. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, warm honey with a few sprigs of thyme and the vanilla pod, then let steep for ~10 minutes. Strain into a jar, then drizzle over pie and garnish with a few fresh thyme leaves.