- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In 15 minutes, spritz again and turn heat to 400 degrees.
- 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.
- Wait (patiently!) for a good 30 minutes as dough cools on rack before slicing.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Of course, cookies are always good for sharing, so I managed to set aside a few for a neighbor.
Enjoy, and much love.
Honey Panna Cotta with Rosemary and Orange
*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
- In a small bowl, mix orange zest with granulated sugar until fragrant. Add powdered sugar and sea salt to combine
- In a stand mixer, cream butter. Add sugar and mix to combine.
- Add egg yolks and almond extract; beat until incorporated
- 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
- Form dough into two, 9-inch logs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (at least 3)
- When ready to bake. preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper
- Remove dough from refrigerator, brush logs with egg yolk and granulated sugar.
- Using a sharp knife; slice into 1/3 to 1/2-inch rounds.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
1 tsp lemon zest
Seeds of one whole vanilla bean pod (reserve pod for later)
1/4-pound (one stick) butter, melted
1/2-cup cream (not half and half)
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
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, rub together sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds until aromatic. Set aside.
- Combine honey, salt, and cornmeal; whisk together, then add melted butter, cream and eggs, one at a time, whisking until well-incorporated.
- Add scented sugar and whisk again well, then pour through sieve into prepared crust.
- 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.
- 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.