You’re Baking Me Crazy.

PicFrameI’ve been thinking about rhubarb pretty much constantly for the past several weeks, picking up stalks regularly at the farmer’s market and grocery, as it finds its way into cakes, jams and spreads.

photo 1This weekend, I was able to do a bit of pruning at my father’s and took home a moderately sized sack of perfectly rosy beauts. I’d been planning to make dessert for some friends, and, given our glorious hint of early summer, a sort of strawberry-rhubarb shortcake came to mind. A recipe I’d discovered recently boasted a sweet-savory concoction of roasted fruit with balsamic and maple flavors, which brought my own craft into the sweet-savory realm. I dreamt of thyme and pepper-coated berries and barb, caramelized and tender, folded into layers of whipped cream and fluffy biscuits.

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Given that I still had a bit of ricotta on hand from recent baking adventures, I thought it might be interesting to incorporate it into some pastry for shortcake. Much of baking is the result of a formula: fat+liquid+flour. I recalled Michael Rhulman’s genius concept of using ratios for basic batters, pastry, cake and the like. You can find a link, here.
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I added a couple of tablespoons of sugar, as this is more of a dessert biscuit, and used equal parts ricotta and milk. The rest is well, all me.
Like so many fine things, this dough takes only a moment to come together, then it must rest, given some delicate handling, then rest again. The biscuits can be refrigerated, or frozen to bake at a later time. The resultant crisp and flaky texture is ruined by moisture, so it’s aways best to eat biscuits the day they are baked.
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I measured my ingredients out using a scale, however I’ll provide approximations using household measurements. For the original recipe, refer to link above. Additionally, I bake my scones and pastry at a higher temperature, say, 425 degrees F. This melts the butter quickly and creates those lovely air pockets that make for a light, fluffy, buttery-layered biscuit.
Enjoy, and much love,
J
Thyme and Balsamic-Infused Rhubarb with Strawberries , Ricotta Shortcake and Vanilla Whip Cream

Thyme and Balsamic-Infused Rhubarb and Strawberries , Ricotta Shortcake and Vanilla Whip Cream

Thyme and Balsamic-Infused Rhubarb and Strawberries 
Inspired by Ladystiles Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberries:
**Note: the fruit can be prepared 1-2 days ahead of time and stored along with their juices, until ready to serve.
2.5-3 cups rhubarb, cut into ~1-inch lengths
1 pint strawberries, split
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
2 sprigs thyme, plucked of leaves
dash of freshly-ground black pepper
Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with parchment paper.
Combine rhubarb and strawberries in a large bowl. Whisk remaining ingredients together; pour over fruit. Toss gently.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, until juices have started to bubble and thicken. Remove and serve with Ricotta Biscuits (recipe follows)
Ricotta Biscuits
Ingredients:
2 c flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c butter, chilled and diced
1/2 c ricotta
2 oz milk
Method:
Mix dry ingredients together; set aside.
Using a pastry blender or food processor, cut flour and butter until the mixture starts to resemble coarse sand; leaving a few larger pieces strewn throughout.
Whisk together ricotta and milk; add to flour.
Using a wooden spoon or hands, stir the liquid into the flour/butter until it’s just barely absorbed. Turn onto a flat surface, and knead, just a few times to bring it all together. There will still be bits of butter poking about; this is key to a flaky biscuit.
Wrap in plastic/parchment and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Once chilled, begin rolling: roll out dough into a rectangle ~1/2 inch thick.
Fold in thirds, then refrigerate a further 30 minutes.
Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling cycle once more.
As the dough makes its final rest, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment; set aside.
Shape dough with your hands, or roll out to ~3/4-inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter.
Brush biscuits with a bit of milk, if desired, then bake for ~12-15 minutes until golden and puffed to about twice their original volume. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

 

Different parts of a whole.

This happened in Seattle. Businesses closed. City streets littered with detritus from last night’s fireworks. I’ve never seen this much enthusiasm in our city. It was nearly impossible not to get caught up in the groundswell.
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Taking a different direction, literally.
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Once in a while, I force myself to take a different path. It’s easy to get comfortable in the familiar, however a simple change in direction, a re-route, if you will, yields new discoveries. While I’m referring to running, the benefit of applying this metaphor to the rest of life’s journey is not lost on me.
As I begrudgingly made my way along the trail, there were trees I’d never noticed before. Fat robins perched on thin branches. I heard the bubbling brook as it meandered downstream and I embraced the crisp in the air.
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And I dreamt of spring.
And citrus.
I can’t seem to veer away from it. A messager du printemps, Spring is calling me; fresh, clean and bright. The invitation to wake up after Winter slumber; the hint of sweetness. Naturally, my mind wandered to food, or specifically, lemon curd. When I got home, I pulled The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters, off the shelf. I love this book; its simple design, classic and mature, with straightforward recipes and a focus on the local and seasonal. The recipes are brilliantly clear and approachable.
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Meyer Lemon Tart

Meyer Lemon Tart

I used Meyer lemons for the juice, and made a luxurious shortbread pastry to showcase the silky custard. Wasting nothing, I made merengue with the leftover whites. I got a bit fancy by adding chopped chocolate and pistachios to some, folding in sliced almonds into others.
I candied the citrus peels with the juiced fruit – the resultant citrus syrup became an impromtu cocktail and soda mixer, a quick and easy hostess gift for last night’s party.
Almond Merengue

Almond Merengue

 

Candied Citrus Peel

Candied Citrus Peel

Enjoy, and much love,
J
Meyer Lemon Tart
*note: I imagine the lemon would well with the flavor of thyme, or ginger, a relatively simple addition to the custard. Folding a bit of orange or lemon zest into the pastry adds another layer of dimension.
One 9-inch prepared tart (see link, here)
Lemon Curd (*adapted from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters)
6 Meyer lemons, juiced, approximately 1/2 cup
Zest from one lemon
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1/3 c sugar
1 tsp tapioca starch, or cornstarch
pinch of salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
Optional: 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
In a medium saucepan, add whisk together all ingredients except the butter. Bring to a medium heat, and add butter. Stir constantly until thickened. As soon as custasrd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from heat, add herbs (if using) and let steep for ~10 minutes.
Pour curd into prepared crust. Bake at 375 degrees for ~15-20 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before serving*.
*For ease of serving, this tart will benefit from a brief chill in the refrigerator.

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.

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

…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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