Saturday, April 27, 2013

Breakfast that takes care of itself

Honey-cinnamon scones
Around here, breakfast tends to get the least of our attention. More often than not, it's a rushed affair. What matters is that the steady drip, drip, drip of coffee gets underway and that one of us coaxes Morning Edition from the crackle of the radio (we always seem to be losing our signal). Even on weekends, we don't linger long in the kitchen at breakfast time. I, anyway, feel most pressed in those early hours to tackle something and not let the day slip away. I have patience, enormous patience, for the sometimes slow-going, often messy stretches of making a good meal--just not at breakfast time. I get fidgety, almost anxious, for instance, hovering over the stove, flipping pancakes. It feels like an eternity passes between cracking the eggs and getting to the bottom of that big bowl of batter. So, around here, we stick mostly to buttered toast and the occasional bowl of oatmeal.
But, there are, of course, mornings on which I feel that something a little more special is in order. And lately, that hasn't at all been a problem. I've had a stash of honey-cinnamon scones in the freezer to dig into.
Brushing scones Scone interior
These are not your run-of-the-mill scone. Their texture is a bit surprising, not quite like what you might expect. There's a pleasing heft and crumbliness to them, which is delicate, melting, even. And then there's the cinnamon-honey butter that marbles the scones. The bits that find their way to the edges give those bites a special crackle and sweetness. And, rather conveniently, these scones are meant to be baked straight from the freezer. On pretty well any morning, you can probably manage to get these to the table and do whatever else you need to in order start your day. For the scones, all you have to do is get the oven ready, and they will take care of themselves. I like breakfasts that take care of themselves.
These scones come from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. I've only had it for a couple of weeks, but I think that it's set to become my new favourite baking book. It is beautiful and staggeringly comprehensive. There is a whole section dedicated to pâte à choux. There are not one but two madeleine recipes. And, most exciting of all, there is a method for generating steam in home ovens (always a problem for bread baked at home) that calls for river rocks, chains, and a Super Soaker. The book, in this way, while certainly detail-oriented and technique-driven, doesn't take itself too, too seriously. Its tone, also, is patient and reassuring. There are lots of explanations and technical advice scattered throughout the book, but none of it feels overwhelming. I, anyway, am ready to fill a hotel pan up with rocks and chains and bake some bread soon.

Cinnamon Honey Scones
Adapted, just a little, from Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel's The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
Note: The measurements. As Keller explains, the measurements are a bit crazy-looking but only because the recipe has been scaled down for home use. The glaze. Though the scones are better with the glaze brushed on top, I have skipped it when not inclined to add another pan to my pile of dishes.

30 g / 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
30 g / 2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 g / 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
30 g / 1 ounce cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
20 g / 1 tablespoon clover honey

152 g / 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
304 g / 2 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
12.5 g / 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2.5 g / 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
91 g / 1/4 cup + 3 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
227 g / 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
135 g / 1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
135 g / 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons crème fraîche

45 g / 3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons butter
20 g / 1 tablespoon clover honey

For the cinnamon-honey cubes. Place the four in a medium bowl. Sift in the sugar and cinnamon and whisk to combine. Toss in the butter cubes, coating them with the dry mixture. Using your fingertips, break up the butter until there are no large visible pieces. Using a spatula, mix in the honey to form a smooth paste. Press the paste into a 4-inch square on a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and freeze until solid, about two hours or for up to 1 week.
For the scones. Place the all-purpose flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and sift in the cake flour, baking, powder, baking soda, and granulated sugar. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest setting for about 15 seconds to combine. Stop the mixer, add the butter, and then on the lowest setting, pulse to begin incorporating the butter. Increase the speed to low and mix for about 3 minutes to break up the butter and incorporate it into the dry mixture. If any large pieces of butter remain, stop the mixer, break them up by hand, and mix just until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly pour in the cream. Add the crème fraîche and mix for about 30 seconds, until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together around the paddle. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle and pulse again to combine. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
Cut the cinnamon-honey butter paste into 1/4-inch cubes and add them to the scone dough. Mix them in by hand. They may begin to break up a bit in the dough, but that's okay. Mound the dough on your work surface and, using the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together. Place the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and, using your hands, press it into a 7 1/2-by-10-inch block, smoothing the top. Press the sides of your hands against the sides of the dough to straighten the edges. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a bout 2 hours, until firm.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a chef's knife or a bicycle cutter, cut the block of dough along its length into thirds and then crosswise into quarters. Arrange the dough on the parchment-lined sheet, leaving space between them. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. The scones can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. (If storing them long term, be sure to wrap them well or, once frozen, transfer them to an air-tight freezer bag.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 degrees F if using a convection oven). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Bake for 27-30 minutes (or 20-23 minutes, if using a convection oven), until golden brown.
For the glaze. Stir the butter and honey together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter has melted and combined with the honey. 
As soon as the scones come out of the oven, brush the tops with the glaze. Set the sheet pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.
The scones are best on the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container for 1 day.
Makes 12 scones.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

You make strides

Avocado-lemon macarons
Things have been a little crazy around here lately. I've started a teaching-assistantship and find the dance of students' pens across paper as I speak a little disconcerting. I'm just not used to having anything I say aloud seem important enough for people to be taking notes. And I've been putting together my dissertation committee, which has also been a little terrifying. See, the dissertation, up until about now, hasn't been much more than a mythical beast. Sure, you start grad school knowing that this is what it all leads up to, writing a small book's worth of sound and original ideas, meticulously argued for. And, sure, you see the people around you, very smart people, muddling through. But, for you, it remains just a smudge on the horizon, like, when you were much younger, the prospect of growing up and leaving home--something you knew you would have to do someday but that for the time being was pretty well unfathomable. And so you're able to assure yourself that when you get there, you'll be ready. You'll be so much better read. You'll have it all figured out. And then one day, you wake up to find that you don't know where the days went, that you still don't feel quite ready, but that someday is now, the very day stretching before you. Like I said, a little terrifying. But a little exhilarating too.
Candying lemon peel Mashed avocado Piped macaron shells
In this way, starting to work on a dissertation is, I imagine, a lot like some of life's other milestones, the ones that we know to expect but never really feel ready for. Like turning 30. I'm not there yet, but a good friend of mine is as of this week. And leading up to it, he was, as far as I could tell, fine with it. But either way, I thought that he might appreciate a few macarons.
For this, I turned to Pierre Hermé's Macaron. I've had a copy for almost two years now (thanks to my friend whose birthday it was, incidentally), and working from it is still for me as daunting, as exhilarating as ever. This, admittedly, has something to do with the fact that I don't make macarons very often. Pastry bag in hand, I always feel like I'm at least a little out of practice. But this aside, making macarons from this book for me always has the feel of something like a high-wire act. You put a lot in at the outset--blanching and grinding almonds to a fine powder, aging egg whites, making ganache, and, in this case, candying some lemon peel--but then it all comes down to just a few moments in the process, and there's the sense that it'd be all too easy to misstep.
So why do it at all? It's not for everyone, admittedly. But I like the challenge. I like the constraints. On that narrow a wire, you only find ways to get better at what you're doing. You make strides. And, in particular, this time around, I just really wanted to know what a macaron avocat-citron would taste like. The avocat part is the ganache--mashed avocado whisked bit by bit into cream and melted white chocolate, then chilled until it attains a luxurious thickness. The citron part is candied lemon peel--bright little gems cooked with vanilla bean, star anise, and sarawak peppercorn, at the centre of each macaron. The overall effect is something marvellous, multidimensional. It starts with the avocado, whose presence is quiet and vegetal, adding a certain softness to the sweetness of the ganache. Then comes the pop of the candied peel--citrusy, bitter, floral. And like any good macaron, it has a way of almost disappearing before you know it, leaving behind just a few bright green shards of shell.
Slicing candied peel Baked macaron shells Assembled macarons
At my friend's party--a sprawling, unhurried sort of Sunday brunch--the conversation at one point turned to what it's like being in your thirties (most of the other attendees were already there). Another friend offered up the following insight--that what was important when turning 30 wasn't so much having everything figured out but being in a good place. And with friends, mimosas, and macarons abound, my friend, I thought, wasn't off to a bad start.

I don't pretend to be a macaron expert. Like I said, I don't make them nearly often enough. (And it shows!) So, if you're looking for pointers, Not So Humble Pie is a good place to start. 

Macaron Avocat-Citron
Adapted from Pierre Hermé's Macaron
Special equipment: scale, candy thermometer, stand mixer, pastry bags, no. 11 piping tip. About the aged egg whites. Hermé recommends that a week before you plan to make the macarons you separate the requisite amount of egg white from the yolks and age them in the fridge. Place them in a small container, cover it with plastic wrap, and puncture the plastic a few times with a sharp knife. After four to seven days in the fridge, the whites will lose their elasticity, making them easier to whip up and less likely to get over-beaten and dry. About the couverture chocolate. By definition, couverture chocolate is chocolate that is at least 32% cocoa butter. For the first time this time, I had some Valrhona Ivoire on hand. I can't say definitively whether it was the Valrhona, but this ganache set up far more nicely than the last Hermé ganache I made with Callebaut. About the food colouring: I've been using this set from Williams-Sonoma for my last few batches of macarons. The colours are pretty limited, but I haven't been dedicated enough to track down a fancier line.

4 lemons, preferably organic
500 ml water
250 g granulated sugar
1 star anise
5 black sarawak peppercorns
1/2 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons lemon juice

150 g finely blanched and ground almonds
150 g powdered sugar
55 g aged egg whites
1 g lemon-yellow food colouring
2 g pistachio-green food colouring
150 g granulated sugar
38 g water
55 g aged egg whites

1-2 ripe avocados
25 g lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
50 g heavy cream
Zest of a quarter lemon
250 g couverture white chocolate, preferably Valrhona

DAY ONE: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, rinse and dry the lemons. With a sharp knife, trim the ends and cut off the skin from top to bottom in strips, taking a good centimeter of lemon flesh with them. Put the strips in the water, return to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes then drain. Repeat this blanching process two more times with fresh water each time.
Crush the peppercorns. Place them in a medium saucepan along with the water, sugar, lemon juice, and star anise. Split the half vanilla bean in two along its length and scrape the seeds into the pan. Add the empty pod. Bring the mixture to a boil over low heat. Add the lemon strips. Simmer gently on medium-low for about one and a half hours, partially covered. Pour the zests and syrup into a bowl and let cool. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator until the following day.
DAY TWO: Place the candied lemon in a strainer over a bowl and let drain for about 1 hour. Then cut to a 3mm dice.
Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Cut the avocados in two and remove their pits. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and mash. Weigh 150 g of mashed avocado (set aside the remaining for another use) and stir in the lemon juice and salt. Heat the avocado in a small saucepan over a very low flame. Stir continuously until the purée reaches 40-50 degrees C / 104-122 degrees F. Remove from heat.
Unless using féves, give the chocolate a rough chop. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water to melt. Stir occasionally. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil and add the lemon zest. Pour the cream over the chocolate and then begin adding the avocado purée, a little bit at a time. Whisk vigorously to prevent the ganache from breaking. Once the avocado is fully incorporated, pour the ganache into a wide heat-proof dish and cover with plastic wrap, touching it to the surface of the ganache to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator until thick and creamy, 3-4 hours.
Prepare the macaron shells. Sift the ground almonds and powered sugar into a large bowl. Stir together the food colouring and one 55 g portion of egg whites in a small dish. Add these to the almonds and sugar but do not mix them in.
In a small saucepan, bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil. Keep the sides of the saucepan clean to prevent the sugar from re-crystallising by brushing them with a wet pastry brush. When the syrup reaches 110 degrees C / 230 degrees F, begin whipping the second 55 g portion of egg whites using a stand mixer. When the syrup reaches 118 degrees C / 244 degrees F, slowly pour the syrup into the whites, letting the syrup run down the sides of the bowl so that it doesn't splatter. The whites should have barely formed soft peaks at this point. Continue whipping the whites on high speed for one more minute. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and continue whipping the whites for about 2 minutes. The whites are ready when they've cooled to 50 degrees C / 122 degrees F. Add the whites to the powdered almond mixture and fold in, running your spatula under the mixture and turning it over onto itself. Continue working the batter in this way until it reaches the right consistency. It will be the right consistency when it falls off the end of the spatula in a thick ribbon and sinks into the batter in the bowl. If the batter holds its shape, it needs to be worked for longer. Batter with this consistency won't produce smooth shells.
Put the macaron batter in a pastry bag fitted with a no. 11 tip. Pipe shells around 3.5 cm in diameter, spaced at least 2 cm apart on a parchment-lined half-sheet (doubled with another half-sheet for insulation). Let the shells stand for 30 minutes, and meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 356 degrees F. Bake the shells for 12-14 minutes. Let the shells cool for at least 30 minutes before lifting them from the parchment.
Assemble the macarons. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a no. 11 tip with the avocado. Pipe a generous amount of ganache on half of the macaron shells. Add three or four candied lemon cubes to each ganache-topped shell. Sandwich these with the remaining shells. Leave the macarons in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before serving.
Makes about 36 macarons.