Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hello, again

It's been awhile. I hope you've all been well. I didn't mean to be away for this long. I'd intended at least to have a pie or two for you ready by Thanksgiving, but none really worked out quite the way I'd been hoping. Grainy custards, sloppy fruit, scorched pastry--it wasn't pretty. I hope you understand.
But have a thumbprint cookie. These are from the second batch I've made this week. I know--thumbprints are nothing new, nothing you haven't seen before. But, you know, there's something to be said for the classics. Besides, I adore these thumbprints--their delicate butteriness, their deep jammy wells, their faint sugary crackle. And if you happen to have some homemade preserves around, crack open a jar, show them off. A good, tart homemade preserve will shine here. (I used cherry-plum and strawberry-balsamic from my reserves. I especially like that they're a little chunkier. Biting into half a cherry or a bit of strawberry in the middle of a cookie is quite nice.)
And by all means, take this recipe as a guideline. Swap out a few tablespoons of the all-purpose flour for rye or buckwheat, maybe. Tumble your cookies through a mound of coconut instead of chopped almonds. Replace the vanilla with a few drops of rosewater. It would be hard to go wrong.
Wells of jam

Thumbprint Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
NOTE: With this second batch, for a little more depth, I swapped out 1/4 cup of the all-purpose for rye, and a few tablespoons more wouldn't have hurt, I think. At first, I wasn't sure about quite how much of a difference the rye made, but Octavian, who ate quite a few thumbprints from the first batch, remarked that the new ones were even better, and this was before I'd told him that I'd made any changes. So, go rye!

4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons demerara sugar 
1 large egg, separated 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (see note above)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 cup blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup good-quality preserves (raspberry, apricot, or something else tart)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla paste and mix well. Add the flour and salt and mix until combined.
Put the egg white in a small bowl and whisk to break it up. Combine the almonds and demerara sugar in a wide dish. 
Form the dough into 1-inch balls. Dip in the egg white, then in the almond mixture. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, a couple of inches apart. Make a deep well in the centre of each ball with the end of a thick-handled wooden spoon. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and press down the centres again. Fill each cookie with about a 1/2 teaspoon of preserves. Bake for another 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Makes about 18 cookies.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

High summer at the market, in the kitchen

In the days of high summer, there are few places in Chicago I'd rather be than Green City Market. It is the real deal--small-scale midwestern farmers committed to their land, astonishingly good produce in abundance. Even early on a Wednesday morning, the market hums with quiet excitement. Rounding the corner to the next stretch of stalls, I, anyway, am always buoyed by the prospect of discovering something beautiful and unusual, something I've never seen before.
And I'm glad that Sandra Holl seems to share my feelings about the place. A few weeks ago, I was invited to tag along with her on a market trip. Sandra is chef and owner of Floriole, and I've long been an admirer of hers. Her bakery is incomparable in this city. It turns out such gorgeous stuff--canelés with custard-like centres, mahogany sourdough boules, the flakiest croissants. When I'm in the neighbourhood, I always try and stop in.
Peaches, blackberries, plums Brown butter custard Homemade puff pastry
We met that morning at Floriole's market stall--it's where the bakery got its start--and then made the rounds. Sandra had already put in orders with some of the farms (peaches and green beans from Mick Klug, arugula from Green Acres), so we visited the stalls to collect them. (If you take your eyes off all the produce for a moment and peer behind the stalls at Green City Market, you'll see tall stacks of cardboard boxes scrawled with some very familiar names--these are all the restaurant orders from around the city awaiting pick-up.) But in between pick-ups and afterwards, we also spent some time looking at what else there was available that day. If something catches her eye, Sandra explained, even if it doesn't fit in with anything she has planned, she'll take it back to the bakery for her chefs to do with it whatever happens to inspire them. On this day, it was the indigo-rose tomatoes at Growing Home that stood out--small and inky purple with just a bit of a blush to them. (Sandra tries to source as much as she can locally for Floriole. And in the days of high summer, between Green City Market, her mother's garden just outside the city, and the bakery's own rooftop setup, that isn't particularly hard. But even staples like flour, eggs, and butter at the bakery come from producers in the Midwest.)
On our way out, we picked up a flat of fat blackberries from Ellis Family Farms and chatted with the Ellises about their teenage daughter Mary, who's in charge of the farm's laying operation. They showed us a recent photo of Mary scrubbing a hen with a toothbrush in preparation for a show. It was pretty clear that over the years Sandra's developed some lasting ties to the people at this market.
Back at the bakery, I was also invited to try my hand at some pastry-making in the kitchen. It was a bit of a dream come true, being there in the midst of that bustle, even if only for half an hour. There was a lot going on around us--challah being tested, tart shells being unmoulded, gougères coming out of the oven, sourdough loaves being sliced by hand. Our plan was to make some galettes with the fruit we'd picked up. The kitchen made it simple for us. There were already rounds of house-made puff pastry  dough ready at hand. All we had to do was slice some peaches for the filling (tasting as we sliced, of course--Sandra emphasized the importance of this) and assemble the galettes. So we spread the pastry-dough rounds with a thin layer of brown-butter custard, mounded each with a big handful of sliced peaches and blackberries, crimped up the edges over the fruit, and then slid them into the oven to bake. And, of course, they were phenomenal. How couldn't they be? Impossibly flaky pastry. Caramel-edged fruit. Nothing better together.
Spreading custard Galettes assembled Galettes ready to bake
Sandra was kind enough to allow me to share these galettes with you (thanks, Sandra!). How involved you want the process to be is kind of up to you. I took this as an opportunity to make puff pastry from scratch for the very first time. And though I found the work really rewarding and totally worth the effort, I suspect that most of you won't have the time and/or inclination. It can be a two- or three-day process, just because the butter needs to be cold when you're working with it and the gluten in the dough needs a couple of hours to relax after it gets rolled out each time. Instead, you could try making Gourmet's "rough" puff pastry, which is not as demanding and has been my go-to for a long time, or you could buy good-quality ready-made puff pastry (Sandra and lots of others recommend Dufour). The brown-butter custard, as Sandra says, is also optional. It adds extra sweetness and nuttiness to the galettes and prevents the pastry from sopping up too much of the fruit's juices during baking. What's important is that you use the best fruit available to you. It matters here--these galettes are really all about the fruit. Speaking of which--in the time that it's taken me to try out these galettes at home, high summer has come and gone, which means you won't be seeing peaches and blackberries at the market for much longer. But the galettes are very adaptable--you could probably work just about any fruit into them. I made two kinds this past weekend, some peach-blackberry, some plum-rosemary. You should be able to find plums at the market for a good long while still.
The homemade galettes turned out really well. In fact, they might be the best thing I've made all year. Seriously. They were so good. Octavian and I greedily demolished the two we kept for ourselves in seconds and then almost, almost, regretted having given the others away.
Plum and rosemary galette Hanging out with Sandra
When people ask, I always tell them that the best thing about running this blog has been the people I've gotten to know through it. It's always gratifying to find people who think and care even more than I do about good food, people who are completely dedicated to what they do. I feel lucky to have met the people I have. It's affirming and inspiring. And there's always so much to learn from them. Sandra is definitely one of those people. She is serious about good pastry--I've seen it. So, walking around the market with her that morning, it was heartening to see that a good blackberry could still excite her as much as it does me.

Summer Fruit Galettes
An at-home take on Floriole's sweet galettes
NOTE: While in Floriole's kitchen, we didn't do a whole lot of measuring, and afterwards, Sandra only gave me exact quantities for the brown-butter custard, so the quantities below are based on my observations while baking with Sandra and what I did at home. Floriole's galettes, I think, are in fact a bit bigger than the ones I made, but mine still make for nice individual portions. About the fruit. The galettes that I made actually had less fruit than I've called for below (I used about 225 g all in all), but I think they really could have used more. The fruit does reduce a lot during baking. Feel free, of course, to use only peaches and blackberries or only plums. About the temperature. If you have a convection oven, by all means, use the convection option. Just bake the galettes at 350 degrees F instead and for about 30 minutes. About the brown-butter custard. At Floriole, the kitchen goes through a lot of brown-butter custard. This is reflected in the quantities that Sandra gave me. For my batch of custard at home, I converted most of the measurements to grams and divided by eight. And still, I had way more custard than needed for these galettes. I put my remaining custard in the freezer for the time being. Unless you have ideas for what you might do with more than a pound of remaining custard (you could just make a ton of galettes), you might want to try scaling down the recipe more or just skipping it all together. Almond cream would also be a good substitute, if you happen to have any of that lying around. About chilling. It's really important that you chill the pastries after assembling them. This will help them keep their shape as they bake. I rushed mine a little, and they don't quite have the nice star-like shape they're supposed to.

650 g puff pastry dough, chilled
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4 tablespoons brown butter custard (optional - recipe below)

150 g blackberries and sliced peaches
150 g sliced Italian prune plums
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons heavy cream

Coarse sugar, like turbinado sugar, for finishing

Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Place the block of dough on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Gently but firmly roll it out into a 12-inch square, about 1/4 inch thick, using only as much flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Using a 6-inch cake ring or an equivalently sized plate as a guide and a sharp knife (you want the cuts to be as clean as possible, so as not to disturb the layers of butter in the dough), cut 4 6-inch circles from the dough. Place the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Put the peaches and blackberries in one small mixing bowl, the plums and rosemary in another. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 tablespoon flour to each bowl and gently toss to combine.
Whisk together the egg yolk and heavy cream for the eggwash.
Spread 1 tablespoon brown butter custard, if using, in a thin layer over one of the 6-inch circles, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Mound a quarter of the fruit in its centre. Then crimp the pastry in the following way. Start by folding up part of the edge about 3/4 inch over the fruit, then while keeping the fold in place, take another part of the edge, an inch or so to the right, and fold it up over the fruit so that it overlaps the first folded part of the edge. Now, where the two folds overlap, press down firmly with one finger so that the folds hold--you should be able to an indent from your finger. Continue folding and pressing until the crimp goes around the entire pastry. It should take about seven folds. (You may have trouble crimping the pastry with all the fruit mounded in the centre. If that's the case, remove some to make the crimping easier and tuck it back in afterwards. It may seem like too much fruit right now, but it will reduce significantly during baking.) Repeat with the remaining pastries. Brush with eggwash and chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Sprinkle the pastries with coarse sugar and bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffed and deeply golden. The galettes are best eaten warm from the oven.
Makes 4 individual galettes.

Brown Butter Custard
From Floriole Cafe and Bakery

170 g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
Juice of a medium lemon
3 eggs
220 g sugar
1/2 tablespoon brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Kosher salt, a big pinch
33 g all-purpose flour
45 g heavy cream

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, bring it to a boil, still over medium heat and whisking constantly to prevent it from separating. Continue cooking the butter, whisking occasionally to prevent milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. The butter is ready when it is the colour of caramel. Check its colour by lifting some up in a spoon. Pour into a heatproof container, preferably something with a spout. Add the lemon juice and let cool.
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium, until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually incorporate the browned butter. Then add the brandy, salt, flour, cream, and vanilla and mix just until combined. If the custard starts to look grainy at any point, that's fine. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Makes about 585 g.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Setting aside spades and worries

Pepper and Eggplant Coca
It's been a quiet summer for the two of us. We stuck pretty close to home, busy tending to ideas and vegetable beds, hoping that in time they'd flourish. But summer is fast fading, which means that many of our good friends, who've spent the summer away, will be back in town. I'm thinking that it's time that we set aside our spades and worries for a little and think about breaking the quiet, about maybe having a party.
When we do, this flatbread is sure to be a part of it. (If you want to get fancy, this flatbread is technically a Catalan coca of sorts.) It is perfect late-summer party fare--just red pepper, onion, and eggplant cooked down into a luxurious mess, spread out on thin stretches of dough, and then slipped into a hot oven for a scant few minutes. There, the onion especially melts and chars, while the dough blisters and bakes up shatteringly crisp. Cut into squares, it is ready to be passed around.
In a row
This flatbread is decidedly unfussy. The dough, though yeasted, is forgiving. I have let it sit out an hour or two longer than it really should have and then stuck extra in the fridge for later use. It held up just fine. You could definitely cook down the vegetables a few hours, maybe a day even, in advance. And with everything prepped, you could easily keep turning out flatbreads with a party in full swing.

Onion, Red Pepper, and Eggplant Coca
Adapted from Sam and Sam Clark's Moro East

112 g / 1 cup bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/3 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
75 ml / scant 1/3 cup water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium eggplant, cut into half-inch cubes
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 medium Spanish onions, roughly chopped
2 red peppers, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

To make the flatbread dough, place the flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Stir together the oil and water in a cup. Make a well in the flour and then pour in the water mixture a little at a time, mixing constantly with your hands. When all the yeast mixture has been incorporated, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead well for at least 5 minutes. If the dough is still stick, add a little more flour; if it is too stiff, a little more water. It is ready when no longer tacky but soft, elastic, and smooth. Put the dough in a clean, oiled  bowl and leave to rise until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours. After proofing, it can be chilled until needed. Give it some time to come back to room temperature, about an hour.
For the topping, first toss the eggplant with the salt in a colander and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, 10-inch sauté pan and, when hot but not smoking, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Give them a good stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until the onions are golden and sweet and the peppers soft. Be sure to stir them often so they cook evenly and do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Blot the eggplant dry with a towel, add to the pan along with the rosemary, and cook for a final 15 minutes, stirring often, until the eggplant is soft all the way through. Remove from heat and rain off any excess oil. Check the seasoning and set aside to cool.
When ready to bake the flatbread, preheat the oven to 525 degrees F (with a baking stone, if you have one). Divide the dough into two and roll out half very thinly to make a 12-inch by 8-inch oblong. If it's being stubborn, cover and let rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax and then try again. Place it on a peel, if using a baking stone, or on a baking sheet, if not. Spread half the vegetables over the surface, right up to the edges of the dough. Bake for 8-15 minutes (flatbread baked on a stone will take significantly less time), until browned and crispy underneath. While the first flatbread is in the oven, start rolling and topping the next one. They are great served piping hot from the oven or at room temperature.
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pie season

Peach and raspberry pie!
I'm kind of crazy about fruit pies. They are pretty much everything I want in something sweet--just rich, flaky pastry spilling over with bright, luscious fruit. But I hardly ever make pies. I know, I know. A terrible shame. But you know how it is. Fruit pies are a finicky thing. Between pulling together the pastry, piling in the fruit, and letting it all bubble and bake, there can be a lot of heartbreak. So as much as I love them, I don't bake pies nearly enough.
But I'm hoping that will change, starting with this pie--peach-raspberry with pecan crumble. It is so, so good. It starts out with peaches--blanched and peeled, then roasted until silken and slumped. Then, come the raspberries, stirred into the still-hot peaches. These, once piled into a buttery shell, get mounded with pecan crumble, which bakes up golden and craggy. It's a bit involved, I know. A pie that will likely keep you in the kitchen all afternoon and leave you with a sink full of dishes. There's no hiding that. But this pie is also spectacular, quite possibly the best I've had. The peaches are intense, concentrated, deeply floral from their roasting. And the raspberries scattered throughout are so perfect with them, little pockets of jammy, puckery brightness. The pecan crumble too is spot on--it delivers needed crunch, with all that slumped, soft fruit. All in all, swoon-worthy.
Frozen pie shell, raspberries, peaches Peeling peaches Roasted peaches
The pie comes from the new Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. Hoosier Mama is local pie shop here in Chicago--an impressive sliver of a storefront and bakery that turns out wonderful pies all year long. They are very serious about their pie there. They are all about buttery, flaky pastry, all about intense, swoon-worthy fillings. It is my kind of shop. So I'm really glad that they've decided to share some of their pie wisdom in this book. Paula Haney and Allison Scott offer encouraging instruction. They recognise that pie-making is something that has mostly fallen out of favour at home and that the wisdom that went with it is largely lost to us. So they explain their process in detail and illustrate with lots of step-by-step photos. These definitely help with potential heartbreak. I am particularly thrilled to have picked up their crimping technique. The crusts at Hoosier Mama always have the most gorgeous, defined crimp. And now mine aren't so bad looking either.
I really would like to make more than one or two pies every year. Pie is just too good to not have around more often. And from here on out, I don't think it's going to be too much of a problem. The peach-raspberry pie is a bit demanding--one to keep in mind for when you want to make someone feel really special--but there are plenty of easier pies in the book. I'm already thinking about my next pie,  likely Lemon Chess with Sticky Blueberries. The gooey filling comes together in five minutes, and the blueberries should be a snap too. And then there's the pie after that. The first apples have already started showing up at the markets, and this book gives apples a lot of love. Classic apple, caramel-apple cider, apple and quince, dutch apple with sour cream custard, etc., etc. I can't wait! This, friends, is the start of pie season.
Fruit in the shell Pecan crumble Baked pie
One final note. As you can probably see, my pie filling is a little runnier than it should be. I wasn't very diligent in following the roasting directions for the peaches. I didn't have an appropriate-sized baking pan and thought my peaches were cooking too quickly, so I pulled them out at the 25-minute mark. It didn't occur to me at the time just how important the long roast was. But this pie's crumble topping mounds over the entire surface. That means none of the water remaining in the peaches evaporates in the final bake. Those peaches need to roast for at least 40 minutes. My mistake.
Slumpy slice

Peach-Raspberry Pie with Pecan Crumble
From Paula Haney and Allison Scott's Hoosier Mama Book of Pie
NOTE: To peel peaches, bring a wide pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife, make an X in the bottom of each peach. Blanch the peaches for 45 second or so, in batches if need be. Remove the peaches with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice-water. Peel the peaches, starting from the X. If a peach is being stubborn, try repeating the blanching process. If this doesn't work, take your vegetable peeler to it.

1 single-crust, blind-baked All-Butter Pie Dough shell (available as a PDF here)
125 g / 1 cup raspberries
1230 g / 8 cups peeled peach slices (see note above)
15 g / 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
.5 g / 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
200 g / 1 cup granulated sugar
31 g / 3 tablespoons potato starch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 recipe Pecan Crumble (see below)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pick through the raspberries, discarding any stems, leaves, or shrivelled berries. Set aside. (There's no need to wash them--the berries grow way off the ground.)
Place the peeled peach slices in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and almond extract and toss until the peaches are well coated.
Place the sugar, potato starch, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the dry ingredients over the peaches and gently toss until most of the dry ingredients cling to the peaches.
Spray a 9 x 13-inch non-reactive baking pan with cooking spray. (I used butter without much issue.) Transfer the peaches to the baking pan and bake for 20 minutes. 
Remove the pan from the oven and stir the peaches, making sure to scrape out any ingredients that stick to the sides of the baking dish. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. 
Repeat this step until the peach juices are thickened and translucent. The peach slices should be tender but still hold their shape. Stir the raspberries directly into the hot peaches and cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, spoon the fruit into the pie shell and top with 1/2 of the Pecan Crumble. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crumble is lightly toasted. (I'd recommend setting your pie plate on a baking sheet--you might get a few drips over the side.) Top the pie with remaining crumble and bake 20-25 minutes more, until the top is crispy.
Cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days and in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Pecan Crumble
From Paula Haney and Allison Scott's Hoosier Mama Book of Pie
NOTE: To toast the pecans, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes.

148 g / 1 cup all-purpose flour
100 g / 1/2 cup granulated sugar
30 g / 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
50 g / 1/2 cup toasted pecans
84 g / 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
Pinch of kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Mix on low until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Increase the speed to medium and mix until gravel-sized pieces form.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using to top a pie. The crumble can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

We did it!

Rhubarb brown-butter tart
Good cookbooks are like good friends. You want to surround yourself with them. They're the ones who will see you through, the ones who inspire you, the ones with whom you can spend long hours musing, late into the night. And, most importantly, they're the ones you can always count on--to pull you out of a slump or be a voice of assurance or, in my case most recently, help you make a few dozen pastries worthy of the fine and discerning folks that would be at No Dessert Left Behind.
So you can count Bouchon Bakery a good friend cookbook of mine...because we did it! ((I think.) If you snagged a piece of this tart at the bake sale, I would love to know what you thought of it.) See, it was less than two weeks ago that I received an email asking me to contribute to this bake sale for No Kid Hungry, and already I knew, it was not going to be just any bake sale. Most of the participants would be pastry chefs from around the city--talented people who make wonderful pastry everyday for a living. Big things were expected. But I didn't have the time to do any recipe testing (I had a big pile of final papers to grade), and nothing that I'd made in recent memory fit my requirements. Whatever I was going to make needed to be (a) something that I could easily portion and box to go, (b) eye-catching, preferably, and (c) would hold up for at least a good 24 hours (mostly so that I wouldn't have to start my baking at 2 am--I'm no professional). So I put my trust in Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel and decided to make a half-sheet-sized tarte à la rhubarbe et au beurre noisette.
Trimmed rhubarb stalks Blind baking
Even by my standards, making this tart was a monster of a project. In part, this was because I was doubling the recipe as written (at Bouchon, they do bake it in half-sheet pans, since, you know, it's a bakery, but the recipe for home bakers is scaled back to a quarter-sheet pan). I had twice as much rhubarb to trim and de-string. And rolling out enough pâte sucrée to fit an 18-x-13-inch pan and then getting it into that pan were not the easiest of feats. But these considerations aside, there was still a lot to do. Keller and Rouxel get you to cure your lengths of rhubarb--once trimmed and stripped of their tough outer layer--in sugar and grenadine for 24 hours. This process draws water from the rhubarb (the stalks are mostly just water) that would otherwise be released during baking, and the grenadine lends some extra colour to the stalks. There is also the pâte sucrée to pull together, a buttery, vanilla-specked dough that lines the bottom of the tart. Then there's the almond-brown-butter filling to make, some of which gets piped over the blind-baked pâte sucrée, the rest between and over the stalks of cured rhubarb. The assembled tart then gets baked to a deep, burnished gold. And finally, once cooled, it's cut up and mounded with crunchy almond streusel.
Like I said, it was a lot to do. And a lot to trust in too. I'd never made this tart before. And I didn't really have a back-up plan. There were definitely a couple of moments--like when my stand mixer was throwing up handfuls of flour onto the counter (the pâte sucrée doubled, quite frankly, is a bit too much for a standard stand mixer to handle) and when brown-butter filling (just a few drips, luckily) was baking over the edge of my half-sheet and onto oven floor--where I thought to myself, "This is going to be a disaster."
Almond brown-butter filling Grenadine-cured rhubarb Baked rhubarb tart
But it wasn't. The tart baked up beautifully. And with Octavian's help and that of a couple of other good-willed friends, I even got it portioned and packed up in time to make the Saturday evening drop-off at Little Goat. (See, good cookbooks and good friends!) 
I wish I could tell you more about how it tasted. But I didn't get a chance to buy back a piece (for most of the bake sale I was down on the first floor of the restaurant, directing people upstairs), and of the test square that I held back, well, Octavian did most of the testing. (He approved.) What I ate I did early Sunday morning still half-asleep. I remember it being deeply nutty and just sweet enough--the rhubarb was still emphatically tart. But maybe some of you out there are in a better position to say than me. (Speak up, please.)
The test piece
To all of you in Chicago who came out on Sunday, thank you so much for your support! I hope you had a good time. And to Vanessa and Mike, who organized the bake sale, thank you so much for all of your hard work and for inviting me to bake. (And Tim, thanks for thinking of me and passing my name along!) It got a little crazy, but I had a blast.
AN UPDATE - 2013-06-12: Oh, and I got word today--we made $6,252 at the bake sale! Way to go, guys! (And here are some photos from the event.)

Tarte à la rhubarbe et au beurre noisette (Rhubarb Brown-Butter Tart)
From Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel's Bouchon Bakery
NOTE: Timing. There are lots of steps to making this tart. You'll need to give yourself at least two days--the first to at least trim, de-string, and start curing the rhubarb, the second to bake and assemble the tart. I also pulled together the pâte sucrée on the first day. You could also make the streusel then too. I just didn't have the time. Eggs. To measure out eggs for this recipe, first crack them open into a bowl and whisk them together. One large egg weighs about 50 grams or comes to about 1/3 cup in volume, so that should give you an idea of how many you need. Keller and Rouxel also have you push the whisked eggs through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any small bits of shell and the chalazae attaching the yolk to the white. (I find this step a little annoying to do for more than a couple of eggs. My feeling is that you could probably skip it.) Grenadine. The book doesn't really say anything about how to shop for grenadine. The most commonly available brand in the US is mostly just high-fructose corn syrup and food colouring and also tastes like cough syrup, which is kind of annoying. Traditionally, grenadine was made with pomegranate juice, and fancier brands, like this one, are returning to that practice. (It's also not difficult, I'm told, to make your own.) I debated a little bit about what to do here. Eventually, I found a grenadine at the grocery store that was at least made with sugar (though it also tasted like cough syrup), and given that the purpose of the grenadine here seems to be to colour the rhubarb, I'd say that you should keep the fancy stuff for imbibing. It doesn't noticeably affect the rhubarb's flavour, anyway. Fraisage. Below, pulling together the tart dough requires a French technique called "fraisage." Here's a video that might give you a better sense of what to do. The actual fraisage starts around 2:05. Scale. The measurements below correspond to those printed in the book. Like I said above, I scaled up to a half-sheet pan for the bake sale, but I assume that very few of you will need to feed 24-32 on any given occasion. But if for whatever reason you do find yourself in that situation, consider getting your hands on a good kitchen scale (I'm not sure that doubling the measurements here by volume will prove as reliable) and then follow the recipe as printed. It works! Just keep in mind that you will probably have to bake the tart shell, the assembled tart, and the streusel for a few extra minutes in each case, given that you've got more surface area and more volume to deal with. Use your judgement.

15 young stalks of rhubarb (about 2 pounds), preferably at least 13 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide
100 g / 1/2 cup granulated sugar
120 g / 1/4 + 2 tablespoons grenadine

375 g / 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
46 g / 1/4 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons + 94 g / 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
47 g / 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons finely ground almonds
225 g / 8 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
56 g / 3 1/2 tablespoons eggs (see note above)

235 g / 8.25 oz unsalted butter
75 g / 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons finely ground almonds
75 g / 1/2 cup + 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
150 g / 1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons eggs (see note above)
210 g / 1 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
75 g / 1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons whole milk
75 g / 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream

40 g / 1/4 + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
40 g / 1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon finely ground almonds
40 g / 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
40 g / 1.4 oz cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Powdered sugar for dusting

FOR THE CURED RHUBARB: Trim the rhubarb to fit the length of the quarter-sheet pan you'll be using for the assembled tart. Using a sharp paring knife (a vegetable peeler would remove too much), remove any tough strings and peel from the stalks. Do this by making just a few short cuts at one end to separate the peel from the stalk and then pulling it off the rest of the way with your fingers, following the length of the stalk. If any of the stalks are very young and green and don't peel easily, leave them unpeeled.
Arrange the rhubarb in a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with it with the sugar and drizzle the grenadine over top. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the rhubarb every 8 hours to coat it evenly.
Drain the rhubarb on paper towels, and discard the liquid remaining in the dish.

FOR THE TART SHELL: Place the all-purpose flour in a medium bowl. Sift the 46 g / 1/4 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar and the almond flour into the bowl. Break up any lumps remaining in the sieve and add them to the bowl. Whisk to combine.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium-low until the butter is the consistency of mayonnaise and holds a peak when the paddle is lifted. Sift in the remaining powdered sugar and pulse to begin incorporating it. Then increase the speed to medium-low and mix for about 1 minute, until the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the butter mixture, and mix on low for about 30 seconds, just to disperse the seeds evenly.
Add the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing for just 15-30 seconds after each to combine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs and mix on low until just combined, another 15-30 seconds.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface, gathered in a mound close to you. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough, a bit at a time, across the work surface. Gather the dough up again with a bench scraper and repeat until the dough is smooth and uniform. This technique, called fraisage, ensures a delicate and uniform crust. Pat the dough into a rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap the dough in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, but preferably overnight. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
Butter the quarter-sheet pan or spray with non-stick spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and place between two sheets of parchment paper. With a rolling pin, pound the top of the dough, working from one side to the other, and then rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Roll out the dough in the parchment, from the center outward, rotating and flipping the dough as needed. Form a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, just less than 1/8 inch thick. Remove the top layer of parchment and carefully invert the dough onto the quarter-sheet pan, letting any excess hang over the edges. Run your hands over the parchment and smooth the dough and force out any air bubbles. Make sure that the dough at the corners of the pan is no thicker than elsewhere. Remove the parchment and run the rolling pin over the edges of the pan to remove any excess dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the freezer or 1 hour in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the dough with parchment paper and fill the pan with raw rice or beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is set and no longer sticks to the parchment. Take the pan from the oven and remove the parchment and rice. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown. (Don't worry if the edges of the tart have darkened further. They're unlikely to burn, and you can trim them away later anyway.) Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

FOR THE ALMOND STREUSEL: Whisk together the all-purpose flour, ground almonds, sugar, and salt in a bowl, breaking up any lumps. Add the butter pieces and toss to coat. Work the butter in with your fingertips, breaking the butter into pieces no larger than 1/8 inch. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the streusel in an even layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, turning the streusel every few minutes, until it's golden brown and dry. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Transfer the streusel to the bowl of a food processor and blitz to the consistency of brown sugar. The streusel can be stored in a covered container for up to 2 days.

FOR THE FILLING: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a fine-mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and set over a small bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. As soon as it has melted, whisk continuously to prevent the butter from separating. Once it boils, stop whisking and increase the heat to medium-high. Continue cooking the butter for a few minutes, whisking occasionally to keep the solids that settle at the bottom of the pan from burning. Check the color of the butter by lifting some out of the pan with a spoon. The butter is ready when it is the color of caramel. Remove the pan from heat and pour the butter into the strainer set over the bowl.  Discard the cheesecloth and pour the browned butter into a heat-proof bowl, measuring out 165 g / 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon. Set aside for a few minutes to cool. The butter should not have cooled completely when it is added to the almond filling--otherwise it will not incorporate--but it should not be hot off the stove either. 
Whisk together the almond flour and all-purpose flour in a medium bowl, breaking up any lumps. 
Add the eggs and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until increased in volume and thickened. With the mixer running on medium-low, slowly add the milk and cream. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on medium-low speed for just a few seconds to combine. With the mixer running on medium, add the browned butter in a slow, thin stream and mix until combined. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip.
Pipe enough filling into the crust to cover the bottom with a 1/4-inch-thick layer and spread it evenly with an offset spatula. Arrange the rhubarb rounded-side-up on top of the filling, running lengthwise with the pan. If there are any pieces shorter than the pan, patch them up with a piece cut from another stalk. Pipe more filling around the rhubarb pieces, filling in any gaps. Then spread any remaining filling over the top of the rhubarb. There may not be quite enough filling to completely cover the stalks. That's okay.
Bake the assembled tart for 40 minutes. (Place another sheet pan on a lower rack in the oven to catch any drips. My filling overflowed just a little in the first few minutes of baking.) Rotate the pan, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the filling is set and deeply golden. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

TO SERVE: Cut the tart into 12 pieces, dividing the tart in half along its width and then into six along its length. This way, each piece shows the long rhubarb stalks in profile. Trim the crust on the pieces, if desired. Mound some almond streusel onto each of the pieces and dust with powdered sugar.

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Above all, flakiness

Poppy seed danishes
When Octavian and I were in Berlin last summer, we were more or less on two different trips. He was there for a workshop and so was limited most days to a view of the city from a hotel conference room. I, however, was only tagging along and so had the luxury of spending my days wandering the winding streets, drinking in everything. There was a lot to the trip, then, that Octavian only ever saw in photos, heard about. And, unsurprisingly, there were spaces, moments, flavours, that were pretty well impossible to capture or convey, that he would've had to have just been there for.
One of those things was a pastry I had at Brot und Butter, a buttery, delicate swirl of a pastry filled with poppy seeds. I ordered it pretty much at random. It was one of my first days in Berlin, and I had been walking all afternoon, paper map in hand, and had already had a few awkward I'm-sorry-my-German-is-awful-sprechen-Sie-Englisch? moments that day. So by the time I'd found my way to the cafe, I was tired and couldn't quite find the courage to speak up and order something. (I also couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to order from the counter or just take a seat.) So instead I just stood there, looking at the pastries in the cases, then at the rows of canned and boxed goods, indecisive about what to do and on the verge of just fleeing the situation. Apparently, I looked pathetic and stricken enough that about ten minutes in one of the women behind the counter asked me if I needed help. So I fumbled my way through another conversation, pointed at one of the poppy seed pastries, and was relieved just to be able to sit down with something, anything, and not feel so much like the silly North American that I was. It helped that the pastry was good, very good. For a few moments, anyway, I forgot the awkward exchange, lost between flakey, poppy-filled bites.
Butter slab Ground poppy seeds Danish dough
I knew as I ate that this pastry wasn't one that I'd be content just to remember. I needed to be able to make more just like it at home, long after this trip was over. But given all the awkwardness that had just transpired, I wasn't about to start asking questions about pastry methods and ingredients. So I settled for scribbling down its name from the pastry case--Mohnschnecken--and retreated.
This brings us to this past week, when I finally accepted that I would have to pull together a laminated yeasted dough if I wanted more Mohnschnecken.* Now, just what a Schnecke is seems to depend on who you ask. Some recipes have you add sour cream to the dough, some have you make letter-folds with it for flakier layers, some have you laminate in the butter for even flakier layers still. Most agree that the dough should be rolled up with its filling and cut into spirals--hence the name Schnecke, which just means snail in German. But because I remembered flakiness above all, I decided I would have to make a laminated dough--beat cold butter into a pliable slab, tuck it into a yeasted dough, and letter-fold it for layer upon layer of flakey pastry. But honestly, the prospect of working with a laminated dough again scared me. I'd only done it once before, and as I knew, it could get messy. You need to work quickly, so that the dough and butter don't get too soft to work with. But you also need to be gentle. If there isn't enough flour on the counter and the dough sticks and tears, the butter will start seeping out, and you might not get those perfect flakey layers. (I don't want to overstate the difficulty of working with laminated dough, but it's definitely something that I'm still working to get better at.) So it took me a few days to work up the courage. Then I dove in.
And it wasn't all that bad. I had a bit of trouble towards the beginning getting the butter the right consistency, and there were a few minor tears in the dough, which I tried my best to pinch together and then forget, but that was it. By early the next afternoon, we were tucking into our first pastries, puffed, golden, still warm from the oven, and ever so flakey. Totally, totally, worth the trouble, awkwardness and all.
Oh, and for those of you unfamiliar with poppy seed fillings--well, I just think we ought to see more of them around here. Poppy seeds have a pleasant bittersweet quality to them, which I think lends itself particularly well to pastry. I saw poppy-seed-filled pastries everywhere in Berlin and poppy seed ice cream too. The Berlinners have the right idea.
Poppy seed filling Danishes proofed and egg-washed Danishes
Much of my success with the Schnecken, I think, owe to the step-by-step photos that Joe, the man behind the pastry recipe, took the trouble to take. You can find his instructions for pulling together the pastry dough here, his instructions for laminating (especially helpful!) here, and his instructions for shaping here. I am actually looking forward to my next encounter with a laminated dough. These particular Schnecken, by the way, are a marriage of two recipes. The poppy seed filling comes from a New York Times recipe for hamantaschen via Smitten Kitchen.

Poppy Seed Snails (Mohnschnecken)
Note: About freezing. I have to say that in my experience, pastries that have been frozen and then thawed, proofed, and baked are never quite as good as ones baked fresh. They just never have quite the same airy crumb. But these Schnecken held up pretty well. I'm probably just being overly picky in saying that they're not quite, quite as good. About the raisins. The next time I make this poppy seed filling, I might consider giving the raisins a rough chop before adding them in. This filling is about the poppy seeds after all!

1 batch pastry dough, chilled for at least an hour (recipe here)
1 batch poppy seed filling, chilled completely (recipe here)
2 egg yolks lightly beaten with a splash of milk or cream

Roll out the pastry dough into a rectangle (the exact dimensions don't really matter--I'd aim for it to be at least twice as wide as it is long) just shy of a quarter-inch thick, dusting the work surface, the dough, and the rolling pin with flour as necessary. Gently spread the poppy seed filling in a thin, even layer over the dough, leaving a half-inch border at the sides and bottom of the rectangle. (You might not need all the filling.) Starting from the top of the rectangle, roll the dough up into a cylinder about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Trim the ends and then cut the dough into 1-1/4 inch pieces with a bench scraper or a sharp knife.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, six to a sheet, and cover to proof until soft and airy, about 2 hours. (At this stage--before the final proof--you can also put them in the fridge overnight and then proof them the next day or store them in the freezer for up to three months. Just be sure to thaw frozen pastries overnight in the fridge before proofing and baking. From the fridge, the pastries may need an extra hour to proof.) Then brush with the egg wash and bake in an oven heated to 375 degrees F until golden, about 15 minutes.
Makes about 12 pastries.

*It occurs to me now that the Mohnschnecke I had in Berlin might not have been made with a laminated dough. Looking back at my notes from the trip, my guess is that that pastry was made with a sour cream dough, which made it crisper and less croissant-like. But hey, I'm not going to complain.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Little luxuries

Surprise Tatin
About two weeks ago, a couple of good friends of mine here in Chicago became parents! This, for me, anyway, is still a little mind-blowing. I feel as though, still being in my mid-twenties and a grad student, I only act like a real grown-up about half the time. Sure, I have obligations. But most days, I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time. I can work at home, curled up in an armchair, barefoot, hair still a mess. I can ease my way into the day with a good cup of coffee and buttered toast, when most people are already shuffling off to work. I can pull together a loaf of sourdough pretty well every week, even mid-week, midway through the day, if I want. So I don't quite feel like I live a particularly grown-up life with grown-up responsibilities. And the thought of having that change anytime soon, of giving up little luxuries like late breakfasts and weekly bread-baking--well, let's just say that I think my friends are brave, brave folks.
So with all this in mind, when I heard that my friend had given birth to a beautiful baby boy, one of my first thoughts was that I should make some good, nourishing food for the new parents. With a tiny, helpless, newborn to care for, I thought, they probably had their hands full. (I might have been thinking of this post.) But I didn't know what to make. What do new mothers eat? Do they crave particular foods after those nine long months, those first sleep-deprived days? I really didn't have a clue. But I knew that my friends and I had at least one cookbook in common between our two kitchens--Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. So I asked them to pick something from it that they'd been wanting to try out.
Roasted tomatoes and caramel Rough puff
My friends chose well, really well. Ottolenghi's Surprise Tatin is something truly spectacular, a crown jewel for the dinner table. It, much like its sweeter namesake, involves a puddle of dark caramel and pillowy puff pastry. But instead of the usual apples tucked beneath that buttery lid, it's roasted cherry tomato halves, itty bitty potatoes, sweet onions, and semi-firm goat's cheese that bubble away together in the heat of the oven.
One of the things I enjoy most about tarte tatins is the anticipation--the moments leading up to the end of baking and then the big reveal when you turn the tart out of its skillet. I'm the sort of girl who can't keep away from the oven window, even if there isn't much to see. So though those forty minutes or so of baking feel impossibly long, though they keep me in suspense--heady, tantalizing smells, puff pastry ballooning--they make the end all the more worth it--that moment when you finally get to slip on your oven mitts and get your first peek at what's been happening beneath that flakey dome. And in this case, it might just take your breath away. The onions will have reduced to sticky-sweet ribbons. The caramel and tomato juices will have seeped into the potatoes, leaving them ruby-tinged. The tomato halves will gleam, bright and candy-like. Like I said, a real crown jewel.
Potatoes in a sea of tomatoes Onions added Goat's cheese and puff pastry
And this tart tastes every bit as good as it looks. With each bite you get something a little different. But each is its own discovery--different textures and flavours, harmonizing together in different ways. Sometimes, what you'll get is the sweet-tart intensity of the tomatoes balanced against the richness of the pastry and the gentle creaminess of the potatoes. With other bites, it'll be goat's cheese and the potatoes--salty, earthy, comforting. My favourite sort of bite is one where the sweetness of onions melts into that of the tomatoes right at the edge of the tart--tangy and sweet with just a little crunch from the pastry.
The process of making this tart, admittedly, is not one that you can just breeze through. The tomatoes, onions, and potatoes all need separate preparation before they get nestled together in their skillet. There's also the caramel to cook and the cheese to slice--all that prep can add up. (But once assembled, you can leave the tart in the fridge until you need it--for up to 24 hours.) And you might end up with a sink full of dishes. But this is another reason why I think my friends chose so well. Elaborate and impractical meals are a bit of a luxury on most nights, and with a newborn to care for, my friends, I thought, could use a little luxury. (Plus, I just wanted to drop something off for an excuse to see the baby.) Likewise, if there's someone in your life that deserves a little pampering, you might want to consider this tart. 
Inverted tart

Surprise Tatin
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Note: About the puff pastry. If you're feeling really ambitious, consider making your own "rough" puff. I like this old Gourmet recipe. It makes enough for two of these tarte tatinsAbout the potatoes. Tinier potatoes tend to make for a better presentation here, I think, but I used what I could find--a mix of red-skinned new potatoes and a variety called German Butterball. About the goat's cheese. My go-to is goat gouda, but feel free to branch out.

150 g cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the tomatoes
Salt and pepper
500 g new potatoes, really tiny ones, preferably
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
45 g sugar / 3 tablespoons sugar
10 g / 2 teaspoons butter
1 sprig fresh oregano, picked, or a few big pinches of good-quality dried oregano
100 g aged goat's cheese, sliced
1 sheet (about 250 g) puff pastry, rolled thinly

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Halve the tomatoes and place them skin-side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven to dry for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 25 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Drain and let cool. Trim off a bit of the top and bottom of each potato, then cut into 1-inch-thick discs.
Sauté the onion in olive oil and a little salt for 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Butter a 9-inch cake pan or heavy-bottomed skillet and line the base with a circle of parchment paper. In a small pan cook the sugar and butter on high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until you get a semi-dark caramel. Pour carefully into the cake pan and spread out evenly over the bottom. Scatter the oregano on top.
Stand the potatoes close together in the bottom of the pan. Press onions and tomatoes into the gaps, season well with salt and pepper, and cover with goat's cheese. Cut a puff pastry disc that is 1 inch larger in diameter than the pan. Layer the pastry lid over the tart filling and gently tuck the excess around the potatoes inside the pan. (At this stage, you can chill the tart for up to 24 hours.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the tart for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is thoroughly cooked. Remove from the oven and let settle for 2 minutes only. Hold an inverted plate firmly on top of the pan and carefully but briskly turn them over together, then lift off the pan. Serve the tart hot or warm.
Serves 4.