September 27, 2011 § 5 Comments
The funny thing about having a blog is that sometimes I get confused and start thinking of it like a diary. I start writing and quickly realize that the blank word document I’m filling up with words is completely unpublishable. And then I have to start all over from scratch. It’s unfortunately like admitting that my life isn’t as fancy and perfect like the pictures ready to be uploaded.
Awhile ago, we had a perfect Saturday morning in San Francisco — the sun was out for once, and on the drive home, we stopped at a café — a little hole in the wall, with brilliant sunflowers atop each industrial table — in the area for a cappuccino and pastry. I thought of it when my mother said the family was going to the connected restaurant that night for dinner. I thought of it during a particularly hard week at school, which, thankfully (big decisions made, tears shed and cakes baked) is finally over. I thought of sitting in the café as I readjusted my morning routine in my dorm room, which I am ashamed to say generally consists of energy bars and instant oatmeal.
There are days here when I can’t believe how much I missed these friends while I was away; and then there are days when being back here feels like being locked in a little box with no air to breathe (the humidity maybe doesn’t help that matter). Sorry I think I reverted into diary mode, but the truth is, something like the picture below would never have happened here, simply because the idea of doing approximately 1,000 turns and folds of the dough is unfeasible given the lack of time and equipment on hand. It’s frustrating, and oh I could go on and on about it, but I’ll stop — there’s an almond croissant waiting for you, soft, crusty, with marzipan spilling out from the edges and almond flakes falling off the sides.
I made these for the September Daring Bakers‘ Challenge, which was “Fresh, FLuffy, French Croissants.” To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the dough, I found it rather salty when not accompanied by a sweet filling, much more like a very buttery roll than a flakey pastry. The recipe we used was from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck, and it took about 20 hours from start to finish, including an overnight rise in the fridge. I definitely think croissants are something to be attempted at least once in a lifetime, but I can’t say a repeat is in my future anytime soon. Not when there’s a bakery around the corner.
*The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!*
September 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
It’s hard to believe it’s fall when the air still hangs damp and heavy, broken up by droplets of rain that seem to cling to the skin, alongside clammy, greasy sweat. I just so love East Coast humidity. But one of these cloudy days found us piling into the bright-red bug convertible and driving the fifteen minutes to Tehrune Orchards. It was Apple Day at the orchard apparently, though I did my research and the real Apple Day, in celebration of local distinctiveness and finding common ground, is actually on October 21st. Lies.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed picking Empire and Red Delicious apples, riding the wagon, cruising through the corn maze and celebrating when we reached the exit, and picking wildflowers. We ate fluffy cider donuts, coated in cinnamon sugar, from a paper bag, and peered at the cases of ginger and oatmeal cookies and racks of apple cider in the general farm store. We forgot for a few hours that we were grown-up college students and rode the parked tractor, poked our heads through the farm animal scene cut-outs and practiced our milking skills on the wooden cow. Then we piled back in the cars and drove back to campus, back to our readings, problem sets and the daily grind.
About a week later, the apples cored and cut, coated in brown sugar and vanilla bean, were piled into little baking dishes and topped with a generous heaping mound of crumbly oats and browned butter.
Crisps were one of the very first things I made in the kitchen, if you exclude the concoctions of shaved chocolate and milk I used to love when I was four-years-old. Every so often, I would pull my only cookbook of my very own, Fanny at Chez Panisse, from the shelf and make a fruit crisp, sometimes doubling the topping to make sure there was enough. Sometimes enough wasn’t enough and I remained unsatisfied with a 2:1 topping to fruit ratio. Nowadays, I go by look and feel for the topping. I use my hands and throw ingredients around, a method that tends to work out well in the dorm kitchens, which are just barely stocked enough to be functional.
September 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The first time I put chili powder in a baked good, the face my little brother made told it all. Not like that in itself is all that unusual; generally, anything that isn’t vanilla, lemon or cinnamon flavored meets with that reaction from him. It can make baking at home rather boring, with a couple of people on diets and the only person who eats unashamedly being such a picky eater. But anyway, they were chili chocolate chip cookies — the slice and bake kind — and they were a bit of a let down. Too much cinnamon, not spicy enough, and a little hard, in the stale kind of way. Not a disaster, in fact my mom ate them straight from the freezer for about a month afterwards, but not capable of convincing the brother to give new flavors another chance. Thankfully, I had a chance to try again with a new dessert, and best of all, a new audience, which was a bit more receptive to adventurous sweets.
We occasionally throw dinner parties, and, when not in the middle of summer, they don’t always involve the picnic table, the backyard and barbequed fish — though this being California, they still, quite often, do anyway. For this one for instance, I made a trio of desserts: goat cheese custards with red wine reduction, tiny, spicy ginger drop cookies, and these little pots of Mexican chocolate custard. The grainy texture of Mexican chocolate and the heat that arrives after the initial smooth sweetness come through in the finished custard, giving the dessert more of a bite than your standard pot de crème.
It was one of those dinners — as it had to be with three desserts — that seemed to last forever in good company and I sent our guests home with huge bags of ginger drops at the end of the night. A couple of weeks later I got a package in the mail, with a book about the independence struggle in Algeria which we had discussed at dinner. I like surprises. And I love getting mail. Maybe that explains why I had ten billion pen pals as a young girl. And why my dorm room is decorated with postcards.
Adapted from The Perfect Pantry
I submitted this post to the Sugar High Friday dessert blogging event, which bakes under a different theme every month. September’s theme was “Sweet Heat” and you can find the roundup of desserts here at the end of the month.
2 cups whipping cream, chilled
6 oz. Mexican chocolate (2 disks minus one small wedge), finely chopped
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream to the simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Then whisk in the chocolate and milk mixture. Pour the finished mixture through a strainer into a large clean bowl.
Place 6-8 small ramekins in a deep baking dish, such as a brownie pan. Distribute the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes or until the custard is just set around the edges.
Remove the pan from oven and remove the custards from the water. Let them cool and then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
September 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve packed all my clothes and books into seven moving boxes and brought them down to the UPS. I’ve stashed together energy bars and dried fruit to get me through the semester, and handpicked the cookbook collection that will make the trip across the country. I’ve thrown together a bag to get me through the week at school before my boxes arrive and printed out 150 pictures for my dorm room wall. Junior year here I come.
This is a quick post because I am in the midst of running around campus, filling out forms to switch majors and going to new departmental luncheons. In between going to class and catching up with people I haven’t seen in over a year, I am dashing down to the boathouse for practice and trying to organize a trip to the apple orchards this weekend.
But since I know the seasons are changing and this is soon to be irrelevant, I figured it’s now or never. We haven’t gotten into the kitchens since arriving on campus, but these scones were one of the last things I made in my home kitchen. We brought home three cartons of purple figs for this torta, which really didn’t need too many of them. I simmered them down into a fig butter with some sugar and a split vanilla bean, and spread it between cakey layers of buttery scone, made with earthy buckwheat flour. The scones are soft enough to fall apart in your hands, but hold up well in swirl form. Be careful to not over mix the dough, it’s okay if it looks a bit inconsistent, with flecks of flour and butter, even as you’re throwing into on the floured-countertop and rolling it out.
1 Lb. figs, stems and skins removed
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup port
1/8 cup bottled lemon juice
One vanilla bean
Cut the figs into quarters. Place the cut fruit in a sauce pan over low heat, mashing with a fork if needed. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the inside into the pan, before throwing in the entire bean. Cook down for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with a spatula to prevent the bottom from sticking.
Add sugar, port and lemon juice, zest and vanilla and continue to cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and take out the vanilla beans. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and let cool (if you wish to save the fig butter for later use, it keeps about a week in the fridge, or you can can it).
Fig Buckwheat Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 recipe fig butter
In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the butter to the dry mixture and work in with your hands, until the mixture feels like small grains of rice. It is important to do this fairly quickly, in order to keep the butter as cold as possible. Pour in the cream and mix with a spatula until the dough just comes together.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface (it will be quite sticky). Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 8 inches wide, 16 inches long and ¾ inch thick. Spread the fig butter evenly over the dough rectangle. Roll up the long edge of the dough so that you get a log 16 inches long. Using a sharp knife, cut the long in half. Place the two logs on baking sheets, lined with parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. While the logs are chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
After 30 minutes have passed, remove the logs from the refrigerator, cut each log into six even slices and place each roll flat on the baking sheets, 6 to a sheet. Bake the rolls for 38 to 42 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Let cool (or don’t) and eat the same day.
September 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Blackberries on the side of the road are a glorious thing. A prickly, sometimes painful, mess, but beautiful nonetheless. Nearing the end of summer, the bushes have been combed over time and time again and usually boast only a couple of edible berries, but I get excited seeing them nonetheless. Blackberries in Italian farmland, blackberries along Route 1 in Mendocino, blackberries in green paper crates at the market, blackberries in my grandparents’ backyard that never quite made it into the night’s crisp, blackberries on the hill where I run above my house. I could eat them until my fingers are stained purple forever.
Luckily this one batch of blackberries turned out to be pretty sour. Plump, deep purple almost black, so juicy that they ruptured in between my forefingers, and pucker worthy. I let them sit on the counter for a couple of days (you know that saying that a little distance makes the heart grow fonder), but in the end, they only started growing a bit of mold and looking pretty sad. So I picked through them and tossed the rest in the freezer, vowing to return to them after Labor Day weekend.
Baked, they meld into tart, jammy pockets beneath chewy flakes of coconut. They soak into a thick shortbread crust, gently teasing out the natural sweetness of the browned-butter. The bars are finished with a colorful flourish of pistachios. And suddenly those blackberries, so wholly disappointing, are once again transformed into showstoppers, just in time for the end of summer.
Blackberry-Pistachio Macaroon Tart
Closely Adapted from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson
I remember the day I met Heidi. I was sitting at a long table at a book event for Good to the Grain and thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it until she introduced herself. It was at the beginning of last summer, right before I started my year off from school, and when I told her my plans and tentative plans, she said “Good for you.” It was also the day I first realized that non-wheat flours didn’t have to just be weird grains that my dad snuck into pancakes when I wasn’t looking.
For the crust:
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup light brown sugar or natural cane sugar
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter
For the filling:
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup light brown sugar or natural cane sugar
4 large egg whites
8 ounces fresh blackberries, halved
1/3 pistachios, crushed (raw or roasted, unsalted)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter your tart pan of choice. The original recipe uses an 8 by 11 inch tart pan but I did just fine with my long, rectangular pan.
Make the crust: Brown the butter on the stovetop. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt. Stir in the browned butter until the mixture is crumbly but not dry. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared tart pan and bake for 15 minutes, until just golden brown. Let the crust cool while you prepare the macaroon filling.
In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut, egg whites and sugar. Distribute the blackberries evenly over the baked crust. Spread the macaroon filling on top of them (the end effect is prettier if you let some of the blackberries peek through). Press down the coconut filling.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the peaks of the macaroon are deep, golden brown. After the tart has cooled, sprinkle pistachios over the top.
September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
This past weekend, we all piled up in the car and headed north. We drove through the rolling hills in Marin, the peaks covered with the dry, crusty yellow grass that makes up much of the Californian landscape, stopped at the Healdsburg Bakery for buttery soft sticky buns and cappuccinos, pulled over to the side of the road for fresh-picked strawberries, small and deep red. We drove into Ukiah wine country, where, just two months shy of 21 I was relegated to taking pictures of the vineyards while my parents tasted at the bar. We drove through the redwood forests and then were dumped down onto the cliffs in Mendocino where waves broke in a wash of kelp and white water.
It was an impromptu trip of sorts (in fact, we booked the hotel room when we were already a good hour outside of the city), fashioned after a week of failed searching for an available campsite in Big Sur. We didn’t pack any special treats for the car trip and didn’t stop at any renowned restaurants. Instead we sampled beer at the Ukiah Brewing Company, tasting the difference between light and dark brews, beer made with wild flowers and made with hops (which was particularly interesting after the article I wrote about hops). We inspected a forty-year-old woman’s dreadlocks hanging down to her waist from a nearby table at the Mendocino Café, which seemed a bit confused about which ethnic cuisine it was trying to emulate — Thai burritos, nachos piled high with guacamole, Brazilian seafood stew and Indian-style curry. At nightfall, run-down hippies with long hair sat on the sidewalk, nursing beer bottles; they would still be there the next morning, peddling scraps and jewelry. We sat by the fire in our room at the Inn and ate waffles made with kamut and oat flour for breakfast at the Inn’s vegetarian and vegan restaurant. A seal glided up beside my kayak in the glassy water that morning and a walk down the highway to the shore saw swelling waves breaking on black rocks covered in moss and slimy green plants that looked like miniature palm trees. Then, we joined the long line for morning coffee and piled back in the car for the drive home.
As is typical for the end of holiday weekends, the drive back to the city was long, slow, and annoying. Around the start of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cars around us started a game of call and answer with their horns. By the end of the Bridge, we were all ready to get home.
Fig Ricotta Torta
Adapted from the Food Network
This tart is perfect for the end of summer, when you’re still clinging to the last of summer’s fruit but craving a dessert that’s a bit more substantial to embrace the cooler weather.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons milk or water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 pounds ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey (pick something with a fairly mild flavor)
6 medium sized purple figs
Mix together the sugar, butter, egg, milk, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the flour, just until a dough begins to take shape, being careful not to over mix. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes until firm.
While the dough is chilling, make the ricotta filling. In a large clean bowl, cream the ricotta and the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and stir until just combined.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut the disk in two (you can reserve the second half of the dough for later use). Roll out one half of the dough into a 10-inch circle. Press the dough circle into a greased tart pan and trim the excess overhang. Fill the tart shell with the ricotta filling until it looks full but not overflowing (you’ll have some filling leftover — you can bake it up like a custard or reserve it for later use).
Peel figs and cut in half. Press each half fig, inside facing up, in a circle pattern, into the ricotta filling. Drizzle a bit of honey on top of each fig. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, and, brush the exposed edges of the tart dough with egg, using a pastry brush.
Bake the torta for 45 minutes or until the filling is set in the middle and golden brown on the edges.
September 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Yesterday in the late afternoon, I put on a sweatshirt and leggings and my Frye boots and walked the five minutes to Cortland Avenue, our little bustling main street in our little town of a neighborhood within the big city. It had warmed up over the course of the day, but now the fog was coming back in, descending on the valley from Twin Peaks across the way. It was a pretty simple errand: We were out of milk after I made ice cream, and I needed to return a movie to the neighborhood video store.
But as I made the turn onto the last side street, and dunked under a couple of branches of hanging vines with bright violet flowers, I noticed that the sense of adventure was gone. Nothing was exciting, majestic, romantic or exhilarating. There was just the moment when I was standing at the top of the stairs, looking out over the rooftops, with my view blurred white, when the world seemed to stand still. The smile and nod from the driver of the car just passing by. The pink peonies hiding behind an unruly tree streetside. The guy at the video embarrassing a high school girl at checkout by telling her how much she is starting to look like her older sister. The dry, crispy grass at the top of the hill, where, if you look closely at the very peak, by the fence around the radio transmitter, you’ll find opened condom packages and broken beer bottles. But if you sit up there in the dark, as we always did at least once every summer, you can see the Bay on all three sides and the light outline of Mission Street as it stretches across the city.
Why am I saying all of this? Because I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day about people living in San Francisco actually hating the city that really didn’t seem to get the city quite right. That’s not exactly an uncommon thing these days unfortunately — the Chronicle not exactly getting things right. Because in the midst of the people arguing that they had to leave the city to escape the trashiness, the odors that permeate certain alleys, and the skyrocketing housing prices, people arguing that the city has lost its soul, it’s still there. And it’s still here every time I come home. And it’s not going anywhere. What’s gone is opening up the Sunday issue of the Chronicle straight to the Food section and pouring over the photos with a mug of hot chocolate on the couch because that kind of journalism doesn’t seem to exist anymore. What’s gone is sitting at the counter of the neighborhood bakeshop and eating croissants that weren’t quite right and were just a wee bit heavy because now there’s a new bakery two blocks away with the perfect buttery flakes. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Twitterverse of this new artisan chocolate truffle and that new farm-to-table restaurant, but it doesn’t quite compare to having sticky fingers from strawberry jam and the smell of buttermilk scones wafting through the house in the morning. It doesn’t quite compare to the tourist who craned his neck at the farmers market last weekend at the plate I was holding for my brother, demanding to know what it was. “It’s a crab cake sandwich,” I replied. “The one I’ve eaten every Saturday morning ever since I can remember.”
I followed this recipe for two (huge) loaves of challah to a tee. This is an oil-based version of the bread, I think next time I will try the milk-based version, which should give a richer, chewy crumb.