Candied Ginger

…candy her? But I hardly know her!

Don’t worry, I’m keeping my day job.

Candied and/or crystalized ginger can be hard to find in stores here in California.  I used to be able to buy it at Trader Joes but they stopped carrying it in the golden state because of food and drug regulations (something about the way the ginger is processed doesn’t play well with the rules).  Since my triple gingersnaps would not be triple without it, I usually hit up Amazon.

But then I was at H Mart, the giant Korean market that’s taken up residence in the old Osh store at the bottom of the hill, and they had fresh ginger at a ridiculously low price.  So, I decided to make my own.

As a note, candied and crystallized ginger are often discussed interchangeably,  though I’ve come across recipes that call for one and are specific about it not being the other.  As a newbie candied ginger maker, I did a little research to set the record straight.  From what I could tell, preparation is what makes the difference.  Crystallized ginger is dried and then sugared (and maybe sometimes not sugared) while candied ginger is cooked in simple syrup as you would candied citrus peel.  I realize this is about as clear as the difference between yams and sweet potatoes (one I still don’t understand), but there you have it.  For the record, what we’re making here is definitely candied ginger.

While I don’t do it very often, I love making candy.  Let’s face it, my chosen hobby is about a risky as petting kittens.  So, getting to work with a mandolin and molten hot sugar in the same go is about as exciting as it gets for me.

Truth–you can find candied ginger on Amazon for a great price.  But, if you have a little time and a candy thermometer, making your own is incredibly satisfying. And, unless I unwittingly used some extra potent ginger, the home maid kind is the far superior product.

I made about five pounds worth for holiday baking.  But I’ll tell you a secret.  In my opinion, the best way to enjoy candied ginger is as a garnish for a moscow mule.

You’ve got to love a cocktail that comes with its own snacks.

Candied Ginger

Adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh ginger root
  • 5 C water
  • About 1 1/2 lb granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.
  2. Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandolin (you can also hand cut the slices if you are the world’s most patient person).
  3. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.
  4. Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 C of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 C water to the pan and add the sugar.
  5. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes.  If using a thermometer, pull the ginger off the heat at 225 degrees.
  6. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces (they cool down pretty quickly. Once completely cool, roll in granulated sugar.
  7. Store in an airtight container with the sugar for up to a month (to be honest, I use it much longer)

Damn Cake

If you’ve been to my house for dinner in the last year or so, there is a good chance I served you this cake for dessert.

I first saw this recipe in The New York Times food section.  My attention was captured with Buddy the Elf like enthusiasm by the title of “World’s Best Chocolate Cake.” Its author, Yotam Ottolenghi sealed the deal (important to note–this is actually Helen Goh’s recipe, read on for explanation).

For being the world’s best chocolate cake, its outward appearance is pretty humble.  Just a single layer topped with ganache.

Even the recipe is easy; reading an awful lot like my favorite brownie recipe.

And yet–here, humble and easy translated become elegance.  The crumb is incredibly dense and rich (especially if you err on the short side of cook time) but balanced by the addition of coffee.

The recipe appeared in the NYT as precursor last fall’s publication of Sweet, the cookbook devoted entirely to Ottolenghi and his pastry chef, Helen Goh’s, desserts.

The cake recipe is as fantastic as it is easy.  However, it’s the ganache technique that was a major game changer for me.  I’ve had middling success with ganache in the past(and I’ve made a lot of it)  More often than I’d like to admit, for reasons I can’t explain, it comes out pellety (probably not a real world) despite my commitment to whisking it the right way.

In Ottolenghi and Goh’s version you get to trade your whisk for a food processor.  Before the addition of the usual cream and butter, the chocolate is basically pulverized into a fine dust making for an incredibly smooth and silky ganache.  Once you Goh ganache, you’ll never go back.

[See what I did there?  I know, I know,  a joke isn’t clever if you have to explain it.]

If you want to serve this at a party or for the holidays, the cake recipe is simple enough that you should probably make it the same day (the crust on the top is part of the cake’s charm but is lost if frozen or left over night).  Instead, if you are trying to save time do what I do–and make up 2-3 batches of the ganache at a time and freeze them.  Then, on the day of, pull the ganache, let it come to room temperature and then use as if you’ve just made it.

Why do we call it damn cake instead of world’s best chocolate cake?  Well, last fall my parents were at our house for dinner.  We were all a couple of gin and tonics into the evening by the time we got to dessert and my mom kept exclaiming how damp it was  (she meant moist).  Another round of gin and tonics and damp became damn.

By the way, the cookbook, like all of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, is superlative.

World’s Best Chocolate Cake, also known as Take-Home Chocolate Cake

In Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh 

Ingredients

FOR THE CAKE:

  • 1 C plus 1 1/2 TBS /250 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 1 1/2 tablespoons), at room temperature and cut into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter cubes, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), chopped into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 1/2 cups/350 milliliters boiling water (TMH note–I use Nespresso powder)
  • 1 ¼ C/250 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ C plus 2 tablespoons/240 grams self-rising flour (see note)
  • ? C/30 grams Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, for dusting
  • ¼ tsp salt

For the ganache

  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), broken or chopped roughly into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • ¾ C/180 milliliters heavy cream
  • 1 TBS light corn syrup
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/170 degrees Celsius. Grease a 9-inch/23-centimeter round springform pan with butter and line with parchment paper, then set aside (TMH–I’ve also used a smaller 6 inch springform with equally good results).
  2. Make the cake: Place butter, chocolate and hot coffee in a large heatproof bowl and mix well until everything is melted, combined and smooth. Whisk in sugar by hand until dissolved. Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk again until thoroughly combined and smooth. Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a bowl and then whisk this into the melted chocolate mixture. The batter here is liquid, but don’t think you have missed something; this is how it should be.
  3. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is cooked and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few dry crumbs attached. The top will form a crust and crack a little, but don’t worry, this is expected (TMH note–it’s the best part). Leave the cake to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan, then set aside until completely cool.
  4. Make the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate pieces in a food processor, process until fine and set aside. Combine cream and corn syrup in a small pan and place over medium-high heat. As soon as bubbles begin to appear (just before it comes to a boil), remove from the heat. Get the food processor running again, with the chocolate still inside, and pour in the hot cream in a steady stream. Process for 10 seconds, then add butter. Continue to process until mixture is shiny and smooth. (You can also make the ganache by hand; just make sure the chocolate is chopped fairly finely before adding the cream mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost melted, then add the butter. Stir again until the ganache is smooth.)
  5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the ganache into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic actually touching the top of the ganache. Set aside until it has set to the consistency you want. If you want a thin layer to spread over the cake, it can be poured over while liquid so that you get an even, light and shiny coating. For a thicker ganache with a spreading consistency, leave it for about 2 hours at room temperature. (The ganache can be stored at room temperature, providing it’s not too warm, for 3 days or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen, although it will lose a bit of its shine when defrosted.)
  6. Peel the parchment from the cake and discard. Transfer to a serving platter and spread the ganache, if using, on top of the cake. Slice into wedges, divide the cake among plates and, if using, spoon the mascarpone cream alongside. With or without icing, the cake will keep well for 4 to 5 days in an airtight container.

 

Spider egg and pickled newt’s eye chocolate chunk cookies

Most likely for her own amusement, my mom told my brother and I numerous falsehoods about all kind of things when we were growing up.

Several of them had to do with food. And aliens.  And big foot.  But, we’ll leave the aliens and big foot for some other post.

Cheetos were rusty nails.  The meat from the stew she made each Halloween came from the graveyard.  And, poppy seeds were spider eggs.

Mostly we knew she was joking.  Mostly.

So, when my friend Ann Mah made the Mokonut’s rye-cranberry chocolate chunk cookies she’d earlier featured in her Insta Stories while at their bakery in Paris, the first place my mind went was spider eggs and pickled newt’s eye (no, I don’t know what newts are, don’t ruin it).

This recipe has been making the rounds in-part thanks to a feature by Dorie Greenspan in the New York Times.  No doubt, they’re this fall’s “it” cookie.

With the unusual addition of poppy seeds (spider eggs) and dried cranberries (pickled newt’s eyes), they are also just the thing to make up for your favorite witches, goblins and storm troupers.

Mokonuts’ Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

as presented by Dorie Greenspan in the New York Times  

Ingredients

  • 1 C plus 1 1/2  TBS (130 grams) medium rye flour
  • ½ C plus 2 TBS (85 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 10 TBS(140 grams or 1 stick + 2 TBS) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
  • ½ C (100 grams) sugar
  • ½ C(100 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 C (50 grams) poppy seeds
  • 2/3 C (80 grams) moist, plump dried cranberries
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • Flake salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Working with a mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until blended; scrape thebowl as needed.
  3. Add the egg, and beat 2 minutes more.
  4. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once, then pulse the mixer a few times to begin blending the ingredients. Beat on low speed until the flour almost disappears, and then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate. Mix only until incorporated. Scrape the bowl to bring the dough together.
  5. Have a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or plastic wrap nearby. Divide the dough into 15 pieces (TMH note–I used a 7/8 ounce scoop and got about 30 smaller balls), roll each piece into a ball between your palms and place on the baking sheet. Cover, and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. (TMH note–I froze them for three days but they should be fine in the freezer for up to a month)
  6. When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Arrange the cookies on the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (work with half a batch at a time and keep the remaining balls of dough in the refrigerator until needed). Sprinkle each cookie with a little flake salt, crushing it between your fingers as you do.
  7. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.
  8. Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.

Roasted strawberry and pistachio frangipane squares

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a divide between people who “like to cook” and people who “like to bake.”  It’s also been my observation (and opinion I suppose) that much of this divide has been codified by the “cookers” who think that baking is creatively restrictive, what with the requirement for exact measurements and precise ingredients.

Perhaps I’m literally self-fulfilling the prophecy here, but, I see baking parameters as freeing–not restrictive.

One of the things I love about baking is that if you follow the directions, you are generally guaranteed something in the neighborhood of success (Unless you are making French macarons.  Then, you are on your own).  In fact, I find that following directions is what allows me to get creative.  Once I understand how things work, I usually feel liberated to get jiggy with it.

These squares are a great example,  I borrowed and adapted the recipe from Deb Pearlman at Smitten Kitchen.  She borrowed and adapted it from Dorie Greenspan.  While the general idea of the recipe is similar, each of us has used a different fruit.

Originally, I planned to stick closely to the Smitten Kitchen version and use apricots.  Alas, I was informed by the grocer that apricot season was very short this year and I’d missed it (I had no idea they even had a season).  So I looked around me, found that strawberries were on sale (also not in season but I wasn’t going to ask questions) and Bob’s your uncle.

Plus, it had been a while since I’d roasted strawberries.  Though they appear slightly obscene, roasted strawberries make just about anything better.

In another “if you follow directions, everything will be fine” twist, these squares use a pistachio in lieu of the usual almond as the main ingredient in the frangipane.

Here is the other thing about following directions.  I am of the school that if you know the rules, then it makes breaking them even more enjoyable.

And for the record–I like to do both: bake and cook.  However, it is much easier to offload a batch of brownies on coworkers than it is to get them to take a leg of lamb.  So, I bake.

Want some other recipes that feature roasted strawberries?

  1. Roasted strawberries and cream cookies
  2. Roasted strawberry and ricotta muffins
  3. Roasted strawberry and buttermilk cake with strawberry balsamic buttercream

Roasted strawberry and pistachio frangipane squares

adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s apricot pistachio squares

Note–this recipe has been adjusted for the fact that because it uses roasted strawberries, there will be less liquid in the batter and cook time will be shorter.  If you decide to use fresh fruit, review the Smitten Kitchen recipe for cook times.

Ingredients

Crust
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter

Filling
3/4 cup (a scant 4 ounces or 110 grams) shelled unsalted pistachios
1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
Few pinches of sea salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, 2 teaspoons brandy or another flavoring of your choice (totally optional)

A batch of roasted strawberries recipe here: roasted strawberries

To finish
Powdered sugar or 1/4 cup apricot jam

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350F.
  2. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. (If you have an 8-inch square springform, you can skip this and just butter it well.)
  3. Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps; it might take 30 seconds to 1 minute for it to come together (but it will).
  4. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. Transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
  6. To make the filling: In the food processor bowl, grind the pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery.
  7. Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the machine. Run the machine until no buttery bits are visible. Add any flavorings and egg, blending until just combined.
  8. Spread filling over mostly cooled crust.  Arrange roasted strawberries on the surface of the filling, pushing them in just slightly.
  9. Bake the bars for 40 minutes (but check at 35 minutes), or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free.
  10. Finish squares with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
  11. Cut bars into squares — chilled bars will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.

Palmiers

What to do with the other half of the rough puff pastry after last week’s tarte tatin?  You make palmiers!

A mainstay bakery treat, palmiers are almost as easy to make as they are to buy.  Talk about bang for your buck!  Two ingredients (plus a pinch of salt) gets you  just-about-to-shatter buttery dough layered with deeply flavored caramelized sugar.

While I affiliate the shape of these goodies with butterflies (les pappilons), palmier is French for palm tree and so named because of their resemblance to a palm leaf.  Growing up, I knew these treats as orejas (ears–or elephant ears when they are over sized).

After a some trial and error I learned that the trick to these is to be really brave and let them bake for much longer than you might be comfortable.

It will take some time in the oven for the sugar to begin to caramalize.  But when it does, do not be afraid to go dark.  Eating an anemic palmier is worse than not having one at all.

Want some other things to make with puff pastry?

How about my favorite appetizer:  brie en croute.

And then there are Jesuits, delicious no matter your religious persuasion.

Or super easy, cheater morning buns.

Palmiers

1 pound of puff pastry makes about 32 palmiers

Ingredients

  • 16ish ounces puff or rough puff pastry
  • 1 C or so of granulated sugar
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sprinkle half of the sugar on a work surface.
  3. Cover surface with your pastry dough (if you are using store-bought, unfold dough first so that it is one big sheet).
  4. Cover the sheet of pastry with remaining sugar and your pinch of salt.
  5. Roll the dough out to a 13X13 inch square, pressing the sugar into the dough on both sides.
  6. Fold-in each side so that it is halfway toward the mid-point of the dough.  Fold again (see photos).  This will give you that pretty palm/butterfly shape and creates six layers of dough.
  7. If your kitchen is warm, you may want to put the resulting log into the fridge for a few minutes.  It cuts more precisely when cold.  When you are ready to cut, cut the log into 1/4-1/2 inch slices.
  8. Arrange palmiers onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  9. Bake for 6-7 minutes.  Pull pan from the oven and flip each palmier.
  10. Finish baking until golden brown–7-10 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool.  When cool, cookies will be crisp.  Stored in an airtight container, they’ll keep their crispness.

 

Tarte Tatin

Tarte tatin is my favorite.  Hands down, no more to say, drop the mike, walk off stage and leave the building favorite.

The first time I had tarte tatin was from The Ivy.  A good friend  worked there after college and introduced me to the deeply flavored, almost burnt caramel and robust apple of this rustic french dish.  At The Ivy, it’s served hot and when that scoop of vanilla ice cream hits it, it turns into the best thing you will ever put into your mouth.

There is quite a bit of mythology around the origins of tarte tatin.  The stories agree that it was created at the Hotel Tatin run by two sisters in the picturesque town of Lamotte-Beuvron in central France.  From there things get a little hazy but my favorite version is that they were making an apple tarte, forgot to make the crust and so popped it on top of the apples.

While the ingredient list is incredibly simple: apples, butter, sugar (a pinch of salt) and puff pastry, it doesn’t seem to get as much love as apple pie.  I suspect it’s  because it needs to be served fairly quickly after it is done to get the full experience.  Left overnight, the pastry goes soggy (but the apples are still delicious.  ‘Aint no shame in taste tatin apples and a strong cup of black coffee for breakfast.

I’ve tried several tarte tatin recipes over the years and my favorite comes from the New York Times.  In this version, you peel and quarter the apples the day before and then refrigerate them.  This allows them to release some of their juices before cooking, creating less liquid to manage during the stove-stage and ultimately, a richer caramel sauce.

Tarte tatin can be made with all kinds of fruit, but apple is my favorite.  Just like apple pie, the kind of apple you use is up to you.  I like to mix some tart (usually Granny Smith) with something a little sweeter.  When shopping for this tarte tatin, I came across a new (to me) variety called envy.  They’re a really delicious eating apple and, because they’re a little crisper than some of the other sweeter varieties, they held up well.

This dish starts on the stove top in a cast iron pan.  First comes a layer of butter, then a layer of sugar.  The the apple quarters are arranged in a rosette. Pack them in as tightly as you can.  They’ll shrink.

The dish is then topped with either puff pastry or pate sucre.  I prefer puff.  And yes, this is what we’re doing with the first eight ounces of the rough puff from last week.

On goes the heat and in about five minutes your kitchen will start to smell insanely delicious.

The sugar and butter melt together to create a caramel that the apples cook in until everything is dark gold.

Then it all goes into the over so that the pastry can puff and crisp.  This is a great dinner party dessert.  Have everything ready to go before your guests arrive.  As you sit down to dinner, pop the dough on the top and start the stove.  Just as the group is finish their first course, it’ll be time for the oven.  Forty-five minutes later, you have dessert.

The scariest part of the whole endeavor is flipping the tart upright onto the serving platter.  And even that is no big deal.  If an apple or two sticks to the pan, just pull them off and pop them back into the tarte. NBG.

Serve warm with either vanilla ice cream or a healthy dab of whipped cream.

I swear, once you go tarte tatin, there is no going back.

Tarte Tatin

adapted from the New York Times, recipe by Julia Moskin

Ingredients

  • 8-10 large, firm-fleshed apples (buy a couple of extra–you want to pack the pan tightly)
  • 6 TBS (80g)  salted butter, very soft
  • 2/3 C (135g) granulated or light brown sugar
  • 1 sheet (8 ounces) puff pastry

Directions

  1. At least one day before you plan to cook the tart, prepare the apples: Slice off the bottom of each apple so it has a flat base. Peel and quarter the apples. Use a small sharp knife to trim the hard cores and seeds from the center of each quarter; don’t worry about being too neat. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, lightly covered, for at least one day or up to three days. (This key step reduces the amount of liquid in the tart. Don’t worry if the apples turn brown; they will be browned during the cooking anyway.)
  2. When ready to cook, heat oven to 375 degrees (or 350 if using convection). Thickly coat the bottom of a 10-inch heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably nonstick metal, with butter. Sprinkle sugar evenly on top.
  3. Cut one piece of apple into a thick round disk and place in the center of the skillet to serve as the “button.” Arrange the remaining apple pieces, each one standing on its flat end, in concentric circles around the button. Keep the pieces close together so that they support one another, standing upright. They will look like the petals of a flower.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry about 1/8-inch thick. Place an upside-down bowl or pan on the pastry and use the tip of a sharp knife to cut out a circle about the same size as the top of your skillet. Lift out the circle and drape gently over the apples. Use your hands to tuck the pastry around the apple pieces, hugging them together firmly.
  5. Place the skillet on the stovetop over medium heat until golden-brown juice begins to bubble around the edges, 3 minutes (if the juices keep rising, spoon out as needed to remain level with pastry). If necessary, raise the heat so that the juices are at a boil. Keep cooking until the juices are turning darker brown and smell caramelized, no longer than 10 minutes more.
  6. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until puff pastry is browned and firm.
  7. Let cool 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a round serving plate. (Or, if not serving immediately, let cool completely in the pan; when ready to serve, rewarm for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven before turning out.) If any apples remain stuck in the pan, gently use your fingers or a spatula to retrieve them, and rearrange on the pastry shell. Cut in wedges and serve warm with heavy cream, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.

 

Roughing up the puff

Admission time: I was very late to the Great British Bake-Off party.  Like I don’t think we started watching until fall of 2015 late (five seasons in if my research is correct).

People kept telling me I should watch it.  However, I’m a lackadaisical television viewer at best and downright neglectful at worst (like if I can’t immediately find the remote I don’t bother).  Also, with the exception of Top Chef, reality competition shows aren’t really my jam.  I think its because I was writing my dissertation (ie living under a rock) when Survivor kicked-off and so basically missed that genre’s bus.

Luckily I finally got the hint about the Great British Bake-Off and tried an episode.  From the first episode, TD and I have been periodically hooked.  The show is delightful.  Since I’m the last person on the planet to join in, you don’t need me to tell you all the reasons why. But I’ll give you two.  First, I love how nice everyone is.  I know that respect and cooperation are not generally considered the cornerstones of good reality TV.  But here (as in real life), it shines.   Second, the amazing baked goods (just call me captain obvious).  I’ve taken quite a bit of inspiration from the novel-to-us-in-the-U.S. bakes.

Case in point: rough puff pastry.

We made puff pastry in the baking course I took a few years ago.  And while I loved making it, puff pastry, like most laminated doughs isn’t really worth the time and effort.  In the full recipe you beat a block of butter into submission and then try to incorporate it into the dough by carefully rolling it in over many turns (there are more steps but they’re tedious and you don’t care).

However, rough puff is an entirely different story.  It’s kind of a combination of traditional laminated puff and pie dough.  The key is frozen, grated butter.

The reason we love puff pastry is in the name.  All of those beautiful layers of crisp and tender dough that surround any number of delicacies are as impressive to look at as they are delicious to eat.  This recipe achieves this through  three turns of the dough.  Turns refer to the laminating process whereby the dough is rolled out, folded, rested in the fridge and then the process is repeated.

Why should you make your own rough puff?  Well, it’s fun for starters.  With a little patience, it’s easy to make.  It’s also economical.  Puff pastry retails for about $5.50 for just over a pound (.32 per ounce).  The only real cost in rough puff is the butter.  Nice middle of the road domestic butter costs about $5 a pound where I live (or .31 an ounce).  The recipe calls for 13 TBS, or about 6.5 ounces of butter to yield a pound of dough.  That’s about $2 in butter.  Add in another .50 for flour and it’s still less than half the cost of store bought.  Finally, it’s probably better quality.  Pepperidge Farm is the king of puff (not bashing on them–I use it all the time).  However, if you check the ingredient list you’ll find that butter is not one of them.  They use shortening instead.  Shortening absolutely has its place in flakey pastry (it has a higher fat content than butter from a density perspective and so can create a more tender bite).  However, everyone knows butter tastes better.

If I still haven’t convinced you to make your own,  at least hear me out for the next two weeks.  I’m going to show you what I made with my rough puff.

Until next week…

Rough Puff Pastry

makes about 1 lb (16 ounces) of dough

not adapted even a little from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 13 TBS FROZEN unsalted butter (1 stick plus 5 TBS)
  • 5 to 6 TBS iced water

Directions

  1. Sift together flour and salt into a chilled large metal bowl. Set a grater in flour mixture and coarsely grate frozen butter into flour, gently lifting flour and tossing to coat butter.
  2. Drizzle 5 tablespoons ice water evenly over flour mixture and gently stir with a fork until incorporated.
  3. Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful: When it has the proper texture, it will hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add another tablespoon water, stirring until just incorporated and testing again. (If you overwork mixture or add too much water, pastry will be tough.)
  4. Gather mixture together and form into a 5-inch square, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 30 minutes. (Dough will be lumpy and streaky.)
  5. Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 15- by- 8-inch rectangle. Arrange dough with a short side nearest you, then fold dough into thirds like a letter: bottom third up and top third down over dough. Rewrap dough and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
  6. Arrange dough with a short side nearest you on a floured surface and repeat rolling out, folding, and chilling 2 more times. Brush off any excess flour, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.

Note: This dough does really well in the freezer.  Double wrap and then bag it and it will be just fine in the freezer for up to a couple of months.  Thaw in the fridge for a couple of hours before using.

 

It’s sunbutter and jelly time!

You knew this was going to happen right?  And, can anyone explain to me why it’s a banana doing the dance?

Anyway.

If  you’ve been around for a while you know I love back to school time.  Summer is a’right I guess, but fall is where it’s at.

And so, in the tradition of new school shoes and fresh notebooks, I give you this year’s lunchbox treat.

What could be more back to school than peanut butter and jelly? Turns out, most things–unless you want a call from your child’s principal about breaking the nut free zone policy.

What’s a kid to do?

This is where sunbutter saves snack time.  Made from sunflower seeds rather than tree nuts or the dreaded P legume, some schools allow this creamy (or crunchy) peanut butter stand-in.

Paired with your jam or jelly of choice (you could even wax healthy and go no sugar added), these make a hearty school lunch or after school treat (and will save well for care packages).

These aren’t delicate little fancies.  They’re hearty, slightly sweet and nutty.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you fed one to a kindergartener, they might not be hungry until the fifth or sixth grade.

Happy back to school everyone!

Sunbutter and Jelly Bars

adapted from Ina Garten’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb, 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs at room temp
  • 2 C creamy sunbutter (just use the entire jar–mine was 16 ounces)
  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 C of your favorite jam (I used grape here because it’s tradition but would have rather used strawberry or raspberry, just my opinion)
  • 1/4 C roasted and salted sunflower seeds tossed in 2 TBS granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9X13 inch pan with parchment paper then grease entire pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a Kitchenaid fitted with a paddle, cream together butter and sugar until mixture is light, about two minutes.
  4. Turn speed to low and add vanilla and eggs one-at-a-time.  Add peanut butter and mix until well combined.
  5. With mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.
  6. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan using a knife (offset is easiest) to spread it evenly.
  7. Spread the jam evenly over the dough.
  8. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the  jam.  Don’t worry if the topping doesn’t cover the jam completely.
  9. Sprinkle with sunflower seed and sugar mixture.
  10. Bake for 45 minutes until top is golden brown.  A note on this–start checking at 35 minutes–the last two times I’ve made this recipe they were perfect at 38 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool completely.  Cut into bars and store in air-tight container.

Caramel slice

Ah the caramel slice, or, in Misanthropic Hostessland, the baked good formerly known as JB Bars.

Way back when I first encountered these, I thought the middle was a penuche, or brown sugar fudge. While I’m a fan of the penuche variation, the mana-like substance that makes up the middle layer of this variation is actually a caramel made of sweetened condensed milk.

Think dulce de leche.

Ah!  Now I have your attention.

In this take on the treat, the shortbread base includes coconut.  If you haven’t already clued-in,  coconut is like the Australian version of Frank’s Hot Sauce.  They put that s*&t in just about everything.

But back to the caramel.  In this version, sweetened condensed milk is heated along with some butter and golden syrup (also in everything Australian) until everything is combined.  Then it is baked on top of the shortbread base until it looks like Deadpool without the mask.  Trust me, though it be ugly, it’ll taste exactly like you imagine Ryan Reynolds tastes.

I had a tough time getting this part just right.  I went through four iterations before I was brave enough to leave it in the oven long enough to let it set up.

Once cooled, the unsightly caramel gets a gorgeous layer of chocolate.

The recipe below makes a 9X9 inch square.  It won’t seem like enough–but –cut these into 1X1ish inch squares.  The term decadent could take a lesson from these bad boys.

Store them in the fridge.  However, they’re safe at room temp (they’ll just loosen up a little…kind of like I do when thinking about what Ryan Reynolds smells like).

Speaking of Ryan Reynolds–TD and I saw the most recent Deadpool movie in Australia.  Guess what?  Not the least bit different from going to the movies in the U.S.

Caramel Slice

Recipe cobbled together from several.  Read through before you start baking!

Ingredients

for the shortbread base

  • 1 C (150G) all purpose flour
  • ½ C (40G) desiccated or shredded and chopped coconut
  • 1/2 C (about 125G) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ C (90G) golden brown sugar

for the caramel

  • 1/2 C (about 125G) unsalted butter
  • 2 X 395G cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 C (115G) golden syrup (light corn syrup will work)

topping

  • 1/2 C (200g) semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • TBS vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 9X9 pan with parchment going both ways so that there is 2 inches overhanging the lip of the pan all the way around (see photo above).  Oil parchment
  2. Sift flour into a medium sized bowl.
  3. Add-in coconut butter and brown sugar until everything is just combined (dough will be very soft and moist–it won’t feel like shortbread)
  4. Press dough into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden on top.
  5. While base is cooking, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on very low heat.
  6. Stir-in milk and golden syrup.  Bring heat up to low-medium and stir for 8 minutes until mixture is slightly thickened (the difference is subtle).
  7. Once shortbread base is out of the oven, pour caramel over.  Return to oven and bake for at least 30 minutes.  The top should be golden and while it will still have some jiggle, it shouldn’t be liquid.  Err on the side of over-done here.
  8. Refrigerate until completely cool.
  9. Melt chocolate and vegetable oil together.  Pour over chilled caramel.
  10. Refrigerate until set-up (ideally at least a couple of hours)
  11. Cut into 1 inch slices (you’ll be tempted to go bigger but these are very rich).
  12.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
  13. Will keep up to 5 days.

Is it a cookie or is it porn?

We’re still in Australia.

I spent the first half of my trip to Australia in Sydney for work.  We were based right in the middle of the CBD with access to all of the great shops, restaurants and, of course, coffee spots.

Australians take their coffee very seriously.  Home of the flat white, Australia has a vibrant coffee culture and with it, all of the bits and goodies associated with a strong cup.  It was early in the week and my travel partner (and frequent Australia traveller) noted that she was on the hunt for a melting moment.

“A what?” I asked as my 15-year-old-boy mind immediately went somewhere sexual.

Much to the disappointment of my pubescent brain, a melting moment is not a sex toy, but a sandwich cookie.

Often lemon, these little treats entail two shortbread cookies that bookend a generous dab of buttercream filling.  Once identified, I saw them at just about every coffee shop, bar and kiosk, often stacked invitingly in big glass jars.

Turns out, melting moments are also known as Yo-Yos.  In fact, they are the first recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s 2017 volume, Sweet.  Helen Goh is the pastry chef for Yotam Ottolenghi’s namesake restaurant, Ottolenghi, in London.  And, she’s originally from Australia.  This is a fantastic cookbook and while it was already sitting on my shelf before I left for Australia, it wasn’t until earlier this summer–and after I made the batch shown here–that I discovered her recipe (more on this cookbook and my current favorite chocolate cake in a couple of weeks).  The recipe below is actually modified from a mango version I found on Food 52.

Now that I know about Ms. Goh’s  Yo-Yo recipe, I promise to make them as well.  In the name of research of course.

Melting Moments

adapted just slightly from a recipe for Mango Melting Moments   by Emiko on the Food 52 site.

makes 12 completed cookies (this recipe doubles well)

Ingredients

For the cookies:

  • 2/3 C (80 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 C (250 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C (75 grams) cornstarch
  • 1 C (250 grams or 8 ounces) butter, softened
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • Finely grated and then chopped zest of 1 lemon

For the lemon buttercream:

  • 1/4 C (65 grams) butter, softened
  • 1 C (125 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 TBS (or more to taste) fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 320° F (160° C).  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment
  2. Sift sugar, flour, and cornstarch together in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, vanilla, and lemon zest. When creamy and soft, combine with the flour mixture and begin folding together with a spatula or by hand. Continue combining the mixture until you have a perfectly smooth, soft ball of dough. Be patient, it will take a few minutes.
  4. Roll into walnut-sized balls or use (try to get the same size each time; about 2 level teaspoons-worth is ideal) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.
  5. With the tines of a fork (easier if you dip the fork into flour each time), gently flatten each ball until the cookie is about 1/2-inch thick (it will spread a little more when baking and you do want these fairly thick rather than thin).
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are still very pale but feel dry to the touch. They will still be quite delicate and soft, so let them stand on the tray for 5 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They will harden when cooled.
  7. Make the lemon buttercream by whipping the butter, sugar, and lemon juice together until smooth and creamy.  While called buttercream, the consistency will be more like play dough.  Roll small 1/4 tsp-sized balls of buttercream and place in the center of half of the cookies.  Gently top with the other half, pressing down until the buttercream reaches the edges of the cookies.   Let them set in the fridge in an airtight container for 30 minutes before serving. They will keep a few days stored like this, but make sure to bring them back to room temperature before serving. Plain cookies without the buttercream will keep 1 week in an airtight container.