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.

 

Mmmm…zippy!

Up until an age I am truly embarrassed to admit, I believed that poppy seeds were dried spider eggs.  I also believed cheetos were super old rusty nails–and thus, a good source of irn.  That aliens often landed in our local mountains (serendipitously close to times when we’d be camping there) and that it was impossible to eat and be cold at the same time.

Thanks mom.

It should be no surprise then that my relationship with poppy seeds is a little shaky.  Objectively I know where they come from.  Subjectively, they make the hair on my arms stand on end.  And so, it was with a little trepidation that I tried this fantastic citrus loaf recipe from the Huckleberry cookbook.

In the original the recipe calls for kumquats, lemon and tangerine zests.  However I can only ever find kumquats in Southern California in mid-spring.  So, I pursued the citrus section at the local market and went with lemons, tangerines and a humble navel orange.  But you know what they say, when life gives you lemons…

I was attracted to this recipe because it uses butter instead of oil as the fat source.  Often loaf cakes call for oil instead of butter as a way of helping to keep things moist and tender.  In general butter ranges from 80-90% milk fat (the remaining is water) whereas oil is generally 100% fat.  That water can help gluten strings to form–good for a chewy pizza crust, bad for a crumby, tender loaf or muffin.

But, butter tastes better.  So, I dove right in.  If I was actually doing my due diligence I would have baked a comparator alongside this loaf.  Maybe Ina’s yogurt lemon loaf.  But I didn’t.  And, as a stand alone, I thought this bread was pretty fantastic.  Zesty and moist with a little richness I think I might have to continue my experimentation with butter.

 Lemon Kumquat Poppy Teacake

from Huckleberry stories, secrets and recipes from our kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 C+ 2 TBS/ 255 g unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 C/ 200 g sugar plus 3 TBS
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Zest of 8 kumquats, fruit reserved
  • Zest and juice of 3 lemons
  • Zest of 1 tangerine
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 C/ 160 g all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C/ 35 g pastry flour
  •  1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 TBS + 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 2 TBS buttermilk
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line with parchment a 9X5 loaf pan.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter, 1 C/200 g of star, salt and citrus zests on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  3. Incorporate the eggs and egg yolks one-at-a-time, because well after each addition.  Scrape down sides of bowl a couple of times.
  4. Add-in the flours, baking powder, poppy seeds and vanilla.  Mix-on low until ingredients are just combined.
  5. Scoop batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 60 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched and cake tester comes out clean.
  6. While loaf is cooking, combined the lemon juice, 3 TBS of sugar and reserved kumquats in a blender.  Blend to a course puree.
  7. In a small pan, simmer the puree until the sugar dissolves completely, about 2 minutes.  Set aside.
  8. Once out of the oven, let rest for 5 minutes then remove loaf from pan.  Strain the glaze and brush it on all sides of the car while the cake is still warm.

 

It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust not the filling. It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust…

Well, the filling is important too.  But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.

And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.

The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask).  If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust.  I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.

I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears.  And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.

During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts.  While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.

Butter is good for flavor.  Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.

The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat.  It also contains water.  Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage.  Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew.  So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.

Which is where the vodka comes in.  And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust.  I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class.  The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off.  So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.

This, I had to try.  I  replaced half of the water with vodka.  And went 100% butter.

The results of the trial were successful.  Always one to follow the scientific method,  I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.

Even the next day.

The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  Pie crust is pretty easy by hand.  It’s a snap with a food processor.

So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!

Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?

Pie Crust

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

this makes a double crust

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2  (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
  • 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
  • 1/4 C ice water

Directions

  1. Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined.  If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse  until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size.  You want visible pieces of butter.  If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
  3. Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together.  If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough.  If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
  4. Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface.  Split it in half and  push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.

 

 

 

 

Butter, cinnamon and sugar my muffin

When I mentioned the big plans I had over the holidays to attempt making my own puff pastry dough, I had morning buns on the brain.  Alas, the sun was too inviting and I decided to play with puff pastry another day.

I still had morning buns on my mind though.

This recipe, if you can even call it that, is embarrassingly simple:  a sheet of puff, some butter, cinnamon and sugar.  Then, right out of the oven, an additional dip in butter and a final cinnamon and sugar bath (sort of like these french doughnuts).

I took these little darlings to work along with the Jesuites.  Someone very important in my organizations who had the ability  threatened to fire me if I ever brought them in again.  I think this means they were a hit.

 

Mini Morningish Buns

(one sheet of puff pastry yields 16 mini and 6 regular-sized buns, hun)

Ingredients

  • Sheet of puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp (or more to taste) of ground cinnamon
  • 12 TBS butter, softened

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter your muffin pan.
  2. Combined sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl until cinnamon is thoroughly distributed.  Taste and add-more spice as desired.
  3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry dough until about 18X10 inches.  Be sure to life the dough after each roll so that it does not stick to the surface.
  4. Spread a thin layer of butter over entire surface of dough (it will take about a stick of butter, maybe a little less).
  5. Generously sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture across the buttered surface, reserving at least 1/3 of a cup.
  6. Starting at the far long end of the rectangle, roll the dough tightly all the way to the edge of the closest long end.  The finished product will look like a log.
  7. If using a mini-muffin pan, cut log in half and then cut each half into quarters and half each quarter so that you have 16 small rolls.  If using a regular muffin-pan, cut the log in half and then each half into thirds.
  8. Carefully place each cut roll into the wells of the pan, cut side facing up.  You may want to squish the dough down a bit to get it to spread-out in the well.
  9. Bake until dark golden brown (20 to 30 minutes–begin watching at 20).
  10. While buns are baking, melt remaining butter.  Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl.
  11. Remove buns from oven and let sit for 5 minutes.
  12. Using tongs (or your fingers if you are brave), remove each bun, dip it in butter, roll it in the remaining cinnamon sugar mixture and set atop a cooling rack to cool.
  13. Try not to get fired from your job.

 

The shortbread experiment

I have made no secret of my love for sandy, crumbly cookies.  Sables, sandies and shortbreads all tickle my fancy as an enjoyer of baked goods, if not as a baker.  I am always on the hunt for the perfect shortbread recipe and constantly in awe that something with so few ingredients can prove so elusive (though I suspect it is because of the simple ingredients).

So of course, I had to try the one included in Bouchon Bakery (I really didn’t intent two weeks in a row from the same book).

Butter, flour, sugar. Check.

Crumbly dough, check.

Time in the fridge, check.

And here is where he started to lose me.  I realize it is a personal preference, but rolling-out shortbread isn’t my thing.  I prefer to press or roll the dough into a log.

Admittedly, I rolled them out too thinly.  And while the result had a nice crumbly texture, they tasted a little too sugar-cookie to me.  TD said they tasted like shortbread.  But, he’s not a huge fan of the buttery baked good so he only gets a half vote.

 

If you like this, you might like these

Coconut Shortbread

Sables

Shortbread

adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel in Bouchon Bakery

Ingredients

  • 13 TBS (1 stick + 5 TBS) (180 grams) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1/2 C (90 grams) superfine sugar
  • 1/2 + 1/8 tsp (2 grams) kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 C + 3 TBS (270 grams) all purpose flour
  • granulated or sanding sugar for dusting

Directions

  1. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream until smooth on medium-low speed.
  2. Add 1/2 C (90 grams) sugar and the slat, mix on medium for about 2 minutes until fluffy.
  3. Scrape down the  sides and bottom of the bowl.  Add the vanilla and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to distribute evenly.
  4. Add the flour in two additions, mixing on low speed for 15-30 seconds or until just combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any flour that may have settled.
  5. Mound the dough on the work surface and, using the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together into a 5-inch square block.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until firm.
  6. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.  Line two pans with parchment paper.
  7. Unwrap the dough and place between two pieces parchment paper.  With a rolling pin, pound the top of the dough working from left to right to begin to flatten it.  Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.
  8. Roll-out to a 9 inch square.  If the dough has softened, slide it (still inside the parchment) onto the back of a sheet pan and refrigerate until firm again.
  9. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough as desired.  The original recipe calls for 3 cuts horizontally and 5 cuts vertically so that you have 24 2 1/4X 1 1/2 inch pieces.
  10. Dust the tops of the dough with sugar and arrange on baking sheets leaving 3/4 inch in between each.
  11. Bake until pale golden brown, 17-19 minutes.  Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes, transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

 

Oh, to love a crumby cookie

It has occurred to me recently that an inherent craving for the byzantine helps  fuel my love of baking and cooking.  Generally the more difficult a recipe, the more piqued my curiosity.  I also happen to feel this way about book and television show plots.  Yes, I cried like a baby when Lost ended last spring.

But.

There is certain elegance in simplicity and restraint.  Think of the black Louboutin pump.  A Rothco painting.  A tulip.  Or, in this post, a sable cookie.  Sandy, crumbly,  buttery and so subtly sweet that the first bite is almost surprising.  This little French sugar cookie is about as perfect as a cookie can get.

When a cookie recipe only has six components, two things become paramount: ingredients and technique. You already know how I feel about ingredients in general: always buy the best you can afford (or, if the misanthrope in you is acting up–like it sometimes does with me–the best you are willing to feed other people).   As for technique, thankfully, we have Dorie Greenspan.

In a 2004 article in the New York Times Style Magazine, Greenspan talks about how she first learned to make sables from Parisian bread baker Lionel Poilane.  In her lovely description of the lesson, she explains that he made them like he made his bread: no spoons, bowls or mixers.  Over time and with the help of Pierre Herme, she refined the recipe that ultimately appeared in Baking, From My Home to Yours (2006). In this recipe, technique is as important as the ingredients.

Sea salt and two types of sugar, confectioner’s and granulated, are added to softened and beaten butter until the mixture is smooth and velvety (not, fluffy as is often the case with cookies).  Greenspan also notes that by “softened” she literally means, soft–not greasy and nearly liquid, as I often let my butter become.

Then a couple of egg-yolks are beaten in.  The presence of yolks in this recipe surprised me.  I had always assumed that sables, like shortbread, don’t contain eggs.  In this recipe, they help to bind together a barely-mixed dough.

After this, flour, the final ingredient is added.  Greenspan recommends adding the flour, covering the standing mixer with a towel and pulsing until it is just mixed-in.  I prefer to start with a couple of turns of the paddle and then finish by hand.  Not that I have control issues or anything.  The dough doesn’t really come together as a smooth mass.  You want soft curd-like (my word, not hers) crumbs.

Then you divide the dough in half and carefully shape each into a log, touching the dough as little as possible.  Here is where I make a slight diversion from the original recipe.  In the original, you roll the logs, wrap them and chill them in the fridge overnight.  Then, before baking, you give the logs a good egg-wash and sprinkle on sanding sugar.  I prefer to roll the still-soft logs in sanding sugar first, then chill.

Once chilled, the logs get cut into coins.

Popped onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

And then, into an oven until slightly golden and crisp.

Perfection.

Sables

Baking from My House to Yours (2004)

Dorie Greenspan

Yields about 50 cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (preferably high-fat, like Plugra), softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted before measuring
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
  • 2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the decoration (optional):

  • 1 egg yolk
  • Crystal or dazzle sugar

1. Working in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.

2. Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball — and it shouldn’t. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you’re aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)

3. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it’s easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

4. When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.

5. To decorate the edges of the sables, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Place one log of chilled dough on a piece of waxed paper and brush it with yolk (the glue), and then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with sugar. Trim the ends of the roll if they are ragged and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.

6. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.)