Articles in Baking w/recipe
Sitting in the kitchen next to a bowl of gorgeously orange Fuyu persimmons is an elephant. I’m ignoring this uninvited guest as I dream up ways to use this flavorful fruit at holiday dinner parties, from a composed salad to a delectable port-infused pie. But before I extol the virtues, it’s probably best to address that elephant in the room. In marketing terms, Fuyu persimmons have an image problem in the United States.
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It may be the national fruit of Japan, with a flavor that is a mélange of apples, apricots, pears and vanilla; terribly photogenic; and a perfect partner for all sorts of other seasonal ingredients, but the Fuyu persimmon is often viewed in the U.S. as an oddly exotic curiosity. I blame much of this misunderstanding on its gooey, cloyingly sweet cousin, the American persimmon. But there are big differences between them.
While there are hundreds of varieties of persimmons (botanical genus: diospyros, meaning fruit of the gods), the species can be broken down into two basic types: astringent and non-astringent. The astringent type, familiar as either the American or Hachiya persimmon, is only edible when fully ripe, soft and practically dripping with syrupy pulp. It has been cultivated in Midwestern and Southern parts of the U.S. for centuries, most popular when baked into cakes, quick breads and classic persimmon pudding.
Distinguishing Fuyu persimmons
The non-astringent Fuyu persimmons have a glossy, smooth skin and a fine-grained flesh. They’re as crisp as the best fall apples — and with no hard core and often no seeds, they’re excellent for eating out of hand. Also unlike apples, they won’t turn brown and oxidize when cut, so they are perfect for infusing color into salads. While they are not always widely available across the country and are a bit pricey compared with a typical Granny Smith or Pink Lady, it’s still a wonder to me that they have never caught on during their height of ripeness — late November and the peak of the Thanksgiving season. After all, Fuyus adapt well to a vast range of holiday dishes and seasonal ingredients.
I started tracking fruits, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, spices, wines and spirits that go well with Fuyu persimmons, but finally gave up when the list outgrew my cupboards. In alphabetical order I’d recommend: apricots, arugula, bacon, balsamic vinegar, basil, blood oranges, brown sugar, cherries, cinnamon, citrus, cream, dates, fennel, feta cheese, figs, ginger, gorgonzola cheese, hazelnuts, honey, maple syrup, mascarpone cheese, mint, mozzarella, nut oils, nutmeg, olive oil, pecans, pistachios, pomegranates, prosciutto, red onion, vanilla, watercress.
So far, I’d put pomegranates and tart cherries at the top of the list because their pucker brings out the persimmon’s rich blend of sweetness; chile powders and peppers provide a fun, spicy contrast; and bacon proves that opposites attract with edgy saltiness. In short, you won’t need a recipe for a composed salad. Just open your pantry and refrigerator for inspiration and finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, date molasses and extra virgin olive oil.
But my hands-down favorite? The rich complexity of a well-aged port truly does magical justice to a baked persimmon tart.
Rustic Persimmon Port Tart
I tapped some extraordinary tawny portos to create this pie. Affordably, a Fonseca 10-year old aged tawny porto was used as the primary flavor infusion for the cherries, the persimmons and the sauce. But I went out on a really decadent limb and uncorked a 30-year old tawny porto from Taylor Fladgate for the table presentation. If you serve this porto with a Fuyu-infused dessert like the featured rustic tart, you will never outlive its reputation.
1 cup dried tart cherries
½ cup aged tawny port, plus 1 ounce
1½ pounds Fuyu persimmons
¼ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 sheet ready pie dough
All-purpose flour for dusting
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped pecans, mixed with 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Whipped cream, unsweetened
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Place dried cherries and ½ cup of the tawny port in a glass dish and microwave for 1½ minutes on high. While prepping the persimmons, let the cherries rest, allowing them to plump and absorb some of the liquid.
3. Peel the persimmons and and roughly cut into ½-inch pieces.
4. In medium mixing bowl, toss the persimmons with sugar, cinnamon, salt. Add the cherries and any remaining liquid. Macerate for 30 minutes.
5. Drain the persimmon mixture and reserve liquid.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie dough. Transfer to a pie pan, leaving a 2-inch overhanging edge.
7. Mound the persimmons and cherries into a pie pan and gently fold edges back over pie, leaving an open area in the center. Dot with butter and sprinkle with the pecan/sugar mixture.
8. Brush edge of the crust with egg wash.
9. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.
10. While pie is baking, place reserved liquid from macerated fruit with apricot jam and 2 tablespoons of water over medium heat and reduce until thick and syrupy. Stir in 1 ounce of port and set aside.
11. Serve pie with dollop of whipped cream and drizzle with port sauce.
Top photo: Fuyu persimmon. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
When I was a kid I naturally loved the holiday dishes, all except for the obligatory cranberry relish and pumpkin pie. I finally got over my cranberry problem, but I still require every pumpkin pie to stand trial before I eat it. To my mind, most are stodgy and boring and taste like a vegetable trying way too hard to be liked.
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But recently I looked into Maureen Simpson’s “Australian Cuisine,” which was published in the late 1980s, and one recipe caught my eye: gramma pie. Gramma is the name of a sort of Australian pumpkin, which looks like a particularly skinny and elongated butternut squash.
It’s a winter squash belonging to the same species as butternut, kabocha and acorn squashes. You might never have heard of gramma squash, but you have probably eaten pumpkins similar to it.
The Dickinson field pumpkin, which is canned as Libby’s Select brand, is the usual squash variety used in canned pumpkin filling. You didn’t think pumpkin pie was made out of used jack-o’-lanterns, did you? Now that I think of it, maybe my problem with pumpkin pie goes back to some ill-advised youthful attempt to cook one of those coarse, stringy Halloween-type pumpkins.
Anyway, when Simpson remarked that gramma pie bears little resemblance to the American pumpkin pie, I had to try it. The recipe doesn’t look hugely different. This pie has a coarser, less creamy texture because you crush the pumpkin rather than puréeing it. It uses the same spices, and I wouldn’t have thought the additions of the zest and peel of a lemon, a little orange zest and a tablespoon of raisins would change the effect much. They do, though.
Add lemon juice to pumpkin pie? Yes you can.
The resulting pie is quite sweet-sour. Simpson even tells her readers they can add more lemon juice if they want. In short, it’s a dramatic, brightly flavored pie filling, worlds removed from the sort of pumpkin pie I still balk at.
Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and replacing the usual pumpkin filling with something as exotic as this one may leave a lot of diners feeling disappointed. But if there’s a chance you’ll have an Aussie at your table, this would be just the thing to serve. We all have our own nostalgia.
I made this recipe with Simpson’s suggested crust, which is more like a European tart crust than the American flaky crust. Use any crust you want, though. Her recipe calls for Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead of corn syrup, but in such a small quantity that the difference in flavor is negligible. It says to mix the egg with caster sugar, which is finer than American granulated sugar. Some stores sell this as “baker’s sugar,” but you can simply grind regular sugar fine in a mortar or small food processor.
Australian Gramma Pie
Makes one 8-inch pie
For the filling:
2 pounds winter squash such as butternut, acorn or kabocha (about 2½ pounds before peeling and trimming)
½ cup granulated sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon raisins, preferably yellow raisins (sultanas)
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (mixed cinnamon, nutmeg and clove)
For the crust:
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
5 ounces (1¼ sticks) butter, softened
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons finely ground sugar
Water or milk
1. Having removed the peel, seeds and strings from the squash, cut into golf ball-sized chunks. Put in a saucepan and add water to barely cover, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pan and cook until the pumpkin is soft, around 40 minutes. Leave the squash pieces in a colander to drain, pressing out liquid several times until cool.
2. Mash the squash thoroughly with a ½ cup of the granulated sugar, lemon juice and zest, orange zest, raisins, corn syrup and spices and set the filling aside.
3. Begin the crust by sifting the flour with the baking powder and salt, and rub with the butter until evenly dispersed. Beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of the finely ground sugar and knead into the flour. Knead in more flour as needed to give a soft but manageable dough.
4. Divide the dough into two unequal parts, setting aside something between ¼ and ⅓ of the total for the top crust. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the bottom crust into a circle a little more than 11 inches in diameter. Transfer to an 8-inch pie pan and make sure that the crust reaches slightly over the edges of the pan. Scoop in the filling and smooth the surface. Wet the part of the crust the reaches over the edges of the pan.
5. Roll out the rest of the dough into a circle 10 inches in diameter and transfer into the pie. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. Brush the top crust with a little water or milk and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the finely ground sugar.
6. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour, protecting the edges of the crust from over-browning with aluminum foil or pie protector during the last 20 minutes. Serve cool.
Top photo: Pumpkin pie made with gramma variety pumpkins. Credit: Charles Perry
Imagine being 7 years old and being offered an array of cookies and cakes for breakfast every morning. For my son Liam, that was one of the highlights of accompanying me on a six-week long research trip through the European Mediterranean the summer after he finished first grade. I also took my best friend’s 20-year old daughter Rachel, Liam’s beloved babysitter, so he would have somebody to play with. Nonetheless, it was sometimes not very much fun for him to be dragged from one place to another just so his mom could find and eat great food. Liam has always loved great food too, but constant traveling can be hard for a 7-year-old.
It was all worth it for him, though, when we arrived at Il Frantoio, an old olive oil farm that is also an azienda agrituristica, or farmhouse hotel, in the southern Italian region of Apulia. Il Frantoio is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every room in the elegant house has been lovingly restored by the owners, Rosalba and Armando Ciannamea. Wherever your eye turns, it falls on something pleasing to see. Olive groves, some of them more than 500 years old, with beautiful, huge trees, stretch for miles within the whitewashed walls of the property. Armando produces several different olive oils, and the farm also produces wheat, fruit and vegetables, everything organic.
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The beauty of the place and the unforgettable dinners may or may not have been lost on Liam. What he will always remember about Il Frantoio is that they served cookies for breakfast. Every morning, when you cross the quiet courtyard and enter the dining room, you encounter a lace-covered buffet with bowls of fruit from the farm’s orchards — plums and peaches, apricots and nectarines in summer, apples and pears in the late fall — and baked goods from the kitchen — several varieties of cookies and cakes, breads and pastries made with flour ground from Il Frantoio’s own heirloom wheat; homemade jams and honeys. Pitchers of fresh orange and grapefruit juice are covered with handmade lace doilies to protect them from flies. Needless to say, Liam woke up early every day and couldn’t wait to get to breakfast. He always went straight for the cookies.
Italian Butter Cookies with Anise and Lemon Zest
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
180 grams (6 ounces) unsalted butter, preferably French style such as Plugrà, at room temperature
125 grams (⅔ cup) sugar
55 grams (1 large) egg
1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons aniseeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
275 grams (2¼ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 grams (1 rounded teaspoon) baking powder
1 gram (¼ teaspoon) salt
1. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy and pale, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beaters. Add the egg, lemon zest, vanilla and aniseeds, and beat together.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, beat into the butter mixture, just until combined. Gather the dough into a ball, then press down to a 1-inch thickness. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days, or place in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours. Alternatively (if you don’t want to roll out the dough), remove spoonfuls of half of the dough and plop them down the middle of a piece of parchment paper to create a log about 2 inches in diameter. Fold the parchment up around the log to and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer. Repeat with the remaining dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the rack adjusted to the lowest setting. Line baking sheets with parchment.
4. Cut the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, and roll out one piece at a time on a lightly dusted work surface, or preferably on a Silpat, to about ¼-inch thick. Cut into circles or shapes, dipping the cutter into flour between each cut, and place 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Keep the remaining pieces of dough in the refrigerator or freezer.
5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the baking sheets front to back halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
Note: You can brush the cookies before baking with a little egg wash if you want them to look shiny.
Chocolate Walnut Biscotti
Makes about 4 dozen biscotti
125 grams (1 cup, approximately) unbleached all purpose flour
120 grams (approximately 1 cup, tightly packed) almond flour
60 grams (approximately ½ cup) unsweetened cocoa
10 grams (2 teaspoons) instant espresso powder or coffee extract
10 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
4 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt
55 grams (2 ounces) unsalted butter
150 grams (approximately ¾ cup, tightly packed) brown sugar, preferably organic
110 grams (2 large) eggs
10 grams (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
100 grams (1 cup) walnuts, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, almond flour, cocoa, instant espresso powder if using, baking powder and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater with a rubber spatula and add the eggs, coffee extract if using and vanilla extract. Beat together for 1 to 2 minutes, until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until well blended. Add the walnuts and beat at low speed until mixed evenly through the dough. The dough will be moist and sticky.
3. Divide the dough in two and shape 2 wide, flat logs, about 10 to 12 inches long by 2 ½ inches wide. The logs may spread while you bake, so it’s best to place them on two parchment-covered sheets. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until dry, beginning to crack in the middle, and firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.
4. Place the logs on a baking sheet and carefully cut into ½-inch thick slices. Place on two parchment-covered baking sheets and bake one sheet at a time in the middle of the oven until the slices are dry, 30 to 35 minutes, flipping the biscotti over after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Top photo: The breakfast table at Il Frantoio. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman
There’s just something about a crisp, juicy apple at peak season that takes me back in time. When I was a kid in Michigan, my family had a backyard apple tree, which was not only good for climbing, but also supplied us with a bounty of Golden Delicious apples. And it just wouldn’t have been fall without a visit to a cider mill, where pick-your-own apples and hot cider awaited.
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When I moved to Sonoma’s wine country I discovered a new apple to love: a local heirloom variety called the Gravenstein. Yellowish-green with red stripes, the Gravenstein has a sweet-tart flavor and a crisp texture. It’s a wonderfully versatile apple, great for pies, applesauce and just plain eating.
The Gravenstein originated in 17th-century Denmark, and Russian fur traders planted the first West Coast Gravenstein orchards in Fort Ross, Calif., in 1820. Cuttings and seeds from these trees were brought to nearby Sebastopol, in western Sonoma County, where they were used to start new orchards.
Warm, dry Sebastopol proved more hospitable to Gravensteins than chilly, coastal Fort Ross. By the early 1900s, Sebastopol was home to 11,000 acres of Gravensteins, and apple growing had become a major industry in Sonoma County.
Over the decades, however, Sonoma’s apple country became wine country, and today, only 477 acres of Gravensteins remain.
The trouble with Gravenstein apples
When you compare prices for grapes and Gravensteins, it’s not hard to understand why farmers are converting orchards to vineyards. According to the 2012 Sonoma County Crop Report, the average price per ton for Pinot Noir grapes was $3,014, while the price for Gravensteins was just $328 per ton.
Vineyards aren’t the Gravenstein’s only problem. The variety has a short season, from late July to mid-August, and the apples ripen at different times during the harvest period. It also has a short stem, causing apples to fall off the trees. Gravensteins don’t ship well, so they must be sold or processed close to home. Cheap Chinese imports of apple juice concentrate have also hurt the local market for juicing apples, including Gravensteins.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, Paula Shatkin has made it her mission to save the Gravensteins.
“I moved here 13 years ago from Los Angeles, at the peak of the orchard conversion to vineyards,” she said. “You could drive down any road and see apple orchards being buzzsawed.”
Shatkin raised the issue at a meeting of the Russian River chapter of Slow Food USA, and suggested that the group do something to preserve the orchards. “Everybody looked at me and asked, ‘Well, why don’t you do something?’ she said. “So it became my baby.”
Shatkin applied to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in Italy, asking the organization to create a Presidium — a project funded by Slow Food to defend agricultural biodiversity — for Sebastopol’s Gravensteins.
“I went around Sebastopol taking pictures of all the things that are named ‘Gravenstein,’ like the Gravenstein Highway, and put that together with farmer interviews and the history of the Gravenstein apple to show that it has cultural and historical significance,” she said. “And I included statistics about the loss of orchards.”
In 2004, the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium was launched. Out of 170 Presidia worldwide, five are based in the United States, and only one in California.
“Our mission has been to promote Gravensteins and educate people as to their value,” Shatkin said. “If we want farmers to grow and sell them commercially, we have to increase demand.”
In addition to media outreach, promotional efforts have included Gravenstein giveaways at local shops, hotels and the Sonoma County Airport. To create a market outside the region, Slow Food Russian River teamed up with The Fruit Guys, a national fruit delivery service, to offer an annual “Grav Box.”
“Demand for Gravensteins has really increased,” Shatkin said.
Farmers are also getting a slightly higher price for their crop than in previous years. Even so, the Gravenstein has a long way to go before it can compete with wine grapes.
Cider as savior
The solution may lie in the production of another fermented beverage made from local fruit: hard cider.
In 2011, Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli founded Tilted Shed Ciderworks in west Sonoma County, which uses only local heirloom and cider apples. Keeping Sebastopol’s apple tradition alive is a crusade for Cavalli, a member of Slow Food Russian River.
“I’m trying to connect with growers and put a new positive spin on the apple industry here,” she said. “The story for so long as been that the Gravensteins are on the verge of extinction, and you eat them to save them. But it’s almost this last-ditch effort, like nothing’s going to work. I wanted to tell people that we can transform this culture. We can be a premier cider region.”
If she didn’t believe that, she and Heath wouldn’t have moved out from New Mexico to open a cidery.
“I’ve been preaching this for a long time, and people were really resistant at first,” Cavalli said. “But they’re finally coming around because they’re seeing the explosion of cider in the U.S.”
They’re also hearing that in Washington state, where there’s a vibrant craft cider culture, traditional tannic cider apples are fetching $600 to $800 a ton.
“It’s still a small price compared to some of the premium wine grapes, but it’s sustainable,” Cavalli said. “I really believe that craft cider is here to stay.”
With this in mind, she’s working to persuade farmers to grow specialty cider apples in addition to Gravensteins. Tilted Shed is leading the way with its 2-acre cider apple farm in Sebastopol, planted as a proving ground. Cavalli and Heath show farmers which varieties work well, and offer to provide bud wood and help with grafting — and they’ll pay a premium for the apples.
Along with cider varieties, Tilted Shed uses a large proportion of Gravensteins for its acclaimed ciders. Even producers in the Northwest have taken notice. “The Gravenstein is actually in high demand up there,” Cavalli said. “I’ve got cider makers who have been asking, ‘Can you get us 10 bins of Gravs?’ ”
To build on the increased demand, Cavalli says she’d like to see more cider makers set up shop in Sebastopol. “To make it really successful there have to be more people doing what we’re doing,” she said. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of buy-in until the local growers see that there’s a long-term commitment to this.”
Perfect for pie
This pie recipe, passed down from my great-grandmother, is the perfect showcase for Gravenstein apples.
Grandma’s all-shortening crust isn’t my favorite, so I use the Foolproof Pie Dough recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.
Stacie Gould’s Apple Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
6 to 7 medium size apples
¾ to 1 cup sugar, plus one tablespoon
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
Dash of salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Foolproof Pie Dough
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon milk
1. Peel and cube apples.
2. Mix together ¾ cup to 1 cup sugar, tapioca, salt and spices; add to apples.
3. Arrange bottom crust in 9-inch pie pan and pour in apple mixture. Dot with butter.
4. Place top crust onto pie and crimp edges to seal. Cut a couple small vents into the crust to let steam escape.
5. Mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and milk in a small bowl. Brush on top crust.
6. Place pie in 400 F oven and bake 10 minutes.
7. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake an additional 50 minutes.
Top photo: Sebastopol’s Gravenstein apple is facing commercial extinction. Credit: Tina Caputo
Most recipes seem to call for all-purpose flour. But should you use bleached or unbleached? Has it occurred to you to experiment with the myriad options, including pastry flour, bread flour, self-rising flour, whole wheat and gluten-free?
Know your flours
Unbleached cake flour is good for cakes, biscuits and muffins. This blend of unbleached flour and cornstarch that replicates cake flour’s performance without bleaching.
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Unbleached all-purpose flour is good for cakes, breads, pies, cookies, quickbreads, and muffins. This is the best all-around flour with enough protein for good structure, but not so much that baked goods are tough or chewy.
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Unbleached bread flour is good for breads, pretzels, combined with whole grain or non-gluten flours. This flour’s high protein level gives more support to non-gluten flours like rye and it also helps the structure of whole grain breads. It makes excellent pizza crust and artisan loaves, which have a high water content.
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Premium whole wheat flour is good anywhere you’d use white flour, with recipe adjustments. Ground from the entire wheat berry, whole wheat flour contains bran, germ, and endosperm. The oil in the germ can go rancid. To delay this, store it in an airtight container in the freezer.
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Unbleached white whole wheat flour is good anywhere you'd use white flour, with recipe adjustments. This flour is nutritionally identical to traditional whole wheat, though the bran is lighter in color and has a milder, sweeter flavor.
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Self-rising flour is good for biscuits, quickbreads and cakes. This is a low-protein flour that has baking powder and salt added to it already.
Or have you sent your husband or wife or partner or friend to the grocery store for flour and been stunned at what they bring home? With the wardrobe of flour options, how are they to know which one to purchase?
All flours begin as wheat. The wheat berry has four parts, bran, germ, endosperm and cotyledon. White flour is created by sifting out the bran, germ and cotyledon. Whole-wheat flour is made from the entire grain. To complicate things further, there is white whole-wheat flour that is made from a hard white wheat as opposed to regular whole-wheat flour that is made from hard red wheat. They are both milled the same way. And one begins to understand why it is difficult to decide which flour to use.
Understanding gluten content
When baking, it is important to understand the differences in all the flour options. The bottom line is it is all about the gluten content. Gluten is a protein in wheat that when hydrated creates the structure of your dough, be it cake, bread, pizza, etc. The higher the gluten content the tougher or chewier your end result.
All-purpose flour was developed to have a gluten content that works for most household baked goods without having to make adjustments. If you use a high-protein (high-gluten) flour such as whole wheat, you will need to add more moisture or let your dough rest a little longer so it behaves more like all-purpose flour.
Even though you might be tempted to replace your all-purpose flour with white whole-wheat flour it is not a perfect substitution. The white whole-wheat flour has more gluten protein and will result in tougher dough if you do not add more moisture or allow it to rest for a longer period of time.
A flour experiment
Susan Reid, editor of “The Baking Sheet” at King Arthur Flour is a food scientist and a flour aficionado. She did a test to show how different flours act by making the exact same recipe with a range of flours. She used a random store brand, bread flour, all-purpose flour, unbleached cake flour, white whole wheat flour, whole wheat flour, self-rising four and gluten-free flour.
Her thesis was that all flours are not created equal. One could taste and see the differences. The unbleached cake flour was the softest whereas the whole-wheat was the toughest, and the gluten-free clearly had a different structure than the wheat-based flour specimens.
So how do you select the right flour for your baking needs? Most recipes seem to call for all-purpose flour. Should you deviate from using all-purpose flour just know you may need to adjust the moisture content to obtain your desired texture.
If you are making an artisanal sourdough bread, perhaps whole wheat or white whole wheat would be your choice. But if you want to make bagels with lots of structure then a higher gluten flour would be your best choice. The key is to know you have options and to choose the best flour for the baked good that you are making.
Remember, despite all the negative press that gluten has been getting these days, it is the most important ingredient in baked goods because it provides their structure. And herein lies the difficulty with gluten-free baking and why it is so hard to find great gluten-free bread or cookies that have the structure of the wheat-based flours. Gluten does have a role in baking and if you are not gluten intolerant, then experimenting with the different flours can be fun and liberating.
Try making two batches the following scone recipe from King Arthur Flour. Make one with whole wheat flour and one with white whole wheat flour. And let us know your observations.
Whole-Wheat Raisin Scones
For the scones:
2 cups (8 ounces) King Arthur 100% white whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons (⅞ ounce) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter
¾ cup (6 ounces) buttermilk
1 egg yolk (save the white for topping the scones)
½ cup dried fruit (optional)
For the topping:
1 egg white
Sparkling white sugar
1. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender.
3. Whisk together the buttermilk, orange juice, and egg yolk and stir into the dry mixture until a dough forms.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and gently and quickly knead in the optional dried fruit.
5. Pat the dough into a flat disk about 7 inches across and cut it into wedges.
6. Transfer the disk to a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. For crispier scones, separate the wedges; for softer, higher rising scones, leave them in the circle.
7. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg white and sprinkle with sparkling white sugar. Bake them in a preheated 375 F oven for 25 to 27 minutes, inspecting at midpoint to admire and turn.
8. Remove the scones from the oven when they’re light, golden brown and cool them on a wire rack.
Top photo: The great flour experiment. Credit: Courtesy of King Arthur Flour
Marshmallows were a staple in our house when I was growing up. Not a staple like potatoes and carrots, which showed up in one form or another on the table for most dinners, but marshmallows were always in the cupboard, waiting to float in hot chocolate or be skewered and toasted over a campfire. Other times, they got all gooey, sandwiched with chocolate between graham crackers; was there ever a better name for a treat than s’mores?
We even made our own marshmallows, from my grandmother’s recipe. Sometimes we left them as marshmallows, cubes rolled in confectioner’s sugar, while other times we added a short crust and a dusting of sweet coconut and transformed them into marshmallow squares (still one of my favorite cookies).
We had marshmallow love, just like people have had for centuries.
Marshmallows have a surprisingly long history, dating to ancient times. They were first made from the pulp of the marsh mallow plant root, which was boiled with sugar or another sweetener like honey, then strained and cooled. The ancient Egyptians used to make this candy for their pharaohs and gods.
Mere and poor mortals in ancient Greece and Rome ate the marsh mallow plant because it was abundant and fed their hunger. Lucian, a satirist of the day, thought it should be eaten like lettuce.
Marsh mallow was also used medicinally. It helped to treat wounds, and when mixed with wine, it calmed coughs. Marsh mallow water treated catarrhs (inflammations of mucus membranes), among other things.
Marshmallows similar to what we know today were first made in France around 1850 in small sweet shops. Candy makers extracted the sap from the plant’s root, whipped and sweetened it. Although very popular, the resulting marshmallows took a lot of time and effort to make.
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In the late 19th century, French manufacturers incorporated egg whites or gelatin and corn starch into their marshmallows (also known as pâte de guimauve). This eliminated the sap but required new ways to combine the gelatin and corn starch.
By the turn of the last century, marshmallows were sold alongside licorice whips and peppermint drops, but they became even more popular when some smart marketers suggested that marshmallows went well with other popular items such as Jell-O. Jellied salads with fruit and miniature marshmallows are still a staple at family celebrations, especially in summer.
In the 1950s, the United States had more than 30 marshmallow manufacturers. Around this time, Alex Doumak patented the extrusion process which allowed marshmallows to be cheaply and quickly produced. This process forced the marshmallow mixture through a tube; it was then cut into pieces and rolled in cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar.
Marshmallow Fluff and creme
Where would a banana split be without a scoop of Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme to go along with the chocolate or strawberry sauce?
The earliest mention of marshmallow creme in an American cookbook is in Fannie Farmer’s “Boston School Cook Book” from 1896. She advises the home baker to, “Put Marshmallow Cream between the layers and on the top” of a cake for a splendid result.
The first marshmallow creme manufactured and marketed in America was Marshmallow Fluff. Although Fluff and creme are similar, Fluff is made using a more expensive batch-whipping process, while creme is made with a continuous mixing process.
Marshmallow Fluff was first made in 1917 by Archibald Query in Somerville, Mass. He turned out batches of the stuff in his kitchen and sold it door to door to housewives, but food shortages during the war caused him to stop production. When the war was over, he was no longer interested in Marshmallow Fluff, so he sold the recipe to H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower for $500.
These World War I veterans continued to sell their product door to door, and soon it became so popular it was stocked on grocers’ shelves. As their business grew more successful, Durkee and Mower advertised in Boston newspapers and on radio. In 1930, they began sponsoring a weekly radio show called “Flufferettes.” It aired Sunday evenings before Jack Benny, and with its live music and comedy skits, the “Flufferettes” remained popular throughout the 1940s.
Today, sophisticated marshmallow flavors such as chai, champagne and dark chocolate are popular and delicious, but when I want a comforting and easy-to-make treat, I make my grandmother’s marshmallows.
They were sure sellers at her Anglican Church Women’s teas and bake sales. When she made Marshmallow Squares for these socials, her Kenmore mixer practically vibrated as it whipped gelatin, water and vanilla into bowl after bowl of fluffy delight. I sneaked spoon after spoon of the pale pink or yellow-colored marshmallow and later, she would let me roll the top and sides of the marshmallows in coconut. She saved the edges, sliced away first so it was easier to remove the squares from the pan, and set them aside. Later, when the plates of squares were wrapped, waiting to go to the church hall, she and I sat in the mud room and ate what she’d saved for us, marshmallow first and then the crust. That’s still how I eat them.
Marshmallow love truly is forever.
Mom Skanes’ Marshmallow Squares
Makes 16 to 20, depending upon size.
For the marshmallow:
2 packages of gelatin
½ cup cold water
2 cups white sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few drops of red food coloring (optional)
Sifted confectioner’s sugar for rolling
For the crust:
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
1½ cups white flour
For the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Cream butter and sugar together.
3. Mix in flour (only until combined).
4. Turn mixture into a 9-by-9-inch pan and press into a uniform thickness of crust.
5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Note: The crust should still be a little warm when you add the marshmallow mixture.
For the marshmallow:
1. Soften the gelatin in the cold water for 5 minutes.
2. Place the softened gelatin, sugar, boiling water and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer.
3. Start on low speed, gradually moving to high speed, beating the ingredients until you have a thick marshmallow (about 10 minutes).
4. Pour the marshmallow onto the still-warm crust.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (about three hours).
6. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. (This will make the crust easier to cut.)
7. Cut into squares.
8. Roll the marshmallow (top and sides) in sweet coconut.
Top photo: Marshmallow squares. Credit: Sharon Hunt
I pause, unsure how my question will be received. “Have you had kale chips?”
That was the first time I posed the question to a patient in a medical exam room. With more than a decade of practicing internal medicine under my belt, I had never felt particularly inspired or successful in counseling my patients about their weight. Then I attended Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives (HKHL), an annual medical conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., a gathering aimed at training doctors in nutrition and cooking. Within weeks upon my return, I was “prescribing” my first recipe.
Like many of my patients in the San Francisco Bay Area, John, who is in his late 40s, is overweight. He has never been successfully motivated to slim down because no “diet” has ever worked for him. When I bring up his chart and show him his body mass index (BMI), he says, ”I’m fat, but nothing I try ever works.”
Chipping away at the weight issue
“What do you eat on an average day?” I ask. “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” John says he loves vegetables and loves to cook. He even volunteers at a local farmers market. But he has a weakness: “Chips,” he says. “I can’t stop eating chips.” John’s idea of chips is the potato variety, soaked in fat, fried and overly salted. I suggest he try kale chips and give him a simple recipe (see below). I tell him he can eat as many as he likes.
A month later, John has lost 5 pounds and is perceptibly happier and more confident. “Doc,” he says, “No doctor has ever given me a recipe before. Those kale chips are so good! Thank you.”
Granted, obese patients need more than a recipe for kale chips to find their way to a healthy weight, but a simple nutritious and non-fattening recipe is a first step and a great incentivizer. By giving John a fantastic-tasting substitute for his beloved chips rather than forbidding him to eat one of his favorite treats, I was able to convey that a different way of eating would allow him to enjoy snacks while feeling healthier and losing weight along the way.
Healthy recipe Rx
When doctors discuss food, it’s usually in the context of nutrition rather than flavor, as in: “You’ve really got to cut back on the junk food.” Well, patients know that, they just may not know what to replace their junk food with. What if doctors began giving out simple recipes for healthful, whole-food alternatives before they handed out prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering medication? Or gave a prescription for exercise and a decadent tasting fruit-based dessert to help control blood pressure?
Traditionally, medical schools do not include coursework in nutrition or, certainly, in cooking, and insurance companies are unlikely to reimburse for nutritional counseling. It’s much faster and easier to write a prescription for a drug, and because it may require no change in lifestyle or self-discipline on the part of patients, they may prefer a pill as well. And if the doctors themselves aren’t the best role models, due to long work hours and the same poor dietary and exercise habits she is asking her patients to rectify, they may not have credibility behind their message.
How do we change this? First, doctors must learn about nutrition and healthy cooking. Showing patients how to shop and cook, and giving them actual recipes should be the next step doctors take. This would instigate a cultural shift and require advocating for insurance coverage, but the change would improve the nation’s health and save health-care dollars in the long run.
Cooking for the cure
Dr. David Eisenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is devoted to this idea. He founded Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives with the goal of turning physicians into foot soldiers in the war against obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Over a four-day course each March, doctors swap scalpels for chef’s knives, and white coats for aprons, as they attend cooking demonstrations and get hands-on in the kitchen. They leave the conference with a changed perspective and a renewed zeal to talk prevention.
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An HKHL alumnus, Dr. John Principe, completely restructured his Chicago-area practice and now has a teaching kitchen. Principe, who says that he had been “burnt to a crisp by the methods of conventional medicine,” credits Eisenberg and HKHL for saving his career. “The ability to empower people to take control of their health through the simple tools of a knife, fire and water is amazing,” he says. “It’s primitive but essential!”
A sprinkling of other programs around the country are also taking the initiative in teaching doctors how to cook. Dr. Robert Graham, associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, runs a six-week program to instruct medical residents in nutrition, weight management and exercise. Students take cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers cooking classes tailored to physicians’ medical specialties, and Tulane University’s Medical School and Johnson and Wales University recently established the first Culinary Medicine collaboration, with the goal of pairing physicians and chefs.
So picture this: At your next checkup, you’ll be weighed in, get your blood pressure checked, and your latest cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Then your doctor will hand you her favorite kale chip recipe or one that turns frozen bananas into ice cream. It seems far-fetched now, but it would make medical and fiscal sense to make such a scenario a reality in the immediate future.
Dr. Shiue’s Kale Chips
1 head kale, washed and completely dried
a few pinches of salt, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Wash whole kale leaves, shake out or dry in a salad spinner, then place on a rack to dry thoroughly. Depending on your temperature and humidity conditions, this can take an hour or several hours. Alternatively, dry thoroughly with towels.
2. Preheat oven to 275 F.
3. Once kale leaves are completely dried, tear leaves off the fibrous central stem into bite-size (potato chip sized) pieces and place onto two baking sheets in a single layer with some space around each leaf.
4. Sprinkle on salt and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per baking sheet. Toss with tongs to evenly distribute salt and oil.
5. Place prepared kale leaves into the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes, turning over leaves halfway through baking.
Variations: Experiment with tasty seasonings, including cayenne pepper with a squeeze of lime juice, Bragg Nutritional Yeast and nori furikake.
Top photo: Baked kale chips. Credit: iStockphoto
There are, say, half a dozen main kinds of cake, but the range of frostings is theoretically unlimited. I’ve been experimenting with Asian flavor ideas. I’ve made pomegranate frosting and topped it with candied walnuts, swiping a flavor idea from the Iranian dish fesenjan, and I’ve used cardamom and saffron, a combination used in a number of Indian desserts.
And I love Thai food, so violà: ginger-lemongrass-coconut frosting. (Because the Thais use coconut as raw coconut milk, I ignore about my otherwise iron-clad rule of toasting coconut before using it in this recipe.) It’s an eye-opener, fresh and elegant.
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The whole point of this frosting is to emphasize the flavors of the fresh ingredients. Ginger poses no particular problem because you can get ginger root in many supermarkets these days, and all you have to do is grate it. Then you strain out the juice and you’re in business.
Lemongrass is more of a chore, even when you can get it fresh. It’s nicely fragrant (in fact, one variety of lemongrass is used as a mosquito repellent under the name citronella) but the stalks are extremely fibrous, almost woody. It’s a fool’s errand to use a grater or even a mortar on it. For this, we have food processors. It goes without saying that when shopping for lemongrass, you should choose the freshest, least dry stalks, but you’ll have to make do with whatever the market carries.
Some shoppers may find another option, because recently some supermarkets have started carrying puréed ginger and puréed lemongrass in plastic squeeze tubes. One brand name to look for is Gourmet Garden. This is typically sold in a cold case alongside the packaged salads and refrigerated sauerkraut. To use these in this recipe all you have to do is press the purées in a fine sieve until you have enough juice.
If you don’t have access to lemongrass of any description, you can make an excellent frosting by substituting ¼ teaspoon lime zest and maybe some lime juice to taste.
There is obviously a world of exotic flavors out there. Still, though I try to keep an open mind, I don’t think I’ll try curry frosting anytime soon, basically because of the cumin, and scratch chili off my to-do list. I’ve experimented with making this frosting with fresh galangal (called kha in Thai) in place of the ginger, and I didn’t like it. Galangal is a cousin of ginger with a more pungent and distinctive flavor, but it proved way too pungent, almost mustardy. With that in mind, I’m tentatively scratching honey-mustard off my to-do list as well.
But ranch dressing flavor? I don’t know, maybe. I’ll get back to you on that.
Thai Coconut Cake
Serves 8 to 12
For the cake:
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter plus about ¼ cup, softened
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
1. Generously rub the insides of 2 (9-inch) cake pans with the ¼ cup of softened butter, then dust with 2 tablespoons of flour and shake out the excess.
2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the vanilla to the milk.
3. Beat the butter until light, about 3 minutes, then gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating 20 seconds after every addition.
4. Add 1 cup of the dry mixture and beat at medium speed just until the flour is incorporated, coaxing the flour into the mixture with a flexible scraper. Add ½ of the milk and do the same. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk. Stir up from the bottom with a scraper to make sure the mixture is uniform and beat at medium speed for a couple of seconds.
5. Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. The total weight of the batter is 50 ounces, so each layer should weigh 1 pound 9 ounces (if you include the weight of the cake pans, that will be 2 pounds 5 ounces). Bake at 350 F until the tops are golden brown all over and spring back if lightly touched, and the layers are starting to pull away from the sides.
6. Remove the pans from the oven and set them on racks to cool for 10 minutes. Overturn the pans and remove from the layers, then set the layers right side up again and leave until cool, about ½ hour, before frosting.
For the frosting:
1½- to 2-inch length of fresh ginger
5-6 stalks of lemongrass
1 tablespoon vodka
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites
2½ to 3 cups shredded or flaked coconut
Optional: 1-2 drops green food coloring, 3-4 drops yellow food coloring
1. If you can find ready-puréed ginger and lemon grass, press them through fine sieves to get ¼ to ½ teaspoon juice each. If you can’t find the ready-puréed kind, follow this procedure using the first three ingredients: Grate the ginger and strain enough to get ¼ to ½ teaspoon juice. Chop the lower, whitish part the lemongrass stalks into ¾-inch lengths and process them in the food processor (checking the blades from time to time to make sure that they haven’t gotten fouled and are still running free) until it looks like lawnmower clippings with no solid chunks, about 3-4 minutes. Add the vodka and process a few seconds longer, then sieve out as much liquid as you can. Set the juices aside.
2. Place the sugar, salt, cream of tartar, water, corn syrup and egg whites in the top of a double boiler and beat until foamy.
3. Pour 3 or 4 cups of water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring it to a boil over high heat. When it is at full boil, set the top of the double boiler over it and beat continuously with a hand-held mixer at top speed (about 12 minutes) until the beaters form deep sculptural folds in the frosting, the sheen has begun to fade, and the frosting forms firm peaks when the beaters are removed.
4. Remove the top of the double boiler and beat the frosting at high speed off heat for 1 minute. Beat in the ginger and lemongrass juices to taste. If you want to alert diners that this is not ordinary coconut cake, add food colorings to taste.
1. Set one cooled cake layer upside down on a serving plate. Using no more than ¼ of the frosting, frost the top of the layer and sprinkle with 1 cup of the coconut.
2. Set the other layer over this, right side up (flat side down), and cover the cake with the rest of the frosting. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut over the top of the cake and pat it onto the sides.
Thai coconut cake with lemongrass and ginger. Credit: Charles Perry