Articles in Baking w/recipe
“Flatbreads really grabbed me because they’re ancient in nature,” Paula Marcoux said at a class in early August. “Stone or clay or metal griddles grew up with domesticated grains. As nomadic people spread those grains they brought the griddle with them.”
In Saratoga, N.Y., the kitchen at the Healthy Living Market is very modern, which was fitting for the class introducing a group of contemporary cooks to how these ancient technologies and old foods have traveled through time and the world.
“I studied archaeology, and one of the things I love the most about the Middle East was eating the food. You can learn from documents, and you can learn from archaeology but you can learn by cooking too. And it’s not going to be the same unless you cook with fire,” Marcoux said, identifying the path to her passion.
ZESTER BOOK LINKS
By Paula Marcoux
Storey Publishing, 320 pages, 2014
That passion is outlined in her new book, “Cooking With Fire: From Roasting on a Spit to Baking in a Tannur, Rediscovered Techniques and Recipes That Capture the Flavors of Wood-Fired Cooking” (Storey Publishing). A food historian, Marcoux is the food editor of Edible South Shore magazine, and has worked as an archaeologist, cook and bread oven builder. The book, her first, covers a lot of ground with food and fire, from the most rudimentary fire and stick methods through managing the nuances of retained heat in an oven — brick or otherwise.
I can’t get my head out of the middle chapter, which covers griddles and flatbreads, a food ghetto I see no reason to leave.
“The fact is that baking technologies develop to suit the grains available,” Marcoux wrote. “With its smooth horizontal surface allowing even and controlled baking, the griddle has been used by cooks the world over to convert gluten-free grains and even tubers into tremendous breads.”
I love this. People talk about flatbreads and batter breads being as old as, and older than, our life with grains. But her explanation seems more perfect than others I’ve heard, perhaps because it comes with recipes. At Marcoux’s class, she traced how the stretched doughs of Anatolia had moved around the world in a cross-cultural arc of flaky, griddle-baked wheat goods that included scallion pancakes, and boreks savory and sweet.
“The modern borek derives from the ancient Semitic root word b-r-k,” Marcoux said. “From this came borek, pierogi and Tunisian brik. The Middle Eastern word is a blazing clue to these flatbreads, where a fine stretched dough delivers filling. I think it’s amazing how one idea can travel 10,000 years. That’s longevity.”
Marcoux has shoulder length dark hair and a ready smile. Being with her is like having searchable access to an encyclopedia of our human history with cooking and food.
For a flour and griddle fiend like me, she has been a joy to find. Her name crept into my life at the Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Massachusetts where she used to work, and where I went to visit erstwhile Pilgrims handling grains. This was in the spring, and people at Plimoth were excited about Marcoux’s work documenting early ovens in New England, and about her book, which was released in May. Now that I’ve met her, and have her book in my kitchen, I understand the enthusiasm.
“For the scallion pancakes, I’m just rolling out a simple circle of dough,” she explained at the market. She poured a little sesame oil on the disk, and spread it thickly with chopped scallions. “Roll it up like a long cigar. Coil it up like a snail, and let it rest a while.”
After that while had passed, maybe 10 minutes, she rolled the snail into a pancake, and fried it in a little canola oil on a tava, a concave pan generally used for dosas.
Gas not like using live fire
“I feel funny cooking this indoors,” she said, adjusting the heat so the pancake wouldn’t burn. “As lovely as this kitchen is, cooking on a gas stove just isn’t the same as using live fire. Instead of struggling with these controls, you’d just be pulling a twig out, or pushing a twig into the fire.”
As the pancakes cooked, she made Middle Eastern pastries, and invited us to come up to the counter and learn.
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“This technology is older than tossing pizza,” she said, moving a piece of dough from hand to hand. She urged people to look for videos of Armenian women tossing dough to learn the method.
The volunteers rolled their dough flat, then stretched it using a sway and throw motion between fingers and hands. Once it was thin enough, they put it on a cutting board again, where they buttered, then filled it.
“Puff pastry works because the fat and gluten layers have to work together,” she said, noting that the doughs we used were only wheat and water. “It doesn’t take huge expertise to make this because of the amazing geometry of dough. This quality of wheat is what made us love it, and we’ve been loving it for a really long time.”
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (or another of light soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sambal oelek or other Asian hot chile paste
- ¼ cup chicken broth (or water, plus another dash or two of soy)
- 1¾ cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1¾ cups (6 ounces) unbleached cake flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons peanut, canola or corn oil, plus more for frying pancakes
- 1¼ cups boiling water
- Asian (toasted) sesame oil for brushing
- 1½ cups chives or scallions, finely chopped
- Make sauce first to let flavors marry. Mix all ingredients and let rest while you make the dough.
- With a food processor or by hand, mix together flours and salt. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, then, gradually, the boiling water. (You may need a few more drops of water, but wait and see.) Once it comes together in a ball, knead by hand for a few minutes, then let rest airtight for 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a cylinder, and cut into 12 even-sized pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. Cover with a moist towel or plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.
- Roll one ball out thinly, brush with sesame oil, sprinkle liberally with chives, and roll up snugly in a cylinder. Coil the tube of filled dough in a spiral, keeping the seam to the inside. Press together a bit, and set aside, covered, while you fashion the rest.
- Gently roll each pancake flat. They should be 4 or 5 inches in diameter and about ¼-inch thick. (Light-handed rolling preserves all-important layering for the best texture.) Set up a couple of large skillets or a griddle; heat ⅛ inch of oil over medium heat. (You can continue rolling as you fry.)
- When the oil is hot, fry the pancakes (as many as you can at a time without crowding) until golden brown and crispy and cooked through — they should take about 3 minutes on the A side, and 2 minutes on the B side. Drain briefly on a rack or paper, cut in quarters, and serve hot with dipping sauce.
Recipe excerpted from "Cooking With Fire" by Paula Marcoux, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Main photo: Paula Marcoux’s sweet crispy borek, or campfire baklava. Credit: Ellie Markovitch
I treasure a blue ceramic pot, the size of a pigeon’s egg, inscribed Colman’s. It has survived decades of kitchen clear-outs and is still used to mix and serve freshly mixed Original English Mustard.
The volcanic yellow paste is the capo of condiments. It has packed a blistering punch on British dining tables ever since the eponymous Mr. Jeremiah Colman went into business in Norwich 200 years ago.
The former flour-miller built his fortune with “the bit on the side of the plate,” invariably left once the meat and two veg of Sunday lunch have been eaten.
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No one licks a plate clean of mustard.
Mustard may not be the essential desert island kitchen ingredient, but we would be the poorer without it: A smear of neon English mustard is an essential accompaniment to roast beef, pork pies and ham sandwiches and peerless for use in a range of old English recipes from deviled kidneys to cauliflower cheese, piccalilli and Welsh rarebit.
There are other English mustard brands available, as the phrase goes, but Colman’s, which claims 91% of total English mustard sales, will always be associated with Queen and country — and a platter of sliced, rare sirloin.
English mustard trade
In the 16th century the town of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire emerged as the center of the English mustard trade. Pounded and mixed with horseradish, balls of mustard seed were reconstituted with vinegar or verjuice.
In 1720, Mrs. Clements of Tewkesbury found a way to dry the seeds so they could be milled into a long-life powder that could then be “cut” with water. Mustard preparations were also used for medicinal purposes, such as curing toothaches and colds.
Colman’s came to dominate the market with its skillful blending of brown and white seeds and clever marketing. In 1866, the company was granted a Special Warrant as suppliers to Queen Victoria, and 30 years later launched its first ready-mixed mustard under the brand name Savora. The position was confirmed when it purchased rival manufacturer’s Keen’s, which gave its name to the phrase “keen as mustard.”
Mustard crop nearly lost
Homegrown mustard seeds were nearly wiped out in 2007 through a combination of bad weather, poor harvests and poor flavor from loss of seed diversity. Luckily, Colman’s (now owned by Unilever) had kept jars of dried mustard seeds going back decades: DNA profiling enabled the company to restore viability to the national mustard crop.
Branding expertise played a key part in Colman’s success from the start.
In 1926, Colman’s Mustard Club became all the rage. The famous bull’s head logo conveyed an image of strength. It helped that mustard was considered a particularly good accompaniment to beef. Or, as Chico Marx was later to put it in “Monkey Business,” “Mustard’s no good without roast beef.”
Mustard memorabilia are now collectors’ items, from branded Victorian pencil sharpeners to Royal Doulton mustard pots and enameled signs, as well as brilliant advertising posters. Visitors to the Norwich Mustard Shop invariably come away laden with magnets, teapots, lapel badges, shoppers, coasters, mugs and jigsaws. My favorite? The mustard-tin cufflinks.
Mix mustard to your taste
The mixing of the powder with water to suit your own heat preference was once a ritual in British homes. The powder is made from pure mustard flour, but the ready-made jars and toothpaste-tubes also contain sugar, salt, wheat flour, spice, citric acid and water. Sales of the latter, however, far outstrip the dried powder in a triumph of convenience over tradition.
Sadly, in this anniversary year, there are mutters of discontent. Original English Mustard fans complain the ready-made version is runnier, it drips off the food and has lost its bite. I can’t help but agree — which is why I’m sticking to the powder and my old blue jar.
TIP: Should you choose to prepare it yourself: Mix and let stand for 10 minutes for the flavor to develop. Also, always use cold water in your mix for a cleaner, sharper taste.
- 8 pork sausages
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 3 cups halved closed-cup mushrooms
- 2 heaping teaspoons of Colman's Instant Beef Gravy
- ½ to 1 teaspoon Colman's English Mustard, or to taste
- 2 cups dried macaroni
- 1½ tablespoons reduced-fat spread
- 2 cups reduced-fat milk (2%)
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Colman’s English Mustard
- 1 packed cup mature, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
- ¼ packed cup Red Leicester cheese, shredded
- Pepper, to season
- (* Created especially by Colman’s for the 200th birthday)
- Preheat the grill. Arrange the sausages on the grill rack and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning often until browned.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for 4 to 5 minutes, until browned. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Dissolve the gravy in 7 fluid ounces of boiling water. Stir in the mustard, then add to the onion mixture. Slice the sausages and add them to the pan. Transfer to an oven-proof baking dish, allow to cool while making the topping.
- Cook the macaroni in lightly salted boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the milk, spread and flour into a non-stick saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, to make a smooth sauce. Add the mustard and season with pepper. Stir in the cheddar cheese until melted.
- Drain the macaroni thoroughly and add to the cheese sauce. Spoon on top of the sausage mixture and sprinkle the Red Leicester cheese onto the surface.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Bake for 20 minutes, then broil the top for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with green vegetables.
A Very Fine Rarebit
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
1 packed cup, plus 2 tablespoons hard cheese, shredded (I used Red Leicester cheese because the coloring intensifies the red-gold hue of the topping, but you can use any hard, strong cheese.
4 fluid ounces English ale
2 teaspoons freshly made English mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of sourdough bread (or similar)
1. Preheat the grill to high.
2. Melt the cheese in a small pan with the ale, mustard and pepper; stir until melted. (This will take only a few minutes.)
3. Set aside while you toast and butter the bread.
4. Pour the mixture over the slices of buttered toast and brown under the grill.
Jolly good with a cup of tea — or the rest of the ale.
* Nathaniel Gubbins (a pseudonym for Edward Spencer) was a Victorian century gourmet and humorous writer who gave his name to this spicy sauce he described as “invaluable, especially for the sluggard.”
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons English mustard
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
6 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream
Cayenne or paprika (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a double boiler or in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water.
2. Combine the mustard and vinegar, then add the cream.
3. Season with salt and pepper (and cayenne, if used).
4. Keep warm over the water until ready to serve. Gubbins suggested serving with roast chicken legs and thighs, but you can also use white meat. The sauce is also good with lamb cutlets.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: n/a
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
6 large eggs
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons freshly made English mustard
Paprika (or cayenne)
Salt and black pepper
Chopped curly parsley (adds a suitably retro touch)
1. Boil the eggs until hard, plunge into cold water, let chill (this will help avoid any gray marks between yolk and white, and makes them easier to shell).
2. Shell the eggs, and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the yolks.
3. Mash the yolks (or press through a nylon sieve) with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, a pinch of paprika and seasoning to taste.
4. Spoon or pipe the mixture into the egg white halves, then sprinkle with the parsley.
Main photo: Colman’s Original English Mustard. Credit: Clarissa Hyman
Sometimes hand-me down family recipes need a little nudge to make them suit today’s tastes. In the case of my grandma’s icebox cake, she traditionally labored over creating homemade pound cake and then paired it with homemade chocolate mousse-like pudding. My mom updated it for her day by using Jell-O pudding instead. It was tasty enough to be my favorite dessert as a 6-year-old, but as an adult, I want something more. More chocolate, to be specific.
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So I followed a big sister’s suggestion and combined the best of these family ideas. I added all the extra-dark chocolate I could find to the pudding as it cooked. Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, Guittard, Ghirardelli — pick your poison. And it didn’t seem to matter how much I threw in, so I took advice from my 8-year-old grandnephew, who is fond of promoting “add as much chocolate as you want” to almost any dessert recipe, and included three full bars of Valhrona, 1½ boxes of Scharffen Berger and a partial bag of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips. And always on the lookout for simple and fast, I found that a three-loaf package of store-bought pound cake works just as well as homemade when chocolate is the star of the dessert.
With all that input — and all that chocolate — this cake might just live on to be a five-generation heirloom. I think Grandma would be proud.
- 3 store-bought pound cakes
- 18 ounces or more of dark chocolate (bars, bits or chips)
- 2 large (5-ounce) boxes of Jell-O Cook and Serve Chocolate Pudding
- 6 cups whole milk
- 2 cups whipped cream
- Cut pound cakes into ½ inch slices. Each cake should supply enough slices to fit in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking pan.
- Break up chunks of dark chocolate bars. Combine two boxes of pudding mix and 6 cups of whole milk in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. When it starts to warm up, add chocolate pieces and continue to stir until the mixture boils. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with one layer of ½ inch slices of pound cake. Spread one-third of the pudding over the layer of cake. Repeat layering process two more times, alternating cake and pudding.
- Insert a few toothpicks in the top of the cake to keep plastic wrap from resting directly on pudding and cover. Refrigerate for 12 hours to allow the cake to chill and the pudding to settle.
- Prior to serving, spread a layer of freshly whipped cream over top of cake.
If you have a stash of good-quality baking chocolate, I encourage you to simply empty it into the pudding. It seems to be able to absorb quite a bit without consequence. You can serve this cake with as little as 3 hours’ chilling time, but it is best if left to settle and chill overnight or at least 12 hours.
Main photo: Chocolate icebox cake with Valrhona, Scharffen Berger and Ghirardelli chocolate. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
Growing your own vegetables and making bread are two of life’s great pleasures. How wonderful it is that they can be combined, so that much of the produce from your garden can be made into delicious and unusual breads — including often overlooked, but wonderful, vegetable breads.
Root vegetables make excellent bread and can be used grated (raw or cooked), or cooked and mashed. Beets, carrots, parsnips and potatoes can all be used like this. Spinach and all members of the squash family can be used to make lovely and unusual loaves. As a rough guide, equal weights of flour and puréed vegetables work well; if using grated vegetables, use half the weight of vegetables to flour or equal weights, depending on the concentration of flavor that you want.
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Be aware that the vegetables will alter the structure of the loaf. The texture of the dough may become heavier and it may not rise as much as a basic wheat loaf, but don’t worry; the finished loaf will be fine. Some vegetables have a high water content, which can make the dough unmanageably sticky, so add water slowly and be prepared to use less than you might expect. If you have cooked the vegetables, use the cooking liquid instead of plain water for added flavor. The moistness in these breads means that they keep well, usually staying fresh longer than wheat loaves (keep them in a bread bin). They can also be frozen.
You may not think of them as vegetables, but dried onion flakes, garlic, chopped olives or chilies will also give your bread excellent flavor without really altering the structure. Be careful using fresh garlic, as it can inhibit the action of the yeast. Add only small amounts of garlic and slightly increase the quantity of yeast.
Use our Endlessly Adaptable Bread recipe as a jumping-off point for variations. Here are some of our favorite combinations, and a recipe for tomato bread that is perfect for this time of year.
This bread has a lovely chewy quality and doesn’t taste of potato! It is delicious with a handful of sage, rosemary or thyme mixed into the dough. If there is any left over, it makes very good toast the following day. It was often known as “poor man’s bread” and became popular in areas where wheat was hard to grow. The poor Irish farmers famously survived on little other than potatoes for many years and there are many Irish recipes for potato bread. Potatoes are too starchy to use alone to make bread, but they can be substituted for some of the flour. When making mash to use for bread don’t add milk or butter, as it will make the mash too soft. Remember this when you are preparing mash for the table and set aside some potatoes first. There is a recipe for potato bread on the Hafton & Kelly website.
Pumpkin and squash bread
Bread made with pumpkin or squash is slightly sweet and has a soft crust. To emphasize the sweetness, nuts, chocolate chips and dried fruit are delicious additions. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or cloves also work well. Boil or roast the squash and then mash the flesh or purée it in a food processor. You can make this bread all year, using canned pumpkin. In season, butternut squash makes particularly good bread. Just before you put the loaf into the oven, brush it with an egg glaze and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Spinach makes a wonderful bread with an attractive mottled appearance. This is the bread to eat with cheese and pickles or with a hearty winter soup. It also makes excellent sandwiches; as well as its look and flavor, it holds together well. Garlic, rosemary and thyme are all good additions. You can use fresh or frozen spinach; fresh spinach should be wilted and finely chopped, either should be well drained. Roll the dough in grated Parmesan just before leaving it for its second rise for a cheesy crust.
The addition of beet produces a soft loaf with a delicate flavor that is a brilliant raspberry pink. The crust is usually more subtly colored, but, depending on the beet, the inside can be quite a startling color. You can grate raw beet or cook and purée it. This bread is particularly good with cream cheese and makes great sandwiches.
Zucchini or courgette bread
Grate the vegetables and add 1/2 cup of soft brown sugar for a deliciously moist, sweet loaf. Nutmeg, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and dried fruit are great additions. Onions, garlic and mushrooms will produce equally delicious savory bread, which can be sharpened with paprika or red chili.
This bread is a perfect partner to cheese and pickle or soup and, of course, tomato salad. The recipe comes from “The Kitchen Garden Cookbook: Tomatoes,” by Jane McMorland Hunter.
- 3 ½ (500 grams) cups strong white flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons (7 grams) easy-blend yeast
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped or whizzed briefly in a food processor (If you are using dry tomatoes, soak them in olive oil first so they soften up. When you add the tomatoes to the bread mixture they should be in about 2 tablespoons of oil.)
- 12 black olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
- 1 ¼ (300 milliliters) cups tepid water
- Handful of rosemary
- 3 to 4 cherry or baby plum tomatoes
- Put the flour, salt, yeast, tomatoes, tomato purée, and olives (if using) into a large bowl and mix well. Pour in the water gradually, mixing in well, until you have a dough that is soft and workable but not sticky. Turn onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
- Shape the dough into a round and put it in a greased bowl, turning so it is well coated. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place. After 1 ½ to 2 hours it should have doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down, remove it from the bowl and knead gently for a minute.
- Grease a large baking tray and shape the dough into a loaf (long or round, whichever you prefer) straight onto it. Cut the cherry or baby plum tomatoes in half lengthwise. Push them and small sprigs of rosemary into the surface of the dough. This is easiest if you make a cut in the dough with a pair of kitchen scissors and insert the tomato or rosemary into the resulting gap, otherwise they tend to spring out of the dough. Cover with a tea towel and leave for another 30 minutes to rise again.
- Preheat the oven to 455 F (230C/Gas 8).
- Cook the bread for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 400F (200C/400F) for another 15 to 20 minutes. The loaf should be nicely risen and golden and sound hollow when tapped.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Main photo: Bread and the vegetables that can be used in it. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter
Willy Wonka might not agree, but not all chocolate is created equal. To find out what makes the difference between a $1 candy bar and an artisanal, single-origin chocolate, I went to Tuscany, Italy, to tour the headquarters of Amedei, a four-time winner of the Oscars of chocolate — the coveted Golden Bean award. There I went on a guided tasting of chocolate that Food & Wine Magazine calls “the world’s best.”
My visit began with a tasting of the various Amedei products, including tiny bars called Napolitains, assorted handmade pralines, and finally the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted, dense and rich with a hint of toasted almonds.
Amedei is the only Italian chocolate company that supervises chocolate production at every stage, from growing the cocoa bean to the finished product. During the visit, Cecilia Tessieri, owner of the Amedei chocolate company, explained chocolate’s complexity and gave an insider’s peek at how the pros taste chocolate.
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Chocolate tasting tips
Tessieri says that to truly appreciate fine chocolate, you must use all five of your senses.
See. Start with your eyes. Great chocolate should have a nice sheen, but not be too glossy. Too glossy means that instead of using only expensive cocoa butter, less costly vegetable oils were added.
Hear. Break off a piece. Do you hear a snap? That’s a sign that the cocoa butter was properly crystalized.
Smell. Fine chocolate offers lovely complex aromas, and depending on where it’s from, may show off hints of toasted almonds, honey or dried fruit. Defective or lesser chocolate smells burnt or metallic.
Touch and taste. Put a small piece of chocolate onto the center of your tongue, but don’t chew! Fine chocolate has multiple flavor levels and chewing doesn’t allow time for them to reveal themselves. Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, but soft at body temperature, giving us the chance to experience the silky feel of the chocolate as it melts in the mouth.
How chocolate is made
The visit continued with a video on harvesting chocolate and then a tour through Amedei’s facility for converting cacao beans into award-winning chocolate. “It all starts with the cocoa beans,” said Cecilia, holding a handful of aromatic toasted cocoa beans. A single cacao tree bears about 30 usable pods each year, yielding roughly 1,000 cacao beans, enough for about 2 pounds of chocolate.
The mature pods are handpicked and then carefully cut open so as not to damage the beans, which must remain intact to maintain a full chocolate flavor. When a cacao pod is first opened, it has no hint of chocolate fragrance. Instead, the white fruit pulp has a lovely peach and tropical flower aroma and a fruity tart-sweet flavor.
The pulp and the beans are pulled out of the pod and placed in a container, often a simple wooden box lined with banana leaves, where it is left for seven to nine days. The beans ferment in the pulp’s juices, infusing them with additional flavor. They are then spread out to dry in the sun for about a week where they are gently turned, often by women on tiptoe, in what Cecilia calls the “the cacao dance.”
When the beans arrive at Amedei, Cecilia begins the process of converting these precious cacao beans into chocolate.
1. Cecilia does a “cut test,” slicing a sample of the beans in half to confirm their quality. Cacao beans must be perfect to be included in Amedei chocolate—uniform and smooth.
2. Then they are roasted in special proprietary indirect fire equipment.
3. After that, the concasseur, or nibbing machine, separates the husks from the beans to obtain tiny bits of cacao beans, the “nibs.”
4. Next, the nibs are ground into a thick paste called cocoa mass. I tasted the warm, fragrant mass and found it perfect, but Cecilia explained that it was still too acidic and dense. The missing crucial step is called “conching.” a slow, gentle grinding process lasting 72 hours that results in a silky smooth chocolate with perfect flavor. Finally comes tempering, melting the chocolate to just the right temperature to crystallize the cocoa butter. At this stage, the chocolate is ready to be made into the various Amedei products.
From around the world
Cru, a French term meaning “growth,” refers to wines from a particular area. Since the ’80s the term is also used with other products that change flavor depending on where they’re made, including beer, whisky and chocolate.
“Chocolate can taste very different depending on where it comes from,” explains Cecelia during our tour. She scours the globe in search of the very best tasting beans. She illustrated those differences in a guided tasting of Amedei’s Cru line, which includes chocolates made exclusively from cocoa beans from various countries, explaining the special aroma and taste of each:
Delicate, creamy taste with a lovely long-lasting finish.
Smells like hot chocolate with hints of lavender and herbs.
Rich with lovely hints of citrus and mint that almost tingles on the tongue.
Delicate roasted cacao aroma and the intriguing scent of a forest in the fall. The taste is just as complex, with a sequence of flavors revealing themselves, from green tea to pistachio and almonds to tropical fruit.
Fabulously complex aroma of dates, figs, apricot jam and ginger with a touch of carob, olives and freshly cut wood. The taste delivers all that the aroma promises, with the tang of candied orange peel and jam and richness of butter. Deep dark chocolate taste, yet not at all bitter.
Gourmet aromas of cocoa powder, Cuban cigars and a summer garden filled with fresh tomatoes with a taste of walnuts, vanilla and sweet persimmons.
Delicate aroma of sugar, warm melted butter, dried fruit and sandlewood. Naturally nutty taste of hazelnut, walnut, almond and cashew with slightly spicy hints. Intense flavor that is long lingering and rich.
There is one Amedei store in the United States, so if you can’t get to Italy, you can visit their shop at 15 East 18th St. in New York City, which features daily free samplings.
This flourless cake has a crisp, macaroon-like top layer and a dense, incredibly moist center. As the cake cools, it collapses just a little, creating a pretty webbing on the delicious crust. It’s made with only five ingredients, so be sure to use only quality chocolate like Amedei. A must-try classic! Recipe is in "DOLCI: Italy’s Sweets" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011)
Note: The cake's total time includes 20 to 30 minutes of rest time.
- 7 tablespoons, 3 ½ ounces, unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- 7 ounces dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher, preferrably Amedei
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons potato or cornstarch
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form cake pan .
- Melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a saucepan of gently boiling water.
- In a large bowl beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric hand held mixer until creamy and pale yellow. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and beat until creamy. Add the potato starch and mix until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Slowly, using a spatula, fold the egg whites, a little at a time, into the chocolate mixture until combined.
- Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just set in the center. Don’t over-bake.
- The cake will continue to set as it cools. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting it until it collapses and the top crust cracks a bit.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
Driving along shoulderless highways in northern Michigan, it’s hard to miss row after row of Montmorency cherry trees loaded with fruit waiting to be baked into pies or squeezed into a liquid elixir that scientists and doctors assign superfruit status.
With more than 2 million cherry trees, Michigan produces over 70% of the country’s tart cherry crop, and July is the start of the season for a fruit that has been credited with controlling cholesterol, lowering weight and boosting heart health. Not to mention being at the heart of a mean cherry pie.
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Tart cherries might well deserve a medal for their healthy attributes, but I’d much rather test their ability to satisfy my craving for the yin-yang balance of sweet and tart enveloped in one glorious double-crusted pie. That’s because tart cherries, not sweet, have always been the basis for the best cherry pie. Bakers can control the amount of sweetness with sugar and the tangy essence of tart cherries keeps the pie from becoming cloyingly sweet.
In a part of the country where any proper pie judge will tell you that cherry pies are not to be trifled with, I decided to go out on a limb and conducted a loosely structured pie contest of my own. In traditional measure, blue ribbons become a battle between best crust and most cherry-packed (but least gooey) filling, and awards only go to those that deliver both.
Ferreting out the best the region had to offer, I sampled options from The Cherry Hut, a 92-year old pie-making institution in the little town of Beulah (8 points for cherry-packed filling), to local behemoth Cherry Republic (9 points for crunchy, tender crust). Naturally, I couldn’t avoid including a few farm stand options in between. In the end, a roadside pie spiced with a bit of balsamic vinegar took the prize for my personal favorite. Cask-aged balsamic, which delivers its own magic blend of sweet and tart, was the perfect complement to the fruit and provided a deep base of flavor to the freshly harvested cherries.
But after all that pie, I was feeling a bit sleepy, and no wonder. Did I mention that tart cherries contain melatonin, a natural hormone that helps you sleep at night?
The winning farm stand pie inspired my interpretation of the classic Michigan cherry pie. I’ve blended a rich, cask-aged balsamic vinegar into the filling and added a bit of Fiori di Sicilia, a blend of floral, citrus and vanilla essences, to keep the flavors bright.
- Pie dough, enough for two crusts, chilled
- 3 pounds, pitted fresh or frozen (do not thaw) tart cherries
- ⅓ cup Pie Enhancer (or 6 tablespoons flour)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cask-aged balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Fiori de Sicilia extract (or vanilla extract)
- Sparkling sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out enough dough for one crust and place in 9- to 10-inch deep dish pie plate, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Return to refrigerator while assembling filling to keep dough cold.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss to combine cherries, Pie Enhancer or flour, sugar, salt, balsamic vinegar and Fiori di Sicilia. Fill pie dish and return to refrigerator again while preparing top crust.
- Roll out remaining pie dough and trim into 1-inch slices. Weave for latticework and gently transfer over filling. Turn lower crust up and over edges of lattice and crimp with fingers or fork.
- Whisk egg with 2 tablespoons water and gently brush over top crust. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
- Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes, crust will be golden brown and fruit will be gently bubbling when done. Remove to rack to cool.
Not one to cling to tradition, when I find a new ingredient that is a big improvement over my old ways, I embrace it. Such is the case with King Arthur Flour’s Pie Enhancer, which I use to thicken fruit pies. A blend of superfine sugar, modified corn starch (aka Instant Clear Gel) and ascorbic acid, it sets the pie juices but avoids that gluey texture that flour sometimes imparts. But follow your own tradition and if flour works best for you, then substitute 5 tablespoons of flour for the Pie Enhancer and increase the amount of sugar in the filling for a total of ⅓ cup sugar.
Sun, Sea & Olives: The feast of St. John the Baptist, is a date laden with folklore and myth, like all those associated with equinoxes and solstices. It’s June 24, and throughout Europe it’s referred to as midsummer, even though summer officially begins only three days earlier. In many cultures it’s a tradition to celebrate with bonfires, almost always an indication of some ritual connection to the sun.
This year, I got up very early, just at dawn on the 24th, and went to check on the great walnut tree. This sturdy specimen planted 40 years ago now lords over the front lawn and spreads over the surrounding grapevines, which annoys the grapevine master to no end, for reasons I’ll get to later. The boughs are low and heavy, so it was easy to reach the round, green fruits, still quite firm to the touch.
Within a few minutes I had 32 of them in my basket, harvested well before the dew had time to dry. That is the beginning of the prescription for nocino – the nuts must be harvested on the 24th of June before the dew is dry. Nocino is a fabled Italian digestif, pride of farmhouse kitchens in Tuscany and many other parts of the country too. Some nocino is available commercially (Padre Peppe is a famous brand from Puglia), but what most people seek out is the straight-from-the-farm, homemade, handmade miracle of bittersweet flavors — the kind, most people will swear, their grandmothers were noted for and no one has been able to duplicate since.
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Actually, making nocino isn’t all that difficult, apart from the requisite early rising. Once the nuts are brought into the kitchen, they are split or cut with a knife or partially crushed in a mortar, my preferred method. The insides are pure white, but you can clearly see the milky embryo of what will become, by October, a full-fledged walnut.
In my kitchen, the lightly crushed fruits go into a glass jug along with pieces of cinnamon stick, whole cloves, crushed nutmegs and a half dozen star anise. Some cooks might add a whole vanilla bean, split down the middle to release its flavor, but I keep it pure. I add 2 liters of alcohol and 3 cups of sugar dissolved in a cup of boiling water and let it cool before adding to the mix. Plus the zest of a lemon and three or four thin slices of the same lemon. The jar gets sealed, set on a sunny shelf and left, according to my instructions, for a philosophical month, during which it is stirred or shaken daily.
What on earth is a philosophical month? After a lot of searching, I figured out a philosophical month is 40 days. The term comes from medieval alchemists, though why it’s called that and why it differs from a normal lunar or solar month I cannot say.
But now the jug sits on my kitchen window ledge, growing steadily darker, to be siphoned off and bottled Aug. 5.
And why is the master of the grapevines annoyed with the walnut tree? Part of the walnut’s mythology has to do with its potent effect on growing things, doubtless owing to the fact that the tree, roots, leaves and fruits are all laden with tannins; the branches that extend over the vines inhibit them from further growth. “The tree of idleness” is what they called the big, old walnut at the kafeneion – the local cafe — in the Cyprus village where we once lived, and the old gents of the village idled their time away under its branches, loath to disturb themselves for another coffee or ouzo, with just enough energy to throw the dice for another game of trictrac.
Years ago, when our walnut tree was much younger, Bruno, the neighboring contadino, warned me never to fall asleep beneath it. “You might never wake up,” he said with a dark look. The tree of witches, I’ve also heard said. The legendary witches’ tree of Benevento in southern Italy, under which they held their Sabbaths, was a walnut.
Walnuts show up in variety of Mediterranean dishes
A week after making nocino, I finally got the last traces of walnut juice out of my fingernails, which were stained first yellow and then dark brown with that tannic juice. The whole process led me to think more about how valuable walnuts are and what an important but all too often unacknowledged ingredient they are in traditional Mediterranean cuisines, from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, where crushed walnuts add flavor and crunch to sweet, honey-drenched pastries, all the way to the Perigord region of southwest France, where walnut oil is often used in cooking, and sweet vin de noix, an aperitif rather than a digestif, is made from walnuts — also harvested on the morning of St. Jean Baptiste.
It’s not surprising they should be so prevalent. First off, their healthfulness: Walnuts are one of the few plant sources for valuable omega-3 fatty acids, so necessary for human metabolism. Vegetarians and vegans especially are well advised to add walnuts to their diets because the only other good, readily available source of this essential fat is oily fish. Moreover, walnuts, like extra virgin olive oil, have a high percentage of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and monounsaturated fat — all things that can make us live longer and more healthfully.
But real happiness comes from the good things walnuts do in just about anything they’re added to. Pounded walnut sauces exist in every Mediterranean cuisine: Turkish cooks make tarator, a walnut-based sauce, to go with fried seafood — a great summertime combination for al fresco dining — and in Italian Liguria, the original pesto genovese, that quintessential basil sauce so characteristic of the season, seems to have been made as often with walnuts as with pine nuts. Here are some hints to spur your imagination:
- Add a little walnut oil to a salad dressing for extra richness.
- Toast a handful of chopped walnuts with some breadcrumbs to make a great topping for any sort of baked cheese pasta.
- Add a handful of chopped walnuts to bread or biscuit dough.
- Add walnuts and little knobs of feta or soft goat cheese to a plain green salad, or combine walnuts and goat cheese to make an elegant topping for pre-dinner crostini, served with a glass of chilled rosé.
- Make a simple, seasonal dessert: a handful of walnuts and a bowl of fresh-sliced, tree-ripened peaches.
Or do as cooks in the eastern Mediterranean do and serve a very plain cake, not too sweet, made from olive oil and yogurt, enriched with toasted chopped walnuts; it makes a fine accompaniment to seasonal berries or those same sliced peaches. And here’s a secret: It’s just as good for Sunday breakfast as it is for Saturday night’s dessert.
This is from “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook”; the original was made with mastic-flavored olive oil, but because that is not easy to find, I’ve adapted it using vanilla instead.
- Butter and flour for an 8-inch springform pan
- ¾ cup walnut meats
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 medium eggs, separated
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (full fat is best)
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
- Preheat the oven to 300 F. Butter and flour the cake pan.
- When the oven is hot, spread the walnuts on a sheet pan and set in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are lightly toasted. Let cool, then chop finely or grind to a fine texture in a food processor, but do not let them process into a paste. The walnuts should still be a little gritty.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and toss with a fork to mix well. Add the ground nuts and mix again.
- Beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl, gradually beating in about half the sugar. Beat until the yolks are thick and pale. A little at a time, beat in the yogurt, olive oil and vanilla essence, beating well after each addition. Fold the flour mixture into the yolks.
- With clean beaters, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the yolk-flour mixture, then, using a spatula to bring up the batter at the base of the bowl, continue folding the remainder, about a third at a time. When everything is well combined, turn it into the prepared cake pan.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden, the center is firm and the cake pulls away a little from the sides of the pan. Remove and transfer to a cake rack. When cool, remove the cake from the pan.
- Serve the cake plain, or top it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream (maple walnut perhaps?). You could ice the cake if you wish, but that’s not in the Mediterranean tradition.
Main photo: Walnuts. Credit: iStockphoto
My father loved to fish, his East Coast genes commanding that love. Dad loved camping too but only camping where water was nearby. After all, nothing tasted better than fresh fish frying on a camp stove, unless it was fresh fish accompanied by the wonderful cherry jam he made to go with it.
While Mom set the table and my sister trotted off with her Barbie dolls, Dad’s fishing pole arced and fell, and I caught up with Nancy Drew’s latest mystery. When Dad had enough fish, even Nancy was cast aside for lunch.
While the fish sizzled, he caramelized onions for the cherry jam. How he fell upon this combination I don’t know, but the jam, little more than fresh cherries, green pepper and onions, was tart and sweet, and we slathered it onto the hot fish. With coleslaw and bread, we had a midday feast.
After lunch, we were logy, sluggish in our movements but content in our thoughts. Even Barbie looked ready to stretch out on her lounge chair for a nap.
Fresh cherries open up new possibilities
Before moving to Ontario, Canada, we never ate fresh cherries, the ones arriving at the grocery store already covered with a fuzzy coating of mold. So we contented ourselves with maraschino cherries in canned fruit cocktail or topping an ice cream sundae or the glace cherries in a cake that had been passed down from my Great-Grandmother Hunt.
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I never knew her, but in Dad’s words she was “a corker” (an excellent or astonishing person). All of 4 feet and practically as wide as she was tall, she wore a black apron that fringed her ankles and had a Newfoundland dog, looking more pony than canine, that rarely left her side.
When Dad spent summer holidays with her and his grandfather, she made boiled dinners that were often gray in the pot and roasts of beef that inevitably blackened in her care, but she also made a cherry cake that he and the dog salivated over. The cake was one of the few things that she made — along with poached eggs, fish stew and gingerbread — that was a keeper, he said.
Although really just a pound cake with glace cherries added, it was the beating of butter and sugar until silken and the addition of almond flavoring and orange juice that elevated the cake to something special. She used a wooden spoon and an English mason bowl that she sat in her lap, creaming the butter and sugar with a steady rhythm, while the other ingredients waited to be added. The last thing mixed in was the cherries, which had been sprinkled with flour so they wouldn’t fall to the bottom of the cake as it baked.
Great-Grandmother Hunt hummed while the spoon beat against the bowl, the oil stove undulating in the heat and Dad and the dog sitting close by, waiting.
Later, when she took the cakes out of the oven, they hardly had time to reach the cooling racks before boy and beast were at her elbow, begging for slices that had been tinged pink from the cherries.
Decades later, Dad made those cakes for me and my sister, but by then, we’d also become fresh cherry lovers. The Bing cherries that grew on a tree in the back garden of our new home were fat and glossy, and what a wonder it was to pick a handful whenever we wanted.
I was sometimes sent out with the step stool and a bowl to pick enough cherries for a new dessert Dad discovered in the only cookbook he ever bought, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Later, he found the tall and gangly author of the book, Julia Child, on television by accident and learned to make new, French dishes, but Cherry Clafoutis remained one of his favorites.
It looked like a puffed up pancake as it baked, but it was so much more — light textured and bursting with cherries. Powdered sugar sprinkled on top added an extra touch of sweetness. Cherry Clafoutis became a weekend treat and a camping specialty. Dad even made a metal hood for the camp stove so he could bake the dessert on it.
The aroma of the baking clafoutis lured friends and strangers to our camping spot. Soon, slices were being passed around, powdered sugar was coating lips and cherry juice dribbled down chins. It was hard to imagine life before this dessert and before fresh cherries.
Dad tweaked Child’s clafoutis over the years, adding ingredients and changing amounts, but he always credited her with opening up a whole new direction in cooking and baking for him. His clafoutis is the version I still make.
I stay true to Great-Grandmother Hunt’s cherry cake recipe, though, like he did, and although Bing cherries are still my favorites, I also like light-fleshed Rainiers, the “Princess of cherries,” while the Lapin’s deep red skin and flesh makes a cherry jam that is still perfect slathered on pan fried trout.
Inspired by Julia Child's recipe.
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup white sugar, divided
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup 10% cream
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 2 cups cherries, pitted (fresh work best, but frozen cherries, thawed and drained, work well too)
- Powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Sift the salt and flour together in a small bowl.
- In a medium-size bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Add ½ cup sugar and whisk until combined, then add the buttermilk, cream, orange juice and almond extract; whisk until smooth.
- Add the sifted flour and salt and blend well.
- Pour half the batter into a greased baking dish (about an 8-cup capacity) and place in the preheated oven. When the batter has started to set around the sides of the pan (about 10 minutes), remove the pan from the oven.
- Sprinkle the cherries and then the additional ½ cup of sugar over the batter. Add the rest of the batter and return the dish to the oven.
- Bake for about 45 minutes (or until the clafoutis has puffed up, is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean).
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.
Main photo: Fresh cherries. Credit: Sharon Hunt