Articles in Baking w/recipe
Apricots — the gorgeous, golden fruit that is blushed with pink by the early summer sun — arrived in Europe from the East, China, perhaps, or India. Later they made their way across the Atlantic to the New World in the pockets of 17th-century English settlers.
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Apricots are now firmly established in continental climates on both sides of the pond — Mediterranean regions and California are noted producers — that offer the right combination of cold winters and intensely hot summers. Right now, in central Europe, my favorites are coming in from Switzerland’s Valais region, where they bask in the sunbaked foothills of the Alps on the southern side of the River Rhone.
Sometimes — though not reliably — apricots are fine to eat raw, with the advantage that the pit or stone comes away cleanly from the flesh. You don’t even need a knife: Just pull apart the two halves with a gentle tug, and the pit will come free.
All too often, though, they are either unripe or woolly. These are the ones to use in jam, or baked in a tart or baked in the oven with sugar and spice. You can compensate for their lack of ripeness by judicious sweetening, while woolliness works just fine in jam.
If your visit to the farmers market this week yielded an abundance of apricots, or you’ve been the lucky recipient of a tray of ripe fruit from a neighbor whose tree has fruited bountifully this month, turn them into jam, or bake them in a fragile pastry shell or poach them in juice with a scattering of fragrant cardamom seeds and serve them cold with ice cream.
Apricot Jam With Lavender
This lightly set jam sings of summer. Apricots, especially if fully ripe, have little pectin of their own. For this reason, it’s best to use quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin, which ensures a good set in a shorter cooking time, thus preserving all the jam’s fresh fruitiness.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes to bring up to a boil plus 5 to 10 minutes fast boiling
Total time: 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: Makes eight 1-pound (450 gram) jars.
4 1/2 pounds (2 kilograms) apricots
3 pounds, 5 ounces (1.5 kilograms) quick-setting jam sugar with added pectin
Juice of 1 lemon
8 fresh lavender sprigs
Put a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam later.
Cut apricots in half and remove the pits (stones). Cut in half again if very large.
Place apricots in a large preserving pan with the sugar, lemon juice and lavender sprigs. Stir to mix well and leave for a few hours or overnight until the juices run and the sugar is dissolved.
Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring. From the moment it reaches a vigorous boil, count 5 minutes (be careful it doesn’t boil over — reduce the heat a little if necessary). Then start testing for a set: Remove the saucer from the freezer, pour a little into the saucer, let it cool slightly and then draw your finger through the jam: A distinct channel should form, and remain formed. If it does, setting point has been reached; if not, give the jam a little longer — up to 5 minutes more — and test again.
Once the jam has reached setting point, transfer it into warm jam jars, cover tightly and label.
Apricot Tart With Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries
Apricots make plenty of juice when baked, so take a page out of the Swiss bakers’ books: Sprinkle a layer of ground nuts in the bottom of the pastry to give a waterproof layer, as well as great flavor and texture.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots
1 8-ounce (225 grams) ready-rolled round of puff pastry or pie crust, or 8 ounces (225 grams) puff pastry or pie crust
A little butter for the pan
3 tablespoons ground almonds or hazelnuts
3 tablespoons granulated or light brown sugar or to taste
5 to 6 spays of redcurrants or a handful alpine strawberries for garnish
Icing sugar to dust the tart
Cut the apricots in half, remove the pits (stones), then cut in half again if very large.
Lightly butter a 12-inch (30-centimeter) quiche pan with removable base
Unwrap the round of puff or pie crust (or roll out the puff pastry or pie crust to a circle slightly larger than the quiche pan) and lay it in the buttered pan, pressing it gently into the corners with lightly floured knuckles.
Prick the pastry bottom with a fork and sprinkle with the ground nuts.
Arrange the apricots tightly in the pan in concentric circles, facing upwards, setting them up pertly like little cocked ears.
Sprinkle the fruit with sugar.
Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and bake the tart for 30 to 35 minutes or until the fruit is tinged with gold and the pastry golden-brown.
Remove tart from the oven and set it on a rack. Let it cool.
To serve, remove the outer ring from the pan, leaving the tart on its base, and place the tart on a serving plate. Garnish with redcurrant sprays or alpine strawberries and shake some icing sugar on top through a sieve or tea strainer.
Baked Apricots With Orange Juice and Cardamom Seeds
If you find the apricots scored at the farmers market are a little tart or not especially well-flavored, here’s the way to go: Cut the fruit in half, bake them in orange juice with a sprinkling of sugar and some cardamom seeds, and serve well chilled with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and lightly sweetened crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds (1 kilogram) apricots
1 cup (250 milliliters) orange, grapefruit or pink grapefruit juice
6 to 8 cardamom pods, split, seeds only
4 to 5 tablespoons brown sugar
Vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche for serving
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped green pistachios (optional, for garnish)
Cut the apricots in half and discard the pits (stones).
Arrange them in one layer in a large ovenproof dish, cut sides down.
Pour on orange juice and sprinkle with cardamom seeds and sugar.
Heat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Bake the apricots until soft but not collapsed — 15 to 20 minutes depending on ripeness.
Remove from the oven.
Tip the juice into a shallow pan and boil down hard to reduce by half.
Pour reduced juice back over the apricots, let cool and then refrigerate.
To serve, arrange 3 to 5 apricot halves (depending on size) facedown in small bowls and spoon some juice over. Place a blob of crème fraiche or a scoop of ice cream in the middle and sprinkle with chopped pistachios if wished.
Main photo: Apricot Tart With Redcurrants or Alpine Strawberries. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style
“My girls are laying so fast I can’t keep up with them,” Martha says. She has arrived at my door with another dozen eggs, fresh from her henhouse, no doubt laid within the past 24 hours.
In Italy an egg that fresh is a treasure. It’s called a “uova da bere,” a drinkable egg, and it’s often turned into something called zabaglione, which is not perhaps what you think it is because it is not cooked at all. For this kind of zabaglione you use the freshest egg, preferably one still a little warm from the hen’s body, and a good heaping teaspoonful of sugar. You beat the egg and the sugar together in a small bowl, using a fork or mini whisk, beating it steadily for about 10 or 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Sometimes a few drops of Marsala wine get beaten in as well. And then at breakfast you simply sip the lush, gooey mixture with a spoon, emitting little sighs of pleasure as you do so. (The egg-and-sugar sauce called zabaglione goes one step further and beats the mixture over — but not in — boiling water until it is thicker, almost like a runny pudding. It’s delicious served with fresh seasonal berries, so keep it in mind for strawberry season, not many weeks away.)
Martha, however, is a down-to-earth Maine girl like me, and the very idea of a breakfast of sugar and raw eggs is not on her cultural horizon. Nor on mine. Leave that to the Italians.
A Mediterranean-inspired egg dish
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Instead, I decided to use the spring bounty of eggs to make a seasonal favorite from another part of the Mediterranean, the island of Crete.
Quick timeout for a food iconography lesson: Do you ever wonder at the association between Easter and eggs? When you think about hens and their lifestyle, it’s pretty obvious. Hens stop laying in winter, when the daylight hours grow short, then start up again in spring. In the natural rhythm of things, eggs become plentiful precisely at this time of year, when the light is growing stronger day by day. So Easter, whether Catholic or Orthodox, is symbolized all over the Mediterranean by eggs as icons of rebirth. So why in our modern supermarkets do we have eggs all year round? Because our hens are exposed to artificial light, often 24 hours a day, and that keeps them going strong. Or not so strong, because they must usually be replaced after 18 to 24 months.
Make this recipe your own
Back to Crete, where sfougata, a combination of eggs, cheese and vegetables, somewhere between a soufflé and a frittata, is popular for all those times when household cooks are strapped to come up with something cheap, filling and delicious. In spring, that combination usually includes greens, but I could equally imagine doing this in the autumn with mushrooms or slivers of winter squash toasted in olive oil, and at the height of summer it would be delicious with fresh roasted peppers and little chunks of eggplant. But for spring, I did it with some delicate new spinach I picked up at the farmers market along with sliced zucchini. Quintessential to the flavor, it seems to me, is a handful of finely minced dill added at the very end, so the taste stays forward.
My advice? Make this once the way I’ve detailed below, then start to experiment, using leeks instead of spring onions, or a mixture of foraged and cultivated greens (dandelion greens, beet greens, chard, maybe even a little Chinese broccoli), or adding a couple of small diced potatoes to the skillet with the other vegetables. Another great spring vegetable combination, and very much in the Mediterranean spirit, would be asparagus and fava beans, if available, or fresh peas if not.
Let your imagination play with the recipe, and you’ll find all sorts of uses for what could become fundamental to your repertoire — and a savior for all those times when you simply have run out of time and inspiration.
Although the total time listed is 1 1/2 hours, this can be broken down into manageable chunks. Make the vegetables ahead of time (even a day ahead), taking about 45 minutes, then mix up the eggs and cheese just before the meal, stir in the prepared vegetables, and bake for 25 minutes.
Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach
Prep time: About 30 minutes.
Cook time: About 1 hour.
Total time: About 1 1/2 hours.
Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 6 as a starter.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
5 or 6 spring onions, about 1/2 pound, including green tops, chopped to make 1 1/2 cups
1 pound zucchini (2 medium zucchini), thinly sliced, to make about 2 to 3 cups
6 ounces to 8 ounces fresh spinach, slivered (about 4 cups)
1 cup finely chopped fresh dill or finely chopped fresh mint, leaves only
1/2 cup whole milk
About 1 cup coarsely grated Cretan graviera cheese or Swiss gruyere (or use a mixture of gruyere and parmigiano reggiano)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of Middle Eastern red chili pepper
Heat half the olive oil in a big, heavy skillet over medium-low heat and gently sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook briefly. As soon as the zucchini slices start to soften, stir in the spinach, mixing thoroughly. If the pan seems a little dry, add 1/2 cup of water, cover the pan and cook gently until the spinach is softened and the zucchini slices are tender. If there are excess juices, raise the heat and cook rapidly to evaporate the extra liquid. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the dill, mixing well.
Use the remaining oil to grease the bottom of a rectangular oven dish that is approximately 11 inches by 8 inches. Heat the oven to 375 F.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Add the grated cheese and fold in the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a pinch of Middle Eastern red pepper flakes.
Pour the mixture into the oven dish and transfer to the hot oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 or 15 minutes before serving. This dish can also be served at room temperature — a nice suggestion for lunch on a hot day.
Main image: Fresh eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Two hundred and one years ago today, Europe’s glitterati were assembled in Vienna to dance, eat doughnuts and decide the fate of the world, not necessarily in that order.
The Congress of Vienna, as it was known, would make Davos seem like a convention of disheveled accountants. The 1815 Congress was attended by two matched sets of emperors and empresses, four kings, one queen, two crown princes, three princesses and armies of hangers-on.
Celebration of excess
Technically, the conference was political, meant to reestablish the Old World order, but most of the gossip was about who danced with whom, and who threw the swankiest Mardi Gras do. And during Carnival, no party was a party without great piles of jelly doughnuts or Faschingkrapfen, as the locals still call them. According to news reports, 8 to 10 million of Vienna’s beloved doughnuts were eaten during the 1815 carnival season.
Fried dough is traditional in many Catholic countries during the topsy-turvy period of Carnival, when men dressed as women and sweet doughnuts replaced plain bread. There used to be at least some practical dimension to cooking your yeast dough in fat, since the lard used in most frying was to be off limits for the duration of Lent. It’s one reason Shrove Tuesday is known is as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”
The sin of gluttony
But there is also a theological dimension to indulging in the sin of gluttony. One of the undeniable charms of the Catholic faith is the ability to sin Friday night and repent the following day. With Carnival, that idea is writ large: There’s no point in having six weeks of Lenten penitence if there’s nothing to be penitent about — which is why the whole point of the Mardi Gras is excess, transgression or, to give it a theological dimension, sin.
And what could be more indulgent and sinful than a giant platter of fried, sugary dough balls? If you can include a little booze, as in the recipe that follows, so much the better.
Today’s Austrians are still at it, celebrating the prelude to Lent by consuming vast amounts of fried dough, typically filled with jam, chocolate custard — or my favorite, a boozy custard variation flavored with an eggnog-like tipple called Eierlikör. Elsewhere in Europe, Carnival fritters take on myriad shapes and flavors, whether it’s a twisted pastry, as they are in Lyons, France, or a boozy and fruit-filled fritter in Venice.
The habit was even imported to America. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, they make a doughnut called a fastnacht, the name deriving from a German word for Shrove Tuesday.
But few are as obsessed with the tradition as the Austrians. Viennese records attest to professional doughnut bakers existing in the 15th century. By the 1700s, we hear of Carnival doughnut shooting competitions, where the dough balls were catapulted into sky like clay pigeons. Apparently, the winner got to go home with a set of silver pistols.
(For more on doughnuts, see my book The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin.)
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When jam was a luxury item
It’s hard to imagine today, but the likes of Smucker’s used to be a luxury food — sugar-sweetened jam was the province of fancy confectioners. Accordingly, many “jelly” doughnuts were plain, or filled with some apple-sweetened concoction (fish guts was one favorite during the Middle Ages). In the decade before the famed doughnut congress, a really fine jelly-filled doughnut could cost as much as a multi-course dinner in a restaurant.
These days, the fried, jam-filled dough cushions are cheap and ubiquitous throughout Central Europe. Across Germany the recipe tends to be the same, but the names vary. In Bavaria, you will probably hear Krapfen (as in Austria), in Berlin Pfannkuchen is more common (elsewhere this might refer to a pancake) whereas to the west (though not in Berlin) they use the word Berliner.
The naming confusion led to the delightfully off-base urban legend about how in 1963, at the height of the cold war, John F. Kennedy stood before an adulatory crowd of 150,000 West Berliners and declared himself “ein Berliner.” Or a jelly doughnut, according self-declared German grammar experts in the United States, who claimed that by including the article “ein” the President identified himself as a thing rather than a person.
Oddly, the story only first seems to crop up almost two decades after the fact, and would be repeated with ever more embellishment. As a quick troll through youtube.com will confirm, the president did, in fact, declare “Ich bin ein Berliner.” But, as noted German linguist, Jürgen Eichhoff, points out, the speech was vetted by the president’s German hosts, and it is perfectly fine German to declare your self in solidarity with the citizens of Berlin by declaring yourself, “ein Berliner.”
It’s a pity the speech took place in June. If the president had visited Southern Germany or Austria during Carnival and tasted even a tiny percentage of the cream and jelly doughnuts on offer, he may well have begun to resemble a jelly doughnut.
Carnival doughnuts with boozy cream filling (Eierlikör Krapfen)
You can fill these doughnuts with jam, chocolate custard, prune butter or even Nutella, all of which are commonplace in Austria. Lemon curd is delicious too, if not exactly traditional. Like all doughnuts, these are best served as fresh as possible.
Prep time: 40 minutes including custard
Rising time: About 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: About 2 dozen doughnuts
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 ¾ ounce (about 3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon) (divided) sugar
2 cups and 2 tablespoons (divided) lukewarm milk (about 105° F)
2 pounds 3 ounces (about 8 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
3 ½ ounces (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Large pinch of salt
Flour for the work surface
About 1 1/2 cup Eierlikör cream (see following recipe)
Oil or shortening for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup milk. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) flour. Cover this “sponge” with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 20 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks until frothy. Gradually, whisk in the melted butter. Stir in the zest.
- Transfer the risen sponge to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. On medium-low speed, beat in the egg mixture, the remainder of the milk and sugar then about half the flour. Switch to a dough hook attachment, gradually add the remaining flour and finally salt. Beat on medium-low speed until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. About 5 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and set on a floured surface. Knead very briefly to turn it into a ball. Set in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
- On a floured surface roll the dough about 3/8 inch thick and using a 2 1/2-inch diameter cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. Gather up the scraps and roll out the dough one more time cutting out more circles. This is easier if you let gathered up scraps rest for 5 minutes before rerolling.
- Brush the edge of each round with water and mound a scant tablespoon of the cream in the middle of every other circle. Top each with the plain circle making sure the moistened edges touch. Press down on the edges spreading each doughnut slightly. Using the same 2 1/2-inch cookie or biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out each doughnut discarding the trimmings.
7. Brush doughnuts lightly with melted butter on each side. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until they are about fifty percent larger, any more than that and they will expand too much during frying.
8. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a deep pan to 350° F. Slide the doughnuts in one by one making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry until the underside is light brown, about 1 ½ minutes. Turn the doughnut and cook until the other side is brown, about 1 minute. There should be a pale “collar” around the middle of the doughnut where it floated above the fat. With a slotted spoon, lift out the cooked doughnuts and drain on a cooling rack set above a baking pan or on paper towels.
9. Dust with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.
Eierlikör is a liqueur somewhat similar to bottled eggnog, though boozier and noticeably absent of nutmeg. If you have some, omit the rum. Combine ¼ cup of the liqueur with 1 cup of milk and proceed with the recipe as written. Since the liqueur is sometimes hard to find, I have used rum instead though brandy or even a nice bourbon would work. If using rum, make sure it’s aged and of a quality that’s referred to as sipping rum, in other words complex enough to drink neat.
Yield: About 1 1/2 cup
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons good-quality rum
2 tablespoons corn starch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a small, non-reactive saucepan, bring the milk to a bare simmer.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, rum, corn starch and vanilla until very smooth. Pour the milk into the egg yolks whisking continually.
- Pour the milk mixture into a small saucepan over low-ish heat. Stir continually until it just begins to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth. If necessary, press through a fine sieve. Transfer to a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate until firm. If the custard is too thick, whisk in a tablespoon or two of milk. At room temperature, it should be the consistency of pudding.
Main photo: These carnival doughnuts with boozy cream filling are dusted with confectioners’ sugar and ready to eat. Credit: Copyright 2016 Michael Krondl
Having been married for more than two decades, I realize many factors contribute to the longevity of my marriage. Perhaps the most important is how my husband and I blend.
People often ask how we’ve done it, as if there is a secret. But there really is no secret. Just like the pairing of raspberry and chocolate, my husband and I are together despite our differences. We know how to compromise and work together, which we actually do most of the time.
Love is not “never having to say you’re sorry.” Chocolate is temperamental, so if you add the wrong amount of moisture from, say, fresh raspberries, you will have something to apologize about. But you get another chance. As in longtime relationships, you learn and grow.
Better together than apart
I love offering up treats that focus the partnership of raspberries and dark chocolate because of the magical synergy that makes them better together than individually.
In the past, dark chocolate was relegated to the lowest shelves in grocery stores. Over the last two decades, though, it has become very au courant. I would like to say that the only reason I give myself permission to eat dark chocolate is because of possible health benefits. But in truth, I like the taste. I find its bitterness to be complex and appealing.
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What makes dark chocolate dark?
Dark is only defined relative to all other chocolates. It’s darker in comparison with milk or sweet chocolate candy bars. It has a higher percentage of cocoa, less milk fat and less sugar. The higher the cocoa percentage, the deeper and more intense the chocolate flavor. My favorite for baking and cooking is around 72%.
When choosing your dark chocolate, like choosing a mate, there are two more issues to consider: Where it was born and where (and how) it was processed. Dark chocolate is often labeled with the place of origin, the cocoa percentages and where it was processed. Climate and soil give chocolate its inherent nature, and that’s part of its heritage. The style of preparation is also key. To many, Switzerland’s chocolate production is the gold standard. In my book, it’s equaled or even bettered by Belgian chocolate.
Lest you think that chocolate is the alpha dog of this relationship, raspberries are an equal partner. They are more than just juicy and lovely to behold. They are rich in cancer-fighting compounds and vitamin C, and full of fiber. They taste sweet — with a uniquely tart undertone and a deep complexity. Just like chocolate. Raspberries aren’t mild-manned, singular sweetness, like the ever-affable strawberry or cherry. They are an assertive flavor in their own right.
Like any paramour partnership, each ingredient brings something unique and yet retains its distinctive character even as it blends with the other ingredients. Raspberries are juicy, but chocolate is silky. Both have a little sexy undertone that makes them interesting. Together they make a wondrous bite.
May they live happily ever after.
Chocolate and Raspberry Swirl Cookies
These charming swirl cookies, tucked, wrapped and snuggled like the spiral of a snail or a conch shell, are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The dough is oh-so-gently sweet, and the filling bursts with both the tartness of raspberry and a cacophony of rich chocolates. Like a good relationship, they contrast but support each other and together they create an enticing synergy. These cookies have one more touch of meaning: I developed them for my fantasy meal for Rashida Jones, an actress and writer I admire greatly. She is the co-author, co-producer and star of one of my favorite sad but sweetly tender and real films — “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” I wanted to make a cookie that hinted at the Jewish facet of her identity, so these cookies are a bit rugelach-ish. These are simply a joy to eat and fun to make.
Yield: About 28 to 30 cookies
Prep and baking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1/2 cup (116 grams/4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 sticks (¾ cup/170 grams/6 ounces/12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (54 grams) dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) salt
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (see Notes)
1 3/4 cups (228 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
3 ounces milk chocolate, very finely chopped
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons water
1/4 cup brown turbinado sugar
1/2 teaspoon any large-crystal salt
1. Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if you are using a hand-held mixer, in a large mixing bowl), combine the cream cheese and butter and mix until completely blended. Add the brown sugar and salt, and mix for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.
2. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix well. Add the flour and mix just until fully combined. Prepare a large piece of plastic wrap and scrape the mixture onto it, wrap, shape into a rough square or rectangle and seal well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until fully chilled.
3. Wet a work surface with a few drops of water or a swipe of a wet paper towel. Quickly place a large piece (11 x 14 inches or larger) of parchment paper on top. It should stick. Dust the parchment paper very lightly with flour. Roll a rolling pin in the flour to coat it lightly. Place half of the dough on the floured parchment and roll it into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle that is 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick.
4. Using a pastry brush, coat the rectangle with raspberry jam, leaving a 1/2-inch border bare around the edges. Sprinkle the chocolates over the raspberry jam, distributing the pieces evenly. Position the parchment and dough so that the short side of the parchment is in front of you. Using the parchment, lift the short side of the dough up and over the filling, covering it by about 1/2 inch. Continue rolling to make a cylinder, rolling as tightly as you can. Place the roll on a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap well. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until fully chilled.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats and set aside.
6. Remove the rolled dough from the plastic wrap and, with a very sharp, long knife, cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between the cookies.
7. Prepare an egg wash by beating the egg yolk and water gently in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, liberally brush the egg wash over the cookies, making sure to cover both the dough and filling. Sprinkle with the sugar and salt and bake (both sheets at once) for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheets before removing them, as the raspberry jelly will be very hot. They will crisp as they cool off.
1. Vanilla bean paste is a form of vanilla flavoring that is made from vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder (sometimes it’s what’s left over from producing the extract and sometimes fresh vanilla bean seeds), mixed with a binder such as sugar syrup, corn syrup or, in commercial preparations, xanthan gum. It has the consistency of a paste and an intense, distinctly vanilla flavor. It’s available in well-stocked markets and online, but if you can’t find it, use pure vanilla extract.
2. Turbinado sugar is a minimally processed, minimally refined sweetener made from cane sugar. Brown in color, it is often confused with brown sugar. Turbinado sugar, however, has a higher moisture content, which will make a difference in baking, so it’s best to use the sugar that is called for in the recipe unless you are skilled enough to reduce another liquid in the ingredient list. With its large crystals, it’s great for sugar toppings on cookies and other baked goods. Like demerara sugar, it is made by drying the juice of the sugar cane and then spinning it in a centrifuge to purify it. Store in a cool, dry place.
Main photo: These Chocolate and Raspberry Swirl cookies are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
The new year of 2016 is fast approaching. I am now trying to complete the tasks planned for this year but left unfinished, both business and personal. By doing so, I can welcome a new year as a fresh start.
This is what we do in Japan at the end of each year. But something has bothered me for long time, and I have let the years pass without fixing it in my kitchen. It is the croissant. In Japan, croissants are deeply rooted in our culinary culture and have been a part of my life, long before coming to America. So, this October I attended a class at the International Culinary Center in New York City on making authentic croissants. I can now start the new year with the proper croissant that I have dreamed of.
Falling in love with croissants
It was 30-some years ago when I first visited Paris and instantly fell in love with croissants. Flaky, crumbling, buttery croissants at small cafés in the city became my breakfast. I can still picture myself in the mornings, standing at a long counter bar in these cafés, staring at bottles of liquor and wine on the shelves behind the counter, and then biting into shattering layers of a crispy croissant. With small sips of strong coffee, I always reached for a second croissant in the always-full basket on the counter.
The richness of the butter stayed long in my stomach, but never enough to spoil my lunch. The real croissants back then were rather small (about 6 inches long), narrow, extremely brittle on the outside and airy inside. But today, this gem seems to have disappeared from the streets of Paris.
A bit of Paris in Tokyo
Now, let me take you to a very special place in Japan. There is a little patisserie called Aux Bon Vieux Temps near Oyamadai station southeast of central Tokyo. I lived near this station for about three years with my husband, Buzz. On one of our weekend walks, we happened to pass by a small, very French-looking pastry store. We entered and found that it was full of the highest quality authentic French breads, pastries and chocolates. The store became our Sunday breakfast pilgrimage destination — especially for very crisp, buttery, authentic croissants and a cup of very good coffee. Because of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, I no longer had to dream about the old croissants of Paris.
No shortcuts allowed
Chef Katsuhiko Kawata, the owner and pastry chef of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, has been making authentic croissants for years in Tokyo, while the super-sized, bread-like croissants have invaded France and America. Chef Kawata apprenticed and learned the art of baking croissants in his 20s in Paris. He is 70 years old today and still working in his kitchen. His approach to producing quality, artisan croissants and pastries is the same as that of classical music player. During every available minute, he practices his art and polishes his skills. Laziness and shortcuts are out.
On our most recent trip back to Paris, I was saddened by my encounters with ugly, fatty, dense and bread-like croissants at local cafés — the Americanization of the croissant in every aspect of quality had come to France. The use of industrial dough and shortcut baking processes may be among the reasons for this demise. However, last year in March, a very welcoming article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Welcome Back to Authentic Croissants in Paris,” by Alexander Lobrano. That article inspired me. I should stop complaining about fake, fat croissants in the city and learn how much labor, time and care is necessary to bake a good croissant by myself.
The croissant class taught by chef Mark Gerlach at the International Culinary Center was only a scant five hours in duration. The correct way to make croissants requires at least a full 48 hours, the chef said. In order for the students to engage in all processes of the preparation, we used dough that had been kneaded and rested in advance.
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Real croissants: It’s in the dough
Here, from the class, are seven tips on how to make real croissants:
- Use quality ingredients.
- Dehydrate flour properly.
- Use butter with 83% fat.
- Proof the dough at a temperature of 68 F and humidity of 65-70%.
- Apply proper lamination technique (folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough).
- Roll out the dough into correct thickness and into the proper size and shape.
- And finally, bake it just to the state where crumbling and fluffiness meet.
Now I am committed to baking fabulous croissants in my kitchen to celebrate the start of an exciting new year. I shall start the project two days before I enjoy the end of this year properly with a bowl of traditional soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you will, too.
Instructions on creating the croissant can be found in many places, but here is how to make the dough.
Yield: About 1700g (18-21 croissants)
Prep and resting time: 3 1/2 hours
This recipe uses international measurements, because they are more precise — and precision is very important in this recipe. (Equivalents are 1 ounce = 28 grams and 1 pound = 453 grams.)
750 grams bread flour
15 grams salt
100 grams sugar
30 grams softened butter
38 grams fresh yeast
150 grams milk
285 grams water
345 grams butter
1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, yeast, milk and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix them on low speed just to combine. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes or until a smooth sticky dough comes together.
2. Oil the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a 12-inch square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is between 50 and 60 degrees F.
4. Place a block of butter between sheets of parchment paper and, using a rolling pin, shape it into a 6-inch by 12-inch shape.
5. Place the butter in the center of the dough. Pull the parchment paper away from the butter. Wrap the dough around the butter, making sure that the dough completely covers the butter but does not overlap at the seam. Lightly pound the dough with a rolling pin to make the butter more extendable.
6. Roll the dough into about a 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform a double turn.
7. Rotate the dough and roll it again into 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform 1 single turn. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle.
8. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour or overnight.
Main photo: The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo
Sugar cookies are as essential to the Christmas season as lighted trees, wrapping paper and “Jingle Bells.” While there are as many varieties of holiday cookies as there are Christmas carols — from Linzer cookies to Mexican wedding cookies — I am talking here strictly about decorated sugar cookies.
I grew up with one grandmother in Boston and the other in Buffalo, New York. Their sugar cookies were as different as those two cities. My New England grandmother’s were extra buttery and lightly baked, almost shortbread-like; my New York state grandmother’s version was chewier and baked to a golden brown. Both were washed with egg white and showered with colored sprinkles before baking. I devoured both kinds with equal abandon.
How can there be so much variation in something as simple as a sugar cookie? This question hit me at a holiday party last year, when several friends brought their families’ versions of this holiday classic. As I tasted each one, the cookies were as distinct as snowflakes.
Sugar cookie dough basics
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When it comes to sugar cookie recipes, the ingredients are universal: flour, baking powder or baking soda, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla (and sometimes milk). So, what causes all the variability?
I gathered a collection of five time-tested recipes and analyzed them. The biggest difference? Ratios, in baker’s terms, or the proportions of the three main ingredients: flour, butter and sugar. These ingredients are the “structural” elements of the cookies, and the ratio of each building block is what makes each cookie unique.
The biggest determinant of taste and texture is the ratio of butter to flour. Among the five recipes, the highest butter percentage was more than 50% of the flour and the lowest came in at just more than 30%. The quantity of sugar also varied wildly from recipe to recipe; the most astonishing example was two recipes that each contained three cups of flour, but one of the recipes called for three times as much sugar as the other (1 1/2 cups compared with 1/2 cup). Any of these ratios largely affect whether cookies turn out cakier, chewier or more crumbly. Interestingly, all the other ingredient ratios, from eggs to baking powder, were more consistent across the board. But each minor change can result in such subtle differences as the flavor of salt or vanilla in the baked cookie. You can’t know it until you taste it.
The baker, too, introduces variability in such simple recipes as this, especially through measuring and mixing techniques. For example, there are two methods for measuring flour: scoop and sweep or dip. The scoop-and-sweep method has become a standard for recipe writers because it is more consistent. The “dip” method can often pack down the flour too much. Nowadays, more recipes include weights, encouraging bakers to use digital scales, which are more precise and eliminate the need for measuring cups altogether.
Similarly, during the mixing, many bakers falter in the first step of creaming the butter with the sugar. When mixed long enough — about 3 minutes at medium speed in a stand mixer — the butter aerates while the sugar creates the air pockets that the action of the baking powder or soda enlarge to produce the lightest baked treats.
Butter temperature is a third potential pitfall in sugar cookie production. The ideal is room temperature butter — spreadable but still solid, preserving the emulsion of water with butterfat. When it is too cold or too warm, the butter cannot aerate properly to give the dough good structure. The right temperature is also important for shaping and baking, so chilling the dough both after mixing and after cutting shapes makes the best-looking cookies.
All-around cookie dough
After I tested the five recipes and sampled them side by side with an open mind, I discovered that there is no such thing as a dud sugar cookie. The truth is, the ultimate sugar cookie is the one you like best, whether the recipe is from your grandmother, the local paper or Food52.
What truly makes the sugar cookie a standout — apart from its wonderful simplicity — is the fact that it is the most multitasking cookie of all. With one dough in your repertoire, it’s possible to craft a whole dessert tray worth of distinct Christmas cookies.
Other than using sugar cookie dough for rolled and cut cookies, you can also shape it into sandwich cookies, thumbprints, bars or even slice-and-bake cookies from your freezer. You can flavor the dough with lemon or orange zest, spices like cardamom or nutmeg or almond flavoring — all to your taste. Or, mix in chopped nuts, dark chocolate or crystallized ginger.
When it comes to decorating cut-out sugar cookies, there are two camps: the sprinklers and the frosters. I am firmly in the colored sprinkles camp, both because of my Christmas cookie heritage and because I find most frostings make the whole endeavor too sweet.
No matter the recipe, the true goal is to celebrate the stellar pleasures of the sugar cookie that come but once a year.
Main photo: Cut-out sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles and frosting. Credit: Copyright 2015 Lynne Curry
Finally, there’s an easy macaron that is as enticing as the French classic but can be made in less than half the time. French macarons can be intimidating. The method involves an Italian meringue that requires slow streaming of very hot syrup into egg whites while they’re being whipped, a task that is always a little scary.
These cinnamon pecan macarons, which come from pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, co-owner and pastry chef at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles, don’t call for the Italian meringue. Just fold a mix of ground pecans, powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and cinnamon into beaten egg whites and you’re ready to pipe. The egg whites require an overnight rest, but that’s nothing compared to the 48 hours that many traditional macaron recipes call for.
Gluten-free for the holidays
These are gluten-free cookies you can add to your usual Christmas repertoire. Macarons are a natural choice because they don’t require any substitutions.
“Flour substitutes take away from the integrity of the original dessert. There are plenty of desserts out there that don’t have gluten and never have,” says Gergis, whose gluten-free desserts fall into that category.
The mix of ground pecans, sugar and cinnamon gives the almost-decadent cookies a texture and praline-like flavor that are unique. “They’re like nutty, super chewy snickerdoodles,” Gergis says. A creamy, unsweetened filling of mascarpone mixed with crème fraiche creates a perfect balance inside the sweet, moist, chewy masterpieces.
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Prep time: 15 minutes plus overnight rest at room temperature for egg whites
Batter and baking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen 2-inch cookies
For the macarons:
A little under 7 large egg whites
2 3/4 cups pecans
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 vanilla bean, scraped
For the filling:
7 ounces mascarpone
1 ounce crème fraiche
To facilitate working with this batter, divide the ingredients in half and make two batches. Even if you don’t choose to make two batches, grind the pecans and powdered sugar in two batches to avoid making pecan butter.
1. Put egg whites in a container, a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap, pierce plastic wrap in several places and let stand at room temperature overnight.
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2. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine half the pecans and half the powdered sugar. Pulse until pecans are finely ground, taking care not to turn them into butter (this is why you should pulse, rather than turn on the machine full tilt). Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining pecans and powdered sugar. Stir in cinnamon and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, salt and vanilla seeds.
4. In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk or using electric beaters, beat egg whites on medium low speed until soft peaks form. Turn speed to medium and gradually add granulated sugar mixture, a tablespoon at a time. Beat to stiff but not dry peaks.
5. Carefully transfer egg whites to a very large bowl. A cup at a time, slowly fold in pecan/powdered sugar mix, taking care not to deflate egg whites (they will deflate a little no matter what). Resulting mixture will be thick.
6. Preheat oven to 225 F (200 F for convection) with rack positioned in middle. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch round tip. Line sheet pans with parchment and use a 2-inch cookie cutter and pencil to trace 2-inch circles on the parchment, leaving 1 inch between circles and staggering rows. Flip parchment over so macarons don’t absorb pencil marks.
7. Holding pastry bag with tip pointed straight down, pipe 2-inch circles. Bake 10 minutes in a regular oven, 7 minutes in convection. Cookies should have a skin on surface. Remove from oven and turn heat up to 325 F for regular oven, 315 F for convection. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes. Cookies should be crisp on outside and soft on inside. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from parchment.
8. Whip together the mascarpone and crème fraiche until smooth. Turn over half the macarons and place a teaspoonful of cream mixture on each bottom half, then top with another half and gently press together. For best results refrigerate overnight (but the macarons are also good right away). They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Don’t stack them, but stand them side by side in a container or box.
Main photo: These pecan cinnamon macarons are easy to make for the holidays. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Recently, master baker Uri Scheft of Breads Bakery in New York and Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv shared this recipe for his pistachio financiers. Baked in small pyramid-shaped silicon molds, they are delicious.
What I liked best about the little cakes were their crispy edges. This made me think the batter would make delicious tuiles, those delicate, crisp buttery cookies that are draped over a rolling pin when they come out of the oven so that when they cool they’re shaped like a roof tile.
I remembered that another great pastry chef, Sherry Yard, also uses cake batter for her tuiles; her recipe is in the pound cake chapter of her cookbook “The Secrets of Baking.”
My instincts were right! The nutty, crisp, rich-tasting tuiles are fabulous and have great staying power.
You will need pistachio paste, which is available in baking supply stores, Middle Eastern markets and online. If you can’t decide which to make, use half the batter for the financiers, refrigerate the other half overnight and the next day make tuiles.
Uri Scheft’s Pistachio Financiers or Tuiles
Prep Time: 1 hour (add overnight rest for batter for tuiles)
Baking Time: 20 to 25 minutes for financiers; 1 hour 20 minutes for tuiles
Yield: 50 tuiles or petits fours
6 ounces butter, preferably French style, such as Plugrà
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup less 1 tablespoon almond flour (without skins)
1/3 cup potato flour (or potato starch), sifted
1 teaspoon dark rum
2 scant tablespoons pistachio paste
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios (optional)
1. Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat until solids have settled and butter is golden brown with a nutty aroma (the solids on bottom of pan will be a darker brown), 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof measuring cup. You should have 2/3 cup melted butter. Allow to cool to lukewarm, 90 to 105 degrees F. This will take more than 30 minutes, but best not to chill in the refrigerator, as butter should be liquid when you add it to the batter. Meanwhile, weigh out remaining ingredients.
2. Combine egg whites and sugar in bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down sides of bowl and beaters. Add almond flour and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Scrape down bowl and beaters.
3. Add cooled butter, including browned bits at bottom of pan, and beat at low speed for 1 minute. Add potato flour and beat at low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape down bowl and beaters.
4. Add rum and pistachio paste and beat at medium-low until well combined.
5. Preheat oven to 350 F, with rack in the middle. Line baking sheets with 1 1/2- x 1 1/2-inch pyramid-shaped silicon molds. Pipe or scoop batter into molds (I use a 1 1/4-inch scoop). Bake 20 to 25 minutes, switching sheets front to back halfway through, until cakes are dark brown on the edges and a tester comes out clean when inserted. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely in molds for one hour. They will detach from molds easily once cool.
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5. Cover batter tightly and refrigerate overnight for best results.
6. Remove batter from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 F with rack positioned in middle. Line sheet pans with silicone mats or with parchment. (Silicone mats are easiest to work with).
7. Using a 1 1/4-inch scoop or by tablespoons, scoop batter onto baking sheets leaving a good 2 1/2 inches between each one and staggering rows. If desired, sprinkle chopped pistachios on top. You will only be able to get about 8 to a sheet. For super thin tuiles, use a small offset spatula to spread batter. (It will spread anyway when you bake, but spreading it before results in very thin, lacy tuiles). Place in the oven and bake 10 minutes, or until golden brown on edges and beginning to color on top. Cookies will spread on baking sheets.
8. Meanwhile, place a rolling pin on your work surface propped against something so that it won’t roll, or on a sheet pan, propped against edges. When cookies are ready, remove from oven and let sit on pan for 30 seconds to a minute, then slide an offset spatula under and drape each cookie while still pliable over rolling pin. They will curve and cool quickly. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. If cookies cool too much and are not pliable by the time you get the last ones off the baking sheet, place back in oven for 1 minute and they will soften up again. Repeat with remaining batter until all of it is used up.
Main photo: Uri Scheft’s pistachio financiers are baked in small pyramid-shaped molds. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman