Holidays – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 Snake-Shaped Christmas Cake An Umbrian Tradition /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/ /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/#respond Sat, 23 Dec 2017 10:00:24 +0000 /?p=58367 Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Perugia is the more important of the two provinces of Umbria and in culinary terms is most famous for its chocolates. Perugina, the chocolate firm founded in 1907, makes chocolate kisses (baci) famous throughout Italy and even in the United States. It’s also the historic home of a novel Christmas cake.

A variety of sweets are made around Christmas such as pinoccate, little diamond-shaped sweets made of sugar and pine nuts, hence their name. They usually are made “black” with chocolate or “white” with vanilla. Locals say that the small cakes were made by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th century and are served to end lavish Christmas feasts.

A simple syrup is made until rather dense and then the same weight of pine nuts as the sugar is added and poured onto a marble slab to be shaped as one makes peanut brittle. The diamonds are cut and cooled, with half of each piece being chocolate and half vanilla. They are then wrapped in black and white pairs in festive and colorful Christmas paper.

Another Christmas delight from Perugia that is a bit easier to make is the symbolic eel or snake-shaped torciglione (twisted spiral) Christmas cake. The Perugina say it is shaped like an eel to represent the eels of nearby Lake Trasimeno, while others attribute a more symbolic meaning rooted in pagan times. The Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals; the snake’s skin shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal, an appropriate symbol at the time of the birth of Christ.

Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake)

In most of Umbria, but in particular around Lake Trasimeno in the province of Perugia, torciglione is a Christmas and New Year’s Eve sweet. It is also sometimes called a serpentone or biscione and it’s made as a symbol of luck. It is claimed that this sweet was developed in the 19th century by a master pastry cook, Romualdo Nazzani, who opened a cake shop in Reggio Emilia and created some magnificent sweets, such as biscione, which means “snake.”

This Christmas cake is made with an almond base and meringue topping decorated with candied peel to represent the eyes of the snake. In Christian iconography, the snake can represent temptation as it was in the Garden of Eden. Eating the snake is thought to bring luck.

Torciglione

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Baking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

3/4 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Zest from 1 lemon

3 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 coffee beans

1 candied cherry

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar, rum, lemon zest and egg whites until a dense consistency.

3. On a buttered parchment paper-lined baking tray form the mixture into the shape of a snake. Place the pine nuts over its surface. Put the coffee beans in as eyes and the cherry as a tongue. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

 Main photo: Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

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Festive Pot Pies Celebrate Thanksgiving Leftovers /chefs-wrecipe/festive-pot-pies-celebrate-thanksgiving-leftovers/ /chefs-wrecipe/festive-pot-pies-celebrate-thanksgiving-leftovers/#respond Thu, 23 Nov 2017 10:00:41 +0000 /?p=75913 Main photo: Turkey pot pies by chef Andrew Pastore at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

The only part of Thanksgiving better than the dinner itself is the next day, when we feast on leftovers. Sandwiches made with sliced turkey and cranberry sauce. Turkey soup. Turkey salad. When I was in his kitchen at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, chef Andrew Pastore showed me how to make my new favorite after-Thanksgiving dish: elegant, individual turkey pot pies.

Reopened in 2010 after extensive remodeling, Clifton’s remained true to its historical soul as a cafeteria. In the street-level dining hall, customers carry their trays between stations as they collect beverages, salads, entrees, sides and desserts.

Clifton’s takes a page from big-idea theme restaurants. Remodeled dining rooms on all four floors reflect the heyday of the 1930s when there were worlds to be explored and swank nightclubs to attend.

Pastore’s task was to provide a through line for the varied environments of the restaurant. Relaunching Clifton’s meant creating a menu that included old favorites as well as popular modern dishes, which explains why the turkey pot pies share counter space with freshly made sushi and vegan meatloaf.

You might think that a cafeteria would skimp on quality when the kitchen has to prepare as many as 1,000 meals a day. Not so at Clifton’s. Pastore sources quality ingredients that would be at home in any fine dining restaurant. He supervises every detail of preparation. He innovates familiar dishes.

Take his roast beef sandwich, for example. The pink-in the middle beef is moist and flavorful. To add kick, he smears a bit of horseradish sauce on the freshly baked bread. Another chef would layer on tomatoes. That’s where Pastore shows his inventiveness.

Instead of fresh tomatoes, he uses slow roasted Roma tomatoes. Seasoned with dried herbs, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, the tomatoes are halved and roasted in a 200 F oven for up to eight hours.  They give up their water and collapse on themselves. The result is a blast of melt-in-your-mouth tomato flavor.

It is that attention to detail and creativity that Pastore brought to updating his version of Clifton’s classic turkey pot pie.

At Clifton’s, every day is Thanksgiving

Executive Chef Andrew Pastore in a kitchen at Clifton's Cafeteria. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Executive Chef Andrew Pastore at Clifton’s Cafeteria. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Pastore cooks 40 turkeys every day. Roasted turkeys are served at the carving station. He uses the carcasses to make stock.

For his pot pies, Pastore doesn’t have leftover Thanksgiving turkey so he brines, poaches and shreds turkey breasts. For the poaching liquid he uses homemade stock, made with turkey or chicken carcasses. He would never use commercially produced stocks. They are too expensive and salty.

At our home, while the Thanksgiving turkey is in the oven, we put a gallon of water into a large stock pot. As the turkey is carved, the bones and carcass go into the stock pot, which simmers uncovered for an hour.

With the table cleared, we strain and reserve the liquid. After refrigerating overnight, the stock is portioned into pint- and quart-sized airtight containers. The stock that isn’t used to make pot pies can be frozen for up to six months.

Clifton’s Turkey Pot Pies

A 6-inch round of pastry dough used as a lid on chef Andrew Pastore's turkey pot pie. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

A 6-inch round of pastry dough used as a lid on chef Andrew Pastore’s turkey pot pie. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Pastore serves his individual pot pies in wide mouth, 16-ounce glass canning jars. If those are not available, use individual-sized bake-proof bowls and adjust the diameter of the puff pastry rounds accordingly. The rounds should be 3 inches larger than the top diameter of the jar or bowl.

Prepared puff pastry can be purchased in most supermarket refrigerated or frozen food sections.

To create a gluten-free pot pie, omit the puff pastry topping and substitute a corn starch slurry for the roux. Easy to make, corn starch and water are mixed together in equal parts without heating. Add the slurry instead of the flour-based roux as directed below.

Use a vegetable oil such as canola, but not pure olive oil, which is too dominating a flavor.

Only use kosher salt in the brine. Iodized salt has a metallic aftertaste.

All vegetables should be cut the same size to promote even cooking. For added flavors, toss vegetables in a small amount of vegetable oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 F for 10 minutes before putting them into the pot.

The roux and the filling can be prepared as much as a day ahead of the meal. Just before serving, reheat the filling and add English peas and the finishing seasonings before topping the jar with the puff pastry round.

Prep time if using leftover turkey breast: 20 minutes

Cook time if using leftover turkey breast: 45 minutes

Total time if using leftover turkey breast: 65 minutes

Prep time if brining and poaching uncooked turkey breast: 60 minutes plus 8 hours overnight

Cook time if poaching uncooked turkey breast: 90 minutes

Total time if brining and poaching uncooked turkey breast: 2 1/2 hours plus 8 hours overnight

Yield: 8 individual 16-ounce pot pies

Ingredients to brine and poach uncooked turkey breast

1/2 cup kosher salt

2 cups brown sugar

1 gallon water

8 sprigs fresh thyme, washed, finely chopped (optional)

1 clove garlic (optional)

1/2 orange (optional)

8 sprigs fresh sage (optional)

1 raw turkey breast, 3 to 4 pounds

1 gallon turkey stock, preferably homemade

Directions for poaching uncooked turkey breast

1. Place salt, sugar, seasonings (optional) and water in a large plastic bag or container. Mix well. Submerge raw turkey breast in seasoned water. Seal. Place in large bowl and refrigerate a minimum of 8 hours, preferably overnight.

2. Place plastic bag in sink. Remove turkey breast. Discard seasoned water. Rinse turkey breast with fresh water. Pat dry.

3. Place turkey stock in large stock pot. Simmer. Add brined turkey breast. Cook 1 1/2 hours or until breast reaches an internal temperature of 155 F.

4. Remove breast from stock. Allow to rest 20 minutes. Reserve stock to use for pot pies and refrigerate or freeze for later use.

5. Use or refrigerate poached breast in airtight container.

Ingredients for turkey pot pie

11 ounces unsalted butter

11 ounces all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups yellow onions, medium dice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups celery stalks, medium dice

2 cups peeled carrots, medium dice

1 cup Portobello or shiitake mushrooms, washed, thin sliced (optional)

4 cups shredded turkey breast

3 to 4 cups turkey stock, homemade

1 cup English peas, shelled, washed, fresh or frozen

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

4 sheets puff pastry, cut into 6” rounds to cover eight 16-ounce glass canning jars

2 eggs

8 rosemary sprigs (optional)

Directions

1. To make roux, melt butter over low heat in a saucepan. Sprinkle flour in small amounts to avoid creating clumps. Whisk to incorporate flour into melted butter. Add more flour. Continue whisking until all flour is added. Be careful to keep the roux out of the corners of the pan where it can burn. For added flavor, create a “blond roux” by stirring over medium-low heat until flour is light golden brown. Remove from heat and reserve.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil. Add onions. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook until lightly transparent. Toss to stir. Add celery, carrots and mushrooms (optional). Season in layers with another pinch of salt. Stir well. Sweat vegetables 4 to 5 minutes, being careful not to brown.

3. Add shredded turkey meat and stock.

4. Bring to simmer. Add roux in stages, a small amount each time. Stir well to incorporate. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. If gravy becomes too thick, add small amounts of heated stock.

5. Add peas, salt and pepper to taste and truffle oil (optional). Stir well.

6. Add thyme and parsley. Stir well.

7. Add heavy cream (optional).

8. Preheat oven to 350 F.

9. Arrange glass canning jars on baking tray. Spoon filling into each jar. Fill to top. Carefully lay a piece of puff pastry over the top of each jar. Gently shape the dough onto the top and down the sides of the jar to create a “lid” that will seal in the filling.

10. Whisk eggs together. Use a pastry brush to paint puff pastry lid on top and sides.

11. Place filled canning jars on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven.

12. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown. Garnish each pot pie with a rosemary sprig (optional). Serve hot.

Main photo: Turkey pot pies by chef Andrew Pastore at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

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Mashed Butternut Squash Keeps Thanksgiving Sides Simple, Elegant /cooking/75977/ /cooking/75977/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:00:45 +0000 /?p=75977 Butternut squash and pumpkins make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wynne Everett

Thanksgiving side dishes can be a challenge for the host who wants to serve an impressive meal. It’s tempting to get carried away and choose something too complicated when a simple dish, such as a straightforward mashed butternut squash, can make a Thanksgiving dinner elegant.

Sometimes the too-complicated culprits are regional specialties such as the western favorite, frog eye salad, or the Midwestern Snicker salad. New Englanders turn each year, though, to mashed butternut squash to make a Thanksgiving dinner complete.

Frog eye salad, popular in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, is a kind of pudding-based sweet pasta fruit salad made with the small soup pasta known as acini di pepe, pineapple chunks, orange pieces, sugar, mini marshmallows, milk and cornstarch. A Snicker salad is, you guessed it, a mix of Snickers bars, Granny Smith apples, whipped cream and often pudding or whipped topping served in a bowl as a potluck and party staple in Iowa. If these two dishes are an indication of anything, it seems that these Midwesterners retain a fondness for 1950s-style sweet sides.

A mashed butternut squash dish seems like a less-sugary and simple side perfect for Thanksgiving. It also is so easy you can have a 5-year-old child make it or at least do the mashing part.

For a little extra I suppose you could sprinkle some walnuts and maple syrup on top, but even that isn’t necessary. There’s a great temptation for even moderately experienced cooks to want to try something fancier on Thanksgiving, something more involved and appealing sounding. Trust me, simple is the way to go, and this is as simple as it gets.

Mashed pumpkin side dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Mashed pumpkin side dish. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

Massachusetts-style Mashed Butternut Squash

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Place the squash cubes in a 12 x 9 x 2-inch or similarly sized baking casserole. Season with salt and pepper. Pour water in to a depth of about 1 inch. Dot the surface with butter and cover the casserole tightly with foil.

3. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Crush the squash to a chunky consistency with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Stir and taste to check seasoning.

Main photo: Butternut squash and pumpkins make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wynne Everett

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4 Red-Hot Grilling Surprises For July Fourth /cooking/4-red-hot-grilling-surprises-july-fourth/ /cooking/4-red-hot-grilling-surprises-july-fourth/#respond Fri, 30 Jun 2017 09:00:14 +0000 /?p=67305 Grilled pork chops oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

July Fourth begs for a magnificent grill party. It’s summer, it’s a great celebration of the nation’s birth and everyone is outdoors and in party mode. Why hold back on July Fourth? Why not grill everything? With a couple of days’ planning, you can really do something amazingly and deliciously different.

Here are four great ideas for the barbecue. There’s no reason why you can’t do all of the these dishes, although it does require that planning. You will have to consider how many people you’re cooking for, think about how large your grill is and make plans for placing all the dishes on the grill.

Getting organized for easy grilling

Colorful peppers on the grill. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Colorful peppers on the grill. Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

There’s something else many people forget when they grill, but it makes everything easier. Remember to set up a little work station next to the grill to put foods that are cooking too fast, spatulas, mitts and your drink. Even a crummy card table will do. When building your grill fire, remember to pile up the coals to one side of the grill so you also have a “cool” side to move food that is either cooking too fast or is flaring up.

Grilled pork chops are a popular dish in the summer in Greece. In this recipe, though, they are cut quite thin, so you might want to buy a whole loin and slice it yourself or seek out “thin-sliced pork chops,” which many supermarkets sell. In any case, it works with any thickness of chop.

The pork is marinated in garlic and oregano and then grilled until it is golden brown with black grid marks. Then sprinkle the whole oregano leaves on top. You can serve this with a grilled vegetable platter.

You may have heard of the pasta dish called penne all’arrabbiata, angry pasta, so-called because of the use of piquant chiles. This is chicken arrabbiata. It’s “angry” because it is highly spiced with cayenne pepper.

Getting spicy with ‘angry chicken’

Chicken Arrabbiata (angry chicken). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Chicken Arrabbiata (angry chicken). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

This chicken gets grilled so if you use the breasts instead of the thighs it will cook quicker. You can leave the chicken skin on or remove it. Crispy skin is delicious, but trying to get the skin crispy on a grill is tricky because of flare-ups. You’ll have to grill by means of indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side.

Many people shy away from grilling whole fish for a variety of reasons. One way to make grilling fish easier is to place a rectangular cast iron griddle over a portion of the grilling grate and cook the fish on top.

If you do that, the griddle must be on the grill for at least 45 minutes to get sufficiently hot before cooking. I suggest several fish below, but it all depends on what’s locally available.

Finding the right fish for the grill

Blue mackerel and idiot fish (kinki fish). Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Blue mackerel and idiot fish (kinki fish). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

Parsley-stuffed grilled porgy and mackerel are two small-fish dishes ideal for a fast grill. You may not necessarily have these two fish available, so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.

I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of the porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel. Because 50 percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these, 4 pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet.

But you can use any fish: The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus). It has delicious soft flesh.

Complementing with the right grilled sides

Peperoni in Graticola (Grilled red, green, and yellow peppers) Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Peperoni in Graticola (Grilled red, green, and yellow peppers) Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

I think it’s always nice to have grilled vegetables with any grill party. Grilled red, green and yellow peppers make a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don’t have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.

Grilled Pork Chops Oregano

Prep time: 4 hours

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano and 2 tablespoons whole leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

14 to 16 pork chops (about 2 pounds), sliced 1/4-inch thick

Directions

1. Mix the olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste in a 9-by-12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan. Dip both sides of the pork chops into this mixture and then leave to marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 hours, turning several times. Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.

2. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on medium high.

3. Remove the pork chops from the marinade and discard the marinade. Place the pork chops with any marinade ingredients adhering to them on the grill. Cook, turning only once, until golden brown with black grid marks, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the whole oregano leaves. Serve hot.

Chicken Arrabbiata

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 small onion, chopped fine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (skinless, optional)

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire to one side of the grill or preheat one side of a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the onion, tomato paste, olive oil, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended.

3. Flatten the chicken thighs or breasts by pounding gently with the side of a heavy cleaver or a mallet between two sheets of wax paper. Coat the chicken with the tomato paste mixture.

4. Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, and cook until the chicken is dark and springy to the touch, turning once, about 20 to 24 minutes (less time for breasts). Baste with any remaining sauce and serve.

Main photo: Grilled Pork Chops Oregano. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Passover’s Diverse Flavors Shine In These Sweet Treats /cooking/passover-sweets-celebrate-diverse-flavors/ /cooking/passover-sweets-celebrate-diverse-flavors/#respond Fri, 07 Apr 2017 09:00:10 +0000 /?p=63529 P is for Passover Cake can be adapted for use at other times of the year, too. Change the P to E, and you have a lovely Easter treat! Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

When it comes to the science of baking as opposed to the art of cooking, it doesn’t do to have clumsy, chubby fingers. Chemistry needs cool palms and a sweat-free brow.

A dear friend of mine, the late Zena Swerling, was a naturally gifted cook, but it was in the realm of baking that she truly shone. “Here’s another can’t-go-wrong recipe,” she’d offer breezily, and although they always worked, they were never quite the same as when served by Zena herself.

Zena started baking when she was “just tall enough to get my chin over my Russian mummy’s kitchen table.” She was a good, old-fashioned cook with a generous hand and heart, but it was not always easy to interpret and annotate her recipes unless you were by her side in the kitchen. Even then, it was difficult because she’d always insist you sit down instead for a light five-course snack with a good helping of juicy gossip.

With Passover here, I’m pleased to share her recipe for ingber, also known as ingberlach (also sometimes called pletzlach), an old-fashioned Ashkenazi carrot-and-ginger festive candy that too few have the patience to make anymore.

Zena, I hope you’re kvelling with pride.

Zena’s Ingber

Add more or less ginger as preferred, but this sweet confection of carrots and ginger should smolder in the mouth.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: About 18 pieces

Ingredients

5 large carrots, peeled

2 cups superfine sugar

1 cup chopped almonds

3 teaspoons ground ginger

Directions

1. Finely grate the carrots in the processor and put them in a large pan.

2. Add the sugar; stir over low heat until it dissolves. Cook very slowly, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick (test by dropping a little onto a plate to see if it sets, like jam). This will take 45 to 50 minutes. For chewy, syrupy candy cook until the soft-crack stage or 270 F on a thermometer; for a more brittle candy, cook until it reaches the hard-crack stage or 300 F.

3. Add the almonds and ginger and remove immediately from the heat. Pour the mixture into a baking tray lined with silicone paper.

4. As it cools, score the top into squares or diamonds, then cut into pieces when cold.

P is for Passover Cake

This is a good recipe either to make before Passover, when the cupboard is crammed with ingredients bought in a frenzy of last-minute panic buying, or when you’re on the homeward stretch and your stocks are running low. Bags of nuts, in particular, seem to get into the spirit of the thing and go forth and multiply under their own volition.

The cake can be made with almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts. Ground hazelnuts are widely available in Jewish stores at this time of the year and are much appreciated by the home baker as they save the tedious business of toasting the nuts, and rubbing their skins off with a tea towel before you pulverize them in a grinder … who needs it? Isn’t this the festival of freedom?

Note to self: Next year must buy nut futures.

And, I’d just like to share with you my favorite Passover joke:

Q: What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction?

A: A matzochist.

OK, let’s get to the cake.

Passover Cake

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup ground nuts, plus a little extra for dusting

4 large eggs

1/4 cup superfine sugar

2/3 cup, plus 1 cup dark chocolate

Salt

2/3 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

3 tablespoons apricot jam

Whole nuts, for decoration (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 355 F (180 C).

2. Grease two 6-inch sandwich tins and line the base of each with a disc of oiled paper. Dust with some ground nuts.

3. Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick.

4. Melt 2/3 cup chocolate with a teaspoon of water.

5. Beat a little into the egg mixture along with a pinch of salt. Fold in the rest of the melted chocolate along with the 1/2 cup of ground nuts.

6. Pour into the tins and bake for 40 minutes or until springy to the touch.

7. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then turn out of the tin.

8. To make the frosting, melt the cup of chocolate and stir in the sour cream. Add a little sugar, if you wish, and allow to cool a little.

9. For the filling, spread the apricot jam and about half of the chocolate mixture over the top of one of the cakes. Place the other cake on top, and smear the remainder of the chocolate sauce over the top. Decorate, if preferred, with whole nuts in shape of a “P.”

Main photo: P is for Passover Cake can be adapted for use at other times of the year, too. Change the P to E, and you have a lovely Easter treat! Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

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Must-Make (Matzo-Free) Passover Desserts /cooking/holidays/must-make-matzo-free-passover-desserts/ /cooking/holidays/must-make-matzo-free-passover-desserts/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 09:00:57 +0000 /?p=73385 Macaroons are a traditional Passover sweet, but this recipe brings a new dimension by adding homemade chocolate ice cream. The chocolate ice cream base is adapted from "The Perfect Scoop," by David Lebovitz. Credit: Copyright 2016 by Tami Weiser

Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom. The initial meal (the seder) and the way you eat for a week offer a small part of the ancient Israelites’ experience as they journeyed from slavery in Egypt to the complexity of freedom. Breads, cooked on the run during their flight, didn’t have sufficient time to rise. The result? Matzo.

Every year, for the first few days of Passover, matzo seems somehow so new. A fat shmear of Temp-Tee ultra-whipped cream cheese and a tart and fruity jelly on top. Or soaked and fried into a matzo brei (a French-toast-like dish) crunchy with sugar and cinnamon. These are the foods of memory to me.

But the problem is that Passover is a weeklong festival. And when it comes to cooking and eating, it is a very long week indeed. Matzo is eaten all the time. I mean ALL the time. It’s in every food, every dish, every treat and in every course. It’s ground into breading, pulverized into cake flour, crushed into farfel and layered into mini “lasagnas.”

Matzo fatigue and the dreaded matzo-pation set in. Desperation takes over by around day four. But frankly, what bothers me the most is when matzo invades desserts. Folks often cook more on Passover than all year long, often pulling out heritage recipes. Even I, a modernist, will cook up a heritage dish or two along with my flights of imagination and globally influenced dishes.

When it comes to desserts, though, many holiday cooks reach for box mixes. Virtually none taste good. These mixes are often packed with processed ingredients and artificial flavors. As a professional cook and culinary instructor — and honestly, a person with taste buds — I don’t make them and I don’t buy them.

If I want heritage desserts, I buy Passover chocolates. That does the trick.

But making desserts at home? What can you do that tastes great and is still Passover-worthy? Matzo in desserts always makes itself known in taste and texture — and I don’t mean that in a nice way whatsoever. No matter how you cut it (pun intended, sorry), matzo desserts are definitely not what I want in order to make a holiday more special.

My advice? If you can put the time and effort into cooking desserts, fear not. Here is a solution.

Delicious Passover desserts

This Sirio Maccioni's Cirque Crème Brûlée has been adapted from Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook -- a perfect Passover dessert. Credit: Copyright 2016 by Tami Weiser

This Sirio Maccioni’s Cirque Creme Brulee has been adapted from Molly O’Neill’s “New York Cookbook” — it’s a delicious Passover dessert. Credit: Copyright 2016 by Tami Weiser

Offer up some treats that are deliciously Passover-ready AND matzo-free and grain-free. Try a Pavlova, a macaroon, a flourless chocolate cake, ice cream, chestnut-flour crepes, custards, crème brûlée or nut paste-based cookies.

This Vanilla Pavlova is light, airy and sweet. The recipe was contributed by Elizabeth Schwartz. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tami Weiser

This Vanilla Pavlova is light, airy and sweet. The recipe was contributed by Elizabeth Schwartz. Photo credit: Copyright 2016 Tami Weiser

A world of matzo-free desserts awaits you.

These Pistachio and Tart Cherry Chewy Cookies strike just the right balance between sweet and tart. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tami Weiser

Pistachio and Tart Cherry Chewy Cookies strike just the right balance between sweet and tart. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tami Weiser

Pistachio and Tart Cherry Chewy Cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients

14 ounces pistachio paste, King Arthur or another all-natural brand preferred

1 cup (200 grams) sugar

2 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Scraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod

1 cup dried tart cherries

1/2 cup pistachios, lightly crushed

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the pistachio paste until it resembles big cookie crumbs, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the egg whites, cardamom and vanilla. Mix until completely smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tart cherries.

3. Drop 2 teaspoons of batter per cookie on the sheet, leaving 1 1/2 to 2 inches between the cookies. Sprinkle the pistachios over the top of the cookies.

4. Bake until light brown but still soft, 12 to 13 minutes. (The cookies will firm up considerably as they cool). Store at in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Main image: Macaroons are a traditional Passover sweet, but this recipe brings a new dimension by adding homemade chocolate ice cream. The chocolate ice cream base is adapted from “The Perfect Scoop,” by David Lebovitz. Credit: Copyright 2016 by Tami Weiser

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South Africa’s Pickled Fish: A Sweet And Sour Easter Treat /cooking/south-africas-pickled-fish-a-make-ahead-easter-treat/ /cooking/south-africas-pickled-fish-a-make-ahead-easter-treat/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 09:00:25 +0000 /?p=72854 Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, with a dish of pickled fish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit for the flavors to develop,” she says. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

In Cape Town, South Africa, Easter is all about chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and pickled fish, a local turmeric-hued, sweet and sour favorite, flavored with spices from the Cape of Good Hope’s Malay culinary heritage.

Although pickled fish is closely associated with Easter, the sweet and sour curried dish has little to do with the Christian holiday. Naturally preserved with vinegar, it’s a make-ahead dish that can span South Africa’s four-day Easter weekend, when no matter what your religion is, socializing and relaxing still reign supreme.

In South Africa, pickled fish is most closely linked with the Cape, where it’s on hand in many households as casual food for drop-in visitors and picnicking. Its spicy roots lie in the Cape’s Muslim population, whose ancestors were brought by the Dutch as slaves from the East Indies: from India, Indonesia and Malaya. As author and Cape Malay caterer Cass Abrahams says: “The slaves knew all about spices; and fish is also a big part of Cape culture.”

An Easter staple

A much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

A much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

In cuisines across the globe, pickling fish was a common and necessary practice before the advent of refrigeration, and each preparation reflected its cuisine’s unique set of ingredients. There are differing opinions about its South African genesis. The earliest written reference that cookbook author Jane-Ann Hobbs has seen comes from Lady Anne Barnard, the Cape’s “First Lady” in the late 1700s, who after visiting a local farm in 1798 wrote that she was served “fish of the nature of cod, pickled with Turmarick.”

While today it’s a much-loved national dish that is available even in upmarket supermarkets, pickled fish is generally homemade and an Easter staple, both for Muslims and Christians. Easter falls at a time of year when fish is both readily available and in great demand, with many Catholics eschewing meat during Lent.

The golden color of curried pickled fish is everywhere at the 150-year-strong Easter weekend gathering at Faure outside the city, where the annual Sheik Yusuf Kramat Festival takes place. Hundreds converge for the long weekend to camp, socialize and visit the shrine to the sheik, credited with establishing Islam in South Africa. While some cooking is done on site, most campers bring covered glass dishes of pickled fish. “We eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with bread thick with butter, rice or rotis,” says Cape Town resident and cook Zainap Masoet, who starts setting up camp at Faure for her extended family five days before the Easter weekend.

One method, many ingredients

A melody of spices, and onions, are used in the spicy preparation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

A melody of spices, and onions, are used in the spicy preparation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

As for its preparation, there’s little disagreement about the method, which involves browning fish seasoned with salt and pepper, then cooking onions with spices, before adding vinegar and a little sugar. The mixture is poured over the cooked fish and the dish is refrigerated for two days before eaten. Once pickled, it will last for days outside the refrigerator, say local cooks.

On the other hand, there is definite banter about the ingredients. In her recipe, Abrahams uses snoek, a meaty and somewhat bony local fish, as does Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, whose aunt taught her how to make the dish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit, for the flavors to develop,” she says.

However, Cape Town tour guide Shireen Narkedien, who regularly takes visitors around the Bo-Kaap, the Cape’s historic Malay Quarter, says the traditional fish is yellowtail, which is what most older people still use. Narkedien only uses bay leaf, turmeric and curry powder and says that the onion should be cooked through and “not too oniony,” while Abrahams uses additional spices as well as garlic, and says the onions should still have some crunch.

The appeal of pickled fish lies as much in the generosity of spirit behind preparing a dish for unexpected visitors as much as it does in its sweet and sour spicy taste. “When I was a child, my mother used to always tell me: ‘You cook for the person who is coming,'” said Narkedien, who describes a time when doors were always open. “When I asked her who that was, she’d say, ‘I don’t know, but it will be someone.'”

Pickled Fish

Pickled fish is usually served with buttered bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Pickled fish is usually served with buttered bread. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

Recipe adapted fromCass Abrahams Cooks Cape Malay.” Used with permission of author.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 ¼ pounds snoek, firm-fleshed white fish or mahi mahi, cut into portions

Salt

Vegetable oil

2 large onions, sliced

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup vinegar

½ cup water

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon masala

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 bay leaves

4 cloves of whole allspice

4 cloves

¼ teaspoon peppercorns

Sugar to taste

Directions

1. Salt fish and fry in vegetable oil until cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a separate bowl; retain oil.

2. Place the rest of the ingredients except sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer until onions are transparent but haven’t lost their crunch.

3. Add sugar to taste and stir to dissolve. Pour warm sauce and oil over fish, making sure that each portion of fish is covered. Allow to cool and refrigerate.

4. Serve with fresh bread and butter.

Main photo: Cape Malay cooking teacher Faldela Tocker, with a dish of pickled fish. “Once it’s pickled, it needs to sit  for the flavors to develop,” she says. Credit: Copyright 2016 Ilana Sharlin Stone

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Guinness For Irish Stew — In The Pot And On The Table /cooking/guinness-irish-stew-pot-table/ /cooking/guinness-irish-stew-pot-table/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 09:00:17 +0000 /?p=62639 Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Not so long ago, most Americans’ idea of how to enjoy beef was to dig into a slab of steak as big as the plate it was served on. Thankfully, culinary fashions have changed. Today, the so-called lesser cuts are giving the primes a run for their money not only because they are cheaper but because they have more flavor. Delicious parts like short ribs and oxtail are so much the rage, that they, too, have become wildly pricey.

To my mind, chuck and blade steak, still relatively economical, are two of the most promising cuts for braising, my favorite cooking method for meat in general. This simple technique of searing and caramelizing foods in fat or oil before simmering them in a cooking liquid, often alcoholic, enriches their flavor and tenderizes them at the same time. Add vegetables, and you’ve made a classic stew. Not only are stews nourishing and sustaining in cold weather but, when made ahead, they actually improve.

The raw materials of stews around the world

There are pedestrian variants consisting simply of meat and root vegetables. And then there are the more artful braises at which the French are so adept, exemplified by boeuf à la Bourguignonne, which is laced during long, slow cooking with the namesake region’s fabled wine. The Italians have their own variations on the theme: The Sicilians enrich their spezzatino with Marsala, for instance, while the Piedmontese dedicate an entire bottle of Barolo for every kilo of beef in their brasato. The Belgians make heady carbonnades with beef chunks, abundant mushrooms and onions braised in light beer with a hint of vinegar and sugar. All of these braised stews are based on cheap cuts, the fat and connective tissue of which render the meat moist and incredibly tender during long, slow cooking.

For me, one of the most delicious is Ireland’s traditional beef stew fortified with rich, dark stout, a beer brewed with roasted, malted barley. The English have their version in the old prescription for “Sussex stew,” a beef braise simmered with mushroom ketchup and ale, but I believe no cooking liquid suits an Irish stew more than Dublin’s Guinness. This malty stout is creamy with a pleasant bitterness that makes for a powerful yet subtle cooking liquid, imparting its own complex layer of flavor while producing a velvety gravy. The resulting dish is one with a double life: Eat it as a stew, or cover it with a crust for a pie.

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Candlelight dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

What makes stout particularly suited to beef stews is what Chrissie Manion Zaepoor of Kookoolan Farms — a stout expert, craft mead maker and pasture-raised meat producer in Yamhill, Oregon — calls “roastiness.” “It’s like espresso,” she says. “It has a smoky, grilled flavor that’s nice with beef, and it’s herbaceous in a way that wine isn’t.”

Just how much stout to add depends on the other ingredients. Too little and, well, you’re missing the point; too much and the stew will be bitter. I find the best proportion is about one-third stout to two-thirds stock. Guinness is an old reliable for the Irish purist, but you can experiment with any of the local craft stouts that are widely available these days, each of which will impart their own individual character.

As for the stock, its quality is essential to the success of the stew. I rarely rely on commercially made stock, which (besides being close to tasteless) too often contains sugar, green pepper, mushroom or other ingredients I would not use in my own recipe. But if need be, I find most commercial chicken stocks more palatable than their beef counterparts. Whether the stock is homemade or store-bought, adding stout will enrich it.

What to drink with Irish stew?

The pleasure of eating this singular stew is increased manyfold when it is accompanied by a swig of the same good stout you’ve cooked with. The pleasant bitterness of the drink rises to the rich, deep flavors of the braise and so nicely sets off the sugars in the onions and carrots. The Irish, like the rest of their compatriates in the British Isles, drink their beer cool, not cold, like a fine red wine. Pour with care for a full, creamy head. On St. Patrick’s Day, be sure to have on hand a loaf of soda bread peppered with caraway seeds to slather with soft Irish butter for the proper holiday spirit. Slainte!

Irish Beef-and-Beer Stew

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: About 2 1/4 hours

Total time: About 3 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

4 pounds well-sourced (preferably organic) blade steaks or boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces

3/4 cup good-quality unsalted butter, preferably Irish

3 medium onions, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

Stems from 1 bunch parsley, minced

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence

1 1/4 cups stout, such as Guinness

2 3/4 cups homemade, salt-free meat stock, or low-sodium chicken broth

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

3 turnips, peeled and cubed

4 to 5 teaspoons fine sea salt, or to taste

Freshly milled black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 pounds small Yukon Gold, fingerling or Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed, skin on

8 ounces freshly picked and shelled or frozen petite peas (optional)

Directions

1. Blot the meat with paper towels to remove moisture. In a heavy, ample, oven-proof braiser or Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup of the butter over medium heat. Slip in just enough meat cubes to leave sufficient room around each one for proper searing. You will need to brown the meat in several batches, adding up to 1/4 cup of the remaining butter as needed (reserve the rest for browning vegetables later). Each batch will take about 10 minutes to brown all over; when it’s done, transfer it to a large bowl and repeat the process until all the meat is browned before starting the next.

2. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until they are softened and lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Stir occasionally to dislodge any meat bits from the pan surface. Stir in the parsley stems, bay leaves and dried herbs and sauté for another minute or two.

3. Return the browned meat and its juices to the pan. Pour in the stout followed by the stock. Stir the ingredients together well and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook over the lowest possible heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (I like to set a metal heat diffuser, called a “flame tamer,” between the flame and the pot to neutralize any hot spots and ensure even cooking.) Alternatively, you can heat the oven to 300 F, slide the covered pot onto the middle shelf and cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate, ample skillet, warm the remaining butter. Add the carrots and turnips and sauté until they are nicely colored, 10 to 12 minutes. Reserve.

5. After 1 1/2 hours, stir the carrots and turnips into the stew. Cook for another 45 minutes, or until both the meat and root vegetables are very tender. When it is done, add salt and pepper to taste.

6. In the meantime, cover the potatoes in 3 inches of cold water and bring to a boil; then simmer over medium heat until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

7. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with enough cold water (or cold stock) to make a thin, smooth paste or slurry. If you have been cooking the stew in the oven, remove it now and put it on the stove top over low heat.

8. Remove the cover from the pot and stir the slurry into the stew a little at a time to blend well. Add the peas if desired. Simmer until the gravy thickens and heats through and the peas are warm, no more than 5 minutes. Serve hot with boiled potatoes.

Notes: Using a well-marbled cut that will be rendered moist and tender during cooking is important to the success of any meat stew. Shoulder cuts, including blade steak or chuck, are ideal; avoid leg meat, which will be dry and tough by comparison. Searing small batches in hot butter before adding the cooking liquid caramelizes them, creating another layer of flavor. The root vegetables are sautéed separately and incorporated late to prevent them from disintegrating into the gravy. Peas are optional; I love them for their little bursts of sweetness, but don’t overcook! Boiled potatoes go well with the stew, and there will be plenty of gravy to sauce them. The stew will keep in a refrigerator for up to four days, or it can be frozen. To make a pie, cool the stew and divide it into individual crocks or larger baking dishes, as you prefer, then top with your favorite unsweetened pie crust or puff pastry. Brush the crust with egg wash (a whole egg yolk thinned with a little cold water or milk). Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake until it is heated through and the crust is golden, about 20 minutes, depending on pie size.

Main photo: Beef and Guinness stew. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 

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Slow-cooked Comfort Perfect For The Week After Christmas /cooking/76616/ /cooking/76616/#respond Tue, 27 Dec 2016 04:00:59 +0000 /?p=76616 Veal Roast in Wine and Cream. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

The week separating Christmas from New Year’s can be a strange dead zone in culinary terms. We may be eating leftovers from Christmas dinner, but by the 27th we’re sick of those.

New Year’s Eve tends to be more about partying and drinking than comfort food. What do we eat during that week? No one wants to do anything extravagant because we’re all too tired or we’re expecting to save our blowout for the 31st. For me, it’s all about comfort food and not necessarily some family favorite. Comfort food in my mind tends to be food that cooks slowly.

I go for a veal roast. This is a dish that is influenced by a style of cooking that I used to do more often about 20 years ago. I began cooking before the days of Marcella Hazan in the 1970s, so I learned from a group of pre-Hazan Italian cookbooks that I just loved, especially the great cookbooks of Luigi Carnacina, known as the Escoffier of Italy, Luigi Veronelli, Massimo Alberini, Vincenzo Buonassissi and Ada Boni. There was also a touch of monzù cooking in Carnacina’s dishes that had some intimation of French haute cuisine. The monzù were Italian chefs of aristocratic households in Naples and Sicily who received some training either in France or through French-trained chefs and their cooking reflects a baroque style of cuisine. The monzù received their name as an Italian corruption of the French monsieur. I would accompany the veal with French fries or rice along with any green vegetable you desire.

Veal Roast in Wine and Cream

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 1/4 pounds veal loin roast, tied into a regular shape with kitchen twine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 cups dry white wine

1/3 cup dry Marsala wine

Bouquet garni, consisting of 8 sprigs of fresh parsley, 10 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 8 sprigs of fresh marjoram, tied in cheesecloth

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. In a flameproof baking casserole, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter just begins to stop bubbling, brown the veal on all sides, about 5 minutes. Season the veal with salt and pepper.

3. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened, stirring frequently, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and Marsala and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze the crust. Add the bouquet garni, cover, and place in the oven to bake for 1 hour.

4. Remove the roast and set aside, keeping warm. Strain the broth and return to the casserole. Turn the heat to high and reduce the broth by half. Add the cream, stir, and reduce until the gravy is a consistency you like. Slice the veal and transfer to a serving platter. Pour the gravy over and serve.

 

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7 Secrets To A Perfectly Flaky And Buttery Croissant /world/7-secrets-perfectly-flaky-buttery-croissant/ /world/7-secrets-perfectly-flaky-buttery-croissant/#comments Wed, 16 Dec 2015 10:00:44 +0000 /?p=71281 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

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

The proper proofing of the dough leads to a perfect result - fluffy, airy inside with brittle, crisp, butter infused layers on the outside. Delicious! The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokoy pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokyo pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream....the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream … the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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.

Dough techniques

Chef Galarch at ICC showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable, but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Gerlach at the International Culinary Center showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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.

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.
After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. After painting with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size, I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. Once painted with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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.

Croissant Dough

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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