Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

It is hard to believe that it has been five months since I started this blog.  I would like to believe that someone out there is reading my posts and using my recipes, but even if I do not have as big of an audience as I would like, I am still delighted to do it.
To all my readers, Happy New Year! 

May it bring you all that you wish for! 

Happy Cooking, Eating and Drinking!

And I guess I will devote January posts to very healthy eating, as I imagine half the world will be on a diet come January 1st.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rainbow Trout with Brown Butter Sauce and Porchini Risotto

This is the time of the year when each one of us can use a comforting home cooked meal that is at least a little lighter than the standard holiday fair.  Between piles of candy and boxes of cookies at the office and all those celebratory lunches, my pants are not zipping up as well as I would like.  On the other hand it has been so cold in the Northeast lately, that the body craves something a bit more substantial than a carrot stick.  Whenever the fat guilt sets in, I turn to fish and between you and me; a little brown butter does not automatically turn the whole meal un-healthy.  Everything in moderation and you can stay slim and fit through the holidays, and if not, well, that is what the New Year’s resolutions are for.
Pan seared Rainbow Trout with Brown-butter
Rainbow trout filets with skin on
1 tbs olive oil
4 tbs of butter
Juice of one lemon
Handful of dill, parsley and 1 clove of garlic.  All minced together,

Heat the olive oil and 1 tbs of butter in the medium skillet.  Salt and pepper the trout filets on both sides and sear on each side until the edges are crispy but the fish is not over cooked.  About a minute per side, maybe a little less, this fish is very thin and cooks very quickly.  Sear all the filets and set aside.
Turn the heat low and in the same skillet melt all of the remaining butter.  Cook the butter swirling the skillet over low flame until it becomes fragrant and nutty and turns a caramel color.  Turn of the heat, stir in lemon juice, pour over fish and garnish with the herb and garlic mixture.

Porcini Risotto.
2- 3 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
¼ cup of grated or very finely chopped shallot
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup of dry white wine
4 to 6 cups of chicken stock (simmering)
2 oz of grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs herbs de Provance
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of hot chicken stock for 30 min.  Drain the mushrooms and reserve the liquid.
In a sauté pan, gently heat the olive oil and butter.  Add the shallot and cook over low heat for a few min.  Add the herbs de Provance and the rice and make sure that the rice is well covered with the butter, oil mixture.  Add the mushrooms.  Cook without adding any liquids for a minute or until the rice begin to smell nutty.
Add the wine and cook stirring periodically until the liquid is absorbed.  Add the reserved mushroom liquid and a few ladles of stock at a time, stir in and cover. Stir periodically and do not add any more liquid until the previous batch is absorbed.  Some recommend cooking the risotto uncovered, stirring constantly, but for me, it works out better if I cover it and just stir periodically.  I cannot say how much stock you will end up using; I just cook it until the rice is al dente.  So try often!
The dish comes out fairly rich so I like to serve it with a nice crisp white wine.  We had a 2008 Stay Sail White from a Frontenac  Point Vineyard in the Finger lakes region.    It is a well balance blend of Vignoles, Vidal, and Chardonnay grapes.  Full bodied, with notes of apricot and peach.  It had a nice crisp finish and was a great compliment to the rich nuttiness of the butter sauce.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adventures in Dough - Danishes

I just realized that recently my life has been revolving around dough.  Laying awake at night I worry that I did not turn the dough on time or that my bread starter over developed or under developed, or that I have frozen yeasted dough in the freezer that should have been baked weeks ago and was not… “is my yeast dead now?”.  As I am not a professional baker doing this for a living, it is very difficult to schedule a very full and busy life around the timetables and demands of the dough beast.
Although very labor intensive, I was very happy with the way my puff pastry turned out, so I have decided to venture out into the world of yeasted laminated dough.   All those years appreciating someone else’s croissants and Danishes, I wondered, how hard can it be?  I used the Danish dough recipe from the Joe Pastry blog.  I used real Danish butter to re-create the most authentic taste I could master.  It took me about three days to get through the whole process and to make all my dough turns.  I would run home after work, turn the dough a few times and then leave it in the fridge overnight to rest.   I was finally left with two portions of gorgeous looking dough.  Unfortunately it was just not a good time to bake it so I decided to freeze it and bake the following weekend.  Here is when all my worries begun.  I was suddenly swamped at work and pulled in many directions at home.  Family breakfasts were not to be for the next few weeks and I just kept the dough in the freezer.  In the mean time I came across an advice from a very prominent pastry chef, who strongly cautioned against freezing yeasted dough for more than two days, because the combination of fat and frost destroys the yeast.  So here I was awake at night, mourning all the work and $25 worth of Danish butter, until finally, weeks later I got the chance to bake. 
I thawed the dough overnight in the fridge and made 4 kinds of Danishes just to try out the fillings and see if my Danishes will puff at all.  This batch yielded eight bakery size pastries, but next time I will make them a bit smaller.  Could have easily been twelve.
Fortunately, my worries did not come true.  My dough had risen, separated and puffed just as if I baked it the next day.  The Danishes were a big hit with all who tried them and I still have half the dough left over for next time.

Here is the whole laminating process gain.

Cutting in the butter

Oh those turns!!!

Over and over again!

Try folding and rolling this monster.

And this is what you get

Orange Marmalade filled Danish


Pain du Chocolate

Almond cream filled Bareclaw

Cheese and Raspberry filling was delicious but the Danishes did not hold together.  I sealed as pouches and they fell apart, so I did not take any pictures.   

And more to bake later.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rustic Bread

The most comforting and best tasting food in the world is bread.  I don’t care what kind of delicacies you have eaten or how sophisticated your palate is, whether you are child or an adult and where you come from, no one can resist freshly baked bread.  I can honestly say that it is my absolutely favorite food to eat and absolutely the most temperamental, difficult to master and hardest to cook.
Al lot of though and work goes into a properly baked bread.  How many of us, really have a bread baking, stone, fire burning oven?   You need to trick your normal house oven into thinking it is all that.
How much gluten is in each flour kind?  What is in the water?  Do I use commercial or natural yeast?  Do I bother with making and training the starters?
Once I started baking bread a few years ago and begun reading about bread baking and countless recipe books and advise later, I realized that you probably need a lifetime to learn to bake perfect bread, every time.  All of the above questions about flours, water, yeast, temperatures and starters were haunting me and all of the conflicting advice confused me.  I kept on baking, coming up with different results each time, learning from my mistakes each time.  These days, I can produce great bread 2 out of 4 times as long as it is the kind of bread I baked before and as long as I do not violate some of my own rules (which I do often).
Here are a few of my own rules:
1.        Don’t bother with naturally born yeast, feeding and training starters unless you are really ready for very unpredictable results, foul smelling science experiments and middle of the night terrors that you forgot to FEED IT again.
2.       If you do decide to work with starters, stick to store bought bread until you get the hang of it, which may be never.
3.       Invest in a scale, cups are a poor way to measure different types of lours.
4.       Dough does not like to be rushed.. good bread takes time
5.       Dough does not like to be abandoned, if you leave it out to long, it will over-rise and leave you and your bread flat.
6.       Your bread dough likes your hands, not the dough hook of a Cusineart.  You will feel the dough better and get the hang of the proper texture if you mix and knead by hand.
7.       Flour matters, so experiment with as many types and combinations as you can, to find what works best for you.
8.       Never cut hot bread

Here is one of my favorites and the ones that most of the time it turns out well.

3 cups of King Arthur Italian blend bread flour
1 ½ cups of stone ground wheat bread flour
2 cups of King Arthur bread flour
1 ½ tablespoons of instant yeast ( I like SAF Red Instant yeast)
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
½  tablespoon sugar
3 cups of warm water at 105 or 110F.  ( The water should not be warmer than 115F as it will kill the yeast, but I like to make to start off with hot water, as I keep my yeast in the fridge and I find that very warm water wakes it faster)

Makes 2 medium size loafs or one very large one.

Day 1. 
Mix the yeast and about 1 cup of water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Let stand for about 10 min.  Add all of the flour, sugar, salt and the rest of the water and mix just to combine.
Turn out into a floured board and knead with your hands until the dough begins to feel warm, about 5 minutes.
Place into a lightly oiled plastic bowl large enough to accommodate rising dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for about 1 ½ hrs or until the dough doubles in size.

After the dough rises, turn it out onto the floured surface and knead very lightly with your hands, be careful not to deflate the dough to much.  It should feel light and stretchy now.
Place back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a slow rise.

At this point you can keep it in the fridge for up to 1 week without baking. 

Baking Day.
Take out the dough and let it come to room temperature.
On the floured surface, knead the dough until it is very stretchy but still soft and airy.  At this point you can do the windowpane test.  Take a small piece of dough and stretch it like a membrane between your hands.  Look up at the light, of the membrane is thin enough to see the light through and does not tear, you have the right dough consistency.  If not, keep kneading.

Shape the loafs and place them on the parchment paper and cover with a kitchen towel.
In the mean time, prepare the oven.
Line the very bottom rack of your oven with a baking stone or unglazed quarry times (See note).  On the very top rack place an empty baking pan which is at least an inch deep.  Crank up your oven to as high as it will go (mine goes only up to 550F).  Let the oven heat up for 1 hr after it comes up to full temperature.  This gives your loafs just enough time rise.

Score your loafs with a razor or sharp knife in whichever patter you prefer to help them rise in the oven.

With the loafs fully risen and oven pre-heated, place your loafs directly on the tiles.  You can keep them on parchment paper if you prefer they are easier to move this way.
Working quickly, add about ½ inch of very hot water to the hot baking pan.  This will create steam in the first few minutes of baking and will help to create a cracking crust.  You can also spray a few squirts of water on to the oven sides and floor; just don’t get it on the glass door.  Believe me, just don’t… it ruins your whole week.

Bake the bread at 480F for the first 10 min and then lover the temperature to 455F and bake for an additional 15 min of making medium size loafs.  If you are baking one large loaf, bake it for 35- 40 min total.

Take the bread out of the oven and cool it on the cooling rack, to prevent the crust from getting soggy on the bottom.  After a few minutes you may hear your crust start to make cracking sounds as it cools… don’t be alarmed, this is the best sound in the world.  It means you achieved a crackling crust.
Resist the temptation to tear into the hot bread.  Allowing it to cool is part of the cooking process and makes for proper crumb and flavor development.

One thing I can tell you is that no matter what you put in front of your guests at the table, all of the freshly baked bread will be gone first.  It will yield you the most compliments and make for most conversation.  And this makes sense, because nothing  makes us feel more at home than bread.

Note:  Baking stones can be quite expensive and they tend to crack.  I go with unglazed quarry tiles which are about 70 cents apiece at your local hardware store. These are the brick colored, Mexican looking tiles.  Just make sure they have a flat surface, not glazed.   They are easier to replace when crack and certainly cheaper.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A perfect way to say “Thanks!” – how my Thanksgiving turned out.

Thanksgiving is meant to give us a chance to reflect on all the wonderful things we have in our lives and to take a break and truly appreciate them.  On this Thanksgiving, I feel very blessed to have all the people that surround me in my life.  I am thankful to my family and friends for being a part of my world.  I want them to know how much I love them and for me the only way to do that is with food.  It is the ultimate comfort and pleasure to put a plate in front of someone and I think it shows love.   So, if I ever cooked for you, please know, I meant “Thank you!”.
Some of you commented on my planned Thanksgiving menu, noting it as either ambitious or nuts.  I must agree, especially with the crazy work schedule I have been keeping lately and this week especially.  I just think that anyone who likes to cook should be given the Thanksgiving week off; it should be in the contract. 
Nevertheless, I managed to put every single planned item on the table.  There were no major surprises and all dishes worked out.  This was astonishing to me as with all my major cooking projects at least one dish flops and at least one gets abandoned for either lack of time or energy. 
Check out my Thanksgiving:
Wild Mushroom Tartalette with Pecorino.
I scored the most beautiful Chanterelle mushrooms and mixed with Cremini mushrooms and a layer of béchamel they made the most beautiful appetizer.
I used the same crust as for the Tomato tart, but I blind baked it the day before.  On Thanksgiving day I made a simple béchamel to brush on the bottom of the tart and filled it with mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, butter with thyme and rosemary.

Simple Béchamel sauce:
2 tbs butter
2 tbs all purpose flour
2 cups of milk
1 tsp of Dijon mustard ( optional)
 Salt / Pepper
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the flour and cook whisking periodically for a few minutes, until the rue becomes to brown and smell nutty.  Wisk in the milk and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce thickens.  Add the spices and the mustard (if using).

Goat cheese and slow roasted tomato crostini.
I spread very good quality Chevre on toasted baguette and topped with slow roasted tomatoes.


Asian fried shrimp.
The shrimp where dusted with corn starch and fried in peanut oil.  Then tossed in an Asian inspired sauce which included soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, Asian hot sauce, freshly ground ginger and garlic.  I also tossed in some sesame seeds for flavor and presentation.

Freshly baked bread and compound herb and truffle butter.

I wanted to make eggs deviled with Harissa, however this great and versatile condiment was nowhere to be found.  I made a mixture of roasted pepper, egg yolks, cilantro, anchovies and a bit of mayo instead.  It really was a hit.

The French Onion soup recipe came from the book called “The Sharper your knife the Less you Cry” by Kathleen Flynn.   The soup was great, but I learned that I really should invest in proper vessels for this soup and that the crouton should fit the perimeter of the dish very snuggly, otherwise you will end up with the cheese on the bottom of the bowl rather than on top.

And the star of the show!!!  This year’s turkey was the best I have ever made, the most moist, delicious, juicy… ahh!!  And I did less with it than usual.  I did not brine, I did not stuff, I did nor fuss... I just compounded all the turkey advise I ever heard form the Food Network and made my own.
The best Thanksgiving ( or any day) turkey.
A few springs of each of the following fresh herbs: Rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano
1 lemon cut in half
1 whole unpeeled garlic head cut in half cross-wise
1 lb of compound butter (made ahead of time and chilled).  I make the compound butter with lots of all of the above herbs, salt and pepper.
Stuff the Turkey with all the fresh herbs, lemon and garlic halves.  Loosen some of the skin on top and place a few pats (about 1/3 of a pound)  of compound butter on each breast under the skin.  Salt and pepper the whole bird and place it on the rack of a roasting pan filled with a few cut up carrots, few stalks of celery and one onion.  Pour an inch of chicken stock or water into the bottom of the pan, cover the turkey with aluminum foil tightly and let stand for 30 min.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake the turkey covered with foil, basting periodically at 350F at a rate of 15 minutes per pound.  About an hour before the turkey is done, take off the  foil and generously butter the entire bird with the rest of your compound herb  butter.  Continue roasting until the internal temperature at the thigh is 145F.  Take out the bird and cover with foil tightly.  Let stand for at least 15 min before carving.  The internal temperature will climb to the recommended 165F while the Turkey is resting. 

Hericot vert  blanched for a few minutes and then sautéed simply with olive oil, red pepper and garlic.  Topped with toasted almond flakes.


And would you believe I forgot to take a picture of the wild rice and vegetables and mashed potatoes and my pretty corn salad.
Now for the most important course.
The Chocolate Pretzel tarts came out perfectly.  Here is the recipe, but they work so much better when are made with all dark chocolate and as small shells.  This makes the ratio of crust to filling perfectly balanced.

Hazelnut butter cream profiteroles.
The profiteroles recipe I use is the same one used by my grandmother.  The hazelnut butter cream recipe came out of my new favorite baking book Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  I ended up mixing the butter cream with an equal amount of chocolate hazelnut spread to make more “hazel nutty”
1 cup of whole milk
1 stick of butter
1 cup all purpose flour
Pinch kosher salt
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425F.  In the heavy bottom pan heat the milk, salt and butter until the butte is fully melted.  Do not boil the mixture.  Dump all the flour at once and cook beating with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a smooth ball peeling off the sides of the pan easily  about 4 min).
Put the hot batter in the food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse 4 large eggs into the mixture.  You will now have a smooth, sticky batter, which should not be runny.
Pipe your profiteroles, puffs or éclairs onto a baking sheet covered with parchment.  Bake for 20 min at 425F and do not open the oven door.  After 20 min turn off the oven and let them stand for another 8 min.  Cool on the cooling rack and poke a hole in each one to let out the steam.

Apple strudel.
I am planning a whole post on strudels, so stay tuned.


Lemon filled raspberry tarts.
The sweet dough recipe came out of the same baking book Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.  And the lemon filling is what I always use for my lemon tart.
Lemon Filling:
1 stick unsalted butter
1  cup sugar
4 large
3 large egg yolks
Lemon zest of 5 lemons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Cream the butter and sugar in the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time until well incorporated.  Add the Zest, salt and lemon juice.  The mixture may look a bit curdled but it is normal.
Pour the mixture into a sauce pan and cook 8 to 10 minutes until thick and coats the back of the spoon.  Turn off the heat and whisk the mixture until smooth.   I like to mix in a tablespoon or so of lemon curd, but the mixture is great without it as well.  To cool, place the plastic directly on the surface of the filling before refrigerating, otherwise it will develop “skin”.  Once the mixture is cool, fill your tarts and decorate with fresh berries.

I made enough deserts to feed an army and even ended up taking some to friend's house for a little birthday surprise.

I just got tired all over again just righting about this feast.  Let's just say, I do not want to see the inside of my kitchen for a few days.  This is what the leftovers are for.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope I get to do it again next year!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Planning for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is almost here and I have it all planned out.  As usual my husband has halved the menu, since I do tend to overcook and over plan.  As always, I did not get enough time to test most of the baking recipes, so there may be some unforeseen disasters.  Although this year I am going with true and trusted classics.  My menu is ambitious as always, but it is the best way I know how, to say I am really thankful for all the things I have in my life.

Here is my menu, I will let you know how it turnes out after the holiday.  Let me know what you are cooking?

Cold Appetizers:

Wild Washroom tart with pecorino shavings
Goat cheese and slow roasted tomato crostinis
Greek Eggplant dip
Asian pan fried shrimp
Home backed bread with herbed compound butter
Eggs deviled with harissa ( this one will need to be re-thought, as I cannot find harissa anywhere)

Hot Appetizer:

French onion soup

Main course:

Roasted Turkey stuffed only with herbs
Mashed Potatoes
Wild rice and fall vegetables
Hericot vert sauteed with garlic and red pepper
Carrot and Ginger Salad
Simple Tomato salad
Roasted Brussel sprouts with pecans and pomegranate molasses


Chocolate pretzel tartalettes (I am worried about these, I tested this recipe last night and let's just say "it needs work")
Tartaletts filled with lemon mouse and raspberries
Apple strudel
Profiteroles filled with hazelnut butter cream

I can't wait to get started!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Asian pan seared dumplings

Everyone knows I love to cook... I truly enjoy my time in the kitchen and it is one of few places where I am relaxed and happy ( unless I just burned something or sliced my hand... but that is another post).  However, even I have the "I hate the kitchen" kind of days.  Contrary to popular beliefs, I do get lazy sometimes.  This usually happens after I complete some kind of major cooking project.  A project where I obsess over the menu for weeks, cook for 2 days and make enough food to feed an army.  These projects are also known as any type of family gathering, birthday parties, Thanksgiving or any time I just want to create a reason to try thirty new recipes.  I am always afraid I will not have enough time to cook and eat everything I ever want to unless I do it "RIGHT NOW".  But I am regressing... back to laziness.
When occasionally I do feel like if I have to clean the stove or wash a dish one more time, I will kill someone, I go for the freezer.  There are a few things in there that are worth eating and they did not come from the supermarket's frozen isle ( not that there is anything wrong with that).
I can make a hundred of these dumplings, freeze them and any time I feel like a bum, put on dinner in 10 min.  It also helps that my daughter loves to makes these and turns them out with the speed and neatness of a factory machine.  Kids are useful after all!

For the dumplings:

1 lb of ground beef or pork ( or a combination)
1 tbs of fresh grated ginger
1 tsp of Tai fish sauce
1 tbs Soy sauce
1 tsp of Asian hot sauce
2 cloves of garlic finely minced or pasted
2 scallions diced
1 egg
Salt and Pepper to taste

1 package of frozen rice flour dumpling wrappers, thawed in refrigerator overnight.  The wrappers are sold in any Asian market in the frozen food section and come in a variety of shapes.  I prefer round ones.

2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
stir fry oil or any high temperature frying oil.
1/2 cup of soy sause
Ponzu sauce for serving

Prepare the filling.  Combine the ground meat, ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, scallions, salt and pepper.  Mix with your hands until all ingredients are evenly combined.  Add the egg and mix until incorporated.

Prepare a baking sheet layered with wax paper.  Trace around the edge of each wrapper with a wet finger or wet pastry brush.  Fill with meat and seal by folding in half.  Firmly press on the edges to make sure they are sealed.  Place each dumpling on the wax paper in a single layer and make sure they do not touch each other, or they will stick.  You may need more than one baking sheet.
Place the filled dumplings in a freezer right on the baking sheets.  Let them freeze thoroughly before storing in a zip top bag or cooking.  It takes about 5 to 10 hrs for them to be frozen solid.
You can store these in a freezer for 1 month.
When ready to cook, bring up chicken stock or water to a boil.  In a separate skillet heat the sir fry oil.  Place the dumplings in batches of 5 or 6 in chicken stock.  Allow to cook for about 3 min ( at this moment you will find out if you did a good job sealing the wrappers, if you did not they will fall apart).  Take the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and fry them in a prepared skillet until they are nice and golden and the wrappers become crispy and begin to shrink.  In the last minute of frying add a little of the sesame oil and a splash of say sauce.  You can work in batches by keeping the fully cooked dumplings warm in a tray in a 250F oven.  Serve with scallions and Ponzu sauce for dipping ( or say sauce with a splash of lemon juice). 


Enjoy the lazy dinner!  Leftovers make a great lunch the next day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Apple Tartalets

There are certain deserts that I have in my back-pocket, which are universally loved and easy to make.  The Apple Galletes are always a crowd pleasers, but most importantly they make good use of my frozen puff pastry.  Remember, the one that took three days to make and made me question my sanity?  If not, here is the Puff Pastry post
After all that back-breaking labor of rolling and turning dough, you need something easy and almost instantly gratifying.
An apple gallete was one of the first deserts that I made all by myself, without consulting a recipe.    I was trying to imitate a gallete I ate at a neighborhood patisserie.  Although I have been happily making these for a very long time, I never quite got the texture of the dough right when using the store bought puff pastry.   The homemade version did the trick.


2 sheets of frozen puff pastry thawed in the refrigerator overnight. 
4 or 5 Granny Smith or other tart apples
¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs of apple butter ( optional)
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbs sugar
4 oz of butter chilled
1 egg
2 tbs of apple jelly or peach preserves.
1 tbs of water

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut out the rounds for the bottom of the galletes.  I never acquired and dough cutting tools so I use two types of wine glasses for these, one slightly larger than the first.  Now cut out the gallete sides by cutting out a circle the same size as the bottom and than using a smaller shape to create the edges.  Your “edge” should be about ½ to 1 inch thick.  Set both bottoms and edges aside.

Now cut out the gallete sides by cutting out a circle the same size as the bottom and than using a smaller shape to create the edges.  Your “edge” should be about ½ to 1 inch thick.  Set both bottoms and edges aside.

Core and peel and quarter the apples.  Slice into very thin wedges and immediately toss with the lemon juice, sugar and spices.

Brush the bottom of ach gallete with a little bit of the apple butter (this is optional, but I find that it adds moisture and a little bit of extra sweetness without adding more fat).
Arrange the apple slices so they overlap and place the dough ‘edge’ on top, so that the apple edges are tucked inside the dough.
Brush the dough of the galletes with and egg-wash.  Cut the butter into small cubes and place a single cube in the center of each gallete.
Bake at 400F for the first 7 min, than reduce to oven temperature to 350F and bake additional 10 to 12 min.

Now think about what makes the pastries in the bakery window look different from anything you bake at home.  Got it?  No?  It is the pretty shine, the sticky glaze that covers all commercially produced baked goods and makes them look so good….  Here is the home version, not quite as shiny but also not as much trouble as making the real glaze.

When the galletes are almost ready, thin out the apple jelly or peach preserves with 1 tbs of water and heat in a microwave for about 20 seconds.  While the galletes are still hot, brush the glaze onto the galletes with a pastry brush.  Cool on the cooling rack and try not to eat them all at once, these are addictive!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Drunk Baked Apples

"How did the apples get drunk?” you ask... they had all the leftover desert wines I had standing around my house.  I am not a big fan of desert wine, I enjoy an occasional port, but still usually have some left over.  The fact that I don't really drink desert or fruit wines does not stop me from buying them, whenever we go on wine tasting trips.  Much to my husband's dismay, I end up buying the little (and overpriced) bottles of apple, black currant or raspberry wines with the same excuse... "If anything, I will cook with it".  And it is true, when all else fails these make great base for all kinds of desert sauces or salad dressings.

I went apple picking recently and although these year's pickings were not abundant (we went a week too late), I still had plenty of Granny Smith apples to work with. For a quick, easy and delicious desert baked apples work great.  It is just as easy to make two as it is to make twenty, which makes this desert great for entertaining company.  And you can make these in advance, just heat them up in the oven for a few minutes and drizzle with sauce before serving. 

If any are left over, they make a great snack the next day.  And for all this goodness, I figure they are a much healthier alternative to most of the backed deserts out there. 

Drunk Backed Apples

6 Granny Smith ( or any firm, tart apples).
3 tbs of honey
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dry blueberries or cranberries or raisins
1/4 frozen black currant or any tart berries
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of dried ginger
1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp of lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups of desert or fruit wine or port or any combination of all the lefovers you may have

1 tbs of aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of Grand Marnier
1 cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Peel just the top of the apple and core with the melon baller.  With the same melon baller, hallow out the inside of the apple, making sure the sides and the bottom do not get too thin.  Immediately after peeling and coring drizzle each apple inside and out with the lemon juice.  This will prevent browning.

In a bowl combine chopped walnuts, dried and frozen berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest.
Squeeze about a 1/2 tbs of honey inside each apple, than fill with berry and nut mixture.  Press the mixture firmly inside each apple and fill all the way to the top.  It's ok if some of the filling overflows, it will just flavor the sauce.

Arrange all the filled apples in the glass baking dish and pour the wine/ port mixture over the apples.  Bake in the 400F oven for about 20 min or until the apples become somewhat tender (but not mushy).

When the apples are done, set them aside and pour all the remaining liquid into a sauce pan.  Add balsamic vinegar, Grand Marnier and sugar.  Simmer until the sauce has reduced by about half and coats the back of the spoon. 

Drizzle the sauce over the apples and serve warm or at room temperature.

Now, if that doesn't smell and taste like fall, I don't know what is!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dough adventures - Puff Pastry

Why go through the trouble of making one's own puff pastry when there is perfectly great frozen dough sold at every market's freezer section?  I do ask myself these questions occasionally, and the simple answer is "I must be nuts!"
Let me tell you, making laminated dough at home is not for the faint hearted.  First, you actually see how much butter goes into any type of puff pastry and that alone can ruin anyone's life permanently.  I, for example, will never be able to look at my beloved croissants the same way.  Obviously I knew how puff pastry is made, I KNEW, there is a lot of fat in every bite, but knowing and seeing with your own eyes are two different things.
Second and this is the good part, if you have bottled up anger, had a rough day or week, ready to kill someone, you can work all of those emotions out for the price of 1 lb of good butter and some flour.  No therapy required!  Because by the time you are done rolling ice cold dough for the umpteenth time, using every ounce of your upper body strength and some very foul language. Trust me; you will not have much strength left to feel any anger toward anyone or anything other than that dough.
And third, when you are done and you see the golden layers that puff up sky high in your oven, it is all worth it.  So my ultimate wisdom out of this experience is... if you are going to make puff pastry at home, make a lot at once, freeze it, so you do not need to go through all the rolling, punching, folding, re-rolling, re-cooling, etc... Too often.

Basic Puff Pastry is non-sweet, non-yeasted dough; it is great for tarts, simple pastries, and some of the savory dishes.  It uses the "Laminated" method of incorporating lots, lots and lots of butter to make all those nice layers puff up.  This dough can also be used to make croissants, however it will need to be 'turned" (folded) many more times to achieve the airiness and amount of layers needed.  Same laminating concept can be used for Danish dough; however the basic dough recipe is very different incorporating yeast and eggs.  One of these days, I will post the Danish version.

Basic Puff pastry.

This is a basic proportion making 2 decent size sheets of pastry.  This recipe can be multiplied or divided as long as you keep to the same fat to flour ratio.

1 lb of all purpose four
1 lb of butter (European style butter is best as it tends to be drier)
1 tbs of salt
1 tbs of lemon juice
1 to 1 1/2 cups of ice cold water

In the food processor or using your hands combine all the flour, salt and about 10% of the butter until the mixture looks like a course corn meal.  Add the lemon juice and begin adding Ice Water a little at a time, stopping as soon as the dough comes together into a ball.  It may take 1 to 1 1/2 cups depending on the moisture level of your butter. 

Gather the dough on the floured board and knead it for a few seconds ( no need to develop any gluten), form into a disk, wrap in plastic and set in the fridge while you work on the butter.

At this point your butter has been sitting out of the fridge for about 10-15 minutes, correct?  Flour it lightly, place between 2 (or more) sheets of plastic and begin pounding with a rolling pin until flat (about 2 cm) square forms.  Feeling better about your day already, are you?
At this point feel the temperature of your butter with your hand, if it still feels very cold, you can keep it on your counter, while you work on the next step, however if the butter is feeling a little warm, place it back in the fridge.  During the entire process you need to make sure that your butter or dough does not become warm.  If the butter begins to melt, (inside or outside of the pastry), you will end up with a greasy mess instead of layers.  When in doubt, put it back in the fridge.  It will not make your job any easier, but will ensure a nice, flaky "puff".

Take out the dough disk and roll it to a square that is larger than your butter square by at least 2 inches on each side.

Place the butter square inside the dough square and fold like over each corner.  Make sure the seams are sealed.

You will have a nice little package.

Roll out the dough with the butter inside to a rectangle approximately 9 by 17 and tri-fold like a letter.
This is the first "turn".  Now you will need to do a minimum of 6 turns for flaky galette dough or many more if you are looking for a croissant type results.

At this point I like to let the dough rest overnight in the fridge wrapped in plastic.  The next day, take it out and split into two even pieces.  It will make your life a little easier when trying to roll it thin.  Roll each piece out to about a 9 by 17 rectangles and tri-fold again, and again, and again.... do you feel those arms burn yet?
You can get 3 to 4 turns on each piece of dough before it becomes too warm.  You will need to work quickly though.  If you feeling that the dough begins to stretch, rather than roll and starts sticking to the bard or the rolling pin, it is getting too warm.  Fold it, wrap it in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 min or better yet, a few hours.

At some point you will reach the desired number of turns.  You may get there by truly achieving your goal layers, or simply by giving up, cursing the day you decided to embark on this journey or a running out time ( all this turning and cooling does take a few days).  Keep in mind that a galette, can have as few as 27 layers, which is only 3 turns but Croissants may require 6 to 10 turns and Danishs up to 12 turns or more.

Use the dough immediately or fold it, and store it in the freezer wrapped in the freezer safe zip top bag for up to 3 months.

Even though it is a lot of trouble, I promise, you will never buy puff pastry again.  There is something immensely satisfying about creating all that buttery, flaky goodness all by yourself.

Now, what do you do with the mountain of all this pastry dough?  Stay tuned....