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....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chicken Au Pistou Soup

Who does not like chicken soup?  It seems to be a universal remedy to every ailment from a flu to a bad mood.  It is an ultimate comfort food and no one in my family likes it.  Go figure! 
My picky family forced me to look for more creative ways to make chicken soup.  This recipe was inspired by a version of ‘Pistou’ soup I tried at a local cafĂ©.  “Pistou” means pesto in French.  And pesto can be made pretty much out of any combination of herbs, garlic, nuts, sun-dried tomatoes or peppers, cheese, etc… as long as it is ground to a ‘paste’ it can be called “pesto”.
For this soup I decided to make a classic Italian pesto of basil, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese.  I omitted the pine nuts as they seemed to heavy for the any soup.  One other combination that I think would work is sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and walnuts (very few).
One other trick I learned when making hearty winter soups is to use scraps… yes, scraps.  When that wonderful, nutty, expensive Parmesan or Asiago cheese comes to the end, and all you have left is a seemingly useless rind… put it in the freezer.  Next time you make soup use the rind to give it extra flavor.  If the cheese was salty, don’t forget to adjust your overall seasoning.

For the soup:
1 diced yellow onion
1 ½ cups of diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 tbs of olive oil
1 ½ to 2 lbs of chicken (mixed white and dark meat on the bone).  I find that using bone-in meat makes the stock more flavorful.
1 cup white wine
2 inch piece of parsley root.
bouquet de garni – 2 fresh bay leaves, 3 springs of thyme, parsley all tied together with a kitchen string.
1 ½ tbs of herbs de province
1 rind of parmesan cheese (optional)
1 cup of orzo or any short pasta.

For the pesto:
2 cups of basil leaves
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese

In a heavy bottom soup pan or a Dutch oven , heat up the olive oil.  Add the onions followed by the carrots and celery and sautĂ© until the vegetables are softened.  Add the herbs de province and the white wine and cook until the wine is slightly reduce.  Add the chicken, bouquet de garni, parsley root, and the cheese rind and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat so that the soup simmers gently.  Simmer uncovered for 45 min, periodically removing the fat and “shmoots” from the soup’s surface. 
When the chicken is fully cooked and very tender, remove it and while it slightly cools, reduce the remaining stock by one quarter. 
Take the chicken meat of the bone and either shred it with two forks or cut it into bite size pieces.  Remove the parsley root and bouquet de garni from the soup, add the chicken back and the pasta and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for another 5 – 7 minutes or until the pasta is done.
In the mean time prepare the pesto.  Combine all ingredients in the food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles a paste. 
Turn off the heat and stir in the pesto.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy!  This is one may not cure any diseases but it will sure to make you a little bit happier.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apple tarte tatin with Ginger Ice cream

I was really inspired by these two recopies.  I was waiting for the right time to try my Ice cream maker at something a little less mainstream.  The combination of sweet and warm Apple Tarte Tatin went very well with a subtle flavor of Ginger ice cream.  I did run into a few problems with the Tart Tatin as I must have overcooked the apples a bit, before putting into the oven.  As the result, the Tarte did not invert properly and the apples were a bit mushy.  Tasted great anyway.  The Ice cream got mixed reviews, but I think you really need to love ginger to appreciate it.  I personally loved it. 
I added finely minced candied Ginger to the ginger Ice cream at the last few minutes of churning.  The recipes can be found at the links below.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Almond Macaroons with Hazelnut cream filling

Apparently macaroons are an obsession for a lot of people, not just for me.  I spent most of last winter agonizing why my macaroons were not coming out exactly like the one in Paris.  I foolishly thought that I can come up with my own recipe but after many failed runs gave in and started Googling.  Boy, was I in for more confusion... it seems that there are a thousands of  chefs, bloggers, cook book authors and just plain enthusiasts who have their own variation of what makes a perfect macaroon.  The recipes were endless, but I learned three things that ultimately yielded a perfect macaroon:

1.      Yes, you do need a good kitchen scale!  For years I avoided buying one and measured in cups, spoons, and pinches.  Macaroons are just too finicky, they require precision.

2.      Macaroonage is the technique for mixing the batter.  It has to be the consistency of lava, whatever that means..(.has anyone seen "Volcano", lava can be as fast or as slow as one can imagine...sorry.)  Ultimately, if you (by accident) make a perfect macaroon, you will forever remember what that batter looked like.

3.  You need to play.  Play with your oven temperature and rack settings.  Play with the almond, egg, sugar ratio.  Play with mixing, and piping.  Play until you get it right.

So on one of the last winter's snow days, the stars collided and I got it right.  For the first time my macaroons had "skin", chewy almost hollow interior and most importantly "feet".  I screamed in delight to an absolute horror of my son's friends.  That was last winter and I did not make them again until now.  The thrill of the chase was gone and the humidity of the summer did not make me want to bake anything meringue based.

Recently I decided to see if I still remember the tricks.  So here is a little treat.  I didn't make a fancier filling because I wasn't sure if the shells were going to turn out, but this Hazelnut cream I picked up at the new Eataly store in NYC is much gentler and more delicate than Nutella.  It has more of the true hazelnut flavor as opposed to chocolate.  It worked very well with plain almond macaroons.

For the Macaroons:

140 grams almond flour
200 grams powdered sugar
2 tbs granulated sugar
100 grams egg whites ( Aged - see Note)

Pulse the almond flour and the powdered sugar in the food processor until very fine.  Sift and set aside.

Whip aged (see Note) egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add the granulated sugar and whip until medium peaks.  Do not over whip or the macaroon batter will be to dry. 
With a rubber spatula, begin adding the whipped egg whites to the dry mixture.  Do not stir, but work your way from the bottom up.  Once all the egg whites become incorporated the mixture may still look dry, keep working in circular patter, from the bottom up until the batter begins flowing like lava.  The best test is to spoon a little on a plate and if the peak disappears within 2-3 minutes, you have the right consistency.  If the batter spreads quicker, you probably over mixed and if the peak doesn't disappear at all, you batter is still too dry.

Pipe your macaroons using a #2 piping tip onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  You can make them as little or as large as you want, however the baking temperature and time will need to be adjusted.  I try to pipe a 1" or 1 1/2 " diameter macaroons. 
Leave them to dry for at least 20 min.  The macaroons need to develop "skin", what will become the crunchy outer shell.  You can tell if you have "skin" by gently touching an unbaked macaroon.  It should not feel sticky to the touch and the surface should feel smooth and a little hard.  This process can take anywhere from 10 min to 1 hr, depending on the temperature and airflow of your kitchen. However I found that if you do not get 'skin" in 20 - 25 min, you probably over or under mixed your batter.


While your macaroons are drying, preheat the oven to 325F.  Bake the macaroons on the lowest rack decreasing the temperature to 315F.  It takes about 10 to 12 min, but will really depend on your oven.  You may need to rotate the pan half way through of your oven yields an uneven baking.  You should see the macaroons rise and develop "feet" within the first 5 min of baking.


Cool by placing the parchment paper directly on the cooling rack.  Do not leave them to cool on the baking sheet, they will become soggy.  When cool, just peel the parchment gently to lift the shell.

Fill with whatever you like.  The most common being butter creams and ganache, however hazelnut cream, lemon curd (for lemon macaroons), and various preserves work well too.


The recipe above yields about 12- 15 macaroons.  For a bigger batch just double the quantities.  If your macaroons do not develop "skin" or "feet", or if they crack, or are spongy, don't despair.  These little devils are really, really, hard to get right.  Even if they do not come out perfectly, they still taste good.  Fill them anyway and pretend to your friends and family that you meant to make new cookies.  Just don't call them macaroons!!!

Note:  Aging egg whites is a necessary step.  You can age them uncovered for 8 to 10 hours right on your counter top (don’t worry, they will not spoil) or covered in the fridge for 2-3 days.  If you are like me and decide to bake macaroons on a whim and lacked the long term planning just zip your egg whites in the microwave for 10 seconds.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mom's Cake

Every time I make this cake and serve it I always get something along the line “My mother makes / used to make a cake just like that!”   It seems that every Jewish mother of Easter European decent has her own version or twist on this classic.  And why not?  It is simple, fast, feeds a lot of people ( impossible to make a small pan of this), can be made with any seasonal fruit and generally uses we always have in our pantries…   However for me this cake serves a very different purpose…It is one of the ways I choose to honor and remember my Mother.
She was a great cook and even a greater baker.  With what little resources she had, she managed to create quite a few baking masterpieces.  Not only did her cakes taste good, they were also beautiful.  She had quite a talent for decorating, something that I just don’t have the patience for.  I used to sit in the kitchen with her for hours, just watching her bake, admiring how she never measured anything, how she just remembered tons of recipes and never had to look things up.  She didn’t have any of the fancy tools I have, no standing mixer to whip the whites ( my father used to do it by hand), no gazillion of baking pans, just one old one spring pan that was acquired by some impossible means somewhere abroad the Iron Curtain.  Nothing could send my mother into panic faster than when the spring on that pan used to break. 
 When I got a bit older, probably old enough to crack an egg without spilling it all over the place, she let me make my own little cakes, right along with her big ones.  I still remember the proportions for her pound cake by heart and can make it with my eyes closed.  She taught me that one should never bake when rushed or upset.  It must be done with a light heart and for pure enjoyment otherwise whatever you make will end up in the garbage. 
My mother used to make this cake most often with apples or plums, sometimes sour cherries.  It is one of those few things that I can make without even thinking about and that always comes out tasting like my childhood.  There are these little droplets of sugar fruit syrup that begin to condense on top of the meringue once the cake begins to cool.  They were her favorite part and I always taste one just for her!

For the crust:
2 cups all purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 ½ sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg
¾  cup of sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 lb or a little more of Italian (or prune) plums.  Firm but ripe (See note)
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbs of fresh squeezed lemon juice

For the Meringue:
4 egg whites
½ cup of sugar
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.  In the standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar until sugar dissolves and butter is light and whipped.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix gently until incorporated.  You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl.  With the mixer on lowest setting, add the flour mixture in 2 or 3 installments.  Make sure to incorporate all the flour fully but not over mix, the dough should just come together into a ball.  Scrape the dough onto the plastic wrap.  Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 40 min.

In the mean time prepare the fruit filling.  Pit the plums and cut them in quarters.  In a bowl, combine all the fruit, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and lemon juice. 
Butter a standard baking sheet ( 15 x12).  Take out the refrigerated dough and with the palm of your hand spread the dough evenly on the pan to create a crust.  You may need to dust the dough with flour to do this.  Keep working it outwards with your fingers until the crust is evenly thick everywhere and the dough comes up all the way to the edges.  You will probably end up with a crust no thicker than a one centimeter.

Spread the fruit evenly on top of the crust and bake for about 30 – 35 min or until the crust edges are golden.
When the cake is fully done, take it out of the oven and let cool slightly.  In the mean time increase the oven temperature to 425F.  Whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until medium peaks.  When the medium peaks form, begin adding sugar, a little at a time and whip until all of the sugar is incorporated and the meringue is whipped to very firm peaks.

With a rubber spatula, spread the whipped whites on top of the cake.  Since the cake is still hot, the whites will deflate somewhat.  Put the topped cake baked in the oven and bake for about another 10 min or until the meringue begins to lightly brown on top.   This type of meringue is not dry or crunchy but soft and gentle.

Let the cake cool fully on the cooling rack before serving.
Note:  This cake can be made with any fresh fruit.  Try apples, sour cherries, apricots or a combination.  You can add nuts to the filling as well.