Friday, June 26, 2009

Daring Bakers/Bakewell Tart

For my third Daring Baker’s challenge I was really happy to make something that I had never even heard of before. I am going to say it is a Bakewell Tart, because I spent this past weekend on a boat with and English crew and when I said Bakewell Pudding the cook responded “Oh, a Bakewell Tart, but of course!” (In an English accent).

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Although the history of this dessert is up for debate, I am for more interested in the fact that this tart was so delicious, especially because I wasn’t expecting it to be. I have a confession to make; I really do not like almond extract. It reminds me of the soap in public bathrooms and in my mind makes everything taste worse. Recently I have noticed that the highest quality almond extract can be enjoyable, but even then I am always a bit hesitant. Because the recipe for the Bakewell Tart called for almond extract, I was certain that I was not going to like it. That is until I realized that I was making this dessert and thus had full control over the flavors. That’s where the fun began.

The first step was to eliminate all the almond extract from the recipe, I already liked it more and I hadn’t tasted it yet. I was also worried that frangipane would be a bit rich for a summer dessert. So I decided to make it with peach curd rather than jam, the acidity in the curd helped to cut the richness a lot. Even though the shortcrust pastry dough was impossible to work with in my million-degree apartment, it came out perfectly tender and just sweet enough. I accidently (on purpose) overindulged in raw dough scraps, which I highly suggest because YUM, I love raw dough. Although, I know because of the raw egg content I shouldn’t suggest that anyone try this. But if you’re a daredevil like me….I’m not saying anything else.

Fully cooked and almond extract free, this tart was absolutely delicious. It was nutty and just dense enough, and the creamy peach curd was just the thing to offset the richness of the frangipane. Everyone who tasted it loved it, served with a scoop of butter pecan ice cream. The butter pecan ice cream wasn’t my idea, the cook on the boat put it there, and I trust her, she’s British like my tart.

I have mentioned this boat, crew and cook twice now with total nonchalance, but I can’t any longer. I just had one of the coolest weekends ever. I spent three says on a luxury sailboat in Sardinia, Italy. It was unbelievable, I am still in awe just thinking about what a beautiful part of the world I was in. My Bakewell Tart was also very happy to have made the trip, until we ate it of course, after which I don’t think it was quite as pleased. Although we were even happier, a good dessert and a beautiful place on an incredible sailboat; I don’t think it can get much better than that. If it can, don’t tell me, let me revel in the joy of my weekend just a bit longer.

Bakewell Tart

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Being a Good Guest/Cookies

As the heat gets more and more unbearable, cooking has become less appealing well actually it's always appealing but I am concerned about my health when my whole apartment is as hot as the oven. This weekend I am escaping the heat for a 3 day stay on my cousin's sailboat in Sardegna, it should be incredible. When I am in the middle of the sea with the wind blowing through my hair and an occasional spritz of salty water on my back, I just feel in my element. For me, the world is a perfect place when you're on a boat, just writing about it makes my heart flutter with joy. Yet, I also don't think that I can ever really write about it in a way that could really evoke those feelings. It's a good thing, something I can keep for myself, a feeling that only I can feel.

We all know that food can only enhance most experiences, so I decided that as a thank you to my cousin I would make some cookies to bring on board. And so, despite the heat, I have been baking away for the past two days. The temperature in my apartment has reached ungodly levels and the combination of flour and sweat on my face created a paste that would not go away, but I think this week when I am bobbing around in the Mediterranean, it will be well worth the strife.

I am sorry to have such a short post, but I am running off to the airport, but I wanted to make sure that you have these recipes because not only are they easy, but they are delicious too. Make some dough this weekend and then freeze it, or bake them off and bring them to a friend or familie's house. Trust me, by the end of the night all you'll have is a plate of crumbs (which I highly suggest you eat too, because good cookies, make good crumbs).

Checkerboard Cookies
from Martha Stewart
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 large egg

•In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, scraping down sides of bowl.

•Turn dough out onto a clean work surface; it will be loose and crumbly. Knead dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Divide dough in half. Sprinkle cocoa powder over one of the halves. Knead until cocoa has been fully incorporated.

• Place each half of the kneaded dough between two sheets of plastic. Using a rolling pin, shape dough into two 7-inch squares, about 3/8 inch thick. Using a sharp knife and a ruler, slice each square into nine 3/4-inch-wide strips.

• Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water. Cover work surface with plastic wrap. Place three strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and chocolate strips. Brush tops and in between the strips with egg wash. Gently press strips together. Repeat, forming second and third layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect. Wrap assembled log in plastic. Repeat process for second log, reversing color pattern. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or freeze 15 minutes.

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Slice each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place on baking sheet. Bake until done, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cookies cool 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Vanilla-Almond Crescent Cookies (aka. Vanillekipferl)
Makes about 40 cookies
From Martha Stewart


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (3 ounces) blanched almonds

2/3 cup superfine sugar
14 tablespoons cold (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, for sifting


• Sift flour and salt. In a food processor, grind almonds fine. Add sugar, sifted flour, and salt. Pulse to combine. With machine running, slowly add pieces of butter through feed tube. Add yolks and vanilla. Process for 20 seconds. Divide dough into two pieces. Roll each into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 3 hours.

•Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut dough into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Pinch each into a 3-inch crescent; place on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

•Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crescents for 10 minutes, rotate sheets between oven shelves, and bake about 8 more minutes; cookies should not brown. Transfer parchment with cookies to a wire rack; let cool 5 minutes. Sift confectioners’ sugar over before serving.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Daring Cooks/Dumplings

So, when this post is posted, I will probably still be dancing away at the wedding I am going to this weekend. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have learned how to post-date posting. So far the word post has appeared five times in this post (6). At least I will be dancing because seriously after all the dumplings I have made and ate this week, I am starting to look like one.

This month's Daring Cook's Challenge was hosted by Jen at Use Real Butter. And boy, did she pick a challenge. Aside from the fact that I really have no experience in dumpling making, nor have I ever watched anyone make a dumpling, we also had to make the wrappers ourselves. Jen obviously gave us perfect instructions on how to make and fold them, but I still faced some challenges determining how thick they should be. I ended up making them twice, because the first time the dough yielded about 10 dumplings, with absurdly thick wrappers, so I knew that wasn't right. When I finally understood (I think) what 1/16th of an inch means I got the hang of rolling and wrapping pretty fast.

We had creative license on the filling, but I wanted to try to stick to Asian or Asian-inspired flavors. That is not easy in Italy, where the supermarket doesn't even have a foreign foods aisle, so I made the pork potstickers that Jen suggested. I am very glad I did. They were perfect, my hands still smell like garlic and onions from all the chopping, but they are worth it. Tender and flavorful, I finally got my Asian food fix, which totally surprised me because I really have very little experience making Asian food. Although I am surprisingly good at eating it.
Speaking of surprising, in my rice pudding post I mentioned that there was a super top-secret surprise coming your way. Drumroll please. For this challenge, I took my creative license to another level and decided to make a sweet dumpling, a Coconut-Ginger Rice Pudding Dumpling with passion fruit curd to be exact. This was a bigger surprise than I expected, because even though I theoretically knew what was coming, I actually had no idea. These plump little rice pudding clouds exploded in my mouth. The passion fruit curd was the ideal contrast to the creaminess of the pudding, and complemented its coconut and ginger undertones. I cannot wait to make them again for someone other than myself, not only because I practically ate all of them myself, but also because they are so good that I just want to share the love.


• For the dumplings visit Use Real Butter, Jen has all the info there and great step-by-step photos and instructions.
• For the Rice Pudding, Coconut Ginger Rice Pudding

Passion Fruit Curd
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

3 large egg yolks, strained
Zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup passion fruit juice (I pressed the inside of about 6 passion fruits in a sieve, to yield this)
6 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

1) Combine yolks, zest, juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.
2) Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until consistency is smooth.
3) Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Celebrations/Mini Banana-Nutella Strudels

This weekend, one of my dearest friend's older sister is getting married in Rome. I haven't been to a wedding in over 10 years and this one will definitely be incredible. To be honest though, I don't get the same weak in the knees feeling as other people over weddings. I know its wonderful to see two people vow to love each other eternally, but somehow, at this point in my life it just doesn't really move me. Most people tell me that with time that will change, they are probably right, but what I like best about weddings is that they give us another opportunity to celebrate.

I find that celebrations are often forgotten or undervalued, which is unfortunate because my most of my best nights have been celebrating one thing or another. I totally respect my mom for having thrown several celebrate life parties, and it's amazing to see how much fun everyone has. I am sure the open bar didn't hurt, but aside from that people were just excited to have a reason to have fun. Marriage is without a doubt a great reason to celebrate and the wedding party usual exudes that fantastic energy, if only for that, I love weddings and I cannot wait for my weekend.

This week has actually be chock full of celebrations, 2 birthdays and now this wedding. So despite my traumatic exam the other day, I managed to have a great week. My friend's birthday was on Monday, the day before the exam, so I obviously didn't have the time to bake anything for her. I had promised her, however, that within the week, I would have made something for her. I decided to make strudel again, because I like to perfect recipes and since I didn't love the filling last time, I thought it was worth another shot. Also, I wanted to make minis, and since I live in a temporary apartment my kitchen is totally under-accessorized, strudel is great for this because it hardly requires any fancy apparatus.

Right now, my house smells like a mix of warm cinnamon, butter and nutella. It is such a comforting smell, a simple reminder that the small things in life are often the greatest and that even with its ups and downs, life is worth celebrating.

Banana Nutella Mini Strudels
(adapted from from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers)
Makes 10

For dough:
1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 stick of butter (melted)
1/2 c. breadcrumbs
10 tsp. nutella
1 lrg. banana, cut into batons
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. Divide the dough into 10 even pieces. Roll each piece out on a well floured tablecloth until it is tissue thin, using a pastry brush, brush butter and sprinkle well with breadcrumbs. Spread one teaspoon of nutella an inch away from the bottom and place 2 banana batons on the nutella. Roll up folding in the sides, like a burrito. Do this one by one with all 10 pieces of dough. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Preheat the oven to 400º F (200ºC). Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Brush the strudels with the remaining butter. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon-sugar. Bake until a deep golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Turn the baking sheet halfway through.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Exams/Coconut Ginger Rice Pudding

I would be lying if I said I liked exams. I would also be lying if I told you my exam today went well, to be honest it didn't go at all. Exams in Italy are oral, which if you ask me is a cruel form of torture that should be outlawed if only for the fact that its sole aim to humiliate students. Well that being said, I studied non-stop for a week, went to take it and froze on the spot. It was as if I pushed the off switch on my brain and nothing...oh wait, then I started to cry, bawl, blubber etc. While the three professors (because yes, they have THREE, professors questioning you) sitting in front of me were at a loss. So, that being said, my day did not start off well.

For me, exams usually mean several things, messy apartments, several tears, and comfort food to cure the latter. As far back as I can remember, I have loved rice pudding. But like, really loved. My favorite always has been, and always will be, from Zabar's on the Upper West Side. Maybe it was the first one I ever tasted, alongside chewy bagels and smoky lox at Sunday brunch or maybe it's the first bite from the pint, the one where I scrape the cinnamon off the top, the slight spice accenting the luscious creaminess of the pudding. Whatever it is, I have never been able to recreate it and I have never had another rice pudding that offers me quite the same satisfaction. To be honest, I have never really tried to make a classic rice pudding for fear that it would just dissapoint. I have however, attempted some riffs on the classic, with outstanding results.

If I may say so myself, this Coconut Ginger Rice Pudding, is absolutely perfect. Not too sweet, just creamy enough, with the spicy ginger complementing the hint of gentle coconut flavor. This isn't the first time I have made this, but it is the first time it came out just right. Last summer, I spent a weekend in Toronto at one of my best friend's houses. For breakast, I was stunned when her mom prepared a bowl of warm rice drizzled with coconut milk and sprinkled with turbinado sugar. After tasting it, I was hooked. The combination was perfect, and I knew that I would have to turn it into rice pudding. I have been planning on making this rice pudding all week for a super top secret reason, which I promise I will share when I can. But get excited, it's going to be good. After sifting through recipes, I settled on the most simple one I found and adapted it to fit my needs. This is the perfect example of how simple can be better, I beg you try this at home. Top it with fruit or eat it as is, you will not be dissaspointed. Trust me, I may not be able to do an oral exam, but I am a rice pudding aficionado.

Coconut Ginger Rice Pudding

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Gale Gand)
Serves 4-6 (depends how much you like it...)
Time 30-40 mins.

1/2 c. arborio rice
1/4 c. turbinado sugar
1.5 cans Coconut Milk (use the whole one, not light)
2 c. whole milk
2 tbsp. fresh grated ginger


Put everything in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Cool before serving.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Missing Home/Curried Chickpea Crespelle

As I have mentioned several times before my year in Italy has been an incredible series of ups and downs. Don't get me wrong, it has been absolutely amazing, I wouldn't trade in any second of it and I am so sad that it is slowly drawing to a close, but on some days I just want to be home with the people I know and love so much who make me feel safe and comfy no matter what. This weekend I went to meet up with two my friends from uni in the Cinque Terre. Aside from the fact that it was beautiful, it was absolutely wonderful.

I sometimes forget what it's like to be among girlfriends, three of us in a bed, talking until we fall asleep, trying to keep talking but eventually only muttering as our mouths follow our brains and find time to rest for a moment. You can only really find friendship like that with time and history, neither of which I have here. As my weekend becomes a memory, I find myself feeling a little alone, wishing we had had just one more day together. Aside from the girly-ness, my incredible weekend also included a five hour hike among the cliffs on the seaside and of course some great food to counterbalance any calories I may have burned during the hike.

Liguria, the region in which the Cinque Terre are found, is known for pesto, focaccia and farinata. The latter is a combination of chickpea flour, water and a little bit of oil which is then baked until the outside is golden and crisp. Nutty and dense this oven-baked pancake is great as a snack and can be eaten plain or topped in any which way. Today, in an attempt to relive the flavors of my weekend, I finally made use of the chickpea flour that has been sitting in my pantry and decided to make Chickpea crespelle. After browsing a few recipes, I figured out the basic proportions I would need and just eye-balled it from there. I decided to flavor the crespelle with curry and peperoncino and fill them with veal and zucchini.

The flavors melded together perfectly and I had an exquisite dinner for one. Although it didn't teleport me back to my friends, I just remind myself that every moment is worth savoring, even the more difficult ones. But a delicious homecooked dinner and the flavors of good memories definitely help to make those moments a little more tolerable.

Chickpea Crespelle with Veal and Zucchini Filling
30 mins. serves 1.

Crespelle (makes 2):
50 gr. chickpea flour
1 egg
1 c. water
1.5 tbsp curry powder, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
1 tsp. dried peperoncino (add more or less depending on taste)
pinch of salt

1. Whisk all the ingredients the ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
2. Prepare filling (below).
3. Heat some olive oil in a pan over med-high heat. Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom. Let it cook until the top looks dry about 2 mins. Flip. Cook the for another 10 seconds.
4. Roll with half the filling.
5. Make the second crepe and fill. Eat while warm.

1 small round zucchini, grated
100 g. ground veal
1 tbsp. chopped chives.
Salt to taste

1. Sautee the zucchini with some olive oil over medium heat. When it is tender (3 mins) add the veal and brown it evenly. Add the chives, and sautee until the meat is cooked through (2-3 mins).