Category Archives: baking

DUTCH BABY

Photo credit: bluejeangourmet.com

It was a friend from Portland who, a few years ago, promised to come over to cook me breakfast and, upon arriving, uttered “Do you like Dutch Baby?”. Dutch what?

It has since become a breakfast item I like to make for guests as few people are familiar with it and it tastes spectacular just out of the oven.

Essentially it’s a cross between a giant popover and a pancake and it has its roots in German pancakes. According to a Wikipedia entry, it was first introduced in Seattle (where it remains immensely popular)  early 1900’s. To my knowledge, there is nothing Dutch about it but, if you know any different, please let me know.

What I most love about this dish is that it’s served with a sprinkle of lemon which doesn’t make it as sweet as a traditional pancake. And it’s also much lighter.

The recipe I have been using for years was originally sourced from Gourmet magazine but I reworked it taking away vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and substituting lemon sugar for powder sugar and lemon juice.

RECIPE – Yields 4 to 6 servings

1/3 C Powder Sugar (or less, according to taste

1 Lemon

3 Eggs

2/3 C Whole Milk, possibly room temperature

2/3 C AP Flour

1/8 ts Salt

2 oz Butter (half a stick)

 

  1. Put a 10” cast iron pan (or other skillet) in the oven and pre-heat at 450F
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer (or in a blender) until pale and frothy, then add the milk, flour and salt. Beat until smooth. The batter will be thin.
  3. Remove the pan from the oven and put the butter in it, swirling the pan to melt it. Add batter and immediately return the pan to the oven. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20/25 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some lemon juice all over it and sprinkle with powder sugar. Serve immediately.

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CITRUS OLIVE OIL BUNDT CAKE

cooking

Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Honey Ice-Cream, Pistachio Dust and Berry Caramel

I never thought the day would come I would astound my mother with my cooking abilities. She knew I had been working in a professional kitchen for the last eight years but never saw me in action for the limited time she would come here for and, when I was vacationing in Italy, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking and, especially, making cakes. Now that she is here for a solid two months, I have been making food for her and she is most impressed with my desserts, asking me to write down recipes, watching me as I work dough and quizzing me on ingredients. What I make at home is all fairly easy so who knows what she would think if she saw some of the stuff we make at work.  I have clearly been on a cake binge recently, mainly for  her sake.

The following recipe was also a mainstay in our restaurant for quite some time. The original recipe (at this point heavily re-worked) came through the husband of a former chef. Don’t be put off by the idea of using extra virgin olive oil in the cake – it adds flavour and wonderful moisture and it won’t taste as if you were eating salad. My advice is to use a mild tasting extra virgin olive oil, more on the fruity side. Pastry flour is highly recommended to keep the batter light.

The version in the photograph came about thanks to some pretty sunflower molds that I was given and was inspired to use. The recipe will yield one bundt cake (with a little bit of batter left over) or 10 small ones.

RECIPE

2C + 2 T Pastry Flour

1 1/2 C Sugar

1/2 ts each Finely zested rind of Tangerine, Lemon and Orange (microplane zesters work best)

1 ts Baking Soda

1 ts Baking Powder

1 1/2 ts Salt

A few drops Lemon, Orange and Tangerine Oils* (optional)

3 Eggs

1 1/2 C Milk

1 C Canola or Corn Oil

1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. Begin by combining the finely grated citrus zest with the sugar. Mix using your hands and allow the flavours to infuse while measuring the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Combine and sift dries (including sugar) in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine wet ingredients with a whisk in another bowl.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dries slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, but do not whisk too vigorously.
  5. Pour into very well sprayed bundt pan(s), filling about halfway.
  6. Bake at 325F if using a convection oven (about 20 minutes for individual, around 1 hour for a large bundt) or 350F if using a still oven (it will take a bit longer). Check cakes about halfway through baking time and rotate the pans.
  7. Bake until lightly golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted.

* Citrus oils can be purchased at gourmet food stores or on-line.

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BLUEBERRY (OR ANY OTHER FRUIT) PIE

 

Baking

Blueberry Pie

It’s Summer. It must be pie season. Pies, cobblers and the like are probably my favourite American desserts and I embraced them wholeheartedly. A flaky, barely sweetened crust enhances any fruit. Once a basic crust is mastered, the rest is easy. Any impromptu dinner invitation or friends dropping by are a perfect excuse for a pie – it looks great and it only takes 30 minutes to put together.

Last week-end I had some blueberries in the fridge so that’s what went in the pie but any fruit combination will do. I didn’t have any tapioca flour, my thickener of choice, and I used old plain cornstarch (which I don’t love because it can often be tasted). Served with slightly sweetened whipped cream, it made everyone smile.

RECIPE

For the crust (makes 2 9” disks)

2 1/2 C AP flour

16 T Butter (2 sticks), cut into small cubes and kept cold

1 ts Salt

1 ts Sugar + more for sprinkling

A/N Ice Water

1 Egg

 

  1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a food processor). Mix on low.
  2. Add the butter all at once and mix on medium until the dough is crumbly, with butter pieces no bigger than a pea.
  3. Keeping the mixer running on low, start adding the ice water, about 1/4 cup or until the dough comes together. It shouldn’t be too sticky or too dry.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it into two disks, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate.

For the filling

2 pints of blueberries (or other berries or Summer fruit)

1/2 C Sugar

1/4 C Cornstarch

2 T Brandy (optional)

  1. Place the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, with enough water to make a slurry. Heat the mixture on low, whisking until smooth.
  2. Pour all the blueberries in the pan, mix until combined and remove from heat. Add the brandy if using.
  3. Roll the first disk of dough to 1/4” thickness and lift it, using the rolling pin, and fit it into a 9” pie plate. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the bottom crust from the fridge, fill it with the blueberry mixture and place it back in the fridge while you roll the top crust. If you wish, use cookie cutters to cut decorative shapes or, else, place it on top of the pie, joining the edges and crimping them with your fingers. With a sharp knife, make three long cuts in the center.
  5. Mix the egg with a fork and brush it all over the top crust. Sprinkle some sugar on top (Demerara looks prettier) and bake at 425F for about 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350F and keep on baking for another 30 minutes or until the crust looks golden and the fruit mixture is bubbling.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

 

 

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FRENCH BUTTER CAKE – GATEAU BRETON

French cooking

Gateau Breton

As I started the process of cleaning my work computer in preparation for my departure, I have come across myriad of photos of creations that I served over the years. I hadn’t thought of this particular cake in a long time, a staple of Bretagne, originally consumed for breakfast, that I started making in individual portions and dressed up with caramelized peanut ice-cream.

The original recipe came to me through Anne Willan, an accomplished cook who used to own the French cooking school La Varenne and whose cookbooks are beautiful works of art and sources of inspiration. Ms. Willan makes the cake by hand but, in the interest of time-saving (and of serving many people), I started using my trusted mixer and I can’t say I noticed any difference.

Because this cake’s centrepiece is butter, the better the quality, the better the cake. You want a butter that is extremely high in fat content and low in water – I used Plugra, a fantastic French butter that is also divine just spread on bread (and then forget dinner). This cake can be stored in an airtight container up to two weeks, with the butter flavour becoming more intense as time goes by. Perfect to serve with coffee or tea.

Calvados (an apple liqueur) is not essential but a lovely addition that adds complexity to the overall cake.

Recipe – Serves 8

1 C/225 g High quality butter

6 Egg Yolks

2 C/250 g AP Flour

1 C/200 g Sugar

1 T Calvados

  1. Butter or spray one 8” (20 cm) tart pan, possibly fluted, and with a removable bottom. Mix the egg yolks in a small bowl and remove one teaspoon for the final glaze.
  2. Sift the flour and place it in the mixer. Cut the butter in small cubes and add it to the flour, together with the yolks, sugar and Calvados. Mix on low with a paddle attachment until the dough comes together. It will be pretty stiff.
  3. Transfer the dough to the pan, smoothing it with your palm, dipping it in water  so it doesn’t stick.
  4. Brush the surface of the cake with the yolk you set aside and then mark a lattice in the glaze with the tines of a fork. Place in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  5. Bake at 35F/190C for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 356F/180C and bake 20/25 minutes longer, rotating it for even baking, until golden brown.
  6. Let it cool to warm and then unmold. The butter flavour will become more intense the longer you keep it.

 

 

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STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

Photo: Wikipedia because I remembered to take a photo when my guests were already half-way through dessert….

If you are English, you won’t flinch if given a choice of desserts ranging from Eton Mess,  Spotted Dick or Sticky Toffee Pudding. If you are American, Sticky Toffee Pudding is probably the most familiar sounding of the three (more about the Spotted Dick some other time).

Most likely created in the 1960’s by a Chef working in a hotel in the Lake District, Sticky Toffee Pudding is a moist pudding/cake served with a toffee sauce. The whole thing has more calories than it’s possible to conceive in one mouthful but, now and then, why not be decadent? My personal consumption of Sticky Toffee Pudding is limited to exactly once a year. I happened to make it for a recent dinner party and here I am, offering it to you.

The original calls for Lyle Golden Syrup, a sweet syrup that is really hard to find on these shores. If you live in LA and really really want it, the British Pub on Santa Monica and 2nd Street in Santa Monica does carry it.

As this is one of the sweetest desserts ever invented, I mostly refer to a recipe by Sherry Yard (of Spago and Oscar fame) who has trained, amongst other places, in England, and knows her English puddings. She cuts the sweetness with some coffee extract, which I love. Instead of Lyle Golden Syrup she substitutes light corn syrup – not one of my favourite ingredients but, if you do want to feel better about it, Wholefoods sells an organic variety (yes, really).

RECIPE – Yield: one 9” cake

1 C Dates, pitted and finely chopped

1 C Boiling Water

1 3/4 C AP Flour

1 1/2 ts Baking Powder

1 ts Baking Soda

1/8 ts Salt

4 oz Butter, softened

1 C Light Brown Sugar

1/4 C Sugar

1 ts Coffee extract (or extra strong espresso)

2 Eggs

FOR THE SAUCE

1 C Dark Brown Sugar

1 C Heavy Cream

1 T Butter

1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and seeds scraped out

1/4 C Milk

3 T Corn Syrup

  1. Place the dates in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. With a fork, mash the dates and the water. Stir in the baking soda.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, both sugars and coffee extract until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until well incorporated.
  4. Add half the date mixture and mix on low-speed. Still on low, add half the flour mixture, then end with the remaining date mixture and flour. Pour the batter into a 9” round cake, well-greased. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. In the meantime, make the sauce. Place the brown sugar, cream, butter, vanilla seeds and bean, milk and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens (it will coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes). Continue to cook until golden brown, 1 or 2 minutes more. Remove the vanilla bean and keep warm.
  6. When the cake is done and still hot in its pan, poke some holes with a skewer in  several places. Pour the toffee sauce over it and serve (should the sauce be too thick, you can thin it out with a tablespoon of water). You can also cut the cake and serve it with the sauce on the side.

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PASTATELLE FROM PUGLIA (or sweet ravioli)

 

My version of pastatelle


As proud as I am of the cuisine of my native country, I can’t claim it has a remarkable pastry tradition. Most of it is derived from France and what is original is steeped in “cucina povera” – basic ingredients mixed together to create simple sweets. The only exception is Sicily, with its moorish influences, and abundant use of almond paste and citrus.

Italian sweets are therefore rustic but, on occasion, I revel in the pleasure of enjoying simple flavors, in confections that could be straight out of any Italian grandma’s kitchen.

Recently I was asked to contribute a dessert from Puglia to a restaurant’s monthly dinner focussing on a different region each month. I can’t say I know much about sweets from Puglia but an extensive search yielded some interesting results, especially when it comes to desserts that celebrate Easter.

In the end, we picked “pastatelle” which, in Emilia, we call “raviole”. The dough differs significantly as in the Pugliese version there are no eggs or butter, just simple flour and vegetable oil. According to tradition, in Emilia we stick to plum jelly while in Puglia they favour cherry, fig and walnut.

You will find that the dough will be very oily when handling it, but also very supple and, when baked, it will retain a good amount of moisture. These “cookies” keep for several days in an airtight container.

RECIPE – Yields about 12/14

500 g AP Flour (1 pound)

180 g Vegetable Oil (mild tasting, such as canola or corn) 6.4 oz

5 Tbs Sugar

5 Tbs Brandy (the original recipe calls for pure alcohol but I used cherry brandy)

1 ts Salt

100 ml Water ( just over 1/4 cup)

200 g Cherry or Fig Jam (5.5 oz)

50 g Walnuts, chopped (2 oz)

1 Egg

 

  1. Mix the flour, salt, brandy and vegetable oil in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, on low-speed. With the mixer running, start adding the water in a steady stream and mix just until the dough comes together: it should be slightly sticky but not crumbly.
  2. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, mix the jam with the chopped walnuts.
  4. Roll the dough to about 1/8” on a lightly floured surface and, using a 6” round (10 cm) cookie cutter, cut as many disks as you can. You can re-roll the dough scraps once.
  5. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of jelly in the center of the disk, fold each cookie in a half-moon shape, pressing gently with your fingers to seal and then with the tines of a fork.
  6. Place on a cookie sheet. Mix one egg with a teaspoon of water and brush the top of the cookies. Sprinkle some Demerara sugar (or regular sugar) and bake at 350F (180C) for about 20 minutes or until pale golden.

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GOAT CHEESE AND LAVENDER CHEESECAKE

My lavender bushes are my pride and joy – mainly because I don’t have to do a damn thing about them while they go about their business of flourishing, flowering and keeping me perpetually supplied with lavender that finds its way into sachets, bath salts and food. At a time when dried lavender became too expensive at the Farmer’s Market, I would just chop mine and take it to work.

While scouring the net recently, as one does when one feels particularly idle, I came across Madame Croquette (how adorable a name is it?). Among various interesting meat dishes – you might have surmised Madame Croquette is a blog dedicated to food – some lavender and orange zest cookies stood out, also because of the lovely photograph. One or two comments later about the usage of lavender in food, I mentioned my goat cheese and lavender cheesecake, that I eventually took off the menu because I was so sick and tired of making it. Nonetheless, I thought I would share it with you.

RECIPE – Yields 1 10” round (with some batter left over for a couple of little ones)

10 oz Mascarpone cheese, softened

10 oz Cream cheese, softened

10 oz Goat cheese, softened

1 3/4 C Sugar

4 T Dried Lavender

10 oz Eggs (about 5)

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Lavender Syrup (optional – available at specialty stores and online)

2 1/2 ts Vanilla Extract

3 # Sour Cream

  1. Process lavender and sugar in a food processor and then sift to remove the larger pieces of lavender. Set aside
  2. Places cheeses and lavender sugar in the bowl of a mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low-medium speed (you don’t want to incorporate too much air). Scrape the sides often and mix until combined.
  3. Combine eggs and vanilla extract. Add to the cheese batter in 3 separate additions, scraping the bowl well in between.
  4. Add sour cream and mix just until incorporated.
  5. Pour batter in a 10” cake pan with removable bottom, over a graham crust if desired.
  6. Wrap bottom of pan in foil and place in a roasting pan. Add hot water to reach one-third of the side of the cheesecake pan.
  7. Bake at 325 for about one hour or until the center looks set.
  8. Let cool and then refrigerate for about 8 hours before unfolding.

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LEAVENING AGENTS IN BAKING – A primer

A few days ago, a friend and avid baker, called me and rattled on a list of ingredients she had gotten from the bakery where she purchased a gluten-free coconut cake and asked me to give her proportions that would work so she could replicate it at home. Together, we approximated measures that could potentially work and started talking about baking soda and baking powder, whether to add one or both, although not mentioned in the ingredients’ list. “I am not sure how they work”, she mused, so I thought I would put together an easy primer for her.

The role of leaveners in baking is, clearly, to make baked goods rise. They all achieve the same effect by introducing carbon dioxide into a batter or dough. There are three different types of leaveners.

CHEMICAL

By far the most used by home cooks, these comprise baking soda and baking powder. They both work because an alkaline ingredient (such as sodium bicarbonate, the real name of baking soda) interacts with an acid. In the case of baking soda, the acid can be an ingredient such as buttermilk, kefir, sour cream, yogurt or chocolate (not Dutch processed). With baking powder, the alkaline is already contained in the packaged powder we get at the market. The combination of alkalis and acids create carbon dioxide in the presence of liquids which, with heat, expands the batter. These doughs and batters are called quick breads because the leavening process happens quickly.

If you have ever wondered what “double acting” means on the baking powder box in your kitchen, it refers to the double reaction that occurs when the powder is mixed in your batter: it reacts first when mixed with the liquids and, secondly, in the presence of heat. And if you are not sure how much baking soda to add to a recipe that contains an acid, a good rule of thumb is 1/2 ts (or 2 mg) per 1 cup (240 ml) of acid liquid.

ORGANIC

We are talking about yeasts here, living organisms that feed on sugars, thereby producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. Mainly used for bread or yeasted doughs such as brioche, they take a long time to act and their temperature needs to be controlled. Yeasts will not work below 65 F (18C) or above 140F (60C). Sourdough starter is another natural yeast and it’s obtained by “souring” flour and water over the course of days or weeks. Regular feeding of water and flour can keep the yeast alive for years.

PHYSICAL

Steam is  a leavener that follows the laws of physics – think souffle. Heat causes air pockets that expand the batter. It also plays a vital role in laminated doughs (puff pastry, croissants and Danish pastry): the steam is trapped between the layers of dough, causing them to separate and rise. Air is also a rising agent – we whip or cream certain ingredients such as egg whites by incorporating large amounts of air before adding them to the final batter.

 

PS The sources I used to express in words what I do every day were “The Culinary Institute of America – Professional Chef” and Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CHOCOLATE CHILI CREME BRULEE

The idea of marrying chocolate and chili peppers is not exactly new. The Aztecs and Mayans thought of it a few centuries back, at a time and in a society where cacao, unsweetened, was part of the daily diet. Mexicans have continued this tradition by spicing up both their drinking and solid chocolate. I love this particular marriage, especially in chocolate truffles. Chili peppers work better with dark chocolate, lending a subtle kick and spiciness that linger on the tongue after the chocolate has melted.

Because I am a custard fiend, I also found a way to incorporate chili in my creme brulee. I favour japonais chilis because of their “smokiness” but any other dried chili with do. If you do not want to bother with the brulee part of the custard, you can serve it with just a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream.

RECIPE – Yield 8 4 oz portions

 

3 C Heavy Cream

1 Cinnamon Stick

5 Japonais or other dried chili peppers

1 ts Cayenne Pepper

1/2 C Sugar

6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (72% is ideal), cut in small chunks

6 Egg Yolks

 

  1. Combine cream, cinnamon stick, chilis and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and let steep 20 minutes.
  2. Place the pot back on the stove, scald the mixture again and add the chocolate, whisking until smooth.
  3. Strain over a tight colander or strainer. Add cayenne pepper and stir. Taste for spiciness and adjust if necessary.
  4. Pour into brulee ramekins. Place the ramekins in a roasting pan, pour hot water half way up the sides of the ramekins, cover with foil and bake at 300F until set, about 30 minutes.
  5. Cool and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
  6. To brulee, sprinkle a thick layer of sugar over the custard and slide the ramekins under a broiler for a few seconds (or use a blow torch if you own one).

 

 

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MY FAVOURITE GRANOLA

Let’s end the week with another sugar-free recipe. My first taste of granola was actually under the guise of Muesli, on my first trip to Switzerland as a child. Can’t say it was love at first sight. Now I chomp down granola dry, as a snack, if I need a pick me up during the day. Granola is so easy to make that I have forever foregone store-bought varieties. No matter how good they are, they can never match a home-made one. I tried infinite variations and the following recipe fell in my hands a few years ago – I think I found it in the New York Times and, if memory serves me, it belonged to a restaurant whose name now escapes me. What intrigued me was the use of extra virgin olive oil, rather than blander cooking oils.

When it first came out of the oven and I tasted it, I knew I had found my granola partner.  I make it regularly, store it in a jar and reach for it whenever a sweet craving strikes.

RECIPE

3 C Rolled oats

1 1/2 C Pistachios, hulled

1 C Pumpkin Seeds, hulled

1 C Unsweetened Coconut Chips

3/4 C Pure Maple Syrup

1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 ts Kosher Salt

1/2 C Honey (or brown sugar)

1/2 ts Cinnamon

1/2 ts Cardamom

3/4 C Dried Apricots, chopped or other dried fruit of your choice

 

  1. In a large bowl, combine oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, olive oil, honey (or brown sugar), salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture on a baking sheet in an even layer and bake at 300F for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until golden all over and well toasted.
  2. Transfer granola to a bowl and add dried apricots.

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