Friday, December 27, 2013

Brownie Brittle

I'm very happy to know there's a cookie brittle trend in progress.  I'm all for thin, crunchy, jagged cookie edges that are chewy and crusty all at the same time.

A very big part of being a baker is thinking about texture.  Whether it's cake, creams or cookies, you can vary ingredient ratios, cooking time and temperature to arrive at airy, dense, cakey, chewy, crunchy or creamy.  Brownie Brittle shakes up the usual brownie paradigm to create a cookie that's all about texture.

This recipe is based on a version from King Arthur.  I substitute olive oil for the vegetable oil called for in the recipe because I love what it does with chocolate.  I also added sliced almonds, doubled the vanilla and I swapped out the chocolate chips for chopped bittersweet. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of nonfat dry milk powder but I left that out.

This is the kind of thing to make when you're looking to add a simple nibble-worthy pastry to a party tray.  It's really easy to prepare and provides the chocolate buzz people crave without being too heavy, too rich or too sweet.

I send all my wonderful readers my very best wishes for a Happy New Year.  Thank you for all the very kind and lovely support you've shown me over these many years.  I appreciate you very much.  I hope you have a joyful celebration with those you love.  Let's remember the past, look forward to the future and be grateful for the present.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- I used a fruity California Olive Ranch Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil that I like to pair with chocolate.
- 6 oz of chocolate is 1 cup.  Chop the chocolate into small 1/4" pieces.  Choose semisweet if you prefer a sweeter taste.
- For a toothier bite, use whole toasted almonds, coarsely chopped.
- The instant espresso powder is added to enhance flavor but can be omitted.
- I use a small offset spatula to spread the dough out to a thin 1/8" layer.
- You can make neater slices by scoring the baked dough with a chef's knife as soon as it comes out of the oven.  When they are cool, cut into pieces with a sharp knife.
- For variation, substitute chopped hazelnuts or pecans or your favorite flavored chips.  Sprinkle the top of the dough with a light dusting of sea salt.  Add a pinch of spice to the flour mixture or a bit of peppermint extract instead of vanilla.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Brownie Brittle
based on King Arthur's Brownie Crisps
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2" x 1 1/2" pieces

1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 egg whites (2 oz) @ room temperature
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
2 tablespoons (10 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 cup (2 oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4" pieces
3/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with silpats or lightly greased parchment.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.

Whisk the egg whites until frothy and opaque.  Add the sugar and whisk until thoroughly combined.  Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder, oil and vanilla and mix until smooth.  Switch to a spoon and mix in the flour mixture.  Add the chopped chocolate and half of the almonds and stir until evenly distributed.

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a prepared baking sheet.  Spread the batter out to about a 9" x 6 1/2" rectangle and a thickness of about 1/8".  Sprinkle remaining almonds on top of each sheet.

Bake the brittle for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  Place the pans on a wire rack to cool completely.  Break into pieces.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Linzer Cake

One of my favorite cookies is the Linzer.  Packed with nuts and spice and sandwiched with a layer of raspberry or apricot jam, it's among the best of the season.  Linzer Cookies are a permutation of Linzertorte, a tart that dates back to a 17th century recipe from Admont Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Austria.  Linzertorte is made with a spiced nut pastry dough, filled with jam and topped with a criss-cross lattice of pastry.

This is a cake version of the flavors and scents of this delicious traditional tart and cookie.  I've based the recipe on the popular Walnut Jam Cake from Gourmet.  Instead of walnuts, I use a combination of almonds and hazelnuts.  I've added cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and some citrus zest to introduce the Linzer flavors.  The cake is filled with a thin layer of raspberry jam brightened with lemon juice and dusted with a whisper of snowy powdered sugar.

The method for mixing this cake was new to me.  Since I've never mixed cake batter in a food processor, my pastry training kept gnawing at me and I was a bit skeptical about what sort of texture would result.   To my surprise, the crumb is beautifully fine and tender.  A revelation for quick and stress-free mixing.

Wishing you and your family the very best of the holiday season.  May your tables be brimming with delicious treats shared with love and joy.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- Toast almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Toast hazelnuts for about 10 - 15 minutes.  Cool before using.
- The Walnut Jam Cake call for 1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 oz) walnuts.  I use different volumes to approximate the same weight for almonds and hazelnuts.
- The recipe doesn't instruct on the temperature of the butter.  I let it sit for just about 6 - 8 minutes at room temperature.  Once the nuts and sugar are ground and the butter is added and processed, it begins to look like cookie dough.
- Use just a couple of drops of almond extract to enhance the nut flavors.
- Cake can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for a day or two before slicing.
- Here's some guidance on how to slice a cake into two layers.  I usually don't need to chill the cake before slicing and I use a long serrated knife.  The removable bottom from a tart pan works well to lift the top half and set aside.
- Use your favorite jam and substitute blackberry, apricot or currant, if you please.  Add lemon juice to taste.
- I think a thin layer of chocolate under the jam would be supreme.  Just melt about 4 - 5 oz of semisweet or bittersweet and spread it evenly across either the bottom layer or across the cut side of the top layer before placing it back on top of the jam.

Linzer Cake
based on Walnut Jam Cake from Gourmet
Serves 8

1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (3 1/2 oz) toasted almonds
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) toasted hazelnuts
2/3 cup (4 3/4 oz) sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
zest of 1/2 lemon
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup raspberry jam or preserves
1 teaspoon lemon juice, to taste
fresh raspberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease an 8" x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl and set aside.

Place almonds, hazelnuts, sugar and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the nuts are finely chopped.  Add the butter pieces and process until combined.  Add all the eggs, vanilla and almond extract and process until thoroughly mixed.  Add the flour mixture and pulse just until incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and spread evenly.

Bake the cake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 - 30 minutes.  Place on a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.  Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge to loosen.  Invert the cake and gently remove the parchment.  Invert again and cool completely.

Place the cake on a serving platter.  Using a serrated knife, slice the cake into two layers.  Gently lift the top layer and set aside.

Whisk the jam with the lemon juice together until smooth.  Spread the jam over the bottom layer of the cake to within 1/4" of the edge.  Place the top layer over the jam and dust the the top with powdered sugar.  Garnish with raspberries, if desired.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chocolate Rum Cake

The holidays call for lots of unbridled baking.  Special cookies, rich cakes and confections are on just about every baker's list.  These are family and cultural pastry traditions of sharing that we look forward to each and every year.  And to be sure, chocolate usually takes center stage.

For this recipe, I've turned to natural cocoa to create a really delicious and festive indulgence.  This is a cake with a deep chocolate flavor and a very moist crumb.  I've added a good plug of rum to give it a surefire dose of the holiday spirit.  Strong coffee helps to enhance the richness of the cocoa and brown sugar blesses it with a soft and warm note of pure pleasure.  It's a very quick mix because the butter is melted and everything gets whisked together in no time.  As chocolate cakes go, it's a very low stress but deliciously beautiful centerpiece.

Serious chocolate.  Serious rum.  It's a rich flavorful cake without being heavy and sure to please those who are in the mood to celebrate.  Served with a strong cup of great coffee, it's the answer to at least one chocolate wish.

Two notes:
*It appears there is a problem with my subscription feed, so my apologies to all those who are not receiving the usual weekly email notification of my blog postings.  I've spent a good deal of time trying to find out what the problem is, but nothing seems to work and the platform keeps telling me that the feed is working perfectly!  I hope it straightens itself out ASAP.
*Don't forget to order The Global Pastry Table for holiday baking and gifting!

Bench notes:
- I use natural cocoa powder, not dutch-process.
- The batter for this cake is thin.  The whisking creates air bubbles, so give the bottom of the cake pan a few good taps on your countertop to release them before putting the cake in the oven.
- The cake bakes in just 23 - 25 minutes, so be sure to set your timer.
- Letting the cake cool for 10 minutes and then turning it out of the pan ensures that it's had enough time to rest yet it's still warm enough to easily release.  Parchment paper helps immensely to keep the bottom in tact.
- This cake can be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.  The flavor improves over time.  Garnish with whipped cream and chocolate shavings just before serving.
- To make chocolate shavings, use a vegetable peeler on a block of your favorite chocolate.

Chocolate Rum Cake
Serves 8 - 10

1 cup (5 oz) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) cocoa powder
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 oz) rum
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar
1 egg @ room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup (6 oz) heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon rum
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
chocolate shavings, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease an 8" x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Cut the butter into small pieces and place in a saucepan along with the coffee and cocoa powder.  Bring to a low simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly.  When the butter is melted and the ingredients are mixed and bubbling, take off the heat and whisk in the rum and both sugars.  Pour into a mixing bowl and add the egg and vanilla.  Whisk until thoroughly blended.

Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.  Pour the bater into the prepared cake pan and tap the bottom of the pan a few times on the countertop to release the air bubbles.

Bake the cake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 - 25 minutes.  Place on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Run a thin bladed knife around the edges to loosen and invert the cake.  Gently remove the parchment paper and invert the cake again.  Cool completely.

To serve, whip the heavy cream with the sugar, rum and vanilla just until it forms soft peaks.  Dollop the cake with the whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Almond Toffee Shortbread

Shortbread is one of the most simple and satisfying cookies to bake.  There are precious few ingredients and the long slow bake ensures that its basic simplicity shines with lots of buttery flavor and tender crumbs.  I don’t know anyone who would turn up their nose at an offering of shortbread.

Although shortbread dates back to the 12th century and Mary Queen of Scots was greatly enamored of shortbread in the 16th century, it only first appeared in a Scottish cookbook in the mid-18th century.  

Since fat is the enemy of gluten, shortbread cookies are extremely tender because the abundance of butter shortens the strands of gluten.  This recipe for shortbread also has some sliced almonds and coarsely chopped Heath Bar added to the mix.  I don’t usually bake with candy but it’s hard to argue with the perfection of toffee and chocolate.

There are a few different ways to make shortbread.  The usual way to mix the dough is to cream room temperature butter with sugar and then add the dry ingredients.  Another way is to melt the butter, then stir in the sugar and the dry ingredients.  I’m using the food processor method where the dry ingredients are blended and then cold butter is cut in.  All of these methods produce great shortbread, so choose the one with which you feel most comfortable.

For more simple and fun recipes that will diversify your pastry repertoire, pick up my ecookbook, The Global Pastry Table, which has some great recipes that are sure to get you into the spirit of the season.  In particular, there are 22 cookie recipes perfect for holiday sharing, like:

Spice Route Cookies, my version of Pfefferneuse
beautiful and festive Florentines
Chocolate Walnut Financiers that melt in your mouth
Orange & Chocolate Macaroons for coconut lovers

There are mouth-watering cakes and tarts that will light up your celebrations and bring sighs of comfort and joy:

Rum Cake with Spiced Butter Rum Glaze for all you budding pirates
Gingerbread Cake, light and full of warm spice
easy and luxurious Chocolate Nut Tart
My take on Sachertorte

There are also fabulous brunch pastries to serve family and friends on holiday mornings:
Vanilla Custard in Phyllo, an incredible Greek morning pastry
Babka with cinnamon, chocolate and streusel topping

…and a whole lot more.  There is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked pastry to fill your home, any day of the year.

The Global Pastry Table also makes a welcome Christmas gift for the bakers in your life.  It’s available for the iPad, Kindle and your PC or Mac desktop or laptop computer.   My recipes are intended to inspire delicious journeys into the traditions and rituals of fresh and easy pastries and desserts.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and place in the refrigerator until it's time to add it.
- The shortbread dough will be lumpy and should hold together when pinched.
- Just to clarify, if you use the creaming method, cream the butter and both sugars until blended, then add the vanilla.  Whisk the flour and salt together and add, mixing just until it starts to come together.  Add the almonds and the chopped Heath Bar and mix until thoroughly combined.  For the melted butter method, add both sugars and vanilla to the cooled melted butter and then add the flour and salt.  Fold in the almonds and chopped Heath Bar.
- If you use the method with melted butter, let the mixture rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before baking so the butter is absorbed.
- I use the bottom of a measuring cup to press gently into the surface to smooth out my finger impressions.
- Glass conducts heat more efficiently than metal, so if you’re using a glass baking pan, lower the baking temperature to 300 degrees and keep a close eye on baking time.
- If you happen to under bake the shortbread, cut into pieces and toast in the oven for an additional few minutes.
- Scoring the shortbread when it comes out of the oven and cutting into pieces with a very sharp knife while it is still warm will give you nice clean slices instead of jagged shards.
- Store the cooled shortbread in an airtight container.  It will keep for several days.
- Add a tablespoon of rum or a pinch of cinnamon for variation.  

Almond Toffee Shortbread
Makes 18 2" x 1" pieces

1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (6 3/4 oz) flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (39 grams) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) coarsely chopped Heath Bar

raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Lightly grease an 8” x 8” baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on two sides.

Place the flour, both sugars and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend.  Add the butter and vanilla and process just until it looks like it’s going to clump.  Add the almonds and the chopped Heath Bar and process until the dough starts to clump together.  Place the dough in the prepared baking pan and press evenly.  Sprinkle with raw turbinado sugar and press gently into the surface.

Bake the shortbread until a light golden brown, about 55 – 60 minutes.  Place on a wire rack.  Score the surface of the shortbread into 18 portions using the tip of a knife.  Cool for 10 minutes, then gently remove from the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice into pieces, wiping the blade clean after each cut.  Cool completely.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lemon Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt is tremendously popular and it’s also incredibly easy to make.  Just whisk a few simple ingredients together, chill it and then take it for a spin in your ice cream maker.  No stress and practically no mess.

This is a very tangy Lemon Frozen Yogurt, a good lower fat alternative to ice cream.  It’s a great refresher and especially good if you’re looking to enjoy a lean and light treat after a run of very heavy meals throughout the holidays. I like to serve it with tart fruit, like blueberries, raspberries and kiwi.  Easy, delicious and beautiful.

Bench notes:
- Use your favorite brand of plain yogurt.  It can be full fat or low fat.
- Salt is important to brighten the taste of dairy products.  Add a few grains at a time until the flavor pops. 
- Start your ice cream machine and then pour in the mixture  This will help prevent a thick layer freezing to the sides of the canister. 
- Packing ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt tightly in the container and then pressing a piece of plastic wrap into the surface helps to prevent ice crystal formation. 

Lemon Frozen Yogurt
Makes about 1 quart

3 1/2 cups (28 oz) plain yogurt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
salt, to taste

Whisk together the plain yogurt, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until thoroughly blended.  Add a pinch of salt, to taste.  Pour into an airtight container and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Pour into an airtight container, packing tightly to eliminate any air pockets.  Press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface, cover and place in the freezer to firm up.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Challah Knots

As I was browsing through my collection of recipes looking for some sort of yeasted rolls to make, I ran across this recipe from Saveur magazine.  I’ve never made challah before so I thought I should remedy that ASAP.  I love working with yeast so I jumped at the chance to try my hand at this traditional Jewish egg bread.

This recipe is really very easy.  The ingredients are basic and are likely easily located in your cupboard.  If you’re accustomed to making yeast breads, the only difference here is that there are three rises or proofing periods rather than two, so plan an additional 45 minutes for the preparation.  The extra proofing helps to develop the flavor.  The shaping is a breeze and adds a bit of interest to the presentation.

These are fluffy rolls.  The use of water rather than milk and oil instead of butter makes them extra light.  They are a great accompaniment to a holiday meal or any time at all.

Bench notes:
- When dissolving or proofing yeast, use liquid temperatures of 110°F-115°F water.  It should be warm, not hot.
- The dough is very sticky so I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons more flour during the mixing and about another 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons in the kneading and shaping as I went along.  Add just a little bit at a time until it’s manageable. 
- Ideal rise temperature for yeast dough is between 80°F - 90°F.
- I lightly greased the pan and lined with parchment to prevent sticking.
- Everything you want to know about yeast from Red Star.
- Other really delicious yeast breads for this time of year: Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Yeast Bread and Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal Rolls
- If you're looking for Thanksgiving treats, I've gotten a lot of great feedback and emails about my recent post, Pumpkin Pear & Pecan Streusel Cake.  I also highly recommend the Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares.

Challah Knots
adapted from Saveur magazine
Makes 12 rolls

4 teaspoons active dry yeast                             
1 cup (8 oz) warm water                                                
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar  [I used 2 tablespoons (26 g) sugar + 2 tablespoons (28g) honey]         
1/4 cup (2 oz) canola oil  [I used olive oil]                             
4 egg yolks                                                  
3 1/4 cups (16 1/4 oz) flour  [I used about 2 - 3 tablespoons more]
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt  [I used a slightly generous 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt]

1 egg + 1 tablespoon water + slight pinch of salt for egg wash

Whisk the yeast, a pinch of sugar and 1 cup warm water (about 115°) to combine.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

Whisk the sugar, oil, egg yolks and salt with the yeast mixture and blend thoroughly.  Add flour and stir with a fork to form a dough.  Knead on a lightly floured work surface until smooth.  Lightly oil a wide bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turning once to grease on both sides.  Cover with bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Gently press down the dough to release the gases.  Cover again and let sit for another 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.   Lightly grease a 9” x 13” baking pan and line with parchment.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Form dough into twelve 10” long ropes.  Tie each rope into a knot, tucking both of the ends underneath.  Place in the prepared pan, leaving room to rise between each one.  Return to a warm, draft-free place for 30 minutes.  

Combine the remaining egg, water and slight pinch of salt for the egg wash. Brush the rolls generously (you’ll have a lot left over).  Bake until browned, about 20 – 22 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Café de Olla Sticks

It was early on a bright sunny morning in a bustling café off the zocolo in Oaxaca that I had my first taste of café de olla.  I’d returned to this colonial town to explore more of its historical sites and to sample more of one of the most distinctive and flavorful cuisines in the world.   On that morning, café de olla seemed an absolutely perfect way to start a day of new adventure.

A lot of what happens in Oaxaca feels like a magical coincidence.  As you wander the streets full of color and intriguing shops and food, you invariably encounter surprise after surprise.  Whether it’s the lovely rooms and gorgeous courtyards that seem to be everywhere, a restaurant with the best Caesar salad in the world, an opera house, an ancient market full of the startling early morning staccato of Zapotec and Mixtec Indian languages or the absolutely irresistible aromas drifting from kitchen after kitchen, it is an intoxicating feast of the senses.  It’s also a city of contrasts, a constant reminder of the stark collision of the colonial and the modern: internet cafes and Spanish and Belle Epoque architecture; ancient dusty ruins and modern art galleries; rustic markets stacked with traditional wares and elegant hotels with breathtaking panoramas.  There are flowers everywhere.  The people are the salt of the earth. 

Café de olla is a special brew of coffee traditionally prepared in clay pots made by local artisans.  The coffee is bolstered with cinnamon and piloncillo, a very rustic and flavorful unrefined Mexican brown sugar.  Its raw quality and slight impurities give it its unique flavor profile, which is hauntingly delicious with notes of caramel and rum.  I wrote about it in my cookbook recipe for Piloncillo Ice Cream with Spiced Pecans, one of my favorite ice cream compositions.

Alice Medrich’s recipe for Café de Olla Sticks brought back this flood of great memories for me.  She writes in her headnote that these cookies remind her of a café de olla she tasted outside of Mexico City more than 30 years ago.  

These are very rustic cookies in the style of biscotti.  They’re brittle and not too sweet.  The scent of the spices linger in your kitchen long after you’re done baking.  Enjoy them with a good strong cup of coffee.

Bench notes:
- My scale doesn’t have the same precision so I rounded up.
- It’s easy to shape the cookie dough free form but you can press it into a 9” x 5” loaf pan lined with plastic wrap if that is easier for you.  I use a bench scraper to square up the sides.
- I used 1/2 teaspoon aniseed and the full amount of cinnamon.  My preferred cinnamon is the stronger, sweeter, more aromatic Vietnamese (sometimes called Saigon cinnamon), which I buy at my bulk grocer. 
- My cookies baked in 14 minutes.  I checked them at 12 and added 2 minutes as needed.
- I got 26 cookies.  If you slice them thinner, watch the baking time more closely.
- Here are a couple of recipes for café de olla: one with lots of spice and one that uses brown sugar and molasses.
- Thanks and appreciation to these sites for Pastry Studio mentions around the web: Babble herehere and hereGood Morning America/Yahoo; 25 Best Food Blogs for Boomers15 delicious chocolate dessert recipes.

Café de Olla Sticks
Makes 36 – 46 cookies

1 1/4 cups (5.625 oz) flour                                                                                
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons (4 oz) sugar                                                                  
2/3 cup (2.67 oz) almonds        
scant 3/4 teaspoon whole aniseed [I use 1/2 teaspoon]                            
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon                                                             
1 3/4 teaspoons freshly and finely ground coffee beans               
slightly rounded 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper      
slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt                                                     
3 oz (6 tablespoons) cold butter                                                            
2 tablespoons cold brewed espresso or very strong coffee             
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                                        

Place flour, sugar, almonds, aniseed, cinnamon, ground coffee, pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the almonds are finely ground.

Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the flour mixture.  Pulse until it resembles coarse meal.  Combine coffee and vanilla and add.  Process until the dough looks damp.  It will be crumbly but should hold together when pinched.

Gather the dough on a piece of plastic wrap.  Press and shape into a 4” x 9” rectangle, firming it up and squaring the edges.  Chill thoroughly. 

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Use a sharp knife to cut the chilled dough into 1/4” slices and place 1” apart on the prepared baking sheets.   Bake until the edges just begin to take on a golden brown, about 12 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking.  Place the baking sheets on a wire rack and cool.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Scones

Sometimes I think my dream job would be to work in the kitchen of a bed and breakfast producing small batch pastries for brunch and teatime as well little after dinner sweets for small groups of guests.  I’ve had the experience of working in a large-scale production bakery where I used a huge 60-quart mixer and hauled 50 lb sacks of flour.  Tasks included things like producing 48 gallons of madeleine batter every other day.  While it was important to learn how to scale up recipes and understand how to produce hundreds of pastries at a time, it’s my preference to work small with fresh ingredients where I can vary the menu seasonally to keep things interesting.  So that’s the dream job I sometimes idealize in my head when I think about doing what I love.

The fun of having a blog is you get to work on new pastries all the time.  You can experiment with things you might not otherwise do and you’re constantly learning more about the way ingredients work.  Ask any successful chef if they ever get tired of making the same popular dish over and over again and they’ll probably say, "Yes!"  Although it’s wonderful to have the public love your products, it can sometimes be frustrating to see your patrons revolt when you try to change the menu or rotate new ideas into your repertoire. 

So in my dream job I would make interesting coffee cakes or scones, yeasted pastries or tea breads, filling the space with enticing aromas.  There’d also be cookies for the afternoon and a little something for after dinner sweet seekers.  You see?  It's a really lovely little dream.  Maybe one such scone recipe would be this little apple treat.

For me, autumn and fall are the season of brown sugar and spice.  And apples. All three come together very nicely in this scone, which would be a friendly addition to your Sunday brunch table.  If you have any trouble rousing sleepy family or friends, the scent of baking apples and cinnamon wafting from the kitchen will do the trick. 

This is a rich scone recipe that has a layer of apples tossed with brown sugar and cinnamon tucked inside.  Since the scones are baked in only about 14 minutes or so, I sauté the apples in some butter to make them tender to the bite.  The whole recipe comes together in about 15 or 20 minutes so you don’t have to plan too far in advance.  And you get to have your hands in flour and butter first thing in the morning.  Brew a good cup of java, set them on your table and enjoy sharing the melt-in-your-mouth results.

Bench notes:
- I used a Fuji apple. 
- Make sure there are no lumps in the brown sugar when adding to the flour mixture.
- The butter needs to be very cold.  Cut it into 1/2” cubes and then return to the refrigerator while you assemble the other ingredients.
- I divided the dough into 4 equal portions to make it easier to work with.  You can just divide into 2 equal portions and pat into 9" circles if that’s easier for you.
- If you have a scale, use it to portion the dough equally.
- If your oven isn't ready, chill the scones while you wait.
- If your oven runs very hot, you may want to use two stacked sheet pans to prevent the bottoms from browning too much.
- Scones are best enjoyed the same day.

Apple Cinnamon Scones
Makes 8 scones

1 medium-sized (7 – 8 oz) apple
1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) butter
3 tablespoons (39 g) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

2 cups (10 oz) flour
2 tablespoons (26 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (26 g) dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2” cubes         
1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream                                  

1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) butter, melted for brushing the tops
2 teaspoons (8 g) sugar + pinch cinnamon for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.

Peel and core the apple and chop it into 1/2” pieces.  Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the apple pieces.   Cook until the apples are softened a bit, about 5 – 8 minutes, stirring to avoid scorching.  Take off the heat and toss them with the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool. 

Place the flour, granulated and brown sugars, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the butter pieces and toss to coat with flour.  Use your fingers to pinch the butter into small thin flakes about the size of a dime, tossing as you go to continue to coat the butter thoroughly with flour.  Make a well in the center and add the cream.  Stir gently with a fork until it starts to come together and the cream seems fairly absorbed.  The dough will look a little shaggy.  Gather the loose and lumpy dough and knead it very gently 2 or 3 times just until it holds together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 4 equal portions.  Pat and shape each portion of dough into a 5 1/2” circle, gently lifting to make sure the dough isn’t sticking.  Top two of the circles with the cooled apple mixture, leaving a 1” border around the edge.  (If a lot of liquid has accumulated with the apples, leave most of it behind.)  Place the remaining two circles of dough on top and press the edges to form a seal.

Using a lightly dusted bench scraper or sharp knife, cut each circle into 4 scones. Use the bench scraper or a metal spatula to lift the scones onto the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake on the middle rack until they are golden, about 14 - 15 minutes. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pumpkin Pear & Pecan Streusel Cake

October rolled right by at full speed and vanished into thin air right before our eyes.  November is upon us and along with it comes our annual ritual of pumpkin.  I love pumpkin pastries so I’m not one to overlook the pumpkin recipe mania floating around out there at this time of year. 

In fact, I’m always looking to discover new ways to enjoy pumpkin.  After figuring out how the subtle and essential flavor of pumpkin reacts with other ingredients, I’ve managed to produce a few good recipes.  Some of my favorite pastries during this season are Pumpkin Pecan Pie Squares, Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Yeast Bread, Pumpkin Pecan Madeleines and Pumpkin Empanadas.  
This time I wanted to make a moist pumpkin cake that has lots of flavor and a bit of texture.  This recipe did what I hoped for: the combination of butter, buttermilk and brown sugar make for a very soft and tender cake.  There’s a nice pumpkin flavor that’s perfectly enhanced with plenty of spice and I love the backnote of orange zest in the streusel.  The subtle flavor of pear also adds moisture and, combined with the crunchy texture of pecan streusel, works in great harmony with all the other elements.  The aroma is fabulous.

So let’s get this party started with this delicious cake.  With a little dollop of whiskey- or cinnamon-laced whipped cream, you'll have a terrific dessert for your autumn table.

On another note: For those who don’t own an iPad but want to purchase my ecookbook, The GlobalPastry TableApple has now released their new operating system, OSX Mavericks, which allows you to read electronic ibooks on your Mac desktop or Mac laptop.

Amazon also has a free app you can download to read Kindle books on your PC or Mac desktop or laptop as well as iPhone or Android device.  And now that we have cloud technology, ebooks are automatically pushed to all your devices.

Bench notes:
- Pecan streusel can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Contrary to popular belief, allspice isn’t a blend of lots of different spices. It’s actually the sun dried unripened berry of the Pimenta dioica plant. It likely got its name because it seems to suggest the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cloves.  I love to use it as a booster because it really beautifully amplifies all the other spices.
- The pear should be ripe but not mushy.
- I find it’s easiest to core the peeled pear if you cut it into quarters and then just slice off the thick stem and core.  Cut each quarter into two slices and then chop into 1/2” pieces.
- Spritz the pear cubes with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.  Drain, if necessary, before layering them on top of the cake batter.

Pumpkin Pear & Pecan Streusel Cake
Serves 8                                                         

2 oz (about 1/2 cup) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped                                    
1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                     
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized candied ginger                 
zest of 1/2 orange
1 oz (2 tablespoons) cold butter                                                                        

1 ripe pear, Bartlett or D’Anjou
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour                                                                     
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder                                           
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                                     
1 teaspoon cinnamon                                          
1/2 teaspoon ginger                                             
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg                                        
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves                                              
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter @ room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                                                         
2 large eggs @ room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup (6 oz) solid-pack pumpkin                                      
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 oz) buttermilk @ room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease a 9” x 2 1/2”cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

To prepare the streusel, combine the pecans, brown sugar, finely chopped crystallized ginger and orange zest.  Cut the butter into small pieces and work it into the nut mixture, pinching with your fingers until the whole mixture is moist and crumbly.   Chill until ready to use.

Peel and core the pear and cut into 1/2” pieces.  Place in a bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent browning.  Set aside.

For the cake, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on medium speed, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add the vanilla and the pumpkin and blend.  Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour and mixing just until blended.  

Pour a bit more than half of the batter into the prepared the pan. Layer the pears on top and sprinkle with half of the pecan streusel.  Pour the remaining cake batter and smooth it out evenly to the edges of the pan.  Sprinkle the top with the rest of the pecan streusel, pressing down slightly to secure.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with just a few moist crumbs, about 38 - 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.   Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen and invert the cake.   Carefully remove the parchment paper and invert again.  Cool completely.