Friday, December 26, 2014

Hazelnut Crumble Cookies

As we near the end of the holiday season and the great joy of sharing our favorite culinary traditions, we look forward to celebrating the coming of a new year.  I’m thinking one great way to do that is to share a platter of good cookies. 

I’m a hazelnut fiend.  Actually, I guess it’d be more accurate to say I simply love nuts.  These Hazelnut Crumble Cookies are my idea of a really good cookie. They’re made quickly in a food processor with a few simple ingredients and baked to a perfect crispness.  If you, too, love hazelnuts, I invite you to take a bite of these perfectly simple and delicious cookies as you toast the stroke of midnight.  They’re light, not too sweet and a great way to ring in the New Year.

Sending my very best wishes for a very Happy New Year to you and your families.  Here’s hoping for a good measure of love, great food, friendship and many new opportunities in 2015.  Cheers!!

Bench notes:
- To toast hazelnuts, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.  Rub them in a towel to remove most of the skins.
- I make the cookie dough one day ahead, shape it into cookies, place them on to a baking sheet, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
- I use a #40 scoop (1 tablespoon) to portion the cookie dough.  It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies.
- These cookies don’t take on any color except the bottoms should be golden brown.  To check for doneness, give one a nudge with your fingertip.  If it moves easily without any resistance, check the bottoms to see if they’re golden brown.  They will crisp up as they cool.

Hazelnut Crumble Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 cups (10 oz) flour
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
1/4 t salt
8 oz (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract           
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar, for dusting

Place the flour, hazelnuts, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground.  Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and add.  Process until the mixture looks like course meal.  Add the egg yolk, vanilla and almond extracts and process just until the mixture starts to collect into damp clumps.  Scoop or shape the dough into 1 1/4” balls and place them on a baking sheet.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats. 

Place 12 cookies on each baking sheet.  Bake until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom, about 22 to 24 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets half-way through to ensure even baking and browning.

Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool.  Dust with powered sugar.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Cake

This is a very easy but festive cake if you need a quick dessert to serve after a meal or as a treat to be enjoyed during holiday rituals.  It doesn’t require any fancy ingredients or equipment and can be ready in just over an hour or so.

It’s a basic chocolate cake made with oil for a supremely moist crumb.  I’ve added dried cranberries that have been soaked overnight in port and a handful of chopped walnuts for texture.  There’s buttermilk for tenderness and cocoa for some earthy richness.  A little bit of cinnamon rounds out the edges.  Dust with a blanket of snowy powdered sugar and there you have it.  A rich dark cake to celebrate the season.

Here's wishing everyone a very, very happy holiday spent filled with the gift of loved ones, laughter, joy and great food prepared and shared together.  And my sincerest appreciation for your wonderful readership throughout this year.  Very best to you!


Bench notes:
- I chose Tawny port for soaking the dried cranberries because I think it has the right nutty, fruity notes to complement the chocolate and other components of the cake. Soak the cranberries overnight to ensure they are fully hydrated. 
- Substitute dried cherries for the cranberries if you prefer.
- To toast walnuts, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. They should be slightly fragrant.  I chop them into fairly small pieces so they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
- I use undutched natural cocoa powder.
- This cake can also be dressed up with chocolate glaze:  Place the cooled cake on a cardboard round or removable tart pan bottom.  Set it on a cooling rack placed on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Finely chop 5 oz bittersweet chocolate into very small pieces and place in a bowl.  Bring 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon corn syrup to a simmer.  Just as it begins to boil, take off the heat, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about a minute or so. Then stir slowly and gently, starting in the middle until thoroughly combined and then working outward in concentric circles until the mixture comes together. To glaze the cake, pour the warm glaze quickly inthe center of the cake and then move out around the edges. Let it run for a few seconds and then gently jiggle and tap the baking sheet on the work surface to encourage the glaze to run down the sides of the cake. Let glaze firm up before serving.
- The Global Pastry Table ecookbook makes a great last minute gift for pastry lovers!

Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Cake
Serves 8 – 10

1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz) dried cranberries
1/4 cup (2 oz) port
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (53 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) hot water
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 oz) canola oil
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk @ room temperature 
1/2 cup (1 3/4 oz) walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

powdered sugar, for dusting

Combine the dried cranberries and the port in a single layer and soak overnight in a covered container.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9” x 2 1/2” cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.  

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the cocoa and hot water together until smooth.

Whisk the oil, both sugars and eggs and blend well.  Add in the cocoa mixture and vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with half the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix just until well blended.  Stir in the soaked cranberries, any residual port and chopped walnuts.  Pour into the prepared pan and gently tap the bottom of the pan a few times on the work surface to remove any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center releases with a few moist crumbs attached, about 40 - 42 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes.  Run a thin bladed knife around the edges and invert the cake.   Gently peel off the parchment and invert again.  Cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Apple Cranberry Turnover

This is the season for cranberries.  Bright red, full of acidity and pectin, they make beautiful company with other fruit.  In pastry, you often see them paired with the more subtle flavors of apple and pear.

This is an apple cranberry combination in the very simple form of a turnover.  Cranberries add a beautiful bright tartness.  There's also a bit of orange zest and cinnamon to round things out.  I really love this fruit pairing.

I prefer making free-form pastries and galettes because I think the crust crisps up so nicely and I like the rustic appearance.  The pastry here is very tender and flaky.  It's pretty easy to handle and makes a really delicious encasement for the fruit.  This is one of my favorite pastries of the season.

Bench notes:
- The pastry dough and cranberry filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
- The secret to rolling out pastry dough is to make sure it’s chilled properly.  Too cold and it cracks and splits.  Too warm and it softens and tears.  As you begin to roll it out, if there’s resistance and cracking, let it warm up for another minute or so.  If it starts to feel too soft as you lift and turn it, chill it again until firm enough to handle easily.  Use a light dusting of flour as you go and lift it after each turn to make sure it isn’t sticking.
- The cranberry filling will thicken as it cools.  Stir to loosen before spreading it over the pastry.
- I use Fuji apples, which have a natural sweetness.
- I don’t use a lot of sugar in this pastry because I really want to taste the fruit.  If you prefer, add more sugar to each of the fillings.
- I add the sugar to the apples just before I’m ready to place them in the turnover.  Avoid letting them sit in sugar too long or you’ll have juices running everywhere as you place them on the pastry.
- If you want a glossy finish, instead of melted butter, use an egg wash: mix 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water.  Brush the tart lightly and evenly with the wash.  You won’t use all of it.
- The turnover needs to cool thoroughly so the juices have a chance to set up.
- Another seasonal pastry to try: Winter Fruit Crisp with apples, pears, dates and dried cranberries.

Apple Cranberry Turnover
Serves 8

Pastry Dough
1 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (9 1/2 oz) flour                                                         
2 tablespoons (26 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter                  
1/3 cup (2.6 oz) cold water                                                  

Cranberry Filling
2 cups (8 oz) fresh cranberries
1/4 cup (2 oz) water
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar
1/4 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 1/2 orange

Apple Filling
2 large (about 1 lb) apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons (39 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted, for glazing
1/2 tablespoon (6 grams) sugar, for dusting

For the pastry dough, cut the cold butter into 1/2” cubes.  Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend. Add the pieces of butter and pulse until they resemble pieces the size of oatmeal.  Add 1/3 cup ice water and pulse until the dough looks a bit like cottage cheese. The dough should be soft, pliable and will just hold together when you press a clump between your fingers. Be careful not to overmix.  Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a disc. Wrap tightly and chill thoroughly.

For the cranberry filling, place the cranberries, water, sugar, 1/4 vanilla bean, cinnamon and orange zest in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring to blend all the ingredients.  Lower the heat and cook, stirring periodically to avoid scorching, until the mixture becomes jammy and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Remove the vanilla bean piece.  Pour into a container and chill until ready to use.

Let the chilled dough rest on a lightly floured piece of parchment or a silpat for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking.  Then roll the dough out to about 16” x 10” rectangle, lifting the dough and keeping the parchment or silpat lightly floured as needed.  When you have the desired rectangle shape, trim the edges.  Lift and slide the parchment or silpat with the pastry onto a baking sheet pan.  Chill while you prepare the apples.

Place the lemon juice in a bowl big enough to hold the sliced apples.  Peel and core the apples.  Slice them fairly thin and toss them in the lemon juice as you go to prevent browning.  Add sugar and cinnamon and toss thoroughly.

Take the rolled out dough from the refrigerator and leave it on the baking sheet. Place it in front of you so the long side is closest to you.  Make a slight mark at the halfway point on the long side so you know where the fold will be.  Spread the cranberry filling evenly on half the rectangleleaving a 3/4” border along the 3 sides.  Place rows of sliced apples (about 3 slices across) on top of the cranberry.  Brush the apples with melted butter.  

Brush the borders of the dough with water.  Fold the other half of the rectangle over the apples and press the edges to seal. Turn up the edges to make a border and press with the tines of a fork to seal.  Chill the formed turnover until the oven is ready.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut 8 air vents across the top of the pastry.  Brush the turnover with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Bake until the crust is browned and the fruit is bubbling, about 35 – 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sweet Potato Biscuits

I had some extra sweet potatoes leftover from Thanksgiving projects so I turned to the alluring idea of Sweet Potato Biscuits.  Who can refuse a fresh biscuit?  And as it turns out, these are terrific on their own, served with a big breakfast or as a canvas for a great little sandwich. 

This recipe is from Molly Wizenberg, perhaps better known as Orangette.  However, I made several adjustments: I deleted the cayenne and added a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.  I increased the baking powder to 1 tablespoon and dialed back the salt, using a scant 1/2 teaspoon.  I also lowered the oven temperature down to 400 degrees F and baked them for 15 – 16 minutes.  I post Molly's recipe as written along with my modifications.

These are a nice change from regular biscuits.  They are good just with a dollop of butter, honey or your favorite jam.  They’d be great with ham, mustard and honey, as Molly recommends.  Or if you happen to have any turkey leftovers hanging about, with an indulgence of gravy.  After all, 'tis the season.

Bench notes: 
- The recipe calls for boiling the sweet potatoes in water until tender.  I had leftover roasted sweet potatoes from my Spiced Sweet Potato Pie, which were roasted with butter, orange zest and spices.
- Let the sweet potatoes cool completely to let the steam escape so they won’t be too wet.
- Use a pastry blender if you'd rather not work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands.
- The recipe says to bake these in a buttered 9” x 1 1/2” cake pan but I just placed them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat.
- Once the biscuits are cut out, turning them upside down before placing them on prepared pan to bake gives them better loft.
- Molly's yield of 25 biscuits seems like a stretch.  Doesn't seem like you could get 25 biscuits in a 9" cake pan.  My biscuit cutter is 2 1/2” and I got 10 biscuits.  I think if you use her recommended 1 1/2" biscuit cutter, you'll probably get around 15 or so.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 25 biscuits

12 oz sweet potato             
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) flour                                     
1 tablespoon (13 grams) dark brown sugar. packed                         
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder  [I used 1 tablespoon]
1 teaspoon salt                            [I used scant 1/2 teaspoon]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                                           
Pinch of cayenne pepper          [ I used a pinch of cinnamon & nutmeg]
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes                   
1/3 cup cold buttermilk 
melted butter, for glazing                                                      

Peel and cut the sweet potato into chunks.  Cook in boiling water until tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Let them drain and cool thoroughly, then mash them.  Portion out 3/4 cup.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F [I baked them at 400 degrees F].  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9” cake pan with 1 1/2" high sides.  [I just placed them on a silpat-lined baking sheet.]

Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cayenne (or cinnamon and nutmeg, if using).  Add cold butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.  Working quickly with your fingertips, pinch and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like pebbles the size of peas with some smaller crumbs.

Whisk together the 3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes and buttermilk. Add to the flour mixture and toss with a fork.  Gather it with your hands and knead gently just a few times until a soft dough comes together.  About 3 or 4 turns should be enough to consolidate the dough.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and gently pat into 1” thick round.  Cut using 1 1/2” biscuit cutter [I used a 2 1/2" cutter], flouring after each cut and pushing straight down and lifting straight up to cut rather than twisting.  Turn the biscuits over (bottom side up) and place them in the prepared cake pan.  Brush the tops lightly with melted butter. 

Bake until puffed and golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center biscuit comes out clean, about 22 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the biscuits out and gently pull them apart.  Serve warm. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pear Cardamom Crumb Bars

Pears have a habit of behaving a little bit like bananas.  They seem to ripen quickly when you least expect it and then they must be consumed within a narrow window of time for maximum enjoyment.  If you find yourself with a couple of pears in this condition, consider transforming them into these bar cookies.

There are several varieties of pears, each one with its own peak season.  The most common varieties are Bartletts (late summer – fall), which are very juicy and turn a beautiful shade of yellow when ripe; Boscs (fall – spring) have a long tapered stem end, brown skin and firm flesh with a smooth texture; and D’Anjous (mid-fall – spring) with their quintessential pear shape.  Red D’Anjous are similar but with a dark red skin. 

These Pear Cardamom Bars are an ode to pears.  The pastry dough, which buzzes together in a few minutes in a food processor, forms both the bottom crust and the crumb topping.  The dough includes a small amount of almonds, a touch of cardamom and lemon zest for additional flavor.  The pears are thinly sliced and tossed with lemon juice and sugar to form the filling.  These bars are subtle and delicious little pastries with a light touch.  They’re nice to have for a brunch table or a simple treat for a lazy afternoon.

I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving with lots of fabulous food and good time spent with family and friends.  I know I sure did!

I want to send a special THANK YOU to food blogger Sally BR, who wrote to tell me she posted a review of my ecookbook, The Global Pastry Table.  It's a very thorough review and she also features the Spice Cake with Blackberries recipe.  I’m very honored to have her wonderful feedback.  Sally’s just the sort of person who is really the target audience for my work.  And her cake looks fabulous, too.  Check it out!

Bench notes:
- The pears need to be ripe but not mushy.
- To toast the almonds, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in a 350 F degree oven for about 10 minutes. 
- Use almond extract sparingly.  A little bit goes a long way.  Place a couple of drops on a spoon to avoid spilling too much and then add to the mix.
- The sliced pears are spritzed with lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Keep pears at room temperature to ripen or store them in the refrigerator if they’re ripening too quickly.

Pear Cardamom Crumb Bars
Makes 16 bars

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour                               
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) almonds, toasted
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar        
1 teaspoon baking powder                                                                                              
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom                                                              
zest of 1 lemon                                                                   
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter                  
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 – 3 drops almond extract

2 large ripe pears (about 1 lb 2 oz)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.   Lightly grease an 8” x 8” square baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment long enough to form an overhang along two sides of the pan.
Combine the flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder, salt, cardamom and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the almonds are finely ground and the ingredients are fully combined.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the dry ingredients.  Pulse until some of the butter is the size of oatmeal flakes.  Combine the egg yolk, vanilla and almond extracts and add.  Process just until the mixture starts to clump and holds together when pinched.    

Press about 2/3 of the dough clumps into the prepared pan to form an even bottom layer.  Refrigerate the remaining 1/3 of the dough for the topping until ready to use.

Bake the bottom crust until puffed up and the surface looks dry and slightly browned, about 20 – 22 minutes. 

Peel and core the pears.  Cut crosswise into 1/4” slices and place in a bowl with the lemon juice, tossing to coat evenly.  Add the 1/4 cup sugar and toss.   Lay the pear slices evenly over the bottom crust.  Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the pears, making sure to distribute to the edges and the corners to form a border.  

Bake until golden brown, about 28 minutes.  Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.  Run a thin knife around the edges and gently lift out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Cut into bars. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gingerbread Bars

I love this time of year when so much of our baking involves lots of spice.  Spices were once prized as currency around the globe, indicating their special place in many cultures.  And wherever we call home, we find ourselves pulling out all our special recipes and spices to share with our closest friends and family during the holidays. 

The history of ginger goes back about 5000 years when it was used as a curative in Asia.  It eventually made its way to the Caribbean and West Africa and then on to Europe via India.  It is in the same plant family as cardamom, galangal and turmeric.

This recipe for Gingerbread Bars is a celebration of some of our favorite spices: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and black pepper.  Combine that with a tad of fresh grated ginger and a power dose of molasses and you have quite a heady mix.  And I must say, a touch of orange zest adds just the right note to tie it all together, so don’t leave it out!  I’ve also topped the bars with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting for a little bite of luxury. 

These bars are chewy, dense and rich, pretty good examples of pastries solidly in the holiday lane.  They are perfect with a steaming hot beverage, something to take the chill off these rainy days.  And YES, here in California we’ve had some much needed, much cherished rain lately.  I’ve almost forgotten the smell of fresh rain, the comforting sound of it, what my raincoat looks like.  So I’m really thrilled to see this storm front.  Odd, I know, but if you knew how parched our land is, how much of our agriculture is vulnerable, you’d join me in this celebration.  So in the spirit of the holidays along with some good rain, pull up a chair and sample a Gingerbread Bar.  If you’re a spice lover, it will be just the thing to prepare you for this season of spice.

Bench notes:
- The best way to grate fresh ginger is to use a microplane.
- This batter is quite thick.  It helps to use a small offset spatula (a favorite tool for pastry chefs!) to spread it evenly in the pan.  
- Because this is a thin bar, be sure not to overbake or they will be dry.  I started checking them at 20 minutes and wound up baking them about 23 minutes.  But every oven is its own beast, so keep a close eye on them.
- To avoid lumps in the frosting, have your cream cheese and butter at room temperature and sift the powdered sugar.  
- Store these bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature to serve.  Like most pastries loaded with spice, I think they are better the next day.

Gingerbread Bars
Makes 16 bars

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves          
1/8 teaspoon black pepper                                  
4 oz butter (8 tablespoons) @ room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar                                            
1 egg @ room temperature
1/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) molasses
2 teaspoons (1/2 oz) fresh ginger, grated
zest of 1/2 orange

4 oz cream cheese @ room temperature
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar (2 1/8 oz), sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9” x 9” square baking pan.  Line the bottom with parchment, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.

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

Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice.  Add the egg and beat until fully blended.  Mix in the molasses, grated ginger and orange zest.  Gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until blended.  Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 - 24 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Use the overhanging parchment to gently lift the pastry out of the pan.  Peel off the parchment and cool completely.

Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and blend. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.  Frost the cooled bars.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Spiced Sweet Potato Pie

The season for holiday pies is upon us.  I’ll be baking the ritual pumpkin and pecan pies that families long for at this time of year but I’m also interested in the legendary sweet potato pie.  It has a long and cherished Southern tradition where sweet potatoes were introduced in colonial times.  For many families across the nation, no holiday would be complete without it.

I’ve crafted this recipe with less sugar than usual to showcase the wonderful natural taste of the sweet potato, which is quite sweet on its own.  I roast the sweet potatoes with melted butter and spices to enhance and concentrate all the luscious flavors.  And for something a bit different, I’ve added a half-piece of star anise, which I think blends seamlessly with the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and lends a very subtle but distinctive edge that I find really delicious.  Buttermilk gives the whole mix a very slight tang that I think is irresistible.  Taken all together, it's easy to see how this pie will be kept in rotation as a sumptuous end to soul-soothing hearty meals during the cozy fall and winter months.

Whatever your plans for the holidays, try and sneak in a few new ideas and surprises for your table.  Here’s to enjoying every luscious bite the season has to offer!

Bench notes:
- The dough comes together very quickly in a food processor.  It will not look like a smooth dough but rather like a moist and lumpy cottage cheese.  

But once it's gathered and wrapped tightly in a piece of plastic wrap and given a chance to rest in the refrigerator, it becomes a very nice and soft pliable pastry dough.  The important thing is to keep visible pieces of butter in tact and avoid blending it all into the flour.  
- Chilling the tart dough is important to relax the gluten and allow the moisture to be absorbed by the flour.  Also chill the tart shell once it's formed to help maintain its shape during baking.
- The pastry dough can be made 1 - 2 days ahead and chilled.  Any longer than that and it starts to discolor and turn grey.
- I use a lightly floured silpat to roll out my dough.  It helps to prevent the dough from sticking and makes it a lot easier to handle without excessive use of flour.
- I used a 14” x 4 1/2” tart pan with removable bottom but a 9” pie or tart pan will also work.
- When I have the desired shape and thickness of the tart dough rolled out, I fold it half for the rectangle tart pan (or in quarters for a round pie or tart pan) to make it easier to lift and fit into the pan without stretching or tearing.
- Instead of vanilla, flavor the whipped cream garnish with a light splash of rum, whiskey, Grand Marnier or maple syrup. 
- I used about half of the whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with an Ateco #9828 open star pastry tip to garnish the pie.


Spiced Sweet Potato Pie
Serves 8

Pastry Dough
1 1/4 cups (6 /14 oz) flour
2 teaspoons (8 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (2 1/2 oz) cold water

Pie Filling
1 1/2 lbs (about 2 medium) sweet potatoes
2 oz (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
zest of 1/2 orange                           
1 teaspoon cinnamon                               
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 star anise

1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                                                                
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk                                        
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs @ room temperature

1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F to roast the sweet potatoes.  Have your pie or tart pan at the ready.

For the pastry dough, place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Process to combine.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces, add to the flour mixture and process for about 5 seconds.  Add the cold water and pulse about 15 times. The dough will look lumpy like cottage cheese.  Gather the dough and place on a piece of plastic wrap.  Wrap tightly, shaping into a flattened disc or rectangle as you seal it tight.  Chill the dough at least 30 minutes or overnight.

When you’re ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator and rest it on a lightly floured work surface for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Then roll the dough out to an 1/8” thickness in whatever shape will fit your pie or tart pan, gently lifting and moving the dough after each roll and keeping your work surface lightly floured as needed.  Brush off any excess flour. Fold the dough in half or quarters and lift it onto your pie pan.  Unfold and ease the dough into the bottom and corners.  Form the edges of the crust by pressing or crimping the dough along the perimeter, trimming away any excess dough. Chill while you organize the remaining ingredients.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into small chunks.  Place them in an 8” square baking dish and toss with the melted butter, orange zest and spices to evenly coat.  Bake until tender, about 45 minutes, tossing once or twice to baste.   Remove from the oven and discard the star anise piece.  Cool. 

Place the roasted and cooled sweet potatoes along with any remaining butter into the bowl of a food processor. Add the brown sugar, buttermilk, vanilla and salt and process until smooth.  Add the eggs and process until thoroughly combined.

Pour the filling into the prepared pastry-lined pie or tart pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 – 55 minutes, until the pastry is browned and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.

When ready to serve, whip the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla until medium soft peaks form.  Gently lift the pie from the removable tart bottom if using and place on a platter.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Honey Shortbread

Although cookies are loved and appreciated any time of the year, we’re getting awfully close to that time when they’re enthusiastically celebrated.   This season will lead us to our kitchens to create platters and packages full of the best recipes we save all year to share with our cherished crew.

Shortbread is a cookie that showcases the flavor of pure butter.  It’s characteristically quite subtle and not very sweet.  But I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s humble; it’s actually quite grand.  The beauty is found in its unfettered simplicity. 

If you love honey, this shortbread is for you.  The recipe is a very quick mix in a food processor and then off to a long slow toasting in the oven.  Unlike most other shortbread, this one takes on a lot of color.  The aroma is enticing and I would say it's a very nice beginning to the oncoming cookie extravaganza.  Although shortbread is fairly delicate and not suited to rough transport, it will always add beautifully to your cookie platter.

Bench notes:
- Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and keep it chilled in the refrigerator until it's time to add it.
- After pressing the dough into the prepared pan, I use the bottom of a measuring cup to press gently into the surface and smooth out my finger impressions.  Dip the cup into flour for a very light dusting if it's sticking in any way.
- 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.
- I keep the ingredients here very simple to let the honey shine.  But if you are so inclined, you could add an extra pinch of salt, a slight hint of spice or a few sliced almonds.
- If you prefer a sweeter cookie, increase the sugar to 1/4 cup.

Honey Shortbread
Makes 18 pieces

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
3 tablespoons (39 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 tablespoons (2 1/2 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Lightly grease an 9 1/2” tart pan with removable bottom.

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process to combine.  Add the butter and process just until it looks like coarse meal.  Add the honey and vanilla and process until the dough starts to form clumps.  Place the clumps of dough in the prepared tart pan and press them flat into an even layer using your hands, making sure to press the edges down so they won't burn.  Sprinkle with raw turbinado sugar.  Chill until the oven is ready to go.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  

Bake the shortbread until a golden brown, about 45 – 50 minutes.  Place on a wire rack and, using the sharp tip of a knife, score just the surface of the shortbread into portions.  Cool for 10 minutes, then gently remove from the pan.  Use a sharp chef’s knife to portion into pieces, wiping the blade clean after each cut.  Cool completely.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Tangerine & Pomegranate

This dessert really couldn’t be any easier.  Panna cotta takes very little effort but offers more than a satisfying return.  This is especially true if you’re looking for a delicious dessert that isn't overly rich.  There are no egg yolks, butter or heavy cream involved.  If you love creamy custards and crème brulee, this is their lightweight cousin.

The basic premise to panna cotta is to heat the milk or cream with the sugar to dissolve it thoroughly.  It’s typically not very sweet and most often served in a plain vanilla but can also be flavored in a number of ways. Liquefied gelatin is added to set it and then it’s chilled.  It can be served plain or with fruit or a sauce.

This panna cotta is made primarily with plain yogurt for a slight tang.  The same method is used for the base and then the yogurt and flavoring are whisked in at the end.  Super easy and care free. 

For color and an extra element of tartness, I’ve garnished this dessert with tangerine segments and pomegranate seeds.  It makes a colorful and festive presentation on the table as the rain clouds roll in.

Bench notes:
- Substitute 1/2 vanilla bean for a richer flavor.  Split, seed and add to milk as it simmers.  Steep for about 20 minutes then remove the pod.
- To bloom gelatin, always sprinkle it slowly into cold water rather then pouring cold water directly on the powder, which makes it clump.  I use a small pyrex cup for this.
- I used Greek yogurt but any plain variety will do.
- Adjust the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt to your own taste.  I kept the sugar on the low end because the fruit is moistened with a simple syrup.
- Salt is very important for enhancing the flavor of desserts made with dairy products.  We’re not looking for a salty taste, just a brightened and heightened flavor.  Keep adding a few grains at a time until the flavor pops.  You’ll know when you get there.
- The gelatin in this panna cotta is kept at a minimum, just enough to give it a little body but not enough to interfere with the texture of the yogurt.
- Some people liquefy gelatin in a microwave but I find it's just too easy to overheat and ruin it.  It can't be boiled or it loses its thickening properties.
- If you find yourself in the mood for a sublime custard, try Vanilla Pudding.

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Tangerine & Pomegranate
based on an idea from Williams-Sonoma
Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons cold water                                          
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 cup (8 oz) milk                                         
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar
pinch salt                                                                                         
2 cups (16 oz) plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup (2.6 oz) water
1/3 cup (66 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 large (about 1 1/4 lbs) tangerines or 2 large oranges
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

For the panna cotta, place the cold water in a small heatproof dish.  Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it slowly over the cold water.  Do not stir.  Let it sit for 5 minutes until the gelatin fully absorbs the water.

Place the milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan.  Bring it to a slow simmer and heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Take off the heat.  Liquefy the gelatin by placing the bottom of the dish in a pan with about an inch of low-simmering water.  The gelatin will melt in a minute or so.  Add the liquefied gelatin to the milk mixture and blend thoroughly. Whisk in the yogurt, lemon juice and vanilla.  Taste and adjust for salt.  Pour into six ramekins or cups and chill until set, about 2 hours.

For the fruit, place 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar is fully dissolved.   Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.

Using a very sharp knife, slice off both ends of the tangerines or oranges.  Then slice off the peel and white pith, following the contour of the fruit to maintain its shape.  Cut on either side of each segment to extract the fruit.  Do this over a bowl to catch the juices.  When ready to serve, combine the tangerine or orange segments and pomegranate seeds with some or all of the sugar lemon syrup.  Top each panna cotta with spoonfuls of fruit.