Monday, November 29, 2010

No Pain, no Gain: Pain au Chocolat and Pain au Jambon

There is a reason that pain au chocolat tastes so good. One, they’re full of chocolate and butter so what’s not to like? Two, they require a lot of love to make and it comes through in the flavor. The second reason is harder to prove than the first reason but if you’ve ever made homemade pain au chocolat, you can attest.

Pain au chocolat requires making a laminated dough also known as puff pastry, or pâté feuilletée; whatever you care to call it, it’s a labor of love. As in, you’d better love it because you’re about to spend quite a bit of time to make it.

If you’re making pain au chocolat to share with others, you’d better love them, too. Watching them inhale the fruits of your labor in just a few bites, if you don’t love them dearly then you’re just setting yourself up for resentment. If this all sounds convoluted, complex, and a bit overwrought for pastry… well, yes it is and with good reason. Just take a look at the five-part list of instructions in the recipe below. (Point made. Thankyouverymuch.)

So since I love my family and I love pain au chocolat, I decided to make some for a Thanksgiving brunch treat. Just for good measure, I made pain au jambon as well for those family members who might want something more filling to tide them over until dinner.

The pain au chocolat and pain au jambon were amazing, if I do say so myself. I'm going to assume they agreed since they were both gone in a matter of minutes… even though it took 29 hours over three days to make them. But I’m not bitter because I love my family. I just want them to know exactly how much I love them.

What’s a holiday with family without a little resentment?
Pain au Chocolat and Pain au Jambon
adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Tartine’s recipe calls for a preferment, unlike many other puff pastry recipes. The pre-ferment may add additional preparation time but I think the depth of flavor it adds is well worth it. I made the preferment the night before I mixed up the dough and put it in the refrigerator to rise slowly. You’re already investing considerable time if you’re going to make puff pastry so what’s another 12 hours? Also, when baking, don’t worry that the pain au chocolate are burning or will be overdone. You want a deep, rich, toasted brown coloring on the crust - don’t chicken out and take the pans out of the oven too soon or you’ll wind up with soggy, underdone pastry. I had to get used to this deep coloring at LCB- I was always fretting that my pastry was going to burn. I’ve since become accustomed to what my fellow students and I called “French done” after tasting how a very well done crust enhances baked goods.

¾ c non-fat milk (I only had whole milk and it worked just fine)
1 T active dry yeast
c all-purpose flour

1 T + 1 t active dry yeast
1¾ c whole milk
6 c all-purpose flour
c sugar
1 T + 1 t salt
1 T unsalted butter

Roll-in butter
2¾ c unsalted butter (European butter or another high quality, higher fat content butter), cool but pliable

Bittersweet chocolate batons (see my improvisation using a Dagoba 59% dark chocolate bar in the recipe below)
Smoked ham
cheese of your choice- I used cheddar

Egg wash:
4 large egg yolks
¼ c heavy cream
pinch salt

To Make the Preferment:
1. In a small saucepan, take the chill off of the milk - it shouldn’t be hot or cold (between 80° to 90° Fahrenheit).
2. Pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Stir to dissolve the yeast and then add the flour, mixing with a spoon until a smooth batter forms.
3. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
To Make the Dough:
1. Measure out all ingredients and keep near at hand. Transfer the preferment to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and add yeast. Mix on low speed for a minute or two until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter. Stop the mixer as needed and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are evenly mixed in.
2. When the mixture is an even and well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and continue to mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and mix until fully incorporated.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and remaining milk, and mix for approximately 3 minutes until a loose dough forms. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes which will shorten the final mixing phase.
4. After resting, mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough. You will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing the better. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and allow to rise in a cool spot until the volume increases by half, approximately 1½ hours.
5. Lightly flour a work surface and transfer the dough. Press the dough into a rectangle 2 inches thick and wrap the rectangle in plastic, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours.

Prep the butter:
1. About 30 minutes before you are ready to start laminating the dough, take out the butter, unwrap, and place the sticks (if butter is a solid block, cut into 4 quarter sticks) on a piece of wax paper, lined up single file.
2. Place another piece of wax paper on top and use a rolling pin to beat and flatten the sticks into a large rectangle approximately 21 by 8 inches and ½ inch thick. Leave the butter rectangle in the wax paper and return to the refrigerator to chill but still remain pliable.
Laminating the dough:
1. Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches.
2. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, place the flattened rectangle of butter over two-thirds of the length of the dough rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. Use your fingers to push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal the plaque.
3. Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner as described above. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before making the third turn.
4. Before the third turn, use a bench scraper to clean your work surface and then re-dust with flour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner described above to complete the third turn. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before going to bed. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form, proof, and bake. The dough can be frozen for up to 1 week; transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

Assembly and baking:
For pain au chocolat, the dough is traditionally rolled up over chocolate batons. I couldn’t find batons but Dagoba, the maker of some of my favorite chocolate bars, score their bars so that they cut easily into baton-like shapes which worked like a charm. Pain au jambon are made in the traditional croissant shape.

1. When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface with flour again. To make the croissant shaped dough for pain au jambon, roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure approximately 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.
2. Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper or a silicon mat. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Place approximately 1 ounce of thinly sliced ham over 2/3 of the dough with the tip remaining uncovered. Sprinkle cheese or lay thin slices over the ham. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully roll the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges.
3. For the pain au chocolat, cut 6 by 4 inch rectangles of dough and place approximately 1 to 2 ounces of chocolate in the center of the rectangle. Start on the long side of the rectangle and roll up.
4. As you form the rolls and croissants, place them on prepared half-sheet pans with plenty of space between. You can mix shapes on one pan or, if preferred, prepare separate pans for the pain au chocolat and jambon. Depending on your baking schedule, you can place the pan(s) in the refrigerator, lightly covered with plastic wrap, to retard the dough before allowing to proof and bake in the morning.
5. When ready to bake, set the pan(s) on the middle rack of an oven (turned off) with another pan of steaming water placed on the bottom rack for approximately 2-3 hours to allow the dough to proof. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.
6. During this final rise, the croissants and rolls should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. Test for doneness by pressing a roll or croissant lightly with a fingertip- if the indentation fills in slowly, they are almost ready to bake. When ready, remove the pans from the oven and set the oven to 425° Fahrenheit to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake, mix up the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly before baking.
8. Place the sheet pans of croissants and rolls into the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 400°F. Leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes and then, working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan(s) 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the rolls and croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants and rolls should be fully baked within 15 to 20 minutes total. They should be a deep golden to almost dark brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and feel light when picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.
11. Remove the croissants and rolls from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm.

Store leftover croissants and rolls in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Recrisp leftovers by popping in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes before serving.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cocoa Nib Brownies

Like many of you, I was on baking overdrive this week getting ready for the holiday. I had to find time to squeeze in making multiple desserts and breads for different festivities. To contribute to my work’s holiday potluck, I decided to keep it simple and go with a universal winner. Brownies fit the bill.

Hope everyone had a lovely Turkey Day!

Cocoa Nib Brownies
adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri

We really like brownies so I’m always on the lookout for recipes. I saw this recipe for cocoa nib brownies some time ago in Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker and had mentally tucked it away. These brownies are a spin on traditional fudgy brownies as the recipe calls for the addition of cocoa nibs- both in the brownie batter and sprinkled on top. I love the richness that toasted cocoa nibs add and the crunchy bite they bring goes nicely with the dense fudge-like quality of these brownies.

8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into ¼ inch pieces (I used El Rey’s El Mijao 61%)
1 ¼ c dark brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs
½ t salt
¾ c granulated sugar
1 T vanilla extract
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
½ c cocoa nibs

1. Line a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan (bottom and sides) with foil and butter the foil.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack set in the middle.
3. Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring 2 to 3 times, and then allow it to bubble for about 10 seconds. Remove the pan from heat and add the chocolate. Gently shake the pan to submerge the chocolate in the hot butter and set aside for a few minutes while the chocolate melts. When completely melted, whisk to smooth the mixture.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the brown sugar and beat in 1 egg on low speed. Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Add the salt, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until smooth.
5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to mix in the melted chocolate and butter. Fold in the flour, followed by ¼ cup of the cocoa nibs.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining ¼ cup cocoa nibs on top.
7. Bake the brownies until firm, but still very moist in the center, approximately 30 minutes.
8. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan on a rack.
9. Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate the brownies for several hours or overnight before attempting to cut them. If needed, heat the bottom of the pan briefly over low heat to unmold the brownies, then invert onto a cutting board and peel away the foil before cutting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

J’adore Dorie! Chocolate Banana Tart with Homemade Nutella

I had the great pleasure of attending Dorie Greenspan’s cooking class/book signing at Central Market Cooking School for her newest masterpiece, Around My French Table. The book is beautiful and is chock full of her interpretations of French classics that can easily be prepared by a home cook. (This may sound sacrilegious but I have to point out the ease of Dorie’s recipes in contrast to those of her mentor, Julia Child.) 

The meal she demoed for the class consisted of a starter of salmon rillettes followed by a fresh tuna, mozzarella, and basil pizza and then lamb and apricot tagine, and lastly a lemon tart with berries. It was simple and yet so satisfying- just the kind of meal to cook for friends to eat around the kitchen table. Not at all like a grand dinner party meal to be served in the dining room.

In other words, these recipes are for the kind of meals I could actually make. As opposed to the lavishly beautiful yet ingredient- and skill-intensive recipes that I often linger over longingly (even though I know I’ll never be able to execute such) in those cookbooks that could double as coffee table books. 

I’m sure I’ll be dipping into the savory side of Dorie’s book very soon, but first I went strait to the desserts chapter. It didn’t take long to come across a tart recipe I needed, desperately, to try. Chocolate Banana Tart? With Nutella? Um, yes, please!

Chocolate-Banana-Nutella Tart (It’s a mouthful- both literally and figuratively)
I love any dessert that manages to incorporate bananas (except for banana bread- that one, not so much). The recipe as Dorie wrote it called for topping the chocolate banana tart with apricot glazed, fresh banana slices but I have an aversion to apricot glazes from my LCB days. I guess most people find the glistening shine it adds to baked goods pretty and beckoning. I just can’t help but think it makes a dessert look like it has been embalmed. (And if you had seen the list of foreign ingredients in the can of apricot glaze at LCB, you’d be hard pressed not to make such as association as well.) I had planned to top my tart with caramelized banana slices but perhaps my bananas were a bit too ripe because I would up with caramelized banana sludge. Nevertheless, the sludge tasted amazing so I spread it over the chocolate crust before pouring in the nutella filling. Instead, I topped my tart with toasted hazelnuts and dried banana chips. The chocolate tart shell has a similar consistency to a shortbread cookie and the crunch of the cookie crust along with the toasted nuts and banana chips paired well with the gooey nutella filling.   

Chocolate Shortbread Tart Dough

1 ¼ c all purpose flour
¼ c unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ c confectioners sugar
¼ t salt
9 T very cold unsalted butter, chopped in small pieces
1 large egg yolk

1. Butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
2. Put flour, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.
3. Scatter in the butter pieces and continue to pulse until roughly chopped into pea-sized pieces. Stir the yolk in a small bowl and then gradually add into the mixture, pulsing after each addition.
4. When all egg has been added, continue to pulse in approximately 10 seconds intervals until the dough begins to come together in clumps.
5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and lightly knead to ensure all dry ingredients are incorporated. Place into the buttered tart pan.
6. In an even fashion, lightly press the dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. The crust will be thick but you may find that all dough is needed. Prick the crust and then place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before baking.
7. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a piece of aluminum foil. Press the foil closely against the crust and bake in the center rack of the oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and take off the foil. Press the crust back down if it has puffed up and return to the oven for another 8 minutes until golden brown.
8. Remove to a rack to cool completely before filling.

Caramelized Bananas

1 ripe, firm banana, sliced to 1/8” thickness on the bias
fresh lemon juice
1 ½ T unsalted butter
3 ½ T sugar

1. While the tart dough is chilling in the freezer, caramelize the bananas in a large non-stick skillet. First melt the butter over high heat in the skillet until it begins to bubble and then add the bananas. Turn the bananas to coat with butter and then sprinkle in sugar.
2. Continue to cook over high heat while turning until the bananas are caramelized on both sides.
3. Transfer to a plate and pat with paper towels to remove excess butter. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding to tart shell.


1/3 c chopped, toasted hazelnuts
1/3 c dried banana chips
1 c homemade nutella

Assemble the tart by placing caramelized bananas on the bottom of the tart shell and the pour approximately 1 cup of homemade nutella into the shell. Finish by sprinkling additional chopped, toasted hazelnuts and banana chips over the nutella filling.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Heart Hazelnuts- Homemade Nutella

I swear I didn't stage this shot- doesn't it look like a heart???
I've been on a Nutella kick lately. I tend to get on jags with foods and have to let it run its course. I was thrilled to see a recipe for homemade Nutella in Baked Explorations and, of course, I had to make it!

Homemade Nutella
adapted from Baked Explorations

Maybe my food processor's blade is a little worse for the wear but the consistency of my homemade Nutella wasn't as smooth as the commercially made spread I've purchased. However, it was sooo delicious, I can overlook that small imperfection. Also, you won't be saving any money by making your own Nutella, unless you have a hazelnut tree in your backyard. Between purchasing the nuts and a good quality hazelnut oil, you'll have spent more than the cost of a store bought jar. I don't recommend using vegetable oil instead of hazelnut oil and I think it's worth the splurge to purchase a bottle. Suck it up- it's that good!
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

2 c whole raw hazelnuts
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ c confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 t vanilla
1/8 t salt
3 to 4 T hazelnut oil (can sub vegetable oil)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and roast until darkened and aromatic, about 10 -14 minutes, tossing a few times to ensure the nuts brown evenly and don’t burn. Allow the nuts to cool and then place in a damp towel and rub to remove the skins.
2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a liquefied butter, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process another 30 seconds.
3. Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and 3 tablespoons of hazelnut oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. Add additional hazelnut oil a teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency – the mixture should be smooth enough to spread. Place in a tightly sealed container and keep refrigerated. Allow the spread to come to room temperature before using, as it will thicken when refrigerated. Will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spice-poached Pears over Toast for an Afternoon Tea Party

I’ve been procrastinating on holiday preparations, so last week while off work for Veteran’s Day, I had every intention of catching up on my to-do list. As is usually the case, I accomplished a little less than half of what I had planned. I have a tendency to start a project and then some thing/thought diverts my attention and I head off down a rabbit trail.

But some of my favorite days happen when I go off plan. While I do like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a completed to-do list, there’s nothing quite like the contentment of just enjoying a moment.
I started the day by pulling boxed china and sterling flatware out of the closet. I nearly got brained by a pair of candle sticks that fell on my head when pulling a box off of a high shelf. (I had forgotten I’d stashed those up there.) Ouch! So that took the wind out of my sails a bit.

While ruminating on the lack of cabinet space in our kitchen and my irritation with having to store dishes in a closet, I wandered over to the refrigerator to make a snack to console myself. As I peered into the fridge I remembered that I’d better clean it out to make room for all the holiday fixins that would soon crowd it. I started shuffling through the bins and came upon a few left over pears that I had picked up a while back for a tart. They were well past their prime but I hated to just toss them… and then I remembered a recipe for spice-poached pears I had read recently. So I set to work on prepping the recipe.
Once the pears were in a pan to poach, I turned back to unpacking china. I love my china- my Mom gave me her set when Eric and I got married. The pattern so perfectly matches my taste I couldn’t have chosen it better myself. It’s lovely and simple – the dishes are bone white with fluted rims bound by a platinum band. Every time I pull my china out, I think about tossing aside my practical, durable, restaurant grade dinnerware. But then I remember that china isn’t dishwasher or microwave safe and I put the idea to rest. (I may love those dishes dearly but I have my limits.)

By the time the pears were poached and cool enough to eat, I had given up all pretense of finishing my task list and decided to have my own little personal tea party. I toasted a piece of bread to go with the pears, brewed a cup of tea, and sat down with a good book to while away the afternoon.

So the table linens didn’t get ironed (I may just skip a tablecloth- mats don’t require ironing), the fridge is still a wreck, and this little guy didn’t get a bath (nor did his sister or brother).
But I did finish three whole chapters and I consider that a pretty productive day.

Spice-poached Pears
adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table

I subbed a cardamom pod for the star anise the recipe originally called for. I couldn’t locate star anise (I know I have some… somewhere) and cardamom is my go-to spice whenever I need something to add some depth to a dessert. It worked perfectly.
zest (removed in wide strips) and juice of 1/2 orange
zest (removed in wide strips) and juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cups water
1/2 c honey
1/3 c sugar
1 cardamom pod
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 T vanilla
3 ripe, firm pears, peeled, cored, and halved

1. Put all ingredients, except pear halves, into a large saucepan. Heat on medium-high until just boiling and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Add in the pears and bring back to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook the pears for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender enough to pierce easily.
3. Transfer the pears to another bowl using a slotted spoon and bring the reserved liquid back up to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced to approximately 1 1/4 cup. Pour over the pears and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Apple Cheddar Pie

Melissa Clark came to the Texas Book Festival recently to to demo a recipe from her new book, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I love Melissa’s writing and was thrilled to catch her session. I’m happy to report that she is as engaging and entertaining in person as she is in her column.

I waited until the festival to get the book so that I could have her sign my copy, which she obligingly did. I then further waited to crack the book because I wanted to save it for our trip to Portland. I rarely find uninterrupted reading time and have an ever-growing stack of books, cook books, and magazines to be read (not to mention my Google Reader and the number of blog posts I need to catch up on). I knew I’d want to read this book cover-to-cover and, for a bookworm like me, a couple of long plane rides presented the perfect opportunity.
As a fellow lover of pie and tarts (((and parentheses!!!))), my favorite chapter of the book was entitled, “There’s Always Room for Pie (and Tarts).” When I read over Melissa’s recipe for the perfect pie crust, mental wheels started turning and I knew I’d be making a pie of some variety shortly after I returned home.

The very first dish I ate in Portland, a green apple and cheddar soup at Park Kitchen that was to die for, providied inspiration for the type of pie to bake. Apple cheddar pie sounded divine!

And it was. Too divine, in fact. It was barely out of the oven before I had cut a slice. The first slice was so good, I cut another. Then Eric came home and he had a slice. He confirmed that it was indeed as divine as I thought.

I think you get my drift… this pie didn’t stick around very long but it sure was good while it lasted!

Apple Cheddar Pie

In homage to Oregon and its amazing bounty and flavors, I used Granny Smith apples and Tillamook cheddar cheese. I was a little worried about the tartness of the Granny Smith apples so when I hit upon a recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s website that called for tempering their tartness by mixing in a smaller amount of another apple variety, I was set. I already had some nice, sweet Texas-grown Cameo apples on hand that worked perfectly. And I have to agree with Melissa, this pie crust is light, flaky and buttery perfection.

Perfect Pie Crust
adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Yield: Two 9-inch single pie crusts

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1.5 t salt 1 1/2 c cheddar cheese, grated
16 T unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter like Plugra, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces 4 to 10 T ice water

1. In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt a few times to combine. Add the grated cheddar and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add chilled, cubed butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse after each addition. Only add enough water until the mixture is just moist enough to hold together.
2. Divide the dough into two equal halves and form the halves into balls, wrap with plastic, and flatten into disks. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.
adapted from

2 1/4 lb. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 1/4 lb. Cameo apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
3/4 c turbinado (raw cane) sugar
1 T fresh lemon juice
3/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t salt 1 T unsalted butter
3 T cornstarch
2 T heavy cream (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Remove one of the dough disks from the refrigerator and let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick. Brush off excess flour. Roll the dough over the pin and carefully transfer to a buttered pie dish. Line the pie dish with dough by lifting and gently pressing into the dish. Trim the edges, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Use a slotted spoon to remove the apples from the bowl and reserve the juices. Pour the juices into a small saucepan and add the butter. Cook over medium-high heat, until reduced to 1/3 cup, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. Sprinkle cornstarch over the apples and toss to combine, then stir in the reduced juices. Transfer the apples to the pie shell.
5. Remove the last dough disk from the refrigerator and let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick. Drape the dough over the apples and press gently to eliminate any air pockets. Trim the dough flush with the rim of the dish. Fold the bottom crust over the top crust and crimp to form a decorative edge. Cut 4 slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. If desired, brush the top of the crust with the cream.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crusty White Bread from Chad Robertson, author of Tartine Bread

I received a review copy of Tartine Bread, another fantastic cookbook from the husband and wife team, Elisabeth Pruitt and Chad Robertson, behind Tartine Bakery. I love Tartine, their first cookbook, which is a compilation of Elizabeth’s pastry recipes from the bakery in San Francisco. You might have gathered that already judging by the number of times I’ve baked from Tartine and posted on the recipes. I feel certain I’ll be doing the same with Chad’s Tartine Bread book.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover and have devoured the gorgeous photos and charming stories of lay people enlisted as testers when developing the recipes for the book. I’m now ready to bake away! There’s just one small wrinkle…. the starter I’ve begun according to the book’s recipe isn’t ready yet.

Unfortunately, I have a long, troubled history with starters.

The first starter I ever tried to develop was from some random internet recipe that I plucked on a lark. After a week, I gave up and threw the nasty mess out. Later, I decided to try again so I studied Nancy Silverton’s starter recipe closely and watched over my starter like a hawk. I was so obsessed that I began to resent that starter because it consumed so much time and energy. Honestly, some days it’s hard enough to make sure I feed myself - to have to worry about feeding that damn starter three times a day at set times began to wear on me.

But my efforts paid off and the starter developed. I began baking with it but still hadn’t achieved what I considered a satisfactory loaf when calamity struck. During feeding one day, I somehow mistook my mother starter for the overflow starter that is poured off and discarded. I wound up pouring my mother starter down the sink drain. Just about the time that I turned off the faucet, I realized what I had done. By then, all was lost. At that point, I was fed up and just done. I decided that the fool-proof, no-knead bread recipe that uses commercial dry yeast was good enough for me and that maybe I just wasn’t fated to be an advanced bread baker.

I seemed fine with this decision for quite a while but then I started to get a twinge every now and then when biting into a delicious piece of artisan bread with the unmistakable taste of richly developed wild yeast. That flavor is just irreplaceable. When I heard that Tartine Bread was coming out, I knew I had to give it another try.

So here I go again…

Hopefully the curse has broken. Cross your fingers for me!

Crusty White Bread
adapted from Chad Robertson's short cut recipe printed in the November 2010 issue of Food & Wine 

Given the detailed, very prescribed starter recipes that I’ve seen, I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of Chad’s instructions on making starter and thrilled to see that it only requires feeding once a day. So far, it’s been a breeze and my starter is developing exactly according to his description in the recipe. While waiting for it to develop, I’m making loaves from Chad’s short cut recipe published in the November issue of Food & Wine that uses a pre-ferment with packaged yeast. My first attempt at the short cut bread turned out really well and now I’m so excited for my starter to finish developing. This short cut bread is a nice preview of just how good the starter developed bread will be.


250 g (1 c + 2 T) warm water
1/4 t dry granulated yeast
300 g (2 1/2 c) bread flour or all-purpose flour

Bread Dough

1.25 kg (5 1/2 c) warm water
1.8 kg (13 3/4 c) bread flour or all-purpose flour
200 g (1 1/2 c) whole wheat flour
5 T kosher salt dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water
White rice flour or all-purpose flour, for dusting

*A heavy gauge cast iron pot, casserole, or lidded skillet for is needed for baking the bread.

In a medium bowl, mix the water with the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in the flour. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature for 10 to 14 hours.


1. In a bowl, combine the warm water with the pre-ferment. Use your hands to break up the pre-ferment until dissolved. In a very large bowl, whisk the bread/all-purpose flour (I always use bread flour) with the whole wheat flour. Using your hands, mix the dissolved pre-ferment into the flours. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes.
2. Uncover the dough and add the salt water. Gently fold the dough over onto itself until the salt water is thoroughly incorporated. 
Loosely cover the dough and let rest for 1 hour; every 20 minutes, gently fold the dough up and over onto itself 4 times. 
Cover the dough and let stand for 3 to 4 hours.
***Note: this recipe makes a large quantity of dough. Because the cast iron pot I use to bake bread is on the small side at approximately 2.5 quarts, I divided the dough into two halves and portioned one half into two rounds for bread. I divided the other half of the dough into 4 small rounds to be frozen for pizza dough. Divide the dough according to the size of your baking vessel.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide. Using a bench scraper and floured hands, gently shape the dough into rounds, folding the dough under itself as necessary. Let the loaves stand on the work surface for 20 minutes and then gently fold the sides under again.
4. Line large bowls with kitchen towels and generously dust the towels with rice flour. Transfer the loaves to the bowls, rounded sides down. Cover the loaves with clean towels and let rise for 4 to 5 hours. Alternatively, let the dough rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate the loaves overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 490°. Heat a cast-iron casserole, lidded skillet, or pot for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and dust the bottom with rice flour. Turn the loaves into the heated casserole/skillet/pot, rounded side up, and score the tops with a sharp, thin knife (I forgot the step and the bread was just fine). Cover and bake the bread for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 470° and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake the loaves for 25 minutes or until the bread is richly browned. Transfer the bread to a rack; let cool completely before slicing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whoopee! Pumpkin and Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Icing

I haven’t been able to get whoopie pies off the brain since I had my first one recently. In fact, I feel like I’ve been deprived to have never tried such a delicacy until now. Just think of all the whoopie pies that I missed out on over the years. I’d better get crackin’!

Apparently whoopie pies are a Yankee thing and of Amish origin, to boot, so I guess it’s no surprise that I had never heard of them until adulthood. We Southerners don’t much truck with Yankee desserts as it’s a well known truth (at least to us) that we have a far superior tradition of foods involving fat and/or sugar (preferably both). While I do typically subscribe to this notion, I have to admit we’ve been bested by the whoopie pie.

Whoopie pies have the excellent mouth feel of a slice of cake with a good crumb but without all the icing-to-cake ratio issues that go along with a layer or sheet cake. The whoopie pie icing-to-cake ratio is just the right amount- not too much so that your taste buds are overloaded on sugar and not so little that you feel gypped and still need an icing fix.
Yes, they are just about perfect. Can you imagine? The people that invented NASCAR have been beat out by a small religious sect that still relies on a horse and buggy as a means of conveyance.

When I first encountered the whoopie pie, I wondered at the odd name. In fact, the name alone was a turn off for me because it conjured up visions of moon pies. If ever any Northerner needs ammunition to use in disputing the statement above re: our superiority in food matters, the moon pie is the end all, be all, epitome of a Southern dessert gone wrong. (And don’t even try to argue that a banana, or vanilla, or chocolate moon pie tastes o.k. because it doesn’t. They are disgusting, no matter the flavor, and we all know it but we’re too damn dead set in tradition to give them up so we just have to suffer through them come Mardi Gras time.)

So it turns out, there’s a reason for the funny name. According to internet-reported folklore, Amish children would yell “whoopee” upon seeing the treat in their lunch pails. Now it makes absolute sense to me- I may even take up the rally cry. And I assure you, you’ll be hard pressed to not do the same when you bite into a scrumptious whoopee pie!
Pumpkin and Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Icing

That first whoopie pie I tried was so good, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to attempt making them at home. Luckily, our neighborhood Fall Fest presented the perfect occasion. Fall Fest coincided with Halloween weekend so I decided to make the pumpkin and chocolate whoopie pies from Baked and Baked Explorations.

The whoopie pies were a hit with the parents but less so with the kiddos. Another neighbor had picked up store bought cookies with glittery sprinkles so, of course, the young ones were all over them. I figured the chocolate whoopie pies would be the first to go and I’d be left with pumpkin whoopie pie leftovers. Whoopee! Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. It seems pumpkin pairs better with beer according to my unofficial taste test. Based on the fact that I saw many a neighbor with a pumpkin whoopie pie in one hand and a brew in the other, I think all agreed. Of course, if your tastes run more towards the traditional, I'm sure a tall glass of milk is a fine accompaniment.

A couple of notes about the chocolate whoopee pies- the recipe as written in the book called for ½ cup of coffee in the ingredient list and then in the instructions mentioned ½ cup hot water as well. I wasn’t sure if this was a mis-print so I decided to split the difference and added ¾ cup of coffee. The dough consistency was fine and the cookies were scrumptious so I’m sticking with this method. Also, the pumpkin whoopie pie recipe called for chilling the puree for easier scooping and a higher, dome-like rise so I decided to chill the chocolate cookie batter for the same reasons. 
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
3 c all-purpose flour
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 T ground cinnamon
1 T ground ginger
1 T ground cloves
2 c firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 c vegetable oil
3 c pumpkin puree, chilled
2 large eggs
1 t pure vanilla extract
adapted from Baked Explorations 
3 ½ c all-purpose flour
¼ t salt
1 ¼ t baking powder
1 ¼ t baking soda
¾ c dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t instant espresso powder
¾ c hot coffee
2 c firmly packed light-brown sugar
¾ c vegetable oil
1 large egg
½ c buttermilk, shaken
1 t pure vanilla extract

CREAM-CHEESE FILLING *I found 1x the recipe to be plenty to ice both batches
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
3 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 t pure vanilla extract

For the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon mat and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves and set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add chilled pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. 
3. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
4. Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 10 - 12 minutes. Allow to cool on pan.

For the Chocolate Whoopie Pies:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon mat and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and espresso powder. Add the hot coffee and whisk until the cocoa and espresso powders are dissolved.
3. In a medium bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil together. Add this to the cocoa mixture and whisk until combined. Add egg, vanilla and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using a spatula.
5. Allow the dough to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
6. When thoroughly chilled, use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, approximately 10 - 15 minutes. Allow to cool on pan.

For the filling:
1. Sift confectioner' sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth.
3. Add cream cheese and continue to beat until well combined.
4. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Assemble the whoopie pies:
1. When cookies have cooled completely, spread filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies.
2. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.