Friday, January 18, 2019

Bucatini with Cauliflower, Broccoli, Pancetta, Pine Nuts & Currants


While seeking out recipes for an upcoming class, a pasta with what to me was an unusual combination of broccoli, cauliflower, pancetta, pine nuts and raisins (!) caught my eye.  I am always on the lookout for pastas that incorporate seasonal vegetables—particularly those that include combinations of vegetables.  Having pastas like this in my repertoire helps me to use up the inevitable mish mosh of odds and ends of different vegetables that can accumulate in a household of one or two.


But I have quite a few pastas in my “go to” recipe file that include broccoli and cauliflower.  I was mostly intrigued by this recipe because of the inclusion of raisins—something that I often put in a salad...or grain pilaf…with cauliflower or broccoli, but not something I think I have ever put in a pasta with them. 

As it turns out, the combination of raisins (or currants) and pine nuts is a hallmark of classic Sicilian cooking.  Particularly when paired with something salty (like pancetta, anchovies, capers, etc.) they make for an interesting interplay of sweetness in all kinds of savory dishes.  (Other flavor elements that frequently appear—and add to the complexity of flavor—with these two include fennel, orange zest, hot pepper flakes, garlic, rosemary, parsley and saffron.)


Of course, it makes sense that slightly bitter vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower would be enhanced by this combination of pine nuts and raisins.  But as I discovered, they should be incorporated with a light hand—truly as an accent and not a main ingredient.  That first recipe that caught my eye was completely out of balance.  I suspected this was the case as I looked at the list of ingredients, but forged ahead anyway because I trusted the chef who wrote the book.  All I can say is that the half cup of raisins called for (in a recipe for 3/4 of a pound of pasta) was overwhelming.  I added more pancetta than the recipe called for…and it still wasn’t enough to balance the sweetness of the raisins.

But I liked the idea so much that I persisted.  I found a much more balanced recipe for this combination of ingredients in Janet Fletcher’s Four Seasons Pasta (a book worth owning if you love pasta) and used it to correct the recipe that originally caught my eye.  The final recipe is filled with lively flavors and is very satisfying…and a nice change from some of my old broccoli and cauliflower pasta standbys.   

Bucatini with Cauliflower, Broccoli, Pancetta, Pine Nuts & Currants
 
3/4 lb. large cauliflower florets (see notes)
1/2 lb. large broccoli florets (see notes)
3 T. currants
2 to 2 1/2 oz. pancetta, minced
2 to 3 T. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced  (1 t.)
1 t. minced rosemary
1/4 t. hot pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 lb. bucatini (or gemelli…or orecchiette)
2 T. unsalted butter (optional)
3 T. toasted pine nuts
2 to 3 T. minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 to 2/3 c. toasted coarse breadcrumbs (see notes)

Ingredients for pasta for one (1/5 of the recipe)

Bring a large (6 to 8 qt) pot of water to the boil.  Salt well.  Add the cauliflower and cook until just tender to the tip of a knife (you want it to be soft, but not mushy)—about 5 minutes.  Lift out and spread on a towel.  While the cauliflower cooks, cut any thick stems away from the florets of the broccoli.  Drop these stems in the same water that you used to cook the cauliflower.  After three minutes add the florets.  Continue to cook until the broccoli is just tender (same texture as the cauliflower).  Lift the broccoli out of the pan and add it to the towel with the cauliflower.  When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop.  You should have a rough mixture of small and medium pieces of cauliflower and broccoli. 

While the vegetables cook, make the sauce.  Place the currants in small ramekin or custard cup and add enough boiling water so that the currants are just covered with water.  (You can just ladle in some of the vegetable cooking water if you like.)  Set aside.

Place 2 T. of olive oil and the pancetta in a large sauté pan set over medium low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is rendered, beginning to crisp and is turning golden brown.  


Add the garlic, rosemary and hot pepper flakes and cook briefly until fragrant.  Remove from the heat and add the currants along with their soaking liquid.  Stir and scrape to release any caramelized bits of pancetta from the bottom of the pan.  Set aside in a warm spot while you cook the pasta.

Cook the past in the same water that you used to cook the vegetables.  About 3 or 4 minutes before the pasta is done cooking, return the pan with the pancetta and seasonings to moderate heat and bring to a simmer.  Add the cauliflower and broccoli and toss/stir to coat the vegetables with the flavorings.  If the pan seems dry, add a small ladle of pasta cooking water to the pan…you definitely don’t want the vegetables to be soupy or soggy, but neither do you want the pan to be so dry that the pancetta/garlic mix is burning or without the fluid means to coat the vegetables.  When the vegetables are hot through, reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the “sauce” warm while the pasta finishes cooking.


When the pasta is al dente, drain well, reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce.  If the sauté pan is not large enough to hold the sauce and pasta, return the pasta to the pot it was cooked in and scrape in the sauce.  (Add a splash of pasta water to the sauté pan and swirl it around to get all of the sauce and add it to the pot).  Add the butter (if using), the pine nuts and parsley and toss/stir until the butter is melted and the noodles are coated with a light fluid sauce and all the flavorful bits.  If the pasta seems dry or tight, add some of the pasta water (again, just enough to help the flavorings coat everything in a light fluid sauce—the liquid shouldn’t be pooling in the pan).   If you like, add a good drizzle of olive oil.  Toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide the pasta among 4 to 6 plates and scatter the toasted breadcrumbs generously over each serving.   Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Notes:

  • This dish can be made with all cauliflower or all broccoli…or some of each in proportions that please you. You will need 1 1/4 lb. combined weight of the two. I prefer a slightly larger quantity of cauliflower (which is why I have called for 3/4 lb of cauliflower and only 1/2 lb. of broccoli).
  • Leave the cauliflower in very large florets (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across) so they will cook uniformly without becoming mushy. 
  • The recipe directs you to cut the broccoli stems away from the florets because the florets will cook very quickly and the stems will take longer. Adding the florets for just a minute or two—after the stems have been cooking for a few moments—will prevent them from becoming soggy.
  • To make toasted breadcrumbs, cut the crusts off of some day old/slightly stale bread (choose a substantial loaf of some kind—like French farmhouse…or a good baguette) and process in the food processor to form coarse crumbs. Spread the crumbs in a small baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place in a 375° to 400° oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown—about 5 to 10 minutes. Toasted breadcrumbs may be frozen. To use, just scoop out what you need and set in a warm place to thaw (or re-toast briefly in a hot oven).
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

Even though I have ancestral roots in the south, I did not grow up eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I was an adult before I heard that, according to Southern tradition, a meal of Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice), greens, ham/smoked pork and cornbread on New Year’s Day was supposed to bring good luck during the year to come.  Even after I heard about it…and even though I love Southern peas (and had cooked Hoppin’ John during my restaurant days)…I never made a move to prepare this traditional meal on the first day of the year. I guess I’m just not very superstitious. But I do like good food.  So this year, when I discovered that I just happened to have all of the components of this traditional meal on hand, I decided to participate in the tradition (I can always appreciate a tasty food tradition).    


Black-eyed peas are basically the same pea as my beloved pink-eyed, purple hull pea that I get every summer at the farmer’s market.  Since I freeze some of these every year, I have never had any reason to purchase dried black-eyed peas.  But when I was at the last farmers’ market before Christmas, I saw that one of the growers had brought dried black-eyed peas (in anticipation of New Year’s demand, no doubt), so I grabbed a bag.  I knew they would be better than anything I could get at the store.  And I’m sure it crossed my mind that maybe…just maybe…this would be the year I would eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

As I was planning my meal for the first day of the year, it occurred to me that I had everything on hand to make a pretty fine meal out of my spontaneous purchase. I always keep rice in my pantry (so I could have made a basic dish of Hoppin’ John).  But at the same market when I purchased the peas I had also picked up a lovely bunch of Tuscan kale (which, when fresh, stores for an amazingly long time, covered with a towel and sealed inside a Tupperware container).  I had also purchased Kielbasa from a local grower at this same market earlier in the month.  If I had had nothing else but onions and garlic in my kitchen, I would have had the makings of a fine meal.

But as I thought about what kind of dish I wanted to make with these items I thought a little tomato (not too much) would be nice.  I could of course have opened a can and used part of it, but last fall I decided to experiment with freezing whole/unprocessed tomatoes from the market (I just didn’t have the time to make them into sauce).  I had read that all you needed to do in preparation for the freezer was core them and put them in freezer bags or air-tight containers.  Then, when you wanted to use them, just take out the number that you need and thaw them…



the skins would slip off and the flesh, while having a distinctively unpromising look, would be usable just like fresh tomato pulp for cooking. 



I’m happy to report that this process worked beautifully!  The flesh didn’t even look as unappetizing as I had assumed it would.  The thawing tomatoes did however produce a ton of liquid, so thawing on a plate is a must.  Also, when you chop them up, make sure you scrape up and use all the liquid.  I will be freezing tomatoes like this every fall from now on.  (If you didn’t happen to freeze any tomatoes last fall, but you do have a local winter farmer’s market, one of the growers may have frozen tomatoes for sale.  I know there is a grower who does this at my market.)

My final dish was delicious…simple and satisfying (after a season of complex tastes)…and oh-so warming on what turned out to be a bone-chilling first day of the year.  I have no illusions that consuming it will bring me luck.  But having a dish like this in my repertoire for the coldest and darkest days of the year will bring sustenance and comfort…making me more able to be about the business of living (with all of its ups and downs). 

Happy New Year.

  
Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

For local (Kansas City) followers, you can find the list of where I purchased my ingredients on my Brookside Farmers' Market page.

1 1/3 c. (1/2 lb.) black-eyed peas, soaked over-night
4 T. olive oil, divided (plus more as needed)
2 or 3 well-branched sprig of thyme
8 oz. Kielbasa (or other garlic sausage), sliced cross-wise 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick—see notes if your sausage is not pre-cooked
1 large onion, finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/8 t. cayenne (or 1/4 t. chipotle chili powder)—add more or less to taste
1 c. chopped peeled tomatoes (use canned or 8 oz. fresh—see text for instructions)
1 bunch Tuscan kale, leaves stripped (discard the stems—you should have 3 1/2 to 4 oz. trimmed greens) and cut cross-wise into 1 1/2-inch wide ribbons and thoroughly rinsed
1 c. chicken stock/broth or water
3/4 c. Basmati (or other long grain rice), cooked as you prefer (see notes)
Minced green onions (white and green portions), for garnish
Hot sauce, optional
Cornbread, optional

Drain and rinse the peas. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface. Add 2 T. of olive oil and the thyme. Cook the peas at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are tender. Or, place the soaked, drained peas in a shallow gratin or baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and add the thyme. Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil. Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender. Depending on your source and the freshness of the peas, they will take anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours to cook. Add salt to taste when they are half cooked.  They may be cooked ahead.  Because of the unpredictability of the cooking time, it might be best to cook them in the morning (or the day before).  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven set over moderate heat.  Brown the sliced sausages.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate and set aside.  Add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until they are tender and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the cayenne and cook for another minute or two.  Add the tomatoes and cook until reduced and thick.  Add the greens along with a good pinch of salt and cook until they begin to collapse.  Add the chicken stock, cover the pot and simmer until the greens are tender (about 20 to 30 minutes). Taste and salt as necessary.

Remove the sprigs of thyme and add the peas, along with their liquid, to the greens.  Add the sausage (scraping the plate well to get all the fat and juices).  I think this dish is all about the beans, greens and sausages, but if you want it to be more brothy (or if the beans, greens and sausages aren’t moving freely in the pot), add hot water (or stock) to obtain the ratio of liquids to solids that you prefer.  Simmer gently for a few moments to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Serve by placing a large spoonful of rice at the edge of each bowl, followed by some of the beans and greens.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and scatter the scallions over all.  Serve, passing warm cornbread and hot sauce if you like.  Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetites.

Notes:  
  • The Kielbasa I used when I made this was from a local grower.  Unlike most commercially available Kielbasa, it was fresh (not smoked or pre-cooked).  Since most people using this recipe will have access to the commercial, pre-cooked varieties, I have written the recipe for that style of sausage.  If, however, you have a fresh sausage, this is how you should proceed:  Place the sausages in a shallow pan and cover with cold water.  Bring the water, slowly (over a moderate flame), to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer gently until the sausages feel firm and springy to the touch—about 6 to 8 minutes.  Let the sausages cool in the cooking liquid.  Lift out and chill until ready to use.  Don’t throw the poaching liquid out!—use this to cook the black-eyed peas (supplementing as necessary with plain water so the peas are covered by an inch or two of liquid).  When you are ready to continue with the recipe, brown the whole sausage links in the pot in which the onions and greens will be cooked.  Lift them out and let cool before slicing into 1/4-inch thick rounds. 
  • You may cook or steam the rice however you prefer.  My preferred method is as follows:  Place the rice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan (for 3/4 cup a 2- to 3-quart size is fine).  Add a cup and a half of water along with a good pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil or pat of butter (about 2 t.).  Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Allow the rice to boil (undisturbed) rapidly until most of the water has evaporated (if you tilt the pan, you shouldn't see any water) and the surface of the rice is covered with steam holes.  Cover the pan.  If you have an electric stove, transfer the pan to a burner set at the lowest setting.  If you have a gas stove, simply reduce the heat to the lowest setting.  Allow the rice to steam for 12 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit (covered) for another 5 minutes.  Uncover and fluff. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Baked Risotto…with Mushrooms & Spinach


Almost every holiday season I teach a class that includes several recipes for meals that are relatively quick and simple.  The goal is to give cooks a few tools to prepare fresh hot meals for their families in the midst of a season when there isn’t a lot of time to cook.  Not surprisingly, it is a popular class.  I have heard back from several people who have made some of the recipes part of their regular repertoire.  Two of the recipes (Butternut Squash & Black Bean Burritos and Broccoli Cheese Soup)  have already appeared on my blog.  Today—even though the holidays are mostly over—I wanted to share another: Baked Risotto with Mushrooms & Spinach.
 

You may notice that I used the phrase “relatively quick” when I described the recipes in this class.  I always start this particular class with my definition of a “quick” meal.  Not everyone’s definition is the same.  To me, if I can sit down to the table an hour after I walk into the kitchen, that’s quick.  I know that to some people less than 30 minutes is the bar…and there is a place for this kind of speed…but to me this falls more into the realm of warming up leftovers…or throwing together a sandwich or minimal salad.  It isn’t typically the kind of thing I would teach in a class.
 
This baked risotto fits easily into my one hour window.  And you can shorten your time to 45 minutes if you have good knife skills.  Begin by preheating your oven, heating the stock, dicing the onion and mincing the garlic.  As soon as they are cut, start cooking the onion and garlic.  While the onion cooks, slice and sauté the mushrooms.  At this point (after about 15 minutes of work) you will add the rice to the onions


..and then the wine.  When the wine has reduced, add the mushrooms 


and an amount of hot stock equal to twice the volume of your rice.  Salt, stir, cover and transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. 

During this ten minute window prepare the spinach and grate the Parmesan.  If you are using boxed, triple-washed spinach, just remove any large stems and chop very roughly.  If it is truly baby spinach, you probably won’t need to chop it.  If you have unwashed spinach (from the farmer’s market, for example), this will add to your prep time.  In this case, the first thing I do (before I start the onion) is to start washing the spinach.  I trim/strip away any large stems and rinse it in as many changes of water as is necessary to get rid of the grit (check out my post on washing greens if you are unsure of how to do this).  I weave in multiple changes of water and spinning the leaves dry while I’m cooking the onions and mushrooms and grating the cheese.


After ten minutes of cooking, take the risotto out of the oven.  Give it a good stir.  It will have absorbed most of the stock.  If it seems very tight, add enough of the hot stock to loosen it up, remembering that the spinach will release liquid while it cooks.  Add the spinach and stir in.  Taste…season if necessary.  Cover and return to the oven.  At this point you will have ten to fifteen minutes (while the risotto finishes cooking and rests) to set the table…pour wine…start the dishes…or even cook a piece of fish or a chicken cutlet if you want to serve the risotto as a side. 


Check the risotto after eight minutes.  It should be al dente.  If it is still a bit crunchy, return it to the oven for another couple of minutes.  When the risotto is done cooking you will have the opportunity to correct the creaminess and consistency by stirring, and by adding stock, 


butter and Parmesan—just as you would with regular stove top risotto.  Aim for a thick—yet fluid—consistency.  Cover and let the risotto rest for three to five minutes.  Correct the consistency again and serve. 

This method can be easily adapted to other additions.  As with this recipe, you can introduce the additions at any point (beginning—like the mushrooms…middle—like the spinach…or end—herbs, other cooked elements, etc.).  The addition of the liquids will be exactly the same as in this recipe.  Simply start with liquid (stock) equal to twice the volume of rice, adding a bit more half way through and again at the finish.  (You will probably end up using almost three times the volume of liquid as rice.)

The finished risotto will not have quite the creaminess or finesse of a risotto you have tended and cooked in the usual way…but it will be very good.  Better, I would contend, than most of those convenience foods that you would be able to get to the table in less than 30 minutes….

 
  
Baked Risotto with Mushrooms & Spinach

3 T. unsalted butter
1 small to medium onion (about 6 oz.), finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
4 to 4 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock, hot
1 T. olive oil, plus more as needed
12 oz. mushrooms (white, crimini, oyster, shiitake, etc.), trimmed as necessary and sliced
5  to 6 oz. cleaned (large or stringy stems pinched off or stripped away) baby spinach, washed, dried and roughly chopped if necessary
2/3 c. finely grated Parmesan (2 oz.)
3 T. unsalted butter


Heat the butter in a 3 1/2-quart (or slightly larger) straight-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven.  Add the onion and garlic and sweat until soft, but not brown—10 minutes or so. 

While the onion cooks, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot add the mushrooms and sauté until golden and softened and any liquid they release has been reabsorbed.  If the mushrooms seem dry, add a bit of butter or more olive oil.  (If you don’t have a non-stick sauté pan, use a regular sauté pan and deglaze the pan with a splash of water, wine or stock.  Reduce to a glaze.)  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

When the onions are nice and soft, add the rice and continue to cook for a minute or two.  Add the wine and cook until the pan is nearly dry.  Add the mushrooms and 3 cups of the hot stock.  Bring to a boil, taste for salt, cover and transfer to a 400° oven.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and stir well.  Taste and add salt if necessary. If it seems dry, add a splash of the remaining hot stock.  Add the spinach and stir it in.  The pan will seem crowded, but this is OK…the spinach will collapse quickly as it cooks—and it will release more liquid to help moisten the rice.  Cover the pan and return the pan to the oven. 

Continue to bake the risotto until it is tender.  Check after 8 minutes.  It should be al dente…but not crunchy.  If it seems crunchy, return it to the oven for another couple of minutes.  When done remove from the oven and stir.  Add and stir in as much of the remaining broth as you need to obtain a creamy, soft consistency.  Add the remaining butter and the cheese and stir well...again, adding more stock if necessary.  Cover the pan and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Serve immediately.  Serves 4 generously.  Serves 6 generously as a side dish.

Variation:  This dish is a great way to use leftover roast turkey or chicken.  Add 4 to 6 oz. (about 1 1/2 c.) shredded roast turkey or chicken after the rice comes out of the oven (warm the meat briefly in a bit of stock before adding).


Monday, December 17, 2018

Florentines

Almost twenty years ago, when I was first starting my private chef business, a couple of local cookbook authors approached me about cooking a dinner at the Culinary Center of Kansas City for the Les Dames d’Escoffier holiday gathering.   The theme for the menu was an Italian Farmhouse dinner.  It was a large and festive affair, and I still remember several of their menu items…a savory mushroom lasagne…an Italian apple tart…and a lovely, crisp cookie (for the post dinner cookie platter) called a Chocolate Florentine. 




The Florentine was unlike most of the Christmas cookies of my youth:  Not too sweet…refined and petite… with an addictive tender crunch.  I loved them.  I’m not sure I have ever made any of the other recipes from that dinner again, but I make the Florentine cookies almost every year…and I teach them in one of my holiday cookie classes.  They are that good.

For years I thought these were an Italian cookie.  The name sounds Italian…and I encountered them through that Italian-themed dinner.  But they are actually Scandinavian in origin—sometimes called Swedish Oat Crisps…or Oatmeal Lace Cookies.  There is an Italian Florentine cookie that is quite similar, but it calls for almonds instead of oatmeal, sometimes includes minced candied peel…and is made with a cooked base.

The Florentines that I make do not involve any cooked syrups…and could not be easier to make.  All you have to do is combine the dry ingredients, melt some butter and mix it with the liquid ingredients…and then mix everything together and chill until firm.  (You don’t even need an electric mixer.)



Some might consider the baking process a bit tedious, but once you establish a rhythm, the whole process goes rather quickly.  To begin, choose a baking sheet without a rim.  This will allow you to slide the foil sheets of cookies on and off the baking sheet smoothly and quickly.  Cut a stack of foil to fit the length of your cookie sheet.  (I have never made these cookies on parchment paper, so I don’t know how that would work…but you could certainly try it that way if you like.)  Spray the first sheet with non-stick pan spray and arrange level teaspoon portions of dough on the sheet.  Using fingers dipped in water, pat the balls of dough into 2-inch rounds.  Transfer to the oven and bake.  While one sheet bakes, begin forming cookies on the next sprayed sheet of foil.  When the cookie is done baking, slide the sheet off onto the counter or a wire rack and then slide the sheet under the next sheet of formed cookies.  Repeat this process until all of the cookies are baked.


If you have a one teaspoon sized cookie scoop, the process will go very quickly.  But if you don’t (and I didn’t for years), just use a measuring teaspoon.  Scoop the dough, using the edge of the container (or your thumb) to level the dough off.  Then, use your thumb or index finger to push the dough out of the scoop and onto the sheet.  Since you will be flattening the cookie anyway, it won’t matter if your scoop isn’t perfectly round…you can make it round when you flatten it out.  The process of using a teaspoon instead of a scoop is a bit messier, but if you keep a bowl of water handy (to dampen your fingers) and a towel to occasionally wipe them off, you will soon find a rhythm and be working very quickly.

When the cookies are cool, peel the foil away.  I find it easiest to do this by holding the sheet in one hand and using the fingers of the hand holding the foil sheet to simultaneously pull the foil down and back while supporting and lightly pressing on the underside of each cookie…all while holding the cookie itself steady with the other hand.   This is much more difficult to describe than it is to actually do.  Once again, you will find a rhythm and will do it quickly without thinking.  If you try to chisel the cookies off the foil with your fingers or a spatula, they may shatter or break…they are fragile. 

To form the sandwiches, arrange half of the cookies with the bottoms (the smooth side that was attached to the foil) turned face up on your work surface (or parchment lined baking sheets).  Using a small parchment piping bag, drizzle a small amount of chocolate over each cookie (or smear on a small amount with a palate knife…or small offset spatula…or the back of a spoon...).   



Use a light hand with the chocolate.  If you use a lot, it will ooze through the lacy holes of the cookies.  A thick layer of chocolate will also make the cookies hard.  These cookies are all about the tender crunch…and the caramel flavor of the baked sugar and butter.  The chocolate is an accent flavor—not the main event.  Place the remaining cookies with the bottom side down on top of the chocolate drizzled cookies, picking up each one as you do and gently rotating the two cookies in opposite directions to smear/spread the chocolate into an even, thin layer. 



I love the way this cookie straddles the world of cookie and candy.  Because of its size, it is a nice little sweet to offer at the end of a large meal—with coffee and tea..or a fortified or dessert wine—when larger, richer cookies (or a big dessert) would just be too much.  It also makes a great afternoon treat (with coffee or tea).  And of course, it is a beautiful addition to any cookie platter that you might be making.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.



Florentines

2 c. quick cooking oats (200g)
1 c. sugar (200g)
2/3 c. all-purpose flour (76g)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. corn syrup (83g)
1/4 c. milk (60g)
zest of 1 orange
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. (10 T. plus 2 t./ 151g) melted butter
4 to 5 oz. milk or bittersweet chocolate, melted



Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine.  Add the next five ingredients and stir until homogenous. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.



Cut 6 sheets of foil to fit your cookie sheet (see note).  Lightly spray a sheet of foil with pan spray.  Place level teaspoon-sized scoops of dough on the prepared sheet, spacing the mounds of dough 2 inches apart (you should be able to place 20 scoops on a sheet).  Dip your fingers in some water and pat the dough out into flat rounds that are about 2-inches in diameter.  Bake in a preheated 375° oven until the cookies are golden brown—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Rotate the cookie sheet at the half way point.  Remove the sheet from the oven and slide the sheet of foil off of the hot cookie sheet onto a rack or the counter.  Let the cookies cool completely. 

Repeat with the remaining dough with more sheets of prepared foil. 

Peel the foil away from the cookies.  Spread or drizzle a small amount of the chocolate on the flat side of half of the cookies.  Top each with the remaining cookies, twisting the two halves in opposite directions to help spread out the chocolate.  Let the chocolate solidify.  Store the cookies in an airtight tin or Tupperware-type container (being careful not to crush the cookies…they are fragile!)  Makes 60 sandwich cookies

 (Recipe adapted from A Kansas City Christmas: Traditions & Recipes from the Heartland, by Karen C. Adler & Jane D. Guthrie)

Notes: 
  • Use a rimless cookie sheet so that you can slide the foil off without having to pull it over the rim.  If you don’t have a rimless cookie sheet, simply turn a rimmed cookie sheet upside down (which will give you a rimless surface.)
  • It is not necessary to temper the chocolate for these because you will not see the chocolate once it’s sandwiched between two cookies.  However, tempered chocolate has a much nicer texture.  To obtain a quick temper, melt half of the chocolate (over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave at 50% power).  While the chocolate is melting, chop the remaining half very finely.  Stir the unmelted, finely chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate, continuing to stir until the chocolate is smooth and all of it is fully melted.  Use immediately.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Cranberry & Cheese Filled Yeasted Coffee Braid



In my previous post I mentioned that I had taught a class aimed at helping the holiday host prepare a bountiful table for overnight/out-of-town guests.  The idea for this class came to mind when I was thinking about one of my own favorite holiday memories. 

For the first decade of my life I lived in the same city as both of my sets of grandparents.  This made seeing everyone for the holidays easy.  I have wonderful memories of that time.  The holidays basically meant getting to spend time with my grandparents…but still being able to sleep in my own bed (an ideal situation for a kid as far as I’m concerned).

Around the time I turned ten my dad was transferred to Minneapolis—which was about 8 hours (by car) away from all of my grandparents.  I don’t think we even considered not making the trip back that first Thanksgiving.  On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving we got in the car sometime in the early afternoon and headed “home.”  About the time we crossed the Minnesota-Iowa border, we ran into some bad weather.  A rain-snow mix that hit at just the right temperature turned the interstate into a sheet of ice.  The roads were of course filled with holiday travelers, and traffic from the border to Des Moines began to move at a crawl…sometimes stopping altogether.  This was in the days before cell phones.  It was a tense situation.  I don’t know if my parents toyed with the idea of spending the night in Des Moines or not, but after calling my Grandmother when we finally made it to Des Moines we decided to press on.  We were assured the storm was mostly north of I-80…and I believe the rest of the drive was uneventful.

When we finally arrived at my Grandmother’s house it was probably past midnight.  As we walked in the door she was just pulling a jam and cheese filled pastry out of the oven.  Looking back I suspect it wasn’t part of her original plan (originally, we would have arrived in time for a late dinner).  But since she would have had another four hours (at least) to wait after we left Des Moines, I’m guessing she decided to bake.  Doing so would provide an activity for her while she waited…and would provide exhausted travelers with a very special treat.  And I will never forget it.  Going from being tired, stiff and a bit chilled to sitting in her warm kitchen, around her table at an hour when I was normally not allowed to be out of bed, eating a sweet pastry with all of the adults (who were so relieved that everyone was safe), was a treat indeed. 


I have no idea if she ever made that pastry again.  I don’t think I have ever come across the recipe in her files.  But when it came to mind recently I remember thinking about what a wonderful hostess—and cook—my grandmother was.  And how good food is one of the best things you can provide for your guests.  The trick of course is to figure out how to provide this without wearing yourself out.  And this is where my class comes in.

I had to include a jam and yeast filled coffee braid in this class.  In looking around for a recipe I found that the most likely candidate was one at King Arthur.  I have adapted it quite a bit to suit my preferences…and also to make it so that a preparations schedule will slide easily into a busy host’s schedule. 

The original recipe is made with a very traditional schedule:  make the dough, let it rise, form the braid, let it rise, then bake.  The rich dough takes a long time to rise and the process from start to finish takes about four hours (not including baking).  This makes it so you either have to make it the day before and serve a day-old breakfast pastry to your guests (not the end of the world…but why not have freshly baked if you can?)…or make it for an afternoon, evening or late night treat (which would have been what my grandmother did). 


But beyond these logistical and timing difficulties, I have to admit that I never make a butter and egg rich dough that has to be rolled out thinly, filled and manipulated with cuts and twists, without giving it a long cold rise in the refrigerator first. Doing this firms up the butter and makes it so the dough is extremely easy to work with.  I learned this the hard way the first time I ever made a Babka.  I couldn’t believe the difference chilling the dough made.  So when I make this dough, I make it at least 8 hours before I want to use it and let it rise very slowly in the refrigerator.  You could even make it two or three days ahead and it would still work just fine.

The second rise, after the dough has been formed, takes an hour.  This too is a bit off-putting for the host.  Personally, I am in the habit of rising early, before the rest of the house, so it would not be a problem for me to get up, pull out the chilled dough, roll the dough and form the braid and then do other things while everyone else is still asleep and I wait for the braid to rise.  But for this dough, I found that I like the result even better if I roll and form the braid and let it rise over night in the fridge.  In the morning, I just pull it out of the refrigerator and set it in a warm place (mostly to take the chill off of the sheet pan) while the oven preheats and then bake.  You don’t have to get up early at all.  The braid will bake in the time it takes to make coffee and tea, set the table…and pull out everything else that you want to serve.  For the non-early riser, this is clearly the best way to go. 

As it turns out, the texture of the loaf that rises for an hour or so at room temperature and the one that rises overnight in the fridge are a bit different.  Both are delicious.  Neither loaf will look like it has done anything like rising—let alone “doubling in size”—when  it is ready for the oven.  The one that proofs at room temperature might have a slightly puffed look…but you have to look closely to see it.  And this one—the one that is allowed to proof at room temperature—will have more the character of a filled loaf of bread….basically slightly sweet, soft bread with a bit of jam and cheese (pretty tasty). 


The one that spends the night in the fridge will have the flatter aspect of a traditional Danish braid and the bread portion will be less prominent…basically more like a jam and cheese pastry.  


As I mentioned above, this latter version is actually the one I prefer.  Since the recipe makes two braids…and once you have made the dough you can make the braids any time you like…you should try both methods and see which one you prefer.

When I made this recipe for my class I filled the braid with a cornstarch thickened commercial jam (like my Grandmother’s).  But when in the week following the class I decided I wanted to have the braid for Sunday breakfast, I made a thick cranberry compote to use instead.  If you have a few minutes to make it, I have to say that this is the way to go.  The bright, tangy cranberry flavor is set off very well by the sweet cream cheese.  It is of course seasonal and festive too.  I am including instructions for both, as well as recipes for a couple of other fillings from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Danish recipe in the book Baking with Julia (a quick berry jam and a compote of dried apricots...both are delicious).

Finally, I have added a drizzle of a simple powdered sugar glaze to the finished and cooled braid.  You can make and serve the braids without adding this, but I think it adds a beautiful finished, appetizing look.  Just the thing to greet your hungry travelers—whether they are coming in the front door after a long day on the road…or crawling out of bed and looking for something to get their day off to a sweet start.      




Cranberry & Cheese Filled Yeasted Coffee Braid

1/4 c. (56 g.) lukewarm water
2 1/4 t. active dry or instant yeast
1/2 c. (121 g.) sour cream
4 T. (56 g.) unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick and softened
1 large egg
3 c. (360 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
3 T. (37 g.) sugar
1 t. salt

8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. (67 g.) sugar
Zest of one orange, optional
1/2 t. almond extract or 1 t. vanilla
1 egg yolk

2/3 c. (200 g.) fruit filling (see below)

1 large egg white beaten until frothy with 1 T. cold water
Turbinado or coarse white sparkling sugar, for sprinkling


Place the water in a mixing bowl and scatter in the yeast.  Whisk or stir to dissolve.  Add the remaining ingredients in the order listed, 


adding only 340 grams of the flour and making sure the salt doesn’t touch the yeast-water mixture directly. 


Mix and knead (by hand or mixer fitted with a dough hook) until you have a smooth, velvety dough.  The dough will be very dry at first; resist the urge to add more liquid. It'll come together and smooth out as you knead.  Once the dry ingredients are absorbed (and this only takes a minute or two) the dough may begin to stick.  Use small increments of the extra 20 grams of flour…and the help of your bench scraper…to keep the dough from sticking.  It is unlikely that you will need all of the reserved flour.








Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl or other container, 


cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (and up to three or four days). It may or may not look risen when you pull it out to use it.  That's OK.

When you are ready to bake, make the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, zest (if using), extract and egg yolk.  Set aside.  If the fruit filling is very stiff, give it a stir to smooth it out..

Divide the chilled dough into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time (and keeping the other chilled), flatten/pat/roll it into a 10" x 15" rectangle.  Transfer the rectangle to a piece of parchment paper.




Spread half of the sweetened cream cheese down the center third of the rectangle.  Leave 1/4- to 1/2-inch of dough bare at each end.  



Spread a thin film of the fruit filling over the cream cheese…being careful to not let it drip over the edge of the cream cheese. You will be tempted to add more fruit filling…but don’t.  A third of a cup is plenty. 


Using a pizza cutter (or a sharp knife), cut 12 to 13 slightly slanting lines down each side—angling the cuts from the edge of the filling to the outside edge of the dough.  The cuts should be a generous one inch apart and should start about 1/4- to 1/2-inch away from the edge of the cream cheese.   


Fold the strips of dough over the filling, criss-crossing the strips by alternating a strip from the left with a strip from the right.


Lightly press/pinch at the two ends to seal. 



Transfer the braid to a sheet pan and cover loosely with greased/sprayed plastic wrap.

Repeat the process with the remaining piece of dough.  Transfer the braids to the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.  Pull the braids out of the fridge and let them warm up a bit (20 minutes or so) while the oven preheats.  Or, let the braids rise at room temperature for 60 minutes (if you want to bake them the same day you form them). Whether you choose a traditional rise at room temperature or an overnight cold rise, the loaves will not “double in bulk.”   They might look a bit puffy, but that is all.  This is how it should be.

To finish and bake: Brush the egg white/water mixture over the loaves. Sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar.



Bake the coffeecakes in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're puffed and golden brown.  The fruit filling and/or cheese might be bubbling or oozing a bit.  This is fine.   Remove the loaves from the oven, and place them on a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Store any leftovers, well-wrapped, in the freezer. To serve, thaw, and then reheat in a 350°F oven, tented with foil, for about 10 minutes.


Notes: 
  • Although you can put both of the loaves on one sheet pan, I find that they bake best on two sheets.  When one is done, just slide the second one into the oven…or bake on separate racks, rotating half way through the baking time.
  • If you like, drizzle the finished braids with a thick glaze made from 1 c. powdered sugar mixed with 1 1/2 T. (or so) of milk.  When drizzled with icing, the loaves also look pretty with a few sliced, toasted almonds sprinkled over (especially if you have used almond extract in the cheese filling).
  • I prefer to make this recipe with a final, overnight, cold rise (rather than a traditional room temperature rise).  The finished loaf isn’t quite as puffy…and looks very much like a traditional Danish when done this way.  It also fits beautifully into a busy schedule.  Just make the dough in the morning of the day before you want to serve.  Put the dough in the fridge.  Then, form the loaf/loaves right before you go to bed.  In the morning, all you have to do is bake and eat/serve.  (But the loaf is delicious either way.)

 
Fruit Fillings

Cranberry-orange (my favorite for the holidays): Place 12 oz. of cranberries in a saucepan with 1 c. sugar and the juice of one orange (about 1/3 c. juice).  Bring to a boil.  Simmer briskly until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture is thickened—about 6 minutes.  Makes a scant 2 cups thick compote.  Chill before using. 

Dried Apricot:  Place 1 cup of dried apricots in a saucepan with 3/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit is puffy and any remaining liquid is syrupy (about 15 minutes).  Transfer to the food processor and process to form a coarse purée.  Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice to obtain the desired sweetness.  Add 1/4 t. almond or vanilla extract, if desired.  Chill before using.  Makes about 1 cup fruit purée.

Quick Berry Jam: Place 3 cups of berries (fresh or frozen) in a saucepan with 1 c. sugar and 1 T. lemon juice.  Crush the berries if desired.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off and discard any foam that comes to the surface.  Simmer briskly until thickened—about 8 to 10 minutes (a candy thermometer will read 218° to 220°).  Makes about 1 1/3 cups jam.  Chill before using.  You may also use commercial jam.  If the jam seems drippy or thin, dissolve 3/4 t. cornstarch in a small amount (1 t. or less) of water and stir it into 2/3 cup of the jam before spreading over the cheese.