Friday, April 21, 2017

Rhubarb & Browned Butter Bars

I wish I had the story...or at least a small share about how today's recipe came to be, but the truth is most of the details are lost to me now.  I developed these bars for a class that I taught a year ago, and although I usually make detailed notes about the progression of a recipe, I have discovered that with this recipe, either I didn't make very good notes...or I have somehow misplaced them...   What I found in my files was pretty cursory.  This is really rather unfortunate because I do know from the notes that I have—and my memory of the process—that I made no less than four versions of these bars before finally landing on the one I liked best. 

What I can tell you is that I started out with the Rhubarb Browned Butter Bars from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.  The rhubarb jam from this original recipe is outstanding...and I used it unchanged.   Instead of just cooking the rhubarb with the sugar to a thick compote, this recipe directs you to reduce orange juice with the sugar to a caramel before adding the rhubarb.  

This method produces a concentrated and intensely flavorful jam.  If you are able to get the blood oranges called for, the color of the jam will be spectacular....although Cara cara oranges produce a beautiful result too.  

But even if you can only get plain old Navel oranges, this jam is worth making while rhubarb is in season—just to have on hand to spread on toast...or scones...  or stir into your breakfast yogurt. 

I also love the use of browned butter in the original recipe.  If you have never experienced browned butter, you are in for a treat.  It is also a "stand alone" kind of preparation—delicious with fish...and pasta (particularly filled pastas and gnocchi)...or drizzled over vegetables (especially asparagus). I sometimes slip it into desserts and baked goods where it adds a nutty, complex undertone.  I used it in my Butter Pecan Ice Cream.  If you haven't made browned butter before, I included a picture and a few pointers for making it in that post. 

The recipe I ultimately used for sandwiching the jam was adapted from Gale Gand's Hungarian Shortbread Bars (from Baking with Julia).  Besides substituting chilled browned butter for the whole butter called for in her recipe, I reduced the total quantity of dough by a quarter.  The shortbread portion of these bars is delicious...but I didn't want it to overwhelm that special rhubarb jam.  Furthermore, I opted for pre-baking the bottom crust since this produced a bar that was slightly firmer and more stable for picking up and eating with your hands.  But make no mistake, this is not a firm or a crisp bar is soft, tender and cake-like. In fact, if you were so inclined, you could cut larger squares and serve them topped with scoops of ice cream for a more substantial, eat-with-a-fork kind of dessert.

This will be the third jam/fruit compote-filled crumble bar recipe that I have posted (I love these kinds of cookies).  In general, I think of this style of bar as quick and easy to make—and certainly the first two that I posted fit this description.  This bar fits the mold in that it is fairly easy to make.  Unlike the others though, it is not particularly quick since you have to make it in several separate steps.  I find that it works best to make the jam and the browned butter the day before you want to bake and serve the bars.  You could get away with making these two components in the morning before baking in the afternoon—but the process will feel more calm and leisurely if you take a two day approach.  Either way, these bars are delicious.  And if you love the bright, tangy flavor of rhubarb, I think you will find the extra time involved to be totally worth it.

Rhubarb & Browned Butter Bars

3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter
3 1/2 c. (420 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 1/4 c. (250 grams) granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 c. ice water
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. rhubarb jam (see below)

Place the butter in a wide pan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are a deep golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, immediately transfer to a shallow heat-proof container (a 9- by 9-inch baking pan or casserole works well).  Chill or freeze until solid.

When ready to bake the bars, butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan—concentrating most of the butter on the sides.  Line the bottom of the pan with a square of parchment (it is not necessary to butter the parchment).  Set aside.

Place the flour, baking powder salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  With the paddle attachment, mix on low just until homogenous.  Cut the cold, browned butter into cubes and add to the bowl. 

Mix on low to medium-low until the mixture looks like damp cornmeal...there shouldn't be any large clumps of butter visible.  This will take anywhere from two to five minutes, depending on the temperature of your room.  

Whisk the yolks, water and vanilla together and drizzle in with the machine running.  Mix until the dough comes together in clumps. 

Transfer half of the clumps (540 grams/19 oz.) into the bottom of the prepared pan.  

Bake in a 350° oven until pale golden around the edges—about 15 to 18 minutes.  

Cool the crust to room temperature before proceeding.

While the bottom crust bakes, gather the remaining half of the dough and knead briefly to bring together.  Press into a flat disk (about 1 inch thick), wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer until firm—about 30 to 45 minutes.  (If you freeze it for longer than this and it becomes rock hard, let it sit out for a few minutes before attempting to grate it.)

To build the bars, spread the cold rhubarb jam in an even layer over the cooled crust, spreading to within 1/4- to 1/2-inch of the edges of the pan.  

Using the coarse holes of a box grater (or, you may use the grating disc of the food processor), grate the chilled dough evenly over the jam (or grate onto parchment and use the parchment to transfer and scatter the dough over the jam).  

Do not press down—just make sure the bits of dough are spread in a reasonably even layer.  Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until golden and springy to the touch in the center—about 35 to 40 minutes.  

Place the pan on a wire rack and immediately dredge thickly with powdered sugar.  Cool completely before cutting.

Makes 32 to 48 bar cookies...or 12 large dessert squares.

Rhubarb Jam:
Juice and zest of 2 oranges (see note)
1 c. (200 grams) sugar
1 lb. rhubarb (4 to 6 stalks), trimmed, rinsed well and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (you should have 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 c.—350 to 375 grams—prepared rhubarb)

Place the juice, zest and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high to high heat.  Continue to cook until the syrup begins to turn a pale caramel color around the edges of the pot.  Add the rhubarb.  Continue to cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the rhubarb becomes a thick, smooth and glossy jam—about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a clean container and chill.  You should have 1 1/2 cups—or 1 lb.—of jam.

Note:  The original recipe called for Blood oranges.  I have made this with Blood, Cara cara and plain old Navel oranges.  It is good no matter which kind you choose.  It is especially beautiful...and a bit sweeter...if made with blood oranges.  I imagine Valencia oranges would be exceptional.  You should get 1/2 to 3/4 c. strained juice from 2 oranges.

(Rhubarb Jam from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tarte Flambée (Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart)

Every time I teach the class in my rotation that includes Tarte Flambée, I tell myself that I really do need to share the recipe on my blog.  But since I usually teach this class in late spring, my attention is always quickly diverted to the wonderful spring vegetables and fruits that are filling the markets ...and I forget.... 

But this year, even though the produce departments are brimming with artichokes, peas of all kinds, asparagus, greens, strawberries and rhubarb, I have been too busy to think very much about anything other than work.  Of course work for me means I'm cooking...but I haven't had much time to record what I'm doing...much less take a lot of pictures (I've just been racing to get dinner on the table before I move on to the next thing....).  Fortunately, since I have always wanted to do a post on Tarte Flambée, I already have pictures....  So it seems that the moment for featuring this classic from France has finally arrived.

If you have never encountered Tarte Flambée, it is somewhat like a white pizza...with bacon.  In fact, it is often referred to as the pizza of Alsace.  I have always heard that the origins of this tart lie in the village bread ovens of Alsace.  Once a week, when the ovens were fired up for bake day, the local workers and farmers would take advantage of the intense heat of the freshly fired oven—which would have still been too hot to bake bread—to make a quick lunch.  The ingredients—a scrap of yeast dough, fresh cheese, bacon and onions—would have been readily available, so it would have been the simple, sensible and delicious thing to do. 

I'm not sure where and when I first encountered this delicious tart.  I know that I had it once many years ago at a home in Normandy.  I was totally enamored by it, but unfortunately didn't get the recipe.  I also remember watching Andre Soltner make his restaurant version (on puff pastry instead of a simple yeast dough) many years ago.  The video for this version is still available on line and is well worth watching.    When I make it now, it is Soltner's topping that I use on a traditional yeast dough crust.

Apparently in its original guise the bacon and onions would have been placed raw onto the cheese smeared round of dough.  In the wood fired oven, the flames—attracted to the rendering fat—would have reached up and over the tart, singeing the edges of the tart and the tips of the bacon and onions.  The name—Tarte Flambée (in French) or Flammekueche (in the dialect of Alsace)—is a reference to this:  the tart is 'cooked in the flames'.  In most home settings, Soltner's method of rendering the bacon a bit first is a great idea since it avoids a flood of bacon grease in the oven.

Not surprisingly, there are many, many recipes for Tarte Flambée available on line (it is one of the most famous dishes from Alsace).  If you have never tried it, I hope you will give my recipe—or one of the others—a try.  I am of course partial to mine, but most recipes are similar and I would only encourage you to avoid recipes that use a heavier hand with the topping.  As delicious as it is, adding more doesn't make it more delicious, it just makes it soggy and greasy.  There are some great variations out there—a scattering of Gruyère for a finishing touch...a few sautéed mushrooms added to the mix...even a dessert version with apples and cinnamon sugar (instead of bacon and onions)....  But I admit... I have never tried one of these.  Maybe someday.  For now, I think it's perfectly delicious in its original (and simplest) form.

 Tarte Flambée
(Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart)

For the Crust:
3/4 c. warm water (105° to 115°)
1 1/2 t. active dry yeast
2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t. Salt
2 T. unsalted butter, softened

Combine the water, yeast, and 1 1/4 cups of the flour in a large bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Add the butter and salt and beat until the butter is incorporated.  Begin stirring in the remaining flour, adding just enough flour to form a soft dough that holds its shape.  Sprinkle some of the remaining flour on a smooth surface.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour.  Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 10 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. 

Note:  Originally, Tarte Flambée was a snack made with extra dough in the community bread baking oven while the oven was still too hot to bake bread.  Any simple dough will work.  Use a half pound of dough per tart.

Building and Baking the Tarte:
6 oz. thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2" wide strips
1 medium white onion, very thinly sliced (about 9 to 10 oz.)—see note
1/2 c. cottage cheese
1/2 c. crème fraîche*
1 T. vegetable oil
2 t. flour
Salt & Pepper

 Preheat oven to 500°F.  If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven while the oven is heating.

In a large sauté pan, set over medium low heat, cook the bacon until most of the fat is rendered and the bacon is beginning to color—it does not need to be crisp.  

Drain off the excess fat and increase the heat to medium. 

Add the onions and sweat until just wilted—they should still have a bit of crunch.  If you removed too much of the bacon fat...or the onions look dry, you may add back some of the bacon fat that you poured off.  

Remove from the heat and season generously with freshly ground black pepper.  Set aside.

 While the bacon and onions cook, place the cottage cheese in the food processor and process until smooth.  Add the crème fraîche, oil & flour and process in.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. 

Punch down the dough and divide it in half and form each half into a ball.  Place the balls on a flour dusted counter and cover the balls of dough with a towel and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.  Working with one ball of dough at a time, stretch or roll the dough out (with lightly floured hands or on a lightly floured surface) to make a thin circle that is about 10-inches across. Transfer the dough to a semolina dusted peel or pizza pan/baking sheet.   

Spread half of the crème fraîche mixture over the crust, leaving a half-inch border. Scatter half of the onion and bacon mixture over the cream.  

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the tart in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven.  To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. 

Bake the tart until the edge of the crust is crisp and brown, the cream is bubbling and golden and some of the tips of the onions are beginning to caramelize, about 8 to 15 minutes (time depends greatly on your oven).  Quickly build and bake the second tart while you enjoy the first.  If you happen to have two stones, build and bake both the tarts at the same time.  Makes 2 tarts, serving 8 as a first course or 4 as an entrée.

  • I have no recollection now of where I heard this, but I remember being told once that the white onion—which is sweeter than a yellow onion—is the best choice for this tart. Since it makes a delicious tart, I have never been inclined to make it with anything else.
  • Sold at most supermarkets. If unavailable, heat 1 cup whipping cream to lukewarm (85° F). Remove from heat and mix in 2 T. buttermilk. Cover and let stand in warm, draft-free area until slightly thickened, 24 to 48 hours, depending on temperature of room. Refrigerate until ready to use.
(Topping adapted from Andre Soltner)

Friday, March 31, 2017

White Bean Soup with Butternut Squash, Farro & Ham

After an unusually warm and dry winter, I was expecting more of the same for spring.  But so far, spring has been cool and wet.  And I love it.  I love the way the spring greens pop in the soft gray light...

...and I love the rain.  As always, I am looking forward to the new, fresh foods of spring.  But these cool days have put me in the mood for more substantial—and a bit unseasonal—fare. 

On one of our recent rainy days I was flipping through a favorite cookbook (One Good Dish by David Tanis)  looking for the details of a particular recipe when the book fell open to a picture of his "winter minestrone" (white bean soup with winter squash).  I have never made the soup that is pictured—rather that recipe was a springboard for a soup that has since become a favorite.  Either version would have been perfect for the chilly, drizzly day.

In addition to the white beans, the original soup included pasta, pancetta and what I thought was a rather skimpy amount of winter squash.  The first time I made the soup, I doubled the quantity of squash.  I also happened to have some chunks of the end of a Serrano ham in my freezer, so I replaced the pancetta with that.  Even though pancetta might be more common in minestrone, I love ham in a bean soup...and it was a delicious substitution.  I have since made it with ordinary American-style ham—which might not be as good as a fine air cured ham (like Serrano or Prosciutto), but was still delicious.  Finally, I got rid of the pasta altogether and added farro to the soup.  I discovered a few years ago how delicious farro can be in soup.  Moreover, it gives the soup a nice keeping quality that it doesn't have when made with pasta.  Pasta, if added to the entire batch, will become bloated and soggy as it sits (it needs to be cooked and stored separately and added to the leftovers as needed to avoid this).  Farro maintains its texture...even when the soup is kept for several days.

One of the things I like the most about this soup is the way the squash is roasted before adding it to the soup.  When diced squash is cooked in the soup, it can break up into the broth.  This is usually a desired quality, since it adds body and color to the soup.  But when roasted and added at the end it maintains a discrete presence.  The effect—both from a visual and a taste perspective—is very nice.   

For some reason I never got around to making this soup this past winter.   And since days when I'll be hungry for such a soup are dwindling, I decided to make it now.  If you happen to have a cool spring day in your future, you should make it.  I think you will find the combination of flavors and textures to be wonderfully satisfying.  And if you don’t make it now, be sure to save the recipe someplace where it will cross your line of vision next fall when winter squash begins to fill the markets once again.

White Bean Soup with Butternut Squash, Farro & Ham

3 T. olive oil, divided
3 to 3 1/2 oz. ham, cut in a 1/3-inch dice
1 medium onion (about 8 to 9 oz.), cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. fennel seed, crushed
1/8 t. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 lb. Great Northern beans, soaked overnight in cold water, drained and rinsed
1 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro
1 t. minced fresh rosemary
Olive oil for drizzling

In a soup pot, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally until browned in spots—about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil, then add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, and pepper flakes along with a pinch of salt.  Stir to coat in the fat.   Reduce the heat and gently sweat the onions until soft and tender—adding more oil if the pan seems dry—about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Add the beans and enough water to cover the beans by about an inch or so and bring to a simmer.  Maintain a simmer, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as necessary to keep the beans covered by an inch of liquid.  When the beans are about half cooked, season to taste with salt.  Continue to cook until the beans are very tender—about 45 minutes to an hour total cooking time. 

While the beans cook, prepare the squash and farro:

In a large bowl, toss the cubed squash with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet large enough to hold the squash in a snug single layer. Transfer to a 400° oven and roast, turning the squash once, until tender and caramelized in spots—about 30 minutes.  Set aside.

Cook the farro in a pot of boiling salted water until just tender—about 25 minutes.  Drain and spread on a baking sheet until needed.

When the beans are tender, add the squash, farro and rosemary, along with enough boiling water so that the soup elements are submerged and moving freely.  Continue to simmer for 5 minutes or so to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Ladle in to warm soup bowls and served drizzled with olive oil. 

Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts.  Recipe is easily doubled.

Note:  The soup will thicken as it sits.  Be ready to add more water when reheating on subsequent days. 

(Recipe adapted from Winter Minestrone in One Good Dish by David Tanis)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Leek, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizza

Even though I cook for a living, just like everyone else I find it can be difficult to maintain the inspiration necessary to put an evening meal on the table day in and day out. As part of the ongoing effort, I have made a habit of purchasing vegetables I love even if I have no specific use for them in mind. Having a few versatile vegetables at the ready to combine with my pantry of staples can provide the boost I need. It also speeds up the dinner making process (no last minute trips to the store...) and adds a disincentive for giving up and just going out for dinner (I really hate wasting food). During the winter months, fresh items (as opposed to storage items like potatoes, root vegetables and squash) on this list include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, mushrooms and cauliflower.

I love leeks, but for some reason they have never been on this list. Up until about a month ago I usually only purchased leeks when I had a specific plan for them. When I finally managed to motivate myself to attend the winter farmers' market on the first weekend of March of this year, I decided to pick some up. As always, I was beguiled by something fresh, local and beautiful. But more than that, I wanted to support the growers who had made the effort to come to the market with their more limited winter offerings. And I was so glad I got them.  That first bunch became a simple and classic Potato Leek soup...something I haven't had in years and that turned out to be just the thing for a late winter evening. Because I enjoyed having them around so much, when I went to the next market I picked up another bunch. They went into the pizza I'm posting today.

If I hadn't had the leeks on hand, it's possible I would never have gotten around to making this particular pizza (which would have been a shame). I might have pinned it....or made a mental note to get leeks.... But like so many recipes I see—and truly want to try—it might have just slipped off of my radar entirely. On that afternoon though, when I happened across this delicious looking pizza on Twitter, I paused for a closer look because I knew I had the leeks....which gave the recipe immediate dinner potential.

As I looked with more attention at the recipe, I soon realized that I had everything I needed to make it. I always keep bacon (and pancetta...which would have been delicious, too) around...and I had just enough goat cheese (left from Darina Allen's Goat Cheese Soufflé that I made for St. Patrick's Day) to crumble over the top. Goat cheese is not what the original recipe called for...but I love the way tangy goat cheese draws out the mildly acidic tang of leeks. (I also had some thyme left from that soufflé...which was also not in the original recipe but just so happens to be fantastic with leeks, mushrooms and goat cheese...)

The pizza was delicious...and I will make it again. But more importantly, I will be adding leeks to my list of "just because" winter vegetables. Although, I don't know if there will be any at the market the next time I go..... It is now officially spring (which makes me very happy), and the market offerings will obviously be changing with the season. But next fall...when the supply of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash and other items that make up my regular late summer stash comes to an end, I will remember the leeks...and look forward to enjoying them as part of my pantry all winter long. 

Leek, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizza

2 slices bacon (about 2 1/2 oz), cut cross-wise in 1/4-inch strips
2 medium or 1 large leek (see note), white and pale green portions only, halved, cut cross-wise into 1/3-inch half rings and thoroughly rinsed to remove all grit
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. minced fresh thyme
Salt & pepper
1 T. olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 T. butter
8 oz. crimini or button mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested
3 oz. Dubliner cheese (see note), coarsely grated
2 oz. Goat cheese (I used an aged Bûcheron, but a soft Montrachet-style is fine), crumbled

Render the bacon in a medium sauté pan set over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the bacon is crisp, transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the leeks, garlic and thyme along with a pinch of salt. When the leeks start to sizzle, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the leeks are just tender—5 to 10 minutes, depending on the age and size of the leeks. It's ok if the leeks still have texture...they just shouldn't be crunchy. Uncover. If there is any liquid left in the pan, increase the heat until it has been absorbed or has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

While the leeks cook, warm the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan set over medium high heat. When the butter melts and the foam subsides, add the mushrooms. Saut
é the mushrooms until browned and tender—about five minutes—regulating the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle without burning or scorching the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and season. Add the bacon and mushrooms to the finished leeks and toss to combine.

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina (or flour...or cornmeal). Spread a thin layer of oil over the crust. Scatter with the Dubliner, followed by the topping mixture, followed by the goat cheese.

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). 

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 10 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.


  • I used very small leeks from my farmers' market that were sold by the bunch and I used the whole bunch. You should have about 1 1/3 cup of prepared leeks for this recipe 
  • I love the nutty taste of Dubliner and I always have it on hand. It is a great snacking and melting cheese.  There are other good meltig cheeses that would work just as well. A good, sharp Cheddar...Fontina...low-moisture Mozzarella...etc. 
(Recipe adapted from Fox & Briar)
1/2 cup (115 g.) warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. instant or active dry yeast
160 to 180 grams (1 1/3 to 1 1/2 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 160 grams (1 1/3 cups) of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Pulse 3 or 4 times until the ingredients come together. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses (10 to 15 seconds each) until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. If you like, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a ball. Cover with a towel (or turn the bowl it rose in upside down over the dough) and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen. (You may also make the dough 12 to 24 hours ahead. Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator where it will have a nice long, cool rise. Roll, top and bake as usual.)

Traditional mixing method:  Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining half cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (any whole wheat flour will work, but I like “white” whole wheat flour).

Printable Recipe (for Dough)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

I'm not sure when it was that I first saw a picture of one of the window displays at Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Restaurant "Ottolenghi" in London, but suffice it to say that I loved everything about what I saw:  the abundance...  the beautiful vegetables...  the variety of grains... and most of all the fantastical display of miniature desserts (cakes, tarts, meringues, cookies...).  I was...and still am...completely enamored.  Regular readers will know that I cook and bake under the influence of these two talented chefs all the time.  The little cakes I am posting today make frequent appearances in their displays, so I think it is safe to say that I first became aware of them because of my admiration for the Ottolenghi chefs.  This particular recipe is in fact adapted from one of theirs.

If you have never heard of a friand (pronounced fryʹ uhnd), let me introduce you.  Friands are little muffin-sized cakes that are popular in Australia and New Zealand.  The word Friand is actually French (pronounced freeʹ ahn) and means "tasty morsel".  The cakes themselves are almost identical to a French petit four called a financier.  Both cakes are made of roughly equal quantities of egg whites, melted butter, sugar and a blend of all purpose (plain) and nut flours. 

As far as I am able to tell, the most significant difference between them is twofold:  When making financiers, the melted butter is always browned first.  When making friands, it appears that the sugar used is always powdered (icing) sugar.  I would also add that in my experience, friands tend to have a higher percentage of sugar.  They are quite sweet.  I like to eat cake for breakfast, but I would probably not choose a friand for breakfast...they are definitely a tea time/dessert treat. 

Some will tell you that another difference is that friands usually have added fruit...sometimes bits of chocolate.  But since more and more you will see financiers made with added fruit, I'm not sure this distinction is particularly valid.  To be honest, I think the best definition is that the friand is the Down Under version of a financier.  A financier is, after all, a tasty morsel. 

Both financiers and friands are usually made with almond meal/flour.  But you can of course make them with all kinds of nut flours.  Almond flour is widely available these days...other nut flours, not so much.  Occasionally I will see hazelnut flour.  But I have never seen pistachio flour.  (Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't out there).  I use a drum-style rotary grater, fitted with the finest drum, to grind small quantities of nuts into nut flours.  You can attempt to grind nuts to a flour in your food processor, but even if you are able to do so without creating nut butter, you will find that instead of a fluffy, flour-like texture, you will have produced something that is rather oily and has the heavy texture of sand.  It might make an acceptable cake...but the texture would not be as light.   If you like to bake with nut flours, it is definitely worth seeking out a special nut grinder/grater of some kind. 

The texture of a friand is probably not what you might expect.  They are often compared to muffins, but their texture is not muffin-like at all.  They are tender and moist (like a good muffin)...but whereas a muffin is supposed to be light and airy, a friand is rich and dense (in fact, rather pound cake-like).  One of the particular qualities that I love in both financiers and friands is the browned, tender-chewy exterior crust.  If you were to try to dig in with your fork, you might decide you had encountered a tough or a hard cake.  But if you pick it up and eat it with your fingers, you will discover that it isn't in the slightest bit tough or hard.   Rather, it has a definite and pleasant chew before dissolving into sweet, nutty and buttery deliciousness in your mouth. 

The particular texture of the crust as I have described it is most pronounced on the day the friands are made.  After that, the exterior softens a bit.  It is still very good...just not the same.  Some might in fact prefer the texture on the second or third day.  Since the cakes can be iced with a powdered sugar glaze that tends to dissolve when it comes in contact with moisture—like the moisture in the fruit scattered over the top of the cake—it is best to ice the cakes on the day they will be served.  It is not the end of the world if the icing dissolves a bit, it's just not as pretty (they still taste great).  You can also forgo the icing altogether and serve the cakes with nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

An iced friand on the second day...  you can see bits of strawberry
 peeking through where the icing has begun to dissolve...

Finally, for those of you who have been following my blog for a long time now, you might realize that the presence of a pistachio cake can only mean one thing.  That's anniversary.  I began keeping For Love of the Table seven years ago today.  Ever since the first anniversary I have always posted something pistachio on the day (most often a cake).  It's difficult to believe it has been so long.  I will have to sit down to a bite of cake to mark the occasion.  I hope you will vicariously join me.  And, I hope you will continue to visit For Love of the Table...where, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to share all kinds of delicious things to cook and that you will be able to share them with the people you your table.

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

185g unsalted butter melted and cooled (170g plus 15g for brushing the pans)
75g all purpose flour
40g finely ground almonds (almond meal/flour)
85g finely ground pistachios
225g powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 t. salt
180g egg whites (from 6 eggs)
1 t. orange zest
110g strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and cut into a 1/4-inch dice
1 recipe strawberry glaze (below), optional
3 to 4 T. chopped toasted pistachios for garnish, optional
Powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Use a tablespoon (15g) of the melted butter to generously brush the bottoms and sides of the pan(s) (see note).  This buttery coating helps create the crisp edges that are one of the special characteristics of a friand.  Chill the pan(s) to firm up the butter.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the egg whites in a medium bowl and using a clean whisk, whip the whites until very frothy/foamy. It isn't necessary to whip them to soft peaks—you just want to loosen them up a bit. 

Spread the dry ingredients over the top of the egg whites.  Add the zest to the cooled butter and pour this mixture over the dry ingredients.  Fold all the ingredients into the egg whites, mixing just until the batter is smooth and uniform.  You may use the batter immediately or cover and chill for a day or two.

Divide the batter among the pans using an ice cream scoop.  Fill each of the pans 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up.  Scatter the strawberries over the top of each of the cakes, dividing evenly.  (If any of the berries are touching the edges of the pans, use a fork to gently pull them away from the edge.)

Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet and place in the middle of the preheated oven (if your baking sheet is very thick or heavy, place it in the oven while the oven is preheating and then just place the cake pans directly on the preheated sheet). Bake for 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the size and depth of your pan) until the friands have risen, are golden around the edges and springy to the touch.  A skewer inserted into the center of one should come out clean. 

Take the friands out of the oven and leave them to cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes.  Don't allow them to stay too long in the molds or they will stick.  Turn the cakes out (running a sharp knife around the edges first if they seem to want to stick).  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

To finish:  Dredge the cooled cakes with powdered sugar or ice them with the strawberry glaze.  To glaze the cakes, place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.  Drop a blob of glaze on the top of each cake and spread out to the edges, allowing it to slowly drip down the sides.  Before the glaze is set, sprinkle the top of each cake with a few chopped pistachios. 

Un-iced, the friands will keep—in an airtight container—for several days.  Glazing/icing should be done on the day they will be served. 

Note on pans:  You may use any shape of small, muffin-sized cake tin that you like as long as you butter it well and don't fill it any more than 2/3 to 3/4 full.  You can use a muffin pan...or small loaf pans.  I use a couple of individual cheesecake pans.  These are similar to 6 cup muffin tins, but have straight sides and removable bottoms.  The holes in my pans are two inches deep and 2 3/4 inches in diameter.  I only fill them about half full (75g batter each) because I don't want the cakes to be too large.  The recipe makes 10 cakes of this size.  You could probably use individual porcelain/china/stoneware ramekins too.

Strawberry Glaze:
55g. strawberries, washed, dried and hulled
1 T. milk
1/2 t. lemon juice
225g. powdered sugar

Place the berries in a small bows and smash with a fork.  Pass through a fine sieve, pressing the pulp against the sides.  Measure out 25 grams of strained strawberry purée.  Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl and add the measured berry purée, the milk and the lemon juice.  Stir with a rubber spatula to make a thick, smooth glaze.  It should be just thick enough so that it will slowly drip down the sides of the cakes when spread on the top.  Adjust the consistency with milk, strawberry purée or powdered sugar.  Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Recipe adapted from Ottolenghi and Waitrose

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