Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marbled Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

Some of you may have noticed that my blog got a bit of a facelift last week.  Nothing too dramatic…a slightly new color….a gently tweaked layout…  I did add one entirely new feature:  a sidebar that shows the ten most visited posts each week.  As I glanced at this list when it first popped up, I was curious to see what it was that had attracted the most traffic.  The thing that caught my eye was the post hanging out at number ten: a recipe for a favorite brownie…posted nearly five years ago.  I hadn’t thought about brownies in a while, but was of course immediately hungry for one after taking a peek at that post.  Some cravings go away.  This one did not.  It continued to nag me all week.  So, on Saturday morning, I finally gave in.

As it turned out, I didn’t end up making the exact thing that had triggered my craving.  I did make brownies....but it was a different recipe entirely.  Like most cooks I have more than one favorite brownie recipe.  And when I walked into the kitchen I was planning on making one of these other favorites—specifically a recipe originally based on the famed Katharine Hepburn brownies.  I have altered the recipe enough over the years that it isn’t really recognizable as the original.  Still…I always like to give credit when I can.

While gathering the ingredients for the brownies, my plans took an even bigger turn.  First, I ran across a half package of cream cheese that has been taking up space in my refrigerator for a while.  It occurred to me that some marbled cheesecake brownies would be a good home for it.  As I considered this though, I began to feel like 4 oz. wouldn’t produce enough of a cheesecake swirl for even a small pan of brownies.  It then occurred to me that I could augment the cream cheese with a little bit of….peanut butter.  I don’t know what sparked this thought.  But at that point I was ready for a taste of peanut butter cheesecake brownies. 

I think that most brownie recipes—provided the batter isn’t too liquid—can be turned into a marbled cheesecake brownie.  Simply make the basic recipe and spread it into the pan first.  It is best if you choose a brownie that isn’t too deep…but I think even such a recipe could be made to work.  You would just need to choose a slightly larger pan…or maybe increase the total baking time.  I had to increase the baking time for my brownies by almost 10 minutes from what it would have taken for the “plain” version.

As for the cheesecake portion, any basic cheesecake batter should work. For an 8- or 9-inch pan of brownies, just make a batch of batter that only uses 6 to 8 ounces of cream cheese.  Dollop this batter evenly over the brownie batter and swirl in.  

As always, don’t be too aggressive with the swirling—too much swirling and you lose the beautiful look of large blocks of contrasting colors.

I finished my marbled brownies with chocolate chips.  I like the look…and the additional chocolate…  But you could leave this off…or use peanut butter chips….or maybe some Reece’s Pieces…

In the end, these brownies hit the spot.  If you like brownies and cheesecake—and the combination of peanut butter and chocolate…I think you will enjoy them immensely.  Of course, they could never replace the original…which I love.  But it’s nice to have variety…and the option to the occasion—or the craving—demands.     

Marbled Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 T.  peanut butter (50 g.)
1/4 c. sugar (50 g.)
1/4 t. vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 60%)
2 large eggs
2/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. all-purpose flour (55g.)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. chocolate chips (optional)

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper allowing the parchment to hang over the edges on 2 sides.  Butter the paper.  Flour the pan and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350°. 

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together just until smooth and homogenous.  Beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Beat in the egg yolk.  Set aside

In a medium saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter and the chocolate.  Set aside to cool for a moment or two. 

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just to break up.  Whisk in the sugar and the vanilla just until smooth.  Whisk in the salt.  Stir in the cooled chocolate-butter mixture.  Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in.  

Spread the chocolate batter in the prepared pan.  Dollop the peanut butter mixture evenly over the chocolate batter in 8 or 9 equal portions (a miniature ice cream scoop/cookie scoop works well for this).  Smooth the peanut butter dollops slightly so they are more or less level with the chocolate batter.  Marble the two batters together.  Scatter the chips over the surface if using.  Bake until a toothpick comes out just clean—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely and cut into small rectangles or squares.  Makes 16 to 24 brownies. 

Note:  If you prefer your cheesecake brownies light and fluffy, store them at a cool room temperature.  For a more dense and fudge-y texture, store them in the refrigerator.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Winter Vegetable & Apple Crostata

Several years ago a food writer and cookbook author told me that it would be a good idea if I learned to work at least one season ahead.  This way my menus…class offerings….anything I might be writing….would be ready when the appropriate season arrived.  Alas, I have never fully mastered the ability to do this.  Today’s post is a good example.  Yesterday was the first full day  of Spring—and it was a glorious first day of Spring where I live….sunny, warm......everything on the verge—and here I am, posting a recipe for a late winter vegetable crostata.

It is true that I could wait until next winter to share this recipe (in which case I could think of myself as a super-planner: “I’m three seasons ahead!”), but as it happens I have a good reason to want to post it now.   If you follow along with me on a regular basis, you might remember a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the importance of having a handful of basic recipes that you know so well and make so often that you can make them—and improvise with them—on a whim or as the occasion demands.  Like the almond and chocolate braid in that post, the winter vegetable crostata that I’m sharing today fits perfectly into this category, thus making a nice follow up post. 

If you know how to make short crust pastry (and really, everyone can learn to make a respectable short crust just takes a little knowledge and a little practice) the makings of a delicious dinner are almost always within reach.  Often, you will be able to use ingredients that you already have on hand.  Among other things, short crust pastry (a.k.a.pâte brisée or pie dough) can be turned into empanadas or turnovers, a quiche, a formal tart….or a rustic crostata/free form tart.

The night I made my winter vegetable crostata, I had a lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator….  Half of a celery root….  A chunk of butternut squash….   (The reality of life in a two person household is that rarely do you use all of either of these two for one meal…unless you’re making a puréed soup….).    I also had a couple of cups of thinly sliced and washed leeks (left from some over-zealous purchasing for a private event) and a lone golden delicious apple (my favorite baking apple, but not one I’m likely to snack on).  

I had other leftovers too, but these four seemed like they belonged together.  I suppose there are a lot of things I could have made with these items, but as I pondered them, it suddenly seemed obvious that with the addition of half of a package of goat cheese (also a leftover) I had the makings of a delicious crostata. 

The crostata itself is one of these basic/workhorse recipes…creating one is easy, as long as you learn a few basic guidelines.  The filling shouldn’t be liquid (as for a quiche custard) since it might leak and create a mess in the oven.  (Save liquid fillings for a more stable, traditional tart shell.)   Also, since the crust cannot be pre-baked, always put something in the tart first that will act as a bit of a barrier—protecting the crust from becoming soggy before it has the opportunity to cook through.  Cheese works well for this….or a layer of caramelized onions…or even just a thin smear of Dijon. 

To fill a crostata, simply layer in a pleasing combination of cooked ingredients (raw ingredients can release a lot of water as they cook—producing a watery filling and possibly a sodden crust—despite the presence of a “barrier”)…always remembering that less is more.  You might have noticed that I said I had “other leftovers” that I chose not to use when I prepared my crostata.   Only include components that complement one another and are needed to produce a well-rounded, harmonious whole.  Add flavor exclamation points with garlic, herbs, spices, olives/capers/anchovies, nuts, dried fruits, cheeses, etc.,…incorporating them when you cook the individual components, or layering them in as you build the tart.

You can cook the filling ingredients for your crostata however you like, but for the most part I prefer methods that don’t introduce more liquid.  Roasting, sautéing, grilling/broiling, sweating or étuvéeing* produce the best results.  Étuvéeing is particularly useful since it produces cooked ingredients that are still moist, and yet are not so wet that they will release more water when they are baked again in the tart.  As I pointed out above, you don’t want a wet filling…but neither do you want a filling that is so dry as to be unpalatable.

For my winter vegetable tart, I étuvéed the celery root with the leeks 

and sautéed the squash and apple together (finishing them in the oven).  

When I began, I thought I would wilt the leek by itself and then dice and roast the celery root, butternut squash and apple together.  But as I thought about it, I decided that I preferred the softer, sweeter flavor of celery root that has been étuvéed (roasted celery root can be bitter).  Étuvéeing the celery root with the leeks also served to increase the volume of the portion of the tart that, while not wet, was inherently moist.   

In the end, the apple—which was the ingredient that had me a bit stumped when I first considered the ingredients (I almost left it out)—was what really lit up the flavors of the tart.  It added a contrasting tangy sweetness that I loved.  In fact, we loved this tart so much, I will definitely be making it again.  And since spring is just getting started….and the weather is still a bit unstable…I might even make it again this year. 

Winter Vegetable & Apple Crostata

1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise and thoroughly rinsed
1/2 of a celery root (1/2 lb.), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch batonnettes
2 T. butter
18 oz. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (to get 2 1/2 cups)
1 Golden Delicious apple (about 7 oz.), peeled cored and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
1 T. olive oil
1/2 T. butter
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 to 2 T. toasted pine nuts
2 oz. Goat Cheese

Roll out the crust: Let it warm up for a moment or two at room temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8-inch thick and is about 13 inches across. Trim any ragged edges. Brush off the excess flour. Transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Melt 2 T. butter in a medium-sized sauté pan that has a tightly fitting lid. Add the leeks and celery root along with a pinch of salt. Toss to coat in the fat. When everything begins to sizzle gently, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the leeks and celery root are tender—about 20 to 30 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining in the pan when the vegetables are tender, uncover and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Set aside to cool.

While the leeks and celery root cook, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan set over moderately high to high heat. Add the squash and apple and sauté until tinged with golden brown.

 Transfer to a 375° oven and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender—about 20 to 30 minutes. About five minutes before the squash and apples are done, add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan. Taste and correct the seasoning. Set aside to cool. 

Build the tart: Smear a tablespoon of Dijon over the prepared crust, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border. Spread the leek mixture over the Dijon,

followed by the squash and apples.

Scatter the pine nuts and crumbled goat cheese over all.

Pull up the edges of the crust and gently flip them over the filling to form a wide, rustic edge. Pleat the dough as necessary, pressing lightly into place.

Transfer the baking sheet with the tart to a preheated 375° oven, placing the pan on the lowest rack or on a pre-heated stone set on the middle rack. Bake until the cheese is tinged with brown and the crust is crisp and golden brown—about 40 to 45 minutes. Drizzle the tart with olive oil if desired and let rest for 5 minutes (or cool until just tepid) before serving. 

Tart serves 4 as an entrée, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer with a small salad. 

  • Add a clove of garlic, minced, to the leeks as they cook. 
  • Add a tablespoon of picked thyme or minced sage to the leek mixture. 
  • Omit the apples and scatter a handful of golden raisins (plumped in hot water and drained) over the tart before adding the pine nuts and goat cheese. 
  • Substitute a pear for the apple. 

Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/2 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (114g)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Form the finished dough into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Printable Version

*The present participle of the French word étuvée is not, I think, technically a word. There really isn't a good English translation for this French technique. If one is “étuvéeing” something, in French one would “cuire à l'étuvée”…or “cook in the manner of étuvée”…which is cumbersome in English. I described the method in a previous post, but basically, it means to cook something over low heat, in a bit of fat, and covered tightly so that it cooks very gently in its own juices. 


Monday, March 16, 2015

Marking the Passage of Another Year: Pistachio Pancakes with Blueberries & Clementines

Four years ago today, to celebrate the fact that I had actually managed to maintain a food blog for a whole year, I shared a recipe for a favorite pistachio cake.  On the same day one year later, I decided to publish the recipe for another pistachio cake. At that point, it seemed to me that I had established a tradition of sorts:  posting something pistachio to mark the passing of each year.   That “something pistachio” has more often than not been cakebut not always.  

Each year it has been a fun exercise to come up with a recipe that features pistachios.  Some of these recipes have been involved, and consequently the focus of my attention for some length of time.  Others have been the result of a happy and inspired moment in the kitchen.  In either case, the question of what I will do for the current year hovers in the back of my mind as the day approaches.   It is no doubt for this reason that a couple of weeks ago, while I was finishing up a plate of particularly fluffy and delicious buttermilk pancakes, it occurred to me that pistachio pancakes would be a nice thing to do this year.

Most baked goods respond well to the replacement of 20 to 25 percent of the flour with a finely ground nut (basically a nut flour)…and this is what I did to make my pistachio pancakes.  If you don’t have an implement that will grind nuts flour fine (I use a rotary cheese grater fitted with a fine drumthe food processor will create nut butter…not flour), you could just make plain pancakes and sprinkle a few extra finely minced pistachios over the cakes as they cook. They will not be quite the same, but you will still have pistachio pancakes…and they will still be delicious.

In general, I love pancakes that are dressed with nothing but butter and real maple syrup, but because pistachio is delicious with fruit, I decided to add blueberries to the pancakes, and to serve the cakes with a scattering of fresh blueberries and Clementine filets...and more chopped pistachios.  To the aforementioned maple syrup I added the juice from the Clementines, simmering briefly to thicken the syrup since the juice dilutes what is already a relatively thin syrup.  If I had thought about it beforehand, I might have added the zest of the Clementine too.  The finished plate of pancakes was delicious, festive and colorful.  (And since the cakes happen to be tinged with green, they would make a fun way to start off your St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.)

So there you have it: pistachio pancakes to mark year number five.  In some ways it is hard to believe it has been that long….and in others, not so much.  Blogging has become a normal part of my days…an old friend really.  Sometimes it occupies more of my thoughts and my time than others…but for now it has become a fixture in my life.  I love the way it forces me to “finish” recipes and to follow through on dishes that I am working on and experimenting with.  Mostly though, I love the way that it allows me to share the things I make with even more people.  When I hear back from someone who has made something I posted—and in so doing has learned something that makes their time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable…and the food on their table more deliciousit truly makes my day.  So thank you for visiting…and for trying some of the recipes…and in the process, allowing me to share a part of my table with you.

Pistachio Pancakes

3/4 c. plus 2 T. (100 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 c. (30 grams) finely ground (flour fine) pistachios
2 T. (25 g.) sugar
1 1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 egg, beaten
2 T. melted unsalted butter
1 c. buttermilk
1 to 2 T. Butter for the griddle/pan
1/2 to 3/4 c. blueberries
3 T. finely chopped toasted pistachios

Soft Butter
Warm Maple Syrup (see note)
Blueberries (1/3 c.)
Clementine filets (from 2 clementines)
coarsely chopped toasted Pistachios

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.
Place the egg in a small bowl and whisk in the butter. Whisk in the buttermilk.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well.  Mix together in as few strokes as possible using a wide rubber spatula.  The batter will be lumpy with a few spots of flour showing…this is OK.

Melt some butter in a nonstick or cast iron pan over medium to medium-high heat, or in an electric skillet set at 365°. Scoop each pancake using a scant quarter cup ice cream scoop, spreading slightly with the back of the scoop to form 3 inch cakes. Scatter a few blueberries and some of the finely chopped pistachios over each cake.  

Continue to cook until bubbles begin to form and pop on the surface or each cake—about 2 minutes. 

Carefully flip the pancake over and cook until springy to the touch—another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or so. Keep the pancakes warm in a low oven until all of the cakes have been cooked. Makes 8 to 9 pancakes.


  • Replace pistachios with any favorite nut flour. Pecans would be particularly nice…almonds would be good too. 
  • Omit the blueberries
  • Substitute chocolate chips for the blueberries. 
  • Add the zest of an orange to the batter.
  • Top with a dollop of yogurt (plain or sweetened) or fresh ricotta

Note:  If serving with the Clementine filets, add the collected juices of the clementines to the maple syrup and simmer until the syrup has thickened slightly.

Printable Recipe

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Traditional Menu for St. Patrick’s Day

This week I taught one of my favorite classes…a traditional Irish menu for St. Patrick’s Day.  American’s seem to love St. Patrick’s Day….and they celebrate with gusto. The tradition of marking the day with a platter of corned beef and cabbage is firmly entrenched.  But my understanding is that in the land of St. Patrick himself, this is not the dish upon which most will feast.  Irish tables are more likely to feature a hearty beef or lamb stew.  Cabbage might appear, but will probably show up folded into a dish of fluffy and buttery mashed potatoes.  So rather than follow the traditions of my own country, I have hopped back over the Atlantic for my St. Patrick’s day spread….one that features soda bread, colcannon potatoes, a delicious Guinness beef stew and a double-crusted lemon curd tart.

The stew that I make for our St. Patrick’s Day meal is a simple—and to be honest, classically French—beef stew featuring Guinness and root vegetables.  A few years ago I wrote a post detailing the basic processes of braising and stewing.  If you have never made a stew before, this post would be a great primer—all of the rules that apply to the red wine-based stew that I posted then would apply to this Guinness stew.   It is the Guinness—not the technique—that plants this stew firmly in Ireland. 

It is worth noting that even though this stew is Irish because of the ingredients, it would not be correct to call my Guinness stew “Irish Stew”.  A traditional Irish stew is a baked casserole of layered onions, potatoes and lamb.  Occasionally a few carrots are added.  It is a rustic and delicious dish…and if I don’t make Guinness stew, this is the stew that I make.  My favorite example of it can be found in the March 2004 issue of Martha Stewart Living.  Because I can’t help myself, I do make a couple of changes to her recipe.  First, I brown the lamb and soften the onions (in the same pan in which the lamb has been browned) prior to layering everything into the casserole.  Then, I add two or three large carrots—peeled and cut into thirds—placing them on top among the whole potatoes after the stew has been in the oven for an hour or so.    

I have already posted the recipes for Brown Soda Bread and Colcannon potatoes.  I will only add here that I am always….   always    ….struck by how delicious these two foods can be.  People who think they don’t like whole grains will enjoy this bread—slathered with a generous quantity of sweet (unsalted) butter.  The same goes for the potatoes and those who think they hate cabbage.  The glory of Irish cooking is its simplicity and its connection to the land—which produces soft, low-protein wheat, oats, rich dairy products and abundant cool weather crops (among other things).  These things are on full display in these two dishes.  If you have never tasted either of these foods, you should definitely give one…or both…of them a try. 

I finish my Irish menu with a double crusted lemon curd tart.  This recipe is from a column that ran in Bon Appetit in March of 1992.  The author of the article (Gerri Gilliland) was raised in Ireland but was living and working in the United States as a chef.  Her article was written to introduce Americans to a more traditionally Irish St. Patrick’s Day feast.  Because I was curious to see how much I had altered her tart recipe over the years, I pulled my copy of that issue this week.  I was gratified to discover that our menus are almost identical.  In fact, the origin of my Guinness stew is probably her recipe.  I have altered both the stew and the tart over the years, but not so much as to make them unrecognizable from the originals.  I am pleased to give her credit.

As Gilliland points out in her article, this menu is perfectly suited to a weeknight party.  (Serendipitously, in the year her article was published, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Tuesday…just as it will this year.)  For the tart, the lemon curd should be made the day before (so it will be thoroughly chilled)—and the dough can be made—and even rolled out—the day before.  It is then a simple matter to fill the crust and bake the tart after work.  The stew can also be made ahead—in fact, it is better this way since this allows the flavors to develop more fully.  Simply make the stew on Sunday or Monday, cool it down and then before reheating, scrape any solidified fat off of the top.  Bring it to a simmer over very low heat—or in a low oven—while you are making the Colcannon.  If you would like to greet your guests with an appetizer, Gilliland suggests that nothing is more Irish than a platter of thinly sliced smoked salmon to accompany your brown soda bread.  Barring that, a nice platter of Irish cheddar or Dubliner cheese would be good too.

Whether you prepare all—or even just one—of these dishes, I hope that you and your family and friends will take the opportunity afforded by this holiday to gather at a table and experience the traditional tastes of the delicious foods of Ireland.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Guinness Beef Stew

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boneless beef chuck (trimmed of excess sinew and fat), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
Flour for dredging
3 to 4 T. olive or vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 or 5 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 12-ounce bottle Guinness stout
3 to 4 cups stock (beef, lamb or chicken) or water
2 lbs. root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, celeriac, turnips and/or rutabagas) peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Getting ready to make a double batch...

Season the meat generously with salt and pepper.  If time allows, season the meat up to 24 hours ahead.  Wrap and refrigerate.  Dredge in flour and shake off the excess. 

In a wide deep sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat some of the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the meat and brown on all sides.  Don't crowd the meat in the pan.  If necessary, brown in batches, removing each batch to a plate while you do the next.  

It will take 10 to 20 minutes per batch to brown the meat.  Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle—it shouldn’t spatter and smoke.

Remove the final batch to a platter and reduce the heat to medium or medium-low.  Add the onions to the pan—adding  more oil if necessary.  Sweat the onions until translucent and beginning to caramelize—about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the Stout to the pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up all of the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the Stout by half.  Return the meat to the pan along with any accumulated juices and the herbs.   Add enough hot water or stock to cover the meat.  Bring to a boil; reduce the heat, cover and simmer (heat should be very low), stirring occasionally, until the meat is almost tender—about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  (The stew may also be transferred to a 325° oven to be cooked.)  

Add the root vegetables and continue to simmer, covered, until the meat and vegetables are tender (another hour or so).  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remove the herb sprigs before serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

Note:  If you prefer a thicker stew, you may thicken it with a roux after it is done cooking.  To prepare the roux, melt 2 T. of butter in a small saucepan.  When foam subsides, whisk 2 or 3 T. of flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or two—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow. Remove from the heat.  You may use the roux immediately, or let it solidify and use it later.  To thicken the stew, place the stew over moderate heat.  Maintaining a gentle simmer, add the roux, bit by bit, until you have achieved the thickness you desire.  It is unlikely that you will need all of the roux.  In my opinion, the stew is more delicious if the sauce is only lightly thickened. 

Double Crust Lemon Curd Tart


Sweet Tart Dough:

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter (227g)
3/4 c. sugar (150g)
2 egg yolks (40g)
2 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (300g)
2/3 c. cake flour (92g)

Briefly cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg yolks and the vanilla.  Add the flours and mix until just combined.  Divide the dough into three equal portions.  The dough may be used right away, or chilled and rolled out later (let it soften slightly before rolling it out).  Press each portion into a thick disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill until ready to use.  For the lemon curd tart you will only need 2 of the disks.  The other may be frozen for another use. 

Lemon Curd:
1 c. sugar
Zest of 3 lemons
2/3 c. strained lemon juice
3 eggs
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Combine the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the eggs until homogenous.  When the lemon syrup boils, whisk it into the eggs in a thin stream.  Return this mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Stir constantly until the mixture is visibly thickened—this will only take about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, piece by piece.  When the butter is fully incorporated, turn the curd into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface.  Chill overnight.

Build and Bake the tart:
2 disks of tart dough
Cold lemon curd filling
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
Additional sugar for sprinkling (1 T. or so)
Sweetened whipped cream
Fresh raspberries (or other favorite berry)

Between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, roll one disk of dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick.  Peel off the top sheet of plastic and invert the round of dough into a buttered 9- to 9 1/2-inch removable-bottom tart pan.  Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan.  Use your hands to gently press the dough against the upper rim of the tart pan so that the dough is trimmed flush with the pan.  Spoon the cold lemon curd into the tart shell.  Roll out the second round of dough.  Place it on top of the filling.  Press the edges together to seal.

Place the tart onto a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 375° oven until the top and sides are golden brown—about 35 minutes.  Remove to a rack and let stand for 5 minutes.  Brush the top of the tart with the beaten egg white; sprinkle with the sugar.  Bake 10 minutes more.  Cool the tart on a wire rack.  When completely cool, slice and serve with whipped cream and fresh berries. 

(Recipes adapted from Bon Appetit, March 1992)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Vacation Breakfast: St. Augustine Bread (Chocolate & Almond Tea Braid)

Shortly after the holidays I had the opportunity to spend a week with some new friends in St. Augustine, Florida.  I don’t think I have ever taken a “beach vacation” during the winter months before.  It was truly wonderful…a much needed break and a delightful way to sort of brush the holidays out of my system for the year.  We spent most of our time relaxing, walking along the beach collecting shells and, as is always the case with me when I travel, talking about and eating delicious food. 

One morning I made a chocolate and almond tea bread for our breakfast.  I made it with my favorite sweet roll dough.  Because I have been making this dough since long before I began to cook professionally….and improvising with it for almost as long…it was an obvious thing for me to turn to while away from my home kitchen:  Cooking in an unfamiliar space can be a challenge—choosing a familiar recipe stacks the deck in your favor.  (In this case, one of my challenges was the lack of a rolling pin!  A wine bottle turned out to be a handy substitute….)    I filled the finished dough with almond paste and chocolate and then formed it into a layered twist (inspired by something I had seen on a group baking page on Facebook).  We all thought it was beautiful….and delicious. 

Even so, since the dough for the loaf is identical to the dough I use for the holiday wreath coffee cake that I posted at the end of last year, I didn’t think I would bother to post the recipe.  But yesterday, I made this bread again to take to a birthday brunch for a friend, and I was struck by how special it is…and really quite different from that holiday bread.   So I have decided to post it after all.

Part of what makes this loaf special is that it looks like it might have been difficult to make.  But this isn’t the case at all.  If you have made the wreath bread…or even cinnamon rolls, for that matter…making this loaf will not be a stretch.  After forming the filled “jelly roll” of dough, instead of pinching it into a ring…or cutting it crosswise into rolls…just split the entire roll length wise.

Then, twist the two pieces together, always being careful to keep the cut surfaces facing up.  The layers of filled dough may want to fall open, but don’t worry too much about this…once they are twisted together, they hold together beautifully.  Any filling that has fallen out can simply be tucked back in. 

In the end, I think it is instructive to see the versatility of this simple sweet dough.  This is of course how professional bakers and successful bakeries operate.  They rarely have basic component recipes that are only used in one way.  Instead, they have a collection of well-tested recipes (for doughs, fillings, buttercreams, batters, sauces, etc.) that they use over and over again in a myriad of different ways so that they can efficiently and consistently produce a wide variety of delicious sweets and baked goods.  As a home baker, you should follow suit.  The secret of good cooks the world over is having a fistful of versatile recipes that you can make in your sleep…the little black dresses of your recipe file, so to speak.  This dough happens to be one of mine.  So someday…not necessarily anytime soon….I imagine I will post something else that makes use of this very nice dough.  If you have made this bread….or the tea ring…I don’t think you will mind.

 St. Augustine Chocolate-Almond Twist

2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 T. warm water
1/2 c. milk
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. salt
1 egg
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour

3 T. melted butter
3 1/2 oz. (half of a tube) almond paste
1 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 T. sugar
Cinnamon to taste

Proof the yeast in the warm water.  While the yeast is proofing, scald the milk.  Remove the milk from the heat and add the butter.  When the butter is melted, add the sugar and salt.  Add the warm milk/sugar mixture to the proofed yeast and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the egg.  Add 1 c. of the flour along with the cinnamon and beat until smooth.  Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes).  Place the dough in a buttered bowl.  Turn the dough to coat with butter and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ to 2 hours).  Deflate the dough, cover and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, deflate the dough again.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a large thin rectangle (about 12-inches by 18-inches), making sure that the long side runs parallel to the edge of the work surface in front of you.  Brush the dough with 3 T. of melted butter, leaving a ½-inch strip of dough across the top bare.  Grate the almond paste evenly over the buttered dough.  

Next, scatter the chocolate over the almond paste, followed by the sugar.  Sprinkle some cinnamon (sparingly) over all.  

Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up jellyroll-style, tightly.  Pinch the final seam into the dough to seal.  Turn the roll so that the seam is on the bottom.  Place the roll on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Using a large sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise.  With the cut surfaces up, carefully twist the dough strands together (as if making a braid of two strands).  Pinch the ends to seal.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes to an hour).

Bake the loaf in a 350° oven until puffed and golden brown—about 25 minutes (the internal temperature will be somewhere between 180° and 190°).  Remove from the oven and slide onto a wire rack.  

Let cool for a few minutes.  Drizzle with the powdered sugar icing.  Serves 8 to 10.

Powdered Sugar Icing:  Mix 2/3 c. powdered sugar with 1 T. milk.  Adjust the consistency as necessary with more powdered sugar or milk to form a thick glaze that drizzles slowly from a spoon.