Monday, December 19, 2011

Olive and Rosemary Fougasse



Fougasse, that bizzarre French version of Italian focaccia, remains the pinnacle of bread for me. Discovered by accident but loved for years, the soft pull-apart quality of fougasse can't be beat. Years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe for the bread by none other than Raymond Blanc, featured in one of his "inept but lovable" cooking programs on the BBC. His recipe reflects the kind of chef he is: it took hours and required 8 ingredients that no one would normally have in their kitchen (rye flour, anyone?). But, because of my love, I hunted down each and every last ingredient, confident that the recipe would produce absolute marvels. And, to be fair, it did. Sure, it took 14 hours to make (get that starter going the day before!), but the rewards were more than ample. Delicious, delicious bread.

But the energy required in making the bread put me off the prospect of repeating it for years. It was only last week that I decided to brush off the old recipe and give it another whirl. Yet, in the intervening years, I had forgotten just how rare some of the ingredients were. When a morning dash to the local Tesco yielded no rye flour, I was stuck up the proverbial creek.

And that's when Epicurious came to my rescue. With only minimal effort, I was able to find inspiration for a recipe that took far less time to prepare (ok, fine, it still takes 4 and some hours, but that's practically fast food compared to the Raymond Blanc recipe). Sure, I was taking a risk (I was supposed to serve the bread at a dinner party that night), but fortune favors the bold, so I went with it, adding in my favorite ingredient combination of rosemary and olives to the basic recipe.

And who would have thought? The recipe came out perfectly. Wonderfully soft and doughy, but with enough firmness to the crust, I was in fougasse heaven. Of course, by that point, I had invested in the rye flour just so I could have some on hand, in case the day ever came that I needed Raymond's recipe again. But this recipe was so delicious, I may never see the need. Sorry, Raymond.

Yield: Makes 2 loaves
Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 4 1/2 hr

Ingredients

For starter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105–115°F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For dough
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1 jar of pitted black olives, diced
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably French) plus 1 tablespoon for brushing
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1 1/2 teaspoons flaky or coarse sea salt

Method

Make starter:

Stir together sugar and warm water in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Whisk flour into yeast mixture until combined well. Let starter rise, loosely covered with plastic wrap, 30 minutes.


Make dough:


Add sugar, salt, 3/4 of the olives, water, 3/4 of the rosemary, 1/3 cup oil, and 11/4 cups flour to starter and beat with a wooden spoon (or, is using a mixer, at medium speed) until smooth. Mix in remaining 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, sprinkling surface lightly with flour if dough is very sticky, until smooth and elastic (dough will remain slightly sticky), 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.



Risen dough, after 1 1/2 hours

Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Pat out each half into an oval (about 12 inches long and 1/4 inch thick), then transfer to 2 lightly oiled large baking sheets.

Using a very sharp knife or a pastry scraper, make a cut down center of each oval "leaf," cutting all the way through to baking sheet and leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cut. Make 3 shorter diagonal cuts on each side of original cut, leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cuts, to create the look of leaf veins (do not connect cuts). Gently pull apart cuts about 1 1/2 inches with your fingers. Let dough stand, uncovered, until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

Brush loaves with remaining tablespoon oil and sprinkle with sea salt along with the rest of the olives and rosemary. Bake, switching position of baking sheets halfway through baking, until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes total. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Red Cabbage, Orange and Date Salad


Red cabbage is one of the best winter vegetables by far. It last forever but has a wonderful earthy sweetness, perfect for a late night quick stir fry. But I find that cooks often don't know what to do with red cabbage. Besides your typical braising (which, let's not lie, is phenomenal) and the aforementioned stir fry, what's to be done with it? Yes, yes, coleslaw will work in a pinch but the loads of mayo the dish requires completely masks the glory that is the red cabbage.

Well, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may have found the answer. In his section on the Guardian's "Best Christmas recipes" he features a salad that was so unusual in its ingredients that I simply had to try it. Who would have thought to combine raw cabbage, *grated* parsnip and orange juice for a salad? To be honest, I was dubious. But the wonderful sweet mixture of dates with the root vegetables, not to mention a healthy dose of white truffle oil and some nuts, was absolutely divine. In Hugh's recipe, he sticks to the simplicity of only the orange juice, olive oil, and thyme. But add in some walnuts or pecans, not to mention the secret weapon of truffle oil, and the dish becomes sublime.
Another bonus point?
It takes five minutes to make.
This makes the second of the glorious "raw food" salads I've stumbled onto over the years (the first being Bittman's raw butternut squash salad). And I've yet to find a reason to dislike them. Curse them for their simplicity.







Serve Four

Ingredients
2 oranges
1/2 small red cabbage, core removed and finely shredded
3 parsnips, peeled and grated
2-3 small handful dates, chopped
2-3 handfuls of walnuts or pecans, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white truffle oil (optional, if you don't have some lying around, just up the olive oil by a tablespoon)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Method

Squeeze the juice from the oranges into a small bowl.

Combine the parsnips and cabbage in a large bowl. Add the dates and nuts. Trickle the olive oil and truffle oil (if using), then sprinkle the thyme leaves on top. Serve at once.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Syrup Frosting


We can all admit it. Cinnamon rolls are heaven. The combination of frosting, cinnamon, and warm bread is something sent from the gods. And I don't care if the Brits turn up their noses at the prospect of eating one of these for breakfast. If it's so good, why start your day with anything else?

I stumbled onto this recipe from punchfork.com, and although I am frequently overwhelmed by the "oreo-stuffed brownie bars baked into a deep fried three-layer cake" recipes that seem to populate many baking blogs, these seemed to have just the right touch of "over the top-ness". Especially since I had finally sourced some canned pumpkin (thank you, Waitrose), I was eager to try putting pumpkin flavoring in, well, just about anything.

As I've said before, pumpkin is never a bad decision. And neither is maple syrup. This recipe is all about putting American tastes on a plate. And I salute them for it.

I was worried the recipe was too vague for the delicacies of roll-making with yeast. But, once again, my worries were unfounded. The original recipe insists that this is a "throw everything into a bowl" situation, one I didn't exactly test out, but even with my simplified baking techniques, the rolls came out fluffy and soft, not too dense. Indeed, perfection.

Ingredients

For the Dough
1 cup canned pumpkin or squash
2 large eggs (beaten)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter
4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast



Crushed/Chopped Pecans


For the Filling
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup chopped pecans

For the Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice





Method


Add the yeast to the warm water and wait 5 minutes. The yeast and water mixture should be foaming (or bubbling) softly. Add in the pumpkin, eggs, butter and combine.

In a separate bowl, add together the flour, milk, pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar, and salt. When combined add to the wet ingredients.
Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — until you've made a soft, fairly smooth dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for about 1 1/2 hours, until it's almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Roll it into a 14" x 22" rectangle; the dough will be pretty thin.

Use a pastry brush to brush the melted butter onto the top of the dough. In a medium bowl, mix together the filling ingredients and sprinkle them onto the butter creating an even layer, leaving one short edge free of filling (about 1 inch).

Starting with the short end that's covered with filling, roll the dough into a log.
Cut the log into 12 rolls.
Place the rolls into a lightly greased 9" x 9" pan that's at least 2" deep. Set aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour, or until the rolls look puffy.

Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're lightly browned and feel set. Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack. Turn them out of the pan, and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes. Towards the end of the cooling time, make the glaze.

To make the frosting: 

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, maple syrup, confectioners' sugar and pumpkin pie spice.

Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined and creamy.

Feel free to adjust the frosting to meet your needs. If you like a thinner frosting, add in a little milk (start with 1 teaspoon) and slowly increase until you reach the desired consistency.

If you want it to be thicker, add in a little more confectioners' sugar.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Crisp Potato Cake (Galette de Pomme de Terre)


My household suffers from an abundance of potatoes. Thanks to the glorious veg box, we get a bag of "spuds" every week. Now, we try and get our starches in when we can, but we've simply gotten lamentably behind and now we have a pile of unused and unloved spuds piled high on our kitchen counter.

This called for immediate action.

Thus: the galette (inspired by the NY Times). Which seems to be nothing more than France's answer to a plethora of potatoes. And in true French style: you slice them and arrange them prettily in a saucepan. Oh, and add heaps of butter.

Unsurprisingly then, this recipe was delicious and an amazingly easy way to use up potatoes quickly. And  how pretty! You get to invoke your hidden Michelin starred self and crow about the joys of neat spiralled spuds. And you get to pull out the old mandolin slicer and strive not to cut your fingers off with it. It's a win, win.

Serves about four (generously)

Ingredients

2 pounds (about 3 medium) potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed
Freshly ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish (optional).


Method

1. Pat potatoes dry if very starchy or moist. In a sauté pan large enough to fit potato slices in just two layers, spread 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper to taste. Starting in center, arrange potato slices in a closely overlapping, attractive spiral. When pan is filled, repeat to make a second layer.

2. Place pan over medium heat and cover. Slowly cook potatoes until well browned on underside, about 15 minutes, occasionally shaking pan gently to avoid sticking. Wipe inside of lid as needed to keep it dry.

3. Press potatoes down with a flat spatula and remove from heat. Place a larger platter over pan and flip it upside down, transferring potatoes to the platter. Check pan to make sure it is clean and has enough oil to keep potatoes from sticking.

4. Slide galette, raw side down, back into pan, and return to medium heat. Cover and cook until well browned, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a persillade by combining parsley and garlic in a small bowl. To serve, slide galette onto a serving platter, season to taste with salt, and garnish with persillade or thyme.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Blue Cornbread


There are a few things that I've brought with me from my home state of Arizona. A tortilla press. A precious bag of ground chiles of various heats. And a full bag of blue cornmeal, pride of Arizona farmers. The English seem not have realized  but corn in America comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and, most importantly, colors (yes, yes, beyond the various shades of "yellow" and "white").

Any harvest festival will feature the ubiquitous "Indian corn", which features a fabulous variety of dark purples and reds. But there is also the famous "blue corn", found almost exclusively in Arizona and New Mexico, which is so dark on the cob that it almost looks purple to the naked eye. When ground into meal it gives tortillas and breads a wonderfully nutty quality, a bit more earthy than any other kind of cornmeal I've ever experienced.

I don't use my blue cornmeal often (although I technically I need to before its "sell by" date), but Thanksgiving is the perfect excuse to show the Brits a thing or two about American corn. And what better  way than with cornbread, another typically American concoction? Like biscuits, there are about a thousand and one recipes for cornbread, some involving actual corn kernels, some just sticking to the meal itself. I decided to pick one that emphasized just the cornmeal. Once the Brits decided that the blue coloring in the bread WASN'T mold, it went down a treat. Of course, there's no real reason for blue cornmeal in this recipe, plain ol' yellow cornmeal will work just as well. But, if you do happen to have some of the blue stuff lying around, why not use it?

Ingredients

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups cornmeal (preferably stone-ground and most preferably blue)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk (not powdered)
1 large egg



Method

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.

Whisk together buttermilk, egg, and melted butter in another bowl, then stir into flour mixture until just combined.

Scoop batter into a well-oiled loaf or cake tin (mine was 9" diameter). Bake until puffed and golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tin for about 10-15 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Cheddar, Bacon, and Chive Biscuits


Biscuits. More importantly, American biscuits. Savory, cheesy, bacon-y biscuits. The perfect bread product to accompany Thanksgiving dinner. Now, most Americans have "views" when it comes to what constitutes the perfect biscuit. Buttermilk? Milk? Knead? No-knead? There are a variety of choices when it comes to these treats. I don't have a particular preference as it stands, but I know I've done something right when I can't stop eating them.

I used some recipes on epicurious.com as inspiration, largely because of the no-fail combination of cheese and bacon. Oh, and the 11,000 reviews which insisted that these were "literally" the best biscuits out there. And who am I to doubt? It can't be denied, they were warm gooey things, with a nice hint of cheese and bacon. But I am not one for subtlety. If I were to make these again, I'd ramp up the cheddar and bacon- make these things oozing with flavors. Also, as they weren't "formed" biscuits (i.e. made with a cookie or biscuit cutter), they were a bit unrefined. Now this has absolutely nothing to do with taste. But if you're presenting these to a crowd, the nice rounded "formed" biscuits do have a nice aesthetic appeal. Hey, call me a snob. But it's true.

Ingredients

6 thick-cut bacon slices
3 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus melted butter for brushing
2 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1 3/4 cups chilled buttermilk


Method

Position rack just above center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, then chop coarsely.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter cubes. Blend until coarse meal forms, about 30 seconds. Transfer flour mixture to large bowl. Add cheddar cheese, fresh chives, and chopped bacon; toss to blend. Gradually add buttermilk, stirring to moisten evenly (batter will feel sticky).

Using lightly floured hands, drop generous 1/2 cup batter for each biscuit onto prepared baking sheet, spacing batter mounds about 2 inches apart.

Bake biscuits until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Brush biscuits lightly with melted butter. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve biscuits warm or at room temperature with honey, if desired.

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