Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



Gingersnaps 0

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sahar

I almost love gingersnaps more than I love a really good chocolate chip cookie. Almost. It’s a photo finish, really.

Just like gingerbread, gingersnaps date back to Medieval England and predate the cake style gingerbread we know today.

Traditionally, “gingersnaps” are a crispy cookie that “snap” when eaten, hence the name.

Gingersnaps have a long history in Europe, especially England and Germany. The cookies were made using molasses as a sweetener rather than refined sugar because it was less expensive and more readily available to the average person. (At this time, white refined sugar was extremely expensive and only available to the very wealthy.) As England expanded its colonial rule, it brought many of its cooking and baking traditions to these colonized countries, including gingersnaps.

European and British food traditions continued even after the American colonies gained their independence. Recipes that had been passed down, such as the traditional molasses and ginger recipe for snaps, still flourished in American kitchens.(information from www.ehow.com)
This recipe makes a lovely crispy yet slightly chewy melt-in-your-mouth cookie. The combination of shortening and butter is what does this. An all-butter cookie would cause the dough to spread quite a bit and make a very crispy cookie. An all-shortening dough would make a more cake-like cookie. I also like to use brown sugar as opposed to white because I find the cookie has a better texture and flavor. However, if you prefer to use or all you have is white (or even light brown) sugar, feel free to use it. Feel free to play with the spices. Of course, ginger should be your main flavor. However, most traditional gingersnap recipes have cloves and cinnamon.  I decided to buck tradition and used allspice as my secondary spice. Most of the sweet spices have an affinity with each other, so I thought, why not allspice? It works well in this recipe.As for the sugar to coat the cookie dough before baking – it’s a traditional addition. If you decide you don’t want the extra sugar, then skip that step.  However, since I wanted to go traditional (sort of), I did that step using turbinado (raw) sugar.If you would like to add even more ginger flavor, you can add grated fresh and/or finely chopped candied ginger.  Add as much or as little as you like.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

 

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 shortening, room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 c. molasses

 

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

 

Extra sugar for rolling

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don't want to beat too much air into the mixture.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until well combined.

After adding the egg and molasses.

After adding the egg and molasses.

3.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and allspice.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

5.  When the cookie mixture is ready, take a small amount and roll into a ball about 1″ in diameter.  Roll the ball in the extra sugar to coat.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies.  However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies. However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Place the ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.  Repeat about 4 dozen times. Have no more than 12 per baking sheet because the cookies will spread.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread quite a lot, so be sure to have about 2" between each ball of dough.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread, so be sure to have about 2″ between each ball of dough.

6.  Bake the cookies for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Enjoy!

 

Namourah نمورة 1

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Sahar

When I was (much) younger, I have to admit, I really didn’t like Arabic sweets.  They tasted strange and were too sweet (even for my sweet tooth).  Of course, as I’ve grown older and my palate has become more sophisticated, I’ve come to appreciate their flavor, complexity, and their place in my own heritage.

Namourah is a perfect example of a dessert I loathed as a kid but love now.  In fact, I take it to parties sometimes and it’s usually one of the first items to be devoured (and there is a lot of food at the parties I go to. Food people, you know).

Namourah is a dessert that is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  The basic recipe (which I’ll be showing you in this post) is made with a simple syrup flavored with orange or rose water.  However, it is also made with honey and some recipes add coconut.  I like to keep it simple.

This recipe is a classic Arabic dessert in that it’s very sweet and rich.  It’s meant to be eaten in small doses with a group of friends and family with small cups of Arabic coffee.  In a typical Arab home, these types of desserts are served only when there is company over.  Otherwise, fresh fruit is generally in order.

 

This is an eggless cake made with semolina flour.  As a result, this is a very dense cake (especially after the syrup is poured on). And, what leavening that takes place (and there isn’t much) happens when the baking soda and baking powder react with the acids in the yogurt.

You can make this cake vegan is you like by using soy or coconut yogurt and vegan margarine.  However, I can’t guarantee your results will be quite the same.

Traditionally, the baking dish is greased with 2 tablespoons of tahineh.  However, I prefer to use regular pan spray.  I find the ease of cleaning outweighs tradition in this case.

This recipe also uses clarified butter and qatr (simple syrup).  To see explanations of how to make these, please see my post from October 31, 2013, Knafeh (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=1973).

This recipe is an adaptation from what is, to me, my holy grail of Arabic cookbooks, “Sahtein”.  It was originally published in 1976 by the Arab Women Union of Detroit.  It was my first Arabic cookbook and still my first go-to for many recipes despite my now 20-book Arabic cookbook library.  My mom’s original 1976 printing is held together with rubber bands now.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as "smeed" سميد

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as “smeed” سميد

 

2 tbsp. Tahineh or use pan spray

4 cups smeed (Semolina سميد )

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/4 c. laban (yogurt لبن) (I prefer to use full-fat yogurt; I prefer the flavor and texture)

2 tbsp. yogurt

3 c. Qatr (simple syrupقطر)

1/2 c. whole blanched almonds

 

1.  Either grease with the tahineh or spray an 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together the smeed (semolina), sugar, and butter.  Set aside.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

4.  Add the yogurt mixture to the smeed mixture.  Blend well.  It will be a little crumbly and dry-looking.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly-looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

5.  Take the mixture and spread it in the baking dish as evenly as possible.  Use your hands if necessary.

The cake batter spread in the pan.  Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

The cake batter spread in the pan. Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

6.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of yogurt evenly over the top of the cake.  With a very sharp knife, cut the cake into roughly 2″ pieces either in diamond or square shapes (this is necessary so the syrup will soak evenly into the cake after baking). Top each piece with a blanched almond.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I'm terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I’m terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

7.  Bake the cake in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, rotate the cake and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and cut along the original cut lines, if necessary (and it usually is).

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.  As you can see, I had to cut the pieces again along the original cut lines.

8.  Pour the qatr over the cake and let it soak in (trust me, it does).  When the cake warm to room temperature, it’s ready to eat.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

 

 

Really Good Oatmeal Cookies. I promise. 1

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Sahar

Now, let’s face it.  Oatmeal cookies kind of get a bad reputation.  Basically, well, because they’re made mostly of what many people consider the most healthy yet mushy and tasteless breakfast food of all – oatmeal.  And, usually raisins – which I personally consider to be Satan’s candy.

Many times, through many recipes, oatmeal cookies tend to be overly dry, or overly soft & doughy.  Not much flavor is another negative in the oatmeal cookie column.  And no amount of added chocolate chips or dried fruit will fix it.

In my quest to come up with a good oatmeal cookie (because, yes, I do like them; always have), I made many batches, researched recipes old and new, and ate more cookies than I care to admit.  I even made my husband take them to work to use his co-workers as tasters.

I finally hit upon the idea of making the cookies with dark brown sugar, adding some oat flour, and a little maple syrup for flavor.  It just made a wonderful combination.

Oh. And as for the dried fruit – I use dried cherries and cranberries. They are my two favorite dried fruits and I simply like the way they go together. However,  you can use any dried fruit you like: apricots, apples, blueberries, and, yes, raisins.

You can also use chocolate, white, or cinnamon chips as well. If you want to.

Now, admittedly, I tend to make these cookies rather large.  That’s because making cookies is not one of my favorite things to do.  I simply don’t have the patience for it.  I tend to only bake cookies during the holidays – these included.  You can make them any size you like.  But, I will say this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  With the larger size that I bake, this recipe will still make about 5 dozen.  Smaller cookies? At least 6 dozen.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

Oat and all-purpose flours.

Oat and all-purpose flours.

The oats.

The all-important oats.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

 

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 c. sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. maple syrup

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 c. oat flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. dried cranberries

1 c. dried cherries

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Line your baking sheets with foil and parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Set aside.

2.  In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides as needed.

Creaming together the butter and sugars.  Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

Creaming together the butter and sugars. Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

3.  Turn down the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the eggs.  Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly.  This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

Adding the eggs. Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly. This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

4.  Add in the vanilla and syrup.  Beat on medium-low speed until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

5.  Sift together the dry ingredients – all-purpose flour, oat flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. I use it all the time.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. It’s still my favorite.

The dry ingedients ready for sifting.

The dry ingredients ready for sifting.

Sifted.

Sifted.

6.  Turn the mixer to low speed and, in small scoopfuls (about 1/4 cup), add the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time.  This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time. This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

7.  Turn the mixer off, lower the bowl or lift the top of the mixer, and add the oats and fruit.  Lift the bowl or lower the top of the mixer, and, on very low speed, fold them into the dough.  (You can also do this step by hand.)

Mixing in the oats and fruit.  Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Mixing in the oats and fruit. Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Cookie dough. Done.

Cookie dough. Done.

8.  Drop tablespoons full of batter onto the baking sheets.  Leave at least 2 – 3 inches in between.  These cookies spread a lot.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet.  These are soup spoons, by the way.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet. These are soup spoons, by the way.

The cookies ready for the oven.  These are going to spread out a lot; so, don't crowd too many onto a sheet.  This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2" x 17").

The cookies ready for the oven. These are going to spread out a lot; so, don’t crowd too many onto a sheet. This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2″ x 17″).

9.  Bake the cookies 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time.  Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  (This will result in a fairly crispy cookie.  If you want the cookies slightly chewier, reduce the baking time by 2 – 3 minutes.)

See how much they spread?

See how much they spread?

Try to resist. I dare you.

Try to resist. I dare you.

Enjoy!

 

Spinach & Mushroom Pie 4

Posted on June 14, 2013 by Sahar

Savory pies, or their fancier cousin, quiches, are a great way to use a combination of leftovers, pantry items, and your imagination.  Like with sweet pies, a savory pie can make you use your creativity in new and surprising ways.

Plus, it’s a good, quick meal after a long day at work.

A few tips on making savory pies:

1.  Frozen pie crusts are fine.  That’s what I used in this recipe.  I know some will think it’s cheating, or, at worst, sacrilege, but I think it works perfectly well for this recipe.

2.  Keep the pie crust frozen until just before you’re ready to fill it.  Otherwise, it will become soggy during baking.

3.  Always have whole milk and eggs on hand.  They’ll make the custard, or base, of the pie.  Don’t use 2%, 1%, or skim milk.  They won”t stand up to the heat.

4.  If you’re using a cooked filling in the pie, make sure it’s cooled off before you put it into the crust.  Otherwise, it will begin to melt the crust too early and/or cook the eggs too quickly.

5.  Cheese is always good.

6.  When you bake the pie, take it out of the oven when it has a slight wobble in the center.  Let the pie sit for 10 minutes before cutting.  This will allow the pie to settle and finish setting up in the center without overcooking the eggs,

 

Now, to the recipe.

***********************

The ingredients

The ingredients

A whole nutmeg seed.  Like most spices, it's so much better to buy the whole seed and grate or grind just what you need.

A whole nutmeg seed. Like most spices, it’s so much better to buy the whole seed and grate or grind just what you need.

A grated nutmeg seed.  It smells wonderful, looks really tiger-stripe cool, and lasts a long time.

A grated nutmeg seed. It smells wonderful, looks really tiger-stripe cool, and lasts a long time.

For my money, the perfect nutmeg-grating tool: the mini Microplane.

For my money, the perfect nutmeg-grating tool: the mini Microplane.

The flavoings: fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, fresh ground nutmeg

The flavorings: fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, fresh grated nutmeg

 

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 c. sliced mushrooms

1 c. spinach, chopped (if you’re using baby spinach, don’t worry about chopping)

1 c. whole milk or half-and-half

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. rosemary, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 c. shredded Gruyère cheese

1 ea. frozen 9-inch pie shell

 

1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat  to 425F.  Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil (this is to transport the pie to and from the oven).  Tear a long piece of foil in half lengthwise; fold each piece in half again lengthwise.  You will use these to wrap the edges of the crust before you add the filling. (The foil will keep the edges of the crust from burning in the oven.)

2.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over rmedium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and saute until they soften, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Sauteing the mushrooms.

Sauteing the mushrooms.

Add the spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt.

Adding the spinach. In this example, I actually used a spinach-arugula salad mix.  It worked very well.

Adding the spinach. In this example, I actually used a spinach-arugula salad mix. It worked very well.

Remove the skillet from the heat and let the mixture cool. (To cool the filling faster, take it out of the pan and  spread it onto a plate.)

3.  In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, mix together the eggs, milk or half-and-half, rosemary, nutmeg, and salt & pepper.  Set aside.  This is the custard mixture.

The custard mixture.

The custard mixture.

4.  Take the pie crust out of the freezer and place it on the baking sheet.  Take your two reserved pieces of foil and wrap them around the outer edge of the pie crust.  There will be some overlap.  Be sure the foil doesn’t go down the sides of the crust where the filling will be.

The wrapped pie shell.

The wrapped pie shell.

5.  Line the bottom of the crust with the grated Gruyère.

Mmm... Gruyere.

Mmm… Gruyère.

Next, spread the spinach-mushroom mixture as evenly as possible over the cheese.

Layer #2.

Layer #2.

Lastly, slowly over the custard to fill the pie.

Pour the custard mixture over slowly so it has a chance to soak into the spaces around the cheese and vegetables.

Pour the custard mixture over slowly so it has a chance to soak into the spaces around the cheese and vegetables.

Ready for the oven.  Be sure to put it in immediately after filling the crust.

Ready for the oven. Be sure to put it in immediately after filling the crust.

6.  Place the pie in the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and there is a very slight wobble in the center of the pie.  Let the pie stand for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

How can you resist this?

How can you resist this?

Enjoy!

Nice lunch or a light dinner. Either way, you can't go wrong.

Nice lunch or a light dinner. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

 

 

Chocolate Meringues 0

Posted on May 31, 2013 by Sahar


Meringues are that almost etherial confection that can either come out beautifully or end in frustration for many a baker.

On top of a pie, as a base or crust, or in bite-sized form, in actuality, they’re easy and fun to make. They can make a dessert look elegant or festive. And mostly, especially for those of us with a sweet tooth, delicious.

There are three basic types of meringue:  Italian, French, and Swiss.

The Italian Meringue consists of boiling syrup poured slowly into beaten egg whites.  This produces a meringue that is more stable and can be used in a variety of desserts without a danger of it breaking down or collapsing.  Because boiling sugar is added to the whites, no further cooking is needed. (If you want to see an example of Italian Meringue, check out my blog post from May 31,2012: “Key Lime Pie”.)

French Meringue is the most commonly used meringue in home kitchens.  It consists of either granulated or powdered sugar slowly added to egg whites and beaten until stiff.

Swiss Meringue consists of the egg whites beaten over a bain-marie or a very slow simmering double boiler to warm the egg whites and sugar together.  Whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are warm.  The whites are then removed from the heat and beaten until they have a dense, marshmallow-like consistency.

The history of the meringue is a bit of a murky one.  The first known reference to meringues is found in Francois Massialot’s 1692 cookbook,  Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liqueurs et les fruits (Instruction for new jams and fruit liqueurs).  The first reference to meringues in England is from 1706 in a translation of Massialot’s book.

Two earlier 17th Century English recipe books give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue, though called “white biskit bread” in the book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Fettiplace of Appleton in Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire), and called “pets” in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane of Kent.

Slowly baked meringues are still referred to as “pets” (meaning farts in French) in the Loire region of France due to their light and fluffy texture.

How lovely.

(some information from www.wikipedia.org)

 

There are several important things to remember when making a meringue:

1.  Make sure your eggs are separated properly.  The egg whites must be free of yolk.  Even a small amount of fat in egg whites will prevent them from reaching their full volume and may cause them to collapse.

2.  Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature.  This allows the proteins of the whites to relax and loosen.  The volume of the egg whites is not only contingent on no fat, but also the breakdown of hydrogen bonds in the protein.  A warmer temperature helps to create this.

3.  Make sure the utensils you use are clean, free of any fat (including any oily residue), and room temperature. Avoid using plastic bowls or utensils; they tend to hold on to oils.

4.  Do not overbeat the whites.  You’ll know you’ve done this if the whites begin to separate, look dry, and you see liquid (albumen) pooling at the bottom of the bowl.  There are supposedly methods for saving the whites, but I’ve never found one that works.  Just start over.

5.  When adding the sugar (or any dry ingredients), it has to be done slowly and gradually.  If you add all of the sugar at once, it won’t dissolve properly and the egg whites and will attract moisture.  Moisture is the ruination of a meringue.

A note about the cocoa powder: M. Herme uses exclusively the Valrhona Dutch-processed cocoa powder.  He calls for it in this recipe.  I did use the Dutch-processed cocoa (what I have at home is Hershey’s) and I like it; in fact, I prefer it. Dutch-processed cocoa is readily available, but, if you have natural cocoa powder, you should be fine.

Natural Cocoa Powder is made with all of the cocoa butter is removed from the cocoa liquor leaving a dry cake that is then ground down to a fine powder that’s  bitter and acidic.  Its natural acidity is used to help activate baking soda in recipes.  It’s only used in cooked or baked desserts.

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder is natural powder that’s been treated with a small amount of alkaline to reduce the cocoa’s natural acidity. The process makes the powder darker and gives it a more mellow flavor.

 

Now.  On to the recipe.

*******************************

Lotsa chocolate. My most recent class at Central Market.

Lotsa chocolate. My most recent class at Central Market.

 

This recipe is based on a recipe from the great book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme by Dorie Greenspan (Little, Brown; 2001).  While it is a wonderful recipe, I did make a couple of changes.

1.  M. Herme calls for Valrhona cocoa powder.  While I like Valrhona and use it occasionally, it is expensive ($13.99/lb. at Central Market).  Plus, not it’s not available to everyone. You can use any type of Dutch-process cocoa you like in this recipe.

2.  He does have a step in his original recipe saying to dust the raw meringues with powdered sugar and cocoa before putting in the oven to dry.  I did that.  I found it to be an unnecessary step.  When I took my meringues out of the oven, I had to take a soft pastry brush and brush off the excess sugar and cocoa.  So, I left it out of the recipe I’m showing you.

3.  His original recipe doesn’t include cream of tartar.  I added it because it helps to add to the stability of the whites and helps to produce a stiffer peak.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

1 c. powdered sugar

3 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

7 tbsp. granulated sugar, separated into 2 ea. 3-1/2 tbsp.

1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 250F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.  Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2″ – 3/4″ tip – you want a large tip so you can pipe generous meringue kisses.  (If you don’t have a large enough tip or a pastry bag, skip the pastry bag and use a zipper-lock plastic bag.  Seal the bag and then snip off a corner so that it creates a “tip” that’s just the right size.)

2.  Sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa and set aside.

Sifting the sugar and the cocoa.

Sifting the sugar and the cocoa.

3.  In a clean, dry mixer bowl with a clean, dry whisk attachment in place, whip the egg whites on high speed until they form soft peaks.

Egg whites and cream of tartar ready for whipping.

Egg whites and cream of tartar ready for whipping.

Soft peak stage.

Soft peak stage.

Still whipping on high, gradually add the first half of the granulated sugar.and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and form stiff peaks.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

The egg whites at stiff peak stage after adding the first half of the sugar.

The egg whites at stiff peak stage after adding the first half of the sugar.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the remaining half of the granulated sugar.

Adding the remaining sugar.

Adding the remaining sugar.

The finished egg whites.

The finished egg whites.

4.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and, working with a large rubber spatula, gradually fold in the sifted powdered sugar and cocoa mixture.

I like to sift the dry ingredients on top of the egg whites before I begin to fold.

I like to sift the dry ingredients on top of the egg whites before I begin to fold. Makes for a more even mixture.

Folding the powdered sugar/cocoa mix into the egg whites.

Folding the powdered sugar/cocoa mix into the egg whites.

Work quickly but delicately, and don’t be discouraged when your beautifully airy meringue deflates a little; it’s inevitable.

Ready for the piping bag.

Ready for the piping bag.

5.  Working with half the batter at a time, gently spoon half the batter into the pastry bag.

A trick to more neatly fill a pastry bag: Take a large glass, either twist or bend the tip of the bag, and place the bag into and over the glass as shown.  Take the spatula and fill the pastry bag about 1/2 - 2/3 full.

A trick to more neatly fill a pastry bag: Take a large glass, either twist or bend the tip of the bag, and place the bag into and over the glass as shown. Take the spatula and fill the pastry bag about 1/2 – 2/3 full.

The filled pastry bag.

The filled pastry bag.

Pipe out rounds roughly 1-1/2″ – 2″ in diameter, finishing with a peak in the center onto the baking sheets (they should look like giant chocolate kisses).

Twist  or fold over the top of the pastry bag and gently work the batter down to the tip.  Be sure to work from the top of the bag down.  Don't squeeze in the center.

Twist or fold over the top of the pastry bag and gently work the batter down to the tip. Be sure to work from the top of the bag down. Don’t squeeze in the center.

Use your dominant hand to squeese from the top, continuing to twist or fold the bag as you go.  Your non-dominant hand is for guiding and lifting the bag only.

Use your dominant hand to squeeze from the top, continuing to twist or fold the bag as you go. Your non-dominant hand is for guiding and lifting the bag only.

Allow about 1 inch between each puff.  The larger the meringues, the fewer you’ll have. (M. Herme’s recipe says make the meringues 2-1/2″ for a yield of 20. Mine are generally smaller, so I’ve had as many as 40.)

Piping the meringues onto the baking sheet. Not perfect. But, hey, they're homemade.

Piping the meringues onto the baking sheet. Not perfect. But, hey, they’re homemade.

6.  Place the baking sheets in the oven and insert a handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it slightly ajar (this helps cut down on moisture in the oven).  Bake the puffs for 1 hour, rotate the sheet pans, and bake for another hour.

A sheet pan ready for the oven.

A sheet pan ready for the oven.

A wooden spatula in the oven door for venting.

A wooden spatula in the oven door for venting.

7.  After the second hour, turn off the oven, take the wooden spoon out of the door to close the oven, and continue to dry the meringues for another 2 hours, or as long as overnight.  Take the meringues out of the oven and transfer, parchment and all, to racks to cool to room to room temperature.  Run a thin metal spatula under the puffs to release them from the paper.

The finished meringues.

The finished meringues.

*The meringues can be kept up to one week in an airtight container.

 

Enjoy!

Tomato Soup & Welsh Rarebit Souffles 1

Posted on May 23, 2013 by Sahar

“What exactly is Welsh Rarebit?” you’re probably asking yourself.

Most of us know this dish as basically cheese on toast.  Not a bad thing.

It’s actually a dish that was born of poverty in 18th Century Wales.  At that time, only the wealthiest could afford meat.  Cheese was the “meat” of the poor.  Over time, “Rarebit” became the bastardization of “rabbit”.

Most recipes that I’ve found contain some sort of alcohol, generally ale.  However, I wanted a recipe that didn’t have any alcohol.  And, I finally came across one written by Jennifer Paterson of “Two Fat Ladies” fame.  It is different than traditional Rarebit, which is generally a cheese sauce, in that this recipe is more of a souffle-style.

This won’t behave like what most would think of as a souffle.  It certainly doesn’t rise like one.  The souffle-style comes from the base  (cheese and egg yolks) folded into beaten egg whites which makes the topping a souffle effect.

The tomato soup is just a natural paring.

Tomato soup goes with just about everything.

Welsh Rarebit mixed with tomato soup or tomatoes is known as “Blushing Bunny”.  Huh.

 

Now.  To the recipes.

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Now, of course, with either of these recipes, you can serve them separately with a simple salad to make a nice lunch or a light dinner.  Together, they make a rather hearty end-of-day vegetarian supper.

For the Rarebit, if you want to use other cheeses or all of one or the other, go ahead.  However, cheddar is the most traditional.  Be sure to use a sharp cheddar.  Once you add the egg whites, it will neutralize the flavor of the cheese mixture, so you want a stong-tasting cheese.  Longhorn cheddar won’t do.

With summer coming up, fresh tomatoes will be abundant.  If you want to use your fresh home-grown tomatoes, by all means, do.  Use the equivalent amount to fresh tomatoes.  Depending on how “rustic” you like your soup, you can peel and seed your fresh tomatoes before using them in the soup if you prefer.  It’s up to you.

As for canned, I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted.  If you want to use your fresh tomatoes but would like the roasted flavor, you can either roast your tomatoes on the grill or slow-roast in your oven.

 

Tomato Soup:

The ingredients

The ingredients

The spices (clockwise from top): Red Pepper Flakes, ground Bleck Pepper, Kosher Salt

The spices (clockwise from top): Red Pepper Flakes, ground Black Pepper, Kosher Salt

 

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, optional

4 tbsp. tomato paste

1 lg. (28 oz.) can tomatoes

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

1 lg. sprig rosemary, left whole

4 c. vegetable broth

Pinch sugar

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 bunch fresh basil, julienned

Shredded Parmesan or Romano

 

1.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the onions and garlic until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

2.  Add the red pepper flakes, if using, and cook another minute.

3.  Add the tomato paste and, stirring frequently, cook until the tomato paste begins to take on a rust-colored appearance (this indicates the sugars in the tomato paste are caramelizing).

Cooking the tomato paste. The paste is beginning to turn a burnt orange color.

Cooking the tomato paste. The paste is beginning to turn a burnt orange color.

4.  Add the tomatoes, rosemary, vinegar, broth, sugar, salt & pepper.  Stir until the soup is well mixed.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once the soup has come to a boil, uncover, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

After adding the tomatoes, broth, rosemary, vinegar, and spices

After adding the tomatoes, broth, rosemary, vinegar, and spices

Bringing the soup to a boil.

Bringing the soup to a boil.

5.  After the first 30 minutes of cooking, remove the soup from the heat and remove the rosemary stem.  Let the soup cool slightly.

After 30 minutes of cooking.

After 30 minutes of cooking.

6.  With either a stand blender (in batches) or a stick blender, puree the soup.  Make it as smooth or as texture as you like.  If you want a super-smooth soup, then pour the pureed soup through a strainer.  Taste for seasoning.

Pureeing the soup with a stick blender. (I find the stick blender easier and it uses fewer dishes.)

Pureeing the soup with a stick blender. (I find the stick blender easier and it uses fewer dishes.)

7.  Put the soup back on the stove to reheat over medium heat and just bring back to a boil.  Turn off the heat and add the basil.  Set the soup aside and let the basil “steep”.

 

Adding the basil and letting it "steep" in the soup.

Adding the basil and letting it “steep” in the soup.

 

Meanwhile, while the soup is cooking, make the Rarebit.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The Spices (clockwise from top center): Paprika, Kosher Salt, Cayenne Pepper, dry Mustard, Black Pepper

The Spices (clockwise from top center): Paprika, Kosher Salt, Cayenne Pepper, dry Mustard, Black Pepper

Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses

Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses

1 c. grated extra sharp Cheddar Cheese

1 c. grated Gruyère or Emmenthal Cheese

3 eggs, separated

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1/2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

Salt & pepper to taste

4 thick slices bread (sourdough or country loaf works best)

 

1.  In a large bowl mix the cheese with the egg yolks, Worcestershire, dry mustard, cayenne, paprika, salt & pepper.  Set aside.

The cheese mixed with the eggs and spices.

The cheese mixed with the eggs and spices.

2.  Preheat the oven to 450F.  Place the bread on a baking sheet lines with foil and parchment paper and toast the bread until it is lightly toasted on both sides.  Set aside.

Toasted bread.

Toasted bread.

3.  In a mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the whites reach stiff peak stage.

Stiffly beaten egg whites.

Perfectly beaten egg whites.

4.  Take 1/4 of the egg whites and mix them into the cheese mixture to lighten it up a bit.

Folding in the egg whites.

Folding in the egg whites.

5.  Take the remaining egg whites, 1/3 at a time, and fold them into the cheese mixture.  Don’t worry about making a homogenous mixture.  You just want to get a good mix with the cheese.

Ready for the bread. Don't worry about making a homogeneous mixture.

Ready for the bread. Don’t worry about making a homogeneous mixture.

6.  Divide the mixture evenly between the pieces of bread (there will be quite a lot).

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

 

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10  – 12 minutes or until the souffles are brown and have risen slightly.

The finished rarebit. Golden brown, slighly puffy, a little crispy.

The finished rarebit. Golden brown, slightly puffy, a little crispy.

 

Finish the meal:  By this point, the soup should be finished and the basil “steeping”.

Spoon the soup into a bowl and sprinkle some Parmesan or Romano over the top.

The finished soup.

The finished soup. Parmesan to be added.

Place one of the Rarebit on a plate.

The finsihed Rarebit.

The finished Rarebit. Molten gooddness.

Suppertime!

Supper!

Supper! Yummy, yummy supper.

 

Enjoy!

 

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Orecchiette 4

Posted on March 31, 2013 by Sahar

The humble tomato. One of our favorite  nightshade family fruits used as a vegetable. It’s hard to imagine now how it was once considered at best a trash food, and, at worst, poisonous.

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A brief history (via www.wikipedia.org)

Aztecs and other peoples in Mesoamerica used tomatoes in their cooking. The exact date of domestication is unknown; however,  by 500 BCE, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

There is some specualtion as to whether it was Christopher Columbus or Hernán Cortés was the first European to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared  in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who suggested that a new type of “eggplant” had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be eaten like an eggplant—cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. However it wasn’t until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apple”.

The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources. In northern areas of Italy, however, the fruit was used solely as a tabletop decoration before it was incorporated into the local cuisine in the late 17th or early 18th century.

The first recorded history of tomatoes in Italy dates back to October 31, 1548 when the house steward of the de’ Medici family wrote to the Medici private secretary informing him that the basket of tomatoes sent from the family’s Florentine estate at Torre del Gallo “had arrived safely.” Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. The Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty” and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their proximity of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. Additionally, both toxic and inedible varieties discouraged many people from attempting to consume or prepare them.

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard’sHerbal, published in 1597, and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy.  Nonetheless, he believed it was poisonous.  Gerard’s views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies. By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopædia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups, broths, and as a garnish.

The tomato was introduced to cultivation in the Middle East/Asia by John Barker, British consul in Aleppo circa 1799 to 1825. Nineteenth century descriptions of its consumption are uniformly as an ingredient in a cooked dish. In 1881, it is described as only eaten in the region “within the last forty years”.

The tomato entered Iran through two separate routes; one was through Turkey and Armenia, and the other was through the Qajar royal family’s frequent travels to France. The early name used for tomato in Iran was Armani badenjan (Armenian eggplant). Currently, the name used for tomato in Iran is gojeh farangi [French plum].

The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina, where they were introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century, they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations, and likely in other parts of the Southeast as well. Possibly, some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time; and in general, they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris, sent some seeds back to America.

Alexander W. Livingston was the first person who succeeded in upgrading the wild tomato, developing different breeds and stabilizing the plants. In the 1937 yearbook of the Federal Department of Agriculture, it was declared that “half of the major varieties were a result of the abilities of the Livingstons to evaluate and perpetuate superior material in the tomato”. Livingston’s first breed of tomato, the Paragon, was introduced in 1870. In 1875, he introduced the Acme, which was said to be involved in the parentage of most of the tomatoes introduced by him and his competitors for the next twenty-five years.

When Alexander W. Livingston had begun his attempts to develop the tomato as a commercial crop, his aim had been to grow tomatoes smooth in contour, uniform in size and having better flavor.  After five years, the fruit became fleshier and larger. In 1870, Alexander introduced the Paragon and tomato culture began at once to be a great enterprise of the county. Today, the crop is grown in every state in the Union. He eventually developed over seventeen different varieties of the tomato plant.

 

And… thus  the birth of the  homoginization of the tomato.

Luckily, that’s changing rapidly as heirloom varieties are now becoming more readily avilable.

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This recipe is one of my favorites not only because of its ease of preparation and the fact that it’s delicious, but because of its long cooking time.

Yes. You read that right.

This is a recipe that requires a very long cooking time.  At least 6 hours.

I know what some of you are thinking. What?! That’s insane! What do you mean by this being a good thing?

Trust me.  It is.  Because I can put this in the oven on a low, slow cook, walk away, and forget about it for a few hours. I can get on with my day.

Now, admittedly, some of you don’t feel comfortable leaving your oven on all day without someone at home to monitor it.  And that’s fine.  You can certainly roast the tomatoes over a weekend day and save them until later in the week for a quick weeknight supper.

 

Now, to the recipe:

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A few notes:

a) I generally use Roma tomatoes in this recipe.  This particular variety of tomato is meant to be cooked because of it’s meatiness. (It’s typically used in sauces and pastes.) They’re also available year-round.

b) Feel free to use whatever spices and herbs you like for this.  However, due to the long cooking time, I recommend using dried herbs.  If you’d like to use fresh herbs, mix them into the roasted tomatoes and pasta at the end.

c) Feel free to use what ever pasta you like.  I like to use orecchiette (meaning “little ears” in Italian) because the shape of the pasta holds so much of the sauce that comes from roasting the tomatoes.  However, if you would like to use another pasta, I would recommend using a shaped pasta as opposed to a straight pasta like spaghetti or pappardelle.

d) You can roast the tomatoes in advance and keep them in the refrigerator for 4 – 5 days.  Just heat them up slowly as you cook the pasta, then, mix them together when the pasta is done.

e) If you like, you can mix in a little protein to the tomatoes and pasta just before you serve.  Spicy Italian sausage works well.

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

5 – 6 lb. Roma tomatoes, seeded, stem end cut out

1/2 c. olive oil

Assorted herbs and spices, as much or as little as you like

Seasonings I used. Clockwise from top: Sugar, Black Pepper, Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, Italian Seasoning Blend

Seasonings I used. Clockwise from top: Sugar, Black Pepper, Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, Italian Seasoning Blend

 

1 lb. Orecchiette, or other shaped pasta

Grated Romano cheese

 

 

1.  Turn on your oven to 200F – 250F (depends on how fast you want to cook your tomatoes). Take a very large baking dish (mine is 12″ x 18″), and, if you like, give it a quick spritz with some non-stick spray.

2.  Cut the blossom end off and cut the  tomatoes in half along their equator. Give each of the halves a squeeze and use your fingers to remove as many of the seeds as possible.

Cleaning out the tomatoes. Not a pretty job.

Cleaning out the tomatoes. Not a pretty job.

The cleaned tomato.

The cleaned tomato.

Take the discarded seeds and use them in the compost pile or save for seeds for the garden.

3.  Place the cleaned halves in the baking dish.  Try to make sure you have a single layer.

Tomatoes in the baking dish ready for seasoning.

Tomatoes in the baking dish ready for seasoning.

 

4.  Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes.

Drizzling over the olive oil

Drizzling over the olive oil

Sprinkle over the seasonings.  Again, use as much or as little of what you like.  Carefully toss the tomatoes to completely coat them in the oil and seasonings.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

5.  Now, bake the tomatoes for at least 6 hours.  You can go as long as you like, depending on your oven temperature and how roasted you want your tomatoes.

I generally bake my tomatoes at 225F for about 8-10 hours.  I like them pretty well reduced.

With the amount of tomatoes you are roasting, unless they are very dry (and some may be, especially in the winter), you will end up with a lot of juices in the pan.  Embrace that.  Makes a great natural sauce for the pasta along with the tomatoes.

6.  After the tomatoes have roasted for at least 6 hours, check them.  Stir if you like. At this point, you can take the tomatoes out of the oven or continue to roast further.

The roasted tomatoes.

The roasted tomatoes.

7.  After the tomatoes are out of the oven, cook your chosen pasta according to the package directions until al dente.  Drain and put back into the cooking pot.

8.  Meanwhile, cut or chop the tomatoes.  I like doing this with a pair of kitchen shears.  It’s just easier and a whole lot less messy.

Cutting the tomaotes

Cutting the tomatoes

9.  Pour the tomatoes and juice into the cooking pot with the pasta and mix together.

Pasta and tomatoes ready to eat

Pasta and tomatoes ready to eat

If you like, sprinkle on some Romano Cheese.  I find it works well with the roasted flavor of the tomatoes.

Dinner!

Dinner!

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Croissants 0

Posted on November 15, 2012 by Sahar

We’ve all eaten a croissant at one point or another. Or many times.  Usually at a bakery, from the grocery store,  or as part of a (usually mediochre) “Continental Breakfast”.  Sometimes, they are made fresh, but more often than not, they’re made as part of a production line and simply reheated from frozen.

When I can find the time, I like to make them from scratch.  Yes. Scratch. From start to finish.

They’re always better. If I do say so myself.

Making croissants are not difficult, but they are time consuming.  This is not a recipe you can simply wake up one weekend morning and decide “I want fresh croissants for breakfast” and begin making them.  If you put in the work, you could have them the next morning, though. So, in other words, you can start them on Saturday and have them Sunday.

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As always, a little history lesson.

Crescent-shaped food breads have been made in Europe since at least the Middle Ages.

 The Kipferl – ancestor of the croissant – has been documented in Austria going back at least as far as the 13th century, in various shapes.  The Kipferl can be made plain or with nut or other fillings (some consider the rugelach [a filled, rolled pastry of Jewish origin] a form of Kipferl).

The “birth” of the croissant itself – that is, its adaptation from the plainer form of Kipferl, before the invention of Viennoiserie (Viennese yeast-risen pasteries) – can be dated with some precision to at latest 1839 (some say 1838), when an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese Bakery (“Boulangerie Viennoise”) at 92, rue de Richelieu in Paris. This bakery, which served Viennese specialities including the Kipferl and the Vienna loaf, quickly became popular and inspired French imitators (and the concept, if not the term, viennoiserie, a 20th century term for supposedly Vienna-style pastries). The French version of the Kipferl was named for its crescent (croissant) shape.

Alan Davidson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Food (an excellent reference book) found no printed recipe for the present-day croissant in any French recipe book before the early 20th century; the earliest French reference to a croissant he found was among the “fantasy or luxury breads” in Payen’sDes substances alimentaires, 1853. However, early recipes for non-laminated croissants can be found in the nineteenth century and at least one reference to croissants as an established French bread appeared as early as 1850.

The first true croissant recipe didn’t appear in print until 1906 in Nouvelle Encyclopédie Culinaire. So, the history of the croissant, as we know it, as a symbol of French cuisine, is a 20-century invention.

The Viennoiserie technique was already mentioned in the late 17th century, when La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier françois gave a recipe for it in the 1680 – and possibly earlier – editions. It was typically used, not on its own, but for shells holding other ingredients.  But it does not appear to be mentioned in relation to the croissant until the twentieth century.

Fanciful origin stories of how the Kipferl—and so, ultimately, the croissant—was created are widespread and persistent culinary legends, at least one going back to the 19th century.  However, there are no contemporary sources for any of these stories, nor does an aristocratic writer, writing in 1799, mention the Kipferl in a long and extensive list of breakfast foods.

The legends include tales that it was invented in Europe to celebrate the defeat of the Umayyad (Muslim) forces at the Battle of Tours by the Franksin 732, with the shape representing the Islamic crescent; that it was invented in Vienna in 1683 to celebrate the defeat of the Ottomans by Christian forces. (However, according to Davidson, ther is no truth to this origin.)

Now in France, croissants are split into two types:  “Croissant” – usually meaning croissants made with cheaper ingredients like margarine because butter is so expensive; and “Croissant au Beurre” – croissants made with butter only (or are supposed to be).

(information from www.wikipedia.org and The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, ed., 1999)

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A few tips on making croissants:

  • The most important thing to remember about croissants is that you must start off with quality ingredients – especially the butter.  If you can, always use European-style butter (available just about everywhere now).  It has a higher butterfat content (generally >80%) and less water than American-style butters (i.e. Land-O-Lakes).  This will give your croissants the flavor you are working so hard to strive for.
  • DO NOT use “light” butter or margarine. They are useless for baking; not to mention they taste awful. After all the work you’re going to put into this recipe, you want your croissants to taste great.
  • The same goes for the milk. Use whole milk.  Half-&-Half and Cream will be too heavy; 2% or Skim are good for drinking, but lousy for cooking.
  • Always keep your dough and butter cold.  The coldness of the butter in the layers will help create the lightness and layers in the dough as it bakes.  As the butter melts in during baking, the steam released will help create the flakiness and layers.
  • If your dough becomes too soft, or if the butter begins to break through the outer layers of dough, rub a bit of flour into the “wound”, wrap the dough tightly in plastic or place in a large zip bag, and place the dough back in the refrigerator for at least an hour to let the dough rest and the butter harden.
  • DO NOT SKIMP on the number of turns and rest periods.  This is a dough that takes time.  If you do not take the time, then you won’t get the results you’re looking for.
  • You can freeze the dough at any point during the process.  Be sure to keep it tightly wrapped and lay it flat.  It can keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Be sure to thaw it out in the refrigerator for 24 hours before either rolling or shaping.  (If you try to quick-thaw on the counter, you’ll destroy the texture of the dough.)
  • You can freeze already baked croissants.  Make sure they are in an airtight container or wrapped tightly.  Bake then straight from the oven at 350F for 10 – 12 minutes or until hot through.

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Now to the recipe.

 

After much trial and error, I settled on a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour for the croissants.  I felt that a recipe of only all-purpose flour made the croissants too soft with not enough body; all bread flour, they were too tough.

You can use instant or fresh cake yeast in this recipe. Most home cooks, however, prefer to use dry instant.  It keep longer and is easier to use.  However, if you bake yeast breads often and are used to it, then go ahead and use the fresh.  However, it does have a relatively short shelf life compared to the dry.

The Ingredients

 

3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

2 c. unbleached bread flour

2 pkg. instant yeast

-or-

2 ea. .6oz  fresh cake yeast (add to the milk while it’s heating and be sure to keep the milk 90 – 95F)

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

3 tsp. salt

1 3/4 c. whole milk, warmed to 95F – 105F (for dry yeast)

 

1 1/4 lb. cold unsalted butter

3 tbsp. unbleached flour

 

3/4 c. unsweetened  cocoa powder (for chocolate croissants only) – I like to use to use Dutch processed because it has a deeper, mellower flavor.  If you have natural cocoa powder and prefer to use it, go ahead.

 

1.  Make the dough: a) in a mixer bowl – mix together the dry ingredients on low speed with the dough hook attached. (If you are using fresh yeast, be sure to heat it with the milk.)

The dry ingredients.

 

As the mixer is running, slowly add in the warmed milk.

Adding the milk.

Continue mixing the dough on low speed until the dough comes together and forms a ball (trust me, it will), about 5 – 7 minutes.  It should be soft, pliable, and a slightly sticky.  Resist adding any additional milk or flour unless the dough is too sticky or too dry, otherwise the dough will become too dense.  If you need to, add only 1 tablespoon at a time of either.

But, like I said, please resist the urge.  The dough will come together.

b) By hand – mix together the dry ingredients and make a well in the center.  Add the milk to the center to the well in the well.

Getting ready to mix the dough by hand.

Toss the dry ingredients towards the center

Tossing the dry ingredients and the milk together.

This will take a little patience and elbow grease, but mix and knead the dough until it’s smooth and slightly sticky.

Mixing the dough.

The dough coming together.

The finished ball of dough. I didn’t add any additional flour or milk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead the dough for 2 -3 minutes until smooth.  (If you want to knead the dough for longer, you can.  The longer you knead it, the more “tooth” the dough will have.)

The kneaded dough. It’s a little less sticky. It’s OK if it’s not 100% smooth. You really want the dough to have an even texture.

Shape the dough into a slightly flattened oval and put into a large (2-1/2 gallon) zip bag. Be sure to squeeze out as much excess air as possible. (You will be using the bag through the whole process.)

The dough in the bag.

Alternately, you can loosely wrap the dough in a double layer of plastic.  The looseness will allow the dough to expand.  However, there is a danger of the dough breaking through the plastic as it rises (it’s happened to me), so I highly recommend the bags.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

 

2.  Prepare the butter: a) In the mixer – Cut the butter into 1/2″ pieces and put them into the mixer bowl with the 3 tablespoons flour. (The flour helps to give the butter some extra body.  However, if you forget to use it, it’s all right.)

Butter and flour in the mixer bowl.

Beat the butter on low speed until the butter is softened .  It’s alright if there are a few pieces of butter.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth.

After beating the butter and flour. It’s softened, but not completely smooth.

Turn the butter out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into rectangle or rounded disk that’s about 1/4″ thick.

The finished butter packet. Not exactly a rectangle or round. More like a flat egg shape.

b) By hand – Way #1: Lay the butter on a piece of plastic and loosely wrap.  With a rolling pin, beat the butter until it is flattened into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle (don’t worry about the butter with this method.)

The butter for the packet.

Flattening the butter with the rolling pin.

Done! It’s also a great stress reliever

Way #2:  Soften the butter slightly, cut into 1/2″ pieces, and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle the flour over the butter and mix together with either your hands (the best method) or with a rubber spatula.  Again, wrap the butter and form into a rectangle.

Place the butter in the refrigerator at let sit for at least 2 hours.

 

For Chocolate Croissants:  You make the dough the same way as you would for the butter croissants.  The cocoa powder will be incorporated into the butter.  You will make the butter mixture in either the mixer or by hand (in the bowl) the same way.

Butter and chocolate ready to be mixed.

Mixing the cocolate and butter together by hand. (Yes, I’m wearing a glove.)

The finished chocolate butter.

Let the chocolate butter sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

3.  After the dough’s initial rest, place it on a lightly floured surface (cold marble or granite is ideal), lightly flour the top,  and roll it out to an approximately 20″ x 16″ rectangle. (again, it’s OK if it’s not exact).

Note: the dough will be a bit sticky when you unwrap it or take it out of the bag. Just flour your hands a little to keep it from sticking to you.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough. It’s fairly soft, so rolling it should be easy.

Rolling the dough.

 

To make sure you have the dough rolled out enough to cover the butter, place the wrapped butter in the center and fold the dough over the butter packet.  At least 2 of the sides should overlap in the center over the butter.  If it’s not large enough, continue to roll out the dough until it is.

Once the dough is large enough, unwrap the butter and place it in the center of the dough.

Even though it seems like common sense, be sure your butter is unwrapped before you start to incorporate it into the dough. I had a student in a class once who forgot that step. Luckily, we were able to rescue her recipe.

The butter and the dough. Getting ready for enveloping.

Fold the extra dough over the butter.  If you have two sides that don’t meet or overlap in the center, be sure they are underneath the sides that do meet.

Folding the dough over the butter.

Folding the dough over the butter. Note how the dough isn’t meeting in the center. These are the sides you want to fold in first.

Folding over the top layers of dough. These two sides should overlap in the center.

The enveloped butter. Note how the center of the upper layers of dough overlap.

This is called enveloping the butter (in case you missed it before).

 

4.  At this point, you can either wrap or bag the dough and place it in the refrigerator to rest, or you can continue to roll the dough and do the first turn.

I usually press on.

But, if your kitchen is very warm, it would be best to let the dough rest so the butter and dough don’t get too soft.

With the seam side up, lightly press on the dough to help seal the seam.

Sealing the seam.

Add a little flour to your rolling surface and to the top of the dough if needed to keep it from sticking.

Rotate the dough and continue rolling until you reach a roughly 20″ x 16″ rectangle.

Rolling out the dough and butter. Take care not to press down too hard on the dough or you will risk the butter breaking through.

The rolled dough. The lighter spots are the butter. The seam is running up the center of the dough.

Have the dough laying with one of the long sides facing you.  Brush off any excess flour.  Take the left side and fold it towards the center (basically, the left 1/3).  Do the same with the right side (the right 1/3)  and have it overlap on the side already folded.  This is called a letter fold.

Folding the dough. Be sure to brush off any excess flour.

The folded dough. This is the first turn.

You have now completed the first turn.  Wrap the dough loosely in a double layer of plastic or put it back in the large zip bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. (The dough will continue to rise, so wrapping it loosely in plastic will give it room. However, I do recommend the 2-1/2 gallon zip bags. They’re far more reliable and, ultimately, less wasteful.)

Brief Notes:

a) If the butter begins to break through the dough (which more than likely will happen, especially with the chocolate dough), pack a bit of flour into the break to help seal it.  Be sure to check the bottom of the dough frequently as well because, sometimes, the butter will break through the bottom as well.  Before you fold the dough and put it back in the refrigerator, make sure you brush off the excess flour.

However, if the dough and butter are so soft that no amount of patching will currently fix it, then fold the dough and place it back in the refrigerator until it firms up; at least 1 hour.

The chocolate butter breaking through the dough.

Patching the break with flour.

b) The chocolate dough will be a bit more difficult to roll out because the butter is stiffer due to the extra cocoa.  I will generally let the chocolate dough sit for about 10 minutes before I begin to roll it out just to make it easier.

c) When you are rolling the dough, take care to only take the rolling pin right up to the edge, but don’t roll over the edge.  (This is a common mistake bakers make.)  If you roll over the edge, you risk having the layers sticking together.

5.  Once the dough has had its rest time, lightly flour your rolling surface, and take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Unwrap or take it out of the bag.

The dough, after the first turn, and after its rest time. Note how it rose again.

 

To begin rolling the dough for the second turn, have the long side facing you. Once again, roll the dough to a roughly 20″ x 16″ rectangle and fold the dough into a letter fold.  Wrap or bag the dough, and place it back into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Do this again a third time.  These will be your first three turns.

The butter dough. A close-up view.

The chocolate dough. A close-up view.

6.  Now for the fourth and final turn. Again, roll out the dough as before and have the long side facing you.

However, the dough will be folded differently.

Fold the left side towards the center and then the right. Keep a gap between the ends of the dough.  You will then fold over the dough.  This is called a wallet fold.

Wrap or bag the dough, refrigerate, and let rest for at least 2 hours.

Folding the dough for the fourth turn.

Folding the dough for the fourth turn. Note how there’s a gap between two ends of the dough.

Folding over the dough. This is called a wallet fold. This is the final turn.

I have been asked in classes if it’s OK to do more that 4 turns.

Certainly.

However, 4 turns are the traditional amount.  And, believe me, you really won’t want to do more than 4.

 

7.  At this point, you can cut as much or as little of the dough as you like and either refrigerate the rest (for up to 3 days) or freeze (up to 3 months).

A cross section of the layers of dough and butter in the chocolate croissant dough.

Roll out the dough to an approximately 1/4″ thickness. (I don’t want to give a rectangle size since I don’t know how much dough each of you will be using.)

If you are rolling out the whole, well, loaf, of dough, then you’ll end up with the approximately 20″ x 16″ rectangle. Then fold it in half lengthwise (if you want a standard sized croissants) and cut it along the fold.

The rolled out dough. Ready for cutting and shaping.

Folding the dough for cutting.

It’s kind of hard to see, but there’s the fold line in the center of the photo. This is where you trim the dough.

However, if you want dino-sized croissants, don’t worry about folding and trimming the dough before cutting and shaping.

Using a very sharp knife or a pastry/pizza cutter, trim the outer edges of the dough so you’ll have clean edges.

Trimming the dough.

Keep the scrap pieces.  I like to make cheese straws or just experiment with shapes.

Cook’s treat.

Once you have trimmed the dough, begin cutting the dough into triangles.  Make them as thin or as wide as you like. The standard size is about 3″ to 4″ at the base.

Cut triangles of croissant dough. Frankly, I’m surprised they’re as even as they are.

8.  Now, take each triangle and roll it out just a little more to thin it out. This helps make it easier to roll and helps to give you the correct number of layers. (Traditionally 7.)

Rolling out the croissant triangle.

Time to roll.

Some chefs like to place a small piece of the scrap dough at the wide end of the triangle before rolling.  This helps to support the roll and give it more volume. If you forget to do this, don’t worry.  I always forget.

Starting at the base of the triangle, roll it until you reach the tip.

Getting ready to roll the croissant.

Starting to roll the croissant.

Rolling the croissant.

The rolled croissant. Traditionally, there should be seven layers. But, I didn’t achieve that here. Oh, well.

After you roll the croissant, place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Continue until you have rolled as many as you like.  Be sure the tips are tucked underneath.  Brush them with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp. water).

Croissants, brushed with egg wash, ready for the oven. Admittedly, there are too many on the tray. Stick with no more than 6 – 10, depending on the size of the croissant and your sheet pan.

Let the croissants sit for about 1 hour before baking to let them rise.

 

9.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Once you put the croissants in, immediately lower the heat to 350F and bake for 12 minutes.  Then, rotate the baking sheet and bake the croissants for a further 8 – 12 minutes, depending on the size and the number of croissants you have on the sheet.

Some butter will melt out of the dough. It’s inevitable. However, most of it will be re-absorbed by the dough.

Freshly baked croissants. Mmm…

I know it’ll be difficult, but let the croissants sit for about 30 minutes before eating.  The layers need time to set.

 

10.  If you’d like to make filled croissants, there are two ways to shape the dough.  You can do the traditional crescent shape.  Place about a teaspoon of filling about 1/2″ away from the top edge of the triangle.

Filling a chocolate croissant with almond paste and bittersweet chocolate.

 

Or, you can cut a piece that’s 4″ x 6″.  Roll it out to 6″ x 8″.  Place any filling you like inside (keep the amount reasonable; otherwise, the inside of the croissant won’t bake), tuck in the short sides first, then fold over the long sides. Place the croissant, seam side down, on a baking sheet.   Brush with egg wash.  Let them sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.

(Baking instructions below the next recipe.)

One of the favorites in this house is ham & cheese. Take about 1 to 1-1/2 oz. each of ham and cheese (Gruyère is the best) and roll it into the croissant.  Yummy.

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Here’s the recipe for the Spreadable Almond Paste:

Almond Paste ingredients.

1 tube almond paste

2 egg whites

6 tbsp. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract.

 

Break the almond paste into small pieces and drop them into the bowl of a food processor.  Turn on the processor to chop the paste fine.  Through the feed tube, add the egg whites and mix well.  Add the sugar and vanilla or almond extract.  Continue processing until smooth.

The finished Almond Paste.

It will keep in the refrigerator for a week in an airtight container.

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No matter which shape you choose, filled croissants must be baked differently than regular unfilled croissants. They have to bake at slightly higher temperatures to be sure the center is baked through.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  When you put the baking sheet in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 400F and bake the filled croissants for 10 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheet, reduce the temperature to 375F, and bake another 8 – 12 minutes.

Let them sit for about 30 minutes to let the layers set and for the center to cool slightly.

 

Whew. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cajeta Cheesecake 1

Posted on November 09, 2012 by Sahar

I love cheesecake. It has everything I enjoy in a dessert: rich, sweet, and decadent (if you do it right).  Therein lies the beauty of cheesecake – you don’t need much to be satisfed.

Cheesecakes can be sweet or savory.  Chocolate, Vanilla, Citrus, or Nut.  Blue Cheese, Crab, Sun-Dried Tomato, Chipotle.

They can be baked or no-bake.  With or without a crust.  Serve it with a sauce, fruit, or by itself.

As I have said of a few other foods (chicken, pasta), cheesecake is one of the great blank cavasses of the culinary world.

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Here’s a very good brief history (paraphrased) of cheesecake that I came across from  http://www.cheesecake.com/History-of-Cheesecake.asp

The first “cheese cake” may have been created on the Greek island of Samos. Physical anthropologists excavated cheese molds from circa 2,000 BCE.  In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy, and there is evidence that it was served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 BCE. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. The simple ingredients of flour, wheat, honey and cheese were formed into a cake and baked.

The writer Athenaeus is credited for writing the first Greek cheesecake recipe in 230 A.D. (Greeks had been serving cheesecake for over 2,000 years but this is the oldest known surviving recipe.) It was also pretty basic mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour – heat the cheese cake “in one mass” – allow to cool then serve.

When the Romans conquered Greece, the cheesecake recipe was one of the spoils of war. They modified it by adding crushed cheese and eggs. These ingredients were baked under a hot brick and it was served warm. Occasionally, the Romans would put the cheese filling in a pastry. The Romans called their cheese cake “libuma” and they served it on special occasions. Marcus Cato, a Roman politician in the first century BCE, is credited as recording the oldest known Roman cheesecake recipe.

As the Romans expanded their empire further into Europe, their cheesecake recipes came with them.  Later, Great Britain and Eastern Europe began experimenting with ways to put their own unique spin on cheesecake. In each country of Europe, the recipes started taking on different cultural shapes, using ingredients native to each region. In 1545, the first  English cookbook was printed. It described the cheesecake as a flour-based sweet food. Even Henry VIII’s chef did his part to shape the cheesecake recipe. His chef cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked those pieces in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter and sugar.

It was not until the 18th century, however, that cheesecake would start to look like something we recognize in the United States today. Around this time, Europeans began to use beaten eggs instead of yeast to make their breads and cakes rise. Removing the overpowering yeast flavor made cheesecake taste more like a dessert. When Europeans immigrated to America, some brought their cheesecake recipes along.

Cream cheese was an American addition to the cake, and it has since become a staple ingredient in the United States. In 1872, a New York dairy farmer was attempting to replicate the French cheese Neufchatel. Instead, he accidentally discovered a process which resulted in the creation of cream cheese. Three years later, cream cheese was packaged in foil and distributed to local stores under the Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand. The Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand was purchased in 1903 by the Phoenix Cheese Company, and then it was purchased in 1928 by the Kraft Cheese Company. Kraft continues to make the same Philadelphia Cream Cheese that we are  familiar with today.

Of course, no story of cheesecake is complete without delving into the origins of the New York style cheesecake. The Classic New York style cheesecake is served with just the cake – no fruit, chocolate or caramel is served on the top or on the side. This famously smooth-tasting cake gets its signature flavor from extra egg yolks in the cream cheese cake mix.

By the 1900s, New Yorkers were in love with this dessert. Virtually every restaurant had its own version of cheesecake on their menu. New Yorkers have vied for bragging rights for having the original recipe ever since. Even though he is best known for his signature sandwiches, Arnold Reuben (1883-1970) is generally credited for creating the New York Style cheesecake. Reuben was born in Germany and he came to America when he was young. The story goes that Reuben was invited to a dinner party where the hostess served a cheese pie. Allegedly, he was so intrigued by this dish that he experimented with the recipe until he came up with the beloved NY Style cheesecake.

New York is not the only place in America that puts its own spin on cheesecakes. In Chicago, sour cream is added to the recipe to keep it creamy. Meanwhile, Philadelphia cheesecake is known for being lighter and creamier than New York style cheesecake and it can be served with fruit or chocolate toppings. In St. Louis, they enjoy a gooey butter cake, which has an additional layer of cake topping on the cheesecake filling.

Each region of the world also has its own take on the best way to make the dessert. Italians use ricotta cheese, while the Greeks use mizithra or feta. Germans prefer cottage cheese, while the Japanese use a combination of cornstarch and egg whites. There are specialty cheesecakes that include blue cheese, seafood, spicy chilies and even tofu! In spite of all the variations, the popular dessert’s main ingredients – cheese, wheat and a sweetener –remain the same.

No matter how you slice it, cheesecake is truly a dessert that has stood the test of time. From its earliest recorded beginnings on Samos over 4,000 years ago to its current iconic status around the world this creamy cake remains a favorite for sweet tooths of all ages.

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History lesson over, here are a few tips for making a successful cheesecake.

  • Make sure you have read the recipe completely before starting.  Have all the ingredeints prepped and measured.
  • Make sure your dairy – eggs, cream cheese, etc. – are at room temperature.  This will ensure there that the ingredients will mix evenly.
  • Use the paddle attachment, not the whip, when mixing the ingredients.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl as you add ingredients.  This will ensure even mixing.
  • Beat the cream cheese until it is smooth.  Make sure it doesn’t have any lumps.
  • Add the eggs one at a time.  Mix thoroughly after each one.
  • Preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes at 350F.  Be sure the rack is in the center of the oven.
  • Take the cheesecake from the oven when it still has a slight jiggle in the center.  If the center is hard when you take the cheesecake from the oven, it’s overcooked.

 

Troubleshooting:

  • To prevent cracking, be sure all the ingredients at room temperature.  As stated above, add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one is added.
  • To prevent a grainy texture, be sure the dairy products are at room temperature.  Slowly add the sugar, mixing thoroughly and making sure the sugar is dissolved.
  • Be sure to scrape the sids of the bowl to be sure there are no lumps. And, again, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Obviously, making sure the ingredeints are mixed is important.

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Now to the recipe.

To begin with, in this example, I’m using bottled cajeta.  If you want to use homemeade cajeta (and I have), my blog post from Jan. 29, 2012, will teach you how to do that.  Also, just to let you know, the bottled cajeta will set up more quickly than the homemade when it’s spread over the cold cheesecake.

Also, instead of graham crackers, I’m using “Maria” (Goya ® ) cookies.  I like to use them because they are less sweet and don’t compete with the cheesecake. (If you live in a town with a large Hispanic population, Maria cookies will be readily available at most groceries.) However, you can use graham crackers if you like.

 

The ingredients

 

4 pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

3 lg. eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract (preferably Mexican)

1 c. cajeta

1 tsp. canela (cinnamon, ground), optional

 

1 pkg. Maria cookies or graham crackers, ground

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsp. brown sugar

 

1/2 c. cajeta

1/2 c. toasted chopped pecans

 

1.  Make sure your rack is in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Wrap the outside of a 8- or 9-inch spingform pan in a double layer of heavy duty foil. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan.

The wrapped springform.

2.  In a small bowl, mix together the cookies or graham crackers, butter, and sugar.  Press the mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides. (Try to make the thickness of the crust as even as possible.)

The crust in the springform pan.

3.  Place the pan in a baking dish large enough for the pan to sit flat in the bottom.  Fill the pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the springform.  Set aside.  (The foil prevents the water from seeping into the bottom of the pan and making the crust soggy.)

 4.  In a mixer using the flat beater, beat the cream cheese until smooth.

Cream Cheese. Ready to go.

Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.

After the eggs have all been incorporated. A nice, smooth mixture.

Add the vanilla and canela (if using).  Mix well.  Add the cajeta and, again, mix well.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl so the batter is evenly mixed.

5.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.

Cheesecake ready for the oven.

 

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes.  If you have a hotspot in your oven, rotate the baking dish about halfway through the cooking time.

6.  After the initial 45 minute cooking time, check the doneness of the cheesecake. Gently shake the pan.  The center of the cake should have a slight wobble.  If the center seems almost liquid, let the cheesecake continue to cook.  At 1 hour, check again.  If the center is still too liquid, continue baking, checking every 5 minutes.  Take care not to overbake.  If the center of the cheesecake is solid when you take it out, then the cake is overcooked.

The cheesecake right out of the oven. It has a slight wobble and has a raised center. The cheesecake will settle as it cools.

Take the cheesecake out of the waterbath and allow to cool on a rack.

Once it is cooled, remove the foil and discard or toss in the recycling bin.  Wrap the cheesecake (still in the springform) thoroughly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to set.

7.  When you are ready to serve, run the blunt edge of a knife (a butter knife is ideal) between the crust and sleeve of the springform.  Carefully unlatch the springform sleeve and release the cake.

At this point you can leave the cake on the base of the springform, or, if you’re feeling confident, slide the knife between the cake and the base to help release it.  (I prefer to leave it on the base and put it in a cake holder. I’m too afraid I’d drop it otherise.)

After you’ve released the cake, spread the reamaining 1/2 cup cajeta over the top and sprinkle over the toasted pecans.

The finished cheesecake. Yummy.

A cross section of a lovely, creamy cheesecake. I ate the piece I cut for lunch.

Of course, be sure to remove the parchement paper from the piece of cheesecake before you serve.

Be sure to carefully wrap or cover any leftover cheesecake and refrigerate.

 

I almost forgot…  Cheesecake can be frozen. Just be sure to wrap  it (completely cooled) tightly in plastic wrap and again in foil.  It will keep for 3 months in the freezer (be sure to date it).  Let it defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arabic Style Savory Pies 6

Posted on September 30, 2012 by Sahar

Just about every cuisine in the world has it’s own version of savory pies.  The Latin World has empanadas; Austrailia has Meat Pies;  Great Britain has Pasties and Scotch Pies; India has Pakora.

And, in the Middle East, they have Fatayer (فطاير), Sfeeha (صفيحة), and Sambousek (سمبوسك).  They can be eaten as mezze or as part of a main meal (the way I like to do it).

 

A Primer:

Fatayer are baked triangle-shaped pies that are usually filled with cheese or spinach.

Sfeeha are open-faced pies usually with a meat topping, but other ingredients can be used as well.

Sambousek are essentially half-moon shaped pies that can either be baked or fried.  They usually have meat or cheese filling.

And they are all delicious.

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For my post, I’ve made the Fatayer and Sambousek.  I used spinach in the Fatayer and lamb in the Sambousek.  No frying, though.

And now, on to the recipes.

The Ingredients

The spices. (L – from top clockwise) Black Pepper, Allspice, Cinnamon, Salt;
(R) Sumac

 

The pies in these recipes use a yeast dough.  I generally don’t proof my yeast (although I probably should).  I just pay attention to the expiration date on the package and use my yeast quickly.  However, if you want to proof, here’s how you do it:

Fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm (95F – 105F) water.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then 1 package of the yeast. (Yeast loves warm temperatures and food.  Hense the warm water and sugar. It’s basically a fermenting process.) Let the yeast dissolve in the water (you may have to do a little stirring to accomplish this).  Set the measuring cup aside in a warm place and let the yeast do its thing.  If it begins to bubble and rise, then it’s good.  If the yeast does nothing, then either your water wasn’t the correct temperature or your yeast was bad.

There is a spice I use for the spinach filling that you may not be familiar with: Sumac.  Sumac can generally be found growing wild throughout the Middle East.  It’s “berry” has a thin skin and flesh surrounding a very hard seed.  These “berries” are ground down to make a powder.  Sumac has a tart, slightly astringent, almost lemony flavor.  Look for sumac that is brick red to dark burgundy  in color and is an even grind.  You want it to have a bright scent.  If it smells like dirt, don’t buy it.  It’s old.

Don’t go and pick berries off a sumac plant if you see one.  It’s most likely “poison sumac”.  Just buy the dried ground in the store.

Sumac is used for Zaatar (a spice mix that also has thyme, sesame seeds, and salt), in kebabs as a seasoning, on vegetables, eggs, in meat dishes.  It’s a ubiquious spice in the Middle East.

Sumac.

 

Pastry Dough

6 c. all-purpose flour

1 package yeast

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. warm water (95F – 105F), more if needed

 

I prefer to mix my pastry dough by hand.  However, if you like to use a mixer or a processor, by all means, do so.

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.

Dry pastry ingredients

Add the olive oil and mix it in.

Adding the olive oil

Add the water.

Adding the water.

 

Now, mix throroughly.  You want to have a dough that is slightly sticky.  I’ve found that it’s all right if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  However, you want to work the dough as much as possible without having to add any additional water or flour if you can.

Trust me, it will come together.

(Apologies for the following photos. I didn’t stop to “pose” while Husband was taking them, so they’re a little blurry. But, I think you’ll get the point.)

Mixing the dough.

Mixing the dough. In the beginning there will be a lot of dry compared to wet. Keep working the dough.

The dough is coming together. I haven’t added any additional flour or water.

The dough has come together and the bowl is fairly clean. Which is what you want.

2.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can do this in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a flat surface. Or, if you’re using a mixer, use the dough hook.

3.  Pour a little additional olive oil to grease the bowl.  Place the dough back in the bowl and rub a little olive oil over the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm placce to rise.  About 2 hours.

4.  Meanwhile, make the fillings:

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Spinach Filling for Fatayer

1 1/2 lbs. spinach (I like to use baby spinach.  I don’t have to trim the stems or chop it)

1/4 c. sumac, or to taste

1 tbsp. salt or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed

 

1.  In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The spinach filling mixture.

2.  Pour the spinach mixture into a large colander and place the colander over the large bowl.  The spinach will basically (chemically) cook as it sits and release moisture.  The colander allows the excess moisture to drain away.

Toss the spinach occasionally.  Because it’s essentially cooking, it will wilt.

The colander sitting in the bowl. This will allow any moisture to drain off as the spinach sits.

The excess moisture from the spinach mixture after about 2 hours.

 

And you may ask the questions: Well, why do this in advance then? Why not wait until just before making the pies before mixing the spinach?

Because, wilting the spinach and allowing it to drain will get rid of any tannins in the spinach and will make it easier to fill the pies bacause you don’t have to contend with leaves flying all over the place.

 

Meat Filling for Sambousek

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (I like to use an 80/20 grind. I find it has more flavor)

1 sm. onion, minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened, about 3 – 5 minutes.

2.  Add the meat and continue cooking until it is cooked through and there is no pink left.

3.  Add the spices and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Cooking the meat filling.

4.  Put the meat filling into a large strainer or colander and allow any fat to drain off.  Set aside and allow to cool.

The fat after the meat has been drained. Gross, but, there it is.

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5.  Prepare several large baking sheets (I usually do 4) for prepping and baking.  Line the baking sheets with heavy duty foil (saves on clean-up later) and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

The prepared baking pans

6.  After 2 hours, the dough should be ready for forming.

The dough after the first rising.

Punch down the dough and knead it until it forms a smooth ball.

Punching down the dough to start releasing the excess air. Plus, it’s fun.

Folding the dough over on itself. I’m kneading and releasing the excess air.

The dough after kneading. Almost back down to its original size.

 

Now, take the dough and pinch off roughly golf ball -sized pieces and shape them into balls.

Pinching off the dough to form smaller balls for the pies.

Take each piece of dough and begin tucking under the edges to form a smooth ball of dough.  Well, as smooth as you can make it.

Forming a ball of dough.

Tucking under the ends.

 

Lay the balls of dough on one of the baking sheets as you finish them.  I generally keep them about 1″ apart.

Laying the dough on the tray.

Cover the try with plastic wrap and set aside to let the dough rise again.  About 30 minutes.

A finished tray of dough.

The dough 30 minutes later. This is the reason you keep them 1″ apart.

7.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Have a rack in the center of the oven.

8.  Now, to form the pies.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. (Don’t over-flour.  It will make the dough harder to work with when you form the pies.) Take one of the balls of dough and place it on the board.  Roll out the dough into a roughly 4″ – 5″ circle.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Not exactly round. More like an amoeba shape. But, you get the point.

Fun tip:  I have also used my tortilla press to make the dough circles.  Just line your press with plastic wrap first.

 

9.  Fill the pies.  For the fatayer, place roughly 2 – 3 tablespoons of the spinach filling in the center of the dough (you’ll basically need to eyeball this measurement).

Placing the spinach on the dough.

The spinach on the dough. I like to spread it out a bit. Make it into, normally, a rough triangle shape.

Now, to form the pies:

Begin by taking the left side of the circle and folding it over at an angle towards the center, forming a partial peak at the top.

Folding over the dough to form the pies.

Take the right side and repeat the process.

Folding over the right side

Fold the bottom side over towards the center, forming the triangle.

The final side folded over.

Now, pinch the seams closed.

Pinching the seams closed.

The finished pie.

Lay your finished pies on a baking sheet.

Many finished pies.

Note:  As you get further down into the colander, you’ll want to squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the spinach.  While the spinach on top may not have as much moisture, gravity is doing its work and drawing the moisture down and, of course, the bottom will have more than the top.

 

To fill the Sambousek:  Roll the dough out as you would for the Fatayer.

Spoon roughly 2 tablespoons of the meat filling over 1 side of the dough.  Be sure to leave about 1/4″ of dough uncovered on that side for sealing.

Filling the Sambousek.

The meat filling for the Sambousek.

Fold the empty side over the top and cover the filling.

Folding over the dough.

Press and then pinch the seam closed.

Pressing the seam closed.

Pinching the seam closed.

The finished pie.

Lay the finished pie on the baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.

Many finished pies.

10.  To bake the pies:  Bake the pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  I like to bake mine for 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Now, especially with the Fatayer, some of the pies may come open during baking.  It happens to me all the time.  Don’t despair. Consider them a cook’s treat.  Also, even though you have do doubt worked diligently to remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach, some will remain.  Occasionally, the moisture will cause the spinach to break through the bottom of the Fatayer.

To remedy this,  either make larger balls of dough when you form them after the first rising (roughly somewhere between golf ball and baseball-sized; the dough for the pies will be thicker, but you will have fewer pies); or, simply roll the dough thicker to make smaller pies.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste great.

Hey, it’s homemade.

The finished Fatayer.

The finished Sambousek.

 

The pies can be eaten either warm or at room temperature.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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