BOUILLABAISSE FOR A CHILLY EVENING

Bouillabaisse is a classic Mediterranean dish. Not to brag or sound like a pain-in-the-butt snob, but I once enjoyed a bowl in a wonderful restaurant in Nice. One of those unforgettable meals in which the setting, the company, the food, all conspired together to make you feel on top of the world. Or close enough. Where we live we have access to the very best beef you can dream of, but seafood? Not so much. So I realize that calling my humble seafood concoction “Bouillabaisse” is a bit of a stretch. The fish was previously frozen, same goes for the shrimp. I know that nowadays the frozen stuff is processed almost immediately upon fishing, but still… Cooking seafood in the middle of the country always seems a bit strange. However, I must say we were very pleased by how tasty it turned out. Not the same as sitting down for a beautiful meal in Nice, but… being at home with the fire-place going, and the three pups all cozy near us has its charm also.

A SIMPLE BOUILLABAISSE
(adapted from several sources)

3 pounds of mild fish, cut into large pieces (I used cod and red snapper)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 pound clams
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions (I omitted)
1 fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp saffron threads
2 tsp salt or more to taste
1 cup shrimp stock (made with shrimp shells, lemon and onions)
1 cup clam juice (store-bought)
fresh thyme
orange zest and a bit of juice
parsley leaves, minced

Make the shrimp stock.  In a sauce pan, add the shells, cover with water, juice of half a lemon and half an onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, reserve the liquid to use in the bouillabaisse. In a small bowl, mix a couple of tablespoons of the shrimp stock with the strands of saffron, rubbing them between your fingers to release the oils.  Reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fennel. Stir to coat the vegetables with the olive oil. Cook on medium heat until softened and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, the saffron infused shrimp stock, salt, orange zest and juice. Simmer gently for 10 more minutes. 

Add the pieces of fish, the shrimp, the reserved shrimp stock and the clam juice. Bring to a gentle boil,  add parsley, simmer covered for 5 minutes. Add the clams, cook for 10 minutes or so until they open and are cooked through. Keep the heat at a very gentle level.  Remove bay leaf before serving, adjust seasoning.  Wonderful with a nice piece of sourdough bread.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Traditionally, Bouillabaisse is served with a rouille on top. Think of a sauce made from hearty bread, olive oil, and other tasty suspects. I omitted, we had a slice of sourdough with it instead. I added a generous squirt of lemon juice to my bowl, it’s something I find myself doing so often, it always seem to make the food shine a bit brighter. If you want to simplify things even further, you can use just clam juice and water as the cooking liquid, but making shrimp stock is so simple, and it does intensify the seafood flavor in the soup. If you can find sea bass, definitely use it. It is the best fish, in my opinion, but as you can imagine, not easy to find in our neck of the woods.  And when we do find it, we must be ready to shell some serious cash for it.


The smell as this soup-stew cooks is something! The main thing to pay attention to is not to overcook the delicate seafood, and keep the heat at a very gentle simmer, because shrimp in particular tends to toughen up easily. I had considered cooking the shrimp sous-vide separately and just add it to the soup when serving, but ended up going the more traditional route. If you have a sous-vide gadget, keep in mind that it makes absolutely perfect shrimp, with a texture you cannot get any other way.

The resident oyster-shucker made sure we have the perfect appetizer to open this meal…

Totally off-topic: today marks my first anniversary of…..  braces!
One year down, one more to go (sigh)

ONE YEAR AGO: Bergamot-Cherry Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Veggies with Queso Cotija Dressing

THREE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli and Mushroom Casserole

FOUR YEARS AGO: Maple Walnut Biscotti

FIVE YEARS AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

SIX YEARS AGO: Oatmeal Fudge Bars

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Steaks

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Soft Spot for Chevre

NINE YEARS AGO: Quick sun-dried Tomato Crostini

 

 

BERRY REBELLION TARTS BY KIRSTEN TIBBALLS

Fantastic, terrific, outstanding, phenomenal, impressive, superb. Those are some of the adjectives I must use to express how I feel about Savour online classes, particularly those taught by the founder of the site, Kirsten Tibballs. I found Savour by accident about 6 months ago, and decided that a monthly subscription to have access to the hundreds of patisserie videos (260 at the present time) was more than worthy it. They add new videos on a regular basis, but in my opinion, even if they did not, the material already available is mind-blowing. Yes, yet another adjective joined my party. Kirsten Tibballs’ CV is quite impressive, you can read about her in this recent interview. Plus, she is a perfect teacher, going over every detail in the recipe, making sure you know what is absolutely important to pay attention to and why. I learn a lot watching her classes. And the icing on the cake? She always has a nice smile and a calm, serene demeanor that makes even the most complex recipes seem doable. Well, except when she performs her magic tricks with tempered chocolate. The doable component goes out of the window, and it goes real fast.  Today I share a recipe she offered on her youtube channel, and show you another tart (without the recipe) that is part of the Savour school. They were both spectacular, but I am particularly thrilled by the first one: Berry Rebellion Tarts. We had them for our Valentine’s dinner dessert, and they closed the evening with a golden key. Maybe it was more a ruby-red key?

VALENTINE’S BERRY REBELLION TARTS
(slightly modified from Kirsten Tibballs youtube channel)

For the pastry shells:
225g all-purpose flour
125g unsalted butter
75g superfine granulated sugar
1 egg (about 60g)
2 teaspoons of water

Heat the oven to 350F. Combine the sifted flour and butter to form a crumb; you can do this either in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, food processor or rub the butter into the flour by hand. It is important that you do not over mix at this stage and ensure that all the butter is combined without forming a paste.

Combine the sugar, water and egg in a bowl, stop the mixer and add this to the crumb mixture. Mix until it just comes together as a dough. Press the dough into a flat square, cover in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for 1 hour. Once the dough is firm, remove from the fridge and cut in half. Roll the pastry out to 3mm thick on a surface lightly dusted with flour. Cut out discs slightly larger than the tart rings (mine are 8cm in diameter). Place the rings on a lined baking tray and line them with the pastry. Place the tarts in the fridge and repeat the process with the remaining dough.

When the pastry has firmed up, trim the edges with a small sharp knife. Cover the tarts with plastic wrap, fill the tarts with uncooked beans or rice, pressing them into the base firmly to make sure it is filling all the corners. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, remove the rice and plastic lining and bake for a further 4-6 minutes or until a light golden brown colour. Remove the rings while the tarts are warm and allow to cool.

For the crunchy layer:
20g freeze-dried strawberries
13g puffed rice cereal
62g  white chocolate
20g grapeseed oil

Melt the white chocolate in a plastic bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on high until it is half melted. Stir vigorously to melt all the chocolate and add in the oil. Mix to combine then add the strawberries and rice bubbles and stir. Spoon a thin layer onto the tart shells, followed by a thin layer of compote, made as described below.

For the strawberry compote:
200g strawberries, hulled and cut in pieces
50 g granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
120 mL water (about 1/2 cup)
pinch of salt

Place strawberries in a saucepan with sugar,  lemon juice, and salt. Divide the water into two – pour half with the fruit and combine the other half into the cornstarch.

Heat the fruit on low to medium until sugar is dissolved shaking the pan to cook evenly. Add the well-mixed cornstarch mixture into the bubbling fruit. Continue to cook on low – the mixture will thicken and looks glossy. When thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon or spatula it’s ready. Let cool completely. It can be prepared a couple of days in advance.

For the Chantilly topping:
150 ml fresh cream 35% fat (A)
15g liquid glucose
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
105g good quality white chocolate
220 ml fresh cream 35% fat (B)

Boil the cream (A), glucose and vanilla in a saucepan. Pour the boiling mixture over the white chocolate in a bowl and whisk together by hand. Add in the cream (B) and whisk again. Place in the fridge for 6 hours prior to whipping. To whip, whisk it in a stand mixer or by hand to a piping consistency.

Place a generous spoonful of the white chocolate Chantilly cream on top and smooth into a dome shape with a knife. Freeze for 1 hour minimum.  Proceed to make the chocolate coating.

For the chocolate coating:
500g white chocolate
50g grapeseed oil
10g red oil soluble colour (I used only 4g)

Temper the white chocolate by melting it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until half melted. Add in the grapeseed oil and combine. Portion out one-third of the chocolate and sieve in the red colour. Stir to combine then fill a paper piping bag halfway with the chocolate. Place the white chocolate in a smaller bowl and pipe the red chocolate in a grid pattern on top. Holding the tart shell, dip the cream coating into the chocolate and twist the tart as you remove it. Let it drip for a few seconds before turning it upwards and leave at room temperature to set. Pipe red chocolate over the grid pattern each time you dip a new tart, until you coat the six of them.

Allow them to fully set, place in the fridge to defrost for at least one hour before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: When I coated the tarts and placed them on the rack to set,  I said to myself “did I make these? did I really make these?”  Nothing beats the thrill of pulling a recipe that seems a bit too complex and that takes me out of my comfort zone. More often than not, I have small issues with it, but not this time. They turned out better than I expected. I spread the preparation over three days, because with Valentine’s falling on a Thursday I had no choice. The tartlets were made on Tuesday evening, the compote on Wednesday evening.

I urge you to watch Kirsten video on youtube. Her method to shape the dough in the tart rings is wonderful and if you follow it closely you’ll have tartlets with a perfect sharp angle at the bottom, instead of a rounded-up edge that makes spreading the filling a bit tricky. Small details matter. The addition of a tiny amount of water in the dough makes it easier to roll out. A pleasure to work with. I used regular saran wrap to cover the tarts before filling with beans (or rice, if you prefer that). Just make sure to crumble the plastic on top,  so that it dos not touch the ring during baking.  Once the tarts are cool, you are ready to move on to the two-component filling…

Mis-en-place is everything, and BogeyQT™ definitely approved the way I handled that step. A crusty base with puffed rice cereal, freeze-dried strawberries and white chocolate gives these babies intense flavor and a perfect contrast to the creamy topping that is added later. I changed the recipe for the strawberry compote, because I felt that just simmering the fruit in water and sugar resulted in a very loose mixture. I was afraid it would leak all over the place when I cut the tart. So I used a strawberry compote slightly thickened with cornstarch.  It maybe depends on the fruit available to you, Kirsten made them in Australia at the peak of the summer. Lucky lucky woman, I am in the desolate tundra of Kansas freezing my tropical bones. Once the compote is added, all you have to do is crown it with some seriously awesome white chocolate Chantilly cream.

Not to repeat myself, but still doing it, you MUST watch her youtube video for this step (around minute 18). I was a bit worried about sculpting the top in a nice mountain-shape, Chantilly is not the most forgiving substance in patisserie world. But Kirsten, knowing that this step has the potential to induce hyperventilation, holds her spatula and with a very sweet smile says, eyes straight to the camera: I know you can do it!  I got faith on you….  Well, let’s say I would not allow cameras to show my performance, but somehow I managed to do it, a few blobs of cream finding the counter top, but not really that bad. And that final step? Swirling the top of the frozen tartlets in the white chocolate pool? That is THE coolest thing ever! Dip it right to the level of the tart shell, and then control your nerves and lift it as you turn. Don’t over-think it. Go for it. I tell you, it was almost as much of a thrill as crossing the finish line of a marathon back in 1986. Yeah, that’s about right.

The tart is simply amazing. The white chocolate-Chantilly cream is quite likely one of the most luscious toppings I’ve ever made, and all the components work together well: the extra crunchy layer with the freeze-dried strawberries is full of flavor, the compote sweet-and-tart, and then the creamy top. OMG-type of dessert. Trust me. You could change the color of the swirl component, maybe even add two different colors for a cool effect, adapting it to Easter, Christmas, Mardi Gras… One of the tastiest things I’ve made in a long time.

Now, time for a teaser recipe, which you can find at Savour.com.  Kirsten’s Crown of Savour is a single tart with some similarities to the Berry Rebellion. A tart base (slightly different recipe), a crusty layer made with pistachios, slivered almonds, puffed rice and white chocolate. Fresh raspberries spread on top, all covered with a superb vanilla cream perfumed with rose-water. To crown it, a disc of tempered chocolate showered with a dust of freeze-dried raspberries. It was a labor of love, but worth the effort.


I think the trickiest component of this tart was the tempered chocolate disc. Kirsten is undoubtedly the Queen of Chocolate. She is able to spread the tempered suspension super thin, so the result is a much more delicate topping. The decoration she chose for the tart is also totally different, she baked little sticks with meringue and stuck them in a nice pattern all around. You can marvel at it here.  I could not bring myself to go for those, as all my energy had been depleted in a certain chocolate tempering adventure. I decorated the edges with pieces of tempered chocolate I had played with. Kirsten’s Crown of Savour is a real masterpiece of patisserie.

The flavors of this tart were also quite amazing, Kirsten is big on contrasting textures. In the video, she points out that you can potentially simplify things by omitting the crunchy layer on top of the crust, but I do think it adds a lot to the dessert. If you spread preparation over a couple of days, it’s all pretty doable. Of course, the chocolate component a bit of a challenge. Savour has a few tutorials on tempering chocolate using different methods like tabling and microwave, so it’s actually all there for you to learn.  I need a lot more practice, my chocolate decorations are always a bit “heavy”, not enough finesse, because evidently I don’t have the “chocolate skill.” Not yet, that is…

As I mentioned, Savour right now has 260 videos. Most are 20 to 40 minutes long, some are shorter, some slightly longer. They show every single step to make the desserts, no matter how complex. You have access to the full recipe, as well as links to special items used (baking pans, silicone molds, piping gadgets). Finally, you also have access to a forum to ask questions to moderators and other bakers. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I only recommend things I love, and never accept any requests to review books or products. I am absolutely in love with Savour and feel that anyone with a passion for patisserie will profit from their online classes.


Chef Kirsten, thank you so much for making classes available to home bakers like me, who live so far away from Australia and can only dream of taking a hands-on class from you.


 

ONE YEAR AGO: Emilie Raffa’s High Hydration Sourdough

TWO YEARS AGO: Short-Ribs with Chickpeas and Chard

THREE YEARS AGO: Asian-Style Short Ribs 

FOUR YEARS AGO: Herbed Goat Cheese Souffles

FIVE YEARS AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

SIX YEARS AGO: Jammin’ Blueberry Sour Milk Pancakes

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Scallops with Black Pasta in Orange Cream Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Stir-fried Chicken with Creamed Corn

NNE YEARS AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo

GREEN BEANS AND CARROTS WITH SPICY ALMONDS

Green beans with almonds is such a simple recipe. A bit like avocado toast: grab bread, toast it, smash avocado on it, top with whatever you like, give it a fancy name and be done with it. Yet, here I am to share an almost non-recipe with you. It turns out that this was unexpectedly delicious. And I will be making it again and again. That makes it blog-worthy in my book. So there!

GREEN BEANS AND CARROTS WITH SPICY ALMONDS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground za’tar
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
a touch of olive oil butter
⅔ cup slivered almonds (or amount to taste)
green beans, cut into 1½-inch lengths
carrots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt

To make the almonds: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, chili powder, za’tar, salt, and cayenne. Heat the olive oil in a small nonstick skillet. Add the almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle them with the sugar-spice mixture and stir almost constantly until the spices are fragrant, do not let it burn. Move them to a plate and reserve at room temperature.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. You have two options: add the green beans and carrots and cook both together until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Or if you prefer the carrots a bit more tender, add them first, cook them for about 3 minutes, then add the green beans for additional 4 minutes of cooking. Drain both veggies well, lay over paper towels or a kitchen towel to remove all excess water.

Finish the preparation: Add the olive oil to the a non-stick skillet and heat over medium-heat. Add the green beans and carrots and toss well. Sautee until you get some color on some of the green beans and carrots, the less you move them around the more they will brown. Season with salt, add the almond mixture, toss just a couple of times to spread them around the veggies. Transfer to a serving dish.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Two game changers here, the inclusion of carrots and the sweet-and-spicy mix. We have green beans with almonds very often, but this preparation feels like a totally different recipe, with the carrots bringing a nice contrast of color, and the spice mixture giving just the right amount of naughtiness to the almonds. Simple, no doubt, but so delicious. Cumin could be a nice addition, although I do feel that it tends to overpower things a bit. You should come up with your own version of spices just keep the sugar and use your imagination. Keep in mind that nothing brightens up this type of dish more than a little squirt of lemon juice in the end, right before serving. I totally forgot about it.

Leftovers were great next day, but probably a lot better if someone had not picked all the almonds as a post-dinner snack. Confession: I did it. They were that tasty. I am sorry. Kind of.

Dinner is served!  Store-bought rotisserie chicken, a bit of rice and this tasty side dish.
Easy to bring to the table even after traveling the whole day.

ONE YEAR AGO: Quiche 101

TWO YEARS AGO: Persian Butternut Squash Soup

THREE YEARS AGO: Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi in Brazil?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso-Lime Dressing

SIX YEARS AGO: 2012 Fitness Report: P90X2

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Caramelized Bananas

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

NINE YEARS AGO: Whole Wheat Bread

 

 

SOUS-VIDE OVERNIGHT OATMEAL

Let me get this out right away: I don’t care for oatmeal. At all.  Growing up in Brazil it was not part of my breakfast, in fact I only learned about it when I was 26 years old and arrived in the US for the first time for a post doc. I thought the texture was unpleasant, the taste very bland, unless you dump a ton of brown sugar and heavy cream and this and that on top. What would be the point then? However, oatmeal is very popular, considered a healthy option to start the day, keeping you full until lunch time with good amount of fiber, the right carbs, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. None of this would make me look forward to a bowl of oatmeal to start my day, especially considering I am not a breakfast person. But hubby loves it. And that was enough to make me try a sous-vide version. I had no idea it would be a game-changer for me. It’s really tasty. So, if you are an oatmeal hater who owns a sous-vide gadget, I urge you to give this recipe a try. If you don’t have a sous-vide, I heard that crock pot versions can be excellent too, but I have no personal experience with it.

OVERNIGHT OATMEAL SOUS-VIDE
(adapted from several sous-vide sources)

jars:
8 jars with 4-ounce capacity
or
4 jars with 8-ounce capacity

for each small (4oz) jar:
2 tablespoons steel-cut oats
70 g water
pinch of salt

for each bigger (8oz) jar:
4 tablespoons steel-cut oats
140 g water
pinch of salt

Using sous vide circulator, bring water to 155°F.  Fill the jars of your choice with the appropriate amount of oats, water, add the salt. Seal jars. If they have screw-caps, don’t tighten them too much. Lower jars slowly in the prepared water bath until fully submerged. Cover and cook for 10 to 12 hours.

Remove jars from water-bath. Stir oats and serve with the toppings of your choice. If using the small jars, you’ll need two of them to make a single portion.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I now realize that texture was my main issue with oatmeal. For some reason, even after cooking for so many hours, the sous-vide results in oats with the exact amount of bite for my taste. I still prefer to have them later in the day with a fried egg on top. I call it light lunch. The jars, once ready, can sit in the fridge for a few days. When you are ready for breakfast (or any other time of the day you feel like it), pour the contents in a bowl and warm very very briefly in the microwave. Add the toppings you love and you are done.  Golden raisins and a touch of brown sugar is a nice combination, and yes, I’ve had that for lunch more than once.

As I mentioned, you can find plenty of recipes for overnight oatmeal using a slow-cooker.  I imagine they will please all oatmeal lovers, but if you are part of my team, sous-vide might be the real winner. Plus, I am always happy to find new uses for my beloved Anova gadget.

One last thing: many recipes using sous-vide call for longer cooking times. I prefer to keep a maximum of 12 hours, but 10 hours worked better for us. After 12 hours of cooking the texture got a tad too soft for our taste.

ONE YEAR AGO: A Valentine’s Day Opera

TWO YEARS AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four

THREE YEARS AGO: Walnut-Cranberry Sourdough Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi in Brazil?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso-Lime Dressing

SIX YEARS AGO: 2012 Fitness Report: P90X2

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Caramelized Bananas

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

NINE YEARS AGO: Whole Wheat Bread

VALENTINE’S DAY SWEETHEART COOKIES

Back in December, I made a batch of cookies and “decorated” them. After that experience it became clear that the road to hell is paved with Royal icing. Since it was a real roller coaster, I decided I was done with it for the rest of my existence. Having said that, I don’t know exactly why I woke up one day thinking that the combination of sugar cookies with Royal icing would be the best way to start Valentine’s week. A real sucker for punishment I am. Was it that bad? Sort of. Let’s say it had some ups and some dark and scary downs.

SWEETHEART SUGAR COOKIES WITH ROYAL ICING
(adapted from Alton Brown and Sweet Sugarbelle)

what you’ll need:
heart-shaped cookie cutter
scribe tool
piping bags
icing tips size 2 or 3
rubber bands for piping bags (2 per bag)
paper towels and water for constant clean-up
a Zen attitude
a very understanding partner in case you run out of previous item

for the cookie dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour (360 g)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (225 g)
1 cup sugar (225 g)
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1 tablespoon milk

for the icing:
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar {907 grams}
5 tablespoons meringue powder {approximately 53 grams}
2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract (I used clear vanilla extract)
1/2-3/4 cups warm water

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg, lemon zest, milk and vanilla, beat to combine. Put mixer on low-speed, add flour, and mix just until the mixture starts to form a dough. Do not over mix or your cookies might be tough. Remove the dough from the mixer and finish mixing it by hand, gently.  Divide the dough in half, flatten each portion as a square or rectangle and wrap in plastic foil. Refrigerate for 1 hour minimum.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling-pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut into heart shapes, place on baking sheet over parchment paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to cool on a rack. Ice the cookies when completely cool, or on the following day.

Make the icing (you can make the day before and store well covered at room temperature). Stir the vanilla into half of the water and reserve. Keep the other half of the water measured and ready to go.

Using a paddle attachment gently mix the sugar and meringue powder. With the mixer on the lowest setting slowly add the water/flavoring mix to the dry ingredients. As the water is added, the icing will become thick and lumpy. Continue to add the remaining water {this may or may not be the entire amount} until the mixture reaches a thick consistency. At this point, turn the mixer to medium speed and whip 2-4 minutes until the mixture is thick and fluffy. When it forms a soft peak, it has been beaten enough. Avoid mixing further, as you don’t want to incorporate too much air in the icing. Too much air might result in bubbles forming after icing.

Adjust the consistency that you need for flooding the cookies, separate the icing in portions, add dye according to your planned decoration. Store in air-tight containers at room temperature. If needed, re-adjust the consistency before piping.

Add the different colors of icing to piping bags fitted with the appropriate icing tips. I like number 3 for the basic color used for flooding, and a number two for the details. Flood each cookie, make the edges as neat as possible with the scribe tool. Decorate with the design you like, one cookie at a time, as the base color needs do still be wet, unless you prefer to do a wet-on-dry method. In this case, the base needs to dry for several hours before proceeding with the decoration.

Dry the cookies for at least 6 hours before handling them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I had no issues with the cookie component, I prefer the taste of a sablé type cookie, but as far as sugar cookies go, these are very nice. They retain a little chewiness upon baking (especially if you don’t let them get too dark), and the lemon zest brightens them up considerably. Now let’s talk Royal icing. I watched online classes and youtube videos. I read cook books.

Here is my advice for those who are as inexperienced as myself and for some irrational motive decide that a naked cookie must be dressed for party.

  1. Make the icing and the cookies the day before decorating them. Not only it is better to ice cookies that are not freshly baked (I am echoing some experts here), but it will save you a lot of trouble and make decorating day easier.
  2. Keep things simple. White icing plus two or at most three colors. Trust me on this. You will need bags and icing tips for each color you want to work with. Some people can make those cute piping bags from parchment paper. I am not one of those people. Sometimes I get them right, more often than not there is drama.
  3. Prepare all materials you will need and have them ready on a neat and clean counter top. Paper towels and a bowl with water are two best friends of the rookie-decorator.
  4. Tie your hair up if you have long hair. Wear gloves if you prefer to avoid stained fingers.
  5. Get rubber ties for your piping bags like these. They are indispensable and work better than improvised methods. Tie the bag close to the icing tip before you fill it. Tie the top after you fill it (see my composite image, middle photo in the bottom row). Remove the band closest to the tip when you are ready to ice your cookies. This simple measure prevents quite a bit of mess from happening.
  6. Have a rack ready to spread the freshly iced cookies with enough surface to accommodate them all. They take hours to fully set and should not touch each other. Be very careful not to grab them touching the icing. Often the surface looks dry but it’s still soft and fragile (don’t ask me how I know).
  7. Let your inner Rembrandt fly. Or Monet. If all fails, go Pollock. Not that there’s anything wrong with him. Obviously not.

But, the most important thing is obviously the most elusive for beginners: the consistency of the icing. Nothing is more frustrating than filling the piping bag and realizing the icing is a tad too thick. Or worse yet, too thin, which will cause the icing to roll off the cookie and tears to roll down the baker’s face. There are tricks to judge the perfect consistency. For instance you can run a spatula or small knife into the icing bowl, and in about 15 seconds it should go back to a smooth, leveled surface. I was probably off by 20 seconds on my first attempt, which led me to say a few choice words, empty the bag, thin the icing, and start all over. Sadly, it was still a bit thick, but I could not bring myself to empty the bag again. So the white icing used to flood most of the cookies was not top-notch. Getting the consistency perfect is probably something that comes with practice. Perhaps I’ll get there before 2019 is over.

I developed a huge respect for those who do this type of stuff for a living. It is really time-consuming, and I imagine the profit margin is very low. Especially if a baker uses the best ingredients and does intricate decorations, he or she will have to charge a lot more than the stuff you can by at the grocery store in those big plastic boxes. But I guess that is a problem professional bakers are forced to deal with.

Several of my cookies had small boo-boos, but some made me very happy. So happy that I created a little composite photo with them.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

ONE YEAR AGO: Fesenjan, Fast-Food Style

TWO YEARS AGO: Lavender Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache

THREE YEARS AGO: Raspberry Chocolate Truffles

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FIVE YEARS AGO: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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NINE YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food

PINK PRALINE BRIOCHE

Sometimes I wonder what makes me try a new recipe. Of course, reading tons of cookbooks and food blogs, new things show up on my radar often. I might make a mental note to try it at some point, labeling them as intriguing or interesting, but for the most part I move on. Then, there’s Pink Praliné Brioche. And no easy way to get it out of my mind. Having lived in Paris for a few years, it was hard to accept I’d never even seen one. Pink praliné. The stuff dreams are made of.

PINK PRALINÉ BRIOCHE
(adapted from Murielle Valette’s Patisserie)

3.5g fresh yeast (I used osmo-tolerant yeast)
25ml milk, at room temperature
250g bread flour
5g salt
15g sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature (about 150g)
125g soft butter
120g pink praliné, crushed lightly in a food processor (recipe follows)
egg wash

Whisk the yeast in a small bowl with the milk.  Put the flour, salt, sugar and eggs into the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer. Add the milk and yeast, and knead it for about 10 minutes at low-speed.

Little by little add the butter and continue kneading in low to medium speed until the gluten is well-developed.  Place the dough in a bowl lightly coated with oil, cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The following day, turn over the dough on a work surface and gently press it as a rectangle of around 8 by 12 inches, then cut it lengthwise in three strips. Roll each piece to flatten it slightly, sprinkle a line of crushed pink praliné in the center, and enclose it with the dough, rolling it well to seal. Do the same with the other two strips, then braid them together, keeping the seam side down at all times.

Sprinkle more pink praliné over the shaped bread, letting them fall in the folds of the braid.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it at room temperature for a final rise until it almost doubles in size. Mine took 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 F, and right before baking, brush the surface of the braid with the egg wash.  Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Brioche dough contains not only flour and yeast, but additional fat in the form of eggs, milk and butter. This type of enriched dough does well with a slow fermentation, so I prefer to mix it the day before. It also makes the actual baking day a lot easier, as you can shape the bread straight from its overnight proofing time in the fridge. It warms up quickly and it’s not hard to work with at all. You could ferment the dough at room temperature for 4 hours or so, but it will be a long baking day. Your kitchen, your call.

If you prefer to buy the pink praliné, amazon sells it, but be prepared to wait, no free 2-day shipping for this one. To make your own, follow the recipe below. 

PINK PRALINÉ
(from Cooking with Bernard)

450 g sugar, divided in 150g amounts
A few drops of red food coloring
125g whole hazelnuts, peeled (about 3/4 cup)
125g whole almonds (about 3/4 cup)

Place one-third of the sugar (3/4 cup / 150 g) in a large frying pan with just enough water to moisten it. Add a few drops of red coloring.  Stir well and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil. When large bubbles start forming, add the hazelnuts and almonds, stirring non-stop. Control the heat, so that the nuts don’t burn. The syrup will begin to crystallize, and look very grainy. Don’t despair, keep stirring so that the nuts are well coated in sugar. Keep simmering, the sugar that does not coat the nuts will slowly start to melt and turn into a thick liquid. Transfer the contents of the pan to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat. You should have nuts and some “free” caramel-sugar. Reserve the nuts and place the sugar in a clean saucepan.

Add another third of the sugar (150g). Add a little more red coloring and water – just enough to moisten the sugar. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue until all the pieces of sugar are completely melted. Switch off the burner, add the reserved nuts to the frying pan, but don’t switch turn the heat on yet. Wait until the syrup in the saucepan reaches 255°F. When the syrup is almost at the desired temperature, switch on the burner below the frying pan. It should be at medium heat. Pour the syrup over the nuts, stirring as you pour. You will need to wash this pan to use it again, so make sure to take it right away to the sink and fill with water.

Coat the nuts. The syrup will once again become grainy. Allow the sugar that does not coat the nuts to melt. Transfer the contents of the pan to a sheet of parchment paper and set the coated nuts to one side and the remaining sugar to the other. Place the remaining pink sugar in the saucepan and add the last third of the sugar (150 g) with more food coloring and enough water to moisten it. Allow to melt and bring to 255°F / 124°C. Return the nuts to the frying pan and pour in the syrup when it reaches the right temperature, stirring constantly. At this third stage, the syrup should coat the pink nuts quite well. Stir and wait for the syrup to become grainy and any sugar that does not coat the nuts should melt again.  Pour all the contents of the frying pan onto a sheet of  parchment paper. By now, there should be almost no sugar left unstuck to the nuts.

Final step: Heat the oven to 160°F and bake the candied nuts for at least 45 minutes to dry them out completely. Mine took almost double time to dry.  Let them cool and store in an air-tight container. They are ready to nibble on or use in recipes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Making pink praliné is a labor of love. You can buy it ready, but  the whole process of making it seemed fascinating enough to make me go for it. Essentially, you are slowly covering hazelnuts and almonds with a red-dyed caramel syrup. The coating happens in three stages. It is a bit time-consuming and also potentially dangerous. I got a burn with one tiny microscopic drop of super heated caramel and trust me, it hurt like hell. Then, it left a tiny scar, perfectly round and brown. Kind of cute, actually. But I don’t recommend it.

Pink praliné is a wonderful snack, and the pups tried some, yes they did. There was intense wagging of three tails. In São Paulo, when I was growing up, they sold a type of peanut made by Japanese immigrants that comes close to pink praliné but not nearly as good. It is called “amendoim doce” (translates as sweet peanut) and you can see it in the link that it also has a pinkish sugary coating, just a bit lighter. Anyway, if you are fond of nuts and feel crazy enough to be around boiling caramel for an extended period of time, try making these babies. They keep for a long time, which is a bonus.

So here it is, the Pink Praliné Brioche! It is absolutely delicious and yes, it was worth the trouble. If you google for photos, you’ll see it in many different sizes, shapes, and variations on how to incorporate the praline in the dough. Some just sprinkle a huge amount on top of a roundish loaf. I like this method better, because some of it gets truly deep inside the bread. The sugar that glues to the nuts melts slightly during baking, and when you bite into it, you get this concentrated sweet taste, truly delicious.  It is not sweet like a spoonful of sugar, of course not. The caramelization process gives the sugar a slightly bitter edge. Perfect, according to my taste buds.

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BLUE MOON MILK

Have you heard of butterfly pea flower? Apparently it is a big thing now, or at least I see it everywhere, popping up in all kinds of preparations. It is a beautiful little flower, with an intense blue color, common in Thailand and Vietnam. You can use the flowers of the Clitoria ternatea plant (yes, that is the scientific name) to brew a beautiful tea, or you can also get it in powder form. The color changes according to the pH, so if you add lemon juice it will be pinkish purple, whereas baking soda gives a deeper blue.  Of course, the possibilities are endless to explore this ingredient. I’ve seen it used in breads (even croissants!), in cocktails and buttercreams, but today I share with you a very simple way to enjoy it, which I first saw in Lindsay’s blog, Love and Olive Oil.

BLUE MOON MILK
(slightly modified from  Love and Olive Oil)

1 cup almond milk (or any milk you prefer)
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon butterfly pea flower powder (or adjust according to preference)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch freshly ground nutmeg

In a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, whisk together milk with honey, butterfly pea powder, and spices until powder is dissolved and milk is warm but not yet simmering. 

Whisk to create a fine froth using either a wire whisk, a milk-frother, or an immersion blender. 

Pour into warm mug, relax and… 

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: For this preparation, I think the powder is a must, as it is very concentrated and you don’t really need to boil the almond milk in order to get it properly dissolved. Another thing to keep in mind is that different brands of the butterfly pea powder have different strengths, mine is definitely stronger than Lindsay’s. I am now using 1/4 tsp of the powder for 1 cup of almond milk, and like the flavor better. It is hard to describe it, actually. Earthy, maybe?  Along the lines of green tea but less sharp.  I also liked it very much with cardamon instead of nutmeg.  Below is a picture of a version with reduced amount of powder (1/4 tsp instead of 1 full tsp).

Some say this beverage helps combat insomnia. I am an excellent subject to test the hypothesis, and I can tell you it failed big time to have any positive effect. But I like the flavor, the color, and the soothing atmosphere that holding the cup with the hot, light blue liquid provides.  Of course, I intend to play with it in the near future. Macarons? You’d think?

Matching fingernails, just a happy coincidence…
🙂

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