This gem of a recipe was made by my beloved husband. I know what you’re thinking: if only all women could be so lucky, right? Since he was in charge of the meal I did not take pictures of the whole process, but it turned out so good, I have to share. Duck is a tricky bird to cook. Legs and breast cook at different rates, so roasting can pose problems. The combination of smoker and clay pot did a magical job, but if you don’t have a smoker, the clay pot alone will work beautifully (check out this post from 10 years ago – !!! – by my friend Celia).
CLAY POT SMOKED DUCK WITH POTATOES (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
1 whole duck salt and pepper to taste 1 tsp Herbes de Provence fingerling potatoes hickory wood pellets (for smoker, optional)
Soak your clay pot in water, reserve.
Season the duck inside and outside with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. Place in a smoker at 250F for 30 minutes. This will give it a very light smoky flavor.
Place the duck in the cold clay pot, add the potatoes all around it, season them lightly with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. No need to add any oil. Close the clay pot and place in a cold oven. Turn it to 425F. Roast for 2 hours. After one hour, open the clay pot and carefully remove some of the accumulated fat with a baster. Close the pot again and continue roasting.
At the end of 2 hours, open the lid and reduce the temperature to 375F. Roast for 30 minutes longer, or until the skin gets as crispy as you like it.
Comments: This was one outstanding meal. Phil made a little duck stock with the neck and gizzards of the bird and used that to make a simple gravy, but I tell you, it was excellent straight from the oven, nothing else needed. The potatoes put up a beautiful fight with the duck for the spotlight, because they got infused with duck fat and absolutely perfect. The most amazing thing is that the duck itself did not turn out fatty or overly greasy. As I said, if you don’t have a smoker, just go straight for the clay pot.
In the very near future, I will adapt this method to make a Chinese-style roast duck. I actually tried a very convoluted recipe a couple of months ago and it was an epic disaster. It involved spatchcocking, sous-vide for 20 hours, fridge-drying overnight, roasting, and a side of grievance. It did not bring me joy. But now, enlightened by the man I married, I am ready to re-visit the issue. Stay tuned.
Halloween is such a nice theme for baking! Unfortunately, it is coming to an end, so I will share my last round up of all things spooky for 2020, the spookiest year ever. Cookies, cakes, eclairs, all frightfully delicious.
I will start with a very special recipe that reconnected me with a food blogger from my past, Helen Rennie. I used to read her food blog, called “Beyond Salmon” long before I considered starting my own site. The other day I was discussing eclairs with my tent-baker friend Carlos, and he told me his default recipe comes from a chef called Helen with a very popular youtube channel. That Helen is the same Helen from Beyond Salmon! She quit blogging years ago and now concentrates on her tutorials on youtube and her cooking school in Boston. She is a wonderful person, and her videos on all things cooking from baking to sous-vide are a fantastic source of information. I followed her recipe for eclairs to make my mummies. Quite an odd statement, I admit. But aren’t they cute? I particularly love the wonky-eyed.
for the pate a choux: 120g water 120g whole milk 1/2 tsp table salt 1 tsp sugar 113g butter at room temp, cut into 8 pieces 142g bread flour, sifted 230g eggs beaten with a fork
for diplomat cream: (best made the day before) 100g eggs 32g cornstarch 242 g whole milk 242 g heavy cream 100g granulated sugar 1/2 tsp vanilla paste pinch of salt 40 g unsalted butter, cut in pieces whipped cream, amount to taste
for icing decoration: 250 g Icing Sugar 15-25 ml water candy eyes
Make pate a choux: Mix water, milk, salt and butter in a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Heat until the butter melts completely and the mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once. Mix until the flour is all incorporated, put it back into the heat, and set your timer for 5 minutes. Cook moving the dough constantly. At the end of 5 minutes you should see a film forming in the bottom of the pan.
Transfer the dough to a food processor, blitz for 10 seconds to allow steam to escape. With the process running, add the eggs in a stream, and process for 30 more seconds. The dough will be ready to use, but it’s best to place it in a piping bag and wait until it cools to around 80F, then it will be very easy to pipe in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Pipe lines with the size you like. Spray the surface with a little water and bake in a 375F oven, but reduce the temperature to 350F as soon as you place the sheet in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, do not open the oven door during baking. Eclairs should be fully firm and golden brown. Cut small holes in the bottom to fill them later.
Make diplomat cream. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with cornstarch until fully combined. Place milk and heavy cream in a saucepan. Remove 1/4 cup of this mixture and add to the eggs (this helps the cornstarch dissolve).
Add vanilla, sugar and pinch of salt to the saucepan with the milk/cream mixture. Bring to a full boil, add a few tablespoons to the egg mixture to temper it, whisking it well. Place the saucepan back in the stove, then add the tempered egg mixture to the saucepan. It should thicken very quickly. Make sure it is at full boil, then cook for 30 seconds longer. You need that to deactivate amylases present in the egg yolks, that would thin the sauce once it’s refrigerated.
Pass the cream through a sieve into a bowl, add the butter, and allow it to cool completely. To make diplomat cream, simply fold whipped cream, very cold, into the cold pastry cream and use it to fill the eclairs. You can vary the amount, I like around 25% whipped cream, but you can go 50:50 if you prefer. Fill the eclairs.
Make the icing decoration: sift the icing sugar into a bowl wide enough to allow you to dunk the eclairs. Add the water gradually until you have a thick consistency, you might not need all of the water, you don’t want it too thin. Dip the tops of the eclairs, place them in a rack and immediately add the eyes. Wait for 30 minutes or so before drizzling with the icing (place in a piping bag, no need for an icing tip, simply cut a small opening).
Comments: Helen’s video is very detailed, so if you’ve never baked eclairs (or choux pastry in general) and would like to give it a go, sit down with a cup of tea and you will soon be baking perfect examples of this classic French delicacy. You don’t need a star shaped piping tip, but I like the ridges they generate. I also followed her tutorial for pastry cream, which deals with two of the main issues when making it: grainy texture and thinning after refrigeration. When I had to prepare choux buns for the Great American Show, my worst fear was to see Paul or Sherry bite into one and have pastry cream dripping down the chin. But I was eliminated before that stressful situation ever materialized. Silver linings… (wink, wink).
SPOOKY SPICED SUGAR COOKIES (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
Mix the flour with salt, baking powder and all the spices and reserve. Cream the butter with both sugars in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer. Add the egg slowly and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and mix until a dough starts to form.
Remove from the mixer, pat into a disc and roll out to your desired thickness, depending on the type of cookie you intend to bake. Cut the cookies and freeze them for 10 minutes (or several hours) before baking.
Bake at 350F for about 12 minutes, until edges start to brown. Cool on a rack before decorating.
Make Royal Icing in black and orange colors. My favorite recipe can be found at Tanya’s site with a click here.
To make the stenciled cookie, I flooded the whole cookie with orange Royal Icing, and allowed it to fully set for a couple of hours. I don’t have one of those magnetic gadgets to hold the stencil firmly on top of the cookie, so I improvised. I placed a cookie cutter on top of the stencil, and that was enough to get a sharp design with the air-brush, using black dye. Allow the design to dry for a couple of hours and you’ll be ready to enjoy your spooky cookie!
All other designs were made with regular flooding and piping with small size tips.
Moving on…. CUPCAKES!
SPOOKY CARROT CUPCAKES (adapted from several sources)
to decorate: very small amount of buttercream (store-bought or home-made) fondant stencil of your choice + airbrushing (optional)
Heat oven to 325°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together carrots, eggs, buttermilk, sugar, oil, and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture until well combined.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes then invert them out to cool completely.
Roll out fondant, decorate with the stencil of your choice, or generate a pattern with a rolling pin. Use a cookie cutter to make circles large enough to coat the top of each cake. Spread a very thin coating of buttercream on the top of each cupcake, then place the circle of fondant on top.
Comments: Two details matter in using marzipan on top of cupcakes. First, you must roll it thin, so that it won’t be a heavy layer on top. Second, you must cut it large enough to wrap all the way to the edges. I had never attempted to air-brush marzipan, and ran into some problems. It was hard to place the stencil firmly on top without it glueing on the surface and making a mess when lifting it. I probably should have allowed the marzipan to dry a little more before decorating it, but I was afraid it would then crack when I tried to top the cake with it. That led me to switch to plan B: I gathered the messed up marzipan discs, re-rolled them and used a patterned rolling pin to decorate. I like the way it turned out, the little bit of orange dye from the air-brushing ended up as a marbled effect. As you can see in the photo above, I managed to get one cupcake with the stencil in reasonable good shape.
120g all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 120g unsalted butter 113g (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped 250g granulated sugar 2 eggs, room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
for the icing: 50g whole milk zest from one orange ½ teaspoon orange extract (I use Olive Nation) 175g confectioners’ sugar, sifted drop of orange food color (optional)
tempered dark chocolate to decorate
Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Melt butter and chocolate over a pan of simmering water; stir until smooth. You can also use a microwave at 50% power. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat chocolate mixture and sugar until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, then add the vanilla paste. Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Make the icing: Bring milk and orange zest to a simmer in a saucepan. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and let milk infuse for 10 minutes with the zest. Add orange extract, and pass the milk through a sieve into a bowl. Add the powdered sugar to get a thick enough consistency to cover each cupcake with a thin layer, and a drop of orange color if you so desire. Let it set completely for a couple of hours, then add a spider web made in tempered chocolate on top. Alternatively, you can use Royal Icing to draw a web, or simplify it and add just some sprinkles, orange and black.
Comments: These brownie cupcakes are extremely versatile, in fact I am planning a full post about them. They bake flat, which makes it easy to decorate with this type of simple icing that you can take in several directions. You can infuse flavors into the milk such as tea, lavender, or other extracts. Tempering chocolate is a bit involved, so if you prefer to simplify, just add halloween sprinkles. It will be totally fine.
FRIENDLY GHOST PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE MARBLED CAKE (adapted from Recipe Girl)
for the pumpkin batter: 85g cream cheese, at room temperature 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature 100g granulated white sugar 1 large egg 80g canned pumpkin puree 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
for the chocolate batter: 150g semisweet chocolate, chopped 170g unsalted butter, cut into pieces 4 large eggs, at room temperature 250g granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon salt 170g all-purpose flour
to decorate: fondant 1/4 cup powdered sugar warm water, just enough to make a thick paste with the sugar
Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 13×9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray and coat with parchment paper.
Make the pumpkin batter: In a small bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the cream cheese with the butter until smooth. Beat in the sugar until well incorporated. Beat in the egg, and then add the pumpkin puree, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the flour. Reserve.
Prepare the chocolate butter: In a medium bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan with 1-inch of simmering water and stir occasionally until melted. Remove from heat. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs with the sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat at low speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Fold in the melted chocolate. Sift the flour over the batter and fold it in just until combined.
Spread the chocolate batter evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of the pumpkin batter all over the top. Using chopsticks, wirl the pumpkin batter slightly into the chocolate. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut into squares.
To decorate, roll out fondant very thinly. Cut ghost shapes with a cookie cutter, then draw eyes with a black food pen, or royal icing. Make a little paste with powdered sugar and water, then use it to glue the decoration on each piece of cake.
Comments: Fondant is not a crowd-pleaser, but I wanted something as white as possible, so marzipan was not the best option. I decided that fondant haters could always peel the decoration off and enjoy the cake without it. The cake is very delicious, moist and tender, quite simple to prepare.
That’s all for now, my friends… I really had a lot of fun with Halloween-baking this year, and it’s a bit sad to see it end. Let’s hope 2021 will bring a bit of normalcy to our lives, with in-person trick or treating, Halloween parties, and a certain virus as a scare of the past.
Nothing irritates a true vegetarian more than giving names like “steak” to a veggie dish to make it more appealing. My apologies, I have no intention of ruffling feathers, it’s just not as sexy to call it “Cauliflower Slices.” I’ve made a version of it in the past, but this one is so much better that it almost makes me want to go back and delete that post. This is cauliflower steak done to perfection, and I thank my friend Eha for introducing it to me. It will go in our regular rotation. For sure.
CAULIFLOWER STEAKS WITH OLIVE AND CAPER SALSA (adapted from Cook Republic)
for the cauliflower: 1 head of cauliflower 3 tablespoons olive oil
for the salsa: 60g pitted green olives 2 tablespoons baby capers, drained 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes chopped fresh parsley to taste 20ml extra virgin olive oil juice of half a lemon salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 325FC. Cover a baking dish with aluminum foil and drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil. Place the cauliflower on a chopping board, resting on the stalk. Holding the head gently, slice the cauliflower into 5-6 thick slices (each about 1 inch wide). Place the cauliflower slices on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle the top with remaining olive oil.
Roast for 30 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425F. Roast for a further 15-20 minutes at this higher temperature till the cauliflower is starting to char and brown nicely. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Place all ingredients for the salsa in a small bowl. Whisk very well. Spoon prepared salsa over the cauliflower steaks. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley.
Comments: My only modification to the recipe was to reduce the amount of olive oil in the salsa and add lemon juice. For my taste, the olives add enough luscious fat, and the salsa tasted lighter and “brighter” with less oil and some extra acidity. Go with what rocks your own boat. Your kitchen, your rules.
What is wonderful about this recipe is the method to roast it. Lower temperature first, don’t mess with it, allow it to cook at a slow pace. Then increase the temperature and take it as far as you like. The salsa, cold and tangy, on top of that perfectly cooked slice of cauliflower? Perfection on a plate. I urge you to give this a try.
Eha, thanks so much for introducing me to this recipe in particular, and to Cook Republic. I am following…