MINCEMEAT PIES: WHEN THE THIRD TIME IS A CHARM

If you don’t live in the UK, the idea of mincemeat pie as a dessert item sounds very unappealing, to put it mildly. The thought of having ground meat encased in pastry after dinner? Or with your afternoon tea? But, of course, we should all know better. Mincemeat, a delicacy that dates back to the 15th century  is a mixture of dried fruits, spices, some alcohol like wine or brandy, and traditionally beef suet or venison. Modern versions use other types of fat, I made mine with butter. Since I had never tried or even seen a mincemeat pie in person, I was a bit nervous about making them, but decided to take it as a technical challenge. Then I proceeded to bake one catastrophic batch, one reasonably ok but not great, and finally a third version that I was happy with. No, not all in the same day, I have not fully lost it yet. I share what I learned from this self-imposed challenge in the comments. 

MINCEMEAT PIES
(adapted from Irish Times and  Nancy Birtwhistle)

Makes 10 to 12 little pies, depending on how thin you are able to roll the pastry.

Prepare your muffin pan:  place a thin strip of parchment paper inside each hole, to facilitate removal of the pies after baking).

for the mincemeat filling:
200g raisins
50g dried apricots, finely diced
50g dried cherries, finely diced
120g brown sugar
120g unsalted butter
70ml sherry
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Combine the fruit with the sugar, butter, sherry, orange zest, and spices  in a saucepan and put on a gentle heat for a few minutes until the butter melts and the fruit softens slightly in the buttery syrup. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer until it gets thick, with not much liquid floating in the surface.  Cool and use to fill the little pies.

for the pastry:
310g  all purpose flour
30g powdered sugar
pinch of salt
170g butter (chilled and cut in small cubes)
3 egg yolks mixed with very cold water to make a volume of 6 tablespoons

Heat the oven to 375F.

Put the flour, sugar and salt in food processor then add the butter and process until the butter is in small pieces. With the motor running add the mixture of egg yolks and cold water. Stop the mixer before the pastry forms a ball, remove it from the processor and gently bring it all together with your hands over plastic wrap. Shape into a flat disc and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm. I like to do it in between two plastic sheets (I cut the four sides of a  large ziplock bag leaving just the bottom part attached, open it and roll the pastry inside it). Cut out circles with a  9 cm (about 3.5 inches) round cookie cutter.  Place them carefully inside the prepared muffin cups. Cut out 7 cm (a little less than 3 inches) lids which should fit right over the top. Use a small star shaped or round cookie cutter to make a hole in the middle of the pastry lids.

Fill each base with the mincemeat, brush a little water on the edges of the pastry and gently lay the top over. No need to apply pressure, and no need to brush the top with egg wash. Bake for about 25 minutes until the mince pies are light golden. Allow to cool slightly before removing them from the muffin cups. Dust the mince pies with icing sugar.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The mincemeat. You can find it in jars, and you can find it in little boxes to be reconstituted with water. I bought a small box, followed the instructions to bring it to life, and tried a taste. No way I would add that to my pies. Maybe the brand was not the greatest? I don’t know. But I advise you to make your own or get a brand that is recommended by some very experienced mincemeat pie baker.  If you make the filling, keep in mind that you’ll need to simmer it down to the point that it gets thick, with not too much liquid floating around. And that each little pie should not be filled to the top. Which brings me to mistake #1.

The picture above shows my very first batch in the making. Instead of a muffin tin, I used a little tart pan, with a very small volume, which I filled to the top. Not a wise move. But then, there was also mistake #2.

I added the top, and it was not the right size, it should have been slightly bigger in diameter to fully cover the bottom.  I won’t share a picture of these babies after baking, because not only the filling exploded through the edges and the top, but the mismatch between pastry bottom and top made them quite sad to look at. Paul Hollywood would have dragged me out of the tent while mumbling “how could you? how could you?”  Undeterred, next day I rolled my sleeves up and tried again.

My second batch seemed quite a bit more promising. I matched bottoms and tops with the precision of a NASA engineer, but still committed two major sins. First, the filling was obviously too liquid so it bubbled all over the top. Second, I forgot to add paper strips to the bottom of the muffin tin, which made removing them from the pan a real nail-bitter of a task. One broke into pieces right in front of my eyes. Much to the delight of certain pups that happened to be circling around the kitchen. Mincemeat? Did you say mincemeat?

I cannot bring myself to show you what the pies looked like after baking – the best way to describe is a micemeat crime scene – even after a dust storm of powdered sugar, you can see the stains of filling over the top.

Chef Sherry Yard was right when she kept telling us that powdered sugar covers a multitude of sins, but still, I wanted to get it right. Next day I took a deep breath and started by simmering down the mincemeat filling, until it was really thick and luscious. Cooled it down, made more pastry dough, and baked them at a lower temperature, 375F.  Worked like a charm!

They baked perfectly in about 25 minutes, no bubbling over, and the paper strip trick (thank you, Nancy) worked like a dream, I could remove them one at a time without any problem.


Of course, a little powdered sugar makes a little pie even nicer!

So there you have it, my friends. It took me three attempts to get this bake right, but I am glad I kept trying, because it is much easier to tweak things when you have all the issues fresh in your mind. I loved the filling and the texture of the pastry, which was also very easy to work with.  Can I say one more time thank you, Nancy? Since on my third attempt I made just a few pies, I used the leftover dough to make a chocolate tart, and it turned out quite tasty too. You will see it in the blog soon, I promise.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Shibari Bread]

TWO YEARS AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four – January 2018 

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Salads and a Blog Award!

FOUR YEARS AGO: When Three is Better than Two

FIVE YEARS AGO: Somebody Stop Me!

SIX YEARS AGO: Zucchini Pasta with Cilantro-Cashew Pesto

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Take Two

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

NINE YEARS AGO: Mogo Mojo

TEN YEARS AGO: Slow-Roasted Chicken Thighs: an Ice-Breaker

SWEET POTATOES WITH TAHINI SAUCE

As some of you might know, I don’t like to apply the word “healthy” to a recipe. Just a pet peeve of mine. But it is hard to resist using it in this case. Sweet potatoes are full of nutrients that are good for you, and in this preparation they get the right amount of luscious that makes them almost festive. Cutting them into wedges makes them cook faster, so no problem considering this side dish for a weeknight meal.

SWEET POTATOES WITH TAHINI SAUCE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in wedges
olive oil to coat potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sesame oil
water to thin sauce (adjust to your liking)
toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle over sauce

Heat oven to 400 F.

Coat the potatoes with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper. Try to massage the oil around them, so they are well coated. Spread them in a single layer over a baking dish covered with aluminum foil. Roast them for 15 minutes, move them around and roast for 10 to 15 minutes more, until fully cooked and starting to get golden brown at the edges.

Prepare the sauce by mixing all ingredients together and whisking very well.  The sauce will thicken as it sits, so don’t make it too thick to start with.

Place the potatoes on a serving dish, spoon the sauce over, and finish with toasted sesame seeds.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I think tahini and sweet potatoes are another example of a match made in Nirvana. Save any sauce leftover and use it over other veggies like broccoli, or drizzled over roasted salmon (yes, another a bit unusual but nice move for tahini).

I visualize this recipe again, with some pomegranate seeds added to this party. Color and freshness never hurt.

ONE YEAR AGO: 30-Hour Leg of Lamb with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

TWO YEARS AGO: Maple-Grilled Pork Tenderloin over Lemony Zucchini

THREE YEARS AGO: Danish Rye Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Best Sourdough Recipe

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mini-Quiches with Duxelles and Baby Broccoli

SIX YEARS AGO: Quinoa and Sweet Potato Cakes

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Bolo de Fuba’ Cremoso

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Citrus-crusted Tilapia Filets

NINE YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, not just for Hippies

TEN YEARS AGO: Flourless Chocolate Cake

 

 

A CAKE TO SAY I LOVE YOU FROM KIM-JOY’S COOKBOOK


Of the many contestants of The Great British Bake Off, I cannot think of anyone sweeter and more lovely than Kim-Joy. Her talent as a baker goes way beyond mixing sugar with butter, she turns everything she touches into little works of art. Her love for animals and nature is often present in cakes, cookies, all things pastry. I have mixed feelings about Instagram, to me it often passes a pseudo-glamour aura. But when you stumble on Kim-Joy’s instagram feed, you realize it is just one more venue in which she shows how special and caring a person she is. And of course, you can marvel at all she is baking now, a couple of years down the road from her amazing performance in a certain tent.

Every year I ask Phil to choose a cake for his Birthday, which falls right after Christmas. Last month, he saw Kim Joy’s book over the table and announced that his cake would have to be from her book. It took him just a few minutes to come back with “This one. Woodland Cake.”  Sure. A three-layer cake with ganache frosting, home-made praline’, ginger cookies, mushroom-shaped meringues,  and a gigantic sheet of white chocolate, well-tempered. In other words, a cake that says I really, really love you.

Kim-Joy offers several suggestions for the chocolate cake, in the book she opted for a vegan version. I’ve been meaning to try Ina Garten’s intense chocolate cake for a while, so I decided to go with it.  I used the ginger cookies from Kim Joy’s book and also her Royal icing, but will share only the other components of the cake.

WOODLAND CAKE
(published with permission from Kim-Joy)

for the cake:
used the recipe from Ina Garten, available here
(exact amounts as shown, baked in 3 cake pans, 6 inch diameter)

for chocolate bark:
100g brown candy melts
500g white chocolate, tempered

for coconut-chocolate ganache:
400g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
300 mL coconut milk
100 to 250g powdered sugar

for praline’:
130g super fine sugar
35mL water
1 tsp liquid cornstarch (optional)
75g hazelnuts peeled and toasted

for mushroom meringue:
140g superfine sugar
80g egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar

for cookies (optional):
use any favorite recipe for gingerbread cookies

Bake the cake according to the recipe in the link, using 3 round pans with 6-inch in diameter. Cool completely. It can be prepared a couple of days in advance, reserve in the fridge.

Make the chocolate bark. Lay out a rectangular piece of parchment paper measuring roughly 9 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches. Melt the brown candy melts gently in the microwave. Use a paintbrush to paint dots and stripes to mimi the pattern of a birch tree. Let it cool to harden.

Temper the white chocolate and pour on top of the paper with the design already painted and set. Spread gently with an offset spatula to get a smooth, thin coating. Once the chocolate sets, break into pieces of bark (easier way to do it is by hand, using a knife tends to shatter the pieces). Reserve. Can be prepared the day before.

Make the mushroom meringues. Heat the oven to 400F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the sugar over it. Bake for about 8 minutes until warm but not caramelized.  Leave the door open for the sugar to cool down to about 212F.

Add the egg whites to a KitchenAid type mixer and whisk at high speed until you get soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar then the baked sugar very slowly, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, allowing it to dissolve before adding more.  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe small blobs to be the head of the mushrooms and small stalks piping with the bag straight up, to form the stalks.

Bake at 200F for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on how dry you like them to be. Switch the oven off and leave the meringues inside for a couple of hours to get the meringues fully dry. To form the mushrooms, make a small hole in the bottom of the “caps”, and use some melted chocolate or candy melts to glue the stalk into it. Shower the mushrooms with cocoa powder if you like.

Make the praline paste. Add the sugar, water and cornstarch to a pan. Stir to combine, then stop stirring, bring to a boil. Meanwhile spread the hazelnuts over a Silpat or parchment paper. When the sugar mixture turns amber in color, pour quickly over the hazelnuts, and allow it to fully set. Break into pieces and place in a food processor, blitzing it into a paste. Reserve.

Make the coconut ganache. Place the chocolate in a large Pyrex type bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it starts to bubble. Pour over the chocolate and let it sit undisturbed for 2 minutes. Stir until fully smooth. Add the sugar and whisk with a handheld mixer until just combined. Transfer 2/3 of the ganache to a bowl and chill for 15 minutes.  This portion will be used to coat the cake.

Add the praline paste to the remaining 1/3 of the ganache.  This will be used to fill the cake layers.

Optional step: Bake gingerbread cookies in the shape of your choice to decorate the cake, icing them if you like.

ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Place one cake layer over a cardboard round and add ganache/praline mixture on top. Place second layer of cake, repeat the spreading of ganache, and the final cake layer on top. Coat the sides and top with the pure ganache.  Set the cake in the fridge for an hour or so. Transfer it to the serving platter.

Adjust the size of the chocolate bark so that pieces will overlap the cake all around and have more or less similar heights. Remember that nature is never fully perfect, so go with the flow.  Melt some candy melts if needed, for the bark to stick better to the cake.

Add the cookies and meringue on top of the cake, spread some coconut flakes around the bottom, a few more meringues. Say I love you, and serve!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If there is anything more fun to bake than this cake, I don’t know what it could be. As Kim-Joy says in the book, you don’t have to make every single component in her cakes, but if you decide to do, just go slowly, make them ahead of time. The meringues I made 5 days earlier and froze. The cookies last days at room temperature, the bark also can be made 3, 4 days ahead. All of a sudden it becomes quite doable. Bake the cakes, make the praline and ganache, and you are pretty much done.  If tempering chocolate gets you into severe hyperventilation, you can use candy melts. It won’t taste as good, but the visual effect will be similar and everyone will be impressed.

And now, allow me to share a little review of Baking with Kim-Joy

BAKE, BE ADVENTUROUS, AND ABOVE ALL, BE HAPPY!
(Kim-Joy)

If you love color and happy feelings, this book is for you. It is pure Kim in each page, every little detail of the book, from cute drawings to uplifting messages, it is impossible not to browse without a smile. Just as I wrote this phrase, I opened the book and saw the very first page:

Cute and Creative Bakes to Make you Smile.  

See? What did I just tell you?

The book is divided in 5 chapters: Cakes and Frosting, Cookies and Icing, Breads, Square Cakes and Little Bakes. I will go chapter by chapter sharing my thoughts

CAKES AND FROSTING. She opens the chapter (actually she opens the book) with a cake that took my breath away, not only because it is gorgeous, but the flavors! Pistachio and Cardamom Cake with Mango-Saffron Jam. The cake is naked, she offers different versions of buttercream to lightly coat it, and the top is sprinkled with ground pistachios in a very simple but artistic way. I adore it. I will make the mango jam very soon. Next comes the Vegan Chocolate Cake with Praline, which would be her cake of choice for the Woodland Cake I shared today.  The whole idea behind her book is to use it as a starting point. For instance her Spiced Carrot & Walnut Cake shows up as a regular cake, but then she dresses it up for Halloween adding meringue ghosts and poached pears, for stunning decoration. Stunning and fun at the same time.  You can also find a Rainbow Cake (how could she not include one?) but coupled with the perfect type of icing, and if you want to go the extra mile, make it a cake that holds something unexpected inside as you slice it open. Yes, get her book!  Easter Cake, Cat Paradise, Space Turtle (!!!!), Whale Underwater Cake, one more interesting than the other, each offering a unique type of decorating, sometimes with gingerbread little sculptures, sugar paste, isomalt, dripping ganache.  The chapter ends with several types of frostings and decorating techniques.

COOKIES AND ICINGS. She offers four basic cookie recipes, advising on when to use each. Semolina Shortbread, Ginger Cookies (that I used in the cake, her version has the right amount of cloves for our taste), Basic Vegan Shortbread, and Vegan Ginger Cookies. Then she moves to  cookie decorating tips and ideas, starting with her small batch of Royal Icing. I love that. In fact, I’ve been using her small scale version quite often, because I hate to have a huge amount of Royal Icing hanging around. I now know pretty much how much I need, and might make her recipe or maybe double it, but never need more than that.

BREADS. The book opens with a recipe using tangzhong, which is a technique I found not too long ago and love to use. She uses it to make adorable cat buns, of course, and immediately follows with a version that bakes a Honey Wreath of little cats around a wheel of camembert cheese. It is just the cutest bread you’ll ever see. A No-Knead overnight Caraway Bread also calls my name. She shares a recipe for a Japanese classic bread called “Melonpan” which again, is going to bring a huge smile to your face once you see it. The type of baking that if you have kids around, you definitely must embrace.

SQUARE CAKES. I want to bake every single cake of this chapter. It is color, and art, and fun all around. I don’t have the artistic skill to do some of them, but maybe with Phil’s help I could give the Lavender and Orange Cake a try. It looks like a Monet’s painting.

LITTLE BAKES. Macarons. The chapter starts with macaron tips and ideas. You can imagine my happy dance, right? Honestly, some shapes seem very challenging, but it is nice to see how creative one can be with macaron piping. She moves to other types of cookies, like Cardamon, Almond and Honey Bee Cookies that use her basic Semolina Shortbread flavored with a touch of cardamon. The decoration in the cookies is just amazing, they end up like cute little bees, each with a unique “expression.” After that comes choux buns, tartlets and madeleines, that she transforms into little works of art. Just mind blowing.  This final chapter alone is worth the whole book, in my opinion.

I cannot say that her book is for beginners, maybe it would be a bit too challenging for someone who has never baked a cake or a batch of cookies. But if you are passionate about baking, the book is a must-have, no matter your skill level.

Kim-Joy, thank you so much for giving me permission to share this recipe, and for being a constant source of inspiration for those who love to bake.

ONE YEAR AGO: Lemon-Almond Cake with Cranberry Glaze

TWO YEARS AGO: The Iron (Uptake) Chef Challenge

THREE YEARS AGO: Thank you!

FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Rillettes, a Classy Appetizer

FIVE YEARS AGO: Linzer Cookies

SIX YEARS AGO: Baked Ricotta, Take Two

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Uncanned

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Pork Ragu

NINE YEARS AGO: Friendly Kuri Squash

TEN YEARS AGO: Celery and Apple Salad

LEMONY BARLEY WITH SHRIMP AND SPINACH

This recipe used to be a regular rotation in our kitchen then I totally forgot all about it. I was sure it was in the blog already, so I wanted to make it the other day and was shocked because… it has never been shared here. Shame. Shame. Shame. I will not walk through the streets of Manhattan in GoT fashion. Instead, I will quickly share it today, and hope to be forgiven.

LEMONY BARLEY WITH SHRIMP AND SPINACH
(inspired by a recipe from Fine Cooking)

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined (save peels for stock)
1/2 large onion, skin on
1 lemon, cut in slices
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 cup + 1/3 cup quick-cooking barley
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup black olives, pitted, cut in pieces
zest of 1 lemon

Make a shrimp stock simmering the shells with the half onion and lemon slices. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Reserve.  You will use about 2 cups of the stock to cook the barley.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the shrimp seasoned with a little salt until almost fully cooked. Remove and reserve, covered with foil. Add a little more oil if needed, and saute in the same pan the onion and celery  until fragrant, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper.

 Add the barley and stir until coated with the oil and veggie pieces. Add the lemon juice and cook, stirring, for 15 seconds. Pour in 2 cups of shrimp stock, 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the barley is tender, 12 minutes.

Uncover the pan, add in the spinach and cook until wilted. Stir in the reserved shrimp, black olives, and lemon zest.  Adjust seasoning if needed and serve right away.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is truly delicious, and I am kicking myself for taking so long to bring this back to our table. It is quick to prepare, and if you like to make it even easier, use chicken stock, store-bought, which is actually part of the original recipe from Fine Cooking. I just feel that if you have the peels available, shrimp stock is ready so quickly, why not up the flavor of the dish with it?  Your kitchen, your decision.
.

 

PUFF BREAD BALLS, TWO SALADS AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW

Do people need cookbooks these days? Just think about it. You can find pretty much any recipe you want with a click of your mouse. Endless content online by food bloggers and food sites, free for you to grab and enjoy. Some virtual spots might annoy you a bit with pop-ups and advertisement, but it is a small price to pay to get that recipe to put your bottle of pomegranate molasses or the jar of rose harrissa to good use. I have a different view, though. I buy cookbooks because I want to support the authors and honor their hard work. For that reason, I never share a recipe from a cookbook unless I get permission to do so. Last month I bought  “DOUGH: Simple Contemporary Bread”, from Richard Bertinet, and immediately fell in love with it. His approach to making bread is straigthforward and very creative. It takes a lot for a cookbook to impress me enough to write a review about it. However, I could not wait to share my views on Bertinet’s and in fact I loved it so much I had to also bring his book “CRUMB: Bake Brilliant Bread” into  my life.  If you love bread baking and want to have recipes that make you go “why I never thought of this?” – this one is for you!

(to see a video of his slap and fold technique, click here)

PUFF BREAD BALLS
(published with permission from Mr. Richard Bertinet)
from his cookbook DOUGH: Simple, Contemporary Bread)

10g yeast (fresh if possible) (I used 6 g dry instant yeast from King Arthur Flour)
500g bread flour
10g Salt
350g water

Heat oven to 475F.

If using fresh yeast, rub it into the flour using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Add the salt and water. Hold the bowl with one hand and mix the ingredients around with the other for 2–3 minutes until the dough starts to form. Knead the dough according to his method (see video link above) or use a KitchenAid type mixer for 2 minutes, then turn up to the next slowest speed and mix for a further 6-7 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Remove the dough from the bowl, transfer to a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Rest the dough  for about 20 minutes (the puff balls don’t need extensive proofing time).

Divide it into equal pieces (about 40g each).  Round each piece of dough into a small ball, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for a further 5 minutes. Make sure there are no tiny pieces of dried dough on your work surface or rolling pin, as any particles that get into the dough will stop it from puffing up. Dust your work surface with some sifted flour (the idea is to avoid large particles at all cost).  

Roll out each piece of dough into a disc, turning it over a few times, and flouring well as you go. Continue rolling until the dough is very thin (1–2mm). You will need to bake the puff balls one or two at a time, depending on the size of your oven. I rolled them over parchment paper and simply carried the paper into the oven. It gets a bit yellow at the end of the baking time, but it does not burn. I find that if I try to place the thin dough over a wooden peel, it gets totally messed up in shape. If you are better at it, try it that way, which is the way Bertinet recommends. Bake for about 3–4 minutes. The puff balls should inflate very quickly and are ready when they are completely puffed up, golden brown and sound hollow if you tap them.

If you like to make pillows, use a square cutter, they puff just like the round balls, and are very cute.

Carefully remove each one from the oven and cool on a wire rack. The puff balls are at their best about 3–4 hours after baking, but can be kept for a couple of days in an air-tight container.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

These were so much fun to bake! I managed to stick three at a time in our oven, but they bake so fast, it’s not big deal if you need to bake one or two only. The balls would be fun to serve at a cocktail party, especially if you make the little pillows, and let your guests break them in half, or small pieces, using them as spoons to dig into hummus or other dips. I will definitely be making this often, as they are ready so quickly.

SALAD IN A BREAD BALL

Greens of your choice
Diced Tomatoes
Diced Cucumbers
simple salad dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper)

Brush a small circle of the base with water to soften the crust, then carefully cut out this softened disc with a sharp knife. Just before serving push a good quantity of salad gently into each puff ball. Let everyone break the tops with a spoon or fork, add dressing, and eat with the pieces of broken bread ball.

FATTOUSH-LIKE SALAD
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

a couple of bread balls shattered into pieces
olive oil
1/2 tsp sumac
baby lettuce leaves
1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed
smoked paprika
tomato pieces
cucumber pieces
for vinaigrette:
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sumac
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet, add the pieces of bread and sautee for a few seconds. Season with the sumac and reserve over paper towels to remove excess oil.

Prepare the garbanzo beans: coat them very lightly with olive oil, add smoked paprka, a touch of salt and microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and allow it to cool  before adding to the salad.

Make the vinaigrette by emulsifying all ingredients together. Assemble the salad in a large bowl, add the vinaigrette and pieces of seasoned bread.  Serve right away.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This salad was a winner, all the way. Normally made with pita, I think the broken bread balls worked even better, they developed a very nice flavor, and got super crunchy. The garbanzo beans straight from the can, benefit from a quick visit to the microwave, a trick I saw somewhere online and stayed in my memory. You can use other spices, the idea is to just break that boring canned feel. It works!  You could saute them briefly in a pan but the microwave makes it even easier.

And now, without further delay, my thoughts on a great cookbook. Thank you, Mr. Bertinet for so quickly answering my request to publish this recipe. You made the life of this food blogger a lot easier!

 

 

REVIEW OF RICHARD BERTINET’S DOUGH: Simple Contemporary Bread

The book is based around the kneading technique favored by  Bertinet, which is quite more energetic than folding, because you will be slapping the dough around with considerable enthusiasm, but he does so in a way that incorporates air into the dough much more efficiently. It is almost like a dance, I cannot help but think of samba as I go through those moves. You get into the rhythm, and  soon the dough starts developing structure right under your fingers. Fascinating and fun.

He organizes the book in 5 chapters according to the type of dough: White,  Olive, Brown, Rye, and Sweet Dough. Every bread in each chapter uses a single recipe for dough that he takes into unique directions, some will be familiar to you, others will intrigue and make you dream.  He uses fresh yeast, I have a hard time finding it where I live, so I use about 60% of the amount of instant dry yeast. I will list the recipes that called my attention in each of the chapters.

WHITE DOUGH. From this group I got the recipe for the cute bread puffs I shared today. But I loved the idea of “Bread Shots”, Sesame and Aniseed Breadsticks, Spicy Moroccan Rolls (OMG),  and also his Saffron Rolls.

OLIVE DOUGH. A departure from the first chapter, in this variation he adds a small amount of olive oil to the dough, which gives it more elasticity and softness.  Maybe you think that Tomato, Garlic and Basil Bread is too “common?” Wait until you see how he shapes it, and you will definitely re-consider.  How about making a soup bowl with your bread? He explains how, I cannot wait to try that soon, while soup weather is with us. I want to make a smoky tomato soup and serve it inside a cute bread bowl. And no, it’s not a round loaf with the crumb removed. This chapter has one cute idea after another, I was also taken by his Parmesan, Parma Ham, and Pine Nut Slices, they are shaped almost as cinnamon rolls. So so clever.

BROWN DOUGH. Honey and Lavender Loaf…. Cardamom and Prune Bread… Do I have your attention yet?  Those are two of the loaves that I definitely want to try, using what he calls brown dough as a starting point. As you may have guessed, it is a straightforward dough with a high proportion of whole-wheat flour in it. Once again his creativity shines in cute ways to shape bread, like his Poppy Seed Stars. Just lovely and you can definitely use that shaping in any bread dough you’d like.

RYE DOUGH. I really like his approach to rye. It is a tricky flour to work with, and the higher the proportion of rye in a dough, the worst it gets. Gummy, heavy, unpleasant to work with and not always ending on a happy note after baking. He uses a low proportion of rye so that you profit from its taste but it still handles as a regular dough during kneading and shaping. His Walnut Bread and Olive Bread are two that called my name pretty loud. They look hearty, rustic, and are both quite beautiful. Aniseed and Guinness Bread seems very intriguing and he also shares a recipe for Dark Rye Bread that flips the formula around, it is mostly rye with a touch of white flour. I should really give it a try, particularly with his kneading method. Could be fun…

SWEET DOUGH. I thought about showcasing one of the recipes in this chapter but the puff bread was too cute not to share. The thing with his sweet dough is that it works both for sweet and savory concoctions, because it is not overly sweet. I love that. I am fascinated by all recipes in this chapter, so I will give you just the top four: Orange and Mint Loaf, Chocolate Buns (they look amazing!), Apricot and Almond Tart (yes, he uses his sweet dough to line a tart!), Pain Viennois.

Every recipe in the book is also adapted for a KitchenAid type mixer, so don’t worry if you prefer not to go the Samba-Knead route. There are no sourdough recipes in the book, so all you need is some commercial yeast and a little time. He shares a nice method to increase flavor, in which part of the dough is stored in the fridge and “refreshed” pretty much like a sourdough starter would.  Bakeries use that trick very often and it’s a simple way to pump flavor in the home kitchen.

If you love to bake bread, or if you would like to start but feel a bit intimidated, get his books (links to amazon in the beginning of the post; I make no profit from your acquisitions).

ONE YEAR AGO: Pistachio-Caramel and Apple Mousse Cakes

TWO YEARS AGO: La Couronne Bordelaise

THREE YEAR AGO: A Special Birthday Dinner

FOUR YEARS AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

FIVE YEARS AGO: Tuscan Grilled Chicken and Sausage Skewers

SIX YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with Pork Tenderloin & Apples

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

EIGHT YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

NINE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

TEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow

 

 

WANNA BE A TENT-BAKER?


For the past year or so I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group for fans of The Great British Bake Off. It is a very nice online community (almost 20 thousand participants) that at the present time is not accepting new members. Recently Christine, the moderator, asked me to make a video with advice for people interested in submitting an application.  I decided to share it here also, one never knows if some of my readers have been flirting with the idea of baking in the tent. Remember, it all starts with a little thought in the back of your mind… what if? why not?

For the application online, click here

In case you missed my write-ups about all episodes of Season 5…  here they are

Episode 1…

Episode 2…

Episode 3…

Episode 4…

Episode 5… 

Episode 6…

Semi-Final…

Final

PEARLED FARRO WITH ASPARAGUS COINS

A few years ago I posted a pasta recipe using tiny little asparagus coins as a component of the sauce. The other day I decided to roast them and ended up with a side dish that won me over. Added bonus: it is super fast to prepare. Pearled farro cooks a lot faster than the regular grain, and I did not detect any loss in flavor or texture. If you find it in your grocery store, stock on a few bags.

PEARLED FARRO WITH ROASTED ASPARAGUS COINS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

3/4 cup pearled farro
asparagus stalks, cut in very small rounds
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence
squirt of lemon juice

Heat oven to 420F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the farro, cook for 15 to 20 minutes. If you like it with a bit more bite, check at 15 minutes and if it’s done to your liking, drain and reserve.

Meanwhile coat the asparagus coins with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence, amounts are flexible, just go with your intuition. For a regular size asparagus bundle I used 1/4 tsp Herbes de Provence.

Place the asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil to facilitate clean-up. Roast for about 15 minutes moving it around the baking sheet.  When they are done, squirt some lemon juice, adjust seasoning and mix with the warm farro.  Serve right away. Leftovers are great also. Even cold as a salad.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Many variations are possible here. If you don’t want to roast the asparagus coins, simply sautee them quickly in olive oil plus all the spices. Because the coins are so tiny, they cook very fast, so doing the top of the stove method, they can be ready in 5 minutes for sure. The roasted version has slightly more intense flavor. The second picture shows a similar approach (top of the stove), but using zucchini. Also very delicious.

I use farro a lot, but was a bit unsure about trying the pearled version, thinking it would not be nearly as good. I was wrong. It is a way to make farro a suitable option for a fast side dish after a busy day in the lab.

I hope you’ll give this simple recipe a try.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pistachio Caramel and Apple Mousse Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Someone turns 70 today!

THREE YEARS AGO: Carioca Cake, the Final Chapter

FOUR YEARS AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ken Forkish’s Warm Spot Sourdough 

SIX YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Rainbows, and a wonderful surprise!

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

EIGHT YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

NINE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

TEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow