Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bread Baking at August First

This past summer Burlington welcomed August First, a new bakery/cafe to the area. There was plenty of buzz about it amongst my food geek friends and my family quickly became addicted to their cinnamon rolls. Recently Lewis and I went there without short people as chaperones and enjoyed coffee, pastries and sandwiches. While there Lewis asked about their upcoming bread baking class, which at first sounded like nothing I needed. This was not a sour dough bread class, but just yeast bread. I am not afraid of yeast, regularly making challah and cracked wheat bread and confidently creating yeast doughs from my many cookbooks. However Phil Merrick, the head baker and owner of August First, told me this was not my grandmother's yeast bread. The flavor was more like a European sour dough and the technique was very different.

This is the condensed version of how he convinced me to take the class. If he had told me that at the end I could make a flatbread pizza crust that rivals American Flatbread's it would have been an easy sell. Plus for me there was the added benefit of a day of baking and me time before February vacation with two energetic crazy boys and no snow. Can I just say there has been a lot of complaining in Burlington this winter over our lack of snow. Who knew that in Northern Vermont we would need to move South to have snow. As everyone is saying, "If it is going to be cold there should at least be snow"

Since the class I have baked flatbread for dinner once and I will experiment a little and then generously share with you. Although I suspect I will not make any major changes to the ratios I have developed. However we ate it too fast to take a photo. So for now let me show you photos from the class. Cross your fingers that I survive these last 2 days of vacation and that Burlington votes as it should on Tuesday. This is Lewis' first election since becoming a citizen, so if the results are not what I am hoping for he can finally be culpable. Sebastian and Julian have come with me to vote since they were babies so they are looking forward to showing their dad the correct procedure.

This is my dough rising bucket, doesn't look like much here but by the end of the day it will be 2 baguettes and one loaf.

Here is the classes dough slowly rising.

This is a large batch of dough that Phil made before we came so we could practice folding and shaping it. It reminds me of Jabba the Hut as it lays there on the table, just a formless mass. At this stage it is more batter then dough.

Phil Folding the entire large batch of bread, my guess is he won't need to lift weights at the gym later.

Here is the dough after folding a few times. I cannot explain the science but I love how it changes consistency just from folding

Now that the dough has more mass to it each person is given a lump to learn with. What better way to divide it up then tossing?

Dough resting after a preliminary shaping

More folding and shaping

My flatbread crust, we only made 6 flatbreads for lunch for 12 people, so you had to be fast if you wanted to shape one. I was second on line. No wonder I could never make a crust I loved before, this crust is completely different, slacker and wetter. It is also really fun to work with.

My flatbread with toppings

Shaping Pan d'Epi or wheat stalk shaped bread

Baguettes Loaded to go in the oven. This oven is the same size as my kitchen, but a girl can still dream.

The classes finished loaves. My baguettes are 3rd and 4th from the left on the middle shelf. I cannot remember which regular loaf is mine and by now we have eaten the evidence.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kumquat Almond Polenta Torta

I found this recipe on the blog of Half Pint Farm. Half Pint Farm is an organic farm in Burlington's Intervale. The owners and farmers are Mara and Spencer Werston. Now that they are not spending long hours in the fields Mara is posting some of her all time favorite recipes.
This torta is her "go to cake."

Mara talks about food and recipes with a real lust for new flavors and experiences and a dedication to eating memorable food. It is clear when you speak with her that she came to farming because she loves to cook and eat. I feel this is the reason Half Pint Farm grows many items that are not grown by other local farms. During the brief Vermont farming season they have esoteric heirloom tomatoes (one of which I have fallen in love with and will be growing this summer), microgreens, artichokes, cardoons, and I am sure other unusual plants that I would know if I could attend the farmer's market every Saturday.

The torta is from Deborah Krasner's book The Flavors of Olive Oil and originally uses lemon instead of kumquats. The recipe has you puree the entire lemon, except the seeds, and add the puree to the cake batter. I found myself, with Julian, in the produce section thinking about the use of a whole lemon and other citrus fruits that might also work. I decided that kumquats would be well suited to this technique and Julian and I weighed a lemon and then figured out how many kumquats to buy where the same total weight.

If you have never tried a kumquat they are a small citrus fruit that is eaten whole. I have watched people make the mistake of peeling kumquats before eating them and then spitting the flesh out in surprise. The flesh is salty and sour while the thin peel is very sweet. Personally I love the balance of flavors and burst of freshness while eating them fresh. However I am alone in my house in that opinion.

To me it seemed a perfect substitution as the peel is thin and the contrasting flavors of the kumquat is so refreshing. Plus if I baked a cake that only I ended up liking I wouldn't have to share. Well the end result was delicious, everyone agreed on that. There is a pleasant roughness to the crumb because of the ground almonds and the polenta. The flavor is subtly sweet with the best flavor of the kumquats being rounded out by the sweetness of the almonds. This will be made often here.

Kumquat Almond Polenta Torta
(clarifying pictures are below the recipe)

1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
1/2 cup all purpose flour (I did not use any white whole wheat flour but I will try it next time)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole almonds (7.5 oz)
1 cup sugar
15 whole organic kumquats, approximately 35 grams
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the original recipe calls for a mild one, I only have a very fruity one right now and it was perfect)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but I am sure any milk would be fine)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract (Mara uses 1 tsp but I was afraid that would have been too much for the boys, I see no reason to change it next time as I thought the subtle almond flavor was just right with the kumquats)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan and then place a piece of parchment paper cut to fit in the bottom of the pan and butter that (the original recipe calls for a springform pan and no parchment, rather then search for the pan I added the parchment step)

Mix the polenta or cornmeal, flour and salt in a bowl and set aside. Place the sugar and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine and chop the almonds finely. Cut the kumquats in to 4 pieces lengthwise and remove any seeds. Add all the kumquat pieces to the food processor. Pulse to chop the kumquats finely and combine all the ingredients, about 45 seconds.

Add the olive oil, milk, eggs and almond extract to the food processor and process to combine and further chop the kumquat pieces. Add the dry ingredients all at once and process to combine well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick, cake tester or knife comes out clean. Set on a wire rack to cool of for 10 minutes before unmolding.

Serve with whipped cream and raspberry sauce. To make the raspberry sauce just heat some fresh or frozen raspberries with lemon juice and sugar to taste. (I usually use the juice of half a lemon and 2 tsp sugar to 1 cup of raspberries, But I like my sauce a little tart). When it is liquified strain out the seeds and serve. We use it on pancakes and ice cream as well.

Here are some pictures to help clarify how finely ground the ingredients have to be in the food processor. The food processor you see is over 30 years old and is decrepit, there is a crack in the bowl and I have to hold the top down to trigger the safety while processing.

Ground almonds and sugar

Kumquats ready to be pureed with the almonds and sugar

Kumquats, almonds and sugar all pureed

I am going to share this on "The Saturday Blog Showcase" which this week can be found at Thibeault's Table. To join in make a dish from another blog and post about it with a recipe and a link back to their original post. Then add the logo and a link to the showcase. Don't forget to go and see what other people have tried and shared.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Leek Fried Rice with a Fried Egg

The hardest step of cooking is just deciding what to make. In case you have not figured it out already I spend a lot of time thinking about food, reading other blogs, trolling through my cookbooks and otherwise obsessing. However I often find myself in the kitchen trying to decide what's for dinner and experiencing chef's block. However I am now familiar with enough recipes and techniques that most of the time I can look at what we have and eventually come up with a meal. Not always a meal that a 4 and 7 year old want to eat, but you can't have everything.

Chef's block is a problem Lewis often has, an issue that can rear it's ugly head every week. I work on Saturdays and he has to make dinner. Lewis is competent in the kitchen carrying out all the technical aspects with ease. By his own admission, he lacks the understanding of how flavors combine that allow for improvisation, but he is adept at the skills of cooking. However he is often lost over what to make.

For most of this winter he has been making spaghetti carbonara or Chinese Hamburger with Peas for dinner every Saturday night. My children are perfectly happy, I however am bored. So Lewis promised not to make either until further notice, and I received a phone call at the end of my work day asking if I would pick up dinner. Mean nasty wife that I am, I said no. Then I subtly pointed out a recipe for fried rice that I was salivating over on Smitten Kitchen. As happy as I was when he decided to make it, I was even happier when I tasted it.

The recipe originally comes from Mark Bittman, who very clearly states in the article that it must be made with leftover rice as freshly cooked is too moist. We did not have enough leftover rice so Lewis made a batch of brown rice. I guess that means the version he served me was inferior, to tell the truth I am a little fearful to try it the real way. I really don't need for this recipe to be even better. In addition we only had one ancient leek in the vegetable drawer rather then the 2 cups the recipe calls for. It was still delicious, with caramelized leeks, the savory richness of the soy sauce and the richness of the fried egg topping all of it. One of those dishes that is better then the sums of its parts. Make this the next time you need dinner and just cannot think of what recipe to prepare.

Leek Fried Rice with a Fried Egg
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Mark Bittman who based it on a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic (jarred pre chopped garlic will not work here)
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only (we only had one, if I was making it I would have substituted onions for the leeks we did not have, not that I am not grateful)
4 cups rice, preferably day old (we used Brown Basmati rice but any leftover rice would be wonderful)
4 large eggs (or more, I really wished I had 2 on top of my rice)
2 tsp sesame oil
4 tsp soy sauce (we used mushroom soy sauce which gave a really great deep flavor, regular is fine)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and ginger to the pan and saute until crisp and brown stirring occasionally. Remove the browned garlic and ginger in the pan with a slotted spoon to cool on paper towels and salt lightly, make sure to keep the garlic ginger flavored oil in the pan (Lewis actually wiped the pan out as the was unclear on Smitten Kitchen, however the video on Mark Bittman's recipe has you retain the flavorful oil). Return the pan to medium low heat and add the leeks.

Cook the leeks for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender and soft but not at all browned (actually Lewis admits he kind of burnt them, we agree it would be better tender and not burnt and with the two cups of leeks called for not a single, miserly, shriveled leek from the depths of the fridge). Season the leeks lightly with salt and raise the heat to medium and add the rice.

Cook the rice while stirring until it is all heated through and season to taste with salt, bearing in mind that you will be garnishing the dish with soy sauce at the end. Divide the rice onto 4 plates, if you want to get fancy like Lewis did pack the rice into a one cup ramekin before inverting on to each plate.

Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil in a nonstick skillet over low heat and fry eggs with the lid on until the whites are set and the yolk is soft. I have an irrational fear of unset whites so we flip them over gently before serving. Top each serving of rice with an egg, drizzle 1/2 tsp sesame oil and 1 tsp soy sauce around the outside of the pile of rice, sprinkle the crispy garlic and ginger over the top and serve.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sour Cream Banana Muffins

The other night I made banana muffins that were so good I just have to share with you. I would give you an actual taste, but now they are just a memory. They were soft with a delicate crumb and a pronounced banana flavor that remained subtle. They weren't overly sweet, which is a little surprising as the original recipe is for a banana cake, not a muffin. I made them to be nice to Lewis who has been putting up with my whining and low grade cooking since the beginning of the year. Tp begin the year I got a miserable cold that morphed into bronchitis. I'm still not totally done with that foul illness, but I have gotten back my will to cook. That really was the most troubling of my symptoms for my family.

Lewis makes breakfast on most weekday mornings and he was wondering what we could have the next morning. I said no to making another loaf of the bread machine bread, which helped us get through the month. So while Lewis read to the boys for bed (we take turns, each reading our own chapter book to them), I scrounged for ingredients in my kitchen and inspiration for muffins. I always have overripe bananas lurking in my freezer (the ones I have are far sorrier looking then the ones in the photo above, they are not really photo worthy). So I perused some of my favorite blogs to see what recipes I could find. For my first real baking in a month I wanted to make something new, not my regular banana bread muffins. Molly at Orangette blogged about this banana cake recipe and as I looked at the ingredients I became hopeful. Hopeful that this cake would be as good as the banana cakes from Eli Zabar's that I fell in love with last time I was in New York. The ingredient list was the same so I forged ahead, making them as individual muffins so I could feel like it was breakfast.

The resulting muffin was just what I was looking for, although happily not as sweet as the cake from Eli Zabar's. If I am going to bake a cake as muffins and serve them for breakfast it is better if they aren't sticky sweet. I may in the future try them with less butter and sugar but really I will probably just bake them up following this same recipe. I wouldn't want to waste perfectly good ingredients or my time in the kitchen on a botched rendition. At least I added whole wheat flour.

Sour Cream Banana Muffins
Adapted from Orangette and Gourmet

1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 oz's) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, not packed, after all I was making muffins and not cake
1 large egg (place the egg in a bowl of warm water until you are ready to use it)
3/4 cup overripe, very brown bananas, puréed (I puréed mine with an immersion blender)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (I often up the vanilla extract in recipes, it makes them subtly better)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used Kosher)
3/4 cup white whole wheat or whole whet pastry flour
3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

Place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350° Fahrenheit. Line muffin tins with 12 liners and set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. The mixture should be pale and fluffy, stop and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Add the egg and mix until well combined, then add the banana purée, sour cream and vanilla extract. Mix to combine well and add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix before adding the flours and mixing on low speed. Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mixing one final time, although mix only until combined to prevent overmixing (if you mix to much the flour will form gluten strands and the muffins will be tough).

Divide the batter evenly between 12 muffin cups and bake in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean (It can be moist from the butter but there should be no batter). Allow to cool in muffin tins, store in an airtight container. These go especially well with a strong cup of coffee, although Julian didn't seem to mind them without coffee. Sebastian didn't like them, but he didn't like the cake from EAT either.