Monday, June 22, 2009

Daring Bakers 6/09 Challenge: Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding

Ah, the non-baker baked again for this month's Daring Bakers challenge, which was an almondy tart with a layer of fruit filling.

It had three parts: a shortcrust pastry, frangipane, and a homemade jam.

I had never made any of these things before, so it was definitely a challenge. And I don't own a tart pan, so I made six mini-tarts instead.

Luckily, my friend Betsy had recently sent me two jam recipes, so I made her strawberry-rhubarb jam for the tart.

I have to tell you that this dessert was fantastic! You have to try it. And remember, even a non-baker like me was able to make it.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Betsy's Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

If you are toasting a slice of fresh homemade bread or have just taken the scones out of the oven, you definitely need this vibrant and lovely strawberry-rhubarb jam.

My high school friend Betsy, with whom I connected through Facebook this past year, gave me the recipe below to share with you.

For an alternate and very useful jam-making technique which requires no pre-set measurements and no thermometer, check out this recipe at Very Small Anna.

Betsy's Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

2 lb strawberries
1 lb rhubarb
1 cup water
10 strips lemon peel (approximately 3” long and ¼ ” wide)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cups sugar

Rinse and drain the berries. Remove the stems and hull them. Cut berries into a uniform size and place in a heavy, non-reactive 8-quart pan. Add the rhubarb (washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2” slices). Add the lemon peel strips and water. Cover the pot and bring liquid to a boil.

Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes.Add lemon juice, then sugar, ½ c at a time, allowing mixture to come to a boil before each addition. Continue to cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly to keep jam from scorching or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Jam will reach a temperature of 212 degrees F. (This step always takes me much longer than 10 minutes- allow plenty of time and make sure you've actually reached 212 degrees or you'll have strawberry-rhubarb sauce.) When the bubbles are thick and the jam spits when stirred, turn off heat. Skim off foam.

Fill hot, sterilized jars to within ¼ ” of the lip. Wipe the rims clean, attach new lids and screw caps on tightly. Invert jars briefly to vacuum seal, or process in a boiling water bath, submerged by 1” for ten minutes.

Makes 7 cups.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Barcelona Cookbook: Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo is arguably Spain's most famous tapas dish, and the Barcelona Cookbook's version does not disappoint.

One thing that struck me about the recipe is how little oil it uses -- just 2 tsp. of olive oil. I would have expected the garlic slices to burn, but instead, they browned beautifully and added a deep roasted garlic flavor to the sherry-based sauce. This dish is simple, but rich and luscious on the palate.

If you'd like to find out about or buy this wonderful new cookbook, based on the cuisine served at the very successful Barcelona Wine Bar restaurants in southwestern Connecticut, more information can be found at the book's website or Amazon.

Barcelona Cookbook's Gambas al Ajillo
Serves 4
20 medium shrimp (21-25 count), peeled and deveined, with tails left on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (preferably with a mandoline)
1 cup Christian Brothers Golden Sherry
2 pinched of red hot pepper flakes
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbs. unsalted butter

1. Lightly rinse the shrimp under cool running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly season the shrimp with salt and pepper.

2. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the garlic and shrimp and sear for about three minutes, turning once or twice, or until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the sherry to the pan, being careful in case it ignites (if it does, remove the pan from the heat and the flames will subside quickly). Stir in the pepper flakes and thyme and cook a few minutes longer, or until the shrimp is cooked through and pink.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a serving dish and leave the sherry in the pan. Still over high heat, reduce the sherry for 7-10 minutes, or until it become a glaze.

4. Add the butter to the pan, swirling it over medium heat until melted. Return the shrimp to the pan, toss with the glaze, and serve immediately.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Buy this Book: The Barcelona Cookbook

In the early 1990s, I was actively involved in At this time, the Internet was not widely available, so members in the different affinity groups hailed primarily from the universities. Even though we had never met one another, we core contributors became so close that when I became pregnant with my first child, a group got together and sent me so much money that I was able to buy a crib. I will never forget their cooking expertise or their kindness.

At the time, we were also moving out of New York City, and Andy Pforzheimer, another, gave me a lot of advice about where to move. We have him to thank for an easy entry in our new area.

Fast foward fifteen years later and Andy is now the co-owner of the biggest Spanish restaurant group in the United States, with six Barcelona Wine Bar restaurants in Connecticut. I remember stopping by his first restaurant when it was still under construction. How time flies.

Andy has also just released the long-awaited Barcelona Cookbook.

This cookbook has become a favorite in my extensive cookbook collection. There are recipes to die for in here: shrimp in garlic sauce, paella Barcelona, wild mushrooms with herbed cheese, and flan, and some killer cocktails like blood orange margaritas, red and white sangrias, and clementine crush made with Svedka clementine vodka.

In the future, I'll be whipping up some of Barcelona's simple yet sophisticated tapas, main entrees, and cocktails, but in case you are looking for a great Father's Day gift, June birthday present, or entertaining ideas for a summer party, I recommend that you buy this book NOW.

To find the book, go to the book's website or Amazon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kid Friendly: Toffee Choco Chip Cookies

I have a new guest blogger today. Please meet ...

Christina the Chef and her sous chef ...

Chef Kibus.

Like me, Christina is a cook. She has been from a very early age.

Like here, making brownies.

Or here, a few years later, making chocolate chip cookies.

Now, Chef Kibus, he just came on the scene recently. Christina rescued him from a traveling carnival hawker, after winning a few water race games. She named him Kibus after cibus, the Latin name for food.

Now onto the recipe.

Christina has developed an obsession for Heath Bar Crunch toffee bits. The other day I put together a quick dessert: yellow cake served with fresh strawberries, whipped cream whipped up by Christina, and the HBC bits. Then we had to buy another bag so she could munch on them at the movies. She decided for her first "Kid Friendly" entry that she wanted to put together a cookie recipe using the bits.

She used the Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies as a base and came up with these toffee choco chip cookies. Oh, these cookies are GOOD, I can tell you, and incredibly addictive.

I hope you or one your youthful cooks will try them out. Enjoy.

Like her dad, Christina is a purist and and beats the butter by hand until it softens. I am lazy and soften the butter on the counter, mix it in with a mixer, and then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes, so the butter can get cold again. Whose cookies are better? Christina's and her dad's. But just by a smidgen.

Toffee Choco Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 bag Heath Bar toffee crunch bits
2/3 cup of chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in toffee bits, chocolate chips, and nuts (optional). Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

PAN COOKIE VARIATION: Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

SLICE AND BAKE COOKIE VARIATION: PREPARE dough as above. Divide in half; wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Shape each half into 15-inch log; wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.* Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen cookies. * May be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 8 weeks.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Garlic-Lemon Chicken Breasts Grilled on the Big Green Egg

My husband has been the grill master for years. I have shied away from his hulking Weber Genesis grill, flexing its stainless steel muscles out on the patio and ready to blow out a gazillion btus of gas heat at a moment's notice.

But the Big Green Egg is a different story. It's a petite 18 inches across -- the perfect size for me -- and its rounded shape with its green-glazed surface is attractive and friendly. Cooking over hardwood charcoal seems like second-nature.

All of a sudden, grilling seems accessible to me.

Since we've gotten the BGE, I've smoked and slow-cooked pork spareribs, butterflied whole chicken, pork tenderloin, and beef brisket. I also made pizza. Next were boneless chicken breasts, which I marinated in a garlic-lemon vinaigrette for 30 minutes before grilling them over a medium fire for 8-12 minutes or until 170 degrees internal temperature.

They were delicious, so flavorful with the brightness of lemon and garlic, charred on the outside, juicy on the inside. And they were quick to cook.


1) I can look at chicken breasts and know when they're done, but I'm a big fan of using a thermometer, because it's full proof. Particularly since one of the big advantages of the Egg is its ability to maintain a consistent temperature, one cooks with the lid down. In this case, I cooked the chicken at 350 degrees, opening the Egg only occasionally to flip the chicken and monitor how fast or slow the chicken was browning. I used one of those thermometers you leave in, set the desired temperature on the monitor, and it beeped when the chicken was at 170. This technique can be used whether you have an Egg, another grill, or are using the oven. And an instant thermometer works just fine too.

2) If you want to marinate the chicken more than 30 minutes, I would take out the lemon juice from the marinade and add it 30 minutes before cooking. Acid in the marinade will denature the proteins on the surface of the meat and make it mushy if left too long.

3) Even if you're a lowfat eater, some flavor compounds are only oil soluble and not water soluble. If you want to decrease the amount of oil in the marinade, you can, but use a little oil to get maximum flavor out of your garlic and spices.

4) Use organic chicken if possible. You'll notice its clean flavor and when you cook organic chicken, it doesn't ooze the additives and liquids that are added to non-organic chicken breasts. There is most definitely a difference in quality, and I believe it's worth the price to buy organic chicken.

Grilled Garlic-Lemon Chicken Breasts

5 Organic chicken breasts

3 cloves garlic
1 large lemon, squeezed
1/3 cup extra olive oil
Salt and pepper
Penzey's Mural of Flavor
Fresh chopped parsley

Blend the garlic, lemon, and olive oil with some salt and pepper together in the blender. When done, set aside 2-3 tbs. to drizzle over the chicken when it's cooked.

Generously season the chicken breasts on both sides with the spice rub and some salt and pepper (I used Penzey's Mural of Flavor, which is a salt-free seasoning, but you can certainly use something else or stick with salt and pepper).

Put the chicken in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade in, distributing it over the chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes.

Prep your grill and heat it to 350 degrees over a medium fire or medium direct heat.

Place the chicken breasts on the grill and cook 8-12 minutes, flipping occasionally, until the meat registers an internal temperature of 170 degrees.

Place chicken on a platter, drizzle with reserved marinade, and tent with foil. Let rest for ten to fifteen minutes. Top with fresh chopped parsley and serve.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Lumpiang Shanghai

Along with adobo and pancit, fried lumpia are among the most popular of Filipino dishes with both Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.

Like adobo (a vinegar-based stew) and pancit (noodles), there are different variants of lumpia, including fried and fresh, but it seems most people crave the petite, fried lumpiang shanghai, filled with seasoned ground pork or chicken and encased in the crispiest wrapper.

When I was little, we would make hundreds of these rolls for Filipino celebrations and get togethers. In this enjoyable communal effort with my grandmothers and aunts, my love for cooking developed, one roll at a time.

Wanting to pass on the tradition, I recruited my niece Alyssa and my daughter Christina to help make about 100 lumpia for a family gathering. I put together the filling, which is primarily ground meat with a smattering of aromatic vegetables, and soy sauce or patis (fish sauce), and they cut the bigger spring roll wrappers in four smaller squares and rolled.

The trick is in the rolling. Whenever I teach people to make lumpia, I tell them what my dad told me: the lumpia should be about as thin as your pinky. There is a tendency to want to put too much filling, but resist! A little amount of filling goes a long way, particularly when part of the thrill of eating lumpia is enjoying that crisp wrapper.

From the top-left: Filipino wrappers are more delicate but Chinese wrappers (pictured here) are fine substitutes -- please don't use those horrible wrappers that can be bought in the grocery stores in the vegetable section; Alyssa putting a dainty line of meat in the wrapper which we cut in fourths to make party-size lumpia; lumpia cooling on the rack; lumpia cut open to show the meat filling.

Lumpiang Shanghai
2 pounds ground pork or chicken
2 large carrots, minced (if you're using the shredded carrots, a bag is probably fine; mince the shreds into small pieces)
3 large scallions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Salt
Onion powder
2 tbs. soy sauce (or fish sauce)
2 eggs, one for the filling and one for the egg white part to seal the wrappers

Chinese spring roll wrappers or Filipino lumpia wrappers

Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add a little oil and saute carrots, celery, scallion, and garlic cloves until tender, about 3 minutes. If they're a little hard, that's okay, as they'll cook more when you fry them. Season veggies with a little salt and pepper, put in a dish and let cool.

Put pork in a bowl and add cooled veggies, soy sauce, salt, onion powder and pepper. Mix together. Take a little piece of pork filling, cook it, and taste it. Remember that the seasoning in the filling will be carrying the outside wrapper too, so it should be a little more flavorful than if you were to eat it purely by itself. Does it need any more soy sauce or seasonings? If so, adjust the seasoning.

When the filling is to your liking, beat one egg and incorporate it into the mix.

To make mini-springrolls, take the wrapper and cut it vertically down the center and horizontally across the middle, to make four smaller squares. Alternately, you can leave it whole, make a large spring roll and then cut it into thirds afterwards. It's up to you.

You can follow the directions on the spring roll wrapper for folding. As for how much filling, my dad or grandma told me it shouldn't be much thicker than your pinky, so be judicious on the filling, putting about 1 heaping tsp. in each one. If you're making these for the first time, it's likely you're going to want to put more filling, but if you make them thinner, you'll be happy later with the balance between the crunchy wrapper and the meat.

Fry at 360 degrees for 5-6 minutes or until cooked inside. Serve with sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbs. ketchup
1/4 tsp. white pepper(or black pepper)
1 1/2 tbs. cornstarch dissolved in a couple tbs. of water.

Combine all the ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn it down to low and whisk in cornstarch slurry. Sauce will thicken. When sauce starts simmering again, take off the heat. You can add slivers of carrot and red pepper for a little color. Pour in a bowl and serve with the lumpia.

My niece Alyssa takes a break from her lumpia-making to pose for the camera.