Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beer Rye Sourdough

There was a time when I didn't like beer. Actually, there were many times. The first that I remember was at a family party at my grandparents' house, when my cousin and I must have pilfered a can from the ice chest and gone for a walk to try it. Though we reveled in Maneschewitz at Passover, a sip of beer left me baffled as to how anyone could drink something so vile.

I held to this notion until I traveled to Italy with my best friend, who shocked me one night when she ordered a beer with her pizza. By way of explanation, she said simply, 'I like beer.'

Since my friend has impeccable taste, I gave beer another chance, and decided that light beers, namely Coronas and Pacificos, were ok, so long as you had a lime wedge to shove in the bottle and something cheesy and greasy to chase them with.

Then I met Jay, a true cerevisaphile, and everything changed. (And not just because I didn't have to do the dishes anymore.)

There were light beers and dark beers. Sweet beers and sour beers. Malty beers and hoppy beers. There were boozy barley wines, sweet Belgians, fruity Lambics and crisp kolschs.

The Doc and I at Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Washington

But most importantly, there was Anchor Steam.

I'd seen the blue, red and gold label many times and thought nothing of it, until I moved in with Jay a mere 5 blocks from where the magic happens. When I walk outside in the morning (or afternoon, mostly), I can often smell the malty aroma of the cooking barley, or 'mash,' wafting on the breeze. Few bojon activities rate as high as the free tours of the beautiful brewery, which culminate in a sunny taproom with tastings of their various brews. I love Liberty Ale, a gently hopped IPA of sorts; and the Bock, with it's goaty label. Summer ale refreshes on a hot day, and even the porter is quaffably smooth.

But nothing beats their Steam beer (you'll have to take the tour to find out why it's called that), an expertly balanced lager that goes with anything, any time. The little gold dress of beers, if you will.

When I began baking with sourdough several years ago, I liked to think that the coveted yeasts from the Anchor brewery had found their way into my kitchen and lent their good juju to my loaves. (In fact, I still like to think that.)

My starter had been sitting in the fridge for months and months, patiently waiting to be revivified. When I saw this handsome, beer-based loaf on CakeWalk, via YeastSpotting, I immediately removed my starter from the fridge, poured off the gray liquid sitting on top, and began nourishing it for baking. I made some multi-grain pancakes and brownies, and then it was time.

I altered my sourdough country boule recipe, decreasing the starter and using Anchor Steam in place of the water. I added a touch of honey, and the bread baked up intensely flavorful; not tasting of beer, but with a malty depth of flavor. The bread was denser than I wanted, however, probably from adding too much flour and not kneading the dough enough.

Inspired by Cheeseboard's Sourdough Beer Rye, I decided to try this loaf with rye flour in place of whole wheat, so I made a second one, this time kneading the dough in the stand mixer so that it could remain wetter. The dough was stickier than I was used to, but I wrestled it into a banneton dusted heavily with flour (it still stuck). When I turned it out onto a cornmeal-dusted peel, it was so wobbly that I feared it would 'sploosh' into a flat, ugly loaf in the oven.

But the loaf defied me, and baked up into one of the nicest breads of this sort I have ever made. The crust was deep mahogany, almost black (and next time, I would decrease the oven temperature after 15 minutes rather than 20), and the interior was soft and chewy, with large, irregular holes. The bread makes excellent sandwiches, spread with Sierra Nevada mustard and layered with sharp cheddar, avocado and sprouts.

And of course, nothing washes down a sandwich quite like a cold glass of Anchor Steam beer.

Sweet on sourdough:
Two-Olive Sourdough
Flaxseed Waffles

Beer goggles:
Bacon Beer Scones
Buckwheat Crepes
Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake

One year ago:
Nibby Matcha Wafers

Sourdough Beer Rye

Makes one large loaf, about 2 pounds

Total time: about 9 hours, not including refreshing starter

refresh starter four hours before beginning recipe
mix, knead and autolyse dough, 1 hour
first rise, 3 - 4 hours (or overnight in fridge)
shape dough, 10 minutes
second rise, 1 1/2 - 2 hours
bake, 45 minutes
cool loaf, 1 - 2 hours

A few notes:

I used Anchor Steam lager for this bread, but you could probably use any beer that you like the taste of (though I would stay away from anything ultra-hoppy). Having your beer at room temp will help the bread rise faster than cold beer. If you forget to leave your beer out to warm, place the unopened bottle in a container of warm water for 20 minutes or so to take off the chill.

You can order fresh sourdough starter hereThis is a nice-looking site if you want to learn how to raise your own starter. (If you live in the Bay Area, I'm happy to give you some of mine!)

In order to raise bread, your starter has to be refreshed, full of bubbles and vigor. If your starter isn't doubling within four or five hours when you feed it, it will not be strong enough to raise bread. If it isn't, don't despair; bake some sourdough crackerspancakes or pie dough and give the starter another feeding or two until it's ready. I keep my starter rather thick and almost gloppy, the consistency of a very thick pancake batter; if yours is thinner, you will need to add more flour to the dough.

I like to weigh my starter, as it is extremely sticky to put it in a measuring cup and then try to scrape out. You also get a much more accurate amount, since the bubbles will drastically effect the volume, by a factor of two or three even.

This recipe assumes you have the following accoutrements:

  • plastic dough scraper

  • rising basket (banneton)

  • wooden pizza peel (you can use a large, smooth cutting board)

  • baking stone

  • dough slasher (lame) or sharp knife

  • large plastic bag, such as a trash bag, and something to close it with

  • sacrificial metal pan to put ice in (to steam the oven)

  • The bread:
    8 oz. liquid sourdough starter, bubbly and well fed (about 1 cup stirred down, or 2+ cups at full froth; see headnote)
    12 oz. room temperature beer (such as Anchor Steam lager; see headnote)
    3/4 ounce (1 tablespoon) honey
    5 oz. (1 cup) rye flour (I used light, but dark/pumpernickel would be good, too)
    12 oz. (2 1/4 cups) white bread flour (plus extra as needed)
    2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

    Mix and knead the dough:
    Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer in the order listed. Attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed (1 on a Kitchen Aid) until the dough is evenly moistened; it should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes. (This is called autolyseand allows the flour to absorb some of the water, and the gluten strands to begin straightening out; it makes for less kneading in the end, and will prevent you from adding too much flour right off the bat.)

    After 20 minutes, mix the dough on medium-low (2 on a Kitchen Aid) for 10 minutes, adding more bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time within the first 5 minutes until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. After 10 minutes, the dough should be smoother, but still tacky to the touch.

    Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes by hand, adding as little flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands and the counter. It should still be a bit sticky, but should feel smooth and clay-like.

    Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled ceramic bowl or a large plastic container at least twice the size of the dough. You can mark the outside of the vessel with a piece of masking tape where the dough will be when it doubles, if you like. Cover the vessel tightly with plastic wrap or the lid, and allow it to rise until doubled, 3 - 4 hours. (The warmer the spot you choose, the faster it will rise, the ideal temperature being 75-85º. You can turn the oven on to warm for a few minutes, then turn it off and place the dough inside to give it a head start; make sure the oven is cooler than 100ºF.) (Alternately, let the dough rise in the fridge or a cool place overnight. If you do, let the dough come to room temperature before shaping it.)

    Shaping the dough and the second rise:
    Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing out the air bubbles. Shape into a boule by tucking the edges under itself, then gently rotating the dough on the surface to form a taught outer layer of dough. (Here's a quick video of how to shape a boule.) For an oval-shaped loaf, roll the boule seam-side-down, between the pads of your hands and the counter to elongate.

    If you have a rising basket, sift a light layer of flour onto the inside, and place the boule in it upside-down, pinching the seam shut. (If you don't have a rising basket, place the boule directly on a peel or board dusted with cornmeal or flour.) Place the whole deal in a large plastic bag, such as a trash can liner. Inflate the bag and close it with a twist tie or clip.

    Let the bread rise a second time until doubled, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. When the bread is ready to bake, it will hold an indentation of your finger when you press it lightly, rather than springing back.

    Prepare the oven and bake the bread:
    While the bread is rising, about an hour before you're ready to bake, remove all but the lowest rack of your oven. Place a baking stone on the rack (or a heavy duty baking sheet), and place a metal, non-teflon pan of any size that you don't care about sacrificing (it will get rusty) on the floor of the oven.

    Crank the oven up to 500º.

    When the bread has doubled, gently turn it out onto a wooden peel dusted with flour or cornmeal. Holding a lame or sharp knife at a 45º angle to the loaf, draw the blade, about 1" deep, across the top of the loaf, beginning and ending 2" from the bottoms of the boule. Make 2 or 3 diagonal slashes this way (see photo in post, above).

    Fill a 1 cup measure with ice cubes. Quickly slip the boule off the peel and onto the stone, and toss the cubes into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. This will steam the outside of the loaf, allowing it to expand as it bakes.

    Bake the loaf for 15 minutes without opening the oven, then turn the oven down to 450º and bake another 15 - 20 minutes or so, until the bread is a deep, burnished golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. An instant read thermometer inserted into the middle should read around 200º, the temperature at which the starches in the dough are set.

    Cool and store:
    Let cool completely on a wire rack, 1 - 2 hours, before enjoying. When hot, the bread is still 'baking' from the residual heat and steam inside the loaf, so step away from the bread until it is truly cool.
    This bread keeps well for more than a week. The best way to store this type of bread is in a paper bag at room temperature for a couple of days. After that, put the whole thing, paper bag and all, into a plastic bag and continue to store at room temp. After a couple of days like that, it there's any left over, cut leftovers into 1/2" chunks, fry in a heavy skillet in light olive oil, and toss into soups or salads for the best croutons ever.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding

    I've been wanting to say or do something regarding the disaster in Japan, but haven't known what. Mostly, I feel quite helpless, with a heart full of sadness for those who have lost their lives, their homes, or loved ones on the other side of the pacific.

    But an unexpected opportunity to do something has arisen, and I'm very happy to share it here.

    Bernal Yoga has been my place of mental, spiritual and physical comfort for the past 5 years (well, not always physical...). No matter how difficult things have gotten in life, walking into the studio always gives me the feeling of finally being able to take a deep breath. I cherish the sense of community at this studio, with students of all different shapes, sizes and ages, classes ranging from restorative to vigorous, and teachers who, even when encouraging you to contort your body into a pretzel, speak their words with loving kindness.

    To help foster this sense of community, the assistant manager, also a yoga teacher and accomplished violinist, Ann, asked Jay and I whether we wanted to participate in a music salon this Saturday. We jumped at the chance, and have been gearing up our ukulele swing band, The Sugar Shakers, for our first real-ish show. Last week, Ann decided to turn the salon into a benefit, with donations going to the Red Cross' relief efforts in Japan.

    If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, please stop by to hear us play and donate to this worthy cause; and wear your dancin' socks. Here are the details:

    Japan Relief Benefit Music Salon:
    At Bernal Yoga, 461 Cortland Ave. at Andover, in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco
    Saturday, March 26, from 8pm to 10pm
    Admission: by donation (all proceeds go to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan)
    Music by Ann Lam, The Sugar Shakers, and a reading by Bernal Yogi Erin O'Briant of her newly published novel Glitter Girl

    If you're not able to attend but still want to give, you can donate directly to the Red Cross.

    At our rehearsal last week, Jessa, harmony genius and craftstress extraordinaire arrived carrying a warm bundle in her arms. Peeling back the tea towel revealed two beautiful, bouncing oat baguettes, still warm from the oven, emitting the most tantalizing aroma. One got sliced into rounds and slathered with soft goat cheese. I had more the next morning, toasted and drizzled with honey, which made a comforting breakfast when I couldn't sleep and, uncharacteristically, got up before dawn to bake a loaf of beer sourdough. Jessa, on the other hand, gets up every morning before dawn - another of many reasons that I admire her!

    These baguettes aren't your typical, crusty-chewy french breads; rather, they have the pleasingly pillowy texture of a good American-style pan bread, light yet dense, and flecked with nubby bits of steel-cut oats. I reckoned they'd make a killer bread pudding.

    So for rehearsal last weekend, I sauteed some apple chunks in a skillet, tipped out the apples and deglazed the pan with light cream steeped with vanilla bean, then whisked in eggs, brown sugar, nutmeg and brandy, and tossed everything with the cubed baguettes. As per Cook's rich bread pudding recipe, I added some extra bread cubes and topped them with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. The pudding baked up flavorful and moist, dotted with pockets of soft, caramelized apples, with crunchy bits of cinnamon toast on top. A pour of cool crème anglaise rounded out the flavors nicely.

    As we chant at the end of yoga class: Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu, or "may all beings everywhere be happy, healthy and free of suffering. May the thoughts and actions of my own life contribute, in some way, to happiness and freedom for all."

    Hope to see you all this Saturday!

    Comfort me with:
    (Gluten-Free) Apple Crisple
    Über Apple Upside-Down Cake
    Apple Rhubarb Crisp

    Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding

    Makes about 10 servings

    A few notes:
    • This recipe requires several steps: cooking the apples, steeping the dairy with vanilla bean, making the crème anglaise, and (if you are totally hardcore) baking Jessa's fabulous oat baguettes. Many of the steps can be done ahead: you can bake the bread weeks in advance (double-wrap and stick in the freezer after a week) and cook the apples and steep the dairy with the vanilla bean up to several days ahead (store both in the fridge). 
    • The pudding can also be baked in advance, left at room temp for up to 2 hours (or refrigerated for up to 4 days), and reheated in a 350º oven, or cut into individual squares and reheated.
    • I love the flecks of steel-cut oats here, and these baguettes have the perfect light-dense texture for bread pudding. Lacking them, I wouldn't use a typically crusty baguette, but rather a firm, white sandwich bread (with a bit of whole grain in it, if possible) such as challah, brioche, pan de mie, or Rudi's Organic Country Morning White. My multi-grain loaf would probably work, too; though I might leave out the flax seeds.
    Caramelized Apples:
    Adapted from Good to the Grain (from the Apple Graham Coffeecake recipe)

    3 large, tart, baking apples (such as Grannies, Pink Ladies or Fujis)
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    pinch salt

    Bread and custard:
    Inspired by Cook's Rich Bread Pudding

    2 1/2 cups half and half
    1 cup whole milk
    1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
    3 large eggs
    1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    2 tablespoons brandy (or whiskey, or dark or gold rum)
    12 ounces bread (such as Jessa's Oat Baguettes; see headnote for more suggestions), in 1" cubes (about 6 cups; 1 cup reserved for the topping)
    2 tablespoons butter, melted
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    crème anglaise, for serving (below)

    Caramelize the apples:
    Peel the apples, cut them off the core and into 3/4 - 1" chunks. In a heavy-bottomed 10 - 12" skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt, stirring until the mixture bubbles, then toss in the apples to coat them. Let the apples sit, undisturbed, for 1 minute to sear a bit, then toss them again, and let them sit another minute. Repeat this for about 10 minutes, until the apples are deeply golden and tender. Remove from the heat and scrape the apples and their juices into a bowl; don't wash the skillet - you will use it to make the custard.

    Make the custard and assemble the pudding:
    Pour the half and half and milk into the caramelly-appley skillet. Add the vanilla pod and scrapings and heat over a medium flame, stirring and scraping up any good stuff the apples left behind, until the dairy is steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat, cover the pot (with a lid if you've got one, or use a large plate or platter) and let steep for 20 - 30 minutes.

    When the dairy has finished steeping, in a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg to combine. Whisk in the brandy. Remove the vanilla pod from the dairy and slowly whisk the warm dairy into the egg mixture, including any vanilla seeds which may have sunk to the bottom.

    Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF. Brush a 2-quart gratin dish or casserole with some of the melted butter.

    In a small bowl, combine the tablespoon of sugar with the 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.

    Place 5 cups of the bread cubes in the buttered dish and pour the custard over the top. Let soak for 20 minutes, pressing the bread down occasionally to moisten it. After 20 minutes, scatter the caramelized apples and their juices over the bread. Scatter the remaining cup of bread cubes over the apples and press them to partially submerge in the custard. Brush the exposed bread cubes with the rest of the melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar.

    Bake the bread pudding until puffed all over and golden, about 1 hour. When you peek into the center, there should be no wet custard. Remove the pudding from the oven and let cool and settle, at least 30 minutes. Serve warm with crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.

    The pudding can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days; reheat in a 350º oven until warmed through.

    Crème Anglaise
    Makes 2 cups, or 12 servings

    1 cup whole milk or half and half
    1 cup heavy cream
    1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
    4 egg yolks
    pinch salt
    6 tablespoons sugar

    In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk and cream with the vanilla pod and scrapings until steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan, swirling occasionally. Cover and steep off the heat for 20 minutes.

    Place a fine mesh sieve over a large, metal bowl and set aside.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt and sugar until well combined. Reheat the milk until steaming, then dribble it into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 175º and thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, 5 - 10 minutes.

    Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer and into the bowl to stop the cooking. Place the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the custard occasionally, until well-chilled. (If you overcooked your custard and it is lumpy, just whizz it in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.)

    Store the creme anglaise in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Like most things, 'buckwheat' sounds much better in French, where it's known as 'blé noir.' This translates to 'black grain,' which sounds less poetic than 'blé noir' as well, though possibly less misleading than 'buckwheat,' since it isn't actually in the wheat family at all, but rather the gluten-free seed of a plant native to Asia. Oddly, triangular buckwheat groats themselves aren't black at all, but rather a pretty ecru with hints of pastel green. But when ground, the flour becomes a charcoal-flecked brownish-grey.

    Despite my love of buckwheat crepes and soba noodles, I never would have thought to bake the tasty flour into sweet confections until Heidi at 101 Cookbooks posted some nibby buckwheat butter cookies, a recipe from Alice Medrich's stunner of a book Pure Dessert. I made the cookies right away and was knocked off my feet by how well the flavors and textures went together: the gluten-free buckwheat created a meltingly delicate cookie dotted with crunchy, bittersweet nibs. I couldn't stop eating them.

    Buckwheat's unique flavor reminds me of toasted hazelnuts and cinnamon tempered by an oat-like softness. Since all of those flavors go so well with chocolate, I decided to try baking buckwheat flour into my favorite cookie of all, the illustrious chocolate chip.

    Appropriately, I based my recipe on Alice Medrich's classic chocolate chip cookies from her new cookie book. I love that this recipe uses melted butter, so the dough comes together in a snap. I made a few different batches, tinkering with the amount of buckwheat flour I subbed in for the all-purpose (I added some whole spelt, too), and taking the sugar down a notch. Alice says to let the dough rest for 1 hour and up to overnight, but the cookies turn out fine even when baked right away. She also recommends baking the cookies on unlined baking sheets, which did make for slightly thicker cookies, as the edges of the dough stick, preventing the cookies from spreading more. But when I went to scrape the sticky cookies off the sheet pan, I decided this was a deal breaker, and I had perfectly delectable results even using the dastardly parchment.

    It's been a long time since I put actual chocolate chips in my cookies; it seems that, for now, higher quality chocolate comes in bars (or if you're lucky, wafers in the bulk section of your awesome co-op). Chopping your own chocolate gets you large chunks mixed with smaller shards, which lend a rustic look. Hold back a few, and stick them on top of the unbaked dough balls if you like; then everyone will know what's hiding inside.

    I used to be a purist when it came to chocolate chip cookies, but now, thanks to Jay peering over my shoulder and asking, 'Are you gonna put nuts in those?' so many times, I've come to appreciate the chunkier texture and hint of toasty bitterness they lend, especially against the flavor of the buckwheat. Following Alice's lead, I threw in some nibs, as well, for added bite.

    Like any chocolate chip cookie, these are at their peak when just firm enough to lift one off the baking sheet, when the edges are crisp, the centers gooey-soft, and the chocolate molten; preferably, with a cold and creamy chaser.

    Heaven, in any language.

    Chocolate Chip Mania:
    Nibby Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
    Triple Chocolate Chile Cookies
    (Gluten- and Dairy-Free!) Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

    One year ago:
    Tangerine Poppyseed Brunch Cake

    Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Adapted from Alice Medrich's Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

    Makes 2 dozen 2 1/2" cookies

    Feel free to double this recipe if you are a real cookie monster; this is a rather small batch as far as batches of cookies go. Baking the cookies right away results in thinner cookies that spread more, while resting the dough (for up to 2 hours at room temp, or in the fridge overnight) will make thicker, chewier cookies. The dough can be scooped and refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for a month or two; you will then be mere minutes away from gooey, freshly-baked cookies whenever you get a hankering. Update: for a gluten-free version, a reader makes these with 100% buckwheat flour, a pinch of xanthan gum, and a handful of rolled oats.

    4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) buckwheat flour
    1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup (1 ounce) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
    1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
    1 egg
    3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup (5 ounces) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (60 - 70% cacao mass)
    1/2 cup walnuts toasted, cooled, skins rubbed off, and broken up or coarsely chopped (optional)
    2 tablespoons cacao nibs (optional)

    Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt.

    Combine the sugars in a large bowl, then stir in the warm, melted butter. Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.

    Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until almost combined, then stir in the chocolate chunks, nuts and nibs to distribute evenly.

    You can either bake the cookies immediately, or cover the dough and let it rest for up to 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge, bringing the dough back to room temperature before scooping. In either case, scoop rounded tablespoons of dough (I use a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop) and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheets 3" apart.

    Bake the cookies until the edges are just set and the centers are puffed and soft (but not wet), rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom after 5 minutes, for a total time of around 8 or 9 minutes (the baking time will vary with the size of your cookies, natch).

    Let the cookies cool on the pans (or slide the parchment, cookies and all, onto cooling racks to stop the baking if you took yours a bit too far). Like most drop cookies, these are at their peak when they are just cool enough to lift off of the baking sheet. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days at room temperature, however.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Irish Soda Scones

    Top o' the mornin' to ya!

    Despite what my first name may suggest, I'm not Irish. Despite my last name, I'm not English either (though I often wish I were). And despite my Anglophilia, I remain a Jewish, Eastern European mutt (though not a very good one).

    My parents went to Ireland before I was born, and there my mom learned the Gaelic word for 'beautiful,' or 'my love,' pronounced something like 'Aulin.' My dad wanted to name me Ariana, but after my mom's umpteenth hour in labor, he gave in and let her have her way. (Smart move, dad!)

    Still, my lack of Irish heritage didn't stop me from speaking in a fake brogue for months after seeing The Secret of Roan Inish, which drove my parents crazy. Well, it drove my dad crazy. My mom fecked and top o' the mornin'ed right along to beat the Uilleann pipe band.

    So I guess you could call me 'Oyrish.' (If you had a really atrocious sense of humor, that is.)

    Being merely 'Oyrish,' I know about as much as St. Paddy as I do about P Diddy: that is, not a whole lot. I do know a lot about scones, however, and a even a little about the Irish soda bread we make here in the US, which is about as 'Irish' as I am. That is to say, not a whole lot.

    Here in the US, we think of Irish soda bread as a sweet, scone-like thing full of dried fruit, nuts, and caraway seeds. Genuine soda bread is actually much more plain-Jane (or plain-Sinead, as it were), containing merely flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk; an everyday bread you might enjoy with a bowl of soup, some sharp cheese, or a pint. I'm not sure where the raisin/caraway thing came from. I could probably find out on this here internet thingy, but I have buckwheat chocolate chip cookies to pig out work on, so I'll leave it up to the curious. (But please do chime in if you're more knowledgeable than I!)

    Scones, on the other hand, are loaded with butter, lightly sweetened, and often contain currants and/or nuts. They make a tasty breakfast with a spot of clotted cream and honey, and of course, a cup of English (or Irish) breakfast tea.

    This 'Irish soda scone' recipe comes from one of my favorite baking books, Once Upon a Tart. Created by a Frenchman and an Italian-American at a bakery in New York, these scones are anything but authentic. But what they lack in authenticity, they make up for in deliciousness.

    I plumped the currants in a glug of whiskey (also not of the Irish variety), and swapped out some of the white flour for whole spelt. I also used some heavy cream that was just starting to sour for half of the buttermilk (a tip from Jay's mom and a great thing to know - slightly sour cream or milk can be baked into scones or cakes with delectable results). Packed with good-for-you walnuts, a touch of caraway seed, and sweet currants, these scones make a satisfying breakfast. They keep well for several days, toasting up with crispy bottoms and moist middles.

    They may not be authentic, but they certainly beat the feck out of green beer.

    Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    Vaguely Irish:
    (Gluten-Free!) Bittersweet Whiskey Brownies
    Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake
    Bacon Cheddar Beer Scones

    Scads of Scones:
    Satsuma, Ginger and Oat Scones
    Banana Brown Sugar Pecan Scones
    Fig and Ginger Scones

    Irish Soda Scones

    Adapted from Once Upon a Tart

    Makes 15 rather breakfast-sized scones

    The dough for these scones is on the dry side, thus they hold a nice, straight-sided shaped when baked, like traditional English scones. The trick to flaky, delicate scones is similar to that of pie dough: work quickly as soon as the butter is out of the fridge, keep the butter and the other ingredients cold, and work the dough as little as possible.

    These scones are not overly sweet, and they make a nice foil for some clotted cream or crème fraîche and a drizzle of honey, jam or marmalade. I realize that there are caraway haters out there, and if you are one of them, I won't judge you too much if you decide to omit the seeds; the scones will still be hearty and full-flavored. But know that the small quantity imparts a subtle taste that most people won't readily recognize (and one that I happen to adore). Though the original recipe calls for buttermilk, I used 1/2 cup of heavy cream that had just begun to turn sour mixed with 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Scones can be made with whole milk, half and half, plain yogurt, crème fraîche, or any combination thereof, so feel free to experiment based on what you have handy. The richer the dairy, the more moist and tender your scones will be, though the amount it takes to moisten the dough may vary.

    This makes a rather large batch of scones, so feel free to halve the recipe. Do bear in mind that the scones not only make excellent gifts for a neighbor or yoga teacher, but they also keep well, sealed, at room temperature for several days, or double-bagged and frozen for a month or so; re-heat in a 350º oven until warmed through for freshly-baked flavor.

    1 cup currants, raisins, golden raisins (or a combination)
    2-4 tablespoons whiskey (Irish, or whatever you've got)
    1 cup walnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off, cooled and coarsely broken up or chopped
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 cups whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
    1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used light, but dark would work if that's what you have)
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon salt
    6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/4" dice
    2 tablespoons caraway seeds
    2 large, cold eggs
    1 cup cold buttermilk, with the slight chance of needing a bit extra (see headnote)

    Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    Place the currants in a small bowl and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the whiskey. Let sit, tossing occasionally, while you get on with the rest of the recipe, adding more whiskey if the currants drink it up.

    In a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in the bowl of a food processor) combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add in the butter and rub with you fingers or a pastry blender (or mix on low or pulse) until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with some pea-sized butter bits remaining. (The more butter bits you have, the more craggy and flaky the scones will be; the more homogeneous the mixture, the more refined the scones will look and feel. I like them somewhere in the middle.)

    Drain the currants of any excess whiskey, and stir into the butter/flour mixture along with the walnuts and caraway seed. (If you used a food processor, dump the mixture out into a large bowl first. If you used a stand mixer, you can either dump the mixture into a large bowl, or proceed in the mixer.) Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk and drizzle over the flour mixture, stirring and working with a wooden spoon just until the mixture clumps together and no floury bits remain. The dough should be fairly stiff and dry, and at some point, you may decide that your hands are the best tool to use for this. If you still have floury bits left at the bottom of the bowl, drizzle a little more buttermilk right onto the floury bits to moisten everything evenly.

    Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted very lightly with flour and use lightly floured hands to pat into an even round that is 1" tall (hint: the center will want to be taller than the sides, so pat this down extra). Use a 2 1/2" round pastry cutter (fluted or not) or a glass to cut out circles close together. You may need to dip the tip of the cutter in a bit of flour if it sticks. Place the rounds on the parchmented pans, spacing them 3" apart. When you've cut out as many rounds as possible, gently squish the scraps together, pat out into another circle, and repeat. Keep doing this until you've used up all the dough, trying to work it as little as possible.

    Bake the scones, rotating front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking, until golden on the tops and bottoms and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, about 20 minutes. (If the bottoms of the scones on the lower rack are over-browning, place a second baking pan underneath them.) Remove the pans from the oven and let the scones cool on the pans.

    Serve the scones warm from the oven, or re-heated in a 350º oven or toaster oven for five minutes or so. Store extras in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, or double-bagged in the freezer for a month or so.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Tangerine Olive Oil Pound Cake

    Like most ordinary people, I never thought of using olive oil in sweet preparations. Baking with olive oil was something relegated to vegan freaks who senselessly denied themselves the pleasure of butter. But a stint at an anonymous restaurant under a talented pastry chef would change all of that (well, maybe not the part about vegans).

    Let's call the chef Giulietta (spelled the Italian way, which she was) and the restaurant Pome (for no particular reason). Giulietta's parents owned an Italian olive oil ranch, and Giulietta would bring back bottles of freshly-pressed oil to use in her creations at Pome, the most transcendent of which was her olive oil ice cream. A bite of the softly frozen custard tasted not of oil or even olives, as one might expect, but mysteriously fruity, like a crisp-ripe pear, only more subtle. It was that ice cream that got me through what felt like an eternity (but was really only 6 weeks) of hellish nights spent frantically plating desserts, being vibed by stressed-out servers, and cleaning up after my evil co-worker who would unfailingly leave our pastry sink overflowing with her day's worth of prep dishes before skipping off to her evening plans. (Not that I'm bitter or anything.)

    We were technically not allowed to eat during our 8-hour shift (more like 12-16 hours for the savory cooks), but occasionally I would sneak a scoop (or 5) of this heavenly ice cream when I thought no one was looking. I rationalized it as research since I would taste it against the pristine assortment of fruit we would have in house during the late summer: tropically scented fraises des bois, floral white peaches, vibrant mulberries, juicy figs, and buttery pears.

    I scribbled down the recipe and stuck it in my glasses case for safekeeping; and there the recipe remains all these years later. Although I look at it nearly every day (once I have my glasses on, that is), I have yet to give it a go in my home. Perhaps I would had I parents who produced top-notch olive oil, or were a bottle gifted to me by some kind soul (and I would totally give you some, too!).

    But until then, I will have to satisfy myself with this olive oil cake, which, despite using a lot of pretty good olive oil, doesn't need to have the very best poured into it to taste amazing.

    These days, olive oil sweets seem to be the new hip thing, with everyone and their glacier drizzling it over ice cream and pots de crème, emulsifying it into chocolate truffles, and baking it into cakes, cookies and scones. Tantalizing recipes are popping up everywhere: there's the chocolate-studded rosemary cake from Good to the Grain, via Heidi Swanson, a rosemary cornmeal cake in David L's new book, Ready for Dessert, a sherry cake in Pure Dessert, and Lindsey Shere's iconic Sauternes cake in Chez Panisse Desserts, and citrus-scented chiffon cakes in Sunday Suppers at Lucques and Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts.

    But somehow, back in December when the markets were aglow with boxes of bright orange 'cuties,' I got it into my head to make a clementine-olive oil pound cake, and none of the aforementioned recipes seemed like they would be good springboards for creating one. I wanted something more dense and pound cake-like than these other guys, and I was too lazy to just make something up.

    Meanwhile, the clementines came and went, and I had moved on to date puddings, chocolate cakes, and apple crisples. But one morning I opened my laptop and clicked over to Smitten Kitchen (like I do most mornings), and there, staring at me, was a blood orange olive oil cake, baked in a loaf pan, garnished with a billow of whipped cream and ruby blood orange supremes. The recipe came from A Good Appetite, by renowned food editor Melissa Clark.

    I wasted no time in making it, to the recipe (only I goofed in my haste to get it in the oven and into my tummy and added a tablespoon more buttermilk than I was supposed to have). But when I cut into the cake, I was disappointed. I may have overbaked it (the 'press test' doesn't work on this cake, which will seem underdone at the top center when it is actually finished baking) but the cake seemed a bit drier, lighter and less flavorful than I would have liked. This was possibly due to my own foibles, and I probably should have just made it again.

    But then I went to Rainbow and noticed the huge variety of tangerine-like things still in season. Five or so different bins brimmed with orbs in various shades of orange. The brightest were the fremonts, the size of small oranges, and when I scratched the skin a bit with my nail, the aroma released smelled like sunshine-bathed flowers.

    So I baked the cake again, but with tangerine zest, juice and supremes instead. While I was at it, I dialed down the leavening for a denser texture, doubled the salt, swapped the buttermilk for richer crème fraîche, added a splash of orange blossom water, and finally changed the mixing method so that I didn't end up with lumpy batter. I tested the cake with a skewer this time, which came out clean even when the top center still seemed wet.

    And so evolved the tangerine-olive oil pound cake of my dreams. It tastes and feels like a quintessential pound cake: moist and springy but sturdy. It bursts with flavor from sunny tangerines, with an undertone of something else mysterious, which you'd never guess was olive oil. It keeps brilliantly for many days, and is equally at home wrapped up in a lunch bag or at a picnic or on a plate with creamy adornment. The supremes (segments of the fruit cut free of the membrane) get stirred into the final batter and, when baked, form little moist pockets of tangeriney goodness, something I never would have thought of doing.

    So, many thanks to Deb and Melissa Clark for a fabulous springboard recipe, all the pioneering pastry chefs who think outside the bottle. I never thought I'd say this, but thanks even to Pome, for driving me to gorge on olive oil ice cream all those years ago.

    Let them eat:
    Lemon-Huckleberry Teacake
    Tangerine-Glazed Poppyseed Brunch Cake
    Blood Orange Tart

    One year ago:
    Lemon-Lavender Mascarpone Poundcakelets

    Tangerine Olive Oil Pound Cake

    Adapted from A Good Appetite via Smitten Kitchen

    Makes one 9x5" loaf, 8 - 10 servings

    Use any tangerine you like for this cake, such as pages, murcotts, tangelos, fremonts, clementines or honeys; larger fruits will be easier to supreme, so bear that in mind when choosing. Or try blood or regular oranges, or even a grapefruit, pomelo, or meyer lemons; all pair nicely with olive oil. For the olive oil, use something flavorful, but not über-expensive; unless money is no object to you, or your parents own an olive oil farm. I liked the richness that the crème fraîche lent to the cake, and having extra to dollop on the finished cake (you can easily make your own), but you can substitute sour cream, buttermilk or plain, whole milk yogurt if you you prefer.

    1 scant pound tangerines (3 small-orange-sized)
    1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
    1/3 cup crème fraîche
    1 teaspoon orange flower water (it's fine to leave this out if you don't have any)
    3 large eggs
    2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (see headnote)
    1 3/4 cups (7 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    whipped cream, crème fraîche, extra tangerine supremes, and/or super good olive oil, for serving (optional)

    Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with a sling of parchment paper (or grease the pan well).

    Zest 2 1/2 of the tangerines into a large bowl with the sugar. Rub with your fingers until the sugar is evenly moistened. Set aside.

    Supreme the tangerines:
    Cut off the top and bottom of a tangerine. Place a cut side down, and use a sharp knife to pare away the skin and pith in a downward motion, following the curve of the fruit (see photo in post, above). Once you've removed all the skin and pith, hold the tangerine in your hand, over a bowl to catch the abundant juice, and cut into the fruit, next to the membrane, to remove segments from their casings (see the other photo, above). These are called 'supremes.' Squeeze the juice out of the remaining lump of membrane and discard. Repeat with the remaining tangerines. Break the supremes up into 1/4" pieces and place in a strainer set over a bowl to drain them a bit.

    Measure out 1/3 cup of tangerine juice (if for some reason you have less than that, squeeze another tangerine to get that amount, or use extra crème fraîche to make up the difference). Whisk in the crème fraîche and orange flower water and set aside.

    Whisk the eggs into the zesty sugar to combine, then the olive oil. In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

    Whisk 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the sugar/egg/oil mixture until smooth. Whisk in half of the crème fraîche mixture until combined. Repeat until you've used up all the stuff. Stir in the tangerine supremes.

    Pour the batter into the parchment-lined loaf pan, and bake until deeply golden on top and a tester (i.e., sharp knife or toothpick or skewer) inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (The 'press' test didn't work for me here; the center top seemed underbaked, but the tester came out clean regardless and the cake was perfectly baked. So use the darn tester, ok?)

    Let the cake cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour. Use the parchment to lift out the cake.

    This cake keeps well for up to 4 days. Serve slices plain, or with a bit of crème fraîche, tangerine supremes, and a drizzle of super-good olive oil.