Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rhubarb Crumb Bars

Around this time last year, I related two harrowing tales: a soggy weekend spent camping in Big Sur, and the making of ridiculously complicated brown butter rhubarb bars from the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. (Though I actually called them rhu-bars, because, like Lara Ferroni, I can't resist a bad pun.)

Last weekend, we went on our first camping trip with my cousin and her hubby since the Big Sur Downpour. We were to stay in non-heated tent cabins, the only over-priced lodging available, in Yosemite's Curry Village (or Ghetto Camp, we would later dub it), all arranged by my sister as a surprise birthday party for her 15-year-old daughter.

Much like the Big Sur trip, we checked the weather forecast several days in advance, and started at the pixellated snowflakes that stared back at us from Weather Underground. The Curry Village site claimed to supply their tent cabins with wool blankets, but added, seemingly as an afterthought, 'If you're concerned about being warm enough, bring a sleeping bag.' Having only 1 synthetic, 20-year-old bag, we packed a comforter as well, just to be safe.

As we drove into the park, I was shocked to see large expanses of white on the surrounding hillside; I had never seen snow anywhere in mid-May. When we 'checked in' to our tent cabin, we gave thanks for having brought bedding, as the 'blankets' consisted of two tiny fleece things which barely covered the bed.

The first night dipped to a balmy 40º, and, despite my fear of being crushed in a 16,000 ton rockfall, or being snuffled by hungry bears, I slept relatively well... until 6 a.m. when the three young girls next door began sprinting around our cabin, shrieking and blowing whistles. (Yes, whistles.)

Thanks to the unintentionally early start, Jay led us up a 2,700 foot waterfall. Barely able to walk after the 6 1/2 hour vertical hike, we hobbled to the Pizza Deck for dinner and pints from Mammoth Brewing, and noted the temperature drop and gathering clouds.

We awoke in the night to the sound of rain pelting our canvas enclosure, which continued well into the morning. Or at least I thought it was rain...

until I opened the door.

We spent the remainder of the trip huddled around the lodge's fireplace like suckling piglets, glugging whiskey-spiked hot tea. Jay noted that the only two camping trips we'd taken with my cousin had been subject to unfortunate weather. My cousin pointed out that, on the the contrary, the only two trips she'd taken with us had been less than optimal. That night the temperature dropped even further; I slept in two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, three sweaters and a wool trapper hat. It was so cold, it hurt to breathe.

As we gratefully packed up to leave the next morning, our new neighbors asked whether we had been taking advantage of the email special, which apparently cost one fifth of the exorbitant rate we had paid.

We were not.

Needless to say, we rejoiced at returning to our San Francisco apartment, where, though still frigid, at least we had a roof, and not 16,000 tons of rock, over our heads.

And only the threat of hungry, orange cats snuffling about in the night.

This trip got me to thinking not only about never camping again investing in a sub-zero sleeping bag, but also about rhubarb squares: how thick and full the jam from the Big Sur Bakery had tasted, and how I longed to enjoy it encased in crumbly bars with a buttery streusel topping.

So I made some.

Rhubarb rapture:
Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy
Rhubarb Chèvre Galettes
Rhubarb Streusel Coffee Cake

One year ago:
(Gluten-Free, Vegan!) Hippy Crispy Treats

Rhubarb Crumb Bars

Adapted from Baking Illustrated's Raspberry Bars

Makes twelve 2x3" bars

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus 1 additional tablespoon, cut into 1/2" chunks and softened to cool room temperature
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
2 tablespoons light (or dark) brown sugar
a large pinch of flaky salt (such as Maldon or fleur de sel)
1 1/4 cups rhubarb jam (recipe below)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line an 8x8" square pan with two criss-crossing slings of parchment paper (or heavy duty aluminum foil), leaving a 1" overhang on each side.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, and salt. Mix on low to combine, then, with the mixer running, add 8 tablespoons of the butter 1 piece at a time. Mix for a minute or two until the crust mixture resembles damp sand.

Measure out 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the crust mixture and set it aside. Dump the remaining mixture (about 1 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup) into the parchment-lined pan, and press the crumbs firmly into an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Place the crust in the oven, and bake until firm on top and golden-brown around the edges, 20 - 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, return the 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the crust mixture to the mixing bowl. Add the oats, pecans, brown sugar, and flaky salt, mixing to combine, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, in little pieces, mixing until the streusel clumps together and no butter chunks remain.

When the crust has finished baking, spread the jam over the hot crust in an even layer. Use your fingers to press the streusel mixture into hazelnut-sized clumps, and sprinkle it over the top (don't press the streusel into the jam; it should be loose).

Bake the bars until the streusel turns a deep golden brown, 30 - 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool 20 minutes.

Grasp the bottom-most piece of parchment paper by its handles, and bravely lift the bar out of the pan and onto a cutting board (it may appear to crack, but will stick back together as it cools). Let cool completely.

Peel away the sides of the parchment (they may stick to the jam). Trim away the outer 1/4" from each side, then cut into 12 bars.

The bars are best the first and second day of baking, when the crust is crisp, but will keep for a few days at room temperature, or longer in the fridge.

Rhubarb Jam

Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

Makes 1 1/2 cups

The jam can be made up to a week or so ahead. Store in the fridge.

1 pound (4-5 large stalks) rhubarb, sliced into 1/2" pieces
3/4 cup sugar
zest and juice of 1 large orange (or 2 small blood oranges)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

In a medium saucepan, combine the 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean pod and scrapings, orange zest and juice. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a simmer, then dump in the rhubarb. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has broken down into a thick jam, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, and remove the vanilla bean. (You can wash it, leave it to dry at room temp, and reuse.) Measure out 1 1/4 cups of jam, and save the rest to enjoy on toast or otherwise.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Poppy Seed and Lemon Curd Mega Scone

Sometimes I feel like a kitchen wizard. Everything I make turns out just right, whether I’ve followed a recipe to the letter, made infinite tweaks, or just created something off the top of my head. At those times, it feels as though I have a culinary fairy godmother watching over my oven and zapping everything into perfection. 

But some weeks, nothing I make turns out quite right. I don’t know whether this is just my perception, coincidence, manifestation, or if there is some sort of weird kitchen juju afoot turning everything bland, or dry, or crumbly. 

This has been one of those weeks. I've made half a dozen tasty things, all of which I want to tell you about, but none of them are just right. There were one-bowl chocolate cupcakes, brushed with espresso rum syrup and dipped in rum ganache; but the ganache broke and never fully came back together, despite adding more liquid (and then more chocolate when it didn't set, and then more liquid when it broke again). There were the macaroons that I sandwiched with the broken ganache to get rid of it, but I didn’t like this macaroon recipe as much as another I’ve made in the past. There was shaved asparagus fettuccine with goat cheese and herbs, but the shaved asparagus seemed stringy; I think it would have been better slivered. 

I made a vermillion strawberry-rhubarb compote laced with vanilla bean and ruby port, and served it with a ricotta cheesecake that tasted great, but had a somewhat cottony texture due to the whipped egg whites folded in at the end. There was a batch of spicy cardamom-honey granola, but it looks just like the stolen granola, and I plan to remake it with pistachios before giving it it's own post (though for now I've added the variation to the original post). Finally, there was a very involved chocolate babka, which, after hours and hours of kneading, rising, assembling, baking, and cooling, tasted over-proofed, heavy and salty (though, of course, I still ate it; I mean, we're talking chocolate babka, here). 

So today I'm giving you the best recipe I've got. (I tried to do it yesterday, but Blogger’s been in ‘read-only mode’ while they fix some bugs - glory be!) It's a poppyseed mega scone, inspired by Heidi Swanson, slathered with meyer lemon curd made by a friend. 

The scone dough consists of all-purpose and whole spelt flours, half and half instead of heavy cream to make them a touch less rich, poppy seeds and vanilla, as well as the other usual scone suspects. The dough is rolled out into a large rectangle, the middle third spread with the curd, and the whole thing folded into thirds like a letter. The slab is baked whole, and the baked mega scone gets sliced into whatever shapes you like. Crunchy edges contrast with the pocket of creamy curd within, and the crisp seeds exude their very unique flavor. 

There is something so satisfying about making a dough, rolling it out, spreading it with something, and then rolling it up and baking it, as for cinnamon buns, or that pesky babka that I will try again, or this crazy thing that I can't stop thinking about. Making these scones satisfied that itch. I only wish they didn’t crumble quite so much when cut, but those browned bits that like to flake off are the best part; consider them your reward as the scone-cutter. 

So while these scones may not be perfect, with a spot of extra lemon curd, they do make a perfectly lovely breakfast. 

Hopefully, the elusive culinary fairy godmother has a thing for scones...

‘cause I’ve got some baking to do. 

Seeds and scones:

One year ago:

Poppy Seed Mega Scone, with Meyer Lemon Curd

Inspired by 101 Cookbooks

Makes 6-8 scones

For the lemon curd, use the generous recipe posted here, or use my smaller recipe, with or without the lavender, posted here. Or get the store-bought stuff; the scones will still rock. 

2 tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 cup half and half, plus more for brushing
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, in 1/4" dice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup lemon curd (see headnote), chilled, plus more for serving
coarse sugar (such as sugar in the raw), for sprinkling

Combine the poppy seeds with the half and half, and set aside in the fridge while you get the rest of the recipe together.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 425º. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter, and work with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with some pea-sized butter bits remaining. (Optionally, freeze this mixture for 10-15 minutes to get it really cold; this will make the dough easier to roll out, and will result in tender-er scones.) 

Stir the vanilla into the half and half, and drizzle the half and half mixture over the flour mixture a little at a time, scooping up the poppy seeds from the bottom and adding them in, tossing the mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, and eventually with your hands, until the scone dough just comes together and no floury bits remain. You may need to add an extra drizzle of half and half, but try to keep the dough on the dry side; it will be easier to roll out, and will bake up crisper. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper, and roll it into a 12x9" rectangle, 3/8” or so thick, flouring and turning the dough as necessary to prevent it from sticking. (An easy way to flip the dough over when it starts to stick is to dust the top with flour, place another piece of parchment over the top, grasp the whole thing in your hands, and flip everything over. Peel off what is now the top piece of parchment, dust the dough with a bit of flour, and continue rolling it out.)

With a long side of the rolled-out dough facing you, spread 1/2 cup of lemon curd evenly over the middle third of the dough, leaving 1/2" boarder on either side (see photos in post, above). Fold the bottom third of the dough up over the curd, like folding a letter, then fold the top down. Brush the top and sides of the dough with more half and half, and sprinkle with poppy seeds and coarse sugar.

Slide the scone and its parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Bake the scone until golden on top, and the curd is bubbling, 25 - 30 minutes. The scone may crack in places and reveal its yellow interior. 

Let the scone cool completely before cutting it into bars or triangles. Serve with additional lemon curd. 

The scones will keep for a few days in the fridge. Heat them in a 350º oven or toaster oven to crisp them up a bit. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Herbed Spinach and Goat Cheese Calzone

For many people, things like homemade ice cream, pandowdies, and mascarpone tarts are luxuries. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending), these items are more the rule than the exception around my kitchen, while staples for other (normal?) people - milk, meat, sparkling water - seem like treats.

I'm not sure why, but spinach is up there for me, too. It's just something I never seem to have when I need it. Rather, I get beguiled by handsome bunches of chard, a curly head of kale, or something more obscure, like pea tendrils or mustard greens, and then have to perform culinary acrobatics to substitute them for the spinach more often asked for in recipes.

On the rare occasions that our box sends us a (filthy, mud-caked) bunch of spinach rather than the bags and bags of stir-fry mix, bok choy, cabbage heads, arugula, collard greens and chard with which they more often grace us, my mind suddenly goes blank of all those fascinating recipes I read through when I had some other, harder-to-deal-with greens wanting to be cooked.

Last week when I went to pick up my box, some (crazy) person had rejected their spinach and left it for another CSA member to take. I snapped it up, and there the spinaches sat, in the veg drawer, for days. Jay made more and more urgent pleas to use it up, threatening to make his fabulous frittatas everyday for breakfast (I know - rough) if I didn't do something more inventive first.

But like an actress with stage fright, I suddenly couldn't think of a single recipe containing spinach.

I went to yoga class, and while I ought to have been focusing solely on inhaling and exhaling and the 'sensations' of contorting my limbs into a funnel cake and then supporting my body weight with one pinky finger, I did what I usually do: I thought about what to cook when I got home.

Like a divine message from Buddha, the answer arrived somewhere between Warrior 2 and ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana: calzone. Aside from the rapidly wilting spinaches, I also had spring onions, green garlic, a ton of goat cheese, and some fresh marjoram to use up, and thought that stuffed breads would make ideally portable lunches for the week.

Remembering the handsome photo in Baking Illustrated, I consulted Cook's for a recipe, certain that they would list a variation with spinach. But sadly, the only recipe that called for greens asked for...

broccoli rabe. But no matter, I just made up a filling of my own, mixed up their easy and forgiving calzone dough (with some whole wheat flour thrown in for enhanced flavor and healthiness) and got to it. I hadn't made calzone since I was a kid with my dad, and was pleasantly surprised by how fun and easy they are. I fretted about sealing them properly, but followed Cook's instructions and had not a drop ooze from the seam. The dough came out light and crisp-chewy, despite the addition of whole wheat flour, and perfectly flavorful.

I baked only two the first night, so that I could tweak the filling if necessary and make the rest the following day (I didn't need to worry - it was just right). After devouring the first, it took all my willpower to leave the second one for Jay. I was relieved that I hadn't baked more that night.

Even days after being baked, the calzone didn't get soggy from the filling. With soft chèvre, goat gouda, marjoram, blanched spinach and sauteed spring onions and green garlic, the calzone taste a lot like spanakopita, the Greek, filo-wrapped spinach triangles, only less rich due to a lean, yeasted dough. So I call them 'calzonakopita' in my head. Like spanakopita, they make excellent finger food, when cut into wedges.

Come to think of it, spanakopita would be a clever use for spinach, too. As would saag paneer.

What do you like to do with spinach? I could use some more ideas, you know, for next time I get spinach stage fright.

Pazza for pizza:
Sourdough Pizza (with Chèvre, Shallots and Chanterelles)
Sourdough Focaccia
Sourdough Deep Dish

One year ago:
Green Garlic Cheese Soufflés

Herbed Spinach and Goat Cheese Calzone

Makes 6 medium (light-meal-sized) calzone

Very loosely adapted from Baking Illustrated

Cook's says that using bread flour is important here, so I take no responsibility if you decide to substitute all-purpose and they don't turn out as well. You can use all white bread flour, but I do quite like the flavor and flecks the whole wheat adds to the dough. I'd imagine you could substitute other greens for the spinach; just blanch the leaves (no stems) until tender, shock them in ice water, squeeze the dickens out of them, and chop. If making this when spring onions and green garlic aren't in season, you can probably substitute leeks and a clove or two of bulbed garlic, and oregano or basil for the marjoram.

This recipe assumes that you have a stand mixer, baking stone, a pizza peel and parchment paper. If you don't, you can knead the dough by hand, and bake the calzone on a lightly oiled baking sheet. The baked calzone keep well in the fridge for a few days, for an almost-instant lunch or supper - just heat them in the oven or toaster oven at 350º for 5-10 minutes until hot and crispy.

The dough:
3/4 cup luke-warm (about 100ºF) water
1/2 packet (about 1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

The filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large (or 3 medium) spring onions, cleaned, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4" thick
1 large stalk green garlic, white and light green parts chopped
9 ounces (1 1/2 bunches) spinach, washed well (stems ok)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
4 ounces (about 1 cup) grated goat gouda (or other mild melty cheese, such as mozzarella)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

For finishing:
olive oil, for brushing
sea or kosher salt, for sprinkling

Make the dough:
Place the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Add the flours, salt and olive oil to the yeast mixture, and knead on medium-low (speed 2 on a Kitchen Aid) until the dough comes together, then knead for another 10 minutes. You should have a somewhat firm dough (firmer than for a usual pizza crust) that gathers around the dough hook.

Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

An hour before you're ready to bake, remove all but the bottom rack of your oven, place a baking stone on the rack, and crank the oven up to 500ºF.

While the dough does its first rise, make the filling:
Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the spring onions and green garlic and a big pinch of salt, and saute until tender, 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath and set aside. Shove the spinach into the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute, until bright green and tender. Drain the spinach and plunge it into the ice bath for a minute or two, then squeeze the all the water out of it - it will look like a tiny, green lump. Place the lump on a cutting board, and give it a rough chop.

In a medium bowl, combine the sauteed onions and garlic with the spinach. Add the cheeses, marjoram and salt, tasting and adding more salt if you think it needs it. Divide the filling into 6 equal portions.

Assemble and bake the calzone:
Cut two sheets of parchment paper into 6 rectangles measuring roughly 8x6" and set aside.

Turn the risen calzone dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press to deflate. Use a metal bench scraper or chef's knife to cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (my dough weighed 16 ounces, so each ball weighed about 2 1/2 ounces, but you can just eyeball it if you prefer). Round each piece of dough into a rough ball. Set them to the side and cover with plastic wrap to rest for 10 - 20 minutes, but no longer (this will make the dough easier to roll out).

Remove 1 ball of dough and place on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll into an 6-7" circle. The dough will be springy, so you will have to roll and stretch it a bit to make it cooperate.

Place 1 portion of the filling on the lower half of the dough circle, and spread it evenly on the bottom half, leaving a 1" boarder around the bottom (see photo, above). Fold the top half of the dough over the filling, leaving 1/2" of the bottom part of the dough sticking out. Use your fingertips to press around the silhouette of the filling, sticking the top portion of dough to the bottom part of the dough. Now fold up the 1/2" of the bottom part of the dough up onto the top, pleating it with your fingertips, pressing very firmly to make it stick together. Place the calzone on a piece of parchment paper, and trim away the excess parchment, leaving a 1" boarder.

Repeat with two more dough balls. Cut three 2" slits in the top layer of each calzone. Brush the calzone all over the top and sides with olive oil, and sprinkle each with a pinch or two of salt.

Place the calzone on their papers on the pizza peel, and slip them onto the heated stone in the oven. Bake until golden and the filling is bubbling, about 12 - 15 minutes, then use a pair of tongs to pull them out, still on their papers, back onto the pizza peel. Let cool for at least a few minutes before serving. (If letting them cool longer, set them on a cooling rack; this will prevent the bottoms from steaming and going soggy.)

While the first three calzone are baking, assemble, then bake, the remaining three.

The baked and cooled calzone will keep in the fridge for up to a few days; reheat in the oven or toaster oven at 350º for 5-10 minutes until hot and crispy.