Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pescado Tikin-Xik

If I had to guess, because I really haven’t tracked it yet, I would say that I eat Mexican food more often than any other type of cuisine. From casual tacos to elaborate meals, I love cooking this type of food too. I was delighted to receive a review copy of Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte. It’s a big, beautiful reference for dishes from every region of Mexico. It shows the diversity of the food and the blend of Spanish and indigenous cooking traditions. The saffron, capers, and olives from the Mediterranean appear along with MesoAmerican ingredients like chiles, beans, tomatoes, avocados, pumpkin, and corn. The recipes are organized by type of dish. There are street snacks like gorditas, quesadillas, and tamales with all sorts of fillings. There are fresh salads, soups for every season, and ceviches as well as main courses, sauces, breads, and sweets. I’m a little distracted by the Eggs chapter and might need to just cook my way through it. Of the many egg dishes that sound delicious, I want to try the Mestizan Eggs with Chile made with an herby tomato and ancho sauce and topped with poblano strips, sour cream, and panela. And, there are several chicken dishes I want to make as well. The Chicken in Creamy Tomato Sauce, Yucatan-Style Chicken in Orange Sauce, and Stuffed Chicken in Peanut Sauce are a few. The first dish I made from the book was the Pescado Tikin-Xik. It comes from the Yucatan Peninsula, and the fish is baked, wrapped in a banana leaf after marinating in a sauce made with achiote paste. 

I wanted to make my own achiote paste for this because some store-bought pastes include food coloring and preservatives that I’d rather avoid. It’s easy to make by using a spice grinder to mix two tablespoons annatto seeds, one teaspoon whole cumin seed, one teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, six whole allspice berries, one teaspoon sea salt, one teaspoon coriander seed, and two whole cloves. Once the spices are ground, a minced garlic clove and a tablespoon of lime juice were added to make a paste. This paste was combined with apple cider vinegar before being added to the fish. I chose black drum from the Gulf and used portioned fillets for this. The recipe in the book is written for a large fillet to be portioned after baking. So, my cooking time was shorter, and each plate received a banana leaf package. The fish fillets were seasoned, topped with the juice of an orange, and then the achiote-vinegar mixture was added. The fish was left in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour. To cook, pieces of banana leaf were placed on a baking sheet, a piece of fish was placed on each, each fillet was topped with sliced onion, sliced tomato, a bay leaf, sliced bell pepper, and pieces of sliced and seeded habanero. The banana leaves were folded around the fish, and I baked them for about eighteen minutes. With my shortened cooking time, the vegetables remained crisp-tender. I was thrilled to find pretty, ripe tomatoes from our local B5 Farms where they’re greenhouse-grown in colder weather. And, sadly, I had to buy banana leaves at the grocery store since we haven’t replaced our banana plants after they died off in a freeze a few years ago. I served the fish with cilantro rice and fried plantains. 

When the banana leaf packages were opened, the fish was aromatic and completely tender. Cooking the fish in the enclosed pocket of a leaf does wonders for the texture, and all those flavors from the achiote paste mix together wonderfully. I’ll be making achiote paste often from now on to use on fish or chicken or tofu. And, adding tostones to the meal made me realize I need to be making those more often too. This book will have me enjoying Mexican food even more frequently than I already do.

Pescado Tikin-Xik 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte (Phaidon, $49.95, October 2014). 

Region: Yucatan Pennisula 
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating 
Cooking time: 25 minutes 
Serves: 6 

3 1/4 lb/1.5 kg grouper, filleted 
juice of 1 orange 
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano 
2 tablespoons achiote paste 
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
4 tablespoons (2 1/4 oz/60 g) lard or butter 
1 large white onion, sliced 
3 tomatoes, sliced 
2 bay leaves 
1/2–1 habanero chile, membrane and seeds removed 
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips 
1 banana leaf 
sea salt and pepper 
fried plantains, to serve
Refried Beans, to serve 
Red Onion Escabeche, to serve 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). 

Place the fillets in a shallow dish. Add the orange juice and oregano and season with salt and pepper. 

Put the achiote and vinegar in a small bowl, and stir until dissolved. Pour the mixture over the fish, cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm), and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. 

Grease a large ovenproof dish with some of the lard or butter. Remove the fish from the marinade and place the fish opened out in the dish. Spread with the remaining lard, then put the onion, tomatoes, bay leaves, chile, and bell peppers on top. Wrap the fish with the banana leaf, then cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the fish is cooked but not dry. Serve with plantains, refried beans, and red onion escabeche. 

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade

Back in the fall of 2010, the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook arrived full of inspiration for turning all sorts of fruits into jams and preserves. At the time, I made the Candied Orange Peel that I ended up using in everything from panettone to chocolate bark candy. Last fall, a new book from Rachel Saunders arrived, Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade, and I received a review copy. This time, all those wonderful preserves are added to recipes both sweet and savory. They add flavor, sweetness, sometimes acidity, and texture incorporated as ingredients, paired with other items, and even in cocktails. For the most part, the recipes here are just for the dishes made with jams and marmalades, but there are instructions for making a few of the preserves as well. The book is divided into chapters by Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. There are breakfast dishes like Black Fig and Cacao Nib Belgian Waffles made with Black Mission Fig jam and Buckwheat Muffins with Pear and Chocolate made with Pear Jam. For Afternoon, you’ll find Beet Soup with Plums and Coriander Yogurt with sweetness from Plum Jam to balance the earthy beets. And, for Evening, the Black Beans and Pumpkin with Chiles and Orange that includes some Seville Orange Marmalade got my attention. I kept turning back to the Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade recipe because the yogurt dressing for grated beets sounded like a great match. 

This time of year, it’s easy to find gorgeous beets and kohlrabi at the farmers’ markets, and I also found the green onions for this recipe there. I used golden beets which blend better into a salad like since red beets would turn everything pink. The beets were roasted with whole cloves until cooked through but not too, too tender. Once cool, the peels were slipped off, and the beets were grated. Meanwhile, I peeled and grated some kohlrabi and tossed them with salt. The salted, grated kohlrabi was left to drain in a colander for about 20 minutes. The drained kohlrabi was combined with the grated beets, and toasted walnuts were added with chopped mint. The dressing was made by mixing together kumquat marmalade, champagne vinegar, yogurt, minced green onions, and salt. The recipe advises against Greek yogurt, but that was what I had on hand. The dressing was poured over the vegetables, tossed to combine, and I topped the finished salad with some reserved walnuts and chopped green onions. 

The sweet-savory-tangy flavor of the dressing was a hit. As I tasted the yogurt dressing while making it, I imagined stealing this combination to use for chicken salad with walnuts. And, the fruitiness paired perfectly with the beets and kohlrabi. The salad was like slaw but a special-occasion kind of slaw. As with the last book from Blue Chair Jam, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found here. My next use of beets might just be to turn them into a marmalade as seen in the book. 

Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade 
Recipe reprinted with permission from Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade by Rachel Saunders, Andrews McMeel Publishing 2014. 

Serves 6 to 8 

This sweet salad celebrates everything beets have to offer: beautiful color, luscious rich flavor, and the ability to combine well with numerous different textures and ingredients. This extremely versatile salad is equally at home on the tea table or as part of a Middle Eastern meal, and handfuls of the leftovers are divine tossed into a green salad or piled into a sandwich. Use golden or dark red beets as you prefer. This salad keeps well for at least a week in the refrigerator. 

2 1/4 pounds beets 
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Scant 1 tablespoon whole cloves 
1/2 pound Tokyo turnips or kohlrabi, peeled 
1/2 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped 
12 leaves fresh lemon balm or spearmint (optional) 
1/2 cup Kumquat Marmalade 
1 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar 
2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt (not Greek) 
5 tablespoons minced spring shallots or spring onions 

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F. Scrub the beets and pat them dry. Line a baking sheet with a large sheet of aluminum foil and put the beets on the foil. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with ample salt and pepper. Toss well. Scatter the cloves over the beets. Cover the beets with a second large sheet of foil and pinch the edges of the 2 sheets together to seal. Place the beets in the oven to roast until almost but not quite tender, 30 to 60 minutes (the length of time needed will be determined by the size of the beets). Remove the beets from the oven, loosen the top sheet of foil so steam can escape, and let the beets cool to slightly warm. Trim and peel them and coarsely grate the beets into a large bowl. 

While the beets are baking, coarsely grate the turnips into a colander. Toss them with 1/4 teaspoon salt and place the colander over a bowl. Allow the turnips to drain for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Add the drained turnips to the grated beets and toss well, then add the walnuts and lemon balm, if using. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the marmalade, vinegar, yogurt, shallots, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture and toss well. Adjust for seasonings, toss again, cover, and refrigerate until serving time. 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gingerbread Cheesecake

After one more holiday recipe, I promise to move on to cooking in the New Year. I’d been thinking about this cheesecake for years. I cut the pages from the December 2007 issue of Living magazine and filed them away. I remember the whole story about gingerbread from that issue. There were all sorts of pretty cookies, different ways of making gingerbread like with honey rather than molasses, and even gingerbread caramels. From that story, the White Chocolate-Gingerbread Blondies that also appear in the Martha Stewart’s Cookies book became a favorite of mine. But those little gingerbread men on top of the gingerbread-flavored cheesecake were so cute. I think of this cheesecake dessert every year for Christmas, and finally had to give it a try. You need some cookie crumbs to make the crust for the cheesecake, so making the Molasses-Gingerbread Cookie dough comes first. I made enough dough to be able to cut out some gingerbread men for decorating as well. I didn’t go so far as to make both types of gingerbread cookie dough to be able to have two colors of gingerbread men on top as shown in the photo from the magazine, but I was happy with the result with all the gingerbread men from the same dough. 

The Molasses-Gingerbread Cookies recipe is very similar to the recipe I’ve always used for gingerbread cut-out cookies. It included molasses, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. For the cheesecake, one quarter of the dough is rolled into a big rectangle and baked until firm. When cool, it’s broken into pieces and pulsed in a food processor to make crumbs. Next, melted butter, some sugar, and two cups of those crumbs were combined and pressed into a springform pan with the bottom wrapped with foil. The crust was baked for about 15 minutes or until set. The cheesecake itself was a mix of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs, molasses, lemon zest, and more ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I also added some finely grated, fresh ginger for an extra boost of ginger. The filling was poured into the crust, the springform pan was placed in a large roasting pan, the roasting pan was set into the oven, and hot water was added to the roasting pan before closing the oven to bake. The cheesecake needs to bake for at least an hour, but mine was still very jiggly at that point. I left it in the oven for an extra 15 or 20 minutes until the center was only slightly wobbly. When the cheesecake was completely cool, it was transferred to the refrigerator to chill for several hours. I dusted the top with confectioners' sugar before placing the cookies in a circle.

It’s a shame that gingerbread only gets the spotlight during the holidays. Every time I bake with molasses, I think about how much I love the flavor and how I should use it more often. The molasses and all the gingerbread spices were delicious here from the crust to the filling to the cookies on top. Maybe I’ll finally try the gingerbread caramels the next time the holiday season arrives. 


Monday, December 29, 2014

Pezzetti di Cannella

I have to mention one more cookie before the holiday season ends. This was a new one for me. It’s from the book Southern Italian Desserts by Rosetta Costantino. I received this book as a Christmas gift a year ago, and there are delightful cakes, pastries, tarts, gelatos, fruit desserts, and lots of cookies in it. Since I first read the book, I’ve been thinking about the La Deliziosa sandwich cookies filled with hazelnut cream. The cookies are actually made from pastry that’s cut into circles and then sandwiched with a pastry cream with added hazelnut paste. Last, the edges are rolled in finely chopped hazelnuts. They’re delicate and pretty, and they look delicious in the photo in the book. However, I needed to bake some cookies that would ship well and that could be kept at room temperature for several days. That’s how I arrived at the page for these crunchy, little cinnamon cookies. The recipe is from Puglia, and it includes lots of great flavor from cinnamon, cocoa powder, and lemon. It also makes a lot of cookies, but they’re petite, bite-size cookies that could last for weeks in theory. I’m not actually sure how long they could last because between packing and sending some and nibbling the rest, they disappeared in just a few days. 

The dough couldn’t be easier since it’s simply mixed with a fork and then kneaded by hand. Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and baking powder were combined in a large bowl. A well was made in the center of the dry ingredients, and eggs, vegetable oil, a little milk, and lemon zest were added and mixed with a fork before being kneaded by hand. The dough was then wrapped in plastic wrap and set aside for about 30 minutes. To form the cookies, the dough was first divided into four pieces. Each piece was rolled by hand into a long rope just a little over one half inch wide. The rope was cut on the diagonal into one-inch pieces that were placed on baking sheets and baked for twelve minutes until puffed and firm. A glaze was made with confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice. The cooled cookies were tossed in the glaze and then set on baking sheets to dry. It takes several hours for the glaze to dry completely, and I left the cookies to dry overnight. Once dry, they were ready to be packed and shipped. 

I was intrigued by the combination of cinnamon, cocoa, and lemon, and now I’m so glad to have tried these cookies. Cinnamon takes center stage among the flavors, but the cocoa and lemon don’t go unnoticed. All together, they made these cookies completely addictive. And, since they’re tiny cookies, it’s very easy to keep reaching back for more. Next, I’ll have to circle back to the delicate hazelnut cookies or maybe some classic cannoli for serving right at home. 

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lentil Croquettes with Yogurt Sauce

I knew all about the pastries and breads made at Tartine Bakery and have read and baked from the books by Elisabeth Pruett and Chad Robertson. But, I didn’t know what kinds of culinary creations were happening at the restaurant Bar Tartine with co-chefs Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. I received a review copy of the new book, Bar Tartine, and learned about their approach to crafting every part of a dish in-house. They source the ingredients to dry and grind their own powders like yogurt powder, kale powder, smoked onion powder, and citrus peel powder. They make their own cheeses like goat cheese and a cheese similar to feta as well as buttermilk and kefir. They sprout seeds and beans and soak nuts to make their nutrients more easily absorbed and grow their own microgreens. Instructions for making all of these things are in the book along with recipes for infused oils and vinegars, pickles, syrups, and stocks. All of these edible building blocks are layered into their dishes resulting in complex, fresh flavor combinations. The inspiration comes from various traditions like Hungarian, Japanese, and Scandinavian food. I keep looking back at the salads like the Wedge Salad with Buttermilk, Barley, and Sprouts; the Kale Salad with Rye Bread, Seeds, and Yogurt; and the Cauliflower Salad with Yogurt and Chickpeas. The Shared Plates chapter includes things like Buckwheat Dumplings with Paprikas Sauce, Brussels Sprouts with Dried Tuna and Tonnato Sauce, and Sunchoke Custard with Sunflower Greens. When I saw the Lentil Croquettes, I had to try them even though I wasn’t sure I’d be able to create every ingredient myself as they do at the restaurant. Of course, you can pick and choose what elements you’d like to make and what you’d prefer to purchase. I did sprout the lentils and make kombu dashi, but I bought pre-made yogurt and onion powder. 

It takes a few days to sprout lentils, so you need plan ahead. First, the lentils were soaked overnight, and then drained in a strainer, rinsed, and left sitting in the strainer over a bowl covered loosely with a towel. They were rinsed three times per day until the little sprouted tails appeared. You can refrigerate them whenever they develop the length of sprouted tails you prefer, and they can remain the refrigerator before being used for about a week. I made extra and stored the rest in the freezer. Next, I moved on to the kombu dashi which was a simple process of soaking kombu in water to soften before simmering it for about an hour. It can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days. For all of the ingredients, there are options, and I chose the simpler route for the remaining items. Rather than making kefir cream, I used yogurt. A watercress sauce was to be lightly stirred into the yogurt, but watercress isn’t common here. I used some locally-grown arugula instead. The blender pitcher was chilled in the freezer, and then arugula, some of the kombu dashi, toasted and crushed coriander and caraway seeds, and salt were pureed. This was set aside and mixed into the yogurt just before serving. To start the croquettes, green onions were charred on the stovetop. I used a grill pan and pressed them with a cast iron skillet on top. They were grilled until charred in places and left to cool. In the food processor, the lentil sprouts, the charred green onions, crumbled rye bread, some ricotta since I didn’t make farmer’s cheese, garlic, a chopped serrano, store-bought onion powder, toasted caraway seeds, paprika (also store-bought and not homemade), salt, and more dashi were pulsed until the mixture formed a paste. Little balls were formed from the lentil paste and fried until crisp. I served the croquettes with the arugula sauce just barely stirred into the yogurt and a few sprigs of baby mustard greens. 

It seems like this dish could fit squarely into the hippy food category, but I promise it tastes like so much more than cardboard. The croquettes are full of savory flavor with fresh chile, garlic, and the charred onions. And, running them through the yogurt sauce on the way to taking a bite added fresh, tangy pepperiness. This is a book that will get you thinking about new and different flavor combinations and ways to add pops of seasoning to all sorts of dishes. 

Lentil Croquettes with Watercress and Kefir 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Bar Tartine

This is a dish of addictive contrasts: crisp, warm, and spicy against cool, acidic, and refreshing. Inspired by dahi vada, a fried lentil dumpling served with spiced yogurt – and one of our favorite Indian snacks – flavorwise these croquettes skew more toward Budapest than Bombay. Of course, the spice trade that passed through India brought many of the spices that characterize Hungarian food, such as caraway and paprika. We like to think that this dish reflects that journey – an Indian dumpling from the banks of the Danube. 

Makes 12 croquettes 

KEFIR SAUCE 
1 cup/240 ml kefir cream or drained yogurt 
1 1/2 tsp fermented honey, or honey 
1 tsp kosher salt 

WATERCRESS SAUCE 
1/2 bunch watercress, large stems removed 
1/2 cup/120 ml kombu dashi 
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground 
1 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and ground 
1/2 tsp kosher salt 

LENTIL CROQUETTES 
1/2 bunch green onions, white and tender green parts 
1 cup/160 g lentil sprouts 
4 oz/115 g Danish-style rye or pumpernickel bread, crumbled 
2 oz/56 g well-drained farmer’s cheese or well-drained ricotta 
3 garlic cloves 
1 serrano chile, stemmed and chopped 
1 tbsp sweet onion powder 
1 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and ground 
1 tsp sweet paprika 
1 tsp kosher salt 
1/4 cup/60 ml kombu dashi 
Rice bran oil for deep-frying 
Sour cherry syrup for garnish
Lentil sprouts for garnish 
Watercress leaves for garnish 
Cilantro leaves for garnish 

TO MAKE THE KEFIR SAUCE: In a small bowl, combine the kefir cream, honey, and salt and mix well. The sauce can be made up to 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

TO MAKE THE WATERCRESS SAUCE: Chill a blender beaker in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. In the cold blender, combine the watercress, dashi, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, and salt and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let stand at room temperature while you prepare the croquettes. This sauce tastes best if eaten the day it is made. 

TO MAKE THE LENTIL CROQUETTES: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium- high heat until a drop of water flicked on the surface sizzles gently on contact. Add the green onions to the hot skillet and press down on them with a weight or heavy pan. Cook until the onions begin to char, about 3 minutes. Turn the onions over, press down on them with the weight, and cook until charred on the second side, about 3 minutes. Continue until all sides are evenly charred but not completely black. Let cool to room temperature. 

In a food processor, combine the lentil sprouts, bread, charred green onions, farmer’s cheese, garlic, chile, onion powder, caraway seeds, paprika, salt, and dashi and process until a smooth paste forms. Using your hands, gently shape the mixture into 2-in/5-cm balls and put them on a large plate or sheet pan. The croquettes can be shaped a day in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated overnight; bring to room temperature before frying. 

Pour the rice bran oil to a depth of 2 in/5 cm in a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to 350°F/180°C. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and set a wire rack on the pan. Add the croquettes to the hot oil a few at a time and fry until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or a skimmer, transfer them to the prepared rack to drain. Repeat with the remaining croquettes. 

To serve, add the watercress sauce to the kefir sauce and stir gently to mix the sauces slightly without incorporating them fully. The mixture should be a swirl of green and white. Transfer the croquettes to a serving platter and spoon the kefir-watercress sauce on top to cover the croquettes. Top with sour cherry syrup and garnish with the lentil sprouts, watercress, and cilantro. 

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Coffee Walnut Shortbread Cookies

I started off cookie baking season with a few completely new and different varieties. I wanted to bring some treats to a meeting, and I knew several of the people attending avoid eating gluten. Luckily, I had a review copy of Alice Medrich’s latest book, Flavor Flours, to use for inspiration. Medrich set out to experiment with flours like rice, oat, corn, sorghum, teff, buchwheat, coconut, and nut flours to discover new flavor combinations, and all of the recipes in the book are gluten-free. Unlike other gluten-free recipes that involve mixes of several flours and starches, these recipes mostly stay true to one type of flour at a time. There’s a chapter for each flour, and the recipes highlight the flavor, texture, and aroma of that flour. The New Classic Boston Cream Pie is made with layers of corn flour chiffon and a pastry cream that incorporates rice flour rather than wheat flour. I’ll definitely try this soon since Boston Cream Pie is Kurt’s most favorite dessert ever and also because the light corn flour chiffon and super silky pastry cream promise to be better than the original versions. The Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting with rice and oat flours is another updated classic I want to try. The Savory Corn Sticks that are sprinkled with smoky paprika would be great with a cocktail, and the Panforte Nero with buckwheat flour, cocoa powder, and spices sounds like an ideal addition to a cheese course. The Chestnut Jam Tart was the first recipe I tried since it was described as a “simpler-to-make linzer torte.” It’s a sturdy tart that can be cut into small servings that are easy to pick up and eat with your hands. The crust comes together in record time once you have chestnut flour of course. I was determined to locate it, and thankfully one of our newest Whole Foods Austin locations was able to special order it for me. The dough was pressed into a tart pan and was topped with strawberry jam and then sliced almonds and bits of reserved crust dough. The added flavor from the chestnut flour was lovely with the jam and nuts. I also made the Brown Sugar Pecan Nutty Thumbprints. The dough is a puree of pecans, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and an egg. It’s a very sticky dough, but once chilled it was easy to shape into balls to be baked. The balls flatten a bit as they bake. When removed from the oven, indentations were pressed into the cookies, and they were filled with jam. Pecans and brown sugar is a pretty perfect pairing. Last but certainly not least, I tried the sorghum flour shortbread cookies shown here. 

The Coffee and Walnut cookie is a variation on the Salted Peanut Shorties in the book. The dough was made by pulsing walnuts, finely ground coffee beans, and salt with sorghum flour, rice flour, and sugar in a food processor. Chunks of butter and cream cheese along with a splash of bourbon, vanilla, and one of water were added, and the mixture was processed until it formed a smooth dough. The dough was shaped into a log on parchment paper, and I added a step to the process here. I chopped some additional walnuts, added a little more finely ground coffee and some demerara sugar, and rolled the dough log in the nutty mixture. The dough was then wrapped and chilled overnight. The next day, one quarter-inch rounds were cut and baked until golden on the edges. 

It’s no secret that I love the flavor of coffee in sweets and that I love baking with various types of flour. This cookie was sure to be a hit with me. The shortbread is tender and crumbly in the best way, and the coffee balances the sweetness. It’s going to be fun to bring new additions to my bins of various flours and bake more treats with all their unique flavors. 

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cranberry Pie with Pecan Crumble

I always have a hard time choosing what to make for Thanksgiving dessert. It was especially difficult this year since I’d just read a couple of new baking books and had even more delicious ideas than usual. There were two different sweet potato pies that were very strong contenders, and I’m already planning to choose one of them for the top of next year’s list of dessert considerations. After some serious reflection and dessert-focused meditation, I decided to go in a fruity direction with the Cranberry Pie from Nick Malgieri's Pastry. This was one of the recipes in the book that got my attention when I first flipped through the pages. The cranberries make a pretty filling, and the added pecans give it great texture. There’s an option for adding a nut crumb topping, and I couldn’t resist. Regarding crumb toppings, I’m one of those people who tend to double the quantities to make a very generous topping. I can report that technique is not necessary here. The amount of crumb topping suggested covered the pie completely and was almost too much. (almost) And, interestingly, Malgieri suggests baking the crumb topping separately on a baking sheet for a bit before adding it to the pie. It gets delightfully crispy and crunchy, and I’ll remember to do that with other crumb topping from now on. 

The pie was baked in a nine-inch pie pan, and a sweet crust dough was made in advance and fit into the pan. I left the prepared but unbaked pie crust in the freezer until the filling was ready. For the filling, one and a half pounds of cranberries were combined with a third of a cup of sugar, two thirds of a cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, the zest of an orange, a half of a cup of orange juice, four tablespoons of butter, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger. This mixture was brought to a simmer in a large saucepan and stirred often. There’s a warning in the recipe that if the filling is overcooked, it will be hard once baked in the pie. The mixture only cooked for five minutes, maybe even less than five minutes, just until thickened. It was left to cool, and then a half a cup of chopped pecans was added. For the crumb topping, one cup of flour was added to three tablespoons of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, one half cup of chopped pecans, and six tablespoons of melted butter. The mixture was stirred together evenly and left to sit for five minutes for the flour to completely absorb the butter. It was broken into crumbles and scattered on a parchment-lined baking sheet. It was baked at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Next, the prepared pie crust was filled with the cranberry mixture, the pre-baked crumb topping was strewn about on top of the pie filling, and the pie baked at 350 for about 40 minutes. 

Even with the nutty crumb topping, this pie isn’t overly sweet. The tart cranberries give it great, fruity flavor and temper the sweetness. I served the pie with maple-sweetened whipped cream to fit the Thanksgiving theme. I don’t think any of the desserts I considered would have been bad choices, but I’m thrilled to have gotten to taste this cranberry pie. And, now that the Christmas season is upon us, I need to start making another holiday dessert decision. 

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