About crust, flan patissier, and other things…

When I was in college, I was fearless about crust. That was back in the days when people didn’t snap a photograph every time you turned around. I was absolutely enamored with Anna Thomas’ cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure, and The Vegetarian Epicure, book two. There are lots of wonderful recipes in those books, many of which require crusts, for both sweet and savory tarts, quiches, pies, etc.

At that time in my life, I would just open up one of those cookbooks and pick something. I would follow the instructions, and whatever I ended up with was good enough. I would bring things to dinner parties, or throw one of my own. There may have been moments of frustration with crusts cracking while rolling out, or not being nice and round, or any number of other crust difficulties, but I don’t recall letting that get in the way of making food and having fun with friends. Funny that I don’t have a single picture of any of my culinary exploits from back then.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. Life got busy, and I stopped making my own crusts. And then, when I finally went back to it, making my own crust seemed suddenly very daunting. Those same cracks and imperfections that never bothered me before seemed to be a deal breaker. Was it because I was older, and wanted things to be perfect? Was I less patient? Was I doing something wrong?

Then came all of the trials and errors, as I tried to find the perfect crust recipe. One that was flaky and tender every time, one that was easy to roll out and didn’t crack in a million ways, one that would behave the same way each time I made it. And here is what I discovered. Well, first of all, I did find a recipe that I loved. It is pretty much fail-proof as far as I’m concerned. And that is great. But what happens if I come across a recipe that calls for a different kind of crust?

I want to be fearless again. I want to make any crust that a recipe calls for and not be afraid. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want epic failures. But I do want to be flexible in the kitchen. I am thinking about all of this because just a couple of days ago I made a flan patissier, a vanilla pastry cream baked in a flaky pastry crust. I used to love getting a slice in the late afternoon from a little corner bakery when I lived in France. I have never attempted making this before, but when I discovered that David Lebovitz had posted a recipe for one, I just had to do it.

I considered using my own crust recipe, but then decided I would follow the recipe exactly as written, crust and all. And I did have some issues with the crust. It seemed a little dry when I made it. It cracked when I rolled it out. Oh, did it crack. And it was a crazy, falling apart mess when I ever-so-carefully put it into the 9 inch spring form cake pan. But David says in his post: “Use your hands to patch and smooth any wrinkles or cracks. (The dough is quite forgiving once baked and filled so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.)” And it’s just that simple. His attitude is so relaxed. Really, this is baking 101. And here is the crust after I followed David’s directions, all patched and smoothed out.

… so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.” Somewhere inside of me I know this. But it’s always good to have kind and gentle reminders. There is so much that I would miss out on if I waited for things to be perfect. So, after making this gorgeous flan patissier, I did not do my usual making-the-recipe-a-million-times-until-it-was-absolutely-perfect. Here is what I did do. I invited some friends over, friends who love pastries and custards, friends who love to talk about good food, and enjoy eating good food with friends. And we had an impromptu late afternoon tea party. And it was perfect.

Posted in Desserts, Fun in the kitchen!, Musings | 7 Comments

Beautiful Blueberry Tart

I love fresh fruit tarts, and I think I might just really really love this one. Maybe it is because of the fresh blueberries from our garden. Or maybe it is from the lemony cream cheese layer, or the crisp cookie-like tart shell. Or maybe from all of these things.

I took a risk and tried David Lebovitz’ version of Paule Caillat’s French Tart Dough recipe. It’s an unusual technique, but the result is a thin, delicate, crispy, ever-so-slightly-sweetened tart shell that serves as the perfect backdrop for anything you want to put in it. Similar to a shortbread crust, or a pâte sucrée, but no egg, making the flavor more subtle, so it doesn’t compete with the filling. It just enhances it.

Don’t worry about the cracks!

I also decided I wanted a cream cheese layer instead of a pastry cream, and I have no regrets. The tangy lemony flavor pairs perfectly with fresh berries, it stores well, and it doesn’t make the crust soggy either. Oh, and did I mention how ridiculously easy it is to make?

I have made this tart three times now. The first time was a big hit, so I had to make it again, and since I am me, I decided to tweak the crust recipe to make it a bit sweeter, and who knows what else. Nope. In the final analysis, the crust recipe is perfect just as David has written it. I made the tart a third time with no changes to the crust, just to be sure. I asked Millie to arrange the fruit. She added strawberries, which we all agreed was the perfect combination.

And this tart keeps well in the fridge for three days! It might keep longer than that, but it hasn’t lasted longer than that at our house. This tart actually benefits from a day of refrigeration. All the ingredients seem to get cozier with each other.

Beautiful Blueberry Tart

Serves 6 to 8

For the crust:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (canola works well)
  • 1 1/3 cup (160 grams) all purpose flour*

For the filling:

  • 8 ounces cold cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (or what you can get from one lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Approximately 1 pint, or 2 cups blueberries, or a mix of berries.**

Glaze (optional):

  • 3 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • splash water
  1. Preheat your oven to 410°.
  2. Making the crust: Measure your flour in a small bowl and set aside. Place the butter, water, sugar, salt, and oil into a large oven-safe glass bowl (I use a large Pyrex bowl) and place in preheated oven. Heat until ingredients are bubbly, and the edges of the butter are starting to brown. For me, that takes somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove bowl from oven using oven mitts or gloves (there will be splattering). Add the flour (there will be more splattering!) and mix with a spatula until the dough comes together. Keep in mind the bowl will be dangerously hot, so resist the urge to hold the bowl with one hand unless you are still wearing your gloves or mitts.
  4. Transfer dough to 9″ tart pan and spread the dough out a bit with the spatula. Let the dough rest for a few minutes until it has cooled enough to handle it. Don’t let it sit too long or it will dry out. Remove a tablespoon’s worth of the dough and set it aside to use for patching. With your fingers, spread the dough to cover the pan and going up the sides, making it as even as possible. You should have just enough to do this.
  5. Poke holes in the dough all over with a fork. Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and place in the 410° oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. If you see the crust puffing up and doming while it is baking, take a fork and carefully poke a hole or two into the domed area, and gently press down. You might have to do this a couple of times during the bake.
  6. Remove from oven, and patch any of the larger cracks with the reserved dough. Don’t worry if you don’t cover all the cracks.  Let cool completely.
  7. While crust is cooling, make your filling: using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until light and fluffy.
  8. Once the crust is cool, spread the cream cheese mixture evenly into the crust, then place your blueberries (and maybe strawberries and blackberries too) on top. Refrigerate for *at least* two hours, but longer is better, and this tart is excellent on day #2. If you want a shiny more finished appearance, you can heat up some apricot preserves with a small splash of water to make a glaze. Brush the top of the fruit with it before refrigerating. I prefer without for a more rustic look. Enjoy!

Notes:

* To get an accurate measurement of flour, using a scale is best. If you don’t have one, aerate your flour first by stirring it, then sprinkle it into your measuring cup and level and sweep off the excess with the straight edge of a knife.

** As you might suspect, this tart is only as good as the fruit you use, so make sure your berries are firm and fresh and have good flavor.

And now for a few pictures of the process.

The ingredients in the glass bowl will go into the oven.

The butter has browned a bit at the edges. The bowl is hot!

Dump the flour in, and be careful of the splattering.

Stir until it comes together.

Dump the dough into your 9″ removable bottom tart pan.

Spread it out a little bit and let it cool until you can use your fingers, and don’t forget to put a bit aside for patching later.

Shape as evenly as you can. Dough should still be very warm.

Poke holes all over with a fork. Bake on cookie sheet in oven until golden brown.

Patch the worst of the cracks while crust is still hot. Let cool completely.

While crust is cooling, you can work on the filling.

Add cream cheese filling to cooled crust. Notice the cracks. No problem! It’s rustic.

Spread filling evenly.

Arrange fruit starting from the center for best results.

Chill for several hours or overnight before serving.

Posted in Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 12 Comments

Millie’s Fruit and Oat Cookies

I got this recipe from my friend Clark (also part of “music night”, where I got to try Elisa’s fabulous ginger molasses cookies). It was originally a chocolate chip cookie recipe from NYT Cooking, and when I made it as such, my dear hubby didn’t love them because, well, they weren’t Matthew’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sometimes you just have to stick with one chocolate chip cookie recipe and quit experimenting already. BUT, my Millie doesn’t love chocolate, so I decided to tweak a few things and change this recipe into a fruit and oat cookie for her.

Millie, who spends much of her time reading and crocheting.

These cookies are nubbly, crisp on the outside, and gooey (but not too much so) on the inside.

There are a few specialty items that make these cookies stand out. One is the superfine sugar, also called baker’s sugar. You can find it at Safeway; in other words, it’s easy to find, and it’s not very expensive as far as specialty items go. I believe that the superfine texture of the sugar makes the outside of these cookies extra crispy. Also, I love Trader Joe’s Golden Berry Blend; it is a mix of dried blueberries, cranberries, cherries and golden raisins. The extra tang and different flavors you get from the fruit adds a complexity of flavor you won’t get with just raisins. And then Maldon Sea Salt Flakes compliment the tang from the fruit. It’s just a really good combination. I decided to also add a small amount of old fashioned oats, to give the cookie a bit more chew, but not so much as to make them seem like oatmeal cookies.

Items you won’t regret having.

It’s worth it to splurge on the Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. The box will last you forever. You can use these flakes to sprinkle on top of cookies before baking them, or on top of bread rolls before baking, like these ones. But kosher salt will do. And if you don’t have the superfine sugar, regular granulated sugar will be fine. And if you don’t have the berry blend? Use raisins or cranberries or chopped up dried apricots… whatever you have on hand. I think you will still really like these cookies.

Millie’s Fruit and Oat Cookies

(Adapted from Ravneet Gill’s recipe)

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar (or regular granulated)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (250 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon Maldon sea salt (or kosher salt)
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruit of your choice
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer or mixing bowl until the color becomes lighter and stop there. It doesn’t need to be overly fluffy.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated.
  4. In a smaller bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) and add to the wet ingredients, mixing on lowest speed, or mix by hand.
  5. Stir in the dried fruit with a wooden spoon.
  6. Scoop out your cookie dough into 1 1/2 tablespoon balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet, at least two inches apart. Bake for 13 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown a bit. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet.

Note: If you want your cookies to be taller, you can scoop out the cookie dough balls and refrigerate, covered, for a couple of hours or longer before baking.

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Chewy Molasses Cookies with Fresh Ginger

I never thought molasses cookies would become one of my favorite kinds of cookies, but then there was this time when getting together with friends to play music together, that Elisa brought some very magical cookies.

Elisa is on far left playing a fiddle solo while we all admire her.

Elisa’s cookies were so delicious, and they had a big burst of spicy fresh ginger that was WOW. So of course I asked her for the recipe. It was Tom Douglass’ recipe for molasses cookies, from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. When I made the recipe following Tom’s exact instructions, including weighing all the ingredients, and grating the fresh ginger, my cookies came out flat and kind of greasy. And there was no big WOW of ginger. What on earth happened? I quizzed Elisa about how she made her cookies. Did she weigh the ingredients? Heck no. Did she grate the fresh ginger, as specified? Absolutely not. She chopped the ginger. So I tried making these cookies again, but still failed. This recipe was going to make me crazy. So much testing!!!

Yes, I really did this.

I finally decided to chop ginger the way I imagined Elisa might do it. Kind of with a laissez-faire attitude. Which meant that the ginger was coarsely chopped, not finely chopped. Now I was getting closer.

Looks kind of like roughly minced garlic, but it’s ginger!

My first several batches of these cookies came out really flat with no crinkle, so I very cautiously added a little more flour to each batch. Well, I finally just went for it and added a good extra half cup or so more flour. Although I was still unable to replicate the magical and elusive Elisa-style cookie, I did come up with a cookie that I was very excited about. A cookie with a spicy earthy flavor, crispy along the edges, chewy in the center, and that classic crinkled cookie look. And these cookies stay chewy/fudgy a good long time in an airtight container, although the crispy edge business is only the first day… rolling them in sugar ensures that they will still have a little crunch, even after the crispy edges have mellowed into chewiness.

I find this sugar to be perfect for rolling. The crystals are not too big, and not too small.

And guess what? I had Elisa and her family do some taste testing for me! She sent me pictures (they were quarantining).

They had four different versions to try.

Elisa’s son Isaac and husband John trying the different cookies.

They all ended up having different favorites, go figure, but Elisa’s son Isaac agreed with me about which one was the best, and that clinched the deal.

Chewy Molasses Cookies with Fresh Ginger

(Adapted from Tom Douglas’s recipe)

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 grams*) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (86 grams*) molasses
  • 1 heaping tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups (320 grams*) all-purpose flour (I recommend King Arthur brand)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup (or a bit more) organic cane sugar (for rolling the cookies)
  1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and granulated sugar with an electric hand mixer** until light and fluffy, maybe just a minute or two.
  2. Add in the egg, beating well. Then add the molasses and fresh ginger and beat until well incorporated.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Scoop the cookie dough into 1 1/2 tablespoon sized balls (a cookie scoop makes this easy) and place on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate for at least two hours, but longer is better. (Once the cookie dough balls are cold, you can transfer them to an airtight container if you want to let them chill for longer.)
  5. Preheat your oven to 375° and line a new cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Roll the cookie dough balls in the cane sugar and place on lined cookie sheet, at least 2 inches apart; they will spread! Bake on center rack in oven until the cookies have darkened around the edges and are tall and puffy, about 11 minutes for my oven. Longer = crispier edges, but too much longer and you will dry out your cookies.
  7. Let cookies cool for 3 to 4 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.

Notes:

* I have included weights for some of the ingredients. These are the weights that work for me, and are accurate. If you are not using a kitchen scale, the volume measurements should work just fine. Stir your flour to aerate it before spooning it into measuring cup, and use the straight edge of a knife to level the flour.

** Using a hand mixer is better for this recipe, as it makes it easier to completely blend the ingredients efficiently, especially the molasses. It’s just better. Trust me.

More experimenting.

Elisa, Isaac and John

 

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 3 Comments

Matthew’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are several cookie tins on top of our fridge, and one of them almost always contains these chocolate chip cookies. This recipe is Alton Brown’s “The Chewy”. There was a lot of excitement over this cookie several years ago. As is often the case, I am late to the party. But I am also here to tell you that these cookies are pretty darn near perfection.

The chocolate chip cookies go in the Danish Butter Cookie tin. Doesn’t everyone have one of those?

They are Alton’s take on the traditional Toll House chocolate chip cookies. What are some of the differences? Well, you use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. You use one egg and one egg yolk instead of using two eggs, adding a bit of whole milk to make up the difference. You use melted butter instead of room temperature butter. You use a lot more brown sugar than granulated. You bake the cookies at a higher temperature. All of these changes equal a chewy cookie. The day they are made, they are crispy on the bottom, soft and slightly gooey in the middle, and not flat at all, which was always my issue with the Toll House cookie, but maybe I was doing something wrong? Who knows. It has been a while. In any case, these are perfect straight-up chocolate chip cookies that are bakery delicious on the first day, and then still yummy on day two, or even day three if they stay around that long.

Hello, my lovelies.

So why am I writing about this when you could just go to Alton’s recipe? Well, there is some confusion if you look at the recipe and then watch the video. Some of the measurements are different. SO, I made the cookies for myself to see what worked best for me. I followed his recipe almost exactly, with only a few changes to how I make them; the recipe is the same. Well, almost the same. Instead of regular granulated sugar, sometimes I use toasted sugar (recipe here from Stella Parks), which imparts a wonderful yet subtle caramel-y flavor to the cookies. But sometimes I don’t, and the cookies are still really really good. If you feel the urge to make that toasted sugar, make a big batch and it will last you a very long time. I keep mine in a jar on my counter. I think I have enough for a gazillion more batches of cookies, so I’m good for a while.

Toasted sugar is on the right… just a bit darker than regular granulated.

Another thing I recommend is to scoop out the cookie dough using a standard 1 1/2 Tbsp cookie scoop. Using a cookie scoop will ensure your cookies are all the same size, meaning they will all bake up beautifully. Scoop the dough as soon as it is made (the dough will be very soft, but that’s okay; it’s too difficult to scoop out the dough once it’s cold) and place the dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It’s okay if they are very close together, because this is just for chilling purposes.

Ready to go in the fridge or freezer. They are only this close for chilling!

Put the tray with all the cookie dough balls in the freezer for several hours, until completely frozen. Once frozen, place the dough balls into a freezer storage bag, pressing out as much of the air as possible, and store in the freezer so you can make small batches whenever the mood strikes.

Frozen cookie dough ready to bake!

And here is the truth: the cookies bake up better from frozen. You can bake the cookies a tad longer, making for a nice dark bottom, without risking an over-baked, cakey cookie. The cookies are tall and still gooey on the inside. Hubby likes the bottoms of the cookies almost scorched, so to be able to attain this while not ruining the rest of the cookie is quite a feat.

On the left baked from frozen; on the right baked from refrigerated. They are both good!

So, if you like softer, flatter cookies, then bake from refrigerated. If you like taller cookies with a crisper bottom, bake from frozen. And here’s an idea: after making the dough, scoop out and refrigerate eight (or however many you like) cookie dough balls, and scoop out and freeze the rest. Wait an hour, then bake the refrigerated cookie dough balls. Then you will have the rest to bake from frozen. You can decide what you like best! Either way, you will need to watch like a hawk to not over-bake them. Bake until the edges have started to brown but the tops still look slightly under-done.

Left: baked from frozen. Right: baked from refrigerated.

As an aside, Matthew and I have different ideas of when the cookie is at its best. Matthew likes the cookies straight out of the oven, while the chocolate is still melty (he says “it’s an event!”), or he likes them a day or two after being baked. I, on the other hand, prefer my chocolate chip cookie after it has been sitting on the cooling rack for an hour or two, so the bottom is still crispy, but the cookie itself has settled a bit, and the chocolate is no longer melty, but the inside is still gooey. What is your chocolate chip cookie sweet spot?

Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” (Matthew’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie)

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 3/4 cups* (340 grams) bread flour (I use King Arthur brand)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (227 grams) light brown sugar**, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 bag (12 oz/340 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips

*If you do not use a kitchen scale to weigh your flour, you will want to aerate you flour first by stirring it with a spoon, then sprinkle your flour into your measuring cup and sweep the top with the straight edge of a knife to level the flour. It’s worth the extra time to get an accurate measurement.

**If you use dark brown sugar, the cookies will be a bit denser and chewier. I prefer light brown sugar for a lighter texture and more subtle flavor.

  1. Melt butter in heavy bottomed sauce pan on low heat. Remove from heat when the butter is almost completely melted. Stir until all butter is melted (this should only take a few seconds) and set aside to cool.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In bowl of stand mixer, pour in butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. You can also use a large bowl and a hand mixer for this, but a stand mixer makes the whole process easier.
  4. Turn mixer to low speed and add the egg, egg yolk, milk and vanilla. Mix until incorporated.
  5. Turn mixer to “stir” (lowest speed) and add flour mixture one large spoonful at a time. Stir until just combined, scraping down bowl as necessary.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips by hand, setting aside about 1/4 cup of the chips for later.
  7. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2 Tbsp cookie scoop, scoop cookie dough, fitting as many cookies as possible on the sheet (this is for chilling, not baking!!). As you get near the end, add the last 1/4 cup of chips to the remaining dough (this takes care of the problem of those last cookies not having enough chips) and finish scooping cookies. (I find that I can fit about 35 on a cookie sheet, which is about how many this recipe makes.)
  8. Chill scooped cookies for at least one hour in the refrigerator before baking (for softer, flatter cookies), or freeze for several hours until completely frozen. Transfer frozen cookie dough balls to a freezer storage bag and keep in your freezer for spur-of-the-moment freshly baked cookies.
  9. When dough has chilled for at least one hour, preheat your oven to 375°. Make sure to preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes to ensure an even bake.
  10. Line a new cookie sheet with parchment paper and place up to twelve chilled or frozen cookie dough balls on sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.
  11. Bake on center rack of oven for 10 to 11 minutes***, or until edges have started to brown, but tops still look a bit underdone. For best results, bake one sheet at a time.
  12. Remove from oven and let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 3 to 4 minutes (NOT LONGER) before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely. If you forget and let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for too long, you may end up with soggy bottoms.
  13. These cookies store quite nicely in an airtight cookie jar for several days. Only on the first day will they have the crisp bottom, but the following days, they will still be chewy and delicious.

***All ovens are different, some running hotter, some running cooler. I like to keep a couple of oven thermometers (what if one stops working?) in my oven to make sure I have heated my oven to the proper temperature before baking.

And here’s what really prompted me to write this post. Matthew’s brother Ben was in town this past weekend, and we got to spend time with him and Barb – my mom-in-law and Matthew and Ben’s mom. We talked about all kinds of things, including the cookie tins on top of our fridge and how one of them always has chocolate chip cookies in it for Matthew. Barb’s chocolate chip cookies are something that Matthew still remembers and talks about. I know I can never compete with a memory, but one of the things he liked about those cookies, aside from the fact that his mom made them, was that the bottom was baked very well… read: almost scorched. So it makes me happy to be able to come up with something similar at our house.

Front row: Matthew on the left, Barb in the middle, Ben on the right. Top row: me, Millie, and Mara.

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 11 Comments

Apple Crumb Pie

I know I make a lot of apple/crusty types of desserts, but I must say that this is my dream pie. I’m a sucker for anything with a crumb topping, and I love a buttery flaky crust, and caramelized apples?? Oh my. I made this pie maybe a year ago, and I thought it was pretty good, but maybe not swoon-worthy; I only made it once. That’s an indicator. I did remember that I loved the crumb topping though. Then just a few days ago, I had to make a pie since it was Pi Day. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I already had a single crust in the freezer just waiting to be used, so I decided an apple crumb pie was in order.

Nice to have a homemade crust waiting in the freezer for pie emergencies.

I followed the Betty Crocker recipe, the same that I used last year, but I used my own pie crust recipe. There were some problems. The top of the pie got a little burned, but the apples were a tad crunchy; no thank you. And the flavor was missing something. Don’t get me wrong – the pie was good, but it just wasn’t great. But I still posted a picture of it on FaceBook…

Burned crumb, but still good.

So after posting the photo, I got a request for the recipe! I couldn’t in good conscience hand over a recipe that I didn’t love, so I decided to make the pie again with all the  necessary changes. How to get better flavor? A different mix of apples, an addition of nutmeg for warmth, a bit of salt to bring out the flavor more… it doesn’t take a lot. And I don’t like pies that have too much going on. I like it simple. And how to have it so the pie doesn’t burn but the apples get cooked properly? Two things – slicing the apples much thinner, and also tenting the pie for the first part of the bake. And I also baked the pie for a longer amount of time so that I was sure to get that wonderful caramelized edge that is so dreamy.

Look at all the wonderful gooey caramelized juices at the edge of the pie!

I was worried that maybe the apples would get mushy from being baked too long and being sliced so thin, but that did not happen! I chose gala and pink lady apples, which both hold their shape quite nicely in pies. The result? The apple crumb pie of my dreams. And get this: I made it yesterday in the early evening, so it was too warm to eat. Also too warm to cover or wrap! so I put the pie in my pie basket carrier and put it in our cool temp garage overnight. The pie basket is so great – it protects the pie, but lets it breath. I love my pie basket.

A gift from my sweet husband.

Everyone always says pies are best the same day they are made, but I must tell you, this one was fantastic on day #2, even cold!!! Everything about it was right. Flaky crust, flavorful apples with just the right amount of tenderness, caramelized edges, and a tender-crisp crumb topping. I am going to cry now. Tears of joy.

Apple Crumb Pie

(Adapted from Betty Crocker’s recipe)

  • 1 disc pie dough for a single pie crust or one frozen pie crust*

Filling:

  • 5 medium to large apples (I used 3 pink lady and 2 gala), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (1/8″)
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (go lightly… 30 grams)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Crumb Topping:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (don’t go lightly! 140 grams)
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

*If you choose to make my favorite pie crust recipe, make the full recipe (it will come out better that way) and wrap and freeze one of the discs for another use. It’s fine if you want to use a store bought frozen pie shell as well.

**For directions on how to roll out and shape your pie dough, follow the directions from this post.

  1. On a lightly floured surface, roll pie dough into a 13″ circle.** Drape dough into a cold 9″ pie pan (I like to chill my pie pan in the freezer before I roll out my dough). Ease the sides of the dough into the pan, pressing along the sides and bottom gently (don’t stretch the dough!!!). Trim the dough to have a 1″ overhang from edge of pan. Tuck the dough under and crimp, making a fluted edge. This adds height to the crust and helps keep all the filling and juices in the pie! Put the crust in the freezer while you prepare the filling.
  2. Preheat your oven to 400° and make sure there is a rack in the lower third (bottom) of the oven.
  3. Peel and core the apples, then slice the apples thinly (1/8″). Place the apple slices in a large bowl, tossing the slices in a bit of lemon juice as you go along. Add the rest of the lemon juice, the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and toss everything together.
  4. Remove your pie crust from the freezer. Pour the apples into the crust and mound slightly toward the center. Set aside.
  5. To make the topping, put softened butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Using a fork, mix the ingredients together until you have a crumb consistency. If you want larger crumbs, you can get your hands in there and make some larger crumbs by squeezing some of the smaller crumbs together.
  6. Place the pie on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil to catch any overflowing juices. Sprinkle all of the crumb topping on the apples as evenly as possible. Don’t worry if it looks like a big mound; it will bake down. Take another sheet of aluminum foil and lay it gently on top of the pie, making a “tent”.
  7. Place tented pie on the cookie sheet on the bottom rack of oven. Bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the foil tent and turn the temperature down to 375°. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until you see thick juices bubbling up in several places. You can rotate your pan at any point for even baking. Don’t worry if the juices are pooling at the edges (that’s what you want!). Some might even drip over the edge of the pie crust. That’s okay. If the top starts to get too brown, put the foil tent back on.
  8. When the juices are thick and bubbling, remove the pie from the oven. Let cool completely (this can take up to 4 hours… sorry) before serving. This pie is delicious warm, at room temp, or even cold. Store at room temperature for up to two days out on your counter with just a loose covering. Enjoy!

Picture Tutorial:

I like to slice my apples first this way.

Then slice 1/8″ slices lengthwise, then in three. Toss in lemon juice.

Tossing with the rest of the ingredients.

Place apples in frozen crust, mounding toward the center.

Put all crumb topping ingredients in a medium bowl.

Mix together with a fork until a cohesive crumb forms.

Make some bigger crumbs by squeezing some of the smaller crumbs together (optional).

Place pie on foil lined cookie sheet and cover apples evenly with crumb topping.

Add foil tent, and bake on lowest rack in 400° oven for 45 minutes. Remove tent, reduce heat to 375°, and bake for another 30 minutes.

Let cool completely. Enjoy!

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Mandelbrot (Almond Bread)

Mandelbrot is a humble cookie, but don’t let it fool you. This cinnamon almond cookie is exquisite. It is similar to biscotti in that it is “twice baked”, and traditionally is made with almonds, but there the similarities end. It is rich and crumbly, almost velvety, and has a wonderful cinnamon sugar coating to balance the not-so-sweet cookie inside. It’s perfect to go with your afternoon coffee or tea, but no dunking is necessary! Millie, my eleven-year-old photographer/assistant says they are like snickerdoodle biscotti.

I made some with both more and less cinnamon sugar as an experiment.

I’m not going to pretend to know the history of this wonderful treat, but I do know my own history with it. Mandelbrot is a traditional Jewish cookie, and I have memories of enjoying them back in St. Louis, with my friend Lisa, when we were kids. Lisa’s mom used to make Mandelbrot, and it was so very good.

Lisa’s mom, Joan, just as I remember her.

I had to text Lisa to ask her about details, because my memory is a bit fuzzy. Do you sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on the loaves before they are sliced, or on the cut side of the cookies after the loaves have been sliced? Lisa and her mom waited until the cookies were sliced to sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Lisa asked me if I have a preference… I have tried both ways to see what I like best, and am still trying to decide.

I’m leaning towards doing both!

This recipe is a hodge-podge of many recipes that I looked at online (Lisa’s recipe was buried in storage somewhere). I started out making Tori Avey’s recipe, then got other ideas from both the King Arthur recipe and Claire Saffitz’ recipe, and with the assistance of many taste-testers, this is what I ended up with, and I’m super happy with it. I hope you try this recipe, and if you do, let me know what you think. Warning! This recipe takes several hours, but not a lot of hands-on time. It’s worth it.

Mandelbrot

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

  • 1 1/2 cups raw almonds, finely chopped, then toasted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (200 ml)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (400 grams)*
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (6 grams)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons cinnamon (for sprinkling)
  1. Preheat oven to 350° – preheat for 15 minutes to make sure oven is up to temp.
  2. Finely chop raw almonds – I use a nut chopper, but you can use a sharp knife or anything else that gets the job done.
  3. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake them for ten minutes in your preheated 350° oven.
  4. Remove the almonds and let cool to room temp. Turn the oven off!
  5. In a large bowl, mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup oil. A wooden spoon works fine.
  6. Add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. By the time you have mixed in the third egg, the oil should be well incorporated with no separating.
  7. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
  8. Pour the flour on top of the sugar/oil/egg mixture, then sprinkle the salt and baking powder evenly over the flour. Now mix well, until there are no dry bits.
  9. Add the cooled almonds and mix well. Dough will be stiff and glossy.
  10. Place uncovered in your refrigerator for at least one hour.
  11. After dough has chilled for at least one hour, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into three equal portions. I like to weigh them so that I know the cookies will come out evenly. But you can eyeball it. With your hands, shape each portion into a log and place on your lined cookie sheet, having the logs a good couple of inches apart from each other. The logs should be about 8 inches by 2 inches, and sit rather tall. I like to make the logs with squared edges. Place the cookie sheet in your fridge for another hour. This is not absolutely necessary, but I think the cookies come out better this way. Just do it.
  12. After the logs have been chilling for almost an hour, preheat your oven to 350°. Mix together 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons cinnamon. Pull the logs out of the fridge and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar.
  13. Bake logs on center rack in oven for 30 minutes.
  14. After baking for 30 minutes, remove from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet for 15 minutes, but leave your oven on and turn oven temperature down to 300°. (The 15 minutes for cooling is important. If you let the logs cool for too long, they will be too hard to slice. If you don’t let them cool long enough, they will crumble when slicing. 15 minutes seems to be perfect.)
  15. Get out another cookie sheet and have it ready to go. Take each log and cut into 3/4″ slices – cut nice and straight. To make cutting easier, use a good bread knife, and make a gentle sawing motion to slice through without causing the loaf to break. Place the slices cut side down on the new cookie sheet (NO parchment paper, just the cookie sheet). You should end up with almost three dozen slices, they should fit snugly on the cookie sheet. My assistant likes to eat the ends of the loaves, so those don’t get baked again.
  16. Sprinkle the slices lightly with the cinnamon sugar to coat, then bake at 300° for 20 minutes.
  17. Remove from oven, flip the cookies, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake for another 20 minutes.
  18. Remove from oven, stand cookies up, and bake another ten minutes, unless your cookies are looking dark at the edges. If they look dark, no need for the last ten minute bake.**
  19. Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely on the cookie sheet. (You may now turn your oven off! ) These cookies keep well for a couple of weeks stored in an airtight container, making them great for gift giving and sending in the mail. They are also a lovely gift for your dairy-free friends.

Notes:

*I put the weight of the flour because it is important! If you use too much flour, your cookies will be dry and hard. If you use too little flour, your cookies will be oily and dense. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, stir your flour before measuring to aerate it, then spoon your aerated flour into your measuring cup. Sweep a knife across the top to level the flour.

**All ovens are different. I recommend having an oven thermometer in your oven at all times to make sure your oven is well calibrated. I actually have two oven thermometers in my oven, just in case one conks out. In any case, keep an eye on the cookies during the last bake. It is disappointing to go through a lot of trouble with a recipe, only to end up with a burned batch. My advice is this: if in doubt, stop the baking and let the cookies cool. You can always put them back in the oven, even hours later! But you can’t fix burned cookies.

And now, some pictures of the process!

I love my nut chopper.

Toasted chopped almonds cooling. I often put mine out on the deck to speed up the process.

The sugar/oil/egg/vanilla mixture. Kind of looks like lemon curd.

Add flour on top, then sprinkle salt, and baking powder on top of that.

Combine until no more dry bits. Dough will be soft and glossy.

Stir in the almonds. The dough will begin to stiffen.

Close up of texture. Thick and glossy. Time to refrigerate.

After an hour or so in fridge, make three logs, about 8 inches by 2 inches. Refrigerate again!

After second chill, preheat oven to 350° and sprinkle loaves liberally with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 30 minutes.

After first bake let cool for 15 minutes. (Turn oven down to 300° at this time.) They might look something like this. I already removed one log for slicing.

Nice even slices.

About halfway done with the sprinkling cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20 minutes at 300°, flip slices, sprinkle more cinnamon sugar, then bake again for 20 minutes.

Stand cookies up and bake another ten minutes, but don’t let them get too dark! Allow to cool completely before enjoying.

Lisa is on the left… from a trip to Portland, summer 2019.

Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Dairy-free, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 4 Comments

White Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread

The other day, Matthew and I were having fried eggs and toast, and I looked at him and asked if this should be our “forever” sourdough sandwich bread. I’m pretty sure he said yes, but that he knows as soon as I say something like that, I will go ahead and change it the very next day. BUT, I have experimented a lot with trying to get just the right everyday bread, and I think I have found it. I think so because I have been making this for a while now, and it just keeps on being so good. The flavor has a lovely tang, but not overwhelmingly so. The crust is thin and easy to slice through, and the bread toasts up to a delightful crispiness, while still maintaining that lovely, custardy sourdough interior. We use it for sandwiches, toast, french toast, strata… well, everything.

Nice even crumb… light, crispy toast!

I have a lot of fun with scoring designs on the bread, but it’s not even really necessary for this particular recipe, like it is for other types of bread. But I especially love to score a nice design if I am giving the bread as a gift.

I love gift-wrapping bread in parchment paper.

The most important score (cut) is a deeper slash along the side of the loaf that helps the bread to rise nicely and in a more uniform manner.

Loaf ready to go into the oven. See the cut along the left side?

Okay, so my recipe is loosely based on Emilie Raffa’s Country Farmhouse White bread recipe that you can find in her book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. I would highly recommend getting her book; I love love love it. She truly does make the whole process very simple.

A simple but pretty design.

I should have called this the “Working Girl’s Sourdough”, because all of the work is done later in the evening or early in the morning, making it possible to work this bread into your daily routine, and it works nicely around a work schedule!

White Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread

(Adapted from Emilie Raffa’s recipe, in her book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple)

  • 330 grams room temperature water
  • 80 grams active, bubbly sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 150 grams King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
  • 100 grams King Arthur Bread Flour
  • 250 grams King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 9 grams kosher salt or sea salt

Day #1

  1. Whisk together in a medium bowl the water, starter, sugar, and olive oil until the mixture is milky and slightly frothy. (You can do this step any time during the day, as long as your starter is active and ready to go.)
  2. Add flours and salt, and mix until all the flour has been incorporated and you cannot see any dry bits.
  3. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. After the dough has rested, mix the dough until it is smooth and cohesive. Using a slightly wet hand (I keep a bowl of water handy), grab the dough from the side of the bowl and press it into the center. Rotate the bowl and continue to grab and press until you’ve gone around a couple of times. This should take maybe about a minute. The dough will become more elastic and springy rather quickly. Flip the dough over in the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or similar covering, and put it in the fridge to rest overnight. You are just putting things on hold until the next day, while developing flavor in the dough.

Day #2

  1. In the morning, take bowl out of fridge. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape all along the side and bottom of the bowl to make sure the dough isn’t sticking. With wet hands, scoop up the dough from the middle, letting the dough hang and stretch. Gently release the dough into a pile and rotate the bowl one quarter turn. Repeat, scooping up the dough and letting it hang and stretch. I sometimes jiggle it to encourage it to stretch a bit more. Do a few more times (optional), then cover the bowl and leave on the counter. These are called coil folds**, and they will help develop the gluten in the dough, giving the finished bread a nice structure. Leave the dough in the covered bowl on your kitchen counter for about ten hours, or until it has doubled in size, is jiggly, billowy, and has a bubble or two on the top.
  2. About ten hours later (more or less, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of your kitchen), once the dough has doubled in size and is jiggly, gently scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface using a spatula or bowl scraper. It is time to preshape your dough. Take your fingers and slide them under the sides of the dough and gently stretch the dough out a bit to make a large circle. Take your finger tips and, acting like you are playing the piano, gently dimple the dough. This helps to minimize large holes in your bread. Fold the sides of the dough into the center, starting at one side and continuing until you have gone all the way around, brushing off any excess flour as you go. Flip the whole thing over with the assistance of a bench scraper or bowl scraper. The dough will be “smooth side up”. Let rest for 10 minutes. While the dough is resting, butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan***. Mine is non-stick. If yours is not non-stick, butter the pan, then place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and butter it as well.
  3. After the ten minutes is up and you have prepared your pan, it’s time for the final shaping of your dough. Flour the top of the dough and flip the dough over (smooth side is down, sticky side is up). Gently pull the sides of the dough to shape it into a rectangle with the short side facing you. Fold the right side into the middle, then the left side, overlapping just a bit. Brush off any excess flour. Take the short side that is farthest from you and start to roll the dough toward yourself, tucking it under itself as you go. Roll it all the way so that it looks like a cinnamon roll. With cupped, floured hands, draw the dough towards you so that the seam comes together underneath the roll, and you create tension on the outside of the dough. Do this a couple of times until you feel the dough has adequate tension. Don’t go overboard. If you like, gently pull each short side of the dough down and tuck underneath to cover the spiral. Don’t worry; I will include pictures.
  4. Using your floured hand and a bench scraper or bowl scraper, pick up the dough lengthwise and plop it into your prepared loaf pan seam side down, pulling the scraper away quickly so you don’t get tangled up in there. Cover with plastic wrap, place in fridge and let rise overnight.

Day #3

  1. (I usually do this first thing in the morning so that the bread is cooled and ready to eat by lunch time, but you can bake it later in the day if you like.) Preheat oven to 375°. Remove loaf from fridge and let it sit on counter for half an hour while oven is preheating. The loaf should have risen overnight, maybe about an inch above the loaf pan.
  2. After a half hour, remove plastic wrap from loaf. Sprinkle loaf with flour and spread with your hand to form a very thin layer. The flour is optional, but it does make the next step a bit easier, and if you want to make a design in the bread, you will need the layer of flour in order for the design to show up.
  3. With a sharp knife or razor blade, make a long cut along the edge of the loaf lengthwise. The cut should be about 1/2″ deep. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will just help your loaf to rise evenly. You can do a cut along the other side as well if you like. You can also make a pretty design in any way you like, making shallow cuts.
  4. Place loaf on middle shelf in preheated oven and bake the loaf for 45 minutes. Top of loaf should be nicely browned, and internal temperature of bread should be somewhere between 200° and 210°. Anywhere in that range is fine.
  5. When bread is done, place on cooling rack and let cool for ten minutes in pan. Then remove loaf from pan and let cool completely before slicing.****

Note:

*I use all King Arthur brand flours for this bread. It is worth it. I get consistently wonderful results when using their flour.

**About the coil fold: normally this technique is used for high hydration doughs, and this dough is lower hydration and somewhat of a stiff dough by comparison, but I use the coil fold anyway, because it works for me, and I believe that the extra gluten development helps create a really nice texture in the bread.

***This is a big loaf of bread, so that is why I use a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. If you only have an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, you will have to either reduce the recipe by a bit, or remove some of the dough for a roll or two. But I strongly recommend the 9″ x 5″ size because it is perfect for hearty sandwiches, toast, etc.

****This bread is easier to slice for sandwiches the day after it has been baked, or at least after it has cooled for several hours. Store the completely cooled bread in a plastic bag. It will stay fresh for several days.

Pictures of the process!

Starter, water, sugar and oil.

Mix well, being sure to break up the starter.

Add the flours. I like to make a mountain so I can remove some if I add too much.

Don’t forget to add the salt!!!

Mix until there are no more dry bits. Dough will be stiff.

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

Mix by pulling up the sides of dough and pressing into the center.

Flip dough over, cover, and put in the fridge overnight.

Next morning, take dough out of fridge (it will look the same) and scrape down the sides.

Reach down and pull the dough up from the center.

Let it hang and stretch. Release, rotate bowl 1/4 turn, and repeat. Do a few more times (optional).

Your dough should be much rounder, and stand a bit taller.

Cover and leave on counter for 9 to 10 hours, until dough has almost doubled in size.

About ten hours later, dough has almost doubled in size, and has some bubbles on top.

Scoop out onto floured work surface.

Stretch out from the edges to make a large circle. It’s at this point that you can “dimple” the dough.

Dimple the dough.

Fold edges into center, all the way around.

Should look something like this.

Flip it over and let it rest for ten minutes.

While dough is resting, butter or oil your pan.

After ten minutes is up, flour the top of dough and flip back over. Stretch dough into rectangle.

Take right side of dough and fold it into the center.

Fold the left side into the center, overlapping a bit.

Brush off excess flour, then start rolling the dough towards yourself, tucking it under as you go.

It should look kind of like a cinnamon roll.

Or a weird blob.

Optional – pull the ends over to cover the spiral. This step is not necessary!

Cup your hands and draw the dough toward yourself, creating tension in the dough and sealing the seam underneath.

Put in loaf pan seam side down, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge overnight.

 

Next morning remove loaf from fridge. Preheat oven to 375°. Wait for a half hour.

After half hour, remove wrap and sprinkle top with flour and smooth it out with your hand (optional for design).

Make a cut along the length of the loaf (about 1/2″ deep), and if you like, make shallower cuts for a design. Place into preheated 375° oven.

Bake for 45 minutes, then remove loaf from oven, marvel at your creation, and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove from pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Yum! You will never go back to store bought again!

Fun with scoring.

More scoring.

Keep bread cut side down until you are ready to store it in a plastic bread bag.

 

Posted in Fun in the kitchen!, Sourdough | 8 Comments

Ricotta Gnocchi

I have to write about these cute little gnocchi because they have become a regular in our dinner rotation, they are easy to make, and they are delicious! In less than an hour, you can make these from scratch and have dinner on your table. Everyone in my family loves these, and that’s a bonus!

I like that they are made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes… easier to make, and more dependably good. I make Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe. Have I mentioned lately how much I love Kenji? Mainly because of his pie crust recipe that changed my pie world. And now these gnocchi. My husband Matthew doesn’t even like gnocchi, but he loves these.

So cute!

I haven’t done anything different to Kenji’s recipe (I don’t think!), because it is so simple and perfect. But here it is anyway. If I can do it, so can you.

Ricotta Gnocchi

(Recipe from Kenji Lopez-Alt)

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups (340 grams) fresh ricotta, the best you can find
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (use a microplane)
  • goodly pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour (preferably King Arthur flour) plus more for dusting
  1. Place 3 to 4 paper towels on a large dinner plate. Place the ricotta on the paper towels and spread it out with a spatula.
  2. Cover the ricotta with 3 to 4 more paper towels, and press down to absorb excess moisture.
  3. Remove top layers of paper towels. Spoon 1 cup (about 230 grams) of ricotta and place in a large bowl. Save the rest of the ricotta for another use (I often just keep it to add to the next batch of gnocchi).
  4. Add the egg, egg yolk, 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese*, salt and pepper. Stir to blend.
  5. Add 1 cup (120 grams) flour and stir lightly to blend. Dough should be fluffy and airy. Don’t over mix. If the dough feels a bit too wet, sprinkle a bit more flour and stir lightly.
  6. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Sprinkle with flour and press lightly on the dough to spread it into a square or rectangle.
  7. Cut into four equal pieces. Roll each quarter into a short log, then cut the logs in half. This leaves you with 8 pieces.
  8. Roll each piece into a long rope about 12″ in length. Cut the rope into pieces about 3/4″ wide. I try to get about 15 pieces per rope. Toss pieces with flour so they don’t stick together. Repeat with the rest of the ropes.
  9. At this point, you will have little pillows of dough. You can consider yourself done with the process, unless you want to shape them further.
  10. If you would like to shape the gnocchi, you can roll each floured pillow against the back of the tines of a fork, or you can use a gnocchi board, which is what I use. They are inexpensive and fun to use! I just take the gnocchi, place on the back of the fork tines or gnocchi board, press into the center of the dough as I roll it off of the board. The pressing into the center creates a little divot that is good for holding on to sauces, and you will have nice ridges on the outside that also serve as sauce holders. BUT, it’s not necessary. Every time I get to this point in the process, I think I’m not gonna do it, but then I do, because they are so cute.**
  11. Put your favorite sauce to simmer in a dutch oven or other large-ish pot. I like to throw together a half recipe of this one. Then bring some salted water to boil (4 quarts) in a large, wide pot. Once the water comes to a boil, stir it to create a swirling whirlpool effect. Dump the gnocchi into the swirling, boiling water. They usually cook in about 3 minutes or less. I like to give the pot a quick stir once they are all in there. The gnocchi will rise to the top of the water and float when they are done.
  12. Using a “spider” or a large slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to your simmering sauce. Add maybe a half cup of the pasta water to the sauce, then stir gently once to coat the gnocchi. Bring to a slow boil and let boil for a minute. Remove from heat and serve with salad and a good crusty bread.

Notes:

*For the cheese, I just take a microplane grater and grate the cheese directly into the bowl with the other ingredients. I eyeball it and keep going until the mountain of cheese looks like a hearty 1/2 cup, or even a bit more. Oh, and it’s best to use a microplane grater so that the cheese is very fine. You don’t want bigger bits of cheese in the gnocchi.

**If you are not going to cook the gnocchi right away, you can freeze them to be used at a later date. Once they are shaped as you like them, spread the gnocchi out on a large cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Freeze for several hours. Place the frozen gnocchi into a freezer storage bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and store in your freezer. They will only take a few more minutes to cook from frozen.

And here are some photos with some more tips…

Use whole milk ricotta that has no additives. Trader Joe’s has a good one.

Spread the ricotta with a spatula.

Top with more paper towels and press out the extra moisture.

The ricotta should be easy to scrape off of the paper towels.

Place a cup’s worth of the ricotta into a large bowl. Save the rest for another use.

Add egg, egg yolk, cheese, and salt and pepper.

Give it a stir.

Add flour.

Stir lightly until the dough comes together. Add extra flour if necessary, but go lightly.

Place dough onto floured surface and shape into square. Sprinkle top with flour.

Cut into four pieces.

Make four sloppy logs.

Cut each log in half.

Roll each log out into a rope about 12″ long.

Cut into little pillows about 3/4″ wide and toss in flour.

Continue with the rest until you are done. These little pillows are ready for boiling or freezing, but if you want to continue to shape….

Here’s the gnocchi board – a fun kitchen gadget! (Or use the back of a fork along the tines.)

Starting higher up on the floured gnocchi board, press gently with your thumb into the center of the gnocchi as you roll it downward at the same time. For greatest success rate, make sure the gnocchi are well floured.

Rolling it down the board.

Release! Don’t worry. Once you get the hang of this, it goes quickly and it’s fun!

Here they are shaped. Shaping is optional! At this point, you can boil them in salted water, or you can freeze them and save for a later date.

Boil in lightly salted water, then transfer to favorite sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Done!

Posted in Dinner, Fun in the kitchen! | 8 Comments

Salted Rosemary Olive Oil Buns

Every year we host Thanksgiving… often with up to twenty or more around the table. Of course, last year was completely different, due to the global pandemic we are suffering through, but this year, with all of us being vaccinated, we had a small gathering to give thanks for all that is good in our lives. I was thrilled. There were eight of us, which was cozy and perfect.

[Imagine photo here…. we were all so overjoyed at being together that none of us took a moment away to grab a photo.]

But here is the table in our living room, before getting set, with our cat Togy enjoying the cat cave.

Well, here’s the truth of it: making a feast for eight is just as much work as making a feast for twenty. I usually start the day before Thanksgiving, and spend two entire days putting everything together. This year was no exception. My older daughter Mara asked if we could have “King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls” (she and Millie love them), and I happily said yes, thinking that I would be off the hook for bread. She picked a package up at the grocery store.

Doesn’t everyone love these?

Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving, I had trouble falling asleep, imagining a feast without homemade rolls! How could I let that happen? So, I woke up extra early on Thanksgiving morning, and got busy right away. I thought about what sounded good… what reminded me of Thanksgiving – something savory and fragrant. Rosemary! I looked at Carol’s recipe for white bread, and decided to use that as my base.

Making bread is a little bit of magic.

I used a mix of flours – all-purpose, bread flour, and white whole wheat – to make things interesting. And I have plenty of fresh rosemary in the garden, so adding that in was easy. Carol’s recipe calls for vegetable oil – I used extra virgin olive oil for added flavor. And finally, I brushed the rolls with egg white and sprinkled them with Maldon sea salt flakes.

They look like alien pods right here…

The rolls turned out beautifully!

I love the slight sheen from the egg white wash.

They were a big hit with everyone, even with the girls. Or maybe I should say especially with the girls. I have been making them about every three days to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and also because the girls have been taking them to school every day for their lunches. And if you should know, it is a high compliment to have your high schooler bring your baked goods to school and share with her buddies.

Mara in the middle, making Christmas cookies with friends.

Salted Rosemary Olive Oil Buns

(Makes 1 dozen)

For the sponge:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110°)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (about 60 grams) white whole wheat flour*
  • 2 cups bread flour (about 240 grams)*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (9 grams)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon (1 packet) active dry yeast

For the dough:

  • 1 to 2 cups (120 to 240 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles

For the tops:

  • 1 egg white (for glaze)
  • 1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt flakes (or comparable) for sprinkling
  1. To make the sponge: in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, mix together the warm water, olive oil, white whole wheat flour, bread flour, sea salt, and yeast. Once ingredients are well mixed, let mixture rest for twenty minutes. It should end up with a few bubbles.
  2. After the sponge has rested, add the rosemary and one cup of all-purpose flour and mix until the flour and rosemary are incorporated. Switch to a dough hook, and mix at low speed (#2 on my mixer) for about 8 to 10 minutes. Dough should pull away from sides of bowl, and be stretchy/tacky/easy to handle. If dough is still too wet and sticky, add a little more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it becomes tacky and pulls away from the bowl. It should feel like the sticky side of a post-it note.
  3. Dump dough onto floured surface and knead by hand for a bit more, until dough is springy. Shape into a ball.
  4. Cover with a tea towel (you can do this on your counter) and let rise for one hour.
  5. Lightly flour the top of the dough ball and flip over so that the sticky side is facing up. Cut into 12 equal pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper (I like to weigh the pieces of dough so that the rolls are all the same size, but that’s just me).
  6. With the sticky side still facing up, pull the sides of the dough pieces into the center and pinch together, making a little sack. Turn seam side down and roll into a ball with a cupped hand, tightening the shape. Here is a great video from King Arthur Baking Company that shows how to do this: How to shape dough into balls.
  7. Place the rolls seam side down on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet, equally spaced. Cover with tea towel and let rest for an hour. Rolls should rise and become visibly puffy. When you poke with a finger, the dough should very slowly pop back, still leaving a little imprint. About half way through the rise time, preheat your oven to 350°.
  8. In a small bowl, stir egg white with a fork until slightly frothy. Brush the rolls with the egg white. With a pair of scissors, snip a cross in the top of each roll. Sprinkle the tops with a small pinch of the sea salt flakes.
  9. Bake on center rack in 350° oven for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden.
  10. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet. Makes one dozen rolls.

Note: *If you only have all-purpose flour, you can still make these rolls, and they will be delicious! I recommend King Arthur Baking Company flour for best results.

Dough is ready for kneading and shaping.

Shaped into a round.

Cover with tea towel and let rest for an hour.

After an hour!

Flip over and cut, first into quarters…

Then cut each quarter into thirds for 12 pieces. I weigh them…

Pull the edges to the center and pinch to make a ball/sack.

Looks like this.

Flip back over so sticky seam side is down, then cup hand over dough and circle it around to tighten the shape.

Place rolls on parchment lined baking sheet, evenly spaced.

Brush with egg white and sprinkle with a few salt flakes.

Bake at 350° for about a half hour – let cool on baking sheet.

Ready for your holiday table!

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