a savory sable

March 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

I certainly think of making cookies more often than crackers, so this was a good inaugural recipe to make with Abby Dodge’s BakeTogether challenge. Abby offered us her Spicy Parmesan Sables which I turned into Chèvre Emmer Sables with Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts (guess I couldn’t go completely savory yet). My friend Mark and his family live and farm in Colorado’s North Fork Valley. He has a small herd of goats on his very diverse vegetable farm called Thistle Whistle. Besides their weed control and fertilizer duties, the girls produce milk year round, much of which Mark makes into the most delicious raw milk chèvre I’ve ever eaten. The dried cherries came from First Fruits’ orchards last summer at the Boulder farmers’ market; their orchards aren’t too far from Mark’s farm. They were still moist, chewy and delicious! The two other key ingredients came from the Pacific Northwest. The Freddy Guys hazelnuts were a gift from my daughter who lives in Portland, Oregon (hazelnuts are their State Nut!). And as a CSA member I get whole grains or freshly milled whole flours shipped from Bluebird Grain Farms in Washington monthly. Their signature grain is biodynamically grown emmer farro. I enjoy emmer flour’s earthy and nutty flavor in many of my baked goods and it doesn’t have the bitterness you sometimes taste in red whole wheat. Oh, and I used a fresh farm egg from down the street instead of the water to bring everything together!

Chèvre Emmer Sables with Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts (yields about 30 crackers)

scant 1 1/2 cups (7 oz. emmer flour)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup lightly toasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

2 oz. dry chèvre, crumbled

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the mixer bowl and mix briefly. Add the chopped nuts and cherries, mix again. Now add the butter and mix on low speed until the pieces are no larger than peas. Do the same with the chèvre, being careful not to over mix. Finally add the beaten egg and continue to mix until the dough just comes together on the paddle. Place the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper and pat into a rectangle of the desired dimensions; mine was about 7 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches and a little over an inch tall. Wrap and chill until firm, overnight is best.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Slice the block into 1/4 inch thick pieces and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet about an inch apart. Immediately bake one sheet at a time 18-20 minutes or until the crackers are a light brown on the edges. Don’t be alarmed if you see butter sizzling on their surfaces towards the end of baking; these are very rich crackers! Cool completely on the pan and then store in an airtight container. Consume within a week.

This are very flavorful and rich crackers and would be a nice accompaniment for a simple soup or a vinaigrette-dressed salad. They’re a little over the top for a cheese platter. You can find Abby’s original recipe here; this version was a bit salty for my palate, especially if you use a salty cheese. Easy to make, and creating your own variations is so much fun! Thanks, Abby!

I modified Abby’s technique to use my 4.5 quart KitchenAid mixer instead of the food processor. Here’s the dough just before adding the liquid, and then after with a very brief mix on low speed to bring it together.

Use the parchment paper to help you shape the dough into the desired size and shape (you could easily make squares or rounds instead of the rectangles). After an overnight chill, it’s easy to slice for baking.

The butter foams on the surface of the cracker towards the end of baking, but is reabsorbed into the cracker as soon as you take them out of the oven. Yeah, super rich!

Half for us, half for an gift! Probably won’t last long.


rise to the challenge!

March 25, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve probably gone a little overboard signing up for baking challenges recently. Mellow Bakers start their second run of Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread – A Baker’s Book of Technique and Recipes this month. Mr. Hamelman is an instructor and the director of the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Vermont. He wrote an excellent text on bread making science and process. I bought my copy soon after it was published in 2004, but only made a couple of the many breads. This challenge starts with Hot Cross Buns just in time for Easter! The group also starts a second challenge in April baking its way through Dan Lepard’s The Art of Handmade Bread, originally published in the UK as The Handmade Loaf, also in 2004. I am less familiar with Mr. Lepard’s work, but a quick flip through the pages promises old world tradition in these recipes. Bakers will have a choice of three loaves from the book of their choice each month (yes, you can join both challenges if you’re the un-mellow sort), but participation requirements are very flexible in keeping with the mellow theme.

I then found out about BakeTogether hosted by Abby Dodge, noted cookbook author and contributor to Fine Cooking magazine. Abby shares one of her recipes at the beginning of the month, and then you bake it with your own creative variations and post the results. Since I’m always changing recipes to fit the ingredients I have on hand or my culinary whims, this is a great challenge platform for me.

So if you have some folks to help you eat the delicious results of these challenges, check out the links in this post or the blogroll.

wearing o’ the green

March 20, 2012 § 13 Comments

I try to get peas started in the garden if it’s not too cold, wet or snowy by St. Patrick’s Day. No problem this year! In fact over-wintered kale, collard, spinach and watercress (above) have already poked their heads up along with the usual suspects of sorrel, chives and onions. I went ahead and sowed some greens and radishes along with the pea seeds, so now I’m keeping my fingers crossed for mild end-of-winter-beginning-of-spring weather.

Corned beef and cabbage sounded like way too much food for just the two of us. Grilled lamb chops (yes, it’s that warm), long-cooked broccoli for something green and the last of local potatoes were as close as we got to Ireland to celebrate the day. I did make the Irish soda bread for Tuesdays with Dorie, but couldn’t stay true to Marion Cunningham’s recipe in Baking with Julia (sorry, Marion!). Guess I really made “Spotted Dog” since I added some currants. At least I managed to make bread and not what the Irish would call cake, since I resisted the urge to add butter or an egg! Oh yeah, and I made two smaller loaves and gave one to a neighbor, since Marion warned that this bread doesn’t keep long and would be “hard as a Blarney stone” by the end of the day.

Spotted Dog (yield 2 small loaves)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup currants

2 cups buttermilk*, plus a little extra if needed

*Try to find full fat rather than low fat buttermilk, or use BWJ’s substitution of 2/3 cup plain whole yogurt plus 1/3 cup whole milk per cup of buttermilk. The extra fat will help your soda bread keep a wee bit longer.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and have a sheet pan with parchment ready. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the currants and mix so they’re evenly distributed throughout. Add the buttermilk and gently mix with a spatula or bowl scraper so the flour mixture is evenly moistened and you have a rough sticky dough. I had to add a couple of splashes more milk to get the last of the flour in the bottom of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured board and divide in half by eye. With floured hands, quickly and gently form into two rounds and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet, patting into their final shape. Cut a deep “X” on top with a wet knife and place into the oven. Immediately drop the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for about 40-45 minutes (you may need to drop the temperature a little more towards the end of baking to prevent over-browning). When done, the loaves are well-risen and browned, the “X” no longer appears moist and the bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Combine all the dry ingredients together (you can leave out the 1/2 cup of rolled oats and use white or whole wheat flour in its place). Add the currants to the dry mix now to avoid the extra kneading of mixing them into the dough at the end. That gadget is a dough whisk I got from King Arthur Flour; it works well to mix stiff doughs like this one.

Only mix until a rough dough forms (over-mixing will make your bread tough), divide and shape into rounds, score the tops deeply with an “X” which helps the center of the bread bake through. You can also bake one large loaf; extend the baking time by about 10 minutes and lower the temperature again sooner if the loaves brown too quickly.

The second loaf made a yummy “almost spring” gift for our neighbors. And if you love to bake bread, my next post have info on two bread challenges starting up right away. So Follow Me, or if you can’t wait, check out Mellow Bakers from my Blogroll. More baking fun and learning coming your way!

an early spring?

March 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Our last snow storm almost, but not quite broke Colorado’s previous February snow total. That was just a couple of weeks ago. Now our daytime highs are reaching the low 70°’s, crocuses are blooming, birds are singing, bees are buzzing and today I saw my first butterfly flitting! Normally March is the month we see the most snow, but we haven’t seen a single snowflake yet. We’ll have a lot of catching up to do!

naan and Indian comfort food

March 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

Plateful of homemade scallion-topped naan

I love those Indian tandoor-baked breads so much, that I’ve even stopped by a good Indian restaurant and placed a naan order to go. But if you get a little head start before making dinner, you can make a good tasting flatbread at home. It doesn’t have exactly the same charred crisp outside, stretchy inside, but you can get delicious results on your baking stone in a hot oven. I wouldn’t hesitate to make it again the next time I make Indian food at home.

Wet ingredients go into the mixer bowl first, followed by the dry; mix to combine then switch to the dough hook to knead.

After one rise, turn the dough out, portion into eight pieces and shape into “buns”; cover and rest for several minutes.

Just before baking roll and flatten the bun into the traditional teardrop (or oval) shape. If you’re adding toppings, scatter and press them in now. Then dock (poke holes) with a fork to prevent the bread from puffing into pita.

Immediately place on the baking stone in a well-preheated HOT oven. I like to keep a pan of hot water under the stone to keep the oven a little steamier. There’s about a minute between placing each of these on the stone, and I flipped them over for a final minute of baking.

Here’s my recipe which can be easily doubled; you can freeze leftover naan for a couple of weeks.

Naan (makes 8 flatbreads)

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz.) all-purpose flour (I substituted 1/2 cup with whole wheat)

1 teaspoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon nigella seeds, optional

1/2 cup (4 oz.) warmed milk

1/2 cup (4 oz.) plain yogurt

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 small bunch scallions, thinly sliced

melted ghee or butter and coarse salt, optional

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Place the warmed milk, yogurt and melted butter into the mixer bowl and mix briefly to combine. Check to make sure the temperature is between 80°-90°F before adding the dry ingredients. Mix everything together on low speed with the flat beater until well combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead on speed 2 until the dough comes together and is somewhat smooth, no more than five minutes. Cover and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 500°F with a baking stone on a lower shelf. Turn out the risen dough onto a floured surface and divide into eight portions with a bench scraper. Roll each portion up into a rounded bun and set aside on a floured section of the board; cover and let rest for 30 minutes. One at a time, take a bun and use a pin to roll it about 1/8-inch thick into a traditional teardrop or oval shape. Sprinkle sliced scallions over the naan and press them in with your fingers. Dock (prick) the dough all over with a fork to prevent it from puffing up in the oven. Open the oven and with your hands quickly place the naan onto the baking stone leaving room for 2-3 others. Immediately shut the oven and proceed rolling, topping and docking the next one and keeping an eye on how they quickly they brown. If needed, turn each naan over so it cooks completely, remove from the oven to a plate and cover with foil to steam and keep warm. Continue shaping and baking the naan in batches until done. If you like, brush melted ghee or butter and sprinkle with a little coarse salt before serving.

I served the naan with two Indian-style dinners last week – a dal of mixed beans over brown rice and lamb curry with yogurt and tomato chutney I canned last fall. If these dishes appeal to you, hop over to Indianfoodpalooza for more recipes and a chance to show off your own Indian cooking creativity this month.

an apple dessert

March 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

If you have a few apples in the fruit drawer and some leftover pie or tart dough in the freezer, you have the makings of a quick, easy, delicious dessert. Just remember to move the dough from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you need dessert. If you’re using pie dough (no sugar) preheat the oven to 425°F; if you’re using a sweet dough, only preheat the oven to 350°F. Almost easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Roll the dough to fit your tart pan, shape, trim and chill
  2. Peel, half, core and slice apples thinly parallel to their “equator”
  3. Melt some butter and mix some sugar and cinnamon together

For individual tartlets, place a sliced half apple on top of the dough; press the top gently to fan the slices to fill the unbaked shell. Brush generously with butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Immediately place into the oven and bake until the crust has browned and the apples are cooked. The time will vary depending on type of crust and size of tart, but probably 20-30 minutes for individual tartlets and 30-45 minutes for a large tart. Lower the oven temperature if needed to prevent the crust edges from burning.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a simple not-too-sweet finish to any meal!


March 6, 2012 § 11 Comments

Rugelach is a traditional Jewish pastry/cookie; its name translates to “little twists”. Originally made with a yeasted dough in Europe, American Jewish immigrants adapted the pastry to a cream cheese dough in this country. This is the first (and more challenging) of the two recipes for TWD bakers to make this month. I’ve never made a cream cheese dough before, let alone rugelach, but these rich cookies with their complex fillings of jam, nuts, dried fruit and sometimes chocolate are one of my bakery favorites. Lauren Groveman’s version of these traditional pastries are generously sized and filled. Their delicious richness warranted all my efforts!

Spiral rugelach from “Baking with Julia” show off their flakiness

I couldn’t resist adding some type of whole grain flour, so I substituted Bluebird Farms emmer flour for a third of the white flour. To ensure a flakey dough, I wanted to keep the fat (butter and cream cheese) cold. I decided to use Dorie Greenspan’s food processor method, instead of creaming room temperature fats in the mixer. She describes her techniques and gives her rugelach recipe plus two other favorites in an NPR interview on holiday cookies here. I opted out of making prune or apricot lekvar (fruit butter) as I had some French prune-rhubarb butter, homemade cherry jam and local apricot preserves already opened in the refrigerator (toast with butter and jam is a breakfast staple for me). I was a little light-handed with the filling ingredients at the beginning, worried that I might have trouble rolling the dough to encase the filling. But I gained confidence and was pretty generous by the 4th batch.

Cold cream cheese and butter chunks piled on top of dry ingredients in food processor

Pulse several times to combine the ingredients, then process until the dough starts to clump together. It will look like cauliflower!

Dough is portioned for either crescents (6.5 oz) or spirals (10 oz) before chilling

Roughly shape for spirals (rectangle) or crescents (rounds), wrap and chill

A plethora of ingredients for fillings – preserves, toasted nuts, currants, dried cherries, mini-chocolate chips

Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness for crescents and spread thinly with preserves

Sprinkle evenly with chopped toasted nuts and dried fruit or mini-chocolate chips; cut into 16 wedges and roll from base to tip

Place crescents with their tips underneath on parchment-lined sheet pan to chill, or freeze to glaze, sugar and bake fresh later

A small plate of a variety of rugelach to share with my neighbors

The crescents I made were quite a bit smaller than the original spirals, so I got more than six dozen rugelach from the recipe. I took most of them to an Academy Awards Night potluck dinner, and they were an Oscar-winning hit!

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