Monday, August 23, 2010

break the butter rules

If you ask me to describe myself in a nutshell, I will answer with one simple fact: I put salt in all my sweets. I think this is actually a profound statement that speaks to just about all aspects of my personality. And I don't mean that little pinch of salt that every baking recipe calls for, claiming it enhances the sweetness of the sweet. If it calls for a pinch, I throw in two or three, and I'll still top that cookie with some flaky sea salt for good measure. So it only makes sense that I would be inextricably drawn to a recipe for cookies that actually calls for salted butter. And not just run-of-the-mill salted butter, but beautiful French butter with fleur de sel. I used a brand called Pamplie, an old brand made in a region of France called Deux-Sevres, which is apparently known for its fine dairy products.

I took the recipe one step further by sprinkling some more flaky sea salt atop the cookie. I imagine that might push it over the salty edge for some people, but for me it was perfection. It's all about balance - sweet needs salty, chewy needs crunchy. I try to live by the wisdom of the salted butter chocolate chip cookie. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from the recipe by David Lebovitz

4 ounces salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
flaky sea salt for sprinkling

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to beat the butter with the sugars until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Add the flour mixture into the beaten butter until well combined, then mix in the chopped chocolate (including any chocolate dust) and the chopped nuts.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, preferably 24.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. Use a small ice cream scoop to make rounds about 1.5 inches in diameter. Place the mounds evenly spaced apart on the baking sheets, and press down the tops to flatten them so they are no longer domed and the dough is even. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with flaky sea salt.

Bake the cookies for ten minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until the cookies look about set, but are not browned.

Remove from the oven and quickly tap the top of each with a spatula, then return to the oven for two more minutes, until the tops of the cookies are light golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Storage: The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to five days in an airtight container. The dough can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for one or two months.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

lemony creme fraiche ice cream

Sometimes I love an ice cream that you don't have to turn a stove on for. The tanginess of creme fraiche and buttermilk, the brightness of lemon juice and zest, and that's all it takes. This would be the perfect accompaniment to a subtle olive oil cake or a pear tart, but it's also good just on it's own, maybe with some chopped pecans for crunch. Twenty minutes to greatness. Recipe after the jump:


2 cups creme fraiche
2 cups buttermilk
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups sugar
pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Chill until very cold, at least 4 hours, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction. Makes about 1 1/4 quarts.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

rancho gordo: the beauty of beans

I'm having a very bean-y summer. It's not unusual for me to move away from eating heavy meat when it's hot out, but I generally consider beans a hearty and warming food, too, so it's odd that beans are where I keep finding myself right now. The textures of beans - both fresh and dried - are constantly calling to me. I ignore common sense and let a pot bubble on my stove for hours when it's 95 degrees out.

It is hard not to want beans all the time when the beans are as gorgeous as the ones from Rancho Gordo. Steve Sando has made the humble bean a sexy ingredient by growing and selling dozens of heirloom breeds that most of us had never seen or heard of before. Each type of bean is beautiful and unique, all sizes and colors, stripes and spots, flavors and textures.

One of my favorites varieties - and the one that Sando claims started this whole business when he first took a bite - is Rio Zape. A gorgeous mauve-colored bean with dark purple stripes and little white eye, Rio Zapes are similar to Pinto beans, but are denser and richer in flavor. The best way to start using heirloom beans if you want to understand why they are so amazing is to go simple simple simple. A bit of bacon, some aromatics, maybe a nice dark beer, finish it off with some tomatoes for acid and a fresh cilantro relish for bite. Simple and hearty, really taste the bean. Recipe after the jump:


For the beans:
1 pound Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans (use can substitute pintos or any beans you like)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb smokey bacon, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
6 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bottle stout or other dark beer
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon (use the 1/2 lemon left over from making the relish)
salt and pepper to taste

For the relish:
1 large bunch cilantro
1 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
olive oil

To make the beans:
Cover the dried beans with cold water allowing at least two inches of water covering the surface of the beans. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Do not discard the soaking liquid.

In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil. Add the diced bacon and saute, rendering out the fat and crisping the bacon. When it is brown and crispy, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels. You will use this bacon to finish the beans.

Remove all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the sage, rosemary and minced jalapeno and saute until fragrant. Add the beans with their soaking liquid, plus the bottle of beer. If necessary, add additional water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower to a very slow simmer until the beans are tender. This will take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on how long they soaked and how firm you like your beans. I tend to like my beans with a bite. When the beans are tender, add the tomatoes, lemon juice, and bacon, and season well with salt and pepper. Cook a few minutes more to incorporate the acids and the bacon. Remove the sage leaves and rosemary before serving. Serve on rice or with crusty bread, topped with a dollop of the cilantro relish and the crispy bacon bits.

For the cilantro relish:
Mince the cilantro, shallot, and garlic very finely, you can use a mini-prep if you like. Add the lemon zest, juice and salt to taste. Add enough olive oil to make a thick pesto-like sauce. Serve alongside the beans.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

in season: cardamom apricot pistachio crostata

My favorite scents are all foods. I like to wear lemon verbena. The hand soaps in my bathrooms are ginger and lemon, or coconut and honey. My deodorant smells like lemongrass. My body lotion actually has real vanilla beans in it. I even caught myself sniffing a delicious anti-bacterial wipe with lemongrass and thyme scent. Deliciously clean. Now I want a perfume scented with warm cardamom and ripe apricots.

This rustic tart was one of those great recipes that built in my head throughout the day. First I got the gorgeous apricots and sniffed and sniffed them. Then I decided I wanted some crunch and thought that the subtle sweetness of pistachios would be the perfect thing to offset the tartness of the fruit. Then, for some reason, pistachios make me thing of cardamom. It just seemed to make perfect sense.

The tart is true simplicity. A classic pate brisee crust made free-form over the fresh fruit, just tossed in sugar and spice and sprinkled liberally with chopped nuts. I did think after I already baked it that I should have used honey instead of sugar for another layer of flavor, but the good thing about cooking revelations that come a little too late is always having an excuse to make it again. Recipe after the jump:


For the pate brisee:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice
3-5 tablespoons ice cold water

For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds ripe apricots (About a dozen small)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp kosher salt

For the topping: 1/3 cup chopped unsalted pistachios

To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix and aerate. Add the cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Slowly add the ice water a tablespoon at a time through the feed tube as the processor runs. Add just enough water for the dough to start to come together. Turn the dough out onto the counter, shape into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

To make the filling: Slice the apricots along the seam and remove the pit. Cut each half into 2 or 3 wedges, depending on the size of the apricot. Toss the wedges with the sugar, cardamom and salt until well coated. Let sit for a few minutes while you roll out your crust.

Roll your crust into a 13-inch circle. Arrange the apricot wedges in a decorative pattern from the inside out, leaving a 2-inch border of crust all around. Pour over any syrup that may have collected at the bottom of the bowl of fruit. Fold the overhang of the crust over the fruit all around the tart. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then scatter the chopped pistachios evenly over the fruit, return to the oven and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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