Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge May 2009 - Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

To complete this challenge, I waited a few weeks on purpose. The reason was that last month I attended a series of pastry classes, so I waited for the teacher to cover the topic before trying.

The dough was indeed very easy to make: mix together 1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed,
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough,
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (instead of vinegar, I used white wine, a couple of tbsp), and work it very hard.
By "very hard" they mean "feel free to use violence!": taking the dough and throwing it on the table as it had provoked me was fun, especially for my kids, who were startled at first, looking at me as if I had gone nuts, and laughing their bellies out when they saw that mom was just playing (?) silly and nobody was getting hurt.
After a good 10 minutes of this workout, put the dough under a hot bowl and let it rest for half an hour.

In the meantime, find yourself a 6yo and a 4yo and when they ask you if they can play with the flour left on the table, tell them yes.
In a few minutes, you should get a similar result:

In the meantime(2), get together what you'll need for the filling.
My teacher was very passionate in saying that a strudel ought to be made only with rennet apples, but it's too hard to find them at this time of the year, so I went with plain golden apples, 2lbs/900gr, diced, and all the portrayed guest stars:

3-4 oz /100-120gr sugar with a spoonful of cinnamon, 1 oz/30gr pine nuts, 2 oz/50gr bread crumbs, 3oz/80-90gr butter, 2 oz/50 gr raisins, 1 oz/30gr crushed nuts.

Toast the pine nuts in some of the butter, think you can do something else in the meantime, burn them, throw them away, take another oz/30 gr pine nuts, toast them properly, set aside.
Toast the bread crumbs in another tablespoon of butter (no burning step needed), set aside.

The dough is really really easy to stretch thin, wine-drunk and beaten up as it is! Of course I didn't bother taking a picture of it (was I clumsy, this time around!!).
Spread all the fillings (what's left of butter should be melted) on all the surface of the less than paper-thin dough, keeping a sort of free frame

Now, only because you were so nice to read this so far, I want to be honest and tell you about the silly mistake I made.
The rolling should be done on the long side of the rectangle you're facing.
Don't ask me why, I started to roll the short side.
I realized my mistake at the first turn, but it was too late already.
So I went on, building the biggest, fattest strudel ever seen.
I left it in the oven 15 minutes more than the recipe required, to cook it evenly, and when it came out it was clear that to have a regular portion I would need to cut a slice in half, or the proportion and size of the serving would be ridicolous.

The taste was great! I can't wait for next autumn, when I'll be able to use rennet apples!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Strawberry and cream forever

It's hard to turn an oven on, in these days, but there are lots of desserts that can be done without baking.
Bavarese is one of them.

Fruit and cream are the main actors with just a spoonful of sugar (well, a little more than a spoonful - so many quotations, today I woke up a songbird!) and a bit of gelatine to help the structure.

My choice today is on cherries and strawberries.
Puree 1.1 lb/500gr of fresh fruit in a blender, add juice from one lemon, 3-4 oz /100-120gr of sugar and put all on a mild heat.

When it is gently boiling, add 1/2oz /12-15 gr of gelatine. The gelatine part is a bit tricky, because there are a lot of different gelatines out there. Here the most common is one that comes in small transparent sheets, in the US my first try would be Knox gelatine.

Anyway, any gelatine in a dose fit to gel 500ml of water will do.

After adding the gelatine let simmer for 1 or 2 minutes. The simmering part is important to properly dissolve the gelatine and to inactivate enzymes in fruit like pineapple, kiwi or papaya that would prevent gelatine to set.

In the meantime, whip 2 cups /500ml of heavy cream.

Add the whipped cream to the fruit mixture and place in molds. Let rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Bavarese cannot be frozen: thawing would kill the gel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge May 2009 - Gnocchi di Ricotta

This is the first ever Daring Cooks Challenge, and it feels good to have joined the Daring Kitchen community just in time to participate!

The recipe of Gnocchi di Ricotta was brought by Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice and Lisa of La Mia Cucina, the two founders of the Daring Bakers Challenge.
They picked it in The Zuni Cafè Cookbook .

The recipe itself is very simple: take 1lb/450gr of ricotta, mix it with 2 large cold eggs, 1tbsp/15gr of butter and 1/2oz/about 15gr of grated Parmigiano. Spices, herbs and/or lemon zest are optional.

Form the gnocchi on a bed of flour (they're very delicate and need to be handled very lightly), boil them for a few minutes and then you can use them straight away or sautè them in a sauce of your choice.

We were incouraged to make our own ricotta, but spoiled as I am, I have a lot of cheese factories nearby, so ricotta is great tasting, available and cheap. By the way, ricotta isn't technically a cheese, because it doesn't come from milk directly, but from whey, the residue of production of some other, non acidic, cheese.

Ready as it is, it still has to be dried, or you will fail miserably and find yourself with the mess of the Big Frittata Of Ricotta (been there, done that). So it's better to leave the ricotta on a cheesecloth or on a strainer in the fridge, overnight.

After mixing, I preferred to form the gnocchi not by hand, but using a decorating bag to lay down those "worms" and then cut them with a serrated knife. It helps if you leave the ready and filled bag in the fridge for awhile.

After boiling them I left them apart while preparing the Parmigiano&Saffran coupelles in which I meant to serve them.

I had always read about how easy it is to make them, how you're just supposed to sprinkle two tablespoons of grated cheese in a pan and Voilà!, the coupelle is ready to be formed!

Mine were not made by themselves: if I used a spatula or some palette knife to take them up, they would just curl up like a vampire under the sun. If I took them with my fingers (I take the *Daring* part very literally!) I would feel a lot of pain (who guessed?).

Until it just dawned on me that parchment paper is such a good thing that if you just put a piece of it on the pan, and the cheese on that, you are done in a matter of seconds.

Gnocchi were sautèd in some butter with asparagus and ham, placed in the Parmigiano coupelles and that was the end of it.

As I did this early in the month, I kept thinking of some other version, and I came up with two variations using spinach and saffran, that would have to be matched with saffran and spinach butter, respectively.

I had the idea of styling it as a positive/negative photography, I've had the image on my mind for weeks.
Thing is, butter turns out to get a very different texture if you mix it with saffran rather than with spinach, so my idea didn't see the light.

Not too bad for a blooper, though.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Black ink fettuccine

Or “The Pirates’ Pasta”, as my 6yo calls it.
The 4yo calls it “The Really Really Ugly Pasta, And Why On Earth Did You Have To Make It??”.
What’s in a name?

Black ink pasta is something I love to do for special occasions, but until this time I never tried to complement it with something more than a simple oil and lemon dressing.
But this is the time to look for something different and nice to portray, and in this spring-y air that brings ideas and inspiration, I’m taking advantage of living in a diversified region that has both harsh mountains and rich sea, and where you can find mature cheese, artisan cured meats and fresh seafood at the same farmers’ market.
Today is the time for fresh seafood.

While my husband went to the market to look for the perfect octopus, I stayed at home to make black ink pasta, which can be found ready made in Italian food stores, but I like to make it for myself when I can.

3 beaten eggs

Plus black ink

Equals black beaten eggs (actually they are on the greenish side because my yolks were deep orange).

Black beaten eggs plus two cups semolina flour (which gives a more “rustic” texture than AP flour) make…


Semolina flour is also harder to knead than soft wheat flour, but thanks to the science of stand mixer that’s not my problem any more.

When it comes to octopus, they say you should cook it really fast or really slow, if you don’t want to have a gummy meal.
This time I went with *really fast*, sautéing it for 4-5 minutes in hot extra-virgin olive oil, a bunch of halved cherry tomatoes and paper-thin lemon slices.
If I had it at hand, I would have gladly given it a splash of vodka, at least for adult portions.

Lemon and sage just go so well together, that a sprinkle of freshly minced sage was an appropriate final touch.

Now that I look at it, it looks more like a Lego pasta, but apparently Pirates won.

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's getting warmer!

Nothing speaks like summer for me as chicken aspic.
This is what my mom would cook as soon as two hot days came along in a row, and just as I wanted to be all different, this is what I find myself doing without even thinking of it!
Just when my husband thinks of turning the grill on for the first time in the year, there I am, with my beautiful and loved “chicken under glass”.

It requires a little thinking in advance, of course, but it’s ideal for picnics, or even better for when you know you’ll be out the whole day, the whole HOT day, and you know that once you’ll be at home you won’t be able to put together something that makes sense for dinner and will just gobble down whatever comes your way.
Or, in my case, when I have my night out and I don’t want to give too many instructions to those I’m leaving home.

It is light, fresh and nutritious, and I just can’t stop eating it when I start.

Am I passing on some enthusiasm??

It is quite easy, too!
Just dice a little chicken breast, cooked.
I like mine steamed, because I think that a subtle flavor goes better with the pickles and seasoned vegetables I’m putting in, but I guess that sautee-ing it works just fine.

Then cut whatever suits you: I never skip olives, pickles, seasoned red peppers, little onions.
The possibilities are endless, you can go with hard boiled eggs, mushrooms, cheese and ham cubes, leftovers, you get the idea.
Boil some gelatin powder with a consommé (I usually go for a quart/a litre, it all depends on how much stuff you are putting in) and fill the mold with your chicken salad and the gelatin. Shove it in the fridge and patiently wait.

If you have 2 minutes to spare, making the first layer a little tidy is a decoration itself.