Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge June 2009 - Bakewell tart... er... pudding

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Make sure to check their blog out for the interesting story of how this dessert was born.

In a nutshell:

1 - a shell of sweet shortcrust pastry
2 - a layer of jam
3 - a layer of frangipane

It was not something completely new for me, I remember my mother making something like this for a few years when I was a teenager, only with a sponge instead of frangipane. That was a bit dry, though.

The Shortcrust

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Rub the (cold) butter into the flour, mix the dry ingredients, add the liquid ingredients, don't sweat it too much, make a ball, let it rest in the fridge.

The Jam

Posted already

The Frangipane

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream the butter with sugar, add the eggs (one at a time), the almond extract, then spoon the flours in.

The threesome is ready to be assembled:

Now spread:

Now pour:

Aaaand level:

Bake it at 200°C/400°F for about half an hour.

Serve with creme fraiche.

We had a slice a few hours after baking it, and we had different opinions in the house: while my husband thought the jam was way too tangy and predominant, I thought the exact opposite and could taste only the almonds in the frangipane. Either way, it didn't seem a good pair (the kids just gobbled it down and off they went towards new adventures).
That all went away the day after, and it was even better the third day, when the tastes melted together and rounded off, thus giving a good and well chosen combination.

Inspired by other Daring Bakers, who always try to give a savoury version of a sweet recipe and vice versa, I thought of the classic pairing between gorgonzola and walnuts.

I skipped sugar in both the shortcrust and the frangipane, and substituted walnut flour for the almond's. In the jam's place was a mix of gorgonzola and cream cheese.

Good thing I made tartelettes, because the taste is so strong it saturates all your taste buds in a sec.
I had served it with acacia honey just because I thought it was a cute add, but honey is really essential to balance and dilute the strenght of it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The unexpected currant

We were at my in-laws one Sunday afternoon.
While going around in their vegetable plot, I spotted this huge blackcurrant plant.
"Go ahead!" they told me "A friend brought that plant as a present, it keeps growing and bearing fruits, but we're not making much of it, so if you're interested..."
One minute after I was already in the plot with a ziploc. I must say, I took them on their word, and I didn't leave much behind me: once cleaned, the loot was 1.5lbs of freshly picked, amazingly perfumed blackcurrant.

I let it rest overnight with 1 1/2 cup of sugar (don't like too sweet a jam), the juice of one lime and the rind of half a lime. The overnight thing is just because I didn't want to stay up in the wee hours on a stove, but I also thought it would help to let it macerate a little. Apparently it's not worth it; I thought that the currants would behave like berries and release some liquid, but they didn't. Whatever.

I added one cup of freshly brewed green tea, and cooked about 30 minutes.
Do not cook it too long: blackcurrant is rich in pectin so, especially if you're working with little liquid, its setting could be too firm. For the same reason, there's no need to add apple slices or pectin powder.

The result is a sweet and sour, tart and tangy jam, it goes well in tarts, pies, over pancakes or paired with cheese.
In my case, it was just what I needed for my Bakewell tart... er... pudding .

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Kitchenlander day in Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Or München, that is.

It was the same weekend of our Salzburg day, the two cities are so close, that it made sense to cross another border and see.

We arrived late in the morning, found a hotel a little out of the center, where fares were prohibitive, we relied on old, good Best Western.

The day before the kids had been really good, not questioning too much the fact that we had walked all day and had been to castles and museums, so we decided to take a boyish look at the city.

That means that we only took a quick look at the city center, and by the way, little did we know that they take Whit Sunday so seriously there, so all the shops and the ViktualienMarkt were closed.

As for meals, we decided to make a minitour of local breweries. Which are local, but also very well known out of town because as you know, the Bavarians know a lot about beer and make sure that the world knows they know.

A lot of beer factories have their own little restaurant (Biergarten), with a choice of a few dishes that complement the beer they produce and serve.

Our first stop was on the way from the hotel to the center, and it was Löwenbräu. A nice garden, a beautiful day, we decided to eat outside.

They will tell you to sit at a table provided with tablecloth. I discovered later that you can also bring your own food and use a table without cloth, as long as you order your drinks.

The food is simple and typical, mainly pork meat, wieners and different kinds of sausages

And that's what we had, a "Löwenbräu Classics" for me

which is a crispy roasted pork belly with potato-cucumber salad and dark beer sauce

and some "Sausage Specialities" for my men

a platter with a variation of sausage specialities with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and horseradish.
Goes without saying, we shared a bit of everything.

I loved the presentation of their mustard

At the end of the meal we ordered one portion of apple strudel, always because I was just done with the Strudel Challenge.

Better than the one I had in Salzburg, yet not completely satisfying. Maybe because it was drowning in that vanilla sauce.

One funny thing (at least to us, it's probably normal) is the closet where the pitches of regular customers are held

A note about the beer: it's very light indeed, and pleasant to drink; I usually feel the buzz in a short time, with this I didn't. I bet they don't want loads of drunk people walking around in the middle of the day!

We spent the afternoon at the Olympiapark, visiting the stadium and enjoying the view from the Tower:

For dinner, we headed to the Augustiner Brewery

The place was packed with people, it took a while to even ask someone if we could sit. We sat at a table with another family, and took in all the festive atmosphere that was in there. The 6yo didn't like the noise too much, but the 4yo... oh! he absolutely loved the place, the waitresses in their dirndls, the brass band playing

He could only stand up and dance! Oh, and he would also steal the notepad from every waiter's pocket he could see, thus messing the orders up.
We are not telling him about the existence of something like that, only multiplied for 10.000, just because I don't think it would be nice to bring a 4yo at the Oktoberfest!

It was a bit late to have a real dinner, though, just some cheese and snack, but very funny indeed!

The morning after we went for a visit at the BMW Welt

What wouldn't I do for my kids!

Well, they had fun.

On our way back home, we thought we would have something on the road.

But then we saw the Paulaner Brewery and well...

This was by far the best beer we had in the weekend, unfiltered, complex in taste, enjoayable, really good. We're actually buying it regularly at the supermarket, now.

I had a vegetable strudel

with broccoli, turnips, carrots, cheese in a sauce of cauliflower and chives and topped with fried arugula. I must say, this time I was really satisfied, it was tasty, filling yet light.

Hubby wasn't so light, going for a Braten G'Rosti

Pan fried meat with knodeln, onions and eggs.

As for the kids

They would live out of cold cuts, so they are easy to please.

And that was the end of it, our last Bavarian meal was indeed the best. It's always nice to close a holiday this way, we'll be back for sure!

To the next trip!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Traveling in my own cookbooks #1

One of the things I always try to bring back from a trip/journey/vacation is a local cookbook, just because.
This started way back, as soon as I started to travel without my parents, when I still didn't even approach a stove.

I realized years ago that I never get to actually use them, but still that's something I have to bring home with me.
I seldom get to actually open these books other than for looking at the pictures, even if I carefully moved them around Italy and the world everytime I moved. Thing is, most of the time I'm more lured by recipes in magazines, or from some friends, and more recently from the Internet, of course. And also, something always seemed to go wrong; I would blame myself for my inexperience, but that was before discovering the concept of badly written cookbooks.
I thought that just because something was written in a book, it had to be right and thoroughly proved, but I've been questioning this idea for awhile, now.

Well, this is the time, I will pick every cookbook I own, starting from the first on the left at the top shelf, choose a recipe from each and share the outcome.
It's not an original idea, I know, I saw that there was a community with a similar cookbook challenge, but they stopped. So, if you know of some other group bringing on something like this, let me know. Or if you want to join me, you will be more than welcome.

First book is "Cocina Aragonesa": I bought it during a vacation through Spain and Portugal when I was 24. There were 10 of us, friends from University, just driving around from Barcelona to Madrid, to Lisbon, To Algarve and back on the South coast.
Beautiful, I would do that all over tomorrow! Except maybe for the part where I put my life at risk, 2 or 3 times, but I was young and free, and probably that was my wildest holiday.
Anyway, I remember that 4 or 5 of us got together and decided to buy one specific region cookbook each, so we could trade them during the years to follow.
Of course, that never happened.

I would have liked to make something savoury, but everything I set my eyes on had tons of garlic, or was about eels, and I needed a softer start, so I headed to the dessert pages.

The one I picked was called "Yemas de Coco" (Coconut Buds).

Looked pretty simple: make a syrup with one glass (3/4 cup) of water and 1 1/2 cup of sugar (if you're wondering about the quantities in the pictures, I made half batch),

Then add 3 cups of grated coconut,

then leave the mix in the fridge overnight.
The subsequent passage would be to form buds by hand and roll them in melted chocolate.

At this point I thought "Wow, how will this simple mix aggregate? How will I be able to form those little balls that keep together in melted chocolate?"
I wasn't.
The mix didn't hold together.
I tried to wet the mix, I tried to dry the mix, but no.

So, in the end I made layers and refrigerated, and found myself with a home version of a Bounty bar.

Nice, healthy and everything, but still too much fuss for the result.

I probably should have made the buds, frozen them, and then rolled them in the chocolate.


I decided to give the book another try, there and then, and I picked the recipe soon after: "Leche Frita" (Fried Milk)

Put 1 liter/1 quart of milk and a pinch of cinnamon on a stove, and when it starts to boil add 4 tbsp of flour and 4 egg yolks, always beating in the meantime.

Pour in a dish and refrigerate overnight (this overnight refrigeration seems recurring).
The day after you should have this unsweetened pudding

that has to be cut in pieces, rolled in a mix of one yolk and two eggwhites, then in flour, then fried in hot vegetable oil.

At this point, I had the feeling I was in front of a book meant for tourists, printed in a time when cooking wasn't really much of a hobby.
Either that, or I suddenly have an issue with aggregation, because the 4 tbsp of flour were not at all enough to make the pudding dense enough to handle it with ease.
I made it, but another time I will use 4 tbsp of corn starch (the book said I could use corn starch instead of the flour, but only 2 tbsp).
This should also reduce the ratio between fried surface and fresh content.
Dust with sugar and serve.

They were pretty good, actually, it's just a matter of texture, not of taste.

I have a feeling that this project, started just for fun, will help me understand a few things about cookbooks. I'm looking forward to discovering the differences between one book and another, old and new, small and big, with a theme or not.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge June 2009 - Chinese Dumplings and Potstickers

The June Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Jen of userealbutter. She chose Chinese dumplings/potsticks, and the recipe she provided was based on her family recipe.
As always, we were incouraged to be creative with fillings and interpretations of the basic recipe.
The dough (two cups of flour and 1/2 cup of water, then adjust) was very easy to handle and stretch. As for the filling I chose sausage, white mushrooms and red radicchio

(leftover of a risotto I made the night before)

With the dough form some circles and place some filling on it

then fold and pinch,

then go on with the pleats

As often happens, as you go on you'll find yourself able to make the dough thinner and the dumplings smaller.

I decided to use the method illustrated by Jen, first pan fry them

and then pour some water, to complete the cooking (lid on until the water boils, lid off after that).

Served on a bed of red radicchio and dill.

Sorry, just forks, no sticks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Kitchenlander day in ... Salzburg, Austria.

This is the Kitchenlandish side of a day in Salzburg, Austria.

We arrived late in the afternoon, after a rather adventurous journey, with weather spanning from unbearable heat to snow! In June! So we stayed in the hotel for dinner.
Maybe not very typical, but I got a nice and light meal with spinach palachinkas (kind of crepes) in a gorgonzola sauce:

I wouldn't be bothering to write about this if I didn't find the pairing very well chosen, and it's something quick and easy to make at home.

The day after, we were fresh and ready to discover the city.
Salzburg is Mozart's hometown, and you can never forget it: almost everything is about Mozart here (which is why we went, my 6yo can't quite get over the fact that the composer is dead).

So, one stop was at Mozart's birth house (Gebursthaus); deep inside I kind of questioned my recent buyings of nice kitchen tools, thinking that the meals that Wolfie had for the first seven years of his life were cooked in here

If a kitchen like that produced such genius, you don't want to know what will be of my two messy sprouts (I'm aware that Bree van deKamp should have taught me something!!).

The tour went on, there's another house, the one where the Mozart family moved when Wolfgang was seven, then we wandered around the city center.

Passing in front of a shop window, my eyes caught this cutie

"Hey, look at how they decorated this egg shell!"

"But hey, wait, there's more!"

"But we're in June, why did they have to make an Halloween themed window?"

As we lifted our eyes and got a more global view of the shop we were in front of, we realized that there was more

and more

The only thing the shop was selling were these real egg shells, painted, dressed and decorated with a patience that I won't have in 20 lives!
The massive quantity was really hard to register: I had never imagined to see so many eggs all together, let alone thinking of each one of those eggs being emptied and handled to produce that result! The price of the ones we checked spanned between 3 and 6.50 Euros (say between 5 and 11 USD), each.

So you can imagine my heart rate when I realized that these two

were actually those two!

Off we went, and for the first time since the kids are around we didn't stop for lunch, but hung out in a nice and tidy market, picking brezen and speck sandwiches

As for dessert, we were not far (well, the city center is pretty tiny, you are never far from anything) from the Stranz and Scio restaurant, which is famous for its "Capezzoli di Venere" (Nipples of Venus)

If you have seen the movie "Amadeus" (and if you have not, go see it! I mean, right now, I can wait!) these are the pralines that Salieri uses to convince Constanza to show him some of her husband's music sheets.
Their filling is of chestnut and nougat cream, with a drop of tart cherries jam and cognac.
They. Are. Goooood.

We spent the afternoon in the Hohensalzburg Castle, that overlooks the city, an impressive view and tour.

At night we had dinner at Gablerbrau, where the 6yo found a cutie 7yo girl from Kentucky to relieve the bore of waiting for dinner.

At Gablerbrau they have their own beer, like it often happens around there.

They like it unfiltered and they're quite right!

It seemed appropriate to order something that had the word "Salzburg" in it, so I went for a Salzburger Bierbrauerpfandl, that is "Salzburg beer brewer pan with roasted pork, farmer sausage, black pudding, sauerkraut, dumpling".

If only I didn't know how they make black pudding I would have probably eaten that, too, but I did, so I was content with the rest of the dish, cooked to perfection and with the right aromas.

My men went with wieners and fries

Just a few days before all this, the reveal day for Daring Bakers Challenge's Strudel had occurred; having seen all kinds of strudels from around the world, it was a no brainer to have it here.
I must say I wasn't completely satisfied, I wish it was cooked longer and less "robust".

We couldn't leave Salzburg without bringing with us a certain amount of Mozartkugeln, Mozart's balls. Not that you are at risk of forgetting, they are literally everywhere, even at greengrocers' shops.
In a spherical shell of chocolate you find a mix of praline creme, marzipan and pistachios, with different proportions according to the manifacturer.

They were invented by Paul Fürst in 1890, that is way after Mozart was gone.

The konditorei is still run by the Fürst family, and the kugeln are still hand made.

As it often happens, there are other versions, good as well even if industrially produced, as is the case of Mirabell Mozartkugeln, which are the most easy to find, popular even out of Austria, or Victor Schmidt's ones.

From left to right: Fürst's kugel, delicate and with a hint of marzipan, Mirabell's kugel, with a harder chocolate shell and a good balance of all flavours, Victor Schmidt's one, where marzipan is dominant.

If you have issues with spheres, Mirabell made it flat, too:

And after all this meat and chocolate bliss, may I offer you some digestive drink?

Chocolate cream, cocoa infusion and white chocolate liquors.

To the next trip!