Thursday, December 31, 2009

Orange Torte

Here I go again with the oranges and chocolate. It's a good combo, what can I say? I was drawn to this torte in particular because the entire orange is used: peel, seeds and all. Cool, no?
This recipe is for a 9-inch torte, but my new cake stand won't accommodate a cake that big (and I prefer smaller cakes anyway) so I used two smallish blood oranges and halved all the other ingredients. I should have poured all the batter (or most of it) into one 6-inch pan, but, having divided it between two pans, saved the cake (I hope) by going double decker. Then there's the issue of the almonds. I should have blanched and ground my own almonds, but I was lazy and bought almond meal so what should be a lovely cake the color of sunshine is marred by the unwelcome presence of skins. But nevermind.

Orange Torte

adapted from Aaron Maree

  • 3 oranges
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 180 g sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 280 g ground almonds
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  • 250 g apricot jam
  • 60 ml water
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
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  • 1/2 recipe basic ganache
  • Place oranges in a pot, cover with water, and boil them for an hour and a half. While still hot, place oranges in a blender or food processor and blend to a pulp. Set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch cake pan (or a combination of smaller pans) and line the bottom(s) with parchment. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and half the sugar until yolks are pale and have reached the ribbon stage. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
  • Wash your bowl and whisk attachment, then beat egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the remaining sugar in spoonfuls just before it reaches this stage. Add the ground almonds and baking powder and beat until well combined.
  • Fold yolk mixture into the orange pulp, then fold in the egg white mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cake is pulling away from the edges of the pan and springs back when lightly touched.
  • Cool on wire racks in the pan.
  • For the glaze: Combine jam, water, and lemon juice in a pan. Stir until thoroughly blended. Boil 10-15 minutes then force through a fine strainer.
  • Once cake is completely cool, turn it out and peel the parchment off the bottom. Coat with warm apricot glaze and place on serving dish. Allow glaze to cool then cover cake with warm ganache. Allow ganache to set then decorate as you wish--not at all, dusted with cocoa, adorned with chocolate curls or chocolate dipped orange segments...
It's not at all amazing, but amazingly frustrating, that some weeks you can do no wrong and others it's one semi-success (that is, flop) after the other. Wishing you more successes than failures in 2010 and the good nature to accept both gracefully. Happy new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Festive Loaf

This is actually a Russian Easter bread called kulich, but the 'panettone' entry in the index of Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters sends you to the same page. It had all the right ingredients--flour, yeast, milk, fruit, peel, nuts, sugar--so I thought I'd give it a try. The result was a very small, but very festive loaf. If you plan to bake this recipe, I suggest making at least two, but more like four or eight loaves at a time. It's just too much work and waiting for only one.
This bread is one of the more wholesome things I've baked this month. The whole wheat flour gives the bread some substance, though it's still very soft and not at all dense, and the sugar is kept to a minimum. I used my quince brandy to soak the fruit and the flavors of cinnamon and star anise came through nicely.

A Festive Loaf

adapted from Andrew Whitley

  • 60 g raisins
  • 50 g slivered almonds
  • 40 g candied mixed peel
  • quince brandy to cover
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  • 5 g sugar
  • 2.5 g active dry yeast
  • 60 g milk, warm
  • 50 g whole wheat flour
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  • 30 g sugar
  • 70 g white bread flour
  • 40 g whole wheat flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ferment, from above
  • 50 g salted butter, softened
  • The night before you're going to bake, combine the raisins, almonds, peel, and brandy (or rum, or vodka, or fruit juice) in a jar. Cover, shake, and set aside.
  • Get out your paper panettone cases and set aside, or prepare an improvised version. Line the sides of a 5-inch cake pan with heavy brown paper about 6 inches tall. Then line the bottom and (now high) sides of the cake pan with parchment paper.
  • For the ferment: Dissolve sugar and yeast in the warm milk. Mix in flour to make a paste. Cover and put in a warm place to rise and fall, about an hour.
  • To make the dough: Combine flours and sugar then add egg and ferment. Mix to form a dough. Knead for a minute or so to fully combine, then knead in the butter. Your dough will become very soft and sticky, but do not add any more flour. Keep kneading and after about 10 minutes you will have a soft, but coherent dough. Alternately, you could knead the dough using the dough hook attachment on you mixer.
  • Form dough into a ball and place in a small greased bowl. Cover with plastic and leave to rise in a warm spot for about an hour.
  • Drain any excess liquid from your fruit-nut mixture and gently fold/knead into the dough. Allow the dough to rise for another half hour.
  • Carefully shape the dough so the top is tight, smooth, and unbroken, removing any bits of fruit or nut that might be sticking through the top. Place in baking case. Allow to rise to maximum expansion, about a half hour longer.
  • Bake at just over 350°F for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a thin skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
This slice is pictured plain--I wanted you to see the golden raisins and bits of almond--but it's much tastier with butter. It might be better yet toasted and spread with butter. In any case it's perfect for tea or coffee and I'm sure the loaves wrap quite well in brown paper and string to give to friends and neighbors.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Starry Mince Pies

Well, it's the Monday before Christmas so if you haven't already made your mincemeat, it's too late. It is the perfect time to start giving pies away, though, so happy baking to those of you who got your mincemeat made in time.
These were made using a mini muffin tin and a small star cookie cutter. No need to wet the edges to stick the stars down as the mincemeat holds them on and the egg wash helps too.
Wishing you moments of calm this week and best of luck in the kitchen.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meet the Medlar

Maybe you've seen a medlar before, perhaps even tasted one. I hadn't until a few days ago when a co-worker handed me half of one of these papery, pulpy fruits and said, "here, try this."
These members of the rose family, cousins of the apple, natives of Persia are quite peculiar. They're picked in late autumn, at which point they're green and hard and inedible, then stored and left to go through a process of fermentation and decay called "bletting," during which they turn soft and brown. Now it just remains to tear through the thin, papery skin to reveal the rich, aromatic pulp inside.
It is hard to describe medlars. They're not like anything I've eaten before. If I had to make a comparison, I would say the pulp tastes and feels very much like thick, rich apple sauce. It is subtly sweet and ever so slightly bitter on the aftertaste. A friend tried to compare medlars to persimmons, but I think the only similarity there is the bletting process both fruits go through to become edible. I was not convinced by the first bite, but kept eating and bought several to take home with me.
I enjoy eating them as is--tearing the skin and sucking out the pulp, taking care to spit out the large, slippery seeds. The Oxford Companion to Food said that in Victorian England medlars were brought to table where the pulp was scraped out and mixed with sugar and cream for dessert. Other options for medlars are jelly or medlar cheese, made like lemon curd, or something of your own creation, such as the piece of toast with medlar and stinky cheese Y. just handed me.
It is always a pleasure to try a new food, particularly one as exotic as a medlar. For this I have Scott Farm to thank, and the turns of fate that brought me to Vermont.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

I never think to make meringues. That is, I never think to make meringues unless I've made custard first and have a bowlful of leftover whites staring at me with their big doe eyes daring me to pour them down the drain. But aren't these gorgeous? Wouldn't you love to part the tissue paper and find these inside? They're worth separating eggs for, friends, and making custard with the leftover yolks.
Martha wanted these made with peppermint extract and red food coloring, but I had in my cupboard orange extract and orange food coloring. Orange and chocolate are two flavors I think go together very well and are just as seasonally appropriate as peppermint and chocolate, so I thought the substitution a fair one.

Orange Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. orange extract
  • orange food coloring
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  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate
  • Preheat oven to 175°F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicon mats and set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a small star tip and set aside.
  • Put egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place bowl over simmering water and stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm. Fit bowl onto base of electric mixer and, with whisk attachment, beat mixture until whites are shiny and hold stiff peaks, mixing in orange extract just before they have reached this stage.
  • Paint 3 stripes of food coloring on the inside of the pastry bag. Place stiff egg whites in pastry bag and pipe as many small meringues as you can. Bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, or until crisp and dry, but not brown. Allow to cool completely(this doesn't take long).
  • For the ganache: cut the chocolate into small pieces and then grind into even smaller pieces in a food processor. Bring cream just to the simmer over medium heat. Add cream to food processor and process until ganache is smooth, 20 seconds or so. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool until it is pipeable.
  • To assemble: Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and put ganache in bag. Pipe some ganache on the bottom of one meringue and sandwich it with another, repeat. Place finished meringues on wire racks. Allow ganache to set about 30 minutes. Will keep in airtight containers at room temperature for about 2 days.
Indeed, it was more than fair; it was meant to be. The orange is sweet and high and the bitterness of the dark chocolate brings it back down to earth. This is mimicked by the contrasting textures: the airy lightness of the meringue is countered and complimented by the richness of the ganache. Although the meringue melts almost instantly--disappears well before you've finished the ganache--the orange flavor lingers and mingles with the chocolate, giving your entire mouth something to think about.
I kept the meringues small for several reasons. Mainly I think they're prettier that way. Just as importantly, they're twice as big when two are stuck together and I wanted the finished product to be able to be popped in the mouth and enjoyed in one bite. At this size they're small enough to fit on the saucer of an espresso cup--a nice presentation and an excellent accompaniment. You also get more this way, which can only be a good thing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I thought maybe you had to grow up dipping Ouma brand rusks in Milo or rooibos in order for them to take over a small corner of your heart, but the ease with which I have been able to distribute the vast surplus of rusks this recipe left me with suggests otherwise.
There isn't a great deal to recommend rusks: they're only very slightly sweet and otherwise quite bland, hard, dry, and a bit of a nuisance to eat--crumbling or, once dipped, dripping tea down your chin. Strangely, none of this keeps them from being completely addictive. Once you start eating them, you won't want to have tea without one. I sent a bag home with M. and she told me this afternoon she's been eating them at breakfast, tea time, and for dessert. If that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is.
I found several recipes for South African buttermilk rusks by doing a Google search, but have so far only tried the one mentioned above, which I can certainly recommend. I look forward to trying several more recipes, though, in hopes of more closely duplicating the perfect rusk of memory. A fool's errand, maybe as these come very, very close, but one that will always leave me with at least one tin of rusks in the pantry.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Onion Tart

It seems strange that the first recipe I would try from my new book, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts, would be a savory dish, but there you have it. A delicious savory dish, though, and one that I've already made twice.
But really, it's about as sweet as savory goes. There's the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the slightly different sweetness of the tomatoes (which I know I should not be buying in Vermont in December), both set off by the tangy saltiness of the cheese and the buttery goodness of the walnuts and the pastry.

Onion Tart

adapted from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts

  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. (6 1/3 Tbs.) butter, cold
  • 2-3 Tbs. water, very cold
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  • 2-3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
  • generous handful walnut pieces, broken
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • For the pastry: Combine flour and salt. Cut butter into pieces and drop into flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the butter into flour until butter is well incorporated, but there are still visible pieces of butter. (Recipes often say, 'until mixture resembles small peas or coarse meal.') Using a fork, stir in water one tablespoon at a time, being careful not to add too much. When dough begins to from clumps, enough water has been added. Form the dough into a ball. The dough might be somewhat crumbly, but as long as you can make it into a ball it will be alright. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least half an hour before rolling.
  • Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir to coat with butter. Allow to cook very gently, stirring occasionally, until onions have caramelized, anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour. Don't try to hurry the process. When onions are golden, remove from pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cool.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out your dough and use it to line an 8 or 9-inch tart pan. Spread the cooled onions on the bottom of the tart shell all the way to the sides. Fold the edges of the pastry over the onions, creating a border. Place slices of tomato over the exposed onions and slightly overlapping the pastry border. Arrange most of the cheese on top of the tomatoes, then the walnuts, then the rest of the cheese.
  • Bake anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on the type of pan used. A metal tart ring will require less cooking time than the ceramic dish I used. Serve warm or at room temperature, but not hot, hot.
I think this could make beautiful single serving tartlets, with just one slice of tomato on the top and a nice mound of cheese and walnuts (or maybe pecans next time). It seems a third go at onion tart is definitely in the cards for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chocolate Chai Spice Cake Ornaments

These are bordering on too cute, even for me, but when I saw the mold pan at the hospice thrift for only two dollars, I couldn't resist. My initial thought was to stack the small cakes somehow, or serve them drizzled with custard, but then at work it struck me: stick them together with buttercream and make them look like Christmas ornaments! And I think it worked.
I had some raw cream turning itself into crème fraîche in the fridge so I decided to try Nigella Lawson's Sour Cream Chocolate Cake. I know that sour cream and sour cream are not the same thing necessarily, but the cakes didn't seem to mind. They came out moist and rich and chocolaty and dense enough to really sink your teeth into. I want everything to have a warm, spicy flavor this time of year, so I ground up some of the Chai Walla's chai spice--a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and peppercorns--and added it to the batter.

Chocolate Chai Spice Ornaments

cake recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground chai spice
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. butter, room temp.
  • 3 Tbs. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
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  • 1 1/8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 5 Tbs. butter, room temp.
  • 1 1/2 tsp. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour small cake molds and set aside.
  • Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chai spice in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and, using the paddle attachment, incorporate it into the flour mixture. In another bowl or a quart measuring pitcher, whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Add slowly to the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly mixed.
  • Half-fill each mold with batter. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cakes out onto a cooling rack. Rinse, re-butter-and-flour the molds and bake more cakes if necessary.
  • For the buttercream: using a fork and then a whisk combine ingredients and beat until smooth and pale.
  • When cakes are cool, trim the humps off the surface that is supposed to be flat. Spread a heaping teaspoon (or so) of buttercream on the flat side of one cake and then sandwich it with another cake. Press cakes together gently but firmly so the buttercream reaches the edges. Repeat with remaining cakes.
  • If the buttercream is very soft refrigerate the sandwiched cakes until it is firm. Cut small lengths of satin ribbon and push the ends into the buttercream using a skewer or toothpick or any other small pointed object. Alternately, you could press the ribbon into the buttercream before sandwiching the cakes. If the ribbon is long enough and you let the frosting harden, they might actually be functional. I don't know not having tried, but it's worth a go.
  • Arrange ornaments on a serving plate and dust with confectioners' sugar.
I am not a fan of either inedible or nonfunctional decoration, so the ribbons, while pretty, were a bit of a disappointment. Next time I'll either make ribbons out of sugar, or attach the satin ribbons in such a way that they will be able to bear the weight of the cakes. And if it doesn't work, oh well, because the ribbons really are pretty.
You might find that your cakes look a little chewed up when you turn them out of the molds, but don't let this upset you (I almost bagged the project after turning out my first batch of cakes). I find that a dusting of powdered sugar lends seasonal charm and gracefully disguises any number of sins.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Cups

Don't these just say Christmas party all over them!? The golden glow of the candy, the silvery sparkle of the foil--one gets one's light where one can this time of year--the dark, velvety ganache studded with bits of hazelnut all contained in a dark chocolate cup: divine.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cups

adapted from Farmhouse Cookery, makes 2 dozen

  • For the cups:
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate
  • 24 1-inch candy cups
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  • For the ganache:
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs. butter, at room temp.
  • 2 Tbs. brandy
  • 2 oz. ground hazelnuts
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  • To decorate:
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/8 cup water
  • 30 (just in case) hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
  • For the cups: Arrange the candy cups (sweet cases according to the Farmhouse) on a baking sheet. Chop up the chocolate and place 2/3 of it in a double boiler. Melt over simmering water. Just before it is smooth take the chocolate off the heat and add the remaining chopped up chocolate. Stir, off the heat, until smooth. Line the cups with the chocolate by filling the cup up halfway with chocolate and then either swizzling the chocolate around until the entire cup is coated or using a teaspoon to spread the chocolate around and up the sides. Make sure the sides are thick enough or your cup will fall apart when it is unwrapped. Place in the refrigerator until fully hardened.
  • For the ganache: Chop up the chocolate, then place in a food processor and whiz into very small bits. Heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges. Add to chocolate and process until mostly smooth. Transfer chocolate mixture back to the pan and add butter. Stir until smooth. Add the brandy and hazelnuts and mix until combined. Allow ganache to cool until pipable.
  • For the decoration: Stick each hazelnut on a skewer with the top of the hazelnut pointing down when the skewer is held parallel to the floor. Prepare an ice bath that can accommodate your pan. Combine sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, stirring until sugar is COMPLETELY dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil and heat to just below hard crack, about 300°F, wiping the sides of the pot down with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming and ruining your syrup. When the desired temperature is reached, plunge pot in ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove and let cool until a skewer dipped into and then pulled out of the sugar leaves a thread trailing behind it. One by one, dip the hazelnuts in the syrup and pull them out. Let any excess sugar drip back into the pan. Cut the thread with scissors when it has stopped dripping and secure the skewer with the tip of the hazelnut pointing down between the counter and a breadboard. Allow to cool and harden completely. If the candy in the pot becomes too hard to work with, put it over low heat until it liquifies enough for dipping.
  • To assemble: Take chocolate cups from fridge. Transfer ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized star tip. Pipe ganache into cups and top with hazelnut drops.
You might be tempted to make these larger, but in this case more of a good thing would just be too much. Like this they're a single mouthful of heart melting decadence without the sinful edge.