Monday, October 24, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
This week I have been making cookies. And somehow whenever I make cookies I come back to the ultimate of cookies: shortbread. For many years I have been trying to replicate my Mother's shortbread. Hers were the best I've ever eaten, ever. I have made batches and batches of good butter cookies. I've flavored them with lemon and orange and warm spices. I've enriched them with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. I've added chocolate; bittersweet, milk, and white. I've decorated them with sugar and colored frosting, but none of them have ever come close to Mom's humble little cookies. Maybe it is because I am going to visit my Mother next week in the nursing home where she now lives, I have thought a lot about her and all the wonderful baking she did when we were children. She was a master of dough; her yeast breads were sublime. Pie crusts were made from a recipe off the Tenderflake lard box and they were always perfect. She had the "touch". Whenever I asked her how she knew when the texture of these mixtures was just right she would say "I can feel it". And then she would let me get my hands into whatever she was making in order that I would "feel" it too. Over the years the shortbread recipe and many others have gone astray, but I remember that Mom used a little rice flour with the all-purpose, and icing sugar instead of granulated sugar. She also kneaded the dough a little before forming it into the little pillow shaped rounds that she favored. After researching many recipes and studying the ratios of flour and butter and sugar, I decided to have another go at it. I made a very small batch, just ten cookies. When I turned the dough out on the counter and started to knead, I felt a texture that seemed very familiar. I rolled the dough into a cylinder and cut the cookies into those pillow shapes. I placed them on the baking sheet and marked the tops with a fork, just like Mom used to do. Into the oven they went and I waited. After twenty-five minutes I pulled the baking sheet out of the oven and carefully transferred the cookies to a rack. I waited again for them to cool a little. Then I took my first bite. It almost made me weep. I was back in Mom's kitchen where those little cookies were lined up, waiting to be layered between sheets of waxed paper and stored in the English-style cookie tins. This is my best effort yet; now I have to try to increase the yield because ten cookies isn't nearly enough. So thanks Mom, for being such a good teacher and the very best Mom.
Shortbread ( inspired by my Mother, Margaret Smith Sinclair)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup icing (confectioners) sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 325F. Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with a sturdy spoon or your fingers until the dough comes together. Sprinkle your work surface with rice flour and turn the dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough until it is smooth, this should only take 5 to 6 turns. Form the dough into a cylinder about an inch in diameter.
With a sharp knife, dipped in flour, cut the cylinder into approximately 1 inch pieces. You will only get about 10 cookies. Don't be tempted to make them thinner, they will "slump" a little in the oven. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined heavy cookie sheet. (I doubled up my cookie sheets in order to avoid over-browning the cookie bottoms). Mark the tops with a fork and place in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes. They should be ever so slightly browned around the edges but not colored on the tops. Transfer to a rack to cool. Then make some tea and enjoy the best shortbread cookies, ever!
|A Beautiful Mother|
Monday, October 10, 2011
To all my Canadian family and friends, happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is enjoying a long weekend with lots of good food and fun company. I won't be cooking turkey until next month, but I always try to create a fall-inspired meal in honor of this day. This week I decided duck would be an appropriate choice for this occasion. Duck can be a challenge to cook; the same caveats apply as those of roasting turkey, namely getting the legs cooked without drying the breast meat. Duck has the advantage of all that subcutaneous fat which can be saved and used for roasting potatoes and the like. Here is the method and recipe I used for a slow-roasted duck and it was very good indeed.
Roasted Duck with Orange -Hoisin Glaze ( adapted from Fine Cooking #102 )
For the Duck
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 1/4 tsp. coriander seed
1 1/4 tsp. five-spice powder
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 duck (5 to 6lb.), giblets discarded.
For the Glaze
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Season the duck
In a mortar or spice grinder, grind the garlic, orange zest, coriander, five-spice, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to a coarse paste.
Make 20 to 30 small slits in the skin of the duck, using a sharp paring knife held parallel to the duck surface so that you pierce the skin and the fat but not the meat. Be sure to make slits on the back and thighs as well as the breast. Rub about two-thirds of the spice mixture into the duck cavity and then rub the remaining all over the skin. Set the duck on a rack over a large rimmed baking sheet and allow to air dry uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.
Roast the duck
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325F. Let the duck sit at room temperature while the oven heats. Arrange the duck, breast down, on a small v-rack in a roasting pan and roast for 1 1/4 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and spoon or pour most of the fat from the pan-use a turkey baster if you have one. Flip the duck and pierce the skin again all over with a knife. Continue roasting until the meat around the thighs feels tender when prodded, and the legs feel loose in their joints, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 175F. This will take about 45 to 60 minutes.
Glaze the duck
Remove the duck from the oven, and increase the heat to 500F. In a small bowl, whisk the hoisin, orange liqueur, honey, orange juice, and sesame oil. Transfer the duck, on its rack, to a rimmed baking sheet. With a brush, paint the breast and legs with a thin layer of glaze and return to the oven. Paint again after 5 minutes and continue roasting until mahogany-color, 3 to 5 minutes more. let the duck rest 5 to 10 minutes before carving.
*After draining the fat from the roasting pan, I used some of it to coat several potatoes and carrots, cut into chunks. These roasted while the duck did its final 45 minutes in the oven. I then served the duck with steamed broccolini and the roasted root vegetables.
Because my Father's birthday on October 12 always fell within a day or two of Thanksgiving, our family often combined the two celebrations. Dad wasn't particularly fond of pumpkin pie, so one year I made him this apple cake for his birthday. As I recall he enjoyed it, and I think he would have liked my roast duck dinner as well.
Warm Apple Cake with Caramel Pecan Sauce ( adapted from Marlene Sorosky )
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2-3 tart apples ( about a pound ), peeled, cored, and finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
Caramel Pecan Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Vanilla ice cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a deep 9 inch cake pan and place a parchment round in the bottom. ( If you do not own a 2 inch deep cake pan, use a springform pan to avoid spillover ) Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add flour, spices, baking soda and salt, beating just until incorporated. The batter will be thick. With a large spatula, mix in the apples, pecans, and vanilla. At this point it may seem that there is not enough batter in proportion to the apples. This is ok. Try to ensure that all the apples and nuts are coated with batter before you transfer it to the prepared pan. Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the surface with a small spatula. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before turning out of the pan onto a rack.
Caramel Pecan Sauce
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the nuts. Cook, stirring constantly, over moderately high heat, until the nuts are toasted and the butter is lightly browned. Add the brown sugar and cream, stirring constantly, until the sauce boils and the sugar dissolves and turns a deep golden brown. Remove from the heat. Sauce will thicken somewhat as it cools.
To serve, place a wedge of warm cake on a dessert plate. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and spoon warm Caramel Pecan sauce over all.
Monday, October 3, 2011
This week I made marmalade, pear and lemon marmalade. And it turned out marvelously well, no doubt due to the impeccable instructions and recipe from Rachel Saunders of the "Blue Chair Jam Cookbook". My intention was to include this marmalade with last week's lemon entries, but the pears did not ripen in time. When they were finally ready to use I set forth to make my marmalade. It is a two day process but not difficult in the least. The marmalade set up in the time that Ms. Saunders suggested it would, and I got the same yield that the recipe stated. Very satisfying indeed. We enjoyed a Sunday breakfast of oatmeal scones with pear-lemon marmalade. Here are the recipes:
Pear-Lemon Marmalade ( from "The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook" by Rachel Saunders )
2 pounds 5 ounces very ripe pears, such as Warren or Bartlett (I used Bartlett)
1 3/4 pounds seeded lemons, halved crosswise, each half quartered lengthwise and sliced medium thin
3 pounds 10 ounces white cane sugar
1 to 2 extra lemons, to make 4 ounces strained freshly squeezed juice.
1 ( 1 1/4 inch ) piece of cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly to release their seeds
First, prepare the pear juice: Cut the pears into quarters or eights, depending on their size. Place the pear pieces in a medium stainless steel kettle and cover with enough cold water for the fruit to bob freely.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to a lively simmer. Cover and cook the fruit for 2-3 hours, or until the pears are very soft and the liquid has become syrupy. (Mine took the full 3 hours) As the pears cook, stir them every 20 to 30 minutes or so, adding more water if necessary. The level of the water should stay consistently high enough for the fruit to remain submerged as it cooks. Strain the pear juice by pouring the hot fruit and liquid into a medium-fine-mesh strainer suspended over a heatproof storage container or nonreactive saucepan. Cover the entire setup well with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to drip overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare the sliced lemons: Place the slices in a wide stainless steel kettle and cover amply with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid. Return the lemon slices to the kettle and cover with 1 inch cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and cook, covered, at a lively simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender and the liquid has reduced significantly. Remove the pan from the heat, cover tightly, and let rest overnight at room temperature.
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later.
Remove the plastic wrap from the pears and their juice and discard the pears. Strain the juice well through a very fine mesh strainer to remove any lingering solids. Place the sugar in an 11 to 12 quart copper preserving pan or a wide stainless steel kettle. Gradually stir in the pear juice, fresh lemon juice, and cooked lemon slices and their liquid. Put the spices into a fine mesh stainless steel tea infuser with a firm latch and add it to the mixture, pressing down on it to be sure it is submerged.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook at a rapid boil over high heat until the setting point is reached; this will take a minimum of 30 minutes, but may take longer depending upon your individual stove and pan. Initially, the mixture will bubble gently for several minutes; then, as more moisture cooks out of it and its sugar concentration increases, it will begin foaming. Do not stir at all during the initial bubbling; then, once it starts to foam, stir it gently every few minutes with a heatproof rubber spatula.
As it gets close to being done, stir it slowly every minute or two to prevent burning. The marmalade is ready for testing when its color darkens slightly and its bubbles become very small. To test the marmalade for doneness, remove it from the heat and carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of marmalade to one of your frozen spoons. It should look shiny, with tiny bubbles throughout. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see whether the marmalade runs; if it does not run, and if its top layer has thickened to a jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs, cook it for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. When the marmalade has finished cooking, turn off the heat but do not stir. Remove the tea infuser and use a stainless steel spoon to skim off any surface foam. Let the marmalade rest for 10 minutes off the heat, then fill 1 jar. Wait a few moments to see if the rinds begin floating to the top; if so, let the marmalade rest for another 5 minutes. If not, quickly pour the marmalade into the remaining jars and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Please see my previous post on preserves for Ms. Saunders instructions for processing).
This recipe yields approximately eight to nine 8-ounce jars.
Oatmeal Scones ( adapted from Cooks Illustrated )
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 375F. Spread the oats on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant; this will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Raise the oven temperature to 450F. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt , and spices. When the oats have cooled, place them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4 to 6 times. You don't want to grind them finely, just chop them up a little. (This step is optional if you like the texture of the whole oats in your scones ). Add the oats to the bowl of dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or rub it in with your fingertips. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal with a few bigger bits of butter still intact. In a small bowl, mix the milk, cream, egg and vanilla. Remove a tablespoon of this mixture to use for glazing the scones. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir together gently and quickly, adding the raisins once the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a round about 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Cut into 6 or 8 wedges with a sharp knife and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops gently with the reserved egg cream mixture. (Be sure you use a heavy baking sheet as the high oven temperature can make the bottoms of the scones very dark. Double up your baking sheets if you have any doubts; it will prevent the dilemma of burning the undersides of the scones before they are completely baked). Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until golden brown and firm.
These scones have a lovely oat flavor and a tender buttery texture. You could customize them by replacing the raisins with another diced dried fruit, or with chocolate or cinnamon chips.
* Further to last week's post about the lemon tart recipe: I was re-arranging my cookbooks and came across a book by Michel Roux called "Eggs". I remembered reading that Marco Pierre White's lemon tart recipe was one he learned from the Roux brothers. I quickly flipped to the index and there it was: lemon tart. My instincts about this was recipe were correct. Mr. Roux's recipe calls for a smaller diameter and deeper tart ring but almost twice as many eggs and more cream. His method of mixing the ingredients is slightly different as well. I am continually fascinated by how recipes evolve and I will attempt to find the best to share on this site.