Kouign-Amann

kouign amann

Bon Appetit began running a column this month called The Project, in which they detail how to make involved dishes, ones that require ambition, energy, thought, dishes such as cassoulet or ramen or their debut project: kouign-amann, a buttery pastry from Brittany, France.

I love this idea. So often these days I am too focused on what’s easy, what’s familiar, what’s going to get dinner on the table fastest. I miss the days when I would come home with a rabbit — oh to be young! — and open up my favorite Sally Schneider cookbook to find an impossibly involved recipe for ragù, which I would make and then serve over homemade pappardelle — oh to be young! — even if it meant serving dinner at 10pm.

Today if I see more than five ingredients in a recipe, my eyes glaze over, I file it into the “perhaps-one-day” folder, and I move on to the “fast, easy, fresh” recipe.

I love the spirit of this BA column so much that I almost didn’t write this post. Because the thing is that I cheated. One glimpse of those flaky, buttery, caramelized kouign-amann, and I thought: I need those in my belly. Immediately.

And so I cheated. Because Nigella Lawson, with her food processor Danish pastry dough, has made me a cheater. I fell for her dough when I made cheese danishes with lemon-ricotta filling last spring; I fell in love with her dough when I used it to make cronuts last fall. Twenty years from now, I might just learn to laminate dough properly, but until then, whenever I see recipes calling for that butter block and that folded pastry dough and that laborious process, I will cheat. And I will not look back.

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Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake

slice of lemon-ricotta cheesecake

Before making my mother’s lemon-ricotta cheesecake earlier this month, I hadn’t made a cheesecake in years. And I’m not sure why — it is the easiest dessert to make; it can be made a day in advance; it feeds many people; and people generally love it, especially this one, made with both ricotta and mascarpone, both lemon juice and zest.

A simple cookie crumb dusting of the pan allows this cheesecake to come together in no time, and its silky texture somehow tastes both rich and light at the same time. A small slice will suffice though it’s nearly impossible to resist seconds.

I hope all of your holiday preparations are going well, Everyone.

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Baked Ricotta & Wisconsin Cheese Giveaway

baked ricotta

Can we talk about the Madness? Uconn upsetting Michigan State? Kentucky’s last-second 3-pointer for the win? The Wisconsin-Arizona overtime nail biter?

I sound like I know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t. But thanks to theSkimm, I am up-to-date on all the most important goings-on in the world. (Really, you should subscribe, it might change your life.)

You also should make this baked ricotta for any guests you might find at your house watching the Final Four this weekend. As is the case with so many baked cheese dips, the success of this one can be attributed to the synergistic reaction that takes place in the oven, the final melty product amounting to so much more than the sum of its herbs, spices, and cheeses. In other words: cheese is good, melted cheese is better. At least when placed before a crew of ravenous, raucous, raging sports fans.

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Vermont | Homemade Cultured Butter

cultured butter

I just spent a week eating cheese, making butter, growing sprouts, baking bread, snuggling with Golden Retrievers, visiting farms, driving through covered bridges, admiring snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, and sampling microbrews while eating wood-fired pizzas. Could I have been anywhere in the world but Vermont?

Perhaps, but short of meeting a few friends for a morning snowshoe, my week couldn’t have been filled with more quintessential Green Mountain State activities. My siblings and I grew up traveling to Charlotte many times a year to visit my mother’s sister Marcy, master of pies, soup, and delectably melty appetizers. The five-hour drive always felt interminable, knowing what we had awaiting us: our cousins, a zipline, Uncle Wade’s waffles, Lake Champlain, dogs and endless outdoor fun.

For my parents, the drive was a breeze, the nature scenes providing endless distraction. I never quite understood the enthusiasm for the birds perched on the highway light poles or the first glimpse of Mount Mansfield, but on my drive north this past Sunday, I realized I had officially become my parents. “Children!” I would shout at every turn. “Look at the cows! The silos! The mountains! The sugar houses!”

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Gluten-Free Peasant Bread

gluten-free peasant bread

For the past year, the most frequent question asked on this blog is this: Can the peasant bread be made gluten-free?

Everyone knows someone — a friend, an uncle, a cousin — recently diagnosed with Celiac disease who has had to forget bread as he/she once knew it.

You might have this friend, this uncle, this cousin. I do. And you might want to treat him/her to a loaf of freshly baked bread but you don’t know where to begin. This is the position my mother found herself in a month ago while preparing for the arrival of her brother-in-law, who had recently adopted a gluten-free diet. Panicked by the thought of serving dinner without warm, fresh bread on the table, she called asking if I had ever successfully made the peasant bread gluten free. I answered as I have to everyone who has asked thus far: no, not yet.

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What To Do with Those Preserved Lemons? Pizza, Orzo

preserved lemon, za'atar & ricotta pizza

A little over a year ago, I made Kesté’s lemon pizza, whose beguiling combination of smoked mozzarella, sliced lemon and fresh basil defied all conventions and challenged my ideal of pizza.

When I first began experimenting with preserved lemons, this pizza came to mind, and then it materialized on the dinner table, the preserved lemons replacing the slices, everything else remaining the same. It has been awhile since I made Kesté’s original version, but the preserved lemons offer that same brightness and intensity, and the combination is one of my favorites. As I am learning, preserved lemons work nicely anywhere lemon and salt work nicely — so, everywhere? — and while there is something about the combination of smoked mozzarella and lemon that just can’t be beat, this is a fun pizza combination, too: za’atar with olive oil, fresh ricotta, preserved lemon and basil.

The key when using preserved lemons is to adhere to the maxim less is more: a little preserved lemon goes a long way. I now understand why the two preserved lemon recipes I followed called for so few lemons, and that doubling each of those recipes, which seemed the obvious move at the time, may have been unnecessary.

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Mollie Katzen’s Chocolate Eclipse

chocolate pudding cake

So you probably have your Super Bowl menu all lined up. Chips and dips, sliders and smokies — your bases are covered. But have you thought about dessert? No? Phew. Because I’ve got just the thing: Mollie Katzen’s Chocolate Eclipse, a pudding cake that feeds a crowd. Everyone will go gaga.

I learned about Chocolate Eclipse from one of you — thank you! — via email, and after finding the recipe online, I made it immediately. It was too intriguing not to.

Now, let me preface this by saying I know absolutely nothing about making pudding cakes — chocolate, lemon, buttermilk, whatever — but this cake was like none I had made before, including its dainty, molten soft chocolate kin.

The process starts off familiarly: wet ingredients (buttermilk, vanilla, melted chocolate and butter) get stirred into dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, salt and leavenings), chocolate chips are folded in, and after everything is mixed together, the batter gets spread into a 9×13-inch pan.

But then the assembly takes a wild turn. After the batter is covered by a blanket of brown sugar and cocoa powder (which ultimately become the pudding), 2.5 cups of boiling water get poured overtop. As the water meets this sandy layer, plumes of cocoa rise and swirl, and when the cake begins looking like a Breaking Bad set prop, you’ll need some encouragement. Katzen offers it: “It will look terrible, and you will not believe you are actually doing this, but try to persevere.”

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Sheet Pan Mac n’ Cheese

sheet pan mac n cheese

Before Thanksgiving this past year, I experimented with baking stuffing on a jelly roll pan. Many of you, I imagine, understand the thought process: Why limit the best part of the stuffing to a single layer? Why not make the entire stuffing taste like the crispy bits bobbing at the top?

The stuffing came out well — not well enough to share with you — but I’m hoping to have that taken care of before this November.

The experiment, however, made me want to bake everything (within reason — bread pudding, pasta gratin, etc.) on a sheet pan and thus far, I’ve had one success: this mac n’ cheese. And when I tell you there’s no going back, I mean it.

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Cinnamon Rolls with Pearl Sugar

pearl-sugar topped cinnamon buns, just baked

There was no need to fiddle with a recipe that needed no fiddling. I have made Molly Wizenberg’s irresistibly soft and sticky cinnamon rolls countless times always to rave reviews.

But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.

But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.

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