Holiday Linzers: Too Pretty To Eat

Linzer Cookies

Linzer Cookies

Last Saturday morning, while warming up with a cup of coffee and some sweets in an adorable cafe in Boulder, my mother offered me her latest theory: “The prettier a cookie is,” she said, setting down a handsome palmier, making no effort to hide her disgust, “the less edible it becomes.” Though the palmier may have been an unlucky pick that morning, I think Liza might be on to something. 

I had been eyeing this Dorie Greenspan recipe for linzer cookies for weeks. And after reading last Wednesday’s New York Times’ article, “Butter Holds The Secret To Cookies That Sing,” I felt primed for an all-star baking session in my all-but-neglected kitchen. I would follow the recipe to a T, and with my recently acquired butter knowledge, I would think science not just mechanics.

I would cream my 65-degree temperature butter — “cold to the touch but warm enough to spread” — for at least three minutes with the paddle attachment of my stand mixer set on medium speed — no higher, lest the butter’s temperature rise to 68 degrees — until enough air bubbles formed to create the required texture and aeration to produce a cookie to rival all cookies. My adrenaline was pumping. It was game time. I laced my apron around my waist, pounded a quart of Gatorade and set to work, not veering ever so slightly from the recipe, fighting off laziness every step of the way. 

I whipped. I chilled. I rolled. I baked. I baked again. I dusted. I jammed. I sandwiched. I admired. 

Expectations were high. Perhaps too high. After assembling all of the linzers, I ate one. And then another. And then another. I kept tasting, hoping with each new bite, I would be overwhelmed with satisfaction and joy, which I could then take to my computer and report to all of you. But alas, it never came.  

I can’t quite pinpoint my disappointment. These cookies are not too sweet, which I like, but I find them a bit too dry, which I don’t. The final sandwich, I felt, needed more jam to combat the dryness, but the nature of the cookie only allows so much jam to exist between the two layers before a mess oozes out the sides. I offered one of my creations to a four-year-old boy who promptly spit it out. His six- and eight-year-old siblings ate theirs happily, with smiles even, but I think at that age, they’ve already learned tact.   

I can say with certainty these are the prettiest cookies ever to emerge from my kitchen. Truly. I only wish I could say they were the tastiest, too.

Linzer cookies

cookie shapes

As the above tale reveals, I am not totally satisfied with this recipe. Several years ago I made a batch of linzer cookies for Valentine’s Day, which I prefer to this recipe. It has a higher butter content, which I think adds to the flavor. The cookies are not as pretty, but if taste is what you are after, I think you might have better success with this recipe

Linzer Sablés
Adapted From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours  

1½ cups finely ground almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional — I did not use any cloves)

1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

½ cup raspberry jam (or any jam you like) plus 1 teaspoon of water (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Whisk together the ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, cloves (if using) and salt. Using a fork, stir the egg and water together in a small bowl.

2. Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute more.

3. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Don’t overmix. If the dough comes together while some dry crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer and finish blending the ingredients with a rubber spatula or your hands.

4. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, put the dough between two large sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap.(*See note) Using your hands, flatten the dough into a disk, then grab a rolling pin and roll out the dough, turning it over frequently so that the paper doesn’t cut into it, until it is about ¼-inch thick. Leave the dough in the paper and repeat with the second piece of dough. Transfer the wrapped dough to a baking sheet or cutting board (to keep it flat) and refrigerate or freeze it until it is very firm, about 2 hours in the refrigerator or about 45 minutes in the freezer.

Note: I divided the dough into two pieces, chilled it overnight, then rolled it out the next day. It was a little tricky rolling out the dough the next day because it was so cold, but I made it happen. I chilled the cut cookies on the pans for about 15 minutes before baking.

Note: The rolled-out dough can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just thaw the dough enough to cut out the cookies and go on from there.  

When ready to bake: 

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.  

2. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper from one piece of dough and, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter — a scalloped cutter is nice for these — cut out as many cookies as you can. If you want to have a peekaboo cutout, use a small fluted cutter or the end of a piping tip to cut out a circle (or heart or whatever shape you have) from the centers of half of the cookies. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheets, leaving a little space between the cookies. Set the scraps aside — you can combine them with the scraps from the second disk and roll and cut more cookies.

3. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden, dry and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second disk of dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches. Gather the scraps of dough together, press them into a disk, roll them between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, then cut and bake.

Preparing the sandwich cookies: 

1. Place the jam in a small saucepan or in a microwaveable bowl and stir in the 1 teaspoon of water. Bring to a boil over low heat. When the jam is hot, pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds (optional), then let it cool slightly.  

2. Place the cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet or cooling rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and place about ½ teaspoon of the jam in the center of each cookie. Top with the confectioner’s-sugar-dusted cookies.

cookies1

22. December 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Cookies, Desserts | 29 comments

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

breadstack

breadstackIs there anything better than homemade bread? I mean seriously. I’ve asked this question before. The answer is always no, there is nothing better than homemade bread. The smell and taste of this buttermilk, cinnamon-raisin bread has confirmed this assertion once again.

I mixed together this batch of dough before bed one night about five minutes after reading an email from a friend raving about the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The following morning I baked off two loaves of bread. One, I sliced and froze. The other, I sliced and ate and ate and ate and ate. And then I tucked the remaining heel in a ziplock back and stowed it in my cabinet. And then several hours later, I opened the cabinet and the bag and ate the heel for dinner. It was a quite a day.

Anyway, thank you, Darcy, for inspiring me to venture into the “enriched breads and pastries” chapter of Artisan Bread In Five. Readers, if you still haven’t taken a stab at bread making, pick up this book. Bread making has never been so easy and fun. And while you’re at it, order an 8-quart Cambro and lid (odd that the two aren’t sold together) for easy mixing and storing. And, if you happen to be ordering flours and other baking staples for the upcoming holidays, order a bulk bag of yeast. I store mine in a cylindrical, plastic tupperware-type vessel in the fridge.

Also, I must confess, I didn’t have raisins on hand when I set out to make this bread and so should have titled this post “Cinnamon Bread,” but that just sounds wrong. All I’m saying is that with or without raisins, this recipe is a winner. 

Also, I am very excited to report that I won an autographed copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simply by leaving a comment on the blog Baking and Books. You, too, have a chance to win a cookbook every month. Stop by Baking and Books for more details.

loafandstack

Cinnamon-Raisin Buttermilk Bread
Yield = Three 1½-lb. loaves (these are smallish loaves) or Two loaves (which I prefer)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1½ T. yeast
1½ T. kosher salt
1½ T. sugar
6½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
butter for greasing the pan
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon (I tripled the amount of cinnamon the second time around, so make your cinnamon-sugar mix according to taste.)
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup raisins (if you are using them)
egg wash (I egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water and buttermilk in a 5-quart mixing bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may have to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 7 days.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Set aside. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece. (Note: the original recipe yields 3 loaves. I prefer dividing the total amount of dough in half and making two larger loaves as opposed to three smallish loaves.) Dust with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to an 18×16-inch rectangle (or about an 11×18-inch rectangle — just wider than the loaf pan) about ¼-inch thick, dusting the board and rolling pin with flour as needed. You may need to use a metal dough scraper to loosen rolled dough from the board as you are working with it.

7. Using a pastry brush, cover the surface of the dough lightly with egg wash. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Distribute the raisins, if using.

8. Starting from the short side, roll it up jelly-roll style. Pinch the edges and ends together, tucking the ends under. Place the loaf seam-side down in the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.)

9. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool before slicing.

breadstack

12. December 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Olallie Cafe recipes | 40 comments

101 Gift Ideas And Maybe Many More

Parchment Paper Package

Gift Idea Header

Yikes! It’s December 5th and I have yet to purchase A single Christmas gift. I seriously need to get cracking.

Fortunately I have a few ideas, which I’ve listed below. Readers, if you have anything to add to the list — a favorite food-related gift — please let me know and I will add it in the appropriate category. And fellow bloggers, if you have any go-to gift-giving recipes you have posted on your blogs, send me the link and I’ll link back to you.

Happy Shopping!

The Gift of Chocolate

1. Box of chocolate truffles: My favorite chocolate truffles are Éclat’s sea-salt topped, caramel-filled chocolate truffles. Éclat Chocolate: eclatchocolate.com; Vosges Haut Chocolate: vosgeschocolate.com; Richart Chocolates: richart-chocolates.com 2. Homemade chocolate truffles and a truffle scoop (#100 scoop), with a printed recipe enclosed. 3. Homemade fudge or chocolate sauce packaged in a festive box or jar. 4. Homemade chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls with recipe enclosed. (They taste like Reese’s peanut butter cups, but better.) 5. Homemade hot cocoa mix with instructions and homemade (or store-bought) marshmallows. Package mix in a jar wrapped with a festive bow; package marshmallows in a cellophane bag tied with a bow. 6. Fair Trade chocolate bars. My favorite brand is Chocolove. 7. Gift Certificates to places such as Ritz Carlton Dessert Buffet or Four Seasons Dessert Buffet. (In Philadelphia there is the Naked Chocolate Café … I’m sure your town, wherever you are, has some place similar.)

The Gift of Cheese

8. Tub of quince membrillo with a wedge of Roncal, Manchego, Zamorano or Idiazabal. Contact your local cheesemonger or Whole Foods Market. 9. Artisan Spanish fig cake, made with dried fruit and nut and a wedge of Garroxta. 10. Jar of lavender honey (Williams Sonoma) with a wedge of blue cheese such as Bleu de Basques. 11. Aged balsamic vinegar (A particularly good brand is Villa Mondori sold at Williams Sonoma for $49.95) with a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano. 12. Jar of truffled honey with a wedge of aged Manchego. 13. Slate, wooden or ceramic cheese platter with serving knives. (Any kitchen wares shop). 14. Small wedges of assorted cheeses chosen by country such as France (Brin D’Amour, L’Edel De Cleron, Abbaye de Belloc, Tomme de Savoie, Chaource, Bleu D’auvergne, Bleu des Causses) or America (Humbolt Fog, Birchrun Hills Farm Blue, Berkshire Blue, Grafton Classic Two-Year Cheddar, Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss, Jasper Hill Farm Winnemere) or Spain (Ibores, Queso de La Serena, Roncal, Monte Enebro, Cabrales) found at any cheese shop with several boxes of 34º Crackers — best crackers to serve with cheese. I am obsessed.15. Cheese books: Two informative, coffee-table-style books by Max McCalman and David Gibbons: Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and The Cheese Plate; and an excellent reference by Steven Jenkins: The Cheese Primer 16. Membership to a Cheese of the month club: MurraysCheese.com; Igourmet.com; Artisanalcheese.com; FormaggioKitchen.com 17. A ball of local or imported Burrata, box of gray salt, and bottle of Temecula Olive Oil Company extra virgin olive oil.

The Gift of Fruit

18. Jar of homemade quince jam or apple sauce or a block of homemade quince membrillo. 19. Jar of apple butter, pumpkin butter or pear butter. Check a local farmers’ market. 20. A tray of the juiciest, most delectable Florida grapefruits: Pell’s Citrus and Nursery. 21. Box of Royal Riviera pears from Harry and David with a wedge of Stilton.

The Gift of Cheer
(Note: Many of these ideas are Philly specific. I’ve included them on the list anyway hoping they might spark an idea.)


22. Three bottles of wine: One to open now; one to enjoy in five years; and one to savor in 10 years. Consult a local sommelier. 23. From Moore Brothers, (specific to Philly and NYC) the Bon Marche Collection (six whites, six reds $125); or the Courtier Collection (six whites, six reds $175); or the Moore Brothers Six Pack (three whites, three reds $75). Each collection comes with anecdotal and technical tasting notes on each of the wines. 24. Bottle of a special dessert wine such as Aged Port, Madeira, Ice Wine, Sauternes, Sherry 25. Bottle of Single Malt Scotch with a pair of scotch glasses. 26. DVDs: Bottle Shock (2008): Sideways (2004); Mondovino (2004) 27. American Vintage wine biscuits So yummy. 28. Gift certificate to a local wine or beer shop such as Moore Brothers or The Foodery (Philly). 29. Books: Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Jobinson; The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson; What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, and Michael Sofronski; Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer; The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver 30. Local spirits or wine such as a bottle of Bluecoat Gin (Philly) or assortment of Chaddsford wines. You may have to do a little research to find a local wine or spirit maker but they exist everywhere. 31. From the Foodery (Philly), a mixed six-pack of festive winter brews or one of several gift sets such as the Hobgoblin gift set ($21.95), Historic Ales From Scotland ($12.95), Val Dieu Gift Set ($23.95), St. Bernardus ($17.95), Christmas in Belgium Gift Set ($29.95), or the Chimay Gift Set ($13.95). 32. From the Foodery or online, a bottle of Mad Elf Ale made by Tröegs ($65.95 for .8 gallons) or a bottle of Samichlaus Bier ($124.95 for 3L). 33. Homemade coasters or trivets made from corks. 34. Built N.Y. BYOB wine or beer tote or a white wine freezer sleeve. 35. Special equipment such as antique ice tongs, Riedel glasses (Target sells a line of reasonably priced Riedel glasses), ice bucket, engraved cocktail shaker. 36. Membership to a wine or beer-of-the-month club. I wish I could recommend one in particular, but alas I have no first-hand knowledge of one specifically.

The Gift of Breakfast Treats

37. Homemade granola. For a nice presentation, fill airtight canisters with the granola and wrap with a festive bow. 38. Tin of McCann’s steel cut oatmeal, a package of medjool dates, and a jar of cinnamon with a recipe attached. 39. Yogurt maker. (Salton yogurt maker on Amazon.com) 40. Homemade muesli 41. An eight-inch nonstick pan (the perfect omelet pan), a heat-proof spatula and instructions for “how to make a fines herbes omelet” printed from JacquesPepin.net.    

Stocking Stuffers

42. A wooden reamer. 43. Kuhn Rikon Peeler ($3.50 to $3.99 — Best peeler ever.) 44. Bench scraper (a great tool both for cleaning cutting boards and cutting dough — any kitchen wares shop) 45. Oxo measuring spoons and measuring cups. Note: The unconventional sizes (2/3, ¾, and 1½ cups) are a nice addition to any collection. 46. Bottle of truffle oil. 47. Homemade spiced nuts or candied pecans. 48. Assorted spices from Penzeys Spices such as Ceylon True Cinnamon; Aleppo Pepper; Szechuan Peppercorns or Punjabi Style Garam Masala. 49. Bottle of Madagascar vanilla and vanilla beans from Penzeys Spices. 50. Assorted hot sauces. (For dangerously hot hot sauces — only for extreme dare devils — contact the owner of Pica Peppers at james@picapeppers.com).
The Gift of Sweets

51. Tin of assorted homemade cookies, Bourbon balls, Maris’ Biscotti etc. 52. Jars of the best candied pecans ever, sold at Fork:etc in Philadelphia. These pecans are made in small batches by the mother of Fork’s owner, Ellen Yin. Call before to see if they are still available: (215) 625-9425 / www.forkrestaurant.com 53. One giant (large) homemade chocolate chip cookie, packaged in a cellophane bag and tied with a festive ribbon. 54. Espresso caramels. 55. Assorted homemade, white chocolate- and dark chocolate-dipped biscotti. 56. Tin of brownies and blondies. 57. Homemade peppermint patties. 58. A tin of Daley Family toffee.

The Gift of Baking

59. A Silpat, an essential tool for bakers. 60. Cookbooks such as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (an awesome book with simple bread-making recipes) or The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (complex recipes, yet very informative) or Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. 61. From the Baker’s Catalog, 16 oz. bag SAF yeast (to be stored indefinitely in the freezer), assorted flours, Salter digital scale. 62. A giant cupcake/muffin pan such as the “Texas muffin pan” from the Baker’s Catalog.

The Gift of Caffeine

63. Bags of whole bean or ground Fair Trade coffee. 64. Gift certificate to a local, independent coffee house such as Joe Coffee Bar (Philly) 65. French press coffee maker. 66. Nespresso Espresso Machine 67. Nespresso Aeroccino 68. No. 66 and 67 together. 69. Francis Francis Espresso Machine. (For someone you really really really love) 70. Fun espresso cups. 71. Green Tea whisk with box of matcha green tea powder 72. Fun teapot with a funky tea cozy. 73. Homemade chai tea, packaged in glass milk bottle with a recipe attached. 74. “French press” teapot such as the Bodum glass teapot.

For the Gourmand in General:

75. Anything sold at the Temecula Olive Oil Company from the incredibly delicious olive oils and vinegars to the biscotti to the olives and the list goes on. 76. If local to San Diego, homemade pasta or sauces from Delaney’s Culinary Fresh. 77. Assortment of cured meats such as Capicola, Toscano Salami and Saucisson Sec. 78. Gift Certificates to favorite cookware or food shops (Philly: Fante’s, Foster’s, Kitchen Kapers, Williams Sonoma, Claudio’s, DiBruno Brothers, Talluto’s, Gourmet of Old City, Cookbook Stall in Reading Terminal Market) or favorite restaurants, etc. 79. Fun Aprons such as Now Design aprons or dishtowels or fancy French polishing rags. 80. Homemade muffin/cupcake/cake mixes. Simply mix the dry ingredients for a standard recipe, package it in a cellophane bag tied with a festive ribbon and supply a recipe. 81. Mini loaf of pumpkin bread baked in decorative paper loaf pans. 82. The most delicious rosemary shortbread packed in a stationary box with printed recipe attached. (Recipe to be supplied shortly). 83. Assortment of local honeys, maple syrups, and jams. 84. Pizza stone, pizza peel, bag of high-gluten flour. 85. Vintage food or wine calendar. 86. A large cutting board — an essential tool for every kitchen — such as the Boos Edge-Grain Maple Cutting Board, 24″ x 18″, $80.00. 87. Pasta maker, bag of “perfect pasta blend” flour from KingArthurFlour.com, and a recipe for homemade ravioli. 88. Invite someone to customize a 100-recipe hardcover cookbook with photos using TasteBook on Epicurious.com. 89. Recipe binder set from Russell and Hazel. 90. A fancy Williams Sonoma timer. 91. American Tuna — the best canned tuna. AT is the only tuna fishery in the world certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. 92. Basic/essential knife set from Wusthof.com: 1 classic chef’s knife (From Wüsthof classic series, 9” cook’s knife), large serrated (From Wüsthof classic series, 8” bread knife), paring knife (From Wüsthof classic series, 4” paring knife) 94. From Wüsthof classic series, the two-piece carving set (8” carving knife and 6” straight meat fork) 95. Lodge cast iron grill/griddle pan, spans two burners, reversible or a Staub “cocotte.” 96. Set of plain or chocolate croissants from Williams-Sonoma. 97. Assortment of gourmet SALTs such as Maldon sea salt, Peruvian pink salt, gray salt and Fleur de Sel. (www.salttraders.com) 98. One-year subscription to a Cooking Magazine: Saveur, Fine Cooking, Cook’s, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light, Edible Communities or Real Simple. 99. Food Movies: Mostly Martha, Ratatouille, Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, Tortilla Soup, Eat Drink Man Woman, Big Night, Tampopo 100. Food Books: Heat, Bill Buford; My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme; The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver or cookbooks to a favorite restaurant such as Zuni Cafe, Tartine or Balthazar.

The Gift of Charity

101. Make a donation to a food-focused charity in someone else’ name: Coffee Kids (www.coffeekids.org); Heifer International (800-422-0474 / heifer.org); Farm Aid (800-327-6243 / farmaid.org); Share Our Strength (800-969-4767 /strength.org); BloggerAid and Philly based: Philabundance (215-339-0900  / philabundance.org) and White Dog Community Enterprises (215-386-5211 / whitedogcafefoundation.org). Or, host a Drop In And Decorate party and donate your creations to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community agency serving neighbors in need.

05. December 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Gifts | 36 comments

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls, Poached Pears & Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing

rolls

rolls

Oh my. I cannot believe Thanksgiving is almost here. I know everyone is very busy preparing, so let’s keep this short and sweet, k?

If you get anything out of this post, I hope it is this:

1. A yummy recipe for buttermilk dinner rolls, perfect for the holiday table and a great way to use up a left-over buttermilk.

2. A delectable salad dressing made with reduced orange juice and white balsamic vinegar. This dressing is particularly nice with wintery salads — endive, shaved fennel, apple, pear, oranges, etc.

3. And a simple method to poach pears. Ready? Combine equal parts white wine and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add peeled, halved and cored pears. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check with a paring knife — pears should be tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, remove pears and let cool to room temperature. Save the poaching liquid for another use. Slice pears further if desired. (Note: I used ½ cup of wine and sugar for about 4 pears. Nice additions to the poaching liquid include orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean.)

OK, let’s get started.

First, these rolls. Looking for a way to use up a half-quart of buttermilk, I stumbled upon this recipe for honey buttermilk bread. I simplified the recipe a little bit, divided the dough into two big portions and made dinner rolls with half the batch and a regular-sized loaf with the other. The dinner rolls I devoured in about a day-and-a-half. The loaf, I sliced and froze and have been toasting every morning, spreading with apple butter, cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes just butter and salt. So yummy.

Here’s the recipe:

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls
Adapted from the blog, The Baking Sheet
Yield = Two Dozen 2-oz. rolls or one large loaf

2½ teaspoons active dry yeast (rapid rise is fine, too)
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature is ideal — bread will take longer to rise if you use cold buttermilk
2 T. honey
4½ cups flour, plus more while kneading or mixing
2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Combine yeast, buttermilk and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer or, if kneading by hand, in a large bowl. Whisk until combined. It’s OK if a few lumps of yeast remain.

2. Add the flour and salt to the mixer and with the dough hook attachment (or your hands), knead for about 10 minutes or until dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and forming a mass around the hook. I probably added an additional cup of flour.

3. After 10 minutes, transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about two hours (may take as long as four) or until doubled in bulk. Longer is fine, too. Punch down dough, and decide what you are going to make — rolls, loaves, boules, etc. 

If making rolls, begin portioning the bread into about 2-ounce pieces — if you don’t have a digital scale, just use your eye to judge. It is best to cut with a dough scraper or a sharp knife. (Alternatively, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into about 12 equal portions. Err on keeping the rolls smallish.) Round each portion of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined (or oiled) baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Let rolls rise for about 40 minutes. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown — check the bottoms of the rolls because they will brown first.)  

If making a loaf, place dough in a greased loaf pan. Let rise until almost doubled, about 40 minutes. Bake 45 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

endive-salad

I first tasted this salad dressing when Aunt Vicki made a Greek salad for a dinner party this summer. I love its versatility — it is delicious with romaine, endive, baby spinach, arugula, etc. I think it is a perfect dressing for this Thanksgiving salad.

Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing
Yield = 1¾ cups

2 cups orange juice
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar, (regular is fine, too)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped scallions, green part only, cut on the diagonal (optional — I don’t add the scallions because I like to keep a jar of this in my fridge for a long time)

1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until it has reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, whisk in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before using.

21. November 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Salads, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads | 31 comments

The Best Candied Pecans & A Thanksgiving Day Salad

Thanksgiving Salad

Thanksgiving SaladSo, you see my vision. It’s nothing earth-shattering. A classic combination, really. But a timeless one, and one I think will be festive for Thanksgiving Day.

So, to execute this salad, all I need to finish tweaking is my recipe for poached pears. The pecans I’ve got down to a science, (for me at least — I’ll explain in a bit); the dressing, made with reduced orange juice, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, has been tested countless times (Aunt Vicki’s recipe, to be provided next week); the blue cheese (perhaps Stilton or Maytag) and the endive merely need to be purchased. The pears, however, have been giving me a little trouble this past week. I’ve been working with a combination of white wine, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Something is not quite right yet. Any suggestions are welcome.

Now, about these pecans. I’ve been making this recipe for several years now, and I find it produces the crunchiest, most delicious candied pecans. I’m not promising a simple and foolproof recipe, however. It’s the kind of recipe, in fact, that could potentially lead you to swear off my recipes altogether.

The first two-thirds of the recipe is simple: the pecans are blanched for two minutes, then simmered in simple syrup for five minutes. The final third of the process, which calls for deep-frying the pecans, is where problems can arise. I suggest using a deep fryer with a built in thermometer. My deep fryer continues to exist in my kitchen solely for the purpose of making these pecans — it keeps the oil at 375ºF, which is key for this recipe. I tried deep-frying the pecans in a heavy-bottomed pot on my stovetop once, and the process was so frustrating: At first the oil was too hot, then it wasn’t hot enough, and before I had finished frying, I had ruined nearly half the batch.

The key, I’ve learned, is to let the pecans fry for about 3 to 5 minutes — the longer they fry, the crunchier they will be. However, they must be removed from the oil before they burn, and they continue to cook a little bit once they’ve been removed from the oil. It’s a trial-and-error process, but one well worth it in the end. I highly recommend using a deep fryer with a built-in thermometer, but if you are comfortable with stove-top deep frying, by all means go for it.

Candied Pecans

1 lb. raw (unblanched, unsalted) pecans = 4 heaping cups
1 1/3 cups sugar

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add pecans and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

2. Combine the sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, add pecans and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain.

3. Meanwhile, preheat a deep fryer to 375ºF, or pour canola or peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot to reach at least one-inch up the sides and fix a deep-fry thermometer to its side. When oil is ready, fry pecans for 3 to 5 minutes in small batches. This will be a trial-and-error process. The longer the pecans fry, the crunchier they will be. If the oil is too hot, they’ll burn before they get crispy. So, fry the pecans in small batches until you can read your oil. Remove pecans from fryer with a slotted spoon or spider and let drain on cooling rack or parchment paper — not paper towels. Repeat process until all pecans are fried. Refrain from sampling until the pecans have cooled completely — they’ll be crunchier and tastier when they are completely cool.

This recipe begins with raw (unblanched, unroasted, unsalted) pecans:

They are blanched for two minutes in boiling water, then drained:

Then they simmer in a sugar syrup for five minutes:

Then they are drained again before being deep-fried for three to five minutes.

candiedpecans

13. November 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Salads, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 26 comments

Stir-Fried Veggies and Tofu

stir-fry veggies

What makes a good stir-fry?

Sometimes all I want for dinner is a big bowl of steaming rice (or noodles) topped with stir-fried veggies, tofu, perhaps a little meat, and, maybe (always) a fried egg. And so, my friends, I ask you, what makes a good stir-fry?

Is it the farmers’ market veggies?

Is it the wok?

Is it the non-farmers’ market add-ins?

Is it how the veggies are chopped?

Is it the sauce?

Stir-Fry Sauce
Adapted from this 1995 Bon Appetite recipe

¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Sherry
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. orange zest

Whisk ingredients. Set aside until ready to cook.

Note: I often add some finely minced ginger as well. It adds a wonderful flavor.

Is it the rice?
(This is brown basmati, but I would love to get my hands on some of that short-grained brown rice served at Chinese restaurants.)

Is it the Sriracha?
Dousing the bowl with Sriracha is a must.

Simple Stir-Fry:

I wish I could give more detailed instructions/measurements, but this truly is a no-measure recipe.

1. Cook rice — whatever you like. Set aside. Prepare sauce (recipe above). Set aside.

2. Chop all of your ingredients. The stir-fry takes five minutes of cooking once all the veggies are prepared, so it’s best to have everything chopped ahead of time. This is what I used: onion, cabbage, baby bok choy, rapini, cilantro, snow peas, zucchini, scallions, tofu and peanuts. Be sure to wash the bok choy.

3. Heat wok with about one tablespoon of canola oil until smoking hot. (Alternatively, heat wok without oil, then add oil once hot — I’m not really sure what the difference is, but I think it depends on your pan.) Add tofu cubes and let brown until nice and crispy on one side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove tofu from wok and set aside.

4. Add onions and zucchini to wok. Let cook until onions are slightly browned. Refrain from stirring — just let the vegetables brown. Add the cabbage, rapini, and bok choy and cook for another two minutes. Stir briefly. Add, the snow peas, scallions, cilantro and peanuts. Add about a ¼ cup (or less) of the sauce and let cook for about a minute. Add the tofu. Turn off the heat. Top rice with veggies and douse with Sriracha.

06. November 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Asian, Entrees, Vegetarian | 31 comments

Orange and Olive Oil Cake & Temecula Olive Oil Company

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I must share some disheartening news with you about olive oil. The extra-virgin olive oil you find at your local supermarket very likely is not extra-virgin at all. It turns out that the USDA doesn’t even recognize classifications such as “extra-virgin.” As a result, bottlers all over the world can blend olive oil with cheaper vegetable oils and sell it for a premium price as “extra-virgin.” If you care to learn more about the widespread fraud in the olive oil industry read this: Slippery Business, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007.

A recent visit to the Temecula Olive Oil Company’s shop forever changed how I think about olive oil. I learned so many incredible things and recorded them all here. In sum, the company is awesome, their olive oil is delicious, and, as with all foods it seems, it pays to know your grower.

Now, about this recipe. I made this cake — a longtime family favorite — using the TOOC’s citrus extra-virgin oil, and never has it tasted so delicious. I didn’t even use fresh-squeezed orange juice (the horror!). As you can see, I baked this batch in my mini springform pans, but a standard 9-inch springform pan works just as well. This cake puffs up a touch when it bakes, and sinks when it cools. It is moist and delicious, perfect with coffee or tea, and only needs a dusting of powdered sugar to make it fit for consumption. 

Note: If you cannot get TOOC extra-virgin olive oil or any other extra-virgin oil you know to be from a credible source, use an olive oil as opposed to an extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve made this cake with e.v.o.o. from the grocery store and the taste is too overpowering. That is not the case, however, with TOOC oil.

A few notes: This cake sinks way down as it cools. Don’t worry. It will still be one of the most delicious cakes you have ever tasted. It is so moist. Also, this is one of those cakes that seems to get better by the day. Don’t be afraid to make it a day early if serving for company.

Orange And Olive Oil Cake

Yield = One 9-inch cake or six 4-inch cakes, Serves 10-12 people

Butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1¾ cups sugar
2 tsp. grated orange zest
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (the juice from about 2 oranges)
2/3 cup olive oil, such as any made by the Temecula Olive Oil Company, 

Note: If you cannot get TOOC oil or oil you know to be from a credible source, use olive oil as opposed to extra-virgin olive oil.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a springform pan (or pans) or a 9-inch cake pan. (If using a cake pan, place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.)

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until blended, then gradually add in the sugar, beating until thick. The mixture will be pale yellow. In a separate bowl, whisk the zest, juice and oil. Add to the egg mixture in thirds alternating with the flour mixture.

4. Spread batter into pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for 15 minutes.

5. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top before cutting and serving.

29. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts, Olallie Cafe recipes | 59 comments

Pipe Dream

EggSandie1


I have two dreams in life: 1. To open and run a little cafe. 2. To start a farm. Today, let’s explore dream number one, an idea a college friend and I have been scheming for years.

The cafe might be called something like Olallie, open for breakfast and lunch daily from 6am to 3pm. My friend, a lovely girl, would run the front of the house, wooing customers with her big smile and California charm. I would be the devil in the back of the house, running a tight ship, raising hell when my little culinary student interns burn the croissants and overcook the oatmeal. And if all goes as planned, around 10 am everyday, when the grunt work is completed, my friend and I would turn the reins over to our obedient staff while we dipped biscotti in our cappuccinos and read the newspaper on our sunlit patio.

At Olallie, we would serve coffee and tea, homemade muffins and scones, wood-burning-oven-baked breads and pizzas, salads and soups, house-made granola and open-faced tartines. We would be renowned for our sandwiches. All of our ingredients would, of course, come from local farmers or Fair Trade vendors and would change with the seasons, peaches in the summer, persimmons in the fall. I’m still working on perfecting our signature coffee cake, but Teddy’s Apple Cake will make a fine substitute in the meantime.

I know, I know. Let me dream.

This folder, created in 2003, holds all of the recipes we will use at Olallie’s.
With any luck, our cafe will draw a loyal following, much like San Francisco’s Tartine:
And, after years of honing our skills as restaurateurs, we will turn that folder of recipes into a fantastic cookbook. I am so excited about my latest purchase: The Tartine Cookbook:

23. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Olallie Cafe recipes | 46 comments

Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse

tart2

Surely you’ve heard of Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse. No? The best translation I’ve found so far is this: Delectable Pear Custardy Caramel.

Attention all crème brulée, tarte tatin and crème caramel lovers. Here is another recipe that must be added to your repertoire, especially now during pear season. Apples would make a fine substitute as would quince, (though the quince might need some preliminary cooking. Maybe? Maybe not.) For my mother, this recipe rivals Balzano Apple Cake — my favorite fall (maybe, all-time) dessert, a recipe everyone should try, at least once.

Just a slight warning about the preparation of this gateau: Nothing about it feels natural. If you are out of practice cooking sugar, the first step might turn you away. Don’t be afraid. It’s quite quite simple. Moreover, the recipe calls for a sprinkling of yeast. Again, don’t worry — no rising or proofing is called for. And lastly, the batter in its final state looks like a curdled mess. But fear not. In the oven, the caramel, pears and batter combine to form, as my mother described, a delectable custardy goodness.

Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup sugar
1¼ tsp. yeast
4 large ripe pears, about 2 pounds, (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and sliced very thin
1/3 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
7 T. unsalted butter, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 9”-round cake tin. In a large skillet cook ¾ cup of the sugar over moderate heat until it begins to melt. Continue cooking until it turns a golden caramel. Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast over one tablespoon of lukewarm water.
2. Pour the hot caramel into prepared pan. Make sure caramel covers the bottom. (If your caramel has hardened up before you allow it to cover the bottom of the pan, place the pan, using potholders, over one of your stovetop burners and hover it over the heat until the caramel begins to melt.) Arrange thinly sliced pears in slightly overlapping circles on top of caramel.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the flour, 1/4 c. sugar, the yeast mixture and vanilla. In another large bowl (sorry about all of the bowls!) beat the butter with an electric mixer (or standmixer) until smooth. Add the egg mixture and beat until the mixture is combined well, but do not overbeat. It will look slightly curdled. Pour the mixture over the pears being careful not to dislodge the pears.
4. Bake the cake on the middle rack for one hour or until golden. Let cool on rack for five minutes and then run a knife around the edges, and invert onto a large dish or platter deep enough so the syrup won’t flow over the edges. Serve warm.

17. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 37 comments

Pizza Pizza

pizza7

I am resolved. I am resolved never to make another recipe for pizza dough. Seriously. This is it. My family has been making this recipe for years and it is incredibly delicious. Tried and True. Foolproof. No tweaking necessary. Caramelized onions, grapes (or figs), gorgonzola and mascapone (or some other creamy cheese like ricotta) is one of our favorite combinations.

These strong feelings stem partly from several recent failed experiments but also because I am realizing now truly wonderful homemade pizza is. Really, for me, the idea of a perfect dinner is this: several of these thin-crust pizzas (each topped differently), a salad (a homemade Caesar salad sounds nice at the moment) and a glass of wine.

I can think of only one thing that might — MIGHT — improve this recipe: A wood-burning oven. Which I intend to build soon. Or, let’s say within the next six months. Seriously. It only takes a day-and-a-half to build. It’s just a matter of getting organized. I saw the construction of a wood-burning, adobe oven in San Francisco at Slow Food Nation last month, and I have been wanting my very own ever since. There are two pics at the bottom of this post of the oven I plan to build and there are several other pictures of the adobe-oven-making process here.

This recipe yields enough dough to serve about 6 to 8 people. I am submitting this recipe to the World Food Day blog event. Created by Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, this event seeks to raise awareness about world hunger: Around the globe there are 862 million undernourished people. Since 1945, October 16 marks World Food Day, an event created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To participate in the blog event, follow these instructions.

Want to build your own adobe oven, too? Buy this book: Build Your Own Earth Oven. I met the authors at SFN and they were pretty awesome. I also just found this article on Sunset.com — it might be interesting to compare the two methods: Sunset’s Classic Adobe Oven

These pizzas take about 10 minutes at 500ºF. When they emerge from the oven, all they need is a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps, but not critically, a drizzling of olive oil.


One key to making a good pizza is this: keep toppings to a minimum. A thin layer of yummy ingredients is all this is needed. It helps keep the crust crisp and allows you to taste the dough. (I may have over done it a bit here. Refraining from overloading the dough is a true skill.)

This adobe oven was made in one-and-a-half days. Supplies, if I recall correctly, cost under $50. I am dying to make one.


Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Top with a thin layer of your choice toppings. Here I used caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola and mascapone cheese. (The mascapone is really wonderful). Place in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. A drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is nice. I used a little bit of truffle oil, which would be wonderful over a mushroom pizza.

09. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Entrees, Olallie Cafe recipes, Pizza, Vegetarian | 38 comments

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