Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blueberry Crumble Shortbread Bars & a New Cookie-Concept

I have gained a new cookie concept: the 'shortbread bottom-jam layer middle-something good on top' concept.
And I have Melissa Clark to thank for it.  Between this recipe and another one for dark chocolate cherry ganache bars (a nytimes link), the cookie possibilities that have now opened before me seem endless.

You start with the shortbread on bottom: plain or chocolate, nutty or lemony.  Then slather on some delicious jam.  Blueberry, strawberry, cherry, peach, ... lemon curd (why not!).  Finish it off with a fun top.  This one has a crumble top.  But the other one had a ganache top.  Any kind of melted chocolate would do... perhaps sprinkled with salted almonds.  Vary as you see fit. 

This particular combination is fantastic.  I love crumbles because of their texture and how delightful to encounter it again and again in these cookies, without having to turn the oven on each time.  And these bars are not too sweet.  Instead, everything from the hint of lemon in the jam, the hint of cinnamon in the crumble, and the hint of butter from the shortbread makes the blueberry flavor ramify.  

It all makes you feel like you could eat lots of them.  At once.

Start by making the jam.  It is so quick, you won't believe it.  Sprinkle the berries with lemon zest.

Throw in some sugar and a cinnamon stick.

Smash them slightly in the pan and bring them to a simmer.

Simmer 20 minutes, and that's that.

Next for the shortbread.  Throw the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until it just forms a ball.

Press it into a pan.  Put it in the oven.

Remove from oven when slightly golden.  Let it cool.

For the crumble, combine you oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. and walnuts.  Add in the butter in with your fingertips. 

the blueberry jam
over the shortbread layer.

Sprinkle the crumble on top.

Pop it in the oven.  It instantly starts smelling divine.

Remove.  Cool, for as long as you can resist.

Then... enjoy.  Lots of times.

And once you vary this concept... enjoy in lots of ways!

Blueberry Crumble Shortbread Bars (from Melissa Clark)
For the jam:
1 pint blueberries
2 Tbs sugar
zest from one large lemon
small cinnamon stick
Juice from half a lemon, more to taste

For the shortbread crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
12 Tbs unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cubed

For the crumble:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
4 Tbs butter, at room temperature

To make the jam, in a small saucepan, add blueberries, sugar, and lemon zest.  Mash berries slightly with the back of a large spoon, just to release some of their juices.  Add cinnamon stick and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick and allow jam to cool.  Taste and add lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Great a 9-inch square baking pan.*  In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until mixture just comes together in one ball.  Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake until crust is pale and golden, 25-30 minutes.  Cool.  Spread blueberry jam evenly over shortbread.

To make crumble, in a small bowl, whisk together oats, sugar, walnuts, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Blend in the butter with your finger tips, forming pea-sized crumbs.  Sprinkle the crumble over the blueberry jam.  Bake until topping is golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.  Cool and cut into bars.

*I didn't have one so I used an 8-inch glass pan and kept all the times the same.  It worked just fine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Corn, the classy way: Corn Vichyssoise

 Let's be honest.  Nothing beats corn on the cob. 

But, let's also be honest.  It is hard to look classy when eating corn on the cob. 

Enter this elegant and simple corn vichyssoise.  Vichyssoise is a take on the tradition French potato-leek soup and is often served cold (though it tastes just as good warm). 

But, with the addition of corn and omission of cream in this recipe, it is perfectly light, perfectly summer. 

(Also, I love the fact that she has you toss the cobs in while the soup cooks to intensify the corn flavor.  It's like you are using corn stock as your base).

This is also a cinch to make.

Start with the corn.

Shuck it.

Cut it off the cob, but retain those cobs!

Next up, the leeks.

Wash them well, then chop them up.

Then peel and chop a potato.
Saute the leeks.  Then throw it all in the pot.
Cook it off.  Remove the cobs.
Then blend it up.
Now, at this point, if you have the time, press the soup through a fine mesh strainer to remove the chaff.  It really does make the soup exquisite and sheer elegance.  If you are feeling 'rustic' (i.e., a fancy way to say you don't have/want to take the time), don't worry about it. 

Feel free to cool it off or eat it straight away at this point.  But, do add a fresh squeeze of lemon, it brightens it up.  Enjoy this slightly more classy taste of summer. 

Corn Vichyssoise (from Gwyneth P)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 ears shucked corn, kernels cut from cobs, cobs reserved
1 cup coarsely chopped peeled potato (about 1 medium)
4 cups good-quality vegetable stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives (optional)

Heat oil in large heavy pot over medium heat.  Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add corn kernels, reserved cobs, potato, and stock.  Season with salt and pepper.  Increase heat to high and bring soup to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover with lid slightly ajar, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 35 minutes.

Discard corn cobs; let soup cool slightly.  Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until very smooth.  Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl, strain, discarding solids.  Chill soup until cold [if you want].  If too thick, thin with water by 1/4 cup-fuls.  Stir in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon a dollop of creme fraiche atop each and serve with a sprinkling of chives.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Return of Snack-Time: Homemade Pretzels

I worry that snack-time for adults is seriously underrated.

Why shouldn't we be allowed to have a delicious snack in the afternoon, reward ourselves for having made it that far in the day? 

But, look, I don't need to convince you of this: these pretzels will. 

Some of my fondest memories come from sitting in the English Garden in Munich with some very dear friends, munching on Bavarian pretzels that are roughly the size of my torso. 

Seriously, you can carry them to your table by wearing them on your shoulder like a purse.  But a delicious, edible one.

Unlike many a pretzel you can find at the mall, Bavarian pretzels are not sweet, not soft, and not drenched in butter.  They are real pretzels: salty, crisp on the outside , soft on the inside, begging to be paired with some coarse grain mustard, and perfect to wash down with a good Weissbier. 

Of course, these aren't Bavarian pretzels (I hear Munich's water is 'special'), but they have the 'spirit' of those pretzels, of a sunny afternoon in the English garden, watching the swans and ducks float by, hearing traditional German music floating in the breeze, maybe catching a glimpse of Lederhosen, lingering with friends.  And, all this is just a snack-time away.

And, you will not believe how easy these are to make.  Although, they do have to be left to sit overnight.  But, can also sit for 4 days, so it gives you some flexibility.

You start by stirring together your flour, salt, and brown sugar (just a touch, mind you)
Dissolve the yeast in some water.

Mix the yeast/water and melted butter in with the dry ingredients. Use a wooden spoon and stir until it forms a ball.

Then stir for 2 more minutes.  Let rest 5.  And stir for 3 more minutes.  

Plop it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute more (and that's it for the kneading!).  Form it into a ball and throw it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.

When you are ready for a snack, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  And, dissolve some baking soda in warm water.  This is key because it is what ensures that the pretzels get a nice hard crust on the outside.  In the old days, people would use food grade LYE to make pretzels.  Seriously.  But, since that seems hard to come by and not something I really want to think about, you use this mixture instead.

Take the dough out and roll it into 2 ounce balls for small pretzels or 3 ounce balls for large ones.  Roll the pretzels out so they are 17 inches.

Warning: the gluten may be pretty tough when you do this and your pretzels are liable to shrink after you have rolled them.  Don't worry, just roll them out, give the gluten time to rest, roll again, and so forth.  I must admit, I haven't fully mastered this part, but next time, I think I will roll them out and let them rest for quite a few minutes so the gluten relaxes and they come up to temperature.

Then, you shape the pretzels: fold the ends over each other.

Next cross fold the ends of the ends over each other.

A finally, take that knot and bring it up to the top.  So it, you know, looks like a pretzel.
[a less than glamorous earlier attempt]

Sprinkle with coarse salt (I used fleur de sel and loved it!).
Pop in the oven for 8 minutes.  Rotate, then bake 8-10 minutes more.
And, look, if your pretzels shrunk back into themselves so they look more like pretzel knots than pretzels,

they are still going to taste fantastic!  And it gives them, er, character. 

And, a reason to tackle them again to perfect the rolling out process.

Let the pretzels cool slightly.
Serve with mustard (my favorite is a mix of lots of coarse grain, just a little Dijon to hold it together, and a dash of honey for good measure).

Welcome back, snack-time!  

Soft Pretzels (Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day)
Makes 12-17

4 1/2 cups (20 oz/567g) unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 tsp (.4 oz/11g) salt, or 2 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons (.75oz/21g) brown sugar
1 tsp (.11oz/3g) instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (12oz/340g) lukewarm water (about 95 degrees F)
2 Tablespoons (1oz/28.5g) vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
8 tsp (2oz/57g) baking soda, for dipping
2 cups (16oz/454g) warm water (about 100 degrees F)

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar.  In a different bowl, combine the water and yeast, let sit for about 1 minute.  Next, add the water/yeast mixture and the oil into the bowl with the flour, salt, and sugar.

Use a wooden spoon and stir everything together.  It should not take longer than a minute and you should be left with a coarse ball.  Now continue mixing by hand for about 2 minutes and subsequently let the dough rest for 5 minutes.  Again mix by hand for 3 minutes, adjusting the water or flour as needed to form a smooth, lightly tacky ball.  On a lightly floured surface knead the dough for one minute, form a ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.

On the day you plan to bake, combine the baking soda and warm water in a bowl.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Right after taking the dough out of the refrigerator roll 2oz (56.5g) pieces into 17 inch ropes for smaller pretzels and 3-oz (85g) for larger pretzels.  If the roll shrinks back, just repeat the process.*  Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment and mist with spray oil.  Form the dough into pretzels (see above): first, cross the ends over each other, then cross the bottom of those ends over each other, then bring that knot to the middle of the top.  It should now look like a pretzel.  Dip in the baking soda/water solution.  Place them on the pan and sprinkle lightly with salt (or whatever topping you like).  Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and back another 8-10 minutes.  Let the pretzels cool slightly on a wire rack.

*They will shrink back, I think.  So, let them have a rest (say 5-10 minutes) after you first roll them out and try it again.  I found you can really tell if they will shrink when you shape them into pretzel form.  So, pay attention there, and if they shrink, just stretch them out again and give them a rest.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Black&Blueberry Muffins

Sometimes I look around my refrigerator and it is excessive how many cartons of berries I find.  Does one person really need two cartons of blueberries, two cartons of blackberries, and a carton of strawberries to boot?
No, of course not, but when it is finally spring and the berries are gorgeous and tasty, I feel the need to horde them.  Which, of course, is absurd.

On the upside, it leads me to all sorts of new ways to use them, like these yogurt-based berry muffins.

The muffin itself is not too sweet (in fact, next time I might add some decorators sugar to the top), and the crumb is not fluffy like cake, and not dense like bread, but somewhere nicely in between.  The lemon zest also adds a nice brightness.

All in all, at least one way out of an excessive berry crisis.

As ever, these muffins are so easy to make.  Begin by rubbing the lemon zest into the sugar, and then whisking the sugar with the other dry ingredients.  Now,

toss the berries with a tablespoon of those dry ingredients, to keep them from sinking to the bottom.

Time for the wet ingredients, including good yogurt.
Whisk them together in a big measuring cup.
Make a well and add them to your dry ingredients, mixing until not quite incorporated.
Then toss in the berries, and mix gently until everything is just incorporated.

Ice-cream scoop them into the muffin tins.

Bake until the berries are oozing and you can't stand how delicious the air smells.

Let them cool in the tin for about five minutes.

Then remove to a wire rack, and enjoy the benefits of making the most (and then some) of spring!

Black & Blue Berry Muffins (adapted from joyofbaking)
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries and/or blackberries (and/or raspberries) [don't defrost if frozen]
1 cup plain yogurt (regular or low fat [I would go for regular])
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup saffron, canola, or corn oil [I would go for saffron]
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
decorator's sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Butter or line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingertips, until moist and fragrant.  Whisk the lemon-sugar together with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Remove 1 tablespoon of the dry ingredients and toss them with the berries.

In a measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt, egg, oil, and vanilla extract.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add the wet ingredients.  With a rubber spatula, mix until almost combined.  Gently stir in the berries, until the ingredients are just combined.

Using an ice-cream scoop (or spoon), fill the muffin cups with the batter.  Sprinkle each with some decorator's sugar [optional].  Place in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about five  minutes, before removing from pan.