Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Tart that is Sweet, Rich and Tart! Apricots and Pistachios

Apricots AND Pistachios? Would that even work, I wondered looking at Martha Stewart's "Pies & Tarts" cookbook? I wasn't sure. Turns out I never should have worried.

I had originally planned on making Apricot Hand Pies, a recipe I had first seen in one of her (Martha Stewart's) magazines years ago. But there was a problem, well two problems. First, the apricots I bought were too big for the hand pies. The recipe called for 6 small apricots and I most definitely had 6 fairly large apricots, as far as apricots are ever large. Which they're not.You might think that wouldn't be a problem, but it was each. Each hand pie was basically 2 pieces of pie dough and half an apricots. It wasn't a recipe designed for slices. The second problem I had was harder to fix.

I had asked my husband Tim to bring up the apricots the night before and put them in the fridge. Unfortunately he set them on the counter. And anyone who knows how delicate apricots can be, especially ripe ones in the heat, wrapped in a plastic bag, as already figured out what had happened. Yup. They rotted and turned into mush.

You're probably thinking, no problem, just don't make pie. I would normally agree with you, except we were bringing dessert to the Valley Center Lion's Inauguration Dinner. I asked Tim to pick up more apricots on the way home and to make certain he was home at least an hour before we had to leave. He wasn't. So I cut up the strawberries and added them to a big clear glass trifle bowl, alternating layers of blueberries and blackberries with layers strawberries with a sprinkling of raspberries. Add to that a plate of sliced Costco pound cake and a spray bottle of whipped cream and we had dessert! It was last minute, but deeply appreciated. I would say it was the perfect dessert for such a hot day.

Now I am back to where I started. I have 8 largish apricots, about a 1 1/5 (pound and a half). What to do? I go back to the original back-up plan and decide to make an Apricot and Pistachio Tart. Here is how that happened:

Tonight my husband Tim and I decided that it was about time we instigated a date night once a week. So we have decided that one a week the two of us are going to make a nice meal together, keep the TV off and make a big deal  of sharing a meal together. To celebrate this, Tim and I got together and tried a new recipe.

Please note the following before you begin. This is SUPER EASY. I know it has 10 steps, but the original recipe had half that many. I just divided the steps up to make it easier to follow.

Apricot and Pistachio Tart

1 cup shelled, roasted and salted pistachios
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg (I used extra large)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

All purpose flour for dusting
1 box-puff pastry, thawed*

6 apricots (1 1/4 pounds), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/4 cup apricot jam
1 1/2 tablespoons water
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. With a paper towel, gently rub the pistachios as you add them to the bowl of your food processor. Do not remove all the salt. (If you prefer, you may use unsalted pistachios. If so, add a pinch of salt.)  Add the sugar and process for a minute. Add the butter and process until a paste forms. Add the egg and the vanilla, process to combine.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry removing all paper. If the puff pastry comes in multiple sheets, wet your finger (or a pastry brush) and run it along one side of the dough. Place the second sheet on top and roll gently to attach and work out the folds. Do not try to make it flatter. You should have a 17-by-9-inch rectangle.
  4. Transfer the puff pastry to a rimmed, parchment lined baking sheet. This is best achieved with two people, but one can easily do the job. 
  5. Being sure to leave a 3/4-inch border, gently spread the pistachio butter on the puff pastry. Use all the butter.
  6. Arrange apricots on top of the pistachio butter. This is your moment for artistry. So take your time. Decide if you want short or long rows. Whichever you decide, place the first apricot slice in each row now so you'll see if you have extra space. As you'll see in mine, my fruit was not big enough to make 4 rows not small enough to make 5. So I added an extra row down the center with the fruit going in the opposite direction.
  7. Fold in the edges of the pastry. I used my fingers to make a scalloped border, but you may just fold it over and give it a pinch, if you prefer. Brush the heavy cream along the top of your border. 
  8. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios over the apricots. Now sprinkle the sugar over the apricots and nuts.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes. The crust should be a nice golden brown, the fruit juicy. You'll smell the apricots about 5 minutes before you need to pull them out. Allow to cool and set up slightly on a wire rack.
  10. Optional. Combine the jam with the water in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring until loose, about 2 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl. Brush glaze over apricots.  
Serve tart warm or at room temperature. It doesn't need a thing, in my opinion. Just a fork, maybe a plate and a napkin if you're getting fancy. :-)

*If you are using the same brand as I did, it comes in two sheets. Each sheet is rolled into thirds. Place 1 sheet on the lightly dusted board. With the second sheet cut off 1/3 (one third) of the sheet and attached it the one of the board as directed above. Set the other 2/3 (two-thirds) of the sheet aside for another use. (See left over puff pastry)

**The original recipe calls for the tart to be place in the refrigerator or freeze for 30 minutes until firm. If you choose to do this step add 5 minutes to the baking time.

I did not refrigerate my tart or add the glaze. It was both beautiful and delicious without these 2 additional steps.

I still need to make those Apricot Hand Pies. I have been lusting after that recipe for years. I'll let you know when my food lust turns to action. In the mean time, keep checking back. You never know what I'll be up to in the kitchen next!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It's My Babka & I'll Cry if I Want To

All right. I'm not going to cry. But this is my all time favorite chocolate coffee cake. It isn't hard to make, it just takes a lot of time. It's a bit of a cross between a loaf of bread and a coffee cake. But not matter what you call it, it is delicious!

This recipe comes from Martha Steward Living in the May 2000 issue. It makes 3 loaves, large, rich loaves. My recommendation is to plan on freezing the other 2 loves and using them later. They freeze beautifully, but as with most things, they are never as good as when they are freshly baked.

When shaping the babka, twist dough evenly throughout the length of the roll a full 5 to 6 turns. This is how you get the lovely twists and turns and it brings the chocolate mixture to the loaf. The babka can be prepared up to Step 8 and frozen for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 5 hours, and bake.

Now let's make Babka!

1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Streusel Topping (at bottom of page)

1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that's slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.

6. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

7. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.

8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

9. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve.

Yield Makes 3 3/4 cups

Streusel Topping

1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.

Apricot Pie

Wow. What a crazy day!

I told Tim I would bake a cake for a dinner we were going to but I didn't. So last night after I went to bed I got up, went downstairs and made a bunch of pie crust so I could bake some pies today. I was going to bake my fabulous Strawberry Tart but when I went to fridge today most of the berries had gone over. But as luck would have it, I had some apricots I had purchased at Sprouts a few days before so I decided to bake an apricot pie.

I love apricot pie and I can remember the first time I tried a slice. We had 2 trees up at the ranch I had stopped eating the apricots because they were too sweet. But we had a bunch of them so Dad and I had picked several sacks fulls and brought them home to Mom. I bet you can guess what she made with all those apricots. That's right: Apricot Pie.

The pie was delicious. Sweet. Tart. Buttery and flaky. And pretty, like it was made up of little orange suns. I don't think my Mom ever made another apricot pie, or if she did, I don't remember tasting it. But I will always recall that revelation, that first slice.

So I pulled out one of the sacks of pie dough and emptied it on my lightly flour dusted board. And it just crumbled. It was like it was too cold, hard and not very giving. So I mushed it all into a tart pan and arranged my quarters of apricots skin side down. Next I squeezed half a lemon over the fruit which turned out to be a little bit too much. The I sprinkled it with sugar, dotted the fruit with butter and baked it in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes at which point I pulled it out. Then I determined it needed to bake a little bit longer but my oven had cooled down. So I baked it at 350 for another 10-15 minutes. Turns out the pie was a big hit and Tim only came home with 2 slices which we will take care of tomorrow.

Here is my Mom's recipe for Apricot Pie

Enough apricots to fill a pie that have been rinsed and the stones removed. Cut into halves . Do not remove the skin or they will turn to baby food.

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons tapioca

1. Gently roll out your pie down and line your favorite pie pan with a crust.

2. In a bowl, gently toss your apricots and lemon juice. Add the sugar.

3. Pour a little less than half of the apricots into the pie and sprinkle with tapioca.

4. Add the rest of the fruit, dot with butter and add your top crust. If desired, brush with an egg wash. Make a few slits in the top crust to release steam.

5. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minute or until done. Allow to cool some before serving. Can be served warm or cold.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blind Baking

Blind Baking is not baking for the blind or hard of seeing. I promise. You also don't have to preform it while blind folded or with your eyes closed. So what is it and why do you want to do it?

Blind baking is when you bake a pie crust without anything in it. Say you're going to make that delicious strawberry pie I have on the blog. You know, the one with the fresh strawberries? Or maybe you want to make a coconut cream pie, or a key-lime pie. The options are endless. But when the recipe calls for a pre-made baked pie shell. OK. So you could go to the store and buy one already made. It will taste like cardboard and have so many chemicals in it, the strawberries, and you (and your family) will glow for a 48 hour period afterwards consumption, but so what? You don't have to attempt blind baking. And why would you? You'd have to go out and buy some ceramic pie weights, right? And you don't just have to buy them, then you have to find something to keep them in. Too much work. Or is it?

Blind baking is a cinch. Promise. Here's what you need:
  • pie pan
  • unbaked pie dough
  • flour, rolling pin, place to work
  • knife and fork (no spoon!)
  • foil or parchment paper 
  • foil or a pie crust protector
  • dried beans or dried rice or pie weights we go!

 But wait. This is a SIMPLE thing. Put it in the pan, stick it, bake it. That's it. Now, here it is in detail.....
  1. Roll out you dough on a lightly floured surface. Be gentle. Think of pie dough as a high contagious baby. You have to handle it, but the less you do the better. Be gentle, don't drop it.
  2. Carefully drape the dough into the pie pan, allowing it to fall over the edges. Do not try and stretch it. If it tears don't go to pieces yourself. Use a little bit of water and finesse it back together.
  3. Now the fun begins. 
  4. Decide what the edge should look like: pinched, rope, braided, checkboard, fork-and-crimp combo, arrowhead, leaves, pumpkins, christmas tress, bunnies....the opportunities for decoration are endless, limited only by you!
  5. Using your knife, trim around the edge of the pan so it is nice and even. Make sure you leave yourself enough extra dough to execute your vision. I'd say at least a thumb past the edge of the pan for pinching. But you can also just cut just a little bit beyond the pan and make it nice and round and plain. That's pretty too.
  6. Now, using your fork, prick the dough all over (not on the edge where your pretty design is). This is called docking and it allows the stream to escape and keeps bubbles from forming so you don't get any huge lumps or bumps.
  7. For best results, chill dough for 10 minutes in the fridge before moving on to the next step. 
  8. If you're in a hurry, you may skip the fridge. But like most things in life, everything is better when given a little time alone to chill now and then.
  9. Remove your totally relaxed crust from the fridge. Using parchment paper or foil, tear a piece big enough so that it will fit in the bottom of the crust and cover beyond the edges. This extra foil or paper will help your crust from browning too much.
  10.  Now add the rice, beans or pie weights. Please note the rice and beans are uncooked!!! Basically you are weighing down the dough to help the docking process you did earlier so you won't have any unsightly bumps or bubble in your shell. I mean come on, you've gone to all this trouble so far, why risk it now?
  11. Bake crust according to directions. 
  12. If there are no directions, here's what you should do. Go back to step 7 and turn the oven on to preheat to 375. Bake for 15 minutes and remove from oven. Do NOT turn off oven. You're not done yet.
  13. Carefully remove the parchment or foil. Remember it will be H-O-T! So will the beans and/or rice. Try not to spill the beans and rice into the crust. Allow the beans and rice to cool. There isn't any reason you can't use these again for baking. Once the "pie weights" are cool, split them into a ziplock bag, label them and keep them with your pie pans for next time.
  14. Carefully cover the edges of the crust with foil or use a pie protector. Do not force the foil to mold to the pie. Loosely drape it in small square or long rectangles. It won't be perfect and that is a-OK. FYI pie protectors can be made of metal, silicone or other heat-safe material. Mine is bright red, silicone and sometimes works and sometimes not so much. 
  15. Return crust to the oven and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
  16. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.
  17. Do NOT fill this until it is completely cooled, unless your recipe calls for using a warm pie crust, as in the case of some quiches.
Now, in the immortal words of Cartman, "Get your bitch ass in the kitchen and make me some pie!"

Berries, Berries and More Berries

Sometimes when I'm, at the grocery store I see all the berries and I want to fill my cart with them! But I can only eat so many strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. And how many times can I prepare a mixed-berry shortcake before the people I feed loose interest?

I checked out "Vintage Cakes" by Julie Richardson at the Valley Center Library and I have found the answer to that age old question: Berry Long Cake with Ginger Crumb! It is a super simple cake that uses as many different kinds of berries as you have in the refrigerator. And it is delicious! I like mine with a bit of fresh whipped cream but you can certainly serve it plain or with ice cream.

Berry Long Cake with Ginger Crumb
(this recipe has been modified slightly from the original)

Berry Topping:
1 1/2 pounds berries, sliced it large
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (regular sugar is just fine)
2 tablespoons brandy (if your a teetotaler use vanilla extract)

Crumb Topping:
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup diced candied ginger

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger (NOT candied ginger, ground!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

1. Remove butter (for both topping & cake) from the refrigerator and set on counter.

2. In a bowl, toss the berries, sugar and brandy (or vanilla). Set aside on the counter.

3. To make the crumb topping, add the brown sugar and flour in a food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix. Cut the butter into cubes and sprinkle it over the brown sugar mixture. Pulse until combined. Add the ginger and pulse once or twice to mix. 

4. Remove the crumb mixture from the food processor, place in bowl and store in refigerator until time to bake.

5. In the same bowl of the food processor add the dry ingredients and pulse once or twice to combine. Cube the butter and sprinkle over the top of the flour mixture. Pulse until combined. 

6. In a seperate bowl, large enough to hold the entire batter with room to stir, crack the two eggs and add the milk. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the dry ingredients and stir them until combined.

7. In a buttered 2 1/2 quart square baking dish (mine is approximately 11 x 8.75), spread the cake batter. Top with the berries and any liquid in the bowl. Scatter the ginger crumb on top of the berries.

8. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. Bake until the berries bubble and the cake is firm. 

9. Testing for doneness. If you do what I do and sprinkle that ginger crumb everywhere, it is almost impossible to tell if the cake is done. Get a toothpick, sharp knife or cake tester and, starting at a corner, test the cake. There should be a butter residue on the tester, but no unbaked cake. Pull from oven and let cool 30 minutes before serving. 

Jen's Super Easy Postcrossing Potato Soup

I am a member of Postcrossing. The idea behind it, is to allow people the opportunity to receive postcards from around the world. It is tons of fun and a great way to meet people from all over the world. In fact, Postcrossing is the impetus of posting this recipe. I get requests (in the form of postcards) for recipes from fellow postcross-ers all the time. Usually they want a cookie or cake recipe, some have even suggested I bake and send them a cake! So in honor of all my future penpals, be you a one time or repeat offender, this is for you!

Potato soup is super easy to make and delicious to eat. And it can easily go vegan, if that's your preference. Best thing about this recipe? It only costs pennies to make. We like to have it on cold nights with some crusty bread and a salad to accompany it.

Jen's Super Easy Postcrossing Potato Soup

Serves 6

4 tablespoons butter (or vegan margarine)
1 ¼ pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cube
¾ cup diced onions, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
Salt and Pepper
5 cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock
½ cup whole milk (optional)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. (This is the pan you will actually be cooking the soup in, so make sure it is big enough to hold the stock and the potatoes.)

When the butter foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until they are well coated. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the potato/onion mixture with parchment paper, tucking it in around the edges. Add the lid and let them sweat for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to low or a “gentle heat”.

Time to check the potato/onion mixture. Be careful when you remove the paper as there is a whole bunch of trapped steam under the paper. Check the potatoes with a knife or fork to see if they are tender. They should be soft but not colored. If they are hard, put the paper back on and cook until tender.

Remove the paper completely and add the stock to the potato/onion mixture. Continue to cook until the mixture is soft.

Put the potato/onion mixture into a blender, food processor or ricer (if you have an immersion blender you may do this in the saucepan) and puree until smooth.

[I like to keep half of the potatoes and onions back because I like a little “chunk” in the soup. But you are, of course, free to do what you like. The original recipe is completely smooth.]

Check the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. The soup will thicken as it cools, so you will need to add something to thin it either now, or later when you reheat it. Add the milk until you reach the desired consistency. If you wish to keep this vegan, use vegetable stock or water in place of milk.Soup should be thick but not paste-like. If you kept back half of the potato/onion mixture this is the time to add it back.