Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crumb-Topped Blackberry Muffins

Do you listen to music in the kitchen? Sometimes I listen to a shuffled mix of music, or I’ll play live a local radio station from their website, or I’ll pick something on Pandora. When I pick something specific, more often than not it’s jazz. And, Sarah Vaughan is one of my favorites. When I read the head note for the recipe shown here today (see below), I was inspired to turn on the music and start baking. These blackberry muffins are from Patty Pinner’s latest book Sweet Mornings, and I received a review copy. This is a collection of sweet, and some savory, breakfast treats Pinner has put together over years of gathering recipes from the women in her family and women from her neighborhood. The recipes all come with stories, and she writes: “my recipes are testimonials to all I’ve learned, listened to, and observed in the kitchens of other women.” It makes you want to slow down in the morning, invite your neighbor in, and chat for a few minutes over hot tea and something sweet. And, if you like coffee cakes as much as I do, this is a book you’ll want. In addition to the muffins, scones, biscuits, rolls, sweet loaves, pancakes, and doughnuts, there are no fewer than 25 different types of coffee cake. There’s a Rhubarb Coffee Cake, Pistachio Coffee Cake, Nutmeg Coffee Cake, Blueberry-Cornmeal Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping, Eggnog Crumb Coffee Cake, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake to name a few. Don’t they all sound great? But, I had been eagerly awaiting blackberry season and had to try these crumb topped muffins first. Due to the nature of my love of a crumb topping, I should mention that I learned a lesson from another crumb topping aficionado years ago. That lesson was to always double the crumb topping quantities. Ignore that suggestion if you’re not as crazy for crumb topping as I am. 

Making that crumb topping is step one. Flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt were combined in a bowl, and butter was worked into the mixture. I used coconut palm sugar which gave mine a darker brown color than it would have had with granulated sugar, and as usual, I doubled the quantities. To prep the pan, I used muffin cups rather than greasing and flouring the pan. Making the batter was a simple matter of combining the dry ingredients including flour, more coconut palm sugar for me, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest, and salt. A well was made in the center of the mixture. In a separate bowl, yogurt, melted and cooled butter, eggs, and vanilla extract were combined and then poured into the well in the dry ingredients. The batter was carefully stirred together so as not to overmix. Next, blackberries were folded into the batter before it was spooned into the muffin cups. The crumb mixture was sprinkled on top of each muffin, and they baked for about 25 minutes. 

A hot cup of tea went perfectly with these fruity muffins, and I had received a selection of organic teas from Teavivre to try. The Organic White Peony was subtly floral and lovely. It’s a very light bodied tea that was delicious hot and iced. Next, I tried the Hangzhou Tian Mu Qing Ding Green Tea which is a slightly grassy green tea with great flavor. Another green option is Tian Mu Mao Feng, and this one is milder in flavor and lighter in color. These are high quality, loose leaf teas packed in sealed, airtight packages. And, they’d be great with all those coffee cakes too. 

Crumb-Topped Blackberry Muffins 
Reprinted with publisher’s permission from Sweet Mornings by Patty Pinner, Agate Midway, 2016. 

In 1965, jazz was everywhere. It floated out of project buildings and penthouse windows alike. Daddy listened to Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie on homemade 8-track cartridges he bought from Mr. Manning, who made them in his garage. I guess you could say that making tapes was Mr. Manning’s hustle. Sarah Vaughan was Mama’s favorite singer. She loved Miss Vaughan’s lush voice and played Miss Vaughan’s “My Favorite Things” over and over on a small stereo in the kitchen. Mama baked while Miss Vaughan’s velvety voice sang on. And the music came out in her cooking—the morning sweets she made were as plush and smooth as cool jazz. These Crumb-Topped Blackberry Muffins are a case in point. 

Make 16 muffins 

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces 

Nonstick cooking spray, for greasing 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons baking power 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 cup plain yogurt 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries 

1. To make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Using your fingers, a pastry blender, or the tines of a fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it becomes crumbly. Set aside. 
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease 2 8-count muffin pans with the cooking spray. Set aside. 
3. To make the batter: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest, and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture and set aside. 
4. In a small mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients: the yogurt, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir until the batter is moistened. (Do not over mix; the batter should be lumpy.) Carefully fold in the blackberries, ensuring they are evenly distributed and that the fruit does not become broken up. 
5. Divide the batter evenly among the cups of the prepared pans, filling each about 1/2 full. Sprinkle each evenly with the topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. 
6. Using a serrated knife, separate the muffins from the pans and then tap the pans gently on the counter to release the muffins. 
7. Transfer to a serving platter and serve warm. 

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ground Chicken Kebabs

Did you see the film The Hundred Foot Journey? Do you remember the omelet-making scene? That omelet was the creation of Floyd Cardoz who was the consulting chef on the film. It’s also found in his new book, Flavorwalla, of which I received a review copy. In the book, he explains that a walla in India is someone who sells something specific or is particularly knowledgeable about a topic. A paowalla is someone who sells bread. Floyd Cardoz is the flavorwalla because he has “made his mark as a creator of bold, exciting food with balanced layers of flavors and textures that play off each other.” The recipes reflect his varied style of cooking with a mix of cultural influences. There are Mexican, Thai, Moroccan, and Portuguese influences in the dishes as well as Indian flavors. The common thread is the use of spices, herbs, and aromatic ingredients to punch up the results. There’s a Spiced Chicken Soup with Chickpea Noodles that sounds like it’s guaranteed to lift you from feeling under the weather. It’s made with cinnamon, cloves, cumin, scallions, ginger, fresh chiles, and homemade noodles with chickpea flour. I was intrigued by the Yellow Lentil “Dal” enriched with whisked eggs stirred in at the end. And, the Stewed Chicken with Fresh Tomatoes with chipotle, ginger, turmeric, and tamarind paste sounds great for late summer tomatoes. There are other egg dishes in addition to the omelet like Oven-Baked Eggs with Poblanos and Fingerling Potatoes and Coddled Eggs with Crab, Grits, and Leeks. There are quick meals for weeknights and dishes that are perfect for parties, and there are a few cocktails as well like the Tamarind Margarita. I fired up the grill for the Ground Chicken Kebabs because of the big flavors from ginger, garlic, mint, and serrano, and they were great served with the fresh, zesty Romaine Salad with Lime and Thai Chile. 

Cardoz explains that in many places in the world “kebab” is anything grilled whether it’s a cut of meat or piece of sausage or something formed into a patty. It doesn’t always involve food on a stick. And so, these patties were not skewered, just grilled as is. Two cloves of garlic, an inch of ginger peeled and cut into coins, and half a serrano chile chopped were combined in a food processor and finely chopped. Two tablespoons of cilantro and two more of mint leaves were added and finely chopped. A half cup of finely chopped onion was added to the mixture along with salt, pepper, and a half teaspoon of Garam Masala. The mixture was worked into a pound of ground chicken by hand. Lately, I’ve been buying humanely-raised, pastured chicken from Smith and Smith Farm at the farmers’ market and have been completely avoiding industrially-raised chicken. Direct from the farm, they sell whole chickens, pieces, and even boneless breasts and packs of ground chicken. So, once mixed, the chicken was formed into small patties that were refrigerated while the grill was being prepped. I brushed each side of the patties with vegetable oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper before placing them on the grill. They only need about three minutes per side depending on the heat of the grill. The dressing for the salad was made with canola oil, lime juice, fish sauce, minced ginger, and a minced Thai chile. It was tossed with chopped romaine, sliced radishes, cilantro leaves, and mint leaves. I served the kebabs with lime wedges and the salad on the side. 

The simplicity of little, grilled patties made the brightness of flavors even more unexpected. The squirt of lime on each kebab brought out the herbs, ginger, and chile within. A bite of kebab with a bite of fresh, crisp salad made an ideal mix. If you’re looking to add more spice and interesting flavors to your cooking, this book would be a great place to start. 

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Olive Twisty Bread

The topic of authenticity in relation to cuisines seems to pop up frequently lately. What is truly authentic to a place and time? When are outside influences permitted within what’s thought to be authentic? It’s not always black and white. I like the approach taken in Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. I recently received a review copy of the book. The authors, both American, became acquainted in Rome as they were both documenting the city’s dishes. They “enjoyed celebrating new flavors and breaking down the stereotype that Roman food must be hypertraditional in order to be authentic.” In fact over the centuries, there have been varied influences, from spice trade to immigration, on what has become Roman cuisine. This book, with both traditional and contemporary dishes, “focuses on the foods that best communicate the spirit of the Roman flavors,” and there are new twists that even include finding those flavors in cocktails. For instance, the Carbonara Sour di Co. So. is made with guanciale-washed vodka and a pinch of black pepper. There are also true classics like Torta Rustica, which is a savory pie filled with greens, and Cacio e Pepe. I liked that the Pollo alla Romana recipe spans generations by staying true to the original concept of a braised dish with wine and peppers with a contemporary spin of using leftover deboned meat and sauce on sandwiches. There are historical facts strewn about the pages and a section devoted to Cucina Ebraica, the distinctive cuisine of Roman Jews who were once confined to a walled Ghetto in the city. There are pizzas and breads, vegetable dishes, meat dishes, poultry dishes, and fish dishes. And, there are sweets and drinks as well. I’m looking forward to using summer vegetables for the Verdure Gratinate al Forno with the seasoned breadcrumb topping. I also want to try the Concia which is fried and marinated zucchini, and this too sounds great suggested as a sandwich filling. I was quickly drawn to the bread chapter by the cute, little Pizette made from rounds of puff pastry and topped with thick tomato paste and oregano. But, my first stop in the book was at the page for Trecce con Olive or Olive Twisty Bread. 

There are three variations for this bread shown in the book: olive, walnut, and zucchini. When I made this a couple of weeks ago, zucchini hadn’t quite come into season here yet, and I was so excited about the olive version I made the entire batch with an olive filling rather than making two loaves of each flavor. Making the dough begins a day in advance since it’s made with a biga. Flour, water, and yeast were combined, and the mixture spent the night in the refrigerator. The biga needs to come to room temperature before being mixed into the dough the next day. To make the bread dough, the biga was combined with water, olive oil, and malt syrup. Because the biga is a dry mixture, it takes a little work to break it up, and using your hands to mix it into the water is the best approach. Flour and yeast were added to the biga mixture and stirred with a wooden spoon. Salt was added, and the dough was kneaded until smooth but still somewhat tacky. This was a slightly wet dough but not unmanageable. While the dough was left to rise for an hour, the filling was prepared. In my case, I chopped olives and sauteed some garlic and red chile flakes in olive oil. The risen dough was divided into six pieces, and each piece was stretched to about 24 inches long. I brushed the pieces of dough with the garlic-chile oil and topped the bottom half of each piece with chopped olives. Each long piece of dough was folded over to enclose the filling leaving the sides open. Then, each piece was twisted to expose the filling in places. The tops of the loaves were brushed with more olive oil, and I sprinkled them with sea salt. They baked for about 20 minutes until golden. 

As the twisted dough baked, the edges became crisp and golden while the centers remained tender and full of olive flavor. These are great with a traditional accompaniment of wine keeping in mind “the ancient city was responsible for introducing vines and viticulture to every corner of its empire.” But, I can confirm that pieces of the olive breads are also delicious with more up-to-date gin cocktails. For tastes from both the past and present, you’ll find a lot to like in Tasting Rome

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Root Vegetable Chips

The book I want to tell you about today focuses on “connecting to nature while savoring good food.” It’s about seasonal, fresh food whether foraged in the wild or at the best local-sourcing market. And, the recipes are simple, straightforward dishes made with those beautiful ingredients. Can you already tell I really liked this book? It’s Savor: Rustic Recipes Inspired by Forest, Field, and Farm by Ilona Oppenheim, and I received a review copy. Oppenheim lives in the mountains in Aspen, and much of what she cooks does come from foraging in the woods near her home. Many of the ingredients are used in a couple of ways including a fresh dish to make right away and another one with a preserved version of the ingredient to use later. There are lovely chapter titles that correspond to where the primary ingredients are gathered like Around the Pasture, Into the Wild, and Through the Mill. There are wonderfully simple building blocks to use in other recipes like homemade yogurt, ricotta, and cultured butter. There are two versions of savory, rustic tarts, and they’re both so pretty in the photos. One is made with thinly sliced zucchini, goat cheese, lemon, and rosemary, and the other is filled with halved cherry tomatoes, onion, and thyme. Trout is shown three different ways with a Trout Amandine, Cured Trout, and Trout Jerky. I wish I had a stream full of trout nearby where I could catch the freshest fish, but fresh from the store will be the best I can get. There’s information about soaking grains and how that makes nutrients more available and digestible, and it was good to learn that dried, soaked grains can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months. I’d love to have some soaked grains at the ready for the cookies and breads. I’d also like to try the Ancient Grain Pancakes made with buttermilk-soaked grains. Throughout the book, there are dishes both savory and sweet for every meal as well as snacks. I wanted to make good use of some of the last root vegetables of the season, and oven-crisped chips sounded like a perfect plan. 

The process couldn’t be simpler, but it requires a little patience for the chips to dry enough to be crispy. A big sweet potato and some beets were scrubbed but not peeled. They were all thinly sliced on a Benriner. The sweet potato slices were kept separate from the beet slices so the color couldn’t bleed. Although, I used chioggia beets, and they tend to bleed less than red beets. Each group of slices was tossed with just a teaspoon and a half of olive oil and salt. The sliced vegetables were placed on separate baking sheets and baked at 250 degrees F for an hour and forty minutes for the sweet potatoes and two hours for the beets. The pans were rotated a couple of times during baking. You’ll want to check the chips from time to time toward the end of the baking time to see if they’re getting too brown or if they’re still tender. After baking and cooling, the chips can be stored in an air-tight container for a few days, and they stay crisp. I served the chips with whipped feta and an extra sprinkling of flaky sea salt. 

Each vegetable’s earthy sweetness gets concentrated as it slowly bakes. The crunchy chips make a great snack on their own or with a dip, and whipped feta was especially good with the beet chips. I may be doing my foraging at farmers’ markets and farm stands rather than in the great outdoors, but I look forward to using my finds in the simple, delicious dishes from this book. 

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bourbon Bread

One of things I’m enjoying most about my new kitchen is the counter space on the island where I can work with dough. First, there’s plenty of room to knead and divide and roll dough. And, second, the smooth Silestone surface makes working with dough easier than ever. I use less flour than I did in the past because it’s so smooth. So, I was delighted to peruse all the bread recipes in the book Bien Cuit, by Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky, of which I received a review copy. After reading it, I wondered if I could take a hiatus from work and all other time commitments and just bake bread until I had tried everything in the book. Bien cuit, or “well done,” refers to a dark, lovely crust that’s not burnt but completely browned. It brings flavor and texture to a loaf. I became a quick fan of the book because all of the breads are made with a starter or pre-ferment. Not all of the starters are sourdough, some are made with commercial yeast, but they all involve stages of long, slow fermentation for flavor development. That’s how I love making bread. There are classic loaves and styles and also some reinterpretations and new inventions. The Portuguese Corn Bread, or broa de milho, is made with a cornmeal and rye starter and is baked into a pretty, round loaf. The Ciabatta, one of my favorite breads, is made a little differently than other recipes I’ve tried. It’s made with a yeast starter, and the completed dough is left to rest in the refrigerator overnight. I have to try it soon. There are variations on sourdough loaves and a Sourdough Rye Bread I’d like to try. Then, there’s a chapter just for rolls. Toasted Oatmeal Rolls, Late-Harvest Carrot Rolls with roasted carrots and carrot juice, Port and Fig Rolls, Kaiser Rolls, Sun-Dried Tomato Mini Baguettes, and all the others are calling my name. The Quick Breads chapter includes biscuits and scones, and the method for scone making involving layering the dough and baking the scones cut side up was very intriguing. And last, there’s a chapter with instructions and photos showing each and every step needed to create these recipes. I so wish I could just bake from page to page until I’ve tried everything. But, alas, I’ll have to work my way through the book when time allows. I started with the Bourbon Bread because I’d never seen anything like it. It’s a yeast-raised, cornmeal and flour bread made with bourbon in place of some of the water in the dough. 

As with all the breads here, you’ll need to plan ahead. This bread was started two days before it was baked. The starter was made with cornmeal, white flour, instant yeast, and water. It was mixed and left at room temperature for about 12 hours. The dough was made by combining the starter with water to loosen it from its bowl and then mixing it with more water and bourbon. A mixture of flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and yeast was added to the starter and water. The dough was mixed with a spoon and then folded repeatedly with a bowl scraper to incorporate all the ingredients. Then, the dough was rolled and tucked by hand and left to rest. During the next two hours, the dough was stretched and folded four times. During the third stretching, butter was spread over the surface of the dough before it was rolled up and left to rest before the fourth fold. To form loaves, the dough was divided into two parts, each part was shaped into a tube with slightly pointed ends, and the loaves were deeply cut with crossing lines to form diamond shapes. The shaped loaves were transferred to a flour-dusted, towel-lined baking sheet with the cut sides down, and they were refrigerated for 16 to 22 hours. The next day, they were baked on a baking stone with steam. I’ve mentioned before that every bread book I read includes a different technique for creating steam in a home oven. The technique suggested here is the cast iron pan with ice in the bottom of the oven approach which is easier than opening the oven repeatedly to spritz with a spray bottle. The loaves baked for about 28 minutes. 

The bourbon and cornmeal make this a fragrant, sweet-smelling bread. The crumb is tender inside the crunchy crown of a crust. In the head note, Kentucky ham is suggested as a perfect pairing with this bread, and that makes sense. I went with smoked chicken and blue cheese and can report they make an excellent accompaniment as well. I don’t think I’ll be making room on a shelf for this book just yet. I have lots more baking to do first. 

Bourbon Bread
Excerpted from Bien Cuit by Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky. Copyright © 2015 by Zachary Gopler. Excerpted with permission by Regan Arts. 

makes 2 medium loaves 

I am very excited about this bread, in part because I think bourbon is one of the most elegant beverages. It is simultaneously sweet and bitter, smoky and smooth, and graced with the subtle vanilla notes of oak. Because bourbon is a corn-based whiskey, I include corn in the bread—both in the starter and the dough. I had thought it was a nice accompaniment to a vegetable course or salad. Then Peter served it with a slice of Kentucky ham (which, like bourbon, is one of the glories of the Bluegrass State). It was off the charts! The only thing missing was a mint julep. My one caution in regard to baking with bourbon (or any whiskey) is that it has a bitter component that can overpower, so don’t be tempted to put in a touch extra for good measure. The choice of bourbon is up to you. Common wisdom is that when cooking with wine, it’s best to use a wine you would like to drink. The same holds true for baking with whiskey. My choice here is Ezra Brooks because it’s pretty mellow, not overpowering, and not super expensive. 

200 grams (1 c + 3 tbsp) medium-grind cornmeal 
100 grams (1/2 c + 3 1/2 tbsp) white flour 
0.2 gram (pinch) instant yeast 
260 grams (1 c + 1 1/2 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C) 

380 grams (2 1/2 c + 3 tbsp) white flour, plus additional as needed for working with the dough 
120 grams (3/4 c) medium-grind cornmeal 
30 grams (2 1/2 tbsp) granulated sugar 
15 grams (2 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt 
1 gram (generous 1/4 tsp) instant yeast 
150 grams (1/2 c + 2 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C) 
60 grams (1/4 c) bourbon 
 25 grams (1 3/4 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 Stir together the cornmeal and white flour in a medium storage container. Sprinkle the yeast into the water, stir to mix, and pour over the cornmeal mixture. Mix with your fingers, pressing the mixture into the sides, bottom, and corners until all of the flour is wet and fully incorporated. Cover the container and let sit at room temperature for 10 to 14 hours. The starter will be at its peak at around 12 hours. 

1 Stir together the white flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. 

2 Pour about one-third of the water around the edges of the starter to release it from the sides of the container. Transfer the starter and water to an extra-large bowl along with the remaining water and the bourbon. Using a wooden spoon, break the starter up to distribute it in the liquid. 

3 Add the flour mixture, reserving about one-sixth of it along the edge of the bowl. Continue to mix with the spoon until most of the dry ingredients have been combined with the starter mixture. Switch to a plastic bowl scraper and continue to mix until incorporated. At this point the dough will be just slightly sticky to the touch. 

4 Push the dough to one side of the bowl. Roll and tuck the dough, adding the reserved flour mixture and a small amount of additional flour to the bowl and your hands as needed. Continue rolling and tucking until the dough feels stronger and begins to resist any further rolling, about 8 times. Then, with cupped hands, tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough, seam-side down, in a clean bowl, cover the top of the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

5 For the first stretch and fold, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Using the plastic bowl scraper, release the dough from the bowl and set it, seam-side down, on the work surface. Gently stretch it into a roughly rectangular shape. Fold the dough in thirds from top to bottom and then from left to right. With cupped hands, tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough in the bowl, seam-side down, cover the bowl with the towel, and let rest for 30 minutes. 

6 For the second stretch and fold, repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 30 minutes. 

7 For the third stretch and fold, gently stretch the dough into a rectangle. Pinch the butter into pieces, distributing them over the top of the dough. Using your fingers or a spatula, spread the butter across the surface of the dough. Roll up the dough tightly from the end closest to you; at the end of the roll the dough will be seam-side down. Turn it over, seam-side up, and gently press on the seam to flatten the dough slightly. Fold in thirds from left to right and then do 4 or 5 roll and tuck sequences to incorporate the butter. Turn the dough seam-side down and tuck the sides under toward the center. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 30 minutes. 

8 For the fourth and final stretch and fold, repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 20 minutes. 

9 Line a half sheet pan with a linen liner and dust fairly generously with the dusting mixture. 

10 Lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Press each into a 7-inch (18 cm) square, then roll into a loose tube about 7 inches (18 cm) long. Let rest for 5 minutes. Press each piece out and then shape into a very tight tube 9 to 10 inches (23 to 25 cm) long. Using a bench scraper, make 3 to 5 cuts on the diagonal down the loaf. Then, make 3 to 5 cuts in the opposite direction, crossing the first set of cuts, to make diamonds. 

11 Transfer to the lined pan, cut-side down, positioning the loaves lengthwise. Dust the top and sides of the dough with flour. Fold the linen to create support walls on both sides of each loaf, then fold any extra length of the linen liner over the top or cover with a kitchen towel. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 16 to 22 hours. 

12 Set up the oven with a baking stone and a cast-iron skillet for steam, then preheat the oven to 480°F (250°C). 

13 Using the linen liner, lift and gently flip the loaves off the pan and onto a transfer peel cut-side up. Slide the loaves, still cut-side up, onto a dusted baking peel. Working quickly but carefully, transfer the loaves to the stone using heavy-duty oven mitts or potholders. Pull out the hot skillet, add about 3 cups of ice cubes, then slide it back in and close the oven door. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 440°F (225°C). Bake, switching the positions of the loaves about two-thirds of the way through baking, until the surface is a deep, rich brown, with some spots a long the scores being very dark (bien cuit), about 28 minutes. 

14 Using the baking peel, transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. When the bottoms of the loaves are tapped, they should sound hollow. If not, return to the stone and bake for 5 minutes longer. 

15 Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours. 
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Friday, April 15, 2016

Strawberry Coconut Cake

I’m a believer in cakes for birthdays. A candle in the middle of a brownie or a set into a scoop of ice cream doesn’t work for me. I appreciate all sorts of sweets on other days or for other occasions, but on my birthday, there needs to be cake. Even if I bake it myself as I usually do. And, luckily, I had just read a review copy of Grandbaby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams right before my birthday. I had several new cakes to consider making. Both the book and Jocelyn’s food blog of the same name came about from memories of her grandmother’s made-from-scratch cakes and kitchen lessons. The cakes in the book include options for every level of baker from beginner to experienced, and each one comes with a story about the recipe’s origin. There are basic layer cakes, pound cakes, sheet cakes, baby or mini-size cakes, celebration cakes, and seasonal cakes for holidays. In the Pound Cake chapter, the Apricot Nectar Cake is a recreation of a recipe from the author’s aunt and sounds delicious with the nectar in both the cake and the glaze on top. The Peach-Raspberry Cake has a pretty ombre effect in frosting that changes hue as it moves down the layers. Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is reinterpreted as cupcakes, and they’re decorated with dried pineapple slices that look like flowers. The Mango Swirl Carrot Cake with mango puree added to cream cheese that’s baked into the top of the cake is a carrot cake variation I need to try. A serious contender for my birthday cake was the Strawberry Sundae Cake with the alternating layers of vanilla cake and strawberry ice cream. But, in the end, I chose the Strawberry Coconut Cake with strawberry puree mixed into the vanilla cake layers and shredded coconut covering the cream cheese frosting. 

I’m not sure when it happened but at some point in the last 20 years or so, the standard for layer cakes seems to have become three layers rather than two. For a household of two people, that’s a lot of cake. I almost always reduce the quantities of ingredients and only bake two layers, and that’s what I did here. The cake batter is made with sugar, butter, pureed fresh strawberries, eggs, flour, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and sour cream. Strawberry extract was suggested, but I didn’t locate any at the grocery store and left it out. Red food coloring is also an option, but I skipped that as well. The result was just barely pink cake layers, but the flavor from the fresh berries was the most important part. The frosting was made with cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. I added extra confectioners’ sugar to firm it up a bit. For the coconut flakes, my favorite is the unsweetened kind. The flakes are smaller, but the flavor is all coconut without any extra sweetness. 

This was a rich and tender cake with the butter, oil, and sour cream, and it didn’t stand a chance of being dry even the next day. The strawberry puree gave it great flavor too. Cream cheese frosting is always a winner, and the coconut flakes dressed it up a bit. This was everything I wanted in a birthday cake. And now I want to bake all those other cakes for other occasions too. 

Strawberry Coconut Cake 
Recipe reprinted with permission from Grandbaby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams, Agate Surrey, 2015. 

SERVES 18-22 

Big Mama's Coconut Cake is famous. You may think this is a tall tale, but people would literally line up in front of her home just to get one for the holidays. Her cake’s highlight is a heavenly meringue frosting, which she whips by hand. I adore her classic, just like its legions of fans do, but I had a bit of fun updating it. The cake now has an exciting strawberry flavor; the pink layers burst against a bright white frosting with a tangy cream cheese accent. It is such a fantastic way to liven up a coconut cake recipe that has not only been around the block but looks mighty fine for her age, too. 

2 cups granulated sugar 
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled 
3 large eggs, room temperature 
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour 
3 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature 
1/3 cup vegetable oil 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon strawberry extract 
3–4 drops red food coloring (optional) 

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature 
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar 
1 cup heavy cream, cold 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional) 
Pinch salt 
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes, for garnish 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Liberally prepare 3 9-inch round pans with the nonstick method of your choice. 

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the granulated sugar and butter on medium-high speed until nice and fluffy, about 6 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place the strawberries in your food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside. 

With your stand mixer running, add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Change your mixer speed to medium-low and add the strawberry puree slowly into the batter. Continue mixing while you tend to the dry ingredients. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add 1/2 of the flour mixture to your stand mixer bowl. Continue to mix on low speed to combine. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and oil and add to your stand mixer bowl. Pour in the remaining flour mixture and continue to mix on low until well incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, strawberry extract, and food coloring, if using. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. 

Evenly pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a layer comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks. Let cool to room temperature. Lightly cover the layers with foil or plastic wrap so they do not dry out. 

Clean your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Beat the cream cheese on high speed until it begins to thicken and become fluffy. 

Turn your mixer down to low speed and carefully add the confectioners’ sugar. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, turn your mixer speed back to high and continue whipping. 

Add the heavy cream; vanilla extract; coconut extract, if using; and salt and continue to mix until a smooth, light, and fluffy frosting is achieved. 

Once the layers are completely cooled, place 1 layer on a serving plate. Spread just the top of the layer with 1/3 of the frosting. Add the second layer and spread with another ⅓ of the frosting. Add the final layer, bottom-side up, and spread with the remaining frosting. Frost the top and the side of the cake. Gently pat the side and the top of the cake with coconut flakes. Serve at room temperature. 

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Black Sesame Noodle Bowl

A book about noodle, rice, and dumpling dishes reconsidered from an entirely vegetarian perspective was something I knew I was going to like. After reading my review copy of Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals by Lukas Volger, I couldn’t wait to try several things. Dishes like ramen and pho have always presented a stumbling block for me both at restaurants and in cookbooks because although they often include lots of vegetables, the broth is usually red meat-based. Here, at last, is an entire book devoted to making meat-free versions. For the brothy dishes, there are recipes for vegetarian dashi, vegetarian pho broth, and vegetable stock. There’s also a recipe for vegetarian kimchi since it traditionally contains fish sauce or dried shrimp. In fact, there are recipes for every component of the dishes like pickles, flavored oils, chili-garlic sambal, and even homemade ramen noodles. The chapters are organized by type of starch. So, there are wheat noodle bowls, rice noodle and rice bowls, other grains bowls, and dumpling bowls. The Vegetarian Curry Laksa looks delightful with the spicy broth with coconut milk, the fresh green beans and cherry tomatoes, the shredded cabbage, and hard-boiled egg. There are bibimbap versions for every season, and they all include instructions for making a crispy base that mimics the results of the bottom layer of crusted rice when served in a traditional dolsot. The Grilled Vegetable Couscous Bowl with tofu, eggplant, corn, and tomato looks perfect for summer, and I’m looking forward to trying the Black Rice Burrito Bowl with black beans, chiles, lime juice, mango, and avocado. I didn’t mark pages in the dumplings chapter because I want to make them all. Chickpea Potstickers, Kabocha Dumplings, Rich Lentil Dumplings, and all the rest sound delicious. Right away, I set about making the Black Sesame Noodle Bowl because it incorporates radishes, and this is the height of their season. 

Black sesame seeds were toasted in a dry pan and then coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle. After transferring them to a mixing bowl, canola oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi powder, and salt were whisked into the mixture. Eggs were hard-boiled, and tender greens like spinach leaves, radish leaves, and some pretty mache I found at Boggy Creek Farm were prepped. Soba noodles were cooked, rinsed, and drained. The drained noodles along with some minced shallots were added to the mixing bowl with the sesame mixture. To serve, greens were placed in bowls and topped with the noodles followed by sliced avocado, radishes cut into matchsticks, sliced green onion, shredded hard-boiled egg, and the top was drizzled with a little soy sauce rather than the kecap manis suggested. 

I loved the flavors of the dressed noodles which got even better as the noodles sat. The egg and avocado added richness, and the green onion and radishes made it fresh and spunky. This was quick and easy to prepare, and the leftovers were a treat for lunch the next day. There are so many great ideas in this book, I might need to buy more bowls since I’ll be using them even more often. 

Black Sesame Noodle Bowl
Recipe excerpted with permission from BOWL © 2016 by Lukas Volger. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.  

For this noodle bowl, I took inspiration from Heidi Swanson’s Black Sesame Otsu in Super Natural Every Day, in which a blanket of black sesame seeds is toasted until it smells heady, then pounded with a mortar and pestle and combined with some Asian pantry staples to make a thick, savory, and tangy dressing, here given a bit more punch with wasabi. Like other cold noodle dishes, this is a good dish for packing up, and in my experience has been wonderful on the beach. The shredded egg and wisps of radish incorporate into the noodles, the shallot brings crunch and zing, and the final drizzle of kecap manis—the Indonesian soy sauce— brings the whole bowl together in the most satisfying way. 


1/4 cup black sesame seeds 
2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil 
5 teaspoons soy sauce 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar 
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder 
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 
3 bundles (about 11.5 ounces) dried soba, udon, or somen noodles 
2 medium shallots, minced 1 avocado 
2 large boiled eggs, firm yolks 
 8 small-to-medium radishes 
4 cups tender greens, such as watercress, upland cress, baby arugula, or tatsoi 
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced 
Kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce), for drizzling 

Place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet and set over medium-low heat. Toast, swirling the pan frequently, until fragrant—90 seconds to 2 minutes. Watch and smell carefully so that they don’t burn. Transfer to a mortar and coarsely grind, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, wasabi, and salt, and whisk until thoroughly combined. 

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a gentle boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, usually 4 to 7 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain, rinse thoroughly under cold running water, then drain again thoroughly. 

Add the noodles and shallots to the bowl with the sauce and toss well, until the noodles are thoroughly coated. At this stage, the noodles can be transferred to an airtight container and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. 

Quarter the avocado around the pit. Remove and peel the segments, then slice into thin strips. Peel the eggs and grate them using the large holes of a box grater. Slice the radishes into thin rounds. Stack the rounds on top of each other and slice into thin matchsticks. 

Divide the greens among four bowls, then top with the dressed noodles. Fan the avocado over the noodles in each bowl, then add a pile of the shredded egg, radishes, and scallions to each serving. Drizzle a bit of kecap manis over the avocado and serve. 

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