Walnut whisky truffles

This recipe is based on the honey truffle confections in the Hattie Ellis book, Spoonfuls Of Honey. I do, however, have several additions (walnuts, extra whisky, vanilla extract), and I substitute crême fraîche for double cream.

This version also gives amounts proportionate to one 3.5 oz / 100 g Lindt bar of dark chocolate. The yield is 19-20 truffles depending on size, and of course can be scaled up as needed. I find this is an ideal quantity to place in a single layer in a parchment-lined biscuit tin 6½” in diameter.

Ingredients:

  • dark or plain eating chocolate, at least 60% cocoa, 3.5 oz / 100 g

  • lightly toasted walnut bits: heaping 1/4 cup / 1.1 oz / 30 g

  • butter: 50 g / 1.7 oz (I used unsalted, but salted would be fine in this recipe)

  • crême fraîche: 1½ Tablespoons

  • medium-dark honey such as sourwood: about 1 Tablespoon

  • whisky: 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (= 4 teaspoons)

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • cocoa powder to coat hardened chocolate

Method:

Put an inch or so of water in a small saucepan and rest a heatproof bowl over top. If the bowl sits comfortably above the water level when boiling, use this bowl for the melting process. Start to heat the water so that it simmers but doesn’t rapidly boil: the chocolate must not get hot, just warm enough to melt. (If it’s too hot it will separate from the fats.)

Put the bowl on a digital scale, tare, and put in the 50 grams of butter. Put the bowl over the saucepan, adjusting heat level as needed. Add all the other ingredients with the chocolate last, stirring to combine, and continue to stir from time to time. Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, spread out the walnut pieces, breaking into smaller bits as wanted, and cook gently for a few minutes over medium heat, until fragrant. Immediately remove from heat. Let mixture cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, till hard. If the butter rises to the top while chilling, simply stir in it to mix and continue to chill.

Find a small cake tin and cut out parchment paper to line the bottom. Generously pour cocoa powder over a small plate, scoop out small portions of chocolate with a teaspoon, and roll each piece in the cocoa to coat. Pop into the tin in a single layer. Sprinkle unused cocoa powder over the truffle tops. Store tin in the fridge.



Honey for bread

Delicious thixotropic blackberry honey from the Smoky Mountains.

I always use honey — and only honey — when I make bread (dinner rolls or slicing loaves — any kind of normal bread except baguettes*). Though not essential to bread-making, honey is important because it rounds out or deepens the flavour (on the rare occasion when I’ve forgotten to put the honey in, the bread retains loft and a nice texture, but I miss it all the same). The wholesomeness of bees’ food is well expressed by Hattie Ellis when she says:

‘Yes, honey is sugar — natural glucose and fructose, but sugar nonetheless. But it also contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and beneficial enzymes. …When people object that honey is “just sugar”, it is worth considering how [little] of it is used.’

*According to the French — and they should know — baguettes should contain only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt.

A whole-foods feast

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All the veg on this (rental chalet) plate is raw and delicious together: green onions, flavourful tomato slices, cucumber spears, some lettuce, and a bit of parsley. For protein there is a gently boiled egg and sliced curried chicken. The seasoning is Tellicherry pepper and sea salt. I also shook a little Piri Piri hot chili sauce over top. The caloric wallop is relatively small but the nutritional bang is terrific, with a sense of satisfaction to match. I like pies as much as anyone -- and all that is fried, roasted, or slathered with cheese -- but the fact is that I can't eat those things on a daily basis (and I wouldn't want to). It's possible, I think, to over-stress cooking for oneself, in the sense of cooking to a recipe, in the pursuit of a slimmer and healthier self. I'm all for home cooking (and baking), but the fact is that cooking almost inevitably requires you to add more ingredients, and more fats and carbs, than you might otherwise have on your plate. The key to really 'cooking light' is not to cook at all, a few nights a week: instead, just compile whole foods to make a salad or a warm-cold combination. And: don't be so attached to dressings and caloric toppings (including cheese, butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, and oil). Then, when a really wonderful calorie-rich dish is just what you are in the mood for, you can afford the splurge -- because that's not how you're eating all the rest of the week!

Borlotti beans, or 'Tongue of Fire'

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The colour (as with 'red onion') is only 'red' in so far as it isn't blue, green or yellow -- though our bean pods have the palest yellow tinge between the streaks of pink-violet (or magenta). The beans themselves are similarly streaky, though the streaks curl to match the bean shape. They also lose their colour when cooked in stock, turning an overall pale beige which deepens as the cooking continues. We are cooking them the Southern way with some hardback (suet-y) bacon in the pot. But we don't know what to do with them yet. Mashed with olive oil, garlic, and herbs, they might make a nice bean dip.

Update: What we actually did with them is make a bean-rice medley that is absolutely delicious, and will pair perfectly with the barbecued ribs and pulled pork we plan to buy for tonight's dinner. The recipe is simple: the beans were cooked, as mentioned, with the hardback bacon (which adds flavour without dissolving its fat) and a good quantity of homemade chicken stock. When the beans were done, we were left with a small bowl of rich liquid, which we topped up with water so as to cook the basmati rice. Then, in a large braising pan the jalapeños were fried in olive oil, peas were added, and both the rice and the beans were mixed in over heat. An easy dish, packed with nutrients, somehow summery and hearty at the same time. And: exceedingly moreish.

Easy Peasy Pitas

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Nigella seeds and sprouted wheat flour add oomph

2½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sprouted wheat flour

2 tsps rapid-rise or bread-machine yeast

1 tsp pan-toasted nigella seeds (kalonji/charnuska)

1 tsp sea salt

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp raw honey

1 cup + 2 Tablespoons hot (but not off-the-boil) water (between 105°F and 120°F at the high end).

In a large bowl, mix together the first five (dry) ingredients, then add the others to get a dough.

Knead the dough for several minutes until it is smooth and springy.

Pre-heat oven to 480°F. Have several clean tea towels at the ready.

Cut dough into eight slices, then form each slice into a ball. Cover these in the mixing bowl with a tea towel while you roll each one out. If you have extra baking trays, use these as holding pens (with tea towels in a layer over the pitas) for the raw ones while they wait to go in the oven. Roll each dough ball into a thin flat circular pancake, no more than ¼” thick, and be careful not to tear as this will prevent the pita pocket from forming in the oven. 

Bake two at a time for about 4 minutes, till puffed up, and then turn over with a metal spatula to brown on the other side, another minute or two. Remove promptly and immediately place on rack with tea towel to cover (they will soften and the air pocket will eventually collapse). Serve hot, or allow to cool and freeze if not using that day.

Rum nut brownies

 
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Method:

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then the eggs one by one, and then add the other ingredients, blending well with a spatula. Use a bowl scraper to fill a parchment-lined square pan to a depth of about 2 inches. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until cooked but still moist. Cool on a rack and cut into squares.

4 oz butter (1 standard American stick)

3 oz almond paste in small bits

2 large eggs

⅔ cup lightly toasted walnuts*

⅔ cup cocoa

⅔ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup raw cane sugar

1 tsp rum

1 tsp almond extract

½ tsp baking soda

* Break up the walnuts into small bits, put in a frying pan over medium-high heat and stir about for a few minutes, until the skins begin to darken. Reduce heat if need be. Don't allow the nuts to burn, and remove them from the heat as soon as they are off-raw. If any bits look very dark, don't use them.

Homemade Hummus With Texture

 Hummus, this time with chopped jalapeños

Hummus, this time with chopped jalapeños

I don't like most store-bought hummus for the simple reason that I don't like slickly puréed food. As with mashed potato, I like body and bite -- the suggestion of chunkiness, not a resemblance to apple sauce. I am not a baby, and don't want my vegetable dishes to resemble baby food!

There is also the matter of cost. Chick peas are cheap, and tahini, while more expensive per gram, is only a small proportion of any hummus batch and one jar will do for many of them. In addition, hummus is super easy to make. I don't follow English cook Simon Rimmer in using a blender, however: a blender strikes me as more awkward to clean than a bowl, and then too one might get an undesirable mush around the blades. What I prefer is to mash the chick pea mix in a large deepish mixing bowl -- with a tumbler if a pestle isn't handy -- and then further mix and chop it with an electric hand-held mixer. Removing the hummus is a doddle and so is clean-up. 

Herewith, my recipe:

Ingredients:

2 tins chick peas (each one 15.5 oz/439 g)

4 Tablespoons tahini

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tablespoons lemon juice, i.e. the juice of 3 very small lemons

3 large jalapeños, cores removed, finely chopped

about 1 Tablespoon minced jarred garlic, or fresh garlic to taste

1 teaspoon sea salt

black pepper to taste

Mix all of the above as described in the preceding paragraph. Serve with homemade pitas (see next blog post for the recipe).

How much wine?

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We all know that medical guidelines are often nanny-state propaganda on stilts -- and when it comes to alcohol, indeed they are: one 5-ounce glass a day of wine is considered enough and more than enough for women (regardless of their age, weight, time of life, fitness, or alcohol tolerance), and two is the same for men (ditto). Many so-called guidelines don't even allow this on a daily basis: we are exhorted to be teetotal for a certain number of days per week! In any case, this is one of the stupidest proscriptions I've ever heard of. Real life contradicts this recommendation, left and right. But hey, why let reality get in the way of spoiling people's enjoyment of life?

Best way to boil eggs -- and poach them

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To boil large eggs:

Have ready a bowl of very cold water, and then, for a thoroughly hard-boiled result: Cover eggs in a saucepan with cool water and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Let stand covered for 9-10 minutes. For a softer centre, which I prefer, set the timer for 7-8 minutes. For a runny center (good for dipping strips of toast or ‘soldiers’ in), allow to cook only 6-7 minutes. When time is up, plunge the eggs into the cold bath and then take them right out, if you wish to eat them warm. Bear in mind that even eggs marked ‘large’ vary in size, and smaller eggs will of course want less cooking time.

I like simple methods that bring out the best flavour and texture, so these are my preferred methods of boiling and poaching eggs.

To POACH eggs -- 

Traditional method, free-floating: 

Nearly fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, crack the egg or eggs into a shallow dish. Stir the water with a wooden spoon or spatula to get a kind of whirlpool motion going. Lower the dish to the surface of the water and slip the eggs in as quickly as you can. This will cool the water: bring it back to a rapid boil. Lower the heat slightly to a less ferocious boil and cook for a few minutes more, until the egg white has turned into a shaggy white ball. Remove with a slotted spoon. Note: many people like to add vinegar to the water as they say that it helps the egg white to cohere rather than be dispersed through the water. I find the benefit negligible or unnoticeable, and I don't like the vinegar flavour, so I don't bother. 

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Contemporary method, in a silicone cup:

Fill a pot with about 1 inch of water (roughly 3 centimeters), and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, crack the egg into the cup (slicking it with oil for perfect release is optional and not really needed). Place the cup in the water, cover the pot, and reduce the temperature to a moderate boil. On an induction hob, I find that setting the timer for seven minutes at 6 on the dial gives me a perfect egg -- soft-centered and slightly oozing yolk and tender, well-cooked albumen (induction hobs allow you to be really precise.) One benefit of this method, apart from the neat form of the egg and the fact that you don't lose any to the water, is that it's easy to judge whether the egg is done to your liking or not. If it's underdone, just stick the cup back in the water for a bit more cooking. 

 

 

Infused water

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 The basket can be churned about to infuse the water with flavour -- but not calories!

The basket can be churned about to infuse the water with flavour -- but not calories!

I'm digging infused water, and not just with fruits or sweet tastes, either. Infusing might be wasteful if you really need the calories, but if you're cutting instead, this allows you the zing of flavour without penalty, and the fruit, veg, and herbs can be used multiple times: just top the water up as you drink it.

 

Above, in a purpose-made pitcher,  are slices of half a cucumber, basil leaves, and a handful of fresh raspberries. To the right, some chopped strawberries and pierced tangerine segments, from from the fruit of my own tree. Below, a tarter mix. Peach and kiwifruit is another nice combination.

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Blueberries and lemon slices in sparkling mineral water: very refreshing!

Turkish Yoghurt Cake

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Turkish Yoghurt Cake

This cake has everything: it’s moist, nutty, fruity, mildly spicy, and flavourful but not rich; it has the perfect density; it's easy to make and is susceptible to different ‘interpretations’. You could change the nuts or leave the nuts and raisins out, and add fresh berries or candied fruit; you could put icing or frosting on top, or drizzle citrus syrup; you could make any one of the flavours more pronounced  (cinnamon, citrus, vanilla). You could bung in other flavourings, such as liquor – rum, brandy, sweet sherry, Tuaca, Grand Marnier –  or actual vanilla seeds, or fennel or anise. It’s a cake to dress up or down, a cake for all seasons and occasions. It is Turkish Yoghurt Cake. 

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Apparently this cake comes in many versions. Claudia Roden's much simpler recipe (no nuts, raisins, cinnamon or vanilla) features lemons and lemon zest instead of orange, and Greek-style yoghurt; hers also has a lemon syrup, which she describes as 'optional'. But the one below is the recipe I know. I don’t recall where I found it, but I’ve made this cake several times, and this recipe represents my idea of improvement. My recipe has more walnuts, more raisins, less butter, and slightly more salt and vanilla than the original version. I also toast the walnuts before baking with them. In my opinion, toasting much improves the taste, but you need to be quick: the lightest broiling is all that’s needed –  just a few minutes –  or the walnut oil burns and the flavour becomes nasty.  

I’ve put asterisks next to the parts of the recipe I’ve changed, which gives you the option, if you’re trying it, to change it back.

TURKISH YOGHURT CAKE

NB:  This recipe cuts the butter slightly (from 1 cup), boosts vanilla extract by ½ tsp and walnuts by ¼ cup, and raises the raisins from 1/3 cup in the original recipe.  * shows my additions/adjustments.  ['Tablespoon' here is the UK/US measure equalling 15 ml.]

Equipment:  10-inch tube pan, electric mixer, two large mixing bowls, scraper or spoon spatula.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup/ 6 oz (about 1 ½ sticks) high-quality unsalted butter*

1½ cups sugar 

1 cup/ 10 oz plain yoghurt

2½ cups flour

4 eggs

1 cup chopped walnuts (lightly toasted*)

½ cup golden raisins or flame raisins*, the latter chopped

1 generous teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (i.e. zest of about one medium orange)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½ teaspoons* vanilla extract/essence OR seeds of one vanilla pod + 1 tsp essence.

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp [+ ⅛ tsp*] salt

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts and raisins.

In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and continue to beat until well combined. Add the yoghurt.  

Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Preheat oven to 350F. 

Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until incorporated. Turn mixture into pan, and bake for 1 hour (or 40 minutes if using a traditional fan-assisted oven*), or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool on a rack, then remove from the pan. *If your oven drops the temperature on the 'convect' setting -- mine does by 25°F -- then bake for the full hour.

My favourite bread recipe

 A 1½-lb loaf made in my bread machine. These days I prefer the smaller loaf (reduced from 2 lbs) because I find the size more ideal for toast and sandwiches. The French breadboard, a gift from my mother-in-law after a vacation in Vaucluse, is very handy for catching the crumbs when you slice.

A 1½-lb loaf made in my bread machine. These days I prefer the smaller loaf (reduced from 2 lbs) because I find the size more ideal for toast and sandwiches. The French breadboard, a gift from my mother-in-law after a vacation in Vaucluse, is very handy for catching the crumbs when you slice.

I use a bread machine, and it's one of the best purchases I've ever made. I have total control over my bread economy: how it's made, when it's made, and what goes into it, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My favourite, most-of-the-time recipe is based on one for bread machines by Beth Hensperger, but my version differs in several ways. 

Ms Hensperger's recipe calls for canola oil, which I won't touch (I have read descriptions of how it is manufactured and seen a video on YouTube -- either one of which is enough to put anybody off for life). She asks for milk, but I vary that when I have the opportunity (yoghurt on hand). She adds four teaspoons of gluten (in powder form) to the yeast, but I never detected any benefit from doing that, so I leave it out. The yeast is perfectly adequate to raise the bread, all by itself. While she asks for 2 tablespoons of honey, I put in only one, but I double the salt, as I find that 'more is better' when it comes to flavour depth and salting.

Makes a 1½ -pound loaf.

3 cups / 15 ounces flour -- either all bread flour or a mixture of bread and all-purpose flour (I like 2 cups bread flour to one cup all-purpose, but any combination is fine)

1/2 cup water (preferably spring, mineral, or filtered) 

1/2 cup plain lowfat yoghurt, or milk if yoghurt isn't available

1½ tablespoons best-quality unsalted butter, pecan oil, avocado oil, or extra virgin olive oil -- TIP: pour the oil out first, then the honey, as the oil slicks the spoon and the honey drips right off

1 tablespoon raw honey

2 teaspoons sea salt 

2¼ teaspoons bread machine yeast

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Alternative ingredients, in addition to the flour, yeast, salt and honey:

1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt

1/2 cup water

1 large egg

1/4 cup milk

I sometimes like to run the knead cycle twice, if there's time: it promotes gluten formation and when the bread rises, the texture and height are ideal. The result of this particular combination is fabulous: an easy-to-slice, delicious loaf with just the right balance between fluffiness and density, which goes with everything but is also a treat served by itself with a scraping of butter!

 

 

Make mine a Brie....

 $16 at Marks & Spencer USA

$16 at Marks & Spencer USA

I was looking at Marks & Spencer's bakeware offerings, since our new induction range could really benefit from their metal roasting tray -- it's great in the oven and then you can put it stove-top to deglaze the juices and make a nice gravy (can't do that with our glass one). And while there, I noticed that they have a ceramic cheese baker. It's very pretty, in white and dark grey, with a mother cow and her suckling calf. And the base has a delightful floral design reminiscent of Spode. The problem? The top says 'CAMEMBERT'. (Oh, and someone should have told the designer that 'Fabriqué en Normandie' requires an accent aigu over the first e: that means 'made', past tense.) The trouble is that I don't like Camembert. The only such cheese I enjoy is Brie. Way more better. MUCH. I don't want to read the word 'Camembert' when Brie is the only whole cheese I'd ever want to bake.

This is more the ticket, $14.99 from World Market -->

Brie is lighter, brighter, less earthy/gamey than Camembert, and it stands to reason: it has added cream and less lactose, and that makes all the difference. Brie is the older cheese in historical terms (7th or 8th century AD, according to one source), and in my view, they should have stopped there!

I'll probably end up buying this one, in white with ventilation holes in the lid, from Crate & Barrel ($19.95). Give me this summer heavenly Bries!

 

 

 

Not your store-bought salsa

I have lots of opinions about salsa, having sampled many commercial jars (my three favourites are Old Florida Gourmet Chunky, Clint's Hot, and Fiesta Nuclear salsas). But there is nothing like making your own.

The salsa at right has one red-ripened jalapeño pepper, one orange tomato (fully orange when ripe), one red tomato, about one-third of a yellow-skinned sharp onion, some minced garlic and snipped chives, freshly squeezed lime juice, and sea salt. The taste: fabulous. And a great addition to our taco meal.

Terrific Tzatziki

I love the versatility of tzatziki, not only in terms of meals -- it's great with any grilled meat, a baked potato, any kind of chips or crackers, and on salads. I also love the fact that you can ring the changes with it, adjusting the herbiness and garlic factor to taste. My recipe is quick and easy, since I don't bother with peeling the cucumber -- it's a waste of nutriment and gives back nothing, provided you use English ones and not the coarse-skinned American variety. When I say 'genuine' Greek yoghurt, I mean that it is a pure dairy product set with various bacterial cultures, not with additives such as cornstarch or other thickeners. I also think it's best to make tzatziki with yoghurt you've just bought, rather than stuff you've had hanging about for a while.

Here's what you need:

Equipment:

A grater,

garlic crusher or sharp chopping knife,

pair of kitchen scissors (optional)

kitchen scale

medium mixing bowl

 

Ingredients:

9 oz genuine very fresh Greek yoghurt

1 unpeeled English cucumber, washed, dried, and coarsely grated.

2 large garlic cloves (or 4-5 small ones), peeled and crushed or grated (or finely chopped with a sharp chef's knife).

juice of up to half a lemon (more if it's a very small lemon, less if it's a large one)

up to 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

 fresh chives

fresh chives

about 1 tablespoon chives, snipped finely with scissors (or slice with a knife or use partially dried chives).

OR

1 tablespoon finely chopped/snipped mint leaves

OR

1 tablespoon fresh dill

OR any combination of the above. Parsley, though milder than the other herbs, will also work fine if you don't have the others.

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black Tellicherry pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

 

Method:

Place the bowl on the kitchen scale and use the tare function to measure the yoghurt into it. Grate the washed cucumber into the yoghurt, add the garlic, lemon juice, seasoning, herbs, and olive oil, and stir together. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and eat within a week. 

 

 

 

Better Garibaldi biscuits

Should Garibaldi biscuits have a yolk in them? My answer: They don't need it, but sure, it's nice. What if you put in the whole egg instead? That's nice, too. I did that by accident the other day, having forgotten to separate white from yolk. Oh well. I figured it was bound to taste all right, and since the white that was not supposed to be there would add unbudgeted moisture, I would skip the recipe's 3 tablespoons of milk. It worked out just fine: the milk, I reckon, was only there to make up for the absence of the white in the recipe as written. But why was the egg white left out?

Whenever a baking recipe asks you to put in only the yolk of an egg, or only the white, you have to wonder where the other half is going -- and sure enough, the yolk often goes in the dough while the white is reserved for duty in washing the top, like a glue for the reception of sparkling sugar crystals. Having you use one egg for two different functions is more conservative than requiring you to use one and a half, which for most cooks really means two, as anything unused will simply go down the sink. But in my case, it's just as well that I bunged the whole egg in, white and all, since I really don't need my Garibaldis to shine with sugar. They are quite sweet enough as they are (though not cloying at all).

The other question is whether Garibaldi biscuits should have candied fruit. My answer is No: currants are lovely all by themselves, and this is a simple biscuit, simply made, with few ingredients. So I depart from the BBC recipe in this, as well. Just make 'em with currants (about 65 grams' worth, in a mix using 225g of flour). What I DO agree with, though, is the addition of spice: I used 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cloves. You could cut out one or change the combinations, but I thought the spice notes were both lovely and subtle.

A final point: neither the BBC nor the Delia Smith recipes I've seen advise an adequate quantity of salt. Indeed, the BBC one, weirdly, has no salt whatsoever. The Delia one mentions 'a pinch of salt' -- a formulation I dislike and avoid in my own recipe devisings, for the simple reasons that a) a pinch is rarely even close to enough and b) given the latter, the amount is and should be spoon-measurable. Rarely if ever do I want less than 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt (or anything else) in my recipes, and usually I want a lot more than that. 'A pinch' does not begin to cover it. Calling for 'a pinch' is a tradition of vagueness and sloppiness in recipes that will have to get on without me. I like to give definite guidance, with appropriate boldness, instead of causing doubt and confusion (and flabby taste) with the lazy terminology of 'a pinch'. If a baker is frightened of an ingredient, that's her lookout, and she is of course always free to adjust it according to taste.

I'd show a picture here of my various Garibaldis, but I'm afraid I've eaten them all. Maybe next time....

How to make the dough for Flaky Pastry

This video is not going to win any awards: not only does the camera -- fixed to a ladder with a Gorillapod -- never move, but I'm also not clear enough about the quantity of water I'm using (I should just have put it all in the same measure, and stated the ounce equivalent as well), and I needed a few drops more (just a few drops can make a difference: I lost a few when they got splashed on the counter). But for all that it's not a completely useless demonstration of making the dough for 'flaky pastry', also known as 'rough puff' pastry. It's a lot like puff pastry in the baked result, but the process of making this pastry takes less time....

Gear For The Baker: the Pastry Brush

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So many gadgets, so few places to store them -- and worse, so little use for them when the time comes. Like my egg separator (pictured in a post I made below): the truth is that mostly I just use the old-fashioned way of cracking the shell and shunting the yolk back and forth while the white drains between the shell edges. And it's true that at one point I even took one of my pastry brushes and put it among my watercolour art supplies. But upon mature reflection -- and given the enormous amount of pastry baking I do these days -- I've decided that the brush belongs back in the kitchen. I have a few brushes, and I really do recommend them.

There are two basic types: natural bristle (hair) on the one hand, and silicone (such as the one pictured), on the other. The silicone is very good for jobs such as scraping out the ground spice or salt from a mortar. You can bung it in the dishwasher for easy cleaning, and you don't have to stand it upright to dry. But in general I prefer the bristle brush. It's useful in the first place for skimming excess flour off pastry dough (which is not essential, admittedly: my pastry always turns out lovely, whether I brush the flour off or scarcely bother). More importantly, it's helpful for getting spice or nuts out of an electric grinder, simultaneously giving you every last crumb and cleaning the grinder for next time. Brushes can be somewhat flat and broad (again, like the picture) or more rounded: I use both. The broader brush in particular can be of use in sweeping a cutting board or marble slab clean of dough bits and flour. And of course, brushes are essential not only for glazing pastry with beaten egg (just the egg, please: no additions) but also for crystallizing leaves and flower petals with egg white, and for tending the pot while caramelizing sugar. 

Go ahead and buy that pastry brush. If you bake, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity. You'll reach for it, again and again, and wonder how you managed without it.