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tahini thumbprint cookies with a quick citrus marmalade

14 Jan

tahini marmalade cookies

It has been a quiet week at home. I have been baking to cure an undefinable ennui. (Sometimes I don’t want to know why I am sad, I just want to get my hands floury and bash some brioche dough into submission.)

This recipe was right at the back of Ottolenghi’s cult book, Jerusalem. And although it felt like sacrilege to mess with a master, I thought his simple tahini cookies could be made into thumbprints rather than flattened with a fork. And that a bitter, lemony marmalade to fill those thumbprints would complement the rich buttery, sesame flavour.  Also, pastry geekery, that a touch of cornstarch would make them more crumbly, shortbread-y. (Enough -y suffixes yet?)

Being right about all of those things (I am an I-told-you-so kind of person), and eating several cookies at once, made me feel instantly brighter. Give yourself a hit of butter, sugar, sesame and citrus in lieu of sunshine.

~~~

Tahini thumbprint cookies with quick citrus marmalade

Cookie recipe ever so slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, marmalade is mine. Use any citrus you like for the marmalade as long as it is relatively thin skinned (grapefruit would not work, for example). I have tried it with a tangerine and a bit of lemon, and with a whole lemon and half a tangerine. Depends how much you like bitter flavours! You can of course use a shop marmalade and mix the cookies by hand if you don’t have a food processor.

makes 30 

130g caster sugar

150g unsalted butter, room temperature

110g tahini

5g / 1 tsp fine salt

25 ml double cream / crème fraîche

250g plain flour

20g cornstarch

optional for decoration: sesame seeds

for the citrus marmalade:

150g citrus, including peel (eg 1 tangerine, 1/2 lemon)

150g sugar

Make the marmalade: halve the citrus fruits and pick out any pips. Then, in a food processor, blend citrus peel and all with the sugar, to a fine paste. Bring to the boil in a small saucepan, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will thicken and start to leave tracks on the bottom of the pan.

Preheat oven to 180C.

Using the same food processor, no need to wash it (it will give the biscuits a lemony taste): blend sugar and butter until soft and creamy but not fluffy. Add tahini, cream and salt, mix to combine. Then add flour and cornstarch to form a dough. You may need to bring the dough together with your hands: knead once or twice to make a smooth ball. Roll small balls (about 20g each) to make 30 in total. Space them out on a baking tray (or two). Firmly press a thumb into each one to make a generous dent. (Optional: dip the top of the cookies in sesame seeds.) Bake for 15 minutes until golden.

Fill dents in the cookies with marmalade. Should keep well for 4-5 days in an airtight tin.

 

abrikossnitte (apricot-pecan twists)

30 Dec

abrikossnitte coffee tangerine drawing

I spent most of Christmas Eve at our kitchen bench, drinking tea and reading the paper, watching my mother cook. It was a different kitchen, a different city, from where I grew up, but sitting at that old, scratched bench it felt like home. It was where I had breakfast and after school snacks, where I made Christmas cookies with friends, where I perched for a last cup of tea and piece of cake when the house was dark and quiet.

Open on the bench was a copy of The Cooking of Scandinavia, for the split-pea soup recipe. It is a borrowed family tradition: the Swedish have pea soup on a Thursday, we have it on Christmas Eve. A thick yellow soup, flavoured with ham, onion and a few cloves, always served with a dollop of sharp mustard in each bowl. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that it is whole and hearty, good preparation for the onslaught of rich food ahead.

Leafing through the book and laughing (not unkindly) at the old-school food styling, I remembered some of the Scandinavian Christmas traditions I have bumped into: one Christmas Eve with a friend’s family, we had Danish risalamande, or rice pudding with whipped cream and flaked almonds. The person who found the whole almond won a small marzipan pig. This year on 13th December, or Santa Lucia, a Swedish friend brought us gingerbread stars topped with a bit of blue cheese, a surprisingly delicious combination. I have also been following Fanny Zanotti’s dreamy photos and recipes from a snowy Christmas in Sweden.

Then I found a comprehensive section on Danish pastries, which the Danish actually call Wienerbrød, literally ‘bread from Vienna’, which is where flaky breakfast pastries actually originated. Hence viennoiserie in as a general term in France. The recipe is pretty similar to croissant-making, but with egg and milk and fragrant cardamom in the dough, and slightly different folds.

This variation, the abrikossnitte, translated as ‘apricot slips’ are little rectangles of dough – layered with apricot jam – that look like they have been twisted or plaited. I was curious to try the shape, much easier to make than it is to describe. Or draw: my original drawings made my mother laugh for how vulgar they looked. A laminated dough is not difficult, once you know how, but it does take time. (A good holiday project.) So I spent Christmas Eve alternating kneading, rolling, and reading while the dough rested. They were ready for breakfast the next day: flaky twists, sticky and sweet with a crunch from the pecans on top. Perfect with a pot of strong coffee.

abrikossnitte folds

Abrikossnitte (Apricot-pecan twists)

adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia, by Dale Brown and Time-Life Books

Scandinavian buns are often flavoured with cardamom and may be filled with jam or almond paste as well. This variation look like little twisted rectangles, layered with apricot jam, but the dough can be used for many different shapes or flavours. Try with Nutella instead of jam, or even cheese and mustard.

The whole process will take a minimum of 6 hours (most of which is time in the fridge). Or it can be done over 48 hours, depending on your schedule: just leave the dough in the fridge between steps. If at any point the dough feels too soft or sticky to roll – pop it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to solidify the butter, then carry on. The dough can also be frozen at any point (up to a month) and defrosted overnight in the fridge, before continuing as before.

makes 8-10

260g plain flour

35g caster sugar

5g / 1 tsp salt

5g / 1 tsp fast-acting yeast

10 cardamom pods / ¼ tsp ground cardamom

100g milk

1 egg (50g)

125g butter, cold

100g apricot jam

to decorate: a little milk + coarse sugar + chopped pecans

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. (If using whole cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind them in a mortar and pestle.) Make a well in the centre, add the milk and egg and bring everything into a dough with one hand. Add a splash of milk if too dry or a touch of flour if very wet – although it should be a bit sticky at the beginning. Knead for 10 minutes on the counter until smooth and stretchy. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare the butter slab: place butter in the middle of a large piece of baking paper. Fold it around the butter, like wrapping a present, to make a parcel about 15x20cm, A5 size. Tap butter with a rolling pin to soften, then roll out to fill the paper parcel, of an even thickness all over. Chill until firm.

With a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough to about 20x30cm. Carefully unwrap and place the cold butter on the top two thirds of the dough rectangle (see picture above). Fold over the bottom third, then the top third with the butter. Rotate the dough 90° (so that it looks ‘like a book’ with the seam on the side). Press down gently on each seam – top, bottom and side – with the rolling pin so the butter can’t escape.

Roll out lengthways to 40-50cm. Fold the narrow ends into the middle, then fold in half – this is a ‘double’, ‘wallet’ or ‘book’ fold. Chill for 30 minutes then repeat the double fold, making sure that it looks ‘like a book’ when you begin rolling.

Finally, roll out one more time, just long enough to fold the dough in half. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight. (Or freeze the dough at this point for later.)

Roll out the dough block to a thin rectangle, about 20x45cm. Spread apricot jam on one long half (10x45cm) then fold over the bare half. Divide the long strip into 8 rectangles. Cut a slit in the middle of each rectangle, then tuck one end under and pull it through the cut, forming a twist effect (see picture below). Space the 8 twists out on a baking tray lined with paper. Loosely cover in plastic and allow to double in size at room temperature or in a gently warm place (no more than 25°C). Allow for at least an hour. OR refrigerate the tray overnight and carry on in the morning. OR freeze twists until later, then defrost when needed on a tray in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 200°C. When twists have doubled, brush gently with milk, sprinkle with coarse sugar and (optional extra) chopped pecans. Bake for 5 minutes at 200°C then lower the heat to 180°C for another 10-15 minutes, until they are nice and golden-brown all over and underneath. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.

abrikossnitte cuts

plum and hazelnut financiers

27 Oct

autumn gourmet desserts

Working on recipes over the summer holidays, I made what was possibly the ugliest dessert of all time. It didn’t taste terrible but it looked a mess. It reminded me of being an apprentice, trying to cut corners to go faster and having to start again entirely. Short cuts take twice as long, I learned. And I could feel the ghost of our strict French chef breathing over my shoulder as I attempted to pipe this monstrosity.

My friend was polite about it: I’ll save half for breakfast! No, it was nice, honestly. But she was betrayed by her comparative enthusiasm for the second thing we made that day, these simple, little plum and hazelnut cakes. We made them in cupcake pans with sliced plums on top, and in little moulds the size of corks that we ate hot as soon as they came out of the oven, not even a mouthful.

The financier is a cousin to the madeleine, and a superior cousin at that (though I share a name with the latter). (I’m also the oldest cousin in my English family, so.) Both are little buttery snack-cakes, but financiers are made with browned butter, what the French call beurre noisette, so they already have a toasty aroma that is only enhanced by the ground nuts, in this case hazelnuts. They stay fresh for a few days too, unlike madeleines which are best eaten on the first day. Plums are a perfect autumn accompaniment, the thin slices turning jammy in the oven, with a few halved hazelnuts on top for crunch.

Apart from browning the butter, the preparation is pretty easy. Stir, chill, bake. Ideally the mixture should rest in the fridge for a few hours to properly chill for the perfect texture. It will keep for a few days refrigerated, so if you have more mixture than tins, you can make a second batch later on.

Plum and hazelnut financiers

adapted from Hugues Pouget in Fou de Pâtisserie 12. It is an easily customisable recipe – substitute almonds or walnuts; add spices, citrus zest, vanilla or even finely ground tea for different effects; use seasonal fruits like raspberries, apples, pears…

makes 20-24

80g plain flour

120g ground hazelnuts

200g caster sugar

200g butter

20g honey

215g egg whites (about 7-8)

grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

3-4 ripe plums

whole hazelnuts for decoration

Sift flour, hazelnuts and sugar into a large bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and keep going until it starts to foam and sizzle, then subside. After a couple of minutes, you should smell the milk solids in the butter toasting, similar to hazelnuts. This is easiest in a light coloured pan, as you can see them turn brown (but not black!). If you have a thermometer, cook the butter to 145C. Remove from the heat, add honey and allow to cool. Mix egg whites into flour/nuts/sugar, then stir in the cooled butter, nutmeg and pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to several days).

Grease cupcake moulds or line with papers. Fill each mould about 3/4 full. Finely slice plums and halve hazelnuts and arrange 2-3 slices of plum and 2-3 hazelnut halves on each financier. (This step can be done straightaway if preferred and then refrigerated in the pans).

Preheat oven to 170C and bake for 12-15 minutes. They should be golden all over and brown around the edges. Will keep for 2-3 days in airtight tin.

coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

21 Sep

cheesecake ingredients

Bringing a cheesecake to a party seems like cheating: pretty much everyone will love it. Forgive the fashion metaphor: after five years I finally caved and bought a black leather jacket, to match everyone else in Paris. And you know what? It makes everything else I wear instantly cooler. I have never looked cool before. Cute or quirky or colourful maybe. There is a reason that the French word for a leather jacket is un perfecto.

It feels like cheating because it is the same, simple recipe I have used forever, from the wife of my Italian tutor. Blend biscuit crumbs, whisk filling, pour into a tin, bake. Ice if you are fancy. I just adapt it to every occasion – with lemon zest and a poppy seed crust; kumquats and apricots; or Earl Grey tea – but keep the basic ratio the same. My trick is to bake it in a long loaf tin, which makes it less likely to crack or leak, and elegant and easy to slice later on. You can have the whole thing in the oven in about ten minutes. Leaving you lots of spare time to watch the Great British Bake Off and marvel at how complicated they make things for themselves.

Last time I tried another recipe, an involved one with several layers, a frozen ganache, extra bells and whistles, I was disappointed. My oven ended up covered in butter and chocolate. So I have gone back to my staple recipe. (It was high time I drew a new picture for cheesecake anyway.) Not too sweet, not too heavy. This version has a biscuit base of speculoos (cinnamon) biscuits as well as savoury crackers, and some ground coffee and walnuts for a grown-up edge. (Since I had some grapefruit marmalade lying around, I spread a little over the base too.) The mascarpone cream is flavoured with more coffee and rum, as well as a touch of grapefruit zest. On top, a bitter caramel white chocolate ganache and a few flakes of sea salt. No more decoration needed.

~~~

Coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

Ganache topping borrowed from Dana Cree’s not nutter butters. Feel free to substitute cream cheese or Quark for mascarpone; change the biscuits; swap the walnuts for any other nuts/seeds; change the coffee flavouring to cinnamon, lemon or tea… For a lighter topping, just smooth over some crème fraîche or sour cream when cool. Use this recipe as a template for your favourite flavours!

makes enough for at least 8 generous slices

crust:

120g speculoos biscuits

55g TUC crackers

35g walnuts

1 tbs ground coffee

25g caster sugar

75g butter, melted

(optional: 2-3 tbs grapefruit marmalade)

cheesecake:

2 tsp instant coffee

1 tbs rum

450g mascarpone

150g caster sugar

4 eggs

zest of one grapefruit

caramel ganache:

20g water

50g caster sugar

75g whipping/heavy/single cream

20g butter

150g white chocolate

flaky sea salt to finish

~~~

Grease and line a 24cm-long loaf tin with baking paper, with an extra few centimetres sticking up to make it easy to pull out of the tin later on.

Preheat oven to 170C.

Blend the biscuits, coffee and walnuts in a food processor to make fine crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and blend again to combine evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom of the loaf tin firmly with the back of a spoon. Optional: carefully spread grapefruit marmalade over the crumb base.

Rinse out the food processor then blend instant coffee with rum to dissolve it. Mix in mascarpone, sugar, eggs and zest and blend until smooth. Pour into tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until puffed up, starting to crack slightly and a skewer inserted in the top comes out clean.

Let the cheesecake cool in the pan for at least half an hour before making ganache:

Finely chop white chocolate, put in a bowl with a sieve on top. Gently heat cream in a small pan or microwave. Measure out the butter. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan, without stirring, to make a very dark caramel. It should be just on the point of smoking, almost burnt, to balance out the sweetness of the white chocolate. Quickly take off the heat and slide in the butter. Let it melt before stirring it into the caramel. Add the warmed cream, stir again to combine. Strain the caramel sauce through the sieve into the white chocolate. Let it absorb the heat for 30 seconds then stir together to combine. If it starts to split or look a bit greasy, whisk in a teaspoon of hot cream or hot water and it should come back together. Carefully smooth onto the surface of the cheesecake. Refrigerate to set.

Just before serving, sprinkle some flaky salt over the cheesecake. Carefully lift out of the pan with the paper, cut into thick slices, cleaning your knife each time you cut it.

chocolate-sesame truffles

10 Jun

chocolate sesame truffles

Pictured, two of my flatmate’s favourite things: healthy, ‘bio’ (organic) German products – nuts, seeds, muesli that she brings back from Berlin – and chocolate. Preferably the 74% cacao from our local supermarket. We have a never-ending supply of the bright green packets. Her desk normally consists of a laptop, papers, pens, books … chocolate. After a meal, dessert, coffee, she likes to eat one square of it. This intrigues me: I have never been a one-square kind of person. All, or none. But I am learning from her. In fact, when the chocolate is so dark and bitter, a little piece is just enough. Especially with an espresso, the perfect balance. These truffles made me think of her: tahini and sesame oil stand in for the butter in a classic ganache, giving them a seriously punchy flavour. I try to have one at a time.

(I am making my way through The Pastry Department recipe archive, one by one.)

~~~

Chocolate sesame truffles

from the pastry department – makes 30-50, depending on size

180g dark chocolate (65-75% cacao)

120g heavy / whipping cream (30-35% fat)

2g salt (a big pinch)

20g tahini

10g sesame oil

Chop the chocolate finely (can be done in a food processor). Heat the cream and salt until it starts to boil, then pour over the chocolate. Cover with plastic wrap, so that it is touching the surface of the mixture, and let stand for 3 minutes. This will allow the chocolate to melt gently without losing any liquid to evaporation. Remove plastic, squeezing out any remaining cream. Stir gently with a whisk until smooth then add the tahini and sesame oil. If it looks like it is starting to split, whisk in 1-2 tsp hot water, a teaspoon at a time.

To make the truffles you can pipe blobs of mixture onto a tray, refrigerate, and then roll them round; or pipe into small silicone candy moulds – mine are demi-spheres. Or you can pour the mixture into a flat, square, lightly greased tupperware.

Chill until fully set, then roll into balls, release from the silicone, or cut into squares, respectively. Toss in cocoa to coat. Keep refrigerated but allow them a few minutes to come to room temperature before eating. Should last for a week or so in the fridge. If you are not too greedy.

rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

10 Apr

rich luscious dark chocolate cream cheese frosting

The three year old son of one of my friends has an active imagination and a very gourmand palate. When asked, how was nursery school, he will say: “Today I built a coffee machine” or “I took the night train to Copenhagen.” And once: “I cooked polenta with tomatoes and parsley. And calamari.” Which sounds perfectly delicious.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to have that kind of free, three-year-old inspiration. This week I built a blanket fort and made a cake. On separate days. Both were even better than I imagined they would be: first I was cocooned in a warm glow of blankets with cups of tea and a kitten, no screens, it felt like an escape in my own flat. And then the idea for a cake just came to me in all its disparate elements. A British friend’s birthday prompted something with Earl Grey, something light and delicate. Then a student came for a macaron class and showed me a beautiful picture of a cake with a whole cheesecake between the two layers instead of frosting. The sheer audacity of this meant I had to try it. Luckily, I already had both an Earl Grey cake and a simple cheesecake in my archives. The former is a light genoise, with only a touch of butter. Thinking of Earl Grey and chocolate macarons, i wanted a frosting that would not overwhelm but complement the delicate citrus-tea layers. With real dark chocolate AND cocoa, and cream cheese for a creamy, slightly salty edge. Made in a food processor it was incredibly smooth and delicious – a substantial afternoon snack for the baker. Me. It was better than my imagination.

For an Earl Grey-citrus-chocolate cheesecake-cake you will need:

One Earl Grey cake, from Fanny Zanotti

One basic cheesecake recipe  no crust: whisk together 450g cream cheese, mascarpone or ricotta, 150g sugar, 4 eggs + zest of one lemon + tea from 2-4 Earl Grey teabags

One quantity rich and dark and luscious chocolate cream-cheese icing, see below

Simple syrup made of 100g water, 100g sugar and one teabag. Boil everything and let cool with the teabag still in.

For the tea: either cut the fine tea out of teabags or blend proper tealeaves in a food processor with the sugar in the recipe. Line two 22cm round tins with baking paper. Bake cake in one and cheesecake in the other, let cool. Slice the cake into two layers, evening up the top if not totally flat. I like to flip the cake over and use the bottom of the cake as the top layer since it is the most even. Lightly brush one layer of cake with syrup. Top with cheesecake, then second layer of cake. Brush with more syrup. (You won’t need to use it all. Save the rest for cocktails.) Ice with chocolate frosting. If you are very meticulous, start with a crumb layer: spread a very thin layer all over first, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. This is supposed to stop crumbs from getting into the final layer. Then carry on frosting. You can do it in an artfully messy way, a la Smitten Kitchen, or neat and smooth with piped rosettes on top.

Rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

adapted from wickedgoodkitchen: I reduced the sugar and halved the original recipe. It still makes enough to ice and decorate the outside of a 22-24cm round cake – multiply by 1.5 if you want a thick layer of frosting between layers as well.

65g dark chocolate (60-70% cacao content)

115g unsalted butter

115g cream cheese

30g cocoa

180g icing sugar

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are both room temperature. Chop chocolate and melt over a bain-marie or in a microwave (careful not to let it get too hot or it will go grainy). Let it cool a little. Blend the soft butter in a food processor with a blade until smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend again. Sift the cocoa and icing sugar together. Add about half to the food processor, blend, add melted chocolate (cooled but still fluid), and blend again. Scrape the sides, tip in the rest of the icing sugar/cocoa and blend one last time. It should be beautifully smooth and shiny.

To ice the cake: smooth icing around the sides first, then over the top. Use any leftovers to pipe swirls on top. If you want contrasting swirls, mix a dollop of cream cheese with some remaining icing and alternate dark and light chocolate.

Icing refrigerated really well, staying nice and soft. No tests yet on how long it keeps. Cake was demolished in about ten minutes.

matcha / goma pannacotta

4 Apr

 

Scan 6

To continue my Japanese love affair: an easy dessert to go with the black sesame shortbread. Originally inspired by my favourite dessert at Nanashi Bento, light, delicious, still a little jiggly. They serve it with a few blueberries and some whipped cream.

Matcha is a very fine green tea powder, used for the tea ceremony. Goma is black sesame. Make either or both. If you are particularly cunning, you could make two layers: make one batch of matcha, divide between 8 glasses, refrigerate to set, then pour a batch of goma on top. I prefer the texture of gelatine, but for vegetarians/vegans, agar-agar works too.

For a quick guide on how to gel absolutely anything, check out Bompas and Parr’s guide to jelly. They even made a jellied Christmas dinner. Though their method is slightly different to mine below, their principles and the conversion chart are excellent.

Matcha / goma pannacotta

makes 4 medium or 6 small

400ml coconut milk (or 1 tin)

30g honey or maple syrup

3 tsp matcha OR 30g black sesame paste

**3-4g leaf gelatine OR 2g agar agar (1 packet)

Heat half the coconut milk and the honey in a small saucepan.

If using gelatine, soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water. When it is soft, drain off all the water. When the coconut milk feels warm, but not so hot that it will burn your hand, add gelatine and stir to melt. (Above 60C and the gelatine will not set properly.)

If using agar agar, sprinkle the powder over the coconut milk before you heat it up. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.

Use the other half of the coconut milk to dilute the matcha powder or sesame paste, adding a little liquid at a time until smooth. You can do this by shaking it in a little jar, whisking it, or in a blender.

Once the heated coconut milk and gelatine/agar agar is ready, combine with the matcha / goma. Whisk or blend to combine well.

Pour into 4-6 glasses and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. To speed up the process, carefully place glasses in the freezer until the liquid sets.

Serve with fresh fruit, like persimmon or raspberries, some whipped cream and a drizzle of honey.

~~

**If you want to unmold your pannacotta, use 4g leaf gelatine and lightly grease the glasses with a neutral oil. If they do not slide out easily, dip the bottom of the glasses in hot water to loosen them. If you plan on serving in the glasses, 3g should suffice for a delicately wobbly texture. For most gelatine found in supermarkets, 1 leaf = 1g.

salted caramel pecan tart

1 Dec

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart

That week was a hard week. I fell asleep at odd hours, subsisted mainly on grapefruits and Nutella. Cocooned under the duvet, I was peacefully numb, purposefully avoiding decision, movement.

It was comfortable.

Then, then there was a breeze and an art exhibition and a proper conversation, as we perched on some church steps.

Vulnerability is the origin of all joy, and all pain. To really feel, you have to be stripped raw and open to the elements. Exposed to fear and shame and disgust but also, hopefully, to discovery and light.

Then I bought two chocolates: a liquid caramel and a milk chocolate praline. The flavours were strident, bitter caramel and sweet gianduja (upmarket Nutella).

Then there was a concert. Still a little dazed, I heard the harsh Belgian rock as a lullaby. Only when the next band came on and the African violin started to play did I wake up, properly. It was so alive – an electric guitar and Gambian folk songs, a steady beat.

A determined granny started a simple dance by the stage. Everyone else in the staid theatre got to their feet. Electricity crackled. It was so good it hurt. That violin made tears fall involuntarily, as if I was cutting onions.

When you are asleep, you don’t feel the bad stuff. But you don’t get the good stuff either. You don’t get to really taste, to listen in to music.

Sometimes you have to get out of bed (or take off your hedgehog spikes, whatever your protection might be) and make something happen. Then you win back your five senses.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a high note or a bite of chocolate will bring you back to yourself.

But you have to be awake and open. It hurts. This is how you know you are a person.

~~~

(I found this piece in a forgotten notebook the other day. Maybe it reads a little raw, too emotional? It comes from exactly three years ago. A lot has changed since then. I am a lot happier, though I still make the same mistakes, I still hiberate when faced with hard decisions. I recommend watching Brene Brown for a more scientific and yet funnier look at vulnerability.)

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart 2

So. Salted butter caramel. Something I have made on and off over the years. It has that pushy flavour that brings you down to earth, bitter and sweet and rich. Can be used to fill macarons or plain shortbread cookies. Drizzled on yoghurt, meringues or spread in a thin layer on cake. (If you want to make it into a buttercream, beat cooled caramel with 180g softened butter.) It is hard to resist eating it with a spoon. The recipe does require a sugar thermometer. If you are making it as a macaron filling you will need one anyway for the Italian meringue. (An electronic thermometer/timer can be found at IKEA for only a few euros.)

Once you have mastered the caramel, the tart itself is very easy and incredibly delicious. Inspired by Jacques Genin, Clamato and my local bakery, it is buttery and crumbly, a fancy French take on the pecan pie. The caramel just sticks the toasted pecans to the shortbread base, which has extra butter and a touch of coconut. It is the kind of tart that demands an extra sliver, and another and… I had to make it twice in a week to have it tested and approved by several Frenchies. They were more than satisfied, asking wide-eyed: mais c’est toi qui l’as fait? Mmmm. Silly question!

P.S. I just remembered the other pecan tart recipe on this tart: with a molasses custard base, it is totally different! At least somewhat different. Try them both! I made the molasses version sans pecans the other day, it was glossy and smooth and bitter, just how I like it.

~~~

Salted caramel pecan tart

makes one large tart (28-30cm)

Shortbread pastry:

200g butter, softened

115g caster sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

25g coconut, unsweetened

270g plain flour

generous pinch of salt

Caramel:

200g sugar

80g water

220g cream (single, whipping or creme fleurette)

40g salted butter

To assemble:

250g pecans

Pastry: Cream softened butter and sugar. Add egg and yolk and mix well. (If it separates a little, add a handful of flour.) Add flour, coconut and salt and stir to combine. Wrap in clingfilm, patting dough into a flat disc, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (Freeze for 10 minutes if in a rush.)

Caramel: Use a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably stainless steel so you can better see the colour of the caramel. A dark pan will made it more difficult. On a medium heat, cook sugar and water Do not stir. You can rotate the pan if necessary, if caramelising on one side only – but be careful with hot sugar!   Cook the sugar until it is a nice brown, smelling like caramel but not burnt. Tilt the pan a little to see the colour on the thinnest part – it will always look darker when it is thick.

Take the pan off the heat and throw in the  butter. Stand back, it will sizzle a little but will stop the cooking process so the caramel doesn’t burn. Then pour in the cream, carefully, for it will bubble up. Bring back to the heat and cook to 108C. (It may separate initially but will come back together again.) Have a large bowl of cold water ready: dip the bottom of the saucepan into it to cool it quickly. Then tip caramel into a bowl. If you are going to use it later, clingfilm the surface and put in the fridge.

To assemble: Grease a large tart tin – 28 to 30cm. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry a few centimetres wider than the tin. It is quite a soft dough: be gentle and try not to use too much flour. It should be quite thick – 5mm or so. Ease into tin, trim edges and prick base with a fork. Chill fo 30 minutes or freeze for 10. (If there is leftover pastry, cut into shapes, brush with leftover egg white, sprinkle with coconut, or cinnamon sugar, and bake as cookies.)

Preheat oven to 175C. As you do, spread pecans on a tray and toast them in the oven. But don’t forget them! About 10 minutes or until they smell toasted. Then line tart shell with paper and baking beans, and bake tart for 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans and carry on baking until golden-brown: another 15-20 minutes. It won’t be baked again, so it should be nice and crisp. When done, tip pecans into tart shell. Spoon or drizzle the caramel all over. If the caramel is a bit solid, put the tart back in the oven for 2-3 minutes until it melts and evens out. Allow to cool for an hour or two to set.

Keeps for 2-3 days in a tin.

black sesame shortbread

24 Nov

black sesame shortbread

Japan is all the rage in Paris at the moment: there is an extensive Hokusai exhibit at the Grand Palais, well worth visiting; a detailed look at the hand-drawn layouts for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films at the Musée d’Art Ludique; and Le Japon au fil des saisons at the Musée Cernuschi. The oldest department store in Paris, Le Bon Marché, is celebrating Japan too.

For our most recent Grape Leaf Club, we ate chirashi bowls with salmon, mackerel and octopus while watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’d seen the film before but loved it again – 85 year old sushi chef Jiro and his sincere perfectionism, his hard-working sons and apprentices. The jolly restaurant critic who admits to being slightly intimidated to eat there. The apprentice that cries when he finally gets the omelette right.

One of the lines in the Hokusai show echoed Jiro’s determined philosophy – both wanted to keep practising their craft their whole life long, believing there is more to learn even in your eighties.

It all makes me nostalgic for working in the Japanese bakery. I loved the genmaicha tea in the morning, making yuzu Christmas logs, starting with ohayo gozaimasu and finishing with otsukaresama desu! as we left. (“You are honorably tired” is a very satisfying compliment after a long day’s work.)

And so more Japanese flavours have been creeping into my cooking. There is a jar of pickled ginger by the stove, Japanese rice in the cupboard. I have an elegant wooden box that measures exactly enough rice for two people.

I love anything with black sesame – kuro goma –  the earthy, deep flavour a perfect contrast for something rich and creamy. I made the sesame shortbread with matcha-coconut pannacottafor our Jiro evening. It is buttery and crumbly with a slight edge from the bitter seeds.

The second time I made it for a quick dinner at home. It only needs a bowl and a spoon and a tin. We ate the shortbread with yoghurt and bitter caramel sauce. To turn natural yoghurt into something more worthy of a dessert, leave it to drain in a sieve lined with paper towels for half an hour. It becomes thicker, creamier and more tart. Like homemade Greek yoghurt. Drizzle with honey, maple syrup or caramel. Simple and delicious.

~~~

Black sesame paste and seeds can be found at Japanese or Asian supemarkets. In Paris, the rue St Anne, near metro Pyramides, has the highest concentration of Japanese shops, noodle bars and bakeries.  Or try using tahini.

Miyazaki exhibit, Paris

Black sesame shortbread

adapted from Seasonal Secrets

125g salted butter

50g caster sugar

2 tsp sesame paste

125g plain flour

50g rice flour

2 tsp black sesame seeds

Cream butter and sugar until soft. Add sesame paste and mix to combine well. Add flours and seeds. Keep mixing until the dough starts to form clumps. It can be a bit crumbly, but not powdery. If overworked, it will be too chewy rather than light.

Grease an 18cm round tin. Press the mixture firmly into it. Refrigerate shortbread while preheating oven to 175C. Bake for 15 minutes, until it comes away from the sides and is just golden around the edges.

Cool, slice into thin wedges.

fanny zanotti’s earl grey tea loaf, with grapefruit confit

29 Jun

earl grey weekend loaf

A Sunday morning free is a precious thing for a pastry chef. At 11am normally my day’s work would be half-done, my eyelids at half-mast. This weekend though, I was on the sofa by the window, watching the grey sky.

I feel like today is a cooking day.

Isn’t every day a cooking day for you? replied my friend at the other end of the sofa, her legs crossed over mine.

No, but, cooking for fun. Like jam, or something. 

There was a recipe book already on the windowsill, under the pile of FT cuttings my mother likes to send me. The Paris Pastry Club is full of dreamy photos and snippets of poetry, as well as very precise recipes. I’ve been following Fanny Zanotti’s blogs through their various iterations for longer than I remember. I discovered the matcha brioche thanks to her. I took notes for my first month in Paris, visiting Pierre Hermé and Angelina. Eventually realising I would like to be a pâtissière too.

earl grey, twinings

The spicy nougatine was tempting, as well as the roast garlic bread. And the shameless crème brûlée for one. But the Earl Grey Weekend Loaf ticked all the right boxes: a simple loaf cake, flavoured with my favourite tea. For which I had nearly all the ingredients. That last grapefruit would be an admirable substitute for the clementine confit, to all intents and purposes a speedy marmalade.

It turned out a sweet, fluffy cake, elegantly speckled with fragments of tea. Delicately perfumed, it was good on its own, even better with a spoonful of bittersweet candied grapefruit peel. Next time I would make an effort to use real leaf tea (as advised) for a stronger flavour, but we had run out. And it was a Sunday and I had already left the house once to buy bacon. A slice of cake and a sliver of sky and I was happy to stay in the corner of the sofa for the rest of the day.

grapefruit confit

Fanny Zanotti’s Earl Grey Tea Weekend Loaf, with grapefruit confit

from the book Paris Pastry Club

In the spirit of the weekend, I adapted the recipe to what I had lying around the house. It is supposed to be with crème fraîche and clementines, among other things. Which I imagine only makes it more delightful. The book has more precise instructions too, including tips for the neatest cracks on top of the loaf, the lightest madeleines. Zanotti’s original ingredients in brackets.

2-3 Earl Grey tea bags (or 1 tbs leaf tea)

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

zest from one orange (or bergamot orange)

150g plain yoghurt (or crème fraîche)

50g butter, melted

For grapefruit confit:

1 large grapefruit, 450g (or thin-skinned clementines)

160g caster sugar

100g water

15g cornflour mixed with 30g cold water

Heat oven to 180C. Grease or line a large loaf tin.

Put butter in a large heatproof bowl and place in oven to melt. Blend tea leaves and 50g caster sugar. (Skip this step if using teabags, as the tea is normally fine enough.) Whisk eggs, sugar and tea until thick and fluffy – a few minutes with an electric beater. Mix flour, baking powder and zest into egg. By now the butter should have melted – add the yoghurt to it. Add a little cake mix to the butter and yoghurt and whisk well to combine. Fold this into the cake batter. Pour into tin.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, turning the oven down to 170C after five minutes then 160C after 15. (My oven is so small and basic that it only does increments of 25 degrees, so my cake baked at 175C for the duration.) When the cake is nice and brown, has come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer comes out clean then it is done! Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin, place on cooling rack.

For the grapefruit confit:

Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan, enough to cover the grapefruit. Add whole grapefruit and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Drain, put grapefruit in a bowl of cold water. Repeat with fresh water. (Using a kettle to boil the water makes this step faster.) Slice grapefruit in half, then into very thin half-moons. Heat slices with the sugar and water and let simmer for 30 minutes the liquid is gone and the fruit is almost candied. Add the cornflour mixed with remaining cold water and give the confit a good stir. Boil for a couple of minutes. Tip into a jar.

Serve cake with confit and a dollop of yoghurt or crème fraîche.

Wrap cake in clingfilm and keep in the fridge. Or cut into individual slices, film each one and freeze for future packed lunches.

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