Category Archives: baked goods

hamentashen

Dessert is bad for you, so if you’re going to eat it, I think it should taste really good. It should be worth the butter and sugar. So, when the Purim party planning committee at our temple suggested buying hamentashen (triangular, fruit-filled cookies) from a bakery, I cringed. Then, much to Anne’s frustration, I volunteered to bake about 150 cookies for the party. And, because I’m crazy and a perfectionist, I decided we’d make the filling from scratch too.

Hamentashen

The thing is, once you’ve eaten really good hamentashen, it’s hard to go back to those flavor-less, cardboard-y cookies with gooey, cornstarch-y fruit filling from the grocery store or local kosher bakery. What makes these hamentashen so yummy is the orange zest and juice in the dough. As one of my co-workers once told me, it was the first time (ever) that he’d eaten a hamentashen where the cookie part actually tasted good.

Solo Poppy Seed FillingTraditionally, hamentashen come with three fillings: apricot, prune and poppy seed. You can fill them with whatever you like, though. Some people will tell you to use jam to fill your hamentashen, but I have had bad results using jam. Because of the high sugar content, the filling tends to bubble out and burn in the hot oven. If you live in a neighborhood with a sizable Eastern European population, you can probably buy Solo brand filling in your local grocery store. It works very well, and you can also order it from the company’s website in many flavors. If you can’t get Solo filling (and you don’t want to make your own), you can use canned pie filling, but you should whiz it up in the food processor so it’s smooth.

Folding Step 1Folding Step 2Folding Step 3Folding Step 4

But if you’re getting out the food processor, you might as well make your own filling. It tastes so much brighter and fruitier than the canned stuff, and it’s totally easy. You combine dried apricots (or prunes) with equal parts water and sugar, cook it for ten minutes in the microwave, whiz it up in the processor and add lemon juice and almond extract. The recipe is in the Urban Feed archives, as part of the Danish braid recipe. To make prune filling (which is my favorite — it tastes so wonderful with the orange in the cookie), substitute prunes for the apricots in the recipe and replace the almond extract with vanilla extract.

The Best Hamentashen You Will Ever Eat
Adapted from the Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook, via Anne’s Grandma Mildred

¾ cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup solid shortening, butter or margarine (at room temperature)
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 recipe apricot or prune filling (the filling will keep in the refrigerator 2 weeks and leftovers can be frozen)

Hamentashen DoughSift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add orange zest and stir. Add shortening or butter in tablespoon-sized pieces and combine with the paddle attachment until the dough has big crumbs. (If you don’t have a mixer, you can cut the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, two knives or a fork until dough looks like big crumbs, about the size of peas.)

Combine orange juice and beaten egg. Add these wet ingredients to the dough and mix until a dough is formed. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill 2 hours or overnight, if possible.

Grease two cookie sheets (or line with Silpats or parchment paper). Position oven racks in the upper and lower middle positions and pre-heat oven to 400º. On a well-floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/8” thickness. (If you chilled the dough over-night, you’ll need to let the cold dough rest on the counter 5 – 10 minutes to warm up a bit). Using a 3” circular round cutter, cut dough into circles. Gather scraps together and re-roll until all the dough has been used. (If the dough gets too warm, re-chill it for 15 minutes). Place about 1 (scant) teaspoon of filling (use Solo filling, pie filling or make your own) in the center of each circle. Carefuly fold the circles into triangles. Place cookies on cookie sheets and bake 12 – 15 minutes, rotating top to bottom about half way through, until delicately browned on top. Let cool on sheets about 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This makes about 24 hamentashen. The recipe doubles easily.

not birthday cake

My co-workers are really into celebrating birthdays; or, at least, they are really into eating free cake. The office rule is that when it’s your birthday, you get to pick the cake and subject everyone else to your tastes. In the last couple of years, there has been a troubling development. Instead of cake, people are requesting fruit and cheese platters, mixed nuts, bagel breakfasts, cookies and raspberry mousse-filled marzipan frogs. It’s distressing, this rejection of the birthday cake. Birthday cakes are so festive, so nostalgic. I can eat a bagel any day of the week, but I need an occasion to eat three layers of moist loveliness coated in butter cream.

So, you can only imagine my reaction when Anne’s response to my inquiry, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday this year?” was: “I’d actually really like some apple turnovers.” It seems that the anti-birthday cake sentiment has invaded my home, but what was I going to do? True love only comes around once, people.

Apple Turnover

Of course, this was not the first time Anne had mentioned her love of the apple turnover to me. Even picky eaters, it turns out, have food memories, and I think this one is some conflation of Pepperidge Farm and an unauthorized trip with her babysitter to McDonald’s. So, I’d had this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated kicking around for a while. I was attracted to the streamlined puff pastry method (food processor? yes, please) but a little wigged out by the instructions for the filling — grated apples? Doesn’t that just seem like it’s going to be weird?

Turnover InteriorTurns out, who am I to question Cook’s Illustrated? The turnovers were seriously awesome. The pastry is beautiful — all buttery and clean tasting as it shatters under the pressure of your bite. And the apple filling is perfect — nicely cooked and not too sweet. And so orderly; it just fits itself right in that little puff pastry triangle and stays put.

I’m just going to say it: it’s like the old-school (circa 1983) McDonald’s apple pies that you secretly loved, on steroids.

I’m not going to lie — this recipe is a little bit of a project. Cook’s bills the dough as “Quick Puff Pastry,” which it is, compared to the traditional process of beating butter into submission and then folding it into a square of dough a zillion times. But honestly, when it looks like this outside, what else am I going to do but bake? And, hey, a birthday only comes around once a year.

Apple Turnovers
From Baking Illustrated, by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

For the “Quick” Puff Pastry:
3 cups AP flour
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
9 tablespoons ice water
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add one quarter of the butter pieces and process until the butter is in dime-sized pieces, about four to six 1-second pulses. Add the remaining butter and process just until the butter pieces are coated with flour, about two 1 second pulses.

Combine the ice water and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add half the liquid to the flour-butter mixture and pulse briefly, until just combined. Keep adding the liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough will clump together in your hand. Turn the dough out onto a work surface. The dough will be dry and shaggy.

FraisageStarting at the part of the dough that is farthest from you, fraisage the dough. This is done by pressing down on the dough with the heel of your hand and pushing away using short, brisk strokes. Using a bench scraper, gather the dough together into a rough rectangle and repeat the fraisage process one more time. Using the bench scraper, and then your hands, pat the dough into an 8”x4” rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Folding the DoughUnwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured piece of parchment. Roll the dough out to a 15” x 10” rectangle and then fold the dough in thirds, lengthwise. Starting from the narrow end, loosely roll the dough in thirds again, and press it into a 6” x 5” rectangle. Repeat the rolling and folding process one more time. If the dough becomes to sticky before the second folding, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. When you’ve rolled and folded the dough twice, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours. (I know this looks tricky, but if you mosey on over to my Flickr page, you will see more photos that will take you through the dough step by step.)

For the Apple Turnovers:
4 – 5 Granny Smith apples (2 lbs)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 20” x 15” rectangle. (Depending upon how long you’ve chilled the dough, it may be very firm and difficult to work with. Let it warm up a bit on the counter – about 10 minutes, and try giving it a whack with the side of your rolling pin to get it started.) Trim and cut the dough into twelve 5” squares and divide the squares of dough between the two baking sheets. Refrigerate the squares while you make the filling.

Dough Squares

Peel the apples and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. (If you have the grater attachment for your food processor, feel free to use it here.) Combine the grated apples, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl.

Filling TurnoversRemove one tray of dough from the refrigerator. Working with one square at a time, place a square on a work surface. (I know what you’re thinking, “Why can’t I just leave it on the sheet?” Because apple juices are going to come out while you’re shaping the turnovers, and you don’t want all that extra moisture on the baking sheet.) Place 2 tablespoons of the filling, squeezed of excess liquid, in the center of the dough. Using a pastry brush or your finger, moisten two adjoining edges of the square with some of the apple liquid. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom, making sure to overlap the bottom portion by ¼”. Crimp the edges of the turnover with a fork, and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with all the squares and then chill the turnovers for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. (If you chill them longer than an hour, cover them with plastic wrap.)

Shaped Turnovers

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 375º. Remove the turnovers from the refrigerator and brush the tops lightly with water. Sprinkle the turnovers evenly with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake the turnovers until golden brown, 30 – 35 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through cooking. Let the turnovers cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 12 turnovers.

how ina garten saved my marriage

I know what you’re thinking — you’d always pictured Ina cast in the role of home-wrecker, not home healer. (That luminous skin, that sultry laugh… I’m sure I’m not the only one with a crush on the Barefoot Contessa).

Small FreezerThe root of the problem is that my city-sized freezer, in my city-sized kitchen is too small to safely and coldly store: a small stockpile of nuts and unsalted butter for baking emergencies, 10 pounds of frozen meat from my CSA, mail-ordered raw food for the beagle, some Chinese dumplings, highly-perishable grits sent from a friend in North Carolina and a 5 pound box of organic, wild Maine blueberries.

The problem was really the blueberries. Anne is willing to tolerate my need to horde meat and butter, and she shares my paranoia concerning the pet food industry (and undying devotion to aforementioned beagle), but she drew the line at the blueberries. When the berries arrived (over a year ago), Anne promptly reminded me that she does not like blueberries. But I was undeterred. She’d be won over by my mom’s blueberry pancake recipe. (She was not).

Box of Blueberries

Another obstacle was that all the recipes I knew for things blueberry were items that could not be easily transported to my office and pawned off on my co-workers. (Here, have some delicious blueberry pancakes, hot off the griddle via the Red Line!). It got worse as time went on. Anne would run into Star Market for some staple unavailable at Whole Foods (Hellman’s mayo, for example), and I’d say, “Don’t buy any frozen pizza while you’re there because there is no room in the freezer.” She’d shout back, “Maybe you should eat some freakin’ blueberries!” And on it went. Until now.

Slice of Blueberry Crumb Cake

Last weekend’s episode of Barefoot Contessa featured a blueberry cake with a streusel topping. Perfect for toting to the office, to pot lucks, to friend’s places. The original recipe called for 1 cup of blueberries, but at that rate, I’d still be working on this box by… blueberry season. So I upped it to 2 cups (9 oz.). Also, the recipe calls for using a round baking pan, but next time I might try using a spring form pan, so I can remove the cake for serving on a platter. The cake is like your favorite Entenmann’s crumb cake — but moister (from the sour cream), and with bright little bursts of blueberry and lemon. It’s a little rich for breakfast, but I think it’ll be so nice with your 10:30 coffee break. And now I have a place for all the blueberries in my freezer to go.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten

For the Streusel:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups AP flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Combine the sugars, spices and flour in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix. Set aside.

For the Cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 ¼ cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
9 oz. (2 cups) fresh or frozen blueberries
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour a 9” round baking pan.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on high speed until light, 4 – 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and sour cream. With mixer still on low, add the flour mixture until the batter is just combined. Fold in blueberries with a spatula.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth with spatula. Using your fingers, crumble the streusel mixture on top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes,* until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before serving. Dust top with confectioners’ sugar.

* I used an 8” cake pan, and it took almost an hour to cook the cake.

the most important meal of the day

Sometimes, the Universe is cruel. I am not a morning person, but one of my favorite things to eat is morning pastry — and I’m not talking about biscuits, scones or quick breads. Morning pastry involves yeast, butter and waking before dawn to ensure fresh, buttery love on your breakfast table. You see my struggle: the pre-dawn part.

Danish Braid

Accepting this as my cross to bear, I am always on the look-out for pastry recipes that can be adapted to my lazy schedule. Enter the Danish Braid. This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Baking With Julia, and in addition to being delicious, almost all of the recipe can be assembled well in advance.

At first glance, you may think, “This is an excessive amount of work. Why not just drive over to Clear Flour Bakery, buy myself a morning bun and a cup of fair trade coffee and call it a day?” Here’s why:

  • This Danish is among the best things I have ever eaten;
  • You won’t have to take out a second mortgage to feed your butter/yeast habit (I love CFB, but, dude, I cannot walk out of there for less than $20);
  • Maybe you want to be able to eat warm, delicious pastry without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Apricot Filling
1 cup (packed) dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon almond extract

Stir apricots, water and sugar together in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The apricots will be puffed and will have absorbed most of the liquid.

Pour the mixture into a food processor and pureé until smooth. Transfer apricot mixture to a bowl and stir in lemon juice and almond extract. Cool filling to room temperature and then chill. Filling will keep up to two weeks, refrigerated.

Confectioner’s Cream
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together cream, cornstarch and sugar in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 1 minute. Stir the mixture and cook 2 –3 minutes more, a minute at a time, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened slightly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolk and vanilla extract.

Slowly whisk a little of the hot cream mixture into the yolk. Pour remaining yolk mixture into cream mixture, whisk well, and return to microwave to cook for 30 seconds more. The cream, once cooked, will be the consistency of lemon curd. Put mixture in a small bowl, and cover the surface of the cream with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming). Cool to room temperature and then chill. Cream will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Danish Dough
½ cup warm (105º — 115º) water
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup milk at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups AP flour
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into quarter inch slices*

Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let soften for a few minutes. Add the milk, egg, sugar and salt and whisk to mix.
Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Drop butter on top of flour and pulse, 8 –10 times until the butter is cut into pieces about ½” thick. Empty this mixture into the bowl with the yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the ingredients together until the dry ingredients are just moistened. The mixture will look sloppy and there will be large, discrete chunks of butter. Fear not, that’s what makes Danish delicious!

A Lot of ButterMixing the DoughDanish Dough, Before the First RiseRisen Dough

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 4 days if more convenient).

Lighlty flour a work surface, turn the dough out onto the surface and lightly flour the dough. With clean, floured hands, lightly pat the dough into a square. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 16” square. Fold the dough in thirds, up from the bottom and down from the top. Turn the dough so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book.

Roll the dough again, this time into a rectangle, about 10” x 24”. With the short end of the dough facing you, fold the dough in thirds again. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut the folded dough in half so you have two equal portions. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill, at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. You will only need one piece of the dough for the Danish Braid, so you can freeze the other piece for up to 1 month.

The Braid
1 egg white, beaten
¼ cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted lightly
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 – 3 tablespoons milk or coffee

Cut a large sheet of parchment paper, about 12” x 18”; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of the chilled dough out to a rectangle, about 10” wide and 16” long. Carefully lift this rectangle of dough onto the piece of parchment. Spread about half of the apricot filling down the length of the middle third of the dough. Top the apricot filling with about half of the Confectioner’s Cream, allowing some of the apricot filling to peek out around the edges.

Spreading the FillingFilled DoughBraiding the DoughRising Danish

Using a sharp knife, cut 14 or so slanting lines down each side of the filling, angling the cuts from the center of the pastry to the edge. The strips should be about ¾” wide. Fold the strips of pastry into the center, criss-crossing the filling by alternating one strip from the left and then one from the right. Lightly press the ends of the strips together.

Slide the pastry, parchment and all, onto a large baking sheet. Brush the Danish with the beaten egg white and sprinkle the toasted almonds. Cover the pastry with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400º.

Bake the Danish in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden. Transfer the pastry to a cooling rack while you make the glaze. Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and milk (or coffee) until you have a smooth glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm Danish, allow to set for 5 minutes and serve.

Slice of the Braid
* Listen, I know that’s a lot of butter, but how much fat do you think was in that Dunkie’s mediocre muffin you grabbed on your way to work the other morning? All I’m saying is, if you’re going to consume the calories, they might as well be blissful.

low-carb backlash

This weekend I finally got around to trying the No-Knead Bread 2.0 from the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. The recipe is Cook’s effort at improving upon the No-Knead Bread recipe from Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey in The New York Times last year. The original recipe’s brilliance was it’s incredible simplicity. Quickly mix flour, water, salt and yeast; let the shaggy, wet dough rest on the counter over night, shape the wet mass into as much of a ball as you can, dump it in a hot dutch oven and bake. The result is a beautiful, round loaf with a holey crumb and a crackling crust. No-Knead bread was all over the internet; people who had never baked bread before were producing loaves that looked artisan quality.

No Knead Bread v 2.0

The Cook’s recipe is kind of a misnomer, because this bread requires some (but very little) kneading. Although the original NYT‘s recipe produced a beautiful loaf, I agree with the folks at Cook’s that the flavor was a little flat. Looking to rectify the original bread’s flavor short-comings, the Cook’s recipe includes two additional ingredients: beer and white vinegar. The flavor of the Cook’s version is much richer. Because I’m crazy, I made both the all-white version and the whole wheat variety (which also includes a tablespoon of honey). Both varieties had better flavor than all of my attempts with both the white and whole wheat versions of the original recipe. The Cook’s bread doesn’t taste of beer, really, but there is a pleasant, yeasty tang that was missing from the NYT’s bread.

Bread Crumb

Although Cook’s says its recipe produces a bread with an “airy crumb,” this was not the case with my bread today. Both the white and whole wheat loaves had a dense, tight crumb, unlike the open crumb of the original no-knead bread. Where the original bread has a crackling, thin crust, the Cook’s recipe produces a loaf with a thick, chewy crust that splits beautifully on top.

Besides the flavor, however, I think the biggest innovation in the Cook’s recipe is technical — the recipe has you create a “bread sling” using a piece of parchment paper. After kneading and shaping, the dough rises on the parchment paper sling in a shallow skillet, and you use the sling to transfer the bread directly into the Dutch oven. This method replaces Lahey and Bittman’s technique of lifting a wet mass of dough, on a kitchen towel covered in corn meal, and flipping it into a hot Dutch oven. It’s really brilliant and so much easier. You can use the bread sling technique with the original recipe as well.

Rising in SlingBaking in Oven

The Cook’s bread was delicious, and, so far, seems to be holding up better than the original version, which I always thought lost its luster a bit once it had been sliced into and wrapped on my counter for a few hours. I had some friends over for a New Year’s Day lunch, and everyone assumed I’d purchased the loaves at a local bakery, so the bread gets high marks for wow factor. All in all, I think it’s worth the kneading and the walk to my local liquor store to purchase a $1 single can of Budweiser. And, incidentally, if you haven’t yet picked up the January/February 2008 issue of Cook’s, you really should. So far, I’ve made three of the issue’s recipes — the bread, the “cheap cuts” roast beef and the thin and crispy oatmeal cookies — all were outstanding and totally worth the cover price.

Almost No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Cook’s Ilustrated, Jan/Feb 2008

3 cups (15 oz) AP flour, plus more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons beer (lager)
1 tablesppon white vinegar

In a large bowl, whisk flour, yeast and salt. Add water, beer and vinegar and fold ingredients together with a rubber spatula until a shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature, 8 – 18 hours.

Set a 12 x 18” sheet of parchment paper in a 10” skillet. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 to 15 times. You’ll want to use as little extra flour as possible, just enough to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter. Push the dough away from you with the heal of your hand, and pull it back on itself with the tips of your fingers. Repeat this motion, rotating the dough as you go.

Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the edges into the middle. Transfer the ball, seam side down, to the parchment lined skillet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for two hours.

About half an hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place a 6 – 8 quart Dutch oven (I’ve had success with a 5 quart oven), with lid,* on oven rack and heat the oven to 500º. Once the dough has risen, remove plastic wrap, dust the top of the loaf with a little flour and, using a sharp knife or razor blade, make a slit in the top of the dough, about ½” deep and 6” long. Remove the hot pot from the oven and carefully lower the dough, parchment sling and all, into the pot. Replace the lid and bake the bread at 425º for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake the bread 10 – 15 minutes more, until the loaf is deep brown and registers 210º on an instant-read thermometer. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.

* The black, round handles on the newer Le Creuset Dutch ovens are not heat safe above 400º. You can either remove the handle by un-screwing it, or cover it with tin foil to protect it from the heat. I’ve use the latter method and had no problems.

sunshine for your winter solstice

In my experience, when it comes to dessert, people fall into two categories: the chocolate people and the fruit people. With few exceptions, I feel that dessert is not worth eating unless it involves chocolate. My wife, on the other hand, is a fruit person, and, in particular, she loves desserts involving the resilient lemon.

Lemon Tart

Winter is a difficult time for the admirers of fruit desserts. The apples are only good for so long, after all. And, on top of that, how many apple pies can one really eat over a three month period? Fortunately, winter is also the season of excellent (if not local) citrus. This lemon tart makes use of both the fragrant, tart lemon and the milder, sweeter orange.

I first learned this recipe almost ten years ago from an episode of Cooking Live. Cooking Live was this great show on the Food Network, in the days before yumm-o and shows about the origins of the Pop Tart. Hosted by Sara Moulton, the hour-long, live show took the viewers step-by-step through dinner preparation with Ms. Moulton answering viewer’s telephone and email questions along the way. My first roommate and I watched it religiously. Sadly, it went off the air a few years ago (I think it was a lot of work for Ms. Moulton), and was replaced by the less-exciting, half-hour Sara’s Secrets.

This lemon tart comes from an old Cooking Live episode, and I have made it dozens of times in the many years since I first saw it prepared on TV. Light and tart with a rich crust, it is a total crowd pleaser. Seriously, I have never met anyone who doesn’t like this tart, and I have made it for company, for family, for dinner at my boss’s house, for dinner with at least two sets of Anne’s co-workers. It is always a big hit, and people frequently ask for the recipe. Plus, it’s probably Anne’s favorite of all the desserts I make.

With the sun setting around 4 o’clock here on the East Coast, I think we could all use a little extra sunshine in our day. This tart promises to deliver. Serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and you will make people very happy.

Lemon Tart Slice

Lemon Tart

(The original recipe called for a crust that involved sugar and an egg yolk. I’ve abandoned that in favor of an un-sweetened, traditional pie crust recipe — in part, because that is what I often have in my freezer. If you have another tart shell that you like, feel free to substitute it, adding the egg-white wash at the end.)

For the Crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cold shortening
3 – 4 tablespoons icy cold water
1 egg white, beaten

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter butter and shortening over the flour mixture and pulse (about 8 one-second pulses) until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of flour mixture and run processor until the dough begins to come together in 2-3 solid masses. If needed, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of water to get the pastry to come together. (If you don’t have a food processor, this can be done in a bowl, by hand, working the butter and shortening into the flour with a fork, pastry blender or two knives.)

Turn the dough out onto a piece of cling wrap and, working quickly, form the dough into a 6” disk. Wrap the dough up and chill overnight (if possible) or for at least 3 hours.

Roll the chilled pastry dough out on a floured surface to about 12” in diameter. (If the pastry dough is really cold, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so. It may also help to whack – à la Julia Child – the disk of dough a few times with your rolling pin.) Gently lay the rolled out dough into a 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. Being careful not to stretch the pastry, carefully lift it up and set it down into the corners of the tart pan. With a sharp knife, trim around the circumference of the dough so you have about a 1” overhang. Carefully fold this extra dough back and tuck it against the inside of the tart pan. Gently press the dough up against the edge of the pan and chill the shell in the freezer for about 20 minutes until it is firm. (Save any scraps of dough, wrapped in cling wrap in the refrigerator. You can use this to patch the shell if it tears or breaks during the blind bake.)

Folding Back DoughDough With Pie Weights

Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Set the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, fill with pie weights (or dry beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the shell from the oven, remove the parchment and weights. (At this point, if the shell has puffed at all, carefully prick the bubbles with the point of a sharp knife to release the steam.) Return the shell to the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until lightly golden. Upon removing the shell from the oven, immediately brush the bottom of the hot shell with the egg white.

For the Filling:
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup heavy cream

While the shell is in the oven for the second baking, whisk the ingredients for the filling to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 1 quart measuring cup or other large pitcher. After brushing the hot tart shell with egg white, return it to the oven.

The easiest way to fill the tart shell is to fill it while it’s on the oven rack, with the rack pulled out a bit so you can pour the filling directly into the shell without burning your hand. Depending upon the size of your eggs and how much your shell may have shrunken during the blind bake, you may not use all of the filling. Pour in as much filling as you can to reach the top of the shell and then slowly slide the rack back into the oven.

Bake the tart for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is just set. It’s important not to over-bake the tart, so start checking it after 20 minutes. Cool the tart to room temperature (or chill) before serving. Serve with barely sweetened, lightly whipped cream.

biscuit wanderlust

Last weekend, I made a fried chicken dinner (more about that later) for two friends with October birthdays. And, because they are a natural pair, I made a batch of biscuits to go alongside. Because I am incapable of letting things be, I reached out for a new recipe and made the biscuits from the November/December 2007 Cooks Illustrated – drop biscuits containing a stick of melted butter, 1 cup of buttermilk and a bit each of salt and sugar. Sounds like it should be great, right? The biscuits were fine; we all happily ate them. But I ultimately decided that they weren’t as good as my usual biscuit recipe, a biscuit I have eaten since I was a child and a biscuit I have cheated on, shamelessly and promiscuously, for the last ten years.

Biscuits

I inherited my usual biscuit recipe from my mom; it’s written in her hand on lined paper, and I have no idea where it comes from originally. Everything about it suggests that it should be easily beat: it contains only flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and plain milk. Still, somehow, it is flakier, more tender and more delicious than any of the butter and buttermilk varietals that have lured me away, fleetingly, on many occasions.

Perhaps when it comes to comfort foods, objectivity flies out the window. Could it be that the biscuit you grow up with will always be your favorite just because? Good thing recipes don’t hold grudges.

Biscuits
1 ¾ cups AP flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup shortening
¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 450°. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Using a fork or two knives, cut shortening into flour mixture. With a fork, stir in milk until a dough begins to form. Dump mixture out on a floured surface and knead lightly 3-4 times. Roll mixture out to about ¾” thick. Using a 2” cutter or a juice glass, cut biscuits out and place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes or until golden brown.