Sunday, December 27, 2015

Black Forest Squares

A traditional English rib roast is a much loved holiday meal. Grey sky's belie the festive atmosphere in our house. Christmas tree lights twinkle. FaceTime and phones ring in sync. We speak to family and friends near and dear. And of course feast on our favorites. As I said the weather is truly English in demeanor. It's goes hand in hand with the standing rib roasting in a slow oven. Par boiled parsnips and Fingerling's swim in beef drippings. Shiitakes and portobellos saute with an abundance of thyme and butter. Green snap peas provide a color contrast. Mini Yorkshire puddings puff and turn crisp brown. And Tom Collins fuels the drive!

But we live for dessert. It's always something special, catering to all family tastes. This year it is a deconstructed version of Black Forest Cake. Rather then the usual round, mini squares are perfect individualized portions. Cake flour makes an airy, thrice sifted light genoise cake. Cooled, the cake is cut into squares and then sliced horizontally in two layers. Each square is moistened with simple syrup and kirsch, then generously covered with sugared whipped cream and Morello cherries. Topped with the other half square, sprinkled with sugar syrup, kirsch, cream and cherries, this square is covered with a blizzard of chocolate shavings. Assembled, they chill in the fridge while dinner is done.

Makes 12 squares

2/3 cup Cake Flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process Cocoa 
1/4 teaspoon Salt
6 Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract 
2 teaspoons instant Coffee powder
1 cup Sugar 
Butter to grease baking pan
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Water
6 tablespoons Kirsch or Cherry Brandy
2 cups heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 32oz jar Morello Cherries
1 Dark Chocolate bar

Butter a 9x13 baking pan.

Sift cake flour onto paper once. I use old newspapers. Parchment is the way to go.

Place sifted flour back in the sifter. Add cocoa and salt to flour. Sift this mixture three times.

Crack eggs into a large bowl of a stand mixer.  Or use a bowl and a hand mixer.

Add vanilla and coffee powder.

Beat eggs on high speed till they are the consistency of softly whipped cream. This will take 10-12 minutes.

Add 1 cup sugar a tablespoon at a time.

Heat oven to 350F.

Remove bowl from stand.

Sift and fold in 1/5th of the flour mix into batter, using a spatula. Do this carefully as you do not want to deflate the batter. Repeat with other four additions.

Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Thump pan counter 2 or 3 times to get the air out and bake for 30-35 minutes. Check cake by inserting a toothpick or skewer into cake center. It should come out clean. 

While cake bakes make a simple syrup by mixing 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and take off the flame. Cool syrup before using.

Rest cake on cooling rack for 5 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Invert cake onto baking sheet. Leave pan inverted for 1 1/2 hours. The cake will drop down onto the parchment paper.

Cut sponge into twelve squares, using a serrated knife. Cut each square horizontally into two layers.

Whip cream till stiff peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and continue whipping for a few minutes till sugar is well mixed. Refrigerate cream till needed.

Strain cherries of all liquid.

Arrange squares on a platter.

Add kirsch to simple syrup.

Moisten squares with simple syrup.

Top with dollops of cream.

Dot with 4-6 cherries per square.

Cover squares with corresponding layers.

Moisten tops with simple syrup.

Drop dollops of cream onto the top layers. A fancy way to do this is by putting whipped cream in an icing bag with a fluted tip.

Dot with additional cherries.

Using a vegetable peeler, scrape generous shards of chocolate all over squares. 

Chill squares before serving.

Dinner is heady delight. The aroma of cooked meat and its sides reminds G of dinners at Aunty Raynahs'. Then again we know how important olfactory reminders are. We know this is a special meal as we eat off my parents wedding china. And we know all too well what is most Dessert is welcomed and demolished by all. The Louis family come to lunch the next day. As I serve up a repeat performance for dessert, I am told by Col that these should be called rectangles instead!!! I guess I don't quite make the cut! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spicy Beef Soup

A fiery, nose tingling soup makes perfect sense in cold weather. Something that sets my mouth aflame. Some days I long for soup with a kick, which would be like the incendiary Thai broths. Soups like tum yum are thin broths, loaded with fiery chile flavor. I ferret out dried red chiles, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and some beef from the fridge.  This is a quick soup. Thinly cut beef cooks fast as well as the sweet potato. Lime leaves give the soup a signature taste. And chiles give it zing. No stock needed, nor cream or milk, the broth relies on water to give a clean, fresh taste.  The soup doesn't want for much, but packs a real punch, enough to give you a sinus-clearing buzz. Enough to make you sweat a bit. The resulting beaded brow and nose is well worth the effort.

Serves 4

1/2 pound thinly sliced Beef (see note below)
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
2-3 dried Red Chiles or more if you like it spicy
4 Garlic cloves
3 Ginger slices
1 red Onion
1 Sweet Potato (see note below)
7-8 Kaffir Lime leaves, fresh or frozen 
2 tablespoons Fish sauce
1 teaspoon Palm Sugar or Brown Sugar 
1 Lime, juiced
5 cups Water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Stack beef and chop into thin matchsticks.

Chop garlic into small bits.

Slice onion thinly.

Peel sweet potato and slice into half moons.

Heat canola oil in a 2 quart saucepan.

Drop red chiles into hot oil.

Quickly add sliced onion, garlic and ginger. Saute onions till you have brown edges.

Add beef and saute till meat is lightly browned.

Pour water into pan.

Squirt fish sauce to the water.

Add kaffir lime leaves, sweet potato, palm sugar, lime juice and salt. 

Bring soup to a boil, lower flame and simmer partially covered for 15 minutes.

Remove kaffir lime leaves before you sip. Though this is purely optional.

Ladle into a bowl and enjoy!


In place of uncooked beef you could use any cooked meat cut into small pieces The same goes for the sweet potato as well. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes and you have a faster version of the above soup.

If you cannot find kaffir lime leaves use the green skin of one lime.

Zing zing zing goes my soup bowl! It singing with spice. Sweet potato cuts a bit of the fire. Hints of lime, garlic and ginger hover in my mouth. After a few bowls I am adequately rewarded by inspiration and perspiration!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Apricot Sandwich Cookies

A random recipe in a magazine reveals this hidden gem. This is not quite the cookie in the recipe, but it is mine in a fashion. Why? Because I don't quite follow what I am told to do. I love the cookie dough for its simplicity, grateful that there isn't too much butter, sugar and eggs in it and love the aroma that wafts through the house as they bake. 

I say I'm not making cookies this Xmas. Recrimination sneaks up unawares, guilting me into baking. I blitz and pulse flour, sugar and butter. An egg gets the same treatment.  The not so clumpy dough gets a short stint in the fridge lets the dough cools and stiffens. This is an experiment with a different method of resting the dough. Rather than clump the entire dough I want to see if I can work small batches of dough for a better result. The dough needs to be handled as little as possible. When it's time to roll cookies, take dough out of the fridge. Gather a grapefruit sized ball of dough in your hands and press together to form a smooth ball. Pat into a circle on a floured surface. Lightly dusting the rolling pin, roll the dough and cut out small circles. They are going to make the perfect teatime bites.

Baked in a hot oven they emerge sandy brown and emanating a most inviting aroma. I melt apricot jam on a low flame. A teaspoon on a cooled cookie does the trick. Another cookie is pressed on top and so it goes. Soon there is plateful of cookie towers. Let's see how long they last counter top!

Makes 24-28

2 cups all purpose Flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 1/2 sticks cold Butter
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract 
1 Egg, beaten well
1 cup Apricot Jam
Confectioners Sugar

Put flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse to mix.

Cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes and scatter over flour. Pulse till the mix resembles small peas. 

Add vanilla and beaten egg to mix. Once again pulse 5-8 times. 

Scoop dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Sprinkle counter top with a dusting of flour.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or Silpat sheets.

Take dough out of the fridge. Gather a grapefruit sized clump of dough and knead lightly till smooth. Pat it into a circle and place over flour. 

Dust the rolling pin with flour and roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. You could go a little thinner once you are familiar with the dough. Using a 2 inch round cookie cutter, press out as many cookies as you can. Lay them on the sheet pans. Once again gather another clump of dough and repeat the process. You should have at least 48 circles and as many as 58. Use more sheet pans if you need to.

Heat oven to 350F.

Place sheet pans in the fridge till oven heats up.

Bake both sheet pans together for a total of 20 minutes. After 10 minutes switch pans and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Cookies should be sandy colored. Cool cookies on a rack.

Heat apricot jam in a saucepan over a low flame.

When cookies are cool, drop a scant teaspoon of jam on one cookie and sandwich with another. Repeat with the rest of the jam and cookies. 

Dust with confectioners sugar. Keep cookies in an airtight box if not eating right away. 


You might not want to use all the dough. Keep dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 3 days. I made a few giant cookies with the extra dough.

Baking cookies are heavenly scent!! I see the merits of my experiment. It pays off as the cookies are lightly browned and crisp. G wanders in, sniffing his way to the treats. Tea and cookies ensue, as he makes a major dent in the cookie plate. He certainly 'nose' a good thing!! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Suzanne Lenzer's Magical Pizza Dough

My obsession with pizza continues as I hunt for the perfect dough. Toppings come easily. But they need that thin, crusty base. And I know I have found the best. This crust is the most forgiving. And so giving. Having used the recipe a few times, I can honestly say this is the best damn crust I've made. This makes a wafer-then slice you can hold up like a cracker laden with all things pizza. You bite into a slightly doughy but crispy piece of pie. Bliss!!! The family repeats that mantra too.

It begins with a birthday present. Truly Madly Pizza by Suzanne Lenzer is a book with an adventurous palate. Filled with mouthwatering recipes and pictures, this drool worthy tome sits on my table. I haven't been able to put it away. Toppings are innovative, bold and exotic. Cheese and vegetables in inordinate combinations. Meats tucked into red and white sauces. The piece de resistance is the crust. Easiness personified, the dough comes together in a jiffy. I have used both the food processor and a stand mixer, both yielding a light stretchy dough. Haven't tried the hand method...I will when the other two devices break down!

This is magic dough. You proof it for a remarkably short period and you have a malleable base that pulls out thin and strong. And by strong I mean it doesn't tear. I mean you really have to stretch it paper thin to tear. My dough stretches thin enough for me to see through. Don't believe me?? Just try this super flexible dough. I usually cut the dough into thirds, then work each piece with my fingers. Once the dough thins out, you can pull it into any shape. Round is the norm, but rectangular pizza is much much easier to stretch. That's the way I go. Work it till the dough is as thin as you want. The edges should be thicker as this holds the toppings in place. They puff up, turn into golden bubbles, very deliciously crusty.

A pizza peel is a must. Or a wooden chopping board. Scatter semolina over the peel. Place the dough over semolina, shaking the peel so the dough moves. Shaking is VERY IMPORTANT as it ensures the dough will not stick to the wood. Top with your choice of meat, sauce, veggies or cheese. The sky is the limit. 

By now your pizza stone in oven or grill will be smoking hot. This is the optimum way to make pizza. If you do not have a stone, a very hot baking sheet should suffice. Come rain or shine, it always the grill for me. I heat the stone for fifteen minutes before I slide the pizza onto the hot surface. I have an redoubtable Emile Henry pizza stone but my latest toy is Baking Steel. Love it love it love it. Pizza crackles when laid on this surface. Two minutes later you have a delectable thin crust pizza. Yes! Two minutes!!! 

Enough advice.. Here's the recipe. Get to it. It's a keeper.

from Truly Madly Pizza by Suzanne Lenzer
Makes 3 8x4 rectangular pizzas or 4 8 inch rounds

2 3/4 cup Bread or All Purpose Flour 
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry Yeast
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 cup warm Water
2-5 tablespoons Semolina or Cornmeal

Put flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.

Add olive oil and pulse a few times to mix.

Pour warm water into the bowl as you pulse every few seconds. Keep pulsing till dough comes together.

Pulse dough for about two minutes till it is smooth.

Lay the dough onto a 10x6  piece of plastic wrap.

Pat dough out into a 8x6 rectangle.

Press fingers into dough to make indentations. 

Fold the left third of the dough over and make more indentations.

Fold right third of the dough over and repeat indentations. These folds resemble a letter fold.

Wrap dough in the plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes.

Start grill. Or heat oven to 500F.

Place pizza stone onto grill or oven. Let stone heat for at least 30 minutes. 

Divide dough into 3 portions.

Start stretching one portion with your finger. Once you have a shape in mind either a rectangle or circle, follow the shape. Thin out the middle by laying it the dough on the counter top. Use your fingers to pull or stretch the dough till it is thin in the middle and thicker on the outer rim. 

Scatter semolina or cornmeal on a wooden peel. 

Lay pizza over semolina. Make sure there is semolina under the dough. Shake slightly making sure the pizza moves and doesn't stick to peel. If it does scatter more semolina under sticky part.

Spread pizza with your choice of toppings.

Margharita Pizza with Korean Steak

Brie Sweet Potato Delicata Squash and Shishito Peppers

Slide pizza into stone, close grill or oven door and let the stone work its magic. Two or three minutes on the grill is all it takes. The oven calls for at least six minutes. Pizza should have puffy rims and the underside should be flecked with brown specs.

Repeat process with other two mounds of dough. Or refrigerate dough for a few days. This recipe makes three long rectangles or four individual pies.

Remove crisp pizza to a wooden board, slice and eat. 

Margharita Pizza

Suzanne's recipe is perfection. She too is a fellow blogger who responds with alacrity to her messages!  I can't thank her enough for this extensively researched book. Using leftovers I layer Brie, Sweet Potato Pizza, Delicata Squash and Shishito Peppers on one pie. I make another simple Margharita with Korean Steak. (Florida companions..note the judicious use of leftovers) We make pizza assembly style seamlessly. In no time at all we sit down to pizza with a crackling crust. The underside browns perfectly. You can hear the rustle of browned crust as the pizza comes off the grill. Looks like a pie from Marta's. This restaurant style thin crust pizza has us eating out of our hands!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

No Knead Rustic Bread

Jim Lahey is a genius. Never had bread making been such a breeze. Ask me, I have slaved over breadmaking for years. Bread is ever present in my house. Be it sourdough, ciabatta or Pepperidge Farm loaves, they constitute breakfast. I believe a slice a day keeps my ailments at bay! And then there is that heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread. Irresistibly enticing, I cannot stay away from a just baked loaf. 

A version of Lahey bread came out in the New York Times a few years ago. Mark Bittman extolled the virtues of this technique, a mix and forget about it dough. The neatly cut article gathers dust in a large file stuffed with NYT recipe clippings. Recently I come across another version in Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year. A former Gourmet editor, her angst is my salvation. Tinkered a bit, the recipe still commands the same interest. I follow the simple truths of Ruth. Flour, salt, yeast and water are roughly mixed. The ragged dough sits on the counter for twenty odd hours. I sporadically lift the lid to inhale the yeasty smell as the dough rises. The slow rise gives way to a light airy dough, ready for the oven, with the intoxicating aroma of proofed dough. The dough has a bubbly surface . A cast iron pan heats in a hot hot oven. I gently tip the dough onto the bottom of the pan. The oven door shuts. I let some butter soften as Carly Simon's Anticipation filters through my mind.

Slightly amended from Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread Recipe 
1 loaf

3 cups Bread or All Purpose Flour 
1/2 teaspoon Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/3 cup Water

Place flour in a large bowl.

Add yeast and salt. Stir to mix.

Make a well in the center and add water to it. Gently incorporate flour and water till you have a rough dough. It will not be smooth, but have ragged edges. 

Cover bowl and let it sit on the counter for 18-24 hours undisturbed. 

When the dough has risen the surface will have bumps and small perforations. It will also have a yeasty odor.

When you are ready to bake bread, heat oven to 450F. 

Put a 10 or 12 inch cast iron pan into the oven as it heats. 

When the oven has reached the required temperature, take cast iron pan out of the oven. 

Use a plastic dough scraper to gently place the dough into hot pan. Do this carefully starting from the outer edges of the dough coaxing it into the pan. You do not want to handle the dough too much as you want to keep the airy quality of the dough intact. The bread will spread a bit in the pan. It will look like a wide ciabatta. The surface will be a little rough. That's okay.

Put the pan back in the oven. Let bread bake uncovered for 45 minutes till it turns a crusty brown. 

Remove from oven and let bread cool on a rack for 30 minutes. If you can wait that long! 

Slice, slather with butter and enjoy!


I bake the bread uncovered as I like a crusty loaf. Here's the explanation.The original recipe tells you to use a Dutch oven with a lid. I did not try that method, having not read the original recipe in its entirety. My bad. I baked the loaf uncovered as the bread in the cast iron pan did leave room for a lid. Much to my delight the loaf turned out brown and crusty. So uncovered baking is my choice by default. 

Once the loaf emerges I can hardly wait. The intoxicating aroma of fresh bread tantalizes my taste buds as I wait for the loaf to cool. A serrated bread knife reveals a slice with several small air pockets. The surface is dark brown and crusty, much like the brun pau of Bombay bakeries. I carry the loaf to Florida. The loaf diminishes as we eat many a slice. Colleen slathers blueberry jam and Gouda on her slice. She says it is very gooda!