a simple ratatouille tart

I’m one of the worst food blogger out there. I abandon my site constantly. Neglect it for extended periods of time and when I do post I have typos and writing mistakes everywhere. I rarely provide photos of the process. I can’t stay focused on the subject in question and find it extremely hard to provide a recipe since it’s not how I cook. If you’re still here thank you for putting up with all this crap. I could make some promises that I will try to address some of these things but I won’t. I simply don’t have the time to work a full-time job and maintain my blog the way I want to. I’m not gonna give up now either, although it has crossed my mind lately but that would be even more lame so I’m just going to continue with my efforts and hopefully provide some useful content from time to time.  We’ve been through a lot since 2013 and there’s really no point in throwing the towel now. Happy holiday season… end of rant… #1. 

Continue Reading

no-knead bread.

no-knead bread

 

You will be able to find many variations of this bread on the internet but the idea behind it is the same.  Skipping the kneading part. No-knead bread requires 12 hours to make…yes, that’s the catch. Takes a little planning but zero physical effort other than moving some bowls from one place to another if that. If you’ve been baking for a while and haven’t tried this, it’s time to test something cool in the kitchen. If you haven’t baked bread before, this is probably the best way to get you started. No-knead bread. 

 

no-knead bread

 

If you’ve worked with regular flour you know gluten can be a mischievous friend. The mechanics of gluten. The reason traditional bread is so airy, puffy and elastic (or dense and boring, depending) is because of the quality of the gluten strands that are traditionally formed by kneading the dough. In pastry making, gluten becomes the enemy that must be kept at bay. Gluten is the reason why pie crust can be tough and hard to roll out… that rubber band effect you’ve probably seen.. so when I heard about this recipe years ago, I was extremely curious to try it out.  The recipe is extremely easy so don’t be turned off by those 12 hours. Perfect time to get your much needed beauty snooze. 

Continue Reading

Savory Galette. Beef + Peppers + Leeks

Savory Galette

Finally back with some decent time to do some cooking, take some pics and blog it all! (sadly the rest of the year will be pretty inconsistent blogging wise) Told my friends I’d be making ratatouille for dinner this weekend. I also told them I would be baking it in a flaky quick puff pastry crust.  Side B of Plan A worked. Finding eggplant and zucchini in Vancouver this time of the year… forget it.  The most beautiful beets and leeks though. Anyways. I was still able to find awesome bell peppers. I scratched my rat plans and decided to let my carnivore instinct dictate the shopping list. I’ve made meat pies in the past but I usually use pizza dough, or traditional short crusts. I have an empanadas recipe on the blog that use a similar crust to the one I made tonight.

Savory Galette

The photographic beauty of a galette is hardly matched by other baked goods (true, pizzas easily compete here. Yes, the mighty croissant of course) and I haven’t made a galette before. For the record. I don’t even know if a galette can be stuffed with savoury things. I also don’t know if quick puff pastry belongs in an official french certified galette. I’ll let me french cuisine connoisseurs enlighten me. When I was done, it looked like a galette, and most importantly,  it tasted like heaven.  

No ratatouille then. Still, I wasn’t feeling like spending too much time prepping or plating. I just wanted to throw something in the oven and 1 hour later have something delicious to eat and pretty to shoot. Cant’ go wrong with baked goods. The oven does all the hard work which is great. I wanna throw my dirty dishes and my tax return forms in it too. Together.

 

Savory Galette

The weather is cold enough now to start the pastry/baking phase of my year. And with pastry-making comes butter. Butter is the most delicious thing known to man. Fight me all you want. It is. Butter and flour combined is the second most delicious thing known to man. I bet even extraterrestrial beings love it. If a xenomorph comes after me with its double mandible thingy, I’ll throw a croissant at it… Thank you five people! Alien movie reference, done.

So here we are. From ratatouille to meat galette. Let’s go!

Ingredients (servings: 4-6 Cooking Time: ~2 hours):

The meat filling:

800g Sweet Bell Peppers. thinly sliced  (assorted colors)
400g Leek. Thinly sliced.
500g Ground Beef.
150g Smoked bacon.
6 sherry tomatoes. Thinly sliced.
1 Tbsp minced garlic.
1/2 Tbsp Tomato paste.
1 tsp dry thyme powder
Splash of fish sauce. (trust me)
2 Tbsp of kimchi juice (optional)
2 Tbsp heavy cream.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Savory Galette

The quick puff pastry dough:

110g AP flour
110g really cold butter
2-3 Tbsp chilled water
pinch of salt

Savory Galette

Make the quick puff pastry. Follow the instructions on my heirloom tomato and mozzarella tarts. This is how it works. You can make this days in advance. It even freezes well, so you can make it months in advance. Whichever the case, get this out of the way before you cook the filling. Making this quick puff pastry is really rewarding and rather easy. Follow the instructions on the link and you should be ok. Keep cold until ready to use. Room temperature isn’t cold. I let my doors open to lower the temperature in my apartment while making. The colder the better. And since you’re gonna preheat your oven, probably best if you keep the dough in the freezer right before assembly.

Savory Galette

Making the veggie stuffing. Here we go. This is probably trickier than the quick puff pastry. Dehydration is the name of the game. We need to make sure the veggies and the meat have little water left. Reduce water and concentrate flavour. There are many ways to get there but I wanted it all done super fast so I pot roasted everything. Veggies and Meat in separate pots over high heat.  Add the peppers and the leeks together. Add some salt. Cook over high heat for about 20 mins stirring occasionally making sure nothing burns. Browning is ok and very welcomed. Towards the end to the cooking time add the tomato paste and the garlic. Stir well. Remove from the stove.

Savory Galette

Making the meat stuffing.  Add the bacon to a pot over high heat. Render the fat and brown it. Add the meat. Cook over high heat for about 20 mins. Allow the water to boil off and some browning happen. Takes some stirring and patience. Add some salt. Remove from the stove.

Savory Galette

The stuffings combine their powers… whaaat?  Combine the two over medium high heat. Add the cream. Add the thyme. Reduce the cream. We don’t want a runny filling. Can’t stress this enough. It will be about 5 mins. Before you use the stuffing you need it cold. You can wait a million hours before this happens or you can spread the stuffing over a clean baking tray and stick that in the freezer. Surface area working for us. It will take a few minutes before that stuffing is cold.

Savory Galette

Galette assembly. This is it. The moment of truth. Bring the pastry dough of the freezer. Bring the stuffing out of the freezer. Everything is cold. Everything is gonna be ok. Lay the pastry dough over a baking pan liked with parchment paper. Place the filling over the dough, spread it out a bit. Layer the sliced tomatoes over the stuffing. Fold the edges of the dough to form the galette. Poke holes into the top side of the dough. Want to make sure steam can be released (super flaky galette). Bake at 400F for about 20 mins. Reduce temperature of the oven to 360F. Bake for another 40 min approximately or until golden and photogenic. Done. Not too hard right?

 

Savory Galette

Savory Galette

 

 

Savory Galette

 

Savory Galette

 

Savory Galette

Now I go watch Alien by Ridley Scott. James Cameron’s is fun but Ridley’s is…

A… M… A… Z… I… N… G…

I’ll be boarding the Nostromo soon… with my croissant. Good night.

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

I don’t eat a lot of baked stuff but I love baking stuff. And if I had to choose what my favorite baked thing is, cinnamon rolls would go at the top of my list, well above croissants or … don’t hate me.. donuts… Palmiers are my all time favorite along with french bread, but cinnamon rolls are a close and firm second place, or is it third? whatever.

So, I gathered my notes and took some pics and wrote this post on how to make cinnamon rolls. They’re extremely easy to make, you can make them in a couple of hours from start to end and you will be met by excited coworkers and a victorious entrance ceremony when you arrive at the office carrying a tray full of these. You might not get a raise but what’s more important than the smiles of well fed colleagues during morning hours? exactly, nothing.

Ingredients (makes 12-14 rolls):

Dough:

500g AP flour
80g sugar (plus extra for dusting pans)
3g kosher salt
250g whole milk
112g unsalted butter (1 stick)
8g active yeast (1 packet) + 1 Tbsp sugar
2 whole eggs

Filling:

2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raising (you can mix in pecans, walnuts, dry apple slices, etc)
50g unsalted butter (1/2 a stick)
1 or 2 Tbsp water

Icing:

1 Cup confectioner’s sugar
1 or 2 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp Vanilla extract

Here’s how:

1. Make the dough. Place milk in a bowl and heat up in the microwave until lukewarm. Add the sugar and dissolve. Add the yeast and beat until yeast is incorporated. Let stand until a good layer of foam forms above the milk. This usually takes from 30 mins to 1 hour (depends on the temperature of your place, lots of scientific factors, divine interventions and such) Using a stand mixer, and this is probably the only way to finish everything in 2 hours or so… get all the dry ingredients in, and mix them well using the dough hook attachment. Scrape the walls of the bowl with a silicon spatula and mix some more to make sure all the dry ingredients are well mixed. I actually beat the eggs in my blender, before using to ensure they get evenly distributed. Cut the butter into cubes or slices and make sure it isn’t frozen. Room temperature would be ideal. Anyways, add the butter, eggs and milk (with the yeast) and mix at slow speed for a good 30 minutes to 45. Seems excessive but trust me, developing gluten in the presence of so much fat requires time. And we want these rolls to be mega chewy. The first few minutes will usually look like everything is going wrong in that mixer bowl… but after 15.. it starts to look like dough. In 20 minutes, it’s a wonderful sight. By min 30-45, the dough should start to slap the walls of the bowl signaling that it’s pretty much ready. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Detach hook. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, a pot lid, plastic wrap.. whatever you have, but cover it. Allow to rest for an hour. It should double in size.. again, if your place is too cold, this might require longer… 2 hours.. or longer.

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

 

2. Make the filling. Add all the ingredients into a pot over medium heat until a really thick dark and amazing syrup results. This will take about 10-15 mins of constant stirring. Don’t let the sugar burn, but a dark caramel is totally fine. If you don’t feel like doing this (which isn’t a standard in the cinnamon baking world) you can always just melt the butter and spread it over the rolled out dough and then sprinkle the sugar, cinnamon and raisins evenly over it skipping the addition of water. Allow the syrup to come to room temperature before using. If too hot, you will kill the yeast and the rolls might end up a bit denser than they should.

3. Roll the dough and add the filling. This step really doesn’t need much explaining. Just try to roll the dough in the shape of a rectangle, the length should twice the height of it. The pictures can do a better job at explaining this.

Cinnamon Rolls

 

4. Bake away. Preheat the oven at 375F for about an hour. Meanwhile, get your other stuff ready. I use nonstick baking pans. If you don’t have one of those, then line a regular one with parchment paper. Sprinkle a layer of sugar over the pan. You can see in the pictures what I mean by this. Place the rolls on the pan spaced evenly leaving some room for expansion, just like in the picture. Bake for about 30 mins. I spray the oven with water, or splash some water on the bottom of it to release tons of steam. I do this 2/3 of the baking time into it. Helps with getting a more delicate crust on the rolls. Remove the rolls from the oven and allow to rest for a good half hour to an hour.

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

Cinnamon Rolls

5. Make the Icing. While the rolls are baking. Add the sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer. Use the wire whip attachment. Add the milk. Beat until it looks like icing. Adjust the milk or the sugar amount until you get the right consistency. Should be fairly straight forward.

Cinnamon Rolls

6. Apply the icing. Yeah, do it.

 

Cinnamon Rolls

 

And that is basically it. Until next the next one!

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies : Hershey’s Milk Chocolate

It’s finally happened. I caved and made cookies. First time, so I figured I’d document the whole thing with some pics and some notes. It’s been so long since I baked anything and the summer heat is approaching fast, so might as well get some baking done before the sun takes care of baking the northern hemisphere for the next few months.

IMG_3082

One of the reasons I decided to make cookies is because chefsteps.com posted a cookie recipe and that got me excited (more like curious, I’m not crazy about cookies, I find them a bit boring to be honest) Anyways,  if you don’t know who these chefsteps guys are, and you love technical cooking, beautiful plating and geeking out about food science and food photography, chefsteps is definitely the place. Let’s make some cookies now. Warning: the chronological order of the photos makes no sense. 

IMG_3122

 Ingredients (makes about 20 cookies):

220g Unsalted Butter (softened)
200g Brown sugar
180g Granulated Sugar
15g Kosher salt
5g Baking soda
20g Pure vanilla extract
100g Eggs, about 2 whole
400g Pastry flour
300g Milk chocolate, 40%, chopped
IMG_3084

1. Get the ingredients ready before starting anything else. I measured everything. Chopped the chocolate bars and had cleaned and organized my kitchen. The stand mixer was ready to go.

2. Cream, butter, sugars, salt and baking soda. A couple of minutes at medium speed, stop. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then continue for another minute or 2 at a higher speed. The result should be fluffy, and have a whipped texture (I’m literally paraphrasing the chefsteps guys here). Note: I didn’t have brown sugar, or more like my brown sugar had crystalized and formed a solid sugar block that was literally indestructible, so I used the same weight in granulated sugar instead.

IMG_3086

3. Add the vanilla and the eggs. Pretty self explanatory. I would probably try beating the eggs prior to using them in this recipe next time. The recipe calls for adding the eggs really slowly. Also, Thomas Keller suggests straining the beaten eggs to remove the chalaza, but that’s getting extremely anal about it now 🙂 I love it.

4. Add the flour and the chocolate. Mix until well incorporated. Do not over mix though. Cookies might end up tough because gluten had a chance to develop. No good. The end consistency of the dough should be that of really cold ice cream, at least that’s what it reminded me of when I started scooping it out. Note: I used all purpose flour, and this is acceptable… obviously, it’s not like the flour police is gonna show up. I’d love to try the pastry flour one they when I find it at the store though.

IMG_3054

5. Rest the cookie dough. I transferred the stand mixer bowl to the fridge and it rested for a bit.  I didn’t wait a whole hour, but this is probably a good amount of time to let the flour in the dough hydrate completely before baking. During this time. I CLEANED THE KITCHEN. again.

IMG_3116

6. Prep your baking trays. Line them with parchment paper, or butter and a good flour dusting like I did. If you wanna get fancy, get those french silpat mattes at the store, they cost about a million dollars but so worth it. I used an ice-cream scoop do portion the cookie dough evenly, makes all the difference! I might have not made cookies ever but I’ve tried muffins and this is a really good way to ensure all the goodies are the same size.

IMG_3103
7. Bake at 350F for about 15 mins. This is where experience comes into play, experience which I have none in the art of making cookies. The cooking times will depend on many factors, specially the oven itself. Experimenting with different cooking times until you achieve the desired chewiness level.  At least that’s what I did. Every batch got a little better and in general the cookies were pretty good, a little crunchier than I would have liked but still delicious.
IMG_3134
And there you have it. The whole process takes about an hour form start to end. Not bad!
IMG_3142

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

1 hour till midnight on a sunday night. Another monday ahead. 4 more left till this year is over, including tomorrow. Hope you’re doing well. Hope you’re looking forward to the beginning of the work week because I am certainly not. Ok, I give up, I’ve been trying to write this intro paragraph for the last 30 minutes and I’m totally out of material here. Nothing to write about. At least nothing interesting, and I do want to share this recipe, so I won’t bore you with the inconsequential details of my life… tonight. But I will tell you about these Pear Butter Coffee Cakes.

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

Let’s get this cake thing going!  Right? who doesn’t love cake… I’m actually not a big cake fan (zebra cake was different, I have that in my arsenal now for when my nephew’s birthday comes along and it was a great skill to learn, thanks Fae! ), but a small coffee cake to go with … yes… a morning coffee is a different story. Bring it. Up in these lands! butter and flour in the mornings is a must! (I would go for eggs myself but hey…oh, yes, add a steak in there) 

Ingredients:

Cake:

300g  AP flour
150g sugar
3 Tbsp hershey’s coco powder
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup sliced almonds (toasted in a little olive oil)
2 eggs (room temp)
200g butter (very soft)
200g pear butter (see bellow)
1/4 vanilla extract

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

Icing:

200g confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp water
dark chocolate shavings to garnish

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

For the cake. Sift dry ingredients in a bowl, including the almonds (which can be toasted on a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, for a few minutes on medium low heat). Reserve. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugar and eggs. Cream until fluffy and light in color, about 5 minuted on medium speed. Add the rest of the wet ingredient and beat until combined. The butter could curdle by over-beating which isn’t the end of the world, but try stop when the mix looks smooth and nicely combined. Fold in the dry ingredients, and by this I mean, do not use the stand mixer, simply fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones using a silicon spatula or a wooden spoon. Some marbling is ok, the batter will finish combining itself while cooking. The batter should resemble that of muffins, creamy with some structure, not runny. The purpose of folding in this particular case is to develop as little gluten as possible. This cake has a very delicate crumb, is not as moist as other cakes, but that’s probably a good thing if having it with a nice and hot cup of coffee in the morning, monday morning, yes. There’s something about monday morning, anything that can ease one into the madness of the work week is always appreciated… but I’m digressing … it’s sunday night, that’s why. Back to baking. Spray nonstick oil, on nonstick cake pans. No need to flour if they’re nonstick. If you’ve been reading this blog, and enjoying the posts on baking, that oven should be preheated to 350F for about an hour before anything goes in there. Fill the pans half way up with the batter. Slam them on the counter a few times, to even out the content and remove any unwanted big bubbles. Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes. Insert an instant read thermometer into the center of the cake, if you get a read close to boiling point or 212F at sea level, then the cake should be done. You can also insert a toothpick in the same fashion, and only a few little crumbs should stick to the toothpick, but nothing wet should be visible on it.

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

Oh, I almost forgot! the pear butter! I recently posted about a pear tart I made for the thanksgiving after party. Two bosc pears survived that ordeal. Core the pears. Leave the peels on. It will add texture to the cake. Dice and cook over medium heat in a saucepan. Add about a 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, a pinch of salt.  Cook, until pears break down, and reduce to cook off the excess liquid. Some caramelization might occur at the bottom of the saucepan which is great. Keep an eye on it, don’t let anything burn. Transfer content of the saucepan to a blender. Be careful, pears are really hot, they will release a lot of steam if you blend them hot. You can, but protect yourself, and hold the blender lid down tight, cover it with one or two dry kitchen towels. Press down hard on that lid, pulse a couple of times, then blend continuously for a few minutes. If there’s too little liquid for the blender to do its job. Add some water. Blend until smooth. About 5 minutes. Return the blended pears to the saucepan. Reduce until you have a mixture with the consistency of warm marmalade. Allow to cool in the fridge overnight. That’s it.

Pear Butter Coffee Cakes

For the icing. This is a simple as it gets, at least this kind of icing. Just place sugar and water in a bowl and whisk until a paste forms. Degrees of thickness… right? well, I didn’t measure the ingredients listed above, they are an approximation. Most people will be able to do it without thinking about it. But if you haven’t made icing before, I would start by placing the sugar in the bowl and drizzle half the water, and whisk, check, you’ll know if you need more water, because it’s impossible to incorporate all the sugar if the water is too little. Add a little more water, whisk again, it will come together. I stop right when that happens, and maybe add a little more sugar to thicken it up a bit more. It will set once it cools in the fridge. Drizzle the icing over the cakes. I used the same whisk to scoop out some icing, and I let it drip over the cakes. Piece of cake. Yes, intended. Shave some dark chocolate over the icing and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to overnight. Bon appetit and happy monday! Be strong!

A Simple Bosc Pear Tart

This tart was part of my thanksgiving dinner plan, in fact, this tart was the conclusion of the thanksgiving dinner, so it had to be good! and tons of planning went into it, but plans, usually mine, don’t always go as expected. I should have prepped the tart a couple of days in advance, thrown it in the freezer and then should have baked it at the right time just about on hour before dessert time. I only managed to get the short pie crust ready but I run out of time, everyone is hungry now, you can feel the stress rising, the looks….oh, the looks…  decision made, no tart for anyone! maybe next year.. maybe…anyways, the beautiful bosc pears I bought continued to ripen in a bowl over the fridge, slowly and beautifully as most ripening processes usually go.

IMG_9661_cc_rs

I’m actually glad I “waited” until after thanksgiving day. The pears became extremely juicy and sweet yet able to hold their shape. Got perfect pears now, got pie crust ready. There is no escape, a pear tart has to be made (a totally accidental rhyme,  do not judge). And here is how:

Pear topping:

2 ripe bosc pears
1/3 C sugar
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 lemon (just the juice)

Pie crust:

200g AP flour or cake flour
100g unsalted butter, 1 stick (in the US at least)
100g granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg beaten

For the pie crust please click here.  Start your oven at 390F, and preheat for about an hour.

For the pears. Slice them in half lengthwise. Core them. I use a spoon. The fiber that runs along the length of it could be removed if it’s too tough, up to you. If you’re feeling fancy, remove. Finely dice crosswise. About 1/8 of an inch. They need to be cut thinly because we want them to not only cook but also develop some color, and that can only happen if they release enough water (dry up) so the sugar concentration is adequate and the temperature hot enough so that caramelization can happen. Slice the fat part of the pear and eat the thinner part as you cut them, seriously, they’re so good, and this is worth doing, rather than having to deal with so much variation in the size of the slices which will be a pain in the ass when it comes to laying out the slices over the tart. Place the slices in a bowl with the juice of one lemon in it. Toss gently with your hands. Let stand for a few minutes. Interlace the slices over the pie crust, anyway you like. Dust cinnamon over the pears. Make sure that when you dust, you dust from a distance of at least one foot. This will give the cinnamon enough chance to disperse in the air and cover the pears more uniformly. This is a good tip for salting food too. Place a small saucepan over medium heat. Place sugar and butter in it. Melt and cook until a nice caramel forms, takes about 8 minutes. Keep an eye on it. Caramel goes from brown to black-hole-dark really fast. Remove from the stove, and drizzle over the pears in a fine stream. If you have too much caramel, don’t use it all. Drizzle the pears as you would a salad when using olive oil.  Place tart in the oven and bake for about one hour, or until it looks beautiful. That’s usually a better indicator than a timer. Timers can help destroy food. I like to trust the senses. When the house smells like a french pastry shop, I go take a look, it’s usually ready. I adjust oven temperature along the way as well. I don’t believe an oven is this magic box that will cook something perfectly just because time and temperature were set in advanced. Weather, humidity, altitude, the oven’s temperament and that of the ingredients will determine time and temperature instead. I had to bake this tart an extra 10 minutes at 230F just to get the tart a little more dehydrated, just seemed like it needed it. Oh, and notice I didn’t peel the pears, right?… no need. It gives the tart a more striking look in my opinion, and these pears’ skin melts in the mouth anyways. All good!

IMG_9663_cc_rs

Post-thanksgiving-simple-pear-tart accomplished. Now, moving on to the next thing. Still thinking about a seafood themed Christmas dinner, which is really exciting and very different from what I’m used to. Have you tried filleting a trout? totally random question.. but here’s the answer… HARD!!! Looks so easy on youtube. I will keep practicing I guess. It’s a delicious and relatively inexpensive fish perfect for training knife skills before butchering more expensive ones.  Ok, I’m spent. Until the next time! Be safe! eat well, travel more if possible! Cheers!

Zebra Cake

Blogging is an international thing I understand, but I still want to extend a happy thanksgiving day to everyone that’s reading this and celebrated turkey day. And yes, I did 🙂 I cooked something on this wonderful holiday, and I will be posting in the upcoming days. I really want to post about the zebra cake, because every time I find a post that is inspiring and makes me wanna try new things, and makes me wanna find the time and dedication to execute it, it’s a wonderful experience.  I really dig finding recipes when I least expect it, specially recipes from fellow bloggers. Fae, who runs a beautiful blog, fae-magazine.com, an incredible collection of recipes that show her passion and personal style for cooking, photography and  writing. I’m not well versed in the art of baking cakes, I’ve only made a few (and not very successfully) but following Fae’s instructions, I was able to pull off a pretty decent version of a zebra cake. To find more about the history of this cake, better go to Fae’s post and find out the details! My post won’t be as entertaining, and mainly just a collection of photos I took during the making of! Hope you enjoy!

IMG_9454_cc_rs

I’m not gonna lie. This cake requires patience and a bit of precision… patience I think I have. Precision.. as you can see, not so much. The rings are not as even as I would have wished they were, but hey, this is the first time trying this so I’m not entirely embarrassed. The rings are the result of pouring 2 different batters intermittently, always pouring at the center of the baking pan. The more even the pouring and the closer to the center each pour lands on the center, the better the results. I didn’t have a cake pan, which complicated things a bit for me, so I used a cast iron dutch oven, lined with parchment paper to prevent any sticking. Anyways, this is a fun looking cake, perfect for special occasions, like kid’s birthdays. Since I don’t have kids, I will try this again for when my little nephew Sebastian is visiting and his birthday is up, maybe for when he’s visiting aside from birthdays!

IMG_9431_cc_rs

Ingredients (Fae’s recipe):

2 1/3 cups (10.5 oz / 300 g) sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs – at room temperature
1¾ cups (12 wt oz/350 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (8.5 fl oz/250 ml)  whole milk – at room temperature
½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (4 wt oz/113 gr) unsalted butter – melted but cool
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
3½ Tbsp natural unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey’s)

IMG_9424_cc_rs

Fae’s instructions (and I quote!!!):

–   Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F.

–   Slightly spray 9”/23 cm round by 1.5”/4 cm deep non-stick cake pan (or spring form pan) with non-stick spray and line with parchment paper cut to size.

–   In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and set aside.

–   In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and beat (with electric beater) on high until foamy, light creamy color (2 minutes). Add oil, butter, milk, vanilla, and continue beating until well combined.

–   Turn the beater speed to low and as it is beating, sprinkle flour mixture tablespoon at a time, and blend well.
It should make about 7 liquid cups of flowing-consistency batter.

–   To split the batter into two, pour half of the batter (about 3.5 liquid cups) into a different bowl. In the beater’s bowl (with half of the batter), add cocoa powder and beat until well dissolved/mixed.

IMG_9451_cc_rs

[2] Hints to read before assembly (I’m still quoting!):

–  Place the prepared baking pan on flat surface.
–  Place one regular tablespoon for the white and another for the dark batters.
– Scrape bottom of the spoon on bowl’s edge each time, to avoid dripping. Periodically, stir each batter with its own spoon for consistency.
–  Starting with the white batter, pour 2 Tbsp (up to 3 Tbsp, no more) of each batter alternatively into exact center of baking pan. The key is not stopping and keep-on going,  pouring alternatively, the same amount of batter on top of each other, only in the center. Batter will spread on its own, gradually filling the pan, with multi-rings. For the very last two pourings (most probably the cocoa/dark batter/bull’s eye at the end), only pour 1 Tbsp each.

IMG_9455_cc_rs

When completed, batter in the baking pan should look like a fine-lined dartboard.
–  Note: While alternately pouring, if the bull’s eye (last dark batter poured) is shifting from the center, gently/slightly lift edge of the baking pan and adjust the bull’s eye back to the center of the baking pan and then continue the process. No other movements of the baking pan to be made.
– With 2 Tbsp each pouring, there will be about 14~15 rings/stripes of each color.

Batter assembly/layering process (yep… is all Fae’s instructions):

–   Start with the plain/white batter, pour 2 Tbsp, aiming at the exact center of baking pan. Follow this with 2 Tbsp of cocoa batter, right over the white batter, at the exact center of the baking pan. Repeat this 13~14 more times until both batters are finished.

–   Place baking pan in oven and bake for 50~60 minutes or until poked wooden skewer in the center comes out clean.

–   Cool the cake in its pan. When cooled, if needed, slide plastic knife along the sides of the baking pan to loosen the cake. Invert cake onto a plate, pull off the parchment lining, and invert onto the serving platter.

(End of Fae’s instructional) So, back to me!  I honestly thought I would not be able to pull this off. I had to keep telling myself to “breath, relax, it’s only 11pm, it will soon be over” but it was so worth it, learned a few cake related things, and I took the cake to work the next day and everybody  it, I even took the leftovers to my sister’s birthday… yes, I did this.. and it gets worse… she celebrated her birthday at a restaurant, and I’m not the restaurant reviewer type, but I have to say that Gjelinas was one of the best trendy restaurants restaurants in west LA I’ve been to…, ok, so yes, I took leftover cake and the guys at the restaurant paired it with amaretti gelato, we stuck a candle on it… it was pretty epic. They went with it, how cool is that… That’s all I got tonight! Cheerios!

IMG_9461_cc_rs

Classic Apple Tart Tatin

Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

This classic upside-down apple french tart, although a bit challenging to make, it is extremely rewarding and perfect dessert for the upcoming holidays. Or if you’re like me, a perfect dessert period. Hope you won’t need the usual holiday-only-too-time-comsuming-I-need-motivation excuse to make it because it is really fun. It does take time, but you can definitely do it all in less than 3 hours including the home made puff pastry. If you buy your puff pastry at the store, then, this is a 45-60 minute deal really. I enjoy making my own puff pastry, for this pie, I made pate fuiletee rapide which is a short cut technique that is less tricky and offers wonderful results. Basically a folded pate brisee. It will be extremely buttery and flaky. My house still smells like a french pastry shop.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

There are tart tatin recipes as there are cookbooks and blogs out there, so I decided to make the simplest version of it I could find. But simplicity, specially in cooking is usually a wonderful way to achieve fantastic results. If you’re into baking and just started exploring the great subject of french tarts, this is a great one to learn and many useful lessons can be learned from it. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients (makes a single 9-10 inch tart tatin):

Puff Pastry :

200g AP flour
112g unsalted frozen or very cold butter (a butter stick basically)
25-50g granulated sugar
3-4 Tbsp chilled water
1 or 2 pinches of kosher salt

Apples filling:

8 cored, peeled and quartered golden delicious apples
50g butter
100g sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

For the puff pastry. Using a food processor (you could totally do this by hand, but this time I employed the food processor) place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl. Pulse a few times to aerate and sift. Cut the butter into small 1/4 inch cubes with a knife over a cutting board, then add the butter cubes to the food processor. Pulse until flour is coated with the fat, and the cubes have become smaller in size, the size of a pea more or less. It’s ok if there are bigger chunks. If the butter is frozen, this process will take longer so be patient. Now that the flour has the look of corn meal, add the water, one Tbsp at a time, then pulse to incorporate. You might not need all the water, so test the dough between your fingers as you go. If you press some dough between your fingers and it comes together, you have enough water, if it still crumble, then keep going. Empty the bowl of your food processor on a clean surface and shape the dough into a ball. If the dough doesn’t come together you can return it to the food processor and add more water. Once the dough is shaped into a ball. Flatten into a disk of a bout an inch in thickness. Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes so the flour hydrates evenly and the little gluten that formed, relaxes as well so we can roll  out the dough later.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

To roll out the dough and fold it. Flour a flat working area, keep a pastry brush and more flour nearby, you’re gonna need to flour this dough through the process. Unwrap the dough disk and place it on the work area. Flour your rolling pin as well. Now, roll out the dough vertically away and towards you. Shape it with your fingers as you do this. What we want is a rectangle shape as close as you can get it. Once you have a nice rectangle of about 1/4 of an inch thick, fold it as you would a letter. Now you should have a nice folded rectangle in front of you. Rotate it 90 degrees and roll it out again into a rectangle of 1/4 of an inch thick, fold as done previously. Rotate one last time 90 degrees, roll out into a rectangle of 1/4 of an inch thick and fold one last time. You’re done. You will probably need to dust the work surface and the dough as you go, but brush off any excess flour on the dough. Wrap in plastic and place back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

To make the apple filling. Add butter and sugar to a hot skillet on medium heat. Cook until butter is melted and sugar is starting to bubble. Add the apples and sprinkle the cinnamon over, and using a spatula mix them into the butter until coated. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. A light caramel will form and the apples will become soft and slightly darker. Remove from the heat and transfer to a buttered tart pan. It’s time to roll out the dough and give the apple a little time to cool off.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

To roll out the final crust. Place the dough on a clean and floured surface. Using your hands, shape into a square box. Using your rolling pin, start flattening the dough, rotating 90 degrees every few passes to keep an even thickness and a more or less square shape. If the butter is too cold, this could be hard work. You can allow the dough to rest at room temperature a few minutes before you start. Roll to about a 1/8 of a inch thick. You should have a sheet of dough that’s larger than a 10 inch tart pan by 1 or 2 inches. Place dough over the pan. All you really need is about 1 inch of extra diameter so trim away the rest using scissors or a sharp knife. Tuck the edge of the dough inside the pan and over the apples. Remember, this is an upside tart, so shape the dough to form a tart shell for the apples.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

To bake the pie. Before you add the tart to a preheated oven at 400F. Cut vents on the dough, a few (I made about 10-12 cuts) of about half an inch long. This will allow the water from the apples to escape. Otherwise, the crust will never cook properly. Place the pan in the oven for about 40 minutes. Checking to make sure the crust is perfectly golden. Remove from the oven. The tricky if not the trickiest step is flipping the tart upside down. You have to work while the pan is hot so the caramel doesn’t become too sticky and ruins your tart. You have to work carefully, protect your hands with dry kitchen towels or oven mittens (I prefer kitchen towels, better grip). Place a flat dish over the tart pan. Hold them together and flip them in one move.  I also have a cutting board in place and slightly bang the dish once or twice against it to ensure that the tart has released, then carefully remove tart pan, and there should be a beautifully amber caramel covering the warm apples, all sitting in a flaky and buttery pie crust.

 Classic Apple Tart Tatin @ thatothercookingblog.com

This pie takes practice to make, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first few times. I won”t tell you how many I messed this up. You’re welcome to guess.. here’s a hint… MANY. I hope you find yourself considering some tart making in the near future if you weren’t already 🙂 Until the next time. Now I go clean the kitchen.

Apple and Black Currant Tart

Apple and Black Currant Tart

For the trained eye, those adept at baking and pastry making (hopefully not, because I need some encouragement here but I’m ready and could use some constructive criticism), this tart will show some basic execution flaws, like the walls aren’t thin enough or tall enough, and the filling doesn’t reach the edge of the crust uniformly, but I gotta start somewhere. I still wanted to post it because it tasted really delicious and it is a step in the right direction I hope.

My first tart tatin for example, yes, you guessed it, in the trash can.  

That didn’t stop me, oh no. After that incredible tart tatin disaster a few weeks ago, I decided I would try a simpler tart. A basic apple tart. Which would involve blind baking so I could practice that skill as well. The fruit is cooked separately and then added over a layer of silky pastry cream, all of this goodness over a crumbly pre cooked tart crust.

I used a small amount of black currant preserve that I had bought at a store a while ago which had been waiting patiently in my fridge to find a purpose in life. I figured since I didn’t have enough apple filling, I’d combine it with it. Greatest thing that ever happened to this tart.

Apple and Black Currant Tart

On blind baking:

Baking tarts and their fillings together is great, I love things that can go in the oven and come out ready all in one step. But this is not possible in all cases. I learned the hard way. I saw one of my test tarts, the crust would go darker and darker while the raw apple filling would continue to stew stubbornly without browning. It cooked but it didn’t developed that beautiful caramel hue.

The reason is related to the thickness of the fruit, the way and shape it has been cut, and the amount of water in it. Sugar caramelization can only occur well above the boiling point. That’s why we bake most things at 350F or higher if we want them to brown. As long as there’s water in the fruit, the temperature will remain at boiling point. Thin slices of fruit will caramelize a lot faster than bigger chunks because water dries out quicker. I used a melon scoop to get nice apple spheres to go on my tart. These little spheres will require so long to caramelize that the pie crust will burn before it’s done.  So they will cook separately while the crust is “baked blind”

Blind baking simply means, cooking the crust on its own. This is a great way to add extra control in the process of making tarts. Many tart shells can be cooked and store in the freezer until ready to use. They can be fully or partially baked. In the case of this recipe, I fully baked the shell. A couple of things to keep in mind when blind baking.

  1. Use baking weights, or rice, dry beans, to weigh down the bottom of the shell, otherwise it could bubble up and not stay flat on the baking mold. I recommend using proper ceramic or metallic weights, because they help transfer heat and cook the bottom of the crust. Adding weights will also help the crust walls in staying up, instead of collapsing and slumping, loosing their height and becoming thicker.
  2. Bake the first 20-30 mins at 400F, remove the weights and finish baking for anohter 10-15 minutes or until the shell is nice and golden in color.

One useful tip:

This pie has 3 components all of which can be cooked separately and at different times. Each component on a different day. The crust can be frozen and used weeks later. The apple filling should stay in the fridge for a solid week no problem. The pastry cream, about the same, although I’d suggest using it a bit earlier. But if all the prep is done correctly and nothing goes wrong, this whole process should take less than 2 hours.

Ingredients:

Pie Crust:

200g AP flour or cake flour
100g unsalted butter, 1 stick (here in the US at least)
100g granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg beaten

Apple/Black Currant filling:

5 peeled golden delicious apples
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted chilled butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp lemon zest
Splash of lemon Juice
3 Tbsp black currant preserve or jam

Pastry Cream:

3 egg yolks
1 + 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp AP flour
2 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Apple and Black Currant Tart

To make the pie crust.

Get your oven going now, 400F, it will be nice and cozy by the time you’re ready to bake. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, whisk to incorporate. Cut the chilled butter in small cubes, about 1/4 of an inch thick. Add to the flour. Using your index and thumb fingers, press the little cubes into the flour, patiently. You can use a food processor, which probably could get you a better final product, but I hate cleaning the damn thing so I used my hands instead, plus I want to be able to make this anywhere without depending on a food processor.

I believe you can get a pretty awesome pie crust if you are just patient, and work the butter until it breaks into smaller finer flakes. If you store the flour in the freezer like I do, the cold flour will help keep the butter cold longer, and your pie crust will thank you for it. Avoid working with soft butter, it will separate and make for a denser and tough crust. I also use eggs right out of my fridge for this crust. Everything should be cold. Beat the egg and add it to the bowl. Don’t fuss with it too much, we don’t want to develop gluten or too much of it.

Fold the egg into the flour mixture, allowing time for the flour to hydrate with the egg and form into a ball in the middle of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  The colder the better… so longer in the fridge is better. I sometimes throw it in the freezer, of course, don’t let it freeze. When ready. Have a flat floured surface and a rolling pin ready. Squash the ball down, and form a disk of about an inch high. If the disk is too crumbly, and breaks everywhere, you could knead it a little bit but keep this to a minimum.

Roll out until you have a disk that’s larger than the tart dish by an inch or two. Oil or butter the pie dish and lay the dough on it. With the help of your fingers, press it down onto the dish. I use a knife to trim the excess dough that hangs over the dish edge, you can use the rolling pin as well. Just place the rolling pin over the dish press down and roll up and down, and that should do it.

Apple and Black Currant Tart

Cut a couple of squares of tin foil (larger than the tart dish by a couple of inches) and line the tart dish, pressing the tin foil lightly against the dough. Let the overhang foil alone. It will protect the crust edge when baking so it doesn’t brown too fast. Place the baking weights over the tin foil and press gently making sure the weights conform to the shape of the tart. Stick the tart dish in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. The crust will set at this point and partial browning can be seen. Remove the weights. Bake for another 10-20 minutes. It’s done. Store the crust in the freezer if you arent ready to use it right away, you could also let it rest on the counter. Be careful when handling it though. The pie dish will be very hot.

Apple and Black Currant TartTo make the apple filling.

While the dough is resting and all that blind baking business is going, take advantage of the idle time and work on the apples and the pastry cream. Peel the apples and using a melon scoop, carve out as many apple spheres as you can from each apple. Why use a melon scooper? Because its fun. Heat up the butter and olive oil on a skillet and add the sugar, the apple spheres and the cinnamon. Cook on medium for about 30 minutes. Tossing every minute to make sure you get a nice uniform golden color on all the spheres. A caramel will also form and coat the spheres. Keep cooking until you are happy with the caramelization. Add the currant jam to the hot pan, and allow it to melt a bit. Toss and mix apples and currant jam well. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and the splash of lemon juice. The apple spheres will be very soft so handle them carefully so they don’t break.

For the pastry cream.

Place the milk and the vanilla extract in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and keep the milk very hot but not boiling. Cream the yolks and sugar in a separate bowl. Add the flour and the cornstarch. Whisk until a uniform paste forms up. Slowly, pour the hot milk into this bowl and whisk to incorporate. It’s not mayo, so you can add the milk a bit at a time and whisk then add more milk until the mixture is uniform. Add this mixture back into the saucepan where you heated the milk, and bring to a simmer slowly, constantly whisking. The mixture will thicken rather quickly. Remove from the heat just before you’re happy with the thickening. Carry over heat will finish the job. You can later adjust it. If it got too thick which is usually the case, add some milk, doesn’t even need to be hot, and whisk until uniform. I like the consistency of mayo in my pastry cream. For pies, tarts, and filling pastries, make sure the cream is not runny.

To assemble the currant tart.

Simply spread a uniform layer of pastry cream over the bottom of the pie crust. I don’t like to use too much cream. Makes the tart too rich and heavy. I like the fruit filling to stand out.  Up to you. The layer should be about 1/8 inch approximately. Place the tart back in the freezer so the pastry cream hardens a bit. This way when the apple filling is added, you can spread on top of the cream and avoid the 2 mixing. Makes a prettier pie when the layers occupy their own spaces! After 10-20 mins, remove tart from the freezer and add the apple filling spreading it uniformly over the pastry cream-covered bottom. Place in the fridge. This pie is great cold or at room temperature.  I like to let it sit in the fridge overnight and bring it out the next day for prompt consumption 🙂 Enjoy! Tart season is officially on here at that other cooking blog!

Apple and Black Currant Tart