27 January 2013

Homemade Pop Tarts

Right now  I'm staring at a vacuum that I didn't pick up today. It was a long day culminating in a tumbler or two of red wine on the couch that I drank just a tad too fast while listening to Ella, Nina and Sam Cooke and then watching last week's episode of Girls from a possibly dubious source since I don't get HBO or have a screen beyond my laptop for that matter. Like a lot of people, I can't decide what I think of this show and I don't relate a lot of it anymore, but since I spent my early 20s flailing in NYC, I of course, tune in.

But let's rewind to the morning and change the subject totally. I am going to give you the best excuse to eat pie for breakfast: a pop tart from your oven.

No not the ones in the box. Forget them. It's just good jam tucked into flaky pie dough (ok, yeah, but with a nutritional punch from some wholesome rye flour) brushed with egg and kissed with a pinch of sugar for a lovely brown hue, and a send off to your oven and that's all. No cornstarch, no toaster, no glazes and nothing else required for this pastry, except a pastry scraper and brush.

Ahem...let's clear something up about this pie dough.While I understand that there is only a small sect of people out there who can get up on a random morning and have the 2 hours it takes to make, chill, rest and roll pie dough, have no fear--the point of these tarts is their ability to be made ahead, frozen and baked on demand that morning you wish them at your table.

Bonus if you use the opportunity to make some dough in general ahead of time to have a few rounds on hand for future galettes, pop tarts and quiche dough (well, anyway, that's my plan going forward so I don't chicken out of making galettes or empanadas at the last minute). They keep in the fridge for 3 days and freezer for a lot longer (just defrost in the fridge for a day).  

Yet, truly, I'm still a bit tepid to make a ton of dough at once because I am still mastering the technique and don't want to end up with a bunch of tough dough and wasted butter if I mess up.. BUT. The key to pie dough is faith and trust and a solid method. As I've said before, I look to Chez Pim for this and I am a believer and have become more confident every time I make dough her way. This was a good round.

And yet, the beauty of making little tarts to order is that the amount you use is not that big. Most pie dough recipes you'll see measure out to make 2 standard 9-inch rounds, and I usually halve this because, well, we've gone over the fact that I am an expensive European butter rationer, and day-to-day, I don't have a lot of people to feed. So I love the art of halving.

See above. This is a time in life when I endorse flakiness. A lot of it. Layered flakiness. That comes from the all-butterness and the folding and rolling the of dough.  I promise you if you practice the Pim method you'll start to get the palming and folding process which creates the more puff pastry-esque quality we're going for.

These tarts made with this dough and decent jam (I used a wild blueberry mixed with a hint of leftover pear butter--but you can use anything so long as it has a thickness to it, i.e., not a runny jam) are seriously a morning or afternoon treat.

They can be formed into tarts and placed on the baking sheet, covered in plastic tightly and kept overnight that way in the freezer until you're ready to bake the next morning, or if it will be a few days, after flash freezing on the pan for a bit, wrap the frozen tarts in plastic and foil and place in a freezer bag until ready to bake on the day. Working in advance is the best kitchen advice I've picked up from the internet, cooking memoirs and cookbooks. Because the bottom line is, you usually cook what you have.

One last thing here before the recipe: I endorse a high-ish temperature at 400 degrees as I think it browns them beautifully in less time and gives a stronger flake. Just let them cool several minutes before eating...just enough time on a cooling rack while you make the coffee.

Makes 2 rounds, enough for 4 good size pop tarts.

scant 1/3 c rye flour
3/4 c unbleached all purpose flour
pinch salt
1/2 c (1 stick salted butter)
2 T cold water

Follow this method. Do the folding 3-4 times. 

2 heaping Tablespoons strong jam of your choice (I used Bonne Maman wild blueberry) 

To Bake
1 egg, whisked
Few pinches turbinado sugar

Start by making the dough. It works best if made ahead of time but you can certainly do all it at once. If you made 2 small rounds using the measurements listed above and want to make 2 good size pop tarts, use one of the rounds. If you want to make 4, use both.

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Work quickly to keep dough cold. Roll out the dough into a rectangle or as best you can, and use a sharp knife to divide the dough into 4 squares. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of jam into the center of two pieces. Place the other two pieces of dough carefully on top, press the edges together, crimp the sides with a fork and trim it slightly with a sharp knife to look pretty then prick all over (see picture). Place the tart on baking sheet.

If working with a few tarts at once, place the sheet in freezer while you repeat the process on the other tarts. Then freeze them covered in plastic tightly to bake the next day, or after they've frozen, wrap in plastic and foil and place in a freezer bag.

Fifteen minutes before you're ready to bake the tarts, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Get dressed or do something : )

Then take the tarts out and prep them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Crack an egg and dip a pastry brush in, brush the tarts with egg, sprinkle with a bit of turbinado sugar (don't skip, it gives a great crust) and place the tray into the oven.

Bake 15- 22 minutes. Set the timer for 15 minutes and start checking then. Look for nicely browned tops and bottoms and edges. Rotate the pan and give it another few minutes but not much more. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool, eat at whatever temperature you desire. I think they are best a few notches warmer than room temp so they've set but are still a little warm. Bon appetit!

22 January 2013

Roasted Carrot Salad

Once I received advice to copy if need be. I can't remember who said it and if they were even a credible source, but the message I took away was simple: when in doubt, look for inspiration, look for what works, what has, not what doesn't and hasn't. And remember what does. In cooking language, that can be translated to: look to Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

This salad is inspired by one on the menu at the elegant and green ABC Kitchen. I have not yet dined there (soon!), but I've browsed the menu and photos and all that jazz and realized I could easily live on the appetizers section alone. Fried eggs, greens galore, various squashes, grains, pairings, etc.

Last year I had the luck to stand next to JGV himself and his assistant when I was kitchen-assisting (way below the level of the JGV assistant) at a big long night of a catering event last year. I had no idea that it would be an amalgamation of tons of top chefs crammed into the makeshift-ness that is the "onsite" kitchen experience in catering, plating samples for important people-- I just thought it was another night of pinching thyme for the dollar. But when I arrived I was asked to, by JGV's charming and calm French-speaking assistant (and I'm not joking when I say he was a doppel of this guy ), after getting dishes washed, scrape at the bone of a rib for while feeling very scared I was doing it wrong.

After a few hours of prep like that, JGV whisked into the kitchen like lightning, checked on everything and took up an actual whisk at the hot plate, whipping up the glaze for the guests' game in about 5 minutes.

What I took away from my "station:" JGV was cool and calm and on the game. He was fast and intuitive. Simple as that. He was to the point and en pointe. And green. He stuck to colors and basics and created complexity with little effort. And he mixed a mean, bright green creamy asparagus puree that all the KAs and more important KAs were dipping into out of the pot after it was hurriedly almost all depleted and poured and plated for the guests as intensely as you see on the cooking shows.

Then the waiters leave, and the calm comes after the storm in the kitchen.

This salad.  Five simple and potent components: roast carrot, ripe avocado, crunchy seeds, sour cream, lemon and a micro-green of a sort. Now that to me is simple and winning and works. Like driving. It's amazing how taking a little road trip can make you feel so much better. Even if it's to Ikea : ) Because a day later and I'm sitting writing to you from a nice long white desk. I made this roasted carrot salad before going and surprisingly it didn't make me buy anything of the vermillion hue. We stuck to whites.

For extra nutrition the skin is left on these bright organic carrots that were "2 bags for $3" from the store across the street, then they are halved, quartered as you fancy, swooshed in olive oil, paprika, cayenne, cumin and salt before hitting the oven. And the rest is JGV common sense. A little of each kind of texture is at play: tender, creamy, crunchy, acid, pillowy, tang, sharp. I had arugula on hand so that's what I did for the sharp component. I also added a bit of scallion chop at the end. Carrots make your eyes healthy.

Serves 2 small, one big to share or one big hearty one for one....

 Roasted Carrot Salad

2-3 big handfuls arugula
3-4 large whole carrots
1/4-1/2 an avocado
2 T sunflower seeds, toasted
Pinch of minced scallion tops

Sea salt
Lemon juice
Olive oil

2 big dollops sour cream
Juice of 1/4- 1/2 lemon
1/2 clove garlic smashed and minced
1/4 of the white part of a scallion
1-2 T olive oil
pinch cayenne
sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, cut, and toss carrots in spice and oil and roast carrots on baking sheet about 25-30 minutes. Check for tenderness and slight shrivels. Squeeze a teaspoon or so of honey onto the carrots and toss, then let cool on a wire rack. If you don't have toasted seeds on hand, toss some into the oven on another sheet while the carrots cook. Really watch that they don't burn, just a few minutes is what you're going for for a little fragrance and browning.

Meanwhile, make dressing. Whisk sour cream, scallion, garlic, cayenne in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil as you stir, it should have an aioli feel and be a bit glossy. Set aside.

When the carrots are mostly cooled, slice avocado, then assemble greens on plate and toss with a little salt, oil and lemon juice just to coat, then place carrots, avocado slices on top, along with a few dollops of dressing, the seeds and pinch of minced scallion top.

08 January 2013

Toasted Almond Whole Wheat Sables

Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, hello. I can actually clear off the counter now while I count to 60 as you mix for me... methinks I've opened to a new world.

These little golden toasted almond sables lightly adapted from Heidi who lightly adapted it from Alice,  were the first thing I made with the famous machine newly slotted in the back corner of my counter where I am able to slide it at its will forward when it calls for usage.

The method: I creamed salted Irish butter and organic cane sugar along with vanilla and sea salt, threw in toasted, finely chopped almonds, then blended in a mix of both whole wheat pastry and all purpose flours,  swirled in a handful of diced golden raisins, chilled the ball of dough overnight then rolled it out and stamped shapes with, not, I'm afraid with a vintage cookie cutter, but with the twist of the top of a spice jar. Which happens to be the perfect small circle size I like cookies.

I love how they nicely crisped around the edges and maintained a buttery base while delivering that nice nuttiness of whole wheat. Very nice browning is possible here without burning if you keep your eye on the oven as they finish up. You're going for color. And, even after halving this one from the original (because, well, I still get a bit frugal about using 2 sticks of butter in the same baking extravaganza) I still ended up with two jars of cookies on my counter. I mean, they are small little things, but since they're shortbread, they'll be good for a week. The bonus of the eggless cookie : )

The delicate whole wheat combined with the deeply toasted almonds gives the flavor a toasted sandy nuttiness. And that phrase quite reminds me of being a child and always wanting a Good Humor Toasted Almond Crunch ice cream bar. You see, even then I had a thing for toasted, chopped nuts. And now I put them in everything--salads, cookies, yogurt, you name it.

So if you're looking for that perfect, sandy afternoon cookie without delving into the chocolate realm, a few of these alongside a little milky, honeyed black tea just might make your day. xo MN

Toasted Almond Whole Wheat Sables

1/2 c (1 stick) salted good butter (I used Kerrygold), softened (left out for about an hour)
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 c sugar
1/8 t  fine sea salt
3 T toasted, finely chopped almonds
1/4 c finely chopped raisins (or whole currants)
1/2 t vanilla extract
Larger grain sugar for sprinkling

In a medium bowl, sift the flours together and set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, salt and vanilla for about a minute until creamy, then add the almonds and give it a light stir. Add the flour and mix until barely combined. (I just briefly used the mixer stir setting and really watched it). Add the raisins and stir again until just incorporated.

Scrape dough into a ball, dump onto a piece of plastic, shape into a round patty, and tightly wrap. Refrigerate at least a few hours or overnight. 

15 minutes before you're ready for baking, take out your dough. Preheat oven to 350, position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven, line sheet pans with parchment.

Roll the dough out 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured counter top, cut into desired shapes. You can re-roll scraps. Just place the dough in the freezer for a moment if you find it getting melty. Cold is important. Line the pans with the cookies about an inch apart, sprinkle each with a tiny pinch of larger-grain sugar, and place the trays in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Bake 13-15 minutes until edges are golden and crisping. Watch the color. Rotate the sheets about 9 minutes in. I changed the back to front angle and  switched the top and bottom racks. Let cool on the tray 2 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in jars.