Thursday, April 30, 2009

Frittata di Boraggine-Borage Frittata

When I lived in Venice I used to go with my friends on weekend excursions in the woods of the Venetian countryside. In the spring time we always collected edible plants and then would make the most awesome dishes back home. My friend Paola is an awesome cook and one of the things that connected us was our passion for foraging. There are many plants that are easily foraged in Europe, free and delicious, nettles being one of them.

One of the things that I love to eat is Borage, a very prickly plant with beautiful blue flowers. The leaves can be fried and the tiny flowers can be candied and used to decorate cakes. Borage is a great plant to have in a vegetable garden, apparently it improves the flavor of tomatoes, and it has great health benefits, as an anti-inflammatory, as a stress reliever, and is full of minerals like potassium.

Three years ago I (stole) took a plant from a local garden, that plant grew and its progeny has reseeded itself for the past three years.

I did some work in the garden this morning and felt like eating something I grew, and borage was just calling my name. The easiest way to eat it is in a frittata, for a healthy, quick, and satisfying lunch.

Borage Frittata

1 medium shallot
1 cup chopped borage leaves
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

Cook the shallots in the olive oil until translucent, add the borage and cook until soft. Add the cooked leaves to the eggs and mix well. Heat some more olive oil in a non stick pan and pour the egg mixture in. Cook on medium heat until it is cooked halfway. Turn the frittata on the other side and cook through. Serve it warm. I simply rolled a slice with some arugula and ate it as finger food.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomato Cheese Tart

I love making this galette in the summer when the tomatoes are at their fullest. It is a sure crowd pleaser, it travels easily and is perfect for a picnic. The crust is what makes this galette memorable, it is a very buttery dough, and has the added crunch of cornmeal. I love using stone ground organic cornmeal I buy in bulk, but you can add any corn flour you can find, even polenta would work. I found this recipe in the book Baking with Julia, which I have gone back to many time for inspiration because it is loaded with great recipes from well known chefs and food professionals. The book is based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child and written by Dorie Greenspan, another wonderful author. Each recipe in the book is written clearly, each step well explained, and all the things I have tried turned out perfect (the sticky buns recipe gets a 10). One of my absolute favorites is the fig and raspberry crostata with a linzer crust, so look for the recipe when the season will come, it is one of the best things I have even eaten.

I often make this tart for clients, because it makes people rave. For bigger catering jobs I make the tart in half sheet pans and cut it in squares, they lose the side crusts, but it still tastes terrific.

The original recipe was contributed to the book by Flo Braker, so it is no wonder the dough is so good, Flo is a master baker whom I have learned a lot from. I modified the recipe slightly by omitting the water and adding more buttermilk, and with the addition of fresh herbs. The crust is easy to put together, easy to roll and very sturdy. I like to brush it with olive oil before baking it to prevent drying.

Tomato Galette
serves eight

For the crust
4 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3.5 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

For the filling
4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 oz mozzarella cheese, cut in small cubes
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into strips
4 to 6 ripe tomatoes, roma or cherry (pick tomatoes that are not too juicy), sliced thin

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the blade attachment. Add the cold butter and mix until the butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the liquid and mix only until the dough comes together. Pour the content on a floured top and push the dough together with your hands, without overworking it. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate an hour or overnight. Roll the dough into a circle, trying to roll as thin as possible. If the dough gets too warm, put it back in the fridge to chill the butter again. Add the cheeses to the bottom of the crust, leaving a 1.5" edge. Arrange the tomato slices in circles, sprinkle the basil, and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Fold the edge of the crust over the tomatoes and brush it with some more EVOO. Bake at 375, until the crust is golden and the liquid from the tomatoes and the mozzarella has almost completely evaporated.

Bread Baking Day #19, a fun event created by Zorra, is hosted this month by the wonderful Cinzia of Cindystar. She choose a fun theme,
spring country breads, or anything you would bring to a nice spring country picnic, the ones we have so often in Italy. I am not bringing bread or anything made with yeast, but this is something that everyone would enjoy at a country picnic. I actually made some olive panini with a starter I just developed, and they looked and tasted horrible, so I would be ashamed to bring those to a picnic. I have not been having any luck using a starter to make bread, I am about to give up and go back to dry active yeast.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers-Cheese Cake Revisited

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

For this month’s challenge, Jenny picked a cheesecake, courtesy of her friend Abbey. If you would like to see the original recipe please visit Jenny at

I normally use a cheesecake recipe from Spago dessert cookbook which I love, it is light, not too overpowering, and very delicate, but decided to try this recipe and twist it a little. Initially I wanted to try it with goat yogurt, but then realized I had some chevre in the fridge so I used that instead. Buttermilk was also used instead of the cream for an extra punch. I decided to forgo the crust since no matter what you use it ends up soggy, so I used a pistachio streusel as a substitute crust and as a dish garnish.

I love pairing citrus fruit with cheese cakes or anything that has lots of fat, it tames the heaviness, and since I had lots of blood oranges around, they were the pick of choice. I made the citrus tuiles with juice from the blood oranges, and the batter turned out a beautiful pink color that was unfortunately overcame by the sugar browning during baking. They still retained a beautiful color though.

To stay with the orange theme I candied whole slices of blood oranges in simple syrup to use on the plate. Some of the orange flavored syrup was also used for both garnish and flavor on the plate.

I liked the taste of the goat cheese, it wasn't too overpowering and it added zing to the recipe. What I didn't like was the texture of the cheese cake, and I am not sure it was due to the slow cooling in the oven, which might have overcooked it, or to the addition of the chevre and buttermilk. I will have to try my recipe and method with the addition of chevre to compare.

Chevre Cheesecake

16 oz of cream cheese, 2 8-oz packages, at room temperature
8 ounces chevre
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz buttermilk
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath. Spray ten 6-oz ramekins with vegetable spray.

2. Combine cheeses and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add buttermilk, vanilla, lemon juice, and blend until smooth and creamy.

3. Pour batter into prepared ramekins. Place ramekins into a larger pan and pour boiling water until halfway up the side of the ramekins.

4. Bake 25-30 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Citrus Lace Tuile

adapted from The Last Course

1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup blood orange juice
2 tablespoon lemon juice
7 ounces butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon grated blood orange zest
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar and the flour. With the mixer on low speed, drizzle the juices and mix until smooth. Drizzle the cooled butter and the zest.. Increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Spoon the desired amount of batter on a baking sheet lined with a silpat and bake for 10 minutes (anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon depending on the final desired size). The batter spreads quite a bit, so don't bake more than 6 tuiles at the time. When the bubbles have subsided, and the tuiles are nicely browned evenly remove from the oven, let cool until you are able to handle the tuiles, lift one at the time and wrap around the handle of a wooden spoon for cigarettes, or around a rolling pin for round tuiles.

Pistachio streusel
adapted from my former mentor, Pastry Chef DMcG.

equal parts in weight of:
pastry flour
granulated sugar
finely ground pistachios
cold butter, cut in small cubes

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the cold butter and mix until it just starts coming together. Cool for at least an hour in the refrigerator (the unbaked streusel keeps for few days). When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 325F. Spread the desired amount on a baking sheet lined with a silpat and bake for 10 minutes. When the sides start coloring, remove the pan from the oven and break any lumps with a bench scraper, mixing the streusel for even baking. Cook for another 5 minute and repeat the mixing, so no lumps form. When the streusel in nicely colored but still soft looking, remove it from the oven, repeat the breaking of the lumps one more time and cool completely. Keep in an airtight container. This is such an amazing recipe and it can be made with other nuts, and sprinkled on anything. Warning, it is addictive!

Buon Appetito!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Baking-A Consuming Passion

Shuna, the talented creator of eggbeater, wrote a beautiful ode to baking. Please go read it, I will wait. She explained very poetically exactly how I feel about baking. It is a 24/7, sometimes consuming, mostly happy, aspect of my life. I have woken up in the middle of the night with ideas on certain dessert combinations, on what to add to a cake to make it more interesting, or just worried about the next interview, or in anticipation of the first day of a new job.

I am officially unemployed, but not without constant thoughts of what to bake next. I have a starter in the work on the counter, meyer lemons waiting for an inspiration, an ever growing collections of recipes I want to try, recipes I am testing for a cookbook author, a baking class in the planning, dozens posts I want to write, the bowl of the ice cream maker in the freezer for when inspiration strikes, ginger snaps in the fridge ready to be baked, and hundred more things I want to do.

And the cookbooks! Every now and then a new great cookbook comes out, I get my hands on it and it is instant love, I have to have it. Once I get it I tell myself that I won't fall for it again, next time I will be wiser, more mature, less irrational. I have at least 50 baking books, 10 only on chocolate, 5 on cookies, 4 on ice cream, 3 on bread, 3 on candy and confections, and often multiple cookbooks by the same author, I am a junky, no doubt. I often borrow a book from the library and then proceed to photocopy it almost entirely because of all the interesting recipes I can't live without. I have a binder full with my tested recipes, it weighs a ton, they are all nicely stored in plastic pockets so they won't get ruined. And the magazine clippings, I won't even go there....

Without farther ado, I want to share this recipe I have meant to try for ages and finally did. It comes from the book The Cheese Course, and because I somehow misplaced the second page with the instructions on how to make the dough, I have added my own instructions. The bread requires two days to make, so plan ahead. It is one of those recipes that should come with a warning, as you can't possibly eat just a slice.

Grape Focaccia
adapted from the Cheese Course

For the sponge
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour

One day ahead add the yeast to the warm water, and let stand for 2 minutes, then whisk with a fork to dissolve. Mix in the flour to make a loose dough, refrigerate overnight.

For the focaccia dough
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup EVOO
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 pound seedless grapes (I used green grapes), halved
1/4 coarse sugar or granulated sugar

To make the focaccia dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the hook attachment, add the sponge, the water, the salt, wine, EVOO, and cornmeal. Mix on low speed for few second, and with the mixer running add the flour until a soft dough forms. Mix at speed 1 for 5 minutes. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. Add more flour to make the dough clear the sides of the bowl if necessary. It should still be sticky and soft. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a rectangle. Let rest for 5 minutes. Stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it like a letter into a rectangle. Spray with oil, cover with plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes. Stretch the dough two more times with the 30 minute resting time. Line a 17x12 sheet pan with paper and brush with oil. Press the dough onto the pan, brush it with extra extra vergin olive oil and dimple all over with fingers. Rest the dough 5 minutes to relax the gluten then finish spreading it evenly. Add the halved grapes on the top, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the room temperature. Before baking, sprinkle the top evenly with the crystal sugar. Bake at 375F until the internal temperature reaches 180-200F. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. Warning: extremely addictive!

This recipe was submitted to Susan at Wild Yeast, to her yeast spotting weekly event. To learn more about this wonderful event click here.
Buon Appetito!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Challah Bread

I see many career paths ahead of me, taking me in different directions, most of them related to food.

One of the things I have been wanting to do for the longest time is to make a handful of superb products to sell in different local venues. One of this venues is about to start so the recipe testing has began today, well last night, Challah bread being the first thing I decided to try.

When this bread came out of the oven I couldn't believe my eyes. I guess I should have trusted the recipe as it comes from a very reputable source, but not having made this bread before I didn't know what the end result would be. This has exceeded my expectations, a keeper for sure. I think it could be slightly sweeter, tweaking the ingredients will do it.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Market Fresh

I love buying produce that is grown locally and organically for obvious reasons. Produce starts losing flavor the moment it is picked, some faster than other. Growing up in Venice, Italy, spoiled me in many ways, but I didn't realize how lucky I had it until I moved to the States, the land of supermarkets. Growing up I was lucky to taste amazingly fresh fruit and vegetables. My mom would go the farmers' market almost everyday, so everything she made tasted fantastic. Freshness is something I have experience for the past four years eating vegetables grown in my little garden. Last June I made a simple pasta with peas picked merely an hour earlier, baby onions, and parsley, also coming from the garden. The flavor of that dish was absolutely amazing. A quick sautée and they were ready. Most Italian dishes like Risi e Bisi, a traditional Venetian dish, have only few ingredients so freshness is a must. This year I planted twice as many pea plants to compensate for the peas I devour before they even reach the kitchen.

Marin County is an amazing place to live in, for million reasons, one being the availability of the best and freshest organic produce, grown within few miles of your home. We have two major weekly farmers' markets in San Rafael, on Thursday and Sunday mornings, and smaller ones located in other cities, some only running in the summer.

Today at the San Rafael Farmers Market there were the usual suspects, Star Route Farms, Marin Roots Farm, Full Belly Farm, to just name a few of these amazingly dedicated farmers. I first headed to get my fix of nettles but at Star Route they were sold out already, bummer! I bought some fava beans, spring onions, artichokes, and Italian kale.

My second stop was at Marin Roots Farm but they didn't have any nettles either, gone to seeds already. Instead I bought some kale flowerlets, which are awaiting inspiration. I am thinking to pair them with onions and lentils.

I also stopped at Della Fattoria stand and bought a wonderful rosemary, meyer lemon loaf, just gorgeous (this amazing bakery deserves a post of its own, coming soon.....).

Going to the market brings me an infusion of happiness, a sense of well being. Maybe because it brings back the feeling of walking through Venice's market stalls, buying some early spring offerings, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tart with Leeks and Zucchini-Crostata ai Porri e Zucchine

A very cold weather front has hit the Bay Area, the temperature is ridiculously cold, but Spring is here nonetheless. My vegetable garden is in its third year and I am still learning what works and what doesn't. Last fall I planted loads of garlic since it grew really well before, and for the first time I tried leeks which proved to be a good crop too. The garlic bulbs haven't formed the little segments yet, so they need more time in the soil but he leeks are now big enough to justify harvesting them and that is what I did this morning. A tart that could be brought to a summer pic-nic is the perfect ending for these beauties.

Italians don't have the same love affair French have with leeks, so this vegetable doesn't appear too often on the menus. Maybe it is on the account on how we call them, Porri, which doesn't sound too appealing. This tart came to being when I was trying to use some leeks I had bought before knowing what to do with them. I decided to use them in a tart and since my fridge always has zucchini waiting to be used for one thing or another, the zucchini-leek combo was born. I then spiced the filling up with some chili flakes, added cream, eggs, some cheese and voila', a new dish was born. I have to admit the tart sounds/is very French indeed, but Italians will approve I am sure, especially since I used Parmigiano Reggiano.

This is another crowd pleaser I like to bring to parties or make for my catering clients. The tart dough is a typical Pate Brisée, with lots of butter and so delicious. The recipe is adapted from volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the venerable Julia Child.

Pate Brisée

2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4teaspoon sugar
6 ounces butter cut in small cubes
1/2 cup ice cold water.

I like to make this dough in a food processor as it is very quick. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter and pulse on and off until the butter is the size of peas. Add the cold water with the machine running, then pulse on and off until the dough start to come together. Small pieces of butter should still be visible. Empty the dough on a floured counter and bring it together, do not over mix it. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours. The dough can be frozen for few weeks. Roll the dough to a 1/8 thickness, line a tart shell and freeze.

Tart Filling

2 medium leeks
2 medium zucchini
chili flakes (to your taste)
parsley, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Slice and wash the leeks in cold water (click here to see a detailed post on how to prepare leeks). Heat the EVOO in a large pan, add the leeks and cook until translucent (like you would with onions). Add the zucchini and cook on medium heat until tender, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the chili flakes and the parsley, and let cool. Mix the heavy cream with the eggs, add the cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Mix the cream mixture with the cooled vegetables and pour onto prepared tart shell. Bake at 375F until the filling is set and the crust is nicely browned. The above amounts will work for a 10", or a 8"x11" tart.

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Colomba Pasquale-Easter Dove

A great group of accomplished bakers had the wonderful idea to bake a Colomba, a traditional Italian Easter bread. Natalia, Cinzia, Cinzia, Elra, Lien, Rosa, and Zorra then invited the blogsphere to join in to bake this challenging yet worth all the efforts bread. Cinzia of cindystar is hosting the event so check her site if you want to participate, the deadline is April 18th. The recipe belongs to a family of yeast breads found throughout Europe dating back to medieval times, studded with nuts, candied citrus peel and spices in some cases. Panettone, Stollen, Gubana, to name just a few, are all versions of this very rich dough, containing eggs, butter and sometimes milk. Reading all the mistakes, mishaps, and changes made by the bakers in the original group helped me decide what I wanted to do. Few bakers complained that the dough made from the original recipe was slow to rise on accounts of a sourdough starter. I have a starter in the fridge, so I could have tried it to be true to the bread, but I wanted to make sure I had a freshly baked Colomba on Easter Sunday, hence I used a recipe that used dry active yeast instead of a starter. I don't remember how I found this site but I used their recipe. The recipe is very well written, the dough behaved exactly as it said, and the aroma of the dough was amazing. The second to the last rise is an 8 to 10 hour process, so I refrigerated the dough with the intent of taking it out after our dinner with friends, and let it rise overnight. Do you guess what happened, right? Yes, I forgot to take it out when I got home at almost 11pm, but my brain must have been thinking about it thought because I woke up at 1am, jumped out of bed and saved the Colomba. I left it in the oven with the light on and went back to sleep. At 6 the dough had risen beautifully, was full of bubbles, nice long strands of gluten and all so sexy (yes, brioche dough is sexy). It felt amazingly soft and buttery and full of promises. It was easy to shape and it fit the molds perfectly. If you can't find the molds, you can bake it in a spring form pan, or visit Lien's site and check out her tutorial on how to make a mold from things you can easily find at you local store, pretty ingenious.

I checked the dough at 8 and it looked like it was not moving, so much to my desire to eat it for breakfast. The recipe says that it takes more than 3 hours. Patience.....At 10 it was almost there, it was going to be ready for lunch at that point.

At 11:30 I decided to call it, the dough was almost at the rim and looked nicely proofed. After thirty minutes I had to turn down the oven temperature to 350, and later to 330 because the top was getting too dark and the center of the dough was still really wet. The top came out a little too dark for my taste, I would lower the temperature earlier next time.

We never ate it at lunch because we went to visit some friends who were celebrating Passover so yeast was out of the question. The bread tasted perfect at dinner time, rich, moist, super delicious with the orange peel and the crunchy topping. It was denser than the commercial dove, but the traditional taste was all there. I would keep this recipe, and make it again, it was well worth the effort.

Thanks to all the wonderful bakers who came up with the idea of baking this bread and gave me the much needed push to try it again. Do you feel all the energy and passion coming out of your computer? Go make a Colomba now.

Colomba Pasquale

Easter Dove

These traditional holiday loaves are made in several easy steps over about 18 hours. We recommend doing steps one through four on the first day, since step four includes an eight- to ten-hour rising that, ideally, could be done overnight. Then finish the next day.

Yield: 2 loaves

Step 1 (Starter)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cool water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
7 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour

Step 2
2/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cool water
2 teaspoons sugar

Step 3
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (very soft), cut into 6 pieces
5 tablespoons sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons lukewarm whole milk
1 tablespoon honey

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Step 4
1/2 cup cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (very soft), cut into 12 pieces
6 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lukewarm whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups (about 10 oz.) chopped candied orange peel ( can be found in some specialty foods stores)

Step 5
1/2 cup (about) all purpose flour
2 dove-shaped paper baking molds or two buttered and floured ten-inch-diameter cheesecake pans

Step 6 (Glaze and baking)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole unblanched almonds
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cups sliced almonds
Powdered sugar

For step 1 (Making starter):
Combine water and sugar in bowl of a heavy duty mixer. Stir in yeast. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes. Using rubber spatula, mix in flour (dough will be firm). Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let starter rise until puffy, about 45 minutes. (Initially, the starter is firm and compact, but it softens and becomes puffy and spongy after rising.)

For step 2:
Attach dough hook to mixer. Add all ingredients in step 2 to starter. Beat until blended, scraping down sides of bowl often, about 5 minutes (dough will be soft and thick). Scrape dough off hook; remove hook. Cover bowl with plastic. Let dough rise at room temperature until puffy and bubbly on top, about 1 hour. The dough will look thick, shiny, and slightly puffed.

For step 3:
Reattach clean dough hook. Add first 5 ingredients in step 3 to dough; beat until blended. Add flour. Beat at low speed until smooth, scraping down bowl and hook often, about 5 minutes (dough will be firm and compact). Scrape dough off hook; remove hook. Cover bowl with plastic; let dough rise at room temperature until lighter in texture and slightly puffed, about 3 1/2 hours. The dough will double in volume and become lighter in texture but less glossy.

For step 4:
Reattach clean dough hook. Mix water and yeast in small cup. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes; add to dough. Add 1 1/3 cups flour, half of butter, sugar, and 2 yolks; beat until dough is smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down dough hook and sides of bowl. Add remaining 2 yolks, milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat at low speed until blended, about 3 minutes. Scrape down hook. Add remaining 2/3 cup flour, remaining butter, and orange peel. Beat dough until well blended, about 5 minutes. Scrape dough into very large (at least 4-quart) buttered bowl. Cover with plastic. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled and indentation remains when 2 fingers are pressed about 1/4 inch into dough, 8 to 10 hours.

For step 5:
Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour onto work surface. Scrape dough out onto floured work surface (dough will be soft and sticky). Gently toss dough in flour until easy to handle. Brush away excess flour. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Divide 1 piece in half; shape each half into 10-inch-long log. Arrange 1 log crosswise in each paper baking mold, curving ends to fit. Roll each remaining dough piece into 11-inch-long log, slightly tapered at ends. Place 1 log across dough in each mold. (If using 2 cheesecake pans, divide dough in half; place half in each prepared pan). Cover molds (or pans) with plastic. Let stand at room temperature until dough rises to top of each mold and indentation remains when 2 fingers are pressed about 1/4 inch into dough, about 3 1/4 hours.

For step 6 (Glaze and baking):
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375 F. Finely grind sugar and whole almonds in a food processon. Add egg whites and almond extract; blend 10 seconds. Peel plastic off dough in molds. Spoon half of almond glaze over top of each. Sprinkle each with sliced almonds. Sift powdered sugar over. Slide rimless baking sheet under molds; slide molds directly onto oven rack.

Bake breads until brown on top and slender wooden skewer inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads completely on rack. (Can be made ahead. Wrap; let stand at room temperature up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 week.

Buona Pasqua!

PS I submitted this post to the amazing weekly event organized by YeastSpotting, Zorra is the host this week. To see how to participate check Susan's web site.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Candied Orange Peel

This year I decided to try to make Colomba Pasquale again. I made it once before without the proper mold, and despite looking awful it was pretty tasty. This time I am prepared, equipped with the colomba paper molds I bought a while ago in a local kitchen supply store. Now the time has come, just in time for Easter, to make this wonderful bread millions of people will be eating in Italy on Easter Sunday.

The dough is now rising, waiting for the fourth addition of ingredients, and more yeast to carry along the rise of this super rich dough. As I was mixing the dough, it dawned on me that I didn't have enough candied peel, a crucial ingredient in this bread. No time was lost when I remember the blood oranges I juiced yesterday which I promptly rescued from the compost bucket and proceeded to candy. No, they were not in the compost pile, just in the compost bucket I keep next to the stove, there were totally fine, plus they will be boiled, right?

Candying citrus peel is easier that most people think, water and sugar are the only ingredients required, together with some patience. Two years ago, almost to the exact day (it was Easter night), I went to visit one of my dearest friends, Paola, and her family in Roncan, a tiny village located at the foothill of the Alps, north of Venice. We started eating oranges, and as the peel started piling up I decided to candy it, all I needed was water and sugar, right? It was one of those unforgettable moments, spent with my oldest and dearest friends, in their beautiful although rustic kitchen. Needless to say the peel didn't last until the next day, we ate it on the spot.

Depending on how thin the peel is cut, there are many ways to candy it. I simply covered the juiced halves with cold water and boiled them until tender to the fork (for citrus that has a much thicker pith, a 2 or 3 step blanching is required). After the oranges had cooled down, I removed most of the pith with a spoon, and then cut the skin in crescents with a sharp knife. The candying took a while since the skin was thick, maybe 30 minutes or more. The purpose of boiling the skin in simple syrup is to exchange the water in the peel with sugar, a natural preservative. This way the candied peel lasts for a long time in the refrigerator.

Once the crescents are completely translucent and the syrup has thickened, the peel is drained and dried, sometimes overnight. This step is important because it decreases the amount of sugar that will stick to the peel, for a much better end result. I didn't wait that long though since I will need the peel in the next hour.

Tossed in sugar, the peel is hard to resist, I must admit.

Candied Citrus Peel

You will need peel of citrus fruit, such as lemons, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, etc. (don't candy different fruit at the same time as they vary in thickness and will take different times).
Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio between water and sugar, in cups), enough to cover the peel.

For thick skins that have a lot of white pith, blanch the peel twice or three times in boiling water (add the peel to boiling water, blanch few seconds, drain and cool in ice water). On the last blanching, continue cooking, barely simmering, until the peel feels soft when cut with the tip of a knife. Once cooled remove most of the white bitter pith, with a knife or a spoon. Cut in desired shape and size.

To make the simple syrup, pour the water in a pan with a heavy bottom, dissolve the sugar, and bring to a boil. Add the drained peel, and cook just simmering, covered with a disk of parchment paper, until translucent.

Drain the peel from the syrup, dry for few hours to overnight, and toss in granular sugar. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The peel keeps for weeks.

If you have a zester, the peel can be removed in thin strips, with barely any pith. They only need to be blanched twice, and don't need to be boiled at all.

Before candying, the strips can be cut in very thin julienne strips. When the peel is very thin only take 10-15 minutes to cook in the syrup.

Forget Me Not

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." Maya Angelou

Let's hope that the mistakes made in Abruzzo will teach us something, so the tragic and senseless loss of lives will not be repeated.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paper Chef 39-Poached Salmon with Blackberry Sauce, Bulgur Salad and Artichokes

I love artichokes! When I saw that they were in the list of ingredients for this month's Paper Chef I got really eager to start cooking. In Venice, just about now, you can find the most tender and flavorful baby artichokes at any market stand. Most artichokes found throughout Venice are grown in the island of Sant'Erasmo, where most of the produce comes from since the time of the Dogi. Sant'Erasmo is one the biggest islands in the Venetian lagoon, besides Venice proper, and is relatively unknown to tourism. The best artichokes are called castraure in the Venetian dialect, meaning little castrated things, and are the flowers that sprout on the side, once the main flower is cut off. Castraure are deep purple and so tender that they can be eaten raw, thinly sliced with olive oil and lemon juice. Fried artichokes are also one of my favorite ways of eating artichokes, I can taste them just thinking about it. In Venice you can also find big artichoke hearts, called fondi di carciofo, and best cooked with garlic, olive oil, and a sprinkle of parsley. Nearby Piazza Santa Margherita, where I used to live, there is a boat referred to as La Barca, a burcio precisely, filled to the rim with vegetables of all sorts (click on burcio to see a photo of the actual boat). I can picture in my head one of the brothers who own the business, perched on a wooden case in a nearby boat, busy removing the leaves of the artichokes and tossing fondi in a huge plastic bucket full of lemony water. The memories.....

This month's judge for PC is Adrienne at Hungry Bruno. The three randomly picked ingredients were blackberries, artichokes, and bulgar, and Adrienne threw in salmon as the fourth ingredient. I knew immediately what to do with the bulgar and the artichokes, but only this morning I figure out how to incorporate the other two ingredients in the dish. I found some blackberries that weren't too ripe and pureed them, but when I tasted the puree I had no idea how to incorporate it into the dish. Luckily I run into a friend of mine who is a chef and he suggested adding some balsamic to it to bring out the acidity. I still had no clue on how to make the puree into a sauce though. Then I visited Ilva's site and inspiration struck when she mentioned blackberries in a vinaigrette. I decided to cook some shallots, add some red wine, reduce the sauce down with a piece of cinnamon bark, add some butter, and go from it. When the wine was nicely reduced I added few tablespoons of blackberry puree until I could taste them, but because it was way too acidic I added some balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar to add sweetness. It worked! Now that I had a great tasting sauce to use on the salmon I decided to poach the fish to give it a more delicate taste that would not interfere with the stronger sauce. I have to say that I had no hope that blackberries would work with salmon, but with few other ingredients an idea was born. Thank you Ilva for the inspiration.

All the recipe amounts are approximated since I didn't measure anything except the bulgar.

Bulgar salad
Cook the bulgar wheat in 2 parts of boiling water until soft (1 cup to 2 cups of water). Add some EVOO, salt, parsley, and 1 minced shallot.

1 pound baby artichokes
2 garlic cloves
salt to taste
1 tablespoon minced parsley

Wash the artichokes, peel the stem, remove the hard leaves, and cut in half. Sautee the garlic in EVOO, add the artichokes, and cook covered at low heat until tender (you may need to add some water once in a while). Add salt to taste, and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Poached Salmon
Cover the salmon with sliced shallots and poach in water and two tablespoon of EVOO. Salt to taste.

Blackberry sauce
Mince a medium shallot and sautee in EVOO until translucent. Add a glass of red wine, a small piece of cinnamon bark, and reduce the sauce until thick. Add a tablespoon of butter, and 1/2 cup of blackberry puree, warm the sauce through, then add 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Salt to taste. All the ingredients are approximated in amounts, so add less of everything and adjust according to your taste.

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Basil Ice Cream, Strawberries, and Balsamic Reduction

Taking this picture was a lesson on patience, setting, styling, and I know I wouldn't get an A, but I have no more ice cream so this picture has to do. I don't have much of a set up yet, so I take pictures with natural light and a white foam board to reflect the light. I initially put the plate on the freezer with the quenelle of ice cream, but as soon as I took the plate out, droplets of condensation started forming, which made the balsamic reduction smear and look horrible. I didn't have more ice cream left (yes it was so good we gobbled it up pretty fast), and the sun was moving closer and closer to the plate! I quickly wiped the plate and took few more pictures before it was too late. This is the only one that made the cut, and only barely I am afraid. Everything looks nice and shiny except for the ice cream blob, the picture doesn't do any justice to the pale green ice cream unfortunately.

I made the ice cream for my husband's birthday and served it with cream biscuits. The dessert got a 10 from a man with a very discerning palate, which means it was pretty good.

The recipe comes from Pastry Chef, cookbook author extraordinaire, David Lebovitz, one of my favorite people in the pastry realm. As told in his books, David started his career in pastry while working on the savory side of the Chez Panisse kitchen. He later became Pastry Chef, and worked there for many years. Eventually David left the Bay Area and moved to Paris where he still resides (did it do it for the French macaroons?). Check out his website because he is not only funny, but extremely knowledgeable on all things pastry. His cookbooks are fun to read and a great source of inspiration. Years ago, I casually bought David first book Room for Dessert not knowing who he was, but I immediately knew it was love when I read that not only he doesn't like chocolate and raspberries together, but he is also crazy for cardamom, one of my favorite spices. When David came out with The Perfect Scoop, I knew that sooner or later I had to buy it, and I am happy I did. The book has plenty of ice cream recipes to choose from in the second chapter (Green Pea Ice Cream anyone?). In the next two chapters, you can find great sorbet and granita recipes like Cantaloupe sorbet, Leche Merengada, or Mojito Granita. He doesn't stop at the frozen part though, but also includes three more chapters: one on sauces, one on crunchies to mix in, and one on vessels you can bake to present your creations with. Are you running to your local bookstore yet?

Basil Ice Cream
adapted from the Perfect Scoop

1 cup packed basil leaves
3/4 cup sugar
2 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
pinch salt
5 large eggs
zest of one lemon

Grind the basil leaves with the sugar and 1 cup of the cream until the leaves are ground as fine as possible. Pour half of the mixture into a large bowl and add the remaining 1 cup of the cream.

Warm the other half of the basil mixture with the milk and salt. While the milk is warming up break up the yolks with a whisk. When the milk start simmering, turn the heat off, and pour it slowly into the yolks whisking to temper them until they thicken into a custard. Strain the yolk custard into the reserved cream-basil mixture, mix well, add the lemon zest and chill completely. Freeze the ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Buon Appetito!


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