Thursday, September 29, 2011

Celebration Challah

On the spur of the moment I made a batch of challah dough yesterday.  I love making bread, there is something Zen and relaxing about kneading and shaping yeast dough, seeing it rise, and then smelling the fragrance coming from the oven.

Rosh Ashanah, or the Jewish New Year  started last night, and I am sure lots of celebration challah were consumed around the world.  Challah bread is usually shaped in a single three strand braid, but during the High Holidays a celebration or round challah is brought to the table.  The round shape symbolizes the cycle of the year, and the raisins or apples represent a sweet new year.

I adapted Peter Reinhart's challah recipe by adding a cup of raisins and one tablespoon of honey to make the bread sweeter.  I could have added apples, another choice ingredients associated with this Holiday, but I didn't have any in the house, and this was a spur of the moment baking bug.

Braiding a round challah is simple and with few tries you will learn how to shape a beautiful simmetrical bread.  Check out this video who shows also the simple round challah.

The recipe above results in a big loaf or two small ones.  If you make it 1.5x then you can make three one-pound loaves, so you can share it with friends.

Happy New Year to all my Jewish friends and readers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers-Buttery Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

I have made croissants before and I know they take a long time, not in actual work, but in between folds to chill the dough.  The great thing about croissants though is that they can be frozen after shaping, so you can go ahead and double the recipe and freeze extra ones.

This recipe was straight forward and worked great, the steps are described very well. I would like to add that by starting with a well shaped rectangle both of dough and of butter helps keep the final dough more neat and easy to cut and shape.  Chilling the dough in between turns is essential for that, so don't rush those steps.

Chocolate almond-frangipane croissant

I made two different doughs, one following the given recipe, the other, chocolate croissants, inspired by the amazingly fast and helpful Audax.  In his version Audax substituted four tablespoons of flour with and equal amount of cocoa powder.  I used Valrhona cocoa powder and it gave a beautiful hue to the croissants but it was so hard to tell when they were done as they were pretty dark to start with.

Poppy seeds walnuts croissant

Here are my notes...I let the dough do the second proofing in the fridge overnight for convenience. I found the recipe easy to follow, however at the end I got frustrated when rolling the dough to its final size.  It was impossible to keep the dough to a width of 5 inches, so I ended up having a much thinner dough to reach the 20" in length.  Next time I will double the dough and roll to a different size rectangle so I would be able to cut nice symmetrical triangles.  Having rectangles that weren't symmetrical caused the croissants to be lopsided.  I also would have liked to know the final thickness of the dough to avoid rolling too thing and compacting the layers.  I used regular all-purpose flour so I had to add a little bit more than the 1 3/4 cups the recipe calls for, but that wasn't a problem.  Last but not least, I baked the croissants at 420F after almost burning the first batch, that was very especially important with the croissants with the filling.

I got the 7 steps!

I made two fillings for the regular dough, an almond frangipane, and a walnut poppy seed filling, both delicious.  The plain croissants were nice, flaky, with a great crumb.

Plain croissant showing a nice crumb

To see other amazing creations and download the recipe go to the Daring Bakers' site.  Thank you Sarah for choosing this recipe and to Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, the creators of the Daring Bakers' challenge. 

For a great informative post on shaping croissants check this link at The Fresh Loaf.

On a light note, we have four new little ones at home, they came from Trader Joe's fertilized eggs, incubated by our broody hen.  Aren't they cute?

See what happens if you don't enjoy by the expiration date...

I wish I knew what type of chicken they will become

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paper Chef-Grilled Nectarines with Macha Ice-Cream

I have been following the blog Lucullian Delights, operated by the talented Ilva Beretta, for quite sometime.  Ilva and two other bloggers started a challenge called Paper Chef few years back.  The goal is to create a unique dish with four randomly chosen ingredients, in this case almonds, nectarines, cornmeal, and green tea.   I have participated to this challenge only a handful of times but it was always fun.  This month it will be the 61st edition and when I saw the list of ingredients I could not not do it, don't you agree?  Can't wait to see what the others  participants are making with them.

The season for stone fruits is sadly coming to an end and I realized that I haven't baked anything with them the whole summer, what a shame.  Stone fruit can be used in desserts in so many ways, raw, baked, grilled, in tarts, in ice cream, you name it. 

I had few ideas for this challenge, one was to make a tart with cornmeal and almonds in the crust, but that would have taken longer, so I decided to adapt my ever-so-faithful streusel recipe and tried it gluten free (I used half cornmeal and half brown rice flour).  If you haven't tried this recipe yet, please do it asap, it only has four ingredients in equal parts, it is a pinch to make, it stores unbaked in the freezer, and it is add elegance to many desserts.  This time I used it as a topping to bake some nectarines for tonight's dessert as well.  The gluten free version is even better with the added crunchiness of the corn meal.

For the challenge I grilled the nectarines slowly on the stove and baked the streusel on the side.

The ice-cream recipe comes from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop, and it is one delicious recipe as always, this guy knows his ice-creams. I can't believe I hadn't made it before, I couldn't stop licking the spoon!

Macha Ice-Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
4 tsp macha powder

Bring the milk to a boil to dissolve the sugar.  Pour the milk while hot into the yolks mixing slowly to custard them.  Add the macha powder to the cream and then strain the hot yolk mixture into it.  Stir to dissolve the tea powder, and chill.  Freeze according to your ice cream maker.  


Gelato al Té Verde
adattato dal libro The Perfect Scoop
225 ml di latte
150 gr di zucchero
6 tuorli
450 ml di panna liquida
4 cucchiaini di polvere macha

Portare il latte e lo zucchero ad ebollizione.  Mescolando, versare il latte bollente lentamente sui tuorli per farli addensare.  Aggiungere la polvere macha alla panna.  Passare la miscela  di tuorli con un passino a maglia piccola e incorporarla sempre calda alla panna.  Mescolare bene e fare raffreddare in frigo per alcune ore.  Versare il composto nella gelatiera, seguendo le istruzioni del vostro modello.  Congelare bene per alcune ore prima di servirlo.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rembering 9/11

It has been 10 years.  I still remember what I was doing when my father called me from Venice and urged me to turn on the tv.  I remember watching in disbelief the image of the airplane hitting the second tower, the first tower already in flame.  I watched in horror as people jumped to their death in desperation.  I stood stunned, holding my mouth not to scream.  How could few people hate so much to mastermind such an evil act? 

I felt like a zombie for days, not sure what to do.  For weeks I read every single obituary published in the New York Times, crying for the loss of lives and the pain of the people left behind.  What a senseless tragedy.

Life on this planet will never be the same, for the amazing chain reaction of events unleashed afterwards.  I don't know anyone who died on 9/11, but our good friend Daniel Pearl would probably still be alive if 9/11 hadn't happened.

Today I want to pay homage to everyone who lost their lives or had their life turned upside down that tragic day.

I also want to wish a Happy 50th Birthday to my good friend Piero, whose birthday falls on this sad day.
May peace on Earth prevail one day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Frittata with Beet Greens

I wish I could show you pictures of my vegetable beds, but after two months of neglect my garden is all but pretty.  Just before I left I threw few beet seeds in the soil, hoping for some tender beets at my return.  As you can see I was rewarded with these beauties.

There are so many varieties of beets, this is called Detroit Dark Red, the deep red color is amazing, and the flavor mild. As you can see these beets also produced lots of leaves, not to mention they are so pretty in the garden. The package says that 1 cup of greens has more iron than an hamburger, you can't beet that (pun intended!). 

The first time I ate beet greens was about 4 years ago, prepared by a lovely sous chef I used to work with.  She saved them from going into the trash because nobody else thought of using them (the other sous chefs were a lazy bunch, never seen anything like that).  She simply sautéed them and they were delicious, I became a believer.  I love growing beets, I harvest them young so I can eat the whole thing, even the delicious leaves.

The best part of this frittata is that I used all ingredients from the garden, down to the eggs my chickens laid.  Can't get more locavore than this.  I love the pink hue of this frittata, could it be the iron?


Frittata with Beet Greens

Two medium shallots
1 garlic clove
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Leaves of 4-5 beets, chopped
3 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a non stick skillet and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sautée the shallots until translucent. Add the garlic and the chopped leaves and cook for 10 minutes, until tender, let cool. Beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Add the cooled leaves. Heat a non stick skillet, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, then add the egg mixture. Cook on medium heat until very little liquid is left. With the help of a plate turn the frittata upside down into the skillet. Cook for two more minutes. Enjoy warm with a salad and some bread for a complete meal. Makes two servings.

Other frittata recipes:

Kale Frittata
Borage Frittata


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