Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shaved Coconut Macaroons

There's a certain comfort that comes from the cyclical rhythms of life. Of doing the same things that you've done in years past, the same thing your parents and grandparents have done. Which, in April, means scrubbing out the dust in a fit of spring cleaning. And baking macaroons.

I've long been a fan of this version, but was seeking a little variety. And I was smitten with these shaved coconut beauties as soon as I saw them. Pretty little piles, all golden and toasty and perfect. These shaved coconut macaroons follow a similar format to the others, soaking up a cooked-in goo of egg whites and sugar, then baking up into golden crisp edges and sweet chewy insides. Admittedly, these are a bit more toothsome than the shredded version. But sometimes it's nice to have a cookie with a bit of chew. And it seems a fair price for all that pretty.

And if you want to move on to Passover appetizers (now that we've taken care of dessert), you can find my rundown of options over at NPR's Kitchen Window — if I may recommend, the deviled eggs with horseradish-orange gremolata are a particularly delicious option. Happy Passover! Happy Spring!

Shaved Coconut Macaroons

adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
yeilds ~26 cookies, depending on how you size them

The first day, these cookies have crisp edges and tender insides, but gradually become more tender throughout. If you're making them any time in advance, I recommend freezing them to preserve the texture.

4 large egg whites
3 1/2 cups unsweetened dried flaked (not shredded) coconut
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
hefty pinch salt

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large metal mixing bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, and stir, scraping from the bottom, until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned from translucent to opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

When the cookies have sat for half an hour, preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Scoop the batter up into a heaped tablespoon or scoop, making little mounds on your prepared cookie sheets. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, then lower the oven temperature to 325° Fahrenheit.

Bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are a beautiful cream and gold with deeper brown edges. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, lower the heat to 300° Fahrenheit. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool completely before removing the cookies. Eat, or freeze for future consumption. And a drizzle of ganache doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Braided Sweet Tahini Bread

In general, I am a big fan of traditional pastry fillings. Almondy frangipane, rich and smooth pastry cream, tangy cheese mixtures. But recently I made a braided loaf filled with a swipe of sweetened tahini. And it was just lovely (especially paired with a cup of black tea). I love the brioche-like richness paired with the nutty filling, though I'm also now eying some variations that match the tahini filling with a leaner, pita-type dough. Because once you go down this tahini path, evidently it's hard to stop.

We tend to think of tahini, if we think of it at all, as a topping for falafel. Or for some ill-conceived hippie sauce. But it can be so much more. In the Middle East, it is used much as we use butter or margarine, to add richness and body (along with its own nutty nature) to a variety of preparations, both sweet and savory. You can read about this recipe, and other lovely tahini treatments, over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lavash Crackers

I generally am not a fan of single-use kitchen appliances. But I make an exception for my pasta machine. There are a few reasons for this dispensation: first and foremost, it makes amazing pasta, which is pretty near impossible without it. And secondly, my dear sister gave it to me. And third, it is a chunky metal machine with no electric parts (thus thrilling my Luddite heart, and nearly getting around the whole 'appliance' category). And this past weekend, I discovered another charm: it's not single use! In addition to making pasta, it also makes kick-ass crackers.

I was asked to bring appetizers to a party with a delicious Middle Eastern theme, for a reception in honor of one of the best books I've read in a long time. So I made some trusty hippie hummous, fancied up for the occasion with a topping of sumac, toasted hazelnuts, and fresh mint (for the record: highly recommended combination). But to go with? The pita bread at the closest grocery store was a bit underwhelming, and I wasn't up to schlepping to the Middle Eastern market. So I looked up cracker recipes. Namely lavash, in keeping with the evening's theme.

These lavash come from the amazing Peter Reinhart, and have many things to recommend them (beyond giving your pasta machine newfound purpose). They're fairly easy to make, cheap, and infinitely adaptable (I went with a topping of flaky salt and cumin seeds, as it seemed vaguely thematic). They're quite dramatic if you present them whole, and between their thin-ness and the yeast, they bake up deliciously light and crisp. And yes, you can roll them out with a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta machine. But if you have one, I highly recommend exploring this off-label application.

Lavash Crackers

Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart
yields enough lavash for a party

1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon active yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour (or more, as needed)
toppings: coarse salt, whole seeds

Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl, if you prefer to knead by hand), sprinkle in the yeast, and let soften a few minutes. Add the salt, honey, and olive oil, then knead in the flour (with a dough hook or your hands), until you have a firm dough, somewhat on the dry side (not quite as stiff as pasta dough, but fairly stiff — if the dough is too loose, it'll be hard to roll out later). Add more flour as needed to form a firm dough. Continue kneading for several minutes, until the gluten is well developed and the dough is smooth and supple. Place in an oiled bowl, swish around and flip over so that the now-oiled bottom is on top, and cover and set aside to rise until doubled (~90 minutes, though you can also do this in the refrigerator the night before).

When the dough is risen you're ready to make the crackers, line a few baking sheets with parchment or grease them very well (I haven't tried the latter, so it's possible there may be some sticking). Gather some toppings, and a spray bottle of water (or a dish of water with a pastry brush), and preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

You can roll these out as thin as you can with a rolling pin, but for best results, use a pasta machine. Take walnut-sized lumps of dough, and flatten with your hands until they can go through the machine at the widest setting. Run it through on thinner levels (because it's softer than pasta dough, you can likely skip levels), ultimately cranking it through level 5. Gently place the thin rolled-out lavash on your prepared cookie sheets. Spritz or brush gently with water, then sprinkle with desired toppings.

Let the prepared lavash rise for 5 minutes on the sheets, then transfer to the oven, and bake until mostly golden, ~15 minutes. Remove, let cool for a moment on the racks, and then transfer to a rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serve lavash whole for dramatic effect, or break into shards.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hippie Krispie Treats

You know that thing wherein you think you're one of many people nibbling away at a particular snack? And then you find out that, in fact, everyone else has had just a bite or two, if that, and you've essentially eaten the entire thing yourself? This is one of those snacks.

Luckily this recipe is surprisingly healthy, a boon to those who end up finishing the majority of the batch (over a few days, but still). Ostensibly they're a take on scotcheroos, the krispie treat variation featuring peanut butter. And a cup of corn syrup. And a cup of sugar.

But this hippie version loses the refined sugar in favor of maple syrup, and instead of artificially flavored "butterscotch chips", gets caramel sweetness and heft from brown rice syrup. They are undeniably sweet, but not cloyingly so, especially when you enjoy it with a cup of tea. And then you enjoy another. And then another.

Hippie Krispie Treats

adapted, only slightly, from The Bojon Gourmet (brilliant!)
yields 8 squares

1/4 cup (3 ounces) maple syrup
1/4 cup (2 3/4 ounces) brown rice syrup
1/4 cup (2 ounces) almond butter or peanut butter
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) coconut oil
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups crisp Rice Krispie-style cereal

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) coconut oil
1/3 cup (2 ounces) chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
2 tablespoons chopped, toasted almonds (optional)
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt (optional)

Line an 8x4 or 9x5" loaf pan with a sling of parchment paper.

In a large saucepan, bring the maple and rice syrup to a rolling boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon (be careful not to let it boil over).

Remove from the heat, and stir in all of the remaining bar ingredients except the cereal (nut butter, chocolate, coconut oil, and salt). Stir until the mixture is well combined, then fold in the cereal. Pour the mixture into your lined loaf pan, packing down firmly with a spatula or your hands.

In a small saucepan (or the same big one, if you've scraped it clean), melt the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate and 1 tablespoon coconut oil together over very low heat, stirring constantly just until melted (be careful not to scorch the chocolate). Pour this chocolate mixture over the rice mixture, spreading to form a smooth top layer. Sprinkle the nuts and salt (if using) over the top.

Let the bars set at cool room temperature (about 1 hour) or in the fridge (about 1/2 hour) until firm. Lift the sling out of the pan, trim away the edges if you like (delicious!), and cut into 8 squares.

They will keep at room temperature for several days. Bojon Gourmet thought they were best the day of (with the cereal softening a bit thereafter), but I found them to be lovely for several days (in case the crisp secret lay in the cereal, it was Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hazelnut Pudding

I have been on a serious pudding kick lately. I made chocolate pudding for friends with a new baby. I made pistachio pudding to use up the last of some half-and-half from a houseguest. And then I made chocolate pudding again for a sickbed delivery (in related news, did you know that people still get whooping cough?). And yet, I am still not done of pudding.

But pudding, apparently, was done of me. I had made all the puddings there were. I was literally googling around for alternate options, plugging in "pudding -chocolate -rice -pistachio -bread," but coming up woefully short on new directions in which to take my obsession. And then, like a good Oregonian, I thought of hazelnuts. Why should pistachio be the only nut that gets its own pudding? Does hazelnut have enough oomph to anchor a pudding?

Turns out it does. Hazelnut pudding — especially when you deepen the flavor by giving the nuts a good toasting first — is lovely. It's rich yet subtle, comforting yet grown up. And when you top it with a blob of barely-sweetened whipped cream, and a pinch of locally made coffee salt you were recently gifted — well, it's just sublime. The world of pudding just got a little bit bigger.

Hazelnut Pudding

yields 6 small cups

1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 cups whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
a hefty pinch salt (if you're not topping puddings with additional flaky salt, you may want two hefty pinches)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats

For serving: lightly sweetened whipped cream, additional toasted and chopped hazelnuts, flaky salt, etc.

If your hazelnuts are raw, roast them: preheat your oven to 275° Fahrenheit, and pour the nuts onto a rimmed baking dish. Bake, shaking to turn them once or twice, until they get a nice rich golden color and smell amazing, ~15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, and then rub in a clean dishtowel to remove the loose skins. You may need to do this a few times — get off what you can, but no need to go nuts about it (sorry). Some skins are fine.

Place the roasted hazelnuts in a blender, along with half of the sugar and all of the milk, and blitz for a few minutes, until as smooth as possible. Pour into a large saucepan, and heat over a medium flame until it just begins to steam.

While the milk is heating, scare up 6 small dishes for the finished pudding. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, and salt until smooth and lump-free. When the nutty milk mixture is steamy, pour it into the yolks mixture slowly, whisking constantly (you'll have to whisk like the Dickens at first, but it'll be less critical as you loosen the mixture up). When everything is incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan. 

Cook over a medium (or, if you want to be extra careful, medium-low) heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (this should just take a few minutes). Eventually the mixture will come to a boil — let bubble for a minute while you stir, then turn off the heat. Add the butter and vanilla, stirring to combine. Pour into your serving dishes and chill until cool and set.

To serve, topped with whipped cream and flaky salt or toasted hazelnuts if desired.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Chickpea and Kale Soup

In a lot of ways I am a big hippie. I store my bulk-bought rice in cleaned-out tomato sauce jars (poured through my trusty metal canning funnel, no less), and I sleep under a threadbare quilt stitched together from old fabric samples. But when it comes to food, hippies and I have some issues. Sure, I have eaten my share of tofu and tempeh. But there are so many areas where hippies are dead wrong. Like telling you that nutritional yeast is an acceptable substitute for grated cheese. And insisting that you should never, ever salt your dried beans until they're finished cooking.

A recent article helped bust open this hippie myth for me. Cooking beans with salt is my new favorite thing. And not just cooking them with salt — soaking them with salt. Although the good old hippie cookbooks warn that salt toughens bean skins, it's actually quite the opposite — advance salting helps soften bean skins, yielding beans that cook up evenly, consistently, and, most importantly, full of flavor.

Recently I put this newfound briny knowledge to good use by cooking up some chickpeas for a delicious soup. After a salty soak, beans are simmered with a bunch of aromatics and a glug of olive oil (and a bit more salt). A few of them are pureed with the two full bunches of kale, which yields a ridiculously green and flavorful base, and the rest of the beans bob along in the broth. It's clean yet satisfying, full of bright green flavor but also a protein-rich depth. So what turns such a simple preparation into one of the best soups I've tasted? Is it the kale? The olive oil (toned down from the original 1 1/2+ cups called for, but still)? Or is it the salt?

Chickpea and Kale Soup

adapted from Franny's: Simple Seasonal Italian
yields ~8 servings

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into large chunks
1 onion, peeled and halved
11 garlic cloves
5 strips lemon peel
1 rosemary sprig
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
3 quarts water
~1/2 cup olive oil (this is toned way down — if you want the full effect, throw in a full cup with the cooking beans)
¼ teaspoon  dried chili flakes
2 bunches Tuscan kale
Freshly cracked black pepper
Lemon wedges
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with plenty of water and a hefty spoonful of salt. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight, then drain.

Wrap the carrot, celery, onion, 3 garlic cloves, the lemon peel, and rosemary in a large square of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine or a tight knot. Place in a large pot with the soaked and drained chickpeas, the additional salt, the water, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil (alternately, if you don't want to deal with cheesecloth, you can just float all the aromatics in the broth, and fish them out later). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender, about an hour. Add more water if needed to cover.

While the chickpeas are cooking, finely chop the remaining 8 garlic cloves. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook until the garlic is fragrant but not golden, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and transfer the garlic to a blender or food processor.

Remove the center ribs from the kale (or not, if they're not too fibrous) and coarsely chop the leaves. In the same skillet you used for the garlic, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add enough kale to fill the skillet, and cook, tossing, occasionally, until tender (~3 minutes). Remove, and transfer to the blender or food processor with the garlic. Repeat with the remaining batches of kale until it's all cooked, adding more oil to the pan if needed.

When the chickpeas are cooked, add 2 cups of them to the blender along with the kale and garlic, and a cup or so of cooking liquid. Puree until smooth. Return the puree to the pot and cook over medium-high heat until hot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Buckwheat Hamantaschen with Sweet Cheese Filling

This is one of those kitchen experiments I entirely expected to fail. I was thinking about riffs on the delicious jam-filled hamantaschen, those three-cornered cookies baked up to celebrate Purim. Hamantaschen can be hard enough to get right on their own, especially if you want a rich, flaky, cream cheese-laden dough (and, trust me, you do). But, I decided, why not make things more difficult? So I gave my beloved rich dough a nutty edge with buckwheat flour, whose flavor I love, but with whom I am not acquainted in enough non-pancake contexts to really know how it would behave. And instead of jam, I made a soft sweet cheese filling. Flaky, nutty dough wrapped around a tender trembly filling? Sounds great, right? It also sounded like I could fully expect to open my oven and find a tray full of dough circles swimming in a gooey cheese bath.

But, lo, in a sort of of Ashkenazi Oven Miracle, this recipe worked out. And it worked out deliciously. Yes, it took a lot of fussing — sort of a Level II hamantaschen. The filling is too runny to just dollop on as you would jam — you've got to pinch a corner first to create some retaining walls, then spoon the filling in and fold in your remaining dough to keep it there. And then you've got to freeze them solid, so that they set in the oven before that filling comes cascading out. So yes, fuss. But worth it.

These hamantaschen mix old world grains and butterfat with new world sophistication. Grown-up little bites, they have an almost bitter-coffee edge and whole grain heft from the buckwheat, which pairs perfectly with a rich, sweet-yet-tangy filling. Of course it worked out — this combination seems meant to be.

And if you'd like another taste of Eastern European goodness (this one of a more traditional bent), you can check out my recent story on Weekend Edition. What do the Middle East, a Lithuanian shtetl, and a 1950s kitchen appliance have in common? Find out over at NPR!

Buckwheat Hamantaschen with Sweet Cheese Filling

yields ~30 cookies

1 stick butter (4 oz), softened to room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
zest of 1 orange, if desired (I'm still not sure how I come down on that one — I may prefer it without)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk

To Finish:
egg wash of 1 egg lightly beaten with a splash of water
a few spoonfuls of sugar

To make the dough: Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-combined and fluffy. Add the vanilla, salt, and sugar, beating until combined. Add the flours, and mix gently until the dough just comes together (try not to over-mix — a few streaks are okay). Form the dough into a chubby disc, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour (preferably at least two) and up to two days. Mix all of the filling ingredients in a blender or food processor until combined, and refrigerate. 

When the dough has chilled and relaxed, lightly flour a countertop and a few plates or a cookie tray (one that fits in your freezer), and have your egg wash and filling handy.

Roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface until it is fairly thin — about 1/8-inch or so. Cut out circles with a 3" cutter (mine was slightly smaller), and brush the edges with the egg wash. I tend to do about half a dozen at a time, covering the remaining dough with a clean tea towel so it doesn't dry out. Pinch shut one corner of the dough to make one point of your hamantaschen triangle, then fill with a teaspoon or so of the cheese filling (after doing a few cookies, you'll get a sense of how much filling you can fit). Pinch shut the remaining edges, sort of pinwheeling them over each other in this fashion if you like, or just pinch them, leaving just a little dime-sized bit of filling peeping through in the center. Repeat with remaining dough and filling (any scraps can be mushed back together and re-rolled).

Place the shaped cookies on your prepared plate, and freeze until solid (at least a few hours, or overnight). Place the remaining egg wash back in the refrigerator.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment.

Remove the cookies from the freezer, and place on the lined cookie sheets. Brush the top sides of the dough with the egg wash, and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake until set, ~20-30 minutes (the buckwheat flour makes it difficult to see color changes, but they should be beginning to turn golden on the edges. Let cool on a rack, and enjoy. These are best served the day they're made, but leftovers can be stored in the freezer to good effect.