Friday, December 31, 2010

Blue Cheese and Jam Savories

I have an inability to connect the dots that's almost masterful sometimes. Take for instance these blue cheese savories. I test drove this recipe earlier in the week, after lusting over it since Food52's post a month ago. And it did not disappoint -- these are amazing. Truly. The cookie itself is salty and savory, piquant with blue cheese, and counterbalanced with a dollop of tart jam. And, as an added bonus, it has a delightfully short and flaky crumb (and is easy to make, with just a handful of ingredients). It's like the most elegant Cheez-It ever, the best of a cheese plate (cracker, cheese and preserves) all in one tiny little mouthful. This is a recipe that practically screams "I am your New Year's Eve party appetizer!" I sent messages to everyone I know telling them to make this cookie. And yet, I still managed to putter around my keyboard the past day or so, wondering whatever should I write about this week. Sigh. See what happens when I forget to take photos? Out of sight, out of.... Sorry, what were we talking about?

Although 2010 draws to a close tonight, hopefully some of you are laggards like me, and are still mulling over what to bring to your New Year's parties. And if these don't get made tonight, put them on your list for 2011.

Blue Cheese and Jam Savories

from The Runaway Spoon, via Food52
yields ~4 dozen cookies

The initial recipe called for fig jam, but I've now made this with three types of jam, and all were delicious. I'd recommend something on the slightly less sweet side, such as fig, apricot or pear. Also don't worry that the recipe doesn't call for salt -- the salt in the cheese will be enough.

1 cup flour, plus additional for rolling
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened to room temperature, and cut into a few chunks
4 oz crumbled blue cheese (this was a scant cup for me, but the volume may vary)
ground pepper
~1/4 cup jam

Place the flour, butter, and blue cheese in a food processor, and top with a few grinds of black pepper. Pulse a few times, until both the butter and cheese are reduced to small bits. Do not over-process. Turn the dough out onto a bowl, and squeeze and fold it until it comes together (alternately, you can continue to process the dough in the processor until it comes together, then just turn it over a few times on the counter to finish the process, but I like to prevent over-processing and ensure flakiness with the other method). If you have a particularly moist blue cheese, you may need extra flour (I was working with a particularly dry cheese). Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and chill it for half an hour (this step is optional, but I think it makes the dough nicer to work with).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Let the dough warm up a few minutes if chilled, and roll out on your floured countertop to a thickness somewhere between 1/8"-1/4". Cut out circles with a 2" cutter (you can use a smaller one if you favor wee savories, which will yield more cookies). Place the rounds on a cookie sheet (they'll spread a bit, but not too much -- more if the dough is warm). Make a small divot in the center, with your finger or the back of a measuring spoon or whatever you like. Fill the divots with ~1/4 tsp jam (I think I used more), and bake the cookies until the jam is bubbling and the cookies are just beginning to color, ~10 minutes. Let cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then move to a rack (or your mouth).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kashmiri Chai

After all those latkes, I almost left without giving you a proper Christmas present. Though it's not for lack of trying. I spent a boozy evening trying to concoct a perfect hot toddy, full of ginger and brandy and just a hint of pear. You'll hear more about this if and when I actually get it right. But that hasn't happened yet--I ended up with cloyingly sweet concoction, a sticky counter, and a container of poached pears that are still knocking around my refrigerator. So rather than admit full defeat and leave you without a warm beverage to cozy up with on these cold nights, I turn to a cup of chai instead.

I printed another chai recipe about a year ago, one that I freestyled with a smattering of spices and a good long simmer. I still adore that version. But this Kashmiri chai--wow. It is my new best friend. It's got a surprisingly complex flavor from the sweet-yet-savory combination of saffron and cardamom, perking up a milk-brewed sweet tea. And as a bonus, it's ready in just a couple of minutes. Happy Holidays!

Kashmiri Chai

adapted from this recipe from Portland's Bombay Cricket Club
yields 2 cups of chai

2 cups milk
2 Tbsp loose black tea (any standard orange pekoe tea works fine)
1 tsp ground whole cardamom pods (blitz them in a spice grinder until they're reduced to small bits--you can substitute a smaller amount of ground cardamom seeds, but the whole pods contribute a unique flavor)
1 small pinch saffron
4 tsp sugar

Place the milk, black tea, and ground cardamom pods in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. When it boils, add the saffron and sugar, and reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Simmer for a couple minutes, then strain into two glasses and enjoy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Old-Fashioned Scones

At some point in my childhood, I developed the theory that when I was Grown Up, I would buy myself a container of frosting for my birthday and eat the entire thing. This plan makes me slightly ill to contemplate, and I'm not sure where it came from--I didn't even have too much experience with pre-made frostings. But somehow this act embodied the Best Present Ever to my little mind: someday I was going to get myself exactly what I wanted, and ain't no man (or, more accurately, mom) could hold me back.

Little did I know that when I finally had enough agency and income to act on this plan, my desperate need for sugar would be gone. It's a sad fact of adulthood. Don't misunderstand me, I still like a good sweet now and then (as the ample presence of cookies and cakes and tarts on these pages can attest). But setting aside the obvious hydrogenated shortcomings of a container of Betty Crocker, the sad truth is that I only crave sweets for dessert, not for the bulk of my meal.

This is especially true at breakfast. I am all eggs and potatoes, beans and cheese, looking on in confusion as other diners order almond french toast and pumpkin waffles. I can't imagine feeling satisfied with that dessert-for-brunch approach, but I do covet a taste -- just enough to give my meal a sweet little coda. This is where a small scone like this is absolutely perfect.

If you've ever wondered what the whole scone hoopla is about, these will answer your question. They're delicately flaky, like a biscuit, and just sweet enough to satisfy. Oats and cornmeal add a nubby edge of whole grains (and a slight earthy sweetness of their own), and buttermilk adds just a bit of tang. I'm especially fond of making these with punchy dried sour cherries, but really any sort of dried fruit would work nicely. And although my seven-year-old self wouldn't believe me, I swear it's way better than a jar of frosting.

Old-Fashioned Scones

Inspired by the scones of the same name from the Baker's Cafe, though this noodled variation is pretty much all my own. As with other pastries, a light touch in mixing yields tender scones.

yields ~10 small scones (you'll probably want to double the recipe if you're cooking for any sort of crowd)

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cup flour (can swap out some ww pastry flour if desired)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 stick cold butter, cut into tablespoons
1/2 cup dried sour cherries, or other dried fruit
~1/2 - 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp milk or water (aka the egg wash)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and grease or line a cookie sheet.

Place the oats in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until they're blitzed to a mostly floury powder, with a few bits here and there. Add the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar, and pulse until evenly mixed. Add the cold butter, and pulse a few times until the largest pieces of butter are about oatmeal-sized -- do not overmix. Turn the mixture into a bowl. Add the dried fruit, and stir until combined. Add the buttermilk until the dough comes together -- it will be moister than pie crust, but try not to add so much buttermilk so that it becomes gloppy. Form the dough into a cohesive mass, and turn out onto a lightly floured countertop.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1", and cut into circles with a 2.5" cutter. Place shaped scones on the tray, and lightly mush together and re-roll the scraps until you've formed all the dough. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash, and sprinkle with a light dusting of sugar (you'll just need a few spoonfuls for the whole tray). Bake ~15-20 minutes, until they are starting to get lightly browned. Let cool on a rack and enjoy.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gluten-Free Vegan Rugelach

A gluten-free diet can present its own set of hurdles. But to be gluten-free and dairy-free? Those folks have it rough. I feel for them. And when I feel for someone, generally I want to bake for them as well.

These rugelach are admittedly something of cheat. I realized I had no hope of adapting my favored sour-cream-and-butter rugelach dough, and futzed around a bit with the alternatives. Sure, I could use some soy-based sour cream, but those tend to have a weird soy flavor I'm not really down with, overpowering any of the nicely cultured tang they contribute. So instead I looked towards vegan/gf pie crust instead, to capture rugelach's essential flaky delicacy. I took a stellar gf vegan crust recipe and tweaked it according to my own tastes (and, to be frank, the particular mix of gluten-free flours that I happened to have in my pantry and a slight misreading of one section), and then slathered it with my favorite rugelach filling of apricot jam, walnuts, and liberal shaking of cinnamon and sugar (this was added to the filling, rolled into the dough itself, and for the sake of overkill, sprinkled on the finished rugelach before they hit the oven). The resulting cookies did not disappoint.

These rugelach will win anyone over, regardless of their dietary restrictions. They're flaky and delicate, and easily capture the European-tea-cookie soul of the recipe. The tender crust wraps around the sweet-but-not-too-sweet filling, creating a something like a tiny tart. The jam may leak out a bit and make a mess (as it does in the buttery, wheaty original--parchment or silpats are especially nice here), but becomes deliciously caramelized to give the cookies a sophisticated edge. Sadly it's my final Hanukkah present to you, but it's a pretty sweet parting gift.

Gluten-free and Dairy-free Rugelach

dough inspired by Gluten-Free Girl's piecrust (albeit adapted heavily), filling inspired from my childhood rugelach memories
yields 32 small cookies

Although it's gluten-free, this dough is fairly forgiving. The only bit of fuss is that it is a bit soft and sticky (which might also have something to do with the copious amount of fat involved), so rolling it out between parchment paper or plastic wrap (or, if you're me and have run out of the former, a cut-open plastic bag) is something of a necessity. And, as with most gf recipes, if you've the means to do it, it's best to go with the weights rather than the volume measurements.

scant 1/2 cup (2 oz) cornstarch
2/3 cup (2 oz) garbanzo bean flour (this will have a weirdly beany taste in the dough, but will bake off in the finished product -- you can swap out sorghum if desired)
1/3 cup (2 oz) potato starch
1/2 cup (3 oz) rice flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (aka 4 oz, aka 1 stick) non-hydrogenated (need I say it?) shortening, such as palm shortening, cut into several pieces
1/4 (aka 2 oz, aka 1/2 stick) cup non-dairy margarine (or use all shortening), cut into several pieces
~1/4 cup - 1/3 cup cold water, as needed

2/3 cup apricot jam
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped into fairly small bits
2 Tbsp sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

In a food processor or large bowl, mix together the cornstarch, bean flour, potato starch, rice flour, xanthan gum, salt and sugar (aka all the dries). Cut or pulse in the shortening and margarine until the largest bits are about the size of rolled oats -- don't overmix! If you're using a food processor, turn the mixture out into a bowl at this point. Add the cold water, bit by bit, mixing it around with your hands, until the mixture is moist enough that it comes together easily when you pinch it. Turn the dough over a time or two (aka knead very lightly), just until the elements are dispersed evenly and the dough coheres. Underkneading is better than overkneading. Divide the dough in two, and shape each bit into a chubby disk. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment (or tuck into a plastic bag, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

When your dough has chilled, preheat your oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or silpat liners.

Take out 1 disk of dough, leaving the other in the refrigerator. Lay out a sheet of parchment or plastic wrap, and sprinkle it lightly with the cinnamon sugar mixture (use ~1 tsp total). Place the dough on top, and sprinkle with additional cinnamon sugar. Top with another sheet of parchment or plastic, and roll out between the two until you have a circle that's ~11 inches in diameter. Spread the dough with half of the jam, sprinkle on half the walnuts, then sprinkle with a teaspoon cinnamon sugar.

Now comes the cutting and rolling! Taking a chef's knife or pizza cutter, divide the dough into 16 equal sections (just cut in half, then quarters, then eights, etc.), taking care not to slice up your countertop. Starting at the wide outer edge, roll each section towards the center to form an adorable little roll (you may need to lift the parchment/plastic to guide the cookie, so that it rolls without breaking at first). Place each cookie on the prepared sheet, making sure that the end is pinned underneath so that it doesn't unroll. When you've shaped all the cookies, sprinkle an additional teaspoon full of sugar over the tops of the cookies (that's ~1 teaspoon for the whole tray, not 1 per cookie). Place the tray in the freezer, and repeat the process with the remaining disk of dough.

After the dough has chilled for ~15-20 minutes (about how long it takes to roll, fill and shape the next batch), take the cookie sheet from the freezer and place it in the oven (and place your second sheet in the freezer for the same amount of time). Bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust has lightly colored, ~30 minutes (if the spilled jam is darkening too much at the base, move the sheet to a higher oven rack). Let sit on the cookie sheet for a minute or two, then move to a rack to cool completely. These are best devoured the day they're made, or stored in the freezer.