Now, here's a timely recipe to try out my One Pie Dough to Rule Them All recipe I gave you last night. Try it before the fleeting cherry season is over. Do try, even if you're one of those who couldn't stand the generic, gloopy cherry pie - I'm looking at you Matt. Because this recipe, this ain't your usual, generic cherry pie. It might even be the best cherry pie you'll ever tasted. You try it and tell me.
The secret to this pie is the spices. When I was tinkering with my cherry pie recipe, I thought adding some spices to it would be fun. So I went to my spice rack and found a blend that I made for my French spiced bread, Pain d'Epices. It's got the usual cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, but also with a generous amount of ginger powder, giving it an interesting, unusual character. It turned out beautifully in the first cherry pie I baked for the season. Now I won't ever bake my cherry pie without it again.
Is it hubris to call this a perfect pie dough recipe? Well, it is perfect. And do you know what's perfect about it? You can do it too. Yes, YOU. I don't care what kind of sordid, tragic past you've had with other pie dough recipes. You can forget it all and start anew with this one. It will become your One Pie Dough to Rule Them All: pies, tarts, galettes, pop-tarts, you name it. It will be the easiest and most forgiving dough you've ever handled. It will be flaky and tender, yet somehow possess the strength of character not to crumble under pressure like other wimpy doughs. Your slice of pie or galette will stay beautifully in tact to serve, only to surrender into tender, flaky, buttery, delicious crumbs as you bite into it.
Forget all the pernickety details everyone tells you about how to make a pie dough. You won't need to keep all the ingredients at precisely five degrees below zero. You need not coddle it like a new born kitten. You'll put on your fiercest dominatrix attitude and you shall beat this dough into submission. And, yes, it will like it too.
No, there's no secret ingredient: no vinegar, no shot of vodka (but for, perhaps, a celebratory one at the end). There's nothing here out of the ordinary. There will be three ingredients: salted butter (yes you read that right, SALTED butter), plain all-purpose flour, and a little bit of water. That's it. The recipe is so easy, do it twice and you'll remember it by heart. You'll do it in the summer. You'll do it in the winter. You'll do it for something sweet. You'll do it for something savory. Heck, you'll do it just for the fun of it.
Here's an easy, delicious and totally adorable dessert to do this weekend, fromage blanc cheesecake, baked into cute little jars. You can make it even more lovely by topping with roasted fruits, in this case I use tangy sweet nectarines scented with lemon verbena. Nothing stops you from making this your own by using a combination of fruits, herbs, and even nuts of your choice. What makes this cheesecake truly special, besides its oh-my-god-this-is-adorableness quality, is the luscious texture, like caressing you with satin, and the fact that you can make it by pretty much dumping all the ingredients in your food processor.
This is also a recipe that exemplifies my thieving ways as a cook. I lift ideas, recipes, presentation tricks and others from cook books, kind friends, talented chefs I know, and restaurants I love, to mix, match, and generally muck with them until I come up with something I can roughly call my own. I'm a polite thief, mind you, I always give credit to those I borrow from. For this one, the fromage blanc cheesecake recipe is adapted from the one given to me by my friend Mark Denham, whose new restaurant Bishop cannot open fast enough for me. (Later this year he said.) The idea to serve it in a jar is shamelessly cribbed from another friend, the Manresa pastry chef Deanie Hickox. Deanie has been doing a cheesecake-in-a-jar dessert for ages. I adore the idea, but her recipe requires things that are not widely available for home cooks, so I adapted Mark's instead.
So there, that's how this recipe came to be. It might just be the summer dessert for me this year. It can be made well in advance, and used as a blank canvas to play up a variety of poached/roasted/stewed fruits. You can even top with store-bought preserves directly from the jar. Fresh berries, perhaps macerated briefly with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and/or liquor would do very well too. Also good with this, my strawberries in hibiscus and vanilla syrup.
Just like my friend The Amateur Gourmet Adam, who posted about his recipe-tweaking habit recently, I'm not one to leave a perfect good recipe alone. Even when it comes to something so simple, and so seemingly perfect, I rarely could stop myself from tweaking it a little. At times the results my tinkering are disastrous - Dorie Greenspan's perfectly innocent French Yogurt Cake recipe I played with yesterday was one, but that story's for another time. At other times, however, I ended up with something like this Banana Bread, which I think - rather ungrammatically I might add - is a more perfect version of an already perfect recipe.
I first saw the recipe at Deb's delicious blog Smitten Kitchen. On it she said she got the recipe from our mutual friend Elise at Simply Recipes. Elise, in turn, got it from her friend Heidi's ski friend's mother Mrs. Hockmeyer. The recipe was alarmingly simple. First you mash up your banana, then stir in butter, egg, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Oh, yes, and flour. By hand. No fancy kitchen implements required. That simple.
So I baked one. I liked it, quite a lot. Though there was something that was just not quite there, there. You know what I mean. It was very good, but also very sweet, even after I reduced the sugar amount by 1/4 cup. It was also rather flat and one-note, lacking acidity to support the cloying sweetness. For this I'm not sure if it's the flaw of the recipe or it's the fault of the modern-day bananas engineered to be pretty much all sugar in a tubular form. (You noticed this too, yes, I cannot possibly be the only one.)
So, I set out to tinker with the recipe a little.
I've been wanting the play along for a while, the only problem for me has been timing. The 24 meals are all supposed to happen during the same 24-hr period, and on the most convivial night of the week for most people, a Saturday night. Well, suffice to say we are not "most people" around here. David spends his Saturday nights creating convivial meals for his guests at Manresa. I spend my Saturday nights watching Syfy. (No, really.) Around here, the night we let loose and have a little fun is on a Tuesday - Monday and Tuesday being the two days a week Manresa is closed, and after spending Monday night catching up on sleep, Tuesday night is the one in which we get to play. How, you asked? Usually with a gathering of also-non-Saturday-night-people that is to say restaurant-industry friends, eating simple food and drinking not-so-simple wines. Once informed of this, the power-that-be at Foodbuzz graciously agreed to stretch out the 24-hr period a little, just enough to cover our usual Tuesday night chez nous. How sweet of them, yeah?
I guess I should just come out and admit it. My name is Pim, and I just made a vegan an almost-vegan dessert - peanuts/sesame/rice puffs/palm sugar caramel bars, to be precise. And I dipped them in chocolate - Valrhona Araguani 72%, because there's nothing good that's not made better by a dip in Valrhona Chocolate. The results? They are totally crack. I tell you, they are.
Like many great discoveries in this world - Columbus discovering "India" par example - I came upon these morsels of unworldly deliciousness entirely by accident. Last weekend being Chinese New Year and Valentines day all rolled into one, I was looking some kind of traditional, celebratory sweets to make for the parties I was attending. For the New Year celebration in Thailand, we make a sort of caramel we learned from the Portuguese, probably in the 16th century. We call it ga-la-mae, a telling bastardization of the word caramel. Galamae was, however, not my favorite dessert, but it got me thinking about another celebratory sweets that is also a caramel base, but this one, called Grayasat in Thai, has added nuts, puffed rices, and sesame seeds. Crisp, chewy, nutty, darkly sweet, and ever-so-slightly salty, all at the same time, now this would be the perfect dessert to celebrate with this weekend.
Well, I probably should admit that I'd never once made Grayasat. I've never even seen it done. It's one of those things that we would always buy, and usually from merchants that make and sell them in giant quantities. Recipes I've managed to find on the interwebs have the same problem, they're mostly in massive quantities entirely infeasible in a modern kitchen. Plus, being a traditional Thai recipe, an imprecise record at the best of times - Thai cooks are notorious for not writing things down - then haphazardly translated into English, the results, shall I say, are as precise as the recipe booklet that came with your EasyBakeOventm when you were a kid.
No matter, I found enough information to go by, and it's basically nuts, puffed rice, and sesame, bind together by caramel made with palm sugar in place of white sugar, and coconut cream as the matériel gras instead of butter. That sounds easy enough to do. It also happens to be Vegan and rather "healthy" - with no refined sugar and not even dairy. The recipes I found also called for glucose syrup, which, oddly enough, is more readily available in Thailand than it is here. The glucose syrup, which we call Bae-sae, is there to prevent sugar crystals from forming just like in any other caramel. Frankly, I didn't like the sound of it. I usually avoid corn syrup or glucose syrup in my recipes anyway, preferring to substitute with honey or other more palatable ingredients such as Lyle's Golden Syrup. In this case honey would do.
In Thailand, the traditional Grayasat กระยาสารท is made for a Saat สารทไทย festival, which is best described as a harvest festival, celebrating the end of the rainy season and heralding the beginning of harvest. The ingredient list is telling, two kinds of new rice (one green, not fully ripened rice grains that are flattened and removed from the husked, and the other freshly harvested whole grains of rice, roasted until popped out of the husks like popcorn), nuts, and honey, all signaling a successful and abundant harvest.
In the US, finding those two specific rice is challenging, Thai harvest being thousands of miles (and months) away. I actually have one kind with me, the flat green rice called Khao Mao, I brought some back with me from the last trip home. Finding the popped rice Khao Tok was a little more tricky. I couldn't skip it all together since it's important to have two textures of rice: one slightly soft and puffy, and the other crispy. Experimenting with four different kinds of brown rice turned out spectacular failures - instead of puffed rice I got burning hot grains of rice so tiny they're practically unseen by naked eyes but for the vapor trails they left as they went projectile in my kitchen. Final solution? That'd be a bag of organic puffed rice from the store, no sugar or anything, just plain, hippie puffed rice. (If you couldn't find the Khao Mao, I'd substitute with a crispy rice cereal, preferably not -or very lightly- sweetened.)
Let me start this post by saying I'm a madeleine snob. A bona fide, unrepentant madeleine snob. Don't talk to me about those nasty little packets of "madeleine" by the cash register at your Starbucks. They're awful, with texture seemingly composed, somehow, of paraffin. Those buckets of shell-shaped stuff masquerading as madeleines at Costco are not much better. They taste as though they're made of Twinkies - oddly spongy, overtly sweet and redolent of fake vanilla. I don't know what those pretenders are exactly, but I assure you they are *not* madeleines.
The perfect madeleine is elusive. It's hard to find even in Paris. The problem is not that it's hard to make. As you will see after this post (and a little time in your own kitchen playing with the recipe) it is not the case. Madeleines, even the perfect ones, are really quite simple to do. The problem, rather, is that its perfection is fleeting. It's one of those things that are perfect minutes out of the oven, and then the quality erodes as the minutes tick by. The nearest specimen to a perfect madeleine I've had was a plain madeleine, the classic, baked to order and served warm and crisp at the edges with coffee to finish a hearty meal at Alain Ducasse's Aux Lyonais in Paris. It's been years, but it could've easily been yesterday.
The perfect madeleine, the Platonic Ideal of the form, is somewhere between a tender, moist cake, and a crisp, sweet cookie. The crumb should be tender, but not so it disintegrates when dunk into a cup of perfectly innocent tea. We all (claim to) read Proust - some of us even know it's proost like boost and not proust like sprout - so we all know he dunk his. The dunkable structure is hence important, even at the expense of it being ever-so-slightly dry. The perfect madeleines also must have the signature bump, I prefer just a gentle, small bump, not an excessive hump that looks more like a malignant growth than anything else. My objection to the malignant hump is not for aesthetic but flavor. In order to get that kind of hump you'll need to use a *lot* of baking powder, which means you're going to taste it in your madeleines too.
Also important in a perfect madeleine is the scalloped edges and evenly brown color of the crust. This is why I don't like using silicone molds to make them. No matter how easy they claim to be, they bake up madeleines that are not evenly brown on the bottom, but more in ugly patches or streaks unbefitting a perfect madeleine. I use an old tin madeleine mold, the regular shiny sort, not a dark non-stick kind (which turns the madeleines too dark.) When it is buttered and floured properly, my tin bakes up madeleines with gorgeously, evenly brown crust that pop out of the molds easily with a gentle tap on the counter. (The tin mold I use is from Dehillerin in Paris, but Amazon has this one which is also good.)
This particular recipe is the one I developed for my friend Daniel Patterson's article on the fragrant bergamot citrus for San Francisco magazine. Even if you don't know what a bergamot is, you know of it. It's what gives Earl Grey tea its ambrosia. In this recipe, I don't just use the zest, but also the juice to add even more depth to the madeleine's perfume. If you don't have bergamot, you can use just about any fragrant citrus you can find - seville, meyer, even lime might be fun (though I've never tried it.)
Here's a very simple recipe to use the glut of chanterelle mushrooms we picked the other day. Since our chanterelle season is going on for a while yet, I have a feeling I'm going to be making this recipe quite a few times this year. Happily, it's really easy, and the resulting pickled chanterelles are really fantastic, tangy, earthy, spicy, and with just little sweetness from the raisins. They are so versatile - you can eat them outright, toss in pasta, throw into omelettes, pile on top of steamed rice, use as condiment for a steak, all kinds of roasts or even a burger. The pickling liquid is sort of like a vinaigrette, so you could even toss a few spoonfuls with salad greens, perhaps add a bit more olive oil to freshen it up a bit.
I'm not sure where this recipe came from. It's one of those recipes that got pass along from one cook's Moleskine notebook to the next, until the origin became a bit blurry. I've heard it was from one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten books - but I don't know for sure. Well, if it indeed was, then consider this a credit and thanks to him. Here's the recipe, as adapted by me.
This post is about foraging for chanterelle mushrooms, but frankly the word forage makes it sound way too hard. We're having such a great mushroom season, so wet and cold, that one could just go out to a good spot and calls out "here...mushroom, mushroom" and the chanterelles practically leapt on to one's open arms. That's how easy it was. Not to mention plentiful - nearly 40lbs worth on one foraging trip alone.
Wait, what's that I'm hearing? Is that you, mumbling something under your breath about mushroom toxin and people dying each year from eating mushrooms they foraged? It is scary, I know. Really, you'd be hard pressed to find a more cowardly person than me when it came to that. So, what was I doing foraging for mushrooms death-in-a-bite, you asked? Well, that's because there is help yet, even for the wimpiest of us. I went hunting for chanterelles, you see?