The idea for Japanese baking had been floating around in my head since I got back, but only after a peek at David Lebovitz did I actually consider baking with miso paste. You see, in Japan miso is not used in desserts; only in sauces and soups. But in fact, miso can add rich, salty undertones to an otherwise traditional recipe. I don’t always like fruit-based desserts, preferring to get my sweet fix in the form of caramely, chocolaty, or buttery goodness. But summer fruit is just so perfect that it would be a shame to let it go to waste.
Note that this is not a recipe for my traditional slapdashery. I had to make the dough and pastry cream twice. It was just not my day. So a word to the wise: the pastry should be very cold as you work with it. As for the pastry cream, ensure that it thickens on the stove, because the tart is not going to be baked later. But if your pastry cream looks rather thin, as mine did, you can put it back on the heat for a few minutes until it thickens, adding a slurry of 1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water.
Strawberry-Miso Tart (adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Ideas from David Lebovitz, and The Wall Street Journal)
- 150g (1 1/2 cups) flour
- 128g (1 stick + 1 tbsp) cold butter
- 100g (1/2 cup sugar)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg, whisked
The Pastry Cream:
- 300g (1 1/4 cups) milk (not skim)
- 1 tbsp white miso paste
- 3 large egg yolks
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 30g (3 tbsp) cornstarch
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl or your food processor. Blend until just mixed. Add in the butter, working it together with your hands (or the food processor) until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add in the egg a little bit at a time, and mix gently. Turn the mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead until it all comes together. Refrigerate the dough for about two hours or press it into a 9-inch buttered tart tin right away.
Meanwhile, make the pastry cream: In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil and then turn off the heat. (You do not want the milk too hot or it will scramble your eggs). Then, working in as heavy-bottomed a saucepan as you have, whisk the yolks, sugar, miso and cornstarch together until they form a thick cream. Then slowly whisk about a quarter of the milk into the eggs until combined. Then whisk in the rest of the milk. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and keep stirring until it starts to thicken. Pour it into a bowl. It will thicken a little bit upon cooling, but you want it fairly solid right off the heat–like custard. Actually, for even better instructions you can watch this excellent video. Either way, when your pastry cream is finished, place plastic wrap tightly on the surface and refrigerate.
Now take out your tart dough and roll it out to fit a buttered your tart tin. Push any raggedy edges back into the pie crust and pierce it all over with a fork. Put the shell back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, but more like an hour. When it’s ready, tightly place a piece of buttered foil onto the top. This should keep it from puffing up without pie weights. Turn the oven on to 375°F/190°C and put your unbaked tart shell in for 20-25 minutes. Then take the foil off and continue to bake until golden. Don’t burn it (as I did the first time!) but do let it get nice and brown.
Now to to assemble: when your tart shell and pastry cream are cool, spoon the pastry cream into the tart shell and artfully arrange your sliced strawberries on top. Serve with heavy cream, custard, or ice cream, if you like.
Challah, the traditional Jewish egg bread, is a special thing: not too sweet or rich, it makes the perfect toast and, when it gets stale, even better bread pudding. It’s made by braiding bread dough and then sometimes sprinkling the loaves with poppy seeds. Delicious! I’ve heard, too, that the traditional way to make it at Rosh Hashanah is by braiding the dough into a crown, sometimes adding more sugar, sometimes adding raisins, and sometimes both. Or you can try this version for an ultra-rich take on a classic.
Challah (adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Bread, the 1973 classic. Use this book, and your bread shall not disappoint)
- 21g (3 packages) active dried yeast
- 300mL (1 1/3 cups) warm water (warm to the touch, not boiling)
- 13g (1 tbsp) sugar
- 17g (1 tbsp) coarse salt
- 45g (3 tbsp) softened butter
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 625g (5 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water
- poppy seeds, if using
Put the yeast into a large bowl with the warm water and leave for five minutes to proof. Add the sugar, salt, butter, eggs and the flour (slowly!). Beat the dough with a wooden spoon, adding more flour until you have quite a stiff dough.
Wash your bowl and then put the dough back in it to rise until it has doubled in size, around 1.5-2 hours. Punch the dough down gently, then divide it in half. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid into a loaf like the picture above. If it’s been a while since you’ve braided your hair or, um, a loaf of bread–it’s left over middle, right over middle, left over middle and so on. Cover your loaves with clean tea towels and leave to double in bulk again. Sometime in there preheat your oven to 400°F. Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds, if using. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden, and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Place on racks and slice when coolish.
Makes two loaves
If you’re in Ottawa, The Urban Element holds very nice, high-quality cooking classes set in a beautiful converted fire station. There’s pretty much nothing I love more than a cooking class (which you will have noticed here, here and here). I love the spaces, the expert cooking equipment, the chefs, the like-minded nerds. True to form, this bread-baking class was a lovely mix of bearded stay-at-home dads, public servants, and the woman who casually mentioned that she hand made eight dozen croissants over Christmas.
This class was five hours long, so we made a lot: iced lemon loaf, herbed biscuits, gingerbread waffles, challah, raisin bread, grissini (aka breadsticks), lavash, and these dougnuts. It took three whole hours before I could think about carbs again. I was almost sure that my leftover doughnut dough was going to waste away in my freezer, like deep frying was “hard,” but need I remind you that it is January and outdoor temperatures have been hovering around -20. The dough is a little precious, yes, but it mostly just involves waiting and using your stand mixer. And yes, a stand mixer is probably going to be necessary, for reasons you shall see in a second…
Brioche Doughnuts (adapted from Anna March at The Urban Element)
The measurements look a bit loopy because they had been converted back from grams. Just know that if you have to choose between dough that is slightly too dry or slightly too wet, choose to keep it on the wetter side. Oh, and one of the most interesting discoveries from this class was that flour can be quite different even between Canada and the U.S., especially with pastry flour. So you needn’t bother with any special bread flour here, all-purpose is fine.
- 3 1/2 cups + 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp instant yeast (quick-rise)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp milk, warmed to 75°F
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla pod, scraped
- 2 ounces soft butter, cut into small cubes
- canola oil, for frying
- cinnamon sugar/powdered sugar for tossing your doughnuts
- Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast. Add all remaining ingredients except for the butter and mix for about four minutes.
- Increase the speed a bit and slowly start adding the cubes of butter one piece of a time, waiting until one piece is incorporated into the dough before adding another. Mix for another 15-20 minutes (see?) until the dough is smooth and soft.
- Scrape the dough onto a very lightly floured surface, shape it into a rectangle and fold it in like a letter.
- Grease a glass or plastic bowl and put your dough into it, seam side down. Spread with a bit more oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour at cool room temperature (ideally 20-22°C).
- Using a spatula, release the dough from the bowl and again pat it into a rectangle and fold it like an envelope.
- Now you want to proof the dough by putting it back into the bowl, covering it and letting it rest in the fridge overnight.
- The next day take it out and roll the dough out into an 11-inch round, which should be a couple centimetres thick.
- If it’s hard to work with, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. I had no problems, though, so I just went on to slicing. With a round cutter, stamp out as many doughnuts as you can. If you’re going to fill them after (with jam, custard, lemon curd, you name it), leave as is. If you want your doughnuts to have little holes, then you can find a smaller cutter or do as I did and just use a sharp knife.
The final stages:
- Put your formed doughnuts onto baking trays greased with canola oil and set aside to proof for 60-90 minutes. They should be roughly doubled in size. Now, you can cheat with the first proof, but not this. They will puff up quite a bit in the oil, but you do want to make sure they’re looking risen and fluffy at this stage.
- Now heat your oil to around 300°C. Conventional wisdom is to go to around 350-375, but that was making my doughnuts burn, so 300 seemed to work better. Keep in mind that frying in oil on the stove is never going to be as fool-proof as with a deep-fryer; on the stove the temperature regulation just isn’t there.
- Keep a wire cooling rack and your powdered sugar nearby and start frying! You’re looking at about 30 seconds each side, depending on how big your doughnuts are. When they’re browned, take them out and put onto your cooling rack. You want to roll the doughnuts in the sugar while they’re still hot. As you may have gathered, these are best eaten soon after frying.
There are some foods which seem hard, like sourdough bread, but which really just require a lot of patience. Yet others, like soufflés, are quick but require some dexterity. Unfortunately, croissants kind of need both patience and precision. I found that it can be helpful to remember the following tidbits:
- Use awesome-quality ingredients. No joke, this is going to take a lot of time, so you might as well make your croissants the best they can be. That means high-gluten bread flour and European-style butter (like Lurpak), which has less water than American-style butter.
- You literally have to bang out the cold butter to form it into a rectangle. Kind of fun, but not actually easy! Next time I might grate the frozen butter as they suggest here.
- You can ensure that your beautiful layers stay intact by making sure that the dough and butter are as close to the same thickness as you can get them.
- Keep your timing in mind–you need to make all your “turns,” put your unbaked croissants into the fridge to rise overnight, and THEN you get to shape them. Oh, and then they need to rise again. So beginning at something like 4 PM on a Saturday for a Sunday brunch would work well.
Making one’s own croissants may seem beyond abstruse when you can buy a couple for under $2. But if you’re curious, you should try making them–it’s fun and satisfying and, um, you can eat your efforts! After two days you will have the most beautiful croissants in the world, and some very serious bragging rights. As you will see, even a very human, mistake-making, not-all-that-fussed sort of cook (moi) can make these.
As a kind of aside, Montreal’s own Adam Gopnik wrote a lovely piece in the New Yorker the other day about baking bread with his mum. It was very sweet, and I recommend you search it out, even if it appears to be subscription-only.
- 500g bread flour
- 10g salt, plus a bit more for your egg wash
- 80g caster sugar
- 10g instant yeast
- 300ml cool water
- 300g chilled, unsalted butter
- 1 medium egg for your glaze
Normally I wouldn’t bother, but this requires numbered instructions:
1) In a large bowl or your stand mixer, put salt and sugar in one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Add the water and mix on slow for two minutes, then on medium for another six minutes. It should be a pretty stiff dough. You can do this without a stand mixer…I guess. But having one makes your life so much easier!
2) Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Dust it with flour, put it in a clean plastic bag, and let it sit in the fridge for an hour.
3) OK, now it gets a little tricky: Roll out your dough into a rectangle about 60 x 20 cm and about 1 cm thick.
4) Flatten your butter to a rectangle about 40 x 19 cm by banging it all to hell with a rolling pin. You could also, as I suggest above, grate your frozen butter and form it into a rectangle. Now put the butter on your dough so it neatly covers the bottom two-thirds of your dough.
5) Now fold the extra dough over one-third of butter. Cut off the exposed bit of butter and put it on the dough you just folded over. Still with me? Fold the bottom half of the dough up until you have, like, a dough sandwich: two butter layers, three dough layers. Pinch the dough together on all sides and put it all back into the bag. Let it chill in the freezer for half an hour.
6) Take the dough out of the freezer (and out of the bag) and put it on the lightly floured work surface with the short end towards you. Roll it into a rectangle about 60 x 20 cm, as before. So now, fold up a third of the dough and fold the top third, so you again have a little square. Congratulations, you have made a single turn! Put the dough back into the plastic bag, back into the freezer, and let it chill for another hour. Repeat this stage twice more, putting the dough back into the freezer for another 30 minutes between turns. After turn two this is going to get really hard on your biceps, so try to coax a willing friend/family member into helping you.
7) Let it rest in the fridge (in its plastic bag) for 8 hours or overnight. I left mine about 12 hours with no problems.
8) When you are ready to shape (!!) line a couple of baking trays with your Silpat or parchment paper.
9) Put your dough onto a floured surface and roll it out to a rectangle a little more than 42 cm long and 30 cm wide. It should be about 7mm thick. Trim the edges to make them as neat as possible.
10) Cut the rectangle into two long rectangles, then cut triangles along the length of each strip. They should be about 15 cm high (from top to bottom) and 12 cm (at their widest point). You should have twelve triangles total.
11) Gently pull on the triangles to lengthen them, then cut a little slit in the base. This will help them become extra-crescenty. Now roll them up, base to end, and turn the ends towards each other slightly.
12) Put your croissants onto the baking trays, allowing space for them to expand. Put them inside a clean plastic bag (like a garbage bag) and let them sit in a cool room temperature spot for around 2 hours. My bread almost never “doubles in size,” but just leave them for two hours and you’ll be fine.
13) Preheat your oven to 200°C/390°F. Lightly whisk the egg with the pinch of salt. Brush it over the prepared croissants and bake for around 20 minutes until they’re golden. Don’t be alarmed if they come out of the oven swimming in a pile of melted butter. Just remove them to some cooling racks, and you’ll be A-OK.
And now that you know the drill, you can turn these into chocolate croissants, almond croissants, jam-filled croissants! Just put your filling of choice in before you shape. And enjoy.
I heard that y’all in Moscow got snow last week and–ouch–it’s a high of four degrees tomorrow. I’m sorry to be smug, but I am so glad to be back at this time of year. Ottawa, number four coldest capital, is going to be a glorious 22 degrees tomorrow. And at the same time the leaves are turning red and orange and falling to the ground. Weather jackpot! It’s amazing and should never end.
So far we’ve just been really lucky. And plus, we’re coming up on a bank holiday. So happy! For you Canadians, any of these recipes would be make an amazing dessert for a Thanksgiving family feast.
Like many of my friends, I am always giddy with the coming of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s amazing. This recipe actually uses some real pumpkin for a homemade version.
A delicious pumpkin bread, courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated. I haven’t tried this exact recipe, but if it’s based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, you know it’ll be good. And accurate.
Another great porridge for cold fall mornings. This one uses amaranth, which I am eager to try.
Pumpkin butter was a new thing for me, but it is super delicious and sweet. It’s pumpkin pie in a jar, fit to be swirled into oatmeal or spooned onto toast.
Last, but not least, is the Pumpkin Pie Swirly Cake below (yes, that’s its grown-up name), which comes from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is actually quite easy. Definitely less time-intensive than pumpkin cheesecake. It’s like a pumpkin pie-slash-cheesecake, with a smooth pumpkin pie filling paired with a tart cream cheese swirl.
Pumpkin Pie Swirly Cake (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
- 115g gingersnap cookies, coarsely broken
- 85g graham crackers, digestives or shortbread cookies
- 55g (1/2 stick) salted, melted butter
- 115g cream cheese, softened
- 40g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg white
- 300g (1/2 or 3/4 of a 15-ounce can) pumpkin purée
- 50g granulated sugar
- 50g brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp table salt
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 425 °F (220°C) and grind up the cookies in your food processor. When they’re finely ground pulse in the melted butter. Press the mixture into a tart tin and set it aside.
Mix together the cheesecake batter ingredients. Easy.
For the pumpkin batter, beat together the whole egg and egg white lightly in a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin puree, the sugars, salt and spices. Then mix in the cream.
To put it all together, pour the pumpkin batter over the crust. Then dollop over the cheesecake mixture. Take your knife and swirl artfully. It may look a little watery, but it’ll turn out nicely, promise! Put it in the oven for ten minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F (175°C) and bake for 30-40 minutes. Below we have the finished produit.
Early fall is such a nice time of year; the air feels crisp and clean, and everything has a touch of the “back-to-school fresh” to it. It’s at this time of year that I want to spend more time puttering about next to a warm oven, trying to find the coziest, most comforting recipes. But I’ll also be starting work on Monday, and I won’t have a ton of time. For that reason it’s good to have some easy-to-make foods that will also keep well. Enter: granola.
Granola is expensive to buy, cheap to make. And it’s dead easy, too–the only skills required are measuring, mixing and pouring. After some refining, this recipe is a really nice one: it has a delicious salty-sweet mix and lots of granola clusters, which are obviously the best bits.
Olive Oil Granola (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and The New York Times)
Granola-making is not an exact science. If you don’t have walnuts, use coarsely chopped almonds or hazelnuts instead. The same goes for the maple syrup; if, heaven forbid, you don’t have any on hand, use honey. The secret to getting the granola clusters is the egg white, so don’t skip it.
- 240g (3 cups) rolled oats
- 100g (1 cup) walnuts
- 50g (1 cup) unsweetened coconut flakes
- 25g (1/4 cup) ground flax seed
- 120mL (1/2 cup) maple syrup
- 120mL (1/4 cup) olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 egg white
- 200g (1 1/2 cups ) dried fruit. I used apricots and raisins.
Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C). Mix all the ingredients except the dried fruit and egg white together in a large bowl. Then whisk the egg white a bit and add it to the granola. Mix until everything is coated, then spread the mixture onto a greased/parchment papered baking tray. Stick it in the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating the pan about 20 minutes in. I tried to stir it a bit too, but that broke up the clumps. Don’t do it!
When it looks golden, take the pan out of the oven and let it cool–completely. Then break it up into whatever size chunks you like, and stir in the fruit. Keep it in an airtight container, or freeze it for later.