Summer Strawberry Tart with Miso

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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.

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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)

The Crust:

  • 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.

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Summer Fruit Galette

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Good enough to eat

I am so glad to be back in eastern Ontario, hitting the reset button before starting work again. I’ve been eating almond butter, Triscuits and Indian takeout like they’re going out of style. But let’s talk about FRUIT too. I never realized how much further south Ottawa is than Moscow. Winters here are cold (like, really cold), but the summers are glorious. Not to brag, but that means that at this time of year you can find in-season peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, kale, carrots, potatoes, and sweet corn. I have lots more travel stuff to write about, but it’s my first summer back in three years, baby, and I am ready to bake!

Summer Fruit Galette (adapted from my sister’s copy of The Boy who Bakes by Edd Kimber, winner of Great British Bake Off I’ll have you know)

A galette is the easiest pie in the world. What normally scares me is rolling the dough out right. But for a galette you don’t have to worry. Fold up the dough around the sides and call it a day.

You can use any combination of fruit you have on hand: apple-pear, blackberry-raspberry and cherry-vanilla would be very nice.

Pastry (the bread flour and salted butter are kind of unorthodox, but they seemed to work. I like the sweet-salty fruit-plus-dough combination, and the bread flour made for a really sturdy crust):

  • 250g really cold salted butter, diced
  • 200g all-purpose flour
  • 200g bread flour
  • 70-125ml ice water

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Rub the butter in until it looks like big crumbs. It will still be a little dry-looking, but pour about half the water in and mix with your hands until it all comes together. Add more water if it’s still too dry.

Turn out your dough onto a work surface and knead it a couple of times until it’s in an irregular round. Break it into two rounds and wrap each one separately in plastic wrap. Chill for 20 minutes. You’ll only need one round for this recipe. Save the other for a quiche or heck, another galette.

Filling:

  • About 300g fresh fruit. I used a peach-plum combination.
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tbsp fine or crunchy sugar, depending on how you like it. Keep this as guidance, too. You may want to add more sugar if you have really tart fruit like blackberries.
  • 10g butter, in small bits
  • 1 egg lightly beaten

OK make the crust, and then…

Preheat the oven to 200 celcius (around 390 fahrenheit) and line your baking tray with parchment paper. Then take your fruit and cut it into thin slices, before tossing with the tablespoon of flour, lemon juice and two tablespoons of the sugar.

Put the fruit onto the pastry and fold it up, pleating as you go. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and sprinkle on the remaining sugar. Stick it in the oven for 45-50 minutes or until the pastry is golden. I bet this would be nice served with cream or ice cream. Go wild, it’s summer!

Serves 4-6

Each peach pear plum...

Each peach pear plum…


For the Love of Scones: Strawberry Cream & Nectarine

I’m still not entirely sure what the difference is between a scone and a biscuit. Maybe it’s that a biscuit is not really sweet (just buttery) and served with savoury food, southern style. Or is it just the American version of a scone, carried over on the Mayflower, adapted through generations of American innovation? Generally speaking, though, both traditionally involve flakiness-producing butter and a similar technique; you just cut the butter in as you would for a pie dough.  I’m not too much for chicken and biscuits, but given my obvious penchant for all things sweet, I love a good scone. I waxed rhapsodic last September over the afternoon tea I had for my birthday, and scones always seem perfect for a special occasion. I don’t add the jam and clotted cream every time (obvs. 1 teaspoon of clotted cream has close to 90 calories) but it is a nice treat. For a summertime “light” version (if the 200g of butter in the nectarine recipe–for 8 scones–can be considered light) fresh fruit scones are the way to go.

Sweet, melting fruit adds just that bit of acidity and tang to something that might be a bit heavy. We can get back to currant, raisin, candied scones in the fall; for now let’s enjoy the fresh fruit and beautiful sunshine. Try to buy the best fruit you can, as this is its chance to shine. Below are my two most recent scone experiments–a creamy strawberry scone that I made in London, and a nectarine fold-over scone I made just days ago here in Moscow. Both are super-simple to make, and either would be good with a bit of warm butter, seasonal jam or, well, some clotted cream.

Strawberry Cream Scones (adapted from a recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen, where they are actually referred to as biscuits)

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 85g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 130g chopped really ripe strawberries
  • 1 cup single (heavy) cream

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter and work it in with a pastry blender or your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the strawberries with a light hand, then add the cream. Stir gently until everything is mixed. Don’t, however, overmix; you want these lovelies to be light!

Flour your counter really well and transfer the dough onto it. Press out (or roll) the dough until it is about 2cm thick. Cut into small circles (mine were about 5cm in diameter) with a cutter or a drinking glass, and transfer the scones to your baking sheet, leaving a few inches between each.

Bake the scones for 12-15 minutes until they are lightly golden on top. Let them stand for a minute on the baking tray, then transfer to wire cooling racks. Eat warm and enjoy!

Makes around 8 scones

Nectarine Fold-over Scones (adapted from a recipe by Joy at Joy the Baker)

  • 350g flour
  • 50g coarse cane sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 200g butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 175mL (3/4 cup) milk
  • 1 room-temperature egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla sugar)
  • 1 nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp milk, for brushing over the surface
  • 2 tbsp coarse cane sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and vanilla sugar, if using). Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla extract, if using. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir gently until a dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly, about 10 times. If the butter hasn’t become a sticky mess by now, roll it out into a disk until it is a couple of centimetres thick. Brush half of the disk with milk and place the sliced nectarines onto it like so:

Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the coarse sugar on top of the nectarines. Seal up your pastry by folding the clean side over the nectarines. Press down on all sides to seal, and try to form it into some semblance of a rectangle. Cut the dough into 8 even pieces, place them on your baking pans and stick them in the fridge for around 20 minutes. When your 20 minutes are up and the scones are a bit firm, remove them from the fridge and brush with the milk. Sprinkle over the remaining sugar.

Bake the scones for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. (If they’re a little doughy at first, as mine were, they’ll firm up a bit when they cool.) Let them sit on the hot pan for a couple of minutes, then remove and let cool on a wire rack for around 15 minutes. Eat them warm or at room temperature later on. Either way, they’ll hit the spot.

Makes 8 scones.


Blackcurrant Bakewell Squares

I leave for my holidays tomorrow and, in honour of a short jaunt to France, I made a crêpe cake. It involved making crêpe after tedious crêpe, sandwiching them together with a cream cheese filling and topping it off with a butterscotch sauce. It was reasonably tasty, but most of the photos make it look like a blob. Not very appealing. I decided to make something new instead, something which would photograph better and would use up the blackcurrants I had lying around. I checked Food Network, Epicurious and all my standard American favourites, but I couldn’t get anything beyond blah recipes involving crème de cassis. I guess I’d never thought much about blackcurrants before either, but then I was lucky enough to get a pound or so from my colleague, who picked them while at her dacha last summer. This subsequently made me think of jam and, after doing some research, I learned of the bakewell tart, apparently quite the classic in England (as are all things berry–just check out some of these). I can only make rectangular-shaped things, given that I have one baking pan, but this seemed the perfect recipe to herald in the arrival of summer berries and nice weather.

This was my first foray into jam-making, and it proved really, really easy. If you have some fruit on hand, especially a high pectin one like blackcurrants, hop to it and make this super-easy jam. It was so easy, in fact, that I am far too lazy to retype the instructions; they’re easily available over here on BBC’s website.

Bakewell Squares (adapted from a Waitrose recipe)

The most popular version of this is actually the bakewell tart, which I’m sure would have been lovely had I had the right equipment. Failing that, it worked nicely in my standard glass baking dish. It’s a pretty easy recipe, despite the many steps, and it works with jams of all sorts. You certainly don’t have to make the jam. I must say that I was too lazy to go out and buy additional ingredients, so my topping was a little on the slight side. I essentially just halved the recipe. I’ve given listings for both what I did and for the original, thicker topping. I think I’ll go for more next time.

Pastry:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2tbsp sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 2 large beaten egg yolks

Frangipane Topping:

  • 100g softened unsalted buter (I ran out and used 50g instead)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten (2 eggs for me)
  • 125g cane sugar (70g–you get the idea)
  • pinch of vanilla sugar or 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 150g ground almonds (I used about 80g of both almonds and walnuts, as those were what I had on hand)
  • Sugar, to dust on top
  • Around 3/4 cup jam for the middle (I’ll bet strawberry would be particularly delicious against the almonds)

Make the pastry by combining the flour, sugar and salt. Rub in the cold butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Then add in half the beaten egg yolks, mixing until you have a soft, slightly dry pastry. Now you can roll out your dough to fit your tart/baking pan, but I was honestly much too lazy for this. Just press it into the pan with your fingers and put the tray into the fridge for a half-hour. Preheat your oven to 190°C. When your 30 minutes is up, prick the dough all over, then put it in the oven for 15 minutes or until it’s golden brown. Take it out and let it cool a bit, then spread your jam over the top. Lower the oven temperature to 180°C

Now get started on the filling: beat together the soft butter and sugar, then slowly add the eggs a little at a time. Be careful not to let the mixture curdle; ensuring that all the ingredients are at room temperature will help a lot. Add the almond/vanilla extract, then fold in the ground almonds. Spoon the mixture over the jam and level it out with the back of the spoon. Place it back in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden and slightly firm to the touch. Take it out, let it cool slightly, then sprinkle with cane or icing sugar. Eat up.

Unsliced Original


Khachapuri, Cheese Bread of My Dreams

And thus I begin my series of food to hibernate with. The weather hasn’t let up in weeks, so when I’m not teaching I tend to hole up in my apartment, watch movies (Chasing Amy and Hannah and her Sisters have been on the recent rotation), and cook. (I’m glad to be working again because it means that I can pass the extra baked goods on to my colleagues, saving me from inevitable sugar rushes.) In my time off I’ve also tried to take in as much of Moscow as possible, seeing museums (Winzavod and Garazh are next), planning parties, shopping and having adventures in even the simplest of exchanges. The cultural differences sometimes run so deep that I don’t even know when I’ve committed a faux-pas. For instance, the other day I broke the zipper on my boot and took it to the shop to get it repaired, while at the same time asking the shop-keeper if he could clean my boots up; it wasn’t until I told my colleague about the exchange that she mentioned it was a definite no-go to ask employees to clean your boots. It’s a bit of an insult here–shoe-shining is done in train stations, not in shops. Ruh-roh! Every day is a lesson here, linguistically or otherwise. In any case, there are two words we can all agree on: cheese bread.

Khachapuri is a Georgian pastry I came into contact with a year and a half ago on my last trip to Moscow. I forget which restaurant I first got it from, but I definitely came to love it, and took that love with me to Estonia. Georgian food was unlike anything I’d ever eaten, with unique spices, plentiful use of walnuts, and green herbs. I was hooked and wanted more–roasted eggplants, plates of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, mint tea, turkish coffee and this bread, which is lovely and different every place you go. In the end, khachapuri is basically a cheese-filled pie–the Pizza Hut stuffed crust that never was. It’s perfect winter food, ideal for cutting into big slices and sharing with friends. I sliced it up too quickly to photograph it whole, which gives me all the more reason to make it again.

Khachapuri (adapted from Nami-Nami). Serves four generously

Dough:

  • 250g sour cream
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Around 300g flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sugar

Filling:

  • 200g Suluguni cheese (mozzarella will do in a pinch), grated
  • 1 beaten egg (alternatively, beat just one egg and use it in the filling and the dough)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced finally (this is optional; I didn’t have any and my khachapuri turned out just fine)

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)

Melt the butter on the stove and then slowly whisk in the sour cream. Whisk in the salt, baking soda and sugar, then slowly mix in the flour. I didn’t measure this but just added it slowly until the dough became uniform and only a little sticky. Knead the dough for a minute or so to bring it all together, then divide it in two and roll each piece out flat into two circles.

Mix together the grated cheese, egg, sour cream and garlic (if using).

Place one dough circle on a parchment-covered baking sheet, then spread with the cheese mixture, leaving a couple of centimetres on the sides bare. Cover with the other dough circle and press the edges together firmly. Brush the top with beaten egg yolk or leftover sour cream and poke the top with the prongs of a fork. Put it in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let it sit around 5 minutes, then slice.

Enjoy (and keep warm)!


Sugar-Dusted Popovers

The last couple of years I’ve made it my tradition to wake up early on Christmas morning and make a nice breakfast for my family. Then we all sit down with our cups of coffee, look through our stockings and keep our cats from devouring the pulled-off ribbons and broken tree branches. As long as I can remember we’ve always had to wait for all family members to be present before we’d even enter the room with all the gifts, so the kitchen was a refuge; close enough to see the twinkling lights of the tree, far enough away that you wouldn’t spoil the surprise of the gifts Santa had put in your stocking. Having to wait for everyone also meant that sometimes you were left dilly-dallying for ages while someone was still sleeping. When I was a kid this was torturous, but now it’s not so bad; sometimes I’m the one sleeping in. I can now sleep soundly on the night before Christmas, because I’m a grown up. Hurrah!

This Christmas morning I snuck down to the kitchen to bake away, greeted by my early-rising mother. There’s something so comforting about cooking in the early hours of the morning before everyone is up, like your magical baked goods are going to wake the family from slumber and start the day. If there’s anything that will start you up on a cold morning, it’s these popovers; they taste like doughnuts (even though they’re baked, not fried), have a good crunch from the sugar that coats them and a divine smell from the orange zest. We were all happy to get seconds, so I can assure you that this was a sweet success.

Sugar-Dusted Popovers (adapted from Shutterbean, which was adapted from A Sweet Spoonful)

This was my first attempt at making popovers–so named because their eggy filling pops over the sides as they bake, soufflé-style–so I was definitely not going to buy a proper popover pan. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one of those! You can certainly just use a muffin tray, as I did.

Batter:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or milk alternative (I used coconut milk, which worked nicely with the orange flavour)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tsp vegetable oil

Sugar Coating:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp grated orange zest
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat your oven to 450°C and start making the batter: in a blender, whip together the eggs, milk, flour, butter, salt and vanilla until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Let it sit for a half-hour. After 20 minutes, prepare your tray by putting 1/2 tsp vegetable oil in each and sticking it in the oven to heat up.

Remove the pan from the oven and divide the batter among the eight cups. Return the pan to the oven and–without opening the oven door–bake for twenty minutes. Lower the heat to 350°C and bake for a further fifteen minutes, until your popovers are golden. Remove from the oven and turn onto a wire rack.

While your popovers cool a bit, prepare your sugar coating: mix together the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest and salt together in a shallow bowl. Brush each popover with the melted butter and dredge them in the sugar mixture. Serve warm with plenty of hot coffee.


A Winter Pastry: Rugelach

Ignore the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, tempting you to head out and shop in this weather; it’s time to stay in, hibernate and dream close to the blazing oven. It’s time for some finicky recipes, the ones no one would bother with in the summer, either because it’s too hot or they require too much effort. The descent into winter also gives me the perfect excuse to cook dense, buttery food and celebrate the richness of the season.

Rugelach are one of those amazingly rich, impressive-looking, semi-elusive (at least in London) pastries. When I lived in Toronto, I walked by Harbord Bakery all the time and often couldn’t resist their delicious Jewish delicacies: blintzes, loaves of raisin-studded challah, and definitely the occasional few rugelach. I’d bring them for friends at school, but would finish half the bag before I could even begin to share.

Rugelach can be made in any way you like; the ones below are very traditional, filled with apricot jam, currants and walnuts. They’re basically miniature filled croissants, so you can fill them with anything: nutella, a different type of jam, or even leftover dulce de leche would all be very nice. The generous quantities of cream cheese and butter keep these pastries really light and moist, so they’ll keep a long time (if you can keep your hands off them). And yeah, they do have to be made in the cold weather–or at least a cold room–or you’ll end up with some very un-pretty rugelach, as per my first batch below. I was going to trash them, and then I thought, no way, they’re still good!

Traditional Rugelach (Adapted from GOOP)

This recipe comes from Gwyneth Paltrow’s weekly blog/newsletter GOOP, which I really enjoy reading. I’ve had good luck with her recipes, and I’m also a fan of her city guides; she seems to have a keen eye for what’s cool–but not too fussy–in a city.

Dough:

  • 8oz or 200g room-temperature cream cheese
  • 250g room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (though any flaky salt will do)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup brown or muscovado sugar
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup currants (or raisins)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam, warmed up slightly to make it spreadable

Topping:

  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp milk
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Cream together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until it’s very light and fluffy (the fluffier this is, the fluffier your resulting pastry). Then add the sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix again. Finally, on low speed, add the flour and mix gently until the mixture comes together to form a dough.

Put the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a ball. Cut the dough into four equal pieces, flatten each piece slightly and wrap each in cling film. Leave it to rest in the fridge for 30-60 minutes or even overnight. Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients for the filling: granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, currants and walnuts.

On the floured surface, roll out one round of dough into a 9-inch circle (this needn’t be exact). Brush about 2 tbsp of the apricot jam almost to the edges of the dough and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Now cut the circle into 10 equal wedges.

Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge and place the pastries on a greased or parchment-covered baking tray, point side down. Repeat with the remaining circles and chill the fully-formed pastries in the fridge for 30 minutes (they won’t hold their shape if they’re too soft). Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush each pastry with the egg wash. Mix the 3 tbsp of sugar with the 1/2 tsp cinnamon and then sprinkle on the pastries. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let them cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 40 pastries