custom cakes/cookies

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Apple Cider and Maple Cream Crostata with Maple-Cranberry Compote

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Crostata is an Italian tart, the base of which is a sweet short crust pastry called pasta frolla. Pasta frolla is versatile. It can be filled with fruit preserves, pastry cream, fresh fruit, ricotta, and other ingredients, and, by itself, it makes very nice cookies. Made with butter, flour, sugar, and eggs, the technique to make this dough is a bit like making pasta though no harder to execute than any other type of pie crust.

I decided to make mine with whole wheat and hazelnut flours, and for the filling, I used this recipe from the October issue of Bon Appetit. Not traditional but definitely seasonal and highly amenable to local ingredients. The custard filling is made with no refined sugar. Instead, it is sweetened with maple sugar and a thick reduction of apple cider. Though humble in appearance, it's a decadent alternative to the usual apple desserts that show up this time of year.

Hazelnut Pasta Frolla

⅓ cup superfine sugar or ½ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup hazelnut flour or meal
a pinch of salt
6 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Put sugar, flours, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add butter and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface.

Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients then use your fingertips. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Roll out the crostata dough, on a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll the dough into a circle about ⅛-inch thick. If at anytime the dough becomes too soft to work with, chill in the fridge until firm again.

Ease the dough into the tart pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.

Roll out remaining scraps of pasta frolla and cut into lattice strips or desired shapes using a cookie cutter.

Cover and chill crust at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Maple Cream Filling

½ gallon fresh apple cider or cold-pressed apple juice
½ cup maple sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs
¼ tsp coarse kosher salt
⅛ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 drops maple extract

Bring apple cider or apple juice to rolling boil in large pot over high heat. Boil until bubbling thickly and reduced to generous ¾ cup, stirring occasionally, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grind maple sugar to powder in spice mill, blender, or mini processor. Transfer powdered maple sugar to 4-cup glass measuring cup; add cream, eggs, ¼ teaspoon coarse salt, nutmeg, extract, and ¾ cup cooled cider reduction and whisk to blend well.

Place tart pan with crust on baking sheet; set on rack in oven. Pour in filling. Bake tart until filling is puffed and cracked around edges and gently set in center, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer tart to rack and cool to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.

Push up pan bottom, releasing tart. Cut tart into wedges and serve with compote (recipe below) and if desired, freshly whipped cream.

Maple-Cranberry Compote

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and rinsed
½ cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

Combine cranberries, maple syrup, brown sugar, apple cider, and lemon zest in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most berries pop and juices thicken slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Chill until cold, about 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Mornin' Mash is the Truth!"

Those words were chatted to me enthusiastically after sharing my new go-to breakfast with my workplace BFF. He was referring to what most of Europe (and beyond) might call Bircher Müesli: a "mash up" of raw oats and raisins softened and plumped by a long soak in citrus juices and/or yogurt (or some other type of dairy), then embellished with endless combinations of fruits, nuts, and natural sweeteners. Absolutely refreshing and perfectly filling (in an appetite-curbing, good way), this is first-meal-of-the-day virtue at its humblest. It resembles a sort of cold oatmeal or soft, chewy granola, but with way, WAY better texture and flavor! I like to mix in mashed banana or homemade jam or applesauce to give it a bit of sweetness. I added mashed pawpaw fruit when that was in season! Pumpkin butter or apple butter or my pear butter would be a nice seasonal choice also. A jar of homemade granola always sits on my kitchen counter, so I sprinkle on a bit of that too for added crunch. If you don't eat breakfast in the car while driving to work like I do each morning, a drizzle of honey would be an excellent touch. I should also mention this is a great make ahead deal that with minimal advanced prep work should see you through a week's worth of breakfasts, helping you get out the door just a wee bit faster. Varying your toppings should keep you from getting bored.

I was introduced to Bircher Müesli several years ago at a hotel breakfast bar in Sydney and was happy to find it again when I traveled this summer to Hamburg and Oslo. European hotels' complimentary breakfasts (even the budget-friendly ones) knock the socks off of what's considered a "continental breakfast" in the States. Across the pond you will find generous spreads with much more healthy, non-processed options. Since returning home, I found a recipe in my Gourmet Magazine cookbook that I've been tweaking here and there and was eager to post my variations. Then David Lebovitz beat me to the punch with a post on Bircher Müesli last week! With that, I almost wasn't going to post my recipe, but then I thought twice. Perhaps ::shudder:: you don't know of his blog or have never heard of this recipe or of Maximilian Bircher-Benner, the Swiss equivalent of the Michigan health-enthusiast/inventor of corn flakes, John Harvey Kellogg. Everyone deserves a little morning goodness. I'm happy to do my part!

Bircher Müesli
makes 16 cups; serves 8-10

1 lemon
1 juicing orange
1 grapefruit
1½ cups steel cut oats (Irish oats)
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
⅔ cup raisins
1 quart whole milk, plain yogurt

Toppings and Mix-ins:
sliced or mashed banana
coarsely grated apples
toasted nuts
fresh berries

Finely grate zest from lemon and orange. Squeeze juice from all of the fruits to obtain about 1½ - 2 cups of citrus juice. Combine the zest, juice, oats, raisins, and yogurt in a large re-sealable container. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Refrigerate covered for at least eight hours to allow the oats to soften.

When hungry, portion out servings into individual bowls and top as desired.

Bircher Müesli will keep for about a week, covered tightly and refrigerated.