Showing posts with label Easy-to-Make Recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easy-to-Make Recipes. Show all posts

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ready. Set. Brine. Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

Does brining matter? That's what a friend and I asked ourselves when we were making fried chicken. Like budding scientists, we did a controlled experiment.

We brined two pieces of thigh meat overnight in a solution of water, kosher salt and white sugar with black peppercorns and bay leaves. The next day, we washed off the brine and aromatics and gave those thighs the same amount of time in a buttermilk soak as the unbrined pieces. Then we dredged them in seasoned flour and fried them. The resulting differences were amazing.

No doubt about it. The brined chicken was more tender and moist.


Knowing that brining made a difference led me to try brining a whole chicken. The results, just like the fried chicken, were very good. Now I use the same technique when prepping our turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then, one day Googling around the internet when I should have been writing, I stumbled on a recipe that changed the way I had been brining.

Melissa Clark, the wonderful New York Times food writer, is always on the look out for ways to improve on familiar techniques and dishes. In the article I read, she talked about adding feta to the brine before roasting a whole chicken. Salty, crumbly cheese in a brine. Brilliant!

What follows is my riff on her original idea which is less of an improvement and more of a dirt path off the road she already paved.

Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

As with anything in life, begin with good ingredients and you'll achieve better results. That is especially true in cooking. So, buy a good plump, pale-pink skinned chicken, one that was raised without hormones. 

Size matters, especially depending on how many you are serving. A five-pound chicken is good for a dinner of four as long as there is a salad course before and side dishes served with the entre. If the chicken is one of several proteins, say a brown sugar salmon filetpork ribs or charred steaks, then one chicken will serve up to eight.

My mother and grandmother taught me that to waste food is a sin. In this case, that means always reserve the pan drippings, giblets, neck, heart, bones and carcass of the chicken to make a best-ever stock that you can use to make a to-die-for chicken-vegetable-rice soup or chicken and dumplings.

If a liver came with the chicken, use it to make a tasty mushroom-chicken liver pate to serve as an amuse bouche.

Only use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. All the other brands I've seen put in chemical additives. Diamond Crystal does not.

Line a roasting sheet tray with 1" sides with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.  A sheet tray with sides lower than a roasting pan facilitates browning on the sides of the chicken.


 Serves 4

Time to brine: at least one hour or overnight

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 60 - 90 minutes depending on size of chicken

Time to rest before serving: 5 minutes

Special Cooking Tools 

Roasting rack

Cooking Twine

12"-14" kitchen tongs

Roasting sheet tray (with a 1" rim)

Aluminum foil and Silpat sheet to fit the roasting sheet tray

Ingredients for roasting

1 whole 5 pound chicken, liver, giblets, neck and heart removed, washed

Ingredients for the brine

1/4 cup fresh feta, preferably Bulgarian (because it is less expensive), crumbled

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

4 bay leaves, whole

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Ingredients for the topping

1 medium onion, washed, top and root end removed, peeled, sliced thin

1/2 cup Italian parsley, stems and leaves, washed, drained, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh feta, Bulgarian, crumbled

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small bowl of flake salt (optional) on the table

Directions for brining

Use twine to tie together the legs and wings.

Place the chicken, salt, sugar and aromatics into a large heavy plastic bag or a container with a lid. Fill with cold water until the chicken is submerged. Seal. If using a plastic bag, place in a large bowl so the water doesn't leak.

Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Directions for Roasting

Preheat oven to 400F.  Place the roasting rack on top of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and a Silpat sheet for easier cleanup.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse, pat dry and allow to rest uncovered for 10 minutes.

Drain the brine and remove the feta and reserve.

In a bowl, mix together the feta from the brine, the additional feta, onion, parsley, sea salt and black pepper.

Rub olive oil over the chicken. Add remaining olive oil to the feta-onion-parlsey topping and mix well. Set aside.

Place chicken onto the roasting rack, breast down and put into the preheated oven. Roast for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the skin is brown and crisp to the touch.

Reduce oven to 350F.

Using tongs, turn over the chicken, being careful not to tear the skin. Place the chicken breast-side up on the roasting rack.

Cover the breast-side up chicken with the feta-onion-parlsey topping.  The mound of onions will seem large, but will greatly reduce during cooking. If any bits fall onto the bottom of the baking tray, no worries, you can scoop them up later.


Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness. Wiggle a chicken leg. If there is resistance, the chicken needs more time. If the topping is getting too brown, place a sheet of aluminum over the top like a tent. Roast another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Continue roasting until the leg moves freely.

Remove from the oven and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top so the chicken rests for 5 minutes.

Remove aluminum foil. Carve in the kitchen or at the table. Use a recently sharpened knife or kitchen sheers. Plate the chicken with the charred onion-feta-parsley mix on top.

Serve hot with sides of roasted potatoes, squash or salt boiled spinach.

Place a small bowl of flake salt on the table. The crunch of the salt will add to the pleasures of the dish.

Preparing the stock

Once the chicken has been carved, reserve all the bones and pan drippings. If there isn't time to make stock that night, refrigerate and make the next day. Add the reserved heart and gizzard. Place in a large pot with water to cover and simmer 60 minutes. After straining, the stock can be refrigerated and used within two days or frozen in sealed containers and used for up to six months. Discard bones and carcass after removing any bits of meat to use in chicken-vegetable soup.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Summer Tomatoes Saved for Winter Dishes

Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming."

Walking through the farmers markets, I am happy to see a great abundance of tomatoes. With that abundance comes lower prices. Find a farmer who has too much of a good thing and the price comes down even more.


"Reduced to sell." "Soft ready to eat." Those are the tomatoes I look for. I'll buy them by the bagful. Five or ten pounds at a time. My plan is to prepare for a time when fresh tomatoes are a thing of the past.


I am anticipating a time when storm clouds are outside and I'm staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration. I yearn for the produce of summer: leafy greens, corn and full-bodied tomatoes. But there is a way to enjoy the sweet-acidic deliciousness of tomatoes even in the darkest days of winter. Just look in your freezer.
With abundant tomatoes in the farmers markets, buy ripe tomatoes, roast and freeze them to be used in braises, soups and sauces in the fall and winter. Once blasted with heat in the oven, the tomatoes happily take to the freezer if they are covered in liquid.
Enjoy frozen roasted tomatoes whole or puree into sauce, and as rain beats against your windows and snow accumulates on your lawn, you will remember those heady summer flavors.

Oven-roasted tomatoes to use as a side dish or in sauces

Use ripe and over-ripe tomatoes. If you can find only unripe, hard tomatoes, leave them in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter until they ripen. Bruised tomatoes are OK as long as you use a sharp paring knife to remove the damaged parts. Avoid tomatoes with broken skin because of the risk of mold.
Any kind of tomato can be used: heirloom, Roma, cherry, large or small salad tomatoes.
A food mill is helpful when making the sauce. If one is not available, a fine meshed wire strainer will do almost as well.


When roasting the tomatoes, it is important to use parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat mat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the baking sheet. With a Silpat mat, none of the good bits that caramelize on the bottom are wasted.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes love the sun’s heat when they’re growing. And they love the oven’s heat that coaxes a rich umami sweetness out of their naturally acidic souls.
That sweetness is at the heart of the roasted tomatoes that will be in your freezer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Roasting time: 60 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 quarts
Ingredients
5 pounds tomatoes, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper cut to size. Use a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip to capture any liquids created during roasting.
3. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a “V” shape around the stem, remove and discard. With cherry tomatoes, any stems can be brushed off the surface without making a cut.
4. Place the de-stemmed tomatoes on the lined baking sheet, stem side up.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool.

Freezing Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, you’ll notice a clear liquid has accumulated on the bottom. Some of that is olive oil. But most of the liquid is a clear tomato essence prized by chefs for its clean flavor.
If you are freezing some of the roasted tomatoes whole, use the clear liquid to cover the tomatoes in the deli containers.
Use airtight containers that are about the same width as the tomatoes so you will need a small amount of liquid to cover them.

Defrosting Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer in the evening and let them defrost overnight. If any ice crystals have accumulated on top of the tomatoes, rinse off the ice before defrosting.
If you want to serve them whole, the tomatoes can be warmed in the oven or microwave. They are delicate, so handle them carefully.

Whole Roasted Tomato, Easy-to-Make Pasta Sauce

A deliciously simple pasta sauce to make any time of the year, not just in winter. Serve the pasta with steamed vegetables, a charred steak or a grilled chicken breast and you will have a perfect cold weather meal that warms body and soul.
The flavorful tomato sauce can become a vegan dish by simply omitting the butter and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauté time: 5 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, roughly chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 to 3 whole, large roasted tomatoes, skins removed
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, about 10 minutes, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. Heat the olive oil.
5. Add the parsley and garlic. Lightly brown.
6. Holding the roasted tomatoes over the sauté pan, use your hands to tear them apart so you capture all the liquid. Add any liquid from the deli container.
7. Stir well and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
8. Taste and salt, if needed; add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
9. Stir well and add butter. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and black pepper.
10. When ready to serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Over a medium flame, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat.
11. Serve hot with a bowl of Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes used to make the sauce are prepared and roasted in the same manner as those used to create whole roasted tomatoes.
Directions
1. Working with small batches, remove the roasted tomatoes from the baking sheet and put some of the roasted tomatoes into a food mill or fine mesh, wire strainer placed over a nonreactive bowl. Press the tomatoes through, collecting all the juice in the bowl.

2. Use a spatula to scrape off the pulp that will accumulate on the bottom of the food mill or the strainer. Add the pulp to the juice.

3. Discard the tomato skins. Or add to your compost. Or, even better, reserve in the freezer to use with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock.

Freezing Roasted Tomato Sauce

Put the open deli containers on a counter. Stir the tomato juice to mix with the pulp.

Fill each deli container to a half-inch below the top so that when the sauce freezes, the liquid will have room to expand and will not force open the lid.
When cooled, the filled containers can be placed in the freezer.

Defrosting Roasted Tomato Sauce

Even without defrosting, the frozen sauce can be used at the last minute, when you want to thicken a soup, add a layer of flavor to a braise or make a simple pasta sauce.
There are infinite ways to use this versatile sauce. One of my favorites is an easy-to-make pasta with sautéed vegetables.
If any ice crystals accumulate on the top of the sauce, rinse off the ice before defrosting.

Penne Pasta With Roasted Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables

Prep time: 10 minutes
Sauté time: 10 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, washed, stems removed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, washed, stems removed, peeled, roughly chopped
8 large shiitake mushrooms, ends of the stems removed, washed, patted dry, roughly chopped
2 cups broccolini or broccoli, washed, cut into florets, the stems cut into slabs
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, finely chopped
12 ounces frozen tomato sauce, defrosted on the counter overnight
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium flame.
5. Heat the olive oil.
6. Add carrots, onion, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
7. Add roasted tomato sauce, butter and pepper flakes. Stir well. Taste. If salt is needed, add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
8. Simmer on a medium flame and reduce.
9. Taste, adjust seasoning and continue simmering if you want the sauce to be thicker.
10. When the sauce is the consistency you like, add the cooked pasta, coat well.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more sea salt or black pepper.
12. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fried Chicken with Honey-Butter-Rosemary Dressing - Summer's Perfect Food

Last year I had the good fortune to interview chef Wes Whitsell in the kitchen at ManuelaBesides the interview, I video taped Wes demonstrating his signature crispy fried chicken. 

The recipe is easy and quick to prepare. For a dinner the other night when my wife was out of town, I wanted a meal that didn't take too much effort so I fried four chicken legs, made some onion rings and, to balance all that crunchy fried flavor, a plate of sensible salt-boiled carrots rounds and broccoli florets. Delicious!


The Fourth of July is coming up. The fried chicken will be perfect for our picnic, delicious even at room temperature.

Here is the original article, interview and video. Enjoy!

The food is great at Manuela. No question about that, but besides great food, there’s a cool, easy vibe in the bar, dining room and outdoor patio.

Manuela’s casual atmosphere was created by chef Wes Whitsell. The restaurant, like his look, is country-urban. His t-shirt, jeans, a turned backwards baseball cap and an apron fits easily with his hip version of a country café and bar, LA style. Outside the restaurant, he built an organic herb and produce garden to supply the kitchen. He left room for a chicken coop, with a dozen+ chickens whose eggs are served in the restaurant.


Diners make reservations in advance or decide to stop by on the spur of the moment. A lot of people see Manuela as they walk between the galleries at the Hauser & Wirth art complex on East 3rd Street between South Santa Fe and South Alameda Streets. There’s art inside the restaurant as well. In fact, yes, that is a large Mark Bradford canvas in the dining room. The aerial view of Hollywood is for sale so while you eat, you can buy the art.


With as many as fifty items divided between Raw, Cured & PickledSupper and Vegetables, the food at Manuela draws on many traditions but the beating heart of the menu is country. Pimento cheese, country ham, chow-chow, biscuits, deviled eggs, cast iron cornbread, hushpuppies, collard greens, pork sliders, fries and mashed potatoes with gravy are a through line. If you had a picnic, you would do very well to bring Whitsell’s food to your afternoon at the beach. 


This is country cooking with healthy, quality ingredients and fine dining plating. Having lived in Lebanon and France and cooked in some of LA’s most noteworthy restaurants (Gjelina, Blair’s and Osteria La Buca), Whitsell informs his cooking with his superior palate. Take a bite of almost any dish and you’ll experience a pairing of savory, sweet and heat. He cultivates relationships with farmers, dairies, fishermen and ranchers. Follow him on Instagram (manueladtla) and you’ll see how much he loves high quality ingredients and how far he will go to procure them.


When I had a tasting, I ordered his olive oil fried duck egg with melted ramps and anchovy aioli on grilled sourdough. The bottom of the egg had a thin crust, the bright yellow, sunny side quivered. Cutting into the center of the egg released a torrent of yolk that shared its sweetness with the ramps and soaked into the grilled bread.


Ask for the grilled avocado, which you will definitely want to do, and marvel at the beauty of a single, perfectly ripe avocado arriving on a plate, cut in half with grill marks on the soft flesh. The avocado meat has been flavored with crème fraiche, sea salt and Aleppo chili. One mouthful and you’ll give yourself over to its savory tasting of creaminess and heat.

Whitsell elevates familiar dishes and ingredients by adding an unexpected element. He takes the comfort-food-familiar flavors of a baked potato, sour cream and chives to another level when he flavors fingerling potatoes with freshly grated horseradish, crème fraiche and dill. 

He is a master of meat (chicken, elk, pork ribs), seafood (Santa Barbara spot prawns, ahi tuna, California king salmon) and vegetables (beans, peas, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, kale and potatoes). Jars and crocks line the kitchen shelves because he loves pickling and fermenting.  He serves plates of pickled vegetables and uses fermented elements (jalapeno, mustard seeds, radicchio) to spice up his dishes. 


Rough textured greens like collards and Savoy cabbage that most chefs roast or boil, Whitsell serves raw. He massages them with kosher salt to coax a softness from their otherwise stiff leaves. To make his Cole slaw, he puts shredded savoy cabbage leaves into a bowl and sprinkles on kosher salt. His fingers go to work, pressing and squeezing the leaves together with the firmness of a Swedish masseuse. In a matter of minutes, those stress-stiffened leaves have relaxed enough to accept some friendly seasoning.  He adds a sprinkling of red onions, pickled jalapenos and mustard seeds, shredded carrots and a hit of apple cider vinegar. Delicious.

The skillet and the bubbles

For his video, Whitsell shows the step-by-step process for making crispy fried chicken. His favorite and mine. 

Two essentials to making great fried chicken: using a heavy duty cast iron pan (and, in my opinion, a carbon steel pan made by de Buyer) and getting the cooking oil to the correct temperature.

The tricky part of the process is cooking the chicken not too fast and not too slow. If the oil is too hot, then the outside will be crispy and the inside will be uncooked. That is why Whitsell recommends making a test piece to help gauge the heat and the time it takes to cook the chicken properly. 


Pour 1” of oil into the skillet, which should reach half way up the side of the chicken pieces. Heat for about 5 minutes. When the test piece is placed in the oil, the bubbles should come up the sides but not over the top. If the bubbles envelop the piece, the oil is too hot. On the video, Whitsell shows exactly the bubbles he looks for.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Spicy Honey Butter

There are many secrets to his recipe. Most importantly, brine the chicken and then marinate the pieces afterwards in buttermilk. 

A cook's tip: if buttermilk is not available, you can make a substitute by measuring out a 1/4 cup of milk or half and half and adding a teaspoon of white vinegar. Allow to sit 15 minutes. The milk will curdle. Add the curdled milk to the amount of milk you need. Mix, refrigerate and use as the marinade. 

Whitsell prefers on-the-bone dark meat to breast meat.

When you make the brine, it should taste like ocean water.

Given the time it takes to brine and dry the chicken in the refrigerator, do all the prep a day or two ahead. Bread and fry the chicken just before serving.

For Whitsell, quality ingredients are essential. That’s why he tracks down Sonoma flour from Grist and Toll, a local mill, and organic buttermilk from Clover Sonoma because he likes their taste and believes they are healthier.


Lower each chicken piece into the pan slowly to avoid hot oil splatters.

Make sure there is a lot of space between the pieces in the frying pan and move the pieces around as they cook for even browning. Work in batches.

Brining & Drying Timeovernight - 2 nights

Prep Time: 15 minutes if using pre-cut chicken, 30 minutes if cutting up a whole chicken

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Resting Time10 - 15 minutes

Total Time: 45 - 65 minutes + Brining/Drying Time: overnight - 2 nights

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 whole chicken or 1 whole chicken cut up, washed, pat dried

¼ cup kosher salt (for brine) + 2 tablespoons (for the flour dredge)

2 cups buttermilk, preferably from Clover Sonoma

2 cups all-purpose white flour or,  preferably, Sonora flour milled by Grist and Toll

1 teaspoon freshly ground cracked black pepper

4-6 cups peanut oil depending on size of cast iron pan

Directions

Brine whole chicken overnight or 6 hours for cut up chicken.

Remove from brine, pat dry. 

If using a whole chicken, after brining, cut off legs, thighs and wings. Filet the breasts off the bones and cut each breast in half. Wash and pat dry each piece. Reserve the bones to make stock or freeze if not using immediately.

Lay the chicken pieces skin side up on a piece of parchment or non-stick paper on the bottom of a cooking pan or baking sheet. Do not cover. Refrigerate overnight.

Mix together flour, kosher salt and freshly ground, cracked black pepper. 

Put 1 inch of oil into the cast iron or carbon steel pan. The oil should reach half way up the chicken pieces. If needed, add more oil. Place on a medium to a medium-high heat for about five minutes.

Place the chicken pieces into the buttermilk or work in batches.

Take one piece of chicken at a time out of the buttermilk. Shake to remove excess liquid. 

Place each piece into the seasoned flour. Pat seasoned flour over the entire surface, making sure all the meat is covered. 

Shake each piece to remove excess flour. Lay onto a clean cooking tray or baking sheet. 


As the dredging progresses, “flakes” will appear in the flour. That is a good thing. The flakes will add crispiness to the chicken.

Use one piece of chicken to test the oil’s temperature. Chef Whitsell suggests using a quarter of a breast. 

As you slowly lower the test piece into the oil, the bubbles will rise up onto the chicken. The bubbles should not envelop the piece. If that is what happens, lower the heat a small amount. 

Once you have browned the test piece successfully, start frying your chicken.

As you add pieces to the pan, the temperature of the oil will lower. Raise the heat to compensate. 

Work in batches. Don’t crowd the pieces. Leave an inch or two between each piece and the sides of the pan so they cook evenly.

As the pieces are frying, move them around in the skillet for even cooking. Be careful not to knock off any of the crust.

Roughly speaking, each side should brown and cook through in 5-6 minutes, so that’s a total cooking time of 10-12 minutes.

After the pieces are browned and cooked through, let the chicken pieces drain on a wire rack, which is on top of a baking sheet for easy clean up.


The chicken should rest uncovered 10-15 minutes so all the oil drains off and the juices collect back inside.

Spicy Honey Butter

As Whitsell says, “As if fried chicken wasn’t rich enough,” he adds a layer of sweet-heat by drizzling spicy honey butter on each piece.
While the chicken is resting, make the honey butter.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

½ stick sweet butter

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large thyme sprig

3 whole dried cayenne peppers

Directions

Drizzle honey onto sweet butter in a small skillet over low heat. Season with salt, dried thyme and cayenne pepper.

Stir frequently to prevent burning.

Just before serving, pour melted honey butter over chicken pieces.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Best Tasting Dessert You Will Ever Make - Challah Bread Pudding Cake

I love challah, the egg bread traditionally eaten on Fridays for Jewish shabbat. But our family never finishes the entire loaf. The bread is so good, I looked for other ways to enjoy it.


Challah makes great French toast. A slice of dense challah absorbs the frothy egg and milk and still retains it shape. Cooked on a hot carbon steel pan with a pat of butter, the outside gets crusty as the inside stays custard-moist. A drizzle of warm maple syrup on top and we have a delicious breakfast.

So leftover challah is not a bad thing. It's a good thing.

The French toast got me thinking. How else could I use challah? I always loved bread pudding. So why not challah bread pudding?

I could have made the dessert in small cups, but I like to make bread pudding as a cake. The result was spectacular. The easy-to-make dessert is perfect for dinner parties, Oscar watching parties, Super Bowl Sunday, birthdays and anniversaries.

Challah Bread Pudding Cake

At our neighborhood bakery, a full-sized challah loaf weighs 24 ounces. The recipe uses half a loaf to make enough for 8-10 people. If you need to make more for a party, the recipe can be easily doubled or tripled. Whatever you need.



The challah should be day old or even a week old. If you aren't going to make the bread pudding cake for awhile, place the challah into an airtight bag and freeze for up to two months. When defrosting, brush off any ice crystals that may have accumulated on the bread.

For heavy cream, I prefer to use Trader Joe's because there are no additives. The heavy cream I see in markets, even ones that are high-end, has chemicals added.

Buy good quality chocolate without flavorings or nuts. Trader Joe's sells one pound bars of Belgium chocolate that are good. After opening the package, keep unrefrigerated in a sealed bag for freshness. If the chocolate turns chalky, discard.

Use one 9" round baking pan at least 3" tall or two 6" baking pans at least 3" tall. Do not use a spring form pan because it will leak during baking.



The baking pan needs to be at least 1" taller than the amount of batter because the cake will rise as it cooks.

Freezing the buttered, parchment lined baking pan for 15 minutes helps when you remove the cake from the pan after baking. 

So the challah pieces do not get mushy, as quickly as the toasted bread is coated with the custard, pour the mixture into the baking pan. 

Serves 8-10

Time to prepare 30 minutes

Time to bake 60-75 minutes depending on the size of the baking pan and the oven

Ingredients

12 ounces day old challah, torn apart into 2" pieces
1 tablespoon sweet (unsalted) butter
4 eggs
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 pint heavy cream, preferably Trader Joe's 
1 cup dark chocolate at least 60% cacao, finely chopped
½ cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped (optional)
¼ cup powdered sugar 
½ cup shaved dark chocolate 

Directions

Preheat oven 350 F.

Place torn up challah pieces on a baking tray. Place in oven for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.


Place the baking pan on a piece of parchment paper, trace the shape of the pan with a pencil and use scissors to cut the parchment paper to size.

Melt butter. Using a pastry brush, paint the bottom and sides of the pan(s) with the melted butter. 

Place parchment paper round(s) onto the bottom of the baking pan. Paint the top of the parchment paper. Place baking pan with parchment paper in freezer for at least 15 minutes.



In a large bowl, with a whisk mix together eggs and sugar. Add heavy cream. Mix well. Add chopped chocolate. Add chopped almonds (optional). Mix together and add toasted challah pieces. Toss well to coat.

Pour into the buttered pan with parchment paper and place in to 350 F pre-heated oven.

Bake 45-60 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.



As the cake cools, it will shrink away from the sides of the pan. 

Place your hand over the top, flip over and remove the cake. Flip over so the parchment paper is on the bottom and place on the wire rack.

Once cooled, the cake can be placed in plastic wrap and an airtight plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen. Refrigerated the cake will keep fresh for 2 days. The cake can be kept frozen for up to a month.



Before serving, preheat oven 250 F, remove the parchment paper, place on a baking sheet, place into oven for fifteen minutes. Remove and dust with shaved chocolate and powdered sugar.

Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Baking - Sfogliatella - the Best Italian Pastry You Can’t Pronounce

Growing up in Los Angeles, and this was many years ago, the closest I got to an Italian meal was opening a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs. Only when I moved to Providence to teach at Rhode Island College did I experience authentic Italian cuisine. Living close to Federal Hill, the historic center of the city’s Italian community, I had easy access to Italian delis that imported cheeses, pastas and charcuterie directly from Italy. Every block had a small bakery making cakes, pies, cookies, breads and pastries according to recipes handed down for generations.

I discovered cannoli filled with ricotta cheese studded with flakes of bittersweet chocolate. Twice baked biscotti with almonds. Pastry cream filled zeppole, a fat doughnut of sugared dough, baked or deep fried. I loved them all, but my favorite was a seashell shaped pastry, the deliciously crisp sfogliatella.
What makes this Tuscan pastry so famous is a crunchy flakiness outside and a sturdy, sweet ricotta cheese filling inside. Imagine the best croissant with a thick custardy filling.  And, by the way, the “g” is silent, so sfogliatella is pronounced “sfo-li-a-tella.”

Holiday baking

Some recipes are best saved for the holidays or special occasions when helping hands are available to join in the cooking. Making tamales on your own isn’t easy, but at holidays when you are joined by friends and family, the repetitive work becomes social and fun. The same for making Chinese dumplings filled with savory ground pork and spices.

For me, I’m making sfogliatelle with my family. Happily the pastry can be made in stages, so the work can be spread out over several days. The dough and ricotta filling can be made on separate days and refrigerated. Assembling the sfogliatelle can be saved for yet another day. And, the completed, unbaked pastries can be kept in the freezer for months, available on a moment’s notice to brighten an afternoon tea break or a weekend dinner party.

Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez

For years I searched for an easy-to-follow recipe without success. When I was told that Executive Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez would demonstrate making sfogliatelle in his kitchen at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, I jumped at the opportunity.
Born in Buenos Aires, Fernandez is a worldly student of South American, French and Italian cuisine. His pastries have been served at some of the world’s most elegant hotels, the Park Hyatt, the Marriott Plaza, the Fontainebleau and now the Four Seasons. Before we met, I admired his work on Instagram. His elegantly beautiful pastries are amazing.
Making sfogliatelle requires patience, muscle work and an attention to details. Demonstrating how to make sfogliatelle for the YouTube video on Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, the very affable Fernandez showed how the process can be fun. I enjoyed the passion he puts into baking. He is an artist with a soul and a good sense of humor. While he worked, he filled my head with technical details about the art of baking and fed me samples that put me into culinary heaven.

Sfogliatelle

All-purpose flour could be used, but that would be a mistake. Fernandez uses bread flour because its higher gluten strength gives the dough more elasticity. That allows the dough to be worked repeatedly to create sfogliatelle’s characteristic flaky layers.

In the video, Fernandez uses a recipe to make 50 sfogliatelle. Not that he bakes that many at one time. He freezes the unbaked pastries, taking out each morning only the number he needs for the hotel’s breakfast service. Freezing does not diminish the quality of the sfogliatella which are freshly baked before serving.

To make his sfogliatelle, Fernandez includes semolina flour in the dough to add color and texture. He also uses semolina in the filling because that is a traditional ingredient and because Semolina gives the filling density as well as its characteristic yellow color. By contrast, pastry cream which is not as dense would melt when the sfogliatelle are baked in a hot oven.

Fernandez uses a room-sized Rondomat sheeter machine to flatten and stretch the dough. “Little by little,” as he says in the video, the dough softens and thins. At home you will use a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease. Have friends help with the process or take breaks. If you want to rest, place a damp kitchen towel over the dough.

Creating multiple layers gives the pastry its distinctive crispy, flaky quality. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. The result is worth the effort.

If you do not have a small rolling pin, pick up a ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6” in length from a lumber yard or hardware store. When you get home, sand the dowel and treat with a light film of safflower oil. Dry and clean before using.
Special equipment

2 large, sturdy rolling pins

1 small rolling pin or ½ - ¾ ” dowel, 5-6 long

Wooden spoon

Wire whisk

A large work surface

A heavy duty electric mixer

1 metal ring, 3 ½” 4 in diameter, the ring of a small spring-form pan will do nicely

Parchment paper or Silpat sheets

Yield: 10 -12 sfogliatelle

Time: 4 hours + refrigeration overnight for the dough

The Dough

Sfogliatelle are famous for being deliciously crisp. Three things create that wonderful quality, a dozen+ paper thin layers of dough with fat between the layers and using bread flour with more gluten to create thin, stretchable sheets of dough.  

For the fat, unsalted butter can be used, but Fernandez recommends an equal mix of unsalted butter and Sweetex Z or Crisco because butter melts too easily. Please note that Sweetex is an artificially sweetened fat. Fernandez uses a different product, Sweetex Z which has zero trans fats.

Even though fat is essential to making the sfogliatelle's layers crisp, in the heat of a 400F oven, the fat all but disappears.

Ingredients for dough

4 cups bread flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 cup + 1 tablespoon water
4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature or 2 cups unsalted butter + 2 cups Crisco or Sweetex Z
½ cup all-purpose flour for dredging when assembling the sfogliatelle
¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting before serving
Ingredients for ricotta filling

2 ½ cups whole milk
½ rounded tablespoon fresh orange zest, avoiding all the bitter white pith
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups semolina
5 egg yolks
1 ¾ cups cow’s milk ricotta cheese

Directions

Before making the dough, whip the unsalted butter or unsalted butter and Crisco or Sweetex Z in a mixer for ten minutes using the paddle attachment so it is very soft and fluffy. Use at room temperature.

Making dough with layers using a simple fold

In a mixer fitted with a hook, combine the two flours, salt and honey. Blend on a low speed to mix well, then slowly add water. Continue blending on a low speed about 10 minutes. Increase the speed and blend another 2 minutes.
Touch the dough in the bowl of the mixer. If it feels too dry, add a small amount of water. Turn on the mixer and incorporate the water. Be careful not to add too much water. If the dough becomes soggy, you cannot add more flour. 

Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl to a work surface. Work the dough with your fingers until it is in the shape of a fat log. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes on the counter. Do not refrigerate.

After resting, remove the plastic wrap. Dust the work surface with bread flour and position the log in front of you, the long way. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough away from your body. The log of dough will flatten and elongate.

To create layers, fold 1/3 of the dough from the end closest to you onto the middle. Fold the other 1/3 from the opposite end on top of the first fold. This is called a “simple fold.”

Roll out the dough. Flip the dough over and rotate it clockwise a quarter turn. Press down on the folded dough with your hands. Roll out the dough again. Allow the dough to relax a minute or two before making the next simple fold.

After folding, rolling out, flipping and rotating the dough 15 times, you will have created dozens and dozens of delicate layers. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel. The dough needs to rest and so do you. Take 10 minutes and have a cup of tea.

Making fat dough thin

Now that you have created layers and made the dough softer, the dough needs to become thinner.

Fernandez uses a Rondomat dough sheeter. He can handle a large recipe because the mechanical rollers do the physical work of rolling out the dough into a sheet almost thirty feet long. In your kitchen, you will use a rolling pin and a lot of upper body strength. But even though you are using a smaller recipe, your sheet will still be quite large. As you roll and thin the dough, it will spread in length and width so clear your counter for this step. You will need the space.

Sprinkle bread flour on the work surface. Make a simple fold one time, then roll out the dough. Because the sheet will become too large for the work space, you will wrap the dough around the second rolling pin.

Once you have rolled out all the dough and accumulated it on the second rolling pin, check the thickness. If it is not yet paper thin, roll the dough out again. You may have to do this step several times until the dough is paper thin. Once all of the paper thin dough has accumulated on the second rolling pin, you are ready for the next step.

Adding fat for crispness

In order to create croissant-like flaky layers, a fat is required. Using your hands, apply a thin film of room temperature butter or the mixture of butter-Crisco or Sweetex Z on the work surface.
Place the rolling pin with the sheet of dough on the back of the work area.

Keeping the sheet attached to the rolling pin, pull forward on the dough and lay a length of the unbuttered sheet on the work surface. Use a sharp knife to trim off and discard the rounded end of the dough so the edge facing you is square.

Spread a thin layer of fat onto the sheet of dough on the work surface.

Start a new roll. As Fernandez shows in the video, use your fingers to lift the end of the buttered dough off the work surface and roll it away from you.

To unwind another length of dough from the rolling pin, lift the roll of buttered dough and bring it back toward you.

Continue that process, pulling dough from the rolling pin onto the work surface, spreading on fat and adding that length to the buttered roll, until you have buttered all the dough.

As you create the buttered roll, the ends will become untidy. No worries. You will trim those later.
When you have applied fat to all of the dough, the roll will be in the shape of a large log. Give the entire log a final coat of fat, seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Ricotta Filling

You can make the sweetened ricotta filling and refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to three days until you are ready to assemble the sfogliatelle.

Directions

Combine whole milk and white sugar in a pan over low heat. Whisk to combine. Add orange zest. Increase the heat.
When the mixture boils, add semolina all at once and whisk well. The mixture will thicken quickly. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently to combine. Avoid burning.

Switch to a wooden spoon when the filling becomes paste-like. Continue stirring. Reduce heat. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use a spatula to transfer the thickened mixture into the mixer bowl. Be certain to scrape off all of the batter that has accumulated on the sides and bottom. Allow to cool for a minute.

On the mixer, use the paddle attachment to aerate the filling. Run the mixer at a low speed for a minute. Increase the speed and run for another 2 minutes.
To prevent splattering, before adding the egg yolks, stop the mixer and lower the bowl.  Add yolks. Change the mixer speed to low. Mix for a minute. Increase the speed and run another 2 minutes.

Once the filling is creamy, use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and incorporate all of the mixture. Run the mixer again at higher speed.

Add ricotta using the low speed and, once incorporated, increase the mixer speed to high. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again for 10 minutes on medium to aerate the filling.

Once the filling is creamy, allow to cool. If not using immediately, place in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

Assembly

When you make the individual sfogliatella, work in batches of four. Plastic wrap and refrigerate the other sfogliatelle so the fat doesn’t soften.

Organize an assembly line on the counter with the four sfogliatelle rounds, the bowl of ricotta filling, the small rolling pin, the metal ring, a large spoon and all-purpose flour in a bowl.

The mini-rolling pin makes flattening out the dough faster and easier but if one is not available, use your fingers to stretch out the dough.

Directions for assembly

Preheat oven to 400F.

Remove the buttered dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.

Lightly flour the work surface. Use your hands to press, stretch, roll and reshape the log. Roll the log back and forth and squeeze with your hands, keeping the shape round until the diameter is reduced to 2 ½”.

Using a sharp chefs knife, remove 1” of the uneven dough on both ends and discard. Cut the log into ½” thick rounds.  At this point, the slices can be plastic wrapped, refrigerated and stored for a day or two.

Working with one piece at a time, shape the dough into a round with your fingers and lightly dredge in the all-purpose flour.
Place the dough on the work surface. Use the small rolling pin to flatten the dough until it is half again as large as it was. If the layers come apart, press them back together.
Adding the filling is easy. Use your fingers to soften and slightly stretch the middle of the dough. Make a circle with your thumb and index finger. Lay the thin round of dough over the opening between your thumb and finger. Create a cone shape by gently pressing the center of the dough into that opening.
Spoon two large tablespoons of ricotta filling into the cone and center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges of the dough together and create a conch-shell shape. Lay the sfogliatella on the work surface.

Use the metal ring to trim the ragged front edge of the dough.
Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the sfogliatelle on the sheet pan with ½” spacing between them.

Baking

If you want to save any of the sfogliatelle for later use, refrigerate or freeze them as described below.

Directions for baking

If serving right away, place the parchment paper covered sheet pan in the preheated 400F oven and bake 35 minutes, checking that the sfogliatelle brown but do not burn.
Allow to cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Refrigerating and Freezing

If reserving for use within 72 hours, keep the sfogliatelle on the parchment paper covered sheet pan. Lay another parchment paper on top and seal the sheet pan in a plastic bag.  Place in refrigerator.  Remove before serving and bake as directed above.

If reserving for even later use, place the plastic bag covered tray with sfogliatelle into the freezer. Once frozen, remove the sheet pan. Put the frozen sfogliatella into an airtight bag. They will keep up to six months in the freezer.

Baking After Freezing

Remove from the freezer the number of sfogliatelle you want to bake.

Place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, cover with parchment paper and seal in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for one day so the sfogliatelle defrost slowly.

The next day, bake as described above.


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