Thursday, November 27, 2008

A few minutes of Thanksgiving downtime with an Apple and Prune Tart.

Given that I've just received a few minutes of Thanksgiving downtime after the baking of my apple and prune tart, I thought I'd post a quick picture and the recipe for this delicious baby!

Mmm, rustic and warming. Perfect for the Thanksgiving dessert table!

Apple and Prune Tart

For pastry dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

For filling
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons Calvados
1 cup packed pitted prunes (7 oz), halved
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 pounds tart green apples
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup nut pieces, toasted

1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Make dough:
Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a work surface. Divide dough into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together with pastry scraper. Press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make filling:
Simmer water, Calvados, and prunes, uncovered, until most of liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Stir together cinnamon, cloves, 2 tablespoons flour, and 1/2 cup sugar.

Peel and core apples and cut into 1/2-inch wedges. Halve wedges crosswise and toss with cinnamon mixture. Add lemon juice and toss to coat.

Finely grind walnuts with remaining 3 tablespoons flour and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor.

Assemble and bake tart:
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 14- by 18-inch oval. Roll dough loosely onto floured rolling pin and unroll onto a large buttered baking sheet. Sprinkle walnut mixture over pastry, leaving a 2 1/2- to 3-inch border.

Stir stewed prunes into apple mixture and spoon over walnut mixture, evenly tucking prunes between apple pieces. Turn edge of dough over fruit to form pleats. Brush top of dough with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake tart, loosely covered with foil, in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust and fruit are golden and juices are bubbling, about 30 minutes more. Cool tart on baking sheet on a rack at least 20 minutes before serving.

Now, back to the madness, such as it is. I still have pumpkin butter to make!

P.S. Did anyone else see the Rick Roll they pulled in the Macy's Parade? I think it's a bit late for the meme, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. ^_^


Monday, November 24, 2008

Lubkuchen: Time to put that candied peel to work!

I don't know where I first had the thought to start baking lebkuchen. All I recall is that a few years ago I just had to bake them. It probably had something to do with my springerle fixation and wanting to become more versed in the Christmas baking of the Old World. Those Germans really know their sweets! ^_^

Well, regardless of where the impulse originated, I'm certainly glad it did, as these cookies are Christmas cookies incarnate! Plus they're made with the candied citrus peel I told you about yesterday! (double score!)

Lebkuchen are essentially a soft, German spice cookie (one among many). The base is a nut flour mixture, sweetened with honey and flavored with cinnamon, clove, ginger, and candied citrus peel. Originating in Franconia, Germany, the lebkuchen has had a place in traditional German Christmas celebration since the late 13th century. So the cookies have been around for over 700 years, they gotta be winners with that kind of record!

The recipe isn't hard, and is pretty straight forward. It is also fairly traditional from the sources I've looked at, and the lebkuchen I've tasted in the past. The only real part where I deviate from tradition is that in traditional lebkuchen, you place the cookie dough balls onto oblaten, a thin wafer cookie, which prevents them from cementing themselves to the pan. I've been unable to find small oblaten anywhere but online, and I'm not really keen on having to have them shipped every time I want lebkuchen. Thus I just bake mine on a parchment paper, which works beautifully. You could also do as the recipe suggests and use rice paper.


For nut flour
3/4 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 oz)
3/4 cup sliced almonds (2 1/2 oz)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

For cookies
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup mild honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped fine-quality mixed candied fruit such as citron, orange, and lemon
4 (11 1/2- by 8 1/4-inch) sheets edible rice paper, cut with scissors into 32 (2 1/2-inch) rounds (optional)

For icing

2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons water

Make nut flour:
Finely grind nuts with remaining nut flour ingredients in a food processor.

Make dough:
Beat together brown sugar, honey, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in nut flour at low speed until just blended, then stir in candied fruit.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange rice-paper rounds, shiny sides down, on 2 large baking sheets. Roll level 2-tablespoon amounts of dough into balls with dampened hands, then put 1 on each paper round and flatten slightly (dough will spread to cover paper during baking).

Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until surface no longer appears wet, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.

Ice cookies:
Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl, then stir in water until smooth. Evenly brush tops of cooled cookies with icing. Let icing set, about 1 hour.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Making Candied Cirtus Peel for Lebkuchen

I realized a few days ago that I really haven't done much in the way of Thanksgiving/Christmas/Holiday cookie baking yet. Sure I've done some springerle (and have much yet to bake), but I don't feel like I've been baking the to speak. Thus it was with this in mind that I decided to bake one of my favorite Old World Christmas cookies...Lebkuchen. The only problem, however, was that as hard as I tried, I just could not find any candied orange or lemon peel. Not even the chep, cloyingly sweet, jellified stuff. Oh sure, I found plenty of tubs of premixed stuff. You know the kind, with the atomic green "cherries" you find in cheap fruitcake.

I think not. "I shan't," I declared, "sully the good name of lebkuchen with such a thing." Nor, however, could I go without. So I decided, with the help from some friends at BakeSpace, it was time to take these lebkuchen to the next level with homemade citrus peel!

I know what you're thinking, I must be crazy to first make an ingredient from scratch to the be added to another recipe. Maybe I am crazy, but believe me when I tell you that it's so simple that you will never again resort to buying candied peel.

You need a mere three ingredients to make candied citrus peel. Water, sugar, and your citrus peel of choice. Three simple ingredients that, when combined alchemically, yield this shimmering, sweet and slightly bitter, but always elegant treat.

Candied Orange and Lemon Peel

The peel of 2 oranges (including pith), cut into 1/4 inch strips
The peel of 3 lemons (including pith), cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water

Take your peels and put them into a large sauce pan and cover with water and het on high. Let boil 20 minutes. Drain.

In another pan, combine sugar and 1 cup water over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Heat on high until the syrup reaches 230º F. Add the peels, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain.

Separate pieces on a wire rack, sprinkle with more sugar. Let dry for several hours. Store in a cool, dry place.

What about the lebkuchen, you ask? You'll just have to wait until tomorrow for that tasty conclusion. ^_^

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cranberry and Apple Relish

Every year we go and enjoy Thanksgiving with some neighbors of ours, and have done so for as long as I can remember. And also for as long as I can remember, the deep rouge cylinder accompanied the turkey at the table. Yes, ridges and all, on its side sliced up like an analogue to the turkey...the cranberry sauce.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the red cylinder is okay, and has it's place in the kitchen (stir some into your oatmeal with some cinnamon, über délicieux!), but just not at the Thanksgiving table. Try telling that to my family or our friends. Thus it was that a few years ago I decided to try and show them the light and bring to Thanksgiving dinner real, honest to god, homemade, from scratch, cranberry sauce! was a flop. No one touched it, except for a pity nibble from Rita. To ad insult to insult, I was actually ridiculed for making it myself. Joking comments along the lines of, "Traditional cranberry sauce not good enough for ya?" and so forth. I tried again the next year, but yielded similar results. I have therefor decided that though this year I will again make my own sauce for Thanksgiving, I'll just keep it at home, private reserve, if you will.

Most recipes I've tried over the years involve cranberries, water, a lot of sugar and varying spices. All have been either simmered or baked and yield a candy-like sauce that though might good, is also very sweet and often heavy on the palate. I was therefor pleasantly surprised when I found and made this recipe for a cranberry-pear relish on

The relish is completely raw and is simply thrown together in a food processor, so it's fast and easy. I also find that the rawness makes the relish lighter in the mouth than its cooked counterparts. It strikes me as a grown-up variation on the Thanksgiving classic, being nicely balanced with the sweetness of the pear (well, I actually used an apple because that's what I had on hand), the acidity from the orange juice, tartness from the cranberries, and bitterness from the orange peel and pith (yes, you literally throw in an entire orange). It also uses only a half cup of sugar, versus to the one or more cups in previous recipes I tried. I actually used less than that and sill found it plenty sweet to ward off the tartness, especially after a day in the fridge.

Cranberry-Pear (or Apple) Relish
via Food Network, all credit to them for a wonderful recipe

1 small navel orange
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 Bartlett pear or an apple, cored and cut into large chunks
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch kosher salt
3 tablespoons pecans or other nut, toasted and coarsely chopped

Wash and dry the orange. Cut the orange into small wedges, including the peel, and put in a food processor. Add the cranberries, pear, sugar, and salt. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Just before serving, stir in the pecans.

On a related note, I'd like to introduce the newest member of Cogito new Canon SX10 IS!

With his help, I hope to bring you ever tastier blog posts through ever more delicious photography.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cooking with Alicia & Annie: Amish Shoofly Tart

After taking the month of October off from blogging (no reason, really, just didn't feel inspired to type), I have been raised from the post-Halloween grave to blog once again! What has roused me, you ask? It was none other than Cooking with Alicia & Annie's November Blog Event!

The challenge: Choose a recipe from either Alicia or Annie's recipe sites, make it, shoot it, and blog it.

The stakes: The Holiday Baker's Bundle, a collection of collapsible bowls, measuring cups, cookie cutters, etc.

...Bring it on!

I chose the take another crack at the odd-ball Amish Shoofly Pie, a molasses pie of Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch origin. I've tried making this simple dessert before, and had mixed results. The pie was overall good, but the crust (having been par baked before adding the filling) came out, shall we say, "over-caramelized," i.e. burnt.

Now it was time for Round 2, and this time I'd call it a sweet success!

I stayed true to the original recipe except for two things: First, I cut the recipe in half to make one pie, rather than two. Second, I was aching to try my new tart pan, so in lieu of a pie pan, a tart pan it was. I also reduced the baking temps a bit, same with the time.

Amish Shoofly Tart

Crumb Mixture
1 c. flour
6 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. hot water
1/2 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in the hot water
1 (unbaked) 11" tart crust

Mix crumb ingredients together until crumbs are formed. In separate bowl, mix syrup ingredients together. Pour the syrup into the tart shell, then top with crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 45 more minutes, until the crust is, as Alton Brown would say, golden brown and delicious.

Cool completely before cutting.

If you've never tried shoofly pie, the flavor can be hard to describe. As I ate it, I couldn't help but think that I had tasted this somewhere before, but where? Then it hit me! Shoofly pie tastes remarkably like a S'mores Pop-Tart, only much better!