Saturday, May 31, 2008

Marie, the baguettes! (name that movie)

I don't know anyone who doesn't love baguettes (and if you don't, just be quiet about it). Honestly, that crisp crackly crust and meltingly soft insides--especially if you have some nice sharp cheese to go with it...just doesn't get any better than that. Plus there's only four ingredients, and there's something very magical about that. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. Alchemy, I tell you.

I've tried a number of baguette recipes, and this one (my own hodge-podge between Julia Child and Williams-Sonoma Breads) is a winner. You can have fresh baguettes in about 2 hours with a minimum of steps (and let me tell you, it takes all day to make it the way Julia describes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although she cut it down considerably in subsequent years. Trust me, I've done it all). Although I recommend MTAOFC's description of how to fold and roll the dough (more on that later).

In theory, you should have baguette pans. But if you don't--like me--it works just fine. So I'm giving non-baguette pan instructions, which also means you don't have towels getting floury. Oh, and we're not going to hang them in floured sacks either. Or even use a rolling pin! And I'm assuming you're using an electric stand mixer (like a KitchenAid, and if you don't have one, it's worth the money. And I'm not just saying that because Neil interned there--although he did build ours himself on an intern field trip. Cool, eh?)
And yes, I know this is long, but Julia Child takes like 25 pages to explain it (I'm not exaggerating) so I think you're getting off easy, okay?

Ingredients (for four loaves. Can easily be cut in half)

5-5 1/2 c. flour
2 t. salt
2 1/4 t. quick-rise yeast
2 c. lukewarm water (110 F)
1 egg white beaten with pinch of salt, for glaze

In the mixer bowl, combine four cups of the flour with the salt, yeast, and water. Stir until blended, and allow dough to knead in the mixer for about ten minutes. Add flour as needed so that the end dough is elastic and doesn't stick to the sides, although it will still be soft.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for one minute. Form into a ball, and transfer into a clean (I use Pyrex so it doesn't flavor the dough) bowl. At this stage, I also lightly grease the bowl so the dough doesn't adhere. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (45-60 minutes).

Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and knead briefly (about 30 seconds). Return to bowl for second rise, 20-30 minutes (until doubled). Cover again with plastic wrap.

Punch dough down and divide into equal parts (4 for the whole recipe, 2 if you halved it). Roll into balls and let rest for five minutes. Grease a nonstick cookie sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.

On your floured surface, take each ball of dough and flatten it into a rectangle. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Fold into thirds like a letter, and begin rolling the dough into a long rope about 16 inches long. Okay, now here's where Julia Child really comes in! Most cookbooks will just rope the dough at this stage, but I like to work it a bit more to really get some good gluten and bubble action going. In fact, as you flatten the dough you should be hearing teeny bubbles pop. In any case, as I am rolling the dough into a rope, I find that it tends to flatten out. This is good! Simply pinch up the sides, folding it over back into a rope. Continually flattening and then smashing back into a rope incorporates air back into the dough, which is really important for the formation of a light, airy interior. I find that as I am transitioning the dough from the "letter" to the "rope" I fold and smash about 3 times.

Once the dough is in a 16-inch snake, place it on the cookie sheet. Allow to rise for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 450 F. When the oven is preheated, take your sharpest knife and make three 1/4 inch deep diagonal cuts on the top of the bread, allowing the dough to puff out from its gluten cloak as it bakes.

At this point, WS says to put a pan of boiling water on the floor of the preheated oven under the bread. This sounds dangerous to me, since I can imagine myself spilling boiling water everywhere, so I go with a modified Julia Child approach--I put the baguettes in, then quickly throw 1/4 c. of steaming water into the bottom of the oven, then slam the door shut. LEAVE THE DOOR SHUT while the bread bakes for about 20 minutes.

And then enjoy.

I'm going back to the kitchen. There's a baguette waiting for me. And some cheese. And grapes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cranapple Pie

I'm kind of failing on the Recipe Week front, especially in the area of balanced menus. However, I do have a fantastically delicious pie to share!

This was going to be an apple pie, until I realized I didn't have enough apples. It's a bit improvised, therefore, and could probably stand some more fine-tuning and improvisation. But if you don't feel comfortable playing around, this pie is pretty darn tasty--and fairly easy--as it is.

Pie Crust


2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup shortening, chilled
8 - 10 Tbsp ice cold water


Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Gently cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized. Sprinkle 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of the cold water over flour mixture, tossing lightly with a fork. Add the remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork, and press to the side of the bowl until all is moistened.

Divide dough in half, and gently pat into 2 lightly flattened balls. (Don't overwork your dough at this point!) Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.



3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
6 cups baking apples (around 5 apples)
1 1/2 cups frozen cranberries
2 Tbsp margarine or butter, cut up

2-3 Tbsp milk


Preheat oven to 425°F. Peel, core, and thinly slice apples.

In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Add apples and toss to coat. Transfer apple mixture to a large pot over medium heat; simmer, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes, until apples are softening. Add granulated sugar and cranberries and mix thoroughly. Pre-cooking the filling will ensure that the filling and crust don't separate as the pie cooks.


On a lightly floured surface, roll one ball of pastry from the center ot the edges, to form a 12" circle. Fold in half or roll the pastry around the rolling pin. Unfold or unroll it over a 9" pie plate. Ease the pastry into the plate, and, using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, trim even with the rim.

Pour filling into the prepared pie crust. Cut margarine into small pieces and dot filling with margarine bits.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the second ball of pastry from center to edges, to form a 12" circle. Place the top crust on the filling, and cut slits or shapes to allow steam to escape. Using kitchen shears, trim the pastry 1/4" beyond the rim. Fold the top edge over the trimmed bottom edge, and flute the edge to seal.

Brush the top crust with milk, and sprinkle with sugar.

Fold a 12" square of aluminum foil into quarters. Cut out the center section, making a 7 1/2" circle. Unfold the foil and place the square section over the pie. Loosely mold the foil over the edges to protect them from burning.

Bake for 35 minutes in the center rack of the oven, with a cookie sheet underneath to catch spills. Remove foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.

Let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours and up to 4 hours before eating with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Oven Fries

I love fries. Oh, how I love them. So does Abigail. So when I found this recipe in Cook's Illustrated (which btw is amazing--someday I'll get a subscription!!!) two years ago...oh joy. And seriously, these are amazing. Perfectly crisp on the outside, perfectly melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. And not nearly as much cruddy fat as you're going to get at a fast-food joint, especially because there's no deep fryer and you're only putting 5 T. of oil in for the whole thing (I generally use even less).

I've found the most important component to getting these just right is to use a baking sheet that is uniformly flat. In other words, one that you don't use much. If I use my regular cookie sheets, which have become somewhat bowed in the middle from years of use, the fries cook unevenly. If, however, I use a metal 9x13 pan (which I never use because I prefer glass) get perfection.

Oven Fries

3 russet potatoes (8 oz each), peeled, each potato cut lengthwise into 10-12 evenly sized wedges
5 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil (don’t substitute olive oil)
Salt and ground black pepper

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat to 475. Place potatoes in large bowl and cover with hot tap water; soak 10 minutes. (Don't be tempted to skip soaking, as this is what will give you the crisp crust and soft innards.) Meanwhile, coat 18 x 12 heavy-duty baking sheet with 4 T oil and sprinkle evening with ¾ t. salt and ¼ t. pepper.

Drain potatoes and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Toss potatoes in dry bowl with 1 T oil. Arrange potatoes in single layer on baking sheet, cover tightly with foil (I just use a cookie sheet) and bake 5 minutes.

Remove foil and continue to bake until bottoms of potatoes are spotty golden brown (15-20 min), rotating the pan in the oven after 10 minutes. Using metal spatula and tongs, flip potatoes to other side, keeping in single layer. Continue baking another 5-15 minutes until fries are golden and crisp, rotating pan as needed for even browning.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Strawberry Shortcake

Given that strawberries are just coming into season (you can get a carton for $0.98 at Wal-Mart!) I thought I'd start off my contributions to Recipe Week, and to this blog, with a summer favorite: Strawberry Shortcake! Unfortunately, unlike Rachael, I am not a great improvisor. This recipe comes from "The All-American Dessert Book", by Nancy Baggett, but I've modified it slightly here.

Want this?

Try this:


2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for shaping dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
Generous 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if desired. (You can make a substitute by pouring 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then pouring in enough milk to make 1 cup.)

1 carton strawberries (at least 3 cups, sliced)
at least 1/2 cup sugar

1 pint whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Wash and slice the strawberries. Toss with sugar until all the sugar is absorbed; refrigerate for at least 1 hour, to allow juices to combine.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Generously grease an 8 to 8 1/2 inch round baking dish.

In a large bowl (I used the Kitchenaid) thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture and cut in until the butter is incorporated in very fine bits; scrape up the flour underneath to be sure it is evenly incorporated.

Being very careful not to overmix, gently stir the buttermilk into the flour-butter mixture until the dough just comes together. Add more buttermilk, if necessary, to produce a soft, moist dough. Sprinkle evenly with 1 1/2 tablespoons flour. Knead in the bowl 5 or 6 times to form a smooth mass, adding a little more flour to prevent stickiness, if necessary (I ended up adding about 2 more tablespoons). Let stand for 1 minute. With flour-dusted hands, shape and smooth the dough into a 6-inch disk. Brush any excess flour from the top. Place the disk in the pan. Press and pat out into an evenly thick round. If necessary, dust your hands with flour or lightly dust the dough with flour to prevent sticking.

Bake for 17 to 22 minutes, or until the top is puffy and browned. Let cool to warm, then tip out of the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

When biscuit is almost completely cool, whip the cream, adding vanilla and sugar when the cream forms soft peaks. Using a large serrated knife, split the biscuit round in half horizontally. Center the bottom half cut side up on a serving plate and top with half the strawberries and juice, and a generous half of the whipped cream. Top with the second round, cut side down. Spread with the remaining whipped cream, and then add the remaining berries and juice.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Enjoy with a glass of milk, and with plenty of friends or family around to share!