Monthly Archives: November 2009

Butter, butter, butter

Well, it sounds funny when you say it three times, but butter is truly something I cannot be without. When I’m reading a recipe I judge it based on the ratio of butter to the other components. What?! Only a quarter-cup in a whole batch of cookies? Nonsense. Next!

Butter isn’t simply there for flavor, which is does do marvelously. It is a textural god-send, turning flour into flaky pastry and a moist scallop into a crisp-edged bite of the salty sea. Butter has been a staple of the human diet as long as milk production itself has been around. This most valued food was initially made by mistake, as anyone who has over-whipped heavy cream has discovered. The clumps of fat form and the liquid (buttermilk) separates out. A more simple treat has never delighted me more.

I’d never made shortbread before, but I feel like it is such a great example of what you can do with great ratios of really lovely ingredients. A layered, dense sweet/salty cookie that has a grainy, fine texture. Use the best butter you can find for these, I think the reward is obvious when you take the first bite. By the way, I felt like these got better and better over time…Like a few days, a week, however long you can keep them around without sneaking one every time you pass the kitchen.

Scotch Shortbread

(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter, Clarkson-Potter 2003)

  • 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour (easy find in the bulk section or gluten-free area)
  • 1/4 generous teaspoon salt (like heaping, I guess)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar, plus more for dusting

Preheat your oven to 300°F, and position the shelf in the center of the oven. Line a 9-inch square (or similar, I think mine was 9 x 11) with foil, pressing it into the corners and shaping it smoothly across the bottom and sides of the pan. Sift the flour, rice flour and salt together three times and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on a medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute, and then allow to mix for about 1 minute more. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Remove the bowl from the machine and transfer the butter mixture into a large, wide bowl. Using a wooden spoon (and your muscles!) cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter until it’s almost incorporated. Work in the remaining dry by adding it in five or six small additions. This is where you must move quickly and deliberately, as you want to keep the butter relatively cool. The “dough” will look like a pile of lumpy flour that could never be a cookie, but gather it and knead it gently to smear the bits of butter.

Scoop your dough/flour ball into the foil-lined pan and use your spoon to distribute it evenly. Then, using a flat-bottomed glass press the dough evenly into the pan, being careful to get into the corners. Clean the edges of the pan with either a small spatula or a dough scraper.

Bake the shortbread for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top feels set. It will be very pale. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut through the dough 1 1/2 inch intervals, making five (ish) strips, and then quarter-turn your pan and do the same going the other way, making 25 small squares. They stay in the pan. Sprinkle lightly with superfine sugar, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until lightly brown.

Remove from the pan, and using the foil as an aid, take out the individual squares and place them on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for 10 minutes to dry and crisp. Remove and let cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  And your mouth. Trust me on the previous advice to let them sit a few days in a plastic bag. They really do get better with age. 🙂

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Chicken, Leek, and Tarragon Pie

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Sometimes time eludes me. I feel slightly ridiculous writing that, as I have only one job, no children, the cleanest man ever, and am relatively young and so should have boundless energy and will to…well, just do things. But that seems to belong to some other person in some other universe, cause, geez, it’s not even Thanksgiving and I’m ready for a vacation. Maybe the change in weather and light makes it so, and I think I will adjust and begin to be more productive in the hours before it falls dark at, say, 4:30pm. This is all a terribly long-winded excuse for not posting more often. Bleh.

During a leisurely day a few weeks ago (yes, there is leisure, just not enough!), I came upon a new cookbook that looked more interesting than the giant wall of faces that seem to stare at you now when looking for books on food. What is that? I don’t think I’m buying books or cooking someone’s recipes because I am so deeply moved by their face or their personality. These days, I don’t even really open books written by the famous, all-knowing deities we’ve come to follow. I found this one because it was so obviously stating exactly what was within. Pie.

Pie by Angela Boggiano (published in paperback by Mitchell Beasley, 2009), is a crust bible. This woman devotes more loving detail to crust recipe and method than most people do their whole pie. The recipes are decidedly British (as is Ms. Boggiano), so that provided serious entertainment for Ryan and I as we flipped through. Game Pie, Curried Soccer Pie, Smoked Fish and Cider Pie. I think it was just so refreshing to read something other than recipes that were California-familiar. And then we stumbled upon a Lamb Shank Pie, which has the bones of the shank protruding through the golden crust like they should be pulled out of the stew and eaten with British abandon. Needless to say, we got the book.

Although I am sure we will soon try the more adventurous pies, those of you who know me are laughing at the above recipes for good reason. I am indeed a bit squeamish about meat, be it lamb, pork or beef. So we have settled on one pie we both knew we’d love without question, and here it is.

Chicken, Leek, and Tarragon Pie

from Angela Boggiano’s Pie

for the pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons ice water

Sift together the dry ingredients, and then cut  half the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the rest of the butter and mix until it is the size of small peas. Mix the egg with the lemon juice and the water.  Make a well in the center and pour in, a little at a time, mixing with a knife. Use only as much as you think you need to make it come together. I used it all but my dough was still very crumbly and messy, which spells out a great pie crust. Turn out your dough onto a floured board and knead gently just to incorporate the butter. Shape into a disk,wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

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layers of butter in the dough make for a flaky crust

For the filling:

  • 1 free-range chicken, around 3 lbs.
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs tarragon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Knob of butter (my favorite descriptor in the book)
  • 2 leeks, finely sliced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • Salt and ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a large saucepan with the carrot, celery, 1 of the onions and 3 tarragon sprigs. Season with a little salt and pepper and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Return the stock to the heat and simmer gently for a further 30 minutes until it is reduced by half.

Meanwhile heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the leeks and the remaining onion and gently cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Turn up the heat to high, add the wine and simmer rapidly for 3–4 minutes until reduced by half. Stir in the flour and mix well in the pan for l minute. Pour in the cream, about  2/3 cup of the reduced chicken stock and the lemon zest. Season with a little salt and plenty of ground black pepper.

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making pie filling

Remove the meat from the cooled chicken carcass and chop or shred into small pieces. Add this and the remaining tarragon, chopped, to the leek and cream mixture and stir together. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a baking tray in the oven to heat.

Line the base of a 12 x  8 inch rectangular or 10½ inch round pie tin with two-thirds of the pastry and fill with the chicken mixture. Brush the pastry edges with beaten egg. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and lay over the filling, crimping the edges of the pastry with your fingertips to seal.

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cutting a few vents in the upper crust allows some moisture to cook out

Trim away any excess and brush with beaten egg to glaze. Place on the baking tray and bake for 30–35 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp.

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dinner!

The amount of liquid this recipe calls for seems like a little too much, so the next  time I make this,  I would reduce the wine to 1/4 cup. We also felt like the wine flavored the dish too strongly so that’s why I’d chose to reduce that as opposed to the cream, which is just too good to ever reduce. Enjoy!

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A quick bit…

The last post’s gingerbread recipe was, quite possibly, the yummiest cookie I have ever baked. Thankfully, we had many people in and out of the house that week, so there were many mouths amongst which to share it. (As opposed to it all ending up in my belly, which is probable without Ryan around to take some of the eating pressure off. Aah, yes. The key to a successful relationship may be having someone who will, without question or hesitation, always be there to enjoy your goodies, successes or failures.) But, yeah, success this time and we loved every bite.  But in my little baking-perfectionist’s heart, I had originally had this very specific visual in mind: The embossed, wainscoting-like tiles that had beckoned me in the first place.

These molds that are traditionally used for such a recipe are called springerle. They are small, hand-carved wood reliefs used to press into the dough and leave a beautiful, incredibly detailed image. Images run the gamut from seasonal depictions like acorns and harvest scenes to kings and their court, to one of my favorites, a woman over a stove minding many pots. I like the historical element to these. The idea that someone would have a carving of their farm made, showing the rows and the house and the huge oak tree in the corner. They would (in my idealized dream world) pass it down to a child upon their wedding and it would come to symbolize that family’s name. they were used as gifts and bartering and have come to be highly prized among bakeware collectors. I found the original rolling pin style springerle that I was looking for (this one you would emboss your dough in strips and then cut individual tiles from those strips). It is a very pretty mold, but I realized that wasn’t the idea with these. They were to reflect something you love, what stirs your bowl and your heart.  I found one that was a marriage symbol (calm down, moms), a winding, infinity-like design studded with pomegranates and wheat. But, alas, I know no one to carve it for me, so I’ll have to order it online, which feels so anti-antiquated. But, it is 2009 and not 1709. So, instead, I made my gingerbread that day with out a mold, just with my hands. And then I ordered the springerle mold. 🙂

House On The Hill has beautiful ones…

Faithful Family - Click Image to Close

A new family springerle for my friend Wendy who had her lovely son Felix with her love Joe on this last Thursday. Congratulations!

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