Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Pining for an Easter brunch

9 April 2014

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Once again we will be away for Easter. It’s the second time and I thought I’d resolved it wouldn’t happen again.

No, I am not so undeserving as to regret last year’s magical vacation in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Today we are going to Greece and for months I’ve been skipping-in-the-street excited about our upcoming trip! It’s just the timing. Ages ago in January when we booked the flights it all seemed so far away. But Easter is approaching and I feel a pinch. These trips have come in the way of a much older custom, started I think when Leo was one, and the Easter Egg hunt followed by a massive brunch is my favorite tradition. I blame all of this untimely travel on the school holiday schedule…

Were we coming home a few days sooner, here are some of the things I would likely prepare.

Chicken liver terrine

Cheat’s potted crab

Mackerel rillettes

Mimosa deviled eggs

Lentil and fennel salad with lemon and parsley

Dandelion, fennel, and pumpkin seed salad

Poppy seed and almond cake

Quick lemon and lime tart

Emboldened by Holly‘s success, I might finally attempt a panettone. I’ve been dying to try.

And crucially we would, as every year but last, dye the eggs with leaf and flower motifs.

Happy Easter, happy spring!

 

Galette des rois (king’s cake)

8 January 2014

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‘For whom is this piece?’

The cake has been cut, one piece already slid under the cake knife. The youngest child is giggling under the table, the family above huddled auspiciously around the redolent cake. The crown is ready. The ritual has begun.

Monday 6 January was Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day, which in the Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the three wise men (‘kings’) Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, bearing gifts for Jesus. In a typical amalgamation of customs, it is also — or foremost? — the day of the king’s cake, a traditional confection in which is hidden a coin, bean, or small figurine. Meaning is attached to finding the token. Depending on the tradition, it may bring luck, assign you to be the organizer of the next party, or make you king for the day, a custom that apparently derives from the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival rife with role playing during which the king of festivities was chosen by lot, with a bean.

In France we play like this: Everyone gathers around the galette as the youngest person hides under the table. The host cuts the cake and distributes the pieces according to the injunction of the hidden guest, who, in no specific order, calls out the name of each person present. This ensures that the piece with the token is given out at random. The cake is eaten circumspectly, with furtive poking and prodding, until someone finds the fève, and everyone can go about their business of just enjoying the pastry. The king is crowned and chooses his queen.

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For many years I didn’t make galette, I loved trying out bakeries to compare and contrast and find the best one. (Have I mentioned that we French eat galettes throughout January?) Then one day, I baked one. Or at least partially. I bought good puff pastry and made the almond cream. It was so ridiculously easy I was practically embarrassed. It also made for a better galette than most store-bought kinds. So I started making galettes. Kind of. Then, unexpectedly, this year, after decades of shying away from puff pastry (is it really worth the effort?), on a whim, I dove into the deep end — and I am not looking back.

Dan Lepard’s all-butter English puff pastry is, in his words, really not that hard to make. I agree!

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Recipe

Making galette can be anywhere from super easy to quite time-consuming, depending on how much is self-made. The ultra-quick version uses good store-bought puff pastry and ready ground almonds. The most hands on take makes puff pastry from scratch and grinds almonds on the spot. Depending on the mood.

Puff pastry, 2 sheets per galette (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)

Filling for 2 galettes about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

180 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter

180 g (1 cup) sugar

200 g (2 cups) almonds (or ready-ground almond flour)

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

Zest from 1 small lemon

1 tsp almond extract

1 Tbsp Armagnac (or, more traditionally, rum)

1 egg yolk and 2 Tbsps milk for the eggwash

1 fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

To prepare the almond flour, first blanch the almonds: Bring a couple of cups of water to boil, pour over the almonds to just cover, let steep for 1 minute, then strain the water and immediately remove the skins from the almonds. Once all the skins are removed, place the almonds in a food processor and pulse chop until very fine. Alternatively, use store-bought ground almonds (= almond flour).

In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy.

In another bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the eggs, one at a time, combining each thoroughly into the batter. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and Armagnac. Refrigerate. [The almond cream can be refrigerated for a few hours until ready to use.]

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a tarte dish or other to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread a good layer of almond cream on the dough, leaving an edge of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly onto the cream.

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the dough. Carefully place the second round of dough on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal.

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F (180°C) and remove the galette from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, etch a design onto the galette, then brush generously with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary).

Christmas cookies | Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

22 December 2013

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Maybe I wasn’t being completely truthful last year when I exclaimed that the almond and currant cookies of my youth are my favorite. In reality I’ve always loved Zimtsterne most of all.

As a little girl cinnamon stars represented the very promise of Christmas. The sweet tinge of icing an irresistible finish to the chewy bite. Nutty. Not too cinnamony. For some years I may have snubbed them a little, perhaps in a flaccid effort at emancipation from too obvious a childhood treat. But why resist the irresistible?

This is another recipe my mother has kept alive all these years. She received it initially, many years ago, from Marcelle, a close family friend and my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland.

*

Marcelle’s Zimtsterne
The cookies must rest for a few hours or overnight before baking, so plan accordingly. They are best made a few weeks ahead. (Ahem.
)
Store in an airtight tin box, separating the layers with parchment paper.

450 g (3 cups) almonds

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

300 g (1 1/2 cups) unrefined sugar

2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

Kirsch (1 Tbsp for cookies and 1 Tbsp for the icing)

Star-shaped cookie cutter

100 g (3/4 cup) powdered (icing) sugar

Pulse chop the almonds in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sugar. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very firm.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon kirsch to the almonds. Fold in the egg whites with a wooden spoon, then knead by hand until the dough holds together (kneading will help extract the almond oil).

Take the dough and flatten it evenly on a slightly moistened wooden board (working in batches if necessary). The height should be approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch), but the most important is that it be even so it also cooks evenly.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with sugar. Cut out stars from the dough with a wet cookie cutter and place them on the baking sheet. (Wet the cutter repeatedly throughout the process to avoid sticking.)

Let the stars rest, uncovered (they must dry a little), at room temperature, for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Slide the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes. They will harden when they cool but must remain moist.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 1 tablespoon Kirsch and 1 tablespoon water. The icing should be quite liquid, add water drop by drop if necessary.

Using the back of a small spoon, coat each star, while still warm, with a light layer of icing. Let dry.

Store in a tin box, layers separated by parchment paper, for up to a month.

Merry Christmas!

Brussels sprouts and pecorino salad

6 December 2013

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I nearly didn’t make this salad for Thanksgiving.

With Sam Sifton’s peremptory Thanksgiving book still ringing in my ears, I did, in fact, briefly debate the pros and cons of his strict no-salad rule. Might it diminish the lusciousness of the meal? Is it the last thing anyone wants to see on a festive table? On the other hand, this barely counts as salad. Surely by salad, Sifton means lettuce?

As it turned out, this deceptively simple dish of raw Brussels sprouts and fresh pecorino, both finely shaved and tossed with a simple dressing, was — again — undoubtedly one of the favorites of the table. On the contrary, what a welcome bounce on the palate between forkfuls of turkey and chestnut stuffing.

This dish wasn’t born as a Thanksgiving side, and shouldn’t die as one. It is a salad for any occasion. I first encountered something similar quite some years ago in the lunch bar up the block from our office in Soho. That version had walnuts, and though adding nuts would be overkill on Thanksgiving, they marry perfectly.

This is barely a recipe, just a few very good ingredients tossed together. It must be made a few hours ahead, so the dressing has time to soften the Brussels sprouts. There should be enough pecorino for a shaving or two in each mouthful.

Very fresh Brussels sprouts, preferably still on the stem because snapping them off is a fun occupation for children on Thanksgiving morning

Pecorino, not too aged

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sherry or good wine vinegar

Best olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly hulled walnuts (optional)

Trim and remove one or two outer leaves of each Brussels sprout, then shave them finely with a mandolin or a sharp knife and lots of patience.

Cut the pecorino into paper thin shavings.

The salad is very thirsty and will soak up the dressing, so plan generously, but the proportions are roughly: 5 lemon juice plus 1 vinegar to 8 olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Taste the salad and adjust dressing/seasoning as necessary.

Quince fruit pastes (pâtes de fruit)

27 November 2013

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The truth of the matter is, rather than preparing for a blasphemously belated Thanksgiving on Saturday, for which most of my family is crossing the channel, I have been roasting quinces and simmering chutney.

Last week, friends unexpectedly brought me a big bag of quinces from their garden in the Cotswolds (I hear it is more of an orchard). I was quite excited and may possibly have briefly jumped up and down at the sight. It was a very busy week, and I was away this weekend — the quinces were becoming impatient. Quinces do hold out for a while but I wasn’t willing to tempt fate for too long, so last night I made chutney. As a first test improvised from a few recipes it is quite good, but I am not entirely happy enough to report the results here — yet. In any event, Thomas managed to save the last of the quinces from their chutney fate, begging that I make quince paste, too.

What he doesn’t know is that in the course of the morning, half of the membrillo has been transmogrified into my absolute favorite sweet: pâtes de fruit.

The preparation is the same up to the point of cutting the paste into dice or rectangles and coating them with sugar.

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Quince cheese recipe dapted from the River Café Cookbook (Blue)

Quinces

Sugar

Lemon

Preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

Rub the fuzz from the quinces and wash well under cold water. Cut the quinces in half and place them face down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the quinces feel quite soft when poked with a knife (probably 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

While the quinces are still warm, pass them through the fine mesh of a vegetable mill. (To insure a very pure paste, first remove the quinces’ core).

(The quince purée can at this point be refrigerated overnight.)

Weigh the purée, place in a saucepan, and add an equal amount of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per 100g of quince.

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the paste has darkened and begins to fall off the sides. This will take a good long while, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so take a book, newspaper, or magazine close to the stove but DO NOT leave. (I happen to know that left unattended, the paste will burn very quickly. In which case transfer quickly to another saucepan and continue cooking.)

Once the paste has reached a dark, heavy consistency, spread on a plate to cool. Once cool, cut into the desired shapes and roll in some sugar. The pastes should keep for a few weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


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