Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell Tart - Daring Baker's Challenge

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

As an ardent lover of tarts, I was very happy when this challenge was announced. It was a recipe that was completely new to me, it looked delicious, and it seemed pretty simple. Of course, wouldn't you know it - of all the Daring Baker's Challenges I've done, the one that seemed simplest would be the one I mess up. Luckily my problem - undercooking - was easily fixed by an extra 20 minutes in the oven (guess I should have paid more attention to the name of the tart!).

In any case, after I did bake it well, the tart was delicious and seemed to only get better with time. In fact, my parents had about a quarter of a mini-tart left on the fifth day after baking, and according to them it was just as good, if not better, than the tart had been on the first and second days! So apparently, this is a tart that keeps very well.

It is quite simple - a sweet pastry with a layer of jam and on top of that a layer of frangipane (made mainly with eggs, sugar, and ground almonds). While the frangipane was interesting, my favorite part was really just the combination of pastry and jam. I have not yet attempted to make my own jam, but I used some very good jams that I got at the farmer's market several months ago - though I like jam a lot, it seems I never have any occasion to eat it!

I ended up making 3 tarts and still had plenty of dough left over, which I plan to use to make some jam-filled cookies, and hopefully that will use up those jars of jam. I made one big tart, which I filled with raspberry jam, and two small tarts, which I filled with apricot jam. The apricot jam was kind of watery, so I couldn't use a lot because I didn't want to get the crust soggy, though I did take the precaution of pre-baking the crusts.

The raspberry jam was much more substantial, so I was able to use more of it, and I say the more jam you can use the better, so if you make this I definitely recommend a nice sticky jam!

Below is the recipe, along with my notes in purple.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds *In a stroke of luck, I was saved from having to blanch and flake my own almonds by the genius of the man in front of me at the bakery stand line at the farmer's market. I went the day I was baking the tart and was just there to get my usual loaf of bread, when the guy in front of me asked if he could have some of the almonds that had fallen off of the stand's almond croissants. What a brilliant idea! It would never have occurred to me to ask for them, but after hearing that man I asked for some as well and came home with a nice bag of perfectly flaked, slightly buttery almonds.

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

*I didn't quite follow the tart-assembly instructions as written here. Instead, I rolled out the dough immediately after making it and filled all of my tart pans, trimming and saving the excess dough. I then covered the pans and refrigerated them until it was time to bake the tart, at which point I let the pastry bake on its own for about 10 minutes before taking it out, letting it cool a bit, and then filling it with the jam and frangipane. This way, I could be sure the dough wouldn't get too soggy!

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

*As I noted above, I completely undercooked my tarts and didn't realize it until it was time to serve them. We cut into the first tart, and the paste was more than "slightly squidgy" - it was a soggy mess! See picture below:

Luckily, my parents were the only audience for this slight disaster, and they readily agreed to wait while we baked the tarts another 20 minutes. We covered them with aluminum foil so the tops wouldn't burn - I think my original problem was that my oven runs hot and so after about 15 minutes the tarts looked like they were done, even if they weren't at all done inside! Happily, the waiting for hours and then additional baking didn't seem to them any harm at all, and this way they were still warm when we finally dug in =)

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside. *Instead of a grater, I used my lovely pastry cutter, which is great for mixing butter into flour when you don't want to use your fingers much, as they'll heat it up.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

*I let my eggs sit out for several hours before I made the frangipane and this seemed to help in that no signs of curdling ever appeared.

Overall, a great tart, and certainly a learning opportunity!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Zucchini herb yogurt cake

I have been suffering from a surfeit of zucchini lately. Not from eating too much zucchini, just from having too many zucchini and not knowing what to do with them!

Ever since the zucchini started appearing at the markets, I can't keep my hands off them. I've been buying 2 or 3 a week, which may not seem like a lot, but for one person who already has plenty of other food at home, it certainly adds up.

And of course, I can't make the same zucchini dish over and over again, so I've had to keep coming up with new ways of using the little guys! I've made zucchini fritters, zucchini sautéed with pasta, zucchini baked with pasta, zucchini stuffed with feta, zucchini stuffed with lamb - just about the only thing I haven't made is zucchini ice cream. An interesting idea actually, but that will be for another day...

This cake started out in my mind as a set of zucchini herb muffins. Upon realizing I didn't have any muffin tins, I had to change course. After mulling over various possibilities, I decided that a savory cake - a sort of cross between zucchini bread and a zucchini quiche - would be a nice thing to try and a good way to use up both some zucchini and some of my fresh herbs, of which I also buy wayyyy too many (the bottom shelf of my refrigerator is currently stuffed full of basil, mint, dill, sage, and thyme which I'm sure will all dry out before I can ever use them up).

Considering the number of things I make that don't turn out at all the way I had envisioned them, this cake came shockingly close to what I had planned. Light, fresh, and very herby, it's a great summertime snack or appetizer.

2 small zucchini or 1 very large one
2 or 3 scallions (green onions)
A large bunch of fresh dill
A large bunch of fresh mint
125 g. all-purpose flour
A small spoonful of baking soda
A smaller spoonful of salt
125 g. yogurt
50 g. kasseri cheese (a Greek/Turkish cheese made from unpasteurized sheep's milk. If you can't find any, substitute with a semi-hard cheese of your choosing, but I think the flavor of kasseri is perfect for this cake - a stronger cheese would be overwhelming)
A few spoonfuls of olive oil

Preheat the oven to 160º C / 355º F. Wash the zucchini, trim the ends, and chop them into thin rondelles. Wash the scallions and chop them finely. Heat a large sauté pan, add olive oil, and then add the zucchini and the scallions. Let cook on medium heat about 10 minutes, until zucchini are tender. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Wash the mint and dill and chop them up very finely. In a large bowl, sift together the flour with the baking soda and salt.

Grease a cake pan with olive oil. You could also use a loaf pan, to make the cake appear more bread-like - whatever you have available should be fine.

Lightly beat the eggs, and grate the cheese into the eggs. Working rather quickly, add the zucchini & scallions, the yogurt, the herbs, the eggs, the cheese, and the olive oil into the flour mixture. Mix together with a spoon just until the ingredients are combined. Immediately pour into the cake pan and place in the oven.

Let bake about 15 minutes, until a fork inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool and serve at room temperature, or refrigerate until serving later.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Panzanella (Tuscan bread salad)

Panzanella is a classic Tuscan summertime dish. Simple to make, it requires no cooking and is best if made at least an hour before serving, so it's a great dish to bring to potlucks and parties.

The version I made is the most basic one, but it's easy to make your own variations by adding whatever ingredients you want. Some common additions include hard-boiled egg, anchovies, capers, or lettuce.

Ingredients (for a large salad):
1/2 loaf of high-quality, somewhat stale bread (though the typical bread would be Tuscan bread, which is made without salt and in my opinion is a complete waste of flour, I used some older sourdough walnut bread I had, and it was delicious. The walnuts were a great addition to the salad as was the extra flavor of the sourdough)
1 cucumber
5 medium-sized salad tomatoes
1 red onion (the fresh kind if possible)
A handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Cut the bread into thick slices and place the slices in a large bowl of cold water to soften up. Depending on how stale your bread is, this could take from about 5-15 minutes. The bread should be soft but not disintegrating.

When the bread is softened, remove it from the water and squeeze out any excess water from the bread. Taking a bit at a time, crumble the bread into smallish bits (not as small as real crumbs), and place the crumbled bread in your salad bowl.

Slice the onion into half-rings. Wash and peel the cucumber (if it's the kind that needs to be peeled) and slice it fairly thin. Wash the tomatoes and dice them. Wash the basil leaves and tear them up by hand.

Add the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, and basil to the bread. Add in several spoonfuls of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir everything up, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Just before serving, add in a spoonful or two of balsamic vinegar, and extra olive oil, salt, or pepper, if necessary.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Zuppa di farro e fagioli (Tuscan farro and bean soup)

I know June is not usually the month when you'd think of making a hearty country soup like this, but the weather here has been unseasonably gray. Besides that, this soup is really really good. So good I think it can be made in any season, unless it's so hot that you can't even bear the thought of turning on your stove!

Hearty is definitely the first word that comes to mind when you take your first spoonful of this. It's the sort of soup you would want after biking through a bevy of hills in a rainstorm - thick, warm, and revitalizing.

A classic Tuscan dish, this soup focuses on two main ingredients: farro, a form of wheat (I think it's also called emmer in English), and fagioli, i.e., beans. Though you can use whatever type of beans you want, I think the most common kind, and the kind I used, are fagioli borlotti. In fact, the main reason I made this soup was because when I was in Lucca in December I bought a giant sack of fagioli borlotti (they're dirt cheap in Italy and unreasonably expensive in the U.S.), and they'd been sitting in my cupboard untouched since then. They're a very good bean - I don't know how to describe them except that they taste exactly the way a bean should taste. Here's a picture of them if that helps:

Anyways, zuppa di farro e fagioli had been on my list of recipes to make for months, and I finally decided it was time. And it turns out that the soup tastes great (of course, every Italian recipe I've ever tried has tasted great), and I now have a large pot of wonderful soup that will last me through most of the week!

I looked through a bunch of different recipes, and naturally no two were quite the same. After getting a general feel for what needed to be done and taking stock of the ingredients I actually had on hand, I made my own version as described below. However, soup is very versatile, so feel free to substitute things, for example using water or peeled tomatoes, adding celery, using leeks or shallots instead of onions, etc.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 portions):
200 g. dried beans - fagioli borlotti if you can get them, other beans if you can't
200 g. farro (you can find it at Italian grocery stores and at some supermarkets, like Whole Foods - may be near the pasta section or perhaps in other grain sections)
1 small yellow onion
1 carrot
Herbs of your choosing, fresh whenever possible, but dried if not. In this case, I used fresh thyme, as I had just bought a large bunch of it, along with dried rosemary and sage, and a bay leaf thrown in for good luck
A couple spoonfuls of tomato paste
Several cups of vegetable broth
Olive oil

The night before you make the soup, rinse the beans under cold running water and then put them in a pot and fill the pot with water so it covers the beans and then some. Let the beans soak overnight and throughout the next day, changing the water every so often when you can.

Approximately 3 hours before you want to eat the soup, bring the water with the beans in it to a boil and then let them simmer for 2 hours.

Towards the end of the simmer, peel the onion and carrot and chop them finely. Wash and chop any fresh herbs.

After the 2 hours are up, drain the beans. Set 1/3 of the beans aside and mash up the remaining 2/3, either by hand or in a food processor (it's pretty easy to mash them up by hand, so the food processor isn't really necessary here).

Bring the broth to a boil, and pour a bit of it into a small cup. Add the tomato paste to this small bit of broth to dilute it and let it spread more easily into the soup.

In a large pan, heat some olive oil, and then add the onion, carrot, and fresh herbs. Sauté them for a few minutes, then add the beans (both the mashed-up ones and the ones left whole), the broth, the tomato paste, and the dried herbs. Add salt and pepper, cover, and turn heat down to a simmer. Let cook about 20 minutes, then rinse the farro and add them to the soup. Let cook another 20 minutes and serve warm.

As the soup is very hearty (did I mention that before?), there will likely be plenty left over for the coming days, which is just fine!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trofie alla genovese

Trofie are a type of pasta typical to the Liguria region of Italy, and in this dish, which you can find throughout the region, they are served with pesto, potato, and green beans.

Lately, basil has been all over the marketplace and I simply cannot resist a fresh bunch of basil. Unfortunately, you generally can't buy it in very small bunches, and even though I'll eat some pretty much every day, I inevitably end up with extra. So of course, the solution is to make some pesto!

I made a bunch of pesto last week to go with some potato gnocchi, and I still had a bit left over. I was planning to just put it on spaghetti or something, but then at the market today I saw a lovely bunch of green beans and was reminded of the genovese style of serving pasta with pesto. Though I had never made the dish myself before, the preparation turned out to be quite simple, and the end result was very rewarding! The only difficult part was actually finding trofie, which are not very common here in the U.S. I suppose I could have used some other type of pasta, but I wanted to be really authentic and so ended up shelling out $8 for the bag at my local Italian foods store. Ridiculous, I know, but it was just this once, and the trofie actually are really good - dense but small, so the balance of pastaness ends up being just right.

Ingredients (given per person):
75 g. trofie
1 small potato or 1/2 a medium potato per person
75 g. green beans per person
Pesto - you can get it from stores, but it's usually much better if you make your own, as described here

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Peel the potato and chop it into smallish cubes. When the water is boiling, add salt and then the potato. Let the potato cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the potato is cooking, wash the green beans and chop off the very ends. Chop them in half. After the potato has cooked 10 minutes, add the green beans and the trofie. Let cook another 15 minutes or so, stirring from time to time and testing to make sure not to overcook anything. When done, the trofie and green beans should be tender but still have some bite to them.

Drain the pasta, potatoes, and green beans, reserving a couple spoonfuls of the pasta water. Dilute the pesto with the pasta water to make it easier to spread over the pasta, and then mix everything together. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


This Italian snack is a great way to enjoy fresh, seasonal vegetables. The raw vegetables are dipped in a mixture of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then eaten right away.

Though pinzimonio can be made with pretty much any plant-like food, I think the two most common are fennel and celery. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the celery, but fennel in olive oil is fantastic. I also like to use carrots, radishes, and broccoli (the broccoli leaves are particularly good at soaking up the olive oil - yum!)

This dish works great as an appetizer or as a quick snack when you don't have time/energy to cook.

You will need:
Olive oil
Vegetables of your choosing. Long, stick-like vegetables are best as they can easily be dipped in the olive oil. The word pinzimonio is supposedly a combination of the words pinzare ("to pinch") and matrimonio ("marriage") - you pinch the vegetable between your fingers and marry it with the olive oil mixture to form a delicious snack!

Wash the vegetables and prepare as necessary (trim, peel, etc.). If using fennel, use only the bulb part, and cut it into quarters. Mix the olive oil with the salt and pepper, and arrange the vegetable slices around the olive oil for easy dipping.

Enjoy! If you end up with extra olive oil, just soak it up with some nice crusty bread.