Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Have you ever eaten a concord grape? I had never given them a second thought (aside from Welch's commercials) until I moved to New York four years ago and started reading fancy restaurant dessert menus for fun. As soon as fall rolled around, the concord grapes rolled in everywhere, as gelee served with foie gras, as sorbet served with peanut butter ice cream, in pie? Obviously, I had to have some for myself and let me tell you, concord grapes are serious business. Forget about those red and green things they sell in the grocery store, these are Grapes with a capital G. They are sweet, tart, musky, rich, and dare I say they taste a lot like "grape flavored" candy without that cloying artificial finish. They are awesome eaten as is if you don't mind seeds, their juice is incredible on it's own or in a cocktail, but I couldn't resist making jelly with mine.
I try not to use any pectin in my jam making, but sometimes you need just a bit to make sure it sets, especially when making jelly. I love using Pomona's Universal Pectin for projects like this, you can find it in health food stores. It is activated by calcium rather than sugar which means you can use as much or little sweetener as you like and you can even use alternatives like honey, agave, and maple syrup.
Grape Jelly, adapted from Pomona's Universal Pectin
yield 1 8oz jar
1 lb concord grapes, destemmed
2T lemon juice
3T honey or 1/4-3/4c sugar (or agave or any other sweetener you like)
1/2t Pomona's universal pectin powder
1/2t calcium water, prepared with package directions
1. In a heavy bottomed pot combine the grapes, water and lemon juice. Mash with a potato masher, I used a ladle, whatever works. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 min.
2. Pour into a jelly bag or cheesecloth lined strainer and let drip until the juice stops, about one cup. If you don't mind if your jelly isn't perfectly clear you can give the bag a gentle squeeze, but not too hard, you don't want any pulp to escape. At this point Pomona's suggests letting the juice sit overnight so any sediment settles to the bottom. I didn't do it and I didn't notice any crystallization in my jelly.
3. Add the juice and prepared amount of calcium water to a clean pot. Measure your sweetener into a separate bowl and mix in the pectin powder.
4. Bring juice to a boil, add sweetener and pectin and stir constantly until the pectin dissolves (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat.
5. Fill prepared jar to 1/4'' below the rim, wipe off rim, screw on the lid and process in a boiling water bath for 10 min. Store jar in a cool dry spot and refrigerate when opened.
This recipe makes a pretty small amount of jelly so if you find yourself with a surplus of grapes you can multiply as needed.
Best eaten on wheat toast with peanut butter. Or you can be totally wild and serve it on a cheese plate with a nice blue cheese and water crackers.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
There are a lot of perks to working as a baker without a traditional culinary education. I don't have a pile of student loans to pay off (aside from those associated with my BA) and I started working without having to do slave labor as an unpaid intern. The biggest downside is is that I missed out on learning a lot of classic techniques from true experts. Well my friends, there is no time like the present so I consulted my current favorite bread book, Artisan Breads Every Day, decided today was a good day for croissants, and went for it. I was really pleasantly surprised with how these croissants turned out. They are flaky and crisp on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside, and the perfect vehicle for just about anything from strawberry jam to soft scrambled eggs. You can also use the same dough for danish or roll a bit of chocolate inside to make pain au chocolat. The recipe does require the dough to rest overnight and there is quite a bit of hands on time, but it is so worth the effort.
Here is a link to the recipe online, but if you have a few bucks to spare just buy the book. There are a ton of helpful process photos and the simple techniques will change the way you think about baking bread.
Some notes: The recipe calls for turning the dough three times, but next time I make these I will definitely add a fourth turn for even more flakiness. I will also be a bit more careful when forming the pastries, I could have rolled them a bit tighter pulled the ends into more of a crescent shape and they wouldn't have spread so much.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I'm a big time sucker for specialty baking ingredients and edible souvenirs so when I saw this sugar in a little Parisian shop I knew I had to have it. It wasn't until I returned from my trip that I learned what it was for, and my goodness chouquettes are good. All it takes is a bit of choux pastry coated with crunchy pearl sugar and baked until golden brown and crunchy. There are quite a few recipes to be found for these guys, but I used one from a favorite blog of mine, Chocolate and Zucchini.
p.s. You can find pearl sugar in many online stores and at IKEA in their Swedish food market.
Friday, October 15, 2010
These little beauties are too cute for words and extremely tasty to boot. It really is too bad that they won't make the cut for apt. 2b baking co.'s official menu (they are a bit fragile), but that doesn't mean that you can't make them at home. Do yourself a solid and eat them with cinnamon ice cream and a nice pour of bourbon.
Brown Butter Cookies adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used homemade)
1T bourbon (optional)
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Brown the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently until the milk solids turn light brown and the butter has a nutty fragrance. Transfer butter to bowl and chill until firm, about an hour.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and bourbon, then add flour, cinnamon and salt. Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. Chill until cool, but not hard, about 45min.
3. Heat oven to 350. Unwrap dough and gently roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a well floured surface. Cut dough into desired shapes (I used a 1 1/2 inch round cutter) and bake on parchment lined baking sheets until lightly browned. The warm cookies are quite fragile and it is best not to move them until they have cooled a bit.
Once cookies have cooled completely fill 1/2 of them with Homemade Apple Butter, other jam of choice, or even chocolate if you are feeling wild and top with the remaining cookies. Fill the cookies up to 1 hour before you plan to eat them, any earlier and they may get a bit soft.
Bonus Idea: Use the cookies and apple butter as a mix in for homemade ice cream. Delicious!
Apple Butter (A great first canning project)
4lbs good eatin' apples, peeled, cored and cut into bite sized pieces (I like to use mutsu, macintosh, and gala, but you can use whatever you like)
3-4 cups apple cider
1 1/2-2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
Juice of one lemon
Prepare your jars and lids by washing them thoroughly with soap and water. Place jars in a warm oven (about 200) and place lids on a clean towel to dry completely. You can also wash your jars on the top rack of your dishwasher and leave them in there until you are ready for them.
To make the apple butter
1. In your biggest, heaviest pot (I use a dutch oven) combine the apples and enough cider to cover them. Bring to a simmer and cook the apples until tender. A but of foam will form on the surface that should be skimmed off, it's okay if you can't get it all.
2. When the apples are tender, remove the pot from the heat and puree the mixture until it is smooth (an immersion blender is the best tool for this). Stir in sugar, spices and lemon juice.
3. Cook the mixture at about 220 degrees (simmering) until it darkens in color and begins to pop and bubble in a lava like fashion, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Ladle the lava into your prepared jars, clean the rims with a dry paper towel and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
4. Remove the jars from the hot water bath with tongs and listen for the tell tale pop that means your jars are sealed and safe to be stored in a cool dry spot.
There is something about baking my own bread that makes me feel like a super hero. All it takes is a few simple ingredients and with the magic of yeast, time, patience, and a lot of help from Peter Reinhart, I can create one of life's true culinary pleasures. Nothing beats a warm loaf of hearty, seedy bread ready to be slathered with homemade jam and shared with friends.