One of the most underrated cookbooks of the past couple of years is, in my opinion, Aleksandra Crapanzano's The London Cookbook. a wide-ranging collection of recipes from London's best restaurants, pubs, cafés and holes-in-the-wall. I got a copy from my editor (the writer and I share a publisher) and over the past several months have slowly fallen in love with it. (It was published in the fall of 2016, when I had my hands full with my own book launch!)
The premise isn't, at first glance, my kind of thing at all. I'm really pretty uninterested in restaurant recipes. Restaurants have completely different goals, budgets and team numbers than a home cook. While I can appreciate that some home cooks would like to know how a three-star restaurant makes a 15-step duck confit, my sense is that most of us couldn't care less. If we can afford to go to that kind of restaurant, we enjoy that kind of cooking there. If we can't afford it, it remains a thing like a fancy sports car or a luxury vacation - something to view from afar. Or is it just me?
But Aleksandra gets that attitude and while there are of course several multi-step recipes in the book that kind of make my eyes glaze over, there are a surprising number of truly doable, simple gems in every chapter. In the introduction, it turns out, Aleksandra specifically mentions the fact that she wanted to only include recipes that were "easily made at home." If a chef wasn't able to adapt a recipe realistically for a home cook, it wasn't included. If you know restaurant cookbooks, that's pretty remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Aleksandra, clearly a first-rate home cook and the kind of cookbook writer we should all strive to be, managed to hone the recipes to make them truly accurate (and isn't that what we're all looking for in recipes?!). What you end up with is a book full of gorgeous, vibrant, interesting recipes from all kinds of amazing places in London that are also totally doable and approachable for home cooks. It's a slam dunk.
The very first recipe that I tried was this olive oil cake from a café in London called Towpath. (I've never been myself, but I've heard about it from all sorts of discerning food people over the past several years.) And it was...perfect. The recipe was precise and correct (even without metric measurements) and the cake was out-of-this-world delicious, especially considering how simple it is. Everyone from Joanie, my baking North Star, to my father, who'd usually rather eat a plate of kimchi than a piece of cake, was ravished by it. By a simple, orange-scented olive oil cake, you guys!
I think the reason it was such a home run, beyond the fact that it was such a pleasure to follow such a well-written recipe, was a combination of the cake's flavor and its texture. The flavor was sort of delicate and floral, but also satisfyingly creamy and comforting, like a really good yellow cake. The crumb was fine and moist, but not greasy or oily in the least. Sturdy, too, the kind of thing you could almost eat out of hand, but without being dry or tough. It was marvelous. (The only weird thing? No salt in the recipe. The recipe came to Towpath via a Tuscan olive estate, which explains the lack of salt - most Italian dessert recipes (most European ones, actually) eschew salt. Out of habit, I added a pinch. You can go either way.)
When I made this, in mid-February, we still had a few chocolate Santas lying around the house and one of them was a fancy dark chocolate one, so on a whim, I chopped it up and added it to the cake. I think it was a mistake, or rather, an unnecessary fiddling and one I wouldn't recommend. This cake deserves to be left alone, served up proudly in its stark simplicity. No chocolate or whipped cream needed.
The recipe's in my forever files; the book's on my kitchen counter.
I went on a very quick trip to New York three weekends ago. It was freezing cold and beautiful on the first few days, with icy blue skies and blinding sunshine. I've now been in Berlin for almost as long as I lived in New York, which feels very odd indeed, especially because this time I stayed on the Upper West Side, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to the city. It has changed so much and yet I still recognized the oddest little things, like the cornices on a particular building, the way Zabar's smells, that one lamp store on 79th Street... But now the old neighborhood also has fancy new condo buildings, a Barneys, for crying out loud, and Citarella sells yogurt for 6 dollars a jar. And I still miss H&H.
Sometimes I really miss New York's fabulousness, like with this amazing older couple's outfit game on this random 6 train ride.
Anyway! I thought I'd do one of those very old-school blog roundups of the best places I went to while I was in town, just in case one of you is planning a trip soon and is wondering where to go. It has gotten difficult to have even one bad meal in New York, which is both thrilling and a little intimidating when planning a trip. My friends and I didn't plan a single meal in advance, so we were a little restricted to the places where we could get reservations at relatively normal dining hours. I didn't end up getting to try as many new places as I'd hoped. (Paowalla, abcv, and Le Coucou come to mind...) Still, it was a pretty delicious weekend. The places that really stood out were:
Irving Farm Coffee Roasters is a city-wide chain in the meantime, but there was one around the corner from where we stayed and it was a very nice place to get a cup of coffee or tea in the early morning, plus they have both cooked breakfasts and good pastries (like croissants from Bien Cuit), and a nice selection of simple but hearty lunch options. Whoever is "curating" their array of baked goods knows her/his stuff. And despite the fact that it has locations all over the city, it felt very local and cozy.
I'm lucky enough to have an agent who takes me to lunch at abc Kitchen every time I'm in town, but if I didn't, I would still make time to have some kind of meal here - it's just such a nice place and the food is great - organic, local, etc, but especially just very well made. It's ground zero for things like roasted butternut squash on toast, roasted beets with yogurt, and carrot and avocado salad. Funnily enough, though the menu is pretty big, I only ever end up ordering some variation on the same five things. This time around, we ordered one crab toast appetizer to share...and then ordered another one about 15 minutes later because it was just so good. Their house-made non-alcoholic drinks are noteworthy and also their general attention to detail. To wit: The host (I think?) must have overheard my agent wishing me a belated birthday when we saw each other, because after our lunch was over, they brought out a mini cupcake for me with a candle in it. Such a little thing, but SO NICE. (The restaurant is located inside the insane and cavernous abc home store, which makes for fun aspirational browsing either before or after lunch.)
Prune. Prune! Need I say anything at all about this place? (Fun trivia fact - it's the subject of my third post on this creaky old thing!) I'm actually kind of surprised that we ended up here, but one of my girlfriends had a hankering for it and we were lucky enough to get a reservation at a normal hour, so that's where we went. It was, unsurprisingly, excellent in every way. There was gorgeous sparkling Cabernet, radishes with delicious cultured butter and crunchy salt, meltingly rich lamb sweetbreads, mussel stew in which every. single. mussel was sweet and perfect. For my vegetarian friend, they made a special off-menu selection of their vegetable sides and some items from the appetizers. And for dessert, though I wasn't even hungry any more!, there was a crème brûlée that should be taught in cooking school. Aces from start to finish.
A craving for dim sum led us to Dim Sum VIP on Mott Street, which was tiny and crowded, but a fantastic find (we were lucky enough to snag a table at peak lunch hour without a wait). It's too small for dim sum carts and they do everything to order, so you just look at the menu, then fill out an order sheet that's on your table. The food comes out fresh and piping hot, in rapid-fire succession - turnip cakes, red oil wontons, bean curd skin rolls (two orders!), shrimp rice rolls and an enormous plate of sautéed gai lan. Still thinking about those gorgeous greens.
Hipster ramen has become almost a cliché (almost?), and if you have never been to Momofuku before, that's where you should have some, but Ippudo is pretty great, too, and much bigger and warmer and more comfortable. We had the nicest server, the cucumber appetizer is icy-cold and crunchy and savory and wonderful, and the spicy karaka ramen sustained us nearly the whole day.
My favorite find of the trip was the Thai restaurant Fish Cheeks on Bond Street. I had read about it in the New Yorker and filed it away in my mind, then we stumbled upon while out walking one day and ending up going in and reserving a table for the next evening. It's a fun, boisterous, colorful place and the food is wonderful. Unlike many Thai restaurants that have enormous menus, this place has a pretty small selection, but it's very well-considered and offers a great balance of family-style dishes. The best appetizers we tried were the fiery zabb wings and the cooling, wonderful yum sum-o salad. We liked the crab curry and the seafood pad cha, but the main dish that ended up truly shining was...the crab fried rice, believe it or not. It looked sort of pale and quiet next to the bombastic other mains, but it was excellent, really beautifully flavored and lovely.
First off, an apology. Writing about Thanksgiving in February is...well...not great. But I swear I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have a very good reason and that reason is this recipe for roasted turkey stock, which is worth every single droplet of sweat, blood and tears you expend on Thanksgiving itself to make the feast. Every time I open my freezer and see the remaining turkey stock I made in November, I feel like I have money in the bank. And there's no reason to restrict the recipe below to turkey - it works just as well with a small collection of roast chicken carcasses.
The recipe comes from Suzanne Goin and is a study in the art of how to build flavor. You start out, of course, with a roasted turkey carcass (first layer). This gets returned to the oven the day after Thanksgiving to roast until it sizzles and is fragrant (second layer). Then you roast vegetables and aromatics in the turkey drippings (third layer). You add a pretty large amount of wine to the roasted vegetables and then reduce that wine until it's syrupy (layer four). At that point, it's time to add water and the seasonings and to simmer the stock until it's rich and flavorful (layer five!).
What results is a golden brown liquid that tastes absolutely amazing, both on its own or in things like risotto or other soups. But the very best thing you can do with it (besides freezing it and being delighted by it every single time you open the freezer, if you're like me) is to make turkey pho. Follow this fantastic recipe by Samin Nosrat, which adds even more flavor to your amazing stock by simmering it with charred ginger, onions and star anise - and copious amounts of fish sauce. Not to mention the fresh limes and bean sprouts and jalapeños and mint and cilantro...
Of course you don't have to wait until next Thanksgiving to try this out - the next two times (approximately, if you're using a 4-5 pound chicken) you roast a chicken, throw the carcass in the freezer. The third time, remove the frozen carcasses and add to the fresh carcass, then depart with the recipe below.
1 leftover carcass from a 10- to 15-pound roasted turkey, preferably including neck, wing and leg bones 4 or 5 onions, peeled and quartered 2 large or 3 small carrots, peeled and cut into chunks 4 large or 5 small celery ribs, cut into chunks 2 cups white wine 2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, smashed and peeled 4 sprigs fresh thyme 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 1 whole arbol (or another small dried red) chile Kosher salt
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Using a sturdy knife or your hands, cut or tear turkey carcass into large pieces. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan and roast until brown and sizzling, 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Remove from oven and transfer pieces to a stockpot. Add onions, carrots and celery to the empty roasting pan and place over medium heat. Sauté briefly, just to loosen the crusty turkey bits from bottom of pan. Return pan to oven and cook until vegetables are browned around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Remove pan from oven and place it over medium heat. Add white wine and cook, stirring, until wine is reduced to a syrup, about 3 minutes. Add wine-vegetable mixture to stockpot. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaves, black peppercorns and chile. Add 6 quarts water and place over medium-high heat just until mixture comes to a boil.
4. Immediately reduce heat to low, skim any foam floating on top and simmer, skimming as needed, for 3 hours. Add 1 teaspoon salt and taste. If stock tastes watery, keep simmering until stock is flavorful. Taste for salt again and add more if needed.
5. Strain stock through a sieve into a large container or containers. Discard solids. Let stock cool slightly, then refrigerate. Skim off any fat from the top of the stock. Use within 4 days or freeze.
Last fall, for the first time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving at my place. Max was traveling overseas at the time, so I hosted it solo to boot. Wah! There were 15 of us and although my guests (Joanie and her whole crew) brought plenty of delicious side dishes and some dessert, the big things - turkey! stuffing! gravy! pies! mashed potatoes! green beans! uh, cranberry sauce! - were on me. It wasn't the first time I'd done a full Thanksgiving dinner - I cooked one for 40 people at Soho House a few years ago - but that was in a professional kitchen with two sous chefs to help. Also, perhaps most importantly, I was being paid to do so. It was still one of my most insane days in the kitchen, except for that one time when we had to reshoot 11 of the Classic German Baking photos. In one day. While I had the flu.
In other words, I know from stressful kitchen days. So on Thanksgiving, I outsourced my children to my sainted parents, blasted The War on Drugs (excellent getting-shit-done tunes, among other things), put my head down and just did it. And, wow, is it different to be the Thanksgiving cook in your own home than it is to just show up with a few side dishes and a pie in hand, my usual role.
(A million seasoned home cooks roll their eyes and yawn, while mouthing ya think, genius?)
I learned so much. Like to err on the side of having a too-big turkey, rather than a too-small one (insert chagrined emoji face here). That baking an apple pie for close to two hours really is revelatory. To stay away from, how should I call them, newfangled variations on cranberry sauce. And that you can't have too many mashed potatoes, as long as you know about this way to use them up: Aloo Tikki, also known as Indian Potato Cakes, also known as my favorite kitchen discovery of 2017.
On Thanksgiving, propelled by some hard-to-articulate terror that we wouldn't have enough food, I made - hold tight - almost 9 pounds of mashed potatoes. After our feasting, this is what I was left with:
I couldn't figure out where to begin re-purposing what looked like about 5 pounds of leftover mashed potatoes. So I took to Instagram to ask for help, and almost 200 comments rolled in with ideas. I mean, people, the wealth of inspiration! It was incredible. (It's here, but warning: don't click on that if you're hungry and not in possession of an obscene amount of leftover mashed potatoes.)
The thing that most tickled my fancy was the idea of combining fresh, hot Indian flavors with the potatoes. Not only did it sound delicious but I was pretty sure it was going to be the best way to get excited about working through leftovers after that first obligatory meal of Thanksgiving leftovers (you know, pretty great the first time, pretty heinous the fifth). Also, they seemed dead easy and if you know anything about me at this point, you know that I will always, ALWAYS choose the easiest way.
So. Aloo tikki. You take a whole bunch of leftover mashed potatoes. You mix in some chopped red pepper and scallions, some cumin, coriander and turmeric, and an egg and flour for binding. Then you make little cakes out of the mixture. Fry them in oil. Whisk up an yogurt sauce (NON-NEGOTIABLE, DO NOT SKIP, PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS WHOLE POST). Serve them together and watch your mashed potatoes disappear faster than the speed of light. Magic!
Now a quick word of caution. I do not know authentic this recipe is. I found it on Genius Kitchen, which is the new home of the old Food.com. Some cursory searches online turned up other recipes for Aloo Tikki that certainly sound even better - with fresh ginger and garam masala and peas (PEAS!). But let me put it like this: this basic recipe already was the greatest thing I made all year, perhaps precisely because it was such a cinch. So don't let it stop you and then make the ones with peas (wherein the journalist calls aloo tikki Pakistan and India's greatest street food I REST MY CASE) and report back. Deal?
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes 1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced 4 scallions, thinly sliced 1 large egg 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder Vegetable oil, for frying 1/3 cup yogurt (plain or Greek) 1/4 cup minced cilantro, or more to taste 1 jalapeno, minced (with seeds for hotter sauce, without for milder) 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice Salt, to taste
1. Place the mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl. Add the red pepper, scallions, egg, flour, and spices. Mix well, then set the mixture aside for 10 minutes.
2. In the meantime, make the yogurt sauce: Place the yogurt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lime juice, oil, cilantro, jalapeño and salt to taste. Set aside.
3. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet (preferably non-stick) and heat over medium heat. Form as many 2-3 inch patties as you can fit in the skillet and gently put them in the hot skillet. Fry each side until golden-brown, remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining potato mixture (adding more oil to the pan if necessary). You can keep the cakes warm in a 200 F/95 C oven. Serve hot with the yogurt sauce.
How's that for sidling back here after 6 months of radio silence? Smooth, right?
So here's where I've been...right here! Trying to get my kid to practice the piano. Making sure Bruno doesn't electrocute himself since he has a predilection for sucking on electrical cables plugged into sockets. Up to my eyeballs in baby life and parental leave - Max took two months off this summer so we hightailed it to my mother in Italy - and schoolkid life, because Hugo started school in September. It's been very busy and satisfying and all-encompassing and wonderful. And Bruno is the sweetest little angel baby, all smiles and soft skin and cuddles. Having him around just feels so good. Next week he turns one and I am totally gutted. Time rolls on and breaks our hearts...
Also practicing the piano!
But you are here for recipes, not for a mother bellyaching about her baby growing up, so let me tell you about this most wondrous discovery I made all the way back in October (but is still going strong in January, locked up in a nice, airtight jar in my pantry): Alison Roman's savory granola, found in the pages of her first cookbook, Dining In (currently, everyone is all in on her chocolate chunk shortbread recipe, which, it being January, just makes me so happy. Piss off, green smoothie cult!).
Try as I might, regular granola, no matter how many seeds or how much olive oil gets thrown in there, just isn't my thing. It's too sweet for breakfast, too rich to start the day. I want to like it and God knows there are enough enticing recipes online to satisfy almost every single person on this planet, and yet it's just...not what I want to eat. Savory granola, though, is a whole other barrel of fish. Salty, spicy and kind of weird, it's kind of brilliant. Alison packs her recipe full of fennel seeds and Aleppo pepper and nigella seeds (kalonji, my favorite word!) and soy sauce and buckwheat groats, for crying out loud. It's nutty and spicy and crunchy, keeps for far longer than the recipe indicates, and tastes fantastic when layered as follows:
Chopped cherry tomatoes and peeled cucumbers, well-salted and generously soaked in really good olive oil; super-creamy plain yogurt (full-fat is the only way to go, folks, but not Greek, at least not for me), then some generous handfuls of savory granola. You want the tomato-cuke juices to pool at the bottom of the bowl with the olive oil, so that each bite is sort of saucy, creamy, and crunchy at the same time. Err on the side of more olive oil in this breakfast bowl, not less.
And for the umpteenth time, let us all give thanks that botanists developed cherry tomatoes to be delicious at all times of the year so that this nice little breakfast can also be enjoyed in the depths of winter. Thank you, science!
The awful thing about not blogging for so long, besides making me feel wracked with guilt and weirdly lazy, is that it makes it extra hard to get back into the saddle again. But I have missed you all very much and I just wanted to say thanks to all those who kept checking in and welcome to all those who found their way here while I was off changing diapers and sleep-training. You're all great. Can't wait to fire this place up again this year.
Alison Roman's Savory Granola Adapted from Dining In
1½ cups rolled oats 1 cup raw sunflower seeds 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds 1 cup buckwheat groats ½ cup flaxseeds ½ cup black or white sesame seeds ¼ cup nigella seed (if unavailable, use more black or white sesame seeds) 3 large egg whites ⅓ cup olive oil, peanut oil, or grapeseed oil ¼ cup maple syrup ¼ cup caraway or fennel seed 1-2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine the oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, nigella seed, egg whites, oil, maple syrup, caraway seed, Aleppo pepper, soy sauce, and salt in a medium bowl and toss to mix until everything is evenly coated. Season with plenty of black pepper.
3. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until everything is golden brown and toasty, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely and break any large clumps into smaller pieces before storing in glass jars or ziplock bags. Will keep for at least a month.
Aaaaaand, it's naptime again, which means it's time for another blog post written on the fly! (Cue lots of cartoon dust clouds and "peee-ow" acceleration noises as your heroine's fingers fly on the keyboard.)
I don't know about you, but my pantry is full of all sorts of things that routinely stump me when I open the door (here's looking at you, wasabi powder). Hidden among the cans of beans and glass jars of flours (and the wasabi powder) are various sweeteners that have made their home way home with me over the years, like brown rice syrup, two half-empty (what gives?) bottles of agave nectar, and various shades of brown sugar. I never really know what to do with them and I confess that the "clean eating" brigade actually put me off alternative sweeteners for years.
Enter Shauna Sever's Real Sweet, a cookbook about recipes made with all kinds of natural sugars, from coconut sugar to brown rice syrup, from muscovado sugar to maple syrup, from piloncillo to agave. Sort of like Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, Shauna's emphasis is on teaching you about the different flavors, textures and properties that these sweeteners impart to cakes, cookies and other confections. It's not a healthy or "clean" baking book, just so that we're very clear from the start. It's a fantastic collection of really delicious treats, impeccably tested, written with humor and geared towards both child-friendly treats and sophisticated desserts. The book is organized around these treat categories, rather than the sweeteners, but there's a good index in the back that allows you to choose a sweetener and then see all the related recipes grouped there.
Shauna, who is my sweet and hilarious friend, has two young children, and clearly knows a thing or two about developing Grade A playground treats. But she doesn't dumb down any of her recipes and the book is filled with neat little fillips that elevate all of the recipes into Truly Special territory. The raspberry yogurt popsicles, for example, require lemon peel and vanilla bean, which make them deeply delicious for big and small alike. Shauna's also such a baking pro that the book is stuffed with all kinds of informational gems about baking that I've applied to other recipes with outstanding results. There are lots of hidden tips that will make you a better baker and a more confident one, too. Shauna even managed to develop two recipes for meringue (one soft, one crisp) and a recipe for confectioner's sugar without processed white sugar. Amazing.
I don't know about you, but it's very rare that I end up making more than a handful of things out of any particular cookbook. With this book, though, I can't seem to stop baking from it. I've made everything from tart blueberry fruit leather (agave syrup) to a soulful orange-vanilla pound cake (made with demerara, the batter beaten so long it resembled a gorgeously tan cloud by the end) to a buttery brittle topped with mixed seeds (brown rice syrup - and a candy thermometer, don't try this without one!) to those aforementioned raspberry yogurt popsicles (again, agave syrup) and I have several more recipes bookmarked to make this month alone. (If you must know: the Banana Butterscotch Cream Pie with evaporated cane juice, the Sunflower Seed Nuggets with coconut sugar and the Cracklin' Maple Popcorn with maple syrup, turbinado sugar, plus some molasses.)
The recipes were easy to follow, worked just as written and produced great results. I especially loved that nothing was too sweet or cloying. Shauna got the balance of flavors just right in everything. Shauna really understands the different flavors that these alternative sweeteners provide, as well as the textural things they can achieve (or not) and the recipes reflect it. She didn't just plug in brown sugar for white in a standard recipe. She really developed a whole slew of new recipes around the flavor of each sweetener.
Though I loved everything I made from Real Sweet, my very favorite is actually worth the price of the book (it's also the only thing I don't have a photo for; apologies!): Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle. This stuff is...well...insane. You make a thin chocolate chip cookie batter, then spread it out all over a baking sheet. Once it has baked and cooled, it hardens into a thin layer that you break apart into rich, buttery shards that taste like a heavenly mashup between the crisp bits of a chocolate chip cookie and a Skor bar (or any chocolate-covered hard toffee). It's delicious. It's ridiculous. You will not be able to stop eating it. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.
Thanks to Shauna, I no longer have any agave syrup in my pantry at all, but I do plan on never being without turbinado or coconut sugar again. And I love that I now have uses for maple syrup and honey beyond our weekend pancakes or Hugo's breakfast yogurt. Best of all, I'm a better baker because of it. Real Sweet will be on my shelves forever.
Shauna Sever's Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle Adapted from Real Sweet Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch pieces
14 tablespoons/200 grams unsalted butter, cut into chunks 1 cup/200 grams turbinado sugar 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour 1/2 cup/60 grams finely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional) 3/4 cup/130 grams chocolate chips (50-70% cacao)
1. Heat the oven to 350F/180C.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar together. Don't let the mixture come to a boil. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk for 1 minute, until the mixture is thickened and smooth and no longer appears separated. Whisk in the vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour until well incorporated. Stir in half the nuts, if using.
3. Scrape the dough out onto an unlined sheet pan and pat it into a very thin, even layer with your hands. It won't look as if you'll be able to fill the entire pan, but you will; just keep patting and spreading the dough all the way to the edges. Use an offset spatula to give the dough a smooth finish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and remaining nuts, if using, over the the dough and press them lightly into with your hands.
4. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until light golden brown and slightly firm to the touch all over. Let cool in the pan for 3 minutes. Line a second sheet pan with parchment paper. Flip the slab of brittle onto the paper and then immediately peel off the parchment and invert it right side up onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container for at least 5 days.
It's taken me about a year to want to bake again. After finishing work on Classic German Baking, I didn't want to even be in the same room as a piece of cake for a very long time. I don't know if it's stress baking (thanks, Trump!) or trying to find an ounce of external productivity in a life that is otherwise totally ruled by a sweet little butterball named Bruno, but I am very grateful to be finding pleasure in baking again, because it's about the only thing I seem capable of doing right now.
Last weekend I made Joanie's birthday cake for her picnic (the Kranzkuchen from CGB). We are feverishly planning Hugo's fifth birthday cake production next week (he gets to take one to daycare and there will be another one for his party and they will of course both be chocolate - but different! - because that is what he loves). I made these scones a few days ago and these cookies are on the docket for later today. I've been baking my way through this book and can't wait to tell you more about it. And last night, after the boys were in bed and with Max away on business, after reading James Comey's statement in advance of his Senate testimony and gnashing my teeth down to nubs, I made the Field Day Poundcake from the New York Times, which is every bit as majestic as Jennifer Steinhauer makes it out to be and a very good distraction from the outside world.
(What I don't understand is why the Times calls it Poundcake, as opposed to Pound Cake. Maybe one of you knows?)
It's gloriously simple, of course, just butter and eggs and sugar and flour, with a good splash of vanilla for flavor, some salt and a tiny bit of cream. Nevertheless, I made a few little tweaks that I'd like to pass on to you. First of all, per Jennifer's recommendation, I added a bit more salt than called for, about 1 1/4 teaspoons. I reduced the sugar by 1/2 cup and it was still plenty sweet. In fact, next time, I might even go down to 2 1/4 cups. This reduction didn't mess with the texture of the cake at all. I didn't use cake flour, just regular flour, and I didn't fold the flour in by hand, as she recommends, because my folding spatula was dirty and I was tired. I just switched the machine on low and beat it in gently. Same with the cream. One more thing, since Jennifer doesn't get specific about mixing times: at the start, make sure you beat the butter and sugar together until they're really light and fluffy, which takes about 5 minutes with a stand mixer. Then make sure that you beat each egg in for a minute. All this beating makes for a wondrous pile of cake batter, and, after baking, a gorgeous, even, velvety crumb. (This is just one of the great baking tips I got out of Shauna Sever's Real Sweet, mentioned above.)
I seem to have misplaced my Bundt cake pan so I used a tube cake pan, which I filled to the brim, but I still had a little leftover batter. So I poured that into muffin cups. (These, of course, bake for far less time than the full cake, just keep an eye on them and do the skewer test after about 25 minutes.) The cake was very tender when it first came out of the oven, but after cooling overnight it firmed up nicely. I plan on serving it this afternoon with sugared strawberries, while we watch the Senate hearing.
The world may be smoldering, but we will have cake.
453 grams (2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pans 600 grams (3 cups) granulated sugar (I only used 2 1/2 cups) 6 large eggs, at room temperature 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 453 grams (3 cups) cake flour (I used all-purpose) ¼ cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter and flour one 12-cup Bundt pan or two 8.5-inch-by-4.5-inch loaf pans, and set aside.
2. Using a stand mixer, cream together the remaining butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and salt.
3. Gently beat in the flour. Add the cream and stir just until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour the batter into the pan or pans and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely.
Omg omg omg, you guys, the baby's down. Asleep. In the bedroom. In the middle of the day! WHAT. I know!
I should go shower. But instead I will blog. It's like the good old days! Who knows how long I've got, ten minutes? 30? An hour? I've got the William Tell Overture blaring in my sleep-deprived brain and the computer open, so let's do this thing. Here goes!
So I made more bread. It seems to be the theme of the month! This time, it's Melissa Clark's recipe for Excellent White Bread. And it is indeed Excellent with a capital E. Totally, majestically excellent. I mean, check out that loaf up there! It's like Moby Dick sailing through my kitchen, or something.
It makes fantastic toast - all crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It makes very decadent grilled cheese sandwiches. And I used it for baked French toast on the weekend and it was stupendous in that too. (Tangent: Want to impress Europeans? Make baked French toast. I don't know why, but every time I make it for guests, be they German, French, Belgian or Italian, their minds are blown. It's very neat. Maybe it's also the maple syrup? I don't know. Who cares! DO IT.)
If you are a novice to bread-making, let this recipe be your gateway drug. It is so easy and so foolproof. And I made it even more so with instant yeast (see this post, see this cookbook, yadda yadda). The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup of sugar, but this makes the bread too sweet for sandwiches (though it's pretty great for French toast). If you want a nice, neutral loaf of sandwich bread (or "toast bread", as the Germans call it), two tablespoons of sugar is plenty to give the bread a little oomph, but not too much.
Oooh, this is fun bread to make. The dough is firm and smooth and satiny and gorgeous and rises just as much as it's supposed to in all the different stages. The crumb is tight and cottony and looks practically store bought, if that's a compliment to you (if it's not, you know what I mean, right?). We chomped our way through one loaf (a full recipe baked in a verrrrry long loaf pan) in an alarmingly short period of time and my husband, who is genetically predisposed to dark, grainy, wholesome loaves, asked me specifically to make another loaf as soon as possible. He gets it: EX-CELL-ENT.
5 to 6 cups/625 grams to 750 grams all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon instant yeast 1 ½ cups/355 milliliters lukewarm milk 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon/15 grams salt 3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, soft, plus more for greasing bowl and pans and for brushing the tops of the loaves 2 eggs
1. In a large electric mixer bowl, place 5 cups of the flour. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Mix with the hook attachment on low speed, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is stiff and slightly tacky, 8 to10 minutes.
2. Grease a large bowl with butter and turn dough out into the bowl. Flip over dough so greased side is up, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Generously butter two 9-x-5 loaf pans.
3. When dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto floured surface and knead for 3 minutes. Return to greased bowl, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.
4. Press down dough with your hand to expel the air. Divide dough in half and place each half into a loaf pan. Brush tops of loaves with remaining melted butter.
5. Cover and let rise until dough is just above the tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
6. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when tapped, the tops are brown and the internal temperatures are 200 degrees. Remove loaves from pans and let cool on wire racks. The loaves will keep for at least three days at room temperature in a bread box.
Hugo turns five this summer. Five! Wasn't he just born? Sunrise! Sunset! Sigh.
A silly little story: We still wake Hugo before we go to bed to take him to the bathroom one last time for the night, even though he doesn't need it anymore, even though he gets up by himself in the middle of the night if necessary and puts himself back to bed too. We can't bring ourselves to stop, I guess. Old habits die hard.
This has been Max's job since the early stages of my pregnancy with Bruno, but the other night, Max was away on a business trip so it fell to me to do it. A year ago, I could still lift Hugo easily into my arms. His legs still clamped easily around my waist and his head fell into my shoulder just perfectly. He was heavy and I wouldn't have been able to take a leisurely stroll holding him, but it wasn't ridiculous for me to pick him up. The other night, though, was a wholly different story. I was trying to pick up a boy, not a toddler, and I couldn't get a handle on his lanky limbs or his weight. It suddenly felt like I was trying to lift a horse. I awkwardly staggered to the bathroom with him and back, practically grunting with effort, rather than doing that cozy, capable, motherly nighttime glide. It was both funny and heartbreaking.
And not for the first time since January I found myself thinking, thank God I still have another baby.
But onto the matter at hand: I've long stopped cooking specifically for this practically teenaged Hugo, unless he's feeling out of sorts and in need of a steadying bowl of pastina before bedtime. (Whenever this happens, Max comes home from work, sniffs the broth in the air and promptly proclaims he'd like some too, go figure.) And Hugo's mostly a good eater. Left to his own devices, of course, he'd eat a diet consisting solely of cookies and chocolate, with Tic-Tacs thrown in for good measure (he's obsessed with them). He likes to complain about weird things like lentil soup and tomato sauce. And a few months ago, he specifically and solemnly asked me never to make polenta again. (Huh?) (I feel the need to clarify: I'd only fed it to him twice in his short life! But I guess when you hate something, you hate it.) But when I make Swiss chard* or salad with romaine hearts or boiled spinach with olive oil and lemon for dinner, Hugo proclaims that that's the food he'd like to eat every day for the rest of his life and devours three portions. (Not. Even. Kidding.) So largely we're in a good place.
The biggest slam dunk in recent months, though, has been the discovery of this little salad - a mixture of cubed avocado and cucumber, dressed with plain yogurt, lemon juice, dried mint and salt. It recently joined Hugo's other favorite vegetables in the hallowed three-portions-in-one-sitting pantheon. Actually, he can work his way through almost an entire bowl of this stuff. I found the original recipe, which includes mayo and scallions and Sriracha for a far more "grown-up" concoction, on Deb's site, and she, in turn, got it from Julia Turshen's Instagram. One night, when we had little in the house in the way of green vegetables besides a cucumber and an avocado, the reminder of that salad flitted across the nether regions of my brain. That night, I left out the Sriracha due to Hugo and the scallions due to Max and the mayo due to myself, plus I added the dried mint, because I'm having a love affair with it right now (more on that in another post!) and upped the yogurt, which, when you give the salad several good stirs, turns a gorgeous celadon hue. And lo and behold, we all went nuts for it.
Since then, it's graced our table weekly, even with the dire avocados us poor Berliners are subjected to (the rule seems to be that for every good avocado you get, you've thrown at least three rotten ones out), and Hugo and Max regularly battle over who gets to eat the last spoonfuls. It's funny, because I would have been deeply suspicious of this salad as a child, due to the creamy dressing, but all the elements really are very child-friendly - and the combination of them is pleasing to both grown-ups and little ones.
You hardly need a recipe, but here goes:
Avocado-Cucumber Salad Serves 2-3
Take one firm-ripe avocado and cube. Cube half a peeled English cucumber. Combine both in a bowl. Add several large spoonfuls of whole-milk plain yogurt, the creamier, the better. Add a healthy pinch of salt, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried mint and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir well and serve.
*European Swiss chard seems to be, on the whole, sweeter and tastier than U.S. grown Swiss chard, so keep that in mind. Also, besides tasting good, the ritual of dousing boiled green vegetables in good olive oil (we decant it into a pretty glass cruet) and freshly squeezed lemon juice seems to add to the appeal to children.
Dear reader, it has been a long week. I know it's only Wednesday. And Monday was a holiday here. Yes, somehow, I have been bested by a Tuesday and half a Wednesday. I am counting the minutes until the weekend.
Hugo is home with pink eye and a runny nose. The mucus, it is oppressive. The whining even more so. Bruno has decided that daytime napping will be done only while being bounced in a bouncy chair, or wrapped in a baby sling, or pushed in a stroller. None of these will allow me to distance myself from him by more than 10 inches. I am still wearing the workout clothes I donned this morning. Nota bene: I have not worked out. I have not showered. Both of my shoulders are damp with regurgitated breast milk. Last night, I slept a cumulative total of three hours. Things are not pretty.
But let's talk about more pleasant things. Bread. Homemade bread. It happened because I recently accidentally bought "instant" oats. I do not like "instant" oats. Somehow I was not paying attention in the grocery store (I blame the baby and his nighttime shenanigans) and I grabbed the wrong bag. At home, whilst decanting the oats into their glass container, I realized my mistake. My disappointment was disproportionate, but what can I say? Sleep deprivation and the perpetual scent of sour milk on one's person will mess with your sense of perspective. Then, last weekend, while paging to the only recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook that I use (the pancake recipe), I came across a recipe for something called "Oatmeal Bread" that uses, wait for it, instant oats. A whole cup of them.
And there it was, a long-missed sense of triumph, albeit tiny. A solution to my oat problem. It may be pathetic, what passes for triumph in these trying days. But I will take any victory, no matter how small. And it was a victory indeed, this bread discovery.
The recipe produces a nice, sturdy loaf of sandwich bread that is agreeably chewy and has a nice, even crumb. It doesn't taste like oatmeal, really, but it has a damp wholesomeness that is just lovely. And did I mention how nicely chewy it is? I like it a lot. It toasts well, stands up well to a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory, makes a very good grilled cheese, and is as comforting to make as it is to eat. The right recipe for me, right now.
Now, the recipe is simple as can be, and yet I managed to simplify it further. As you may know, if you have read Classic German Baking, I loathe active dry yeast and its finicky nature. Moreover, you can't buy it here in Germany. So I use instant yeast instead, which means you can also skip the irritating "proofing" step when making yeasted dough and just mix all the ingredients together at once. I urge you to do the same. (I used 1/2 tablespoon of instant yeast for 5 1/2 cups of flour - next time, I will try the recipe with 1 teaspoon of instant yeast to see just how little yeast I can get away with.) The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of molasses, but I didn't want a sweet loaf, so I reduced the molasses to 1 tablespoon. You can use honey instead of molasses if you prefer, but at just a single tablespoon, the molasses flavor is nonexistent. It is just the right amount of sweetener for a loaf that is meant to be eaten with lots of different things. I won't make it any other way. But you should of course do as you see fit.
The recipe makes two loaves. I have one in our bread box that we are working through right now; the other one I have sliced evenly and put into the freezer. Having sliced bread in the freezer for bleary-eyed mornings makes them slightly more bearable. Slightly. Working through that jar of instant oats will take some time, but pulling gorgeous loaves out of the oven on a regular basis is hardly a hardship. One takes what one can get.
1 cup instant oats 1 tablespoon molasses or honey 2 teaspoons salt 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading 1/2 tablespoon instant yeast 1 tablespoon butter or oil, plus more for the pan
1. Place the oats in a large bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and pour over the oats. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the sweetener, salt, flour, yeast and butter. Stir until a shaggy dough comes together, then pull out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and relatively smooth (the oats won't make it completely smooth). about 7 minutes.
2. Shape the dough into a ball, place back in the mixing bowl, cover with a dish cloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) to double in bulk (about an hour).
3. Butter two standard loaf pans. When the dough has doubled in bulk, gently pull it out of the bowl onto the work surface, knead it a couple times, then divide it in half and shape into loaves the length of the loaf pans. Place each piece of dough into a pan, cover anew with the dish cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour).
4. Remove from the oven, if that is where you were letting the loaves rise, and preheat to 375 F/190 C. Remove the dish cloth and place the pans in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning the bread out of the pans and letting them cool completely. The sides of the bread will seem a little flabby at first, but firm up as they cool. The bread will keep in a bread box for 4 to 5 days or can be frozen in plastic freezer bags.
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