Friday, March 25, 2016

(new year's res) Baking Bread #1

One of my (many) new year's resolutions is to bake four loaves of bread in 2016. And since I love nothing more than making a brash justification and blurring the definition of what "bread" really is just to be able to check off another item on my personal resolution list, I spent an afternoon baking an Americanized version of an Irish bread shaped like a British pastry. Why, you ask? Well, it all started with a deep moment of nostalgia for the Irish soda bread I grew up eating at my best friend Terri's house at their annual St. Patrick's Day dinner. While my Sicilian/Italian family paid more attention to the following day's St. Joseph's Day celebrations, Terri's family was more than happy to indulge in their Guinness-drinking, limerick-making Irish heritage. And as a result, each year her mother would make the entire traditional feast - corned beef and cabbage, potato soup, and the heartiest soda bread this side of the Atlantic. I haven't been able to partake in their dinner in quite some time (thanks, work schedule), but I found myself thinking of those nights around her dinner table in anticipation of this year's St. Patrick's Day.

I had to work on SPD this year and knew that I wasn't going to be able to commit to the full menu - but the soda bread was something I could handle. This would be my first time making the heralded bread, so I took to the internet for guidance and inspiration - only to discover that there are about a million different "authentic" family recipes that each claimed theirs was the "true" Irish soda bread. Ok, so I'll just ask Terri's mom for her recipe, that'll solve my problem! But I unfortunately didn't plan ahead and decided to start looking up recipes about five minutes before I left for the grocery, and didn't have time to wait for a response. I started to fret. How was I going to pay my respects to the patron saint of Ireland?? Then I remembered the gold mine that is Smitten Kitchen. Ahh yes. That's where I'll find my recipe!

And find a recipe I did - one that looked delicious, not-too-complicated to make...and was for an Americanized version of Irish soda bread. In scone-form. But whatever. I've learned to put my trust in the wise words of Deb Perelman, and figured that if this soda bread was good enough for her, it'd be good enough for me (which, obvi, it so was). So there you have the story of my first of four loaves of bread made in 2016, even though the loaf of bread I made was neither a loaf nor a bread ;)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

status update

I recently downloaded a new app for my phone that displays the weather, MTA travel alerts, a three-day pollen count forecast, an icon that let's me know if my hair is going to be frizzy or not, and a humorous meme inspired by the results of the previously named factors. One of the recent graphics told me, in a giant "greetings from dallas" postcard font, that TACOCAT spelled backwards is TACOCAT. So basically, even though the weather has gone from gorgeous to awful once again and the pollen count is through the roof and I've already taken three more than the recommended amount of allergy pills and my hair is so frizzy I need two hats to tamper it, it's pretty cool that we live in a world where all this depressing information is immediately aggregated and beamed to our phones in an instant. Also, it's March which means it's my birthday month which also means that I have to put another $100 in my "in case of travel fund" (because age 32 = $3200 in the travel fund), but it's also pretty cool that I'm at a place in my life where I can have a separate "in case of travel fund," something that never even occurred to me four years ago when I was merely a silly and unrefined 28 year old. And now for some other news:

*Food for thought
*I want to spend one week here and one week here
*Art for Insta's sake? Guilty as charged
*Let's bring back the walkabout
*9 ways to tie a scarf
*This month's artist crush
*I've spent many a night at his bar, and I can attest that he is truly a class act (and pours a great drink)
*The ultimate road trip
*Misty + Degas = simply gorge
*Good news/finally/it's about damn time/oh thank god

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bake the Book: Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Last week was J's birthday, and the rule in our family is that you get any meal you want on your birthday. It took him a few days to select his preferred dinner menu (he eventually settled on homemade crab cakes, saut├ęd spinach, and parmesan angel hair pasta...and the messiest kitchen in the history of our apartment), but he'd been talking about the dessert for months. His request? Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Why? Because last fall our friends got married and served a medley of Four and Twenty pies at the reception, and that was one of their offerings - and our favorite of the evening. Luckily though, I was already in possession of their eponymous cookbook, which provides step-by-step instructions on every aspect of the pie-making process.

Not only was the resulting pie absolutely delicious, is was also really fun to make. Toasting the oats elicited a surprisingly maternal and homey feeling within me, and there was just enough chocolate ganache left over for me to enjoy a yummy taste or three.

This recipe is taken directly from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book:

For a single-crust pie:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice

Sitr the flour, salt,and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain; be careful not to overblend.
Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or a small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.

To prebake the crust:
Remove the crust from the refrigerator and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface to 1/8" thickness and 1" larger than your pie plate. Place in a buttered pie dish and crimp the edges as preferred, and then place the crust back in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When it's fully chilled, use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, 15 to 20 times. Place crust in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven and a baking sheet to 425 degrees. When the crust is frozen, line it tightly with aluminum foil. Make sure the crimped edges are completely covered and there are no gaps between the foil and the crust. Pour pie weights (or dried beans, which are cheaper and easier to come by) into the pan and spread them so they are concentrated more around the edge of the shell than in the center. Place the pan on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the edges are set but not browned. Remove and cool completely before filling.

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into 1/4" pieces (I used Lint 70% Dark Chocolate and it was wonderful)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup dark corn syrup (I used light corn syrup because that's what I had on hand and it seemed just fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
4 large eggs

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the oats on a rimed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Reduce oven temp to 325 degrees.

To make the ganache layer, bring the heavy cream just to a boil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour in the chocolate pieces. Swirl the cream around to distribute and cover the chocolate; let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth. Scrape the ganache into the cooled pie shell and spread evenly over the bottom. Place the shell in the freezer to set the ganache while making the filling.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, ginger, salt, and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and cider vinegar and whisk to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Stir in the cooled oats.

Place the ganache-coated pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the filling. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is slightly firm to the touch but still has some give (like gelatin). Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days (that's assuming you have leftovers, which we very nearly did not).

This pie in other places: Smitten Kitchen has some delicious-sounding variations!

Friday, March 4, 2016

(new year's res) Roll of Film #1

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to take at least four rolls of film this year. Since none of my little plastic analogue cameras handle low light very well, I assumed I'd have to wait until sometime in the spring to start taking these photos - but a few weeks ago we here in the northeast were surprised with a bright, sunny, mid-50's temps weekday afternoon (thanks, global warming?). I also serendipitously had the entire afternoon off with nothing to do except run some errands along 5th ave. and slowly make my way through the park and to the upper west side for an evening performance. Warm temps, bright skies, and a casual urban stroll? That, my friends, is a recipe for a photo walk if I ever saw one. So without hesitation I loaded up my Diana Mini and set out to see my city through a tiny, slightly fuzzy, toy camera lens.

Film: FujiColor - ISO 100
Photo locations: Bryant Park, 5th Avenue (for NYPL, Rockefeller Center), Central Park, Lincoln Center

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tout le beurre

A few days into January, before I got consumed by a theater and when I still had access to things like "nights" and "weekends," I got a text from my friend Claire. It was a link to a recipe along with the message, "we should make this?!"

"Totally," I replied. "This weekend?"

"Yesssss" was her answer.

So on a moderately chilly and almost-snowy Saturday, I threw two cookie sheets, my French rolling pin, and two bars of dark chocolate into my bag and hiked the six blocks over to Claire's apartment. A fresh bag of flour, a half-drunk bottle of wine, and a laptop blaring a questionably sourced episode of The Great British Bake-Off littered her kitchen table.

"You ready for this?" she asked.

"Did you actually read the recipe?" I replied. "You know, we need to let these chill for like 18 hours or something."

"Yeah I just saw that. But I already bought all this butter, so we might as well just do it. Let's start!"

And with that, Claire and I set off on a two-day, 27-step, deliciously French and highly caloric pastry-baking extravaganza that would ultimately net us around 36 perfectly puffed croissants and pain au chocolates (I don't have the exact yield because we were too busy squealing in delight and stuffing our faces to count how many we actually made).

Neither of us had ever taken on such a complicated recipe before. I'd tackled a few multiple-course meals complete with homemade baked goods and I know that Claire can navigate a cake recipe like it's a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but these were authentic French pastries. From scratch.  However, we are two fairly intelligent women who like working our way systematically through complicated processes (it's no accident that in "real life" she is an opera singer and I am a stage manager), so we were able to find comfort and reassurance in following the recipe. And luckily, we work well together. I would call out instructions while she kneaded the dough for a while, and then I would take over dough duty while her arms took a rest.

Stopping only for church (her) and rehearsal (me), we floured, we rolled, we folded, we chilled, we rolled again, we proofed, we rolled some more, we folded some more, and we proofed some more - and by Sunday evening we had ourselves four pans of what looked like pretty good chocolates and croissants-to-be. Then came the moment of truth: it was time to bake the pastries. Following another seemingly bizarre series of steps that included misting the oven with a last-minute-purchased spray bottle of water, we put the dough into the oven and watched our little rolls puff into golden crescents. I don't want to toot our own horns of plenty, but they were wonderful - flakey, buttery, and so warm they practically melted in our mouths. We tore one apart and the inside revealed such perfect little nooks and striated layers that I immediately understood why we had to proof and fold so many times. It was a little slice of Paris in my mouth - a city I hold near and dear to my heart, and one that Claire and I had visited together just last fall.

Would I make them again? Probably not. They were truly and incredibly time-consuming, and she and I have other difficult baked goods to try our hands at next. But was it worth all the work? Without a doubt, yes. I experienced so much unexpected delight in making and eating and sharing the croissants that I nearly forgot just how many steps (and how much butter) it took to make them. While baking can be a solitary experience, sharing the process with a friend made it all the more fun - and now I am that much more excited to see what we bake up next.

Want to try your hand at croissants? We used this recipe for the dough and this for the pains au chocolates. Let me know how they turn out!