This might be my favorite TWD recipe to date. Crumbly buttery dough with flecks of salt that linger on your tongue. A bit of jelly in the middle for a note of acidity. Dusts of powdered sugar for fun and aesthetics. This is one pretty amazing shortbread bar.
The secret to this shortbread’s texture comes from its unusual method of freezing and grating the dough (using a cheese grater). The original recipe calls for rhubarb jam but you can use any preserves you’d like. Since we don’t eat jam or preserves very much, all I had in my pantry was a jar of marula jelly I’d brought from my trip to Namibia last year. It seemed like the perfect occasion to finally open it.
This past weekend I was craving a certain savory breakfast, one that I used to eat often as a child when I was living with my beloved grandparents in their 30th floor flat in Paris’ Chinatown. The whole family lived together, grandparents, aunts and uncle included. It was a fairly big two-bedroom apartment, with a living room overlooking Paris and an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. From our windows, it looked as though the Eiffel Tower was standing on the roof of the nearest building, sparkling at night to say hello. I loved to look down and observe the cars riding by, like ants following each other in neat lines. But what I loved to watch most was the playground, and every day unfailingly I would ask my grandfather to take me down there and play.
My grandfather is one of those early morning types (I did not inherit those genes apparently). He would wake up around 5 or 6am, get dressed, put on his French-style beret and go for a walk around Chinatown and do his rounds. He’d stop by and say hello to people he knew, and perhaps practice some taichi in one of the nearby parks. Sometimes he’d bring back a baguette or two. And he’d have breakfast. And the whole household finally waking up would have breakfast too. It was a simple breakfast, some rice porridge accompanied by a few side dishes, pork floss, fermented tofu, pickled mustard greens, chinese olives, and sometimes an omelette with pickled radish.
What do you do when you have leftover chocolate custard and chocolate ganache? Make a chocolate tart of course!
I had some chocolate filling and icing left from the chocolate eclairs I blogged about last week, and I was determined to not let anything go to waste. I had also saved up some vanilla and lemon-flavored almond cream from another recipe. Inspired by a recipe that I had tried a few years ago from the lovely book by Chocolate and Zucchini, I whipped up a simple caramel sauce, re-made the pasta frolla from the pizza rustica recipe and layered everything to create this tasty tart.
Since I just kind of threw everything together, the chocolate ganache doesn’t really have that smooth texture typical of more traditional chocolate tarts* (and perhaps the purist would fault this tart for it). The chocolate ganache bubbled up in the oven, the caramel sauce oozed a little but that didn’t prevent tasters from ooh-ing at it.
[Disclaimer: this is not the lemon loaf cake from this week’s TWD. Orange Cardamom Cheese Pound Cake.]
This week’s TWD recipe is an easy-peasy lemon loaf cake. Initial reviews on the TWD blog site seemed mixed; most people found it dry and/or lacking in lemon flavor. Since I had just baked a pound cake not too long ago (pictured above), I didn’t feel particularly excited about this one either at first. But the technique used here is a bit different from other pound cakes and while my first pound cake was fairly good, it was also quite dense and erred on the drier side. So I was eager to learn a different technique as I wanted to achieve a lighter texture while keeping the cake tight as pound cakes should be.
Most pound cake recipes will have you cream the butter with sugar first, before adding in the eggs and finally the dry ingredients. The shape and size of your sugar crystals may actually matter in getting that lighter texture. You see, our leavening agent, i.e. baking powder, releases carbon dioxide as it comes into contact with liquids. This carbon dioxide needs a place to go and that’s where the air pockets that your sugar has made in the butter creaming process come in. When your batter heats up, bubbles form, the moisture from the cake creates steam and the air pockets get filled leading to the seemingly magical rise of your cake. So you need sugar that will cut through the butter properly and create appropriate air pockets. This also means that you need to make sure you start with soft butter and that you cream the butter thoroughly. Adding more baking powder won’t necessarily do you good; overleavening can make the bubbles run to the top and pop, and you still won’t get that wonderful rise.
Last weekend, I crossed my first item off my 30 Before 30list. It felt like a true accomplishment. The recipe for eclairs looked deceptively simple but required much more effort than expected. It’s not just the time needed for each component of the recipe (the dough, the filling, the icing) but also the mental exhaustion from thinking and overthinking about each step. Is my pâte à choux going to rise and puff? Is my crème pâtissière sweet enough, too sweet? Am I putting enough chocolate in the glaçage?
Ever since I started this whole baking experience, my respect for bakers and pastry chefs has been growing by leaps and bounds. With savory cooking you can usually taste and adjust as you go along but with baking and pâtisserie you can’t exactly always do that. I suppose experienced bakers have a feel for what things are meant to look like, and for proportions of sugar to flour to eggs. But as a less experienced baker, there’s only so much you can control and sometimes you just have to trust the recipe, your instincts, your oven.
My childhood memories of Joël Robuchon can be summed up in three words: cooking TV show. Back in the days, we had 5 channels on TV (well six but the last one, Canal +, was encrypted most of the time and you had to pay a special subscription to watch it). The most popular, to me at least, were channels 1 and 5, because those offered the best cartoon and anime line-ups (ask anybody born in the 80’s about the Club Dorothée and they’ll dream with nostalgia, I guarantee). Over the years, French national TV has changed a lot but one thing that hasn’t really changed is the programming schedule. Take Channel 1 (TF1) for instance: late mornings feature game shows, at 1pm you’ll have the news, followed by some TV series or soap operas, then more game shows in the late afternoon, and the evening news at 8pm and finally some kind of primetime evening show at 9pm, usually a movie or a talk show. It has been this way ever since I can remember, and I love it. I know exactly what to expect and I love the predictability, the sense of familiarity. Whenever I watch French TV, it really feels like home.
Around news time, there are often short 5-min interlude programs. In fact, Jean Dujardin, who won the latest Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Artist, became famous thanks to one of those short programs which aired right before the 8 o’clock news on France 2 (he anecdotally went on to marry his co-star Alexandra Lamy). I for one especially like the program that features eco-friendly homes from all over France. But I digress. My point is, all I can remember of Joël Robuchon was that he appeared in one such program, on cooking obviously.
This week’s TWD recipe is Pizza Rustica, a recipe from Nick Malgieri. I had never heard of Pizza Rustica and I always like to learn new things so I was really looking forward to trying this. Pizza Rustica is not a traditional pizza, as you’ve deduced from the photo. Some people say that it’s like an Italian quiche, I would say that it’s more like a tourte since two layers of dough encrust the filling.
Pizza Rustica, a traditional Italian savory pie, is typically eaten at Easter (don’t you love that the TWD team gives us recipes that keep with the calendar?). It uses a ricotta base mixed with several cheeses and cured and/or fresh meats. I’ve seen recipes with Italian sausage, prosciutto, mortadella, sopressatta, ham, along with parmesan, mozzarella and pecorino romano. Some recipes even call for boiled eggs. This all depends on which region of Italy the Pizza Rustica comes from. In many recipes, the ingredients are layered but in the Neapolitan version, the ingredients are simply chopped and mixed together, like in Nick Malgieri’s version.
[Homemade buttermilk and butter flavored with piment d’esplette]
After learning about buttermilk substitutes, I actually realized that I didn’t know a whole lot anything about buttermilk in the first place (for my French readers, buttermilk is called babeurre, lait battu, petit lait or lait de beurre). So what exactly is buttermilk? Traditional buttermilk refers to the slightly sour left-over liquid from the butter churning process. Hence the name, butter-milk. Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk does not contain butter and is in fact low in fat.
Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional buttermilk in your regular supermarket. Most often, you’ll see cultured buttermilk, made from adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk (whole, skim or non-fat) and left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours. The fat content of the buttermilk will usually depend on the fat content of the milk from which it was made.
The good news is, making your own buttermilk the old-fashioned way, and by extension making your own butter, is a breeze. Well, almost. Bear with me. The recipe involves heavy cream, a jar, and a lot of shaking. You put the heavy cream in a jar, close the lid tightly, then shake until the cream turns into whipped cream, then shake some more until the whipped cream separates into a solid, butter, and a liquid, buttermilk. Tada, that is all.