Sunday, June 28, 2009

Late Post for The Daring Bakers

I had an excellent project from the Daring Bakers this month. I finished it a couple weeks ago but didn't feel like writing so oh well. Now it's late.

This is something that my Dad would absolutely love. It's a tart, or British "pudding." The crust was an almond pie crust and this is my first try with frangipane which I originally thought was a cream but no. It's an almond fluffy topping like thing that is thick and yummy, although I thought mine was a little too crunchy and I should have ground the nuts finer.

The fruit filling is a homemade strawberry jam. The Daring Bakers want me to write my recipe for the jam in the blog but geez. I put strawberries in a sauce pan and simmered them until thick. I added a splash of brandy and a tablespoon of sugar and there you go. Jam. I got the strawberries on an exquisite trip to the Oregon coast. We happened to stop in Astoria on our way back for lunch and there was a farmers market going on. I bought a half crate of the sweetest most amazing strawberries in the world. I LOVE OREGON. It's a magical place with incredible beer, excellent fish, and oh my goodness the strawberries.

I used a cup of jam for the tart and it definitely needed more. The contrast between the fruit and the almond taste could have been stronger.

A long time ago in an apartment far far away I used to make jam. I made it for holiday presents. My absolute best batch was a pomegranate kumquat strawberry. It took hours and hours and hours and the pomegranates made my hands purple. But it was so good. It was SO good. This would have been an excellent jam for the tart but I wanted the Oregon strawberries to stand on their own.

My Grandma told me how to make jam. She used to do it with her sisters. They would spend entire days pitting dark cherries and she told me that their hands were black for a week. They would sit there and tell stories and laugh all day. They didn't have pectin so I honestly don't know how the preservation went. She told me to make a small batch by simmering the fruit and sugar and use it. Jam.

She made jam and liquor from pomegranates when she lived in Israel. Pomegranates grew everywhere and you could just pick them. They are my Uncle's favorite fruit so he would pick bushels of them to take home to her when he was little. When she tells me about the pomegranates in Israel I feel like she is talking about another reality. Pomegranates are $3 each here! You could just pick them!!!???!!! What a resource. What an incredible luxury to be able to pick fruit like that and have it cost nothing. I imagine some person owns every single inch of land that bears fruit now, but she really painted a beautiful picture of the time for me.

Back in Seattle I made this tart with delicious strawberries that someone else picked and cost us $20 for a half crate. Worth it, but still pricey.

Here is what you need to know:

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.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

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

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.

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.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

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.

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

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract


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.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Thanks ladies! This was fun.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I'm back. I don't know what happened. I guess I just didn't feel like it. I've been over-analyzing everything. A friend told me the other day that I analyze grad school the way he analyzes women. Hmmmm.

I started to worry that it is wrong to write about my Grandma in this way. I am sharing stories about her that she wouldn't want people to know. Is this wrong? After I wrote the post of my grandma falling I had several people email my personal address and tell me how they felt about their grandparents and what was going on with them. It was an emotional day. I was impressed that friends felt like sharing that, but I noticed that none of them shared their thoughts here on the blog. They wanted to keep it personal. I really don't think that Grandma would want people to read about her, but she is so huge so larger than life so everything to me. How can I not?

My family ALWAYS says never to share any recipes. It's ours. Our secret. "Don tell nobody!!" I agreed with them until recently obviously. Still though I haven't been as forthcoming with them as I'd like. My grandma says that she will put a Lithuanian curse on me if I share recipes with anyone. I have to admit that I am a little scared as I want to make her proud. I'm glad she is unaware of this project...

Isn't it weird how we keep little secrets from each other? I've had a number of situations come up recently in which I have chose to keep my mouth shut instead of telling someone what was on my heart, as my grandma would say. Is this the right thing to do? I have also seen people act funny around me because they are trying to keep something from me and I can tell. Are we better off not knowing? Or is it cowardly to pretend like there is nothing you want to say?

I bet right now at this very moment if any one reads this anymore, you have something that you want to tell someone and for some reason you don't. You may even have something in your mind that you kept to yourself for years and years and are what? Too afraid? Why?

I wanted to tell someone something recently. It was just a compliment but I chickened out. I was worried that it might be read into the wrong way or that maybe I was revealing something or a million other stupid thoughts. One friend said "What is the point? It won't matter anyway." Another friend said that communication is where we fail in so many relationships and isn't it always better to just get it off your chest and tell people what we think and feel? I would agree with him but then I thought it was better left unsaid.

I dare you to tell someone something you have wanted to say. Do it even if it's ugly. Do it even if they say that they don't love you back. It's exciting to write this. I probably won't go through with it but I like the idea so much! In general I think that the ramifications for keeping secrets are far worse then just taking the risk in the first place.

Maybe I will share my grandma's pierogi recipe soon curse or no curse.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Daring Bakers! (cont.)

It has occurred to me that I should elaborate on the Daring Bakers and the fact that I have joined them. This evening has been about trying to make things sweeter and lighter so here we are. I joined this group because they give you a challenge to make something every month and I love that idea so much. There are guidelines but also room for creativity. I do realize much to the humor of my friends that yes I already have too many projects, but you never know people. There is absolutely no reason why I can't be a baking, tango dancing, keyboard playing, world traveling, law student that will make her Grandma proud one of these days and buy a proper home. Geez. Who says I can't?

The Daring Bakers dared me to make an apple strudel, although really you had to make the dough, and could fill it with whatever you want.

The dough was really interesting because there was a bunch of stretching involved and you had to be careful not to tear it. Stretching the dough was a cathartic experience for me. It made me focus. It brought me right into the kitchen and right into one project that had my full attention. My current living circumstances and choices weren't in my kitchen at all. It was just me and the dough. I love to try new things and I am certain that I wouldn't have made this if it hadn't been for the Daring Bakers. I like strudel but I don't think it was on my list really. I'm glad that it turned out well and I do intend to do another soon.

I filled this one with rhubarb, apricot, and cranberries that were boiled together with one third cup sugar and a few splashes of rum. I put chopped pecans and cinnamon on the dough first before the fruit mixture and then rolled it. I made the mistake of spreading the fruit a bit rather than making one long strip, but amazingly it worked out well. I see a zucchini and yellow squash strudel in the future. Maybe with cheese...

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the
mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.


I could barely sleep at all last night.

My first thought at 4:30 this morning was just to cry.

My Grandma isn't well.

I don't know what to do.

Is there something that I can do?

My mom says that she is just deteriorating right before her eyes. She says that Grandma has changed so much in the last year that it's hard to believe.

She fell last week. In her kitchen. It wasn't the first time. She had her cell phone nearby but she couldn't remember how to call my mom and her vision was blurry with the tears so it took her a while to get herself up. The last time this happened she couldn't do it.

My mind was racing all night just with fear that I haven't spent enough time with her, that I will never know what is in her mind, that I will get her stories wrong when I tell them to my kids if I ever have any. I used to wish that she would live to see a great-grandchild and now I don't think either of us will be that fortunate.

My dad says that there is no sense in feeling guilty, that it's life and there is nothing you can do. I guess, but I know for a fact that both my mom and my grandma feel like I abandoned them by moving to Seattle. Could I really handle being this far away if something should happen?

I just told two friends yesterday that I really don't want to move back to Illinois, but then there is this.

Sometimes I think that my family really thinks I am a huge failure. They expected me to go to college and get some excellent job and buy a home, etc. I tell this to a lot of people but I really believe that people who are first generation Americans have a wildly different sets of pressures and expectations from their families. My mom was utterly convinced that I should have been making at least 40 k right out of college. The whole waitressing/interning thing didn't sit well with her.

Just yesterday my Grandma was telling me that I should really buy a home. I said sure I'll do that as if it's some big joke. But, she's not joking. She was in the States for one year when my Grandpa and her bought their home. She really believes that I can just do it if I save enough. The notion of me trying to live my own life and travel and change cities and possibly move abroad is ridiculous to her. The whole family thinks that I should live at home with them and go to school for a "career" and then stay at home and work until I could buy myself a condo or something.

I didn't love the movie, but I thought Nia Vardalos totally got it in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Of course her character was the perfect daughter anyway. I was never that. The fact is that the family drives me crazy. Last time I was there we all sat around the dinner table for hours and my mom and Uncle bickered until I just had to leave and I wished that I could spend a day with only Grandma. It was impossible. Even now I worry that if the two of us spent a day alone, I wouldn't know where to take her. Could she walk from the car to the door of a restaurant? Can I help her out of the car? I joked with her yesterday that we should go somewhere fancy and drink champagne to celebrate and she reminded me that she takes too many pills for champagne now.

Sometimes I think that the only good times my Grandma had with me were when I was little. We would just spend hours in the kitchen making rolls and sweets and all kinds of things that I have no idea how to make now. There are plenty of pictures of us in the kitchen and several where she put flour on my nose and we were laughing our heads off.

When I was in high school I thought cooking was stupid and that my mom was wasting her life in the kitchen. Yesterday Grandma even said that she thinks cooking makes you old. I know what a cliche this is but I wish desperately that I could go back in time now and just record her giving me instructions in the kitchen. I wish that I hung out with her everyday and that I loved and appreciated her more and

I'm getting myself really worked up now. I don't want to move back to Illinois, but then there is this. Maybe if we have more time to be together.....