recipe: the girls' guide to puff pastry

12 finished product
Making puff pastry certainly isn't neuroscience, but it definitely is one hell of a workout. Whether you're female or simply feeble-armed, this technique will facilitate all the flakiness you need, without the aching wrists and shoulder strain.
 [slideshow]

The Girls' Guide to Puff Pastry

Ingredients
  • 1 cup Gold Medal flour
  • 3 cups King Arthur flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 pound unsalted butter, slightly softened
Instructions
  1. Mix flour, salt, and 1/2 stick of softened butter in a KitchenAid or other standing mixer, using the blade attachment.
  2. Crack an egg into a liquid measuring cup. Fill the cup, still containing the egg, up to 1 1/3 cups of water. Add to Kitchen Aid.
  3. When dough forms, switch to the dough hook attachment and knead for 5 minutes.
  4. Shape dough into a ball and let rest, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
  5. While dough is resting, cut the remaining pound of butter into thin slices (about four lengthwise slices per stick of butter).
  6. Cut a sheet of wax paper 18 inches long and cover with butter slices. Cover with another 18 inch sheet of wax paper. Roll butter into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle, using rolling pin. Chill.
  7. Roll out rested dough into a large rectangle. Chilled butter should fill up about 1/2 to 2/3 of the dough.
  8. Place the butter in the center of the dough and fold into thirds.
  9. Roll out dough again and fold the dough “book fashion” (fold in ends to touch in the center, then close the “book”). Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill.
  10. Repeat the rolling out/book fold process four more times, chilling the dough in wax paper for 30 minutes between each rolling. Beware butter oozing out of the dough and fold all corners squarely.
  11. After last folding, chill at least 3 hours before use.

*The credit for this recipe goes to Betty Ann Donegan, long-time cooking teacher and chemist. She uses two different types of flour because the amount of gluten in flour determines the stiffness of the dough. Her recipe allows for a durable but flexible dough.

recipe: friselle (italian pepper biscuits)

friselle

Growing up, friselle were the edibles of family lore and legend.  My father once came to pick up my mother for a date and discovered my uncle in a trance at the table, gnawing on these crunchy biscuits, as a pile of "sawdust" grew beneath his chin.  My mother, herself, would keep a secret stash of these friselle "bracelets" in the cupboard, and as my sister grew older, she too developed an addiction for these savory treats.  Yet despite the growing friselle fanbase, no one in my family ever attempted to make these seemingly simple biscuits - that is, except my great aunt.

My great aunt - who worked for one of the most renown Italian pastry shops in the Northeast - is famous for her inability to accurately relay a recipe.  From struffoli to pignoli, her hand-me-down, anecdotal instructions have never ceased to thwart my mother's most dedicated attempts at recreating traditional family dishes.  I thus decided that the only way to save these favorite recipes would be to observe my great aunt in action - noting what she did, rather than what she said.

I learned to make friselle during the first of these heirloom cooking lessons, and they have since become my signature housewarming gift.  Deemed "addictive" by their enthusiastic recipients, a few friends have gone so far as to throw parties just so I will re-stock their stash.

Old-Fashioned Italian Friselle

friselle dough

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups flour (unbleached all-purpose is best, but you can use 50% wholegrain flour as well)
  • 1.5 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup cold water

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine dry ingredients.
  3. Whisk together oil and water and add to dry ingredients. (Tip: Measure 1 cup of oil in a liquid measuring cup, then add cold water until it reaches the 2 cup line.  You can whisk them together in the measuring cup itself).
  4. Use a spatula to gently fold the liquid into the dry ingredients.  (When everything is properly mixed, you should have fluffy dough that is still moist but does not stick to your hands.)
  5. Roll a handful of dough into an inch-thick log (don’t overwork the dough, be gentle!).  Then, cut into half-inch slices.
  6. Line-up cut biscuits on a greased baking sheet (I use olive oil to grease mine.  They can be lined up very close together as they do not expand much).
  7. Bake for about an hour, rotating trays after 30 minutes.  (When complete, the biscuits will be hard but still light in color – though they may be toasty brown on the tray-side).

Note : Friselle can be made in all shapes and sizes, but I prefer this bite-sized version for gift giving.

recipe revisited: cranberry sauce

There are certain foods you grow up with that will forever evoke nostalgia and comfort.  And while we've all got our favorite from-scratch food memories, there's usually a few boxed, canned or processed guilty pleasures that delight us, despite our now "knowing better". For many Americans - my mother included - this includes jellied cranberry sauce.  Straight from the can, with the ridges of course, and perhaps best enjoyed smashed into a leftover-turkey sandwich.  Needless to say, it took some fighting on my part to impose the glory that is homemade cranberry sauce on our family Thanksgiving feast.

Last year's batch was a resounding success (I really do not like super-sweet anything, so I used about 1/3 the sugar suggested in the recipe I found, and just upped the OJ quotient).  However, being the ever-curious and instinctual cook that I am, I didn't write down the recipe.  So much the better! - because that means more experimenting this year.

Note : I don't usually measure when I cook - so I provide estimated measurements, which you should play around with!

Homemade Tart & Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients: 1 bag of cranberries, maple syrup, OJ, 1 pomegranate, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp  allspice (optional : turmeric, orange zest, lemon juice)

1. Put a centimeter of water in the bottle of a medium-sized pot.  Start to heat the water, and add your bag of cranberries. 2. Add your OJ (about a cup) - almost enough to cover the cranberries, but not quite. 3. Swirl in some maple syrup (I used about 1/4-1/3 cup, but you can add more if you like it sweeter). 4. Stir the mixture and let it come to a simmer. 5. Meanwhile, wash your pomegranate and slice it in half.  Grab a large bowl and hold the cut pomegranate, seed-side-down, in your non-dominant hand (fingers spread, but gripping the pomegranate).  Use a large spoon to whack the seeds out of the pomegranate into the bowl.  Hint : Don't wear white. http://youtu.be/8lH47Oorrdk 6. Add your pomegranate seeds, cinnamon stick and allspice to the pot. 7. Once a good number of the berries have popped, taste the sauce.  Add fresh lemon juice for acidity, orange zest for savory "zing", and turmeric for a more robust spice palate (turmeric is strong, so start with a 1/4 tsp and taste before adding more) . 8. Let your sauce boil down a bit (the whole process should take no more than 20-30 minutes) to thicken. 9. Fish out and throw away the cinnamon stick.  Pour the sauce into mason jars or serving bowls to cool (it will thicken as it cools) 10. Impress your family and friends at holiday gatherings!

A second opinion: - Like your flavors more traditional?  Here's a great step-by-step cranberry sauce recipe by The Pioneer Woman.