World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: 5 or < Ingredients

The Baker’s Passport – Scotland


Christmas is here. Or so every commercial entity would have you believe. On November 1st I saw the first Christmas tree in the lobby of a movie theater in the City. Really could we at least let the Halloween candy digest? But what it does make me think about is buttery, crisp and crumbly shortbread. To me it is a purely seasonal cookie.

Walkers_petticoat_2 My go-to is the popular export from Scotland, Walkers. While the bars and circle shaped biscuits are popular the long-standing petticoat tails has long been been a curiosity.  While Mary Queen of Scots was fond of these and there’s a long history between the Scotland and France  one version says the name comes from the French petit gatelles meaning little cakes; it is generally thought that the name has its origin in the shape, which is similiar to that of the bell-hoop petticoats worn by women in the nineteenth century courts.

Originating from the oatmeal bannock that was served at pagan Yule time celebrations,  the round bannock was often scored in the center with a circle surrounded by wedges symbolizing the sun and its rays. This practice most likely originating from the Scottish New Year’s event called, Hogmanay. This shortbread varies in that it is often larger and a little thicker and decorated with candied citron peel and some almond comfits. In the Shetland and Orkney Islands it is found as Bride’s Bonn and has caraway seeds. Another bit of folklore and the superstitious share that shortbread was not cut into portions but rather broken into pieces by hand. Today we’re less bound by these traditions and find them in many shapes and sizes.

Needless to say many of us eat shortbread year round as it’s a perfect pairing with tea, coffee or hot cocoa. While many recipes are handed down within families the secret to many a baker’s prized recipe is simplicity. By seeking out simple, high quality ingredients and a very short ingredient list at that the cookie essentials shine. Recipes vary with an increase of the ratio of flour to powdered sugar and in some the the addition of corn starch or vanilla. The texture of shortbread in the following recipe can be altered by replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with rice flour giving them a more crunchy texture. Or, if you prefer a more delicate tasting shortbread that melts-in-your-mouth, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with cornstarch.

Once you have this recipe in your repertoire you can move on to Millionaire’s Shortbread which is like an uptown Twix Bar.

Simple Shortbread

Traditional shortbread recipes don’t usually add salt but do use salted butter it enhances the overall taste.

1 cup softened butter

½ cup powdered sugar

2 cups flour

Pinch of Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl.

Stir in flour and salt. Mix with hands until smooth.

Spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or a 9" square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Press dough into pan. Using the tines of a fork, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center towards the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges or squares (depending on type of pan you are using.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven 25 minutes or until slightly brown around edges.

Remove from oven. Immediately cut into squares/wedges with a sharp knife

Cool on tea towel and store between waxed paper in a cookie jar.


  • For a brown sugar version substitute the powdered sugar in equal portion for brown sugar
  • For chocolate shortbread add 1/3 cup cocoa to the flour step.
  • Along with 1 tsp vanilla extract add one of the following options:
  • Grated zest of citrus: either 2 limes or 2 lemons or 2 oranges
  • Mix in- 1/2 cup mini chocolate

Spätzle a la Suppenküche


Willkommen to a new cooking frontier that has long stopped me cold. Spätzle.  Recently fate knocked on my door, when I was assigned this dish as my ticket in for a dinner gathering of food bloggers. Eek.

Long a comfort food in southern Germany Spätzle, it is a delicacy traditionally associated with the regional area of Swabia. In the northern part of the country you are more likely to find potatoes. Today this pasta, however,  is eaten all over Germany. Spätzle literally translated means "little sparrows" in the Southern dialect, it consists of tiny noodles or dumplings made of flour, eggs, water or milk, salt and occasionally nutmeg.  The measure of a quality tasting Spätzle, is found in the number of eggs used.

Maybe fear is too strong a word.  It is more of an equipment obstacle — the single purpose utensil, a Spätzle press.  In the IBK I have a philosophy: in order to keep my sanity and efficiency in check all kitchen tools should have at least two, if not three, purposes.  The press is similar to a potato ricer but has larger and fewer holes.  The dough is extruded out and into simmering salted water. What else would you ever use that for?!

After reading many recipes of varying ratios of egg to flour I arrived at a recipe from Suppenküche a popular New German restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. I’ve tasted this pasta several times since its opening in 2003. The restaurant remains a favorite not only for it’s unique contemporarizing quality but most likely due to its selection of beers.  As this recipe requires six eggs I knew it had to be good.

A reported 40,000 tons of Spätzle are produced in Germany each year. Of course, this figure does not include the many homemade batches of Spätzle everyday. And yes I can now see why it could and can be made every day. I used the colander to press the thick batter into the simmering water. Now that I have overcome this silly bit of intimidation preparing Käsespätzle  {Off the Broiler-instructional vlog} or maybe even that Charlie Trotter recipe, Rack of Lamb with Vegetable Ragout with Mustard Spätzle that now sounds more than within reach.

But the true test? There was hardly any noodles left after the 24 food pros and bloggers finished their goose dinner.

Suppenküche Spätzle

Adapted from Savoring San Francisco by Carolyn Miller & Sharon Smith

6 whole eggs
2 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 to 3/4 cup water

Fill a lrage pot with water. Bring the water to a boil and salt liberally.

While the water comes to a boil prepare the batter.  In a medium-sized bowl beat the eggs lightly. In another bowl combine flour, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add the flour mix to the egg.  Add water spoon by spoon until batter is stiff but smooth.

Using a perforated pan or colander and the ball of your hand, push batter through holes into water that should simmer throughout the whole process, but not boil. You’ll want to do this in 3 shifts.

For best results there should only be one layer of spätzle at a time in the cooking water. Stir the Spätzle with a spoon so that they do not stick together. When they rise to the top they are done. Sometimes this happens to quick, say 45 seconds. Depending on the size of your Spätzle you may need a minute or longer. It’s very similar to cooking Italian pasta. Remove Spätzle from water with a perforated spoon and place in a bowl of iced water to ensure not to overcook the noodles.

To reheat, sauté in a little butter about two minutes; season with fresh chives. Serve.

5 or < | Peanut Butter Pound Cake


It appears that I have a growing penchant for all things peanut butter. I knew it was there. I just didn’t the degree until I offered this elegant cake up for breakfast with coffee to S&K while overnighting in Sonoma. They both asked what my thing was with peanut butter. I think it’s a pretty classic, versatile and perfect food–and I’m not alone. Here in America it’s considered a pantry staple as it appears in 75% of our shelves. Recent reports state that consumption of this spread has increased more than 10 per cent since 2001, with Americans eating an average of three pounds a year. It’s also high in fiber, protein and low in saturated fat.

Other PB recipes on this site there’s the recent award to Della Fattoria for their Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie, Gourmet Cook the Cover winner Black & Tans; the very elegant Chocolate Peanut Butter Terrine, and another 5 or <  Peanut Butter Cookies, and finally a favorite snack mentioned here is Nutella and peanut butter. I also have a Thai sesame noodle recipe that I’ll need to share soon.

This is a recipe developed by teacher and columnist of the SF Chronicle’s "The Baker", Flo Braker that appears in the 1997 San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook.  This collection is  a two-volume set and I really wish they would get their act together and publish a third volume as it so perfectly encapsulates San Francisco and it’s food or as Publisher’s Weekly so says, "ethnically influenced, well-constructed recipes from the agricultural and culinary Eden of Northern California."

Peanut Butter Pound Cake

Imagedb_4 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

5 large eggs

2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

Adjust oven rack to be in the lower third of the oven; preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" x 5" loaf pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until light; add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the peanut butter and beat until fluffy.  Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the flour in 2 additions, mixing until thoroughly combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 65 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Note:  I found the flavor of the peanut butter to be more pronounced the next day.  So, plan ahead!

Pocket Citrus


"You’ll find that one part’s sweet and one part’s tart: say where the sweetness or the sourness start."

Tony Harrison, ‘A Kumquat for John Keats, 1981

Saturday I fought the elements (hail, downpour, sideway’s rain, cold wind) working at the market. Everything’s a bit out of order as the wet winter weather is holding on longer than usual. One of the items that I was helping Will to sell were kumquats. And surprisingly, many San Franciscans had never tried one before. I found endless entertainment in daring people into trying these little berry shaped citrus fruits. Inevitably, after trying one they would end up buying a handful or two.
Native to Asia, the kumquat is said to take its name from the Chinese, chin kan, or golden orange. Although these citrus orbs are closely related to citrus species, kumquats belong to the genus Fortunella after a plant collector for the London Horticultural Society, Robert Fortune introduced them from Asia to Europe in 1846. Years later the small trees could be found presented to dinner guests in order that they could pick their dessert.

In contrast to citrus which has 8-15 sections, kumquats have only 3-6 sections; also the skin is thin, soft and edible. The fruit grows on an evergreen shrub or small tree with bright green pointed leaves and orange perfumed blossoms.  While there are four different kinds of kumquats, the one you see most often is the olive-shaped Nagami; it’s usually 1 to 2 inches long. This varitety is excellent for cooking with particularly jams as it is bitter.  The other is the egg-shaped Meiwa which is often referred to as the sweet kumquat. They have few seeds. Since they lack the tart-like quality that is ideal in cooking Meiwas are perfect for cold salads or for snacking on. It debuted in the States from Japan around 1910.

Available from December through May when buying kumquats look for a firm skin, bright color and unblemished skin. Grown in China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe (Corfu, Greece), and in the U.S. Southern California and Florida they are a bit of a indulgence costwise but some of you pay as much for that morning coffee.
Given its hardiness to weather conditions kumquats make for good hybirds. Mandarinquat is the marriage of mandarin orange and kumquat; it has an edible rind and a sour inside. This can be eaten as is or used as an edible garnish. And when a Mexican lime and a kumquat get together you have a limequat, often see as a a pickling or for a tasty marmalade for crumpets or grilled toast.

Aside from the simple joy you’ll discover of popping the delights into your mouth there are many ways to experiment with this fruit. Candied kumquats make an great decoration and topping for cakes or as pour a kumquat-caramel syrup over fresh vanilla bean ice cream or how about as a main course as offered by Jean Georges Vongerichten in his Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Lemongrass dressing, unexpected spicy and sweet. A homemade liqueur of infused vodka from kumquats; a riff on the tomato themed Catalan toast replaces the tomato pulp with a mash of butter and kumquats or as they do in China where the fruit is preserved in salt and then the salted kumquats along with a few teaspoons of the brine and some hot water is offered as a remedy for sore throats.

The chocolate-obsessed pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers (he’s sexy with his East Coast accent with a hint of Southern) features a Ginger Macadamia Nut Cake with a chocolate kumquat mousse filling in one of his many cookbooks. While the cake and the elegant filling are an inspired meeting the mousse can sing all on its own.

Chocolate Kumquat Mousse

from Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulniers

1/2 pound small fresh kumquats, washed and dried

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted

Trim about 1/4 inch from each end of the kumquats. Cut each kumquat into 1/4 -inch-thick slices. (The 1/2 pound should yield about 1 1/2 cups sliced.) Pick out and discard the occasional seed from the kumquat slices. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the sliced kumquats and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil again; then adjust the heat to allow the mixture to cook at a slow boil for 12 minutes until the kumquat slices are tender and sweet. Strain the kumquats and discard the cooking syrup. Transfer the kumquat slices to a baking sheet or large plate and spread evenly. Place, uncovered, in the refrigerator to cool.

Finely chop the remaining kumquats with a cook’s knife. Set aside while preparing the mousse.

Place 1 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Whisk on medium-high for 2 minutes until firm, but not stiff, peaks form. Add about 3/4 cup of the whipped cream to the bowl of melted unsweetened chocolate, and use a rubber spatula to fold together until thoroughly combined. Add the combined whipped cream and chocolate to the remaining whipped cream, and use a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Transfer 1/4 cup of chocolate mousse to a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Add the chopped kumquats to the remaining mousse, and use a spatula to fold them in together until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Refrigerate the mousse in the pastry bag. Pipe into serving dishes or champagne flutes and chill until ready to serve.

Image: A. Vuillon/

5 or < | Chocolate Pots de Creme


I’m hopeful that Spring will appear soon.  The weather here, not to be a bore, is more than out of the ordinary.  Snow in San Francisco? It’s warmer back in Boston. The presence of Haas avocados and green spring onions  at the market yesterday are quiet hints that it’s around the corner.  Meanwhile, bowls of pho, lamb tagines and rustic pasta dishes will continue to be featured at dinner tables throughout the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

In a quest to build out the recipe repertoire for dishes with 5 ingredients or less I prepared the following for dinner at S&K’s on Sunday night.  Pot de creme is a cooked custard. It’s also the name of the special lidded container that the dessert is cooked and served in.  However you can also use an ovenproof coffee cup or ramekin. It’s very easy to prepare as it can be done days before serving making for an impressive dessert at your next dinner party. Don’t skimp on ingredients–whole milk, high-quality chocolate make a difference. Simple, easy and elegant comfort.

Chocolate Pot de Creme

Based on a recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

4 servings

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons sugar

4 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Melt the chocolate with 1/2 cup of the cream in a small pan or bowl poised over simmer water, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat.

Warm the remaining 1/4 cup cream, the milk, and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring just to dissolve the sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk the yolk, then slowly stir in the warm milk mixture. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the melted chocolate and stir to combine. 

Pour the mixture into four 4-5 ounce ramekins or custard cups and place them at least an inch apart in a baking pan.  Add hot water to come to barely 1/2 inch beneath the lip of the filled cups.  Bake until the custard is just set at the edges but sill quite soft in the center, about 45 minutes.  To check, lift a pot and tilt it, the center should bulge. The eggs will cintue to cook after you pull the custards from the oven and the chocolate will harden as it cols. If the custard is already firm when you first check it, then remove the oven and set the cups in a shallow bath of salted ice water to stop the cooking.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate.  Keeps for several days. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

5 or < | Peanut Butter Cookies


Lately I’ve become fascinated by the idea of simple food.  What this usually translates to is cookbooks coming off the shelf and lots of reading and researching. My current quest is around how many ingredients does it take for something to taste flavorful while minimizing the number of ingredients, time and a search for non-essential pantry items.  Many may think this combination is not easily found. But my efforts have been rewarded.  As a result I will be exploring this theme frequently here at World on a Plate.

The first entry is peanut butter cookies, a classic American treat.  Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook tells us that the spread was created in the late nineteenth century as a protein substitute for those with bad teeth. In the mid 20’s peanut butter cookies began to appear.  These cookies were usually rolled and cut into shapes. It wasn’t until the 40’s that the preparation shifted to that of rolling the batter into balls and carried its signature criss-crossed marks from the tines of a fork. 

There are as many recipes for this cookie as there are moms. But this recipe although minimal in components and instructions is full of flavor and sweetness. The cookie is thick and crispy at the edges and a bit chewy in the center and full of peanutty taste.

Simply Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes about 16 cookies

1 cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky

1 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the ingredients into a mix bowl.  Beat with a hand mixer until smooth.

Separate mixture into round balls, about 1 tablespoon each.

Place batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 1 inch apart. Using a fork dunked into water after each impression make a crosshatch pattern on the top of the cookies, pressing to flatten out. 

Bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until golden brown.