World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: The Baker’s Passport – Recipes

The Baker’s Passport – India

Punjabi_2

I had absolutely no idea.  None. Naive, unschooled, and having limited exposure to India food until the last few years I have become a little overwhelmed with the flavors and range available from this country. 

Desserts are different between the north and the south.  Roughly divided into two groups: milk based such as rasbari, peda, and burfi; the other having a central component of flour, typically rice flour such as lal mohan, malpuwa, halwa and ladoo.   This dessert is a Punjabi creamy dessert. Traditionally, it is made from homemade fresh cheese called chenna or paneer.  Also it is common to see the rasmalai in yellow and pink.

This recipe is the decidedly upscale version.  Pichet Ong, named one of the top ten pastry chefs in America by Pastry Arts & Design he has worked at Chez Panisse, Jean Georges, La Folie and Spice Market.  His collection of Asian-inspired desserts, The Sweet Spot, is an elegant but accessible book of over 100 recipes that include unique riffs such as chocolate fortune cookies, an indulgent Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart and a Spiced Caramel Popcorn that gets it’s lift from mukwa, Candied fennel seeds from India.  So much to learn, enjoy this in the meanwhile.

Sweetspot_

Rasmalai with Rose Water & Pistachios

Sweetened fresh ricotta with Rose Milk Syrup

Adapted from The Sweet Spot, by Pichet Ong & Genevieve Ko

Ras

3 quarts milk

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tblspn sugar

3 tblspns AP flour

1/4 tspn salt

Put the milk in a largesaugepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as it boils, remove from heat, sir in lemon juice. It will curdle within a few seconds.  If it doesn’t set the pan over low heat and stir slowly until most of the milk has curdled, removing from heat.

Set a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth over a large mixing bowl, with at least 2 inches between the bottom of the sieve and the bottom of the bowl. Strain the milk mixture through the sieve.  Let sit for at least 20 minutes.  If you want to let this sit for longer than 30 minutes, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

After the liquid has been drained, transfer the cheese remaining in the cheesecloth to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add sugar, flour, and salt and mix on medium speed until well incorporated, about 5 minutes.

Using your hands, scoop the cheese into 1 1/2" balls,  gently pressing into little patties about 2" in diameter and about 1 " thick; set on plate while you prepare the malai.

Rose-Scented Malai

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tblspns plus 1 tspn sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 tspn dried rose metals, plus more for garnish

4 cardamom pods

1/8 tspn salt

3/4 tspn rose water (can substitute with vanilla extract)

1/4 cup (about 31 grams/1 1/8 oz shelled pistachios, toasted, salted

Put all of the ingredients into a large saucepan, stir well, and set over medium heat. Bring to a steady simmer and cook, stirring, until reduced by half and thickened, about 10 minutes.

Add the cheese dumplings to the malai and cook, stirring gently, for 2 minutes, then turn the dumplings over and cook for 2 minutes more. Divide the cheese dumplings and sauce among eight serving bowls, discarding the Cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Garnish with the pistachios and rose petals and serve warm.

Variation note:  In researching the many variations of this recipe out there most suggest serving this at room temperature. To do this finish as directed.  Let it cool. When at room temperature, put the pan in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

The Baker’s Passport – Sri Lanka

                Sri_collage_2

Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon, just off the southeast coast of India, is a rich tapestry of cultures which can be experienced today through it’s rich and diverse food. Julia Child was station here during her time with the OSS.

Sri Lanka’s nearness to India has had a strong influence on its cuisine, as did the occupations of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. Writer Amanda Hesser, in the IHT poetically described its proximity as "…shaped like a fat tear rolling off the chin of India." As time lapsed the majority of defining dishes have been slightly modified. And it took a lot of cooking from many peoples, cultures and religions: the Hindus and Buddhists perfected the vegetarian dishes; the Christians refined the beef and pork recipes and the Muslims put attention to the mutton and lamb dishes. Many of the recipes revolve around rice, the central grain of curry dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. Notably curries in this country are spicier than those found in  India. Other staple ingredients include coconut (milk, oil, or grated), as well as aromatic herbs and spices such as curry leaf, fenugreek, turmeric, chilies, and cinnamon.

But what about dessert you say?  Given the climate fruits are a plenty–mangoes, pineapple, papaya, woodapple, bananas, rambuttan, and mangosteen. For us bakers there’s kiri pani made from buffalo milk curd and golden syrup; the of Malay origin, wattalappam an egg pudding with jaggary and also kevum made with flour and golden syrup.

Spice traders, specifically the Dutch and Portuguese left behind a meatball curry which is baked in a banana leaf.  Hoppers, a crêpe of sorts with a bowl-shape and crispy edges shows up in many varieties such as honey, milk and the egg hopper containing a poached egg cooked into the center.   The batter is made from from rice flour, coconut milk and then fermented with yeast or the traditonal, and sour tasting, palm toddy liquor.  This favored treat is often found in "bakery hotels" or small restaurants for breakfast or lunch. 

But for me I’d like to try this quaintly named spicey infusion "Love Cake" adapted from Portuguese cuisine, probably around the 16th century, when Portugal dominated the spice trade and controlled a portion of the island. The recipe’s cashews and cardamom are native to the island. The rose water fragrance are a Muslim aesthetic and can be traced to Ceylon Muslims or to the Moorish influence of Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages. A country’s cultural history all in a slice of cake.  Oh and I’ll have mine with a cuppa Ceylon

PS: I’m coming home with this must-have Sri Lankan kitchen gadget, a coconut scraper, waste not want not!

                Sri_coconutscrab

Bolo d’Amor

Portuguese Love Cake

The traditional recipe, served at graduations and weddings, contains 14 egg yolks. I just couldn’t live with that on my mind. So, I asked around at work, my company has one of the most diverse workforces and adapted the following recipe which comes from her handwritten recipe notebook.  She says she got it from a newspaper but doesn’t know where as she’s moved around a bit. So be it as its too good not to share.  If anyone knows let me know so credit can go where it belongs. The secret is to have a soft texture in the middle and a firm and chewy exterior.  Some say if be slowly bake it and using the right-sized pan is the magic.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups semolina meal (US bakers: Cream of Wheat)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg or cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups raw cashew nuts, finely chopped
4 tablespoons rose water
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
9 egg yolks and 5 whites
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
4 tablespoons honey

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Warm semolina in a dry pan over medium heat until fairly hot to the touch, being careful not to let it brown.

Put in a bowl and stir to cool. While still a little warm, mix in softened butter using a wooden spoon. Add lemon rind, spices and salt. Mix well, cover and set aside two to four hours.

Separately, mix cashews with rose water, almond extract and vanilla. Cover and set aside.

Grease 9-by-13-inch pan and line with three thicknesses of wax paper. Butter well the top layer of paper.

In a large bowl, beat yolks and sugar until they have doubled in bulk and become thick, creamy and very light in color.

Beat in the semolina-butter mixture, a little at a time. Add the honey and beat. When well beaten, fold in cashew mixture.

Beat egg whites with lemon juice until they hold firm peaks. Fold into the cake mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 250 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, until the cake is evenly golden-brown and the top feels firm to the touch.

As the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan it should be a bit moist in center (test with a skewer), remove from oven.  If cake is very moist in the center, switch off oven, cover cake with paper or foil and leave inside for another 10-15 minutes.

If the cake begins to brown too much any time during baking, cover with paper or foil.

Cool cake completely. Do not remove cake from pan instead cut into small servings while in the pan.

               

               

The Baker’s Passport- Tunisia

       Tunisia_f_col

During the middle of the day it was no longer the sun alone that persecuted from above–the entire sky was like a metal dome grown white with heat. The merciless light pushed down from all directions; the sun was the whole sky.

                                                                     – Peter Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Thousand-year-old mosques, strolls through a medieval medina, and camelback treks across the Sahara can all be found on many a traveler’s list of desires when in the North African state of Tunisia. These rather romantic travel thoughts also bring up that song, “Midnight at the Oasis/Send your camel to bed/Shadows paintin’ our faces/Traces of romance in our heads/Let’s slip off to a sand dune…” Oh I think you get the idea.

According to the “The Momo Cookbook-A Gastronomic Journey through North Africa written by Chef Mourad Mazouz of London whose little gem of a cookbook provides glimpses into the land of the Maghreb, the region of northwest Africa comprising the coastlands and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The collection of recipes bridges the region’s history to the creation of a distinctive cuisine which, over the centuries, has been influenced by Jewish, Arabic, Italian and Spanish culture.

Folklorists have an expression in this region which states that, Tunisians get hungry when they see the color red, the color of appetite and passion. It’s also the color of harissa, a fire-red chili blend made from crushed dried red peppers, garlic, salt and caraway seeds that is central to Tunisian cuisine. Known for its heat and its association with red (passion), another folk tale shares that a man can judge his wife’s love by the amount of spice in his food—if it’s bland then romance is dead.

Given the area’s Mediterranean climate fruit is is often often found on the table at the end of a meal.  The quality and range of fruit is said to be outstanding, bursting with flavor.  Tunisia ice cream, or sabayon made with egg yolks and often served with fresh fruits that have been peeled and artfully arranged as if an artist’s palette, on a large tray with ice.  Here you’ll find watermelon, cherries, grapes, apricots,and strawberries.  Fruit juice drinks made from oranges,or ruby-red pomegranate whose pressed seeds are often mixed with a sugary rose-flavored water as a remedy for the traveler’s tummy and other fruit are available from street vendors and in cafes. Seasonal fruits include the wild peaches of early summer its interior carrying a deep red color and a jacket of  thick beige fuzz and is similarly and called pêche de vignes of the Lyonnais region; small, bite-sized pears and mishmish, very delicate apricots. Or the Barbary Fig (known here in the States as Cactus Fruit or Prickly Pear) first introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century available October through December.

Turkish baklava has been integrated into the baking culture here. Layers of whisper thin pastry interspersed with ground pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios, bathed in golden butter, baked and dipped in a honey syrup in all it’s many shapes, sizes and delights. Sweets in this country are, to an American palate said to be sticky and overly sweet. Pastries are delicate and scented with the fragrance of orange blossom water. Many are filled with dates, nuts and dressed in honey. Zlabiya, is a snake-like pastry with a crispy dark brown shell simply dressed with honey; gazelle horns are delicate, flaky horn shaped pastries with almond paste and sugar. In Kairouan search out the street carts selling the local specialty called makroudh, deep fried semolina pastries stuffed with dates and covered in honey syrup. And for breakfast brik à l’oeuf a thin pastry wrapped around tuna and an egg, fried and served with harissa or if you prefer a sweeter version filled with almond or sesame paste and covered in honey.

Mint tea is the classic and predominant tea choice. The au pignon or the a l’almande, offers up a cup of brew with pine nuts or almonds floating in the cup, this lends a welcoming buttery taste. In cafes you will also see locals drinking Ahwa arbi (Turkish coffee) fragrant with orange blossom or rose water and other espresso-based pick-me ups.  There’s also an aromatic spirit called Boukha made from distilled figs is served straight up at room temperature or chilled and mixed with Coca-Cola. (that’ll certainly keep you going!)

However in through this traveler’s window, I see myself in Sidi Bou Said winding and weaning my way through the steep, narrow alleys, lined with whitewashed, blue-shuttered houses to the restaurant at the top, only to sit under the open sky with the brilliant sunlight warming my face as I linger over a few samsa, sipping mint tea, the smell of jasmine dancing in the air.

Samsa

Crisp Almond & Sesame Pastries

About 2 Dozen

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tsp orange-flower water

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds, lightly toasted and ground

1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 oz filo pastry

olive oil, for brushing

lightly toasted sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions

Place the water and 1/2 cup sugar into a saucepan and gently heat, stirring until dissolved. Add lemon juice and bring to boil. The consistency will be syrupy. Remove from the heat and add the orange-flower water.  Allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, stir together the ground almonds, orange zest, cinnamon and remaining sugar. Mix together until well blended.

Brush one sheet of filo with olive oil, keep the other sheets covered with a damp cloth. Cut the oiled sheet into 3 lengthwise strips. Place a small spoonful of filling at the bottom of each strip.

Fold the sides over the filling then roll the pastry up along the length. Brush inside the end of the pastry with oil and seal it to the roll. Brush with oil and put on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. Bake the pastries for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden.

Lower the pastries a few at a time into the warm syrup, leave for about 3 minutes so the syrup infuses the pastries. Remove on to a plate and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Let come to room temperature before serving.

The Baker’s Passport – Senegal

            Durka

The southern area of Senegal , known to many for it’s stunning beaches usually speckled with sun bathers from France and for its primary crop rice which is grown in this region called Casamance.  African desserts in countries south of the Sahara Desert are not common.  What is found are mixes of cut fruit  such as mango, papaya, bananas and pineapple or simply just fresh fruit, either way this "course" is called "after chop."

Some of these central dishes to this part of Africa are Tiébou Dienn  {pronounced: cheb-oo jenn}(rice and fish) and chicken au yassa (chicken with lemon, pimento and onions) and maffe (chicken or mutton in peanut sauce).   Drinks include home-roasted coffee with pimento and and mint tea, with the first tea steeped along with sugar and is very bitter.  This first pour is thought to be bad for a woman’s health so they do not partake; the second time around water is added to the same leaves and boiled again.  Unlike their Northern neighbors in Morocco who serve only three services of tea–the third being considered the perfect pour. The Senegalese just keep serving it up with more sugar as the enjoy it sweet.

Marcus Samelusson, the Ethiopian-born Swedish chef at Aquavit, has infused his passion for African cuisine into his recent cookbook, Soul of a New Cuisine.  One of the peoples of Senegal, the Fulani  people are known for their love milk. Whether this recipe originates there are more likely from the inspiration that Chef Samelusson found while traveling through the country. Here, in the following recipe he uses rice to create a very luxurious pudding; the creamy flavor is clean and bright from the lime zest, vanilla and small pieces of fresh mango.

Soulofanew_2 Lime-Scented Poppy-Seed Rice Pudding with Mango
From Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelson

2 1/2 quarts whole milk

2 cups short-grain rice (14 ounces)

One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

6 ripe mangoes—peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

In a medium enameled cast-iron casserole, combine the milk with the rice, coconut milk, vanilla bean and seeds and the poppy seeds and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the rice is tender, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Stir the sugar, heavy cream and lime zest into the rice and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice pudding is sweet and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Spoon the rice pudding into small bowls and top with the mango.

MAKE AHEAD The rice pudding can be refrigerated overnight. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 12

photo: J.C. Durka

The Baker’s Passport – Iran

        Nowruz_2

Aide shoma mobarak

 

Persian New Year, or Nowruz dates back over a thousand years and is a family event to celebrate the coming of spring. The two-week holiday begins the instant the sun crosses the celestial equator. This year it begins at  4:07 and 26 seconds PM-PST.

Norouz means "new day" in Farsi, the language of Iran, which is present day Persia. It begins on the first day of spring and is a two-week celebration of rebirth and renewal. Dating to pre-Islamic times, when much of the vast Persian Empire followed the religion of Zoroastrianism, Norouz today is the biggest holiday of the year in Iran. Schools and businesses are closed, and the well-to-do take vacations or retreat to the countryside.

Foods served during Norouz communicate spring themes. Sweet and sour flavors are meant to represent the duality of good and evil. Eggs represent fertility, and are served in dishes like the popular kuku (somewhat similar to an Italian frittata). Ash reshfte  a warm noodle soup, typically begins the new year meal. The symbolism of the noodles it is said represent wishes for the unraveling of life’s knotty problems. The main course for a typical Iranian New Year’s meal is sabzi polo hami, or green herbs and rice, served with a white fish sauteed with chopped onion, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and fresh garlic.

The number seven has been sacred in Iran for thousands of years. Significance of number seven historically was to represent the "Seven Eternal Laws", which embodied the teachings of Zarathushtra. The teachings included having a good mind, good guidance, and discovering the ultimate truth among other things.  At this time Iranians prepare a table or sofreh (a plastic sheet used as a tablecloth on the ground) on a rug with a variety of foods. Traditionally, these seven symbolic items are displayed for haft sin, the ceremonial table set for the Persian New Year.   Sofreh-ye haft-sinn or "seven dishes’ setting,"  each standing for the seven angelic heralds of life: rebirth;  health; happiness; prosperity; joy, patience, and beauty. The holiday dishes — each of which starts with the Persian letter sinn — represent the keys to a happy life. The symbolic dishes consist of sabzeh, or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil, representing rebirth. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding, and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking. Sib means apple and represents health and beauty. Senjed, the sweet, dry fruit of the wild olive, represents love. It has been said that when the wild olive is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else. Seer, which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine. Somaq, sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil. Serkeh , or vinegar, represents age and patience.  In addition seven sweets are often included:

"On the same table many people place seven special sweets because, according to a three-thousand-year-old legend, King Jamshid discovered sugar on Nowruz (the word candy comes from the Persian word for sugar, qand). These seven sweets are noghls (sugar-coated almonds); Persian baklava, a sweet, flaky pastry filled with chopped almonds and pistachios soaked in honey-flavored rose water; nan-e berenji (rice cookies), made of rice flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with poppy seeds; nan-e badami (almond cookies), made of almond flour flavored with cardamom and rose water; nan-e nokhodchi (chick-pea cookies), made of chick-pea flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachios; sohan asali (honey almonds), cooked with honey and saffron and garnished with pistachios; and nan-e gerdui (walnut cookies), made of walnut flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachio slivers."

                                  ~~excerpted from New Food of Life, Najimieh Batmanglij

A traditional menu includes ash-e reshteh, a hearty noodle soup; sabzi polow ba mahi, fresh herb rice and fish; and kuku ye sabzi, a lighter-than-air herb souffle. As with everything at Nowruz, many foods have meaning as an example: eating the noodles symbolically representing the Gordian knot of unraveling life’s knotty problems. Before we wander too deeply into the vast waters of Iranian food culture this needs to work itself back to desserts in the Persian new year with this recipe for the traditional walnut flour cookie enjoyed at this time.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Baker’s Passport – Iceland

               Bunday

Lent in many countries is filled with many wide and varied cultural traditions.  Historically, as well, Lent is a period of fasting.  As such many countries this time is also wrapped around food celebrations just before the 40-day fasting period begins with the idea being that you are strengthening yourself for the long days ahead.  Today the idea of fasting is not a common one so these food rituals have been re-envisioned over time sometimes in a more celebratory coloring. In Iceland, two days before the beginning of Lent, homes, restaurants and bakeries overflow with delicately-made cream puffs or buns. These buns, similar to a cream-filled chocolate eclair, come in all different shapes and sizes, filled with cream or jam and sometimes drizzled in melted chocolate.   

Children "earn" their share of buns by "beating" their parents out of bed.  This is done with their made-at-school bolludagsvöndur  (bun wands), that are colorfully decorated with strips of paper and shiny ribbon. Parents are then obligated to give their children one  rjomabolla or cream puff for every "blow" received.  It is thought that this custom is derived from acts of penance performed during Lent, evolving over time into a lighthearted children’s game.

The custom of "bun day" came to Iceland from either Sweden, Denmark or Norway in the nineteenth century.  These countries also have their Lenten bun specialties. In Sweden, the smela is descended from the German and Danish kumminkringlor, a pretzel-shaped bread with cumin, which came to southern Sweden during the 1600’s when the area was under Denmark’s rule. The pastry tradition varies some between each of these Nordic countries. In both Finland and Sweden, semla, is prepared with a filling of marzipan and whipped cream, lots and lots of whipped cream. In Norway, it is called a Fastelavnsboller or Shrovetide bun.

King Frederick of Sweden loved his semla. He was done in (d. 1774) by 14 servings of this dessert (which was preceded by a grand feast) and soon died of indigestion. During this  period the buns were boiled in milk which gave way in the 19th century to the addition of sugar and cinnamon. Before the evolutionary jump to today’s indulgence, consisting of a cardamom-spiced wheat flour bun and a filling of the pastry as bread crumbs, milk and marzipan. It is then capped off with the top and finished with whipped cream. Traditionally it was served with a bowl of hot milk or most likely today with coffee.

Buns made of melted butter, flour, eggs and water and filled with cream are the traditional cream puffs and the most popular ones.  Other varieties include cream puffs with strawberries, blackcurrant, fresh fruit or  Daim chocolate. Meat balls and fish balls are also popular on this day. In fact Medieval Icelandic law texts say it is just fine to eat a double portion on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Lent. Much of the bun eating now, however, takes place on Sunday, however, since Monday is a work day. During this time Icelandic bakers estimate they sell one million buns.  This figure averages out to just about buns for every Icelander.

The two most common types of buns now are yeast buns, which make up 70 to 80 percent of the bakery buns, and choux-like pastry buns (cream puffs), but other types are also baked. In the first half of the twentieth century, the buns were usually made from cake dough. Often a jólakaka (Christmas cake) recipe was used, perhaps with an extra egg or two added, and the raisins left out. Deep-fried donuts called ástarpungar (Love Balls) are also served on Bun Day.

Needless to say folks are particular and passionate about semla.  I’ve included a cartoon from Mostly About Food below along with the comments of an expert enthusiast on this pastry:

"The bun itself should be a light golden brown and about 10cm across. The ‘lid’ is preferably triangular and properly sprinkled with powdered sugar. It should sit squarely on its cream bed. The whipped cream shouldn’t overspill the edges and should rise 2-3 cm – just so your nose doesn’t dip when eating…the bread mustn’t be too dense and should be lightly sweetened. The whipped cream ought to be hand-whipped and lightly sweetened as well."

               Shrovetide_2

Immediately after this Icelandic bun bonanza comes Shrove Tuesday, called sprengidagur, or Bursting Day.  This is day is filled with bowls and bowls of  salted lamb and split pea soup eat as much as possible, until you are about to burst.

Vatnsdeigsbollur

If you’ve prepared pâte à choux before you will find this recipe familiar.

1 cup (8 ounces) water

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup (4 1/2 ounces) AP flour

4 large eggs

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add the butter and salt, and stir until melted. Add the flour to the water/butter mixture and stir well until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let this mixture cool for about 5 minutes, in order that the eggs won’t cook as you add them. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until completely integrated with the dough and the mixture is smooth rather than shiny looking.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons (a teaspoon or tablespoon depending on how large you want your puffs), place a good spoonful of dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. You can get about 12 large spoonfuls to a sheet. This recipe will make about a dozen and a half if you’re using tablespoons, each enough for one good-sized serving.

Bake the puffs for 25 to 30 minutes depending on the size. Do not open the oven during the first 15 to 20 minutes, or the puffs may collapse.

While the puffs bake, prepare the filing. (see below)

After the puffs are baked, remove them from the oven and turn the oven off. Make a slit in the bottom of each puff with a knife, and turn them upside down on the baking sheet. Return them to the oven with the door cracked open and leave them for about 5 minutes. This allows the steam to escape so they won’t get soggy as they cool.

To fill, cut the puffs in half horizontally. When all are filled and topped off pour glaze over each one.

Filling

1 pint heavy cream, whipped

1 tsp or more almond extract (or lemon or vanilla)

1 tsp granulated sugar

Whip heavy cream with sugar.  As it nears whipped cream consistency add extract of your choice

Glaze

In double boiler over hot, not boiling, water, heat 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces with 1 tbsp butter or margarine, 1-1/2 tsp milk, and 1-1/2 tsp light corn syrup until smooth, stirring occasionally.

The Baker’s Passport – Italy

                 Susamielli 

Around the world at the holidays there are many cookies shared only during Christmas time.  Naples is no exception as the number of holiday cookies is many.  Recipes in English are not easy to come by as in general they haven’t been codified widely due to the history of origin.  Between the middle ages and the end of the 18th century most pastries in Southern and Central Italy where produced by covenants and a few monasteries. The pastries were sold to the public and the money used for upkeep and charity. Most of these recipes were only made in a single convent and the recipe was kept among the women.  As the power of the church declined many religious institutions closed and many of the recipes for these traditional sweets were sold off with exclusivity to pastry makers. Among a few Neapolitan Christmas treats are La collana del prete , the priest’s necklace, chestnuts strung together; Divino Amore, Rococò, Mustacciuoli and the sesame-honey "S" shaped cookie Susamielli pictured above.

Susamielli

1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, zest grated
3 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring honey, sugar and lemon zest to a temperature of 175 degrees. Form a
well out of the flour and mix in cloves and cinnamon. Pour the warm honey mixture
into the well and bring dough together with a fork, similiar to making pasta. Knead
dough with hands 2 minutes until smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes.

Cut the dough into 1 1/2" balls and roll each ball into 4-inch long rope form. Form
each rope into an "S" shape and place onto a greased cookie sheet. Place in oven
and bake 20 to 22 minutes until light golden brown; remove; cool on baking
rack.

The Baker’s Passport – Japan

                Lahamtea

Oh, where to start, in the past or in the present! At times during the development of this writing I became excited, enchanted and entangled in the world of Japanese desserts. From wagashi to mochi. So if I don’t just start we’ll get nowhere and we’ll begin with today.  In researching this article, I learned that in the strict sense of Japanese tradition, there is no sweet course to a meal. It ends with rice, pickles and tea. Sweets are regulated and very sparingly, as an partner to tea. However the country does have another informal meal called oyatsu that commonly occurs at 3pm everyday.  Oyatsu consists of a drink, tea for adults and milk or a soft drink for the young ones, accompanied by a sweet or savory snack.

Pocky Some of my favorite Japanese snacks are Pocky, slim biscuit sticks with one end coated in chocolate.  There are many other flavors such as sesame, green tea and a dark chocolate one called Men’s.  I’ve yet to figure out why that is.  A savory compliment to a cocktail wasabi green peas are a great alternative at your next party! And of course there’s that late 20th creation mochi ice cream. These confection spheres are about as big as a ping pong ball with an outer rice shell surrounding ice cream.   And as recently as last week Japanese desserts are growing trend inNew York where Kyotofu opened last week offering Japanese-inspired Western-focused desserts such as  black sesame sweet tofu, warm chestnut mochi chocolate cake and sansho-pepper tofu cheesecake.

Kasutera, simple sponge cake, a popular specialty of Nagasaki.  Originally from Castilla region of Spain many cakes were brought to the country by Portugese missionaries through the port of Nagasaki during the 16th century.  According to history this cake was able to be preserved for a long time. In the Edo era, it was a sweet that was precious and was served for the envoys from Korea.  Over time the recipe was adapted to fit to the Japanese palate.

Today this sponge cake can be found at festivals, from street vendors and in local markets. It’s a treat and a special commercial jingle sung by bears.

Kasutera is traditionally made of simple natural ingredients with the essence of honey as the most common. However, today there are many variations – – powdered green tea, cocoa, and brown sugar. A good pan de castilla is moist, has a very fine texture, and is very light. It should have a dark brown and sugary top and bottom – the sides are usually cut off, exposing the yellow crumb.

Kasutera4_1

Kasutera

Pan de Castilla

Cooking for the American Table" by Susan Fuller Slack

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 large eggs, separated
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon green tea powder or unsweetened cocoa powder*

(optional-if using omit the orange extract)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Use parchment to line the bottom of a 10-inch tube pan, preferably with a removable bottom or 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans. Grease the parchment. In a large bowl, whisk 1 cup sugar, honey, vanilla,  orange extract, and salt into egg yolks. Place bowl in a large pan of hot water. With an electric mixer, beat about 5 minutes on medium-high speed until pale yellow and doubled in volume. Gently fold in sifted flour.

Using clean dry beaters beat the egg whites in a large bowl on low speed 1 minute, increasing speed to medium-high. When foamy, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon sugar and cream of tartar. Beat until stiff but not dry. With a spatula, fold the egg whites in three steps. Pour batter into pan. Tap gently on the counter to remove air bubbles.

Bake on middle rack of oven 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.  Signs that the cake is near done will be the sides of the cake pulling away from the pan slightly; the top will be flat and will feel spongy when pressed with finger.   Remove from oven and cool 20 minutes. Carefully run a small knife between the edge of the cake and pan. Turn over pan and gently remove from pan. Remove parchment paper and cool completely. Serve or store airtight.

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The Baker’s Passport – Aruba

               Treearuba

Most of the Caribbean Islands are, or were European colonies. Aruba, a small island located off the coast of Venezuela was originally colonized by the Spaniards and later ruled by the Dutch; as it is today an independent state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The food of Aruba includes cala (bean fritters), ayacas (leaf-wrapped meat rolls), and the white, sweet, mild-tasting fish grouper commonly found in the form of a sandwich.  Dutch influences can be found in many dishes but one of the most so is keshi yena (filled cheese shell).  A soupy concoction that combining Gouda cheese, spices, and meat or seafood in a thick brown sauce. This dish is sometimes served with funchi, a cornmeal pancake, or pan bati, a corn pudding. Savory and filling this traditional dish, is today more often found during Christmas.  Essentially the cheese shell is scooped out, filled with spicy chicken or beef, baked in the oven or steamed in the top of a double boiler. In a more dramatic version the filled Edam, with the red wax intact, is. tied in cheese cloth and suspended in boiling water for twenty minutes. The wax melts away in the hot water, leaving a delicate pink blush on the cheese.   

Sweets include banana breads, coconut cakes, flans , tert, cocada (which seems to come via Brazil),  and a homemade version of ponche crema  a creamy rum-based drink somewhat similar to eggnog.  Also I’m not sure how native this muffin recipe called Aruba Duba Do is but I thought I’d capture the link here as it’s interesting–sweet potato, mango and papaya!

Recipe research for this effort is turning into recipe development and refinement.  It was naive of me to assume that all recipes are written in the same manner as is done here in the States. Many recipes are written as if from your favorite aunt.  You know that aunt, the one that doesn’t fuss much with amounts, cooking times or sequences. In some instances I’ve taken the essence–the ingredients and forms and applied some methodology for easy doing.

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The Baker’s Passport – Cuba

               Cuba3

Cuba is high on my list of "just once."  Most likely because its off limits to Americans. I can imagine myself out late meeting a suave dark Cuban and learning to rumba while sipping on a mojito, Cuba libre or daiquiri cocktail.  We’d roll on into the morning and have a typically Cuban breakfast of tostado and a cafe cubano.

Cuban bakeries are famous for their finger foods, such as pastelitos, croquetas, bocaditos, and empanadasPastelitos are somewhat like American turnover–a warm flaky exterior wrapped around a filling of either meat, cheese, coconut, guava, or a combination of guava and cream cheese. Bocaditos are small bite size sandwiches layered with a ham spread.  A popular dessert called capuchino.  These small cone-shaped cakes start out are baked until hard and then are soaked overnight in a syrup made from sugar, water, lemon and orange rinds, plus cinnamon and that very sweet liqueur, anis.  The name refers to the shape of the hoods worn by Capuchin monks.

Another local treat that pairs well with a cafe con leche are these cookies from, Moron, in the province of Camaguey. The town is widely known for these cookies. Many bakers who fled Castro’s oppression in the early 60’s brought their recipe for the cookie to the mainland.  Today the lime sugar cookies can be found in Cuban bakeries in "Little Cuba" in Miami. Sometimes they can found all dainty, sprinkled with sugar or all tarted up with colorful sprinkles.Torticas de Moron

Cuban Sugar Cookies

Adapted from a recipe from the Cocina Cubana Club

1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp lime juice
1-1/2 tsp grated lime rind

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix shortening and sugar together.

Slowly add flour, a small bit at a time incorporating well each time.  Watch the dough as you don’t want it stiff but not dry.

Add the grated lime juice and rind. When thoroughly mixed, roll the dough into a Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Slice the cookies about 1/2-inch thick. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for 30-60 minutes.

Place on cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.