January 20, 2009
January 19, 2009
Mushrooms under glass were all the rage in the early 20th century. I first read about them in Mary McCarthy's novel The Group, in which a coterie of Vassar graduates trip through 1930s New York drinking cocktails called Clover Cup and Silver Fizz. Intrigued, I found them again (via google) in a 1918 novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, memorably titled 'Twenty-Three and a Half Hours' Leave'. (The frontispiece of this novel is an image captioned with the words: 'In the elevator she said out of a clear sky: "You'll have to take that raincoat off, of course".') In Rinehart's book, a general eats his mushrooms under glass with broiled squab at "the best restaurant in the city".
The basic recipe is a circle of toasted bread topped with mushrooms, butter and cream. This assemblage is covered by a glass dish and cooked slowly in a low oven. 'How to Cook Vegetables' (1909), by the uncannily named Olive Green, offers four Mushrooms Under Glass recipes: with parsley butter and a little cream; with stems fried in salt, pepper and nutmeg; with nothing but fresh uncooked mushrooms; and with pre-sautéed mushrooms. 'The French Chef in Private American Families' (1922), by Xavier Raskin, recommends mushrooms of the Campestris variety, and suggests one large mushroom cap upended on the toast and stuffed with its stem, butter and cream.
I don't know when mushrooms under glass fell out of fashion. Maybe it had something to do with being able to reproduce a similar effect with aluminium foil, or even in a microwave. But the theatrical whimsy of the dish appealed to me, and I knew where I could buy some cheap glass butter dish covers.
I updated the recipe with goat cheese rather than cream and mixed thyme and lemon in with the butter. Make sure you use thick-cut bakery or homemade bread for the crouton base: thin, spongy supermarket bread won't hold up. You need to be very careful when cooking with glass because abrupt changes in temperature can cause it to shatter. Don't preheat your oven, and don't place the dishes too close to the heating element. When you remove the glass covers from the dish, don't place them on anything too hot or too cold.
The result is something like serving your guests very, very good mushrooms on toast. The mushroom flavour intensifies with the slow cooking, but the mushrooms remain shapely and firm. This means that very ordinary button or white mushrooms will work perfectly: the long cooking time gives their flavour a chance to shine. The herb butter and mushroom juices keep the bread moist in the oven, so it still tastes just-toasted when you bring it to the table. The best part is removing the glass cover in front of your guests: the aroma of mushrooms, previously trapped under the dish, rises suddenly with the steam. It's like an earthy, rich terrarium of yum.
An ebay search for bell jars, glass cloches and glass butter dish covers shows how expensive these things can be. These garden cloches from Smith & Hawkin would be dramatic piled high with mushrooms. Keep an eye out for glass covers in thrift stores - I bought mine at a local antique store for $2 each. Xavier Raskin offers this hint for those dealing with larger Private American Families: "If more convenient use one large bell oven glass, arranging all the mushrooms as above under the one bell glass."
Mushrooms Under Glass
12 medium-sized button/white mushrooms
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick slices of bread
40g / 1.5oz firm goat cheese
Remove the stalks from the mushrooms. Chop stalks finely.
Using a fork, mash the thyme leaves, lemon juice and a little salt and pepper into the softened butter.
Cut out rounds of bread to the size of your glass cover. Toast bread. Spread one side with herb butter and place the bread, buttered side down, on a baking dish or plate. Spread more butter on top of the bread rounds. By this time you should have used about 3/4 of the butter.
Mix the chopped mushroom stalks in with the remainder of the butter, and then stuff each mushroom cap with these buttery stalks. Arrange 3 caps on each piece of toast. Crumble goat cheese over the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper generously.
Place glass covers over each round. Place the baking dishes/plates in the oven. Set the temperature to 200°F/100°C (do not pre-heat oven). Cook for 40 minutes. Serve immediately, removing glass covers at the table.
January 16, 2009
These "Indian" cupcakes were invented as a marketing ploy in 19th century Vienna. A Hungarian theatre impresario, disappointed that his Indian magician (who bore the highly un-Indian name of Kutom Bulchia) wasn't a huge success, had his chef create a speciality pastry to sell at intermission. The cakes - a light sponge sandwich of cream and apricot glaze, coated in bittersweet chocolate - outsold the magician.
Indianerkrapfen are supposed to be perfectly round, and speciality molds are available in Austria. The best readily available alternative is a Danish cast iron pancake/dumpling (aebleskiver) pan - mine was $8.99 from Amazon US (Amazon UK don't seem to stock them). Otherwise, Rick Rodgers - whose recipe I used - suggests muffin tins three-quarters full.
The cakes are fiddly to make (two of us worked on these all afternoon), but they reward the cook by looking as if they belong in a museum dedicated to the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The taste is rich but also clean: the chocolate, the sweet cream, the subtle hint of apricot and the light but firm sponge all register as distinct flavours.
The batter in the recipe below is perfect for 14 cakes, or 2 bakes of the 7-hole aebleskiver pan. After assembling our first Indianerkrapfen using the instructions below, we decided we'd like them to be larger: our final result was a sandwich made of 2 cakes, rather than 1 cake cut through the middle. We paired up our cakes, and within each pair removed 1/8 of an inch from the bottom of one and 1/8 of an inch from the top of the other. They still aren't large, but they're less delicate this way - a better vehicle for the cream, with enough cut surface area to allow for a distinct taste of apricot.
We also cut the quantity of apricot glaze given in the original recipe and added more cream to the chocolate glaze, which needs to be runny enough to coat the cakes in a thin but convincing layer. You may like to play with the consistency of both glazes until you're satisfied.
from Kaffeehaus, by Rick Rodgers
Makes 7 or 14 cakes, depending on preference.
For the cakes:
3 tbsp plain/all-purpose flour
3 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the chocolate glaze:
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 ounces high quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
For the apricot glaze:
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1 tbsp golden rum or water
For the whipped cream filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 tbsp confectioners'/icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Position a rack in the centre of the oven and heat to 400F (200C). Lightly butter and flour the cups of an aebleskiver pan, tapping out the excess flour.
To make the cakes: sift the flour, cornstarch and salt together. Beat the egg whites in a medium bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and shiny.
Place the egg yolks and vanilla in a medium bowl. Sift about half of the flour mixture on top and beat with the mixer on medium speed, just until smooth. Add one fourth of the whites into the yolks and mix. Fold in the remaining whites, just until barely combined. Sift the remaining flour mixture on top, and fold in until smooth. Divide half of the batter evenly (about 3 tablespoons for each) among the cups of the aebleskiver pan, filling almost to the brim. Cover the remaining batter in the bowl with plastic wrap.
Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pan for 3 minutes. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the cakes to release them, then remove from the cups. Cool completely on a wire rack. Rinse the pan (don't use soap) then dry, butter and flour and pan, and repeat with remaining batter.
To make the chocolate glaze: bring the 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Let stand until slightly cooled, about 10 minutes.
To make the cream filling: in a chilled medium bowl, beat the cream, confectioners'/icing sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the apricot glaze: bring the preserves and rum or water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Cook, stirring, until the last drops that cling to the spoon are very sticky and reluctant to leave the spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain through a wire sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on the solids. The cakes must be assembled while the glaze is still warm.
To assemble the cupcakes: using a small serrated knife, slice the tops off the cakes, keeping the bottom slices about 1/8 inch thick.* Pull out the insides of the domed stops, leaving 1/8-inch shells. Brush the insides of the shells and the cut sides of the bottom slices with the warm apricot glaze. Set aside until the glaze is cooled and set.
Place the shells, cut sides down, on a wire rack set over a pan lined with baking/wax paper. Spoon the warm chocolate glaze over the top piece of each cake, letting the excess glaze run down the sides. If desired, use a metal spatula to scrape up the glaze, and drizzle over the shells to give them a second coat. Refrigerate the shells to set the glaze.
Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with an open-star tip. Pipe a tall swirl of cream onto each base. Use a small metal spatula to lift and place a shell over each base and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 14 cakes. Eat on the day they are assembled.
* See above for my alternative assembly.
Scones should be eaten in the afternoon with jam and cream; never in the morning, and never with butter, or England will sink. In Australia (and probably New Zealand, and maybe even Canada), this is called a Devonshire tea. In Devon, this is called a cream tea. The cream should apparently be clotted, not whipped, but I can't disapprove of oozing heavy cream on a slightly-sweet scone and gritty, fruity jam. The jam, according to custom, should always be strawberry. After the scone has been cut in half, the cream should be applied before the jam. This just seems counter-intuitive to me; I like jam before cream, but that may be my convict ancestry speaking.
This combination of things - scones, jam, cream - really tastes best when consumed under foaming boughs of May blossoms in the Orchard at Granchester. There you can carry your perilous tray of tea and milk and scones out among the apple trees and sit on low-slung, bird-spotted garden chairs near the river. There you can praise the name of the Duchess of Bedford, who invented afternoon tea in the 18th century when the time between lunch and dinner suddenly became far too long.
This recipe makes crusty, slightly fissured scones: not too sweet and not too sexy. They taste very good.
adapted from a recipe by Delia Smith
8oz (225g) self raising flour*
pinch of salt
3oz (75g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small lumps
1.5oz (40g) sugar
1 large egg
2tbsp heavy cream
Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add cut butter and lightly rub into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Mix in sugar.
In a jug, beat the egg together with the cream. Add slowly to flour mixture. Mix with a palette knife. When the dough begins to come together, finish it off with your hands. It should be soft but not sticky, and leave the sides of the bowl clean.
Shape the dough into a round with your hands and place it on a lightly floured surface. Flour a rolling pin and lightly roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 inch. Use a 2 inch round cutter to cut out the scones. When you are left with only trimmings, gather them together and roll them out again to cut more.
Place the scones on a lightly greased baking tray that has been dusted with flour. Brush them lightly with a little more cream, then dust with flour. Bake in a hot oven – gas mark 7, 425°C (220°C) – for 10-12 minutes, or until they are well risen and golden brown, then remove them to a wire rack to cool.
Makes about 9 scones. Best when eaten warm.
* Self raising flour already has baking powder in it. To convert plain flour to self raising, add 1.5 tsp baking powder for every cup of plain flour. For this recipe, I used 2 tsp baking powder.
January 13, 2009
Marshmallow Sampler Pack from Whimsy & Spice
Tonight, I'm watching snow plows lumber down my street as an Arctic cold front moves across New Hampshire. We're expecting the coldest temperatures of my life - -20 degrees Celsius - and I'm looking forward to it in a freakish, near-death-experience sort of way. My response, I think, will be to stay in and bake complicated Germanic pastries that I might order in a dark-panelled, tile-floored Viennese coffeehouse.
At home in Sydney my family are suffering a heat wave. They're expecting 35 degrees tomorrow (or 95 Fahrenheit), the sweltering inverse of my face-freezing cold. And since they can't share my pastries as I sit, snow-bound, with cats and books and icicle-shaded windows, perhaps I can send them some cosyness care of these marshmallow sampler packs from Etsy seller Whimsy & Spice.
I've tried and failed to make my own marshmallows and suspect it might be a uniquely American skill. They're so particularly lovely in cubes, and Whimsy & Spice's flavours are subtle and cloudily aromatic: cardamom, chocolate, maple and caramel.
Whimsy & Spice also sell cookies, biscotti and brownies, and produce an evocative and charming blog: sweet fine day.
January 12, 2009
Charming chocolate-box book design by Louise Fili for Jamie Cahill's The Patisseries of Paris: Chocolatiers, Tea Salons, Ice Cream Parlors, & More. Fili's beautiful studio is featured in today's Design*Sponge Sneak Peek.
January 11, 2009
There is a restaurant in Sydney called Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet. It's an unassuming place, almost clinical (except for the bright red lanterns hanging from the eaves), and serves food that's quickly made and eaten. It sits on Dixon St, the main pedestrianised street of Sydney's inner-city Chinatown, which lacks the atmosphere it used to have before good Chinese food was available in unexpected neighbourhoods all over the city, like Hurstville and Burwood.
The thing that most distinguishes Mother Chu's is the spring onion pancake: a hot, flaky cake that releases steam with every bite and delivers, along with the flavours of oil and salt, an intense taste of diced spring onions.
When I say spring onions, I mean the long, slender stalks that are basically the same length the entire way, but begin firm and white at the root and end in thin green tubes. I'm being specific because spring onions confuse me, name-wise. In Australia we call them spring onions, but when I moved to England I discovered that spring onions were the ones with swelling white bulbs at the ends. I switched to the UK term, green onions, because it seemed so sensibly to refer to the object it named. Then I moved to America and found they were called scallions, a name I like because it implies a slightly mischevious character.
Figure 1: rolling & coiling the dough
Now that I live in a small town in New Hampshire, a very long way from Mother Chu's, I have to make my own green onion pancakes, and I do that using this recipe from the wonderful blog Tigers & Strawberries. The result isn't quite the same - you can watch Mother Chu's nimble-fingered chefs roll paper-thin, perfect pancakes at the front of the restaurant, and theirs are larger, thicker and flakier than mine - but it's the closest I can manage in snowy New England.
The recipe has a lot of stages. The various rollings-out and shapings are all necessary to create the oily-yet-flaky texture, so that the pastry tears irregularly when you pull the pancake apart. My flakiest pancakes were the ones in which I did as little rolling as possible after the final coil of dough. Less handling keeps the air pockets intact.
I made only one third of the Tigers & Strawberries dough recipe, yielding 8 pancakes.
Green Onion Pancakes
from Tigers & Strawberries
1 cup flour
1/3 cup hot water
1/2 bunch green onion (spring onion/scallion) tops, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp sesame oil
salt and ground pepper mixed together
peanut oil for frying
Put flour in a medium sized mixing bowl, and add water all at once. Mix until most of the flour is mixed in, though the dough will seem quite dry.
At this point, lightly flour or oil your hands and turn dough out onto a silpat or a lightly floured surface and knead for about ten minutes until a very nice, smooth dough is formed. Wash out your bowl, dry it carefully, and put the dough ball back into the bowl. Cover it tightly and allow it to rest for at least thirty minutes.
Put sesame oil in a small bowl, and salt and pepper together in another small bowl and green onions in a third small bowl.
When your dough has finished resting, take it out and roll out into a long snake shape, about one inch or so thick. Cut the snake in half, then cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces.
Roll each lump of dough into a round and flatten slightly. Put all of them back into the bowl and cover, except for the one you're working with.
Take your flattened disk of dough and using a rolling pin, roll it into a circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Dip two fingers into the sesame oil, smear the surface of your rolled out dough with it. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over the surface of it, and then take up a scan’t 1/2 teaspoon of green onion slices and scatter over it.
Then, lift up the edge of the dough circle closest to you and roll it up like a cigar. Pinch the seam down the long side closed, and pinch the ends closed.
Now take the rolled up dough and make a snail-shaped disk out of it by coiling it on itself. Pinch the seams closed, then flatten it with the heel of your hand into a disk.
Next, take up the rolling pin and roll it into a flat pancake. Set the pancake on a piece of waxed paper and lay another piece of paper down over it. Repeat until all of your lumps of dough are used up.
Heat a shallow layer of peanut oil in a shallow frying pan until the oil bubbles when you put a bamboo chopstick’s tip in it. Slide in as many pancakes as the pan will hold and fry about a minute or so, or until golden brown on the bottom, then flip it over and cook until done on the other side–about forty-five seconds or so. When done, drain on paper towels. Repeat as necessary. Serve hot.
January 9, 2009
Beautiful linen shopping tote from Envirosax's new organic range: US$24.99. I use my polyester, strong-seamed, bird-print Envirosax bag all the time - at the farmer's market, the corner store, the library - and I'm always asked where I bought it from.
Dreaming of summer with these images from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection. Above and below: Marina Green, San Francisco, 28 July 1965.
Below: Marina Green, San Francisco, 28 August 1965.
January 8, 2009
I keep returning to this self-portrait-with-cakes of UK photographer Tim Walker in British Vogue, June 2008. Krisatomic has great images of his recent exhibition at The Design Centre here.
January 7, 2009
I love these images by illustrator Kaori Yamamoto: A to Z About Syria. The colours, and the prominence of food in this cultural alphabet ~ rose jam, pistachios and other nuts, ice creams, olives, coffee, and that happy family enjoying their Ramadan dinner ~ are all so charming.
R is for Rose Seller, and S is for Sweet Shop ~
I is for Ice Cream, and V is for Vegetable Shop ~
N is for Nuts & Spice Shop, and T is for Tea Time ~
J is for Juice Seller, and O is for Olive Field ~
A is for Arabic Coffee, and H is for Happy Ramadan ~
January 6, 2009
January 6 ~ the Feast of the Epiphany. The end of the 12 days of Christmas, and the day on which, in the Christian calendar, the three wise kings of the Orient came to bestow gifts on the infant Jesus. Epiphany is rarely observed in the Anglophone world, although I've always known it as the day to take down Christmas decorations (any later is bad luck). The French celebrate Epiphany with cake.
Traditionally, the Epiphany cake, or Galette des Rois, is a puff pastry disc filled with almond and pastry creams. I'd like to buy mine from Pierre Hermé, as Dorie Greenspan does. My galette was going to have to be improvised because I only had 1 egg. I decided to add apple, make a simple almond paste, and use the sheet of puff pastry I had in my freezer.
Besides the ingredients, I needed 2 props: a small porcelain favour to hide in the cake (whoever found it in their slice would be king or queen of the Feast), and a golden paper crown with which to award this monarch. I planned to use this lovely porcelain dog, saved from a Rose Tea box, as my favour, until I realised he was much too big ~
I made the apple puree, simmering just over-ripe apples in sugar and lemon juice, and adding flecks of vanilla ~
Then, I put together a simplified almond cream by grinding almonds and flour, and adding sugar, butter and egg ~
I rolled out the pastry sheet, spread it with almond cream and apple puree, and marked out a design with the tip of a sharp knife ~
The result was delicious - light pastry, a soft, sweet taste of apple, and a slightly gritty undertaste of almond and egg. In place of a paper crown: a golden vintage brooch ~
Apple & Almond Galette
For the apple puree:
3 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into small chunks
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
optional: the scrapings of about 1/4 inch of a vanilla bean
For the almond cream:
1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tbsp all purpose (plain) flour
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Puff pastry, 1 or 2 sheets (depending on the size)
1 egg, beaten
To make the apple puree: cook all the ingredients in a heavy lidded saucepan over medium low heat until fruit softens, about 15 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to medium high, and cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender.
To make the almond cream*: finely grind almonds and flour in a food processor or blender. Mix in sugar, then butter. Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to a bowl. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
To assemble the galette*: roll out puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick. Using a cake pan or plate, cut out 2 circles of the size you prefer. About 9 inches would be best - my galette was a little small because I didn't have enough pastry. Transfer these circles to a baking sheet lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while the almond cream is chilling.
Center a rack in the oven and pre-heat to 475F/250C. Remove the pastry discs on their baking tray from the refrigerator. Spread one with almond cream and then apple puree, leaving a half inch border empty (there's no need to use all the cream and puree - you will probably have too much). Brush this border with beaten egg. Using a knife with a sharp point, score the other pastry circle with the design of your choice (traditionally curved lines), again leaving a half inch border free. Make sure your knife doesn't break the dough. Carefully place this second circle over the first, sealing the edges with your finger or a fork. Create a small hole somewhere in the pastry to vent steam while cooking, and brush the entire galette with beaten egg. Place the baking tray in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 400F/200C. Bake for 20 minutes. Best when warm, still delicious when room temperature, the galette should be served the day it's baked.
* Adapted from Bon Appetit's Pear & Almond Tart, Feb 2005, via Smitten Kitchen
* Adapted from Paris Sweets, via Serious Eats
January 5, 2009
This collection of English artist and illustrator Edward Bawden's advertising material for Fortnum & Mason before and after World War II is available in a limited edition of 1000 copies from the Mainstone Press. It's £90, yes, but it's also beautiful.
On my next birthday, I'd like to eat a cake with enormous candles while being showered by stars issuing from a cornucopia held aloft by a ballerina pirhouetting on a rod balanced by a bejewelled elephant carrying a brass band.
I love this vaguely debauched Christmas ~
But this one is my favourite ~
January 3, 2009
These bread wreaths, plump and golden, sat at each place on my Christmas table. I plaited the dough as if it were schoolgirl hair late on Christmas Eve, and let them rise slowly in the fridge, baking them briefly on Christmas morning. You can see that my sizing wasn't at all consistent - my plaiting improved as I went along - but this irregularity was part of the charm.
I used a recipe for a Swiss braided bread called Zopf, or Zuepfe, which may refer to a traditional custom in which widows buried a braid of their hair with their husbands. Zopf, when shaped correctly as a large braided loaf that doubles back on itself, should be eaten on Sundays with butter and jam, and not left to sit ornamentally on a Christmas table. But its soft dough plaits perfectly. I cooked my wreaths for 20 minutes, watching for them to turn gold and testing them by tapping the undersides. They should sound hollow.
Adapted from Zopf recipe here.
2 1/4 lbs plain white flour
1 tbsp salt
1/2 oz dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
4 1/2 oz butter
1 1/2 pints milk
1 egg yolk
Melt the butter and allow it to cool. Heat the milk to the temperature stated on the dried yeast packet (this is to make sure the yeast activates. Add the yeast to the milk and allow it to sit for 10 minutes, until the surface begins to froth and bubble. Add melted, cooled butter.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, make a hollow in the center, and add the yeast/milk/butter mixture, mixing to create a soft dough. This will take 10 minutes by hand, or 4-5 minutes by machine.
Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Knead until smooth.
Take a small handful of dough. It's hard to judge how much you'll need at first, but you'll soon have a feel for the size you want. Divide this handful into three equal pieces and roll each piece out into a long rope. For my thinner wreaths, each of these ropes had the thickness of a sharpie/permanent marker. I found it easiest to twirl the dough quickly between my floured hands as if starting a fire with sticks (something, I should mention, that I've never actually done!). When the three ropes are of equal thickness and length, pinch them together at one end and plait them as you would hair. When you reach the end of the plait, create a circle, pinching the join together. The soft, strong dough will keep the wreath from breaking apart. Repeat for the rest of the dough. I made 8 wreaths from this amount of dough, but the number you stretch it to will depend on the size and thickness you're after.
Put the loaves on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper. Leave to rise again for between 30 minutes and 1 hour (or do as I did, and place them in the fridge overnight). When you're ready to bake the wreaths, preheat the oven to 400F / 200C. Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the wreaths with this egg mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the wreaths are golden and sound hollow when tapped.