Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cinnamon Bun Cruffins

Now I know they can be a bit overrated and overdone, but I actually have quite the appreciation for hybrid desserts. I mean, when I call out a few examples like the cronut, the cookie cake, the chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, it’s hard to deny that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Baking is a science after all, so I say why not let it undergo some experimentation? At least, that’s what I thought when I saw a recipe for a cruffin recently.

The cruffin – one part croissant, one part muffin – takes after its predecessor the cronut but presents itself in a slightly more “home cook friendly” way. The cruffin gets its crispy, multi-layered quality by running laminated dough through a pasta machine until paper-thin, coating it with butter, and rolling it into a log. The log of dough is sliced lengthwise, exposing its many layers, before being tucked into a muffin tin. While cooking, the butter releases steam and puffs up the cruffin, creating a muffin with the croissant-like layers of crispy and flaky dough.

But when I saw the cruffin recipe I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a way to mix yet another dessert element into this already crossbred recipe. And all at once I had it. It only seemed natural. A cinnamon bun of course! What warm and flaky pastry would not be made better with the addition of cinnamon sugar and a sweet and sticky glaze? I could already imagine how the sugar inside of each layer of the cruffin would caramelize, making the final product even more ethereally crispy. And what should I call it? Cinnacruffinbun? Ok, yeah, bad idea. Maybe something simple like cinnamon bun cruffins.

So what was the result? Even better than expected I must say. My apartment filled with the smell of cinnamon, creating an alluring effect not unlike that of the Cinnabon in the mall. Compact in its muffin form, the pastry was caramelized and crispy on the outside but once pulled apart, revealed the soft and stringy brioche-like bread and cinnamon infused center. To be honest, it was less croissant-like and more so reminiscent of those pull-apartflaky Pillsbury biscuits, but this made it no less delicious in the least. So lesson learned, although risky and tricky, the 3-in-1 dessert thing can very much happen, with impressive results!

But! Before I reveal to you the recipe for this creation I must first give you a few warnings:

1: Without meaning to undermine anyone’s baking ability, I will say that this is not exactly a recipe for beginner bakers. As much as I love universality with recipes this one is definitely complicated. Baking experience plus a high level of comfort with bread-baking is definitely recommended.
2: Its high degree of difficulty also naturally comes with a high degree of mess-making. There will be a trail of cinnamon sugar across your floor. You will find lumps of butter in random places in your home long after you are done cleaning up (for me with was on the part of my trashcan that you step on to open the lid. Random, I know). And you might as well just accept that you will need to do some serious swiffering before the day is done.
3: Your dough and your pasta machine will invariably fight one another. Rips and tears will happen, curses will fly from your mouth, and frustration will ensue. But just roll with it. The rips can be patched, the jams can be fixed, and your final muffins may look distorted and deformed as a result. But in the end it will taste great all the same.
4: You will experience a full-blown case of sugar shock and will spend the next 2 hours wondering why your heart is beating so fast and your eye has developed a slight twitch. It will go away, don’t worry. You just ate a cinnamon bun cruffin, life could be far worse.

And one final note. If any of your muffins look a little less pretty than desired right before you put the pan in the oven, no need to worry. Just pop these ones into a waffle iron instead. You won’t be disappointed ;)

Cinnamon Bun Cruffins
Makes 8 cruffins
Recipe adapted from Lady and Pups
Glaze recipe by Paula Deen

For the Dough
1 cup plus 1 Tbs (150 grams) bread flour
1 cup plus 1 Tbs (150 grams) all-purpose flour
1½ tsp instant dry yeast
1½ tsp salt
½ cup (130 grams) lukewarm water
3½ Tbs. (50 grams) room-temperature unsalted butter

For the Filling
1 stick plus 3½ Tbs (165 grams) room-temperature unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbs. cinnamon

For the Glaze
4 Tbs room temperature unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extra
2-6 Tbs boiling water

2 hours or the night before you start, set out all butter for the recipe so that it can come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, yeast and salt. Add the water and use the dough hook of the mixer to knead the mixture on low for three minutes. You may need to help it along a bit by mixing things together with a spatula. The result should be a stiff and shaggy dough but add a little bit more water if it’s not coming together. With the mixer speed still on low, add the 50 grams of butter, a little at a time until it is fully incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and let the mixer knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. You may need to add pinches of flour to the edges of the bowl at the beginning if the dough still looks really buttery. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 30-40 minutes.

Have your 165 grams of additional butter handy and mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a bowl. Butter the cups of a muffin tin. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time (keeping the others covered with plastic wrap in the meantime) and run it through the pasta machine. Flour both sides of your piece of dough and flatten it into a square shape a little less wide than the pasta machine. Starting on the widest setting, run the dough through the pasta machine. After a few times, connect the two ends of the dough so that you have a continuous ring of dough that you are feeding through.

Continue feeding the dough through the pasta machine, while gradually working towards the thinnest setting of the pasta machine. If it starts to get sticky, just dust the dough with a little more flour. Once the dough is long and paper thin, cut it into two same-length pieces, removing it from the pasta machine, and laying them flat on your workspace. Using a quarter of your 165 grams of butter, use your fingers to spread the butter in a thin layer across both pieces of the dough. Then evenly sprinkle with 3-4 Tbs. of the cinnamon sugar.

Once finished, start rolling one of the pieces into a log. When you reach the end, place this log at the end of the other piece of dough and continue rolling it into one log. Using a dough scraper or a sharp knife, cut the log lengthwise into two pieces. Take each piece and tie it into a semi-knot shape with the cut side facing outward so you can see the layers. Place these two knots into 2 cups of the muffin tin. Repeat this process for the three other pieces of dough. Loosely cover the muffin tin with plastic wrap and allow the cruffins to rise for 2-3 hours until about double in size. At this point you can also place your pan in the fridge to bake off later but it may need more time to rise.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the cruffins for 20-22 minutes. While they bake, make the glaze. Place the 4 Tbs. of butter, the powdered sugar, and the vanilla in a bowl. Add the boiling water 1 Tbs. at a time while mixing the ingredients with a spoon until it reaches a smooth and creamy consistently. Remove the cruffins from the oven when they are golden and caramelized. Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a plate before spooning the desired amount of glaze onto the cruffins.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Strawberries with Cream and Pistachio Cardamom Crumble

If they say that patience is a virtue, then I must not be among the virtuous most of the time. Though I did once spend 2 straight months knitting a blanket so I guess that’s not necessarily true. I suppose I do have patience when it comes to creative things – cooking, crafting, my job, etc. – and for some reason running long distances, but when it comes to patience for everyday life sorts of scenarios, it’s not always there. I don’t like surprises, many times preferring spoilers (but maybe not for Game of Thrones), will give gifts early because I simply can’t wait for the appropriate date, and drive myself mad during any waiting game; waiting for packages, waiting for events, waiting for answers.

And yet, the waiting game is inevitably hardest when the very thing you’re waiting for sits at the forefront of the mind. Funny how the world works like that.

I usually spend this time each year eagerly (and impatiently) waiting for the warmer days. Days where you run by the house of someone having their first backyard BBQ of the year and wish you could just jump in on the action, grab a burger, and see if anyone notices that nobody knows you. Uhhh maybe that’s a weird example? Ok, then let’s say waiting for the days where you can finally throw on a pair of shorts and head over to the Sunday farmers market for some seasonal produce and good old-fashioned people watching.

So when this past gloomy and chilly weekend arrived at the end of a long stream of general busyness, I forgot that we were already taking our first steps into May. That is until I saw that my nearby farmers market was in full swing and after a closer look realized that several vendors were selling strawberries. Wait, strawberries? Already? But there they were, baskets of red jewels gleaming bright on such a grey day. Somehow in the midst of many rainy days and hectic weeks, my impatience for wonderful things like strawberries faded away, and they appeared before I knew it and when I least expected it.

So what to do with a quart of perfect strawberries all to myself? Well I could eat them simply as they are, of course. And for many of them I did! But the rest deserved some degree of pomp and circumstance. Well cream had to be involved, because cream will never have a bad relationship with strawberries. And something crunchy and buttery, but nothing involving cooking the strawberries since that seems to make them soggy, greyish, and sadly unappealing. I looked to Nigel Slater’s Ripe for inspiration and settled on making a crumble, but without cooking the fruit. This of course means cooking an entire sheet tray of crumble topping and I saw nothing wrong with this at all.

The topping came together really simply. It’s a base of flour, butter and brown sugar and is filled with lots of earthy pistachios. Ground cardamom adds that warming floral note that goes so well with bright fruit flavors. It goes into the oven and what emerges essentially is a tray full of crushed pistachio shortbread cookies that I still can’t stop eating on its own. I cut up the strawberries and mixed them with a little sugar so they became syrupy and after waiting 30 minutes or so topped them with a generous dollop of whipped cream and a hefty sprinkle of crumble topping. It’s a light and refreshing dessert, one that lets the fruit do most of the talking and everything else just backs it up. I actually recommend it as an afternoon snack of sorts with a cup of black tea but I wouldn’t judge if you then had it after dinner too.  I mean, as long as the fruit that we’ve been patiently or impatiently waiting for all year is here, might as well eat dessert twice.

Strawberries with Cream and Pistachio Cardamom Crumble
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe
Serves 4 with leftover crumble topping

2 quarts strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and quartered
¼ cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shelled raw pistachios
2/3 cup cold butter, diced
2 1/3 cups flour
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, coarsely grind the pistachios until you have a pebbly mix. In a bowl, combine the flour and the butter. Use the tips of your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the pistachios, brown sugar, and cardamom. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and evenly spread the crumble topping onto it. Bake for 35-45 minutes until toasted and golden brown in color, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Halfway through the cooking use a spatula to gently break up and redistribute the mixture. Once cooked, set aside to cool.

While the crumble topping cooks, mix the strawberries with the sugar in a bowl and set aside so it becomes syrupy. In a separate bowl beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. To serve, portion out the strawberries and top each dish with desired amount of cream and crumble.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cuban Sandwiches

Happy almost summer weather! I’ve got a perfect summer picnic recipe for you just in time.

But first! An exciting announcement. I have officially opened up an online store where you can buy my food and travel prints for yourself with the option of paper prints, framed prints, or canvas. I’ve been doing a lot of stalling in setting this up but am so glad it’s finally finished. But onto the subject at hand, Cuban sandwiches.

With the shift to warmer weather I always start craving sandwiches. It’s something that doesn’t take too long to assemble, something packable that can be shared with lots of people. I dunno, sandwiches just sort of feel like summer. They must have been on my mind yesterday when I decided that I wanted to make my own baguettes for Cuban sandwiches. I found Jim Lahey’s recipe for his Stecca (like an Italian style baguette) and decided to put the dough together after my day’s activities so it could slow-rise overnight.

Well I went about my day, running 7 miles, brunching hard in Georgetown, followed by more drinks by the water and ending with an impromptu pirate booze cruise where we drank champagne straight from the bottle like the tyrants that we are. Yet my craving for baguette sandwiches must have been so strong that I got home and drunkenly assembled bread dough like a champ. I didn’t even spill flour anywhere

So today, hangover not nearly as bad as I would have thought, I set about roasting my own citrus and garlic stuffed pork loin, baking bread, and assembling some pretty bomb sandwiches. They need no introduction or explanation but I will say that with a bit of extra effort, the Cuban can really elevate from one level to the next. This double pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle concoction, pressed between two halves of chewy bread gets a little extra kick from the citrus and garlic added to the roasted pork. And the slow-rising process of making the bread created the slight tang you usually see in sourdough, which actually contrasted the sweetness of the pork really well. It was the exact thing that a beginning-of-summer sort of day called for. Of course, a store-bought baguette and some standard deli ham would have been just fine but per usual, not everything can be quite that simple for me, can it?

Cuban Sandwiches
Makes enough for 6-8

For the Stecca
3 cups bread flour
½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. dry active or instant yeast
1½ cups cool water
olive oil

For the Pork
1 3lb. pork loin roast
the zest from 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

For each individual Cuban Sandwich
1 stecca, split lengthwise
Spicy brown mustard
4 slices of the Pork roast
3 pieces of prosciutto
2 slices of Swiss cheese
4 sandwich pickles

Begin by making your bread. The night before you want to make your sandwiches, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a bowl and stir. Add the water and mix with your hand until no dry flour remains. Cover the bowl and allow to sit for 12-18 hours.

When this is complete, liberally dust a counter with flour and scrape the dough onto the flour. With floured hands, fold the dough over itself a couple times and create a round sort of shape. Transfer to a well-floured kitchen towel, seam side down. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Fold the ends of the towel over it and let rise for another 1-2 hours.

30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and prepare a sheet pan by brushing it with olive oil. When the dough is ready, cut into quarters. Gently stretch each piece into a long stick-like shape almost as wide as the pan. Place all 4 on the pan and brush the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15-25 minutes until golden brown. Let cool completely before cutting open.

Prepare the pork roast (I did this before baking my bread). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the lemon zest, garlic, 1 tsp. of salt, and pepper in a bowl. Butterfly the pork loin by using a sharp knife to cut about ¾ of the way through and then laying it flat. Spread the lemon zest mixture over the pork.  Roll up the pork loin back into a log shape and secure with kitchen twine.

Rub the outside of the pork with oil and sprinkle with the other tsp. of salt on it. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Once cooked, transfer the roast to a cutting board to rest for 25 minutes. Slice into thin pieces for the sandwich.

Finally prepare the sandwich. Cut one of the stecca in half lengthwise. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on both sides and the spicy brown mustard on one side. Layer on the pork, prosciutto, cheese, and pickles and top with the other half of the baguette.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bucatini with Lemon Cream Sauce and Roasted Kale

I’ve been thinking about fate a lot recently. Ever since that period in my life where I spent long hours poring over the words of Waiting for Godot and connecting with Beckett’s existential storylines I’ve always felt a certain hesitation to believe in that thing we call destiny. Instead I’ve opted for the viewpoint that the course of my life and the meaning derived from that comes directly from the decisions that I alone make or have made. But now, more than ever before, I find myself thinking that maybe things do just happen because they were meant to happen. I’m wondering if “right place, right time” and “it will happen when you least expect it” is a way to put meaning to a predetermined course.

It is without a doubt that my current readings have been influencing my thoughts. Many who know me are aware that I happen to be quite the Murakami fan and I’ve already quoted him at least once here before. I just finished reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and it has easily become my favorite of his books to date. The book also happens to touch on the subject of fate quite a bit. There is one part where a character remarks, “All these inexplicable events that have occurred in my life so far… it’s as though they were all ingeniously programmed from the start for the very purpose of bringing me here, where I am today… I feel as if my every move is being controlled by some kind of incredibly long arm that’s reaching out from somewhere far away, and that my life has been nothing more than a convenient passageway for all these things moving through it.” Almost throughout the entire novel the characters, deep in thought, observe their current state as the domino-effect outcome of many life events that have been carefully orchestrated by the cosmos.

I’ve by no means convinced myself of one philosophy or another and have for the time being mostly hopped aboard the “screw it, I don’t have time to think about this” train. Unfortunately this gives me no way to explain why I just so happened to have all but one ingredient for the very dish I was just so happening to be craving yesterday. But for now I’m okay with ignoring this question and just being happy that it made my weekend grocery shopping trip that much easier.

This may very well be my favorite pasta dish yet. The first time I made it, the many unconventional steps of the process felt so wrong. Like throwing half of a lemon – peel, seeds, and all – into a blender with a raw egg and heavy cream. Yeah, I could definitely say I’d never done that before. But before I knew it I had the easiest and most luscious and creamy sauce I’d ever seen before me. And wait, all I had to do was pour it over hot pasta and mix it with some roasted kale? It’s comforting without being cloying, great on its own, but also killer with any sort of seafood, and believe me, this is definitely one of those scenarios where “more than the sum of its parts” comes into play. Maybe the world planned for me to make this over the weekend, or maybe I just keep a well-stocked fridge. But once I was eating, I couldn’t have cared less.

Bucatini with Lemon Cream Sauce and Roasted Kale
Served 4-6
From Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons Cookbook

2 bunches of kale, cleaned, de-stemmed, and roughly torn into pieces
½ lemon
¼ cup olive oil plus extra for the kale
1 egg
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 lb. bucatini pasta (use linguine if you can’t find bucatini)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the kale between 2 sheet trays. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss the leaves of kale with the oil until well coated. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, tossing a few times in the process. Set aside once roasted.

While the kale cooks brings a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the bucatini, stir, and bring back to a boil. Cook until al dente according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add the lemon (yes the entire half of the lemon including the peel and seeds), the olive oil, raw egg, cream, and parmesan to a blender. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper each. Blend until thick, creamy, and smooth.

 When the pasta is done, set aside 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta. Return the noodles to the pot with about a quarter of the pasta water. Pour the lemon sauce over the pasta while using tongs to toss and mix the noodles. Alternate this with splashes of the cooking water to thin out the sauce some , as needed. Add in the kale and mix to combine. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve with cracked pepper and a generous amount of grated parmesan.