p3: Banana Caramel Rolls

#15, Caramel Rolls – Anise-spiced Banana version

54e4174ffe09414b2050c1f2b6cf90d7One of the first recipes I remember actually making on my own, and having a very undeserved sense of pride in doing so, was after I learned how to make Cinnamon Rolls in… I wanna say middle school, could have been sooner. I had yet to ever revisit making them, except in college when we made Caramel Rolls or Sticky Buns (however you wanna call it). The recipe stuck out in the book this week, probably since I’m home alone and feeling very much the urge to make sweet and naughty things, so I’ll indulge myself with this yeast-raised sweet bread; Caramel version of course, I don’t understand anyone who thinks it isn’t superior to just plain with frosting.

20150816_154314I’m putting a couple twists on things, however. First, instead of just the Cinnamon-Sugar dusting on the inside, think I’ll use up yet another super-ripe banana in my freezer and make a banana-cinnamon paste, flavored with a bit of star anise for a fun kick; also added some to the caramel. Speaking of which, I’m not using the caramel recipe in the book either; I want to, but I don’t have any corn syrup. Which is fine because, as I’ve found out, our options in the caramel roll world are quite numerous. There are a variety of techniques one can choose; my baking teacher made this sort of brown sugar-butter paste thing that was spread on the bottom. Aside from that, there’s the simplest mixing of brown sugar and melted butter, mixes utilizing corn syrup, or, and I’m thankful for finding this recipe since it was exactly the kind I was looking for, honey and spices mixed with the sugar and butter. It leads for a fun drive to experiment and find your favorite style in the future.

This particular dough recipe is actually a lighter ‘enriched’ style, using only a small amount of eggs and fat for tenderness, as opposed to the ‘rich’ category that brioche usually occupies; basically, super enriched. One can make this with the higher fat contents, in fact that’s what I plan to do next time since I looooooves the idea of a cinnamon or sticky bun with that buttery crisp edge. But for now, to the proper basics and all-around. Oh, and I’m doing the kind with nuts on it too.

Notes before continuing: I’m doing the milk substitute version, since mine decided to curdle and I had plenty of milk powder; if you’d like to use milk, or buttermilk, swap water and powdered for 9-10oz of the liquid.

Banana Caramel Rolls
6½ Tb/3.25oz Sugar
1 tsp/0.25oz Salt
5 ½ Tb/2.75oz Butter or Margarine, room temp
3 Tb/1oz Milk Powder
1 large/1.65oz Egg
1 tsp/0.1oz Vanilla Extract
2tsp/0.22oz Yeast
1 cup/8oz Water, slightly warmed
3½ cups/16oz Bread Flour

F20150816_152202or Filling
1 large Super-ripe Banana
5-6 Tb Sugar
¾ Tb Ground Star Anise
¾ Tb Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Nutmeg if desired

For Caramel
6 Tb Butter, melted
5/8 cups Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1/6 cup Honey
¼ tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Ground Star Anise
¼ tsp Black Pepper
½ – 1 cup Roasted Nut of your choice, whole or roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Cream together Salt, Sugar, Butter, and Milk Powder with mixer paddle attachment until ‘fluffy’20150816_124826
  2. Add in Egg and Vanilla, scraping down sides, and beat until mixed and smooth20150816_125106
  3. Mix Yeast and Water, leaving for 5 minutes to bloom20150816_122711~2
  4. Transfer to mixing bowl, with Flour, and mix on low-medium speed until everything comes together in a mass20150816_125624
  5. Switch out paddle with dough hook and start mixing on medium speed for 10 minutes, until dough is smooth, tacky, and barely sticky, adding flour as needed. It will still likely stick to the bottom of the bowl, look for it to pass the Windowpane Test20150816_131355
  6. Transfer to lightly oiled bowl, let bulk ferment 2 hours, until doubled in size20150816_152219
  7. While this is happening, make your Filling and Caramel. Combine the ripe Banana and all other ingredients in a bowl, mashing and mixing thoroughly into a consistent paste20150816_152653
  8. Separately, whisk the warm Butter, Brown Sugar, Honey, and Spices until smooth and saucy20150816_154140
  9. Spray counter with light mist of oil, transfer proofed dough to surface20150816_153326
  10. Lightly dust top and rolling pin with flour and roll out to 14”x12” (for larger buns) or 18”x9” (for smaller), the dough should end up 2/3” thick20150816_153720
  11. Spread your banana-spice paste evenly over the surface, stretching to the edges20150816_153938
  12. Roll up into a log, from the short end but really it’s up to you depending on thickness desired20150816_154734
  13. Cut log into 8-12 pieces at 1¾” lengths (for larger size) or 12-16 and 1¼”20150816_154615
  14. Spread Caramel along bottom of your baking pan/s, sprinkle with Toasted Nuts of your choice20150816_154856
  15. Lay rolls spiral-down in pan, leaving space between each, spray top with oil, and cover loosely with plastic to proof, 75-90 minutes, until dough has grown into each other20150816_173035
  16. Preheat oven 350F
  17. Move proofed dough to oven, sans plastic wrap of course, and leave to bake 30-40 minutes until developed an even, deeper golden color on top20150816_180708
  18. Remove and let rest on counter 5-10 minutes
  19. Place a larger pan upside-down on top of rolls, carefully grip edges, and quickly and smoothly flip both pans upside-down so that the still-hot rolls drop out caramel-size up. Spoon any dripping sauce back on top20150816_181512
  20. Pull some of the big suckers apart and enjoy while still warm! So good

What Have I Learned This Time?

Less Cinnamon, more ‘other spices’ required when trying to adjust flavors in something like this noticeably. Note, I’ve already made some adjustments in the recipe that SHOULD work if you wanna try it; otherwise just use all Cinnamon and the sugar.

At times, when not consuming caramel at the same time, I actually WAS able to get the banana, but I think I’d need even MORE just to make it really be a distinctive element.

Caramel Rolls are addicting… I seriously tried eating just HALF of one of these really big-ass buns on two occasions… during the same day… -cough- and both times ended up just consuming the whole thing. I’m pretty sure it’s due to that pull-apart aspect that just leads you going round and round and already eating ¾ before you know it so why not finish with the best part, the center?

Using a wider chef’s knife or something similar actually made for easy, clean cutting of the soft and stretchy dough, as opposed to trying more delicate, long slices.

Apparently caramel rolls are cooked longer than Cinnamon Rolls; I believe it’s because, in reality, the dough itself doesn’t need as much time, but one gives extra to ensure the caramel gets cooked to a certain point. Which I think is a bit bull, because I would rather have a caramel that’s still soft and gooey and running sauce-like over the thing, as opposed to it setting up into that firm almost ‘candied’ structure, though I do understand that’s a personal thing, and it still was quite addictive and good like that! But then again, I did also use a different caramel recipe; perhaps the one with corn syrup really needed some extra time to actually caramelize.

You ever see those absolutely gigantic cinnamon/caramel rolls that some diners serve, perhaps featured on TV? I now realize they’re probably not even that hard to make; just probably need to roll it out a little thicker, with less width and more length so as to roll it out into bigger, gigantic rounds. Now I really want to make one… a good reason to return for a Cinnamon Roll article huh?

Any Thoughts?

20150816_181904Well I was going to use the last part about the ‘giant’ rolls in here, but it fit better for a quick personal learning factor. I will say that having smaller rolls would be also quite beneficial… this batch gave me 8 individual pieces, and after the first day I had… 3 left. One of which I had for breakfast the next morning. So it was probably a good thing I gave the other two away to friends. And now I’m off to making a coconut milk custard to fill my sweet tooth’s incessant demands.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

We’re certainly sweeties (yuck yuck yuck), for once it’s the other things that I feel the need to adjust and play with. I almost struggled at one point, pretty sure the dough was too hydrated while it was kneading, but I think I adjusted it with enough flour rather well.

p2: Nougat de Montélimar

The Sweet

Mnougatsom just came back from a business trip to Italy, thought it’d be fun to make some sort of Italianish-French, or at least European, treat as a welcome home gift! And she loves almonds. My first thoughts were Macarons, but since, as with most of my inspirations for what and when to do these recipes has been lately, it was rather last-minute, I couldn’t quite prepare the proper ingredients and recipe in time. That said, my plan for doing a ‘double post’ a-la my Duck yielded to a surprising and craving revelation; see, I was going to stuff the macaron with the French Almond Nougat, which I had thought was that marzipan-y almond paste snack you see all over each country. To my surprise did I find out it was actual nougat, which until now I hadn’t realized is what one of my favorite Christmas-time recipes for Divinity basically was. It would NOT have made a good delicate macaron filling, but damn is it good, has almonds, and is a candy seen in one form or another throughout Europe, especially the Mediterranean.

Nougat on its own has a few interesting points in its history that stood out; did you know that the confection itself, basically the original mixture of heavily whipped egg whites with cooked sugar, started in the Middle East? Which I can sort of see, I can imagine some of the finer cultures, known for many of their sugar/honey sweets mixed with nuts and sesame, mixing big pots of cooked sweet stuff with the nut of choice to be served for royalty. What’s rather cool, in my opinion, was the candy, and as such interest and technique, spread with the Phoenicians, known as tradesmen who traveled all through the Mediterranean. These were the same people who originally spread wine and grape vines to Europe, and now apparently candies.

Then there’s the name; originally, this kind of treat was named ‘Halau,’ a derivative of their word for ‘sweet,’ and further proof it was probably one of, if not THE, first candy techniques ever developed; at least in the Middle East. Nougat came from the Latin term ‘Nux,’ which meant Walnut, a popular and mostly used ingredient at the time. It was only in the 1700’s when a certain agronomist planted Almond trees in France, apparently FOR nougat, that the Nougat de Montelimar was born.

The candy itself is made very much like Marshmallows, but without the Gelatin. Egg whites are beaten until stiff, have a lot of super-hot sugar added in, and continued to whip until it cools down and starts to get hard, in which one adds in nuts and transfers to a pan to set up, to which it gets hard and can be cut in big slices, bite-sized squares, or whatever. Montelimar style, as compared to Italian Torrone or US Divinity, is distinctive in using Honey as a major sugar and flavor source, and sometimes incorporates Pistachios.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Now, there are two main styles of ‘nougat’ here; there’s a softer, chewier version, sometimes first, but easily breakable that’s often simply termed nougat or nougat de montelimar. And then there’s ‘Nougatine,’ a much harder, cracking version that’s made with caramelized sugar; before I heard the name distinction, I was much debating if I should make it classically hard or soft, but since the latter isn’t pure ‘nougat,’ as I like to seek, it can be held off for another personal fun time.

20150725_104557Another intriguing requirement for this particular candy, in order to fit the regional designations that allow business to certify it as ‘de Montelimar’ Nougat, is Ratios. Not only does it have to use those certain ingredients mentioned, they have to be put in to a certain amount so as to characteristically fit the required bill. If I remember correctly, Honey had to compose 25% of the candy, and 30% had to be the nuts; either 28% Almonds and 2% Pistachio, or all of it Almond, but nothing else. I can’t say the recipe that I chose to base my own off of got these exactly right, though it seemed very close; besides, not many others were that close either, and some of the ones that really talked about it would then include all these other practices that just seem blah to me.

For instance, the use of corn syrup or glucose in with the cooked sugar. Hey, I get the use of that for candies nowadays, the stability is awesome, especially for home use. But this should be a TRADITIONAL recipe, a treat indicative to something made for at least a couple centuries on bright spring days after the honey. This was kept simple, made in an old pot with just a giant mound of sugar, cooked carefully in the way it should have been. So a recipe that only used sugar next to the honey was the way to go.

20150725_215630I did make some adjustments however; firstly, the recipe itself called for just cooking the sugar on its own, dry… which is possible to melt properly in a pan without immediately caramelizing brown, but oh so damn difficult. Better to just add some water and let it dissolve first; we need this clear at the hard ball stage of 285F to get the perfect texture, otherwise it’ll just get too damn tough. That and of course mess with the flavor.

Secondarily, this popular recipe had us start out cooking the honey and sugar separately, as all good recipes do, but then added the hot honey into the sugar to cook them both up to the 285F range together. At first, this seems harmless, rather logical; you know you can make a caramel out of pure honey too right? The issue is, when one cooks honey up to that range, it starts to brown and oxidize/caramelize/other-stuff a LOT sooner, and this reaction apparently speeds up when it’s mixed with regular sugar; or only happens when mixed with regular sugar, can’t remember. Either way, if one did this it would end up creating a nougat that’s distinctly darkened in color, not to mention would skew the final flavors. I don’t like that, so I decided to follow the lead of other recipes which, instead, heated the honey itself to 250F, add that into the whipped egg whites alone first, and then the sugar later. Not only to we preserve this amazing honey flavor without changing the color, but it helps to sort of ‘prime’ the egg whites for the much-hotter sugar syrup.

Speaking of sugar some more, this recipe also had the technique where, along with the nuts and vanilla, one dumps in some powdered sugar at the very end to mix in. God I debated whether or not to do this so long, because on the one hand I know that is not a really ‘traditional’ step, it can’t be. That said, making any kind of changes to sugar content can really mess up what I wanted to make. Luckily, I found an excerpt that explained the results of this, basically the sugar would get in and interrupt the long ‘strands’ of sugar to create a candy that broke easier, almost make it ‘softer’ in a certain sense. I actually preferred the idea of a nougat that would bend more, be chewy. Then I realized that of course it shouldn’t really affect it, since the sugar ‘requirement’ for the exact texture result would be all in the cooked; any powdered sugar added last-minute wouldn’t try ‘bolster’ this. So yah, doy me. And end of the day, another step bites the dust.

Of course I had to get pistachios in here; we had a large handful in the pantry that had still to be consumed, so it was the perfect recipe to toss them in. No I did not measure, but at the end of the day, unless REALLY trying to following the ratios, which one can figure I also had to not be too hung over for once just to make sure I make a proper nougat, having more or less nuts just determines how much more or less crunchy things one has in their whipped-egg-sugar-treat.

One final note, this one of warning. Candy making IS quite the bitch; recipes are simple, but getting the timing an temperatures right takes a lot of focus and staying in the kitchen the whole time, not to mention knowing what you’re doing the whole time. But if anything, you want the right equipment; do not, and I stress do NOT, attempt something like this, at least on your first time, without a decent stand mixer. Hand mixers don’t cover ground properly, whisking by hand is going to hurt like hell and be all but impossible to keep up the speed needed, and both cases take away the use of one hand for most of it, not good.

Now, I’ll say right now I had some not-so-idealistic results in my final candy, so the recipe that follows has been adjusted to something that should have a much better chance of success.

Nougat de Montélimar
500 grams Almonds
50 grams Pistachios
200 grams Honey
275 grams Sugar
2-3 Tb Water
2 Large Egg Whites
1 tsp Vanilla

Directions

  1. Pop Almonds and Pistachios in 400F oven for up to 6 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove, placing back in a warmed oven when close to fabrication20150725_215658
  2. Prepare desired pan, spraying it evenly with oil before pressing in a lay of Wax paper
  3. Place Honey in one saucepot and the Sugar+Water mixture in another with candy or other suitable thermometers, turning heat to medium/medium-high20150725_220135
  4. Stir often in both until they start to boil; start stirring constantly in honey and remove spoon completely in sugar, brushing the sides of the pan down with cold water if crystals start forming on the sides20150725_220452
  5. Place Egg Whites in stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn on high, looking to beat to stiff peaks right before the first addition20150725_220522
  6. Once honey has reached 250F, remove and quickly, yet gradually, pour into the egg whites while the machine whips on medium-high. Once half has been added you can start adding in faster20150725_220827
  7. Whip fast until smooth and seems fully incorporated, and turn mixer down to medium speed to ‘stand by’ for the next addition20150725_221311
  8. Watching it carefully the whole time, remove sugar once it has reached 285F, immediately transferring over to mixer to pour a slow, steady stream into egg whites, beating them on high once more20150725_221537
  9. Once every bit of sugar has been added, continue beating egg whites on high speed for a MINIMUM of 6-8 minutes, likely much longer, until the nougat has almost very noticeably cooled and started to get notably thick in the stand mixer20150725_222248
  10. Very quickly add in the Vanilla and nuts, mixing in thoroughly; at this point one may need to fold in by spatula or try to quick transfer to the paddle attachment20150725_222422
  11. Using a rubber spatula that has gotten a quick spray of oil, quickly pour and scoop nougat out and into your prepared pan20150725_222449
  12. Cover with wax paper and attempt to smooth the top out with a rolling pin or other handy item
  13. Let sit at least 3 hours or overnight20150726_150710
  14. Once set, remove onto cutting board and cut into desired sized chunks
  15. Wrap in wax paper or melted chocolate for longer-term storage, or just shove into your mouth and enjoy

20150726_183842

My Thoughts

Okay, the flavor is awesome, and I heavily worry about my daily calorie intake as I work my hardest not to keep eating these nutty-sweet sugar bombs. I absolutely love that you can actually taste the honey, that little undercurrent of distinctively floral-sweet flavor we know and love beneath full-roasted almonds. Sort of makes me want to experiment with getting a really good honey, those ones that taste like different things like molasses or lilac or marshmallow, and seeing what I can create with it.

I did make a boo-boo though. And know, I’m not just talking about the fact that I think I over-toasted the almonds; I mean, not burnt, they were AWESOME, right before that edge of too-dark, me and my mom love them. But I’m sure this recipe wants them still white in the middle, just lightly toasted for some aroma. To be fair, I did turn the oven off at the right time, it just didn’t cool down as fast as I expected… should have taken the nuts out for some time between.

20150726_150137No, my nougat ended up quite sticky, barely firm at all, as you can see in the pic to the right; I had to set it in the fridge for a few hours just to make sure I got a more decent chance at cutting it smooth. And I know where I screwed up. First was when I added the honey in earlier; I still stand behind the reason for it, but I completely looked over the fact that by doing that, I was taking just over half of the sugar source that was going to get cooked to 285F and then mixing it in at a much cooler, softer stage, thus it didn’t have quite near as much hard sugar to form that firm density later. In retrospect, I should have reduced the honey, at least by a little, and added more regular sugar.

Secondly, and I think the true culprit to costing me what would have at least been a really SOFT, but still handle-able, nougat: I under-beat the bastard. After adding in my sugar (which by the way I’ve realized I really need to begin with MORE sugar that what recipes call for, I always lose some that end up hardening up inside/on-the-lip of the pan or the sides of the bowl before integrating), I only whipped until it was notably cooler but still warm, like 8 minutes. I was afraid that if I kept going until really thick, I might not have been able to mix the nuts in well, plus I know how much of a bitch transfer would have been. And if anything, I figured it’ be BETTER to under-beat; less air bubbles, more thick sugar stuff. But it did not occur to me that, despite how much whipping and beating it had taken so far, that ideal sugar-egg-white structure still needed time to develop to a certain stiffness, probably also to stretch those sugar strands thin so they set up in a more fragile and not-bendy thing. Or something like that.

-Sigh- Oh darn, always hope my attempt for these posts can be perfect, but I’m too damn lazy to make a second batch right afterwards. Maybe on the holidays…

P20150728_115524ossible Pairings

Not sure about you, but I just want something honeyed with this; maybe a really good, sweet glass of mead if I can find it. And my first thought towards regional pairings were fully negative, as many of the famous southern France dessert wines are quite port-like, darker renditions; but there IS the Muscat Beaumes de Venice, either in Rhone or Roussillon I forget, which is always nice and classically sweet, nectar-y, perfect for this!

Or some super-nutty, aromatic liqueur like Frangelico, served ice cold. Come to think of it, we got a bottle of special Pistachio-Liqueur in the basement… maybe it’s time we crack it…

p2: Clafoutis

The Sweet

7-SAV150-95_Clafoutis-750x750I have been semi-obsessed with a certain dessert ever since I read “On Food and Cooking’s” chapter on fruit; in particular, when they discuss cherries, making mention of a baked dish that took advantage of the pits to extract extra flavor from the cherries. This dessert was Clafoutis, what at first seemed an eggy cake filled with whole cherries, though I’ve come to learn is so much more. For I’ve tried making this twice before, I came to learn the ‘batter’ for this is quite… unique. Not special or different or difficult, but there’s nothing quite in the realm of its structure ya know? It’s very custardy, but it’s thicker than flan and other egg-milk dishes; it’s definitely more batter-based, less eggy, than a quiche; thicker like a pancake batter, but with that smooth creamy consistency. Many related it similar to crepe batter but with more eggs. When you try it, you’ll know, but there’s really no other common custard to properly relate it to.

And this is made exclusively to be filled in a pan, covered layers of whole cherries or thick cuts of fruit, and baked until a golden, crispy layer has remained on top. I myself have yet to achieve this, and need to redeem myself with a third attempt here, for this project.

The name comes from clafotís or clafir, a term used in the Occitan language, which centered in the Southern France/Northern Spain region, meaning ‘to fill.’ During the 1800’s, the dish spread throughout the rest of France, but its origin of ‘identity’ is purely Limousin, which is situated in the southern-central area (and where the romance language was quite popular). This is the one that traditionally contains cherries; which is what any TRUE clafoutis should use, proved by the fact that any dish of the same batter using OTHER fruits is properly called a ‘flaugnarde.’ Despite the lack in specific origin, the Limousin are highly proud of this dish they’ve created; in fact, when L’Acadèmie Francais officially categorized it under as a sort of ‘fruit flan,’ well… let’s just say the people got rather pissed. So they ended up getting forced into changing it to “a cake with fruit.”

As with many dishes found in France, for something so simple as cherries with batter, getting it right can be quite the task. We’ll see if I’m finally up for it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

You know, I just realized that I ended up listing this recipe’s ‘Lecture Corner’ in the same style as my OTHER French Recipe Posts! Since I’ve already finished writing it all and am too lazy to redo it, guess we’ll just pretend it’s structured different because this recipe is ‘special,’ haha.

20150529_173042

Cherries: Small, tart ‘Griottes’ are the cherries of choice in France. No luck here, but they are easily substituted out with a simple Black Cherry, which gives that nice combo of sweet and tart for dessert use. But that’s not what we REALLY wanna talk about with cherries… what we REALLY wanna talk about is their pits. And yes, you must leave them in the cherries while they bake into the cake. Oh, you can pit them beforehand, but it will not taste as good… just like cheap, simple baked cherries in this custard, nothing more or nothing less.

For the seeds and pits of stone fruits, like cherries and apricots and plums, contain and enzyme which, besides producing EXTREMELY trace amounts of cyanide (which has sparked much issue towards the idea of using them in cooking/infusing, which is really useless considering the mass amount of things made from them that would need consumption to even feel ill), also produces the characteristic almond extract/marzipan aromas. In fact, it’s mainly stone fruit pits that are used to make these extracts. Cherries in particular also contain amygdalen, benzaldehyde and eugenol, compound/molecule essences of almond and clove. When heated, all of these aromas increase, expand, and flush throughout the cherry, and potentially anything next to it. Thus the flavor resulting in something like, say, a baked custard with whole cherries studded throughout is transformed into a wafting aromatic exploration of deep fruit and almond ambrosia. Or something like that.

Like blueberries in muffins or chocolate chips in banana bread, we also have to ask the question of how we add the fruit and batter. Does the fruit go in first, batter on top, or toss the fruit on top of the batter in hopes of getting some better elevation/distribution? Whether it actually works, I find I don’t necessarily care, as the thickness of the custard is relatively the same as the fruit layers, and I don’t see any danger in them sitting at the bottom for this. I’d say the use of making sure they’re a bit higher is to give a better top/presentation. Though, interesting note, I read Julia Child’s recipe for this, and a unique technique she offers is starting with just a thin layer of batter on the bottom, baking that until it’s mostly set, and THEN adding the cherries and rest of the batter. I am so NOT trying this, because again I don’t care and I don’t want to worry about a layer of over-cooked custard under my perfectly set batter, but it’s a fun one to consider. There’s a particular cake named after tree layers that uses the technique, but with a single thin layer of batter at a time.

20150601_173730To Booze or Not to Booze: There are a lot of clafoutis out there that make absolutely no mention of adding Kirsch, using just vanilla extract instead. Throw those formulae in the trash, because all TRUE clafoutis have kirsch. Every single time that I’ve read or heard one from any recipe that seemed old, classic, traditional, or in any way overly French, the classic Cherry Brandy or Liqueur is involved. This is either added to the batter, macerated in the cherries beforehand (along with some of the sugar), or a combo of the two. Myself, I’m going for the combo, since I want to infuse more of that deep cherry flavor into the fruit itself, make up for what don’t seem like the most ideal cherries to me, as well as use it as the flavor base of the cake itself. Kirschwasser is the name of the game of course, a good bottle that I still had enough left over for the cake AND shots afterward, with those beautifully developed-through-distillation flavors of cherries and bitter almond/marzipan, a treat from those aromatic pit compounds mentioned earlier that only TRUE cherry brandy will let you experience.

Note, if you don’t have access to a nice kirsch/wasser, any decent brandy (cognac/Armagnac preferred) will do, potentially even rum for a fun twist, ideally mixed with some cherry and/or almond liqueur for added flavor.

Pan: Firstly, low and wide is usually the key; one is looking for 2 cherry layers max quite often, baked into a large custard-cake. Usually done in one of those classic ceramic, large ramekin-y vessels. You know, the white ones with the curved outside that look all fancy. I have seen this cooked in a big cast iron pot as well, and I was very tempted to try it with mine… but the one I have is a bit Dutch Oven type, so much empty space and pan sides sticking up from the custard, it made me nervous. Plus I worried how long it would take to absorb the oven temperature vs a regular ceramic. I wanted to make sure that I got those browned effects, and both of these aspects seemed potentially counterproductive to that.

Milk: I read somewhere that, similar to crepe batter (which seriously this custard resembles so much doesn’t it?), many ‘masters’ or just old French cooks traditionally heat up the milk before adding. This should help develop some flavor with the eggs (gotta love those warm milk custardy flavors), and probably helps with starch gelatinization/integration even further. Or something on those lines (you know I’m too lazy for THAT kind of research).

In some recipes I’ve been finding after making this, I’ve found use of cream or half and half instead of milk. I put no preference over the choices, in fact I’d like to try it one day, but today I almost feel like milk, leave more flour for thickening and to develop that crusty edge I’m so desiring.

Clafoutis
500g/18 oz Black Cherries, de-stemmed
3 Tb Kirsch or Kirschwasser
100g/4oz Sugar
125g/4½ oz Flour
Pinch of Salt
300ml/1¼ cup Milk
3 Eggs

Directions

  1. Toss Cherries (NOT pitted) with 1 Tb of Kirsch and 50g of Sugar, leave to sit and macerate (turning every so often) for at least 30 minutes20150601_173654
  2. Preheat oven to 350F
  3. Combine remaining sugar, Flour, and Salt in separate bowl20150601_174350
  4. Heat milk to a light scald on the stove, hot without simmering, and add along with the well beaten Eggs and remaining Kirsch to the flour mixture, whisking in a bit at a time until it turns into a smooth, thick batter20150601_180624
  5. Toss cherries into a wide, low, and very well-buttered casserole dish, evenly covering the bottom in a piled layer20150601_181119
  6. Pour over the batter so it comes close to the lip of the pan20150601_181237
  7. Transfer to oven, baking at LEAST 35-40 minutes, until the center is set, the edges have rise, and the top is colored with a light golden brown20150601_185108
  8. Remove, slicing and serving hot or, traditionally, leaving to cool until lukewarm, garnishing with a dust of powdered sugar20150601_190748
  9. Enjoy with some kirsch, and perhaps a dollop of whipped, iced, or other sweet cream garnish one has on hand

My Thoughts

Okay, I think I finally got it how I want it! I was a bit worried too, since it didn’t have any of that browning or crustiness when I checked at the 40 minute mark. But cooked a bit longer and it started to develop, a little on top and around the sides with that beautiful lift! Still didn’t get that particular cakey-ness that I envisioned and hoped it would have, but this has officially shown me that, indeed, a proper clafoutis never will.

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What it WILL get is a thick, firm but tender layer of custard with some crispy edges and tops on it. I’ll admit and say I think I may have cooked it a couple minutes longer than IDEAL, with more browned sides and bottom bits sticking to the pan than I thought (note to self, don’t judge by how much is on TOP), but still fully delicious. And the cherries… hot from the oven, popped into the mouth, super soft and with that almost floral burst of aromatics clearly containing an underlying almond/marzipan note, just like how it’s supposed to. Let me just say, all those people online who bitch about how the annoying purists leave the pits in is rather useless, saying to just add almond extract or purely ignore and just leave the cherries because ‘who wants to eat around a pit, waaaaahhhhh,’ don’t know crap about what they’re talking about. There’s a clear, elevated difference, and I’ve found no issue in letting the pit pop from its fleshy constraints in my mouth to be spit back on the plate or some side bowl. Not if it equals the aromatic extra experience that I’ve found here.

And I can see why many say this is best served lukewarm instead of hot, for the texture and the cherries, which release more of those deliciously fruity flavors. Though I still say there’s nothing better than something hot out of the oven, creamy and flavorful, with those heady pops of aromatic chemicals when chewing on those stone fruit. Either way, I am very happy and satisfied with the results. Something tells me I’ll be making this again (the mother seems quite intent about it).

Possible Pairings

There really is nothing better than a nice, chilled shotglass or snifter of Kirsch or Kirschwasser next to this. I mean, cherries and cherries, almond flavors with almond flavors (they both have it), you use it in the dish, and it just tastes damn good. Trust me, when you nail a clafoutis in such a way that makes you happy like this, there’s no better reward than a delicious bit of cherry brandy (assuming you’re the kind to drink good liquor straight, which I am).

To a similar note, something like an Amaretto, either chilled over ice or made into a cocktail (perhaps shaken with brandy?), would be another delicious choice. There are also plenty of emulsified ‘egg liqueurs’ (they’re basically more custardy cream liqueurs) like Advocat that would highlight the custardy flavors and textures.

And as for wine, I wish I could name something great from the Limousin region, but they sadly have very little wine industry nowadays (they used to, sadly, but it was devastated during a certain period of disease along with the rest of France and didn’t recover as well), so what they have, though delicious, is quite rare. I knew the name was familiar though, as the oak trees are famously used for some of the most prized barrels for aging wine and Cognac.

Blanquette_de_LimouxWhat I would definitely want to serve this with is a nice glass of bubbly, some simple and refreshing sparkling wine, perhaps a Cremant from some southern region just for fun. A Cremant de Alsace, perhaps a rose, from the region that borders France with Germany could have a certain cultural perfection, but I have a ‘Blanquette de Limoux’ which I’m saving for a certain savory dish that I wouldn’t mind playing around with here. It’s from the exact opposite region, the very southern border, but it should have a great fruity focus and a touch of sweetness. But the great combo of tart acids and frizzy bubbles should cut through the custard nicely, and those almost-toasty/yeasty flavors mixed with those almond notes… I like the idea.

p3: Portuguese Sweet Bread

#5, Portuguese Sweet Bread

picH3zEcEIt’s the second week away from my trusty stand mixer, so I’m attacking another hand-kneading adventure for my bread making. For this one, I thought I’d try something on another level, one of the Enriched bread recipes. With the added butter and sugar, gluten usually takes longer time and effort to develop, not to mention the dough usually starts off much more sticky (not gonna be smooth hand working).

My page-flipping easily brought me to a bread that had been standing out to me for a while, Portuguese Sweet Bread. It was a rather perfect fit too, being one of the few ones in the book calling for powdered milk (being able to put my recent purchase to use), not to mention it involved an option to let the dough sit and retard in the fridge for a day before proofing and baking. Something I’ve been wanting to try, and with a recipe that called for me to divide in half, my situation actually allowed me to bake off one day-of for immediate consumption and let another retard for the next day to see if there was any difference (point in fact, not really that I’ve seen… guess it fits more with baguettes and rye and such for effects).

20150510_165240As for the bread itself, the name sounds unique but you might already be familiar with it, also being known as “Hawaiin Bread.” It’s also quite similar to some of the sweet breads seen in a good Mexican panadeira (like the Conchas). An interesting aspect to it, besides just adding butter, eggs, and sugar, is that the recipe also uses Extracts for flavoring. Now, the recipe calls for a combination of Orange, Lemon, and Vanilla, but I sadly did not have access to the citrus-based alcohols. So instead I thought I’d have some fun and just use the same amount of extract (3tsp or 1 Tb) of Almond and Vanilla, give me that nice amaretto-ish aroma.

Now all that’s left is to make a bread which I’m sure will make some awesome French Toast… if it lasts that long.

Recipe
3½ cups/15.75 oz Bread Flour
1½ Tb/0.75 oz Sugar
2¼ tsp/.25 oz Dry Yeast
½ cup + 6 Tb/7 oz Water, Room Temp
1 tsp/0.25 oz Salt
¼ cup/1.25 oz Powdered Milk
2 Tb/1 oz Unsalted Butter, Room Temp
1 Tb/1 oz Shortening
2 large/3.3 oz Eggs
1 Tb/0.5 oz Extract of Your Choice (Vanilla, Citrus, Almond, etc)
1 Egg+1tsp Water for Egg Wash

Directions

  1. Stir together ½ cup(2.25oz) Flour, 1 Tb(0.5oz) Sugar, Yeast, and ½ cup(4oz) Water in small bowl until it forms a smooth batter.20150510_153649
  2. Cover plastic, ferment 60-90 Minutes, until sponge is quite foamy and seemingly on verge of collapsing.20150510_165339
  3. Combine remaining sugar, Salt, Powdered Milk, Butter, and Shortening in bowl and cream together with electric mixer or hands (spoon only works with non-smooth bowls that the fat can easily cling to the sides on) until smooth.20150510_165311
  4. Mix in Eggs and Extract with spoon to make even batter.20150510_165654
  5. Add your sponge and remaining flour, kneading it in by hand, dribbling in enough of the remaining 6 Tb of water until make a soft (and sticky) dough.20150510_170329
  6. Turn onto flour-dusted counter, kneading until the dough is easy to knead, supple, and no longer wet and sticky, at least 15 minutes when done by hand (10-12 via machine).20150510_173500
  7. Lightly oil large bowl, transfer dough, rolling to coat and covering with plastic. Bulk ferment 2 hours, until doubled in size.20150510_193943
  8. Remove, dividing into equal parts, shaping into a boule as described in Casatiello.20150510_194109
  9. Lightly oil two 9” (or smaller it seems) pie pans, place one boule in each, mist with spray oil, and loosely cover in plastic wrap.20150510_194412
  10. Proof for 2-3 hours or, conversely, move into the refrigerator overnight and let warm up to room temp for 5-6 hours next day, until it doubles in size and ideally fills the pan fully.
  11. Preheat oven to 350F
  12. Whisk the egg and water for the Wash together until frothy, very gently and thoroughly brushing the loaves with it.20150510_214346
  13. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a richly deep mahogany and the center registers 190F with a thermometer.20150510_221510
  14. Remove, let cool on rack to end up with a soft, sticky loaf for ideal sandwich making; or slice and enjoy immediately with butter for an amazing chunk of bread for dessert.20150511_171046

What Have I Learned This Time?

I should have made more… or hid it much better from myself, because this guy is sooooo hard to keep myself from eating.

Either  I need to measure pie pans differently to consider what ‘9 inches’ is, I need an actual metal pan instead of these glass ones (which so many bakers hate), or something was off with my dough in not fermenting large enough… but I highly doubt that, I mean look at that giant ball!

If you mix everything for Portuguese Sweet Brea together besides the sponge, then lick it off your fingers, it tastes like cookie dough! A shame I had to add yeast and turn it into bread!

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20150510_171254Not only do I have to read recipes carefully, I can’t trust the water section; put simply, I made a boo-boo and mixed the flour and water into the creamed mixture first instead of flour and sponge. So I added ALL the water in, only to find out while looking back that I’m not necessarily supposed to need all 6 of those tablespoons, just enough to get a certain texture… which makes me think, especially with HOW sticky it was when I started kneading, that I probably had too much and thus had to work in extra bread flour to compensate a bit.

That said, I figured out a couple good techniques for dealing with difficult and sticky doughs for kneading! First, got the hang of using a bench scraper in my right hand to keep prying it from the counter and folding back in on itself before pushing forward with my left palm. Secondly, as it got a little firmer and more handle-able, I tried out a one-handed trick I saw on Cooking with Julia and Friends. Grabbing, pulling and lifting one end with the hand, I slam the heavy end HARD on the counter, fold and push together before grabbing the side and doing it again. It felt like the heavy handling helped to break and develop that gluten down at a good, quick rate (though it could just be because I was getting close to the end anyways).

20150510_173009

God dammit I didn’t bake it long enough! This is the second recipe where, now as I’m rereading it while typing this up, that I pulled it out of the oven very soon… it calls for 50-60 minutes, but I only cooked it 30 (I did a similar thing with the Wheat Loaves, though luckily their small size and the increased oven temperature saved me I think). That said, it actually came out quite perfect… so I’ve also learned that some of these cook times might be longer than what I myself like for bread. If I continued It’d probably be a little drier, blech.

Any Thoughts?

Not really. Though I will look forward to having a dough hook again for these wet and sticky breads! Oh, and I just love that thick, sweetly brown crust here.

20150510_170704

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

Despite grudgingly working together with me in the end, it apparently thinks I’ve been getting too full of myself and slapped me a reality check.

p2, Kouglof

kouglof_The Sweet

With Easter coming up (or having come up) and my family being asked to contribute a dessert, I got the chance to tackle one of my French sweet recipes, and I’ve had a few that I wanted to save for holiday parties of sorts. These are often those brioche-based or light cakey favorites normally saved for celebrations as-is. Now that I finally have a mixer with a dough hook, too, I can tackle these recipes with even more enthusiasm than before!

After some deciding, and a noted dismissal by the mother against the idea of a certain cake made with Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur), I settled on Kouglof… or, much like Flammekeuche, one of the other tens of European names which this dish goes by. Hailing mainly from Alsace, this bread-like dessert made in a special ceramic ring-mold features an inclusion of raisins, almonds, and booze (typical additions for bread-based desserts). And, much like quite a few dishes from this highly Germanic-influenced region, one can safely claim that France is NOT the country of origin for this. No, we see various other cakes going by the same name and same or similar recipe in various countries; It’s kuglof in Hungary, guguluf in Romania, babovka in Czech-Slovakia, babka in Poland, and wacker/wacka in Austria.

It’s this last country which most likely made the biggest introduction of the recipe to France, Marie-Antoinette having supposedly introduced the pastry to her friends in Versailles. After which it became one of the most fashionable cakes at the time. Though the popularity may not be as big now (at least in the US), it still proves why, when made right, it’s such a much-loved dish, the smell of warm toasty bread mixing with the sweet notes of kirschwasser and almonds.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It’s difficult for me to narrow down different bread-based recipes when I don’t have too much experience with the formula effects, not to mention no clue given in research towards how that particular brioche traditionally leaned. Luckily, though, I was able to find certain requirements that I just had to have in the final mix, so that helped eliminate possibilities.

F20150404_215933irst, obviously, there had to be Raisins; Golden, in my opinion, since the wine grapes that would be most abundant and likely dried in Alsace, Germany, and the other countries that make this dessert would most likely be White varieties (I could be wrong, maybe they use a different variety which is red, but if anything I found a really good looking bag of organic Californian goldens at Trader Joe’s). But more importantly, it had to have some Alcohol to soak these in.

Speaking of which, though many recipes call for Rum (likely as it’s the most handy for home cooks), Kirsch or Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) is most properly utilized, a classic spirit distilled near the regions. And French Brandy would pose a reasonable substitute. But do please get in some booze, it’s not a proper dessert without the use of good alcohol!

Finally, I had to have a recipe that used Almonds (surprisingly not all did), the higher quantity of this, raisins, and kirschwasser in the recipe the better, so as to properly display the additions and not just make a plain, simple brioche. I wanted to make sure these elements actually COUNTED with the flavor they brought in. Which is why, instead of following recipes which just sprinkle all of them on the bottom of the pan (to top the cake after baking), I moved all required inside, after having previously chopped and toasted them in the oven. Extra was utilized for ‘garnish’ of course; gotta try making it pretty.

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Besides required must-haves, there were also things I avoided; mainly, those recipes that made really small versions of the cake and/or glazed it with an icing of sorts. Though I bet they would get the idealistic cake-ish or high-butter brioche crumb that I was ideally looking for, it just didn’t feel like it embodied the kind of kouglof I wanted today. I want the big cake, unadorned but for the raisins and almonds already inside, sliced thick and only sweetened by any fruit or whipped cream one would top it with.

As for final recipe notes, I tried finding one that didn’t seem TOO bread-y (we’ll see how that worked out), but in particular I found interest with one yeast-starter strategy, where instead of simply leaving with warm milk/water, one made a little dough-ball to rest and rise for a bit before mixing the whole batch in. Not really sure what it did, but the idea seemed intriguing, so I just had to do it. It also had me cover the dough in flour as it rose/’proofed’… not sure what reason that is, besides maybe being a natural substitute for covering the bowl with plastic/a towel?

20150405_100220Oh, speaking of rising, creating the optimum slightly-warm and moist environment is ideal for any bread-type preparations. The best way to do this, if not privy to some ideal location in your own house, is to boil a pot of water and place in the oven along with the covered dough. So sayz Zool, all hail Zool! (da-na-nana-na-na)

Final note: no matter the country, this pastry has a traditional fluted, round pan in which it is baked in. I am TOO LAZY to go out and buy one of these for this one recipe that, as much as I want to, I will likely never make again. Luckily for us, bundt pans work just as well.

Kouglof
100g Golden Raisins
40ml Kirschwasser
20g Active Yeast
320ml Lukewarm Milk
550g AP Flour
2 Eggs
80g Sugar
1tsp Salt
130g Butter, Diced and softened
80g Chopped, Toasted Almonds
Whole, non-toasted Almonds for display
Butter

Directions

  1. Place Raisins and Kirschwasser in container together, let macerate overnight20150404_220058
  2. Combine the Yeast and 70g of Milk, mixing briefly, letting sit for 5-10 minutes to activate.20150405_094932
  3. When soft, lightly foamy, and smelling distinctly of the yeast, add to 100g of flour. Knead briefly into a ball20150405_100123
  4. Cover in some of the remaining flour. Set aside for ½ hour in an oven alongside pot of boiling water to briefly rise, about ½ hour20150405_105620
  5. Combine remaining Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Salt, Kirsch (drained from raisins), and the starter ball in mixing thoroughly by hand for about 10 minutes, or with a stand mixer dough hook 4-6, until the ball is fully incorporated (dough should start stretching a bit)20150405_110508
  6. Add Diced Butter, mixing on medium-high until incorporated (or hand-kneading about 10 minutes) and dough becomes smooth and elastic20150405_110830
  7. Toss in Raisins and Chopped almonds, kneading briefly to distribute as evenly as possible20150405_111035
  8. Cover bowl with clean towel, let rise in warm area of your choice for 30 minutes20150405_113617
  9. Butter the desired Kouglof or Bundt Pan mold thoroughly, placing a whole almond in the grooves for a decorative top20150405_113928
  10. Punch down, BRIEFLY knead again, and transfer dough into desired pan. Cover and let proof again for 30-60 minutes, until doubled in size20150405_114138
  11. Turn oven to 360F20150405_121902
  12. Move pan to oven, back 30-45 minutes, until top is crusty, brown, and a knife inserted comes out clean (Note: may want to cover top with aluminum foil partway through if browning too fast)20150405_124422
  13. Remove, let cool 2-4 minutes before upending over cooling rack, allowing it to sit 5-10 minutes before serving.20150405_131424
  14. Slice and enjoy as desired20150405_162700

20150405_155426My Thoughts

I think it came out exactly as it was supposed to (maybe a TOUCH over, there was a bit of a dryness to the crust, which came out exceptionally golden brown, beautiful, and crispy btw omg lol afk yjk… okay I’m gonna stop that now), but it didn’t fit my ideal goal; I clearly kneaded it too long for my preferences, as it really came out more brioche-y than sweet bread/cake-y like I was hoping to get. Not complaining completely though, this is one of the completely acceptable outcomes; it IS a brioche-style recipe.

On its own it’s a nice, rich little slightly eggy bread, as I said with an awesome crust, I love how it came out looking! The almonds and raisins added a nice touch; not fully transforming the flavor as if you were eating something stuffed with marzipan or almond extract, just a subtle little addition so it’s not plain bread. With the maceration, those raisins provide a happily little pop of flavor in the pieces of kouglof we find them in.

20150405_155538At the end of the day, though, this guy is just so much better eaten with other stuff. A big dollop of hand-whipped vanilla cream and some raisin-fig-strawberries soaked in balsamic, sirup, and other yummy stuff. Sweetens it up and adds some much needed moisture, for what’s the best use of sponge and breadcakes but to use them to soak up delicious fruit compote things. Not to mention the leftovers make for EPIC Bread Pudding the next day (which this one did as well, topped with chopped almonds and leftover soaked fruit).

kirschPossible Pairings

Obviously we can’t consider eating a slice of kouglof without a sipper of the same Kirschwasser we used to cook it with; it makes sense regionally, culturally, and deliciously. Gotta love that combination of deep fruit and almond-y tones from cherries with this lightly nutty and fruit-jeweled bread.

Though since we’re technically in Alsace, for the French purposes of this recipe at least, we should consider one of their delicious sweet wines… or at least what I’d say for any other dessert from there, I would love to consider a proper VDN (basically a special late-harvest, sometimes botyrized, awesome). But kouglof (this version anyway) really is barely sweet, so this isn’t an ideal pairing. Instead, I would so love to try one Alsace’s rare Moscatos. Fermented dry or, more realistically, a bit off-dry (the Alsace wine Region and Germany have shared much history, and have slowly started affecting each other’s styles; certain German vintners are starting to make drier, more robust bottles while the traditionally bone-dry Alsace is starting to incorporate more sweetness in some Grand Crus), with that distinctly floral, naturally sweet and raisiny/grapey flavors the wine exudes, perhaps with a bit of fleshiness from their long, full fermentation to go with those baked bready notes. Doesn’t that just sound like it’d be perfect with these flavors?

musc

p2: Fig Tart

The Sweet

fig tartThe use of Figs in French dessert has never been that mysterious, its origins being as simple as figuring out when the fruit originally moved into the country and/or, if indigenous, when people started eating them. As such I’ve found that the real story of the Fig Tart is not the story of the fig, oh no, but the story of the Baked Almond Cream, known as Frangipane, sitting beneath them.

Today, frangipane is a paste, typically made from ground almonds, butter, and sugar, very similar to the candy Marzipan (France really is well known for their almond candies… think I’m gonna be making one in the future), differentiating from it solely by its inclusion of eggs and, most importantly, the fact that it is used solely to fill pastries and tarts that are then baked. It wasn’t always like this, however; it’s spun from an interesting origin.

The base origin of the name is said to come from Italy in the 1500’s (or 1700’s, sources are debated) under the nobleman and perfumier (to King Louis XIII supposedly) Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who at the time had introduced and sold almond-scented gloves. This handwear was so popular that, and so delightful to the nose, that pastry chefs all around tried to capture the scent in various fillings for desserts, naming it thus frangipani.

By the mid 1700’s, France was using the term themselves to describe a very creamy, custard tart thus scented with almonds or pistachios. This became the set recipe for frangipane in the country until tastes and habits turned to a denser, stronger almond paste, likely around the time marzipan really came into popularity.

Whether the evolution was really this simple and sole-purposed is unclear; another explanation states it originally comes from Franchipane, meaning ‘coagulated milk’ and likely twisted slightly to offer its name to an 1844 French dictionary recipe/definition of Frangipan, an artificial milk made by mixing evaporated skimmed milk with sugar and almonds.

Taken separately, mixing together, or however these two supposed origins did it, they nonetheless lead to the baking almond paste as it is today. Used in the center of King’s Cake and tarts of Fig and stone fruit alike, these desserts revel in the beautifully fragrant, nutty flavors that is the almond.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20140830_231545This session’s tart shell is one that I’ve wanted to try for a while, and will likely attempt again in the future for fun. The recipe is quite interesting, and practically the opposite of every pie dough one can imagine; instead of taking cold, cold chunks of butter and cutting it into the flour, one bakes the fat until bubbling (and lightly browned) and dumps the flour in. The process, especially the point about stirring until it pulls from the sides, almost reminds me of pate-a-choux (can’t wait to make those again btw). What’s extra nice is it doesn’t need rolling out, just pressed directly into one’s pan of choice and baked, yielding a product that seems to caramelize and crunch nicely when finished properly.

Speaking of pans, if one is able to, I almost require the use of an actual French tart pan; less so because it’s ‘proper’, but one needs that low, sharp lip that pie pans just don’t have, and especially since we need to be able to take the whole tart OUT of the pan once it’s cooled. This is why many a proper tart pan’s circular bottom is separate from the sides, allowing one to push up and remove the metal from around your baked masterpiece. Oh, and I’m sure those curvy-flowery-edges help the dough get crispier from more surface area or something.

IF you don’t have one, however, much like myself, I do believe there’s one good substitution: Cheesecake. Or, as they’re mainly known, Springform Pans, which can lock and detach their round sides from the bottom quite snugly. Sides go straight up too, everything is completely non-stick, so they make for a great near-perfect switch-out. The only think I’d say, other than maybe the metal doesn’t conduct as well as a classic tart pan would, is that you’ll want to wrap some foil around the bottom during cooking; some really thin liquids WILL still leak out (my figs started juicing the bottom of the oven while baking! Oops).

20140831_181942As for the figs themselves, not sure about you but I’ve found it’s always been a bitch to get some good ones here in the Midwest, and unless you live in a state much closer to their production I’m guessing it’ll be the same to you. We still get a lot of them in the right season, have walked in on figs in my co-op plenty of times, but finding a basket where almost none have brown spots, cuts, blemishes, big soft spots, etc… it’s rare when I find one. Thus one can see why I jumped at the chance to make the tart this weekend, luckily finding an ideal basket on a random store trip, and with friends in town!

Oh, which before I forget and get too wrapped up in my fig-bitching, Colored figs are the most ideal for this dish. Any purple, or ideally those ones that are purple on the lower half but sort of green on top (think it’s a French species), are what you wanna go for. ‘White’ and striped green figs taste beautiful and fresh, thus why I plated my Suzette with them, but they’re too delicate for baking purposes; why would you even want to? As for the Brown Turkish, that’s your call.

In conjunction with figs, Oranges will play an integral role in your final Tart. Tasting well together, and with almonds, I’ve found quite a few recipes, old and new, that have added a tablespoon of zest or a bit of juice into their frangipane or shell. This leads me to conclude that not only would it be alright to include the aromatic citrus in a classic rendition, it’d be almost a crime NOT to use it if one attempts making a properly traditional, French Fig Frangipane Tart (kept in small amounts of course).

20140831_091212When it comes to making the frangipane, one of the most essential things is the combining and integration of the butter and almond meal. This is done, very simply and easily, with a nicely powered food processor. Which immediately means I’m screwed, because the only one I have is tiny, and really doesn’t cut things up THAT well anyways. Great for small amounts, but I have to work with a lot of this stuff at the same time. So I have to stick with my electric mixer; because of that, I need to make sure my almond meal is as fine as I can make it, and hope things work. To do this, I have to toast and grind the almonds myself, using my coffee(which it’s never used for)/spice grinder, always a handy tool if you have one like it; only need to blitz it quickly before it tries to make Almond Butter. On that note, one could also just go to one of those Whole Foods or co-ops where you grind your own almond butter and just use THAT as your fine-meal substitution, if  you don’t mind the extra deeply cooked nutty flavors. But that’s just an idea, and again I always like making my own stuff purely from scratch if I can.

Almost forgot. The finer the sugar grains the better; had to use a bigger grain since it was the only thing I had other than powdered sugar (THAT is a no-no), attributed a bit of graininess though flavor was good.

My Thoughts

Normally I save this part until near the end, but the fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, I ended up ‘failing’ with my attempt at this dish. The tart dough ended up notably drier than I wanted, despite my absolute following of the recipe I am convinced that they’ve included too much flour (or not enough butter) to reproduce the dough that the original article so researched/interviewed to get (I noticed pictures another post that had the same recipe looked similar to my much stiffer, not-so-tender clump of butter-flour). As such I’ve readjusted it below to suit what should create a more successful attempt.

Secondly, and most important, I over roasted my almonds. Well, that’s not to say I burned them, but when I read that the almonds should be toasted, I cooked them to the level that I always toast them. With that nice, even color of light brown throughout, getting a tasty and deep nutty flavor reminiscent of the candied nut bags one finds at the market. Alas, I have come to realize this particular predilection is a more American assumption, for to toast almonds in France (at least for marz/frangipane) must mean to do it to the absolute minimum, with no color change. My little paste thus ended up deep, deep brown in color, with a flavor not unlike Almond Butter (peanut butter’s cousin), and much denser than I assume the texture should be after baking.

20140831_191841I still went through with the whole thing, and all-together it made for a very delicious baked tart nonetheless; crumbly pie shell, rich nuttiness and baked fruit that when combined tasted like a refined PBnJ, with a delightfully sticky and tart glaze/sauce on top. But nonetheless, the end result is much different than it should have been.

Hopefully, I can attempt this again sometime in the future. And if ever I do, I’ll make sure to post the picture and results here to thus fix my error.

‘French’ Fig Tart
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
1 ½ cups or more (depending on preference) Frangipane (recipe follows)
1 dozen Purple Figs
Desired Glaze or Jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Pipe or spoon Frangipane into Tart Shell, spreading the surface out with spatula to create a smooth, even layer.20140831_182920
  3. Halve or quarter figs, as desired, and arrange on top in close-nit, attractive pattern, with seeds facing upwards. Press down to better nestle into the almond paste.
  4. Bake in oven, with aluminum foil under pan if using springform, around 30-40 minutes, until frangipane is set and figs have softened. Depending on desired finish, one may want to increase heat to 425 during last 10 minutes so as to bake and caramelize figs more thoroughly.20140831_191627
  5. Remove, moving to a cooling rack, carefully releasing the sides of the pan after a few minutes to leave bare.
  6. While this cools, head your Glaze/Jam in pan or microwave until thin, brushing an even, shiny coat over the top of your tart.20140831_194134
  7. Slice when reached the preferred temperature (hot or cold is still good), serve with any fresh fruit or ice cream.

Tart Shell
120 grams Butter
1 Tb Vegetable Oil
3 Tb Water
Tb Sugar
Tsp Salt
140 grams Flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 410F
  2. Place Butter, Oil, Water, Sugar and Salt in oven-proof bowl and ‘bake’ for around 20 minutes, until butter is bubbling and has started to brown on the sides20140830_234213
  3. Quickly remove and dump in your Flour, stirring until it’s incorporated and pulls from the side of the pan.20140830_234755
  4. Plop into the center of your pan, pressing with spatula to start spreading it out.20140830_234946
  5. When it’s cool enough to handle easily, press dough with palm and knuckles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan in a thin, even layer.20140831_000833
  6. Prick thoroughly with fork and transfer to oven. Bake around 10-12 minutes, until dough is golden brown (as evenly as one can get it without any burning).20140831_001956
  7. Remove and leave on counter to cool. Cover with plastic, reserving on side until ready to use.

Almond Frangipane
325 grams Whole Almonds, Raw
125 grams Butter, softened
150 grams Sugar
1 Tb Flour
2 Eggs
Tsp Salt
1-2 tsp Orange Zest
1-2 Tb Grand Marnier

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400F20140830_231531
  2. Spread Almond on baking sheet and Lightly Toast in oven, 5-8 minutes at most
  3. Remove, let cool20140831_091431
  4. Pulse in food processor, or in spice grinder in small batches, until almonds are turned into a fine meal or, ideally,  powder20140831_104519
  5. Seperately, cream Butter and Sugar and Salt in processor or in bowl with electric mixer until fluffy.20140831_104602
  6. Slowly add in the almond meal and Flour, a bit at a time, mixing on high speed to full blend and break the two substances together into a smoth paste.20140831_104816
  7. Mix in eggs.
  8. Fold in Orange Zest and/or Grand Marnier once paste is fully homogenized.20140831_105719
  9. Transfer to bag or other container, leave in fridge until half an hour or so before use, letting it come to room temperature to handle.

Possible Pairings

20140831_193916Before I get into general matches, I actually happen to own a bottle of an Italian Biscotti-flavored Liqueur which ended up absolutely delicious with figs and almonds; even better since the heavy toasted-nut notes of MY creation mirrored the biscuitty-flavors of the cookie drink. Bits of orange flavor as well go along with the same orange aromas mixed into the almonds, and hints of fennel/aniseed and other spices used to recreate the typical biscotti flavors perfume beautifully alongside the delicate figs. It also ended up as a fun tie-in to the notable Italian origins. Great to chill and drink right next to it, or pour it on top of the slice.

Following the liqueur train of thought, Amarretto is an obvious choice to gently lift and undertone the crunchy tart. Whereas an orange-based liqueur, preferably something bright and fresh like Orangecellos, or Honey Liqueur can bring out the fresh figgy flavors out more.

A simple thought to finish this up quickly: Sherry, say a Manzanilla (lighter variety) if made properly, or an Amontillado (darker, oxidized variety) if encountering overcooked almonds like thus. The pleasantly strong nut aromatics blend into the food well, the dish is nicely refreshing, and the dry salty components could be a fun contrast with the sweetness, keeping it away from a too-sweet finish like a liqueur might do.sherry