Panforte

Panforte di Siena

Today’s Musings:
His drawings are dark, Schielesque (if I can make that a word), his dissonant music even more so; his lips a vertical line without hint of teeth below intense eyes.  He’s a loner, surrounded by his art and words and noise.  Before, I would have grasped after his complicated darkness – my preternatural talent to home in on the damaged and the wounded.  Beautiful, exquisite danger.

I’ve always been drawn to broken and frayed things.  Not to fix them, oh no, but to love them, for all their splendid flaws.  I cradle them tightly against my vulnerability and whisper, “I see your shadows and I love you for them, just as you are,” like my habit of gathering discarded objects from the sidewalks and the gutters, holding them up to the light, searching for their unique worth.  I find beauty in the things others judge as trash.

We are all broken.  We all have value. The darkness that resides in me sees the masked shadows in you. 

This time, though, my heart said, “No, Enough. You have learned your lesson.”  I have learned it well this time. I can love his art without gifting my heart to the marred soul that created it.  No, I will not walk in the woods with him today. A tear escapes from my eye.  This education is not without pain.

Today’s Recipe:
Somehow I’ve equated candied orange peel with holiday baking.  All of my annual holiday bakes, including gibassier, stollen, and eccles cakes, require candied orange peel.  This year, I’ve added mince pies and panforte to my repertoire, requiring even more peel. With nightmares of dreaded fruitcake in your head, you probably believe you’re not a fan of candied citrus peel. You most likely only know those chewy, tooth sticking, flavorless, processed nuggets that come in a grocery store tub. That’s what I thought candied peel was all about, too – until I made my own. Then, ooohhhh, I fell in love. Hand-crafted candied peel is pliant and juicy with the perfect balance between bitter peel and sweet syrup. Making your own takes a bit more work, but it’s the difference between a frozen beef patty and aged rib eye steak.

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. My recipe contains pistachios, walnuts, candied orange peel, chocolate and a shit-load of spices. Its chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.  The secret to its soft and pliant texture is baking the panforte just until barely firm in the middle. Otherwise, it will rip the fillings from your molars.  Panforte is typically served in thin wedges dusted with powdered sugar.

This version is only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe.


Panforte

  • Servings: 16 thin slices
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Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert. Its yielding, chewy texture is halfway between fruitcake and candy.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup dark honey
  • extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
  • powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment and dust with cocoa powder, making sure to dust the sides.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, cocoa powder, flour, candied orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and ancho chile powder.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Set aside.
  5. In a small pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF.
  6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well until fully incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top by using a spatula. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, use a dampened hand to press it completely flat.
  7. Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 minutes; the center will feel soft, like a barely baked brownie; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean. (Do not over bake or it will be too firm once cooled.)
  8. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then let cool completely. Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands. Serve in thin wedges.

Today’s Tip:
 You can store panforte for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Holiday Mince Pies

This time last year, I was preparing for Christmas in London – buying sweaters, confirming the cat sitter, excavating the converter from the junk drawer, and dreaming of mince pies.

Christmas in London without mince pies is unthinkable.  These little parcels of perfection are as ubiquitous during the London holidays as sugar cookies in the States.  Love them or hate them, you can’t avoid them while the halls are decked with holly.  I, personally, adore these pastry jewels and longingly anticipated eating my weight in pies of mince. 

Mincemeat has a history dating back to the 16th century.  Originally made with meat (hence the name), the pies were much larger and oblong in shape.  The fruit and spices, rather than headliners, were there to flavor the meat.  Modern versions are smaller and forgo the meat altogether, containing a decadent mixture of fruit, sugar and warming spices. Their size can range from a diminutive mini tartlet to something heftier approximating the size of a British pasty.

As I walked the cobbled streets of London, I sampled a dozen versions of these buttery beauties.  My first, from St. John Bread and Wine, was a disappointment, filled with almost nothing but currants.  Their Eccles cake, on the other hand, was heaven in puff pastry.   I sampled posh pies at Ottolenghi and take-away pies from a small no-name shop at the Columbia Road Flower Market.  I ate pies served from bags and pies served on china.  Arteries be damned, I prescribed myself nothing less than a pie (or two) a day throughout my trip. Home again after eating my fill in London, I added mince pies to my ever-growing list of recipes to try.

 A tumultuous year has passed and I had yet to try my own version.  Surprisingly, while researching  for my own recipe,  I discovered that many versions – including ones from famous British chefs (I’m talking to you, Paul Hollywood) call for nothing more than opening a jar of mincemeat.  Jarred?  Oh the horror!  Jarred may be fine in a pinch, but not for the pies of my London dreams.  Next, you’ll be instructing me to unroll a frozen pie crust.

After some additional research,  I settled on my existing Eccles cake filling (flashback to St. John), doubled it, and added grated apple.  My final filling is packed with currants, home-made candied orange peel, brown sugar, warming spices and brandy.  It’s the ideal jeweled filling to nestle in a buttery pastry crust.  Maybe not entirely traditional, for me, it’s London Christmas in the US suburbs.


Holiday Mince Pies

Buttery, flaky pastry filled with a holiday mixture of fruit, warm spices, and a bit of brandy. You will need two 12-cup muffin tins for this recipe.


Ingredients

    Candied Orange Peel:
  • Peels from 3 oranges
  • 18 oz. water
  • 6 oz. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. sugar
  • Mince Filling:
  • 8 oz. currants
  • ½ cup candied orange peel, chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated (I use Granny Smith)
  • 1 stick (½cup) unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • Juice of an orange
  • 2 Tablespoons brandy
  • Short Crust Pastry:
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter cold and cubed
  • ¼ cup Crisco, cold
  • ⅛ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • Water (cold, as needed)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions

    Make Ahead – Make Candied Orange Peel:
  1. Place orange peels in a pot of cold water, bring to boil, and drain. Repeat this two more times.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, and sugar in a pot. Bring to boil. Add drained peels, reduce to simmer and poach for 1 hour. Cool peels in syrup. Store in syrup in refrigerator until needed.
  3. Day Before – Make Mince Filling:
  4. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until butter is melted. Stir until well blended, cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften, about an hour. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  5. Baking Day – Make Short Crust Pastry.
  6. In a food processor, pulse flour, butter, Crisco, and salt together until resembling course sand. Gently pulse egg and add water until mixture just comes together. Wrap into two disks and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350⁰ degrees. Roll dough to ⅛” thick and cut circles with a 3 ¼” – 3 ½” cutter to fit inside muffin tins. Cut smaller circles or stars to fit on top. Press dough into each muffin cup and fill ⅔ full with mince filling, decorate with smaller shapes on top and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  7. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Bake for 22-28 minutes until tops are golden brown. Cool in tins for 15 minutes, remove from tins and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).

TIP: To ensure the flakiest of crusts, freeze butter and Crisco for 15 minutes before using so that it is cold as possible before mixing with the flour.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake

Today’s Musings:  TRUST YOUR GUT

I tell him I don’t like talking on the phone
He says he won’t ask me out via text
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him I prefer coffee or a cocktail for a first date
He asks me out for dinner
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him casual is good for me
He says, “It will be casual but upper scale.” He’s a “sucker for fine dining.”
I relent
He’s not listening.

What troubles me more – my easy acquiescence or his utter disregard for my desires?  I soothe my concerns.  “Am I making too big a deal about this?” “He wants to treat me well; what’s wrong with that?”  TRUST YOUR GUT – the gift my last relationship gave me. 

I text him this morning.  Let’s start with a cocktail and go from there – please and thank you.  For once in my life, I’m setting boundaries.  He declines, speaking volumes. 

I’m thanking my gut for its sage advice with these little treats below. 

Today’s Recipe:  REWARD YOUR GUT


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12 generous cupcakes
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Sticky toffee bombs. If making 12, the batter will rise beautifully over the side of the tin. If you need to make a few more cupcakes, reduce the batter in each muffin tin slightly.


Ingredients

    Toffee Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, spiced rum, or brandy
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 oz. ( 1 ¼ cups) coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. For Toffee Sauce: Whisk sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add cream and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, until toffee thickly coats the back of a spoon, 10-14 minutes. Whisk in rum. Set aside.
  2. For Cakes: Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan. Boil until dates are soft, about 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Line 12 muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter to blend – the mixture will be grainy. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture, beating to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups (about ¼ cup each).
  4. Bake cupcakes until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cook cakes completely on a rack. Using a cupcake corer, make a core in each cupcake and fill with 3-4 Tablespoons of toffee sauce. You may need to wait for some of the sauce to absorb before adding more sauce. Replace cupcake core.
  5. Cover cupcakes with piped whipped cream and a drizzle of additional toffee sauce. [Note: for best results, the cupcakes should be served at room temperature, yet the whipped cream needs to be kept cold. You can keep the cupcakes on the counter and add the whipped cream and drizzle just before serving. Your gut will thank you.

** Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

S’mores Cupcakes

My dear friend, Chris, is often encouraging me to include more “me” in my food photos – a video of me, all smiles, whisking up a cake, photos of me removing freshly-baked cookies from my professional-grade Thermador in my immaculate kitchen, me proudly holding my latest tart creation in my vintage apron.  If that’s what Chris imagines when he envisions me in the kitchen, who am I to correct him?  The reality is decidedly less glamourous.  On most days, you’ll find me barefoot, my unkempt hair pulled back in some odd top-knot, braless, sans makeup, and wearing last night’s pj’s.  When I’m in bake mode, I’m all in, girly glamour be damned. 

So, when the stars align and I manage to bake something divine AND get dolled up on the same day (in this case, Halloween), I feel I owe it to Chris to share a bit of both my worlds. Thank you, my friend, for always encouraging me.


S’mores Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Graham cracker crust and sinfully dark chocolate cake, topped with a pillowy swirl of toasted, sticky marshmallow meringue make for a decadent dessert – no campfire needed. This recipe makes a lot of frosting, so don’t skimp on your swirl.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 2 cups Graham crackers crumbs
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Marshmallow Meringue Frosting
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt together until it resembles wet sand. Place a rounded tablespoon of crust mixture at the bottom on each liner and press firmly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Bake for about 5 minutes until lightly golden.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee granules and salt. Combine oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Add water to oil mixture. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake 18- 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes and to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-2” of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the vanilla. Whisk on high speed for 5-6 minutes until stiff and glossy.
4. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Using a kitchen torch, toast meringue frosting.

Blackberry Slab Pie

“I will forgive you; the words are so small, but there is a universe hidden in them. When I forgive you, all those cords of resentment, pain and sadness that wrapped themselves around my heart will be gone. When I forgive you, you will no longer define me. You measured me and assessed me and decided that you could hurt me. That I didn’t count. But I will forgive you, because I do count. I do matter. I am bigger than the image you have of me. I am stronger. I am more beautiful. And I am infinitely more precious than you thought me. I will forgive you. My forgiveness is not a gift that I am giving to you. When I forgive you, my forgiveness will be a gift that I give myself.”

– Desmond Tutu

I’ve been focusing on forgiveness in my daily meditation practice these last two weeks.  Forgiving myself; forgiving others.  If you had asked me last week how my forgiveness practice was going, I would have said, “Great – like a weight has been lifted.”  Rarely is anything a straight path, though.  I was struggling with my forgiveness this morning, until I read Tutu’s quote above, which now resides in a place of prominence next to my desk.

There’s a Taoist parable about how collecting various betrayals and hurts is like collecting potatoes in a sack.  One potato may not weigh heavy on us, but if we continue to collect these potatoes, allow them to rot in the sack, never forgiving, never letting any go, soon the sack becomes burdensome, fetid with rotting tubers, and so heavy we cannot move forward. We carry this ever-growing weight of negativity with us everywhere, day after day.  Forgiveness is not about the person who wronged us; forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook or lightening their load; forgiveness is not about being weak.  It’s about lessening our own heart’s burden.  It doesn’t matter if the other person is aware of our forgiveness.  Forgiveness is saying, “I will no longer be hindered by the betrayals you’ve placed upon me.”  Once we are able to set the sack down, we are free to walk forward, unencumbered by another’s misdeeds.

You are probably expecting some sort of potato recipe at this point. Forgive me.


Blackberry Slab Pie

No fork or plate needed – just cut slices and serve hand-pie style with a napkin for the flaky crust.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • 8 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, unthawed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs
  • Finish & Glaze
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

  1. Make pie crust: Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough. Separate the dough in half and roll into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and freeze for about 30 minutes to chill.
  2. Prepare filling: In a large bowl, toss together all filling ingredients except Panko bread crumbs.
  3. Assemble pie: Preheat oven to 375⁰. Line bottom of baking sheet or jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle one dough disk with a bit of flour and, in between two sheets of parchment paper, roll into a rectangle about 10 x 15. Transfer to your prepared baking sheet and peel off parchment. Sprinkle with Panko breadcrumbs, spread filling evenly over bottom crust and freeze while you roll out second crust. Roll the second dough disk into a similar sized rectangle, sprinkling with flour and using parchment. Drape over filling and fold the bottom crust overhang over the edges, sealing them together, and crimping. Cut small slits to act as vents all over top crust. Brush top crust with 1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water and sprinkle with 3 Tablespoons sugar. Bake pie on lower rack of oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until just warm to the touch, about 45 minutes.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together confectioner’s sugar and water until a pourable glaze consistency is reached. Drizzle glaze over top. Serve slab pie in squares or rectangles, warm or at room temperature. Will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days.