Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chocolate Pear Tart


Hey there, how's Thanksgiving prep going? Is that pumpkin pie getting a bit bored and lonely on the dessert list? Well, look no further for its companion because this Chocolate Pear Tart is going to blow your socks off. Holy heck, is this thing good! Ripe Bosc pears tenderly poached in sugar and vanilla and then nestled in an ungoodly amount of deep, dark chocolate. Are you drooling yet? If not, let's take a look at the close-up:


And now say the words: Chocolate Pear Tart. Say them slowly, imagining the aroma that will fill your kitchen. Not bad, eh? Now, back to work! But don't panic, because even if something doesn't turn out *just so* (sacrebleu, what an idea!), this tart will make everything right again.

Food Photos1-35

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! A. and I wish you all a wonderful, happy and warm holiday full of family, friends, laughter and love.


Chocolate Pear Tart

This tart is from Once Upon A Tart, but I hacked it a little, using a different crust and twice as many pears. I know I keep repeating myself with this book, but it's just too darn good!

You can certainly use pears from a can or a jar, but, considering that it's so ridiculously easy to poach them yourself, why would you? There are all kinds of fancy pants ways you can poach your pears, and you should feel free to use whichever way you are comfortable with. The easiest is to do it with water and sugar, and I always like to add half a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the poaching liquid.

For the poached pears
4 ripe Bosc/D'Anjour/Bartlett pears (I used Bosc)
4-5 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds and pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the crust
(lightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, very cold, cut into 16 pieces
1 cold egg, lightly beaten

For the custard (from Once Upon a Tart)
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Apricot jam to glaze (optional)

1. Make the crust. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Scatter pieces of cold butter on top and cut in with a pastry cutter until the largest pieces are the size of peas and the mixture looks crumbly. Working quickly, drip the egg into the dough and toss with a fork until the dough sticks together when pinched. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of iced water. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead a few times, just to incorporate the dry ingredients.

2. Butter or spray a 10-inch tart pan. Lightly press the dough into the tart pan. The dough should cover all the sides but not lose its crumbly texture (in other words, don't work with it too much or the pieces of butter will melt). Place the tart pan in the freezer for 1/2 hour.

3. Next, peel, halve and core the pears. Bring 4-5 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil in a large saucepan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Scrape the vanilla seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean into the water and put the pod in as well, or just put in the teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir to combine. Gently place the pears in the water (add more water if needed to completely cover the pears), lower the heat, and cook at a low boil until the pears are just tender when pierced with a fork (but not mushy). For me, this was around the 10-15 minute mark. Drain the water and set the pears aside.

4. Whisk the egg and the egg yolk lightly in a medium-sized bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine. In a double boiler (or a metal bowl set over an inch of gently simmering water so that the bowl bottom doesn't touch the water) melt the chocolate with the cream, stirring and folding with a heat-proof spatula to combine into a smooth and shiny ganache. Stir in the 1/4 cup sugar and cook a few minutes more, until the sugar has melted. Set aside to cool.

5. Remove the tart dough from the freezer and preheat the oven to 375F. Carefully transfer your pear halves to a cutting board and, holding each pear with one hand to keep it intact, carefully slice into thin slices. To fan out the pear slices, press the wide end of the pear gently towards the narrow end. Slide the knife under the fanned pears and arrange them in a circle inside the tart pan.

6. To make the custard, slowly dribble about 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. This warms the eggs, preventing them from cooking. Add the rest of the chocolate in a steady stream and stir to combine.

7. Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart pan, pouring as much as possible around the pears rather than on top of the pears. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the chocolate custard is puffed and set (it will be firm to the touch and slightly cracked around the edges). Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

8. Remove the tart from the tart pan and slide onto a plate. If desired, brush the pears with a little bit of melted apricot jam to glaze and then sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Serve warm with lightly-sweetened whipped cream.

Continued after the jump...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Basic Sweet Yeast Dough


I realized recently that the only place I've ever felt really at home was in Israel. Israel, with its amalgamation of cultures and flavors, with loud music and brash cabbies, with huddled market stalls and glowing Jerusalem stone, with complete strangers being all up in your business, with greenery where you least expect it and laughter that only underscores the strength of the spirit - it seems funny to think that a piece of me will always stay there, but it's the truth.

Z_Dump for Photos1-2

Being Jewish was kind of a dirty word where I grew up in Ukraine, and having been isolated by the Communist regime from any vestiges of religion, being Jewish was confusing here in the US. American Jews were free to be Jewish and to be proud of it, and to me, a novice, it seemed like they all spoke some different, secret language to the translation of which I was not privy. In Israel, however, I could be myself. Ironically, I felt the least religious in this Jewish state - I didn't attend services nor did we differentiate between Jews and Arabs in our weekly dinners at the Haifa Uni dorms - but it was here that I found a strong and lasting connection to my roots. Because there was no pressure to be anything or belong to any group and because the hills, the stones and the air itself are saturated with history, I discovered what it really means to have my heritage, to own who I am and make it part of myself. It's a testament to the beauty of that country and to the strength of its people that I could learn what I did and take it, carrying it with me for the rest of my life like a gift.


This recipe is a classic Jewish recipe. My grandmother makes something similar and her grandmother did too. The bread it produces is soft, moist and lightly sweet - the kind of dough you can use for almost anything, from pan dulce to challah to cinnamon buns to apple cakes like the one I baked. It made the house smell fantastic. When I bit into a piece, fresh out of the oven, I said "SHUT UP OMG" really loudly, even though I was completely alone in the house. It was that good.

Basic Yeast Sweet Dough
from sadly out of print, but wonderful The World of Jewish Desserts by Gil Marks

*1 (1/4-oz) package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 1 (0.6 oz) cake fresh yeast
*1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees for dry yeast; 80 to 85 degrees for fresh yeast), or 1/4 cup warm water and 3/4 cup warm milk, or 1 cup warm water mixed with 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
*1/3 cup sugar
*1/3 cup vegetable oil, peanut oil or softened butter
*2 large eggs
*1 teaspoon salt
*About 4 cups high-gluten flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

For apple topping
5-7 medium baking apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes (if your yeast isn't foaming, start all over with fresher yeast).

Add the remaining water (and/or milk), sugar, oil (or butter), eggs and salt and whisk to combine. With a wooden spoon, stir in 1 1/2 cups of flour and then continue stirring in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough forms into a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough into a well floured surface and knead, adding more flour to prevent sticking (I think I added another 1/2 cup), until smooth and springy, about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and satiny, but you don't want to knead too long as you don't want too much gluten to develop. You can use a machine to knead, but I really like to do it by hand.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly double in bulk, 1 1/2 - 2 hrs (or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight). To test if the dough is sufficiently risen, press two fingers 1 inch deep into the center; if the indentations remain, the dough is ready.

Punch down the dough. Fold over in three like a letter, give it a half turn and fold over like a letter again - this redistributes the yeast and its food. Let stand for 10 minutes to relax the dough.

While the dough is relaxing, peel, core and slice the apples, melt the butter and combine the sugar and cinnamon. Butter or spray a 9"x13" pan or two 9" round pans.

Arrange the dough in the prepared pan(s), stretching gently so that it touches all the sides and is more or less uniform in height. Arrange the apples on top, brush with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cover and let rise until nearly double in bulk, about 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F (350F if using a glass pan). Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes or until puffed and golden (this cake has quite an oven spring!). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then cool on the rack for 20 minutes (aha, good luck with that). I like this cake warm with a cup of coffee or tea.

This cake can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Reheat unthawed on 350F for 20 minutes.

Continued after the jump...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

A's grandma made cookies for every family holiday. It was kind of "her thing," the dessert she was known for in the family. They were something of a cross between an oatmeal raisin cookie and a brick, but no one ever complained because dipped in tea, they were divine, and the leftovers had a multitude of uses (hammering nails, scaring squirrels out of the lettuce beds... kidding, kidding!). The point is, she always brought the cookies, and somehow, we always looked forward to them. Such is the magic of grandmas, I think, that whatever they make becomes an indelible part of the family lore.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

This will be a year without the requisite plate of cookies on the Thanksgiving table, and our hearts are very heavy. I think because of that, I've been craving the flavor of these cookies and eating everything in sight that even slightly reminds me of them. I made this bread having very few expectations and no idea how it would turn out beyond that it would have cinnamon and raisins in it, and I have to say that the flavor is simply wonderful. Like other Peter Reinhart's breads, the texture was more like that of a hearty bread rather than a decadent dessert, which is exactly what I was looking for, and the crunch that comes from brushing the top with melted butter and sprinkling it with cinnamon sugar is OUT OF THIS WORLD good. Like, wow. When this came out of the oven, all tall and golden, we couldn't wait for it to cool and cut thick slices of it to have with a cold glass of milk. Even though this bread is nothing like cookies, it carried the same feelings of home, of a sturdy family tradition that tastes like it's made with love. I really think A.'s grandma would have approved.

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread
The Bread Baker's Apprentice
recipe can be found here
Makes two 1 1/2 pound loaves

For the bread
3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour
4 teaspoons (.66 oz) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon (.31 oz) salt
2 teaspoons (.22 oz) instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp (.16 oz) ground cinnamon
1 large (1.65 oz) egg slightly beaten
2 tablespoons (1 oz) shortening, melted at room temp. (I used butter)
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk or whole milk, at room temp.
3/4 cup (6 oz) water, at room temp.
1 1/2 cups (9 oz) raisins, rinsed and drained
1 cup (4 oz) chopped walnuts (optional - I omitted)

Cinnamon Sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon

In a large bowl or a bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast and cinnamon. Add the egg, shortening/butter, buttermilk and water and stir together with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a ball. Adjust flour or water if the dough is too sticky or too dry/stiff.

Knead by hand for 10 minutes or with a stand mixer for 6-8 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. [My dough was very sticky, so if your dough is sticky, add more flour at this point.] Knead in the raisins and walnuts by hand to distribute evenly. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81F.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to cover lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest until the dough doubles in size, 1-2 hours (mine was ready in 1 hr).

Divide the dough in 2 equal pieces and lightly oil two standard size loaf pans. These are mine. Gently roll each piece of dough into a 5x8 rectangle. Whisk the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon together and reserve about 2-3 tablespoons for the tops of the loaves. Sprinkle half of the remaining mixture on one rolled out piece of dough and sprinkle the other half on the other rolled out piece of dough.

Starting at the short end, roll each loaf tightly, pinching the ends together as you are rolling. The dough will expand in length as you are rolling. When finished, place the loaves seam side down into the loaf pans, spreading the dough gently so that it's touching all four sides of the pan. Mist the tops lightly with oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and let proof at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until the dough crests above the lips of the pans and is nearly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350F with the oven rack in the middle shelf. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans 180 degrees and bake for another 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown and the breads register 190F in the middle. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

Remove bread from the pans onto a cooling rack. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, brush the tops of the loaves with butter and sprinkle with the reserved cinnamon sugar.

The instructions say to wait 1 hour before slicing or serving. I'm telling you now that, considering the way this bread looks and smells, it's not going to happen. I'd give it at least 10 minutes, though, just to make sure you don't burn your fingers while cutting the bread.

Continued after the jump...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Crazy hard

2009-02-07 056

I know it's been a few weeks since I last posted and a bunch of you have written to ask what's going on. Thank you for your concern - it's lovely to be missed and I really do appreciate it. Sadly, these past few weeks have been very difficult for our family - A.'s dearly beloved grandma passed away, and though she lived a long, full and wonderful life, her passing was unexpected and shook us to the core. We've spent this time with our family, trying to accept the fact that at the next dinner, at the next birthday, she will only be watching us from above. It's crazy hard.

I haven't really felt like picking up my camera, but I saw something the other day that I know she would have really liked and I want to make it and share it with you. I hope it will be soon.

Continued after the jump...