Thursday, March 22, 2012

Peak experiences -- Flour plus butter

Veggie galette -- just ready to bake.

One of the high points of cooking is the chance to combine butter and flour. Add a bit of water, maybe salt, maybe yeast -- all very simple, but with the right techniques amazing things result. With five-minutes, and the right temperatures, you get delicate, flaky pie crusts; with yeast and a lot of time and effort, croissants are born. In between is a rolled pastry crust that I discovered recently that takes advantage of techniques from both ends of the spectrum.

Published in Cook's Illustrated ( January-February 2012 issue), I also found it on-line in a slightly different version. In both places it was being used for a galette, an open-faced tart that can be filled and topped with veggies, or can go sweet with fruits. Custards (eggs and milk combinations) sometimes add to the fillings, binding the ingredients, and giving extra richness. The pastry starts with more of a pie crust approach, cutting in very cold chunks of butter to flour. It switches to a croissant or puff pastry approach by then chilling the dough, and rolling it out, then folding and rolling, folding and rolling, until it's a many-layered splendor. A final chilling and rolling gives a flaky puff pastry crust with a buttery croissant taste.

My filling used a mix of sauteed and roasted vegetables -- roasted cauliflower and roasted red peppers with sauteed onions and garlic. Fresh frozen peas from the Matanuska Valley, tossed in just before baking the galette, provided color and summer flavor. I experimented with the cheese filling/binder as well, using a half cup of ricotta, a quarter cup of parmesan, and a quarter cup of heavy whipping cream. Next time I'll make more cheese,using 3/4 or a full cup of ricotta, a little more parmesan, and enough more whipping cream to give it all a slightly flowing consistency.

Here's the pastry dough recipe, quoted from the Macheesmo site, with my notes added in brackets:

Ingredients (from Macheesmo website,
1 1/4 cups (6.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.75 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
7 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Making the dough:

Phase 1:
"Start the dough by mixing together your dry ingredients in a large bowl and then mix in the cubed butter with your fingers. You could use a food processor for this, but I like using my hands. Just get the butter into pea-sized pieces and then add your liquid.
Once your liquid is added, stir it together, but don’t over-work it. There’s no need to bring the dough completely together at this point. The word Cook's Illustrated used to describe the dough is 'saggy.' I prefer the term 'crumbly.' . . .
Scoop this crumbly dough out onto some plastic wrap, wrap it very tightly and refrigerate it for about an hour." [You can refrigerate it overnight too, if that's more convenient.]
Phase 2:
"Once your dough has rested for an hour in the fridge the flour will be better hydrated and it’ll be closer to one full piece when you unwrap it."
 [Mine wasn't even close to one full piece -- it was still a pile of crumbles. I followed the advice I'd read somewhere to add driblets of ice-cold water, continuing to mix until the dough sticks together just enough so that you can roll it. Altogether, I probably added another 1/4 cup - 1/2 cup of water. You may have to do this too - not because there's anything wrong with you or the recipe but because flours are very different in their gluten contents, and in their ability to absorb water. There's no way to tell this ahead of time, so just be comfortable with this particular batch of dough.]
"Roll it out on a well-floured board to form a long rectangle. It should be about 8×14 if you want to get specific, but I just eyeballed it [Macheesmo has photos, if you want to check out that web site]. Then fold the bottom 1/3 of the dough up to the center. . . . Then fold the top 1/3 down . . . . This basically creates three layers of dough.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees and do the whole rolling and folding process again. For those that aren’t math inclined, the second time you do this, you’ll have 9 layers of dough (3×3). The third and last time you do this, you’ll have 27 layers of dough.
This makes the final dough very flakey and awesome and is worth the 10 minutes or so it takes to do it. Your final dough will be really easy to work with. Before you roll it out though, wrap it in plastic again and stick in the fridge for another hour so it firms up."
Now's a good time to make the filling, while waiting for the dough to chill the second time. You also could make the filling a day ahead if preferable. I t comes in two parts -- the veggies, and the cheese mixture.
Veggies: Cut a head of cauliflower into about one-inch pieces, or break it into that size florets. Evenly coat with two tablespoons full of olive oil; salt and pepper lightly. Roast them in a preheated 450 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned and tender. While the cauliflower is roasting, saute two minced cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup minced onions or leeks (white parts, with a little of the green, as preferred) for four to five minutes in one tablespoon of olive oil. Combine the roasted cauliflower and sauteed garlic and leeks with one cup of fresh raw peas, or frozen peas. Add as much as one cup of other sauteed veggies and/or mushrooms. I used about three-quarters cup of roasted red peppers that I had previously frozen.
Cheese mixture: Mix together one cup ricotta cheese, one-quarter to one-half cup parmesan cheese, and about one-half to three-quarter cup of heavy cream. If you like, mix in a beaten egg.
Phase 3, Dough:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take your dough out of the fridge a few minutes before you want to roll it out [Cook's Illustrated suggested 15 to 20 minutes. I had guests and wasn't thinking -- I just took the cold dough out and started rolling. Tough work! But eventually I got the 14" circle, 1/8" thick I bought a silicone pastry mat with sizes marked on it -- it was a great purchase]. Then roll it into a large circle. Ideally, it would be about a 14 inch circle, but you can just eyeball it. I do recommend taking a knife and actually cutting a round shape out of the dough if you have any ends that are sticking out because it will make the folding easier [put the trimmings on the baking sheet and you'll end up with delicious little rich pieces of pastry to nibble on the next day -- if the rest of the people in the house haven't finished them off].
Transfer the dough to a [rimmed] baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush the center with some olive oil."
Phase 4, Some assembly required:
Pile one-half of the filling on the dough, leaving about three inches all of the way around, for folding the dough up over the filling. Layer on about one-half of the cheese mixture, the remainder of the veggies, and top with the rest of the cheese mix. 
Next, the galette part -- folding up the dough around the edges to make an attractive edging that holds the filling in. Take an edge of the dough and fold it up over the filling. Move about three inches, pick up the edge, and overlap it on the earlier piece and the next bit of filling. Continue this way all around the galette. When you're finished, you'll have dough overlapping the filling all of the way around, and an open space about six inches in diameter in the center so that you can admire the filling. Beat an egg lightly and brush it over the turned-up edging.
Now, the baking -- turn the oven down to 375 degrees (if you don't, the galette will cook too quickly, and the parchment paper will overheat and burn). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is nicely browned.
This will serve four as a main course, or six as a side. 
What else can you do with a galette?
Any sort of vegetable or meat filling that you might use for a savory pie can be adapted to a galette. Here's a link to a zucchini and asparagus galette. You can use sweet fillings, fruit fillings, custard fillings -- anything that will go into a pie crust will go into a free-form galette. The zucchini and asparagus recipe also uses a much simpler crust, more like a standard pie crust, without the puff pastry emphasis on chilling and layering the butter and flour.

A March evening in Alaska -- one right setting for a galette.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

London Breads Around the Town

London had as many delicious breads as Barcelona, although the settings were not as elegantly Art Noveau (in Spain, called "Modernisme"). Here are a few:

These first three are from the Food Halls at Harrod's.

Foccacia at Harrod's.

Breads and pastries in the Harrod's Food Halls.

A cake in a pastry shop in the Covered Market in Oxford.

Giant gingerbread men, cookies and kitsch at the Oxford Covered Market.

Naturally yeasted breads at the Borough Market, Southwark, London.

Cheeses at the Borough Market, to go with your bread.

Pigeons near the Borough Market, eager for some bread crumbs.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Barcelona Bakeries

   Barcelona is noted for chocolate, the 1992 Summer Olympics (and for wanting to be a contender for the Winter Olympics a few years hence; it is building an indoor ski resort, harvesting the cold from the transport of liquified natural gas to make the snow), and Gaudi's buildings variously described as hallucinogenic, bizarre, and world treasures. It also has one of the world's great street markets all along Las Ramblas, and bakeries everywhere. Our November 2011 two weeks there had more than its fair share of rain, but plenty of chances to sample breads and pastries that could hold their own compared to  any place in Europe.

My favorites were whole wheat croissants topped with toasted sesame seeds sold from Rocamora Forns, a small shop across the narrow alley from the St. Josep Market. We often were there too late to buy any -- I wasn't the only one in Barcelona who loved them. Many of the regular croissants were finished off with a sweet glaze, not to my taste. The breads were delicious too, and came in a full range from seed-chocked health foods to delicate white breads with thin crackling brown crusts.

The "peasant bread," "pan de tomate," was made with a ciabatta-like white bread, sliced thin and sometimes toasted. First, it's rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, then with a halved tomato, so that some of the pulp is left on the rough surface, and finally drizzled with olive oil. With luck, and a good enough restaurant, the waiter brings the makings, prepares the first slice before you as an example, and then leaves you to do the rubbing and drizzling yourself for the remainder. You get to do all of the eating, too. It was one of the best things in any bar or cafe, and also one of the cheapest.

Here are photos:

Barcelona bakery.

Escriba pastry shop on Las Ramblas, famous for its decorated cakes.

A day's haul -- cookies, a min-chocolate croissant,a roll to eat with butter and cheese.

A fruit tart, glazed, and centered with cherries.

Barcelona bakery, with a variety of naturally yeasted breads.

Presentation is all: a carrot cake; brownies, up by the peppers and potatoes on the top shelf, croissants at the lower left in a flower pot. Pastry shop in L'Eixample.

Escriba pastries -- plain croissants, filled croissants, something like palmiers.

The pastry shop in the St. Josep Market off Las Ramblas, that is home to the whole wheat croissants.

The Art Noveau (Modernisme) Wheat Goddess outside Escriba.