Saturday, August 21, 2010

Easy Fruit Crisp

This is a simple and excellent recipe that you will want to keep in your repertoire - as the original recipe says, you can make the crisp topping ahead of time and keep it in your freezer for a last-minute dessert option. Heck, you can even sugar the fruit of your choice and store it in your freezer too.

I love that this truly is a crisp topping, given the semolina (again replacing cornmeal) and ground nut composition that avoids getting soggy. I put the whole batch of topping over a relatively small pan of fruit, so the proportion of topping-to-fruit was just to my liking (read: lots of topping!). For those of you who are curious, this type of dish is called a "crumble" by the French. But if you call it that, you must say "crumble" with a good French accent, to be true to this amazing crumble recipe from real Frenchie Brigitte.

Pick any in-season fruit that bakes well; I chose nectarines, but I was really dying to try figs. I was uncertain of how figs bake up, since their texture is so unique, so I hesitated to make them for my class as this dish was intended. Guess the figs will have to wait. Hmm, maybe with pecans?

Easy Fruit Crisp

6 ripe nectarines, or equivalent volume of fruit of your choice
2 T granulated sugar

3/4 C (105 g) flour
2/3 C (90 g) semolina flour or cornmeal
3/4 C (80 g) almonds or walnuts
1/2 C (110 g) brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 oz (1 stick, 115 g) unsalted butter, well chilled

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Dice fruit, place in a bowl, and stir it together with the 2 T sugar. Let sit to permit the juices to start flowing (called "macerating" the fruit).

In a blender or food processor, pulse the flour, semolina, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until the nuts are in smaller pieces.

Cut the butter in chunks and add to the processor, pulsing until the butter is finely broken up, the mixture no longer looks sandy, and it's starting to stick and clump together.

Place the fruit in a 9 or 10-inch round baking dish, and spread the topping over it. Bake until the topping is browned and the fruit is bubbling underneath and can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Baking time will vary from 30 minutes for softer fruit like nectarines to nearly twice as long for firmer fruits like apples, so check after 30 minutes and then continue to keep an eye on it if you're trying a fruit for the first time.

Serve alone, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Beautiful Food in Paris

In the life of a student, luxury is something that normally comes in small doses, so I have come to be very appreciative of the luxurious pastries that pass through my life (=mouth). The parisian macaron is of course one of those extravagant moments that I love the most, and while a few dollars seems like a lot to spend for a few bites of bliss, it certainly can fit an economical budget from time to time.

Pierre Hermé, my favorite macaron provider in Paris, is closed for another four days for their summer revamp (not that I'm counting or anything), so meanwhile I have explored a few other options. The macarons above are found, well, at McCafé, and I believe are only 90 centimes. I tried the caramel au beurre salé, and it really wasn't bad! I have had much worse from patisseries in Paris, and it turns out that McCafé gets their macarons from the same provider that Ladurée does, albeit of a slightly lower quality (more on Ladurée later). Quite the affordable, speedy, and widely available option.

The McCafé at the Louvre food court

I also did a bit of research into cooking classes here; thanks to David Lebovitz and Clotilde Dusoulier's fabulous sites/books, I was introduced to the affordable Atelier des Chefs. Some of their lessons are as low as 15 Euros for a class that can be taken at lunchtime, which includes the food that you make so that you can eat it for lunch. They have many locations and different classes in Paris - and other cities in France - so you can choose one at a convenient place and with a menu that you find interesting. I chose a class for 36 Euros at the BHV store on the rue de Rivoli which featured financiers and caramel macarons. Predictable, perhaps, but given the opportunity to take a class on macarons in Paris, I had to take it!

In the end I learned some valuable techniques from the class, and will definitely use the pistachio-confit orange financier recipe (and will post it in English; click here for a demo video and the recipe in French). The final product of the macaron shells, however, was quite disappointing - they were crunchy, and not as smooth on the surface as I would have liked. So, I will take what I learned and supplement it with the other recipes and techniques I have read.

The Atelier des Chefs kitchen at BHV rue de Rivoli

I finally succeeded in making it to fine chocolatier Pierre Marcolini's store at a time when they weren't closed for their long daily lunch break - this is the third trip to Paris when I've tried to buy their chocolate-covered marshmallows/guimauves.

Pierre Marcolini rue de Seine boutique

Some of the best gourmet marshmallows I've had, and of course the chocolate was excellent! I love that the French for these is "Vanille enrobée de Chocolat" - as if the marshmallow is clothed in the chocolate.

Of course, other beautiful things popped out at me once I entered the PM shop, so I returned another day to buy these macarons, which were not quite delicate enough, but well flavored and very pretty.

Mojito and Limoncello Macarons

And this bouchée of nougat and chocolate cream topped with crisp cookie wafers had me intrigued, so I had to try it:


I also made a stop at the nearby Patrick Roger shop, where I bought this caramel dome for a ridiculous 4 Euros, which I assume pays for the fact that it comes in its own box like a piece of jewelry (like I said, moments of luxury):

liquid caramel with a touch of citrus encased in chocolate

And my final moment de luxe this week was my first trip to Ladurée, the classic and classy tea shop that invented parisian macarons. As I have confirmed with my trial of their macarons and conversations with Parisians, these are good macarons, but not the best. The flavors were good, but the texture was lacking the magic of the Pierre Hermé macarons. Their shells were slightly too thick, and the filling in the middle not quite plentiful enough, so that the result was less delicate and less fondant in the middle. All the same, good, just not mind-blowing.

Ladurée to-go bakery at the Champs-Elysée location

I did very much enjoy the other pastries I got at Ladurée, which included a millefeuille praliné (praline napoleon) and an Ispahan macaron, which is actually a flavor creation of Pierre Hermé's: rose, raspberry, and lychee all together (which I had in croissant form back in June, amazing).

Ispahan and millefeuille praliné from Ladurée

But Paris on a daily basis for me has been typified by the wonderfully fresh foods that are all around the city in outdoor markets and even neighborhood supermarkets. My generous hosts even picked up pastries from a local shop for one breakfast:

And I have enjoyed this lunch on a number of days: whole grain cracker with goat cheese and fresh peach slices (see the caramel macarons in the background from my cooking class?). No complaints here! Gotta balance the rich pastries somehow.

Thank goodness for gorgeous weather to go running through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mediterranean Semolina Cookies

I was really at a loss when deciding what to call these unique treats...they're based on zaletti, an Italian cornmeal cookie (see David Lebovitz's recipe here, which I used as a starting point), but I replaced and changed the proportions of the flours and sugars, and created a theme with the dried fruits, so they certainly aren't zaletti any more.

Despite appearances, they also aren't what you would typically think of as "cookies," nor do they fit the categories of "biscuit" or "crisp" or any other cookie-ish designation that I can think they're just cookies in this post. What that means here, however, is that they are both a teeny bit chewy from being baked, and a little crunchy from the semolina flour. They aren't too sweet, but have the flavor interest added by the variety of dried fruits and the crisped brown sugar on the outer rim.

The Mediterranean theme comes from the combination of dried fruits I found at a little shop in the Old City of Jerusalem - dried figs, kiwi, coconut, mango, and pineapple. You certainly could create any fruit combination of your choice, so see what is available to you and go for it! I loved the colorful results of this particular mix, but I could see a really beautiful Christmas cookie coming out of dried cherries, cranberries, maybe candied green cherries?

A lot of what I made while in Israel was inspired by the contents of my cupboards - as an apartment that changed student hands frequently, still-fresh ingredients were left behind by previous tenants, and I resolved to use as much of them as possible. It would have been a pity to waste perfectly good (free) food! Such was the case with semolina, which I had never bought before, but the full bag of it convinced me that it was the perfect substitute for polenta recipes that I found. If you have polenta or cornmeal instead, feel free to sub it back in. As you can see in the original recipe, regular or coarse ground cornmeal works just fine.

Mediterranean Semolina Cookies

3/4 C (90 g) dried fruit
2 T (20 g) flour

5 1/2 oz (155 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 C (110 g) brown sugar
1 1/2 T honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C (210 g) semolina flour (or polenta/cornmeal)
1 C (140 g) flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

extra brown sugar or raw sugar for rolling the logs of dough

1. Toss the dried fruit and the 2 T (20 g) of flour together in a small bowl and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter, sugar, and honey until smooth and creamy, about one minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, beating until incorporated.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the semolina flour, 1 C flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Mix the dry ingredients into the beaten butter mixture until incorporated, then stir in the dried fruit.

5. Form the dough into a rectangle 4- by 7-inches (10 by 18 cm), wrap in plastic, and chill the dough for about an hour, or until it’s firm enough to handle.

6. Spread brown or raw sugar liberally over a surface on which to roll the dough into logs. Divide the dough in two, lengthwise, and roll each piece of dough on the brown sugar into a smooth cylinder 7-inches (18 cm) long. Wrap the cylinders and freeze until ready to bake.

(To bake them right away, pinch off pieces of dough about the size of a small unshelled walnut, and roll into balls. Place them evenly spaced on the prepared baking sheet and press them down gently with your hands to flatten them partially.)

7. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325 F (170 C).

8. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

9. Slice the cookies into 1/4-inch (.75 cm) slices and place them evenly spaced on the prepared baking sheets. The dough is easier to slice when frozen, but if it's too firm or crumbles when you slice it, let it defrost for a few minutes, or reform the individual slices by hand.

10. Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until the cookies are very light brown on top. Remove the oven and let cool completely.

Serve the cookies by themselves, alongside a fruit compote, or with a scoop of your favorite ice cream or sorbet.

Storage: The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to four days. The dough can be refrigerated for up to one week, or frozen for one or two months.

Because these have more fiber, less sugar, and fruit in them, they almost felt like a healthy snack to me. That's justification for making them and eating them whenever you feel hungry, right? Right?

Another crunchy semolina recipe to follow!