Seven Days of Cookies: Panforte de Lebovitz

Hello, holiday baking! This year, Seven Days of Cookies focuses on recipes that I’ve never madeimg_7685 before. Last year was favorites, this year it’s newbies. (And though I do indeed own Dorie’s Cookies, I haven’t cracked it for this adventure.)

If you’re like me, you follow David Lebovitz (sweets + Paris makes him a must) across social media. He recently shared an article that said Americans are buying more cookbooks, but cooking less often. Um. Yeah. I have a cookbook library but actively use only a few volumes. I like reading the books, imagining the food, and then storing them away. The sheer number of

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A selection of my library.

cookbooks makes me so happy. So, even though I’d already decided to make only new-to-me recipes this year, I also decided to use my own cookbooks! (Sorry, Epicurious.)

Ok, well, that’s a teensy lie, but I’ll make up for it later in the week. Because the first treat this year is adapted from David Lebovitz: Panforte. I’ve never eaten panforte. In shops it always looks like nougat or halvah, neither of which I enjoy. Or super honey flavored or treacly. I also assumed back-breaking complexity. All of it.

Well, not David’s recipe! Super easy, few ingredients, fewer steps, and darn delicious. And, I have to add, impressive because it still looks like a hard duty enterprise. Impress yourself and then your friends and family.

This is first up because, as David points out, it can sit for weeks on your counter with no ill effect. The original recipe calls for candied fruit, such as citron. I have a box of beautiful fresh candied orange peel in the cupboard but I’m saving it. Not sure for what. So I used dried cherries for the fruit and pistachios for the nuts. Fantastico.

A few notes: I tried several times but I could not get 5 level tablespoons of cocoa powder to weigh 40g. I changed the battery in my scale, weighed other items of known weight….and ended up going with weight vs. measure. The result is nicely chocolately. The red chile pepper has gotten mixed reviews: Some people like the bite, others do not. I’m waiting to see if it mellows over a week. Lastly, the package of pistachios I used was a bit underweight so I made up the difference in almonds.

Panforte de Lebovitz

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

Makes one 9″ cake

Ingredients

5 Tbs (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)

2 ½ c (325g) pistachios (shelled and unsalted)

¾ c (110g) flour

1 c (200g) dried cherries (coarsely chopped)

1 Tbs ground cinnamon

2 tsps ground ginger

1 ½ tsps fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of grated nutmeg

½  tsp red chile powder

3 oz (85g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 c (200g) granulated white sugar

¾ c (210g) honey

extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan

powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350F

Spray a 9 to 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Spread the pistachios on a silpat-lined baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and red chile powder. Add in the cooled nuts and dried cherries, and mix well to ensure the fruit and nuts are well coated with the dry ingredients. Set aside.

img_7679Melt the chocolate in a heatproof glass measure in a microwave on the low setting, in 10 second bursts, until nearly melted. Stir until completely melted and set aside.

Heat the sugar and honey in a small saucepan (ideally nonstick) fitted with a candy thermometer until the temperature reads 240F.

Immediately pour the hot sugar syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, and stir well. Use a large, sturdy wooden spoon and be prepared to really dig in there to mix this. It becomes more difficult as the sugar syrup cools so work diligently.

img_7680Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. David recommends using damp hands to press the mixture flat – works well.

Bake the panforte for 35 – 40 minutes; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. (Be careful not to overcook it or it will be too firm to cut when it’s cool.) Mine was done at 35 minutes.

img_7684Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a warm knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully, then cool completely.

When cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands, top, bottom, and sides.

Serve in thin slices.

Storage: Panforte can be kept for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

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After the Rain Apple Pie

So how is everyone? Still full? Almost done with the juice cleanse? Thanksgiving justimg_7527 doesn’t know when to quit, am I right?

My personal celebration of this holiday has, over the years, winnowed down to a solo affair. Sometimes I travel, sometimes I stay home and make my childhood favorite sides (alongside a couple of turkey slices from Whole Foods). Either way, it’s a happy holiday.

But, as with most holidays, or most days, really, the star of the show is dessert. Which I like to have a day or two later. Enough is enough on the day.

This year, I had apples on my mind. I’m not big into pies, I think I’ve said this before. But I was feeling creative and decided to create my own recipe. Because when it comes to apple pie, I don’t like sweet, I don’t like gluey, I don’t like mushy.

Earlier in the fall I created an apple tart recipe where I reduced two cups of fresh apple honeycrisp-picturecider to about ¼ c of syrup. Let me tell you, that cider syrup is sensational! I used it to glaze the top of the tart. I kept coming back to it in my mind, so when I decided to make a pie, I started there. Added a few spices and reduced it down. Still. so. good. I used it as the sweetener for apples.

The results were very very good, exactly what I was looking for in an apple pie: Great apple flavor, hints of spice, and a mellow sweetness.

Give it a try!

After the Rain Apple Pie*

Makes one 9-inch pie

Crust

img_7525Use your favorite crust recipe for a double crust pie. I always go all butter, but I know some of ya’ll like your Crisco. If it tastes good to you, it’ll taste good in this pie.

Divide your pie dough into two pieces, and roll each into a 13-inch  circle. Line a 9-inch glass pie plate with one circle, trimming to a ½-inch overhang. Cover the pie plate and the second circle of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making the filling.

 

Filling Ingredients

2 c fresh apple cider, well shaken

One cinnamon stick

One star anise

Six whole cloves

About 6 whole black peppercorns

2 lbs Honeycrisp apples

Zest from one lemon

2 Tbs lemon juice

2 -3 Tbs tapioca

¼ c turbinado sugar

1 whole egg + 1 tsp milk for eggwash

Crystal sugar for sprinkling

Preparation

Add the cider and spices to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to maintain a strong simmer and reduce the cider to about 1/3 cup. This can take about an hour. It tends to bubble up so remove the pan from the heat frequently and stir to check consistency. You want it to coat the back of your spoon.

While the cider is reducing, prepare the apples. Wash and dry the apples. I like to leave the skin on. Core and cut into quarters, and, using a mandolin on the ¼” setting, slice the apples into a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice, and stir to coat the apples. Add the tapioca and stir to thoroughly mix it in. Set apples aside. (My pie turned out super juicy using only the 2 Tbs of Tapioca. If your apples are juicy, use the 3 Tbs.)

When the cider has reduced to a syrup, pour it into a heatproof measuring cup and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Position a rack in the center. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drips.

Remove the pie plate and dough circle from the refrigerator. Brush the bottom, sides, and overhang of the crust with the egg wash.

Add the cooled syrup to the apples and stir well to combine. Taste an apple. If you want more sweetness, add up to ¼ c of turbinado sugar sprinkled over the apples and stirred to combine.

Mound the apples into the pie plate, pressing down to reduce the space between slices. Brush the rim of the crust with additional egg wash and lay the remaining circle of dough over the top of the apples. Fold the edge of the top crust under the overhang and crimp.

Brush the remaining egg wash over the entire pie, sprinkle with crystal sugar, and cut slits for steam.

Place the pie on the center rack and bake for about 20 minutes until the crust starts to brown. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes until the crust is golden brown, juices are bubbling, and a thin sharp knife inserted into the slits meets little resistance from the apples.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature. A dollop of crème fraiche or barely sweetened whipped cream is a nice touch.

Enjoy!

*Why “After the Rain”? Because I did make it a day after a rare Los Angeles rainstorm and because nostalgia, life, the election — it’s a lot.

 

 

 

Trusting yourself + Everything Seasonal Bread

I know I’m not the only person who reads cookbooks like novels. (Especially since they are more and more often one-part memoir and two-parts recipes.) I always have. My motherFullSizeRender (1) had some real oldies I liked to read sitting at the kitchen table while she cooked. I adored the Better Homes & Gardens gingham book for its ring binding. I spent many childhood hours moving the pages around, sorting favorites or putting together “menus.” To this day, the BHG Baked Custard recipe is my go-to for almost instant homey gratification. (And, ps, if you use ½ milk, ½ heavy cream, it sets up with a moussey texture on the bottom and shiny custard on the top. Complete happiness.)

All that childhood reading has contributed to a sense for flavors and which will be complementary (on both the savory and sweet side). While I don’t have the most adventurous palate (“delicacies” are not my thing), I do think it’s fairly sophisticated. I can tell by the way a recipe is written whether it’s great or just serviceable, and I know when it will work and when it won’t.

Usually.

On the weekend I made a chocolate cake using a recipe from a respectable source. I had reservations – it called for cocoa and buttermilk which don’t harmonize for me – but since it was only one stick of butter, I gave it a go. Oy, friends. Bad. The overly sweet batter tasted “chocolaty” and the cake was…. Well, it was pretty: Dark. Good crumb. Good texture. It just tasted terrible. Thinking it might be my palate, I offered it around. No one cared for it. Well, one of my neighbor’s said, “It’s good. But I don’t want any more of it.” I let it sit for a day, loosely wrapped in plastic, to see if anything would meld or bloom. No. Bad. I trashed it (along with, apparently, all photos of it).

Lesson: Trust yourself. In the kitchen and in life.

IMG_2840So then I had the rest of a quart of buttermilk. And it is autumn, which calls for cozy, which calls for bread. Specifically Dark Chocolate Orange Soda Bread. Super easy, super fun, and super delicious. You can never go wrong with chocolate and orange, and it’s bread! Who cares if I have to run the AC in order to turn on the oven?

This is a recipe from Epicurious. I don’t make any changes to it. The dough is sticky sticky sticky. Scarily so. Be brave, dear reader, and don’t add a ton more flour to make it easier to handle! Just roll it around on your lightly floured work surface until you can take your hand off it without taking half of it with you. It can be done. I have a “vintage” kitchen that has tiled countertops (the horror!), so I work on a marble slab. And use a bench scraper to nudge my mound of dough off the marble and onto the prepared baking sheet.

I first made this last December for a holiday event. The dough was so crazy sticky that I just mounded it onto the sheet and said a prayer. Holy patron saint of bakers, is this stuff delicious! I mean seriously. For its ease and nothing fancy ingredients, it comes together like a trip to heaven. I’d never made soda bread before. I think I’d had it once at a St. Patrick’s dinner 30 years ago and that version was too rusk-like for me. The chocolate and orange drew me in like a moth to a flame. And, turns out, that 30 year old memory? That was just a bad loaf.

IMG_2836As to ingredients, I use Valhrona Manjari 64%FullSizeRender coarsely chopped and candied orange peel from local cooks’ store (oft mentioned here), Surfa’s. I’ve made this bread many times since, using orange peel from the Berkeley Bowl (similar to Surfa’s) and from the supermarket. The supermarket tubs (usually available only around the holidays) are a sweeter, stickier product. The orange bits tend to clump together in the bread, but it still tastes wonderful.

Important: Mind the time! Because the dough is so difficult to manage, my loaves have turned out differently every time. Sometimes wider and flatter, sometimes taller and more compact. The recipe calls for 70 minutes baking. I have never needed that much time, neither when using a fancy calibrated Wolf range nor when using the Home Depot special oven in my current place. The loaf needs to be brown, firm, with a tester coming out clean.IMG_2841 Check it at 40 minutes. I’ll be surprised if you need more than 60 total. It tastes as wonderful regardless of how the loaves appear.

It’s best to let this bread fully cool before cutting. Then you can slather it with butter, toast it, do whatever you like to do with bread. Baked up with a little vanilla custard, it also makes a nice bread pudding.

This baby will take you straight from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s brunch.

It’s that good.

Dark Chocolate Orange Soda Bread

From Epicurious

Ingredients

3 c unbleached all purpose flour

½ c plus 2 Tbs sugar

2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

6 Tbs (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened), cut into 1/3-inch pieces

6 ounces candied orange peel, diced

1 ¼ c buttermilk

1 large egg

Preparation

UntitledPosition rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; butter parchment. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in chocolate and orange peel. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend; add to dry ingredients. Stir just until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead gently just until dough comes together, about 5 turns. Form dough into 6 1/2-inch-diameter round, about 2 to 2 1/2IMG_2839 inches high. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Using sharp knife, cut 1-inch-deep, 3-inch-long slits in top of bread, forming sunburst pattern.

Bake bread until well browned and very firm when pressed and tester inserted into center comes out clean, turning baking sheet halfway through baking, about 1 hour 10 minutes total. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.)

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