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Archive for the ‘Baked goods’ Category

I’ve sung the praises of bread pudding several times in this blog – its goodness, simplicity, and adaptability. As a frequent bread baker, I often have a few-days-old loaf available for a pudding, and fresh fruit for a filling – apples, peaches, pears, bananas. For a change this time, I tried a variant new to me: chocolate.

I couldn’t find a recipe I liked in any of my cookbooks, but the ever-obliging Google offered many choices. I picked the one from the King Arthur Baking Company website, both because King Arthur is a resource I trust and because its recipe was the only one that specified dark chocolate. Yum!

I love making bread pudding because it’s so easy. The ingredients do require a bit of preparation, but the only tools you need are a knife, a spoon, and a whisk.

Here are the ingredients for one-third of the recipe. Clockwise from the bread cubes, there’s milk, eggs, unsweetened cocoa powder, chopped chocolate from an extra-dark Venchi bar, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract.
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The first thing to do was butter my smallest soufflé pan, dump in the bread and mix it with half the chopped chocolate.
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Next, in a small pot I put half the milk, the rest of the chocolate, the cocoa and the sugar, and stirred it over low heat until the chocolate melted and the cocoa and sugar dissolved.
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Then the liquid chocolate had to be poured into a larger bowl and have the rest of the milk, the eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt whisked in, creating a custard base.
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I poured that over the bread and chocolate in the soufflé pan, stirred it about, and left the dish on the kitchen counter for half an hour, so the bread could absorb the liquid.

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My pudding baked in a 325-degree oven for an hour, until the custard part of it had firmed. (When testing for doneness with a skewer, I had to avoid the little patches of semi-melted chocolate chunks.) Then it needed to rest for a while to fully set – which was fine, because that cooled it just enough to be ready to eat at the end of our dinner.
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It was a great dessert – not heavy but rich; not sugary-sweet but deeply, intensely chocolaty. The bread had practically turned into chocolate cake, lightly cloaked in velvety custard. The recipe suggested serving the pudding with whipped cream, ice cream, or confectioners’ sugar, but we were perfectly happy with it just as it was.
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If you mention gougère these days, culinarily inclined people are likely to think of bite-sized cheese puffs. These small, savory cousins of eclairs and profiteroles are charming to serve with aperitifs (and I do), but the real glory of gougère shines forth in a big, golden, shaggy, crunchy, fragrant, deliciously cheesy pastry.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it? And that one is not even quite full-sized. The recipe I use is practically an heirloom. It was given to me decades ago by a friend at work, who would occasionally bring one of his homemade gougères to casual meetings of the junior staff. Andrew was a brilliant, witty guy, and when we finally persuaded him to give us his recipe, it turned out to be a two-page masterpiece of jaunty prose.

Preparing the choux paste base for gougère is often considered complex and tricky, but Andrew’s recipe makes it seem easy – and it has always worked fine for me. Here’s a short version of the procedure.

In a saucepan, melt butter with water, salt and pepper.
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When it comes to a boil, turn off the heat, dump in all the flour at once, and stir rapidly until the mixture turns into a ball of dough and cleans the side of the pan.
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Add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously until the egg is thoroughly combined into the mixture.
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Stir in diced cheese; by rough spoonfuls transfer the mixture to a buttered pie dish that has been previously heated in the oven; sprinkle more diced cheese over the surface.
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Bake at 450° for 35 to 45 minutes until, to quote Andrew, “Your eyes and nose will tell you when it’s done.”

And once it’s done, the only problem is holding off long enough to prevent scalding your mouth when you take the first forkful. Ambrosia! Here’s another view of it.

 

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And now, as a special gift to my readers, here’s an image of the ancient, battered, original document from which I’ve been making fabulous gougères for all these many years. Thank you, Andrew, wherever you are!
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Officially we’re well into Spring, but it doesn’t always feel like it. On one raw, wet morning lately, I had an urge to make a warm, comforting dish for our lunch. I had a recipe in mind called Cheese and Onion Pudding, which I’d seen in The Greens Cook Book. Normally I don’t find “pudding” an attractive name for dishes other than desserts, but this one seemed interesting.

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For a half recipe, to serve two, I was to peel and slice ¾ pound of yellow onions. Clearly, you’ve got to like onions for this dish! We do. The ones I had on hand were mostly red, but I didn’t think they would hurt the dish.

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I tossed them in two tablespoons of butter in a skillet, sprinkled on salt and dried thyme, and let them cook very slowly, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes, until they were very soft.
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Meanwhile I was to beat an egg with half a cup of milk or light cream. What I had in the refrigerator was heavy cream. Undaunted, I measured out a scant cup of it and made up the difference with water, to lighten it a bit. My egg turned out to be a double-yolker, which I thought would probably be all to the good. I finished the batter by beating in two tablespoons of flour and seasoning the mixture with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg.
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When the onions were ready, I stirred them into the batter along with three generous tablespoons of grated gruyère.
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To bake the pudding, I had the choice of a single pie plate or individual gratin dishes. I chose the latter, topping each dish with a little more grated cheese. They bubbled away merrily in a 400° oven. The recipe said they’d take only 30 minutes, but at that point my puddings were still very wet in the centers. They needed 45 minutes to firm up. (Could that have been due to my red onions, the extra egg yolk, or the heavy cream? I wouldn’t have thought so.)
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Though nothing extraordinary, the little puddings made a pleasant enough – and welcomely warm – lunch. You could think of them as crustless onion quiches.
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One day I may try the recipe again with the exact ingredients called for, and see if the result is any different. Or else, since both Tom and I felt the puddings would have liked more cheese presence, maybe I’ll try it with a more assertive cheese than gruyère, or simply more of it.

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Talk about luck: This apple upside-down cake came out remarkably good, though I made it with the wrong kind of flour, the wrong kind of milk, rock-hard brown sugar, overtired apples, and even the wrong size of pan. I wasn’t actually trying to ruin the cake, you understand; it was just a naive hope that the materials I had on hand would work well enough.

Looking for a simple dessert to provide some kitchen warmth and cheer on a mean, cold, windy day, I found the recipe in the Cakes volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. Pineapple upside-down cakes were very popular in my childhood, but I’d never heard of them with other fruits. I had three cooking apples that needed to be used. OK!

The first instruction was to melt butter in an 8-inch square pan and in it dissolve light brown sugar and grated nutmeg. I didn’t have a pan that size, so I pulled out a 9-inch round one. And I took a microplane grater to my rock-solid chunk of brown sugar to scrape off half a cup’s worth. That powder was so dry that I wondered if I should try to moisten it. No, better not. At least I had fresh, fragrant nutmeg to grate in with the sugar.
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Next was to peel, core, and thinly slice apples to arrange on the caramel-y syrup. My normally sturdy Winesap apples must have had a hard life: They’d developed soft spots, and when peeled revealed some brown areas and cottony textures. I made as many decent-looking slices as I could from the best part of the fruit, and chopped enough of the not-too-bad part to cover the rest of the pan’s surface.
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Setting the pan aside, I went on to make the cake batter. I sifted together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour – which should have been cake flour – white sugar, baking powder, and salt. And, since I didn’t have any milk, which would be needed next, I also added some instant nonfat dry milk powder.

In my heavy-duty mixer, I stirred softened butter to loosen it and gradually beat in the dry ingredients, then water (substituting for milk) and vanilla extract. I beat that batter for two minutes, added an egg, and beat for another minute. It made an attractive thick, shiny batter, which I poured over the apples in the pan.
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The cake baked for 35 minutes at 375° and rose nicely.
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I left it to cool, right-side-up, for five minutes then inverted it onto the serving plate and left it in pan for one more minute. Then came the drama of uncovering it. Would the fruit stick to the pan or fall apart? No, it all held together just as it ought.
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And a very good, sweet cake it was. The loose, delicate crumb would have had a finer texture if I’d had cake flour, but there was nothing wrong with its taste. The apples’ flavor had married perfectly with the butter–brown sugar glaze. All in all, considering my substitutions, it was a better cake than I deserved.
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Christmas Baking

I started my Christmas baking promptly this year, making three kinds of cookies without which the holidays are unthinkable at our house: peanut butter, Toll House, and hazelnut kourabiedes.
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A few days later, I added a non-traditional variety: ciambellini al vino. These crunchy, sugar-dipped rings made with olive oil, red wine, and anise flavoring come out rustic looking, but they’re delicious, and they somehow feel positively nourishing – almost savory but still with a pleasing sweet edge.
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Finally, with the baking urge still strong upon me, I decided to try a festive sweet bread of some kind. Hubris, this was, since twice in past Decembers I’d attempted to make panettone, without notable success (e.g., here). The doughs just wouldn’t rise for me. Still hopeful, though, I chose a recipe for a Norwegian Christmas bread from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. The recipe is attributed to a family in Indiana whose maternal forebears had been making it since 1870. I figured it must have risen for them.

The filling ingredients for a half recipe’s worth, which was to provide one large loaf, were half a cup each of dates, walnuts, glacé cherries, and mixed candied fruit.
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As you see here, I substituted hazelnuts for walnuts. I had dates and candied citron and orange peel, but not glacé cherries. I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I made some myself, from a recipe I found online, using jarred maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, the candying got away from me, so they came out like dark sticky little gemstones. Well, they’d have to do. My holiday breadmaking jinx loomed.

Making the dough itself went smoothly enough. The first stage was actually a batter. I beat together a cup of flour, a cup of milk, and a package of yeast; covered the bowl and let it stand on the kitchen counter for two hours, while the yeast did its bubbly thing.
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Next, I added half a beaten egg, ¼ cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a whole stick of softened butter; beat that well in the heavy-duty mixer; slowly added 2½ cups more flour; and kneaded it until smooth.
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Now came the tricky part. The instructions were to press the dough flat and work the fruits and nuts into it. Neither my cut-up dates nor my halved cherries were at all willing to separate from each other. I had to sprinkle on some flour to make them un-glom even a little. And I had to knead the dough very lengthily to get the additions distributed. It already looked like a lot to go into one 5 X 9 loaf pan, and it hadn’t even risen yet.
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I returned the dough to the bowl for its first rising – one hour, the recipe said. Hah! In 2½ hours, it still hadn’t quite doubled in bulk – but the day was moving on, so I did too. As I’d expected, that amount of dough would have filled a single pan right up to the brim, and I could imagine what a mess it would be if I let it rise like that. I deflated it and divided it over two pans.
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The second rise was due to take 45 minutes. Hah again! Here’s what mine looked like after two hours: definitely not doubled.
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With a very feeble hope that the loaves would rise further as they baked, I put them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes. They browned nicely. They didn’t rise at all. AARRGGHH! This is what happens to me more often than not with filled or flavored breads, and I don’t know why. It’s not the fault of my yeast; my normal good white bread rises perfectly.
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Adding insult to injury, the next morning when I sliced a loaf for our breakfast, it was clear that the dates and cherries had never really separated, but had somehow gathered themselves back into big messy globs. It was an embarrassment to look at.
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But there’s a happy ending to this otherwise frustrating story. Despite its sloppy appearance, the bread was really good. It had a light, delicate crumb, and the chunky interspersions of fruit and nut were interesting and tasty. I decided I wouldn’t have to run out and buy a panettone from a store after all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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During Tom’s and my recent trip to Rome, our hotel’s former broad, open breakfast buffet was displayed within glass cases and dispensed by gloved staff members. (Thanks, covid.) Among the generous array of breads, cakes, pastries, fruits, meats, and cheeses were slices of what looked like pound cake, which the servers encouraged us to have: “amor di polenta – very good – polenta cake.” I’d never heard of it, but we tried it, and indeed it was very good: a sweet, light, golden cornbread, unlike any I’d tasted before. It became a breakfast staple of our stay in Rome.

Back home, I wanted to learn to make this hitherto unknown treat, so I googled the name. Egad: Amor polenta recipes were all over the Web, in both Italian and English. Well! Time to make its acquaintance.
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I discovered that amor polenta is a specialty of Varese, a province in northern Lombardy. It’s much like a pound cake, made with only flour, butter, sugar, and egg: no other liquid. The intriguing flavor comes from a mixture of white flour, almond flour, and fine cornmeal.

I downloaded a few recipes for comparison and settled on this one to take as my model. Being in Italian, it lists ingredients in grams, so I began by measuring out the three flours on my kitchen scale: 100 grams (3.5 oz) of cornmeal, 80 grams (2.8 oz) of white flour, and 70 grams (2.5 oz) of almond flour.
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Then I took out my heavy-duty mixer – an appliance that the recipe calls a planetaria. Not a name I’d known. I imagine it must be because the beaters simultaneously rotate and orbit, like planets. I love the idea of having a planetarium in my kitchen! But I digress.

In the machine I whomped 100 grams (3½ oz) of softened butter with 120 grams (4.2 oz) of sugar, added two eggs, one at a time, and beat it all into a smooth cream. At this point, the recipe asked for the seeds of a vanilla bean to be stirred in. Instead, I used ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.
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Next, I had to mix in the dry ingredients. The recipe insisted on their being added in sequence, with the mixer running: first, the cornmeal; second, the white flour; third, the almond flour. I can’t think why; maybe it’s something folkloric. But I did as prescribed. And ended with ½ teaspoon of baking powder. Finally, the recipe wanted 10 grams of rum stirred in. We don’t keep rum in the house, so I used a teaspoon of grappa.
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There is a special baking pan for amor polenta, which gives the traditional domed, ribbed slices visible in many of the google images above. Since I didn’t have one, I scraped my very dense batter into a buttered 10″x4″ loaf pan.
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The loaf baked for 45 minutes at 350° and developed a typical pound cake crack down the middle. (You wouldn’t see that if you used the amor polenta pan, since the loaf is turned out onto the plate upside down.) It was attractively golden and fragrant, but it hadn’t risen very high. (The recipe hadn’t indicated a size for the pan, so I guess mine was a little too large.)
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It had the fine taste and texture we remembered from Rome, confirming its seductive aroma. Lovely for breakfast, and no doubt will be excellent too with afternoon tea or coffee. The recipe suggested dusting the top with powdered sugar, but it was already sweet enough for us. I might even try a small adjustment next time: a slightly larger proportion of polenta flour and a small reduction in the sugar. No great matter: Even with no further tinkering, amor polenta could easily become a breakfast staple for us here at home.

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Police inspector Salvo Montalbano, hero of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian mystery novels, is an impassioned consumer of local foods, eating his way through dishes often fully described in the books. The latest volume gives Montalbano a role reversal: he goes undercover as the cook aboard a mega-yacht cruise that will be hosting an international criminal summit.

Readers, please note: If you haven’t read The Cook of the Halcyon but intend to, you might want to skip this post. I won’t be able to avoid spoilers.

Between the yacht’s crew and the guests, Montalbano will have to make meals for 12 people. To prepare for the role, he gathers recipes from his housekeeper, Adelina, and his restaurateur friend, Enzo. And he manages the cooking well, once on the ship – a fact that devoted Montalbano fans may find hard to credit, as he has never before been known to cook anything whatsoever. But so we are told.

On a critical day in the cruise, Montalbano makes a potato gâteau for the dinner’s first course. (In the book’s original Italian, the word may have been gattò.) He uses a big sack of potatoes, a dozen eggs, two kinds of cheese, ham, olives, and one very special item. The combination sounded interesting, so I thought I’d try to create a tiny version. Here are my ingredients.
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In the front are two ounces of chopped Castelvetrano olives, two ounces of chopped fontina cheese, and two ounces of chopped ham. Behind them are one egg white, one whole egg, and some grated Parmigiano. On the right, one pound of potatoes, mashed.

I beat the whole egg into the potatoes, spread half of them in a small buttered casserole dish, laid on the three chopped ingredients, and topped with grated cheese.

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I covered the filling with the remaining potatoes and spread the extra egg white over the top, as Montalbano did. My only divergence from his procedure was omission of the “very special item.” Verb. sap. sat.
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Montalbano baked his gâteau for half an hour, and his egg white topping became a brown glaze. We aren’t given an oven temperature, so I tried 350°. Not hot enough: after an extra 10 minutes, I raised the heat to 400°, and though my gâteau eventually firmed up well and even puffed a little, the glaze had spread unevenly and hardly colored at all.
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Nevertheless, it was a very tasty dish. On the plate, the potatoes and filling made a nicely varied flavor blend – piqued by the excellent Castelvetrano olives. The gâteau could certainly have stood alone as a first course, though it went very well alongside our sauteed fillets of sea bass.
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The only part of it we didn’t care for was the glaze, which was mostly a dry skin. Next time, instead of the egg whites, I’ll dot butter over the top layer of potatoes. This is a versatile dish that I can imagine pairing with almost any dry-cooked fish, fowl, or flesh. One could easily vary the filling ingredients, too.

P.S.  As readers of the book well know, Montalbano’s own gâteau was a truly memorable dish for the guests and crew of the Halcyon.

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If this summer’s Olympics had had an event for Dumb Cooking Mistakes, I’d have gotten a gold. It was by pure luck that I was able to salvage the very promising Italian vegetable dish on which I had committed the idiocy.

But let me tell it from the beginning.

From the collection of summer vegetables I’d written about here last week, there was one left of the small eggplants, still firm, plump, and shiny.
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I’d saved it to use for a recipe simply called Eggplant with Mozzarella, which I’d noticed for the first time while browsing the vegetable section of this little Neapolitan cookbook – another book I’ve had for years, where I can still discover treasures.

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Basically, you fry eggplant slices, sandwich a slice of mozzarella between each pair, and bake them in the oven with tomato sauce, beaten egg, and grated parmigiano for just 15 minutes. Seemed easy enough. I peeled and sliced my eggplant, salted the slices, and left them in a colander for half an hour to drain off some of their liquid.

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Then I pressed them dry in a cloth, floured them, and browned them well in olive oil.
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Here are half the slices, placed in the baking dish, topped with mozzarella, and awaiting the upper halves of the sandwiches. The sauce ingredients are sitting behind them. All well so far.
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But then I made my ridiculous blooper. This is what the recipe says:

Cospargere le melanzane ripiene con due uova battute con sale e pepe, qualche cucchiaiata di salsa di pomodoro e una spolverata di parmigiano grattugiato.

Now, in a well written English recipe, that might be given as “Beat two eggs with salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano. Pour the mixture over the stuffed eggplant.”

But the phrasing of the Italian is, “Spread over the stuffed eggplant two eggs beaten with salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano.” So what I did was add the three things one after the other. I somehow had the idea that they’d all blend together in the oven.
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Anyone with half a brain would have realized that wouldn’t happen. When I looked in after the dish was in the oven for a little while, everything still sat right where I’d put it and the egg was already firming up on its own. Aarrgh!

I pulled out the dish and quickly tried to scrape the tomato sauce and cheese off the eggplant, mix them into the half-scrambled puddle of egg, and spoon some of it back over the eggplant. Didn’t work all that well, but I put the dish back into the oven to finish its 15 minutes of baking.

It came out pretty sad looking.

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But the gods who take care of culinary idiots were on the job that day, because those little “sandwiches” were fabulous. Yes, you could see that the egg and tomato hadn’t come together properly, but in the mouth their flavors blended brilliantly. It was one of those magical “whole is better than the sum of the parts” creations. And it got even better as it cooled.

Tom had initially raised an eyebrow, but then we both scarfed down every bit. I was so relieved!

 

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A cobbler can be a great fruit pastry for an ease-loving home baker. You do have to make and roll out dough but, unlike making a pie, you don’t have to fit a round of dough into the baking dish, fit another round over the fruit filling, trim and seal the two together, and shape an attractive rim.

The cobbler section of Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts opens with a two-page spread showing a rustic blackberry cobbler, made with dough merely partially folded over the berry filling, leaving large (artistically placed?) gaps.
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In the recipe headnote, the author declares this to be his favorite kind of cobbler. I’ve made and enjoyed his peach cobbler, so the prospect of an even tastier one was very tempting. And berries are easier to work with than other fruits: no peeling or slicing needed.

There were no fresh blackberries in my Greenmarket yet, so I bought a commercial pack. Happily, it contained three cups of berries, which was exactly right for a half recipe’s worth.

I usually make pastry in my heavy-duty mixer, but this recipe requires a food processor, because it calls for frozen butter and frozen vegetable shortening. That’s certainly a way to keep the dough cool, but I’ve never had trouble using just chilled fats and very cold water.  This should have been my first clue that Bailey’s favorite cobbler might require a bit more effort and complication than other, less special, ones.
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The processor noisily and laboriously turned the frozen fats, flour, and salt into a rough crumble. Then I had to trickle in more ice water than called for, in order to make it gather into a mass. Good thing the fat was frozen: in the process, the machine had thrown a lot of heat.
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The dough, shaped by hand into a ball, had to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I used the time to clean the dough residue from the processor parts, which was harder than cleaning my stainless steel mixer bowl. Another clue? Hmpf!

When it was time to roll out the dough, I faced a mathematical question. If a whole recipe needs a circle of dough 15 inches in diameter, how big should the circle be for half a recipe? It was obvious that a half-sized circle – 7½ inches – would be too small, so I resorted to my trusty A = π r² formula and rolled the dough to 11 inches.
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Probably unnecessary precision, as I realized later. I could just have eyeballed the job. I think I was already a little spooked. Anyway, I draped the dough over a small pie dish and heaped the berries in the middle, adding sugar and dots of butter.
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Here I diverged from the recipe. For three cups of berries, it would have wanted six tablespoons of sugar – much too much, I thought. I gave it three tablespoons. Then, just before closing over the dough, I chickened out to the extent of one more tablespoon. In the upshot, that was unnecessary: Those berries were plenty sweet already.

Back to following directions, I folded the overhanging dough around the filling (it wasn’t supposed to cover completely), and sprinkled a little more sugar over the crust.
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The cobbler baked at 425° for 45 minutes, to come out lightly browned and bubbling – and with a large puddle of breakthrough juices. Hmpf again!
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Inartistically messy as it looked, my blackberry cobbler was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet for us, but richly berryish and with a firm, tasty crust. Well worth the amount of unexpected effort it took. (Though next time I might try making the crust with unfrozen fats.)
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The half of it that we couldn’t finish for dessert that evening made a sinfully good breakfast the next morning. That none of it lasted longer than that is a testimony to how much we enjoyed it.

 

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The herbs I planted on my building’s roof garden, which I mentioned in my last post, are doing well.

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Picking them has been perilous for a few weeks, because of a militant mockingbird that attacked anyone who stepped out onto the roof, which he considered his territory. At last, his babies have fledged and left the nest he was guarding up there, and I can tend my tiny herb garden in peace.

The herb that most needs frequent cutting back is the dill, which has been flowering so fast, it’d soon be setting seed and dying off. To help redirect its attention to new shoots, I snipped some of its feathery-leaved flowering stems to use in two recipes I made for the first time this week.
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Dakhini Saag: Spinach with Dill

This dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India is a specialty of Hyderabad, a city in southern India. Jaffrey says it’s “a simple but very flavorful spinach dish.” Given the number of ingredients listed in the recipe, I wasn’t sure I’d regard it as simple, but by the same token I could see it was certainly going to have a lot of flavors. It looked like fun.

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To begin, the spinach had to be wilted in boiling water, drained, cooled, and squeezed. Then I called my bespoke knife man into action, and he gallantly rose to the occasion. Clockwise from lower right, here are the spinach, chopped; sliced fresh spring onion; diced heirloom tomato; sliced Spanish onion; chopped dill; chopped garlic; salt, cumin seeds, turmeric, and red chili powder.
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Actually, once those components were prepared, the dish really was quite simple to make. First, I sauteed the cumin seeds, Spanish onion, and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat.
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Next, I lowered the heat, added the spinach, dill, salt, turmeric, and chili powder, and cooked all that for two minutes.
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Last, I stirred in the diced tomato and spring onion.
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Another two minutes’ cooking made the dish ready to eat.

And very good it was.The very first taste was purely moist, tender spinach, but each forkful opened in the mouth to reveal the flavors of the seasonings – mainly dill, but also subtle accents of spring onion, cumin, and chili. (The tiny cubes of tomato, being of necessity hothouse, served mostly for appearance.) A nice middle choice between plain spinach and a composed dish.
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Jennifer’s Dill Bread

Long ago, my friend Jennifer, with whom I’ve shared many recipes back and forth, gave me her hand-written one for dill bread. It had her small variations on a recipe that a family friend had given her even longer ago. I saved it in my big recipe binder, but this folksy American yeast bread made with cottage cheese never quite caught my interest enough to try. Now, with my dill needing to be used, it seemed to be time.

The recipe directions were simple in the extreme – they started with “Soften yeast in water. Combine all except flour.” The “all” was cottage cheese, sugar, salt, baking soda, minced onion, softened butter, an egg, and dill weed.
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Next was to add “enough flour to form a stiff dough.” Here, I had to go astray. The ingredient list said 2¼ to 2½ cups. In my heavy-duty mixer with the dough hook, 2½ cups of flour produced only a thick, heavy batter. I added more flour. And more. And more. (I think there was too much whey in my cottage cheese.) This is apparently supposed to be a no-knead dough, but mine was thoroughly kneaded by the time I achieved a dough thick enough to hold together in a ball.
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It rose nicely in a gently warmed, turned-off oven, though with all that extra flour, it took longer than the expected one hour to double in bulk.
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I punched the dough down, shaped it into a ball, and was then supposed to put it in an 8-inch round casserole to rise again. I don’t have a dish that size, so I substituted a buttered 8-inch pie tin and prayed that the free-standing loaf would support itself as it rose in the turned-off oven. It did.
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A bit over an hour of baking at a more moderate temperature than I usually use for breads (350°) produced a plump brown loaf. The final touch was to brush the crust with butter and sprinkle it with sea salt.

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Sliced, it revealed a soft, light crumb with a wheaty sweetness and a gentle fragrance of dill. (Might have been dillier if I hadn’t had to add so much extra flour.) It was good as a dinner bread, good for sandwiches, and good for morning toast. Although it will never replace my all-time favorite White Bread Plus from Joy of Cooking, this folksy recipe made a versatile and tasty loaf.
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