Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Sunday, August 17, 2014
There's a part in one of my favorite films, Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I, when she becomes obsessed with the idea of filming her own hands. In a documentary about people who harvest leftover crops from fields, dumpsters, and markets, this could seem tangential, but through Varda's eyes it becomes strikingly relevant, personal. She says, "I can with one hand, film the other one. I like the idea that one hand would always be gleaning, the other one always filming. I like very much the idea of the hands. The hands are the tools of the gleaners, you know. Hands are the tool of the painter, the artist."
I've had a complicated relationship with my own hands. Growing up, I was proud that I could reach an octave + 2 on the piano, but as I got older, I felt these double-jointed extremeties to be a little too large and unfeminine, oddly shaped and overly wrinkled, not to mention constantly cold. A few inconsiderate comments about them from a guy friend in college left me longing for the hands of a Victorian lady--small and smooth and delicate, or at least her gloves so I could hide my own big paws.
A palm reading by my friend Margaret helped me to come around. She pointed out my spatulate fingers, indicating wit and intellect, saw the intersecting lines and size as shape of my hands as those of a maker, an artist, a baker. She helped me to realize that they suit me and are important tools and carriers of memory.
Like Agnès Varda, I too am drawn to "the idea of the hands." They are storied entities, holding so much in their lines and wrinkles. You can tell so much about a person from their hands-- for a quite literal example, I think of the scene in Little Women when Professor Baier runs into Jo on the street. He says, "You know, when I first saw you I thought, 'ah, she is a writer."" When Jo asks how he knew, he points to the ink marks on her hands. My hands are the body part which bears most of my scars-- tissued memories of cleaning mortar off bricks at our old house, the unexplainable white line that helped me to remember my right from my left, the countless burns from baking and callused guitar string fingers. They're also the part of ourselves that we probably see the most, not through the lens of a photograph or mirror, but as they exist in the real world. Our hands are a constant presence in our field of vision. I could pick mine out of a line-up anywhere, but I could I do the same with my ankle? The back of my neck? I'm not so sure. They are such familiar agents and symbols of the self.
One of the most compelling things about baking for me is its tactile nature, of being able to bring something into existence, to shape it in my very hands in all of its stages. I'd been putting off making my own puff pastry for awhile. It seemed too daunting, too time consuming, too much butter (joke)! But some experiments in a wood-fired oven got me thinking about it again, and yesterday I found myself with the air conditioning back on in our house, a full day with nothing planned, and enough butter for the task, so the time was nigh.
For my first experimentation, I used Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt's recipe for a puff pastry shortcut on Food52. It's not the full-on deal in which you work a butter packet into a flour packet, but it takes less time and effort has given me the confidence to go all the way next time. It also makes a BEAUTIFUL, puffed and buttery dough with thin flaky layer upon flaky layer. Maybe not quite as many as you'd get with the more time consuming method, but enough to make me give a little yelp of joy when I opened up the oven... and every time I've taken a bite.
I adapted a Martha Stewart recipe for an Apricot-Pistachio Tart into a White Nectarine-Frangipane (almond) Tart. This was largely because there were no apricots to be found at the farmers' market, and I happened to have a surplus of almonds at home, but you could really make this with any stone fruit (or apple or pear!) and any variety of nut. The beauty of this recipe's simplicity is that it opens up so much opportunity for variation. Put your hands and your imagination to work.
White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts
Makes one 17x9-inch tart
1 recipe homemade puff pastry (you can also use store-bought)
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon unsalted, raw almonds, toasted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk for egg wash
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4-5 white nectarines (1 1/4 pounds), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 Tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar, for dusting
1/4 cup nectarine, apricot, peach, or plum jam
1 1/2 Tablespoon water
1. Prepare homemade puff pastry as per the directions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out and trim dough to a 17 X 9-inch rectangle. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine 1 cup almonds and the granulated sugar. Add butter and process until a paste forms. Add the whole egg, vanilla, and salt and pulse to combine.
3. Remove pastry from the fridge and using an offset spatula, spread almond paste evenly over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Arrange nectarines in 3-4 vertical rows over the almond mixture, alternating direction in which the slices face. Fold in the edges of the dough and use your index finger to create a scalloped border. Refrigerate or freeze the tart until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
4. Whisk together egg yolk and cream and brush over the edges of the chilled tart shell. Chop remaining tablespoon of almonds and sprinkle them and turbinado sugar over the tart. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown and puffed, and fruit is juicy, about 35 minutes. Let cool.
5. Meanwhile, place jam and water in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl and brush the glaze over the nectarines. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.
Apple Galette at MAV's
Peach Pie with a Sweet Basil Glaze
Whole Wheat Plum Crumble Tart
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I came back to D.C. in peak summer to find that our air conditioner is not working. This isn't the first time, and honestly it hasn't been that hot here. But the summer weather does make the prospect of rolling out all-butter pie dough seem like a daunting and altogether unpleasant task. In these situations of heat and humidity, I generally turn to an icebox pie (which I suppose this pie is a form of), but I've had this recipe for a raw, vegan, gluten-free, no-refined sugar Coconut Cream Pie in my back pocket for awhile now, so I thought it an opportune time to give it a go.
A few notes before you tackle this recipe--the ingredients are a little on the expensive side and you'll need to be within striking distance of a Whole Foods or specialty grocery to get your hands on some of them. For the young coconut meat and coconut water, I recommend the Exotic Superfoods brand, which you should be able to find in the freezer section of most Whole Foods stores. You'll also want to eat the pie within a day of making it, as it does not keep especially well. That being said, this is a incredibly refreshing and exotically flavorful pie, especially considering that it is raw, involves no animal products, and contains no gluten or refined sugars! Because my blender is not the most powerful, the texture of my filling was akin to rice pudding, which I have no problem with, but a better blender could get it even smoother. Either way, this is a little tropical island kitchen treat, air conditioning or no.
From Carla Cabrera of The President Wears Prada
For the crust:
2 1/4 cup dried shredded coconut
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
2 dates, pits removed
1 Tablespoon maple syrup or agave
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely diced mangos, to line the crust
For the filling:
2 cups young coconut meat
1/2 cup diced, peeled baby zucchini (the flavor is too strong with larger zucchini)
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked 30 minutes then drained
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
1 1/4 cup fresh young coconut water
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons maple syrup or agave
1/2 cup mango, diced, for decorating the top and sides
Fresh mint sprigs, for decorating the top (optional)
For the crust:
1. Place all crust ingredients except mangos in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the coconut oil is evenly distributed and the mixture is beginning to bind together. Scoop crust mixture into a deep 10-inch pie plate. Using a spoon, push the mixture up the sides to form a pie crust, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Chill for 30-60 minutes. Spread diced mangos on bottom of crust just before pouring in the filling.
For the filling:
1. Place all ingredients except mango and mint in a blender (I initially used a food processor, as pictured, but the blender achieves much smoother results) and process until smooth, repeatedly scraping down the sides of the blender. Mixture should be smooth, silky, creamy and thick. Pour into mango-lined chilled crust.
2. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Shortly before serving, decorate the pie with additional diced mango and mint sprigs. Serve cold and eat immediately, as this only keeps well up to 1 day.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Pie
Friday, August 08, 2014
It was such a delightful surprise when I got an e-mail from writer Kristin Donnelly, asking to feature Nothing in the House in Food & Wine's Blogger Spotlight! Our interview-- about pie's duality as both transcendent symbol and humble dish, sources and tips for working with vintage recipes, and essential baking tools--ran last week and can be found here.
Thanks so much to Kristin, Jennifer, and everyone else at Food & Wine--I'm flattered to be included and really enjoyed the opportunity to put down some thoughts on these questions. Another big thanks is in order to my friend Elena of Biscuits & Such, who tipped them off to me (check out her feature here).
Photo by Jess Schreibstein of Witchin' in the Kitchen
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
To complete the second half of this aforementioned blog trade with the Joy of Cooking, Megan Scott, 4th generation baker and writer in the Joy of Cooking family, brings us a lovely post on her evolving relationship to the classic cookbook, thoughts on taking comfort in an ugly pie, and a beautiful recipe for Apricot Kuchen.
Now, from Megan...
The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was the Joy of Cooking.
I don't come from one of those families where the Joy of Cooking is passed down or gifted through the generations. In fact, I don't think I knew much of anything about the book before I bought it. I understood that it was meant to be comprehensive, and at the time, that was enough for me.
My mother is a Southern Living fan. She owns every last one of their yearly cookbooks. My grandmothers don't use cookbooks at all. When they aren't cooking from memory alone, they use recipes written on index cards. The women in my family are incredible cooks, but apart from some basic kitchen training, none of them actually took me aside to teach me how to cook.
I can hardly blame them. They were always, it seems, in the process of getting dinner ready, several children under foot, a phone squeezed between ear and shoulder, and a to-do list a country mile long. When did they have time to teach me?
Many in my generation and in generations before me have similar stories to share. Whether or not you come from a long line of incredible cooks, chances are no one taught you the finer points of getting a meal on the table.
Learning to cook can be a nerve-wracking experience. Although it seems like ages ago, I remember what it was like to not fully understand the concept of sautéing or to stand, bewildered, before a chicken with a ball of string in hand, clumsily attempting to truss it without losing my cool. 100 years ago, a mother might have transmitted these skills directly to her daughter. Today, most of us face the challenges of cookery alone.
In this regard, my copy of Joy was like an experienced and infinitely patient friend who lived in my kitchen. No matter how frazzled or unsure I was, the book was a steadying presence. It is easy to forget those early days now that I can step into my kitchen and prepare a meal on the fly, but I was not always so confident.
The Joy of Cooking saw me through my first roast chicken (which, as I recall, I also managed to stuff and truss without incident), my first batch of apple butter (that, for lack of a food mill, I strained through some unused, but probably not food-safe window screening), and my first pie crust.
Those exploratory years in the kitchen, armed with little more than thin and dented hand-me-down pots and pans, a stove with two working burners, and my trusty cooking bible, were formative. By the time I met John Becker (Irma Rombauer's great-grandson), who would later become my husband, a love of cooking and food had been imprinted on me.
When John and I started working on the Joy of Cooking in earnest, we didn't have an agenda. We knew painfully little about the book even though we had both learned to cook from it. Like a cathedral built over centuries, its various wings built in different styles and by different architects, Joy is a product of different ages, sensibilities, and generations. It took us quite some time, and several hundred recipe tests, to even begin to see patterns. The book is, in a word, vast.
Now that we are more familiar with the book's contents and history, we are able to see the bones underneath and to hazard an ambition or two. We consider ourselves to be stewards more than authors. Our job as we see it is not to re-write, but to revise, updating the out of date, culling the obsolete, adding the new and necessary. Most importantly, we want to translate into a text the sense of empowerment and liberation that comes with learning to cook. We want to enable others to experience the elation we felt after our first successful forays into the kitchen and to allay some of the uncertainty and fear that can cloud a budding cook's enthusiasm.
This is a tall order, and we know it. Which is why we have devoted ample space to pie. Pie is encouragement in food form. Long before I made a pie that was beautiful, I made many ugly, delicious fruit pies. And truly, there is a great deal of solace in an ugly pie. While beautiful pies are a baker's pride, homely pies are like Whitman's barbaric yawp--startling and magnificent and liberating.
And to think--there is an entire genre of pie that fairly exults in homeliness--the rustic fruit dessert. While I am not a scholar on the subject, I imagine the inception of the buckle and the pandowdy, the brown betty and the crisp, to be one of frugality and subsistence. The image of a bonnet-clad pioneer comes to mind. She is drowning in apples or peaches or blackberries but precious little else. Perhaps a bit of flour, some lard, maybe just maybe a little sugar, and no time to spare. This is my own fiction, of course, but I like to think the truth is not far from this.
Possibly my favorite rustic dessert is the buckle. A buckle is a cake with so much fruit in it that the top buckles or sinks slightly. It is a devilishly good concoction, and the sort of thing one makes when inundated with lush summer fruit.
The recipe below, while not called a buckle, is in the same spirit--loads of fruit, a simple cake batter, and a streusel topping. It resides in that delicious no-man's land between cake and pie, making use of the best of both. "Kuchen" is simply the German for "cake," but the designation belies the splendor of this simple dessert--at once pudding-like where cake meets fruit, and crunchy on top thanks to the sugary almond streusel.
Makes one 9-inch round kuchen
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or 9 × 2-inch round cake pan.
Prepare the streusel topping first. Combine in a small bowl:
1/3 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or rice flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Blend these ingredients until crumbly. Add:
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped or sliced almonds
Peel, pit, and slice, then spread evenly in pan:
1 pound ripe apricots (about 3 cups sliced)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of one lemon
Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Beat in one at a time just until blended:
2 large eggs
Stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Scatter the streusel on top. Bake until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake (avoiding the fruit) comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature on a rack.
Words and photos by Megan Scott