Monday, May 25, 2015

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

It was a thrill and such an honor to be among the 265 contributors to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets-- a new resource compendium from Oxford University Press. Many of those involved are among my food writer heroines, not to mention Darra Goldstein (!) the founding editor of Gastronomica and a personal role model in how she's been successful in two seemingly disparate (but certainly connected) fields-- academia and food + cookbook writing.

While "pie" was already taken, I was assigned Oreos, Nutella, and cotton candy-- fun topics to research and write about. Perhaps the most interesting factoid I discovered is that Nutella was not necessarily invented for the kismet that is the chocolate-hazelnut combination, but out of reasons of economy-- a thriftiness dating back to the Napoleonic Wars when Napoleon issued Continental Blockade. That caused the price of chocolate to skyrocket, so Italian chocolatiers began pairing it with chopped hazelnuts, which were abundant in the area, to stretch the supply. A similar rationing occurred during WWII, when Pietro Ferrero turned to the combination. Originally called pasta gianduja after the classic Piedmontese carnival character, it was renamed Nutella in 1964.

Nutella jar

As for Oreos, the mystery involving the name is of note-- Nabisco invented it, but even the company itself does not cite a definitive story. Some sources speculate it derives from the French word for gold, or-- plausible, as the cookie's name was printed in gold lettering on the original package. Others, somewhat less convincingly postulate Oreo comes from the Greek oros, meaning mountain, claiming that the original cookies were mound-shaped. Whatever the history, I will say it was fun to do some "research" in the grocery store cookie aisle, scouting new Oreo varieties-- Birthday Cake, Banana Split Crème, and the Limited Edition Ice Cream Rainbow Shure Bert! among them.

Cotton candy was somewhat new territory for me, as I wasn't allowed to have the stuff when I was a kid, so have no real reference point or nostalgic leanings for it. Nonetheless, it has a fascinating history dating back to the 16th century, when its precursor, spun sugar, was used as adornment for sweet meats as well as sculptural desserts. Ironically (or maybe not so, as overconsumption of any confection would surely bring in the patients), cotton candy as we know it today was invented by two dentists, one in Nashville, and another in New Orleans.

Cotton Candy Entry in Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

As a whole Sugar and Sweets is a magnificent tome, filling 900 pages of detailed reference material on all things sweet, from sugar addiction to Iranian zalabiya, sweetness from the perspective of animals (turns out cats sadly don't experience the taste of sweet), music, religion, and sexual innuendo, Kara Walker to Lemonheads. It's an indispensable resource for any baker, food writer, historian, or just someone with a sweet tooth. It's certainly going to be my first reference stop when investigating any baked goods from here on out.

Related recipes:
Grasshopper Pie
Nutella Icebox Pie
Speculoos Icebox Pie

Monday, May 18, 2015

Apricot Galette with Cornmeal Crust

Apricot Galette with Cornmeal Crust, Art in the Age cocktails & peonies

I've spent five springs of the last seven living off the grid in the New England woods. It's still cold there in May and early June; the spring and its flowers and fruits are slow to arrive. But part of the joy of being up there is seeing the season come in slowly-- on early hikes there are green buds, fiddleheads, rare appearances of spring ephemerals. Then the trillium comes in, jack in the pulpit, then ladyslipper, and by mid-June, the peepers have become frogs, the ferns have unfurled, and the beech trees have all leafed out. I've missed that, and living in a season that's unplugged from "technology," yet so clued in to the natural world, other people, text and the senses.

Apricot Galette with Cornmeal Crust and Pistachios

But it's also been nice to experience spring a different way, elsewhere. In Kentucky a few weekends ago, I was amazed by how green everything was, and this past weekend in Durham, the smells of the honeysuckle and peonies were overwhelming. The seasonal foods of southern climes feel new again too-- I've gotten to enjoy ramp season and red buds and early glow strawberries-- and that's been a delight. 

Apricot Galette Slice, Side View

On a rare weekend when I was home in D.C., Morgan came over for backyard cocktails and baked goods. Though not quite local yet, I'd received some Blenheim apricots in my farm box, and Morgan had a selection of spirits from Art in the Age. With both, we opted for simplicity-- to let the flavors of the fruits and herbal liquors shine. Galettes are perfect for this in the baked goods department, and this one has few ingredients and a basic crust with a touch of cornmeal, adding a little grit and whole grain that's complimented by the pistachio pieces sprinkled on top. I kept the sugar to a minimum here-- the apricot filling still had a tartness to it, but feel free to adjust to your own taste.

Apricot Galette with Cornmeal Crust, overhead

Apricot Galette with Cornmeal Crust
Inspired by Apt. 2B Baking

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal (I used this Whole Grain Kentucky Heirloom Cornmeal)
1/2 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 sticks COLD unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), cut into slices
1 large beaten egg, cold
1/4 cup ice-cold water
1/2 Tablespoon cold apple cider vinegar (I keep mine in the fridge)

For the filling:
About 8 (3 cups) fresh apricots, pitted and quartered
3-4 Tablespoons granulated sugar (depending on sweetness of the fruit)
1 teaspoon cardamom bitters (or your favorite bitters)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 large beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar, for egg wash
2 Tablespoons finely chopped pistachios, for topping (optional)

1. For the crust: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork and knife, cut in the butter. You want to make sure butter chunks remain, as that's what makes the crust flaky.

2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the COLD liquid ingredients (Using cold liquids ensures that your butter will not melt--another crucial detail for a flaky crust).

3. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour-butter mixture and combine using a wooden spoon. Mix until dough comes together, but is not overly mixed (it should be a little shaggy). Form into a ball, cut in half, and flatten each half into a disc. Wrap discs tightly with plastic wrap, and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. 

4. While crust is filling, prepare filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine apricot quarters, sugar, bitters, and lemon juice. Remove one dough disc and leave other in fridge or freezer for another use. Roll out one crust disc on a piece of parchment and transfer rolled crust and parchment to a large baking sheet. 

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Ladle apricot filling onto rolled crust, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of Turbinado sugar over the apricots, then fold up the pastry over the edges of the filling, leaving most of the apricots uncovered. 

6. Place galette in freezer for 20-30 minutes while the oven preheats. Once chilled, remove galette from fridge and brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with the remaining 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Bake tart in the middle rack of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and pastry is golden brown. Let the tart cool completely, then sprinkle with pistachio crumbles, if desired. Serve just warm or at room temperature.

Apricot Galette Slice

For simple Art in the Age cocktail recipes, with Root and Snap + more photos, visit Panda Head Blog. Thank you to Whole Foods P Street for the flowers and ingredients.

Related recipes:
Apricot Kuchen
Gooseberry-Apricot Pie
Italian Plum & Port Crostata
White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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