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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's time for MONKEYBREAD!!!!

Monkey bread…
A lot of water under the bridge and many many times i have made this dessert. Almost a signature thing for me a desert not to be eaten after a heavy dinner but something to be enjoyed during a brunch or breakfast or just with a hot cup of milk. 

A desert easy to make but takes it's time, a desert for slow food, for people that can wait… 

Patience is not a virtue i hold. I want things and want them now. This in cooking is a big mistake that have payed dearly on many occasions. Especially for something like a monkeybread. 

First came across this recipe from one of my favorite blogs (smittenkitchen). Debs in a small apartment in NYC creates wonders and share them with us. Love her writing, her persistence, incredible person!

There i read about monkeybread for the first time and she was raving about it. And when Debs is raving about something then you better try it soon! She is on to something for sure there.. 

So.. I tried it and was smitten… And not just me. All the people that tried it really got hooked and kept talking about it afterwards. Monkeybread brought people together and even gave a name to a weekend. After that first try i have made it atleast a dozen times and always with success. 

So, apart from the fact that it is a dish that you need to have patience for it inorder to turn out great you also have to keep in mind the timing cause it is at it's best when it comes out of the oven for people to enjoy the most.

Here is what you have to do:

Monkeybread with cream cheese glaze

60 grams unsalted butter, divided (30g melted and 30g soft)
1 cup milk, warm
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 package yeast (dried or fresh)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
2 teaspoons salt
Brown Sugar Coating
1,2 cups packed light brown sugar.Have also tried it with dark and it is fine as well for me but i like the strong taste of dark sugar…
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (we love cinnamon in our house)
150g unsalted butter , mleted
Cream Cheese Glaze
100g cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra if needed
4 tablespoons milk, plus extra if needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
OK! for the dough!
in the mixer with the paddle or hook mix the flour with salt. In a bowl mix the rest of the ingredients (only the 30g of melted butter though as the other 30 go for buttering the pan). 
Slowly incorporate the wet mixture in the mixer with the flour. Bear in mind a few things. When we say that milk and water have to be warm it means that we can stand the heat if we stick our fingers in. The yeast is a living thing and if the liquid is too hot it will kill the bugs that make it work. 
Another point to take into consideration when it comes to bread or this dough in particular is that as the mixer works, the dough gets less and less sticky. So you have to be patient and let it work for a long time till the dough becomes nice and silky.  If the worst comes to the worst and it is still wet after say 10 minutes in the mixer then add a bit of flour but no more than one or two spoonfuls.  
Let the dough rest in a warm place till it doubles in size (say an hour).
Prepare the coating. Melt the butter in a pan and mix the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. 
Put the dough on a floured working surface and spread it out a bit inorder to cut it in 64 pieces (8X8). You can use a knife or scraper for that. It is advisable to separate the little pieces as if you let them there they tend to stick back in with the rest of the dough.
Have your pan ready. Dip pieces of dough in the butter and then dump them in the sugar bowl and roll them in sugar. Do not use a slotted spoon or spatula for that as too much butter sticks to them and apart from the mess you will make you will also spend a lot of butter. Transfer the little dough balls in the pan… When you are finished and the whole kitchen smells of melted butter, dark sugar and cinnamon put the pan in a nice warm place to rise for a second time… 
After that you can leave it in the fridge all night where it will rise a bit more and it will be ready for the oven the next day or pop it in the oven then and there for 30-35 minutes in 180 celcious… Let it cool for 5 minutes and not more before turning it upside down on a platter. Leaving it in the pan for more time will make the caramel that has formed to stiffen and bond with the pan and so you will not be able to remove it afterwards… 
Let it cool for 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze. Soften the cream cheese, add the sugar, milk, and vanilla. As each cream cheese is different do not mix all of the milk at once as it may become too runny. So… you are looking for a glaze that can cover the desert but not run away from the top of it… 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baked Quinces with cream

Want to make a quick, easy and tasty desert with only 3 main ingredients and a few spices? A desert with no measurements and only one dish to wash up?

Take 2 quinces. Cut them in 8 slices. Core them and put them in a pan that goes in the oven. Add some cream to cover half of their height and some brown sugar. Spice the desert with a cinnamon stick, a couple of star anise, scrape the seeds of a vanilla bean, some orange peel. Feel free to omit any of the spices if you do not have them and in general try and see what combination works for you. 

Preheat the oven at 200C. Put the pan in the oven with a lid or some aluminum foil. Bake till the quince is nice and tender (30-45 minutes). Put slices of fruit in a bowl, scoop some of the cream and serve.. Serves 4…

If you want to go over the top sprinkle some dark sugar on the fruit that you have in the bowl and use a blow torch to make the sugar nice and caramelized. 
Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Crème brûlée

Sometimes you read a recipe and it just kicks you in the butt. Or just takes you from the shoulders and shakes you or shouts in your ear: "YOU HAVE TO MAKE ME"!! 
As if this recipe has a life and a mind of it's own, not to mention a will of it's own. 

This happened when i read a recipe for pumpkin creme brullee from Chef Eddy Van Damme. I had to make it and had to make it as soon as possible, possible tha same day.. Do not know what it was that really made this recipe for me to be so special. I mean i love pumpkin and it is pumpkin season and have blanced pieces in the freezer to make soups etc but the creme brulle is not my favorite desert. Too many eggs and cream and a cream custard is just a cream custard when it comes down to it. 

But the addition of the pumpkin and the pumpkin tuile take it all to a new level.. refined, airy and full of different textures and tastes… subtle, silky and yet with a distinct character that cannot go unnoticed.. 

So, let's get down to business…  but before i have to make a comment about the fact that the recipe asks for pumpkin puree. In USA it is easy to find canned puree and it has the right consistency and richness. Here in Greece we have to make our own. What i would suggest is take pumpkin, cut it in half, remove seeds and pulp and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated oven (170 C) for an hour or until tender. Scrape the "meat" and blend in a food processor. Now, in my case and since i had blanced pieces of pumpkin i put them in a pot and simmered in low heat till tender. Blended it and passed through a sieve. Since the puree was still runny i let it thick some more in a pot simmering in low heat for another 20 minutes… 

From now on i will be using the baked method for storing pumpkin in the freezer as it takes a lot less space and has a lot less water in it… 

The recipe of Cheff Eddy makes many many brulee but since i only use small 100ml ramekins i only made one third of the recipe.. With it i make 4 servings..


3 egg yolks (60 gr)
70 g sugar
120g pumpkin puree
220g whipping cream
1,5g cinnamon
0,5g cardamon
0,5g ginger dried
1g salt
2g orange zest

Beat the eggs and sugar. Do not overbeat cause it makes a frothy layer on the brulee and it is not nice. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Put the mixture in the ramekins. Put the ramekins in a pan with high sides. Preheat the oven at 160C. Put the pan with the ramekins in the oven and add water in the pan to come up to 2/3 of the sides of the ramekin. Bake until the center is not wobbly. In my case it took 20-25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. 30 minutes before serving take it out of the fridge and at the last minute you put some granulated sugar on top and caramelize it with a blow torch. 

Serve with a puking tuile… recipe for that follows

100g glucose
120g pumpkin puree
15g flour
150g powdered sugar
75g melted butter

Melt glucose in a saucepan but not boil. Add the puree and shift in the flour with the sugar. Finally incorporate the butter and add some spices like cinnamon, ginger etc. Spread the mixture as thin as possible on a baking sheet. Bake at 190C until edges start turning light brown. DO NOT overbake. Also it is a miracle watching the dough fluff up and then collapse and tiny holes start forming as sugar caramelizes… BEAUTY! Store in an airtight container but make only as many as you need. The rest of the batter can be frozen for later use… 

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Apricot soufflé and some creme anglaise to join it..

First let's talk a bit about magic… What is it that makes a souffle expand and makes the people who eat it go: Ahhhhh as it get's to the table? Look no further than the magic of air.. 

So what is a good souffle? well, a good one is in many ways a lesser one. Ofcourse taste and aroma are important but the structure and form and texture are even more important. And the presence of air trapped in the egg whites is even more valuable. So, in many ways, the best souffle is the one that has the most air in it or in other words the less souffle makes me most souffle :-) 

Been playing around with them in the past and apart from the obvious chocolate ones that you can find everywhere the rest are not as well known.. So… will talk about a favorite souffle that lately i have been baking again and again for us and guests. 

To get to the magic… A few things that need to be told before we start. Eggs are made up from the yolks and whites. Whites are all protein while yolks have some protein but a lot of fat too. Have to keep that in mind. Also when we make a souffle we make a meringue which is to beat the egg whites and by that trap air in the egg whites into tiny little bubbles. So the protein in the egg whites forms the bubbles, the structure for the souffle. Fat on the other hand keeps those bubbles break or not forming and air escaping from them so make sure that there is no trace of yolk in your whites when separating your eggs. 

Then the heat plays a great role. Heat actually does two things. First of all heat makes air expand and those millions and millions tiny bubbles of air take more space and that is what makes the souffle pop and double in size but also another thing that it does is to coagulate the egg white proteins (change their molecular shape in space) and make them sturdy and strong. There are other ways to coagulate proteins apart from heating. You can use and acid like lemon juice etc but that is for another recipy down the road. 

What this coagulation does though is to stiff the structure of the souffle and so when the heat is not there anymore, the souffle more or less keeps it's shape. Also another great thing about that is that you can have the souffle ready from a previous day, already baked and the day of the dinner just to pop it in the oven to heat up and expand making your guests wonder about your culinary skills. 

A few more things… Souffle because it can be done with some fruit juice, a bit of sugar and egg whites is a desert with few calories and high in protein. On the other hand my version here with the creme anglaise and all takes the fat and puts it back in the desert but oh well! Tastes a lot better, in my mind atlas.

Fills 12, 100 ml ramekins. 
180 gr dried apricots (about 1 ½ cups), quartered. Use the California ones you get in the silver bag unless you can get really good Kaisia.
1 ½ cups water
¾ cup sugar plus additional for coating ramekins
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dark rum if desired
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg whites
Crème Anglaise:
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
half a teaspoon of vanilla extract 5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum, or to taste

In a saucepan simmer the apricots, sugar (1/2 cup) and water. Keep the pan with the lid on. Do that for 20 minutes or until apricots are soft. Transfer the mixture (keeping some juice on the side) in a food processor and process until it is a smooth puree. Add some or all of the reserved juice if the puree seems too thick. Get a chinois or a tapis or a sieve and pass the puree from there to become more velvety and smooth. (structure is the essence we said). To the strained puree add the lemon juice, vanilla, rum and a little bit of salt to exalt the aromas. Let it cool into room temperature and you can keep in the fridge for a few days. At the day of use let it out of the fridge till it gets warm again. 

Butter the 12 ramekins and sprinkle with sugar to coat. Turn the oven on at 180 celcious.  

In a very CLEAN bowl (important as if it has traces of fat or oil it will ruin the meringue) beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt. Salt helps with coagulation. Also the point of the meringue is to have millions and millions of tiny air bubbles and not less but bigger ones. We have said that  the structure is important and a better structure is easier to maintain if the protein bubbles are more and smaller than if they are less and bigger. The way to do that is to beat the whites slowly and steadily and not just zap them in the mixer at top speed.

Meringue is ready when it forms soft peaks and has lost it's shine. Do not overbeat it and let it form firm peaks as this may result in problems when incorporating the puree. Slowly mix the remaining 1/4 cups  sugar in that mixture. Add about a third of the meringue in the puree mixture and slowly incorporate it. The amount of bubbles is important so take care not to beat in the whites but rather massage them slowly in the puree. Then add the remaining two thirds of egg whites one third at a time… make sure that the mixture is all one and devide it in the ramekins. 

You have two choices here. One is to do this some hours before the dinner and let the uncooked mixture stay in the ramekins in room temperature and it will be just fine or bake it then and there and let it coo, store it in the fridge for up to 4 days and just before dinner reheat it in order to serve it just when your guests have finished the main course.. 

Now.. If you want to take it all a step further then make the creme Anglaise. 
That cream is quite important as it is the base for many things. From sauces to icecreams so it is good to know how it is made. What it is, is a mixture of eff yolks, sugar and cream or cream and milk.  Egg yolks as we've said contain some protein and a lot of fat. Also there is far in the cream so cream Anglaise is by no means something to be eaten while you are on a diet. On the other hand a little taste never hurt anybody so here we go…

In a saucepan heat the milk and cream till it boils. Remove from heat. 
In a bowl beat the eggs with sugar till it is nice and frothy… Very slowly start adding the cream in the egg mixture. VERY SLOWLY. That will allow the eggs and cream to mix without the eggs being cooked from the high temperature of the cream but will slowly rise the temperature of the egg mixture. When one third of the cream is in the eggs empty all that back in the saucepan and put it back on the fire.. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon till the cream thickens and covers the back of the spoon. DO NOT let it boil otherwise you will get an omelet and not a creme… 

When it is ready pass it through a sieve, add the vanilla extract and the rum.. Let it cool and put it in the fridge to cool. Add a few spoonfuls of the cold creme to the hot souffle as it comes out f the oven… 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Frozen cookies.. an idea...

When i was a kid and  watched these American tv shows with the great families that all lived together in harmony and mothers or grandmothers baking cookies for the children to have together with a cup of milk when ever they got back from school, i was wondering how on earth they made it. I mean, how did they have the time to bake and make cookies from scratch almost daily.. I remember thinking that one day it would happen here as well… The smell of cookies fresh from the over warming your hands and mouth after returning home from a rainy and bleak day at school… 

A few months ago though from something i read i finally realized that those mothers and grandmothers do not bother to make dough and bake cookies every day! NO, far from it… what they would do would be to get the frozen dough from the freezer that is formed into a roll and cut a few slices that they would then bake in the over right from the freezer! 

What a great idea i thought! easy to do, home made cookies that you make once, then freeze and then use fresh… 

Since then i tried a few recipes that turned out just great but a bit too much for the greek palate. All this butter and chocolate chips and candy bars etc… The butter obviously helps the cookies being cut more easily right out of the freezer but still wanted to see if i could have the same result with a typical greek cookie. 

And what more typical cookie here than the "ladokoulouro".. A cookie with no butter, no eggs, so it is great for the fasting periods but also very tasty with cinnamon and orange zest and in the background the warming taste of olive oil.. Love making it but always found that after a week it has lost it's freshness… So, i wonder how it would be if i froze the dough and bake the cookies in batches. Would it be ok in the freezer for a week or two? Did some experiments and found out that it pretty much can. Ofcourse since it has no butter so it freezes more solidly that the butter cookies it is not so easy to slice with a knife but a few hours out of the freezer will take care of that and cookies will come out smelling like heaven… 

One thing to keep in mind with this recipe is that the most important here is the olive oil. And i am talking about taste here. You need a fruity and nice oil with character, not a blunt one. 

2 cups of olive oil 
1 cup of fresh orange juice and the zest of two of the oranges ποτηρια ζαχαρη
1 espresso cup of cognac 
2 cups of sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinammon 
sesame seeds for garnish
General purpose flour (about 1,2 kilos) 

In the mixer bowl add the oil and sugar and beat till it is nice and frothy. 

Add the soda and baking powder in the orange juice, stir and add the mixture that will bubble and expand in the mixer bowl. Add the orange zest, cinnamon and cognac. Slowly stir in the flour and make a soft dough that can be made into cookies. 

Separate the dough in three pieces. Put the two into bags and keep in the freezer. The one that remains make it into cookies, cover with sesame and bake in 180 celcious for about 20-25 minutes till the cookies are nice and brown…