zucchini with mint and lemon on biscuits

I’ve been feeling a bit like: go away biscuits!  They keep on showing up where they are not exactly necessary…and they’re still not very good! These biscuits may have turned out quite a bit better, but are still not there.

Luckily there are vegetables and yoghurt to pick up the slack. While I’ve only bemoaned the excess of Swiss chard and beets thus far, the zucchini is also prolific. Thus, in the latest biscuit pairing, we have zucchini, mint, yoghurt, feta, and preserved lemon.

The preserved lemon (prepared using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem) is so intensely lemony. Even while sour and oily and salty, it remains biting and refreshing. Here is the secret I discovered: you can pile on the zucchini so long as you have enough of the lemon, tempered with yoghurt, to provide flavour.

I was inspired by the cover of the smitten kitchen cookbook and her tomato shortcakes. These, on the other hand, have an unfortunate hamburger-like look to them. I think it has to do with the layered slices of zucchini as opposed to a choppy sort of pile of tomatoes. And maybe these stout and bread-y biscuits too…zucchini with mint and lemon on biscuits

chive biscuits

Adapted from the New York Times. Makes around 8 biscuits. 

120 g ap flour

100 g spelt flour

2 scant tbsp baking powder

1 scant tsp salt

5 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 bunch chives, finely minced

1 small knob of hard flavourful cheese (parmesan, pecorino, etc)

200 mL milk

Whisk together the flours, salt and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour. Finely grate the cheese with a microplane zester over the flour, then mix in the cheese and chives with a fork. Add the milk, and mix until it forms a dough. Knead a couple times, then place in a covered bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F while the dough chills.

Remove the dough, place on a floured surface, and gently press out until it is 3/4 – 1″ thick. Cut out biscuits with a glass or metal ring, place on a parchment lined sheet tray. Form additional biscuits out of the scraps.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and browned.

 

assembly

a bit of yellow & green zucchini

thick yoghurt

preserved lemon (made using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem)

parsley

mint

feta

Slice the zucchini into rounds 3 mm thick with a mandolin or a sharp knife.

Mix together the yoghurt with chopped parsley, mint and chopped preserved lemon and season with salt and pepper.

To assemble, split a biscuit, spread with yoghurt, then zucchini slices. Add more yoghurt, some additional herbs and chopped preserved lettuce, and finally crumble some feta on top.

pumpkin babka

The “perilous whiteness of pumpkins” seems to be on everyone’s mind right now. Yep, like this one and this one and this one. The title is awfully catchy. Perhaps a bit too catchy as it has certainly received a great deal of attention.

However, as someone who loves a catchy title, I also took a go at reading the paper itself. Contrary to the impression I originally picked up from some articles about the paper, the paper is even-toned and far from accusatory. It is, after all, academic writing; it’s not that intent or purpose are at all neutral, but that the writing–at least once you move past that title–remains free of passion, vitriol and superfluous adjectives. I found their integration of disparate pumpkin-related phenomena into something arguably cohesive quite interesting. They describe the role pumpkins play as a symbol rather than a food. (How often, when you think of pumpkins, do you think of a fruitnot an ingredient solely destined for holiday-themed baking, jack-a-lanterns, pumpkin spice lattes (henceforth to be abbreviated as a catchy PSL–because academics love their acronyms. i know, practical reasons.), and so forth…?) As with many symbols, there are associations of class and privilege and race, and that is where the crux of the paper lies.

I don’t think Powell and Engelhardt are writing this to call for an end to PSLs or to decorative gourds. Because I do so very much agree–doing that will not erase privilege and disadvantage. Not in the slightest. Essentially, the symbolism surrounding pumpkins is just one more manifestation of underlying disparities.

There perhaps lies an issue that can be taken with this paper–sure, pumpkins are unique, yes, but are not unique in carrying connotations of upper class and whiteness and privilege. In this regard, a paper could perhaps be cobbled together for just about anything.

However, I think their purpose it is not to vilify the symbolism of pumpkins as the root of all that is wrong in the world–it’s to draw attention to that symbolism. The authors argue that it’s a matter of realizing how much certain hierarchies permeate our lives, what images we strive for, and just how that speaks in terms of social structure and power. It’s an interesting point–though also maybe not immediately translational into enacting change.

So in conclusion: there is much else in the world; it’s just simply that Powell and Engelhardt took the time to write about pumpkins.

Accumulation of critical, relational, and contextual analyses, including things seemingly as innocuous as pumpkins, points the way to a food studies of humanities and geography, that helps make visible the racial, gendered, classed, and placed politics of contemporary life in the United States.

The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins

Anyways, succumbing to Thanksgiving-type fervor, here is a pumpkin spice babka…

I think I like the marscapone filling better–it has a bit more substance and richness, and kept the babka moist as well. The pumpkin gave the dough a gorgeous saffron tone. Next time I would not add in any additional milk or liquid, but instead rely solely upon the liquid in the pumpkin puree. The pumpkin is clearly there, though mostly by virtue of spice-mediated reinforcement.

The bread was also mildly soft and fluffy once baked! Ah, I feel like I am gradually getting the hang of making sort-of soft and fluffy sourdoughs–the key being a pleasantly lively and bubbly sourdough starter.pumpkin babka

Makes two loaves. Vaguely adapted (vaguely) from my previous babka adaptation. Mostly just freehanded, which meant I just kept on adding more flour…

sponge

100 g Kamut

100 g water

50 g sourdough starter

dough

500 g a.p. flour

7 g salt

7 g wheat gluten

45 g sugar

2 eggs

300 g pumpkin puree

35 g milk

50 g butter

marscapone filling

180 g marscapone

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch cloves, black pepper, salt

3 tbsp sugar

spice filling

softened butter

3 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch cloves, black pepper, salt

The night before mix together the sponge and allow to ferment on the counter overnight.

The next day, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and wheat gluten. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs, pumpkin puree, milk and sponge. Mix together with a wooden spoon, switching to hands when necessary, to form a cohesive dough. Add more flour if needed, but it should be fairly soft and a little bit sticky. Beat in the butter. Cover a let rise completely, 6-8 hours.

Line two loaf pans with a parchment paper sling, and butter any exposed surfaces.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out into a squarish rectangle. Spread with the marsacpone mixture, leaving a border of a few centimetres along one of the longer edges. Roll up widthwise and press to seal. Cut the roll in half lengthwise, place the two halves face up next to each other and twist together, keeping the filling sides facing up. (This is a bit confusing, but I have some process pictures here of another babka rolled in the same style.) Drop into a loaf pan.

Repeat with the remaining dough half, this time spreading with butter and sprinkling with the spiced sugar mixture. I did not use all of the sugar.

Cover the loafs and let rise around 1.5-2 hours or until well puffed.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush the loafs with some beaten egg.

Bake for 30-40 min or until nicely browned. The marscapone one takes longer due to the moisture of the filling; by 30-40 minutes it was cooked through, but the butter and spice-filled babka was a bit dry.

zucchini, caraway and lavender cake

The Cousin and I have looked back at one of our old stories–we had written it years ago, a sprawling epic about twin girls who attend a new school. It was ridiculous and illogical, but so much fun to read. I had a less embarrassing time, as The Cousin has done the most growing up since (this story memorializes even the development of her skill of paragraphing–we go from page-long solid chunks to lovely digestible little bites of dialogue).

Both of our sections revealed the very minimal planning that went into all parts of this story. We noticed how The Cousin cheerfully threw my character (named “Muffy”) under the bus: whenever The Cousin was writing, Muffy was either having a tantrum or being otherwise very annoying. My subsequent section was damage-control, forming some sort of half-hearted justification for poor Muffy’s outbursts. I often wrote some desperate segues into eventually discarded and unpursued plot avenues–oh look, a trophy has been stolen! Oh well, let’s forget about it and let it fade into the background.

But after literally years spent on that story, I was surprised by how much fondness I had for the characters in their strange, half-formed, often self-contradictory personalities. They had been subject of enough thought and discussion to develop a palpable (and contrary) substance of their own.

The Cousin is an even more avid writer these days (while I don’t do anything but essays and this dribbly blog), and her solo efforts speak to the leaps and bounds that her passion for writing has brought her. Characterization, humour, well-written dialogue, and even premeditated plot lines star in her writing. I feel quite chuffed when I think about our old story perhaps playing a foundational role, even if only a cautionary tale of poor planning, in these developments.

I put this cake together during the Cousin’s last visit–it was plenty of good fun that only comes with enthusiastic kitchen company. The sort of fun where you make last minute flavour decisions and just keep adorning the cake.

The cake is moist and very soft, and works well with a heavy-structured icing such as this marscapone. But does a cake this heavy make sense as a layer cake? Not really–I would prefer it as a single layer, maybe a loaf (the original recipe that I based the cake off is, after all, a zucchini loaf), with one thick swipe of icing over the top. However it makes a great celebration of a slightly overwhelming zucchini harvest–because I’ll admit, nothing says celebration better than a layer cake. zucchini, caraway, and lavender layer cake

zucchini, walnut, and caraway cake

Adapted from smitten kitchen‘s zucchini bread

1 medium yellow zucchini

1 medium green zucchini

200 g oil (1/3 olive oil, and 2/3 vegetable oil)

110 g brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

zest of ½ orange

375 g flour

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp caraway seeds, ground

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

1 generous tsp kosher salt

75 g walnuts

1/3 c thick yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter three 6″ cake rings and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Grate the zucchinis, wrap in a dish towel, and thoroughly wring out the liquid. Set aside. Whisk together the oils, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest.

Whisk together the flour, nutmeg, caraway, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Put the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, along with a spoonful of the flour mixture, until finely ground.

Stir the zucchini into the egg mixture, then the flour, and finally the yoghurt.

Divide equally among the prepared pans. Bake for around 30-40 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack.

 

lavender cream

100 g cream cheese

100 g marscapone

25 g sugar

~1 tsp dried lavender flowers

100 g heavy cream

Cream the cream cheese and marscapone together until lightened. Crumble the lavender into the sugar and then mix into the cheeses. Whip the cream until it is thick and fold into the cheese.

 

assembly

Slice the top off of two layers of cake. Place one layer on a plate, spread with the cream. The cream is quite thick and the cake quite soft and crumbly, so spread carefully until the surface is just covered to avoid a crumbly mess. Repeat with a second layer. Place the final layer on top and generously spread with the remaining cream. As the top isn’t trimmed off the final layer, the cream will be much easier to spread and will not result in crumbs. Arrange: crabapples, edible flowers, and sprigs of lavender.

jasmine pearl poached peach tarts

Fascinatingly, or at least to me, I seem to have reached my 100th post. It only took me two years… (quite frankly, I originally meant that statement a bit ironically, but a bit less so now that I’ve thought about it).

It seems a bit tough to have too much tea, but my grandparents are slowly being consumed by their tea cupboard. Small containers, jars and small and brightly labelled foil sachets are stacked in a gleeful jumble. We have quite a bit of tea as well…the thing is, when grandparents have something, and not even necessarily an abundant quantity of something, they always want to give it away.

Tea is a constancy in their apartment. There is always a pot of tea, occasionally still lukewarm, most often settled to a pleasant room temperature. Made with only a few pinches of leaves, it’s not weak, but gentle–the sort you drink instead of water, and the sort of tea that tastes very far from lacking. Sometimes it is a green tea, an oolong, or even a few dried pieces of burdock root. My favourite is typically the tightly furled and fragrant jasmine pearl tea. The tarts are based off the whole (half) peach tarts that I’ve seen here and there. The jasmine tea pastry cream is one of my favourites. The milk keeps everything gentle and free from too much bitterness. However, my pastry cream was quite loose and requires a chill in the fridge to allow it to firm up before the tart is eaten. Texturally, the main issue was the pastry, which was thick and quite hard–I’ve made some suggestions as to how that could be remedied in the notes. jasmine pear poached peach tarts

I’ve seen a whole-poached peach tart a couple places. This peach tart inspiration from she who eats (this whole post is a glorious inspiration-laden ode to fruit tarts), infinite belly (a blog with the trifecta that is beautiful food, beautiful photography and beautiful words) and a bit from Richard Bertinet’s Pastry. Here is another favourite whole peach tart from Domestic Gothess. 

almond and whole wheat pastry

The pastry, with the ground almonds, wasn’t very strong and I wasn’t about to roll it out and then line the rings, rather I had to press it in. This resulted in a thicker, harder pastry. I would take out the almond and put in some additional flour instead so that the pastry could be rolled out thinly. In this case you may also be able to line 6 rings (or more!) instead of just five.  

50 g butter

20 g ground almond

100 g whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

35 g beaten egg

Cream the butter with the flour, almond, salt and sugar. Mix in the egg to form a cohesive pastry. Chill.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and use to line 5 3″ tart rings. The pastry will likely need to be pieced together due to poor structural integrity. Chill the tart shells while you preheat the oven to 375F.

Blind bake the shells for 20 minutes, remove the baking weights, and bake another 8 minutes.

 

jasmine pearl pastry cream

It’s a very subtle and comforting tasting pastry cream. The bit of salt is quite nice. Makes a generous amount of pastry cream, enough to fill perhaps 7 or 8 tarts. 

300 mL milk

8 jasmine pearls

60 mL heavy cream

27 g cornstarch

2 eggs + 15 g egg leftover from pastry

20 g sugar

scant 1/4 tsp salt

pat of butter

an additional ~150 mL heavy cream, whipped

Warm the milk in a saucepan until scalded. Add the jasmine pearls, cover, and set aside to steep for around half an hour. Strain out the tea and whisk in the heavy cream.

Whisk together the sugar, salt and cornstarch, then gradually whisk in the eggs, a bit of egg at a time.

Bring the steeped milk to a boil and add to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper. Return to the saucepan and continue to cook gently, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream is thickened. Mix in the pat of butter until melted and then transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill completely.

When about ready to be used, work the pastry cream with a rubber spatula until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream.

 

poached peaches

3 peaches

water

1/3 c granulated sugar

1/4 c dried jasmine flowers

2 cm length of vanilla bean

Fill a saucepan with enough water to just cover three peaches. Add the sugar, jasmine flowers and length of vanilla bean (pod split and seeds scraped). Heat until it comes to a simmer, add the peaches and set over low heat such that the liquid barely simmers if at all.

Let peaches poach until you think they might be tender through. It happens faster than you think–I think I did it around 15 minutes.

Remove, let cool until you can handle them. Split in half and peel and let cool completely.

 

To assemble

Fill the tart shells with pastry cream up to a bit below the rim of the pastry. Take a peeled peach half and set it on top, tucking the peach into the tart shell. Stick a small sprig of thyme or sage flowers into the peach. Chill for a couple hours to allow the pastry cream to firm up. Just before serving, if the peaches look as though they’ve dried out a bit, brush them with some poaching liquid.

swiss chard and rye poğaça

While gardening mostly seems to be suffering from lack of success, it is occasionally a  problem when you only do what you’re actually good at. (Relatively speaking, that is.) For us it is growing potatoes, beets and Swiss chard. And so the bounty of Swiss chard never ends.

There have been a couple new things though. This spring my grandparents’ asparagus actually resulted in a few skinny and flavourful stalks. They looked very alien: the little antennae peek above the surface with no warning. Not like radishes or beets that let you know there is a bulb hiding below the leaves, and not like a leafy green that happily reveal their whole growth and development, from first leaves to buttery heads, above the surface. For asparagus, there is no hint of the  vasculature supposedly buried and just napping beneath the soil. The first sign is the asparagus stalk itself, initially a bit shy, but then content to grow upwards, willy nilly.

The few stalks were snipped off and eaten right away. Cool, a bit sweet and crisp. Unsubstantial, but who knows what will appear without warning next year…Until then I’m more concerned with how to use up the Swiss chard we’ve been growing.

I saw these Turkish pastries on Linda’s perpetually inspirational blog, La Petite Panière–and a perfect opportunity to stuff some of this never ending Swiss chard bounty into a pastry.

The dough was different than I was used to and initially a bit strange to work with, but it baked up wonderfully. Mine had less gluten, probably due to the dark rye flour, which meant that the pastry cracked during baking and didn’t have the same smooth finish as did Linda’s. But it was biscuity, tender and crisp, and the baking powder ensured that it became light and aerated.

Due to the moisture of the filling, I could have baked it for a bit longer as the pastry right under the filling needed a bit more time–say 50-60 minutes instead of the 40 minutes I baked them for.Suprisingly, despite all the Swiss chard, I really liked the filling. While a nice pastry filling, I would happily eat right away without baking it into the pastries. The labneh and parsley ensure that it tastes sharp, cool and refreshing.swiss chard poğaça

Adapted from La Petite Panière, original recipe from @turkishrecipes on Instagram. Makes 12. 

dough

300 g a.p. flour

150 g rye flour

1 tsp salt

generous amount ground black pepper

7 g baking powder

50 g sourdough starter (just for fun)

100 g neutral oil

100 g melted butter

125 mL 10% m.f. yoghurt

filling

1 generous bagful of Swiss chard

60 g feta

100 g labneh (or other thick cultured milk prod–marscapone, creme fraiche etc)

1 generous handful of parsley

salt

black pepper

assembly

egg

roasted sesame seeds

nigella seeds

Whisk together dry dough ingredients. Form a well in the centre, add the yoghurt, butter, oil and sourdough starter. Mix until smooth and completely combined. The dough will not be sticky. Cover and let rest while you prepare the filling.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the swiss chard until the stems are just tender, then remove and chill immediately in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the excess liquid and chop finely. Squeeze out the excess liquid once more.

Finely chop the parsley leaves and stems.

Break up the feta with a fork. Mix in the labneh, then the Swiss chard and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each one out into a rough circle, the edges thinner than the middle. Don’t roll it out too thin as there is little gluten development holding the dough together. Put a dollop of filling (approximately a few tbsp) on top, fold over the edges carefully. Turn over the little packet such that the seam is on the bottom. Gently pinch the edges to form a lemon shape. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Brush the shapes with a bit of beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds and nigella.

Bake for around 40 minutes or until the pastries are nicely golden. May need longer to ensure all the pastry is cooked.

plum and amaranth cake

unbaked plum cakebaked plum cakeIt is rare for something to just actually not taste good at all. Things may be a bit burnt, a bit too sweet or not sweet enough. Textures may be off, a bit too dry or wet or starchy. Flavours may work better apart then they do together.

This was one of those disasters that are just irrefutably disastrous: this cake did not taste good. It was musty, and in fact, nigh mouldy tasting.

I suspect the amaranth flour.

The other possible culprit is the perilla seeds–but I was fairly sure it was not them. They have a pleasant, toasty tea sort of taste, so far from what the cake actually tasted like.

Our more convincing suspect, amaranth flour, is rather new to me. I recently acquired some and decided to give it a try. The smell of the flour didn’t impress: it was quite moist and strange. That being said, I normally don’t expect flour to smell that delicious, so I set those concerns aside and went ahead to use 50% amaranth flour…which, if I wanted to taste it, I figured was a good place to start.

Hmm. Well, I certainly tasted it.

So after trying the cake, I turned to everyone’s dear old friend in times of trouble, Google, master of The Interwebs. Likely succumbing to phenomenon of confirmation bias, I directed my search to carefully look only for sources which confirmed what I had experienced: maybe amaranth doesn’t taste so good.

I found an interesting blog post from someone who had a similar experience. The flour smelled quite musty, and an unfortunate flavour lingered in baked goods. She also did her reading: 15% amaranth content in bread was as high as this paper recommended without taste deficits. I quite admire her idea to turn to the literature (one must use that institutional subscription for something, no?).

Poking around myself though, I found that amaranth could be used quite effectively at 25% in cookies, providing a golden brown colour, crisper texture and slightly superior flavour ratings–described as “malty and sweet”.

Oh my. So what is the consensus?

It seems that amaranths pleasantly earthy character comes out best in lower doses. Though depending on the source, the dosage varies. I’ll be sure to apprehensively give amaranth another try. I did notice the cake had a very tender and soft crumb, credit which probably goes to the amaranth flour.

plum, amaranth and perilla seed cake

Adapted from the 1:1:1:1 ratio of a Victoria sponge cake. 

100 g butter

60 g brown sugar

2 eggs

50 g amaranth flour

50 g all purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

pinch baking soda

10 g roasted and ground perilla seed

45 g milk

6 small plums, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8″ square pan and line with a parchment sling.

Cream the butter with the sugar, and then beat in the eggs one at a time. Separately, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda and perilla seeds. Mix the flour into the butter, and then beat in the milk. Spread into the prepared pan and top with the plum halves.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer removes only with a few crumbs clinging.

rosemary tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Sorry that my posting has been mildly vigorous and my time visiting around the blogosphere has been terribly minimal. The reason is, of course, busyness and general feeling-terribly-distractedness. This, while I’ve also been doing a fair amount of posting in order to try to finish up my queue of summer posts before winter sets in. Though I expect I can wait until the next summer.

This is one of my favourite posts.

I find that rosemary/tarragon = a very good combination. (Potential shipping names include roseagon and tarramary.) While the liquorice taste of the tarragon brightens, rosemary deepens, and the whole thing is very soft and not too assertive when infused into awful quantities of heavy cream.

These are quite rich. In the future I would use a higher proportion of milk–a bit of cream can go a long ways. Luckily, the roasted plums provide sorely needed acidity.

I didn’t end up with a nice smooth surface on the set panna cotta–there were spots of condensation that dripped down from a tent of plastic wrap, and a skin that formed and split (any advice on how to reduce these issues?). If these were being unmoulded it wouldn’t matter, however the tea cup presentation posed some issues. At least it could be covered up with those plums. Versatile plums!rosemary tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Makes 4 generous and rich servings. Panna cotta recipe slightly adapted from epicurious. To account for the intensity of the herbs, I used a few more sprigs tarragon than rosemary. You can give it a try after infusing and then if one herb needs to be boosted a bit more than the other, remove one set of sprigs and infuse for additional time with the other.

panna cotta

1 c heavy cream

1/2 c milk

1 sprig rosemary

3 sprigs tarragon

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin (1/2 packet)

2 tbsp cold water

5 tsp sugar

roasted plums

small plums

olive oil

honey

Warm up the milk and cream in a saucepan until steaming. Add the herbs, cover and let steep 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and allow to sit and bloom. Heat for 10-15 seconds in the microwave to dissolve.

Remove the herbs from the cream, add the sugar, and bring the cream just to a boil. Combine with the gelatin, transfer to a liquid measuring cup for ease of pouring, and distribute into 4 tea cups or ramekins (a bit less than 1/2 c in each). If they are in tea cups, and thus are not being unmoulded, scoop any bubbles from the surface with a small spoon. Place the tea cups in a loaf pan to prevent tipping over, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least three hours to set.

For the plums, preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the plums in half and drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and a few drops of honey. Roast for around 20 minutes or until juicy and soft. The plums can be turned over gently partway through roasting. Serve plums and any roasting juice with the panna cotta.