Thursday, August 17, 2017

Irish Brown Bread (Soda Bread)


With the incredibly low fares to Ireland from the Northeast, I'm anxious to plan my own trip in the near future to the Emerald Isle. Until that dream becomes a reality (and I sure hope that's soon!), I'm content to satisfy my stomach with Irish delights made in my own kitchen (or perhaps even served in traditional Irish pubs in the States).

One of the simplest and most traditional tastes of Ireland is Irish Brown Bread or Irish Soda Bread. The "soda" refers to the fact that baking soda is used for leavening as opposed to yeast like traditional bread. Irish Brown Bread or Soda Bread is a staple served with a full Irish breakfast across the pond.

When I recently happened upon a local cheese shop carrying a fascinating and delicious cheddar infused with mustard seeds and ale, I knew this would require some very special bread to accompany it. Enter this recipe for Irish Brown Bread, courtesy of an actual Irish woman from Ireland :)

Before baking

After baking

This bread is delicately sweet and nutty with a tender but firm crumb and a crispy, crumbly crust. It would be ideal served with soup or stew, especially after a day or two when the crumb will start to dry out a tad. It was a lovely accompaniment to my cheese as well!

Please note that this makes a rather large free-form loaf of bread. I would consider making a smaller loaf in the future if I know I will be unable to finish the loaf off within a couple days, as the texture does change over the course of a few days.

Irish Brown Bread (Soda Bread)
Makes 1 loaf
(Adapted from Mary O'Callaghan via Bon Appetit)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray heavy baking sheet with nonstick spray (I lined it with parchment paper instead). Whisk both flours, sugar, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and cut in until butter is reduced to pea-size pieces. Add buttermilk; stir until shaggy dough forms.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until dough comes together, about 10 turns. Shape dough into 9-inch round (the round should be about 1 inch high). Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough, almost all the way to the edges of the round.

Bake bread in center of oven until deep brown and bottom sounds hollow when firmly tapped (a bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the bread should emerge clean without any stickiness or moistness), about 55-60 minutes. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blackberry Pie


Blackberries are not typically my favorite berries for snacking, as they contain larger seeds than other berries. I do, however, ADORE dishes made with blackberries, such as blackberry sorbet, blackberry cobbler, and blackberry pie. Somehow I don't mind the seeds as much when blackberries are baked in or under a crust ;-)

This blackberry pie from pie master Kate McDermott was featured in Saveur Magazine's 2008 Saveur 100 issue, with its picture on the cover and centerfold. The recipe shared below is as written in McDermott's cookbook Art of the Pie, with my notes in italics.

The current version of this recipe on Saveur's website includes some tweaks in the instructions that I would personally agree with, such as sprinkling the sugar on top before baking rather than partway through (so it sticks better), and pre-heating a sheet pan in the oven before placing the pie dish on top of it, or on the rack above it.

Filling prior to mixing

After a bit of mixing and smushing

I didn't do this, but have in the past, and probably should have this time. I simply placed my pie dish on top of a foil-covered sheet pan and then placed into the oven, which is perhaps also why mine took longer to fully bake since the sheet pan must have absorbed quite a bit of the heat. I also baked in a ceramic pie dish which sometimes takes longer to bake than metal or glass ones.

Before baking

McDermott uses an egg white wash as opposed to an egg yolk or whole egg wash, which actually was ideal in this case as it prevented the crust from seriously over-browning in what turned out to be a lengthy bake time, about an extra 80 minutes instead of 40 minutes at the lower temp.

I didn't have to tent foil over the edges as I sometimes do for other pies. It baked evenly and beautifully. Next time I may use the convection feature on my oven, but otherwise do not mind waiting longer to ensure a perfectly baked pie. It's all about watching for the signs (golden crust and bubbling filling) and less about what the timer says.

Just for fun, I made a polka dot top crust using a couple different sized round cutters. Next time, I would probably just stick with the one smaller round cutter, and I would space them out a bit more to have a greater top crust to filling ratio, but regardless I think this turned out great and was a fun way to vent the pie filling in a decorative way without using one of the more standard methods.

Also, it's reminiscent of my favorite character in all the World, Minnie Mouse.

Full disclosure, I didn't pick my own berries. I'm sure that is ideal, and if I had easy access to blackberry bushes of my own I certainly would. There is a local farm that offers pick-your-own-berries, but I sometimes find these excursions end up costing more than purchasing pre-picked berries elsewhere, believe it or not. My store-bought organic blackberries were quite lovely, and on SALE :)

In any case, this blackberry pie turned out quite phenomenal! It's perfect for late summer, as this is the height of blackberry season. I think I've been doing a pretty good job keeping up with my resolution to bake more pies! This blackberry pie is one of the prettiest ones yet.

Flavor-wise this pie is spot on. It's not too sweet and not too tart. Kind of like the Goldilocks of pie filling. My filling set beautifully, yielding picture perfect slices of pie. This is always my goal, but I sometimes end up with looser fillings, still delicious but just not quite as easy to slice and serve (case in point, this tasty but juicy strawberry balsamic pie).

I can't think of a better way enjoy the flavors of late summer than to whip up a blackberry pie as delightful as this one, with its epic, flaky and buttery crust and simple, yet extraordinary fresh blackberry filling.

Blackberry Pie
Makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie
(From Art of the Pie)

6 cups (680 g), about 1 1/2 pounds blackberries, fresh picked or unthawed frozen (I used 725 g store-bought fresh organic blackberries)
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 small grating of freshly ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons (10 g) freshly squeezed lemon juice and a few gratings of lemon zest (I used lime juice and zest)
1/3 teaspoon (2 g) salt
1/3 cup (48 g) flour
1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (2 to 12 g) quick cooking tapioca; add the larger amount if the berries are especially juicy (I used 7 g tapioca starch)
1 recipe double-crust pie dough (I used McDermott's All-Butter Dough, but her Leaf Lard and Butter Dough recipe is used on the Saveur page)
1 tablespoon (14 g) butter (oops, I actually forgot to add this myself, but it still turned out delicious)
2 teaspoons (8 g) sugar, for sprinkling on top of pie

Egg wash:
1 egg white plus 1 tablespoon (15 g) water, fork beaten

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Put the blackberries, sugar, nutmeg, lemon juice, zest, salt, flour, and tapioca into a bowl and stir and fold until everything is evenly coated. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash gently to make a textured filling.

Roll out the bottom dough and place it in your pie pan.

Pour the filling into the crust, dot it with butter and set it aside.

Roll out the remaining dough, lay it over the fruit, trim, crimp, and cut 5 to 6 vents on top, or cut strips and weave a lattice top.

Brush the crust with the egg white mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees F on the middle rack of the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F; bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 30 to 40 minutes more (mine baked an additional 80 minutes!). When there are about 10 minutes of bake time left, open the oven, pull the pie out, and quickly and evenly sprinkle the top of the pie with sugar (I did this around the 20 minute mark, so it baked about another hour with the sugar on top, but didn't burn--in the future I would likely sprinkle the sugar on at the start so it can better stick to the egg wash).

Let the pie cool before serving so the filling can set up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Home-Style Chicken Kebat


Kebat is a classic Burmese stir-fry dish that is common throughout homes in Myanmar (formerly Burma), but not typically found in restaurants there. San Francisco eatery Burma Superstar has brought this comforting dish front and center and serves it with a variety of protein options including chicken, beef, shrimp, and tofu.

In the cookbook of the same name, all of these recipes are available in both restaurant-style and home-style variations. The main difference is the spice mixtures used, but both include the standard sliced onion and tomato wedge components along with a fragrant finish of cilantro.

I elected to try the home-style chicken kebat, which is insanely easy to make. It features Madras curry powder and a hit of fish sauce along with a generous amount of garlic. The flavors are simple yet exquisite. A slight crunch from the onions, juicy and sweet tomatoes, and delicious warmth from the curry powder all soaking into grains of plain rice. The book suggests jasmine, but I used basmati since that's what I usually have on hand.

I tossed the chicken with the cilantro at the very end, but you can simply sprinkle it over the top when you serve it. Either way, this kebat is quick, easy, and full of flavor, making it a solid choice for a weeknight excursion from the norm. I would love to try it with some of the other proteins like shrimp and beef in the future.

Home-Style Chicken Kebat
Serves 3 to 4; 6 as part of a larger meal
(from Burma Superstar)

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (5 to 6 thighs) (I used chicken tenders)
1 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small to medium-yellow onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons water
2 Roma tomatoes, each cut into 6 to 8 wedges
Handful of cilantro sprigs, coarsely chopped, for garnish
1 lime or lemon, cut into wedges for garnish

Slice the chicken into strips no wider than a 1/2 inch. Transfer to a bowl and use your hands to mix the chicken with the curry powder, fish sauce, and salt. Let the chicken marinate at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients, or refrigerate overnight.

Halve, peel, and core the onion. Slice half the onion thinly, and finely dice the remaining half. Set the onion slices aside to add at the end.

In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced onions and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the chicken and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the water and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes more. Mix in the sliced onion and tomatoes and cook for about 1 minute more. The onions should still be crisp in the center (not completely wilted). Serve with the cilantro on top and lime wedges alongside.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rock Cakes for Harry Potter


Harry Potter's birthday was this past Monday, July 31st. You may have noticed yet another Harry Potter marathon on Freeform if you live in the States and subscribe to cable. I can't quite help myself from tuning into any Harry Potter marathon, although I've seen the films dozens of times and own them myself.

In honor of Harry's birthday, my friend Camille and I decided to create a small feast for dinner that night. We made a couple recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, which shares recipes of dishes mentioned throughout the series.

The main star of our meal was bangers and mash, or sausages and mashed potatoes with onion gravy. The recipe we used came from the Harry Potter cookbook, but here is a similar recipe that I have made before and also greatly enjoyed. Both recipes feature homemade sausages without casings, but the sausages themselves differ a bit, as do the mash and gravy recipes.

We cooked the bangers and mash together at dinnertime (which watching, you guessed it, Harry Potter), but earlier in the day I had whipped up our dessert for the evening: rock cakes. Hagrid's rock cakes are mentioned no less than 3 times in the Harry Potter series.

While Hagrid's are reminiscent of actual rocks, and are quite unpalatable, these rock cakes are lovely in comparison. Rock cakes are essentially free-form scones or drop biscuits. These are somewhat cinnamony, and studded with a plethora of plump raisins.

Whether you are belatedly celebrating dear Harry's fictional birth, or simply seeking a delicate and easy-to-make sweet treat, these rock cakes blow Hagrid's out of the water. Chances are you already have all of these ingredients in your pantry, so grab a mixing bowl and get cracking!

Rock Cakes
Makes 12
(From The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/3 cup whole milk (I used low-fat, and it turned out fine)
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour a large cookie sheet (I simply lined my baking sheet with parchment paper instead). Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl. With your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture reaches the consistency of wet sand.

Beat the egg together with the milk and pour it into the flour-butter mixture. Fold it together using a spatula to form a stiff dough. Fold in the raisins. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the bottoms are golden, rotating the pan midway through baking.

*Note* For rock-hard rock cakes like Hagrid's, just bake them for too long and eat them a week later at your own risk!


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