Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Middle Eastern Falafel Crisps with Spicy Red Lentil Dip


I recently received a review copy of Ivy Manning's Cracker's and Dips from Chronicle Books. I have always been a fan of both, finding crackers to be the perfect vehicle to get small slabs of cheese (and their friends) into my stomach, and dips to be all-around party favorites whether they are smeared across crackers, chips or even veggies. Although I often make dips from scratch, I had never even considered making my own crackers until this book came along.

At first, I thought a whole book focused on the topic was too much. I mean, how many crackers and dips would one realistically even make? Well, I was really impressed by the book for many reasons. First of all, the recipes are quite varied and are written in a very straightforward manner. 

They range from classics, such as Tangy Cheddar Cheese Crackers (think Cheez-Its) and Soda Water Crackers (think Saltines) to wheat-free options such as Seeded Quinoa Crackers and Flax Seed Pizza Crackers. 

They cover bases around the world including Swedish Caraway Rye Crisps and Irish Blue Cheese and Walnut Shortbread, as well as some easy-to-make crackers like Crispy Wonton Triangles and Za'atar-Dusted Pita Chips. 

There are sweet crackers such as Skinny Mint Chocolate Grahams and Cinnamon Pistachio Baklava Crisps and a variety of dips and spreads including, but not limited to, Molten Black Bean and Chorizo Dip, Wasabi Edamame Schmear, and Figgy Bourbon Conserve.

Before baking

The book contains lots of great tips and tricks for cracker-making, including rolling out the dough and selecting the best ingredients (I was relieved to see a discussion of nonhydrogenated shortening!). Photographs are really playful and feature crackers displayed on chalkboards with fun drawings underneath them depicting ingredients or condiments. I love the simplicity and creativity of the photos. It definitely works for something as humble as crackers.

So I'm definitely sold on the idea of a cracker book, but how would the recipes actually play out? I jumped at the chance to try the Middle Eastern Falafel Crisps along with a Spicy Red Lentil Dip to join them. My cracker dough started out fairly wet (in its defense, it's quite humid these days), so I kneaded in a bit of extra flour to get a nice pliable consistency. 

Certain recipes in the book suggest that you can either roll out the dough by hand using a rolling pin or use a pasta machine. This one said either option would work, so I tried out the pasta maker. My dough basically fell apart on the first try. It was too soft and not nearly as firm and stable as a pasta dough for me to roll using the machine.

But alas when I went to roll it by hand, I found it so easy that the pasta machine was really unnecessary. It reminded me of rolling out a savory soft cookie dough. Next time I would definitely just bypass the machine and roll by hand because it was fast and easy with less cleanup down the road. 

I used a ruler to cut perfectly straight and even crackers. This was a piece of cake! Why had I never made crackers before? I omitted the final step of brushing extra olive oil on top of the crackers (they already had plenty of olive oil in the dough) and still found the crackers to bake up beautifully golden and crisp.

They were crisp and flaky and had a wonderful flavor from all the spices within as well as the sweet chickpea flour, with a bit of sesame seed and salt crust on top. They were SO GOOD!! Dangerous too because it's hard to stop snacking on them. At least they're homemade, so there's less guilt :)

I additionally made some Spicy Red Lentil Dip, although the crackers are absolutely fantastic without it. The dip is simple and quick and features fast-cooking red lentils and spicy harissa (a Tunisian chili pepper paste--I found mine at Whole Foods, but you can also make your own). It has the texture of a bean dip (thicker and more spreadable than hummus) with a great Middle Eastern flair. Although the crackers are awesome on their own, this dip definitely adds a great edge. 

I'm happy to say that a cookbook devoted to Crackers and Dips is definitely worth it. I also never realized how many preservatives and artificial ingredients are in store-bought crackers. This book opened my eyes and made me realize that homemade crackers are the way to go!

They're also not nearly as fussy as you would imagine, and worth a bit of added effort to give yourself, your friends, and your family better and more natural homemade snacks! And seriously, what's more impressive than showing up to a party with HOMEMADE CRACKERS AND DIP?! Boom!

Middle Eastern Falafel Crisps
Makes about 50 crackers
(From Crackers & Dips)

1 cup (105 g) chickpea flour
3/4 cup (90 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 T. dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. onion powder
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
6 T. (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil (I only used the 5 T. for the crackers and not the topping)
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
1 tsp. light corn syrup
1 T. sesame seeds
1 tsp. coarse salt

In a food processor or a medium bowl, pulse or whisk together the chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, parsley, cumin, garlic powder, baking powder, coriander, onion powder, sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne.

Add 5 T. (75 ml) of the olive oil to the flour mixture and pulse or stir with a fork until the mixture forms crumbs. In a small measuring cup, combine the water and corn syrup and stir until the syrup dissolves. Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and pulse or stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a slightly sticky dough (Mine was too wet so I kneaded in a bit of extra flour until it came together). Knead gently on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 5 strokes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow the dough to relax for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper (I used 2 baking sheets and took turns baking them). Divide the dough into two balls and roll each ball out on a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8-inch thick, picking up the dough and rotating it a quarter turn frequently to make sure it is not sticking, if necessary.

Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, cut the dough into rectangles measuring 2-by-1-inches and use a lightly floured spatula or bench scraper to transfer the crackers to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the scraps.

Sprinkle the crackers with the sesame seeds and coarse salt, and tamp down the toppings with the bottom of a measuring cup to adhere them to the crackers. Brush the crackers with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil (I skipped that step) and bake until the crackers are golden brown and crisp to the touch, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan once from back to front while baking. If some of the crackers are done before others, transfer them to a cooling rack and return the undone crackers to the oven for a few more moments. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Spicy Red Lentil Dip
Makes 2 1/2 cups
(Adapted from Crackers & Dips)

1 cup (195 g) red lentils
1 bay leaf
Fine sea salt
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T. tomato paste
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 T. chopped cilantro leaves
2 tsp. harissa
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

Rinse the lentils with cold water and drain. Combine the lentils, bay leaf, and 1 tsp salt in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 4 inches and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the lentils are tender and falling apart, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils in a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the bay leaf and let the lentils cool for 10 minutes in the sieve.

Transfer the lentils to a food processor and add the lemon juice, tomato paste, garlic, cilantro, harissa, cumin, and olive oil. Blend until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Season the dip with salt, if desired, and transfer it to a serving bowl. Allow the dip to stand for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop. The cooled dip can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Crab-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Black Truffles


I have a bone to pick with the Ocean State. Yeah, the entire state of Rhode Island. I'm not happy with you. How can you call yourself the Ocean State and make it nearly impossible to find and purchase fresh, local crab meat?

I found some great-looking crab meat from Maine recently at Whole Foods, but when I returned  this week to purchase it they (along with every other store I called that would otherwise carry it) were out and wouldn't get another shipment for several days. Every other seafood market I called only carried canned/pasteurized crab meat. The nerve.

I had to suck it up and buy some higher quality pasteurized lump crab from Whole Foods, but it (along with every can I inspected at other markets) was from Indonesia. Why must I wait a week in order to eat local crab meat when my state has the most coast line of any state in the country and calls itself the OCEAN STATE.

Don't even get me started on the laughs I got when I called around to see if anyone carried Peekytoe crab meat. Seafood vendors probably thought I was on glue. I miss New York City where I can find pretty much anything I want (even at a price).

Let's backtrack for a moment. The reason I just NEEDED this crab meat, why I couldn't wait until next week. For one thing, I needed to make my dish for this month's Creative Cooking Crew challenge, which was to "Stuff It." Meaning, something stuffed. Anything. Limitless options. Where to begin? The deadline for my post was looming, but I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

The dish I planned entailed fresh squash blossoms/zucchini flowers stuffed with crab meat and steamed. My squash blossoms were already picked that morning (they are best cooked the day they are picked), and I thought my trip to Whole Foods would be a quick one. It ended in frustration. I was pissed.

I made the best of my situation. I couldn't procure the best crab meat money could buy (that would have been Peekytoe, which is what Eric Ripert suggests for part of this recipe), but I got better quality pasteurized crab than what comes in most cans. I had fresh squash blossoms from my neighbor's yard (thank you, Candace!), and I had black truffles from Spain. Yes, black truffles. Did I forget to mention that part?

My best friend brought me a jar of black truffles from a recent trip to Spain as part of my fancy schmancy birthday gift (thanks, AJ!). I was ready to rock and roll with this recipe provided by Eric Ripert, seafood master extraordinaire, in a cookbook entitled Harvest to Heat featuring some of the country's best chefs (including a couple from the Ocean State!), and local farmers. Ripert actually shares a similar recipe in his cookbook Avec Eric as well, but that one lacks truffles and instead features mustard.

The lump crab meat actually turned out to be really good. Even though it wasn't local, it was the best that was available to me on this given day, and I really enjoyed it. I decided to halve the recipe (although I will share the complete version below), but still had extra crab filling left over even with an extra squash blossom to stuff (perhaps my blossoms aren't quite as large as Ripert's). I used my leftover crab the next day to make a truffle-laced crab salad for lunch. I'm so spoiled!!

Squash blossoms have never been treated so well. The filling contains lump crab meat and homemade truffle butter. The blossoms are then stuffed and steamed. Meanwhile, more of the truffle butter is drizzled on each plate, and then a truffle and Dijon vinaigrette is drizzled atop the steamed squash blossoms. It's finished with a sprinkle of chives.

As much as I love cheese-stuffed-deep-fried zucchini flowers, they can't hold a candle to these much more delicate and fresh-tasting ones. The crab flavor really shines (I stuffed each probably past their capacity, plus the lump pieces of crab were very large and nearly exploded out of the flowers!), and the truffles give them an extraordinary edge. A tiny bit of acid in the vinaigrette rounds out this combination rich (hello, butter) yet light appetizer. Happy summer.

Please check out the Creative Cooking Crew roundup of "Stuff It" recipes on July 30th at Foodalogue! Also, here is some interesting info on telling the difference between male and female blossoms in case you're picking your own.

Crab-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Black Truffles
Serves 4 as an appetizer
(From Harvest to Heat)

Truffle Butter:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 ounce fresh black truffle, shaved with a mandoline, or chopped canned black truffles
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper (I used black pepper)

Truffle Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon chopped black truffle, fresh or canned, with juice if using canned
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper (I used black pepper)

Crab Filling:
1/2 pound peekytoe crab meat, cleaned
4 ounces lump crab meat, cleaned (I used all lump crab meat because I couldn't procure peekytoe crab)
Coarse salt
Crushed red pepper flakes (I used freshly ground black pepper instead)

12 large zucchini flowers, stamens removed and brushed clean
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped for garnish

Make the truffle butter: In a small saucepan, bring 1 tablespoon water to a boil and whisk in the butter. Add the truffle and mix until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and keep warm over low heat. (My sauce actually broke several times until I finished the dish--it was first used in the crab filling and again for plating. If your sauce breaks, whisk in a few drops of warm water at a time until it re-emulsifies).

Make the truffle vinaigrette: Combine the mustard and both vinegars in a bowl and drizzle in the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate. Add the chopped truffle and the truffle juice if using canned and whisk until just blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the filling: Combine both crab meats and 1/4 cup of the truffle butter. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.

Prepare the zucchini flowers: Have ready a bamboo steamer or lightly grease a steamer basket. Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water.

Using a teaspoon, gently stuff each zucchini flower three-quarters full with the crab meat filling, then gently twist the top of the flower closed. Arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the steamer basket; lay them flat even if piled on top of each other. Place the basket in the pot (or over it if it's a bamboo steamer); cover and steam until the crab filling is hot, about 3 minutes.

To serve: Equally portion the remaining 1/4 cup truffle butter among 4 plates and carefully arrange 3 steamed zucchini flowers on top. Spoon the truffle vinaigrette around the zucchini flowers and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coconut Layer Cake


Coconut cake is easily one of my favorite cakes ever. I remember years ago when I still lived in Los Angeles, I had a craving one night for coconut cake. I called my nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to see if they had any and quickly dashed over there to purchase a slice before the store closed.

Although I know some people who are coconut-haters, there is a whole camp of us who love and appreciate all things coconut. When you're a fan of coconut, and coconut cake especially, there is little that can stand in your way before inhaling a slice or two of this decadent treat.

There are countless recipes for coconut cake, all featuring slightly different variations. Some feature snow-white cake layers created from all egg whites, while others use whole eggs to yield yellow coconut-infused layers.

Some mix shredded coconut into the cake batter while many do not. Some cakes are constructed with two rounds piled on top of each other, whereas others split those cakes each in half to create four thinner layers for an even more refined looked.

Some cakes utilize coconut custard fillings, coconut-infused simple syrups, and more in between the layers, while others use the same or a modified frosting inside and out. When it comes to the frosting, come cakes feature coconut buttercream, and yet others showcase a traditional cream cheese frosting.

Some use freshly grated coconut while others use flaked sweetened coconut or unsweetened coconut, and some leave the coconut stark white to create a single-toned cake exterior, while others lightly toast the coconut to give a bit of contrast to an otherwise all white cake.

Some cakes garnish with coconut only along the sides of the cake, while most cakes feature it prominently all over the exterior.

What kind of coconut cake would I make? I've made coconut cakes before, but I had never really thought long and hard about it. Never really played out the endless possibilities for making my coconut cake shine.

There are easy alterations which I have mentioned in my instructions that can tweak this recipe to your liking if you are seeking a different style of coconut cake, but after much deliberation this is what I've come up with.

My cake layers are white white white. I opted for a simple cream cheese frosting, spiked with coconut, and then used some of the frosting whipped up with cream for the filling. Yes. I considered making a simple syrup to add a bit of extra flavor and moisture to my cake, but quite frankly, they were incredibly moist without any extra help. Sweetened flaked coconut finished off this beautiful cake.

It was the perfect centerpiece for a friend's surprise 30th birthday party this past weekend. The entire group loved this cake. It was so tender and delicious, with tons of fresh coconut flavor to go around. Leftover cake was still fantastic the next morning for breakfast. This is definitely a cake that will impress, both in its ethereal look and its all-around perfect coconut flavor.

Coconut Layer Cake
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake

Coconut Cake Layers:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 egg whites (or 3 whole eggs, if you desire a more yellow-toned cake)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (don't forget to shake the can first!)

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese (or Neufch√Ętel), at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (see above)

About 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (lightly toast the coconut, if you desire)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, line each with a circle of parchment cut to fit and then grease the parchment as well. Set the pans aside.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla and continue to beat until smooth. Add half the dry mixture and beat until nearly combined, then add the coconut milk, mix again, and finally add the remaining dry mixture and beat just until the mixture comes together. Do not over mix.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Smooth out the top, slightly pushing the batter more toward the edges so it doesn't dome up as much when it bakes. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes before flipping them out of the pans onto a wire rack. Peel the parchment off the bottoms and finish cooling the cakes upside down (this will also help if your cakes are slightly domed on top to flatten them a bit).

Meanwhile, make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar about 1 cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Add the coconut milk and continue you beat until smooth. Transfer the frosting to another bowl. You should have about 3 cups of frosting total.

To make the filling: In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (it's fine if they still have some frosting on them), beat the heavy cream to medium peaks. Add 1 cup of the frosting to the whipped cream and continue to beat until smooth. Set aside.

Flip your cooked cakes right-side up again. If they are badly domed, trim off the domed part of the cake with a long serrated knife, such as a bread knife. If the top is mostly flat, just leave it as is. Carefully use the serrated knife to cut each cake layer in half horizontally to create a total of 4 even cake layers.

Place one of the "bottom half" layers of cake on a serving dish, cake pedestal, or cardboard round and place a few pieces of aluminum foil or parchment paper around it (tucked underneath it) to make for easy cleanup after decorating. Spread one-third of the filling over the layer using an offset spatula. Top with a "top half" layer of cake. Spread one-third of filling over the layer. Top with an inverted "top half" layer of cake, and spread it with the final third of filling. Finish up by placing the last "bottom half" layer of cake upside down onto the cake (so the smooth bottom is on top).

Frost the top and sides of the cake evenly with the frosting. Press the coconut onto the frosting all over the cake. It should stick to the frosting pretty well, since it will still be somewhat soft. Chill the cake to allow the filling and frosting to set, at least 1 hour. This will make the cake easier to transport, if needed, and the coconut will adhere better to the frosting.

Remove the foil from the edges of the cake to give it a clean finish. The cake will slice more cleanly if chilled, but it should be served at room temperature so the frosting is soft and fluffy. This cake will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Macaroni and Cheese Primavera


I have been making some variation of this macaroni and cheese for many many years. I cut out a recipe from a random magazine sometime in the mid-90's and have been tweaking it over time. The point of the recipe was to create a relatively healthy macaroni and cheese full of vegetables.

I believe it originally included skim milk and reduced fat cheese, as it does now. For the record, I usually use skim or low-fat milk when I make macaroni and cheese anyway. It's what I drink and it's what I use in life. I've never had any complaints :)

The mixture of zuccchini and/or yellow summer squash, peas, and tomatoes (albeit canned--you can easily use fresh if you so desire) creates a nice balance of veggies that are nearly as plentiful as the pasta itself.

I used to solely stick to rotini for this dish, but recently discovered Ronzoni's Garden Delight pastas. One of the varieties called Trio Italiano features not only three colors of pasta, but three different shapes that all cook together in harmonious delight! It works really well for this dish!

I somehow always manage to not slice my zucchini thin enough, and it tends to retain a bit more crunch than most people like (although I love it!). Make sure you cut it fairly thin so it cooks evenly in the oven.

Also, the amount of sauce for this dish is a lot less than most macaroni and cheeses I make otherwise. Keep in mind that the vegetables will release some water themselves which will lend more liquid to the sauce. In the end, it all works out.

Macaroni and Cheese Primavera
Serves 8

1 pound pasta (I usually use rotini, but this time used Ronzoni Garden Delight Trio Italiano)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups skim milk, heated to a simmer
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or simply a mixture of dried basil and dried oregano works)
8 ounces reduced fat cheddar cheese, grated (I used Trader Joe's 55% Reduced Fat Celtic Cheddar Cheese)
12 ounces zucchini/summer squash (one small of each), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (plain or Italian-style work equally well)
3/4 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup bread crumbs (fresh or dried)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta for about half as long as the box suggests for al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and then whisk in the flour. Add the hot milk slowly, whisking continuously, until it creates a smooth sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, still whisking so it doesn't burn, and allow it to slightly thicken for a few minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the sauce from the heat and add the salt, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Then stir in the cheese until it is completely melted. Add the vegetables and cooked pasta and stir to coat. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it out evenly.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir it into the bread crumbs. Top the macaroni and cheese with the bread crumbs and then bake for about 20 minutes until bubbly. Switch to the broiler and broil for another couple minutes, or until the top begins to brown. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 430 calories, 12 g fat, 22 g protein, 59 g carbs, 5 g fiber

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Strawberry Galette


I love making free-form tarts, such as crostatas and galettes. I'm not even 100% sure what the difference is between the two terms, but I think it's rather unimportant when faced with something so simple yet extraordinary. Generally, these pastries utilize flaky pie dough as opposed to a crisper and sweeter tart dough. They are baked on a sheet pan with the crust simply folded over the edges of the usually rustic filling. It almost looks like a pizza.

In fact, when we served this galette recently on my aunt's boat, we enjoyed it just like a pizza, eating it with our hands in a very unsophisticated manner. Whether you use your hands or a fork, this galette truly showcases the flavor and fragrance of summer. When you pull it from the oven, it smells just like homemade strawberry jam!

This recipe uses my favorite pie crust, although you can easily use another recipe for the crust if you don't believe me that this one is the best (it is, just trust me). The strawberries are arranged in a pretty pattern over the dough, making this otherwise rustic tart much more elegant.

If you don't have heavy cream, you can definitely brush egg wash around the edges of the crust, but I sometimes feel like it's a waste of a whole egg for just a little bit of brushing, and heavy cream works really well too, with just a slightly paler result.

Strawberry Galette
Makes one approximately 10-inch galette

1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup very cold water
1 1/2 cups + 1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

1 pound strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
About 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Start by making the crust. In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out to 1/8-to-1/4-inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed.

Place the dough round on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill the dough while preparing the strawberries.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Thinly slice the strawberries, reserving the end pieces for another use (although you may need a few of them depending on how you arrange your strawberry slices in the filling).Toss the strawberry slices with 1/4 cup of the sugar and the cornstarch, then immediately arrange them in concentric circles on the dough, starting 1-inch from the edge. Overlap the slices slightly. If you need to, you can use a few of the prettiest strawberry edge pieces as well, just toss them in the sugar/cornstarch sludge that remains in the bowl.

Fold the edges over the berries and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Brush the pastry edges with heavy cream and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar. Dot the berries with the butter and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.


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