Archive for July, 2008


David and Goliath…Victory!

Hurrah!! A successful loaf! It seems my problem was a combination of salt killing my yeast, and my water temperature being too low to activate it. I tried once on Tuesday, and it rose well, but I ran to the store and forgot about it, so it ended up rising for 6 hours, which, of course, meant it fell. I figured out how to do the first rising/mixing cycle in my machine on the dough setting, and then transfer it into a bread pan (or whatever other shape) and let it rise the second time before cooking. It’s nice, because it is less messy and it keeps my hands available for those moments when I’m called to motherhood related emergencies. I decided to nix the salt altogether, and simply add a bit of salted butter to the mixture and then top it with salted butter before the 2nd rising. As I become more comfortable with bread making, I’m going to try and re-introduce salt, and then whole wheat flour. I did try to do a braided loaf, but when it rose, the braid disappeared. Any ideas on how to help it keep its shape? Thanks for all your help!


rich chocolate-berry tart

I’ll just come right out with it – this tart is amazing. I’ve always been a fan of real raspberries and chocolate (as opposed to fake-flavored raspberry chocolate ‘combos’), but this one really takes the cake.

I’ve had this recipe for years but have never made it because I didn’t want to go out and buy the raspberries (I guess they were not in season and therefore too expensive when I’ve looked at the recipe). But as we are in the middle of berry season now, I decided to have a go at it.

This is a rather rich tart, so one will easily feed 8 people for dessert. If, however, you have a number of young men (or other sorts of people not concerned with the two cups of whipping cream in the ganache), you might want to make it for just 4-6 people. My uncle, for example, ate a good third of the torte the other night, and then had another third the next morning.

It might look like there are a lot of steps to this tart, but it’s actually quite simple (and not overly technical) and is a great make-ahead recipe for entertaining guests.

Rich Chocolate-Berry Tart

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound fresh berries for topping (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries…)

For the chocolate ganache filling
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup seedless blackberry preserves
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the blackberry sauce
8 ounces fresh or frozen blackberries or raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 tablespoon blackberry liqueur (or more if it’s really tasty)

1. Prepare the pastry. Place the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in a food processor and process until creamy. Add the cocoa and process for one minute. Add the flour all at once and process for 10-15 seconds, until just blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the plastic wrap. Use the wrap to help shape the dough into a flat circle and wrap tightly (the dough will be pretty crumbly). Chill for one hour.

2. Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap to an 11-inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. Peel off the top sheet of plastic wrap and invert the dough into the prepared pan. Ease the dough into the pan. Remove the plastic wrap. It might crumble and fall apart, but the dough is pretty forgiving and it’s easy to patch it up.

3. With floured fingers, press the dough onto the bottom and sides of the pan, then roll a rolling pin over the edge of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Prick the dough with a fork. Chill for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the tart with foil or baking paper; fill with dry beans. Bake for 10 minutes; lift out the foil with the beans and bake for 5 more minutes, until just set (pastry may look underdone on the bottom, but will dry out). Remove to a wire rack to cool.

4. Prepare the filling. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream and blackberry preserves to a boil. This will give you a beautiful purple cream.

Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Stir in the butter ands train into the cooled tart, smoothing the top to get rid of any bubbles. Cool the tart completely (I refrigerated mine overnight).

5. Prepare the sauce. IN a food processor combine the blackberries, lemon juice and sugar and process until smooth. Strain into a bowl and add the liqueur. If it is too thick, thin with a little water.

6. To serve, remove the tart from the pan. Place on a serving plate and arrange the berries on top. With a pastry brush, brush the berries with a little of the blackberry sauce to glaze lightly. Serve the remaining sauce separately.

Here is a photo of the tart without the berry topping yet. In the background is this torte.


Cloth Diapers

So Miss Ophelia doesn’t seem to be ready to potty train yet. The impending doom of having to buy disposables for two children motivated me to do the unthinkable. I’m trying cloth diapers. I found ones I really, really like the looks of, but I figured I should make sure I’ll actually follow through before i spend $20.00 a diaper. So I bought these, to try. Now, my very brave mother used cloth and the aforementioned Abbea uses them, too. I am not brave. Honestly, I’d rather fork out the extra cash 9 times out of 10 for my own personal comfort. I have enjoyed the ease of simply wiping and disposing of the messes. However, the call of duty is hollering at me, so I’m giving it my best shot. Today is the first day. So far we have gone through 4 in the 4 hours she’s been up. I only bought a pack of 12. Plus,  I get the distinct impression I’m no good at getting the diaper pinned firmly, because we’re leaking all over the place. Help?


Peanut Butter Brilliance

We prefer to buy the natural peanut butters. Like Adam’s. Personally, I think it tastes better and it’s nice to know you aren’t feeding your kids corn syrup mushed with peanuts. The down side has always been the need to stir it. It really isn’t terrible, but it makes a horrible mess. They never seem to leave enough space at the top of the jar to stir the oils in without overflowing. My husband has a genius solution. Store it up-side-down. It works! Even before we opened the jar, we stored it overnight bottoms up. The next day, we opened the jar and found it had mixed together beautifully without all the mess! Thanks for the idea, babe!


David & Goliath…continued

By some miracle, this was the most edible loaf I’ve made in approximately five years. Still, it was a bit spongy, and it didn’t rise enough the second time, but it did rise some, so I’m not complaining. The first time I let it rise for 120 minutes (it doubled in size). The second time I let it rise 3 hours, and it only rose about a 1/3. Also, I thought the water you dissolve the yeast in had to be around 80 degrees so as not to kill it. I am mistaken?


David and Goliath

Today I’m attempting to make bread from scratch again….for the zillionth time. It never seems to rise for me. Any words of wisdom?


Fisher on Ratatouille

“I learned to make ratatouille from a large strong woman, a refugee, not political but economic, from an island off Spain: There was not enough food to go around in her family, and she and her husband were the sturdies, so they got out. They ran a vegetable store with one little window and almost no space….She was a great big beautiful woman: coal-black hair, big black eyes, but a very big grossly overweight body. I do not know how she squeezed through that little square hole. She and her tiny husband evidently slept, ate, lived down there.

“She taught me more than her stew, without knowing that I often pondered on how she washed her gleaming hair and stayed generally so sweet smelling, when it was plain that both she and the lettuces must bathe at the public pump and sleep in the dark cellar or under the little counter. She cooked on a gas ring behind a curtain at the back of the store, and that is how I came to ask her questions, because her stew had such a fine smell. She looked at me as if I were almost as ignorant as I was, and after my first lesson from her I bought a big earthenware pot, which I still use.

“The first ingredients were and still are eggplant and onions, garlic, green peppers, red peppers, plenty of ripe peeled tomatoes and some good olive oil. Proportions are impossible to fix firmly, since everything changes in size and flavor, but perhaps there should be three parts of eggplant to two of tomatoes and one each of the peppers and the onions and garlic. I really cannot say.

“Everything is sliced, cubed, chopped, minced, and, except for the tomatoes, is put into the pot…thrown in, that is, for the rough treatment pushes down the mass. At the end, when there is less than no room, the tomatoes are cubed or sliced generously across the top, and the lid is pressed down ruthlessly. When it is taken off, a generous amount of olive oil must be trickled over the whole to seep down. Then the lid is put on again. It may not quite fit, but it will soon drop into place. The whole goes into a gentle (300 degree) oven for about as long as one wishes to leave it there, like five or six hours. It should be stirred up from the bottom with a long spoon every couple of hours. It will be very soupy for a time, and then is when it makes a delicious nourishing meal served generously over slices of toasted french bread with plenty of grated dry cheese. Gradually it becomes more solid, as the air fills with the rich waftings which make neighbors sniff and smile. When it reaches the right texture to be eaten as one wishes, even with a fork, the lid can stay off and fresh shelled shrimps be laid amply on the top to turn white before they are stirred in, or small sausages already cooked well in beer or wine. Or it can simply be left in a turned-off oven to be chilled later for probably the best so-called ratatouille ever eaten.”

-MFK Fisher in Long Ago in France: The Dijon Years