The Case for Tomatoes as Dessert and Four Recipes: Fresh Tomato Juice, Tomato Curd, Shortbread Squares, and Candied Basil

not quite enough basil to go around, but that way the squares were basil-optional

The Legal Exception: Green Tomato Pie

When the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes couldn’t be legally considered a fruit because  they weren’t customarily eaten for dessert, there was only one real exception: green tomato pie.Paula Deen's green tomato pie, which includes raisins; click for the recipe The green tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the growing season aren’t especially palatable, at least when they’re raw. They’re hard, and contain substantially less of the sugar, acids, and aromatic compounds that give ripe tomatoes their distinctive flavor. Thanks in part to the 1991 Academy Award-nominated film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe, many people are familiar with the idea that green tomatoes can be eaten breaded and fried. Fewer people know that green tomatoes are such a blank slate that they can just as easily be used in sweet preparations. Sliced or minced and cooked in a pastry crust with lots sugar and some cinnamon or other spices, tomatoes make a sweet-tart fruit filling reminiscent of apples. The dessert was common in the American South by the mid-19th C.

However, it specifically relies on tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. While it might seem like ripe tomatoes would be the more obvious choice for desserts because they’re so much sweeter, the savory meatiness imparted by the high glutamate content makes the flavor seem inappropriate for sweet applications.

At Least It’s Not Raw Trout

Still, if there’s anything the age of salted caramel and bacon chocolate should have taught us, it’s the fact that sugar plays well with salty, meaty flavors traditionally confined primarily to savory appetizers and main dishes. Indeed, dessert ice cream made with traditionally-savory flavors has become one of the hallmarks of avant-garde cuisine. Smoked bacon and egg ice cream is one of Heston Blumenthal’s most celebrated creations—and, notably, served with a sweet tomato jam as part of the breakfast-themed dessert that’s a fixture on the menu of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. A San Francisco ice creamery named Humphry Slocombe recently profiled in The New York Times offers many savory-sweet flavors including foie gras, “government cheese,” and salted licorice. And the competitors on Iron Chef America have presented the judges with ice cream desserts using secret ingredients ranging from abalone to the infamous raw trout.

a tomato ice cream written about a couple of years ago in the NYTimes, click for the recipe Tomato ice cream may sound like just another novelty or oddball flavor, but in fact, it may have preceded all this recent nouveau frippery, possibly even dating back to the very origins of ice cream in America. In the 18th C., when ice cream was still a relatively new invention and hadn’t yet become common in England or America, Benjamin Franklin got his first taste of the churned, frozen custard while visiting Paris. He liked it so much that he wrote in a letter home: “I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia.” French and American cookbooks from the era suggest that the most popular flavors back then were apricot, raspberry, rose, chocolate, and cinnamon, but it has been rumored that the flavor Ben Franklin liked best was tomato.

Given the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of tomato ice cream in the 18th C. and in light of the Nix v. Hedden decision, the Franklin rumor is improbable. However, after making something very akin to tomato ice cream last year for Battle Tomato, I feel like it’s not entirely impossible. Prepared with enough sugar, tomato is a perfectly plausible dessert flavor—like strawberry’s slightly funky cousin or a less-tart gooseberry. It’s a tiny bit peculiar, perhaps, but also really alluring, a savory-sweet combination reminiscent of salt-water taffy or yogurt-covered pretzels or anything else that simultaneously hits sour, salty, and sweet tastes. It can be really delicious.

Tomato Squares

When I was trying to figure out what kind of dessert to make for the housewarming party—something I hadn’t made in a while, something I’d only make for company—Brian suggested lemon squares. I’d just been thinking that basically any dessert you can make with lemons should also work with tomato, so I decided to put that to the test. Tomato juice may not be quite as acidic as lemon juice, but I thought it would be tart enough to set off the buttery richness of a shortbread crust and eggy curd filling, but I also hoped the bars might get a little extra something from the savory-ness of the tomato.

I started by making some fresh tomato juice using heirlooms from the garden, which turned out insanely good—perhaps the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted. I used about a cup of that in place of most of the lemon juice in my standard lemon curd recipe, which uses a basic cake-mixing technique to obviate the need for straining by coating the egg proteins in fat before adding the acid. That also turned out totally delicious—the first time I tasted it to see if I needed to adjust the level of sugar or acidity, I just kept going back for more. Just as I had hoped, the tomato added a totally new dimension to the curd, giving it a little oomph and intrigue. I put most of it in the refrigerator and then licked the pan clean. I used the curd to top the shortbread crust that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends for lemon bars, which I like because it stays crisp even after being topped with a wet filling, cooked it until the curd was just barely set. The curd was more of a golden color, but as it cooked, the red pigments started to come through more. And voila: tomato squares!

although I hadn't thought of it before, you could probably make bar cookies like this with any fruit or vegetable flavor...guava squares, mango squares, ginger-lime squares, cranberry squares, etc.

Candied Basil Leaves

Thinking they looked a little plain on their own, I decided to garnish them with some candied basil leaves—like a sweet take on caprese salad. First, I tried the method suggested by a cookbook called Wine Mondays, which involved poaching the leaves in a sugar syrup with a high ratio of sugar : water and then baking them at a low temperature until they crystallize. Unfortunately, they discolored, probably because there was a hot baking stone still in the oven and I’m an idiot.

So I improvised a second batch by simply poaching the leaves in a 1:1 simple syrup, dredging them in some extra sugar to crystallize them, and drying them at room temperature on wax paper. That worked pretty well, although once I put them on the bars, they absorbed a little moisture from them and ended up soggier than I would have liked. If I ever decide to candy leaves again, I’ll probably use another method I’ve read about that involves brushing the leaves with raw egg white, dredging them in sugar, and then baking them at a very low temp (~150F) until they’re hard and dry.

Very similar to candied mint leaves—intensely sweet and herbal.

first, unsuccessful attempt--not only did they discolor, they didn't get anything approximating crisp. maybe another 15-20 min. would have crystalized them?

second, better attempt; still not as crisp as I'd like

Please, Try This At Home

I’ve included all the recipes I used below, separated in case all you’re looking for is a good recipe for fresh tomato juice. If you want to try making tomato bars but this seems intimidating or tedious, there are lots of ways to simplify the process. You could use store-bought tomato juice instead of making your own, and probably should if you can’t get vine-ripened tomatoes from a garden or farmer’s market because at least canned and bottled tomato products are made with vine-ripened tomatoes at their peak, unlike the tomatoes you get at most supermarkets. If you don’t want to bother with a cooked tomato curd, I’ve included a recipe for an uncooked bar cookie filling below which you could use fresh or store-bought tomato juice in. Obviously, the candied basil leaves are optional. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.

You could also use tomato juice in place of citrus juice or fresh, ripe tomatoes in place of fresh fruit in any other dessert recipe. If using fresh tomatoes, you probably want to peel and seed them first to prevent them from watering down the recipe too much. I can imagine fresh tomatoes in place of peaches or cherries in a pie, or sweet cherry tomatoes caramelized on top of a tarte tatin. You could whisk tomato sauce or tomato paste into a standard cake, custard, or icing recipe or use slightly cooked-down tomato puree in place of applesauce or pumpkin puree in a muffin or spice cake. If you think the people you’re serving might be wary of tomatoes for dessert, you can always use the strategy Campbell’s used to sell its Tomato Soup Cake recipe to thousands of housewives during the Great Depression: call it “Mystery Cake” (or pie, or ice cream or whatever) and make people guess at the key ingredient. They’ll come to the realization that it’s delicious before they ever figure out that it’s tomato. 

it separates a little after sitting, but stir or shake before serving and just see if it doesn't beat out every tomato juice you've ever triedRecipe: Fresh Tomato Juice (from Simply Recipes)
(makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes roughly.

2. Place in a medium saucepan with as much of juice as you can get off the cutting board, and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is mostly broken down and very liquid.

4. Force through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids.

Recipe: Tomato Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking
(makes about 4 cups, more than enough to fill a 6-layer cake, two 9” pies, or a 9×13 pan of bar cookies; halve to thickened just enough to coat a spoon so that your finger leaves a trailfill a two-layer cake, one 9” pie, or an 8×8 pan of bar cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Method

1. Using a stand or hand mixer or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for at least 1 min or until the mixture is smooth and begins to lighten in color.

butter and sugar creamed together eggs beaten in well

2. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition and for 2 minutes after all the eggs have been added.

3. Add the tomato juice and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Mixture will likely look curdled or uneven.

4. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to look smooth.

5. Raise the heat to medium and cook, still stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat a spoon or spatula thickly enough that you can run your finger through it and see a trail. 170F on a candy thermometer—the mixture should not boil, but may begin to bubble gently at the edges and steam a little bit.

6. Chill until ready to use.

Recipe: Shortbread Squares (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)
(fills a 9×13 pan; halve for 8×8)

butter cut, wrapped, and ready to chillIngredients:

For the crust:

  • 20 T. (12 oz) butter
  • 4 T. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups cake/pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the filling:

  • approximately 4 cups of fruit curd, pastry cream, or cheesecake batter

OR

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or substitute 1/3 cup of any other juice, like guava or cranberry)
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen fruit (optional; omit for lemon bars; however, blueberries and lemon make a great combination)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

For the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and chill.

3. In a food processor, process the granulated sugar for 1 minute or until very fine—sugar dust will probably rise from the food processor like smoke, that’s normal. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk the dry ingredients together.

sugar "smoke" You should be able to press the crumbs against the side of the bowl and have them stay.

4. Add the chilled pieces of butter and pulse until it’s just a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives.

5. Dump the crumbs directly into an ungreased 9×13 pan and gently press all over to make it a solid layer of shortbread dough.

Beranbaum suggests kneading it together before pressing into a pan; I think pressing it against the bottom works just as well gently pricked with a fork, it's fine if that pulls a few crumbs up--they'll melt back in as it bakes

6. Prick the dough all over with a fork—the dough may want to come away with the tines, I just use two fingers to hold the dough down on either side of the fork tines as I quickly pierce the crust.

7. Bake 30-40 min or just until barely browning at the edges.

flaky and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread

For the filling:

If using a prepared filling, simply spread it over the top of the crust and then return to the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the filling just barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

If using the filling recipe above:

1. Whisk together the sugar and baking powder and then combine with the eggs and whisk until they are beaten well and the mixture is smooth.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

3. Stir in the fruit, if using and pour the egg mixture over the shortbread crust.

4. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.

fresh basil leaves, just picked from the garden, washed and dried wellRecipe: Candied Basil

  • whole basil leaves (about 20 large or 40 small)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1. Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool to lukewarm (the bottom of the pan should be cool enough to touch).

3. Place clean, dry basil leaves in the syrup and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

poached in simple syrup tossed in sugar

4. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a baking sheet. Toss the leaves in the sugar.

5. Place the leaves on wax paper and let them dry overnight or for at least 4 hrs.

the finished product, at a slightly different, but no less wonky angle. whee.

Curried Squash Fritters with Ranch Raita

I guess this is like South Indian-Southern American fusion?

This is basically a South Asian-inspired summer squash fritter redux. Instead of an egg and whole wheat flour batter seasoned with Old Bay, I used a chickpea (or gram) flour batter seasoned with homemade curry powder, similar to pakoras or bhaji. That incidentally makes this recipe vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free, for anyone who cares about things like that. You could prepare them just like the first version—shaped into patties and griddled until cooked through. However, this time, since I was making them for a party, it seemed like an appropriate occasion for deep-frying.

My primary goal when I’m deep-frying anything, batter-coated or not, is crispness. I want the outside to be crunchy, not soggy or greasy, and I want the inside to be cooked through without any chewy or mushy parts. The trick is getting the temperature of the cooking oil right for the size of the object being fried.

bonus: deep-frying really repairs the season on your wok if it's getting a little torn up

Small fritters (about 2 tablespoons of batter) cook through in about 4-5 minutes, so the goal is for the outside to be golden-brown on the outside by that point but not before. If the oil is too hot, they’ll get too dark too fast and to keep them from burning, you may have to pull them out before the inside is done. That means that even if they’re crispy when you pull them out of the oil, by the time they’re cool enough to eat they’ll be soggy and the insides will still be mushy. If the oil isn’t hot enough, they’ll either fall apart or absorb too much oil, becoming greasy and leaden by the time they’re brown.

Generally, you want the temperature of the oil to be between 345-375F, although that varies somewhat based on the type of fat, what you’re cooking, and your altitude. I usually don’t bother with a thermometer and just try to figure it out through trial and error. Typically, you want the oil to be bubbling but not smoking, and whatever you’re frying should sizzle when you put it in. If something is browning too fast for the inside to cook through, turn the heat down. If there’s no sizzle, or it takes too long to brown, turn the heat up. Just like with griddle cakes, the first one (or two) might not be perfect, but you should be able to figure it out within a few tries. I suppose with no garlic, ginger, or cilantro, and cream instead of yogurt, this really isn't a raita at all...except for the cucumber and onion

Since the batter had some heat to it already (although that ended up being less discernable after frying), I decided I should make some kind of cooling condiment, and ended up deciding on something similar to a classic raita that I hoped would evoke classic Ranch dressing. I started by thickening some cream by letting it sit in a jar overnight with about 1 T. buttermilk, which turned out the consistency of a thin yogurt, just like Alton Brown said it would. I combined that with some grated and drained cucumber and onion and seasoned it with dill, a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, white pepper, and just a pinch of MSG. If I’d known how mild the fritters would be after deep frying, I probably would have added a diced jalapeno or chipotle in adobo as well, but it was pretty good even without any heat.

giant pattypan squash from my garden, which was so big I had to scoop out the seeds like a pumpkin, and an assortment of squash from Needle Lane Farms

Just like the first version of squash fritters I posted, this is a great way to use up summer squash. Salting and draining the squash not only prevents the batter from getting watery, it also really reduces the volume of vegetable matter. I managed to turn all the squash pictured above into about 5-6 cups of shredded squash, which I was able to use up in a single batch of fritters. Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you may want to halve the recipe, but it’s still a pretty good way to get rid of a lot of summer squash at once, and turn it into a main attraction.

Recipe: Curried Zucchini Squash Fritters (adapted from Pakora (Bhaji) Recipe: Spicy, Deep-fried Chickpea Flour Dumplings’>Indian Vegetarian Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium-to-large summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, yellow squash, etc.)
  • 3 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 small to medium onion (or half of a large one)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
  • 2 1/4 cups chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • curry powder: 1 dried hot chili pepper, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. coriander seeds, 1 t. whole fenugreek, 6 cloves (bud only), 6 peppercorns, 1/2” cinnamon stick (or 1/8 t. ground), 1 t. ground turmeric
  • a pinch of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 2-4 T. oil for griddling OR about a quart of canola, peanut, or vegetable oil for deep frying (or lard, clarified butter, or coconut oil if preferred)

1. Grate the squash—much faster in a food processor, but especially if you’re halving the recipe, I guess it wouldn’t take that long with a mandoline or box grater.

before draining, probably ~12 cups of squash

after draining, barely 6 cups

2. Put the shredded squash in a colander (or two), sprinkle the salt over it and toss to coat evenly. Let drain for at least 10-15 minutes and then press out as much moisture as possible. (You can do this a day or two in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to make the fritters.)

3. Toast the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek in a small skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Grind along with the chili pepper, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and turmeric in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until fine.

toasting the seeds blending with chili, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric; this is basically the same curry powder I make when I make dal

4. Mince the garlic, and jalapeno (if using) in a blender, food processor, or with a knife. Add the onion and puree (or grate).

in a classic pakora, onion is usually cut in larger pieces and serves the role the zucchini plays in this recipe, more like onion rings; however, in this recipe the onion becomes part of the batterall the batter ingredients

5. Add the chickpea flour, rice flour, curry powder, baking powder, and water and blend or stir until smooth. Add more water if necessary until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter, or a very thick cream.

5. Add the drained squash and chopped cilantro. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the chickpea flour absorb as much water as possible. (You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before frying, but take it out of cold storage 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to let it return to room temperature.)

 will be grainy, especially before resting  squash shreds all incombined

6. If griddling, pre-heat the pan over medium-high heat and add about 1 T. oil and turn the pan to coat evenly. Shape the batter into small patties and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and done throughout. Add more oil as necessary to keep the pan lubricated.

If deep frying, heat the oil in a large pot or wok until bubbling but not smoking. Test a small amount of batter—it should sizzle when it hits the oil, and may sink initially, but should rise to the surface of the oil and bubble vigorously. If it doesn’t sizzle or rise, the oil isn’t hot enough. If it gets too dark too fast, the oil is too hot. Adjust as necessary and then fry the fritters in batches, turning so they brown evenly. Don’t add too many to the pan at the same time or they’ll cause a rapid drop in the temperature of the oil.

7. Drain on paper towels. To keep warm before serving, place the fritters on oven racks set on baking sheets in a 200F oven.

Recipe: Ranch Raita (adapted from Alton Brown)

a jar full of slightly-cultured cream; there's a bit of a skin on the top but that mixed in easily. comparable to creme fraiche, but way cheaper.Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 T. buttermilk
  • 1 small cucumber (or a half of a large one)
  • 1 small onion (or half of a large one)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 t. dried dill or 1 T. fresh
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of MSG or nutritional yeast (optional)
  • jalapeno or cayenne (optional)

1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan or for about 30 seconds in a microwave on high until it’s just under 100F.

2. Stir in the buttermilk, pour into a glass jar and let sit in a dark, warm place for 24 hrs.

3. Grate the cucumber and onion, salt all over and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Press to remove as much moistures as possible. Combine with the cultured cream.

I grated both the cucumber and onion with a "ribbon" microplane salted and draining; I saved the juice, but then couldn't think of anything to do with it. might be good combined with tomato juice like homemade V8?

4. Add the lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper, and MSG or nutritional yeast if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you want it spicy, add a diced jalapeno and/or cayenne pepper.

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli: A waste of a very expensive spice

they're prettier if you pipe the yolks back in with an icing tip, but I usually just can't be bothered

The Emperor’s New Spice

Saffron is well-known for being the most expensive spice in the world. In 2009, the average U.S. retail price was nearly  $3000/lb. For comparison, vanilla beans, the second most expensive spice, retail around $150/lb and even if the cheapest you can get them is $5/piece, they’re only about $450/lb. Although saffron is prized for its aroma, its subtle flavor, and its ability to dye dishes a rich golden hue, the cost is primarily due to how resource and labor-intensive it is to produce.

the saffron crocus, from WikipediaEach thread of saffron is a pistil from a particular species of crocus, and each flower only produces three of them. It takes 170,000 flowers to produce a single kilogram of dried saffron. Furthermore, the pistils have to be harvested by hand during the short window of time when they bloom in October, and the harvesting must happen before sunrise because the flowers are so delicate that they wilt in the sun.

As my friend Kevin recently pointed out, saffron is a great example of something priced at its economic or exchange value rather than at its intrinsic (or use) value. As lovely as it smells, its aromatic compounds are extremely volatile and especially vulnerable to light and oxidizing agents. It’s somewhat more resistant to heat, but I generally find the flavor all but impossible to discern in most dishes, including some of the classic applications like paella and bouillabaisse. Given that, I probably should have known better than to put it in deviled eggs, which get their name from the pungent spices combined with the yolks. I could barely even discern it in the aioli on its own.

However, it sure does make things sound fancier. Kevin also recalled a recipe he’d seen for a bean dish involving saffron that noted, “adding saffron to beans is a good way to tell your guests that you’re not just being cheap by serving them beans.” And this, I think, is the true function of saffron at least most of the time: it’s something you put in food to prove you know what it is and can afford it, and then everyone feels compelled to say they can taste it and maybe they even think they do. But really, you could get the same effect by just telling people you put saffron in the dish.

A Classic for a Reason

In the future, I’ll probably skip the saffron-soaking. And I’ll probably just use Hellman’s/Best Foods mayonnaise with a little garlic and lemon juice mixed in instead of making my aioli from scratch. If, for some reason, you really want the aioli to be a vibrant yellow (not that you can tell anyway if you’re mixing it with egg yolks), you could always add some turmeric. Of course, then what you’ve got is just plain old deviled eggs. But there’s probably a reason the same basic preparation has been around for possibly as long as eggs and spices have been consumed.

I should have done half saffron aioli and half Hellmann's and seen if anyone could tell the difference.

According to The Food Timeline, recipes for boiled eggs topped with spicy sauces appear shortly after the Ancient Greeks and Romans domesticated egg-laying birds. There are recipes for spicy stuffed eggs in a 13th C. Andalusian cookbook, 15th C. Italian cookbooks, and 16th and 17th C. British cookbooks. Sometimes the recipes call for the yolks to be pounded with raisins, cheese, and spices like cinnamon and cloves, which might have produced something similar to mincemeat. However, mustard, onion, parsley, and cayenne are also common flavorings, and would probably have produced something virtually indistinguishable from the way most people “devil” their eggs today.

The association with the devil is apparently an 18th C. invention. As a culinary verb it was used for other hot & pungent preparations too— “devilled biscuits” referring to shortbreads spread with anchovy paste, mustard, and cayenne and then grilled (doesn’t that sound fantastic?) and seafood preparations that usually sound something like a curry. At least one cookbook suggested “devilling” or broiling meat with cayenne as a way of dealing with “relics of poultry or game.” None of them, I should note, involve saffron, and in retrospect if there’s anywhere you could expect saffron to shine, a dish specifically noted for being devilishly spicy is probably not it. So here’s a very foolish recipe if you want to waste some saffron, too. Or just skip to the egg part:

Recipe: Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli (makes enough aioli for about 2 dozen eggs)

Ingredients:

For the aioli:the water-solubility of the pigments is one of the reasons it's traditionally used to color/flavor grain dishes, becasue if you diffuse it in the liquid first it dramatically changes the appearance of the dish

  • a large pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
  • 1 1/2 T. warm water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t. white wine vinegar
  • 2 t. lemon juice (plus more if needed)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 t. mustard powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • 1/2 c. canola
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

For the deviled eggs:saffron tea

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/2 cup saffron aioli
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. celery salt (or celery seed + salt)
  • 1/2 t. ground white pepper (or black pepper)
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • paprika to garnish (optional)
  • pimento slices to garnish (optional)

Method

For the aioli:

1. Place the saffron and warm water in a small bowl and let soak for about 20 minutes

2. Immersion blender method: Put the saffron tea, and all of the other ingredients except for the oils in a 2 cup measure or the beaker that came with the blender and then place the blender flush against the bottom. Carefully pour the canola oil into the container so that it sits on top of the other ingredients and let the contents settle for a minute. Without lifting or moving the blender at all, begin pulsing it. A cloud of emulsified dressing should begin to bloom up from the bottom. Keep pulsing for about a minute, until at least half of the mixture is emulsified. Then, begin to slowly rock or rotate the blender to incorporate more of the oil. Once almost all of the mixture is emulsified, plunge the blender vertically through the mixture once or twice until the texture is homogenous. Then, whisk in the olive oil by hand. Do Not use a blender to combine the olive oil or substitute olive oil for the canola—blending olive oil releases bitter-tasting compounds that will ruin the aioli.

everything but the oil goes in the measuring cup immersion blender flush against the bottom of the measure pour the oil in after putting the blender in so it sits on top of the other ingredients pulse to gradually incorporate and emuslify the oil

Food processor method: Put the saffron tea and all the other ingredients except for the oils in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. With the processor running, add the oil slowly—start with just a few drops at a time, gradually working up to a thin stream. Once the emulsification has formed you can add the oil more quickly. After all the canola has been emulsified, stop the processor and whisk in the olive oil by hand.

Whisk method: Combine the egg yolk, vinegar, lemon juice, and spices and whisk together until the yolk begins to lighten in color. Whisking constantly and furiously, begin to add the oil one or two droplets at a time. Once the emulsification begins to form, you can add the oil a thin, steady stream. After all the canola has been added in and emulsified, whisk in the olive oil and the saffron tea.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Let sit at room temperature for 4-6 hrs to help kill any unwanted bacteria. Then, refrigerate and use within a week.

this was slightly more liquid than the mayonnaise I've made before, I assume because of the 1.5 T. water required to soak the saffron

For the deviled eggs:

1. Place the eggs in a pot with enough cold water to cover by at least 1”.

2. Bring to a rapid boil and set a timer for 6 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. As soon as the six minutes is up, drain the eggs and plunge them into the cold water.

4. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them in half. Squeeze gently to remove the yolks.yolks out the aioli was actually almost exactly the same color as the yolks, so it's hard to discern here

5. Combine the yolks with the aioli (or 1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise combined with a clove of minced garlic and 2 t. lemon juice), mustard, and spices and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

6. Fill the whites with a rounded scoop of the yolk mixture. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, pipe the mixture back into the whites with an icing bag and tip.

7. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and slice of pimento, if desired.

early 20th C. American cookbooks often suggest serving them on a bed of chopped cresses or cabbage, so that's always an option for presentation as well

Taffy Apple Cream Dip

I really only took like one picture of the table after everything was finished, so many of these are just zoomed-in parts of the full spread. Not the best angle--you can't even see how prettily Brian arranged all the peaches.

I really should have put a toothpick in that bowl with a flag on it explaining what it was because now and then when I’d stop by the table and drag a wedge of peach or a few blueberries skewered on a toothpick through it, someone would look at me, horrified, and say something like, “Blueberries with hummus? Really?” No, not really, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that people didn’t immediately recognize it, even if the plates of fruit surrounding it were meant to be a clue.

“Taffy apple dip” (aka “caramel apple dip”) is usually just a combination of softened cream cheese, brown sugar, and vanilla. The first time I had it was at a pumpkin carving party last autumn. My friend Sara brought it, and said it was something her mother had made every autumn for years. As soon as I tasted it, I understood why. The molasses in the brown sugar has many of the same flavor compounds as caramelized sugar, and combined with the vanilla and buttery cream cheese, it evokes toffee or milk caramels.Michigan blueberries are so great right now, this is kind of gilding the lily. But what tasting gilding. It’s the perfect accompaniment for  crisp, tart apples, and so much simpler to make and eat than a whole apple on a stick dipped in caramel.

I knew I wanted to serve fruit at the party, but somehow just cutting up fruit didn’t seem festive enough. Since it’s not quite apple season—although I did find some honeycrisps at the farmer’s market—and the real stars of the late summer in Michigan are peaches and blueberries, I thought I needed to tweak it a little bit. I just wasn’t sure softer fruits would hold up to the original recipe. So I decided to combine it with some whipped cream. And just to be sure the cream wouldn’t start to melt or weep, I stabilized it with some cornstarch and powdered sugar, following Rose Levy Beranbaum’s instructions in The Cake Bible.

The resulting dip was exactly what I was looking for— rich, but light, like a caramelly cream cheese cloud. It was sort of reminiscent of marshmallow fluff, but not quite as sticky and way more delicious. I think the fat in the cream cheese also helped further stabilize the cream because even after three days in the refrigerator, the leftovers stayed perfectly light and creamy and didn’t seep any whey at all. So you could totally make this 24-48 hours before serving, and you could probably even skip the stabilizing step. Also, I bet it would make an amazing cake filling or icing, especially for a spice cake. 

Recipe: Taffy Apple Cream (adapted from Sara J. and Rose Levy Beranbaum)

  • 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 2 T. powdered sugar
  • 1 t. cornstarch
  • pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1. Refrigerate your mixing bowl and whisk attachment(s).

2. Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream, stirring constantly until all the lumps are dissolved and the mixture is completely smooth.

3. Cook the mixture over low heat until it simmers, and keep cooking it for 30 seconds to a minute at that temperature until it thickens to about the consistency of corn syrup.

4. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

5. Once the mixture is cool, beat the cream in the chilled bowl just until it’s just thickened enough that the tines of the beater leave distinct trails. 

6. Add the cooled cornstarch mixture, beating constantly if possible or in several small additions, beating well after each addition. Continue beating just until stiff peaks form when the beaters are raised. Do not overbeat.

7. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth and creamy, and then add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until the sugar is dissolved. stabilized whipped cream and traditional whipped-cream-less taffy apple dip waiting to be merged

8. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture just until combined.

Spiced Tomato Jam: Celebrating the sweetness of the tomato

these three largish tomatoes produced about a cup and a half of jam

The Official Verdict in the Fruit v. Vegetable Debate

In 1883, the U.S. Congress passed a Tariff Act imposing a 10% tax on imported vegetables to protect American farmers from foreign competition. Although that may sound like a fairly straightforward piece of legislation, one New York family took issue with a single word in the law: “vegetable.” The Nixes—John, John, George and Frank—imported a shipment of tomatoes from the West Indies in 1886, and were outraged to have to pay a “vegetable” tax on what scientists had for years agreed was technically a fruit. They forked over the 10%, but then they turned around and sued Edward Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York, to recover the duties they thought they had been made to pay unfairly.

Somehow, none of the lower courts managed to satisfactorily sort out this semantic debate, so by 1893, the case had made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyer for the plaintiff read definitions from Webster’s and Worcester’s for potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrot to prove that the tomato was of an entirely different ilk than those edible roots, leaves, and flowers. The defendant parried back with Webster’s definition of “vegetable”: “cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,” and called in multiple witnesses to testify that tomatoes were commonly understood to be covered by those crucial last three words.

The court sided unanimously with the defendant. As Justice Horace Gray wrote in the decision:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word “fruit” as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are “fruit,” as distinguished from “vegetables,” in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Gray went on to explain that regardless of the scientific definition, in “common parlance” tomatoes were considered a vegetable and most commonly eaten as part of the main course, as opposed to fruits, which the court agreed were more commonly eaten for dessert. And so, to this day, the tomato is legally considered a vegetable even though, as even the court acknowledged, it is botanically classified as a fruit.

the tomato's no more alone in there than pears and apricots are the only fruits; image from the Wikipedia article on "Fruit" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit

More Than a Technicality

I suspect that the reason the debate about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable lives on while other culinary “vegetables” that contain the seeds of flowering plants (like cucumbers, peppers, squash, peas, and beans) remain relatively uncontroversial is because tomatoes walk the line between savory and sweet. As the Supreme Court noted, they’re too savory—and in particular, contain too much glutamate, which makes them rich or even “meaty”—to be routinely eaten for dessert, but at the peak of their season, they can be almost as sweet as strawberries and far sweeter than other berries that do regularly appear in desserts, like cranberries or currants.

paired with aged gouda on whole wheat baguetteWhile I’m a big fan of tomato-flavored desserts, too—more on that later this week when I post about my tomato curd shortbread squares—what’s great about the tomato jam that Mark Bittman wrote about two years ago is that it reflects the tomato’s ambivalent nature. A cup of sugar enhances the natural sweetness of late summer tomatoes and gives it the thick, gooey consistency of any other fruit jam, but an hour or more of simmering also intensifies the savory umami flavor imparted by tomatoes’ high glutamate content. It also gets a spicy kick from the jalapeno and tartness from both the natural acidity of the tomatoes and the addition of some lime juice. Cloves and cinnamon give it just a hint of bitterness, so it actually hits basically all the major taste categories. Pair it with something fatty like cheese or softly-scrambled eggs, and you activate all the taste sensations typically associated with food (missing only metallic and alkaline, which are generally far less appetizing).  

Bittman says it’s great on tuna, meat, or white fish. Given its similarity to ketchup or tomato chutney, I can also imagine it being served with any form of fried potato—from French fries to samosas. It would also make sense as a burger topping or sandwich spread with any number of fillings—grilled eggplant, ham, or a thick slice of cheddar or a smear of goat cheese. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could exploit and enhance its sweetness by using it the way you might use strawberry or raspberry preserves—as a filling for a cookie or cake, a topping for cheesecake or ice cream, or a mix-in for cake batter, icing, or a custard base. With this jam, you could make anything from tomato rugelach to tomato cupcakes with tomato cream cheese frosting or tomato ice cream.

The possibilities are basically endless, but the window of opportunity is probably limited—I can’t imagine getting satisfactory results with the kind of supermarket tomatoes that are picked and shipped when they’re green and stay hard and relatively flavorless even after ripened with ethylene gas. I suppose it’s possible that canned tomatoes could work, since they’re generally preserved at their peak ripeness, but no guarantees. If I get a hankering for it in February, maybe I’ll try it and let you know.

Recipe: Tomato Jam (from Mark Bittman)

housewarming 148Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes  
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 T. lime juice (from about 1/2 a large lime)
  • 1 T. minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno (or other hot pepper) or a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • a pinch of ground cloves

1. Core and dice the tomatoes. If you don’t want the skins in the final product, blanche them before chopping in boiling water for 60 seconds and then dunk them in an ice bath or run them under cool water—the skins will slip right off.

2. Stem the jalapeno, and remove the seeds if you’re wary of the heat—you can always add the seeds back in later if you want more of a bite.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

housewarming 149 housewarming 164

4. Turn the heat down until the mixture is just simmering gently, and cook for at least an hour until the texture is thick and jammy, stirring occasionally (it took me about an hour and a half). You’ll have to stir it more frequently towards the end of the cooking time to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan. It will thicken more after it cools, but it should be thicker than a sauce before you take it off the heat.

5. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Then, cool completely and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sourdough-risen Baguettes, Regular and Whole-Wheat

not quite as long as traditional baguettes, because my oven isn't as long as commercial ovens

A “French” Bread from Austria

There are conflicting accounts about the origins of the baguette—the thin rod of bread with a crisp and chewy crust and soft, yielding inside with large, irregular holes that most Americans associate primarily with France. Indeed, baguettes or at least something baguette-shaped is usually what English-speaking people have in mind when they refer to “French bread.” Nonetheless, according to The Food Timeline and Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1979), the baguette actually originated in Vienna, where steam ovens were invented in the 19th C. “True French bread,” according to David, is “the old round or cylindrical hand-shaped ‘pain de campagne’ [country bread] or pain de menage’ [bread of the household, or common bread], plump, and crossed with cuts so that when baked the crust is of many different shades, gradations and textures and the crumb rather open and coarse.” That explains why in France, and still occasionally elsewhere, things that look very like baguettes are called “Vienna bread.”

large-ish, irregular holesHowever, baguette-shaped loaves were common in France nearly a century before Viennese steam-blasting ovens were adopted. According to Jim Chevallier, the author of a self-published book on the croissant, by the 18th C. “the default shape [for bread] was already long and narrow, and Malouin refers to the round shape as how ‘bread was shaped in former times’.”

Both David and Chevallier suggest that the shift from round balls to long batons was caused not by the steam oven, but instead by the increasing use of soft doughs (molle or batarde, meaning in-between or “bastard”), which relied on two inventions: a more refined flour sifted to remove most of the the fibrous bran and germ and the use of brewer’s barm or dried yeast. The resulting breads were much softer and lighter than the older style of bread made with whole grain flour and leavened with old dough (levain, which is basically a kind of sourdough starter). The older styles, called pâte briée or pâte broyée, were so dense and coarse that they were traditionally kneaded with the feet or pounded with long iron sticks.

the whole grain version has fewer large holes and is just slightly denser, but still soft in the middle, crusty on the outside, and flavorful and pleasantThe shift from hard, whole grain dough to soft, refined-flour dough also prompted a proliferation of interest in crust. Before the 18th C., the crust was considered the least desirable part of a loaf and often grated off and sold separately as bread crumbs. But the lighter loaves, when not burned by the uneven wood-burning ovens of the day, developed a golden-brown exterior with a rich, toasted flavor that was still soft enough to  chew. Instead of getting rid of the crust, bakers started to develop ways to maximize it, including new shapes and slashing techniques, like the fluted pain long, which if not a “baguette” proper certainly looked a lot like one.

Ultimately, whether we believe David that the baguette is a 19th C. invention or Chevaillier that it dates to the 18th C. may come down to the definition of “baguette." If you take the name “baguette” to refer primarily to the shape of the loaf, it seems clear that it pre-dated the Industrial Revolution and Viennese steam-blasting oven. However, if you think “baguette” refers only to the specific kind of baton that’s 2-3’ long and about 2” in diameter with barely-there insides and the kind of crust you can only achieve by blasting it with steam periodically during the baking process, then it’s a far more recent invention.

I No Can Haz Steam-Blasting Oven, Oh Noes!

seriously, how French does this kid look? I mean, he *is* French, but does he have to be SO FRENCH? From Salut! by Stacey in France, click for sourceSo, as suggested above, it’s true that the kind of baguettes that instantly make anyone holding one look impossibly-French get their characteristic crustiness from steam-blasting ovens. I’ve discussed this issue before.

I can’t create quite the same dramatic seam-splitting and crustiness in my standard dry-heat oven, and I imagine the best home results probably rely on a specially-shaped lidded ceramic baking dish like this La Cloche, which traps the moisture from the dough just like the covered pot used in Jim Leahy’s no-knead method. However, I have not been disappointed with the results I get from overnight refrigeration, a pizza stone, a cast iron pot, and a spray bottle. Mine turn out a little breadier than a traditional baguette, but they also last a bit longer without getting stale and still have a nice crisp, chewy crust.

Further blasphemy: even though the baguette was created specifically for the special characteristics of refined flour—the quick-rising, seam-splitting, ethereal insides and shattering outsides that depend on the dough being composed almost exclusively of easily-digestible starches and not a lot of indigestible fiber, I think I get pretty good results even using almost-entirely whole wheat flour as long as I add a little more gluten and sugar. Sure, my whole wheat loaves are a little denser and a little chewier, but not, I think, unpleasantly so. As you can tell from the pictures, they rise almost as much as their refined-flour counterparts, although the crumb isn’t quite as open and irregular. They still seem unmistakably baguette-ish to me.

What follows should be in no way construed as a “traditional” baguette recipe—if anything, it’s probably closer to the 18th C. predecessors than the modern baguette. Nevertheless, it is shaped like a baton, crusty on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside, and just right for serving alongside a few wedges of cheese or slicing on a bias and topping however you like for canapés.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Baguette (makes 2 loaves about 2’ long) both batches of dough mixed and ready to knead; I let them rest in the bowl instead of turning them out onto my silpat, so that's always an option too

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. white sugar
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Whole Wheat Baguette (approximately .78-.83 whole grain)

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 T. vital wheat gluten
  • 1 T. malt extract or maple syrup or honey or any other sweetener
  • 1 T. white sugar
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Instant yeast adaptation: Instead of the sourdough starter, use 1 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) Active Dry or Rapid Rise yeast. Add an additional 2/3 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. The first rise should only take about one hour, and you can take it out of the refrigerator just 30 minutes before baking.

Method

ingredients in, ready to mix1. Combine all ingredients except the “extras,” using the smallest amount of flour called for, and stir with a large spoon or spatula just until it comes together and starts to pull away from the bowl. If using whole wheat flour and added gluten, whisk the gluten into the flour before adding it to the moist ingredients.

2. Turn onto a lightly-floured surface, cover with the mixing bowl, and let sit for 5-15 minutes to let the flour absorb as much moisture as possible.

3. Knead for 10-15 minutes, adding as much of the additional cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from being too sticky to work with. It should be sticky, just not so sticky that it sticks to you more than it sticks to itself.

4. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size (2-12 hrs, depending on your starter; 1 hr if using instant yeast)

before rising 5-6 hours later

5. Generously dust a kitchen towel with flour or whatever else you want to use to coat the loaf—you must use something, or it will become permanently adhered to the towel and when you try to unroll it onto the pan, you’ll completely destroy the shape and be stuck trying to scrape the dough off with your fingernails. Sometimes when I’m dusting it with something coarser than flour, I still dust the towel with a layer of flour first just to be sure it won’t stick. Sticking is very bad.

towel generously dusted, dough rolled out; you can see it sticking to the silpat; imagine trying to get it off something other than silicone

hard to see here, but I did dust the towel with flour before sprinkling it with oats

6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long rectangle and then roll up, jelly-roll style, into a long tube. Place on the prepared towel and dust the top side with whatever you’re using to prevent the loaf from sticking to the towel.

7. Roll the loaf in the towel, place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to a week. ready to be rolledall wrapped up and ready to spend the night in the refrigerator

8. Take the loaf/ves out of the refrigerator 1 1/2 hrs before you want to bake it/them. 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking tile on one of the racks and a cast iron pot on the oven floor.

9. Just before baking, gently unroll the loaf onto a piece of parchment paper, and slash diagonally every 3”-4”.

if you wanted, you could just bake one at a time. in fact, if you made up a double-batch of dough on the weekend, you could have a freshly-baked baguette 4 days of the week the oats are a little harder to cut through; a super-sharp knife is invaluable for this

10. Slide the loaf, parchment and all, onto the baking tile and quickly pour 1/4 cup water into the cast iron pot and close the oven. Another optional step that will create even more steam (and thus a crisper crust) is to spritz the walls of the oven 3-4 times using a spray bottle full of water.

11. Bake for a total of 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. After 5 minutes and 10 minutes in the oven, add another 1/4 cup water to the pot and/or spritz the oven walls again to create more steam.

does this make my blog look impossibly-French? no? bummer

Warming the House and My First Blogiversary

In celebration of the first anniversary of Sour Salty Bitter Sweet this coming Friday, I’m posting a recipe every day this week. Many of them are also a way of celebrating the bountiful produce of late summer and recording for posterity the things I made for our housewarming party this weekend:

tomato in three forms, basil in two, zucchini in one--it's clearly AugustRoughly clockwise from the bottom left:
Sweet tomato shortbread squares with candied basil
C
urried zucchini fritters with ranch raita
more tomato squares

Kale chips with nutritional yeast and chili powder
Basil pesto, parmesan shaving, & roasted cherry tomato c
anapés
more kale chips

Spiced tomato jam and aged gouda canapés
Taffy apple cream with apples, peaches, pineapple, and blueberries
Sourdough-risen baguettes
Aged gouda and fontina
Deviled eggs with saffron aioli
 

Whether you’re a regular reader or this is your first time here, thanks for visiting. I’m never quite able to give this blog as much time as I wish I could, but what time I have been able to spend on it has been richly rewarding, and that’s largely due to you. Your theoretical presence is what makes me write things in the first place, and I really enjoy the conversations I get to have with you in the comment threads, over e-mail, and IRL. I try not to be too much of a traffic whore, but this makes me happy:

the dramatic spike is from the day in February when Brian linked to me; since then, it's settled into a pretty steady rate of 400-500 visits per week

Sorry, no cake. But there can still be singing:


“Happy Birthday” by Sufjan Stevens

To start off Blogiversary Week 2010, here’s a brief pictorial preview the planned “festivities”:

Monday: Sourdough-risen Baguettes

instead of dusting the whole wheat baguettes with flour, I coated them in rolled oats. fiberlicious!

Tuesday: Spiced Tomato Jam 

tomato, ginger, jalapeno, sugar, and spices ready to simmer

after an hour and a half, looks almost like strawberry preserves

Wednesday: Taffy Apple Cream

a brown sugar and cream cheese dip lightened with stabilized whipped cream so it could be used for fruits other than apple slices

Thursday: Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli

saffron poaching, egg yolk waiting

de-yolked, waiting to be re-yolked

 Friday: Curried Zucchini Fritters with Ranch Raita

is it just me or do most fried things taste way more like "fried" than whatever they started off as?

Saturday: Sweet Tomato Shortbread Squares with Candied Basil

the 1.5 lbs of tomatoes from the garden I used to make the juice for tomato curd tomato curd just after being poured on top of a simple shortbread crust

               the second attempt--the first try didn't work so well

I’m hoping there will be something in there that you enjoy—they’re definitely all things I’d make again. Meanwhile, I’m still wading through a century’s worth of research on weight-loss dieting for the next entry in the series about calorie counts on menus, but I hope to get that distilled into something publishable this week, too.

So here’s to a year of cooking and eating critically! May there be many more.

Summer Squash Fritters and Chili-yogurt Sauce

you know it's August when your dinner consists substantially of zucchini and tomato

I meant to make this recipe and post it on Monday in honor of Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, but we were in the process of moving to a new apartment. So a bit belatedly, here’s my take on the classic zucchini fritter, which is a great way to make any kind of summer squash into something entree-worthy. As a seasonal bonus, it pairs beautifully with the tomatoes that are just nowa tiny bit green, because it got knocked off the plant in the move well before I would have picked it, but after a couple of days in a brown paper bag it was just about perfect, if not quite tomato sandwich material getting ripe enough to harvest in Michigan. The one I sliced up for last night’s dinner was our first German Queen, which is some kind of “heirloom” variety, whatever heirloom means when you’re buying it at a big box store.

There are dozens of ways to fritter your squash. I tend to prefer a high ratio of vegetable matter : batter, so I use just enough egg and whole wheat flour to bind the shredded squash. To keep them light despite the whole wheat flour, I separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks before folding them in (hat tip: Mark Bittman). For flavor, I add a minced onion, some garlic, a handful of sharp cheese and a generous sprinkling of Old Bay, the latter inspired by a mock “crab” cake recipe. For the sake of convenience, I prefer pan-frying to deep-frying, although if you have a deep fryer, I’m sure they’re crisper and more delicious that way.

I don’t think they taste a thing like crab cakes, but they can certainly serve the same role—they work as an appetizer or small plate on their own, as a sandwich on a bun with some coleslaw, or as the centerpiece of a more substantial meal accompanied by a salad or cup of soup or some other side dish. 

if I'd been thinking, I'd have put a cup of the chili-yogurt sauce in the middle. alas.

Although they’re tasty plain, they really want to be served with something creamy and tangy, possibly with a little (or a lot) of heat. If you plan ahead at least 24 hrs, Alton Brown’s chipotle crema would be perfect. On shorter notice, some canned or re-hydrated dried peppers blended with some Greek yogurt and a little mayonnaise does the trick. Other options: some avocado slices and black bean salsa, ranch dressing (especially combined 1:1 with a good salsa), crème fraiche or sour cream, or just plain mayonnaise perked up a bit with some fresh lemon or lime juice and minced or powdered garlic.

I’ll be back to fretting about calorie counts on menus and Food, Inc. and things that won’t kill you soon. But first, I have a lot of books to unpack.

Recipe: Summer squash fritters

  • 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan, or crookneck (between 1 1/2 and 2 lbs)the zucchini I used are the ones cut up in the back, but any of the ones in the foreground would have worked just as well
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled sharp cheese (cheddar, feta, gouda, etc., about 2 oz )
  • a small onion, or half of a larger one
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. Old Bay seasoning 
  • 2-3 T. canola or peanut oil

1. Shred the squash—this would be extremely tedious without a food processor or a sous chef, although you might be able to get away with a fine dice. Place the grated or diced squash in a colander, sprinkle the salt all over and toss to distribute the salt evenly throughout. Let it sit in the sink for at least 10 minutes.

 salted, before draining after as much moisture as possible is squeezed out, about 1/2 the previous volume

2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, mince the garlic, and combine with the cheese in a large bowl.

3. Separate the eggs—you can throw the yolks directly in with the onion, garlic, and cheese. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

 stiff peaks. again, a pain in the ass without electric tools or a very energetic sous chefbefore combining, vegetable matter and egg yolks in the big bowl, egg whites in the medium bowl, dry ingredients in the small bowl

4. Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder, and Old Bay.

5. Press the squash against the sides of the colander to wring out as much moisture as you can. Add the well-drained squash to the onion and egg yolks. Mix to coat everything lightly in egg.

6. Preheat a large skillet on medium-high.

7. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the zucchini-egg-onion mixture and stir until just combined. Don’t overwork it—you don’t want much gluten to form or the pancakes will get tough, although the bran in the whole wheat will actually help prevent that too.

8. Add the beaten egg whites to the zucchini mixture and fold in gently until just combined. You want to preserve as much of the air suspended in the egg whites as possible.

resorting to flash. new kitchen doesn't have a lot of natural light. it does, however, have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, so it's hard to be too displeased no pictures of the shaping process, because it's messy

10. Test the pan for heat by flicking a few droplets of water at it. They should jump and sizzle. If they don’t, turn the heat up. Add 1-2 t. oil to the pan and tilt to coat the surface evenly.

11. Form the mixture into patties with your hands and drop into the pan. My fritters usually end up about the size of my palms, so I imagine bigger hands = bigger patties. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook through—about 1/2” at the most. Smaller is always an option.

12. Cook until the underside is very brown—about 4-5 minutes—and then flip very gently. Cook for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Continue until all of the mixture has been cooked. If they seem to be getting very dark in less than 4-5 minutes, turn the heat down.

Recipe: Chili-yogurt sauce

  • 2-3 dried chilis (I used one small habanero, one small cascabel, and one small red chile) or 1 canned  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or more)
  • 2 T. mayonnaise (optional)
  • salt to taste

1. If using dried chilis, immerse them in boiling water and soak them for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.dried chiles, just after I added the water after soaking about 8 hours

2. Drain and remove the stems and seeds (you can add the seeds later if you want more heat, but it doesn’t really work the other way around). Alternately, remove the chipotle from the can.

3. Blend the chilis with the yogurt and mayonnaise, if using, in a food processor or blender. Add enough reserved seeds to make it as hot as you want it and salt to taste.

in the blender I accidentally bought fat-free Greek yogurt (curses to the people who create a demand for that nonsense) so the mayonnaise was my way of coping

Sourdough starter-risen American pumpernickel and starter maintenance options

"red-headed stepchild" on the right split while rising and that seemed to obviate the need for slashing; "favorite child" on the left obviously got a little better shape and rise 

Devil’s Fart Bread

“Pumpernickel” has the best etymology in baking (sorry, bagel). “Pumpern” was New High German slang for flatulence, and “Nickel” or just “Nick” was a common name for Satan (e.g. “Old Nick”) as well as other off-brand goblins, demons, rascals, and bastards. So the name of the bread literally means “farting devil” or “farting bastard.” Seriously, this etymology is accepted by German philologist Johann Christoph Adelung, Merriam-Webster, the Snopes Language Database, the publisher Random House, and the Kluge, which from what I can tell is basically the German OED.

It apparently got its name because, especially in its original form, it is extraordinarily dense and full of indigestible fiber. Traditional German pumpernickel is made from un-bolted rye flour and whole rye berries, which move through the digestive system like Metamucil (which I will forever associate with Black History Month). The other reason traditional pumpernickel is so dense is that rye contains very little gluten. No matter how much yeast is in the dough, it won’t rise very much because much of the gas just escapes.

from Wikimedia commonsRye flour also absorbs a lot more moisture than wheat flour and has to be very wet in order to rise at all. A 100% rye flour that’s dry enough to be kneaded or shaped by hand will be a dense, unpleasant brick. Instead, traditional pumpernickel is made with a dough that’s almost like a batter and very sticky. It’s stirred instead of kneaded and poured into loaf pans to rise and bake. The gluten network isn’t strong or extensive enough to create the rounded top you get from wheat breads or American rye risen in loaf pans. That’s is why the German-style pumpernickel (100% rye) that you can buy at the store is perfectly square—it can only rise as high as the sides of the loaf pan.

American Deli-style Pumpernickel

The almost-black color of traditional pumpernickel is due to an incredibly long baking time (16-24 hours at 250F), which apparently causes Maillard reaction browning throughout the entire loaf. Maillard reaction is the same thing that makes toast brown, so traditional pumpernickel is sort of like bread that’s been entirely toasted from the inside-out, which gives it a deep roasted flavor reminiscent of chocolate and roasted coffee.

American bakers who didn’t want to spend the time and resources on that kind of baking process found they could mimic the color and flavor produced by a long stay in a low-heat oven using cocoa, molasses, and/or instant coffee granules. As packaged dry yeast became more widely available, that was substituted for the sourdough starter to shorten the rising time, and vinegar was often added to mimic the traditional tang. Additionally, American bakers used a high proportion of wheat flour to rye flour, which gave their version enough gluten to be shaped by hand and rise like other wheat breads. That’s the version that became popular as part of American deli cuisine. It’s still dense, richly-flavored, and dark brown or almost black, depending on how many darkening agents are used. However, the texture is much lighter and springier than traditional pumpernickel, which makes it far better-suited to sandwiches.

The Ruben: corned beef, gruyere, sauerkraut, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, ketchup, and sweet pickle relishEgg Salad: hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, mustard, minced celery, grated onion, and a little celery salt, with a few pieces of crisp lettuceTurkey Ruben: smoked turkey, gruyere, homemade coleslaw with celery salt

Rye Sourdough Starter Conversion

I made a rye sourdough starter about six months ago, when I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to make a 100% rye dough that would rise like wheat bread if you just added enough gluten. You can make any kind of starter with any kind of flour by following the process outlined here, but if you have a starter going already, you can also convert it to a different kind of flour by simply feeding it with the new flour. I didn’t actually want to convert Ezekiel, I wanted a separate rye starter, so I just used a tablespoon of Ezekiel and fed it with rye flour about every 24 hours as follows:

Day 1: 1 T. rye flour, 1 T. water

Day 2: 2 T. rye flour, 2 T. water

Day 3: 1/3 cup rye flour, 1/3 cup water

Day 4: 2/3 cup rye flour, 1 cup water

The reason I started giving it more water than flour is because rye flour absorbs a lot more moisture, and I realized that feeding it at a 1:1 ratio would produce something that would eventually be more like a ball of dough than a batter. That would will still work— “old dough” style starters are basically the consistency of dough and must be kneaded into new batches of bread gradually. I think wetter starters are a little easier to incorporate, and that’s what I’m used to using, so I decided to keep my rye starter at 150% hydration (2 parts flour: 3 parts water).

Day 3: a few tiny bubbles, just after feeding. Hard to tell in this shot, but the bowl was just under half-full After 8 hrs, the starter had bubbled up high enough to touch the plastic wrap covering the bowl. Done: active rye starter.

The first day, there wasn’t a whole lot of action. On Day 2, there were a few bubbles. By Day 3, the starter got bubbly within a few minutes of being fed and doubled in size within 8 hours. I used it to make a loaf with 100% rye flour, which didn’t rise much, but did get sour. Previous loaves I’d made with mostly rye flour using my wheat starter rose about the same amount, but didn’t get sour. So the rye starter clearly contains more of some strain of yeast that prefers rye flour.

this was dinner one night in February--quartered slices of a brick of traditional-ish pumpernickel with 1) hummus, cheddar, cucumber, and grape tomato, 2) apricot jam, camembert, and apple slices, 3) egg saladI thought about killing it after a few more tries convinced me that it just wasn’t possible to make a soft, sandwich-style or free-form loaf with 100% rye flour. Even after adding 1/2 cup wheat gluten, I couldn’t get enough of a gluten network going for it to rise like a wheat bread. So I can only make 100% rye as tall as my loaf pans go, basically like a traditional pumpernickel. I don’t dislike traditional pumpernickel, but it only really seems suited to being cut into canapé-sized squares and topped with canapé-style toppings, and there’s only so many of those I can eat. There’s nothing wrong with breads that contain less than 100% rye flour, but I don’t need a separate starter for that—Ezekiel will happily rise anything that contains at least 1/2 cup wheat flour.

Keeping a Once-a-Month Starter

The only reason my rye starter is still alive—although haven’t named it yet, so clearly I’m not that attached to it either—is because I’m maintaining it in a way that only requires me to bake with it about once a month instead of once a week. I only save 1-2 t. starter every time I bake, and then feed it weekly until it’s threatening to overflow its jar, which usually takes at least four weeks. I use almost all of it when I bake and save just another 1-2 t. 

You can keep any kind of starter on that kind of feeding schedule if you want to make sourdough-risen bread, but don’t want to do it every week. Once your starter is active, only save about 1 tsp. fed with 1 tsp. flour and 1 tsp. water (or 1.5 tsp. water if using rye flour). Then, about once a week, add just enough flour and water to double whatever is in the jar. A sample feeding schedule for a 100% hydration wheat starter might be:

Week 1: 1 T. flour + 1 T. water

Week 2: 2 T. flour + 2 T. water

Week 3: 1/4 cup flour + 1/4 cup water

Week 4: 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup water

Week 5: 1 cup flour + 1 cup water OR bake and start from the beginning again

Sometimes I forget about it for a week, and nothing bad seems to happen. Once I’ve built it up to 1-2 cups again, I make a mental note that I should bake with it sometime in the next week or two. The night before I want to bake, I “refresh” it by pulling it out of the fridge, dumping it into a bowl, adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and letting it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hrs before mixing the dough. The next day, I measure out as much as I need for the recipe I’m using, and if there’s a lot left over, I either add it to the recipe and reduce the amount of flour/water I use (baking really isn’t a science), double the recipe, or make another loaf. I suppose I could also just throw the extra away, but I hate to do that. I reserve just about a teaspoonful of the refreshed starter to put back in the jar with a teaspoon each of fresh flour and water, which makes a total of about 1 T. starter. Refrigerate. Repeat. 

I could also save a little more starter, say 2 T. or 1/4 cup, and feed it for just two or three weeks between baking. Not to get all self-help lit, but how empowering is that? You don’t have to be controlled by your yeast culture. You can have sourdough-risen bread as often, or infrequently as you want it. You are the master of your own sourdough starter!

Of course, you can also just use active dry yeast, too, and I’ve included modifications for that and a version that uses a wheat-sourdough below the ingredient list.

Recipe: Rye-starter-risen American Pumpernickel (makes 2 large loaves, adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups refreshed rye starter at 150% hydration (roughly 1.5 cups rye flour and 2.25 cups water)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 4-8 T. butter
  • 3 t. salt
  • 2 T. malt extract, maple syrup, or sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 t.-2 t. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 T. shallot, fresh or dried, or onion powder (optional)
  • 2 T. cocoa (optional)
  • 1 T. instant espresso or coffee powder (optional)

Wheat Sourdough Starter Substitution: Use 2 cups of 100%-hydration sourdough starter made with all-purpose or high-gluten wheat flour, like Ezekiel (~1.5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water), increase the dark rye to 3 cups, reduce the bread flour to 2 cups, and increase the water to 1 cup. The rest of the ingredients and steps stay the same. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more wheat flour. If it’s too dry to form a smooth ball and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Active Dried Yeast Substitution: Combine 2 packages or 1.5 T. active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and 1/2 cup all-purpose or bread flour. Let sit for 10 min, and then add 3 cups rye flour, 2 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and the rest of the ingredients from the gluten on down in the same amounts as above. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If it’s too dry and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Method:

1. If using fresh shallot, mince. If using dried shallot and/or any of the spices, grind them in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a zip-top bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

I discovered the motor in my coffee grinder was dead, so opted for the ziploc bag route Some people like the seeds whole--if you do, skip this step and just add them to the dough

2. Whisk together the flours and the gluten, if using. The gluten will start to form long sticky strands as soon as it is moistened, so you want it to be distributed throughout the flour and the dough well.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir just until it starts to come together. black bread 009black bread 010

3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface or rolling mat and knead for at least 15 minutes. It should be slightly sticky, but stick to itself more than it sticks to you and you should be able to form it into a smooth ball.

4. Lightly coat the bowl with oil, put the dough in the bowl and turn to coat the whole surface lightly with oil. Cover and let rise 6-8 hours (or more) until doubled in size.

~midnight~7am

5. Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a smooth round ball or oblong, or place in a loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size (probably at least 2 hrs, perhaps as much as 6 depending on how active your starter is).

punched down as they rose, they ended up being too close to each other and too big for the same pan, so I cut the parchment in half and separated them

6. Preheat the oven to 350F about 30 minutes before you want to put them in the oven.

7. Slash with a sharp knife—diagonal cuts for oblong loaves, a cross or square for round loaves, a slice down the middle for loaf pans. You can also let the loaf split naturally—one of mine did as it was rising. There must have been a small tear in the gluten network on the outside, which grew into a massive split as it rose. They just look a little more “rustic” that way.

8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The combination of caraway, fennel, chocolate, coffee, molasses, and onion or shallot probably isn't for everyone. I'm not a huge fan of caraway so I tend to use very little or leave it out. But there is something about the combination of caraway-infused American Pumpernickel, corned beef, and sauerkraut that just seems "right."