Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dinner Rolls

It's been a long time since I've been as anxious to post as I am today. (For proof, you can look at my frequency.) I just made my dinner rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, which I'm hosting next week. I thought I'd make them ahead of time and toss them in the deep freezer to move them out of the way, since most items need to be prepared the day before or the day of dinner.

I've made rolls before, of course. Like most of you, I like a good, soft, sweet, buttery dinner roll. I really wanted them to be just right this year, but when it came down to time, I didn't have the option of trying several recipes to see which I preferred. Instead, I just went for it today, mixing and mashing up recipes with what sounded desirable in my head, knowing my first attempt would be my only.

Let me tell you, it definitely worked.

If you look at the ingredients, you can probably see where everything went right: white flour, milk, honey, plenty of butter, and a sponge (or pre-ferment) for extra flavor. All the most delicious roll ingredients, but put together in just the right way. They're tender and golden, delicious warm or room temperature, and have a lovely crumb. It doesn't hurt that they're helped out with a double dose of butter – a generous amount in the dough and a nice basting on top.

I debated whether to make cloverleaf rolls or regular round rolls. Here's the argument going on inside my head this morning:
clover leaf angel: Mom always had clover leaf rolls at nice dinners when I was growing up. Ah, sentimentality.
round roll devil: But you know you'll want to make them all perfectly the same and weigh each little tiny ball to make sure they look attractive and bake evenly.
clover leaf angel: Thanksgiving is a special occasion. It deserves special attention, like clover leaf rolls, not boring little puffballs. And my mom will actually be there.
round roll devil: So will several others. You'll need to make a lot of rolls. And the round rolls are perfect for leftover turkey/cranberry/goat cheese sandwiches. Clover leaf rolls don't really do that job.
clover leaf angel: Party pooper.

I made a large batch of dough, which ended up being the perfect compromise: 40 round rolls and 12 clover leaf rolls. I'll serve the clover leaf rolls with dinner and have all the rest for leftovers. Or seconds. Or thirds.

The recipe I'm posting here is for half that amount, but it can, of course, be doubled like I did. It's nice to have extra rolls to freeze or giveaway, though, but if there's just two of you, 52 rolls might be overkill.

Dinner Rolls

1 c. all-purpose or bread flour
1 c. cold water
1/4 t. instant* yeast

2 c. all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as you go
1 c. milk
1/4 c. honey
4 oz. (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 t. salt (reduce to 1 1/4 t. if you use salted butter)
2 1/2 t. instant* yeast

Mix the sponge ingredients together (see note below about yeast) in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic and leave on the counter for 3 hours.

Warm the milk with the honey. (If you're using active dry yeast, you can proof the yeast in the milk and honey once it has been warmed. Just be sure the milk isn't heated above 115˚ or you'll kill the yeast.)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sponge, yeast, milk, honey, and salt. Stir together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add the butter and another cup of flour and start kneading, breaking up the butter and blending it as you go. Don't worry about the butter, as it will eventually be thoroughly integrated.

Continue kneading, adding flour as necessary until the dough is still very soft but just barely workable without being too sticky. Knead for 10-15 minutes, until the dough passes the windowpane test**.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place the dough in there to rise. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with the same spray and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour to an hour and a half.

Once the dough has sufficiently risen, turn it out onto a work surface. It should make about 2 dozen rolls. Divide the dough into half, then half again, then partition each of those quarters into 6 pieces. You can shape them into balls and place them on a sprayed half sheet pan, two inches apart, or make clover leaf rolls by dividing each roll into 3 pieces and roll them into balls before placing them in a sprayed muffin pan. Generously baste them with melted butter (you'll need about half of a stick of butter for this). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes, until well risen.

Preheat the oven to 425˚. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden on top and bottom. Cool on a rack. Enjoy.

*I'm always recommending to people that they buy instant yeast, and I'll say the same thing to you. You don't have to proof it, just throw it in with your other ingredients. It's just a little bit harder to find, but 2 of 3 stores carry it in my area, and probably in yours as well. Just buy a pound of it and keep it in a ziploc in your freezer. If you only have active dry yeast, just be sure to proof it in some 105˚ water before adding it to the rest of the recipe, and then subtract the amount of water you use for proofing from the overall recipe.

**Take a small piece of dough and slowly stretch it. If you can stretch it so that it is thin enough to see light through (like a window pane), the gluten is sufficiently developed, and your bread will have a connected, stretchy crumb inside. Otherwise knead for a few more minutes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Triple Chocolate Cookies

I have to admit, I'm struggling with this post, but not because I'm not excited about the product. Oh, no. That's not it.

It's because I don't have any of these cookies sitting around, and they are highly addictive. So much so that taking time to write about them makes me twitch, wondering when I can have them again.

I'll try to restrain myself. After all, I've already made them at least twice in the last three weeks, and one of those times it was a double batch for a little occasion. And Thanksgiving, with lots of pie, is just around the corner, followed by the entire month of December, which is a non-stop onslaught of hard-to-resist deliciousness.

But you have likely not had them yet, unless you've been by in the last few weeks, and even then you haven't had too many (like me). So you should make them. Because they're extraordinarily easy to make. As long as you have chocolate around.

But, see, I'm avoiding the subject again. Let me start from the beginning.

I recently picked up a gem of a cookbook. It's not often I find a new cookbook that is worth its paper to me (though I find many useful cookbooks I would recommend to others) because I have a good collection of books and other recipes. And there's typically nothing really educational or new that I will likely make more than once because it's not a fit for me and my family or because it's just not that good. But when I started picking through Chocolate Obsession, a book from Michael Recchiuti (this one, not this one, though I'd be thrilled to meet either), I felt inspired, culinarily-speaking.

I love his simple method for making chocolates. In the past, I've made my fillings, chilled them, rolled them into balls (a sticky, disgusting mess on my hands), chilled them again, then dipped them. Michael recommend making a filling, pouring it into a plastic- or parchment-lined container, setting it up (or chilling it, as I do), turning it out, cutting it into squares, and dipping. If you've ever dipped chocolates, that probably sounds way easier to you. If not, you may not get it. But I'll have another post about dipping chocolates in the future and then you can try it out.

His book also has a recipe for homemade graham crackers that I was anxious to try after having delicious s'mores with freshly made grahams at Pizzeria 712 in Orem (where the s'mores were amazing, but the pizza was, too). I wasn't a fan of Michael Recchiuti's grahams, but it was a good starting point for me, so I can start experimenting to get the flavors and texture I want.

But, so far, my favorite find in the book is these cookies. I rarely find a new cookie I especially like. I've got my favorites: chocolate chunk, cinnamon, molasses-ginger, what else is there that is really, really worth the calories?

This one.

The base of these cookies is a sandy, chocolate dough. It has no egg in it, so it has some of the texture of shortbread, but it has some leavening in it, so it's fluffy. The cocoa and butter make it a moist treat that melts in your mouth. To add to the experience, generous chunks of milk and dark chocolate are interspersed throughout the dough. The cookies are small, about two or three bites each (unless you're anxious, I guess), but they're rich and delicious and plenty large for their content.

Since the dough is refrigerated for at least three hours and up to three days, they can also be very convenient. Mix the dough today, bake them off after dinner tomorrow. If you can wait.

Triple Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Michael Recchiuti

1 1/2 c. (7 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 c. + 1 T. (1 1/2 oz.) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 t. baking soda
12 T. (6 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. (3 1/2 oz.) granulated sugar
3/4 c. (4 1/2 oz.) dark brown sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped*
1/2 t. Kosher salt, or fleur de sel**
3 oz. milk chocolate, roughly chopped
3 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together in a bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with both sugars, vanilla, and salt on medium, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, incorporating each before adding the next. Mix just until the dough is consistent throughout. Add the chopped chocolates and mix on low until just incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead a few times if necessary to incorporate any crumbs.

Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a log about 1 1/4" in diameter by 12" long. Keep the logs an even thickness and tightly formed, with no air pockets inside.

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325˚. Line the bottom of a half-sheet pan (12"x18") with parchment or a silpat.

Remove the logs from the refrigerator and unwrap them. Using a ruler to guide you and a sharp knife, cut each log into rounds 1/2" thick. Reshape any slices that crumble. Place the rounds on the prepared pans, 1 1/2" apart.

Bake cookies in the middle of the oven until set but soft enough to hold a slight indentation when pressed with a fingertip, 14-15 minutes. Let cool completely on the pan, then remove to a wire rack.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

*Note: If you don't have a vanilla bean, increase the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon.

**Note: If you are substituting table salt because that's what you have hanging around your kitchen (I'm resisting unkind remarks here, but you should know that table salt is much more bitter), please reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chocolate Open House

Chocolate Open House

Thursday, Nov. 5, 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Do you like chocolate? Do you panic when you run out? Do you like to always be prepared with chocolate?

Do you live in the Salt Lake/Provo area? 

Come sample delicious, chef-recommended Guittard chocolate and consider placing an order, or find someone to split an item with. Items available to order include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, semisweet chocolate, chocolate bricks, chunks, chips, cocoa powder, and hot chocolate powder.

Chocolate comes in 10, 25, or 50 lb. increments, depending on what you want. Prices average about $3 a pound, with cocoa powder and hot chocolate powder being significantly less.     

This isn't a business, though that sure would be fun. I place a chocolate order about once a year because I like really, really good chocolate at wholesale prices, and I need help making the order large enough (total minimum order must be at least 500 lbs.) So I do all the work. You just order from me and pick the chocolate up from my house after I get it.

Stop by! Bring your friends and family! I'll have samples of some of the chocolate in original and prepared forms (like truffles, brownies, cookies, and drinks), so you can taste the quality. 

For more information on chocolate, information on where I live, and how to get here, email me at kitchenaddiction (at) 

Please note: Should the order reach 1000 lbs, I'll be closing it, so first-come, first-served. 


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Days 7-14: Everyday dinners

Yes, I am a waste of a blogger. I promised you two weeks of whatever we eat for dinner, and you got 6 days. Pathetic.

In case you're agreeing with me, I'd like to defend myself. I don't really blog for the same reason other people blog, I think. I mean, really, that I don't know why other bloggers blog, but I blog mainly to keep track of my recipes and share them with you when I have something worth sharing. And by "you" I mean the few readers I have plus the bizillions of googlers that find my site when I have something relevant like canned salsa or M&M cake. Seriously my biggest draws. Followed frequently (it varies) by carne asada, cinnamon cookies (for my non-chocolate loving son), and Puerto Rican flan.

But that's beside the point. Back to the argument. I did say I would tell you what we were having for dinner for a slightly different-than-usual purpose. For the most part, I don't cook intense, 6-hour meals on a daily basis, but I do try to cook from whole foods. Not only does food taste better when it starts from good quality whole foods, it's better for you in so many ways. So I thought I'd run down the list a little farther and see if I can fill in the rest of the two weeks.

My daily meals are often but not always quick and easy, ranging in preparation time from 20 minutes to 2 or 2 1/2 hours, depending on the interruptions.

These next three meals are fast.

Nice plate, huh?

First,  it was bread making day, so I made some whole wheat bread when I had time earlier. As it grew closer to dinner, I threw a butternut squash in the oven. When it was done, I removed all the squash from the exterior and mixed it with butter and salt. Then I added some sliced apples and called it good. And, the big test, it had at least two things every child at my table would eat. Kate prefers meat above all other things, but toast and apples will do. And she'll always venture a bite of squash if I ask.

Second, I made a bulgur salad and some quick yogurt naan. In fairness, I had to think about the naan an hour before I wanted to bake it, but it mixes up quickly. The yogurt naan is like a creamy pita, and it gets nice and toasty baking on a very hot stone.

The bulgur salad was new and a great discovery for me. First, I hydrated the bulgur. To do this, place the amount of bulgur you want to use in a bowl. Then top the bulgur with very hot water until it is covered to a half inch above the surface. Once all the water is absorbed, taste it to see if it needs a bit more (if it's too firm). It will have some texture to it even fully hydrated.

While the bulgur was hydrating, I chopped up and prepared some various items I had in the refrigerator and pantry, then added them: red onions, cucumbers, slivered almonds, lemon zest, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

To complete the meal, I served it with some sliced cheese. Another winner in the kid category, though they ate the bulgur salad very well.

My third really fast meal was less than 30 minutes. Sliced fresh tomatoes, homemade biscuits (amazingly fast to make!), and cole slaw.

If you have cabbage and carrots, you can throw cole slaw together in the time it takes for your biscuits to bake. First, follow the recipe in the link above and make the biscuits. (As a side note on them, these days I double the recipe and roll them out twice as thick. We like the biscuits tall.)

While your biscuits are in the oven, core the cabbage, cut in quarters, and thinly slice half of it. Shred a carrot or two and toss together. If you're interested in having onion in there (totally optional), finely dice a small, fresh white onion (nothing too pungent) and add it to the mix. In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 c. mayonnaise, 1 T. white wine vinegar, and 2-3 T. white sugar. And about 1/2 -1 t. Kosher salt and some fresh black pepper if you want it. Add most of the dressing to the cabbage mixture. If it needs more dressing, add the rest.

Slice the tomatoes, pull the biscuits from the oven, and serve. Seriously fast, especially if, like me, you don't need to have meat and potatoes every night.

Slightly longer to make, but not by much, are enchiladas. It usually involves leftover chicken, pork, or beef. I make a quick enchilada sauce helped out by smoked almonds. It gives the sauce body and flavor that would take hours to get normally.

Here's the quick sauce:

Enchilada Sauce
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c. smoked almonds
2 serrano chiles or more, if you're looking for some spice (jalapeños will work), sliced in half
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth
olive oil

In a large saucepan or pot (to avoid splatter down the road), heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until translucent and starting to brown. Add the chiles and garlic for just a minute more of cooking. Add the onion, garlic, almonds, chiles, and tomatoes to a blender. Purée until smooth.

Add a bit more olive oil to the saucepan. Once it has heated, add the purée all at once and start stirring. It will sizzle and pop. Keep stirring until nicely thickened. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the consistency of spaghetti sauce.

To prepare the enchiladas, mix together the leftover meat, some of the enchilada sauce, and some sour cream. Warm some corn tortillas wrapped in a towel in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, depending on how large a stack you have. Assemble the enchiladas at the table (so you don't have that soggy casserole mess) by placing some meat filling inside a warm tortilla, then topping it with more sauce and a sprinkling of grated cheese.

So I've made it to day 10. Not bad for one post, but here are a list of some more random items I've served for dinner recently:

Rotisserie chicken, roasted red potatoes, roast pie pumpkin with butter and salt, salad



Pot Roast

Adobo-Basted Pork Roast (I'll definitely post about this another time)

Seriously. Cereal.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dinner, Day 6: Pozole

Before I write anything, I need to make sure you pronounce this properly. It's a Mexican soup, and it's pronounce "poe - SOE - lay". Now we're talking about the same thing.

So I mentioned last week that I was quite sick. I'm all better now, thanks for asking, but my husband was hit at the beginning of this week with the same knock-your-socks-off cold I had. This was no ordinary humdinger, but rather the kind where you can do nothing but lay in your bed and avoid everything. There was only one thing I could do for him: make pozole.

What?! What about chicken soup with homemade noodles? I'll answer your question, but just because I'm so nice. Back in my single days, anytime a friend got sick, I would make the very best homemade chicken soup and use my grandmother's recipe for homemade noodles. It was delicious at the time, and I especially loved the noodles, but I was burned out on chicken soup before I ever got married. Lucky for me, Mark has never been a chicken noodle soup fan. He does, however, like soups that are aromatic, spicy, and have a good broth.

Pozole is a combination of many of the best flavors Mexico has. You start with a strong stock (though you can cheat, as it gets stronger) then add the flavor of chiles, lots of garlic, pork, hominy, onions, cilantro, cabbage, and lime. I'm convinced that if you only had that garlic, chile-infused broth, you'd be delighted, but everything else puts it over the top. When you're sick, this is the best thing you can eat. It's satisfying and healing. When you're healthy, this is still one of the best things you can eat. It's satisfying, fresh, and packed with vibrant flavors.

I learned how to make pozole soon after I married Mark, as he's long had a strong affinity for good Mexican food, and learned to make it better from Rick Bayless. If you want to make good Mexican cuisine at home, or even just want to improve your Mexican repertoire, he is the master. And if you live nearby, you can come over and browse a cookbook. I have three or four from him, all very useful.

This is a fairly simple version of the recipe. I include my instructions on making a good chicken stock, but if you buy a good variety in cartons at the grocery store, you'll still get a decent soup.


5 lbs. chicken drumsticks
1 large head garlic
2 lbs. pork (sirloin roast or Boston butt works well; even pork chops will do), sliced or diced, 1/2" thick
2 oz. dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles (or more, if you like it extra spicy; or less, if you don't)
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
1 30-oz can white hominy, drained, rinsed
cabbage, thinly sliced
onions, thinly sliced
limes, wedged or cut in half
cilantro, roughly chopped
radishes, sliced

To make the chicken stock, lay the drumsticks in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400˚ for an hour. Cool the chicken until it is manageable. Remove the meat from the chicken and save it for another use.

Place the bones, skin, and anything else remaining from the chicken in a large pot. Cover with water. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have about 6 cups of broth, give or take. Season lightly with salt, but not too much, as the stock may further reduce a bit.

Remove all the garlic cloves from the head. Set two cloves aside. Peel and slice the rest, then add them to the chicken stock. Add the pork to the stock as well. Place the Mexican oregano (not even remotely the same thing as regular oregano, this is found in inexpensive plastic packets in the Mexican section of most grocery stores) in the palm of your hand. Rub your hands together over the pot to crush the oregano as it falls into the soup. Bring the stock to a simmer again; simmer for about 90 minutes, until the pork is tender.

After about an hour, remove the stems from the chiles and shake out the seeds. Place the remaining chile pods in a bowl. Cover with very hot water (or microwave the bowl with chiles and water until water is nearly boiling); set aside and let the chiles rehydrate for about 20-30 minutes.

Once the chiles are soft, place them in the blender with the 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 t. salt, and about 1/2 c. water from the chile bowl. Blend until smooth, adding a touch more water if necessary.

Here's an optional extra step: you can pass the chile purée through a strainer before adding it to the pot if you like. If you don't, you'll have very small pieces of chile skin that you will feel occasionally as you eat the pozole. This doesn't bother me, but it is more pleasant without them. If you thin the purée with a little more water first, it will be slightly easier to strain. The soup will be very good either way.

Add the chile purée and hominy to the soup. Simmer for about 30 minutes to let the flavors come together. Taste for salt and season as necessary. If it's not spicy enough for you, add some cayenne as well.

Set out the aromatics: cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, and lime.

Ladle some soup into a bowl, then add aromatics as desired. Don't miss the squeeze of lime; it's essential!

Enjoy. You'll be better soon.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dinner, Day 5: Pop Tart (Slab Pie)

First, I have to admit I'm cheating a little, but you should have known it was coming if you read my blog. I never blog daily. Even when it sounds like a good idea. So to prevent myself from being way behind (and move myself to only slightly behind), I'm eliminating a few dinner nights.

In the spirit of truth, however, I will fill you in on what dinners I will not be posting about: 1. Nothing. This was two nights in a row, actually, when I was feeling sick as a dog and my good husband continued to make sure the kids got random food or found some good leftovers for them. 2. Costco hot dogs. This is actually part of number 1. 3. Little Caesars. Sometimes we're just busy. This is decent, inexpensive fast food. Probably the fastest, now that they have $5 pizzas always ready to go.

I guess I just posted about those. But we're not counting them in my 14 days of meals because I don't care for them. And it's my blog, so I get to say.

So Day 5 was actually Sunday, Day 6 was Tuesday, and Day 7 is tonight (Thursday). See how it works?

Day 5 was our turn to host family dinner, a favorite of mine. Not only do I love, love, love cooking/baking/toiling in the kitchen, I love hosting. I don't know why, and I'm not going to figure that one out, but I love it. I don't put doilies on the tables and vases with flowers throughout the house, but I do vacuum. I think I just like being home, and I like other people being in my home, rather than going to them.


My father-in-law took a trip to Alaska with his brothers and they caught some mighty fish – salmon and halibut, to be exact  – and he brought some to us to grill for family dinner. Mark marinated the fillets for about an hour in olive oil, salt, sliced onions, garlic, and lime zest. They were very good.

Family dinners are a little potluck, with the host choosing what to base the meal around. Since we had the fish already planned, I made ciabatta, sourdough, peach pie, and nectarine slab pie. What's slab pie, you ask? Well.

Slab pie is a pie made on a sheet pan (with edges). It contains roughly one and a half times the pie dough used for a double-crust pie with the same amount of filling. And when you drizzle a little frosting over the top, it looks very much like a large Pop Tart. Well, more like a Toaster Strudel, I guess. But it tastes a wee little bit better. At least. And it serves a large amount of people, which is a bonus. Still great with ice cream.

My sister-in-law and her husband planted a nectarine tree two or three years ago and asked me a bit ago if I could use the nectarines for pie or something. Never one to turn down free ingredients, I gladly peeled, sliced, and froze the nectarines until it was time to host dinner. Their generosity was a benefit to me: I wouldn't have tried using nectarines otherwise, and I think they may be one of the best fruits for slab pie. They formed a dense, smooth, soft filling, rich in flavor, that was a nice center for such a thin pie.

Let's talk about the crust for just a minute. It's important that you still use the very best crust for this dessert, as the crust is even more predominant than in a regular pie, but keep in mind that you will need to roll it out until it is quite thin, thinner than a regular pie. This is probably the most difficult part of putting the dessert together, but it's not rocket science. Just take your time and be mindful of trying to make a rectangular shape.

My half sheet pan that I used is about 17" x 12", or perhaps just a bit more, with sides that are about 1/2" high. This recipe should work for any pan that is no larger than this size and any pan that is smaller. If you're only going to make a 9" x 13" pan, you'll want to cut back on the pie dough and a third of the filling.

I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper to be sure I could easily remove all the pie pieces. That part is optional but recommended.

I also think this recipe would be terrific with apples. No matter what fruit you use, it really looks perfectly created for breakfast.

Nectarine Slab Pie

for the dough (adapted from Sherry Yard):
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter
3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt (table, or finely ground Kosher)
3/4 c. ice water
3/4 t. white wine vinegar
6 c. peeled, sliced nectarines
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour

2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. milk
1 T. fresh lemon juice

For the dough:
Cut the butter into 1" pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes (no more).

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour and sugar. This lightens the flour to make the dough more tender. Add the butter and salt. Mix on low speed for at least 30 seconds and no more than 2 minutes, until most of the butter is about the size of walnut halves. Stop the machine and pinch all the large pieces of butter flat. Be careful not to just mash the pieces; the goal is to create flat, flaky layers in your dough.

Combine the ice water and vinegar, then add the liquid all at once to the flour mixture. Blend for no more than 15 seconds, until much of it is just coming together.

Spread out two sheets of plastic wrap. Bring the dough together just a bit with your hands, just enough so that it's not all crumbs, but do not work it much at this point, as working the dough while it's slightly warm from this process will damage the layers of flakiness and cause the dough to be tough. Divide the dough into two rounds, one larger by about 25%. Wrap in plastic and square off the edges. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. If you refrigerate it an hour or more, let it set at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling out. 
Just before rolling out the dough, prepare the fruit and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400˚.  Line your baking sheet with parchment paper if desired.

On a well-floured surface, heavily dust both sides of the larger piece of pie dough and roll into a rectangle slightly longer and wider than your baking sheet. Be sure to dust the dough with flour a few times, brush the flour around, and flip the dough over to be sure it doesn't stick to the work surface. Once it is large enough to fill the sheet, come up the edge, and lean over the edge enough to crimp later, fold it in half and transfer it to the pan. Then unfold. 

Roll out the top dough. Fill the bottom dough with the nectarine filling, making sure you get all of the extra juice into the dough. Top with second rolled dough and crimp edges.

Bake at 400˚ until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Since the filling is thin, it will be done as soon as the crust is done. You can reduce the oven temperature to 375˚ if you feel the crust is browning too quickly. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack.

Stir together the confectioner's sugar, milk, and lemon juice. If it needs to be thinned a bit more, you can add a little more milk or lemon juice. Drizzle over the slab pie.

Let cool. Slice into 20 pieces. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dinner, Day 4: Tomato Soup (for the soul)

As I mentioned previously, I'm feeling extraordinarily under the weather. Enough that all I've done over the last 24 hours is sit at the computer or in front of the tv. Okay, that's not true. I took the kids to school, picked them up from the stop, made lunch, fixed Em's hair for ballet, cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the floor, and worked on my new crochet stitch. And I made tomato soup.

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C. Not as high as oranges, which are crazy-off-the-charts high, but a good source of vitamins C and A with a little fiber to boot.

I was planning on tomato soup with grilled cheese for dinner as a celebration of my son's first day of kindergarten, since he's a grilled cheese fan suddenly. But I was slightly hungry at lunch and nothing - NOTHING - else sounded good enough to ingest except water. So I made tomato soup. I didn't have any chicken stock or vegetable stock on hand, so I cheated by adding a few extra vegetables at the beginning. Also, I had a little less tomatoes than I would have liked and supplemented with a can of chopped tomatoes.

I roasted the tomatoes and carmelized the onions to give the soup some depth. I only added a small amount of milk, so it was not only very healthy but a good soup for me on a sick day. I ate very small bowls of it most of the day and found it very comforting.

We didn't have the grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner. My kind husband whisked the children away as soon as he was home from work to their various activities (ballet, back-to-school night, grocery shopping) and left me alone to lay perfectly still and nearly catch up on Top Chef Masters. And he found some food for them on the way. But I didn't mind at all. Now I have more soup leftover for today. Which I am happy to consume.

Tomato Soup

4 lbs. tomatoes (or at least 2; you can supplement with good, canned diced tomatoes)
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 T. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 T. flour
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 c. milk

Turn the broiler on in the oven and set the rack six inches below it.

Spray a sheet pan with non-stick spray. Core the fresh tomatoes (not as essential with Romas) and spread them out on the pan. Broil on both sides until the skins are blackened. Remove from oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In a large saucepan (larger is better so it doesn't spit at you), sauté the onion and a couple of pinches of salt in 2 T. butter for about 5 minutes over medium high heat. (Adding the salt immediately with the onion helps to bring out the sugars in the onion, which will help it to carmelize faster.) Add the carrot and celery and continue to cook until the onions are starting to brown, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 more minutes, until they're more thoroughly browned but not burning. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Place all of the contents of the saucepan in the blender. If you're supplementing with canned tomatoes, add a 15-oz. can, juice and all, along with the onion mixture to the blender. If you're not supplementing, add a tomato or two, removing the skins first. Blend until smooth, then return to the saucepan.

Remove the skins from the tomatoes and purée the tomatoes, in two batches, in the blender. Add to the saucepan. Stir everything together and return to heat. Add 1 cup of water and leaves from the thyme sprigs. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir together the remaining 2 T. room temperature butter and flour to make a beurre manié. Stir the beurre manié into the soup and continue stirring as the soup thickens slightly. Stir the milk into the soup and remove the pan from the heat. If you prefer a thinner soup, you can add more milk.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

You can, of course, strain the soup if you don't like the tomato seeds in there. It wasn't a big deal to me, and straining would take a while. Plus I really liked the consistency of the soup, which would smooth out more upon straining. Removing the skins before puréeing the soup takes away the biggest reason to strain, but use your own judgment.

Also, one or two tablespoons of chipotle purée would be a great addition if you're not serving it to spicy-sensitive kids.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dinner, Days 2 & 3: pancakes, simple soup, and peach cobbler

Day 2 was Tuesday and we had pancakes. Not so exciting, really, unless you're a kid. Then they're great (picture the Kellogg's tiger here). And since it's peach season and I'm overflowing with peaches, we had them with peach syrup.

We use a pretty basic recipe for pancakes from The Joy of Cooking, but we always use half wheat and half white flour, and I usually add cinnamon to the dry ingredients.

My mom nearly always made homemade syrup for pancakes when I was little, or at least that's how I remember it. I've used Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin here and there, but when I don't have maple syrup (because I'm so darn cheap, which is nearly always), I revert to her recipe. It's really easy and I think my family prefers it to all the other options.  It's a simple syrup made by bringing equal parts brown sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan, then boiling them for 15-20 minutes, depending on the heat and your elevation, until it's slightly syrupy. Or, for a more precise determination, your finger should leave a trail after you've dipped a metal spoon into the syrup and rubbed your finger along the back of it.

Sometimes we get a little crazy and add 2-3 T. butter to the syrup at this point, then let it boil another 4-5 minutes. Then nobody gets to request butter for their pancakes because it's already in the syrup and saves us the hassle. This time I also chopped up 3 peaches and added them to the syrup for about 2 minutes of boil time. It tasted really good. And then I could say there was semi-fresh fruit with dinner as well as whole grains. See, not too guilt-inducing.

Day 3 was yesterday, and I was starting to feel a little sick. Stuffy nose, sore throat, that sort of thing. (And today, lucky me, I'm much worse!) Since I'd opted for pancakes the night before, I couldn't resort to cereal or anything so un-vegetably for a second night. Besides, I wanted vegetables. So I made a really basic vegetable soup: I sautéed onions and celery, then added several chopped carrots, 1 clove minced garlic, and 4 chopped potatoes. I covered it just barely with enough water and simmered it until the carrots and potatoes were tender.

Next I used a beurre manié, a handy little trick I learned from paying close attention to a food show on tv years ago, to thicken the soup before stirring in about 1/2 c. of milk. (To make the beurre manié, stir together 2 T. butter and 2 T. flour until well combined.) I highly recommend you learn that beurre manié method, as most soups can't start with a roux and this tastes a heck of a lot better than whisked in cornstarch. But you do have to add fat. Still, it's a healthy soup.

I served it with homemade whole wheat honey bread. It's a revised recipe, not the one I posted about a year ago, and I hope to post it in the near future, preferably before I lose it.

I realized I still had about 10 ripe peaches in the bottom of my fridge that needed to be used, so I made a cobbler for the kids as bribery to get them to clean. (See how wicked I truly am?) I used my favorite ever cobbler topping, which is a sweet biscuit-style topping that always reminds me of making pie dough. In a very good way. And cobblers are so easy. Chop the fruit, stir in some sugar, throw it in the pan, and top with biscuit dough. Bake. Cool slightly. Eat with vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm....

Here's the recipe for the cobbler.

Peach Cobbler 
(or any other fruit variety)

about 10 medium peaches, peeled and sliced (or 6-8 c. other prepared fruit)
1/2 c. sugar, or to taste
1/2 t. cinnamon, optional

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. (12 T., 6 oz.) unsalted butter, very cold but not totally frozen
1 t. white wine vinegar (you can substitute lemon juice)
1/3 c. cold water

Preheat the oven to 400˚. Toss the butter in the freezer for a few minutes if it's not really, really cold.

Prepare the peaches (or other fruit) and add sugar to taste and cinnamon if you want it. Stir well and spread evenly in a 9" x 13" baking pan.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter up into 1/2" pieces and add to the flour. Working quickly with your fingers (like pie dough or baking powder biscuits), break the butter into smaller pieces and flatter pieces without warming it up and rubbing it into the flour too much. Combine the vinegar and cold water and stir into the biscuit dough until it's evenly moist. Drop/spread evenly over the peaches.

Bake at 400˚ for 35-40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly in the middle and the biscuit topping is golden brown. If it's browning too quickly, turn your oven down to 350˚ about halfway through.

Cool partially (you know, about 15 minutes). Serve topped with ice cream or straight up!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dinner, Day 1: steak, grits, and grilled vegetables

I've mentioned to friends a couple of times that I'd be willing to just jot down what we eat on a daily basis for about two weeks, though this may prove to be terribly boring to some of you. Now that school is starting and things are settling, this seems to be a good time, since I'll actually be home for two weeks.

I've been a little busy lately, which is nothing new, and I often forget to think about dinner until afternoon. Yesterday I was thinking we might be having cereal for dinner with everything going on, but my husband mentioned that he'd forgotten to bring lunch or lunch money, so I knew something more filling would be a better plan. Lucky for him, I had the right stuff hanging around.

I pulled a couple of ribeyes out of the freezer and set them out on the counter to thaw. Now, I know you're not supposed to do that. Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator. The problem is this: I've read that it takes about 24 hours per pound of meat to thaw in the refrigerator. You either need one day's advance notice on a small portion or a week and a half for guests if you're thawing anything. Let's not even talk about Thanksgiving turkey. The other bonus in my direction is that I have granite counters, which like to maintain an even temperature and will quickly conduct heat (of the room temperature variety) to the meat. It takes me about 2-3 hours to thaw 2 one-inch steaks from my deep freezer. That's not even getting into the danger zone for meat sitting out too long. (Meat should be kept below 40˚ F or above 140˚ F for safety reasons, as that will prevent bacteria growth.) Seriously, I shouldn't even be mentioning this. Don't follow my advice, because if you get sick I'm warning you this is not proper procedure and you can't sue me. Use your refrigerator for thawing, but plan WELL ahead.

Did I get sidetracked?

So, I thawed two large steaks, which would easily be enough for our family of five.

Last weekend, we took a quick trip to Boise to visit old and dear friends (not old and feeble; they're all still very young). We had a nice meal with three different families, and there was one pervading factor: fresh garden produce. We were even sent home to Utah with some of that produce, so I thickly sliced the zucchini and onion, brushed them with olive oil on both sides, and seasoned them with salt.

After lighting the grill, I cut some fresh tomatoes in half and removed the core and most of the juice inside each half. I drizzled a little olive on them, salted them, and topped them with sharp white Cheddar cheese and fresh thyme. They went into the oven at 425˚ for about half an hour.

We all really like grits, something I've discovered over this last year, and they're so easy to make, so I quickly pulled those together while grilling the steak (just salted), zucchini, and onions. My husband helped, since he really is master of the grill.

So, we had steak, grits, grilled zucchini and onions, and roasted tomatoes topped with cheese. It was absolutely delicious, and I could have left the steak off my plate if it hadn't been so good, too. There was something for everyone in my family, since we have our variety of picky eaters. And there was enough leftover for both parents to have a good lunch the next day.

In case you haven't made grits before, they're not only really easy, they're delicious (if you like corn) and fairly healthy in the standard starch-side-dish category. Unless you add a whole lotta cream and butter. I add a little; I like enough milk and bits of cream and butter to make it creamy tasting without being crazy high in fat. Also, I was never trained by a southerner, so keep in mind that I just make mine to taste really good, not to be authentic to anything in particular. I use yellow cornmeal, which I'm sure is so not the way to go, but it's handy for me, as I usually have yellow cornmeal in the pantry.

Sorry – no pictures!


1 c. yellow cornmeal
2 c. water
2 c. milk (skim to whole, you decide)
1/4 c. cream (or milk, if you don't want to)
3 T. butter (or as little as 1 T., if you're going light)
freshly ground black pepper, optional

In a medium-large saucepan, combine the milk and water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium high, then quickly whisk in the cornmeal.

When the mixture begins to boil, turn it down to medium or medium-low (depending on how much you'll be standing next to it) and whisk at least every 30 seconds, or continually, for about 10 minutes or so. Taste it a few times, and when the cornmeal is tender, the grits are done.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, then the cream or milk. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pie Night

The other night we had a little (sort of) get together with a few friends, mainly to celebrate (or lament?) the end of the biking season, though we've still got Lotoja to go.

I loved the evening because it was nice to hang out and relax with all of our friends we've made through Mark's hobbies, and it was great to serve pie. Don't get me wrong. I love eating pie, too, but – if I had to choose – I would pick making and serving pie over eating it any day.

We had a really difficult time limiting the number of people we invited, which is always a real issue for us, since we would prefer to have an open invitation and let everyone show up, but we don't have that kind of space. Instead, we chose a very crowded amount we thought we could manage and most of them were able to come, fortunately.

That meant we needed a lot of pies. A couple of friends brought cookies (which were really, really delicious). Holly volunteered to make two peach pies and Gina lent me two pie dishes. It was also my brother-in-law's birthday, and he requested pecan pie. I can't make a lot of pie without making chocolate cream, so I made 2 of those, 2 pecan, 3 blueberry, and 1 peach, bringing us to 10 pies with Holly's contribution. But then I had one more pie dish sitting in my cupboard and two boxes of peaches waiting to be frozen and canned, calling out to me. I gave in and threw another peach pie in the oven last minute. As busy as I was, I loved making the pies. It may be my favorite thing to make. I could make them forever.

Even better than making pies, though, was hanging back and watching everyone chat and eat, knowing they were happy to be here. I really like all the friends we've made here, and it was comforting to me to surround myself with them, since moving to a new place can potentially make you feel like you're a fish out of water for a long time. It's terribly selfish of me, really, but I feel really happy serving good food, knowing someone gets to enjoy a taste of something they'll like. I didn't even care if I ate pie that evening, which is crazy, since it was really good. Know what I mean?

I made blueberry pie for the first time ever just a few weeks ago. Not only was I surprised at how well I liked the flavor of the baked blueberries, I couldn't believe how simple it is to make. No peeling or slicing fruit. No juice streaming down the arms. And they bake a little faster than other pies, too, which is nice. This is my recipe:

Blueberry Pie

enough dough for a double crust pie (I like to do 1 1/2 batches of dough and bake the extra, just to be sure I've got plenty)

36 oz. blueberries (2 1/4 lbs.) - frozen then thawed blueberries are great, just use good quality
2/3 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1 T. lime juice
1 t. cinnamon (you almost can't taste it, but it gives it a nice nuance of flavor)

Preheat the oven to 425˚.

Stir together all the pie filling ingredients.

Roll out the bottom and top crusts. Lay the bottom crust in the pan. Add the filling. Top with the top crust. Trim edges, press together, and crimp. Cut a few vent lines in the top of the pie.

Bake at 425˚ for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375˚ and bake until filling bubbles in the middle, topping with foil if necessary to keep the crust from burning (not always necessary). Cool on a cooling rack until room temperature. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Canning Salsa

For the last several years, Mark and I have been canning salsa as our tomatoes ripen, storing up for the winter. And the fall and the spring. He eats a lot of salsa, which is okay, as it's a very healthy food by itself. And still sort of healthy with chips.

This year, we moved to higher ground: 6300 feet, to be more exact. Not having gardened at this altitude before, I was highly disappointed when nothing really worked except the strawberries and blackberries. (The blackberries are new, too, so I won't see any fruit for a while, though the plants have been growing strong all summer, and I'm pleased with that.)

Still, canning salsa is a necessary tradition from an economical standpoint. Even if I buy tomatoes, if I get a good price it's still a better deal than purchasing enough salsa over the course of the next year. And if I use local tomatoes, the flavor is better. At least that's the hope. Mark has traditionally been the mixer and taster, so this year when my steal of a deal on tomatoes ($20 for 30 lbs) coincided with his 170-mile bike race, I knew I'd be in for a daunting task. Not only would I need to be the recipe developer, but it would need to be up to Mark's standard, since he's the consumer. As he relaxed and then snoozed on the couch, I would periodically bring him samples to taste. They passed muster, or maybe even surpassed. In any case, we were both very happy with the recipe, and I was happy I'd kept careful records so I don't have to repeat the stress of perfecting the ingredient list each year.

Most online recipes we've found for salsa include large amounts of vinegar, presumably to keep the pH level plenty low for the boiling water-method of canning. When we started the tradition a few years ago, I did some research. The pH level needs to be at or below 4.6. I bought some pH testing strips that bottom out at 4.5. As long as my salsa is registering at least as bright in color as the 4.5 I'm safe. We've actually never had a problem with this, even without the added lime juice. If you loaded your salsa up with a lot of bell peppers – at least a few cups – you'd probably run into problems and need some vinegar. But, really, you'd need more than just vinegar, because the flavor wouldn't be right in my book. I keep my recipe similar to the same way we make fresh salsa: tomatoes, onions, chiles, cilantro, and salt. I add just a bit of lime to my canned version to give back a little of the tang that's lost from cooking.

As a side note, I'm going to tell you how I choose limes when at the grocery store. (I keep thinking I should do a post on picking produce but have yet to do it.) The thinner the skins, the more time the fruit has had to fill them out on the tree. This means they also shouldn't have large dimpled sections on the ends. If they're all looking pretty good, then it comes down to weight. Compare several by holding them in your hand, one at a time, and choose the heaviest. The heaviest ripened the longest on the tree and is heaviest because it has the most lime juice, and it has the best flavor as a bonus.

As far as special equipment goes, I highly recommend a food processor. I think mine is a 10-cup. You could go as low as a 7-cup, but lower than that and you'll add a lot of time to the whole process, as will going the knife and cutting board direction.

You'll also need a very large pot for a boiling water bath, which you probably already have if you're considering this. I just have a large thin aluminum pot that I use, not specifically made for this, which I bought dirt cheap at a Latin market a long time ago. I don't have a rack for the bottom, though that would be lovely, but I use cut pieces of old flour sack towels (any very thin towel or fabric will do) to wrap the bottom and sides of each jar. This keeps them from banging against each other and seems to work just fine.

Lastly, you'll need a 9-qt. pot for cooking the salsa in. If you don't have one this large, prepare half of the recipe at a time and use a 5-qt. pot.

This recipe makes a medium spicy salsa.

I made two batches of this over the weekend. The second batch, the one I did without several stops to keep track of the process, took me 2 hours from start to finish, including cleanup. Not too shabby, really. Only slightly more than jam.

Canned Salsa
yield: about 7 quarts

15 lbs. juicy, ripe tomatoes (preferably local, as the flavor will be best)
3 large bunches - 9 oz. - cilantro, stems and all, washed
2 poblano chiles
12 large serrano chiles
4 very large (5 lbs. pre-trimmed weight) Walla Walla onions
1 1/2 T. Kosher salt, plus additional as needed
juice of 2 limes, or more to taste

Rinse and core all of the tomatoes. In batches of 4 tomatoes (approximately 1 1/4 lbs.), pulse the tomatoes in a food processor about 8 times, until there are no large chunks left (this will make it easier for dipping once you get to the chip stage). Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a colander suspended over or inside a bowl with room to drip juice. Repeat the process.

After three batches of chopped tomatoes, use a spoon or clean hands to stir the tomatoes in the colander to separate all the juice from the fruit (my tomatoes were almost half juice by weight). Turn the tomatoes out into another bowl and pour the juice into a large pot. Set the pot over medium high to high heat. (You'll want a large pot or it will end up spitting tomato juice all over your kitchen!)

Repeat this entire process with the remaining tomatoes, adding the juice to the reducing liquid as you go, until finished. Continue reducing the liquid while working on the next steps, but stir it occasionally and keep an eye on it. You'll want it to be about a third of the original total amount of juice and it should have the consistency of slightly loose spaghetti sauce.

Rinse off all of the parts of the food processor and put it back together. (You could be really sloppy and ignore this part, but that's messy and a bit disgusting.) One bunch at a time, chop the cilantro in the processor until very fine. Large pieces of cilantro are a good idea for a fresh garnish, not for cooked salsa. Add the cilantro to the tomatoes. Repeat with remaining cilantro. Rinse the food processor again and put it back together.

Peel the onions and cut them into wedges. Process them in small batches - one at a time - until very fine, about 11 quick pulses. Rinse the food processor again.

Cut the ends off the poblanos and serranos. Slice the serranos in half lengthwise and process them until very fine, scraping down the sides twice to make sure the pieces are homogenous. Add them to the tomatoes. Slice the poblanos in large pieces and process them until just as fine as the serranos. Add them to the tomatoes also. Rinse the food processor out completely and set aside for cleaning later.

Add 1 1/2 T. Kosher salt to the tomatoes and stir all the ingredients together. This is a delicious fresh salsa and you could stop here if you had a huge crowd to serve, but you probably don't. If you want to, you can reserve a cup or two of fresh salsa to keep in the refrigerator; just remember it will taste best over the next two days.

Once your liquids have reduced to the right consistency (which is probably right about now), add the salsa to the tomato juice. Stir the reduced liquid and the salsa together thoroughly and bring to a boil.

While you're waiting for the salsa to boil, prepare your next line of equipment: fill your water bath pot a little over half full of hot liquid, cover, and bring to a boil; wash and rinse your jars, lids, and bands in dangerously hot water and set them on a rack to dry as you near filling time; and have your rags or rack on hand, whatever you are using in your boiling water canner.

Let the salsa boil for 5-10 minutes, as the taste will change once this happens, then add lime and additional salt as desired. I added the juice of two limes, but my tomatoes had a bright flavor; you may choose to add more lime. I ended up adding 1 T. more of salt.

Using your canning funnel and a mug or measuring glass, fill a jar to the top, leaving only the slightest amount of space (one-eighth inch or less) at the top. Place a lid and tighten a band on top. Repeat until the salsa is all allocated. One by one, wrap your jars in a thin cloth that is large enough to reach the lid on 2-3 sides, then, using a jar lifter, ease the jar into the boiling water. Process at least 30 minutes, 40 minutes or so at high elevation (that's me!).

Using the jar lifter, place each jar on a cooling rack until room temperature. Make sure all the lids are sealed once cool. Wipe off the lids and label them, then store for later use.

Note: I can salsa and jam in quarts because we go through it quickly. If you're not that sort, go ahead and use pints. You'll process them in boiling water in two batches.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Croissant Theme and Variations

At long last, I am finally going to post my recipe for making croissants, chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat) and kouign amann. I admit I was hesitant to take the time to post this as I doubted anyone would make them, but that's only because they're very time-intensive and not everyone loves spending all their spare moments in the kitchen like I do. It seems there are at least a few of you, though!

Homemade croissants don't taste very much like grocery store-purchased croissants. There are similarities, of course. You can understand what a painting is by looking at your child's 2nd grade project, which – despite your adoration – doesn't bring an understanding of art like visiting the Sistine Chapel. Well, maybe there's not quite that much difference in the two options for croissants (and maybe I shouldn't be quite so vain about my product), but you get the point.

All croissants should feel fluffy and layered on the inside, and flaky and toasted on the outside. They should also taste deliciously of butter. With mass-produced croissants, there's often a serious lack of quality layers on the inside, as well as the obvious butter-rich flavor. Don't get me wrong, I'll eat a decent grocery store croissant from time to time. Or, at least, I did before I started making them. I don't think I have since then. What a snob I am.

I should probably warn you up front (or pretty close to the front) that my serving sizes for all three recipes in this post (wow! three recipes in a post! that hasn't happened since pipián verde last August) are quite small. As amazing as any of these are to your palate, they are potentially lethal, at least in very large doses. Anyhow, I can't justify making huge croissants that are 25 or so grams of fat per serving; mine are closer to 12 or 15. Nothing to pooh-pooh at, still, but low enough to get my head around. If you want to be more indulgent than me, you're welcome to adjust the cutting directions to create larger pastries.

Almost anything is better with chocolate, especially if "anything" means something with butter as a main ingredient. Pain au chocolat (pronounced 'pan oh shock-oh-lah'), is not just a step above ordinary croissants, it's at least 3 steps up. I don't know what's in between, because it's not a real analogy, but it's a serious improvement on something that is already absolutely fantastic.

Dark chocolate is always, as far as I know, the filling, as the flavor mellows significantly against all that butter. I tried white chocolate once for my dark chocolate-detesting son, but it was very sweet and unbearable. I also first attempted using half the chocolate I now use, and it's too insignificant an amount for the pastry. This is better than most desserts you'll get at the average restaurant, which leads me to a side note.

Side note: once you start making really good pastries and really good desserts at home, or really good bread, it gets more difficult to appreciate the mediocre attempts you find at restaurants. Really, this is their business, their livelihood. Can't they make a more creative effort? And then it's so refreshing when someone does that you really want to meet the chef and shake his hand and say "thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over until you look absolutely ridiculous, so you just tell the server.

Further side note: This has nothing to do with the home cook, or home chef, whose magnanimous efforts should be appreciated and applauded on a daily basis, no matter the result. In fact, I never feel critical when eating someone else's food; the critique only comes out at restaurants. Why is that?

Kouign amann (pronounced 'queen amahn') is a French pastry from the Breton region that is as old as dirt. Not really, just as old as the Civil War. The American Civil War. Even though it's from France. (Americans don't seem really famous for inventing new pastries, do they? The kind that are legendary and still being perfected 150 years later. Why is that always left to the French?)

It's related to croissants pretty closely as it's a yeasted, laminated dough, like croissants. "Yeasted" obviously means containing yeast, and "laminated" means a butter block is added to the dough, which is then pressed and folded, pressed and folded, and pressed and folded to create those lovely layers inside the croissant.

Kouign amann is made from the same basic croissant recipe with some slight alterations: first, water instead of milk is added to the original dough. Don't ask why, because I don't know. That's how they do it, and it's very good, so I'm not messing with it. Another difference with kouign amann is that a heavy dose of sugar is added in part of the pressing/folding process, creating a sweet layer inside, and then the pastry is topped with melted butter and more sugar before baking. Doesn't sound very good, does it? I make mine in individual portions, rather than the traditional large cake, as this creates more of the delightful crunchy exterior and is nice for serving as well as freezing.

All of these croissant-like delicacies freeze wonderfully, so you don't have to accidentally eat an entire batch in a day. (They are, however, best when eaten within a day of baking or thawing.)

I'll start with the instructions just on how to make croissants, and then I'll explain the differences for the other options. Since I posted most of my pictures in the previous post, you can refer to them for understanding how things should look, or you can ask questions in the comments or email me (email address listed in the left column).

I am very interested to see if anyone makes these, so please let me know, as I'll be so excited for you. Excited for you to make them, even moreso for you to taste them. If you're desperate to try them and live nearby, you can always ask me when I'm making them again so I remember to drop off a sample.

adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
makes 24 small croissants

1/4 c. warm water - 57 g.
3/4 c. cold milk - 173 g.
1 T. instant yeast (if you have active dry, dissolve it into the milk before starting) - 9 g.
2 c. bread flour - 280 g.
1 c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour - 150 g.
2 T. sugar - 28 g.
2 1/4 t. Kosher salt - 14 g.
4 oz. (1 stick, 8 T.) cold, unsalted butter

butter block:
12 oz. (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
up to 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

melted butter, for brushing

Bloom your yeast by combining it with 1/4 c. warm water and a pinch of sugar for 5 minutes.

Cut the 4 oz. butter into pieces and, using your fingers while working quickly, work it into the bread flour.

In a stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast, bread flour (with butter), 1 c. all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt. Knead for about 2 minutes to combine all ingredients and bring them to a smooth, consistent state. Don't knead longer than necessary, as you're not interested in developing gluten here. By hand, knead in the last 2 T. of flour. This will keep it from being too sticky on the outside when you first start working with it.

Place the dough on a plate or in a container. Using a sharp knife, cut an X in the top of the dough, deep enough to extend halfway to the bottom. Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.

Make the butter block: sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with a bit of flour; slice the sticks of butter (12 oz.) in half and place them on the parchment to form a square. Sprinkle with a bit more flour. Using your rolling pin, beat the butter with a few good smacks to tenderize the butter and create a square that is about 6" x 6". (See picture in previous post.)

Sprinkle a work surface with flour. Set out your dough and roll against the 4 sections of the X, creating a square (or even a slightly odd-looking square) that is at least 12" x 12", or a bit larger. Place the butter block in the middle, with the square butter block edges perpindicular to the square dough edges (diamond-inside-the-square sort of look). Fold the edges of the dough over the butter block, envelope-style, taking extra care to not trap air bubbles next to the butter, or they'll cause difficulty as you're rolling out the dough.

Sprinkle the square of dough with flour, turn over, sprinkle the top with flour, and roll the dough into a even rectangle that is about 8" x 18". Don't roll over the edges as you go along, or you could push the butter out. The better squared your corners are for this process, the easier things will go. Brush off any extra flour sitting on top and fold the dough neatly into thirds, pulling the top short edge down two-thirds of the way, then folding the bottom third of the dough up over the folded top edge.

With the length of the rolling pin, press on the three open edges of the dough to semi-seal them up. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This is the end of the first "turn". Croissants need three turns to be ready to continue, each created 30 minutes apart to ensure the butter stays sufficiently chilled (and the layers between dough and butter distinct).

Once the three turns are complete, wrap the dough in plastic wrap again (with closed edges, but not too tightly against the dough, as it will rise), and refrigerate at least 5 hours, or overnight.

Lightly flour a work surface, then roll out the dough into a rectangle that is 16" x 18" (at least, but err on the side of slightly wider if estimating) with the longer edge directly in front of you and the shorter edges on the sides. Cut 6 diagonals from the upper left down toward the lower right, starting with the first at the uppermost left edge and reaching to the bottom, three inches to the right of the lower left corner. The last diagonal should begin three inches to the left of the upper right corner and finish at the bottom right corner. Repeat the process in the opposite direction, with 6 cuts traveling from the upper right to the lower left, crossing the opposing diagonals halfway between the upper and lower long edges. Then make one cut parallel to the upper and lower edges, halfway between them, from left to right. It should look like the picture on the right.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll each croissant from the bottom of the triangle to the tip, stretching the bottoms just a touch as you begin rolling. Place them, two inches apart, on the baking sheets with the tips securely tucked under. Cover the croissants with cooking spray-coated plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 - 2 hrs.

Preheat the oven to 375˚. When the croissants are risen to the point that they are noticeably puffy and feel pillowy to the touch, they are ready to be baked. Brush them with melted butter and bake about 28-34 minutes, until they're a deep golden and well done, all the way through. Remove from the oven and baking sheets and place on cooling racks immediately. Cool to room temperature before eating. Store uneaten croissants in a brown bag for up to a day, or freeze for later use.

Pain au Chocolat

1 recipe Croissants
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I like 68%), in small chunks

Follow the directions for making croissants, but place a third of an ounce of chocolate on each of the triangles down at the base. The chocolate should seem thick when you are making them, but be sure to keep it all inside the rolled-up croissant.

After baking, these croissants must be cooled completely to room temperature before eating, about an hour, or the chocolate will not have set up enough.

Kouign Amann

1 recipe croissants, substituting water for milk and doubling the sugar in the dough

For kouign amann, turn the dough 4 times rather than three, and follow these additional instructions:

When making the third and fourth turns, sprinkle the middle third of the long rectangle with a very generous amount of granulated sugar before folding the top third down, then sprinkle the same amount of sugar on top of the new top half of the dough; fold the bottom half up. The sugar layers should be evenly coated and dense without piling high.

After the fourth turn, refrigerate the dough for 5-24 hours. Generously sprinkle your work surface with sugar, dust both sides of the dough with sugar, and roll it out on the work surface into a rectangle at least 14" x 21". This will take a little work. Cut the dough into 24 squares, 4 squares by 6 squares. (For slightly larger kouign amann, you can cut the dough into 18 squares.)

Spray two 12-cup muffin pans generously with cooking spray. Fold each of the squares of dough by pulling two opposing corners together to the center, pressing the points against the base gently to secure them, then pulling the last two corners into the center, pressing the points into the middle as well, or they will open up during baking (not that I've ever experienced this, of course). Place each pastry in a muffin cup.

Generously brush the kouignettes (because original kouign amann is one large cake) with melted butter and sprinkle generously with sugar. Let rise at room temperature an hour and a half to two hours. Do not try to hurry this process by placing it in a warm place, as you want to keep the butter cool.

Preheat the oven to 450˚. Place the pans in the oven, then turn the heat down to 400˚ and bake 18-22 minutes, until golden brown. Try not to open the oven door, as you want to keep all that heat inside so the butter will cause each distinct layer you worked so hard to form to puff, rather than melt. If the pastry looks like it's going to burn soon in the last 5-10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375˚. Remember, though, that they will be pretty brown and the sugar will be quite caramelized when they're done.

Remove the muffin pans to a cooling rack. Let the pastries cool for about 2 minutes, then try to gently pull each pastry out and set them on a cooling rack. You can dump them out, but there's a greater chance they'll deflate. Along the same lines, try not to touch them too soon or they will deflate. But if you wait too long, they could stick too much to the pan to come out cleanly. Let cool to room temperature and serve.