December 5, 2012
This is the week you have to stop denying autumn is over. Wrapped up in a new wool coat, you ride your bike in the frosty morning, snow-dusted mountains on the horizon, burrowing your chin deeper in your scarf. The leaves have fallen. Your scary fume-spewing kerosene heater is out.
But it’s okay. This autumn was a good one. Especially that persimmon tart.
Kaki flood the markets in autumn, especially in this part of Japan, which is famous for its persimmons. (It’s even rumored that perhaps the name of my town, Ogaki, once meant “big persimmon.” Which I think is far cooler than the present meaning: “big gate.” Boooring.) The kaki sold raw is almost exclusively amagaki, the rounder, more flat fruit which are eaten while they are still firm; in the U.S., they are often labeled as “Fuyu persimmons.” The longer, more pointed kaki, shibugaki — which are terribly astringent until they soften completely — are typically dried and sold later in winter, especially around New Year’s. The best part about this kaki glut is that it makes it possible to buy one persimmon for less than 100 yen (about $1), something you can’t say for apples. Thus, when the tart-baking urge struck, it was kaki I reached for.
A simple tart, it is nothing more than thinly-sliced fruit, sugar, butter and a sprinkling of spices in a basic crust. When baked, the persimmon pieces soften and meld together to become, after cooling, something gently chewy, kind of like a Japanese yōkan or a very soft Fruit Roll-Up. With some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it will be so good you might, like me, be forced to make another one a few days later. Or, if the amagaki season has already ended, daydream about it through at least a couple cold bicycle commutes.
Kaki no taruto (Persimmon tart)
Makes 6-8 servingsFor dough:
1 stick (115 g) cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
3 persimmons, peeled, seeded and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 stick (55 g) cold butter, sliced thin
Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
Make dough: Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest lumps about pea-sized. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water evenly over and gently stir with a fork until incorporated.
When you squeeze a small handful of the dough, it should hold together without crumbling. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until incorporated (keep testing). Don’t overwork the mixture or add too much water, or your dough will be tough.
Form dough: Divide the dough into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once across your work surface in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with a pastry scraper and form it into a disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
When you are ready to assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 13-inch round and fit it into a 10-inch tart tin, trimming the excess. Arrange the persimmon slices decoratively on the pastry shell, overlapping them. Mix the nutmeg and ginger with the sugar and sprinkle on top of the fruit. Top with butter slices and bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the persimmon slices are lightly browned. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
November 21, 2012
During this time of economic uncertainty, I believe bacon can make things better. Think about it: just a little bit goes a long way, flavoring a whole pot of beans or plate of braised greens with its smoky meatiness. Leftover bacon grease — an unappealing term, let’s say bacon drippings, much better — can be saved and used instead of oil, adding a savory something-something to an otherwise straightforward mirepoix. “Bacon makes anything better” may well be the mantra of this terrifying (and exciting — Obama!) time, whispered like a prayer over the chocolate-covered bacon slices, bacon-wrapped meats, even bacon ice cream being eaten around the country.
And so I offer my contribution to the nation’s altar of bacon: maple-bacon cinnamon rolls. Soft and yeasty, with the occasional salty-smoke hit of bacon, they were inspired by this bacon doughnut recipe I spotted. I wanted maple-bacon breakfast goodness, but didn’t want to deal with large amounts of oil bubbling on the stove, so the idea for this cinnamon roll was born, using Molly’s Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze as a starting point. As an added plus, the fact that these are baked instead of fried makes you forget the thick layer of butter and sugar rolled up inside. Compared to a doughnut they seem almost…virtuous.
Okay, I know. Nothing with bacon ever seems virtuous. But, you know, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I myself won’t be casting any stones — with a maple-bacon cinnamon roll in each hand, it’s just not possible.
Maple-Bacon Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 18 rolls
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over a low flame until mixture is just warmed to 120-130 degrees F. (Or put them in a glass measuring cup and microwave for 30 to 45 seconds.) Pour into a large bowl (or stand mixer). Add 1 cup flour, sugar, eggs, yeast and salt. Beat with the mixer or by hand for 3 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups flour. Beat until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pull away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly flour work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. While it rises, mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.
Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at one long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch wide).
Butter two 9-inch square glass baking dishes. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap and let dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn right side up.
Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and maple syrup in a medium bowl. Drizzle glaze over rolls and immediately sprinkle with chopped bacon. Serve warm. Realize you should eat more bacon.
October 3, 2012
Last weekend Rob and I hosted a holiday cookie party, a celebration of sugar and the season, with lots of mulled wine and brandy-spiked cider and people groaning, “I can’t eat any more…” while shoving just one more cookie in their mouths. Success!
I made three cookies: Martha Stewart’s striped Neapolitan Cookies, Dorie Greenspan’s incredible double chocolate World Peace Cookies and my own Gingerbread Bites. The gingerbread dough — dark with molasses, spiked with black pepper — is based on a reliable recipe I found years ago. I used it to make the standard gingerbread men the first year, but a chubby, oddly shaped man made from the cut-out scraps convinced me that thick cookies were the way to go (I was convinced after eating him, I mean, not that he actually sat me down and talked me into it) and I devised a new baking method. Instead of rolling the dough flat and cutting out cookies, I form fat little balls of dough and dip them in sanding sugar. They bake up moist and cakey with a compelling sugary crunch and are small and addictive enough to eat in multiples.
Preferably with other people around. If there’s one thing I learned this weekend, it’s that binge cookie-eating, like drinking, is much more socially acceptable if done in a group. Just don’t try to operate any heavy machinery for a couple hours.
Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
Raw washed sugar or other coarse sugar
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to beat the butter and shortening until smooth and well-combined, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy and light-colored, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. With a spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. (The dough can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cover the bottom of a shallow dish with the coarse sugar. Working with one disk at a time, break off a small piece of dough and roll between your palms to form a ball about 3/4″ across. Flatten the ball slightly and dip the top in the sugar. Continue with the remaining dough, placing the cookies about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are firm. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Can be stored for up to one week in an airtight container.
September 27, 2012
It’s early April, the sakura are in full bloom, and spring is in the air. Except that it’s raining right now and an icy wind is blowing all the blossoms off the trees. Oh well, at least I have my shin-shōga. Shōga is your average piece of ginger, brown-skinned and sharp, and shin-shōga is its younger, springtime version, pale, thin-skinned and mild. It’s this ginger, sliced and pickled, that is mounded up next to the green plastic leaf in your box of lunchtime sushi.
But pickles are only the beginning for shin-shōga. Because it has the fresh astringency of ginger without the bite, you can use it raw, and it is especially tasty when julienned and added to salads. When cooked, it loses its bright crunch, but the delicate fragrance wafting up from any dish you’ve added it to makes up for it. With soups and rice, you can toss in the shin-shōga right at the end of cooking and let it soften a bit in the residual heat. That’s what I do when making this early-spring rice, a mix of young ginger, fresh crab and thin green onions.
Some notes about ingredients: Young ginger is a popular ingredient in other Asian cuisines, so you should be able to find it at Asian supermarkets from spring through early summer. I buy my cooked crab meat in the sashimi section of my local grocery store, where I sometimes want to cry when I see how beautiful and cheap everything is. Imitation crab meat is not a suitable substitute. Finally, the green onions in Japan are typically much thinner than in the U.S., about half the diameter; look for the thinnest you can find or just use one thick one.
Kani to shin-shōga gohan (Crab and young ginger rice)
Makes 2 servings
1 cup Japanese rice, washed and drained
2-inch (5-cm) piece of young ginger
3.5 oz (100 g) cooked crab meat
2 thin green onions
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop as usual. (See the directions for cooking Japanese rice here.) When the rice is almost cooked, peel the ginger, cut in half crosswise, and julienne. Thinly slice the green onion. When the rice is cooked, add the ginger, crab and green onion to the cooker or pot and stir to mix everything in. For best flavor, serve immediately.
August 1, 2012
Some smells are just magical: coffee brewing in the morning, the soft folds of a baby’s neck, orange blossoms through an open car window on a warm night. Hot sticky rice mixed with coconut milk is one of those for me. It’s not like we even have that long a history, considering my childhood disgust with the coconut-laced desserts my dad used to stock up on whenever we would take a family trip to Bangkok Market in Hollywood. I could not see the appeal of not-very-sweet squares of coconut jelly, soupy tapiocas, gray disks of griddled shredded coconut. Pass the Oreos, please.
But I grew up, ate my first plate of mango and sticky rice at Noodle Planet one summer and realized my dad was on to something. I thought for a long time it was the mango-sticky rice synergy that made the dish so good, but during my last trip to Thailand, after stuffing my face with a mountain of little banana-leaf-wrapped packets of coconut-milk-infused sticky rice, I realized it was the rice and coconut all along. Hot rice, warm coconut milk, that edge of salt — addictive.
I’d bought a 5-lb bag of black sticky rice at LAX-C months ago, mostly because the grains were too beautiful and intriguing to resist. Sticky rice is usually soaked overnight and steamed, but I needed a same-day dessert for the dinner my friend Jessica was having that night. So I decided to make khao neow dam piag, black sticky rice pudding. The rice is boiled instead of steamed and mixed with a little coconut milk, sugar and salt toward the end of cooking. The finished pudding is deep purple, the grains soft yet chewy, with that warm, woozy coconut milk scent wafting up from the bowl. It was dessert that night and breakfast for the next two mornings. And since I still have 4.9 pounds of black sticky rice left, it may be my breakfast for the next year. Sounds good to me.
Black Sticky Rice Pudding with Coconut (Khao neow dam piag)
1 cup black sweet rice (also called black sticky rice or black glutinous rice)*
1 cup coconut milk
1/4-1/2 cup packed brown sugar, to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Sweetened shredded coconut or toasted sesame seeds (for garnish, optional)
Put rice in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Swish rice around to rinse it and pour off any loose husks that float to the top. Drain rice through a sieve and return to pot. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until rice is soft. Pour off any excess water, so that the water line is just below the grains of rice. Add coconut milk, sugar and salt and simmer, stirring frequently, until pudding is desired consistency. Serve hot or room temperature, topped with coconut or sesame seeds.