Daring Baker - July 2012 Challenge: Crackers

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

This month's challenge at the Daring Baker was on the salty side, at least I choose to go that way, with homemade crackers. This is something I've never done before, as I'm mostly in charge of dessert, not appetizer.

It gave me the opportunity to try out a recipe from a book I got from some friends of mine, which is called "Back to basics" by Ina Garten, how fitting, isn't it! I read about the barefoot contessa before on a fellow blogger's website, but I've never read a book or seen one of her TV programs. This first recipe makes me want to try some more of her's.

Only little time and ingredients are needed, once more it's a proof that you can make it just as good as the store bought one, and here at least, you'll know what's in it!

Parmesan and Thyme Crackers (based on Ina Garten's "Back to basics")

for 24-28 crackers

110gr of Butter, at room temperature
110gr of Parmesan, freshly grated
1 Teaspoon of Fresh Thyme
1 Teaspoon of Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon of "Fleur de sel" salt
1/2 Teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
160gr of Whote Wheat Flour

In the bowl of you stand mixer, cream the butter for a minute before adding the parmesan. While whisking, add the thyme, salt and pepper and combine well.
Now add the flour progressivly until it has a crumble-like consistency. Tip the dough on a floured worksurface to form a ball. Roll it than out to a 25cm log and wrap it in plastic to refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to  180°C.

Take the log out of the fridge, using a sharp knife, cut rounds of a bit less than 1cm thickness and place them on the oven tray lined with parchement paper. Place them in the oven for 22 minutes and let them cool on a rack before serving.

Sesame and Poppy Seeds Crackers (based on a recipe from "Sunday Hotpants")

for 70-80 thin crackers

190gr of Flour
35gr of Wholewheat Flour
40gr of Cold Butter
A pinch of Salt
12cl of Milk
15gr of Sesame Seeds
15gr of Poppy seeds
"Fleur de sel" Salt

In your standmixer, combine the flours, the butter and the pinch of salt with the paddle attachment until it has a crumble consistency. At this point, add the poppy and sesame seeds.
With the mixer still turning, pour in slowly the milk until it forms a dough. Tip the dough on a floured work surface and form a ball, cover and leave it for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Roll out the dough as thinly as possible and using a wavy cutter, a knife or cookie cutter, cut the crackers to the wished size.
Place them on an oven tray lined with parchement paper. Sprinkle them with "fleur de sel" and prick them with a fork.

Place them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they have a nice golden color on the edges. Leave them to cool on rack.


Holiday Baking

Every season has it's up and down side, they might be different for everyone. For me, summer is mostly too hot and too much sun exposition makes me look like a lobster, but I get that those can be positiv to other people.
Now what I like most about summer (beside holidays), are all the fruits available, even if their season is short sometimes, like cherries, melon, blackberries and (for me specially) apricots.

All those fruits don't need much to be enjoyed, and quite frankly eating apricots just like that makes my day. But that's not a recipe and can hardly be posted on a blog, though I'm all for the "eat your 5 fruits or vegetables a day".
Using the oven on a hot day is not the best, so try making it ready early morning, or if you have an oven that can be programmed, cook it in the middle of the night and you'll wake up to this nice clafoutis. Could be worse, now couldn't it!

Peach and Apricot Clafoutis

Serves 4

2 Peaches or Nectarines
4 Apricots
4 Eggs
25cl of Liquid Cream (or milk for a lighter dessert)
150gr of Sugar
50gr of Flour
1/2 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
10gr of Butter
2 Tablespoons of Slivered Almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Butter the oven dish you're going to use. In a bowl, combine the eggs with the sugar, add the flour and whisk everything well together.
Pour the cream slowly as you keep on whisking until you have something smooth, alike to a crêpes batter. Add the vanilla extract, whisk a little more and set aside.

Wash the fruits, cut the peaches in half to take the pit out and cut each half into 3. Place the fruits in the buttered oven dish.
Half the apricots to remove the pit and cut each half in 2, place the slices in between the peach and in the center.

Slowly pour the batter over the fruits, sprinkle the slivered almonds on top, and cook for about 35 minutes.
Serve at room temperature, just by itself or with some vanilla ice cream.


Holiday Cooking

While on holidays, I was trying to find something meaningful and deep to write about that special time of the year, where my schedule is not packed with appointment, where being lazy is acceptable and where the clock doesn't rule my day.
Well instead, the only thing stuck in my head was Madonna singing Holiday: "Holiday... Celebrate... Holiday... Celebrate...". Excuse me for being a child of the 80's.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the change of scenery and all this time to do close to nothing. But holidays or not, I can't really stay out of the kitchen. I wouldn't be in it for hours either, to make a elaborate dish or dessert, like I would at home.
The joy of being somewhere else, is discovering the local products and traditions, experience recipe you wouldn't do at home. Otherwise, where's the fun of being on holidays!

I'm not used to cook whole fishes, I tend to find them intimidating. But my mum wanted to try gilt head bream, and what better occasion than when you're close to the mediterranean sea. A trip to a local farmer's market where the nice fishmonger gutted them for us.
Although I tend to go with Phoebe's rule of "no food with eyes", this recipe was worth the exception, it's easy to make, with a delicious result. Gilt head Bream has now the taste of holidays to me.

Oven Cooked Gilt Head Bream

Serves 2

2 Gilt-Head Bream
2 Big Tomatoes
1 Lemon
Fresh Thym
Fresh Rosemary
2 Tablespoon of Coarse Salt
Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In an oven dish, sprinkle a bit of olive oil and coarse salt. Wash the tomatoes and cut them into about 1cm thick slices, place them in the oven dish.

Wash and scale the breams, place some fresh thym and rosemary in the cut the guts got taken out (ask your fishmonger to do it). Place the fishes on top of the tomatoes.
Cut 6 slices of lemon and place them on the fish, press the remaining lemon over the breams and add some rosemary and thym around the dish.
Add some more olive oil on top and a little bit of water in the dish. Place the dish in the oven for 30 minutes.

Take the fish out carefully, starting from the tail, you can peel the skin of easily. Than cut in the middle to remove the 2 filets, it should get away from the spine easily. Turn it over and start again with the other side.

Serve with the tomaotes it was cooked with, along with some pasta or rice.


My Black and White Challenge: White Radish Cake

Have you seen "The Artist"? Frankly, I was a bit puzzled with the concept and it took me while to decide to go see it, and it was only the lack of other movie choice that made me. Though I give them credit for doing such a bold move in today's movie industry, I couldn't help feeling something is missing. As a friend of mine told me afterwards: language is a great thing! And is she right!

But the light and photograpy of the movie was beautiful, and in general even if it's not my forte I love black and white photography. So came the idea, that it would be a nice challenge to try to make a recipe with only black and white pictures. Because a blog post without writing didn't sound like such a good idea.

Now part of the problem, is food photography is about making things appealing, and colors are a part of that: a lucious red tomato, a sunny yellow lemon or a vibrant pink beetroot refers to what we know, our brain will connect it more easily to something diserable. No cookbook I own has black and white pictures in it for this very reason, I guess.

I did recently come across a very nice photographic blog called "From The Source", not only is the project very interesting, but the black and white pictures are fantastic.
For this first try (not knowing if there will be a second one) I may have made it easier by choosing a white vegetable, a daikon, that was in my weekly vegetable basket. I wanted a change from the traditional cold radish in a salad, and found this recipe with a nice asian touch.

You can check for the color version of the pictures on my flickr photostream.

White Radish Cake (based on this recipe)

Serves 4

1 White Radish, or Daikon (about 400gr once peeled)
125gr Rice Flour
180ml Water
2 Tablespoons of Chive, freshly chopped
4-5 Black Fungus Mushroom, dried
Salt, Pepper
Sunflower Oil

Peel and dice the radish, place in a pan and cover with water, add a bit of salt and cook it on a medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until tender.

In the meantime, mix the flour with the water in order to have some kind of paste. Place the dried black mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water to rehydrate for about 10 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Chop the chive and the rehydrated mushrooms quite finely. Check with a knife if the radish is cooked, and if so, drain the water.
Using a hand mixer or a blender, mix the cooked radish to a purée and add the flour and water to it to make it smooth. Now with a spatula, add the chive and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper to your taste.

Oil a rectangle or square oven dish (15x20cm in my case), pour in the radish mixture and cover it with tin foil. Put this in a larger dish and place both in the oven, once in the oven (door still open, obviously) pour some water in the bigger dish in order to cook it with steam.

Cook for about 1h20. Leave it to cool on a rack before placing it in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or even overnight. Invert it on a plate and cut squares.
In a non sticky frying pan, heat up some oil on a medium heat, and cook the radish squares or a few minutes on both sides, until they have a nice golden color. Serve with some sauce (like an egg roll dip sauce).


Sweet Crostata: Peach and Blueberry

For any one who knows me a little, it won't be a surprise if I admit that I have a one track mind, or as I like to phrase it: I'm constant in my affections. I'm still following the same band I liked as a teenager, I know some of my best friends since kindergarden, I can't imagine not liking chocolate anymore any day soon...etc

Don't get me wrong, I try not to just stick to what I know. Getting to know different music, people, ingredients, cultures, language, writers... is a daily challenge I try to face, not always with the expected results, but that's part of the experience, aka life. But still, it's nice to go back to what you know sometimes.

I'm also slightly obsessive (not a compulsive disorder, yet) when I watch a TV show, for instance, I'll most likely marathon my way thru it in a few weeks. Or when I cook/bake something I like, I'll try many variations while I'm on the roll. That crostata last week was really fun to make, in addition to being good. So the sweet tooth I am couldn't let it go without a dessert version of it.

I try to limit my baking during the week, because I end up eating most of it, which has annoying consequences. So in order not too have a too bad conscious about this one, I tried not too make it too sweet and with some lovely fruits. After all, if even the Cookie Monster is switching to fruits, why shouldn't we all!

Peach and Blueberry Crostata

for the crust
300gr of Flour (T110 organic)
70gr of Ground Almonds
50gr of Brown Sugar
125gr of Mascarpone
115gr of Butter, cold and cut in cubes
2 Eggs
1/2 a Teaspoon of Cinnamom
1/2 a Teaspoon of Salt

for the filling
5 Peaches
100gr of Blueberry
30gr of Brown Sugar
30gr of Butter, cut in cubes

In a food processor place the flour, the almonds, the sugar, the mascarpone, the butter, the salt and cinnamom. Start mixing until it reaches a crumble like consistency. Add the two eggs down the funnel of the processor, and when a dough starts to form, tip it on your floured worksurface. Form a ball, cover it with cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven 190°C.

On a parchement paper, roll out the dough you've taken out of the fridge to a 35-40cm diameter circle and place it on an oven tray.
Clean and cut the peaches in 8 slices, and place them on the dough, leaving out a 5cm rim on the outside. Spread the blueberries evenly on top of the peaches, sprinkle the sugar on the fruits and place little cubes of butter on top.

Fold the outside rim around the pie, to cover partly the fruits (look at the pictures, it might be better than my explanation). Place the tray in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the dough has a nice golden color. Leave it to cool before serving.