Another Reason to go to Budapest: Hungarian Shortbread

Hungarian Shortbread

My husband and I briefly considered going to Budapest for our honeymoon.  We ended up in west Wales, in a little cottage, which was beautiful in a beach-in-the-winter kind of way (we were married just before New Year’s) but I’m certain we would have eaten better in Budapest.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Welsh cuisine; we just didn’t get to experience much of it, since many of the local restaurants were closed for the winter.  But in Budapest, we could have cuddled in cozy cafes, sipping coffee, eating cakes, reading, and playing backgammon.

My impression that life in Budapest would involve lots of cafe-visiting probably comes from the Rick Rodgers cookbook Kaffeehaus, a book that I haven’t baked much from but periodically take down from the shelf and peruse, dreaming of the cafe culture it chronicles.  My only other experience with Hungarian baking was with a recipe from Kaffeehaus–the Dobos Torte.  My friend Matt had lived in Budapest and remembered this torte fondly, and somehow I got the idea to make it for his birthday.  This was years ago, when I didn’t know enough to know that I didn’t know anything about baking, and would do things like tackle a Dobos Torte (in someone else’s kitchen, no less) without a second thought.  There I was, tracing circles onto parchment paper, making caramel, and skinning hazelnuts.  It’s a testament to Rick Rodgers’ recipe and instructions that the torte turned out well.  I can still remember the eggy, chocolatey tastiness. I will certainly make it again someday.  I hope that someday I get to try to try a slice in its original setting.

Hungarian Shortbread is a keeper, too.  I was excited about this weeks’ Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, hosted by Lynette and Cher, because of the rhubarb, and it didn’t disappoint. I was a little daunted by the amount of butter (an entire pound in a 9 X 13 inch pan!  Four sticks!) but forged ahead.  I considered halving the recipe but didn’t, which turned out well in the end since I have plenty in the freezer to include in care packages for two friends who just had babies (both girls!  Welcome to the world Maeve and Maggie!).

I found the recipe straightforward. Basically you make a shortbread dough (I did this in my stand mixer), which is then frozen.  The frozen dough is grated (I used my food processor) into the pan, with a layer of rhubarb preserves between two layers of shortbread.  When I make this again I will make the preserve layer thicker, since I found mine a bit skimpy.  I’d also probably use a different kind of preserves, perhaps sour cherry, to give more color contrast.  The result is a buttery, crumbly treat.  Definitely another reason to visit Budapest and seek out one of those cafes.

A Neighborly Pie: Pizza Rustica

Ready to go in the oven...

When I realized that prosciutto was a major player in the next TWD recipe, I knew that I needed to find a substitute.  I’ve been vegetarian since 1991 (though I have occasionally eaten seafood over the past eight years or so).  I did some googling, and found a discussion about a Nigella Lawson recipe that suggested swiss chard in place of the meat.  I had planned to buy some swiss chard until I realized that my  neighbor Ralph, a talented gardner, has kale coming up from the remnants of last fall’s crop.  Ralph’s kale is something of a neighborhood institution–he offers some to everyone he encounters.  Last fall, I tried to take him up on the offer as often as possible.  As I approached Ralph’s kale patch this afternoon, scissors and plastic bag in tow (and hauling my 14-month-old and his favorite truck), I was greeted by Clint, who lives in the next house along.  Clint is a skilled gardener as well, and insisted that I also pick some of his purple kale, leftover from last winter.  So my pizza rustica was made with not one but two types of very locally grown kale.

Thanks Ralph and Clint!

I sauteed the kale with some chopped garlic in olive oil, and added some chopped olives as well to give a strong salty element to the recipe.  I made the crust in my food processor, and it came together easily.  I enjoyed making a pie crust that has to be thoroughly mixed; the whole leave-pea-size-bits-of-butter thing with many crusts usually makes me anxious, and I start overthinking it–how big are peas again?  or should the pieces be lima-bean-size?? How big is a lima bean???) .  The crust was fairly easy to work with, and even when it wasn’t it was extremely forgiving.

I actually considered skipping this recipe in the TWD rotation but I’m really glad that I didn’t.  Recipes like this, after all, are part of the reason that I joined TWD; to challenge myself and make things that I otherwise wouldn’t make.  Like many of the other bakers, I found that the combination of sweet crust and savory filling was a little odd.  I’m not dying to make this again, but if I did I would cut down significantly on the sugar in the crust.  Though I love salty with my sweets (salted caramels, Dorie’s World Peace Cookies), I don’t really like sweet with my savory.  I’ve got some of the pasta frolla dough leftover, and will likely try turning it into cookies in the next few days–perhaps a hamantaschen sort of thing with a jam filling.


Finished product. This photo was actually taken by my husband, since it fell to him to remove the pie from the oven. He emailed me the photo as I was putting our son to bed to see if I thought it was baked enough. Our torn-up backsplash is due to our ongoing, glacially paced kitchen renovation.

If you want to make pizza rustica (from pages 430-431 of Baking with Julia), you can find the recipe on the blogs of this week’s hosts, Emily and Raelynn.

A Friend to Butter: Irish Soda Bread

The Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for this fortnight was Irish Soda bread, page 214 of Baking with Julia, hosted by Carla and Cathleen (head over to their blogs for the recipe).  This is my kind of baking.  Four ingredients.  Mixes up while the oven preheats.  Few dirty dishes.  Short inspiration-to-finished-product interval. Not that I don’t enjoy more complex recipes (I once made a friend’s wedding cake, and am really looking forward to making croissants and puff pastry).  But sometimes you just want something warm and comforting to have with dinner, and this bread fits the bill.

And perhaps most importantly, this bread is a good vehicle for butter.  An excellent vehicle, I might even say.  Which, if I’m honest, is a pretty significant reason that I bake in the first place.   I made this with half all-purpose, half white whole wheat flour (278 grams of each, if you want to be geeky about it, which I usually do).  Sometimes I don’t like white whole wheat–it can remind me of Play-Doh, which I know sounds weird–but in this case the white whole wheat worked well.  No hint of Play-Doh.

Soda bread with shadow...I was losing the light by the time it came out of the oven.

I also used the last of a carton of buttermilk that had been in my fridge for a while.  With a use-by date of…February 1! I had read that buttermilk lasts much longer than the date on the carton would indicate, and I am living proof.  I will definitely make this recipe again–I like the simplicity of it.  Though this version with seeds sounds pretty yummy.

TGFS: Rugelach

“Thank god for Silpat”–that’s what ran through my head when I opened the oven door to check on my first batch of rugelach and saw how they had unfurled and leaked filling everywhere.

Rather than rolls, I ended up with comma and “c” shapes.  They taste good but don’t look like much. If not for the Silpat, I would have spent ages scraping caramelized sugar off of my baking sheets.

Though this week’s recipe (pages 325-327 of Baking with Julia, hosted by Margaret and Jessica) had lots of steps, none of them were particularly difficult.  I made the lekvar on Thursday, the dough on Friday, assembled the rolls on Sunday, and baked on Monday.  Like many other bakers, I found that the lekvar recipes yielded far more than the recipe called for. (Two weeks later, it’s still there…I wonder how long it keeps?)  I also have al least two cups of the cinnamon/sugar/nut mixture in the freezer and am trying to come up with a use for it.  One possibility is this recipe that I have been wanting to try for doughnut muffins, using the rugelach mixture in place of the topping.

I loved the cream cheese pastry, which was far flakier than any of my attempts at pie dough.  I made it in the food processor, though the full recipe was too large for my processor.  This may have been the source of the flakiness, since I ended up having to dump it out on the counter and use frissage to bring it together fully.  Even when I was done the dough was marbled with streaks of cream cheese.  I wonder if this may have been why the rolls unfurled?  Perhaps in this context, too much flakiness isn’t a good thing.  The dough was tasty and easy to work with, even straight out of the fridge, though it certainly gave me an arm workout.

Flaky goodness

I really enjoyed this recipe, and still have at least two dozen frozen rugelach in my freezer, ready to bake when the need arises!

A Confession: Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

Photos this week are from my phone--our camera battery charger has disappeared, after being seen last in the hands of my one-year-old son. I took more photos of the baking process, which are now trapped on the camera...

This fortnight’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Chocolate Truffle Tartlets, on page 382-383 of Baking With Julia.  This recipe gave me the opportunity–finally– to open and use the box of mini-tart molds that I purchased in the summer of 2003.  Sometimes when I shop for baking items my eyes are bigger than my pantry, so to speak. Here’s a partial list of the other baking pans that I have purchased over the years and not used (yet!):

  • metal mini-brioche pans
  • perforated metal baguette pan
  • ten-inch square stoneware baking dish
  • stoneware ring pan
  • disposable broiche pans
  • disposable panetonne papers
  • mini bundt pan
  • mini muffin pan
  • rectangular tart mold
  • 12.5-inch cake pan (purchased after randomly seeing a Martha Stewart segment about this recipe)
  • quiche pan
  • rectangular tart pan
  • assorted cookie cutters (I have never made roll-out cookies)
  • star-shaped mini pie mold

I hope that participating in TWD will give me the opportunity to use most of these pans, although I’m sure that I’ll acquire a few more along the way!

I like this recipe but wasn’t wowed by the tartlets, though I suspect that this was my fault because I think I baked them too long.  I loved the chocolate crust.  I haven’t had great luck with pie crusts in the past, and the one time that I tried to make a tart–over ten years ago–the crust was hard, brittle, and not very tasty.  I used the food processor to make the crust, and found that I, like many other TWD bakers, needed a little extra water to make it come together (in my case about 1.5 tablespoons).  I chilled the dough overnight before rolling it out, and had no trouble working with it at all.  I had lots of extra dough once my pans were lined, probably enough for another tartlet if I had another pan.  I baked the trimmings at 350℉ for about ten minutes.  They were really tasty, both flaky and crumbly as the recipe promised, and though I had planned to crumble them over ice cream my husband, son and I ate them all up almost immediately.

The filling came together easily.  I’d never beaten egg yolks and sugar to the “ribbon” stage before, and enjoyed that moment of kitchen alchemy.  I had hoped to make my own amaretti or biscotti, but ran out of time, so I used hazelnut butter cookies that I was able to buy individually at Whole Foods. I had enough extra filling to fill two small au gratin dishes, which I baked along with the tartlets.

I had trouble telling when these were done, and probably left them in the oven for around 15 minutes.  In retrospect, I should have taken them out sooner, as the filling seemed a little dry–I think that I was intimidated by the raw-egg factor.  The flavor was excellent, though, and I would make these again.  I would probably make a larger tart, to be able to serve smaller portions, and would either try amaretti or nuts, perhaps toasted pecans, as a mix-in.

My Very First Blog Post

White Loaves--sorry for the crap photography!

I suppose at some point I will write about myself and why I decided to start this blog, including the reason for the blog’s title, which I find delightfully dorky and embarrassing in a good way (as in, I can’t stop laughing when I say the name!). For now, though, I will jump straight into my first Tuesdays with Dorie post.  The recipe today was White Loaves, hosted by Laurie of Slush and Julie of Someone’s In The Kitchen.

I prefer to use weights in baking, rather than volume measurements.  This is probably due to a combination of laziness (who wants to wash lots of measuring cups?), the urge for speed (as I do most of my baking nowadays with my one-year-old son underfoot), and a love of precision that I’ve likely inherited from my engineer father.  So a recipe that calls for “seven cups of flour” given me a sinking feeling.  How to measure said flour?  I’ll be honest, I didn’t take the time to read the front matter of Baking With Julia prior to starting the recipe, which may address this issue. (I only decided to join TWD and start this blog earlier today!)  Instead, I pulled out my copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours, in which I’d noted, after an extensive internet search, that Dorie’s cup of flour weighs 4.8 ounces, or 136 grams.  I’ve used 136 grams as the weight for a cup of flour in the other Dorie recipes that I’ve made (my favorite being the Chocolate Oatmeal Drops, which, while pregnant with my son, I ate for dinner more times than I care to admit) always with good results.  So I did a little math, and came up with a weight of 952 grams.  I used about half bread flour and half all-purpose, both King Arthur, and SAF Red Instant Yeast.  I also used salted butter, since that was all I had in the fridge.

The dough came together well, and my KitchenAid got a real workout with the ten minutes of kneading.  I did have trouble with the dough creeping up the dough hook, probably since there was so much of it.  I did need a splash more water than the recipe called for, but once I added that, I found the dough smooth and easy to work with.

My kitchen is on the cool side, but I found that both rises took almost exactly as long as the recipe called for.  I did the first rise on my counter (sunny in the late afternoon) and used the microwave-with-the-door-ajar trick (so that the light is on) that I read about somewhere for the second rise.  I covered the loaves with a damp tea towel, which I was worried might stick but didn’t.

second rise in the microwave, just before going into the oven

I’m usually a whole wheat kind of person, so wasn’t actually too thrilled about starting with this recipe.  I have to say, though, that this is some fantastic bread, I’m glad that I made it, and I’ll make it again.  My husband and I had it for dinner with lentil soup and a salad, and there’s only about a quarter of the loaf left.

There was a lot less left after dinner!