Brown-sugar Poppyseed Sandwiches

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sometimes I get really into hearty cookies. That might be the reason behind my obsession with digestive biscuits and why I regularly snag them off the hors-d’oeuvres table whenever they are available. I would never put anything on them, I find them perfectly crumbly, buttery and gritty as is.

One of the reasons I love traveling is the variety of textures desserts take depending on the region. While desserts in the U.S. are often light, fluffy and made mostly with white flour, desserts in Laos are often gummy and made with coconut and tapioca flour. I particularly loved this one slice of cake I had at a restaurant in Vienna that was packed full, practically black, with poppy seeds. I was very happy when a similar poppy seed cake, this one a little lighter in color, appeared in a friend’s kitchen in Prague, made by a Hungarian visitor, who has since become the Hungarian girlfriend of one of the roommates. That morning, we spread thick slices of the speckled cake with raspberry jam and before we knew it, the entire pan was empty. It was grainy while remaining moist and had a heft to it that many American cakes lack. We thought about it for months afterwards and kept asking when the girl was coming back.

While I haven’t tried to recreate the poppy seed cake at home, I have been using poppy seeds quite liberally lately. These biscuits are a perfect example. Thin and light, but made entirely with whole-wheat flour, they have a dense crumb with crispy edges and a subtle sweetness, like a caramel prematurely removed from the fire. Two thin biscuits are sandwiched around a delicate spread of melted dark chocolate, to which I added a sprinkling of fleur de sel while still over the heat. They are a perfect accompaniment to a pot of tea on a foggy day, and made their way onto our holiday cookie plate this year.

Fig Buckwheat Scones

September 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve packed all my clothes and books into seven moving boxes and brought them down to the UPS. I’ve stashed together energy bars and dried fruit to get me through the semester, and handpicked the cookbook collection that will make the trip across the country. I’ve thrown together a bag to get me through the week at school before my boxes arrive and printed out 150 pictures for my dorm room wall. Junior year here I come.

This is a quick post because I am in the midst of running around campus, filling out forms to switch majors and going to new departmental luncheons. In between going to class and catching up with people I haven’t seen in over a year, I am dashing down to the boathouse for practice and trying to organize a trip to the apple orchards this weekend.

But since I know the seasons are changing and this is soon to be irrelevant, I figured it’s now or never. We haven’t gotten into the kitchens since arriving on campus, but these scones were one of the last things I made in my home kitchen. We brought home three cartons of purple figs for this torta, which really didn’t need too many of them. I simmered them down into a fig butter with some sugar and a split vanilla bean, and spread it between cakey layers of buttery scone, made with earthy buckwheat flour. The scones are soft enough to fall apart in your hands, but hold up well in swirl form. Be careful to not over mix the dough, it’s okay if it looks a bit inconsistent, with flecks of flour and butter, even as you’re throwing into on the floured-countertop and rolling it out.

Fig Butter

1 Lb. figs, stems and skins removed
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup port
1/8 cup bottled lemon juice
One vanilla bean

Cut the figs into quarters. Place the cut fruit in a sauce pan over low heat, mashing with a fork if needed. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the inside into the pan, before throwing in the entire bean. Cook down for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with a spatula to prevent the bottom from sticking.
Add sugar, port and lemon juice, zest and vanilla and continue to cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and take out the vanilla beans. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and let cool (if you wish to save the fig butter for later use, it keeps about a week in the fridge, or you can can it).

Fig Buckwheat Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 recipe fig butter

In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the butter to the dry mixture and work in with your hands, until the mixture feels like small grains of rice. It is important to do this fairly quickly, in order to keep the butter as cold as possible. Pour in the cream and mix with a spatula until the dough just comes together.

Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface (it will be quite sticky). Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 8 inches wide, 16 inches long and ¾ inch thick. Spread the fig butter evenly over the dough rectangle. Roll up the long edge of the dough so that you get a log 16 inches long. Using a sharp knife, cut the long in half. Place the two logs on baking sheets, lined with parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. While the logs are chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

After 30 minutes have passed, remove the logs from the refrigerator, cut each log into six even slices and place each roll flat on the baking sheets, 6 to a sheet. Bake the rolls for 38 to 42 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Let cool (or don’t) and eat the same day.

Fresh pow, cookies and whole grains

March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Commitment is a funny thing, and one most of my friends know I’m notoriously bad at. Something about not having options at all times scares me, and then finally I get my heart set on something and decide I need a concrete, definite plan of execution. For instance, I’ve dabbled in planning for the Vancouver, Oakland and Whidbey Island marathons over the past two months. I’ve accelerated and decreased training accordingly (albeit, probably more like arbitrarily). And then this weekend I decided it was time to buckle down and actually commit, I looked up the Western Pacific Marathon — the plus being that I wouldn’t have to fly to it — and signed myself up. And then, just to blow your socks off on my commitment levels today, I also signed myself up for a new CSA box, which shall remain unnamed for now, and committed myself to at least 4-weeks of farm fresh produce delivery. I know 4-weeks may not seem like a very large commitment to some, but hey, it’s huge for me. Since I can hardly seem to stay in one city for more than a couple of months, it seems silly to commit to a year’s worth of fresh produce anyway.

Sometimes my indecisiveness pays off in the form of several baked goods in the place of one. We went up to Lake Tahoe this weekend for skiing. I spent most of my childhood on the hill racing through off-course gullies, dodging trees and occasionally getting stuck in the fresh powder. I remember protesting the suggestion of joining the ski team because why in the world would I want to spend all my time on the slalom. I spent the rest of my time eating candy bars and Oreo brownies and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge with my instructors or my parents. Real food was a big time no-no during my time on the slopes. Actually, I think it was a big no-no for most of my childhood come to think of it, as my pre swim practice snack was often two Snickers bars in the locker room. Get that image of a chubby pre-teen out of your head right now, my metabolism was like a race horse back then. But despite the fact that most of my life skiing has revolved around junk food, when I think ski hill now, I think homely and hearty whole grains.

I made this loaf cake with graham and whole-wheat flour, 3 yams and 2 tablespoons of butter. It is incredibly moist, verging on being a bit too moist, and good toasted with a bit of peanut butter even four days after it was made. I feel healthy eating it even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top. Sure, it’s not for everyone (my little brother stood around in the kitchen making faces while I was making it) but it’s one of those recipes that is really guilt free. The cookies are whole-wheat chocolate chip and can be found here. The last and first time I made them, I quickly swore they were my new favorite cookies. This time, they were perfect the night of and hardened after a day, losing the chewiness I usually look for in chocolate chip cookies. Will have to work on that because I love the deep nuttiness the whole-wheat flour brings.

Yam Loaf Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Sweet Potato Muffins

3 small yams
1 cup graham flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
pecans, semisweet chocolate chips and tablespoon extra brown sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast yams for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. The bottoms should be dark and the juices should be beginning to caramelize. Let cool and peel. Puree in a blender with the buttermilk and yogurt. Add the egg and melted butter and mix thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Fold together the wet and dry mixtures, being careful not to over mix.

Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Scoop in batter and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar, pecans and semisweet chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour

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