Monthly Archives: October 2010

apple compote cake

i went apple picking again the prior weekend at stone ridge orchards and ended up with yet another 1/2 bushel of apples on my hands.  i found myself absent-mindedly peeling, coring and cubing a good lot of the apples into apple compote over the weekend.  for me at least, making apple compote is rather therapeutic, and i suppose the delicious aromas that fill my kitchen as the apples and vanilla beans gurgle and bubble away is another reason why.

apple compote cake is a cinch to make, so long as one has got a healthy supply of apple compote on hand.  i threw one together  for dinner last night, and ended up with something rather deliciously fragrant. . .

Apple Compote Cake
(makes 1 nine-inch round cake)

Butter 1 stick
Eggs 2 large ones
Yogurt (plain or vanilla) 3 tbsp
Rum 3 tbsp
Sugar ½ cup
Flour 1 cup
Baking powder 1 tsp
Salt A pinch
Apple Compote ½ quart
  1. Prepare Apple Compote a day ahead and let cool.
  2. Melt butter and set aside.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF, butter a nine-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.
  4. In the bowl of your standmixer,  beat eggs with whisk attachment on high speed for about 1-2 minute until eggs are bubbly (but not doubled in volume).
  5. Add in sugar.  Continue to whisk until evenly combined.  Then add in yogurt, butter (cooled), and rum.  Whisk again for about 20 seconds.
  6. Change to paddle attachment, turn down to lowest speed, and drop in flour, baking powder and salt.  Beat until just combined.
  7. Pour in apple compote and fold into batter using a rubber spatula until uniform.  (7-8 folds)
  8. Bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool for 15 minutes before unmolding.

nenrinya (ねんりん家) baum kuchen

tokyo is in the throes of a full-fledge baumkuchen explosion.  i swear, in the last six years in which i’ve traveled there, the baumkuchen craze seems to have reached the same frenzied crescendo as cupcakes in nyc.  fortunately, i happen to ADORE baumkuchen (more on my baumkuchen ravings here).  walking around the pastry aisles inside tokyo department stores, i felt sheer joy (or was that the adrenalin putting thru my veins?) i witnessed baumkuchens in every permutation.  there was even a baumkuchen that resembled a cupcake of sorts — tiny baumkuchen roll on the bottom, and topped with some sort of frosting or buttercream.

while waltzing down ginza, i came across the nenrinya baum kuchen boutique, nestled in the ground floor of the giant matsuzakaya department store.  i’ve never tasted baumkuchen from this company before, and thought i’d get in line behind the 30 other baumkuchen crazed tokyo-ites.

nenrinya sells baumkuchen in two flavors: original (which is kind of a vanilla/almond) and chocolate.  they also sell two styles of baumkuchen: straight and mount. the former is softer, less sweet, lightly coated with glaze, and is only available in the original flavor.  i purchased a small ring of the straight baum that had been made fresh that day and meant for same day consumption (they also sell a version of the straight baum that is vacuum packed to last longer).  of course, it still tasted delightfully moist about a week after i purchased it, even without the fancy packaging. i’ve learned to ignore japanese expiration dates (basically add a few days and up to a week to any date they’ve got stamped on).

i also picked up a quarter sliver each of both flavors of the mount baum kuchen.  the mount baum kuchen (pictured above) is more heavily coated with glaze, dusted with powdered sugar,  and denser with a ridged exterior.   i prefer the straight baum kuchen, but it’s nice to mix things up every now and then.  plus, the mount baum is just cool looking.

it was a bit hard to take photos inside the jam packed store, and there was  a no photo sign, which i didn’t see until i got up to the counter). that said,  i did pick up a brochure and scanned in some of their lovely photos for your viewing pleasure. . .



sojurn to stone ridge orchards

stone ridge orchards, about a 2 hour drive from downtown manhattan, is my favorite place for picking apples.   they’ve got rows upon rows of gnarly old apple trees (with some newly planted ones mixed in).  the apples grow on branches high and low; the orchard supplies you with picking poles to reach apples on the highest branches.

these old trees organically produce some of the crispest and most fragrant apples that i’ve ever sunk my teeth in.  the apple variety varies from week to week.  when we were there about 2 weeks ago, we filled our bag with fuji, golden delicious, red delicious and a few ida-red.  they had mutsu, gala and honey crisp trees in the orchard as well, but the branches had been picked clean by the time we got there.

the orchard spans several acres, at its highest point you can see the tips of the catskill mountains in the distance.  it’s an orchard where you can get lost in, an orchard perfect for playing hide and seek, an orchard where you can take it all in. and on the day we went, the clouds floating in the sheer blue sky just seemed to tickle the highest branches of the fruit laden trees.

and in case you’re sick of apples, they’ve got some pumpkins strewn out front, a berry patch in the back, and even a guy cooking up some pizzas in a portable woodfire oven (not pictured).

apple compote baklava v. 1.0

way back when in my pastry school days, chef divulged that the secret to amazing baklava laid in the usage of brown butter, rather than simply melted butter.  the caramel nuttiness of brown butter enhances the flavor of the pistachio mixture and intermingles with just about everything in between the  mille-feuilles of phyllo crust. i remembered chef’s advice, while i decided what to do with the quart or so of apple compote i had left in the fridge.  i figured i could marry the two concepts and concoct an apple compote baklava.

the baklava emerged from the glistening in golden brown hues. i could definitely smell the apples; however, the nut mixture seemed to over-power the apples in taste.  i think in the future i’ll tweak the recipe a bit more to have more apples, less nuts, and involve apple juice in the making of the steeping syrup for a truly apple-ly baklava experience.

Apple Compote Baklava v. 1.0
(makes one 9×13 inch tray, about 2-3 inches deep)

For the Baklava
Browned Butter 1 lb (4 sticks); melt butter in a sauce pan until it begins to brown slightly.  Watch the butter carefully, as it will go from being deliciously browned to bitter and burnt rather quickly.
Phyllo (Filo) Dough 1 package (16oz); i use the fillo factory brand available at whole foods.  Each sheet folded in half fits my plan perfect (13×18”)
Apple Compote 1 quart per a layer; if you want to do more than 1 layer, you need more. See recipe here.
Pistachios or Almonds 200g per a layer; i had 2 layers in my original recipe
Cinnamon 1 tsp per layer
For the Syrup
Water 2 cups (~500 ml); in the future, i might substitute the water with apple juice; and then cut the sugar down to 1 cup
Sugar 2 cups (~500 ml)
Honey ½ cup (~125 ml)
Apple 1 apple, washed, cored and sliced into quarters
Cinnamon stick 1 stick
  1. In food processor, coarsely grind up nuts.
  2. Mix nuts together with cinnamon and set aside.
  3. Brush pan with generously with butter (preferably not browned butter).
  4. Place 6 layers of filo dough on bottom of pan, generously brushing with browned butter between each layer.  (note: if you’re using 18X13 inch phyllo, cut the layers in half lengthwise, so that you have 9×13 inch sheets.  cover with a clean towel between use, as the filo dries out very quickly).
  5. Spread one layer of nuts evenly on top of 1st phyllo layer.
  6. Place 6 more layers of filo on top of nuts, brushing with browned butter between each layer.
  7. Spread a layer of apple compote (or nuts if that’s what you like).  Repeat step 6.
  8. Repeat step 7 and 6 one more time. The top layer should be comprised of filo.
  9. With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamonds.  Make sure you cut through the bottom of filo pastry.
  10. Bake at 350ºF for 45-60 minutes, or until golden brown.
  11. Make the syrup while the baklava is baking.  Combine all syrup ingredients into a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil and allow the liquids to reduce by 1/3.
  12. Then set aside to cool.  [Remove apple and cinnamon stick when ready to pour over baklava].
  13. When baklava is ready, remove from oven and pour about 1/2 the syrup over.   Wait for 10 minutes and then pour over the rest of the syrup.
  14. The baklava is ready to eat when it has entirely cooled.

sts (aka. sweet tangy spicy) pickled radishes

perfect pickled radishes is a matter of personal taste.  i like mine slightly sweet, slightly tangy, slightly spicy, and oh yeah, they need to have a crunch.  i started mucking about the kitchen the other day, and quickly threw together a pickling brine with the sichuan peppercorns i had hauled back from my trip to chengdu. i poured the brine over some radishes, and lo and behold, a few days later, hubs and i found ourselves crunching on some seriously delicious radishes.

i then spent the next two weekends making sure that i could reproduce the recipe.  i think i’ve got it down to a science now, or at least an easy to repeat routine. in my latest batch, i tossed in some sliced carrots as well to add some color.

i’m finding that the radishes are awesomely convenient and infinitely versatile .  i’ll toss them into salads, place them on top of sandwiches, or use them as a condiment to go along with some cold sesame noodles.  .  .

STS Pickled Radishes
(enough to fill a 1.5L Fido Jar)

Radishes 2 ¼ lbs (~1 kilo); I use daikon radishes because they are easiest to slice.  Red radishes can be used as well – a neat thing happens with red radishes. After a few days of pickling, the red skin color transfers from the radish to the brine, i.e. the brine becomes reddish and the radish is left white).NB: if you want some color, sliced carrots can be tossed in as well, but i’d keep the proportion sub 20%.
Fresh Garlic 3-4 cloves, peeled and smashed
Fresh Ginger About 1 inch cube, peeled and sliced
Sichuanese Red Peppercorns ¼ cup
Dried Red Chili Peppers ½ cup
Sugar ½ cup
Rice Vinegar 1 ½ cups
White Vinegar ½ cup
Mirin ½ cup
Sake ½ cup
  1. Wash, peel and slice radishes about 1/8″ thick.  It’s easiest to use a japanese benriner or mandolin.
  2. Toss sliced radishes in a large prep bowl with garlic, ginger, sugar, peppercorns and chilis.
  3. Transfer to Fido jar and pour vinegars, mirin and sake over.
  4. Clamp jar close and store in refrigerator.
  5. Radishes will be ready to eat in 2-3 days.

pomme pomme inspiration

i have this habit of picking up pretty brochures and things from pastry boutiques and restaurants while i travel.  i stuff them into some deep dark corner of my bag, along with the hotel folios and ticket stubs.  i tell myself that one day, they’ll make for good material if i ever take up scrap-booking. of course, i never actually do and i end up throwing out the whole lot.

i finally decided to tackle my “vacation” pile last night and came upon some of said brochures.  thought i’d post the one from joel robuchon in roppongi hills.  it’s filled with all sorts of delicious ideas about pastry and apples from normandy and brittany (and if you jump on a plane to tokyo now, you can still catch the last 2 weeks of joel robuchon’s normandy and brittany pastry offering!!!)

there’s a better picture of the pithiviers á la pomme that i had posted previously (and mislabeled as a chausson aux pommes).  the cake au caramel, noix et pomme pictured next to the pithiviers is kinda calling out, “make me, make me,” right now . . .


sesame seed puff pastry sticks

while i ogled away at the marvellous desserts at sadaharu aoki’s shoppe in tokyo, hubs zero-ed in on these sesame seed covered puff pastry sticks (they are kind of like an untwisted version of cheese straws in texture). i think he found the only savory item in the entire shop and tossed a bag of them into our shopping basket.  at some point while we were crossing the pacific ocean on our flight back home, hubs got hungry, located the sticks, and started to munch away on the plane.  he finished the entire bag before i had a chance to photograph them for your viewing pleasure.  they came expertly gift wrapped, of course, with ribbons, sashes and all.

puff pastry is a pain to make, and as i have grumbled many times in the past, costs an arm and a leg.  on top of that, when you’re cutting circles out of puff pastry, like i did for the chausson aux pommes recipe, about 40% of the ludicrously expensive puff pastry sheet you purchased ends up as scraps.

fortunately, physics and the puff pastry gods are kind.  these scraps can in fact be re-configured into light and crunchy edibles, such as sesame seed puff pastry sticks, and no one would be the wiser that you had just served them re-purposed “leftovers.” hubs ate one last night, and he claims that they taste just like the ones we bought in tokyo!  hurrah! i can bake like master aoki-san!

Sesame Seed Puff Pastry Sticks
(quantity tbd, but with ~5 to 6oz of puff pastry scraps, i got about a dozen or so 8 inch sticks)

[nb: probably the most inexact recipe i will ever write]

Puff Pastry Scraps Whatever you’ve got on hand.  Yes, you can buy fresh puff pastry expressly for this purpose too.
Egg Wash 1 whole egg, mixed with 1 tbsp of milk and a sprinkle of salt.  You may need to make more or less depending on the scraps you’ve got.
Black and White Sesame Seeds A small mixture of each, ~1/4 cup total
  1. Okay, this is IMPORTANT, very very important! Do not, I repeat, do not clump the leftover puff pastry pieces into a ball.  If you do so, you will not get the characteristic layered effect of puff pastry.  INSTEAD, take each scrap and layer them on top of each other. If the scrap block is too soft, place it into the freezer for a few minutes.
  2. Then, roll the scraps out again into a slab about 1/8″ thick.  I got  a 9×12 inch slab out of my scraps.
  3. Transfer the slab back into the freezer and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes.
  4. Take the slab back out and slice it into strips about 1/2 to 3/4″ wide, and 8″ long.  Although, you can really make the sticks as large or small as you desire.
  5. Pick up each semi-frozen stick and brush it generously with egg wash.  Then sprinkle sesame seeds on top (the seeds should adhere to the egg wash).  It’s easiest to sprinkle the seeds on over a bowl, so that the excess will just fall back into the bowl to be re-used.
  6. Place the seeded sticks onto a parchment sheet lined baking sheet and let rest in the freezer, while pre-heating the oven to 350ºF.
  7. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.

best fusilli ever!

the other day, hubs and i wandered up to eataly, mario batali’s mammoth italian food hall concept in the flatiron district. we went at 10 am when it opened, and zigzagged around the place pin-balling all around the place to get the lay of the land.  we saw some gorgeously arranged vegetables, waited online for  sliced prosciutto, checked out the unicredit ATM kiosk, and listened to the mozzarella man explain the freshness of his mozzarella.  we bought a sample, popped it into our mouths, and yes, he was right, his mozzarella was indeed very fresh and creamy and elastic.  it smelled nice too.

most of the food counters serving prepared food did not open until 11am.  we tried to get a coffee at the lavazza espresso counter while we waited for things to open, but the line was daunting.  instead, we sat outside in grammercy square park for a bit and then ducked inside.  i quickly grabbed a gelato with two flavors:  fig and pear-ginger.  the fig gelato tasted like pink flesh of italian figs; however, i realised that i didn’t much like the taste of that particular type of fig configured into gelato.  (i’m not quite sure what type of fig il laboratorio del gelato uses; their fig gelato is divine).  i quite enjoyed the pear-ginger flavor.

our friend J showed up (we planned to meet him there for lunch) and after quickly walking around in a circle, decided to eat lunch at La Pasta, the pasta and neapolitian pizza restaurant.  apparently, lines can get up to 90 minutes long at peak times; although there was no wait when we showed up at 11:05am.  we ordered a mixed appetizers plate, a pizza and a pasta.  the mixed plate contained about 6-7 tiny servings of roasted vegetables, cured meats and mozzarella.  best shared between two people with smallish appetites. the pizza, a margherita, arrived rather burnt on the edges with a soggy center — we really weren’t very impressed.  however, the fusilli was omg! the best fusilli i’ve ever had.  La Pasta served the fusilli with a hearty ragu (J identified it as duck, but i thought it tasted more like an aged beef). i probably could have consumed a plate of the stuff without any sauce.

i ended up purchasing a package of the fusilli to take home with me ($7.50/each).  it’s a bit pricey for dried pasta, but a pack has got 5-6 servings, so not too bad.  a few days later, i boiled about half a pack of the pasta, reaching al dente perfection in about 11 minutes.  i served it with my own version of a hearty ragu made from ground turkey, san marzano tomatoes, and a few tomatoes thrown in from my garden.

200 Fifth Ave (@ 23rd Street)
New York, NY 10010
Market 10a-11p
Lavazza Espresso Bar 9a-10p
Restaurants 11a-10p

étude de chausson aux pommes

exhibit a above: chausson aux pommes from l’atelier de joel robuchon in roppongi hills (picture taken in bad lighting in a hotel room, moments before i consumed it).  notice the glistening exterior, slightly browned towards the edges,  intricate spiral vents, and even rise of the puff pastry shell. such perfection can be had for about 450 yen.

correction 10/15: i started digging thru stuff from my trip, and it turns out that exhibit a is actually a pithiviers à la pomme.  still made with apples and puff pastry, but it’s got some almond paste inside as well.  oo la la!

exhibit b below: my attempt at making chausson aux pommes at home . . . pale, not glistening, uneven rise, lack of intricate spiral vents. . . homey

having gone apple picking a few days earlier, i found myself with a lot of apples on my hand.  i decided to slice and dice them up and make a rather large quantity of apple compote (i’ve still got a quart or so left in my fridge).  rather than make an apple tart, as i’ve done in the past, i decided to recreate the chausson aux pommes (aka. french version of an apple turnover, more intricate, prettier, less sweet, flakier crust) from joel robuchon in tokyo (see exhibit a).

i went to new york cake to pick-up a 4 inch fluted dough cutter.  tried looking for a spiral vent cutter with no luck — the closest thing i found was the spiral kaiser roll indentation device.  i picked that up as well, but it didn’t work so well.  i could have sworn that i’ve seen something more suited for making intricate spiral vents at dehillerin in paris; i’ll have to burrow through the aisles again the next time i’m there.

i’ve deduced a couple of things to be improved on for my next round of  chausson aux pommes experimentation:

(1) even spiral vents are key to creating the uniform rise as seen in exhibit a.  without the even events, you’ll get more of a dome shape. until i find a spiral vent cutting device, i think the next best alternative is to attempt making the vents by hand with a round pastry wheel.

(2) one must really slather on the egg wash.  i brushed my chausson aux pommes rather lightly with egg wash, and in some cases left it off entirely.  to get that caramelized glistening effect, i think that a heavy hand should be used when applying egg wash.

(3) working with puff pastry is all about finding the perfect temperature.  the best state is when the dough is defrosted enough to be plyable but non-sticky and wobbly, i.e. when you cut the pastry, you should be able to pick up the cut-out disc easily without it losing its shape.  might have to put the puff pastry back into the freezer if the pastry is too warm.

Chausson Aux Pommes v. 1.0
(makes about 8 four inch pastries)

Puff Pastry 14 oz.; 1/8″ thick (I use Dufour; yes, it costs an arm and a leg. I’ve made my own in the past, far more economical, but time consuming and hard work!)
Apple Compote 1 recipe, yielding about 2-3 cups
Egg wash 2 egg yolk, 1 tbsp of milk, a pinch of salt, beaten until uniform
  1. Prepare apple compote a day in advance; and defrost puff pastry 2-3 hours in refrigerator before using.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 325ºF.
  3. Place a piece of parchment paper on your work surface, and unroll the puff pastry pastry.
  4. Dip your 4″ fluted round pastry cutter in some flour, and cut out 16 circles.  [save the leftover puff pastry scraps for another recipe. . . see sesame seed puff pastry sticks]
  5. If you have a spiral vent cutter, make 8 indentations with it; otherwise, do the best you can with a pastry wheel to mimic the spiral vents.  Or, skip the spiral pattern entirely and make vents of your own accord.
  6. Spread about 2 tbsp of apple compote onto 8 unvented pastry rounds.  Brush the edges with egg wash, and then place the vented pastry rounds on top. Press down around the edges to secure them. Place the assembled pastries onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  7. If the dough is started to get too soft, return the unbaked chausson aux pommes to the freezer for 15 minutes.
  8. When ready to bake, brush a lot of egg wash onto the tops of the pastry.
  9. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.

mid-fall tomato update

i know it’s october, but my tomato plants, particularly the pineapple variety, are still going strong (no doubt because they reside in my living room). there are a few more on my bush that are stubbornly, still green. . .

i plucked a large yellow and red pineapple tomato this morning about 4 inches in diameter and weighing in at 252g (just over 1/2 a pound).  they look rather like the heirloom tomatoes selling for $7.99/lb at my local greenmarket, if i do say so myself!

more about tomato growing under the green shoots tab above (or you can click here)