Monday, March 28, 2011

Daring Bakers' March Challenge - Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

Sometimes, my behaviour doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been very busy these past couple of weeks, among other things preparing for my predoctoral exam (which I passed, yay!) – hence the lack of posting. I took my exam on Thursday, crashed and rested on Friday, motivated myself to do this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge on Saturday… and just completely forgot to post about it on Sunday. Actually, I remembered at some point during the day, then just forgot all about it again. Anyways, I’ve posted later than this before, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

This yeasted, meringue-filled coffee cake looked intimidating when I first skimmed the recipe, but it turned out to be pretty easy in practice. The rich bread-like dough (almost like a light brioche) was a dream to work with, so smooth and flexible. I love that the recipe used the word “sexy” to describe it, it’s pretty accurate! After rising, the dough was rolled flat, smeared with meringue and sprinkled with a sweet filling. Out of two filling options, I chose the cashew-based one, with garam masala. I was very curious about how garam masala would taste in a sweet bread – I’d only ever used it in curries. I was afraid it might be too strong, but it was actually really subtle, and went well with the dark chocolate and nuts.

The cake came out looking pretty good, but I could have baked it a tad less, as the crumb was a tiny bit dry. As I mentioned, I loved the filling, but I’m puzzled by what happened to the meringue. You can see it in through the decorative cuts all around the edges of the cake, but I was expecting to see a swirl on the inside of each slice. Where did the meringue go? Laurent and I both liked the fact that this cake wasn’t too sweet. In fact, Laurent, who usually dislikes having pastry for breakfast other than the occasional weekend croissant (muffins and scones are banned from the breakfast table, much to my dismay), volunteered to eat it every morning!

Thank you, Ria and Jamie, for hosting a pleasant, original challenge! Please check out the Daring Kitchen for the challenge recipes, and the Daring Bakers’ blogroll to see what all the other bakers concocted this month!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daring Cooks' March Challenge - Ceviche and Papas Rellenas

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenged us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.

My mouth started watering when I found out about this month’s Daring Cooks challenge. Although I’ve never knowingly had Peruvian cuisine, I have had ceviche and, like pretty much any dish featuring raw fish, I adore it. It was also very easy to make: just cut up fresh fish (tilapia, in my case) to your liking, add seasonings and lemon juice, and let the citrus do its job. Indeed, lemon juice cooks fish, which is one of the reasons it’s recommended to avoid using it in tartare. It was refreshing and delicate, served with a salad of corn, red pepper, and goat cheese (it was supposed to be queso fresco, but I couldn’t find any).

The mere concept of papas rellenas made me hungry: meal-sized mashed potato “croquettes,” stuffed with a meat filling. Croquettes are always welcome on my table, but I particularly loved the filling in this recipe: with ground beef, black olives, raisins, and cumin, it was a lovely combination of flavours. I made a large batch of the pappas and froze the excess ones (prior to frying), for a busy night.

What I loved about this month’s challenge is that both dishes are something I had never made at home, and am now seriously considering adding to my regular recipe roaster. Not that this hasn’t happened before with the Daring Cooks, but this month’s recipes were just very fun and accessible. Thank you, Kathlyn!

Please check out the Daring Kitchen to look at both challenge recipes. And take a look at the Daring Cooks’ blogroll to see if they’ve had as much fun as I have this month!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flammekueche, and a new friend

My parents moved to Strasbourg last month. They’ve been sampling the local Alsatian cuisine, which they tell me is on the decadent side: lots of sausages, crème fraîche, cheese, and lardons.

Lardons are something that I’ve been missing here. They’re basically cubed bacon, but they’re salt-cured, cook up less crispy, and substitutes such as bacon or pancetta just don’t quite cut it. Lardons are used in such dishes as quiche lorraine, and also in salads. They’re not impossible to find in Montreal (quality butcher’s shops carry them), but they are nowhere near as available here as in France and Belgium, where you can find ten different kinds of lardons in every supermarket.

But we recently visited a nearby French butcher’s shop and saw some lardons for sale. We weren’t sure what we would do with them yet, but we didn’t want to pass them up. When we got home, we decided to try our hand at making an Alsatian specialty: flammekueche, or tarte flambée.

This dish is not entirely unknown in Montreal. The wine bar POP! serves it, and the popular restaurant and microbrewery chain Les 3 Brasseurs specializes in flammekueches. Basically, the tarte flambée is like a very thin pizza. Toppings can be adapted every which way, but the traditional recipe includes lardons, crème fraîche and/or fromage blanc, and onions.

I found a lot of flammekueche recipes online, and they were all different. So I combined some of them, and added some steps of my own. It was very rich, but very satisfying, with the salty lardons, luscious crème fraîche, and slightly sweet onions. Give it a try!

Laurent’s parents are coming over for dinner tomorrow, and I should be doing prep work for the meal. But I can’t. Because of this critter:

Meet our new cat, Paprika. She’s eight months old, and we brought her home from the shelter yesterday. One year after the death of my beloved bunny Q-Tip, I decided the apartment felt very empty, especially on days when I’m working from home. So we talked about it, and decided on a kitty, because they’re a little more independent than rabbits. And no, the title of this blog will not be changed to "The Chocolate Kitty." :-)

So far, Paprika has proven to be extremely affectionate and sweet. She loves to cuddle and sleep next to us. She’s still quite young, so she likes to play a lot, and it doesn’t take much to get her excited: a piece of ribbon, a blanket… my hair…

There’s just one problem: she keeps jumping on the kitchen counter. Especially when I’m cooking. Last night, when I opened the pot of crème fraîche, she went nuts: clearly, fatty dairy ranks very high on her list of desirable treats. Laurent had to take her away so that I could finish making dinner.

I often take cooking breaks from work during the day, but right now I’m just scared that Paprika will pounce while I’m chopping stuff, or while I’m elbow-deep in ground meat. I’d rather wait for Laurent to hold the fort.

Ah well, I’m sure we’ll work it out eventually. At least I know it’s still possible to make tarte flambée.

Traditional Tarte Flambée
Serves 3-4

For the dough:
250g (9 oz, 1 3/4 cup) flour
160 – 200 ml ( 2/3 - 3/4 cup) water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil

1 onion, thinly sliced
250g (9 oz) lardons
120 ml (1/2 cup) crème fraîche (or substitute with sour cream)
1 tbsp fromage blanc (or substitute with plain yogurt)
120 ml (1/2 cup) shredded gruyere cheese (optional)
Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 260ºC (500ºF).

In a mixing bowl, or with a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and oil. Mix in the water gradually, adding just enough to form a soft dough that isn’t sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cover the onions in cold water, stir in 1 tsp of salt and 2 tbsp of white vinegar, and let soak for 30 minutes.

In a skillet over medium high heat, sauté the lardons, stirring often, until they are browned and crispy. Remove the lardons from the pan, leaving the fat in the skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Drain and rinse the onions, then add them to the pan. Sauté them until they are soft and translucent (do not let them brown or caramelize). Remove from heat and reserve.

In a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche and fromage blanc. Season with pepper. Reserve.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, until it is about 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick. Place it on a holed pizza baking sheet. Spread the crème fraîche mixture over the dough, leaving a margin around the border. Sprinkle the onions, lardons, and gruyere (if using) over the mixture.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is crispy and the surface of the tarte is golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve immediately alongside a tossed green salad.