The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.
I’ve never been one f0r deadlines. I was always the kid who was up all night with a pot of coffee the night before a big exam, or mysteriously sick the day a term paper was due. While I love the idea of Daring Bakers and have participated in several (most even on time!), the posting date always sneaks up on me and I usually find myself scrambling. I’ve missed the last couple DB challenges (shh, don’t tell the blogroll moderator) and thought I would miss this one as well, but I got a last-minute burst of inspiration.
Our hostess gave us a choice between a sweet or savory pudding (note: in Britspeak, “pudding” has a much more general meaning than in the U.S.), and gave total free reign with the fillings/ flavorings. The dessert puddings looked much more foolproof, but the savory ones appealed to me more. Besides, I was fascinated by the idea that you could steam a pastry crust and it would come out browned and/ or flaky. I decided to go with a fairly simple steak & mushroom filling; I used the hostess’s dough recipe and then made up my own filling based on looking at a few other recipes. I went to Western Market in Ferndale for the ingredients because they recently started carrying local beef (from C. Roy Meats in Yale, MI). I was also able to pick up organic lettuce and MI asparagus and mushrooms there. (The mushrooms were Aunt Mid’s, which I know is a local brand- not sure if they’re grown here or just packaged here.) Last but not least, I used Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout both in the recipe and to quaff along with dinner. Cheers!
The main part of the challenge was to make a pastry dough using suet. When I asked for suet at the butcher counter, they gave me (for free) several hunks of beef fat; however, I’m not really sure if it qualified as suet based on the description given in the challenge. The challenge hostess made it sound as if you could just crumble it up as-is; however, what I had needed to be rendered to be usable, as it still contained a lot of connective tissue and even a bit of meat. But I just set it over low heat and filtered the liquid fat through cheesecloth, then stuck it in the freezer to chill. The pastry “recipe” was really loose, with specific amounts given for the fat and flour but not for the water. I think I added too much water because I ended up with a pretty sticky dough which I had to flour quite a bit in order to roll out.
For the filling, I just used cubed chuck steak, mushrooms, a yellow onion, salt, pepper, some fresh thyme, a few dashes Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of stout to moisten it all. I tossed the meat in a couple Tbs of flour so that a gravy would be produced when the meat & veg released their juices, and it worked perfectly. Fortunately the quantities I used were also just the right amount to fit perfectly into my 2-quart bowl!
For my steaming apparatus I just used a stockpot with a pasta insert- this worked great because I could easily monitor the water level and lift the insert (with the pudding in it) in and out of the water. The directions said to steam the pudding for anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 5 hours… I steamed it for about 3 ½ but by then it was getting late and we needed to eat before it got ridiculously late. Unfortunately my crust didn’t get fully cooked, I’m not sure if a longer cooking time would have helped, or if it was simply because I had used too much water in the dough. It had the consistency of a dumpling more than a flaky crust. Still, the filling was so good that we just picked around the dough and mostly ate the meat and sauce. I have a little leftover dough that I may use to make some other small pie, but I may try baking it instead and see how that turns out. Cheers to Esther for a great challenge!
Steak & Mushroom Pudding with Stout
a 2-quart bowl, at least as tall as it is wide
a stockpot with a pasta insert (barring this, you may have to improvise some sort of rack to keep the bowl off the bottom of the pan- an overturned plate, a trivet, etc.)
1 quantity suet pastry (you can get Esther’s recipe here, just scroll down)
1 lb cubed chuck (approx. 1-inch pieces are good)
8 oz button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (if larger, cut them in sixths or eighths)
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
about 2 Tbs flour
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
about ⅓ cup stout beer
salt & pepper
I did have some difficulty getting the suet crust to turn out via the steaming method, but as I said, I’m not sure whether it needed to cook longer or whether I just used too much water in the dough. You may want to read around some of the other Daring Bakers posts to get some clarification! I can, however, fully vouch for the filling, which was delicious.
Fill the stockpot with water enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of your bowl (put the insert with the bowl in while you’re filling it so you can check the level). Remove the bowl and insert and set the pot of water to boil.
Put the mushrooms, onion, and thyme in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, sprinkle the flour over the steak until well-coated (I like to use a tea strainer so there are no lumps). Add the steak to the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle in the Worcestershire (I’d say a scant tablespoon). Season generously with salt and pepper, tossing to mix.
Grease your bowl. Set aside ¼ of the dough. Roll out the remaining dough and line your pudding bowl with it (you will likely have extra if you use the recipe I did). Place the filling in the bowl and pour the stout over the top. Roll out the remaining dough and place it over the top, sealing it around the edges. Take a large square of foil or wax paper and place it over the top of the bowl; secure with string or a rubber band. Arrange it so that it “poufs” up and does not touch the dough (mine did touch, and tore the crust when I removed it. Boo!) .
Place the bowl in the pasta insert and lower it into the boiling water. Put the lid on and steam until the crust is cooked, 3 to 5 hours (it will turn from a pasty white to a golden brown). Check the water level a couple times and top off if necessary; it shouldn’t fall below the bottom of the bowl. When done, invert the bowl onto a plate and serve.
I actually made my Daring Bakers challenge early this month, woot! Marvin informed me that we were going to a dinner party a couple weeks ago and volunteered me to bring a dessert, so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to roll up my sleeves and get frying.
I was a little skeptical about frying anything in my tiny kitchen without the aid of a deep fryer, but it turned out pretty much ok. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was deep enough to avoid any splattering. The only collateral damage was a lingering fast-food grease smell that permeated the house for several days after! I used pasta tubes for the cannoli forms, which was a little challenging but not impossible.
The cannoli were not difficult to make, but they were time-consuming. Thankfully I had a pasta rolling machine, which greatly helped in rolling the dough to the proper thickness- I can’t imagine if I’d had to roll it out by hand, yikes. The dough actually behaved very similarly to pasta dough and the machine worked very well at getting it to a workable consistency. I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I went to make the dough- it was Sunday morning, I didn’t have any wine in the house, and you can’t buy alcohol until noon. I didn’t have time to wait, so I poked around the pantry until I came across some Chinese cooking wine. I sniffed it… it smelled close enough to Marsala, so into the dough it went.
For filling my cannoli, I bought ricotta but also bought some whipping cream which I whipped and folded into the ricotta. It wasn’t traditional, of course, but it gave a wonderful light texture to the filling. I divided my filling into two bowls and flavored one batch with about ¼ cup pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s. The other half of the filling was inspired by Turkish flavors; I used sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and a little orange flower water. The pumpkin-filled cannoli got pecans on the ends, and the ”Turkish delight” cannoli got pistachios and apricots.
I doubt that cannoli would be something I’d attempt again at home, not just because of the frying but because they ended up being a little on the expensive side after you factor in the whole bottle of oil I had to use, and the manicotti shells I bought to use as molds. But it was a fun experience, and after the last challenge, it was nice to make something I had success with on the first try! (For recipe, please visit our hostess Lisa Michele’s blog at the link below.)
The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.
I had a conversation last night that went something like this:
My friend S to me: “Hey, you like to cook, you should join our Cooking Club, we get together every Sunday night and make food and watch Mad Men, it’s really fun!”
S to her friend A, also a member of said club: “Noëlle’s a great cook, she makes all kinds of stuff…”
A to me (apparently trying to suss out whether I was Cooking Club material): “Oh really? What kind of stuff do you cook?”
Me (with a touch of pride): “Well, I just made puff pastry for the first time…”
Him (interrupts): “Oh, so you’re a baker.”
Me: “No, I mean, I participate in this baking-challenge thingy to try to broaden my skills or whatever, but mostly I cook…”
Him: “No, but you’re a baker.”
Here’s where it got weird, because I then found myself getting strangely defensive, insisting that no, I’m not a baker, I don’t even really like sweets that much, I was probably going to use my remaining puff pastry to make some sort of savory tart, and that 80-90% of the time I spend in the kitchen is spent cooking, not baking. I really have no idea why it was important to him to stress that I was a “baker” rather than a cook, or why it was important to me to correct that impression, but so it was.
My challenge results this month will back up my point. I didn’t have too hard a time making the actual puff pastry dough, but shaping it into the vols-au-vent was an exercise in frustration. I first made a batch that were supposed to be heart-shaped, which I was planning on taking to a bridal shower, but they were all so misshapen that I didn’t even bother. The photo is of the best-looking ones of the bunch, and even those look pretty funky. I put a little spoonful of honey into the hollow and topped them with raspberries and walnuts and they were tasty enough, but I wanted to do something more challenge-worthy, so I decided to attempt another batch. This time I did square(ish) cutouts and made a pastry cream to fill them with. I still had a terrible time handling the dough- it seems it can’t be at room temperature for more than a minute or two, and then you have to return it to the fridge lest it go all gooey on you. It took me longer to cut the dough into shapes and assemble them than it did to to bake it and make the filling, because I had to keep stopping and re-chilling the dough.
My finished shells didn’t look like much- they were irregular and had cracks in the bases- but once I got them filled with pastry cream and threw a bunch of raspberries on top, no one was much complaining. I filled the shells about an hour or two before they were eaten, and the pastry held its crunch nicely without getting soggy, so I was pleased with that. But I’m still not calling myself a baker.
And now a word of thanks for our hostess: The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. (Coincidentally, the recipe I used for the pastry cream was also from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Paris Sweets.)
I do want to thank Steph for throwing down the gauntlet and getting me to make something I’ve always wanted to try but have been too intimidated. Now that I know the dough is doable, perhaps I’ll make it again but just use it for preparations that don’t involve so much handling, such as a tart crust. For a recipe and instructions on making puff pastry, just click the link to Steph’s blog.
I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes. I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices. Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty. So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?
Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside. But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second. If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them. They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar). I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.
However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them. I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.
Have I convinced you yet? If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set. But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.
Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans. Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.
1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating
6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan
Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart- 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula. The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk. If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra. If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400º. Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go. Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Prick the crust with a fork. Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked. For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)
Reduce the oven temp to 375º. Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up. If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top. Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper. I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes. The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well. You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked. Grate some cheese over the tops.
Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10). If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes. When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version
Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these? They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel, I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many. Live and learn, I suppose. I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika. I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that). The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.
In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa). I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day. It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast. Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness. I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you. If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.
Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use. Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much. Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences. To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).
Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells. Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water
When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.
Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter. DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!
Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time, coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.
When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it. Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.