Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fig and Goat Cheese Tart

When people talk about produce, Summer comes to mind; however, the end of the Summer and beginning of Fall bring treats to the local Farmers' Markets.  Look for gorgeous broccoli, cabbage, apples, pears and figs.

I used 1.5 lb of fresh figs to make this tart, 2 lbs would have been better. It helps that we have a neighbor with a fig tree, and better yet a young fig tree of our own that will, hopefully, begin to fruit next year This recipe is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook, Plenty More.  Extravagance aside, the tart is amazing: beautiful and impressive to look at and even more delicious.

The dough is a buttery yeast dough flavored with thyme, lime, lemon and a bit of sugar. The resulting taste is not quite cake, a bit savory with an earthy undertone. I used fresh thyme today, as my garden is still full of beautiful fresh thyme, but I'm sure dried thyme will work well. These figs I used were the last of the season and on the smallish side The fruit should be a  bit firm, but ripe.

Spring came in late and the tree has lots of under-ripe fruit that will probably not make it through the first freeze

Before you read the recipe and decide that this is way more involved than you have patience for, let me suggest that you try it on a rainy Sunday, when you have nowhere to go until later in the day. The dough should be made and chilled for 8- 10 hours for best results (although 3-4 hours will do). Ottolenghi writes that you can choose to use frozen puff pastry, which may also be delicious, but would be a different tasting tart.  Depending on how you want to divide up your time, some of the prep can be done the evening before as well, making the baking process move more quickly when you are ready to bake.

For this tart I strongly recommend weighing the ingredients and not using volume.

30-60 minutes before you are ready to assemble the tart, remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. While the dough is warming a bit, prepare the cheese spread, slice the fruit in half and whisk the lemon icing ingredients.The cheese layer is applied like a thin film of spreadable filling. The icing is drizzled on the baked tart.

Electric mixer
Measuring cups, spoons, bowls, small whisk
Small prep bowls
Kitchen scale
Rolling pin, silicone mat
Parchment paper
Jelly roll pan

For the pastry dough:
10 oz  all purpose flour
1.8 oz granulated sugar
1 tsp instant yeast -I used SAF Gold, but any instant yeast will work, if you prefer active dry yeast,
     see my post on flour and  yeast
Zest of one lime or lemon
1/2 tsp lime or lemon oil (optional, add it if you like more pronounced citrus flavor)
2 oz (1/4c) warm water
1 extra large egg plus one extra large yolk, mix in a small prep bowl. Reserve the egg white to wash on the edges of the rolled out dough
pinch kosher or sea salt
2.5 oz (5 Tbsp) butter, margarine or solid shortening - cut into small pieces
approximately 1-2 Tbsp neutral oil (e.g. canola or corn) for greasing the bowl used for proofing the

For the cheese layer:
5 oz plain goat cheese
2 oz confectioner's sugar
1 Tsp grated orange zest
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 Tsp dried thyme)
1 extra large egg
3.6 oz ground almonds or hazelnuts

For the fig layer:
1 1/2 - 2 lbs barely ripe figs, halved
2 Tbsp sugar crystals- use organic sugar crystals, sanding or turbinado sugar - these types of sugar will remain sparkly on the baked tart. If unavailable, use granulated sugar

For the lemon icing drizzle:
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 oz confectioner's sugar

Make the pastry. You'll need to chill the dough a minimum of 2-4 hours, or preferably 8-10 hours
1. Pre-measure all of the ingredients and have at-the-ready.
2. Place the flour, yeast, granulated sugar and zest in the bowl of an electric stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.
3. Using the dough hook, stir the ingredients.
4. Pour the water into the dry ingredients, continuing to mix at a slow speed. Add the egg mixture, salt and lemon oil. Continue to mix on low speed.
5. Add the butter, one or two small pieces at a time.  Increase the mixer speed and mix until the fat is blended into the dough.  You may need to scrape the dough down along the sides of the bowl.  If the dough continues to stick to the sides and does not pull together into a ball, add a tablespoon or two of flour. Continue to mix at medium for six or seven minutes.  The dough ball will look shiny, smooth and be stretchy.
6. Remove the dough hook, drizzle the reserved oil on top of the dough, turn the dough so that the entire surface is oily.
7. Cover with plastic wrap, place in refrigerator and chill.  The finished dough will become puffy, but will increase only about 20% in volume.

8. To make the cheese layer
 You can make the mixture after the dough (chilling while the dough is being chilled) or prepare after the dough has chilled and is warming a bit before you roll it out and assemble the tart.

9. Measure and assemble the cheese layer ingredients. Mash or whip together the cheese, 2 oz confectioner's sugar, thyme and zest. Beat in the whole egg and then add the ground nuts. The filling will have the consistency of a thick cream cheese spread.

10. Halve the figs               

11. Cover a flat surface with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Dust lightly with flour. Gently shape the ball of dough into a short log and begin rolling out the dough by stretching the length to about 16-17 inches. Flip the dough, dust it with a bit more flour and roll out to widen to approximately 12 or 13 inches, forming a rectangle this is approximately 16 x 12 inches. The dough should be approximately 1/4 inch thick. 

12. The dough will be fragile, there are two ways I know to move the dough onto the baking pan. You can loosely roll the dough over and around a rolling pin and unroll along the length of the jelly roll pan that has been lined with parchment paper OR you can cover the dough with parchment paper, lay the jelly roll pan on top of the covered dough and lifting from the bottom (under the silicone or parchment, flip the entire layered silicone-paper-dough-baking pan so that the pan is on the bottom and you can peel away the now-top layer of silicone or paper. 

13. Trim the edges to form a reasonably straight rectangle and roll each edge over once to form a border. 

14. Spread a thin layer of cheese along the entire surface.
15. Brush the edge with the reserved egg white.
16. Sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar crystals along the pastry edge.
17. Place a layer of figs, placing the fruit as closely together as possible, making sure to cover the entire surface with fruit. Sprinkle the fruit with the remaining sugar crystals.

18. Cover loosely with a piece of parchment paper and let rest 15-20 minutes until you see the edge puff a bit. While allowing the assembled tart to rest/rise, place an oven rack in the top third of the oven and  preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

19. Remove the cover, slip the tart into the oven, lower the thermostat to 350 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and sparkly and the figs have begun to caramelize a bit.

20. While the tart is baking, combine the lemon juice and reserved confectioners sugar. Whisk into a thick icing.

21. Drizzle the icing on the warm tart. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

The tart is unbelievably delicious! 
Not too sweet, a bit earthy from the flavor of the thyme and the figs become creamy. 

Looking for another fruit tart recipe?
or a VERY simple Rustic Fruit Crumble

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Challah Bread Pudding / Kugel

Re-purpose the left-over holiday challot and make a challah bread pudding (AKA:bread kugel)

Don't throw out the left over sweet, fruit stuffed holiday challah - it may not be suitable for breadcrumbs, but you have the base of a great bread pudding. The "recipe" is more of a guideline, improvise as you go.


  • Gather the left over challah. This year we had stuffed pumpkin, apple and strawberry/apple challah, use whatever challah you have on hand. Cube into bite-size pieces
  • Mix  milk (pareve or cows milk), eggs , sweeteners and spices 
  • Bake until firm, serve warm or at room temperature
  • breadboard , knife
  • mixing bowl
  • a large mixing cup or a mixing cup and bowl
  • mixing spoon, measuring spoon 
  • 9x9 or 8x8 baking pan (the size to make a batch of brownies)
Note: this is a guideline. Measurements are approximate - improvise and be creative!

8c bread cubes (you can use white bread, but challah, with or without fruit, jam or nuts make this 
     bread pudding out of the ordinary)
1/2 cup diced dry fruit (optional, use if you choose). Fruit could include dried cranberries, diced 
     apricot or dates, raisins, dried apples, etc. 
1 tsp (or a bit more) ground cinnamon 
1/4- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg 
1/3- 1/2 c brown sugar (more if you like very sweet bread pudding) 
2 Tbsp vanilla sugar (optional) 
2 c liquid (I use soy, almond or coconut milk in order to keep the recipe non-dairy, if this is not
     a concern, you can use milk or a combination of milk and half and half)
4 extra large or 5 large eggs
1/4- 1/3 c vegetable oil 

1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees while you prepare the ingredients. Grease a baking pan. I like to use a glass pan for this recipe because it looks nice to serve from the pan
2. Cube the bread. You can use stale, fresh or frozen bread 
3. Mix dry ingredients including the bread, sugar, spices, fruit in a large mixing bowl 

4. Combine the liquids ("milk," eggs). Oil will be added separately

4. Pour the "milk"- egg mixture into the dry mixture and then mix in the oil. Mix well and pour into the prepared pan

5. Slip the unbaked mixture into the oven, lower the heat to 350 and bake until golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serving idea; whip cold full-fat canned coconut milk as you would for whipped cream, whipping in approximately 3- 4 Tbsp confectioners sugar . Chill for several hours to help the cream firm-up.

Looking for another seasonal recipe idea? 
Check out what I was making about a year ago: 

As always,  your comments, questions, suggestions are welcome! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicken-Spinach steamed dumplings (Filipino inspired, Siomai)

Our family loves dumplings of all sorts. At their most basic, dumplings are dough wrapped around a filling. Easy enough, right? The filling reflect everything imaginable and represent the flavors of every culture.  I grew up on cheese and potato blintzes (also think: pirogi or vareniki), but I recently expanded the filling potential by wrapping the dough around pastrami and corned beef hash . Other Eastern European Jewish-style dumplings include meat kreplach (see my vegetarian variation) or knishes .  Asian steamed buns are made wheat dough with a leavening agent (see Asian style steamed buns) and in the Middle East and Muslim influenced cultures wrappers are usually wheat and oil based (Samsa  or sambusak).  Savory and sweet, the variety and variations of dumplings are endless.

Whenever I made dumplings guests think of them as a complicated treat; however, they really are, at their root, a comfort food and can be prepared at home. They do take a bit of time to make - I would imagine that historically dumplings may have been traditionally prepared as a community project- but given a bit of background music, a radio playing or your favorite tv show, you can sit down and knock them out.  Many can be frozen (I freeze my kreplach and blintzes as well as strudel rolls) and most will hold up in your fridge for several days when you wrap them well (the steamed chicken dumplings in the photos were wrapped, kept in my fridge and used over 4 days during the current fall holidays).

If you're still interested, but not convinced about how doable dumplings are to make, there are shortcuts including ready-made wrappers. You can purchase pre-made won ton and dim sum wrappers (square or round) in most supermarkets or Asian grocery stores.  In Middle Eastern or kosher food stores you should be able to find frozen puff pastry that you can use for a variety of dumplings. Greek style frozen sheets of filo (phyllo) dough are ubiquitous. Most of the time, except for dough requiring yeast or leavening, I opt for ready-made wrappers.

I learned to make steamed dumplings in Manila from both Filipino and Chinese-Filipino friends. Siomai (the Filipino variant of Chinese Shao Mai) is a much loved food - you can find them served at parties, sold by street vendors and in fast food places. The most common filling is made with ground or minced pork, dried or fresh shrimp and mushrooms. When I first started making them I opted to use ground veal as the "pork substitute," however, our daughter stopped eating veal many years ago so I started to experiment with other ingredients including vegetables, mushrooms and as in these dumplings, ground chicken with a complimentary vegetable (spinach).  Water-chestnuts are often used as a filler, extending the filling and improving the consistency.

I've treated myself to a bamboo steamer and wok, but you can create a steamer by using a covered saucepan with a metal vegetable steaming grid.  The trick is to not allow the boiling water to touch the food itself.

Dumplings are made in three stages: filling, dough/wrapper (if you are making it) and assembly/cooking. You can make the filling, cover and chill it and come back to the dough and assembly hours later.

Give yourself a clear space to work, I usually lay a table cloth across part of my dining room table and give myself plenty of elbow room.

I assemble enough to fill the steamer basket, put that batch over the water, cover and make another batch as the first one cooks. When you have the rhythm the entire process is fairly efficient.

measuring spoons, cups
cutting board and sharp knife
mixing bowls
steamer and wok (alternatively a large saucepan and metal steaming rack)
parchment paper (cut into small pieces to fit the inside of the steamer)

For the filling:
1- 1 1/4 lb ground chicken breast (I do not re-grind, but some people choose to)
1 (8 oz) can water chestnuts, diced very finely
2-3 scallions (green and white parts, trim root and top ends), chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce (or teriyaki sauce or other favorite Asian style/soy sauce based seasoning sauce).
       Many Filipinos like to use Knorr "Maggi" sauce
1/8 tsp ground black pepper (several turns of a pepper grinder will be enough)
1/2 bag chopped spinach (defrosted, drained, approximately 5-7 oz)
1 heaping Tbsp cornstarch
optional decoration: grated carrot, sprinkle on top of uncooked dumplings

For the wrapper:
1 package (50 count) won ton (square) or dim sum (round) wrappers

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, make the filling
2. Dice the water chestnuts, scallions and garlic 
3. Mix all filling ingredients together. Make sure that the cornstarch is not lumpy 


4. Line the steamer with a piece of parchment paper

5. Separate the wrapper pieces and working with one piece at a time place about 1/2 - 3/4 of a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold edges up around the filling, squeeze a bit to make sure the wrapper is snug around the filling

6. The flavoring are all measured in ranges and in order to make sure that the salt and spices are in balance I like to steam 1 or 2 dumplings to check the taste.  Testing a dumpling will also help you evaluate whether or not you have added enough cornstarch: the meat should hold its shape, the dumpling wrapper should stay tightly around the filling after steaming. Steam your "test" dumplings for 12 -15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes and either taste it or find yourself a taste tester (this is never a  problem in our house)

7. Continue to make dumplings and steam the batch for 12-15 minutes. Once finished, remove the steamer from the pot, remove the dumplings (it's a balancing act to remove the entire piece of parchment, you can either lift the paper or lift dumplings one at a time). If you are using a bamboo steamer, use one tier at a time and be careful - steam burns are unpleasant

Notice the steam rising : make sure to protect your hands, use mits! 

Serve warm or at room temperature. Serve with your choice of soy sauce based sauce (soy sauce, teriyaki, "Mr Yoshido," General Tso, etc.  A squeeze of lemon or "calamansi" (also called calamondin) in the sauce is really delicious.

Cool completely before packing, single layer in a covered storage container


What was I uploading on my blog a year ago?