• Ingredient,  Pastries,  Pies,  Technique

    Screwdriver Pie Crust

    Somewhere along the line, we came to treat pie crust like a prima donna. Handle it gingerly, they say, or it will toughen and refuse to cooperate. Use your best butter, make sure to chill the dough, yada yada yada. Happily, for decades our Orange Juice Pastry has worked yeoman’s duty without complaint. What makes it so agreeable? First, the shortening (yes, Crisco, thankfully now transfat-free) enjoys being handled at room temperature. And the orange juice—cold and a tad acidic—plays well with the shortening. One sticking point, though. How much OJ is just right? Too little and the dough gets dry and hard to roll. Too much liquid might develop the gluten in the…

  • Breads,  Italian,  Other,  Snacks,  Technique

    Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough

    There is no greater glory for flour and yeast than to metamorphose into pizza dough. Yet, hard as we try, it’s difficult to capture the flavor and chew of pizzeria crust at home. What’s the secret? If you ask Christopher Kimball, he’d say the secret ingredient in great pizza dough isn’t an ingredient at all: it’s temperature. Just before baking, bring the dough to 75°F, and it will puff up and give you a lovely crust. In Naples, though, they would offer another, more powerful secret ingredient that’s also not an ingredient: a wood fire. A wood-fired oven radiates the heat of Hades for a quick, dramatic rise. The crust gets crisp on the…

  • Breads,  Italian,  Other,  Technique

    Italian Star Bread Secrets Revealed! Make Bakery-Quality Loaves.

    For decades I’ve sought this holy grail of bread recipes. Star bread, the American cousin of what I consider the finest bread in Italy, is the stuff of legends. Italian bakers introduced it to Springfield, Massachusetts, and a few other places in the state about a hundred years ago. Specialty Italian bakeries hooked customers on the twisty-shaped loaves, also called “horn bread” or “bolognese bread.” Those bakeries have dwindled to a handful, and star bread always sells out—often before it reaches the shelves. What makes it so special? The hard, golden brown, impossibly smooth crust has the crunch of a dry breadstick. In contrast, the soft crumb inside is fine, compact, and as bright…

  • Breads,  Technique

    Brilliant Baking with the Bread Bucket

    Now I know how I’ll make my millions. I’ll dust the cobwebs off my MBA and manufacture a shiny new version of the bread bucket, a once-popular tool for cranking out bakery-quality loaves. I betcha even King Arthur Flour will feature this brilliant energy saver in their baking porn catalog. Of course, I’ll have to cut Bruce Belden in on the deal. Bruce, the illustrious president of my high school class, has become an ardent home bread baker and he tipped me off about the bread bucket phenomenon. Here’s Bruce’s story. Once you’ve read it, you’ll want in on the bread bucket business, too. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Cranking Out Loaves with the Bread Bucket by Bruce…

  • Egg dishes,  Ingredient,  Technique

    Egg-centricity: A taste test

    (Photo courtesy of Lynn Osborn) It’s almost Passover and Easter, a perfect time to share results of an egg taste test by guest contributor, Stan Rowin. First, some background. Stan is a photographer who started his career taking photos in Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen, now a culinary mecca at the Smithsonian. The same Julia who never got rattled by a fallen soufflé or a splattered pancake showed Stan her perfectionist side during a shoot. “Julia was doing a chapter on eggs, and she wanted to show how fresh eggs look when fried,” says Stan. Then the frenzy began. “Out of three dozen eggs, she got one egg that looked good, but couldn’t find a…

  • Ingredient,  Jams and Condiments,  Passover,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Quick Homemade Horseradish: If You Can’t Stand the Fumes….

    Making your own horseradish takes just four ingredients: horseradish root, vinegar, salt, and courage. The goal is to get from root to jar as quickly as possible, minimizing the time you spend holding your breath, clenching your eyes, and stumbling out of the kitchen gasping for air. But if you like horseradish, you’ll enjoy the challenge. No store-bought brand can mess with your pleasure/pain center quite like the stuff you make fresh. My dad famously made horseradish from home-grown root, yet it was Mom who consumed it with the most gusto. She heaped it onto her gefilte fish, laughing through her tears about how well it cleared her sinuses. As my neuroscientist daughter points…

  • Ingredient,  Technique,  Vegan,  Vegetables

    Butternut Squash Roasted Whole: The best one-ingredient dish ever

    This is more than a recipephany; it’s a revelation. It comes from Raegan Sales, the Veggie Whisperer. To capture the deep flavor of butternut squash, roast it whole at 400 degrees for about an hour until it yields when you stab it with a fork. Cool a little, then cut it in half, remove the seeds and peel off the paper-thin skin (unless you are like me and consume that, too). The juice is like maple syrup, so save it to spoon over or mash into the squash. Eat as is or use in other dishes. The squash is so sweet and velvety it tastes like it has been injected with butter and caramelized…

  • Other,  Snacks,  Technique

    Microwave Potato Chips

    My microwave is an indispensible sous chef. It melts and tempers chocolate, parcooks root veggies on their way to the roasting pan, sweats onions in a pinch, and dries and toasts old bread for nearly instant bread crumbs. Wait a minute—toasting? While we think of the microwave for reheating, melting, and steaming, it can also dehydrate and bake like the Sahara. You have to watch it, though. It doesn’t take long to turn light brown perfection into black, smoking carbon. The potato chip is such a perfect microwave snack there should be a button for it next to “popcorn.” Better than the greasy chips from a bag, they are crispy yet ethereal hits of…

  • Desserts,  Pies,  Technique

    Apple Crumble Tart Takes on a New Shape

    Pi r squared. Pie r round. Tart r rectangular. The rectangular tart is the more rustic, country-mouse version of its classic round cousin. It looks stylish without pristine glazes or radiating starbursts of fruit. A simple trimming of nuts or berries in neat rows looks just right. Tatte’s, the fastest growing bakery and café in Boston, makes most of its tarts rectangular, and sells them for a tidy sum through Williams-Sonoma. I’ve made my own version of Tatte’s rectangular nut tart, heaping it high with whole toasted pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and cashews, and drenching it in caramel. It took me a while to get the hang of making caramel, though. After endangering our…

  • Breakfast,  Jams and Condiments,  Recipes,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Apple Butter, Pressure-Cooker Fast

    I’m declaring October “Cinnamonth,” and kicking it off with harvest-fresh apple butter. Smooth, cinnamon-spiked apple butter on soft challah was my equivalent of a jelly doughnut when I was growing up. So this year, besides our usual tart Cortlands for pie, we also picked Macouns and McIntoshes (which get mushy when cooked) to whip into apple butter. I’d never made it before, but applesauce is a cinch, so how difficult could it be? Turns out it’s easy, but shockingly time-consuming. Besides the cinnamon and other spices, complex flavors bloom from that mysterious process called caramelization. While applesauce cooks up in less than a half-hour, apple butter takes a whopping 3½ hours. This is a…

  • Breads,  Breakfast,  Desserts,  Pastries,  Snacks,  Technique

    Last Gasp of Summer: Blueberry Whole-Wheat Scones

    As part of September denial, I’ve been manically buying up fresh blueberries. The season is fast slipping away, and before you know it, blueberries will cost a dime apiece again. I’ve been making these sunny whole-grain blueberry scones for the past two weeks. They’re buttery, pastry-like and tender, with tangy berries that melt on the tongue and make me wonder what I ever saw in chewy raisins. While this is an amalgam of recipes, it is mostly a repurposing of Liz’s Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Blueberry Pancake recipephany. I’ve borrowed the key ingredients, the spices, and the technique of soaking oats in buttermilk to create a sweet mush without any hint of roughage (or as…

  • Desserts,  Sorbet,  Technique,  Vegan

    Double Chocolate Sorbet (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

    I’ve been itching to make rapturously fudgy sorbet ever since our friends Adam and Pam served it on their porch four years ago. But who’s kidding whom? I don’t have a modern ice cream machine, and I’m not about to get one. That’s because my husband lives by Newton’s Third Law of Stuff: For every impulse to buy something, there must be an equal and opposite impetus to get rid of something. Every new kitchen gadget kicks out an old one. I recite this mantra for self-control, especially when fantasizing over the King Arthur Flour Kitchen Porn Catalog. Ah, that perky little Cuisinart ice cream machine would be my passport to homemade sorbet. But…

  • Breads,  Breakfast,  Desserts,  Pastries,  Technique

    Croissant Crazy

    I just tried this recipe and was thunderstruck. Here were high, flaky croissants, the kind I’d expect to pull out of a butter-stained bakery bag rather than right out of my oven. The French call it un coup de foudre—love at first sight—and I’ve fallen hard for this recipephany. My dreams of baking authentic croissants go way back to my advertising copywriting days at “The Pit.” (See “How to Fowl-Up a Chicken.”) In a desperate attempt to escape that basement sweatshop, I came within a gluten-strand of opening a bakery with a “Best-in-Boston” croissant baker who happened to live downstairs from us. In a moment of over-caffeinated inspiration, I named the prospective bakery Croissant…

  • Breads,  Technique

    No-Knead Rustic Bread

    I’m one of millions of home bakers who, after failed attempts at making crusty bread, achieved the impossible with the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipephany created by Jim Lahey (owner of Sullivan Street Bakery) and turned viral by Mark Bittman (big-time food writer). With no special ingredients or equipment, this phenomenal bread essentially makes itself. It has the holey, airy, chewy and crusty goodness of a European-style loaf from a respectable bakery. We use this for everything, from sandwiches, bread pudding, and bruschetta to (in its last gasp) toasted breadcrumbs. Once a week I stir up the dough after dinner, then bake it the next morning or early afternoon. The toasty aroma and…

  • Trader Faux Rosemary Raisin Crisps
    Appetizers,  Crackers,  Snacks,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Trader Faux Rosemary Raisin Crisps, Plus Math Recipephanies

    Imagine the Snack Fairy tapping her wand on a piece of plain melba toast. Pecans, seeds, raisins, fragrant rosemary, and a kiss of honey appear, transforming it into an object of desire: Trader Joe’s Rosemary Raisin Crisps. Leave it to a Canadian to reverse engineer a recipephany for a similar cracker called Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps. Her blog, “Dinner with Julie,” shows how it is twice baked, like biscotti, but easier. You stir up tiny eggless quick breads, bake and freeze them, and then thinly slice the frozen bread and bake fresh crackers on demand. The crisps shrink to about 70 percent of their original size, perfect for spreading cheese (see Mock Boursin recipe…

  • Chicken croquettes
    Chicken,  Main Dish,  Recipes,  Technique,  Techniques & Ingredients

    Oven Chicken Croquettes à la Mini-Prep

    Ah, comfort food. This recipephany produces a classic croquette from the early 50s. But it is neither deep fried nor béchamel-laden, as you’d find in a diner. So you can take comfort in its wholesomeness. It’s more like a chicken patty, best served with spicy barbecue or horseradish sauce. And surprisingly, it has no onions. More surprisingly, I’ve never been tempted to add any. (Note: Since I posted this, I tried adding chopped scallions. They gave the croquettes a nice little bite and turned them into something like baked chicken salad.) Most important, it’s comfort food for the cook because I get to whirr it up in the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor my friend…