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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

~Blueberry's On Top!~ The scons that made the headlines!

Last week (Thursday the 27th) I was lucky enough to be featured on the cover of the Marquee section of  my local newspaper, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin!

(full article here)

Since it came out, the comment I've gotten most is "so...  where are MY scones?"  Makes me so happy people want to try my recipes!  After hearing this multiple times from folks in town, I'm getting down to it and updating my scone recipe here is this post!  Here we go!

~Buttermilk Blueberry Cake-Scones~

printable recipe

3 C Cake Flour
1/2 C Bakers Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon ground cardamom
Zest of 1/2 small lemon

1 Stick Cold Butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 to 3/4 C Fresh Blueberries
3/4 C Bulgarian (yogurt based) Buttermilk
2 Large Eggs, lightly whisked to break

Buttermilk, for brushing
AA Sugar for topping

                                 3" Round Biscuit Cutter
                                 Flour Sifter or Fine wire strainer
                                 Parchment-Lined Baking Pan
                                 Spray Canola Oil

Yield -  6 - 8 Scones

This recipe is an updated version of my original citron blueberry scones.  The changes I made in liquid ratios and flour type ends up yielding a very different scone.  These are a much cakier, richer scone than the previous version.  I've also added a bit more sugar for a sweeter dough but feel free to alter it to your liking.  Finally, this recipe forgoes the original citron zest for lemon zest and cardamom.  The profiles are very similar and this combo is much easier to get at the local grocery!  

~~~ *** ~~~

First, as always in baking, preheat your oven to 425f  If you have a convection capable oven it works even better but take 25f off the top.  Since convection ovens maintain a more even temp around the baking goods, they bake quicker so your oven needs to be slightly cooler for most things.


Convection, as a purely scientific term, describes the natural currents occurring in fluids due to temperature differentials.  This effect is one of the major modes of heat transfer in physics.
In culinary terms, convection baking describes the fan forced amplification of naturally occurring convection currents in a hot oven.

Convection currents in boiling water
Convection ovens create a gentle flow of air around the outside of baking baked goods, maintaining an even bubble of hot air around them and ensuring even heat.  As baked good cook, they absorb thermal energy from the surrounding hot air.  In a situation where this hot air is relatively motionless, the air around the food tends to cool slightly due to heat transfer.

Forced air convection currents
Active convection ovens use a fan to regularly stir up the air inside the oven to prevent this situation, decreasing both cooking time and temperature required for proper baking.  This gentle increase in air flow also prevents dramatic shifts in temperature caused by general heat loss and as well as uneven cooking "hot spots"


Now for the dry ingredients!

Combine your flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and ground cardamom in a large mixing bowl.  Take hold of your sifter and sift your dry ingredients twice.  Cake flour, since it is such a fine grind and a few other properties (gluten levels, residual moisture...) tends to want to clump up and stick.  This can leave big flour lumps but can also yield lumps of other things (like baking soda/powder) trapped and unable to be dispersed!  Best safe than sorry so sift well!  Add you lemon zest and stir with your fingers to distribute it evenly in the mix.

Just a quick note on lemon zest and cardamom.  In larger cities that little Walla Walla, you may find baked goods with Citron as a flavoring.  Since the genuine article isn't usually available in my neck of the woods, I found a little shortcut using lemon and cardamom!  The strong citrus from the lemon combined with the floral, ginger, pepper tones from the cardamom makes a great substitute that I've actually started to like more to be honest...  Good thing also that these two things are pretty easy to find in most grocery stores!


Citron, also called Buddha-hand lemon or Octopus lemon, is a not-too-common ingredient, consisting of the zest of the Citrus Medica Sarcodactylis fruiting body.  The fruit itself is a fingered citrus with a fairly solid white pith interior and a very small segmented section.

In ancient times, the citron fruit and sometimes leaves were used to attempt to treat many ailments from digestive troubles to low grade pulmonary disorders like chest congestion and cough.  The essential oils derived from zest itself were thought to act as a powerful antibiotic and when mixed with wine, an antidote to various poisons.

A 17th Century Chinese bamboo carving of a fingered Citron fruit
Today the citron is used mainly as a flavoring in many things from jams and jellies to cakes and even certain types infused sweet teas.  The rind itself is also commonly candied in syrup or pickled for preserving.


Now for the berries!  If you're using frozen berries, thaw them over night in the fridge.  Frozen berries work just fine for recipes like this one, just be careful keep them from getting to beat up...  If you break too many of the skins, much of the juice will leak out into the surrounding dough.  This can actually give you a drier and undercooked scone...  Odd but true.

Rinse your berries gently and add them to your dry ingredients, again being careful to avoid smashing them up.  The gentle rinse allows the berries to get a thin coating of flour and butter and helps them hold in their moisture while they bake!

In small mixing bowl crack your eggs and give them a quick whisk to break them up.  Add your buttermilk and whisk again to bring the mixture together.  Working with a rubber spatula, make a good sized crater in you dry ingredients and pour in the liquid.  Mix gently by tossing dry ingredients from the edges into the center with either the spatula or your fingers if you like!  You should have a thick, gluey batter much like thick oatmeal.  If its too thin or thick, add a bit more cake flour or buttermilk until it gets just how you like it.  Get out your sheet pan and parchment and get ready to shape your scones!

To form your scones, grease your 3" biscuit cutter and place it on your parchment line baking sheet.  Fill the ring about 3/4 full of scone batter and tamp it slightly to shape the scone.  Give the ring a good smack with your hand then lift it to release the scone.  Repeat.

Brush your scones with just a bit of buttermilk and top them with coarse grain sugar (AA.)  Bake the scones 12 - 15 minutes until they're golden and lightly crisped on top, slightly darker around the bottom edges.  Cool your scones on a wire rack and serve warm with fresh coffee or tea!

~~~ *** ~~~

These little guys have really become my go to breakfast baked good!  They take only about 25 minutes total and are very simple in the way of ingredients.  The buttermilk base reduces the overall fat content, keeping them fluffy as well as adding plenty of rich flavor.  The lemon and blueberries combine with the citron for a great spicy sweet complex flavor but just like always, feel free to change it up with cranberries, orange zest, chai spices, currents, nuts...  So many options and still so much time to mess with them and figure out whats what!  Have fun experimenting, everyone!  


Friday, October 14, 2011

~Positively Zinful!~ A tribute to the opening of Walla Walla Wine!

Despite the early cold and the VERY slow spring we had here in little Walleyville, the valley grape population has finally decided it's ready and the harvest is on!  From Cabernet to Zinfandel, the Walla Walla valley is in hot pursuit of standing in the same circle as some of the finest from anywhere on earth!  Here is my little attempt to pay homage to my little town and its fine wines!

~Zinful Mulled Jelly~

750 ml (1 standard bottle) Zinfandel (Sangiovese or Zinfandel works) 
cup cherry juice

2 Teaspoons Mulling Spice "Bouquet de Garnis" 
   10 Whole cardamom seeds (decorticated)
   1 Tablespoon whole cloves
   1 ½ Tablespoons allspice berries
   1 Teaspoon dried Valencia orange peel
   1 Tablespoon pink peppercorns 

3 2" cinnamon sticks

½ Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 oz (3 tbsp) pectin powder
1 3/4 - 2 cups white sugar

SPECIAL TOOLS:  Copper-bottom sauce pot w/Lid
                                 Fine mesh strainer
                                 Cans, lids and rings
                                 Canning tools kit, Canning boiler vessel
                                 Cheese cloth/Empty teabags & Twine
Yield - 4 or 5 Half-pints

This recipe is very simple but I can say from experience trying this recipe a few times with as many errors that this one falls in the category of recipes I call "slippery."  Slippery in the sense that it tends to fly away if you try to squeeze it (or stretch for that matter.)

Due to the way the pectin dissolves into the wine and the natural compounds that are present in the wine itself that affect the gelling process, the gel will not form properly if you try to make too much at once.  The time it takes to boil a larger quantity of liquid also plays a role.  Simply put, if you are feeling like you want to make a larger quantity of this jelly rather than change ratios and levels, just make two batches and all will be well.  Now for a recipe, eh?

A take on a classic seasonal refreshment, this recipe makes a spicy warm jelly that pairs well with spiced cookies and cakes of all kinds.  Try it as a cookie jam filling or warmed slightly over your favorite autumn cake or even good vanilla ice cream!


Just like all canning recipes, begin by preparing your jars!  Wash your jars, lids, and rings in hot, soapy water then place the jars and lids in your canning vessel.  Fill the vessel and jars with cold tap water and place the whole lot on the 

First and simplest, make up your mulling spice bouquet de garnis:

A bouquet de garnis is a herb/spice bag, usually made from cheese cloth or other fine cloth mesh often used in soups or other liquid base recipes.  The bag allows the introduction of all kinds of flavors while preventing the escape of unwanted bits of stuff that you would normally need to strain out.  

In a small mixing bowl, combine your various spices then crush them just a bit with a make shift pestle like a large spoon or end of a rolling dowel.  This spice mixture will keep just as long as its components but if you have a jar with a lid (especially an old spice jar) it will retain its essential oils much better!  Just like pre-ground spices, the oils want to escape and with them go the flavors.  

Next make your bouquet de garnis!

Cheese cloth is the most common way to make a spice packet but I like to use a teabag!  If you're a big tea drinker like myself, you've most likely seen the teabags made not from cloth but from a fine resin mesh.  Since these baggies are about the right size AND have the added benefit of being designed to withstand boiling liquids, I think they can't be beat for this purpose!

Cut a small corner off of one of your teabags and pour out the dry tea.  Give the baggie a rinse in warm h2o then pat it dry with a paper towel.  Place a couple of teaspoons of your mulling spice in the bag and give the cut corner a twist like twisting a candy wrapper.  Tie your twist with a bit of twine, leaving a length of twin to ease removal.  For the cinnamon sticks, just tie them together with a bit more kitchen twine.

Next get your wine going!

Open up your wine and pour it into your pot over medium heat.  Add your cherry juice, and bring the lot to a low boil.

Add your bouquet de garnis, reduce heat to low and cover the pot with your lid to let the spices steep 12 minutes to impart their flavor.  If you want a spicier blend, just let the mix sit for longer rather than add more.  Be careful though!  12 minutes should be enough but if you want more, go 1 minute at a time as you can go too far and start heading toward bitter...  no fun...  Never forget your best tools here: nose and taste buds!  When the mixture is spiced just right, remove the spices and discard them.
Return your spiced wine mixture to a low boil then add your lemon juice.  Return the liquid a low simmer.

Combine your sugar and pectin in a small bowl and stir or shake up in a jar with a lid to be absolutely sure the mixture is homogenized.  Remember your gravy science!  Lumps are no respecters of savory/sweet borders!  Lumps of pectin here will stay lumps of pectin in your jelly if you're not careful.

Add your sweetener/pectin mix to your slowly simmering wine and stir vigorously to dissolve.  Bring the liquid to a good boil for one full minute, continuing to stir with plenty of zeal!  DON'T START YOUR TIMER UNTIL THE LIQUID IS AT A SOLID BOIL!  This is key to proper gelling so don't rush through.

Ladle your hot mixture into prepared ½ pint jars, leaving ½" of head space.  Process 5 minutes in boiling water.  Remove your jars to a cooling rack and wipe any excess water off the tops.  Tighten your lids and let them cool to seal!


Recipes like these are fun because they're unorthodox.  Canning by it's nature was created to make things like fresh fruit, meats, nuts, vegetables even things like nuts and grains keep much longer than they normally would in room temperature storage.  With things like this, the reasoning behind canning is turned slightly sideways.  Wine doesn't need to be canned, doesn't need to be jellied but we say they do so we do it anyhow!  Huzzah!  

This recipe is a base to start with but can be taken in many directions.  Try without the mulling for a fresher flavor or try mixing up the juice component for pairing with other foods.  You can also, of course, make it with any wine you like best, making it nearly infinite in its variability!  Maybe even try a whole different base...  mead perhaps...  Keep on experimenting, everyone!


Monday, October 3, 2011

~Jam On!~ Preserve the summertime goodness!

Summer Berries!!
Blackberries from the local Farmers' Market!
There really isn't anything much better AND depending on where you live, you'll find them growing for FREE!  This year, despite the late frosts, my berry bushes and vines produced enough fruit that I couldn't use it all and I had to freeze it.  
This week, let's start off my canning barrage with fresh WallaBerry Preserves!  Why WallaBerry?  Why not?  Named for the local berries grown and picked right here in my Walla Walla home town!

~4-Berry (WallaBerry) Preserves~

3 Cups Frozen Strawberries 
3 Cups Frozen Blueberries
3 Cups Frozen raspberries 
3 Cups Frozen Blackberries 

2 Tablespoons Pear juice 
3 Tablespoons Cognac Brandy 
2 Tablespoons Lemon juice
5 Teaspoons Calcium Water 

2 ½ Cups Honey 
5 Teaspoons Pectin Powder 

1 2" Cinnamon Stick (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Large copper bottom sauce pot
                                 Large whisk or Potato masher
                                 Canning tool kit, Jars, Lids&rings, Boiler

Yield - 10-12 half-pint jars

NOTE: This recipe is written using a low sugar active pectin powder and a calcium water activator. You may also use a low sugar pectin powder and make minor adjustments based on the instructions

For this recipe, I went with a strait mix of equal parts raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry but feel free to ...mix it up...  Just keep in mind that different fruits have different sugar levels and different natural pectin levels.  It shouldn't affect your recipe too much changing the ratios but experiment with it a bit if the first batch doesn't come out exactly to your liking.  Now lets get started!

First wash jars, lids and rings in hot soapy water to remove any gunk/residue from the factory or packaging.  Get your canning vessel with water simmering very slowly and immerse your jars and rings in it to sterilize them.  Natural yeast that exists everywhere air is usually your biggest enemy but there are other things that are less common but are, in fact more deadly like botulism toxin.  When boiling to sterilize, be careful to not  actually boil your water as the excess heat can deform the lids and prevent sealing!  Lot of work wasted in potentia...

Next for the berries themselves!  I personally like to use fresh blackberries for their better natural flavor, sweetness and pectin content but if you can only get frozen, go for the frozen, no worries.  Combine all of your fruit as well as lemon juice, pear juice, and cognac in a large pot.

I like to add a little bit of cognac to this recipe but feel free to use any liquor you like or simply leave it out all together.  Most of the alcohol in this quantity will boil off in the cooking process. leaving just a subtle flavor accent.

Bring the whole lot to a slow simmer and cook until your berries are slightly softened.  Add your calcium water (if following a recipe where it is called for)  

Take a large whisk or a wire potato masher and gently mash your fruit.  This is a totally optional step but I think it helps to bring out and combine the flavors inside the berries.  Simply a matter of surface area in contact with the liquid!  Reduce heat to low to avoid overcooking your fruit. 
If you like a little bit of spice, you can add a small cinnamon stick here to steep and impart a little sweet spiciness!

Now for the gelling agents and sweetener!  I like to use honey for this one and luckily I was able to pick up some Raw Wildflower honey at the market!


Grocery store honey is pasteurized and filtered for everyday consumption
Raw Honey!  This is the kind of honey you will likely only find at a local outdoor market or in a health food/herbal shop.  This honey is pure and direct from the comb extractor.  It is unpasteurized and contains many things that grocery store honey does not such as bee pollen, comb wax, bee wing, royal jelly, bee proteins, and propolis (a powerful, natural antibiotic derived from coniferous buds.)

a pollen laden honey bee working over a sunflower in her search for nectar
These extra ingredients in local raw honey can have many good-health factors ranging from natural cures for digestive upset and motion sickness to more complex problems like immune hyperactivity and chronic vitamin deficiencies.  
The pollens (from local allergen sources) combine with certain bee enzyme compounds to help to "inoculate" against chronic allergies.  Many other enzymes can help to activate vitamins in food and ones stored in inert forms in your body.  Further, raw honey contains amylase, an enzyme that can help predigest heavy gluten foods like bread and pastries, lessening the impact of gluten on sensitive tissues in the gut.

Next time you're out shopping and looking for a home remedy or just a delicious, natural sweetener, don't forget to keep an eye out for raw honey!

~~~!INGREDIENT NOTES: Raw Honey~~~

Combine your room temperature honey and pectin powder in a large bowl, mixing vigorously to ensure proper homogenization.  Just like when making gravy, large dry bits of pectin powder will give you large lumps of hard, snotty gel in your end product so be sure to get it thoroughly mixed!

~~~Food Science Notes (Pectin Powder): Small Particle Distribution in Thickeners~~~

~RULES TO LIVE BY (Canning): When canning with pectin, always mix pectin into an amount of sweetener no more than 1/2 the amount of fruit/juice you are adding it to. This is to maintain even mixing as well as even homogenization of jelling agents in the final product.~

Now that your sweetener mixture is ready, set it aside and return your fruit to a slow boil.  Add your sweetener/thickener and stir vigorously until it completely dissolves, about 2 minutes.  Bring the whole lot back to a good boil for 1 minute then remove from heat.

Now its time to fill and seal your jars!  Remove your jars and rings from the boiling water with your lifters and set them on a clean towel to dry.
Fill your jars with fruit and liquid, leaving just 1/4" of head space for proper vacuum.  Wipe the rims of the jars (to ensure you get proper contact) add lids, then adjust your rings.  You want to go just about finger tight. Too tight can actually cause the lids to deform in the boiling process.  Bring your processing pot to a moderate boil.

With your canning rack or basket in place, process your jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, allowing for altitude change.

~RULES TO LIVE BY (Canning): Increase in altitude affects standard atmospheric pressure and thus affects the boiling point of water. When canning, this change in pressure and heat is overcome by increasing the boiling time by 1 minute per 1000 ft above sea level.~

When time is up, gently remove your jars from the boiler and place them on a cooling rack or on the counter.  Dry the ops of the lids and tighten the rings down moderately tight.  You will want to check the jars again after the vacuum seals form to tighten the lids again as the glass and liquid contracts during cooling.

This is a great, all-around, semi-tart preserve/jam combo of summer flavor for toast, pancakes even ice cream or cake filling!  It has a lot of flavor but is still a very basic format recipe so it has a lot of opportunity for changing it up in all kinds of ways!  Adding or subtracting to change the berry ratios is the most basic way but keep in mind things like sweetener types, citrus types (orange juice or grapefruit juice instead of lemon) sugar quantities...  Even adding spices or spiced liquors during initial cooking.  Maybe try adding some whole zest and/or fruit pieces.  So many ways to mess with it makes it a good recipe in my book!  Keep on experimenting, everyone!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

~Br-update!~The other white bread!

Not to be out done today... especially by myself, I thought I would throw in an extra recipe this weekend! This time is actually an update of one of my older recipes from when I started on the blog!  Since I got my  chocolate coated hands on the best bread book ever (The Bread Baker's Apprentice) I've been having a lot of fun and this recipe has become one of my favorites from my experimenting with different ratios.

~White Sandwich Bread~

4 ¾ C Bread Flour
2.5 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Instant yeast
1 Teaspoon
½ Cup Butter, chilled
1 ½ Cup Buttermilk
¼ - ⅓ Cup Whole milk
1 Large Egg, lightly whisked

SPECIAL TOOLS: Counter top stand mixer (optional)
                                 Mixer dough hook and paddle attachments
                                 2 9"x5" Bread pans
                                 Large Cheese Grater
                                 Spray Canola Oil
                                 Plastic Wrap
                                 Clean cloth towels (non terry)

Yield - 2  9" Loaves, 18 2oz Rolls, 12 3oz Hamburger/Hot dog Buns

~For best results, make sure all ingredients (aside form the butter) are at at room temperature~

This is my updated version of a recipe from long ago in a far away post (~Toast and Tea~.)  The first recipe is a much heartier bread so I wanted to find a more graceful, fluffy loaf for the times when you just want something like that!  Even having called it light and fluffy, this bread is still very rich and warm with lots of flavor and structure that makes it a good all-around, all-purpose bread.

Lets get started!

Start by tossing your flour, salt and sugar into your stand mixer, set up with a paddle attachment, and turning it on to the lowest speed setting just to get everything going.  After about 30 seconds, add your yeast.  I think this 2-stage add tends to get the non-active ingredients mixed in with the yeast just right!  It also prevents a large portion of the yeast hanging out with a large quantity of the salt.  Happy yeast = happy bread!

Next for the butter!  Many recipes call for melting your butter or on the other end of the spectrum, chopping it into tablespoon chunks.  For me I like to go with the technique used most in making pie crusts.  Easy as... pie...  *cough*  ok.  Turn off your mixer then take your large cheese grater and grate your cold butter into the flour mixture.  Turn  the mixer back on to low speed and mix until the flour is incorporated.  The mixture should look kinda mealy with few to no larger pieces.

Once your butter is incorporated properly, exchange your paddle attachment for a dough hook.  Now for the liquid measure.

In a microwave safe container combine your buttermilk, splash of milk, and the whole whisked egg.  Give it a stir to mix thoroughly and pop it in the microwave for just about 20 seconds.  This is just long enough to warm it to just above room temp.  Instant yeast is pretty quick to wake up with a lesser amount of warmth but it doesn't hurt to give it a bit of a head start!

With the dough hook online, turn your mixer on to low speed again and slowly start adding your liquid.  Sticking close to the edge of the bowl and moving around as you go, pour your liquid in a thin stream into the dry mixture.  Once all of your liquid is in, hook until it comes into a rough ball.  Remove the bowl from your mixer and let the dough sit for 15 minutes, cover with a soft towel.  This is to let the dough rest and to let it Autolyse, reducing the time you'll need to knead (really not on purpose this time...)

~~~Food Science Notes (bread): Autolysis in Bread Dough~~~

After its nap, it'll be time to wake the dough from its slumber and get it hopping!

Turn your dough out onto a clean, lightly flour working surface an knead, turn, fold, and otherwise rough up for 10 minutes.  The trick is to keep turning it and folding it over in between kneads to incorporate air and develop the proper gluten structure.

Get out your biggest mixing bowl and spray it with spray oil to coat the whole inside surface.  Toss in your dough ball and give it a turn to coat it evenly.  Wipe the edges of your bowl (just so it'll stick) and cover it with plastic cling wrap.  Set your bowl in a room temp place free of cold drafts and let it rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until it doubles in size.  If the dough doubles in size before time is up,  punch it down and let it rise once more to double.

Once its ready, gently remove your dough from the bowl.  Be careful while working with it here.  The yeast activity forms bubbles in such a way that the air is like foam in a sponge so its fragile.  Gently turn out the dough and cut it in half.  Form the two haves into Boules.  Give them a spray with oil and cover them with a soft towel to rest 20 minutes.

If you want to shape your dough into other shapes, Here is a longer list of methods!  Shape your dough into12 larger rolls for hamburger buns, 12 hoagie rolls (no taper) for hot dog buns, or 18 dinner rolls.  If you are making rolls/buns in any shape, transfer them now to 2 parchment lined baking sheets as you won't need to shape them further after this step. 

Once your dough balls have rested properly, its time for the final shaping!  Grease your bread pans with spray oil.  Flip your dough balls over so the seam faces upward then gently press it out into a rectangle.  Shape into the proper shape for Sandwich Loaves then place them into your prepared pans.  Cover your loaves with a towel and let them sit at room temperature to proof.

Proofing time can vary quite a bit but for this it should be just over an hour at room temperature, slightly less in a proofing oven.  Proof your loaves until they just about double in size and will spring back readily when poked and indented slightly.  If you are proofing at room temp on the kitchen counter, preheat your oven to 350f.

With your loaves nice and puffy and your oven pre-heated, gently place your loaves in and again gently close the door.  Bake loaves for 35 minutes.  If you find your oven has a distinct hot-spot, you may want to turn your loaves half way through baking.  They should register between 185 and 190f on the inside and should have a hollow sound when you tap the bottoms of the loaves.

For Rolls and Buns bake at 450f for about 12 minutes.  These shapes should register between 180f and 185f on the inside. 

Remove your two loaves to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes to set then de-pan them and let them cool for  30 minutes before cutting into them.  You can cut them before the half hour is up but there is a chance your crumb will collapse due to the escape of gasses before the crumb has reached its final set state.

This bread here, for me, has the perfect level of richness and heartiness making it the perfect white bread for anything from sandwiches and toast to things like bread puddings, french toast, croutons!  You can also add many things to add a little something to this bread.  Change out the fats, butter for oils.  Even using flavored oils like nut or fruit oils add just a little something when your looking for a change from standard.  Maybe add some nuts or whole wheat flour to make it heartier or spread the pressed rectangle with raisins and cinnamon to make a nice breakfast sweet bread!  Lots of options make experimenting all kings of fun!  Keep your minds open and keep on experimenting with everything in your kitchen!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

~FIGS ³~ A trio for the season!

Hello Everyone!  I'm excited to be back!  I have to admit summer has been pretty crazy this year but how could I not stop in for... drumroll... FIGS!  Spending some time growing up in northern California I was lucky enough to be one of the few (maybe not so few now as then) Americans that didn't get their first fig from a particular jam cookie.  As much as I love those little fellows, nothing quite stands up to the flavor of real fresh figs in all of their sweet, complex, earthy glory!
So in honor of the glorious fruits as well as wanting to make a good showing of being back online on the blog, I wanted to show them off in 3 different ways, fresh and raw, cooked, and brulee.  Now without wasting any more time...

~Three Faces of the Fig~
portions of these recipes adapted from the Joy of Cooking

printable recipe

For this post I wanted to set up a whole meal around a single, central ingredient a la Iron Chef America (I was actually watching an episode when I had the triple post idea.)  Figs are a very versatile food with versatile, subtle yet strong flavor balance and I wanted to do my best to show off how they can be put to use in more than simple jams and cookies (although I did make a cookie for this particular meal...)

NOTE: These recipes as written here are for a three course meal for two (aside from the full cookie recipe) but can easily be scaled up for larger groups.  Please drop me a comment if you have any questions!

First Course - Figs with Prosciutto, Tarragon and Feta

3 Black mission figs
2 oz Prosciutto di San Danielle (or any quality prosciutto)
2 oz Sheep's milk Feta
6 Sprigs fresh tarragon

Balsamic vinegar for dressing (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Decorative Toothpicks (completely optional)

Yield - 6 wrapped figs

This is a very simple recipe but this is a food blog, right?  Why not put it in!  I love these as an appetizer or short course before the main entree.  They even work very well as an addition to a dressed salad or an antipasto.

For this, I like to use almost over-ripe figs for their sweet, almost musty/earthy flavor.  If you can come by it, sheep's milk Feta is the way to go.


Feta is one of the oldest of all the worlds cheeses, dating as far back as 23 a.d.  It is a curd cheese (traditionally made from sheep's milk) made from curdled raw milk and cured for months in a brine of either water or whey then hung in molds or cloth bags.  The cheese is then sliced and stored in barrels of brine.  This storage method gives the cheese it's name, the word Feta originally Fetta meaning "slice."

pressed fresh Feta cheese
As of 2002, Feta has been designated under EU legislation as a PDO (protected designation of origin) product like Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Black Forest ham.


Start by slicing your figs down the middle and laying them all out on your board.  Take a small amount of Feta cheese and stuff it into the soft flesh of the fig then top it with a generous portion of fresh tarragon.  The almost-but-not-quite sweetness and slight bitter earthiness of tarragon makes fast culinary friends with figs.  I can't recommend the combo enough but feel free to try any herbs you can think of here.  Arugula is a good substitution if you want a more savory feel.

Remove your prosciutto from the fridge and slice it into strips. Its always good to leave cured meats in cold storage as long as possible not because of spoilage but because of its high fat content.  Speaking of content...

~~~FOOD SCIENCE CONTENT (fats): Fatty Acid Chains~~~

Fats!  Some good, some bad, some angry, some very nice but all of them have real backbone!  ok... well...  Let me start at the beginning shall I?

Without getting too complicated, all fats have both a backbone (usually a glycerol) and a tail or tails (fatty acid chains.)

fatty acid chain chemical models
When we refer to hydrogenated, non-hydrogenated, saturated, unsaturated, poly-unsaturated fats, we are referring less to the consistency of the stuff in question and more to the molecular geometry of the chains themselves.  In this case saturation refers to the atomic saturation of hydrogen.  Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms and have a strait, single bonded chain.  Unsaturated fats, have double bonded carbon atoms which form "kinks" in the chain.

When it comes to physical appearance, its all about the molecular structure.  In saturated fats (eg butter, cheese, animal fats) the acid chains can fit together easily like a simple puzzle, forming a stable, solid structure at room temperature.  Unsaturated fats (vegetable and seed oils) have bends in their chains, making them much like bent comb tines.  Poly-unsaturated fats (seed and nut oils) bend and twist in such a way that they are nearly guaranteed unable to form stable structures, thus remaining liquid even at relatively low temperatures.

When it comes to real world application, think of a high fat meat like say.... prosciutto!  If its left out on the counter or (for whatever reason) left in the sun, it starts to "sweat."  Unpleasant but... cool, in a scientific sense of course.  With few exceptions (cocoa butter) fatty tissues contain a wide array of fats from saturated to poly-unsaturated.  When fatty foods "sweat" its because the varying fats begin to liquefy at different temperatures and begin also to leach out and pool at the surface.  The same situation can be seen with all kinds of fatty substances from butter to salad dressings, even certain cosmetic creams!

So there it is!  Fatty acids is all their glory laid bare!  From strait as an arrow to a bit kinky... fats have real personality in their molecules!  Bad jokes aside...  knowledge is a good thing and often quite delicious!

~~~FOOD SCIENCE CONTENT (fats): Fatty Acid Chains~~~

*whew* good to be back in the science business, eh?  Now back to the recipe!

Slice your chilled prosciutto to your liking and to fit the stuffed figs.  All that's left is to wrap your figs and chill them 

So...  Ready for the next course?  I am!

~ ~ ~

Entree Course - Pork Loin with figs and onions, and Arugula Salad

4 Small pork loin chops
2 medium/large brown turkey figs
Flesh of 2 large figs, mashed
1 Medium sweet onion
Fresh lemon
EV olive oil

Fresh baby arugula
EV olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
black pepper

SPECIAL TOOLS: 10" Cast Iron Skillet
                              Heat Resistant Kitchen Tongs

Yield - 4 chops

First prepare your heat!  Place your cast iron skillet in the oven and set the oven to 450f.  Let the oven and skillet pre heat for 20 minutes to ensure you've got enough heat to cook the meat.

While the pan pre-heats with the oven, prepare your produce.  Slice you onion in half (along its equator more or less) then in half again, across the "roots."  Slice your quarters into quarter rings and set aside in a bowl.  Slice your figs into wedges down the center and add to the bowl with the onions.  Add a good splash of olive oil (optional but recommended) and a good pinch of salt then place the bowl in the fridge, covered, to chill out for a while.

Take your remaining figs and scoop the insides out with a sharp edged tool (I used a melon baller but a measuring spoon will do fine) then mash it good.  Remove your chops from the fridge and rinse them under cool water then pat them dry with a clean towel or paper towel.   Remove the onions and figs from the fridge and let and the chops rest about 10 minutes to take the chill off.

~~INGREDIENT SNIPPET (Pre-packaged meat): Depending on the source, rinsing isn't always necessary but it'd generally a rule of thumb, especially with pre-packaged meats from the local grocer, removing any protein or fatty films from sitting in the butcher case~~

Rub your chops with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper then rub them once more with the mashed figs.  Depending on how much you like figs, you can add more or less mashed fig here.

Remove your pan from the oven and place it over medium high heat on the stovetop.  Place your chops in the dry pan and cook them for 3 minutes.

Flip your chops and toss in your onions and figs.  You don't have to be too careful about how they're arranged so just toss them in on top.  Cook the chops this side for 30 seconds.  Sprinkle with just a bit of melon juice then pop the whole lot into the oven to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove your chops to a plate and cover with foil to rest at least 5 minutes.  

While the meat rests, place the pan with trimmings on the stove over medium heat and cook just a few minutes to give the onions some nice, golden color.  Reduce heat to the lowest setting to keep warm.

Wash and dry your greens then add your olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt to taste.  Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful sharp addition to the earthy bitter leafy greens and a tangy counterpoint to the rich lamb!

Put some of your trimmings on a warm plate then top with one or two chops and serve with your fresh arugula salad on the side!

So... still have room for dessert?  I promise its quite light!  Lets keep going!

~ ~ ~

~Brulee Figs in Buttermilk Cream~

recipe inspired by Iron Chef Mario Batali

This recipe is a two-parter, cookies and buttermilk cream! The cookies themselves are made in the form of basic sugar cookies so you can make the dough and store it for up to two weeks in the fridge. I also included a full batch recipe so you can have some around just to make cookie cutter shapes later if you feel in the mood :)  Now lets make some cookies!


1/2 # unsalted butter
1 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Seeds and flesh of 2 very ripe figs, mashed
2 teaspoons finely chopped mint, loosely packed
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 2/3 Cups AP flour

Powdered sugar (for dusting)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Electric or countertop mixer
                              Prepared, parchment lined cookie sheet

Yield - about 6 dozen 3" cookies or about 3 dozen cookie sticks (estimated)

These are great little cookies! The addition of fig adds a VERY subtle flavor to the cookies on their own but with the dessert itself, the flavors are brought to the surface as a flavor side with that oh so important "crunch" factor!

The first step is to cream together your sugar, butter, and salt on high speed in the bowl of your stand mixer until they are light and fluffy!  Just as with any cookie or cake of this type, you'll want to get as much air worked in a possible here to ensure a good, fluffy on the inside, crunchy without cookie!
While the mixture creams together, fine chop your mint leaves and scoop and mash the figs then add, continuing to mix until evenly combined and fluffy.

Once you're ready, add your single egg yolk and mix until combined thoroughly.  Next, in a small bowl, combine your buttermilk, vanilla and whole egg  then add to your mixture, mixing on low speed.  Sift your flour to remove and lumpy bits then add it to the cookie batter in two stages, mixing on low speed.

Turn your cookie dough out onto a clean working surface and give it a few good turns to bring the whole thing together in a nice, smooth ball.  Chop it in half, wrap it in plastic and into the fridge with it to chill for at least an hour (or up to two weeks.)

When you're ready, preheat your oven to 375f.

Now for the shaping!  Once the cookies have "chilled out" (...pun...) in the fridge, remove one of your blocks and let it relax on the counter, just a few minutes.  Prepare a floured work surface and roll your dough out into a rectangle 10" wide and about 1/4" thick, then cut it into 10" x 1/2" strips.

Carefully transfer your cookie sticks to your cookie sheet and dust them liberally with powdered sugar.  Don't worry if they deform a bit on the way, the more irregular the better sometimes (these cookie are very "rustic" looking!) 

Bake your cookies at 375f for 8 - 10 minutes or until the tops are golden and the edges are a darker golden brown.  Dust with more powdered sugar and cool completely before de-panning.  These sticks should be eaten within 24 hours before they get droopy...  they tend to get stale quickly because they are so thin.  If you're making regular cookie shapes, they should keep for much longer.  Either way, they're still delicious!

The rest of this one is pretty simple!  No time but the present, eh?

Caramelized figs with cream:

3 black mission figs, chilled well in the refrigerator
Superfine sugar

1 Cup cultured buttermilk
1/4 Cup mascarpone cheese
1 Tablespoon honey

SPECIAL TOOLS: Blowtorch or small culinary torch
                               Wide soup/pasta bowls

Yield - 2 Servings

First make your cream.  This is one of my all time favorite things since I figured out the ratio that makes it soooo good!  Its also so very simple to make which makes it even better!

Place the mascarpone cheese in a small bowl and add your honey and mix to combine thoroughly (this makes an AMAZING topping for toast, with some fresh raspberry preserves...)  Add buttermilk to your mascarpone, a few tablespoons at a time until the cheese/honey mixture has been thinned significantly.  This step is a big help in getting the two main ingredients to combine evenly without a lot of frantic whisking.  Add the remaining buttermilk and stir gently to combine while avoiding too much frothing.  Bubbles are ok but it can re-thicken the cream and make it less appetizing...  Cover your cream with plastic wrap, in contact with the surface to avoid skinning, and chill in the fridge at least 10 minutes or up to  4 hours.  You can even make this cream first thing before starting dinner and pop it in to the fridge and have it ready when you need it.

Next for the brulee figs!  For this step you're treating figs just like the custards for creme brulee.  Take your figs out of the fridge and slice them down the center to get a nice shape and pat the cut surfaces with a towel.   Top the cut figs liberally with sugar and let it stand 1 minute to form a hydrated layer.  Tap the figs gently to remove any excess then add a fine, very even coating of sugar to the surfaces.

Start your torch and begin caramelizing the figs.  With a high powered torch, you will want to start about 8 inches away, moving the torch around for uniform heat.  Slowly work your way closer as the sugar begins to caramelize and stop when the sugar is melted, bubbly, and golden amber!  Let the figs cool 30 seconds to stop the cooking.

Pour about 3/4" of your cream mixture into your pasta bowls then arrange three brulee figs in the cream.  Garnish the plate with a cookie stick and a sprig of mint for color!

So there it is!  Figs is at least a little bit of their delicious glory!  These little fellows are so versatile, a regular renaissance fruit!  The applications I demonstrated here are pretty basic and not exactly experimental but I think that sometimes you just have to fall back on "this is pretty tasty" kitchening!  Having said that, don't let me stop you trying all kinds of fig dishes, fig sides, fig drinks, fig... soaps?  Maybe!  Experiment and find out what makes em tic!  You'll be happy with the result, I promise!  Thanks for reading!