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Archive for July, 2012

Somehow I missed this book during the Perestroika era.  It was a time of a big change in Russia – the newspapers started criticizing everything they were praising just a day before; new stories were written, new books published … Strangely enough the same faces remained in Kremlin pushing the new politics…

I was a naive and still well brain-washed 10-year old, wearing my red pioneer scarf against all the new propaganda.  Even though I was the hugest fan of Rybakov’s famous children’s novels “The Dirk”, “The Bronze Bird, and “The Shot”, I completely ignored all the fuss about Children Of The Arbat.  

Finally, I set down and read this story of the Moscow intellectual youth during the Stalin’s rule. The novel was written in 1966 and 1983, and published only in 1987.  If you open this book, you will understand why publishing it earlier was unfeasible.

It’s almost impossible to comprehend how a regime, where you could be exiled for a tiny thing, like not publishing an article in a school newspaper, was tolerated by so many people.  Even stranger to know how well the country was brainwashed.  My babushka still remembers crying when Stalin died…

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I may have my moments in the kitchen, but when it comes to being on the road – I am one of the contributors to the female driver stereotype. You know, San Francisco has lots of cars and lots of people, and a stop-light camera ticket would cost you $500!  They would also send you a letter with a photo of your car, license plate number, picture of you behind the wheel, and a picture of a to-go Starbucks cup in your hand… These roads can make anyone paranoid! 

So, every time I go by a speed limit signal, I have a strong feeling I must slow down, and I do… even when I’m passing a 45 mile/hr sign while jogging… barely making 12 minute miles… Better safe than sorry, you know…

After all this stress and “hard” work a little dessert is always welcome. This Russian torte has all the right ingredients – sugar, chocolate, nuts, sugar…, whipped cream, and a magic name.  It will easily impress your guests, and it tastes best when made a day or two before serving.

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TORTE “PHOENIX”

INGREDIENTS:

Batter:

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup cake flour, sifted twice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Syrup:

  • 130 g sugar
  • 120 ml water
  • 1 tbs cognac

Filling:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1.5 cup whipping cream, chilled
  • 1.5 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 20 g gelatin

Topping:

  • ½ cup chocolate sauce /I used my favorite Fudge is my Life’s Dark Chocolate Sauce/
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350⁰F/180⁰C. Spray baking pan with removable borders with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.  Spray the paper with cooking spray.

Make the batter. Mix egg yolks and ½ cup of granulated sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on high speed until the foam is 3 times its original volume and falls in thick ribbons when the whisk is lifted.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl, set aside.

Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat them with a clean whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy.  Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar and continue to whip until medium peaks form when the whisk is lifted.

Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture with a rubber spatula in 2 or 3 additions. Scatter all flour, vanilla, and salt over the batter and fold it just long enough to blend the flour evenly.

Bake.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bakefor 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan. When finished baking, remove from the pan immediately, peel off the parchment paper, and let cool on a wire rack for 6-8 hours (otherwise the torte will not absorb the syrup properly and will become soggy).  Cut the cake lengthwise to separate it into two disks.

Prepare the syrup.  Pour water and sugar in a small sauce pan, bring to boil and turn off the heat immediately.  Whisk so that the sugar completely dissolves. Let the syrup chill to about 37⁰C/98⁰F.  Add the cognac and mix well. Apply the syrup evenly on each half of the cake.

Prepare the filling.  Mix gelatin with the milk and let rest for about 1 hr.  Bring the mixture to boil and immediately take off the heat.  Gelatin should be completely dissolved.  Chill the mixing bowl and whisk before making the cream.  Pour cream into the bowl and mix on medium speed of a stand mixer until thickened.  Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and whisk on high speed until the cream forms medium peaks. Pour the gelatin mixture over it to stabilize. Place one of the cake disks back into the baking pan, pour the filling over it, and cover with the second cake disk.  Cover and refrigerate for the filling to set for about 2 hours.

Prepare the sauce according to the container instructions. Spoon it over the cake and sprinkle with walnuts.  Keep the cake refrigerated before serving.

I wonder why my jogging isn’t paying off!?

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While the rest of the country is enjoying the sun and 100+ degree weather (that’s 37⁰C and higher for those, who are not into Fahrenheit); we are still dressing up kids in their winter coats in the middle of the summer and trying to hide our snobby smiles from tourists, who make San Francisco-themed sweatshirt business really profitable.  Got ya!  Enjoy the Sunny California, you, happy owners of shorts and t-shirts! 

By our standards though, the summer has been really nice, and I started running again.  Well, jogging probably would be a better word… unless they have another word that describes something even slower than jogging… walking with a jig, turtling..?   I load my baby on a BOB and we go to the ocean or lake Merced, or any place that has as little hills as possible…

So, after one or two outings like that, I started feeling that a little pastry is well deserved.

This cake is almost worth a Russian Friday – it’s so popular back home.  My fear of sponge cake making is long gone since I discovered Natasha’s Kitchen blog. She describes the process so well, you cannot make a mistake. So, here is another creation, that looks and tastes wonderful with minimum effort.

/Both recipes are from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America/

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APRICOT JELLY ROULADE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup cake flour, sifted twice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup strained apricot preserves
  • 2 cups Chantilly Cream (see below)

Yields: 8 servings

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375⁰F/190⁰C. Spray baking pan with borders with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.  Spray the paper with cooking spray.

Make the batter. Mix egg yolks and ½ cup of granulated sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on high speed until the foam is 3 times its original volume and falls in thick ribbons when the whisk is lifted.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl, set aside.

Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat them with a clean whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy.  Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar and continue to whip until medium peaks form when the whisk is lifted.

Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture with a rubber spatula in 2 or 3 additions. Scatter all flour, vanilla, and salt over the batter and fold it just long enough to blend the flour evenly.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread gently with a spatula. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and the edges star to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Make the roll. While the cake is baking, sift confectioners’ sugar over a clean flat-weave towel. When the cake is finished baking, insert it onto the sugar coated cloth.  Immediately remove the pan and parchment paper and, starting at a long edge, roll the cake into a log with the towel inside it.  Let cool completely.

Assemble the roulade. Strain apricot preserves.  When the cake is cool, unroll it and spread the apricot preserves over it.  Spread the Chantilly cream over the preserves and roll the cake again without the cloth.  Refrigerate for about 1 hour, dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve.

Summer in San Francisco

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CHANTILLY CREAM

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Yields: 2 cups

DIRECTIONS:

Chill the mixing bowl and whisk before making the cream.  Pour cream into the bowl and mix on medium speed of a stand mixer until thickened.  Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and whisk on high speed until the cream forms medium peaks.

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Well, whle pizza aces would not be impressed by this recipe, a busy parent may appreciate its make-ahead option.

I bake bread about twice a week, and sometimes I set some dough aside for pizza.  The husband, the neighborhood, and the Awesomest Neighbor don’t seem to mind!

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SOURDOUGH THIN CRUST PIZZA

Dough:

  • 750g + 50g water (at room temperature)
  • 200 g leaven
  • 1000 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 20 g sea salt

Topping:

  • 900g pizza sauce
  • 500g mozzarella cheese
  • fresh basil to sprinkle
  • smoked sea salt to sprinkle
  • olive oil (optional)
  • dry oregano (optional)

Yields:

8 medium sized pizzas

DIRECTIONS:

Make the dough. I used a modified Tartine basic country dough recipe. Mix leaven the night before by combining 200 g of water at room temperature, 1 tbs of mature starter, and 200 g of all-purpose flour.

When the leaven is passing the floating test (if you drop a spoonful of leaven into water at room temperature, it floats), the dough is ready to be mixed.  Place a large mixer bowl on a scale.  Pour 700 g of water.  Add 200 g of leaven (I usually discard my mature starter at this point to use the leftover leaven as starter next time).  Mix the leaven with water.  Add 1000 g of all-purpose and 100 g of wheat flour and mix with a dough hook until incorporated.  Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let rest for 25-30 minutes.

Sprinkle with sea salt, and pour the remaining 50 g of water over the dough.  Mix again until incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 3 hours.  Turn the dough a couple times during the first hour.

After 3 hours dump the dough on a lightly floured surface and, using a dough scraper cut it into 8 equal parts.  Fold each part into a ball.  Dust a large cutting board with flour.  Place the dough balls on it, lightly dust each ball with flour and carefully place the cutting board in a large plastic bag.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to the hottest – I use the convention broil setting at 500° F/260° C. Place the pizza stone on the middle rack.

Prepare the ingredients. The beauty of pizza, is that you can dump anything you want on it, and it will taste good.   My family prefers very simple cheese and tomato sauce pizzas with vegetables, so here are our little tricks.  

  1. Since I’m not a professional, it takes me a while to assemble my pizzas, hence the dough gets pretty moist, and I cannot slide it easily to the pizza stone. So, I prepare all the ingredients ahead of time and lay them on platters ready to dig in!
  2. Pre-shredded cheese contains starch and calcium sulfate to prevent caking, so if you have time – shred cheese by yourself.
  3. I pre-bake the crust for just a couple minutes before placing the toppings on it.
  4. Pizza sauce is an art form on its own.  I still need about a 100 attempts at home-made pizza sauce before the recipe could be published.  So, I cheat.  I mix a jar of Dave’s Gourmet Organic with a 6 oz can of tomato paste.
  5. For many people pizza is all about the sauce, for others – about the toppings,  for me – it’s about the crust.  I love bread, and there were very many failed pizzas before I was able to convert my bread recipe into a perfect thin crust.  To make it even more appealing to those, who have a tendency to throw away crust, I lightly sprinkle the edges with smoked sea salt. It adds even more magic to this sourdough goodness.

Make pizzas. Once the oven is hot, remove one of the dough balls out of the oven and place it on a floured surface.  Roll it into a thin disk with a rolling pin.  Lightly sprinkle the edges with smoked salt.  Lightly dust a pizza peel with flour or corn meal. P;ace the dough on the peel, and carefully transfer it to the pizza stone.  The hardest part is done!

Bake for 2 minutes.  Remove from the oven.

Keep the crust on the peel while sprinkling olive oil, oregano, applying pizza sauce, and other toppings.  Shift the pizza a little bit to make sure it’s not stuck to the peel, and carefully slide it on the pizza stone again.  Bake for another 5-6 minutes, rotate half-way through if needed.  Sprinkle with fresh basil.

Make ahead. Two pizzas are more than enough for Dave and I.  So, in strange cases when neighbors didn’t find out I’m baking pizza and failed to stop by, I pre-bake the rest of the dough.  Roll and bake each disk for 3 minutes. Lay them lined with parchment paper.  Let cool. Place the crusts in a large freezer-proof zip-lock bag, a freeze.  When ready to cook, let them thaw at room temperature before applying the toppings, and bake for 5-6 minutes.

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I don’t know about you, but my family managed to OD on cherries this year.  At least I thought so a week ago…  or an hour ago… before I opened the fridge and found these scarlet beauties looking at me from the shelf… Nah, it’s simply impossible to have too many of them! 

 

Recipe adopted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

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CHERRY COBBLER

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 6 cups pitted cherries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbs cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400°F/205°C.

Make topping. In a medium bowl stir together flour, 2 tbs sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbles.  Set aside.

Make filling. In a saucepan combine cherries, 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch.  Cook over medium heat until cherries release juices, stirring occasionally.  The mixture is ready when it thickens and is bubbly.  Keep it hot.

Assemble cobbler. whisk together egg and milk.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened.  Pour cherry filling into a 2 quart square baking dish.  Immediately drop topping with a spoon into six mounds on top of filling.

Bake  for 20-25 minutes or until topping is golden brown.  Let cool in pan for about 1 hour before serving.

(I bought a cherry pitter this summer, and I am absolutely in love with it.  Hence so many cherry recipes.)

 

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Thought I’d leave a quick note about a book I just finished.  It was recommended by my friend Kusum, and I’m forever thankful to her for finding this gem. 

“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri is a collection of stories mostly about Indian immigrants struggling to make their new home in America, yet keep their homeland customs and values. 

Most immigrants go through some sort of cultural shock, I’m sure it’s even more pronounced for people coming from countries with such rich and distinctive history and traditions.  Nonetheless, I think most of us, who ever moved away from home, can relate to Lahiri’s characters.  That’s why it’s so easy to go with her from story to story.  

Thumbs up!

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