31.1.14

Flatbread Recipe Test





Time for another recipe test, where I pluck some recipes from the web and see whether they are keepers. This time I'm looking at flat breads, a staple in almost all culinary cultures. I've made some naan and foccacia in the past but none of those recipes really stuck with me. I saw a pin on my foodie community board by Laura de Vincentes for an Italian piadina and really wanted to try it and some other flat breads.



Follow Tessa van Vliet's board Foodie Community Board on Pinterest.

PS, if you want to join this community board, just follow and drop me comment.



I also tweeted my plan to do a flat bread recipe test and Ilona van Golen (@ilonavg_eet) pointed me towards a naan recipe.

To round out the candidates I got a pita recipe via good old reliable www.foodgawker.com.


Recipes


Piadina by Laura de Vincentes. It is in Italian but google translate is your friend. 

Naan bread by Angie Tee. Ilona helpfully pointed out that there is a teaspoon of salt missing from the ingredient list. 



Piadina


A specialty from the Romagna region in Italy, this is the simplest recipe ingredient wise. The only leavening agent is a pinch of baking powder. I did change one thing in this recipe, using butter instead of lard. This probably does have an effect on the outcome but let's see how it goes.


This is a tough dough to knead. There isn't much liquid and the dough takes a long time to come together. I'm cursing the loss of my dough hooks right about now. Once it has come together I wrap it in clingfilm and let it rest for half an hour. By magic this transforms the dough into something I can actually roll out into roughly circle like shapes ready to get baked in a hot pan.



The recipe stipulates to use a fork to prick a lot of holes in the dough while it is in the pan. However I fear for my pan and its continued ability to remain anti stick, so I just prick the dough on the counter before I put them in the pan.



Baking them is a bit like doing pancakes. And like with pancakes my first one is a dud. Though it has nice colour on both sides, the insides are raw.


This however was easily fixed by rolling the next breads thinner and lowering the heat a little bit so it would have more time in the pan.



Naan Bread


The naan bread is the opposite of the piadina in many ways. It has many more ingredients, and uses both yeast and baking powder to provide lift. It is also a rich dough with milk, egg, yogurt and oil. The initial dough is very wet and sticky, which is sort of a relief after the arm workout given to me by the others. 


A couple of minutes of developing the gluten yields a lovely velvety dough that is a pleasure to handle. Now it just needs to proof and then we get to a fantastic bit.


This is the BEST. Punching down the dough is like punching a cloud. Just so much fun.

The dough is easily rolled out into roughly naan shaped slabs. The only issue I had with the recipe was the way I should bake it. A burning hot oven and baking tray are doable. However the instruction to first bake in a hot oven and then finish it under a hot grill is impractical. My grill does not heat up in two seconds so I just baked it with the grill on. It goes incredibly quickly, the dough looks like it inflates and soon after you have to take it out lest it burns. 



Pita Bread


Ah, the pita bread. Now this did not work out for me and I figured out why after the fact. I thought the dough was stupid dry with only one cc of water so I added another cc. Still the dough was hard to work with. The dough was tough and the pita hadn't risen much during the proof. Of all the pita only one puffed up slightly in the oven. It was at this time that I had my epiphany. The c in the recipe did not mean a centiliter, it meant a cup. This explains a lot. I cannot in good conscience give my opinion on this recipe because I messed it up, I'll try it again at a later date. Pita bread is disqualified from the recipe test. Damn you, non metric system.


Results

I feel like a bit of an idiot over the pita bread, but on the plus side the other two were kinda great. The piadina is interesting as it is almost more of a cracker than a flat bread. On its own it is not great, dry and not particularly flavourfull. But it is more of a vessel for other things. It needs some fat, or moisture and some salt. Which is why this would be excellent with a tangy tapenade or some smoked salmon and a bit of burrata. Even a small lick of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt transforms the piadina. If I were to make a big anti pasti spread I will make this again because even though the ingredients are very simple it somehow manages to taste quintessentially Italian. 

Now the naan, the naan was just so great. It was a joy to make, to see it rise in the oven, and most importantly to eat. The textures are fantastic as well, the top layer is crunchy but inside it is fluffy. I felt sad I didn't have a curry waiting to lap up with the naan. I can recommend making this to everyone, the results are sure to delight.






21.1.14

No Nonsense Marmalade




In the dark days of January one little genus of fruit provides the necessary sunshine and vitamin C to withstand the gloom. Over here it is National Citrus week, and not coincidentally this is the time of the year you can buy bitter oranges (also known as Seville oranges). One of the few true seasonal products, once you see them it's time to snap up a pound or so and make some fantastic marmalade.




The humble bitter orange is smaller than your regular sweet orange. It looks a bit like a less smooth tangerine. Inside though are a lot of pips and some very intense sour flesh. It is the combination of it's tangy juices with the mellowed bitter of the rind that make marmalade such a potent flavour. It belongs in the love it or hate it category of foods. I never cared for it myself until I got a little flavour obsession with San Pellegrino aranciata, the more grown up, sophisticated brother of Fanta. Now I crave all sort of different citrus tones, from the stunning Japanese yuzu to indeed the revitalizing bitter sweetness of a proper marmalade. This recipe uses just the bitter oranges, sugar, and water, so no need for any other gelling agent at all. It does however take some extra time so start boiling the oranges the night before.
Makes two jars.

Ingredients

  • 500 g bitter oranges
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 2 l water

Step 1


Instead of removing the peel first I like the method of boiling the oranges whole. Just put them in a pan with the water and bring to a simmer. Oranges float so regularly bob them under. It takes about 90 minutes for the peel to soften. After the 90 minutes cover the pan and let the oranges sit overnight.


Step 2


The oranges are now buttery soft and easy to handle. Remove them from the pan, but keep the liquid. Halve the oranges and use a spoon to scoop out the insides. Give them a good scrape to remove the pith.


Put the insides back into the water and bring up the heat to a gentle simmer again. It is in these insides and especially the pitps that most of the pectin is located. The pectin is what makes the marmalade set so you want to get as much of the pectin out of the oranges and into the liquid. Let the water and the innards simmer for about 30 minutes while you cut the peel.



You can easily press down the peel so it is easier to cut. Cut it however finely you desire. Meanwhile you can help draw more pectin from the flesh by taking one of those potato stampers and really agitate and slightly crush the inner orange bits. Once they have boiled for half an hour or so, let it cool down in the pan. You can easily walk away from it for a couple of hours. 


Step 3


Once it has steeped some more it is time to put it through a fine sieve. You need some elbow grease to get all the liquid out but keep going. You need every gloop of fluid for the marmalade. Only stop once the mixture in the sieve is almost dry.

Step 4


Now it is finally time to properly start the marmalade. Return the now pectin rich liquid back to the pan and add the sugar and the chopped peel. Bring to a gentle boil. I repeat gentle, I had it boil over on me several times. Scoop up any scum that rises to the surface. Now all that is required is a little bit of patience and a thermometer. As water evaporates the concentration of sugar gets higher, and this will allow the temperature to get higher too. The sweet spot for marmalade is 104 degrees Celsius. You'll notice the marmalade will stay at 100 c for quite a while, but be patient it will eventually go up. Once it hits 104 remove from the fire.



To test the set you can drop a spoon of the marmalade on a cold saucer and drag your finger through it. If it forms those wrinkles you see above and leaves a clear stripe, your marmalade will be set perfectly. Pour into sterilized jars and you are done.





19.1.14

Sushi Pickles





I never used to care much for ginger. Finding stem ginger underneath some good chocolate was a disappointment and drinking ginger tea to calm an upset stomach was more punishment than comfort. But all that changed when I started eating sushi. The waver thin, often lurid pink, slivers of preserved ginger were a joy to eat in between bites. It cleans your palette and I  just really liked the flavour. Suddenly adding ginger to dishes was no longer a problem. So when I read a recipe for preserved ginger by Nigel Slater I had to make it. Since I really enjoyed the umami imparted on my pickle beets by a small strip of kombu I added some to this recipe as well.

Since I had all the pickling ingredients out I decided to also pickle some daikon. Whenever I cheat on my favourite sushi place with that hussy near the train station I always get their daikon maki. It is not only cheap but also delicious. Neither pickles use any artificial colouring, just some beets for the ginger and turmeric for the daikon.


Ingredients


Pickled Ginger

  • big piece of ginger about 300 g
  • 5 tblsp rice vinegar
  • 1.5 tblsp sugar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • two slices of beetroot
  • 1 small strip kombu

Pickled Daikon

  • 1 medium daikon
  • 10 tblsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tblsp sugar
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 small strip kombu

Step 1


Soak the kombu for a minute in hot water and make the two pickling liquids by adding all the ingredients bar the ginger and the daikon to sterilized jars. Close the jars and give them a good shake to dissolve the salt and the sugar. 


Step 2


First peel and cut the ginger into manageable pieces. You want to slice it as finely as possible so really your best bet is a mandoline on its narrowest setting. You want the slices to be so thin that you can read through them.


Do this with all the ginger and add the slices to the pickling liquid and give it a good shake.



Step 3


Daikon is quite a funny looking vegetable, like big fat white carrot. It tastes a lot like radishes and has a really nice crunch. Scrub it clean and divide into three pieces about the length of a pinky finger. 



Slice a piece into slices vertically and then cut them into matchsticks. Add the sliced daikon to the pickling liquid.


Step 4

Let them pickle at room temperature for a couple of hours before transferring them to the fridge. The pickles should keep there at least for a couple of weeks. 




10.1.14

Salmon Bacon



Crunchy, smokey, salty, and 100 percent pork free. Use this foodhack to transform smoked salmon into bacon like rashers. It is quick, easy and a real eye opener. Whether you don't eat pork, or simply cutting back on saturated fats, salmon bacon is a great alternative.

The inception of this idea was actually a couple of years ago in a restaurant. I had ordered a fish dish but upon tasting I could have sworn there were bacon bits sprinkled on my cod. Now it had been more than a decade since I tasted the real stuff so I offered some to my fellow diners and they too suspected real bacon. So I asked a waiter if there had been a mistake. He smiled mischievously and told me those bacon bits were actually fried pieces of smoked eel. Eel is an even fattier fish than salmon but it is very much endangered so I never recreated those crispy eel bits. But a week or so ago I had a pizza with smoked salmon and I baked it for a short amount of time on a very high heat. This had caused some bits of salmon to go crunchy and again suspiciously bacon like. Which is why I started experimenting with turning smoked salmon into crunchy rashers, ready to be served with some scrambled eggs, or perhaps a spruced up version of eggs royale.


How To Make It

Ingredient wise you only need some smoked salmon slices and a little bit of neutral vegetable oil. 



Cut the salmon into roughly rasher shaped pieces. Heat up some oil in a non stick pan and add the salmon.



The salmon will rapidly change colour. From the orangy shade of raw salmon to the pinky hue of cooked salmon. There is quite a lot of moisture in the fish that you want to cook out to get it crispy so take your time before turning. You want the edges to gently brown before turning. 



The salmon is quite delicate so be gentle while turning it over. If you want it crispy all the way through you want to make sure to have no big patches of pink showing. Once the oil stops bubbling quite so aggressively the largest amount of water will have evaporated and you can take the rashers out and drain them thoroughly on kitchen paper. 


Now I can only say I find it very tasty, but my carnivorous brother (who was extremely skeptical about this project) assures me it tastes suspiciously like bacon.  It is really salty and flavourfull so a little goes a long way.

4.1.14

Cinnamon Test, With Buns

Indonesian cinnamon on the left and Ceylon cinnamon on the right


In shocking news to cinnamon lovers the world over, too much of this tasty spice has been found to cause liver damage. Because of this European authorities have issued a guideline to bakers of how much of the good stuff to use. This however has left some Scandinavian panties in a serious (cinnamon) twist. All in all quite disturbing news if you have been putting a teaspoon a day into your oatmeal for health benefits. But not all cinnamon is the same. Cassia cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum Cassia tree is the offender in this case (though this is also the kind of cinnamon that showed the benefits regarding blood sugar). It is this variety that contains the offending coumarin that has been proven to be toxic to your liver in certain amounts. If you buy cinnamon and it is not labelled otherwise, it is Cassia. There are however other types of cinnamon around, such as the prized and more expensive Ceylon cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum Verum. My snobbish arse always considered this to be the true cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon does not contain coumarin so might it replace the cassia cinamon for bakers everywhere? I decided to do a little experiment to see whether it is worth it to use Cassia at all and if we should just cough up the cash for Ceylon cinnamon.

You can buy Ceylon cinnamon as sticks and as a finely ground powder. Cassia however has a much rougher bark that doesn't roll up as nice so it is sold as a powder. Which doesn't mean that every stick of cinnamon you buy is the prized Ceylon variety. Cheap sticks of cinnamon are often Cinnamomum Burmanni, or Indonesian cinnamon. This variety also doesn't contain coumarin but it is  very low on essential oils meaning it won't have that much flavour anyhow. You can easily identify whether a stick is Ceylon or Indonesian by looking at the layers. Indonesian cinnamon will only have one thick bark layer whereas the Ceylon will have more papery layers as you can see in the photo on top.


Cassia on the left and Ceylon on the right

Due to the price difference it will be unusual to accidentally buy Ceylon cinnamon, if it is the real thing, it will tell you. However you can also see the difference. Cassia is a finer powder with a more vivid yellowy tint. Ceylon on the other hand is slightly darker and rougher and has a less uniform colour.

Cassia cinnamon sugar and Ceylon cinnamon sugar


So let the first taste test begin by making a little bit of cinnamon sugar with both types of cinnamon.  Because of its finer consistency the Cassia cinnamon mixes through the sugar much more evenly. Now for the first taste. The Cassia cinnamon sugar tastes great, it has that early hint of sharpness that you know from jawbreakers and cinnamon gum. On to the Ceylon sugar, surely this will blow my mind..........but it doesn't. It tasted a little timid and weak. So I add more Ceylon cinnamon to the sugar and taste again. It is improved and I can taste the subtle warmth of the spice but it is still much less well....cinnamony than the Cassia sugar. Perhaps heat will influence the flavour so I am going to make easy cinnamon rolls using three different cinnamon sugars. One with Cassia, one with Ceylon and one with double the Ceylon sugar. The first two are a heaped tablespoon per 100 grams of sugar and the last two tablespoons.



Croissant Cinnamon Rolls


Ingredients

  • 1 can of ready made croissant dough
  • sugar
  • cinnamon
  • butter


Step 1



Remove the croissant dough from the tin and roll it out. Usually it contains three rectangles divided into triangles for the croissants. But for this recipe we will use the rectangles so just gently squeeze the dotted line to repair the tear. Brush generously with melted butter.


Step 2


Now sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar.


Step 3


Now roll up the dough and slice into thumb thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered baking tray.




Step 4

Bake into a preheated oven at 180 c for 20 minutes until puffed up and golden. 




Cassia bottom left, Double Ceylon top right. 

Taste Test

First of, they smell amazing. I'm extremely chuffed with how they turned out. I used croissant dough because I had it laying around but it is a revelation. They are light and puffy but with a much more pleasing texture than puff pastry. The Cassia cinnamon sugar is noticeably lighter compared to the Ceylon. A quick whiff of the different buns proofs that much of the cinnamon smell comes from the Cassia buns. 

And now for the tasting. The Cassia bun is tasty with a good strong cinnamon hit at the start. The single Ceylon bun is a disappointment tasted directly afterward. It lacks the punch of the Cassia though it does have a nice complex body in the middle and end. The double Cassia proves to be a mistake. Increasing the cinnamon has made it taste much like I would imagine a vintage bookstore to taste. Powdery, woody and quite frankly a bit dusty. I feel a bit miffed, shouldn't Ceylon be the obvious winner? Have I been conditioned by eating cheap ass Cassia, ruining my tastebuds? I take another tentative bite from the single Ceylon bun. Not eating it directly after the Cassia bun helps, it does taste nice and the cinnamon flavour is there but still it misses that initial hit. So I end on a compromise. I make some more cinnamon sugar from halve a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of Ceylon and a teaspoon of Cassia. And I think I found the perfect mix. The Ceylon provides the body and complexity while the Cassia hits you in the face with pure cinnamony goodness. 


Cinnamon Recommendations

If you are concerned about the toxicity of coumarin, because of a weak liver, or because you eat large amounts of the stuff I think Ceylon or the Ceylon Cassia mix are a worthy alternative. As with all things, toxicity is dependent on dose and a little cinnamon bun here or there won't hurt you. But if you were taking a tablespoon a day due to health benefits it might be a good idea to switch to Ceylon.