Monday, August 20, 2012

Buttery Shortbread

I was, I was going to write about a Russian dish called vinegret this week - very popular, lots of beets, spectacular. But... I don't know, a rainy Sunday morning happened, I guess. It was typical Houston weather for this time of year: pouring tropical rain with glimpses of the sun in the morning, to be replaced by a hot, humid, sunny afternoon.

What is a family to do on a rainy morning but watch a movie? So we were all watching Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts (the kids loved it) and I was browsing the photostreams of some of my contacts on Flickr. And I was so inspired by the photography that I wanted to photograph something. Being a food blogger, of course, this means cooking something first and then photographing it.

Shortbread seemed perfect for a Sunday morning at home. So accompanied by the sounds of the movie and the rain, I rattled the baking sheets in the kitchen a little and here they were: buttery, crisp and crumbly cookies. Shortbread. I borrowed the idea of adding cornstarch to the dough from the folks at America's Test Kitchen, and I think it gave the shortbread extra tender crumb.

Despite its simplicity in ingredients, shortbread takes quite a while to bake. If you want something quicker, crescent nut cookies are just it. Grated cake with jam is also quick, and uses similar shortbread dough.

Buttery Shortbread

makes 16 cookies

1 3/4 cup (250 gr) flour
1/4 cup (40 gr) cornstarch
2/3 cup (140 gr) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 230 gr) cold butter

Line the bottom of 9-in (23 cm) round pan with a circle of parchment paper. Also line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

In a bowl of a standing mixer, mix dry ingredients. Cut butter into 1/2 in (1 cm) cubes, add to dry mixture. Mix at high speed until even crumbs form. Pour the crumbs into round pan, press into an even layer. Carefully invert onto baking sheet, remove paper disk. Using biscuit cutter, cut out a circle in the center, remove dough (bake the dough circle separately on the same sheet). Return biscuit cutter to the center.

Place in oven, immediately reduce temperature to 300F (150C). Bake 20 min. Remove from oven, score dough to divide into 16 even segments (do not cut all the way through). Dot with a wooden skewer. Return to oven, bake another 40 min, until golden. Transfer on paper to cutting board, cut on the scored lines. Cool completely. Shortbread can be stored in an airtight container up to 1 week (but, frankly, what's the point?).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

What's interesting about this cake is that it barely has any flour: only a couple tablespoons. Ground hazelnuts serve as a binding dry ingredient. The cake is not overly sweet and reminds me of European desserts. With hazelnuts and chocolate being two main ingredients I was expecitng it to taste a bit like Nutella. It didn't. It tasted like a mildly sweet, mildly chocolatey... cake. Don't expect brownie-like richness here either.

I lifted the recipe from Baking Illustrated, and those guys think that chocolate ganache would be an overkill. I think, however, that nice, glossy chocolate glaze (the type made with corn syrup, not necessarily rich ganache) would work well and give it a little more substance.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

1 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (by rolling them between towels)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup (200 gr) sugar
1 stick (110 gr) butter, softened
5 large eggs, separated, plus 1 egg yolk
6 oz (170 gr) dark chocolate - the best quality you can afford - melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoons salt
powdered sugar for dusting, if desired

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease (I use spray) a 9-in (23 cm) springform pan.

Process hazelnuts, flour and 1/4 cup of the sugar in food processor until finely ground. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining sugar until fluffy. Add all yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in hazelnut mixture and chocolate.

In a separate bowl, whip eggs whites and salt to stiff peaks. Carefully fold 1/3 of the egg whites into chocolate batter, then another 1/3 and remaining egg whites. Be careful not to deflate the batter.

Bake 45-50 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The August Break, 2012

This year, just like last year (before I had an English language blog) I am participating in The August Break project: one photo for every day of this last month of summer. It's a busy month so I do not have as much time as I would like to make meaningful shots, but I do not want to give up either. So for better or worse, here they are. My first 8 shots of August, in no particular order.

This is a selfie. Because I'm usually the person BEHIND the camera.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Carrot Cake

Carrot cake. At first I eyed it with suspicion. Then tried it and realized that its taste has nothing to do with the taste of boiled carrots that I for some reason imagined. The added spices give the cake layers a strong flavor that is offset by the gentle tartness of the cream cheese frosting. In short, it's a cake worth trying and a time enduring favorite that is popular for a reason.

This is a large cake that serves 10, a perfect size for a party. I made half the recipe, a cute little cake 6 inches in diameter.

Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

For cake layers:
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cup finely grated carrots (about 1 lb)
1 cup pecans, chopped

For frosting:
4 cups powdered sugar
2 8-oz packages (450 gr) cream cheese, softened
1 stick (110 gr) butter, softened
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Grease 3 9-inch pans (I use spray). Using an electric mixer, combine sugar and oil. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Sift dry ingredients into the mixture and mix until incorporated. Mix in carrots and pecans. Divide batter evenly between pans, bake about 45 min, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack completely.

Mix all frosting ingredients, frost cake between the layers and outside. Decorate with coconut chips if desired.

Recipe adapted from an old issue of Bon Appetit. The cake is a part of my series on American classic cakes for my Russian language blog (see New York Style Cheesecake).

Friday, August 3, 2012


If you are reading this blog, then I assume you are an adventurous eater who is curious about modern Russian cuisine. Have I got an adventure for YOU! This is okroshka - cold soup made with vegetables (such as cucumbers, radishes and potatoes), boiled eggs and bologna. It is an acquired taste, but the soup is extremely popular in Russia, especially in spring, when first fresh vegetables and herbs appear. People make it at home but it is also often included as a seasonal item in the menus of cafes and restaurants. I've already talked about the Russians' love of soups, such as borsch or yellow pea soup, so here is another favorite.

Okroshka is to the Russians what gazpacho is to the Spaniards: a cold, refreshing liquid snack for the hot summer weather. I remember watching Almodovar's Women on the Verge of the Nervous Breakdown one day, and the characters would go to the fridge and take a few sips of gazpacho. This made me think of a housemate I had when I was a student and rented a room. His wife would make a big pot of okroshka and he would spend his day opening the fridge door at regular intervals and eating a few spoonfuls of the soup right out of the pot. Glad I didn't have to share my meals with that family :).

"Okroshka" comes from the word "kroshit," to dice. The liquid that is traditionally used is kvas, a fermented drink made from bread - that should be the subject for a whole different conversation, remind me to tell you what kvas is and what it tastes like :). Some people, including me, prefer to make it with kefir - a drink made from cultured milk, similar to drinkable yogurt or buttermilk. Kefir is sold in many supermarkets in the US nowadays and is worth trying. For the soup the plain (unsweetened) flavor should be used, but it also comes in various fruit flavors. Even my picky kids like it. If you can't find kefir, regular buttermilk will work, too. I prefer to dilute the kefir with water mixed with lemon juice so that it is not so thick and rich.


Serves 4

3 large radishes
2 spring onions (white and green parts)
1/3 English cucumber
1 medium potato, boiled with skin on and peeled
3 hard boiled eggs
3 slices bologna
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 cups kefir (can be substituted with buttermilk)
2 cups ice cold water
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 tablespoons salt
freshly ground black pepper

Dice radishes, onions, cucumber, potato, eggs and bologna. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Adjust seasoning. Serve cold.

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