Oh Nuts! (and Hazelnut Orange Rosemary Brittle)

This time of year we use a lot of nuts – especially almonds and hazelnuts (Filberts). If you need to remove the skins, it can be a little time consuming so plan ahead. Deal with the nuts early so your cookie and candy making is a breeze later. Most cookies, candy and nut flours are better when these nuts are skinned. The skins can add bitterness to your baked goods and make them drier than they should be. Here are the easy techniques for removing those pesky skins:

Almonds: Almonds need to be blanched to remove the skins. Bring a large pot with water to a rolling boil (about 4 times the amount of the nuts you want to skin). Add the almonds to the boiling water and set the timer for 1 minute. When the timer dings, fish out one almond and pinch it by the pointy end (the opposite end is the blunt end). The skin should slide right off. If it doesn’t, give the nuts another 30 seconds in the hot water. Drain the nuts in a colander. Cool 5 minutes and then pinch each nut to remove the skin. (Something to do in front of a good movie.) Lay out the skinned almonds overnight on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered. (You can also dry them in a low oven – 200F for 1-2 hours.) Your blanched almonds are now ready to toast, grind or use whole raw.

Hazelnuts (Filberts): These flavorful nuts are a local (Oregon) crop. Generally, they are always sold with the skins on. These loose skins can flake off and create a mess in your candies or cookies. To remove the skins, preheat the oven to 350F. Spread out the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Toast the nuts for 8-15 minutes, or until the skins crack and start to separate from the nut. (Shaking the pan a few times while toasting will give you a good idea if the skins are starting to release.) Remove the nuts from the oven and place them in a cotton kitchen towel. Wrap them up tightly and let them sit for at least 20 minutes. Open up the towel and using the ends of the towel, gently massage and rub the nuts until the skins are removed. (I periodically remove the skinned nuts to a bowl so I have less to work with and can identify the problem nuts.) Don’t worry if every piece of skin is removed. If you get 90%, you’re doing fine. The nuts are now toasted, so go ahead and grind them for hazelnut flour or add them to candy, such as this favorite of mine – Hazelnut Orange and Rosemary Brittle.

Hazelnut Brittle with Rosemary and Orange

I created this confection when I was the pastry chef at Salish Lodge and Spa. It was wintertime (hence the orange zest) and large rosemary bushes surrounding the lodge are accessible – even in winter. The hazelnuts came from a local supplier in Oregon. The perfect Pacific Northwest treat!

Yield: About 1 pound brittle

1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons water
1 cup hazelnuts, skins removed and lightly toasted
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

zest of ½ orange

Spray a piece of foil, approximately 12 x 16 inches, with 100% oil spray (such as safflower or canola). Spray a rubber spatula and set aside. Have ready the spray and a pair of gloves for handling the hot brittle.

Prepare the nuts, rosemary and orange zest in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the sugar, honey and water in a 3 qt. heavy-bottomed pan. Stir with your finger to make sure no dry sugar is on the bottom of the pot. Wash down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. (Do not stir the sugar once it starts boiling or it may crystalize.)

Cook the sugar mixture over high heat without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a medium-dark amber, about 300°F-320°F. (I like this brittle on the dark side, so I wait to see a dark caramel color and a puff of smoke release over the pot. Then I know it’s ready.)

Working quickly, remove the sugar from the heat and stir in the nuts, rosemary, and orange zest with the sprayed spatula.

Pour the brittle out onto the foil and spread it quickly with the spatula as thin as you can get it (approx. 1/8 inch thick). Let it cool completely.

Break the brittle into pieces and store it in an airtight container or fill cellophane bags and tie them with ribbon to give as gifts.

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Thanksgiving – Prepare and Relax

A Salish Lodge dessert buffet.

Teaching students about baking and pastry isn’t all technique and ingredients. I also like to work on how to be more efficient and less crazy in the kitchen. This means, do what the professionals do and work ahead.

When I was at Salish Lodge and Spa, Thanksgiving was the biggest day of the year. We served 450+ in the dining room for a multi-course whole turkey dinner and another 250 at our Thanksgiving buffet. I learned a lot of lessons about planning while preparing for this day and now I’m passing those tips on to you. If you use them, you’ll find your Thanksgiving will be less stressful and more relaxing – even if you’re the one putting on the dinner.

Make Pie Dough Ahead. Pie dough will last in the refrigerator about two days and in the freezer up to two weeks. Best practice is to make the pie dough this week, freeze it and then move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you’re planning on rolling it. (If you need tips on making pie dough, see my Pie Crust Survival Guide.)

Roll, Shape and Freeze Crusts. Your pie crust will bake best (and hold its shape) if baked while very cold or frozen. If pumpkin pie, pecan pie or another single crust pie is on your menu, this tip is for you. 1-2 days before your pie baking day, roll out and shape your single crust pie shell. Wrap it in plastic wrap (or slide it into a clean kitchen garbage bag) and freeze it (at least overnight). Remove the pie shell from the freezer just before filling it and then pop it right into the oven. A frozen pie shell will bake before it starts melt.

Make Pie Fillings Ahead. Many pie fillings can be made ahead of time – sometimes up to five days. Two great Thanksgiving examples are pumpkin and pecan pie fillings. (For pecan pie filling, you may want to make the filling ahead and then lay the pecans on top just before baking.) Pick a day to make your fillings and then store them covered in the refrigerator. Be sure to stir them well before filling your pie crust as some of the ingredients may have settled to the bottom over time.

Cranberry Bread. This is a no-brainer. Quick breads are better when they’ve sat for a few days, frozen or not. This is also a bread that can be wrapped while it is just a little warm (same with pumpkin, banana and zucchini breads). The slight warmth helps the bread retain moisture. If you’re a real planner, you can make this bread WAY ahead – several weeks is not too far. Wrap it twice in plastic and store it in your freezer. The day before serving it, transfer it from the freezer to your counter and let it thaw at room temperature. Quick breads should always be served at room temperature for best flavor.

Chocolate Bombes, Fruit Tart, Chocolate Terrine and Raspberry Mousse Cake.

I’m just covering the baking side here, but there are plenty of other make-ahead tips. Sweet potatoes can be baked ahead, peeled and stored in the fridge overnight – or just make the entire sweet potato casserole of your choice and chill it overnight ready to go right into the oven. Most turkey dressings can be made ahead and chilled the day before. (This also keeps you from putting warm dressing inside a cold bird – a big food safety no-no.) Vegetables can be cleaned and cut 1-2 days before. And of course, don’t forget that your turkey (even fresh) is usually pretty frozen inside, so give it 2-3 days in the refrigerator to thaw.

Need a little more help with your pie crust? I’ll be continuing my free All About Pie demos at King County Libraries across the system. Check out the schedule here.

Working in the pastry kitchen at Salish.

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What’s Your Foodportunity?

Recently, I wrote a blog post “How I Got Here” which touched on my journey from another career to the professional kitchen and finally to teaching. What I didn’t talk about in that post is what it’s like to come out of the kitchen into the real world.

I felt like a babe in arms. I had been cradled in the warmth (and heat) of busy kitchens, watched over (sometimes hawk-like) by executive chefs, steered in directions by customers’ requests and depended on by the pastry staff. Get up, dress in the same uniform every day, go to work, be a slave to new menu deadlines, banquet orders, pars for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the proof box and the oven timer. I knew exactly what was expected of me, when it was expected and where I need to be nearly every minute of the work day. It was a safe environment and it was focused, but in some ways it was a small life.

Then one day I realized that I wanted to change directions with food. Instead of spending 12 hours a day creating it for others to enjoy, I wanted to teach others how to make it themselves. I wanted to tell them, “It’s not rocket science and it shouldn’t feel that way to home cooks.” I thought I could demystify baking and pastry for students. I wanted to show them how to create what I had been creating for several years behind the scenes, in their home kitchens.

It was very strange leaving the comfort of the professional kitchen and stepping out into the real world. Imagine stepping out of shadows into a bright, light filled room. For weeks, I ran errands during the day (when I’d normally be at work), spent a lot of time reading food blogs I’d never had time to discover and marveled that there really were people out there in the world carrying on with their daily lives.

Since the pastry kitchen at Salish Lodge and Spa had been my home in the shadows, I was even more removed from the real world, away from the city in mostly rural Snoqualmie, Washington. I hadn’t even taken the time since I’d moved back to Seattle in 2006 to sample the restaurant scene. If I wanted to teach, where were the people I needed to contact? What was happening in the burgeoning food world? Where would I find these people – the ones who would be my students or lead me to my students?

Learning the food world through social media and blogs was an experience. I was a kitchen hog – what did I know? Even as a chef, I needed others to wean me from the kitchen to the real world. Luckily, I had some amazing people reach out to me, the newbie on the block. Leslie Seaton (FreshPickedSeattle), Brook Stephens (Learn to Preserve) and Traca Savadago (SeattleTallPoppy) had already established influential presences. They may not know that they helped guide me through the maze, opened my eyes to the current Seattle food world and more importantly, helped make me aware of what local home cooks and bakers were seeking.

Just as important was my first Foodportunity event in March 2010, presented by Keren Brown. While surfing web articles one day, I just happened to stumble across it. Was this where my students would be? It looked promising. Not only did I meet my social media mentors (Leslie, Brook and Traca) that evening, I also ran into people I’d known through Salish – marketing people, vendors and chefs. It was quite a networking event – a key step out into the real world, toward my future students and farther out of the professional kitchen.

Fast forward 3 years later and I’m now working in my own foodportunity. 10 years ago I would not have guessed that my foodportunity was going to be teaching. Maybe I hadn’t considered teaching or maybe I thought it wasn’t glamorous. It’s not. But now I’ve stepped completely out of the shadows and into the light of teaching. I find that I have the ability to relate to my students because I remember what it was like being a home cook. I love the science of baking and students who want to explore. I love my students!  I also found out some other things about my foodportunity:  I love to see students succeed and sometimes it’s helpful to see them make mistakes too. It’s all part of my foodportunity journey and theirs.

(Have you been to Foodportunity? Tickets on sale now here for the October 28 event.)

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Kneading Conference 2013

Naan baked in the tandoor oven.

It’s pretty inspiring to have a chance to be with a vibrant group of bakers (both professional and home), grain millers and grain growers for three days. We’re all speaking the same language – albeit from a different perspective. This was my second year at the Kneading Conference West and I always walk away from it inspired about not just bread baking, but the flavor and character of whole grains in all its forms. I also always spend the conference hopped up on carbs (i.e. excellent bread and pastry) and caffeine (always lots of coffee around).

Keynote speaker on day one was Darra Goldstein, Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.  Before we all ran off to talk formulas, protein content and the effects of amylase, Professor Goldstein started us off with an eclectic discussion of “Bread Culture”, focusing on bread and its appearance in art such as in a Salvador Dali painting and in The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet. She reminded us it’s important to consider the culture that surrounds bread, as well as the science behind it.

Also keeping our eye on culture as well as a variety of bread and pastry (all focused on whole grains) was Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward, mainstays at the conference.  Naomi and Dawn teamed up for workshops on Yeasted Crackers, Flatbreads from the Tandoor Oven, and Whole Grain and Multi Grain Baking: Cookies, Cake and Montreal-Style Bagels.  Naomi and Dawn are the perfect combo, bringing both culture and baking science to their workshops.  While working with buckwheat flour, Naomi explained the origin of the French buckwheat crepe.  During WWII, the German army confiscated all of the wheat. French women, having no wheat to bake with, turned to buckwheat to make their traditional crepes. Buckwheat crepes are still considered traditional in France, having survived more than a generation of French cooks.

Naomi and Dawn in their whole grain cracker demo.

I love that Naomi and Dawn instill a feeling of relaxation while baking.  Although Naomi claims that she’s a little more lax than Dawn (the quintessential professional baker), they both make students feel at ease. Naomi says, “Try to forget all of your preconceptions and anxiety about baking and just bake.”

Naomi Duguid working with naan and cracker doughs.

It was a community event learning to bake in the tandoor oven.

Tom Hunton, owner of Camas Country Mill in Oregon told us his intent is to create a community food habitat by connecting growers, consumers, distributors and bakers. Camas Mills provides whole wheat for four school districts in Oregon, as well as lentils and barley for the Oregon Food Bank.

Kiko Denzer, the resident earth oven designer and construction manager, supervised conference attendees as they created an earth oven to be auctioned at the end of conference.

Constructing an earth oven can be messy work, so you need a naan break to keep you going. You also need bare feet to mush up the mud. Lucky Kim pictured here in the blue apron was the winning bidder for the oven.

Scott Mangold, co-owner and head baker of BreadFarm in Edison, Washington (just up the road from the conference), demonstrated whole wheat bread doughs using four different wheat varieties. His goal at BreadFarm is to draw out the maximum flavor from the grain without compromising the dough. BreadFarm also makes some of the tastiest cookies I’ve ever tasted. Mangold accounts for their extraordinary flavor from the organic butter and sugar they use at BreadFarm.

The entire conference is located on the grounds of the Washington State University Extension and Research Center in Mount Vernon, Washington. Stephen Jones, PhD, director of the center, grows 40,000 types of wheat, helping to establish successful and flavorful wheat production in the fertile but often wet Skagit Valley. You can read Dr. Jones’ article published last November in Gastronomica here.

The grounds of the center are also the home of the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation,  as well as WSU’s own research orchards. This time of year the trees are dripping with apples and pears and grape arbors are heavy with nearly ripe fruit, but we’re warned not to taste from the orchard.

If you’re interested in next year’s conference, you can sign up for the Kneading Conference Newsletter here. My recommendation – sign up when registration starts because it always sells out.

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Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

Much to most Western Washingtonians’ surprise, we’ve had a warm, dry spring. It’s very strange. Most of my flower gardens are one month ahead of normal. The clematis have bloomed and gone, the calla lilies are in bloom (cue Katharine Hepburn) and the roses are very, very happy.

I inherited my rhubarb plants from the previous owner and they grew wonderfully the first year I was here. Last year, they happened to be in Tucker’s favorite path to the squirrels and they didn’t survive his trampling. This spring, I transplanted them in the side garden just above the rest of my edibles. Although they are small now, I believe they’ll be much happier there eventually. Since I’ve heard I shouldn’t pick rhubarb the first year of planting or transplanting, I’ve been depending on my friend, Peggy, to keep me well supplied. Her rhubarb is spectacular. The stalks are tall and healthy, the leaves giant. I tease her that she babies her rhubarb too much. (Rhubarb nearly grows like weeds in Western Washington.) But her rhubarb is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. She has several varieties – both green and red – some quite old inherited from her mother-in-law.

Although rhubarb is still available, we’ll soon be distracted by the onslaught of berries. So as a last hurrah to rhubarb, here’s a simple upside down cake I created this spring to highlight this wonderful vegetable-turned-fruit. One of the keys to this cake is to separate the eggs and then fold in the whipped whites at the end, thus lightening the cake crumb. The other key is to not over mix the batter. Finally, this cake can be made with many types of fruit from peaches to apples to cranberries. You’ll probably find that you won’t need to roast other fruits much before adding the cake batter.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

The combinations of sugars in this cake deepens the flavor. As for flour, I like the nuttiness of whole wheat pastry flour. If you prefer a less earthy flavor, use half whole wheat pastry flour and half all-purpose or white pastry flour (see note). Cardamom pairs nicely with rhubarb, but feel free to leave it out or replace it with cinnamon or half the amount in nutmeg.

Yield: One 10 inch cake serves 8-10

Rhubarb Topping
1/4 cup (2 oz.) brown sugar
1/4 cup (3 oz.) honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine all of the above ingredients except the rhubarb in a 1o x 2 inch cake pan. Place the pan in the oven to melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the oven and stir to combine the ingredients. Add the rhubarb and arrange it so that the rhubarb is in one fairly snug layer on the bottom of the pan. Roast the rhubarb for 15-18 minutes, or until is is just tender to the touch. (Don’t over cook it at this point or it will break apart and not look as pretty in the end.) Remove the rhubarb from the oven and let it cool some while mixing the cake.

1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz.) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3 large eggs separated, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (9 oz.) whole wheat pastry flour or a combination of white and whole wheat flours
2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon (or more) cardamom
1/2 cup (4 oz.) whole milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Cream the butter, sugars, honey and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle until light and fluffy. Scrape well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.

Sift together the flour(s), baking powder and cardamom. On low speed, add 1/2 of the milk to the creamed mixture, then 1/2 of the flour until almost combined. Scrape well. Add the rest of the milk and then the remaining flour, mixing again until almost combined. Scrape well and mix until just fully combined. Move the batter to a large bowl.

Whip the egg whites with 1 tablespoon sugar to medium peak. With a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter until almost combined. Now fold in the remaining egg whites until fully combined.

Spread the cake batter on top of the roasted rhubarb, using light strokes to get it level. Bake the cake 45-55 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched. (You may see some rhubarb juices bubbling up on the sides.)

Cool the cake for about 1 hour. To serve,  first slide a knife around the edge of the cake. Place a serving plate on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Gently remove the cake pan. Serve the cake warm or room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Note:  White pastry flour can be made by combining 2/3 all-purpose flour and 1/3 cake flour. I use King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour which can be purchased in the Seattle area at PCC.

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