Laughing Lemon Recipes

Quick Puff Pastry

by Jack McNulty
August 26, 2009

One of the most intimidating recipes for aspiring cooks to attempt is making homemade puff pastry…but, in reality it is simply mixing flour, butter, water and a pinch of salt together to form a light dough. So, why does this recipe seem so unapproachable?

It is difficult to get a clear historical perspective on the origin of puff pastry. The French, of course, like to claim credit for this classical preparation…and there is no doubt the French have used puff pastry broadly in many sweet and savory dishes throughout the past few hundred years or so. It appears, however, that ancient documents mentioning puff pastry happily give credit to ancient Greece…far before the days of Carême.

Now…I make no claims on being an expert in ancient Greek puff pastry – something I am still trying to visualize – but, I do know traditional French puff pastry. And, I know from my days working in the Savoy the French take puff pastry very seriously indeed. Everything has to be just right…very fresh flour mixed together with very fresh lightly salted butter to produce layers upon layers of delicate and flaky pastry. In some ways…puff pastry seems to define French cooking and perhaps even explains why so many of us are just intimidated by the thought of making puff pastry.

The traditional method is a bit tricky and involves a bit of practice and patience – as well as using perfect ingredients and having the right atmospheric conditions. To produce a light and flaky product, everything must be done carefully and properly – start to finish – or the results may be disappointing.

French Lesson: The French word for puff pastry is feuilletage from feuilles, meaning ‘leaves.’ The pastry often called Napoleon is known as mille feuilles or ‘a thousand leaves.’

Classical puff pastry is made by carefully mixing together just enough water with flour to produce a light dough (careful though…too much water or mixing will lead to a rubbery dough, which will shrink when baked). Next, great care must be taken when rolling in the butter and turning the dough to get the optimum rise – or puff if you will. The goal here is to create a layer of butter between each layer of dough. In a hot oven the moisture in the dough layers produces steam that will push up as it evaporates, and voila – puffed pastry!

If done correctly, puff pastry should rise about four times its original height. Most standard commercial varieties of puff pastry will have 513 layers of butter (or another fat) and dough. The classical French version will be ‘turned’ more often to create even more layers…something like 1,500!

Fortunately, I’m not counting the layers (nor should anyone else), and quite frankly I do not need a perfect puff pastry. I do, however, need one that tastes of real butter and is not difficult to make, so I compromise and make a version of quick puff pastry.

This method will never produce the rise of the authentic version, but it can be completely made within a couple of hours and with very little effort. The resulting dough is perfect for lining tart pans, making little pies like empanadas or making those fancy little French Fleurons.

The ingredients you will need are 100 gr. bread flour (I use a white spelt flour), 100 gr. all-purpose flour, 200 gr. good quality sweet butter (unsalted), 3 gr. sea salt and 75 gr. cold water. Remember, the ingredients are really important to produce a tasty final product. If you are adverse to using butter, then consider another fat – but, you could just as easily go buy a dough (most commercial puff pastry has palm fat or some other type of hydrogenated fat and very little or no butter).

This recipe will produce about 500 grams of quick puff pastry…so, let’s get started…

The first step is to sift the flours and salt together into a mixing bowl to completely mix the two flours together. The next step is to cut the butter into the flour, either with your fingertips or with a knife. Using very cold butter is important in this step to insure none of the butter melts into the flour. Work quickly and make sure you leave the butter in very large chunks. Add the water to the butter and flour mixture and mix the dough until the water is absorbed. This won’t take too long, and it may be necessary to add a bit of flour if your mixture is too moist. I like to create a dough which is still a bit sticky to the touch, rather than soft like a bread dough.

Dust your work surface with flour, then form the dough into a rectangle with your hands, finishing with a rolling pin to create a rectangle about 30-cm wide. Make sure the corners are square and even, then fold the two ends to the center. Dust a bit with some flour, then fold over one more time like you’re closing a book (watch the video for a good example of how to fold the dough). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for about 20-30 minutes. Be careful to watch the time. If the dough gets too cold, then the butter will smear when rolling out the dough – this will tear apart the layers. If you happen to let the dough get too cold, then just let it sit at room temperature for another 15 minutes.

You have now give the dough one 4-fold to create sixteen layers. Go ahead and repeat the process four more times for a total of five 4-folds, which should yield 1024 layers…but, who’s counting?

Working with Puff Pastry

  1. Once you’ve made your own puff pastry, the last thing you want to do is mess it up during the cooking process…so, here’s a few tips on working with puff pastry:
  2. Be careful when rolling out the dough and make sure you are not smashing the edges down with the rolling pin. This will cause uneven rising and baking.
  3. Allow the puff pastry to rest about 15 minutes before baking it. This should help alleviate the problem of shrinkage.
  4. If you are cutting the dough, make sure to use a very sharp knife and cut through the dough evenly to make sure the edges are perfectly straight.
  5. When using an egg wash on the dough, make sure you do not let any of the wash drip down the sides, which would seal the dough to the pan and prevent it from rising properly.
  6. Start baking puff pastry in a very hot oven (between 200 and 225 degrees C). If the oven is not hot enough you will lose the rising effect of the steam and the butter will run out of the dough.
  7. Ideally, the dough is best one day after making it. Make sure the dough is kept well-wrapped and refrigerated, then allow the dough to warm slightly at room temperature before working with it.
  8. Puff pastry freezes very well, which is what I normally end up doing. Avoid keeping it refrigerated for more than a day or two, as the water and flour will begin to ferment and the dough will turn grey. The ideal way to use puff pastry is to divide it into suitably sized pieces, wrap well in plastic and place in a freezer bag. Defrost the dough overnight in a refrigerator.

 

video credits: the video was shot, produced and edited by Silvia Gautschi McNulty…The nervous hands producing the pastry were Jack McNulty’s

music credits: the original music was composed by Gavin Norton, using in many instances synthesized kitchen noises.

Silvia’s Wine Adventure – Part III

by Silvia
July 29, 2009

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In this third part to Silvia’s season long wine adventure, she reports on the status of her vines, what she learned about vine maintenance and how to plant new grapes. read part I ¦ read part II

Spring finally arrived.

When the rain weather travels from the west toward Graubünden, there is a good chance the rain drops will never fall in Malans…or at least wait until the evening. This is the typical weather pattern in the Bündner Herrschaft and for once the weather did what was expected. Even though rain covered most of Switzerland, we were able to enjoy the warm spring sun.

A quick inspection of the vineyard told me what I needed to immediately know – our vines made it through the winter…and I did too. The vines looked strong and full of growth. The year’s early spring weather caused the vines to bud early, but the subsequent cold weather caused everything to return to normal by mid-May. But even so, some growers have compared the 2009 crop with 2003 and 2007, when everything was early.

As I walked the vineyard and came upon my row of vines, I noticed the few branches on each vine grew into bushes. There were also many little grape bunches visible…a joy to see.

Letting nature do what it wants means losing control of the vines and giving enemies a chance to attack. So after pruning and selecting two branches per vine in the winter, then binding them to the wire at the end of winter, it is now time to keep the vine’s new growth under control.     read more

How I Make Rhubarb Pie

by Jack McNulty
May 16, 2009

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Rhubarb has a flavor somewhere between apples and cherries, which is where I found inspiration to create my own version of rhubarb pie.

I generally avoid spending endless hours scouring the net looking for ideas, inspiration or recipes. Books still seem a better option when I need to research anything food-related, but I do enjoy following several food blogs…and I have noticed a developing theme this spring – rhubarb is in!

David Lebovitz, pastry chef and entertaining author, recently offered his version of rhubarb tart in his popular blog, which relied on a simple compote of rhubarb and strawberries. Meanwhile, Kerrin Rousset wrote about a rhubarb ‘fruit’ roll-up in her award-wining blog MyKugelhopf. Visit some of the other major foodie sites, and I guarantee you will find plenty more how-to-make rhubarb ideas for compote, pies, tarts, fools, crumbles…

So why write about something that is already getting enough attention in the internet food world?

Well…I’ve always enjoyed rhubarb, but somehow it’s been more of an acquaintance to me rather than a true culinary friend. So now I’m taking another look…and I like what I see.   read more

Silvia’s Wine Adventure – Part II

by Silvia
May 11, 2009

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In this second part to Silvia’s season long wine adventure, she reports on the status of her vines and how she learned to properly tie grape vines using a wire system. read part I

It was the middle of March and it was cold – very cold! I spent the day wondering where that hair dryer wind called the Föhn was when I really needed it?

Almost one month had past since my first introduction to the vines I would call my own for the year. I pruned away all of the unnecessary branches left from last year and readied my vines for a fresh start to 2009. The deep snow I encountered in February was gone, but I was faced with a new weather challenge, which made my work in the vines even colder – an icy arctic wind!

We spent the first ninety minutes in relative comfort learning all about lovely aphids, fungus and other ugly wine enemies. Then, it was time to face my vineyard row and accomplish the day’s task of bending the pruned grape branches and binding them onto the lowest wire. This system of keeping the branches horizontal and tied to a wire makes subsequent tasks during the year much easier – and safer for the vines. Need rows will allow a tractor to easily travel between the vines without hurting any branches or new growth.    read more

Ten Bärlauch Recipe Ideas

by Jack McNulty
April 7, 2009

Bärlauch is everywhere in spring. The forest floor becomes an aromatic green carpet, filling the air with a familiar garlic-like scent…and just about every food you can image is enhanced with this lovely herb. Here are ten of our favorite ways to add a boost to some spring recipes.

One of spring’s defining moments in Switzerland is the emergence of bärlauch. Take a casual walk through most forested areas, and you will almost immediately encounter a beautiful green carpet…and a nose full of the unmistakable scent of garlic. You may even notice a few people wandering through this bed of greens pulling up fistfuls of the stuff…and wondering what exactly they may be doing with it.

Well…these foragers know how valuable a bit of bärlauch can be in the kitchen – and, it’s free for the taking.

Bärlauch also appears frequently in just about everything in restaurants, grocery stores and butchers. So, if you’re really not up for the experience of gathering, then simply hunt around and you won’t be far away from something with bärlauch in it.

The experience of bärlauch is at its best, however, when you do a bit of your own foraging…but, be aware – there are a few dangers you should familiarize yourself with before heading out into the wild. Bärlauch is often confused with two similar-looking plants, which are not so nice to your system if you mistakenly consume them. You can have a look at the pictures in the Tages-Anzeiger article from 2008 to get an idea of the similarities, or read a bit more about bärlauch dangers in our website. read more

My Name is Teroldego

by Silvia
March 22, 2009

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Ciao…My name is Teroldego. I am a red grape variety from northern Italy – just a bit north of Trento from the plateau named Teroldego Rotaliano. This is the only place I like to grow. My home is between very steep rock walls, two nice rivers and a warm climate with cooling alpine winds blowing down on me.

I am also the very first D.O.C. wine from this region…and naturally I am very well respected amongst all Italian wines.

I came to Zürich last week with a few of my red and white colleagues from Trentino. We stayed at the noble Dolder Grand Hotel…nice place, and presented ourselves in their new ballroom to numerous wine tasters, pros and some wine freaks. You would not believe some of the wine taster’s palates we ended up in – vero! But, I had a good time, and I am sure I left quite an impression with many tasters who have never experienced my charm.

I have an intense deep ruby color with an almost black core…it is the first thing people notice about me. I also have an intense and immensely fruity aroma. It is like…black cherry jam with maybe a hint of some raspberries. I am also quite spicy and some even say, I have the smell of black licorice. Sometimes I spend several months of wellness inside a small oak barrel, and I come away smelling like vanilla and toasted wood. This gives me an attractive complexity…no?   read more

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Fudge Brownies

by Jack McNulty
March 20, 2009

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Rich and gooey brownies have a way of returning us to our memories, but re-creating this classic American cake can be challenging in a foreign context.

There are those times which occasional crop up when it is very easy to miss the little things you really enjoyed from an earlier time or different location. This doesn’t often happen to me, but I will admit…I do have an Achilles heel when it comes to brownies.

For some reason (a reason I’ve never really tried to figure out), I always seem to close my eyes as I prepare to take that first bite out of a rich and moist deep chocolate brownie. I simply savor the feeling of all that fat and chocolate oozing down my throat…and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. I am, once again, that sneaky little child doing something that may get him in trouble.

It’s not surprising to me the brownie is much adored in the United States. After all, this very sweet and rich sponge cake with a crisp outside and fudgy inside has been known in America at least since Fannie Farmer first published her recipe in 1896 in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. And even though this famous brownie recipe has undergone radical changes throughout the years, somehow good taste and sense eventually brings us back to the original.

Brownies are actually quite humble. They are simply made with eggs, flour, sugar, butter and chocolate, then cut into squares after they are baked. That’s it…except for the intermittent use of vanilla essence and walnuts. Simple…right?

Well…no actually! It’s just not that easy to successfully make a recipe from a source which has a different context.  read more

Silvia’s Wine Adventure – Part I

by Silvia
March 13, 2009

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Ever wonder what’s involved in growing grapes to produce wine? Silvia has. She has enrolled in a class this year, which teaches students the practical, hands-on side of growing grapes. This multi-part posting began in February with some basic pruning and goes on throughout the year until the fall harvest.

Pruning vines is one of the most important tasks of a vintner during the year. It is the foundational work for the upcoming growing season and subsequent harvest.

Vineyards can look a bit on the shaggy side by winter’s end– sort of like Struwwelpeter who desperately needs a haircut. In the same way, vines also need a trim…and the trick is to prune the correct branches in order to make weak vines stronger and stronger vines a bit…well…less strong. Of course, the goal of all of this pruning is to make the wine maker’s tasks easier while managing grape yield and vintage quality.

And so on, and so on… All of this and more I learned while studying for my WSET diploma. I even had to learn which hormone in the root system gives the vine a kick start after the soil temperature rises above 10 degrees centigrade. Yes, I know quite a bit about wine and how wine is made…but, that’s all theory, and now it’s time to move over to the practical side…   read more

Beignets de Carnaval

by Jack McNulty
February 23, 2009

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It’s Fastnacht time in Switzerland…which, like in many countries, is a license to indulge – and what better way to indulge than eating your own freshly-made Beignets de Carnaval!

We came across the idea to make this version of beignets while flipping through our favorite 1940’s Zürich cookbook. We were actually searching for some kind of alternative to the popular Fastnachtschüechli (fun for foreigners to pronounce). The recipe we landed on was involved and included instructions on stretching the dough over your knee.

Hmm…there must be an easier way!

Fortunately, the Zürcher liked everything …well, easier and another condensed recipe followed. This version, however, involved an entirely different twist.

It seems they enjoyed putting the freshly fried dough into a clay container to keep them soft. The next day, they would season the beignets with salt and cumin, then roll them up like a…hmm…swiss roll.

Interesting, but not at all what we were looking for. We wanted something crisp and sweet – not soft, spiced and rolled up.

After some deliberation (ok…not really a lot), we decided to pursue the second method…sort of. We went ahead with the recipe and fried the dough, then simply dusted them with sugar. Abbreviated – but very good. No…they were really, really good! Very similar, in fact, to the famous New Orleans beignets – which brings us to Mardi Gras…and this recipe.    read more

King’s Cake

by Jack McNulty
January 6, 2009

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King’s Cake (called Dreikönigskuchen throughout the Swiss German-speaking Cantons) is the first food tradition of the year. As it turns out, this recipe is simple to make and has many possible variations…allowing you to enjoy a fresh version for more than just one day!

Virtually everyone in Switzerland is in some way touched by the special bread overflowing from every bakery on January 6th.

Enjoying a King’s Cake is an old tradition with distinct Christian roots falling on the Festival of Epiphany. The cake itself is an odd-shaped bread consisting of 7-11 small rolls, which are often garnished with almond slivers, coarse sugar and sometimes raisins. One of the rolls contains a surprise buried inside, which allows whoever finds the hidden icon (mostly a plastic figurine) to be named king or queen for the day…and of course, also explains why these breads are sold with paper crowns.

The tradition in Switzerland can be traced back to the early 1300s, but its popularity waned considerably over the years and nearly disappeared altogether.

That is until large Swiss bakeries revived the tradition during the early 1950s and quickly flooded the market with mass-produced King’s Cakes…conveniently with a paper crown included! The bakers’ marketing efforts were rewarded and the King’s Cake has now become the number one selling specialty item for bakers in Switzerland with over one million being produced – an astonishing number for such a small country…but also leaving everyone with pretty decent odds of being crowned king or queen for the day.  read more