I can’t begin to describe the level of excitement I feel to become an addition to this food blog except through piercing squeals of giddiness. I’ll be posting up a short description of myself soon, but for now… I’m Emily, an amateur (and huge fan of) in baking in cooking. I’ve known Anh for a long time (approaching nine years), as she has been a close friend of my sister since middle school. We share a great fascination towards food, whether it involves eating, cooking, baking, or simply learning different techniques and facts on the Food Network, and I am honored to become a part of her blog.
As my initiation to this blog, I’d like to begin with a review on what I believe is one of the handiest kitchen gadgets to exist: the apple slicer. I purchased mine over three years ago at a local Ikea. Since then, I’ve seen the item become more prominent in stores like Target (although I can’t seem to find one on Target.com) and Sur La Table. To use the slicer, simply place an apple upright on a cutting board. If the apple is wobbly or unstable, cut off a layer from the bottom to flatten the base. Position the slicer on top of the apple with the inner circle surrounding the dip (the top of the core) where the stem protrudes. Slowly, to prevent the slicer or apple from slipping, push the slicer down into the apple until the tip of the blades reach the surface of the cutting board… and VOILA, you have eight cleanly trimmed slices of an apple shaped in somewhat of a blossoming flower in a matter of seconds. To complete the process, remove the slices and the core from the slicer. This is the perfect gadget to prepare a large platter of healthy alternatives for parties and to satisfy the “an apple a day” suggestion for people (like me) who find it too bothersome to slice apples.
I’ve always enjoyed eating Palmiers and finding crumbs all over my clothing, reluctant to let go. I find myself captivated by the flaky texture of the heart-shaped puff pastry (often called “Butterfly Cookies”), coated with a thin layer of granulated sugar; however, I never imagined that the recipe consisted of so few ingredients and such simple steps. I used a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Essentials of Baking by Williams-Sonoma.
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ lb (two sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
½ cup ice water
Stir together flours and salt. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and mix until the butter forms large crumbs the size of large peas. Pour in the ice water and mix just until the water is absorbed but before the dough forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, dust the top with flour, and pat into a rectangle ¾ inch thick. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. With the shorter side facing you, fold the bottom third up, and fold the top third down, as if you are folding a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the process of rolling and folding the dough two more times. Any time the dough begins to warm up and soften, place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes. After the third and final turn, warp the dough in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight. The dough can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
1 lb. Quick Puff Pastry (see above)
1 cup granulated sugar for dusting
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
On a lightly sugared work surface, roll out the pastry dough into a rectangle 18 inches long, 9 inches wide, and ¼ inches thick (it really helps to shape the dough according to these dimensions). Turn it once or twice as you roll and dust with more sugar. Position the pastry so that it’s longer side faces you, and fold one long end over onto itself halfway across the pastry. Fold the opposite end onto itself halfway across the pastry so that the two ends meet at the center of the rectangle. Sprinkle the pastry with more sugar and roll the pin across the pastry lightly. Sprinkle again with sugar. Fold each long side lengthwise again onto itself so that they meet in the center of the rectangle, and roll the pin across the pastry lightly. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg mixture lightly over half of the folded pastry rectangle without using all of the egg mixture. Fold the egg-brushed half over onto the other half of the pastry to form a long, thick rectangle. Roll the pin across the pastry lightly to seal. Place the rectangle on a pan and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes until well chilled. Position 2 racks in the oven and preheat to 400F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper (or foil). Place the pastry on a cutting board and cut into slices ¼ inch thick. Coat the cut pastry with granulated sugar and place them on the prepared pan, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until they are caramelized and brown (about 13-17 minutes), turning once halfway through baking to ensure even caramelization. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Although the repeated process of folding of the pastry dough may seem like a confusing and somewhat complicated process, you’ll find the tedious process quickly forgotten with each bite of this beautiful and delicious pastry.
Using some leftover Quick Puff Pastry dough, I decided to make Cheese Straws. Simply roll out the dough and brush lightly with the egg mixture used above (1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water). Sprinkle the flattened dough with salt and pepper. Top with your favorite cheese (Parmesean, Cheddar, etc). Cut the dough into strips about 1/2 inch thick, carefully twisting each strip and pinching the ends. Bake at 400F and enjoy! I’m not a big fan of cheese, but this dish was surprisingly enjoyable.
My school held its 15th annual student-hosted International Fair today, where students are introduced to the food, sports, games, fashion, and music of different cultures from the Chinese to the Samoans. Other than mahjong (a Chinese gambling game), tinikling (a Filipino folkdance around sticks), and Indian henna tattoos, the most fascinating aspects of the fair were the different tastes, textures, and appearance of the food of different cultures. Students prepared and distributed small samples of Mediterranean Pita bread, African Jambalaya rice, French fondue, Chinese Chow Mein, and Vietnamese Cha-Lua. Although I did not find enough time to try most dishes, it was fun and interesting to learn the distinguishable tastes and appearances of traditional dishes of different cultures. I managed to take a few photos.
I’ve finally completely my first official (and very long) post to this blog, and I feel almost the same as I felt when I baked my first batch of chocolate chip cookies: proud and accomplished. See you soon!
[edit 02/09/08] I made these cheese straws again with parmesan cheese instead of cheddar cheese, a replacement that I would not recommend, for the pastry grew nearly tasteless. Either stick with cheddar cheese or bury the dough in several layers of parmesan cheese (and more seasonings).