How Potica could change your world

If a cinnamon roll and a loaf of brioche bread got together and had a love child while on honeymoon in Slovenia, it might result in this week’s culinary adventure.

Potica (pronounced po-TEET-sah).

In the Slovenian-American community, it is the go-to dessert/breakfast item for special occasions.

Christmas. Potica. Easter. Potica. Wedding. Potica. Anniversary. Potica. Birthday. Potica.

With good reason. This is the stuff of which addiction (and weight gain) is made.

In the version we are preparing for you today, Potica is an enriched yeast dough rolled as thin as the skills of the Slovenian baker allow; spread with butter and a mixture of English walnuts, cinnamon and sugar; drizzled with honey and rolled into a loaf.

potica_loavesIs it a pastry? A bread? A cake?

The web is awash in debate – at least among the American-born descendants of Slovenian immigrants who see it as their heritage/tie to the mother country.

Reknowned Slovenian ethnologist Dr. Janez Bogataj (You’ve heard of him haven’t you?) refers to it as a “cake.” And, while its tempting to let the man who wrote the seminal work on the “cake” – Potice iz Slovenije (Poticas of Slovenia) – have the final word, we feel like doing so would signify that we have given in to the European Union on its Monsanto-esque quest to control food commerce.

Say what? European Union? Monsanto? Culinary commerce control? Where did all of this come from?

I thought we were talking about a cinnamon roll/brioche love child that might be a bread…or a pastry…or a cake.

We are. We will. But nothing is that simple.

Let’s call it the Slavic butterfly effect.

A stuffed shirt in Slovenia flaps his gums about the need to define and protect Potica.

Potica is a cake. Potica dough must be made only with nine specific ingredients. There are only 40 recognized fillings. It must be cooked in a clay or metal cylindrical mold with a circular protrusion in the center. It should originate from a certain region.

We need laws. ‘Protect Potica,” is the rallying cry. Give Potica European Union protected food status.

Laws are passed. Time goes by. The United States begins recognizing international  trade  law. The owners of the Rocky Mountain Potica Company in Evergreen,  Colorado whose Slovenian family has been making Potica for hundreds of years get a cease and desist letter from the European Union telling them they cannot market their product as Potica because it is baked in loaf form and several of their products such as the “Elvis Wrap and Roll Potica” with its peanut butter, honey and banana filling don’t adhere to the EU’s 40 recognized filling standard.

The owners of the Potica company fight the lawsuit, which is joined by Elvis’ estate. Their multi-million empire (built on the food formerly known as Potica) is bankrupted. They reorganize and reopen under the name Rocky Mountain Nut Roll company but the company owners and their children remain more than a little bitter. And not just regarding the business. Their heritage – its preservation and evolution – has been impeached.

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but is it really that far-fetched?

Most people have become accustomed to making a distinction between “Champagne” and “Sparkling wine.”

Why? Litigious society.

Three European Union schemes of geographical indications and traditional specialities, known as protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG), promote and protect names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs. They are based on the legal framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs. This Regulation (enforced within the EU and being gradually expanded internationally via bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries) ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed to be identified as such in commerce. The legislation first came into force in 1992. The purpose of the law is to protect the reputation of the regional foods, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.

These laws protect the names of wines, cheeses, hamssausages, seafood, olivesolive oils, beers, Balsamic vinegar and even regional breads, fruits, raw meats and vegetables.

Foods such as GorgonzolaParmigiano-Reggiano, the Waterford Blaas,[4] Herve cheeseMelton Mowbray pork piesPiave cheeseAsiago cheeseCamembert, Herefordshire CiderCognacArmagnac and Champagne can only be labelled as such if they come from the designated region. To qualify as Roquefort, for example, cheese must be made from milk of a certain breed of sheep, and matured in the natural caves near the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron region of France, where it is colonized by the fungus Penicillium roqueforti that grows in these caves.(Wikipedia)

Do these measures protect food heritage? Corner the market on the food product’s commercialization? Both?

Who decides when a food item’s evolution stops or whether/when it is entitled to be called by a specific name? Courts and governing bodies?

In the case of Potica, we hope that the hundreds of thousands of Slovenian-Americans who have developed a food heritage over the last couple of hundred years and might not fit exactly into Bogataj’s metal or clay mold will be considered.

Regardless, we’ll continue to eat the Slovenian-American sweet and savory versions of Potica and call it by the name it earned at the hands of grandmothers who handed the food tradition down to subsequent generations.

The recipe that follows may or may not be Potica.

potica_detailPotica recipe
Ingredients
1.5t active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk, warmed
1 cup butter, softened
6 egg yolks
1.33 cups mil
5 cups flour
1t salt
Filling and coating
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup honey
6 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup sugar
1T cinnamon
dash of salt
1. In a mixing cup, dissolve yeast, 1t sugar and 3T flour in the warm milk. Mix and let stand 10 minutes
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with remaining sugar (beat 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy) on a medium setting on your mixer. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the reserved yeast mixture, remaining milk, 4 cups of your flour and the salt. Mix using a rubber spatula until there are no white flour spots and a dough begins to form. Add the remaining flour a half cup at a time. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes).
3. Lightly grease a large bowl. Place the dough inside. Cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).
4. Make sure your walnuts are finely chopped (use a food processor) or they will tear the dough when rolled. Combine them with the sugar and cinnamon. Reserve.
4. Place parchment paper on two cookie sheets. Remove dough from bowl, divide into four equal pieces. Place one piece of dough onto a lightly floured pillowcase (or if you think you can keep it from sticking – a lightly floured countertop). Roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide and 1/4-inch or less thick.
5. Spread 2T of melted butter across the rectangle, making sure that it is well-covered. Use more if needed. Spread almost two cups of the filling across the dough. Drizzle the filling with 1/4 cup of warm honey. Begin rolling from width (not length) as you would a jelly roll. Every two turns prick the dough with a fork. Pinch the ends closed and place seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown at 350-degrees fahrenheit. Internal temperature should be 180-200 degrees depending on how well done you like your dough.
7. Remove. If possible, allow to cool before eating/slicing. Some folks say day old Potica is the best because the filling has more opportunity to permeate the dough/bread/cake/pastry.

Alfajores. One dulce treat.

If we ever make our way back to Argentina, there are a handful of things we are going to gorge ourselves upon.
1. Grass-fed Argentine beef. We grew up around cattle operations and the beef industry, but the best beef we’ve ever put in our mouths was in Argentina. Hands down.
2. The garlic-butter sauteed calamari at Broccolino’s in Buenos Aires.
3. The honey-glazed medialunas (flaky, tiny croissants) at a hotel near Iguazu Falls.
4. Anything from Francis Mallman’s restaurants.
5. Mate – A hot beverage that is brewed much like tea using the leaves of yerba mate, is more prolific in its consumption than Starbuck’s and has a much more social element to it.
6. And last, but certainly not least, Alfajores. The subject of our recipe post today.

In Argentina, the alfajor (Pronunciation: All-fah-whore) is probably the most consumed sweet/confection and, like American barbecue, varies from region to region. The entire country seems to have been raised on them.

You’re born. You’re weened. An alfajor is shoved in one hand and a mate/guamba (the gourd/cup out of which one drinks mate) is placed in the other. A year or so later you eat your first kilo of medium-rare, grass-fed steak and you’re eligible for an Argentine passport.

The exact origin of the alfajor is unknown, but it likely dates back to Spain’s occupation by the Moors. The word is derived from the Arabic word al-fakhur or alaju.

The Spanish variant is different from those found in the Americas (which likely evolved after they were brought over in the hulls of ships as rations for Spanish soldiers post-1492). In Spain, it is usually cylindrical with a filling and is made from flour, almonds, honey and spices such as cinnamon. The Arab influence is obvious.

While there are several variations throughout Argentina (and South/Latin America in general), the most common may best be described as a layer of dulce de leche (gooey “milk candy”) that is sandwiched between two shortbread-esque cookies and coated in powder sugar.

Every baker, grandma and cookie company claims theirs is the best – or even the original. Like so many other dishes that are a matter of national pride, there are a million variations and ways of eating them – though most of the purists we know say they must have dulce de leche between the cookies and that they are best once the cookie has had enough time to absorb the filling.

Whether you get adventurous and roll them in coconut, coat them in chocolate, change the filling or otherwise set off on your own culinary journey, we’ll let you be the judge.

Alfajores: Argentina's best-known sweet. Dulce de leche ("Milk candy") sandwiched between a pair of shortbread cookies.

Alfajores: Argentina’s best-known sweet. Dulce de leche (“Milk candy”) sandwiched between a pair of shortbread cookies.

Alfajores recipe (adapted from chow.com)

1 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup flour

1t baking powder

1t baking soda

1/4t table salt

8T unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks

1T Grand Marnier

1/2t vanilla extract

1 cup dulce de leche (recipe follows)

Powdered sugar for dusting

Dulce de leche recipe

1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop can of sweetened condensed milk in pot and make sure water covers it by a couple of inches. Boil it for 3 hours. Remove. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes. Remove lid (careful, hot liquid may ooze out). Remove contents to a container and reserve. Voila. Easy Dulce de leche.

2. Whisk all dry ingredients except sugar together and reserve.

3. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment on it and mix on medium speed until it is light and fluffy. Stop and scrape sides down a couple of times during this process. (About 3 minutes)

4. Ad remainder of wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.

5. Turn your blender to “low” and gradually add/mix your dry ingredients until there are no dry white spots evident.

6. Turn dough onto plastic wrap, shape it into a disk, wrap and place in refrigerator until firm (1 hour or longer).

7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

8. Remove dough from freezer. Unwrap. Place it on a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle the top with flour. Roll it to quarter-inch thickness and stamp out 24 “cookies” (rerolling dough as necessary until it is all used).

9. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets and bake 12-14 minutes until cookies are pale gold on the bottom (the tops shouldn’t brown).

Un alfajor.

Un alfajor.

10. Remove from oven. Allow to come to room temperature. Flip half your cookies upside down and spread 2t of room temperature dulce de leche to them. Put a top on them and dust with powdered sugar.

Halva. When you just gotta halva something sweet.

Halva you ever had halva?
(***Forewarning: We will set the record for substituting “halva” for “have” in this blog post. Apologies in advance. It’s a punny world.)

If you just read that sentence with an Italian accent, you halva (geographically speaking) missed the mark, but it’s fun to do.

Anyway, after a long evening of food and drink last week that didn’t feature a dessert, we were craving something sweet. I turned to the woman to whom I am married (I’ve been told it’s sexist to say “my wife” as it implies ownership and women shouldn’t be treated like chattel, but I digress) and said, “I’d like to halva something sweet.”

She didn’t get my pun, as she had never heard of halva before.

After all, it’s not like we can just run down to Abilene’s Jewish, Persian or Greek market (or restaurant for that matter) and just pick some up.

The versions we’ve had most are Tahini-based, sweetened with honey and loaded with nuts such as pistachios. And, we’ve had textures that range from an extremely dense, chewy taffy to a crumbly, dry and sweet nut butter.

Halva is a dessert that takes on a couple of different forms (nut butter based or flour/vegetable based) and any number of flavor combinations. Confectioners who sell it – most commonly in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and parts of Europe – add all kinds of extracts and ingredients to tantalize their customers’ palates.

And, it’s ancient. There are indications that forms of it halva existed since about 3,000 B.C.E., although the first written recipes for it show up in the early 13th Century in the Kitab al-Tabikh (Arabic cookbook: The Book of Dishes).

The Yiddish word “halva” is derived from the Urdu word “halwa,” which means “desserts” or “sweet.” The recipe we halva for you today is similar to a Jewish version that we have eaten, meaning that it is of the nut butter variety (nut butter and honey cooked until it is a candy).

The other branch of the halva family tree is flour- or vegetable-based and usually involves semolina flour, butter and sugar that is cooked into what folks in our part of the world (The South) identify as a roux that is eventually formed into a cake/pudding.

For your edification (eatification?), our recipe today will be an interpretation of a nut-based halva, utilizing honey and peanuts, which are much more abundant and available in our part of the world than sesame butter (Tahini). Not to mention, that peanut butter will likely serve as a better gateway drug to the “real thing” for our audience.

If you like peanut butter and honey, you are going to want to halva some of our halva.

Our peanut butter, honey and pretzel halva recipe follows all of the Halva puns that Julie (the woman to whom I am married) edited out of the main body of this post but that I sneaked in here at the end.

Perhaps we have been misinterpreting/mishearing some of these. What did they really mean?

I halva dream – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
Halva nice day – Harvey Ball, 1963
Halva. Coke. And A Smile – Coca-Cola, 1979
Halva nice life – My girlfriend in high school
Halva blessed day – Every Wal-Mart cashier ever
“B**** better halva my money” – Rihanna song, 2015 (something tells us these aren’t the civil times of Harvey Ball)

Peanut butter and honey halva with whole roasted peanuts.

Peanut butter and honey halva with whole roasted peanuts.

Halva Recipe
1.5 cups of all-natural peanut butter (If you want the best quality, buy some peanuts, roast them and then grind to a paste/butter in a Vitamix)
2 cups of honey
2 cups of filling (peanuts, crushed pretzels, etc.)

1. Using a candy thermometer, heat honey in a heavy-based saucepan to at least 240-degrees Fahrenheit. This is known as the softball stage. The higher the temperature, the more solid (less chewy) the halva will be. We stop in the 260-degree range. Reserve. (We really shouldn’t have to make this warning, but hot sugar burns. It also has been known to sputter. Please wear appropriate clothing. Today isn’t your day to cook in the buff.)
2. Heat peanut butter to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Add peanut butter to honey and stir until incorporated.
4. We like to pour our mixture into a Vitamix and run on “high” for a few seconds until the mixture is very smooth. (Warning: If you have a low-end blender, be careful. You will burn up its motor in no time because the mixture is so thick).

Peanut butter and honey halva with pretzels.

Peanut butter and honey halva with pretzels.

5. Quickly incorporate your mixings (peanuts, crushed pretzels, etc.)
6. Pour into an oiled loaf pan or Pyrex dish and allow to come to room temperature before wrapping in plastic and placing in your refrigerator.
7. Let it sit 24-36 hours in the refrigerator so that the honey is well-crystallized.
8. Remove and cut.

***Note: Halva will remain good for a few months in the fridge, provided it is wrapped and in an airtight container so that it doesn’t start to take on the funk your refrigerator has developed from not cleaning it often enough.

And, you don’t necessarily have to refrigerate it if you are going to eat it within a week or so and you don’t live somewhere like Texas where the temperatures approach those of the sun, melting it and leaving a puddle on your kitchen counter (lesson learned).

Czech yourself before you wreck yourself – Povidla (plum) Kolaches

A friend of ours of Czech descent brought us a bag of extremely ripe plums from his backyard tree last week and said he had run out of ideas of what to do with this year’s bumper crop.

Plum sorbet? Plum jelly? Plum skillet cake? Plum compote? Broiled plums with Moscarpone? Plum Crostata?

Povidla!

The second we thought of it we knew that was what the doctor had ordered. We were transported to Central and East Texas where my mom’s family hails from and where Czech mothers and grandmothers of our friends (all whose names seemed to end in “ek”) once let us gorge ourselves on the fruit butter/sweetener/spread that they had tucked away in their cupboards with neat rows of other preserves in Ball and Kerr jars.

Never had it? Think of the apple butters or other fruit butters you are used to but made from sweet, sweet plums.

Sweet nectar of the old Slavic gods. We had forgotten about this everyday preserve that today we consider a delicacy (primarily because we have no idea where we can find any of it).

Slather it on biscuits, pancakes, toast. Bake it into cakes. Top kolaches with it.

Mmm. Kolaches.

Povidla is literally the original kolache topping.

And, unless you are going to travel to East or Central Texas, Czechoslovakia or Moravia, you are going to have to make it yourself.

After making ourselves a batch of Povidla one night last week, we got a hankering for the kolaches of our youth.

Instead of making a dough that we knew would require three separate rises, we set off to town to purchase one from a bakery.

Now, we didn’t expect to find a Povidla Kolache, but we figured apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese might be within spitting distance of where we live. After all, we know a lot of folks with Czech surnames in West Texas.

Trips to three donut shops – all of which claimed to have kolaches – left us “Novak – ing” (the Czech equivalent of the surname Jones) for the real deal.

And thus begins the rant and an open letter to the proprietors of local bakeries, pastry and donut shops.

A Kolache consists of a dollop of fruit filling (and only fruit filling – unless it is cheese or poppy seed based) rimmed by a pillow of enriched yeast dough. It is round – the word ‘kolache’ coming from the word ‘kola’ which is wheel in Czech.

What it isn’t:

A pig in a blanket. It is not croissant dough, biscuit dough or even yeast dough wrapped around a link sausage or ‘Lil Smokie.

The Czechs do make a baked good that consists of a link sausage surrounded by the same kind of dough used in making kolaches. It is a klobasnek. (Even Czech kolache shops do sometimes call these kolache because it easier to ask, “what kind do you want” than to teach ‘Muricans a knew language).

Please don’t advertise kolaches if you don’t have them. It hurts our hearts.

End of rant/open letter.

Long story short. We came home and made our own, which is what we should have done in the first place. And unless you are around Caldwell during its Kolache Festival or West during West Fest or any number of East Central Texas towns where there is a Czech bakery (Calvert, West and even Houston), you’re probably going to have to make them yourselves.

Povidla formula

The Povidla we grew up eating was simple but time consuming.

  1. Remove the pits from as many ripe, ripe plumbs as you can get your hands on. If you don’t have at least five pounds (preferably 20 or so), it isn’t worth your time.
  2. Put the plums in a heavy bottom pot. Add half a cup of water. Bring to a soft boil (medium heat) and stir occasionally.
  3. Continue until your plums have broken down almost all the way to liquidy, pulp with skins (about 1-1.5 hours on a low simmer)
  4. Transfer the plums to a blender and blend until it is a smooth puree (this is my nontraditional take).
  5. Return to the pot and continue to cook and stir at a simmer until it is a thick batter/paste.
  6. Taste and add sugar to your liking (a half cup at a time), making sure to cook the Povidla until the sugar has melted off and become completely incorporated. (If you have extremely ripe plums, you don’t necessarily need sugar. It also depends on the plum’s variety and tartness)
  7. Can as you would a jelly. (I once ate Povidla from a jar without permission and my friend’s mother told me that it had been at least five years since she canned it/that she didn’t know there was any left in the cover. I never got sick/am still here).

Kolache recipe (makes 24)

2.25t yeast

1c warm milk

.5c unsalted butter at room temperature

2 large eggs

6T granulated sugar

1.25t kosher salt

zest from two lemons

4c bread flour

Egg wash

1 large egg

1t cream

1t water

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk with sugar.
  2. Add butter, beaten eggs, salt, lemon zest.
  3. Add two cups flour and turn it with a rubber spatula until it absorbs the liquid.
  4. Continue adding remaining flour in half cup additions until you have a workable dough.
  5. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes or until it is smooth and when allowed to sit for a second contracts.
  6. Place the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  7. Punch the dough down. Knead briefly. Return dough to oiled bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in bulk.
  8. Punch the dough down. Knead a couple of turns. Divide the dough in three equal pieces (about 390g in weight) and form three separate balls.
  9. Allow the dough to sit for 10 minutes (relaxing the gluten)
  10. Put parchment paper on a baking sheet.
  11. Cut each ball into eighths and roll the little triangles into balls before pressing them into half-inch tall circles on the baking sheet.
  12. Cover the dough with a moist towel or plastic wrap that has been oiled and allow to rise for an hour.

    Use a spoon to create a well for your Povidla or other fruit/cheese filling.

    Use a spoon to create a well for your Povidla or other fruit/cheese filling.

  13. Using a spoon, create a well in the center of each piece of dough, leaving a half-inch rim on the outside.
  14. Brush the rim with the egg wash.
  15. Fill the well with 1-1.5T of Povidla or fruit/cheese filling of your choice.
  16. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
  17. Cool on a rack and eat within a day or freeze for up to three months.
  18. Reheating instructions from room temperature product: place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.

Anpan. Why you should try Japanese sweet bread.

Anpan – A Japanese sweet roll filled with a sweet, earthy paste made from the Azuki legume (It can also be filled with a white bean, green been, sesame or chestnut mixture). Julie thinks these are a heavenly, not-too-sweet dessert or a great start for your day with a cup of coffee or glass of milk.

When I think Japanese food, I think of the wild, recent popularity of Ramen, incredible Sushi, Tempuras, Soba, Shabu-Shabu, Yakitori and various incarnations of rice and fish dishes.

What I don’t think about is bread.

Most Japanese would probably shutter at my culinary stereotyping, but then again, it was a Japanese woman on a plane out of Chicago who, after hearing I was from Texas, asked me about riding horses to school, my ranch, my oil well and what it was like to live in a third world without many paved roads.

I was amused rather than offended (she did, after all, get three out of four correct – I won’t tell you which three), so hopefully my Japanese friends and acquaintances won’t be offended by any shallow observations that preceded or that follow.

Back to bread – in this case the Japanese sweet roll known as Anpan.

To understand today’s recipe, you have to understand something about Japanese history (everything ‘Mericuns needs to know is in the next couple of paragraphs).

In the early 16th Century, there was no bread in Japan.

In 1534, the first Westerners arrived in Japan. The Portuguese to be exact.

Like most folks from the West, they came with a Bible in one hand and firearms in the other. The Japanese, who were in the midst of a series of civil wars, wanted the guns and, since trade often hinges on other concessions, they allowed Catholic missionaries into the country.

Folks began rapidly converting to Catholicism. The Japanese, having learned what they needed to know about the firearms biz and realizing that this whole Christianity thing could upset politics and lealty, shut their doors to the West in 1636, threw all foreigners out, kept their own people at home (Japanese couldn’t leave their homeland) and began a practice of exclusion/seclusion that would last until 1854.

This included a decree forbidding the consumption of Western food.

No biggie. Bread had not caught on during the West’s century-long field trip to Japan and it would be another two centuries before the West was allowed a visitor’s pass, which would open the door to the Japanese adoption and adaptation of Occidental foods and practices.

Once the doors were back open, it would take about 20 years before we got our gluten hooks into the Japanese in a way that would never let go. It seems Western bread wasn’t to Japanese taste without a little tweaking.

In order to promulgate more ‘Mericun ignorance, simplify history and entertain rather than educate the masses, I have to let you know that it was a Samurai who invented Anpan, the first Japanese bread. (A picture of a guy in armor, carrying a sword sells a better blog post than some guy in a white apron covered in flour).

Actually, it was a displaced Samurai (The rise of a conscript Imperial Army put the hired sword out of business. Baking and protecting feudal lords evidently have a number of parallel/transferable skill sets).

A Samurai-cum-baker, Yasubei Kimura, married the Western concept of yeast bread, for which the Japanese hadn’t developed a taste, with Japanese tradition by using a yeast employed in making Sake and filling the slightly sweet bread with Anko (a sweet paste made from Azuki beans that has a long-standing place in Japanese cuisine).

It was a flavor profile that the Japanese could appreciate.

Bread in Japan was born and waistlines across the country began expanding – especially once a Meiji emperor asked to be fed the dish everyday (The country went wild for Anpan after this – It was kind of like when Princess Kate wears a new hat – it sells out instantly).

Anpanman - The Japanese superhero with a head of Anpan.

Anpanman – The Japanese superhero with a head of Anpan.

The rest is modern history, including the birth of Anpanman – the equivalent of our Mr. Rogers, Elmo and Sesame Street.

The Japanese superhero with a head made out of Anpan that all Japanese children have grown up with for the past 50 years has sold more than 50 million books in Japan alone, been the star of television series and movies (at a rate that shames anything Western), and his face is seen on virtually every good that is marketable to children – video games, food products, toys, etc.

Go Anpan(Man)!

Anpan sprinkled with sesame seeds and sea salt.

Anpan sprinkled with sesame seeds and sea salt.

AnPan recipe (adapted from Angieisagirl.wordpress.com, conversations with Shinobu Rowe and the Wagashi Maniac blog)

Ingredients

For the bun:

3 cups bread flour

7T caster sugar (pulse cane sugar a few times in coffee grinder or food processor but don’t go all the way to powdered/confectionary texture)

3T milk powder

4t instant yeast

3T beaten egg

6.75 oz warm water

4T butter, softened

for the filling:

18oz. azuki beans

15oz sugar

2t baking soda

Confection-making (Wagashi) is an art form in Japan, including the making of Anko (red bean paste) of which there are many varieties. What follows is a version of Anko known as Tsubu-an.

Confection-making (Wagashi) is an art form in Japan, including the making of Anko (red bean paste) of which there are many varieties. What follows is a version of Anko known as Tsubu-an.

The filling is what is the most time consuming.

1. Wash and sort the beans.

2. Soak your beans overnight, stirring in 1t of baking soda after they’ve been soaking about an hour.

3. Discard soaking water and place beans in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and just barely cover with water. Add another teaspoon of baking soda. Bring to a light boil over medium heat. Boil lightly for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add 10oz cool water and return to a boil.

5. Add another 10 oz cool water and return to a light boil (the beans shouldn’t be jumping around).

6. The beans will begin to break down into mush (you don’t want to turn up the heat and push them to this point. Let it happen slowly, without stirring and at a temperature that isn’t going to burn the beans to the bottom of the pan).

7. You should have beans that are thick enough that they look almost like a refried bean. You should be able to make a shallow well in the beans without them falling into each other.

8. Check beans and make sure there is no perceivable grit to them.

9. Add half your sugar, turn your heat to medium-high, stir softly (you don’t want the beans to be too smooth) for 2-3 minutes.

10. Add the other half of your sugar and stir softly.

11. The beans should take on a sheen. Cook, stirring slowly and ensuring that your beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot (burned flavor will ruin this dish). Continue until enough moisture has been removed that you can see the bottom of the pot briefly when your spoon has been drawn across the pot.

12. Remove the bean paste, place in a container and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating.

For the rolls

Anpan - a Japanese yeast roll filled with sweet and earthy Anko (a traditional confection made from Azuki beans and sugar).

Anpan – a Japanese yeast roll filled with sweet and earthy Anko (a traditional confection made from Azuki beans and sugar).

1. In a large bowl, combine your flour, sugar, milk powder and yeast. Reserve.

2. Combine egg and warm water. Beat together thoroughly.

3. Mix until everything comes together then transfer to a lightly floured surface and begin to knead (adding flour as needed) until dough becomes smooth.

4. Rub softened butter across the dough and continue kneading until it is smooth and elastic.

5. Form dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow it to proof for 1 hour or until double in size.

6. Punch dough down. Divide in half and gently form a two discs with your hands (You don’t want to work the dough again). Take a sharp knife and cut each disc (pushing the knife straight down) into eight equal pieces.

7. Lightly roll each triangle into a ball and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover, and let proof for 20 minutes.

Anpan buns are formed by placing a golf-ball-sized portion of Anko in their center and then pinching the dough together to form a ball.

Anpan buns are formed by placing a golf-ball-sized portion of Anko in their center and then pinching the dough together to form a ball.

8. While the dough is proofing, remove your Anko (bean paste) from the refrigerator and create 16 small balls that are slightly smaller than a golf ball.

9. Mix together one egg and one tablespoon water.

9. After you’re dough has risen for 20 minutes flatten each ball into a disc that should be slightly larger than your palm.

10. Place an Anko ball in the center of each disc, lightly brush the edges of the disc with the egg white mixture. Bring the edges of the disc together and pinch to close above the Anko ball. Smooth your roll and place seam side down on the baking sheet.

Pinch your Anpan dough together and then place it seam-side down on your baking sheet.

Pinch your Anpan dough together and then place it seam-side down on your baking sheet.

11. Cover the sheet with plastic wrap and allow dough to proof another 40 minutes.

12. Preheat oven to 350 degree while waiting.

13. Brush tops of buns with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt (if you like something to offset the sweet taste).

14. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the buns are golden.

15. Remove, cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

16. Place any buns you don’t eat in an airtight container. To warm: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place them inside for 5 minutes. We try and eat them within a day, but I’ve known some to go two days.

When life gives you Burnt Lemon Curd, make Burnt Lemon Curd Ice Cream (with a Chewy Cardamom Ginger Cookie)

We’ve all made the kinds of mistakes that make you sick to your stomach.

This week, it happened to me as I was cooking lemon curd for a tea that was happening a few hours later. I’m a clean-as-you-go kind of cook, and I thought to myself, ‘I can get these dishes knocked out while my stove top and lemon curd are coming to temperature.’

Wrong. A layer of my lemon curd stuck to the bottom of the sauce pan while I was rinsing a bowl.

Normally I know better than to scrape the bottom of the pan after this happens, because you can often salvage the majority of your dish if you transfer pans and don’t scrape the burned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan into everything else that remains.

But somebody behind me said, ‘We learn from our mistakes.’

Instead of the five-finger-death punch to the throat that I wanted to deliver the person with the ill-timed platitude, I bit my lip and pushed the spoon into the soft, burned fat solids, which resulted in me scraping the burned bits on the bottom of the pan into the remaining lemon curd and completely ruining the dish.

I hustled to make another batch of lemon curd and made it to the tea on time, but being the world’s cheapest human I set aside the burned version thinking that there might be something I could do with it.

There was, and it turns out that the mistake was kismet.

I have loved burned and charred flavors since I was a kid – nothing overpowering mind you, but as an accent, I love how it offsets certain flavor profiles. Turns out, it is great with lemon curd.

I took the lemon curd and put it in the old Vitamix and whizzed away until you couldn’t see the little black bits, but you got that charred/burned flavor in the background.

Once it had set up, I returned it to the Vitamix with some heavy cream and milk which allowed for more subtlety. The lemon was at the front with a nice burnt finish.

A Smoky Cardamom Ginger Cookie and some Blackberries later and we were really in business.

Burnt Lemon Curd Ice Cream with Blackberries.

Burnt Lemon Curd Ice Cream with Blackberries.

Burnt Lemon Curd Ice Cream (adapted from Ina Garten’s Lemon Curd recipe)

Ingredients

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
5 large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Zest 3 lemons and put it in a food processor with the sugar. Pulse until the zest is well-mixed with the sugar.

2. Add the unsalted butter, creaming it all together.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the lemon juice and salt and mix until combined.

4. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and, on low heat (here comes the largest variation to Ina Garten), turn your back on the stove and go start doing your dishes until you realize something is amiss. Seriously, here is how I’ve recreated the effect. Set your stove on medium heat, put about a quarter-inch of the mixture in the sauce pan. As the pan really begins to heat up, draw your spoon from one side of the pan to the other in a manner that lets you see the bottom of the pan. Your curd will begin to sizzle and burn. You don’t need a whole lot of burned bits to affect the flavor of the rest (think of this as putting a slight char on the outside of a steak – only this is a liquid in a sauce pan). Scrape the burned bits and lemon curd into the rest of the lemon curd in another sauce pan and heat over a low fire until thickened, which should happen when the mixture reaches about 170 degrees.

***tip for cleaning the burned fat solids from the bottom of your sauce pan: fill it with water and bring to a boil, which will soften the burned layer so that it may be removed.

5. Whether I have burned the lemon curd or not, I always place my lemon curd in the VitaMix/blender and smooth it all the way out before cooling.

6. Let lemon curd come to room temperature and place in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.

7. Once curd is extremely cold, add three cups heavy cream and one cup whole milk and mix thoroughly before chilling in an ice cream freezer.

Burn-appetit.

Burnt Lemon Curd Sammich.

Burnt Lemon Curd Sammich.

The Smoky Cardamom Ginger Cookie I used may be found here http://food52.com/recipes/32272-smoky-cardamom-ginger-molasses-cookies.

This ice cream is outstanding by itself, but is over the top with this cookie and some room-temperature blackberries.

Let us know what you think. Please feel free to “Like” us here and on Facebook and share with your friends.

Olive Oil Orange Cake with an Almond Brown Butter Glaze

One of our goals is to share slices of life (and cake), recipes and dining experiences that one might not be able to otherwise experience for whatever reason – geography, income, trepidation about traveling, etc.

Today, Out of Abilene is taking you on another journey to New York City. Maialino is an awesome little trattoria at 2 Lexington Ave., which is about 1750 miles away from where I am right now. I’ve been jonesing for their olive oil orange cake, and I’ve lied to myself at least once a week for the past year, promising myself that I am going to recreate the experience.

Rich but subtle. Dense but not dry (in fact, it’s anything but). A crust on its top and outside walls. An interior so moist you wonder if it is injected with something or cooked with a pudding.

There is nothing I could think of that would be better with a glass of milk than a slice of this cake – unless it was perhaps a muffin-size version of it that would allow me to tell myself, “I’ll just have this one, and just this one is better than eating a whole slice.” Not to mention, a muffin gives me 360-degrees of crisp exterior.

Today, you can have both with a couple of different riffs on form (cake vs. muffin), long cook vs. short, high-temp cook and glazed or unglazed.

Whether you want olive oil muffins or cake, the recipe remains the same. Only the cook methods differ.

Whether you want olive oil muffins or cake, the recipe remains the same. Only the cook methods differ.

Maialino-inspired Olive Oil Orange Cake

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2t kosher salt
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/2t baking powder
  • 1 1/3cups extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 1/4cups whole milk
  • large eggs
  • 1 1/2T grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Out of Abilene Almond Brown Butter Glaze

  • 1/2 cup toasted almond slices
  • 3T butter
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 3T milk
  • 1/4t almond extract
  1. Depending on which of my methods you are going to follow, either preheat your oven to 475° F or 350° F. The former I call the cornbread method (heat a skillet, cake pan – if it can take it, or muffin tins) until they are smoking hot and pour the room temperature batter in for a nice, crisp exterior crust. The latter temperature is just your normal pour it in the pan and bake. If you are cooking a cake, you need a 9″ cake pan that is at least two inches deep. If you are cooking muffins, you need two, 12-muffin standard trays.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together all of your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder)
  3. In a second bowl, mix together all of your wet ingredients (olive oil, eggs, milk, orange juice and zest and Grand Marnier. I let my wet ingredients come to room temperature.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and combine until just mixed. Your batter should be smooth with no lumps, but you don’t want to sit and run your mixer on high and over mix.
  5. If you are using the cornbread method, ten minutes before you are ready to bake your cake or muffins put your cast-iron skillet or muffin tins into your 475° F preheated oven. Let them sit five minutes. Remove. Place 1T vegetable shortening in the skillet or a dot of vegetable shortening in each muffin tin. Return to oven for five minutes at which point the shortening should be at its smoke point. Remove your skillet or tins from the oven and roll/rotate them around so that the shortening hits all of their inside surfaces. Immediately pour your batter into them (for muffin tins: 3/4 full). They should sizzle and you should see an outside crust start to form. Return to the oven. Cook them for 8 minutes at 475° F and then drop your oven temp to 350° F and continue cooking for 30 minutes for the cake or 15 minutes for the muffins (or until a cake pik comes out clean). Remove. Transfer to a rack and allow them to cool for 30 minutes before removing them from their pans and then allow them to come to room temperature (about 2 hours for the cake and about another 30 minutes for the muffins) before you either eat them with a glass of milk or glaze them.
  6. If you are using the less-complicated, pop-it-in-the-oven method, coat non-stick muffin pans or 9″ cake pan with a thin coating of olive oil, place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan, pour in your batter and bake at 350° F. The cake should take about 1 hour before a cake tester comes out clean. Muffins take approximately 30 minutes. Allow them to cool 30 minutes before removing from their pans. Remove. Place on a rack. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving or glazing (unless you have a cup of milk handy) – approx. 2 hours for cake and another 30 minutes for muffins.

For the glaze

  1. Toast your almonds in a skillet on medium-high heat. Some color is good, but be careful not to over toast. Reserve.
  2. Heat your butter in the same skillet at a medium-high heat until it begins to change color, swirl and continue to heat as it takes on a brown color, being careful to remove it from the heat before burning it. It should have a nutty smell. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Add your butter to your confectioner’s sugar and mix.
  4. Add 2T whole milk. You should begin to get a paste. Add a third tablespoon and you should start to get a smooth paste that isn’t quite pourable.
  5. Reserve for glazing or….
  6. I heat the glaze for about 20 seconds in a microwave or until it is extremely pourable (significantly thinner than what you started with). Ladle it on top of your cake or muffins and then top with sliced almonds.

Next time:

How does a Whipped Moscarpone Basil topping sound?

Let us know what you think. Follow us here or at Out of Abilene on Facebook. Email Barton at barton@outofabilene.com.