Pecan-Oat Lacies with Orange



"Miss Arielle, which Puffle are you?" G. asks, pointing to a chart of character personalities in a book which is based on a video game which is based on penguins. "You're the Yellow Puffle," he says, hardly pausing. "You're just like me."
I can't say I'm flattered, since 9 year old G. will soon be an orthodontist's fantasy and his white polo is daubed with a rainbow of every McDonald's sauce. (I'm trying to decide if he was hired by the Clorox test lab or if he is just a blossoming Jackson Pollock.) However, I am touched and a little surprised that G. feels that he knows me. Kids are perceptive and I started wondering if I might really be the Yellow Puffle and just hadn't realized it before. Maybe this 4th grader sees what I can't.
After what seems like many years of hurtling forward like a horse with blinders, I'm finally getting a chance to pause and assess what's been left in the wake. Unfortunately, this means some serious pride-swallowing and Etch-A-Sketch shaking.
Last week I watched G. stand in the parking lot, one hand on his hip, the other pinching a chunk of sidewalk chalk, as he leaned back and squinted through smeared glasses to evaluate his large scribble. I felt tempted to advise him to focus on long division and keeping his shoes tied instead. Appalled at how jaded I've become, I wish I could channel his 4th grade freshness to blow life into new fantasies....so, to make room for some, I've been gritting my teeth and sifting through the jar of dreams to scrap all the ones that have settled on the bottom, in crumbs.

These are some fragile, crumble-prone cookies. They break. It happens. The shards taste as good as the survivors. They are also extremely simple for looking so elegant.

Pecan-Oat Lacies with Orange

  • 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 C firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2-3 T flour
  • 2 T milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 C old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 C chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350°.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, milk, salt, and vanilla. Stir in the oats, nuts, and orange zest. Drop by round teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets, LEAVING 3 INCHES between them--THEY SPREAD. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly brown. Let them cool on the sheet for about a minute until they are hardened enough to move. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to rack to cool completely.


Epiphany 2010: Galette Des Rois



Yesterday I was coerced into playing jump rope. I had the horrifying realization that I don't remember how to "jump in." It's no fun to be reminded how time turns teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around into a rhyme for putting this teddy bear into a noose.

I'm not crazy about celebrating my birthday and luckily I have another holiday as a buffer.

If you were born on January 6th, the calendar might say "Epiphany" on your birthday. It might also say "King's Day" or "Twelfth Day" (of Christmas). You'd be a Capricorn, which might make it hard for you to distinguish between work and play. It might also make it hard for you to relinquish control of your puff pastry to the makers of the frozen variety (even if you know they sometimes do it better, or at least, do it consistently). So, unless it's your birthday and the idea of spending a day disciplining butter sounds like a celebration, go ahead and buy a box or two of the frozen stuff for this recipe.
King's Day celebrates the day when the three kings finally arrived to the baby Jesus, bearing gifts. (I wouldn't mind frankincense, myrrh and gold {hint hint} but this year I got myself Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads, rolling pin rings, and a garter belt.) This birthday year I'm hoping for the "epiphany" and expecting the Mardi Gras.

My students have been raving about what they do on my birthday, a.k.a Dia De Los Tres Reyes Magos, namely eat Rosca de Reyes and tamales. The Rosca is an enriched bread topped with candied fruit and concealing a plastic baby Jesus. Mexico and Spain both make this kind of cake. New Orleans eats a similar thing, often filled then iced in Mardi Gras colors. Greece buries a coin in an orange-scented pound cake calledVasilopita, and France+neighbors hide a bean or fancy "feve" in a Galette des Rois. There are varying traditions and games regarding who gets the hidden treasure. I was feeling inspired by the idea of the whole world eating cake on my birthday, but having a hard time deciding which version to make. The French kind seems like a good place to start, since that's how I grew up. The traditional filling is a frangipane cream. I topped it with a pear. I used a whole Brazil nut as my "feve," since the idea of having to explain why you were choking on a Donald Duck figurine to an EMT seemed too embarrassing.

Galette Des Rois

Rough Puff Pastry:
  • 1 C butter (2 sticks), frozen
  • 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 bread flour (or use all-purpose)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • <1/2>

Filling:
  • 4 T butter, softened
  • 1/3 C powdered sugar
  • 1/2 C ground blanched almonds
  • 2 T flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • pinch of salt

  • one pear, sliced
  • 1 T butter

Egg Wash
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T milk
  • powdered sugar for dusting

For the pastry:
1. Mix the flours, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Coarsely grate the frozen butter over the dry mix. A grater disc of the food processor makes light work of this. Gently toss the flour over the butter to coat. Sprinkle ice water over then mix gently with a fork. You should be able to squeeze a handful without it crumbling apart. If it's too dry add another spoon of water. Don't overwork it.

2. Dump the mixture out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and divide into 5 portions. With the heel of your hand, smoosh each portion forward a couple times to flatten the butter. Then scrape them all together and flatten into a 6-7 " square. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.

3. Working on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle of about 21 x7". With the short end facing you, fold into thirds like a letter: top third down and bottom third up over dough, brushing off excess flour as you fold. Rewrap and chill for 30 minutes.

4. Remove dough and place it on your work surface so the 3-layered edge is facing you. Roll out again into a 21x7" rectangle and fold into thirds again. Rewrap and chill for another 30 minutes.
5. Repeat the rolling, folding, chilling 3 more times. The last couple times, brush the surface of the dough with ice-water as you fold. This creates steam that will help with the "puff" when you bake it. (This technique is from Shirley Corriher's BakeWise.) After the last folding, chill for at least an hour.

For the Filling:

1. In a food processor, blend the butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Add in the ground nuts and blend. Add in the egg and extracts and pulse until incorporated. (Filling can chill in the fridge for a few days, if needed.)

2. Heat 1 T of butter in a pan. Lay in pears and cook, flipping once, until starting to brown. Remove from heat.

Assembly:

1. Divide the chilled dough into half, reserving the half you are not working with in the fridge. Roll out each half into a 12" square, transferring each to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then cut out a 11" circle from each half. On one of the circles, score (not cut) a 9" circle (basically, use a knife to draw a border 1-2" in from edge). Cut out a 1/2" hole in the center of this circle, for a steam vent. If you like, score curved lines radiating out from the vent to the scored border. Chill both circles in the fridge for 30 minutes or freezer for 10.

2. Preheat the oven to 450.° Place one rack on the lowest shelf and one in the upper third.

3. Gently beat the egg with the milk to make the egg wash.

4. On the un-scored circle, brush the egg wash as a border on the outer 1" edge of the circle. Then spoon the almond filling in the center, spreading to 1 1/2 inches from the edge. Hide your bean, nut, baby Jesus, or feve somewhere in the filling. Arrange the pear layers on top of the almond filling. Lay the scored circle, scored side up, on the filling and press the edges of the two circles together to seal. Seal it good. Crimp or notch the edges. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

5. Bake on the lowest shelf for 15-20 minutes. Then transfer to the upper shelf and bake for another 10-20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool a little, and serve warm. (The assembled but unbaked galette can be kept in the fridge overnight.)

Roasted Parsnips and Quince with Orange and Balsamic


Parsnips and quince seem like such perfect companions; I wish I'd thought of this earlier. Both are a little sweet, a little earthy, a little wintery, and rosy-creamy colored. Quince, like apple, turns caramely when roasted. Unlike apple, it holds its firm texture, making it a cinch to include with slower-cooking root vegetables.
I love how simple and flexible roasted vegetables are. I find it a great solution to the straggling carrots, onions, potatoes, etc. that would otherwise die, withered and lonesome, in my vegetable drawer. Here, the orange juice/zest adds a spark of brightness and the balsamic lends some depth. Both play up the roasted sweetness of the vegetables. I've left this recipe open-ended, since you can throw in whatever you have on hand.

Roasted Parsnips and Quince with Orange and Balsamic

All measurements are approximate.

  • 1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/2 lb carrots,peeled and cut into 1" pieces
  • 1-2 quince, cored peeled and cut into 1" pieces
  • 1 red onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/8- 1/4 C orange juice
  • zest of a half lemon
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Toss everything together in a bowl and then roast on a lined baking tray in a preheated 400° oven until tender. Or cook by layering under a roast or chicken.