Tag Archive: Baking

Love your dimples

focaccia

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Almost everyone loves focaccia, the semi-flatbread that is a cross between pizza dough, bread, and the love child of olive oil and salt. Here in Argentina it’s likely the hidden origin behind local favorites fugazza and fugazetta, and I’ve seen some versions that were made on focaccia, but these days, the majority seem to be on a pretty standard pizza base.

The bread’s origins are supposed to have been from the Roman incursions into the area of the modern day Middle East, where they discovered local, unleavened flatbreads – the things that we know today from their descendants of pita, lavash, and similar breads. These were and are used both to dip into sauces and spreads, and as an adjunct to eating by hand, using them as a scoop for whatever’s on your plate. The Romans apparently loved the idea and carted it back with them when they were sent packing.

Now, it’s pretty clear that this was the origin of the pizza, and the dough used for pizza making is definitely more similar to the flatbreads of the Levant. And, focaccia likely came about the same way. The name is an Italian contraction of the original Latin, panis focacius, essentially “bread from the fireplace” – a bread cooked directly in the hearth rather than in an oven or in a mold of some sort.

But what’s the difference between pizza dough and focaccia? For the most part they look fairly similar, other than that the exposed top of the latter gets browned and then drizzled with olive oil, salt and, usually, herbs. There are two big differences though, and they really are quite different breads. Focaccia contains a large amount of olive oil right in the dough, far more than a pizza dough, and also more liquid – a 1:1 ratio wet to dry ingredients. It’s a very wet dough and a bit of a pain to work with, but the results are well worth it to do it right.

If you have a mixer with a dough hook, save yourself a huge amount of effort and use it for this. It’s do-able by hand, but hard work.

Focaccia

½ kg 000 flour, or better yet, high-gluten flour (harina glutinada)
2 teaspoons table salt (10-12 gm)
½ cube fresh yeast (25gm) or 1 packet instant dry yeast
140 ml olive oil
360 ml room temperature water
sea salt
fresh rosemary and/or dried oregano

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl (if using a mixer, sift into the mixer’s bowl and run it on low to medium speed at this point). Mix the salt into the water and stir to dissolve – this will help distribute the salt better in the dough. Add the yeast, about a third of the olive oil, and two thirds of the water and mix well. Continue to add the water, a bit at a time, until it’s all incorporated.

If doing this by hand, pour another third of the olive oil onto a flat, clean counter surface and turn the dough out onto it (if you’re using a mixer, pour that third of the olive oil into the bowl and turn up the speed to medium-high). The dough will be very wet and sticky, almost like melted marshmallows. That’s fine, it’s exactly the texture you want. Instead of the usual pressing and folding type kneading that we’re used to for bread, you’re going to have to keep scooping up the dough, stretching it out, and sort of slapping it back down – get a good rhythm going of scoop, stretch and slap and just go at it for about 15 minutes. Gradually the dough will get less wet and stick and become very elastic and shiny (it will also incorporate most of the oil on the counter). In a mixer, speed it up to full and it will take about 7-8 minutes to reach the same point.

Put the dough in an oiled container and cover with a clean dish towel and let it rise until doubled in volume, about an hour. Unlike a bread dough, we’re not going to punch it down to knock the air out of it, we want as many of the air bubbles we developed as possible to stay in the dough. Pour about half of the remaining olive oil onto your baking tray, place the dough on it and gently press it out to cover the entire tray (a large pizza pan works well too). Cover with the towel again and let rise until doubled again, roughly an hour.

Use your fingertips and press dimples into the dough at regular intervals. Drizzle with the last of the olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse or flaky sea salt and the herbs. Place in a hot (220°C) oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until it’s golden brown on top and sounds hollow when you tap on either the top or bottom. Let cool. Eat.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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The 110 on TVP

Vegan Lahmajoon

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

You have that friend who’s a vegetarian, you know the one. Always going on about seitan and tempeh and quorn and tvp. You nod and smile as if you actually know what those are and then promptly excuse yourself, rush off to the nearest parrilla stand and order a vaciopan “extra jugoso” just to recover your inner balance and put everything right in the world. You know that, perhaps, you ought to be eating two or three fewer chorizos per weeks, but they’re just so darned good, and the idea of “meat substitute”, well, that’s a conversation best left for, well, never.

But, we’re going to have it anyway. You’re all grown up now, you can handle it. And today we’re going to tackle “tvp”, or “textured vegetable protein”. We’ll set seitan, or wheat gluten, to the side because here you either have to make it yourself or for the most part trek to Barrio Chino to buy it; tempeh, a sort of fermented version of tofu, is near non-existent; and quorn, a mushroom based fake meat has yet to hit this riverbank. But, tvp is all around us, you can find it in virtually any dietetica, where it goes by the monikers soja texturizada or carne de soja.

It sounds like something industrial, and when it comes down to it, it is. Somewhere, in an evil factory, someone is taking mounds of soybeans and extracting all the soybean oil from it, leaving behind a high protein, fat free, soy flour. Someone else is taking that flour and heating it up and pressurizing it, and then extruding it… yes, I used the word extruding early on a Sunday morning, and forming granules or strips or chunks of what sort of looks like a golden colored packing material. All sounds really appetizing and gets you revved up to run to the dietetica right now, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing – we eat all sorts of things that go through processes like this, and the cool thing about tvp is that it’s basically just 100% high protein soy – high protein like 50% by weight. It’s a completely blank, tasteless canvas, and is flavored by rehydrating it in whatever liquid you choose – most often something like a good soup stock, but you can use your imagination, where it takes on that flavor. From there, it can be used as a meat substitute.

Now, we’re going to start with the easy one – the granules – which basically, when rehydrated in a nice, dark, roasted vegetable stock, looks like ground beef. And that’s how we’re going to use it today. We’re going to make our very lahmajoon (or any of various other similar spellings), those lovely little open faced empanadas arabes that we find all around the town.

Lahmajoon – Armenian “Pizzas”

165 gm all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
approximately 175 ml warm water

2 garlic cloves
1 medium onion
1 small green pepper
120 gm TVP in granule
240 ml of warm vegetable stock (or water)
170 gm tomato paste
4 plum tomatoes (canned are fine here)
10-12 sprigs parsley
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve

Mix dry dough ingredients together in a bowl, add olive oil and mix well with your fingers or a fork until it resembles wet sand. Add water, a little at a time as needed, to make a smooth dough – soft but not sticky. Knead a few minutes, then form into six equal size balls, then let rest for 15 minutes. Roll out into individual rounds. Heat the oven to 200°C.

Rehydrate the TVP in the stock until it has absorbed all the liquid – about 5 minutes. Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley, green pepper and tomatoes. Add the TVP, tomato paste, cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper and mix well – you can even pulse all this in a food processor if you prefer. The consistency should be wet and pasty, like a thick spread. And, spread a layer of the mixture onto flour rounds all the way to the edge. Bake directly on the oven rack for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the filling is cooked through. If they begin to inflate in the oven like a pita bread, or pan arabe, pop them with a fork from the top. To serve, squeeze some lemon over the top and eat.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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The big panino

Ciabatta

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

We always have fresh bread around the house. Sometimes we buy it from a local bakery, but more often, it’s just something that one or both of us make every other day or so. No cultural offense intended, but the miñon that is ubiquitous on tables throughout Buenos Aires has, bluntly, the texture of a medicinal cotton ball and a flavor not much different. It amazes me, and many of my friends, that a culture so based in the history of its Italian and Spanish ancestors can mass produce such a pale imitation of the staff of life.

One of my favorites, for many uses, though especially for sandwiches (and those of you who read my blog know that I’m a sandwich fanatic), is the ciabatta, or “slipper bread”. In classic form it’s somewhat flatter than a more rustic Italian loaf, mostly due to being a very wet, soft dough, and, also is generally pinched in towards the center, almost hourglass shaped. In short, looking a bit like a bedroom slipper. The form maybe important in some presentations but isn’t key – it’s the process of making and working with a wet dough that gives this bread its unique texture.

There are two versions of the bread, one made with a starter, essentially a sourdough, the other a more “quick bread” style – and I’m going to hit you up with the latter because who among us has time to spend on making starters and all that? Now and again for a special occasion, you know? I also recommend using a mixer with a paddle attachment (rather than dough hook) – you can certainly make this bread by hand but it requires an inordinate amount of work.

Ciabatta – Slipper Bread

220 gm bread flour (000 or better yet, “harina aglutinada”)
80 gm semolina flour
300 ml warm water
1 packet dry or half cube (25 gm) fresh yeast
2 teaspoons (10 gm) salt
1 teaspoon (4 gm) sugar

In the bowl of your mixer place the warm water, sugar and yeast, give it a quick stir and leave it for a few minutes until the yeast is bubbling away. Add the flours and salt. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment – this dough is very wet and what you need to do is beat a lot of air into it. Start the mixer slow until it is all combined – the texture will be like a thick pancake or crepe batter.

Turn the speed up to fairly high and let it go for approximately 10 minutes. By this point the gluten will have developed sufficiently that the texture will be something like marshmallow. Turn the speed down to medium and continue for another 5-6 minutes (you can, if you like, switch to the dough hook at this point, particularly if it seems like the paddle is having trouble kneading the dough) – until the dough more or less starts to “climb” up and wrap itself around the paddle or hook.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, lightly cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place to double in volume. Remove from the bowl, split the dough in two (or more if you want to make small sandwich breads), and spread each half out in a rough disk on a floured surface – don’t flatten it too much, just stretch it out to about 25-30cm across. Starting from one side and using a pastry scraper or spatula, roll the dough up from one side to the other, then place on an oiled baking sheet. If you want to make the traditional form, use a large round cutter, or scissors, and cut an arc out of each side. Cover with the towel again and leave until doubled once more.

Bake in a very hot oven (200°C or more) until browned and crisp on the outside and it should sound hollow when you tap on it. Rotate the baking sheet once or twice during the cooking so that if your oven doesn’t heat evenly on all sides the bread will cook more evenly. Remove, leave to cool, slice and enjoy.

One of our favorite things to do with one of these big loaves is treat it almost like a pizza – we slice it in half horizontally, brush it with olive oil and stick it under the broiler to get golden. Then we top it with a mix of olive oil sauteed vegetables – zucchini, eggplant, tomato, onions, peppers, chilies, olives, and perhaps a little finely chopped prosciutto (jamón crudo), some salt and pepper. We pile those on the two halves of the bread, top with a good melting cheese – cuartirolo is a favorite – and a grating of parmesan, and stick it back under the broiler to lightly brown. Makes a fantastic dinner!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Red, White and delicious all over

Fagottini di radicchio

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

I’ve mentioned before that I often hear people asking about not just what one unusual vegetable or fruit is, but what to do with it. At my little neighborhood verdulería the proprietor takes great pains to call other customers over and ask me to explain what to do with one or another that he’s gotten in stock. Sometimes I think he goes and looks for something different just to see if he can trip me up – thankfully so far I’ve been able to hold my own in the recipe challenges.

‘Tis the season and all that, he’s recently gotten in all sorts of lovely winter vegetables, particularly things like cabbages and endives and the like. One of my favorites of the genre is radicchio, those glowingly beautiful heads of maroon and white leaves. Now, 99% of the time when I see them used in restaurants, they’re simply used in salads, providing a little bitter note and color in contrast to the sweetness and variegated green-ness of various lettuces. While delicious there, that wouldn’t be much of a recipe.

The interesting thing is, that like many other hearty vegetables of similar sort, that bitterness is tamed and changed by cooking – roasting and grilling are particularly good and bringing out the hidden sweet notes and tamping down the bitterness. Radicchio also pairs beautifully with nuts – walnuts and hazelnuts are personal favorites, and also with fruits in the family of pears, apples and quinces.

Let’s take a quick moment to just note what radicchio is – it’s a member of the chicory family – the same family of vegetables whose roots are dried and ground and added to coffee in many parts of the world to soften the bitterness of the brew. Ironic, no? The family includes radicchios (of which there are several types), chicory itself, endives – and not just the “Belgian” endive or witloof that we think of in its torpedo shape of pale green and white, but also frisée and escarole, which are both endives as well. Radicchio’s two most common varieties are the Chioggia – the globe shaped, cabbage like version that most of us are familiar with and which is the only one found here in BA, and the Treviso, which is shaped like a Belgian endive, but decked out in maroon and white colors.

So, on to the cooking, and my version of a favorite dish from the Veneto to tempt you into trying out a head of this little used vegetable….

Fagottini di Radicchio – Radicchio Pies

8 hojaldre (puff pastry) style empanada rounds
1 small head of radicchio (roughly 150 gm)
1 shallot, finely chopped
200 gm cuartirolo cheese
1 pear, diced small (½ cm)
12-15 hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Rinse and chop the radicchio, removing the hard core, and saute in a pan with oil, shallots, salt and pepper until the radicchio is just wilted. Remove from heat and let cool.

Empanada rounds are typically about 12 cm. You’ll need four of approximately that diameter. Take another four and cut out rounds using a cookie cutter of about 8 cm. Butter 4 ramekins that are 8 cm in diameter (you can adjust here – if you’ve got slightly smaller or larger ramekins, just adjust the dough diameters to fit) and line with the larger dough rounds, covering the bottom and up the sides. Divide the radicchio between the ramekins and then top with the pear dice and chopped hazelnuts. Divide the cheese in four equal parts and mold into a round and press down over the filling. Classically you’d also add a slice or two of white truffle just under the cheese, if you have a good quality white truffle oil, you could add just a drop or two at the most to the pear and hazelnut mix.

Beat the egg with the milk. Cover the filling with the smaller rounds of dough and press down to pack tightly. Fold in the outer edge of the bottom round and pinch together to seal well. Brush the surface with the egg wash and bake in a 200̊C oven for 15 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and puffed.

Remove from oven and tip each fagottino (“bundle”) out carefully (two oven mitts are a good idea here), brush the sides with more of the egg wash and return to the oven on the same baking sheet to brown the sides well. Serve hot or warm as an amazing little dinner party appetizer.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Batter up for pizza!

Gluten free pizza

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

This column started a few months back with a look at one of Argentina’s contributions to the world of pizza, the pizza a la parrilla, or grilled pizza. Now, as we all know, pizza is nature’s most perfect food, encompassing the fabled food pyramid in just the right proportions, or, when paired appropriately with pitchers of soft drinks and beers, the four basic food groups of salt, fat sugar, alcohol/caffeine. All the things we love to eat and love to hate because we know, somewhere in the dark recesses of our brains, that they’re just not good for us. It doesn’t stop us from diving in, but we know about it.

With the success of two recent columns heading into gluten-free territory, I decided to throw in one more, especially because after mentioning that I’ve come up with a good gluten-free pizza crust, I got hit with a whole bunch of e-mails asking for the recipe. Likely this will be the last GF write-up for awhile, although you never know. These things have a way of working themselves out.

Now, the first part of this is coming up with a decent gluten free flour mixture. Anyone who’s ever been subjected to most of the pre-mixes out there on the market knows that they have a tendency to come out with the color and texture of a dry-cleaner’s shirt cardboard. The flavor hovers somewhere between yuck and god-awful. And that’s surprising, because there are plenty of folk out there who’ve written blogs and books and actually come up with excellent alternatives to wheat flour when it comes to baked goods. Yet, the corporate giants of “food” production seem to think that if they makes something that tastes, looks, and feels good, no one will believe it’s good for them.

So, the crust. Tried and true by both us and numerous friends – those who weren’t on gluten free diets who we didn’t tell, didn’t spot the difference. That’s as good as you can want!

240 grams rice flour
80 grams potato starch
80 grams mandioca/tapioca starch
2½ tablespoons powdered milk
1¼ tablespoons honey
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 packet instant yeast or ½ cube of fresh
300 ml warm water
2½ tablespoons olive oil

Combine the last three ingredients together and set aside for 30 minutes until bubbly and yeasty smelling. Beat together with dry ingredients in a mixer (doing this by hand takes a lot of work to get it really completely lump-free). Let it rise for 30 minutes, covered, it should be bubbly and have risen a bit, though not as much as traditional wheat dough.

The dough will be like a very thick batter, it’s not something you can knead like a traditional pizza dough. Oil a pizza pan well. Pour the dough in the pan and press/spread it out evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes somewhere warm. Bake in hottest possible oven for 7-8 minutes on the bottom rack, until the top is just set and it’s starting to turn golden underneath. Top with your favorite toppings and return to oven to finish baking – about another 10 minutes.

Here’s my quick and easy pizza sauce for when you don’t have time to slow cook one:

1 can whole, peeled plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons each of dried parsley and oregano
1 teaspoon chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Cook garlic in oil until turning golden. Add other ingredients and cook for 20 minutes over low heat. Feel free to adjust it spicier if you like with more chili flakes, or fresh chilies.

After the dough is just set, as described above, spread as much of this sauce as you like on top of the dough, scatter the other ingredients, and top with cheese.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Spiced fish pie

Cod Empanada Gallega

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

We’re back to the world of empanadas this week, but something a bit different. When it comes down to it, “empanada” really just means “in bread”, a sort of misnomer since it’s usually pastry, not bread, but the point is made. We all know there are numerous varieties, from little teeny cocktail versions that are sometimes served at steakhouses as a nibbling appetizer or passed around at social gatherings, on up to big, fist sized sorts that are more ubiquitous. But it goes past that point – when in Santiago I was told about a local restaurant that places an entire boneless chicken inside of a giant pizza sized dough and bakes it that way, and even here in Argentina, there’s the empanada gallega, originating in Galicia.

Like many such recipes there are more versions of this dish than can be counted – but basically, it’s a pie. The Galician tradition tends towards pork – a mix of sausages and stewed meat, or, cod, often cooked similarly, and generally served up for Lenten, or in the past, Friday suppers. Here in Argentina it’s not surprising that when it’s a meat pie in the making, beef (often accompanied by pork chorizos) is the core ingredient, and when it comes to the fishy variety, the unfortunate use of canned tuna, which for me should be relegated to being mixed with mayo, celery, eggs and slapped on a sandwich (and never again used as a sushi topping, but I digress). I’ve also seen versions using tinned sardines, which delightful as they are on a pizza, are just wrong in a pie. There, I’ve said it.

I make this in one of two versions – I tend to buy the pastry crust – not that it’s hard to make, but they’re so readily available here that there’s little reason to. I either make individual sized ones using standard sized empanada doughs, or I make a pie sized one using the mid-sized doughs for pascualinas. The really big ones are great if you’re having a lot of friends over, but usually a bit much for dinner for the family.

Spiced Fish Pie

1 package of mid-sized pastry crusts or 8 individual empanada tapas
500 gm firm white fish (bass, grouper, cod are good choices), cubed
2-3 slices of serrano ham, chopped
2 white onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 chilies, chopped
1 large zucchini, sliced
leaves from several sprigs each of oregano and thyme
1 teaspoon each sweet and hot paprika
100 ml dry white wine
salt and black pepper
olive oil

Sauté the onion, garlic, pepper and chili in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until softened, roughly 5 minutes. Add in the zucchini, paprikas and herb leaves and continue cooking, stirring regularly until the zucchini are just softened, another 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and continue to cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and combine with the cubed fish (don’t precook it with the mixture or it will be overcooked after baking). Set aside to cool while you prepare the shell.

Oil a pie tin or tart pan and stretch one of the doughs to not only cover the base but also come up the sides with a slight overhang. Or, in the case of individual sized ones, just lay out four of the rounds on an oiled baking sheet. Spoon the fish and vegetable mixture into the shell – use a slotted spoon as we don’t need all the liquid that remains, there will be plenty from cooking the fish and vegetables to perfect done-ness. Pack it in well so that it forms a nice solid filling. Lay the other crust on top and fold in the overhanging edges of the first dough, pinching them together to seal nicely. Cut little vent holes in the top to let steam escape so your pie doesn’t explode in the oven. Bake in a medium hot oven (180°C) for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Remove, cut in wedges and serve. Dinner for 4.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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The G Spot

Alfajores maicenas

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

“Come on, throw us a bone.” Finally, proof that someone besides the editor has read my columns over the last few months. I was sitting in a restaurant, minding my own business, and someone walked up to me and asked if I was the guy from SaltShaker who also writes the weekly recipe for the Buenos Aires Herald. Seeing no escape, and anyway being pleased that someone actually knew about this column, I said yes. And he said, “You’re doing all these recipes to lighten things up, how about something for those of us who have to eat gluten-free?”

The G word. The latest fad to strike the diet world. Which is not to say that there is not Celiac’s disease, there is. There are also wheat allergies, which is a whole different thing unrelated to gluten. There are also, dare one suggest it, camp followers. Let’s get all scientific for a moment. Gluten is a composite of two proteins that are found in the seeds of certain grasses, particularly wheat, rye and barley. It is a protein that a good number of people have trouble digesting – symptomatically, around 1 in 1700 people have active Celiac’s disease – and the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

But, there are all these newfangled screening tests out there, and a whopping 1 in 105 people can show a predisposition, i.e., the genetic markers to develop it. And a whole lot of those folk have decided better safe than sorry, sometimes with, and sometimes without medical recommendation. Add to that the whole group of people who jump on bandwagons, with food gurus out there telling them to cleanse their lives of everything they ever enjoyed on a plate, and you get predictable results – every other person you meet seems to be “just a bit gluten intolerant”. For these folk, the only treatment is rolling your eyes, because you remember when last month they were doing a lemon juice detox.

I’ve talked with enough people who live on a gluten free diet to have gotten a good sense of what they miss – breads, pizza, pasta and pastries. That pretty much sums up most of what we’d make from the grains of gluten, and I’ve spent some time with several of them coming up with recipes that work. Tying all this in with this column’s Argentine bent, and pizza and pastries came right out on top. Since I’ve recently written up a column on pizza, we’ll hold that for a bit and hit that latter. What’s the snack treat that every visitor to Argentina gets told they must try? An alfajór, the sandwich cookie that oreos only dream of being.

Maicenas – Cornstarch Alfajores

Traditional cornstarch alfajores still contain a good amount of flour, usually 2:1 cornstarch to flour. In order to stabilize the structure you need a good flour substitute, in this case, part rice flour and part potato starch works, with a little extra baking powder for lift.

150 grams butter or margarine
100 grams confectioners sugar
2 extra large eggs
Vanilla extract
a few drops yellow food coloring (optional)
80 grams rice flour
50 grams potato starch
250 grams cornstarch
1½ teaspoons baking powder
dulce de leche or marmalade, and grated coconut

Cream butter and sugar together. Add in the eggs and combine well. Mix in the vanilla and food coloring and sift in the four dry ingredients. Mix well to make a smooth dough. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (particularly important if you use butter rather than margarine).

Roll out with a rolling pin to a 3mm (⅛”) thickness and cut into 3cm (1¼”) circles. Place on a buttered baking sheet (or non-stick). Cook 15-20 minutes in 190°C/400°F oven. Put a spoonful of dulce de leche (make sure it’s one not stabilized with flour) or marmalade on the underside of one and sandwich with a second cookie, press down lightly so that the filling very slightly bulges out, clean up edges to make it even and pretty and then roll the sides in grated coconut.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Let them eat cake

Crab pionono

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

On a purely observational basis as an outsider, it’s pretty clear that Argentines have a sweet tooth, or is that sweet teeth? Some days it seems there is a confectionary on every block in the city, tempting us with pastries, cakes, tarts, cookies, and more. Kiosks and drugstores display rack after rack of candies, cookies and the ubiquitous alfajores.

So it’s not really a surprise to find that, while not topping the charts, Argentina racks up an impressive per capita consumption of sugar – pretty much only coming in behind Brazil and Australia, and more or less tying for third place with Thailand at a bit over a whopping 40 kilos per person annually. Brazil and Australia, just for the record, come in at just over 60 and 50, respectively.

One of the oddest concoctions here for those of us from abroad is the pionono. At its base it’s simply a jelly roll, or Swiss roll, and there’s nothing odd about it when it’s wrapped around pastry cream or chocolate or dulce de leche or… well I could go on. Where it goes off the rails at first blush is when it’s filled with savory ingredients. Common choices are chicken or tuna salad, ham and cheese, cream cheese and olives, and similar sorts of fillings. The striking contrast between the sweet cake and the savory filling is, at first jarring to many who didn’t grow up with the combination.

Now perhaps it shouldn’t be, after all, I grew up in the Midwest of the U.S. where a Monte Cristo sandwich is a popular lunch treat – ham and/or turkey and Swiss cheese layered in bread, dipped in beaten egg, fried, and then served up topped with a fruit compote, maple syrup (our favorite), or powdered sugar. McDonald’s McGriddle breakfast sandwich of egg, bacon, cheese and maple syrup pancakes is a worldwide hit. The French bake Brie “en croute” and top with figs and walnuts. Salted caramel. Candied bacon. It didn’t take long for the savory-sweet combo of a pionono to grow on me, nor on many of my expat friends.

Still, I tend to find the versions at my local casas de comida to be a bit overbearing, often too sweet on the cake and too heavy on the mayo in the filling (the quantitatively impressive use of mayo in South America, particularly at the tables of our neighbors to the west in Chile, is another whole mystery to be explored one day). So, I make my own. While you can buy a premade pionono cake layer in most grocery stores and bakeries these days, why not give a try at one yourself, which also allows you to flavor it as you like?

5 eggs
50 grams sugar
1 tablespoon honey
60 grams 0000 flour
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (Japanese shichimi is great here too)

In a mixer begin beating the eggs at high speed until they are light and frothy. While the mixture continues to beat slowly pour in the sugar and honey. After about 6-7 minutes you’ll have a stiff, whipped mixture. With a spatula or large spoon, gently mix in the flour and seasoning (feel free to substitute dried herbs or other spices), making sure to get it nice and evenly mixed. One note for celiacs – gluten free flour mixtures, cornstarch, rice flour, and/or mandioca (yuca/tapioca) flour will work fine. The mixture will deflate some, not to worry. Butter or oil a baking sheet (roughly 28cm x 38cm), smooth out the mixture and pop it into a 170°C oven for 7-8 minutes until it’s lightly browned and firm to the touch. Remove, let cool for 2-3 minutes, and then loosen it all around with a spatula and flip out onto a clean kitchen towel. Immediately roll it up in the towel and leave to cool (just helps it hold its shape later on).

When cool, unroll and fill with your choice of savory fillings as mentioned above – one of our favorites is to spread it with softened goat cheese, then scatter thinly sliced endive, roasted red pepper strips, and fresh seafood (cooked) like crab or shrimp. Roll up, chill in the refrigerator, slice, and serve with everyone’s favorite here, salsa golf. Oh, there’s yet another topic for a column.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Sourdough Dreams

“It is important to understand the basic differences between the wild yeast of sourdough and the commercial baker’s yeast in most other breads. First sourdough yeast grow best in acidic doughs, while baker’s yeast does better in neutral or slightly alkaline doughs. Baker’s yeast is a single species, with hundreds of strains and varieties, while sourdoughs are usually leavened by one or more species in the same dough, none of which is baker’s yeast. Baker’s yeast is a highly uniform product that produces an equally uniform texture in bread dough. The wild yeast are anything but uniform, and they vary from country to country. But the most impressive difference between the two yeast types is that a single package of instant dried yeast produces just one batch of bread, while the same amount of wild sourdough culture produces loaf after loaf for the lifetimes of many bakers.”

– Ed Wood, Classic Sourdoughs

Local Breads by Daniel LeaderBuenos Aires – Though it was published last year, I just got around to reading through Daniel Leader’s Local Breads. I was particularly interested in this bread baking book because it focuses on sourdough breads from a number of traditional European cultures, and it’s a topic, good sourdough bread, that is, that comes up regularly in expat conversation here. A friend of mine recently went back to the U.S. to visit family and agreed to bring back a couple of different books that I’d wanted, so here was my opportunity. Daniel Leader is well-known for his award winning book Bread Alone that came out in the mid-90s – a solid introduction to the world of bread baking. This new book has gotten rave reviews, with only minimal criticism for at times being a bit technical and dense. I have to admit, I didn’t find it that way, but then, I’m kind of used to reading books of that sort.

I am, however, going to point out the emperor’s nudity… just a bit. Overall, I liked the book immensely. It was a completely enjoyable read, and his stories about different regions and his travels are engaging. His recipes are a little repetitive, giving overly detailed step by step instructions, over and over again – but then, most people probably are not sitting down to read the book cover to cover – they’re picking out one or two recipes and trying those out – so they don’t really want to be flipping back and forth to previously referenced techniques. I can’t really fault him there. I did find his writing to be a bit… hypocritically humble – hmm… maybe that’s not quite the phrase. He constantly bows and scrapes to the various bakers he talks about, as if each, in turn, is some sort of godlike figure in the world of baking – producing the ultimate loaf of bread of their style. He then turns around, one by one, and discusses how he took their product and “perfected it”. Beyond the presumption that he can take on the recipes of the gods (maybe he just writes about them as if they were on pedestals…), his regular assertion of his ability to turn these humble (yet deity-produced) loaves into his version of perfection, is a bit off-putting. Sort of like listening to that guy at a cocktail party who stands there while you’re talking, tapping his foot and waiting for his turn to tell you you have an interesting idea, but he has a better one.

My biggest problem with the book is his math. Initially, it didn’t catch my eye, until I hit the phrase in his section on German breads – “He told me that the average German eats a kilo of bread a week – about 10 ounces of bread a day.” and then goes on to talk about how this seems to be alot in comparison to Americans. Mmmm… no, a kilo a week would be 5 ounces a day, pretty much the same as the amount he talks about for Americans. Either he meant 2 kilos a week, or he simply got his math wrong. I would have just discounted it as a simple mistake, only when I started out to try his recipes, I found similar problems with the numbers.

I decided to start off with his section on liquid levain – a watery sort of sourdough starter that is all the rage amongst a certain group of French bakers these days. The levain itself turned out to be quite easy to make, a simple mix of 2/3 cup of water and 6 tablespoons of flour… hmmm… that is quite a bit of water, no? Left to sit with various stirrings and daily additions of 1/3 cup each of flour and water. Over the course of four days it turned into a bubbling, fermenting container of delightful smelling levain the consistency of light cream.

liquid levain - in the beginning
In the beginning – just mixed

liquid levain - after 48 hours
After 48 hours, with two additions of water and flour

liquid levain - after four days
After four days and four additions, bubbling and ready to use.

That was all well and good and I was excited and ready to go. My first inkling that something was amiss was as I mixed the ingredients for his Baguette à l’ancienne, an old world style baguette. He talks regularly in the book about doughs that are hydrated more than what we’re used to working with. But this was like thin pancake batter. He didn’t give a detailed description of consistency, merely that it would be far softer than what one would normally think of, and he does say it will be a challenge. At the same time, though he opts for machine kneading, he asserts that it’s possible to hand knead this dough, with care. that wouldn’t have been possible with this – it would have simply poured onto the counter and dripped off onto the floor. I looked back at the numbers in his recipe, and sure enough, his proportion of water to flour comes out pretty close to 1:1 – I mean, even a “wet dough” is generally only about 2/3 the amount of liquid to flour, and most people work with bread doughs that are more like 1:2. Top that with past experience here that the flours here need extra water in comparison to what I’m used to in the U.S., and something was clearly wrong. Still, I gave the mixer a try – he asserted that after 8-9 minutes of high speed mixing the dough would take on the consistency of a marshmallow. Maybe if it’s been melted over high heat…

Mini-sourdough loaves

So, I added in flour – high gluten bread flour in fact to help it develop some structure, almost 50% more than his recipe called for before I got something that was remotely marshmallow-like. At that point I wasn’t going to even try to shape this mess into baguettes and simply poured it into greased mini-loaf pans, let it proof for a couple of hours (it did rise… though slowly), and then baked out these little loaves. The taste was great – the lightly tangy sourdough flavor – and with the extra flour the consistency was okay – though not really baguette-like.

And, I moved on… more cautiously now. I’d already decided I wanted to also try his recipe for Pain de campagne, more commonly referred to as boules. I decided to approach this carefully, as looking at the recipe I could already see that the liquid to flour was at 85% and I wasn’t looking forward to a liquid mess. So I added only about half the water upfront, figuring on adding in more as needed. In the end, I needed very little more, a matter of a couple of tablespoons, and bringing the liquid ratio down to about 65%. From that, I got a nice, soft, pillowy dough, that fit his description perfectly. I continued with the rest of the process, and, voila! Boules.

Boules

Now, to this point, I’ve only tried those two recipes, in the section of liquid levain. I have yet to delve into the making of others, though I’m going to continue trying out various ones over the coming weeks and months. My sourdough starter is bubbling away, and I’m feeding it and chatting with it on a daily basis. I’ve read a few blog entries by various other folks who’ve tried different recipes (the most common choice seems to be his basic yeast baguette recipe, different from the one I tried above), that seem to have had good results.

So the question I’m left with is… is his math just off or is there something so very different about the flour here? If anything, I’d have expected based on past experience that if it was the latter that I’d have needed more water, not less, so it leads me to think his math is off, or the book wasn’t carefully proofread. More tests and trials to come….

Other last notes on the book – which may add credence to the proofreading hypothesis – there are numerous typos in the book when it comes to foreign words, a simple example, he refers to an Italian tomato bread as al pomodori – mixing the singular article with the plural noun – I realize that’s not something that everyone will notice, but it’s something he should have (it should be either al pomodoro or ai pomodori). And back to that sort of conceit mentioned above – he subtitles the book Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipe from Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers, yet, his travels (at least as detailed within the book), and recipes, only cover parts of France, Italy, Germany, and a very brief look at Czechoslavakia in search of one particular bread. Europe’s a whole lot more than that, and there are wonderful artesanal breads from many other countries and cultures – perhaps, who knows, perhaps better than the ones he terms Best.

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On Empanadas

What’s Up Buenos Aires
NEWS
January 19, 2006

On Empanadas

Empanadas
While not impossible to visit Buenos Aires and avoid sampling empanadas, it would be foolish. Argentina is known far and wide for its beef, and aficionados will argue the fine points of presentation from the parrilla or the asado. Yet probably no other item from the culinary repertoire engenders quite so much passion as the defense of one’s favorite empanada. Arguments range from “my grandmother made criollas that your grandmother wasn’t fit to eat” to “my favorite place has the most perfect… baked, fried, cut beef or ground, potatoes, olives, eggs, onions, or raisins, included or not… and I’ll take you there and prove it.” Culinary historians natter on about the origin of this bread enveloped pastry, tracing it back to Galicia in Spain, or perhaps to ancient Persia. To hear some of them go on, we’d need carbon dating to settle on the origin.

It would come as no surprise to find that every culture on the planet has some version of the empanada – from Middle Eastern fatays, to Asian pot-stickers, to Scandinavian pastys, to a classic savory turnover from France. Yet, there is something uniquely Latin American about the empanada. It would be difficult to put one’s finger on it – the dough is not unique in the pastry world, most often made from simple white flour, eggs, water, and lard. The fillings range from beef to pork to chicken to fish. The spices vary in accordance with local favorites throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean. The additions are too numerous to consider. Yet there’s something about them, when one picks them up, hot and juicy, that fits the Latin culture.

Argentines would argue that theirs are the best. That would be a hard claim to prove, but it would be a fantastically delicious exercise to sit down at a table laden with examples from throughout the empanada world. Certainly there is a wide variety of regional styles, thankfully most of them are available here in Buenos Aires (including examples from neighboring countries), removing the need to hop on colectivos and travel province by province to sample them. Here you can find garlicky, spicy catamarqueñas chockfull of potatoes, green onion packed salteñas, white onion filled san juaninos, touches of tomato and various cheeses in the tucumanas, salmon and tuna from the shore, or packed into Chilean styles, lamb and mushrooms from Patagonia, pumpkin based Venezuelans, and finely ground goat meat in the arabe styles. Cheese filled, corn filled, vegetable laden, or a wide variety of meats abound. Local shops may offer specialty versions, and it is worth seeking out something like smoky pancetta and plum, or spicy sausage and green onion, or even an Italian knockoff like a napolitana.

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