You know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that? --Ratatouille (Pixar, 2007)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Very Sad Day in Chefville

Hey guys,
All is not well these days in Chez Scolnic.
In the interest of having a good time cooking and having fun in the kitchen with my friend Elyse Roat. We attempted a usually simple and delightful recipe and ended up making it more difficult than necessary for ourselves. Elyse and I set out to make a caramel apple tart. Seems easy enough--right? WRONG.
Now that's not to say this recipe isn't a good one to use and one that can be very successful, it's just there were two mistakes that could have been easily avoided had we been a little bit more careful. In the interest of letting all of you--my favorite readers--succeed, I'll give you the recipe the correctED way, so that you don't make the same mistakes I did.
First-- The crust of the apple tart, or any good tart for that matter, should always be (in my opinion) a pate sucree. A deliciously crisp, sugar cookie-like crust, pate sucree is not only the best tasting but also the easiest tart crust to make and assemble. Ingredients are as follows:

2 C flour
.5 C sugar
5 Oz chilled unsalted butter, cut into pats about 1/2 oz thick.
1 full egg
2 egg YOLKS (beaten together)
1 TBSP Milk
A Pinch of Salt

While this recipe can be done by hand, or in a bowl, ideally, I always do it in a food processor. Combine all of your dries (flour, sugar, salt) in the processor. Add in the cut pats of butter and pulse the processor until combined. In a separate bowl, beat the egg along with the yolks and combine with the milk. Then, pour that mixture in with the dries and pules until moist. Finally, you can take your mixture out, and by hand (as shown below) press your crust into a tart pan by small increments.

Once you have your whole mixture pressed in, put the pate sucree in by itself to bake for 10-16 minutes (until JUST LIGHTLY golden brown) before even putting anything into it.

Next comes the filling. While the pate is in the oven, peel and slice 4-6 red delicious apples (amount varying on size). You want to cut them as thinly and uniformly as possible in order to ensure the most efficient and effective baking time possible. Try to cut each apple slice at about 1/8 an inch thick. When you're done slicing, put all of the apples in a bowl and coat them generously in cinnamon and nutmeg. Next--A PART THAT WAS FORGOTTEN IN MY TRIAL. Add in about a quarter cup of brown sugar to your apple mixture. If you don't have any sugar, your apples will end up overly dry when cooked. However, the sugar will melt into a nice sauce to keep everything moist and delicious instead of shriveled and gross. Notice how my apples are just a bit dry in the picture below (After cooking for 8-12 minutes).

The last part of the recipe was the hardest part--and the only part I can truly say Elyse and I really messed up--well it was really just me messing it up. Caramels are hard..and are pretty dangerous. Brushing the border between scalding sugar and burning it, it's never easy to decide when to transition with your caramel or stir it, or stop for that matter. However, I'll do my best to help you make the best caramel possible.

1 Cup of White Sugar
.5 Cup Water
6 TBSP of Salted Butter
.5 Cup heavy cream

The most important thing about making a caramel is having all of your ingredients ready to be put into the pot. Making caramel is a fast process and you won't have time to stop to measure anything out or top off any cups, all ingredients need to be ready to go or something will burn while you aren't looking.
First, combine the water and sugar in a tall sauce pan (2-3 qts in maximum holding value). Stir mixture continuously as the sugar water begins to boil and the water begins to evaporate. As the sugar mixture turns brown, stir in butter until it melts. Once the butter melts, take your pan off the heat immediately and say "O-N-E Mississippi." Right after that last i, whisk in the heavy cream. Odds are, your caramel may foam up, but keep whisking and it will eventually relax and start to look like a real caramel. *Disclaimer-- IT WONT LOOK LIKE OUR MESS-UPS BELOW. WE DID MANY THINGS WRONG. YOU MIGHT NEED TO TRY YOUR CARAMEL A FEW TIMES BEFORE YOU GET IT RIGHT! ITS ALL NATURAL.

Drizzle caramel over apple tart and let cool and harden.

You just made a caramel apple tart. WHADDUP!
Credits to--
The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill for teaching me how to make the best Pate Sucree when I came to their cooking camp at age 10--I've never forgotten how!
New York Times Hipster Food Section--The bad caramel mishap came out of one of their recipes--this is a revised version, with more clear instructions as to ensure less room for error.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Original Recipe--APPLE STRUDEL TIME!

Hey guys--
So today I tried something that is almost totally foreign to me, but way more fun than anything else in the whole area of cooking. The new concept I experimented with is simple. You take a recipe, look at it, then throw it out the window. The only rule to my process is that you should probably consider only using this technique when you are cooking with ingredients that you are familiar with. For me it was easy. Reason why--Everything I used in this recipe I had dealt with before.

That being said--the recipe I'm going to give to you looks a little tough from the gitgo. The two main aspects of a good apple strudel are the filling and the phyllo dough crust. While you may know how to make a good filling easily, the part that could trip up most chefs is working with the phyllo dough. The paper thin dough has good days and bad. However, when you keep trying to pry apart your dough and it continually rips and creases, it wont matter how brilliant filling is if there's nothing to put it in.

However if you are having trouble with your phyllo, have no fear I do have a few solid tips for you to be aware of. First, as you can see below, whenever working with phyllo you should keep whatever portion of it you aren't currently using covered with a damp towel or cloth. That way the dough won't dry out or flake when you try to use it later. Secondly, never get to excited--working with it takes time and patience. If you try to move too fast when working with it you'll just rip every sheet you try to lay out. The last thing about phyllo is that no matter what your recipe says, you might not be able to pry each individually layer apart separately and might need to lay out your layers by twos or even threes of phyllo. It's better to have a little much phyllo than to have one dinky ripped layer.

Alright--enough talk. So the recipe. There is a lot of room for movement and alterations, because this was basically just made up in my head while I was cooking. Thankfully my batch turned out delicious.

About 2 pounds of 'red delicious' apples (4-8 apples depending on size)
1 and 1/2 cups of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of white granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1/2 of a tablespoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of honey
8 tablespoons (a stick) of butter.

Phyllo Dough stuff/Things for assembly of strudel--
A package of phyllo dough from the store (nobody makes their own phyllo lets be honest)
1 stick or more of melted butter
Pastry brush to brush said butter onto said phyllo
A small amount of crushed graham crackers
Raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Diced and toasted Hazelnuts or Almonds or both. (optional)

First before even looking at the dough, you should get your filling in order because it'll need to cook. Heat up a relatively deep pan on your stove top with the stick of butter cut into pats melting in it and leave it all on medium heat. While that gets warm, peel all of your apples and cut into thin slices <1/4 inch thick. The thinner the slices are, the quicker they'll get done and the less likely someone will be to run into a crunchy piece of apple in your strudel. As your butter finishes melting, stir in the brown sugar. Important: reduce your heat marginally at this point, brown sugar and butter burns easily. If it burns, you might as well start all over because everything will just taste like burn from that point on. In addition to reducing the heat, keep stirring the sugar because if it stays too stationary it could burn as well. Next add in the apples to the melted brown sugar, stirring them until they're coated with the mixture. Here's them moment where you really get to make choices. You can choose to add or not any of these ingredients in larger or smaller quantities based on how your mixture is looking. If it's already really sweet--don't add the white sugar! Not all of it is necessary, most is based on taste preference. Add in the Cinnamon and Nutmeg, followed by the white sugar. Stir through. Lastly drizzle the honey in and stir. Put a top on the mixture and reduce the heat to low and let it simmer.

As this is going melt the butter for the phyllo in a separate saucepan.
Let the apples cook for anywhere from 8-20 minutes depending on how thick your apple slices are, stirring every few minutes or so. Once the apples are bendable and soft they are done. Strain the apples out of the liquid mixture and put them in a bowl.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Now you're on to the assembly. Make sure you have a clean, good surface to work on, and then you can start by unrolling out your packaged phyllo and taking your first two sheets of phyllo off the top slowly and putting them on the surface.
Brush the top with butter and sprinkle a small amount of the graham cracker crumbs on. Next take two more sheets and place them on top of that and spread brush more butter on.
Now you're going to want to spoon out a little bit of your apple mixture to one side of your phyllo like so:
Sprinkle your optional ingredients on top of the apples along with a little more of the graham cracker crumbs to soak up any extra liquid so the strudels won't get soggy. This formation for the apples ensures your rolling of the strudel to be successful.
Finally, roll up your strudel in a burrito like fashion shown in the picture below.
Place your rolled strudel on the baking sheet that has parchment paper on it or is greased seam side down and garnish as you will with the dried fruit from the inside or just graham cracker crumbs and butter. Repeat this process and make as many strudels as you have phyllo and apples for. The more the merrier!
Bake for 12-18 minutes or until the tips of the phyllo are golden brown.

These looked better in person..the light here was shifty so i had to use a flash.

Yay no websites to credit because this recipe is all mine.