November 20, 2011

Powdery orange and cardamom "polvorones"


I’m not a big fan of christmas sweets, rarely do I buy “turrones” as I find them overly sweet. But, I’ve always had a special fondness for polvorones”. Since I was a kid, I loved to crash them in between my hands to then slowly enjoy the powdery and cinnamon-spiced mixture…also to try to speak with my mouth full with one! So, when I was in cooking school and they taught us how to make it, I was thrilled that I’d learnt to make it myself (very easy, in fact!)! Since,I haven’t tweaked the recipe much, just adjusted the amount of toasted almond powder (it’s gone to double now) and slightly lowered the sugar.

This treat is from the family of “mantecados”, sweets prepared with flour, “manteca” (that is, pork fat), powdered sugar and flavourings of choice (cinnamon, lemon rind, coconut). What differs the “polvorones”, which were developed in La Estepa (Sevilla) is that they include almond (almond meal and sometimes also chopped up almonds..I prefer it just plain powdery!).


One of the key aspects of their preparation is that the flour used must be slightly toasted. This is done for two reasons, first, to dry up the flour, but most importantly to break up the gluten proteins. I think I read it in my food science book of reference “McGee’s On Food and Cooking” who recommends it for sweet pastry for crumbly tart bases. Well, also the lightly toasted flour brings out a very particular flavour…so, make it 3 reasons!

Although polvorones are often sold just around christmas time, I like to prepare them any time of the year as a “petit four”, that is, just as a small sweet treat after dessert or to go with a coffee etc. So I play around with the flavours used, the traditional include cinnamon and toasted sesame seeds, sometimes lemon rind. So, I use different citrus peels as flavouring, add some coffee powder, cocoa (substituting some of the flour) or other spices, like in this case, cardamom. Feel free to add your favourite spices and even substitute the almond powder for some toasted hazelnut powder. Just note that in that case a little less “manteca” is used, since hazelnuts have more fat content as compared to almonds.

Orange and cardamom polvorones

aprox 240g all purpose flour* (once toasted only 200g will be used)

100g of toasted almond powder

75g of icing sugar (or prepare your own, processing with a spice mill)

100g of pork manteca (I like to use iberian pork fat, from El Pozo)

pinch of salt

grated rind of 1 medium orange (or 1 small lemon if you prefer)

about 1 1/2 tsp of powdered cardamom (or substitute for 1/2 tsp of cinnamon powder

*As the flour toasts, it will lose some weight, so make sure to always account for that loss toasting more than the amount you really need.

Preheat your oven to around 160ºC (best without the fan or some of the flour will blow around!)

Place 2 trays, one with the almond powder, the other with the flour and turn around once in a while so they toast homogeneously. Otherwise they will burn on the sides and be pale in the center!

You are aiming to get the almond powder like this, to bring out it’s beautiful flavour!


And though I forgot to take one of the flour on it’s own, here are both almond and flour toasted. I hope you can see the lightly toasted colour of the flour as compared to the white bowl. Just do not toast too much or it will get bitter!:


I like to sift the almond powder a bit, to remove any bigger pieces first and then mix with in a bowl sifting in the flour (remember to weight the right amount) and sugar. Add the spices and rind and the pork fat into chunks.

Begin mixing, at the begining it will seem like it’s never going to come together, just go on a bit and in no time you’ll magically see how it all forms a dough. That’s when to stop! Don’t keep on going or it will get greasier…The right texture is that it comes together, so if you shape a ball and press it down, which is the way it was traditionally hand shaped, it doesn’t crack..if it does knead a tad more, or if it doesn’t work, add a tiny bit more “manteca”.


By the way, for those of you thinking “yack, pork fat, I’ll just use butter instead”…I thought that too as I’m not a fan of “manteca”, but it just doesn’t work the same!It doesn’t come together the same way. You need much more butter to get a similar texture (which considering “manteca” is pure fat and butter is only about 82% fat, it’s quite reasonable, plus you’d be adding water, so the resulting texture is not as powdery, melt in your mouth!

So believe me, in this recipe, you won’t feel or taste at all the pork fat. First because it is a fairly generously “spiced” dough, but most importantly you need to cook it enough and any “manteca” flavour will be gone!By the way, here is the manteca I use:


Back to the recipe, once the texture feels right, shape into a flattened round (for easier stretching afterwards) and wrap it in some film and rest it for about 20-30 minutes well covered in the fridge.

You could stretch it with a rolling pin into 1,5-2cm thick with a bit of flour, but I prefer to do so in between some cling film pieces, or some parchment paper.

Cut into the desired size, I make them small, for a bite size, but it’s up to you (you can cut shapes or shape individually, just avoid cutters with very thin strips, as they are fairly delicate!)

When you are done cutting up, reshape all the dough into a ball and stretch again (that’s one of the reasons I use cling film, to avoid adding any raw flour into it). Then, cut some more..repeat until finished with the dough.

polvorones 2

If you like you can lightly press some toasted sesame seeds over the tops of the cut “polvorones”.

Bake in a 200ºC over for about 8 minutes for cookies under 4cm in diameter, like these ones. Note that all ovens heat differently so check yours, you may need to lower it to 180ºC. You are aiming to get a medium toasted surface all over (you’ll smell it too!). So, adjust if it is colouring too much, as you want the inside to cook as well.

Remove from the oven and DO NOT TOUCH! They are super delicate warm! You must let them cool completely before attempting to move them around!

polvorones 3

Dust with some icing sugar if you like…and enjoy!


Either biting into it or crushing it first (best if wrapped individually, though ;)this was just to show you the smooth & delicate texture!

polvoron 4

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November 7, 2011

An apple strudel to die for…

This is my first try at apfelstrudel, and though there’s always room for improvement, I was so overwhelmed by the results, I had to share it! I thought it’d be difficult and end up with a dough full of holes if I managed to get it thin enough to read through it. I researched all I could, read various recipes, watched videos to get a feel of what I was to do and put it all together in a recipe picking ideas from here and there. Though it is mostly known as an austrian specialty (from Viena) it is a dessert inherited from the austro-hungarian empire, which in turn adapted it from the turks. So, you can find excellent versions from Slovenia, Hungary, Trentino in the Alto Adige region of Italy and Austria amongst others.
Anyway, about the recipe, making the dough was a clear choice, as phyllo is too brittle and though it gives a crunchy result, it doesn’t take up flavours as well. I gotta also say that 3 days later, the strudel made with homemade dough is still crunchy!Just had to think about flour choice to have enough gluten to get that elastic but strong network (in Austria they seem to use a 700 type flour, with a higher gluten content, for what I’ve managed to find). Then, deciding the kind of apple to use, cooking or dessert apples, sweet or sour. I went for granny smith, as I wanted sour notes and figured they would lose less water to get the dough soggy. Maybe next time I’ll try “reinetas” (very sour cooking variety) or a mix of both, to get a more compote-like texture. I also preferred thinly sliced apples rather than grated ones and to marinate them a while before using to let the flavours blend before baking.
All strudel recipes include some ingredient to soak up the juices released from the cooking apples, traditionally breadcrumbs, either fresh or crisped golden with a bit of butter for better flavour (even with some sugar to lightly caramelise). I went for those, which I often use as sweet “migas” (crumbs) in various desserts. But other choices include finely processed almonds or walnuts (other than the ones added for a crunch) or crumbled up cookies, wafer etc. so choose to your preference.
Finally the distribution of filling before rolling; many recipes distribute all filling ingredients throughout the whole stretched dough, while others only across the bottom third. I though this to be better as the roll is reinforced so the filling doesn’t pierce the dough through the final layers. Also, it results in really crisp, well defined outer layers encasing the soft interior. So, unless (and even still if) you are using grated apples as a filling, I’d definately go for this procedure for a flaky outer layer that doesn’t get soggy. Whichever choices you make to adapt the recipe to your try it! It is easier than it seems, you just gotta keep some key points to get the dough right and the rest comes along and sooo very worth it!!Once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to adapt it to other fillings, sweet or savoury!

Apple strudel
(for 1 50-60cm long strudel or 2 half the size)
For the dough:

200g of AP flour
20g butter or vegetable oil
pinch of salt
about 90g of lukewarm water*

*you can substitute some water for an egg (the original recipe I meant to use included 1 small egg, as most recipes do) but I forgot to add it! but since the Rick Rodgers recipe used by Daring Bakers did not include I went on with it. Also you’ll see some recipes substituting water for milk, but it isn’t as common.

For the filling:
3-4 granny smith apples (about 700g, peeled and cored)
about 60g of brown sugar (granulated white can be used instead too)
60g of chopped up walnuts (I used pecans)
20g of raisins (you can add more to taste, or skip them)
some rhum to hydrate the raisins, about 30g
50g of fresh bread crumbs
25g-30g of butter to toast the breadcrumbs
100g-125g of butter, melted (or even better, clarified) to drizzle/brush over the stretched dough
some icing sugar to decorate
I suggest you first watch this video by Greg Patent to get an idea of the texture of the dough and the technique for stretching the dough. For stretching and filling this other video from an german bakery in Argentina is a good aid. Finally, in spanish this series of 3 videos by crazy argentinian chef Ariel Palacios is great to get an idea on some keys for a great elastic dough, though he makes it a bit more complicated. You can also refer to this excellent post for some step by step photos.
So let’s begin with the dough! simply place the flour in a bowl and mix in the salt to distribute it a bit. Add the egg, melted butter (or oil) and add the lukewarm water with some vinegar as you stir with a spatula or scraper until you get a rough mass.
*I think the lukewarm water is used to help developing the gluten, also the dough stretches best at  room temperature rather than cold (some traditional recipes even suggest placing the worked dough on a warm bowl or over a warm place).
Place the dough onto a work surface and knead it a bit. It ought to be slightly tacky at the beginning. Neither excessively sticky (in which case add some extra flour) nor hard, in which case add extra water.
Then you can knead the traditional way or slam it against the surface to work it for over 5 minutes until you get a smooth and soft dough. I checked gluten development with a membrane test, just to make sure, and it was almost fully developed.
Then, coat with some vegetable oil and wrap with cling film to rest for at least half an hour. I left it for about an hour, as I find longer resting helps with stretching afterwards. I read a Viennese trick to help making the dough elastic, but haven’t tried it: to place the dough in a bowl and cover with vegetable oil for at least 15 minutes. I just cannot be bothered to use that much oil just for this purpose…
Meanwhile prepare the filling. You could keep everything separate and arrange it over the pastry as you fill it, but I think macerating all together blends the flavours better. Plus you remove excess water from the apples. So, peel and core the apples and cut in half or fourths into thin slices. Drizzle with some lemon juice to avoid browning.
Grate in the peel of half a lemon (optional but it is sooo good!orange can go well too), add the sugar and cinnamon to taste (if you use sweet apples I suggest you cut down on the sugar).
Hydrate the raisins with the rhum. The quick way is to place in a small pan, cover with the rum, bring to a boil and simmer until the rhum is completely evaporated. Let cool and add the the apples as well.
Chop up the walnut to the size you like, I wanted them finely chopped.
Prepare the bread crumbs, just place bread in a food processor to get coarse crumbs and then fry with the 30g of butter over medium heat until you get a nice homegeneous golden colour. If you like, you can finish it off in the pan adding a pinch of cinnamon and a bit of sugar to let it caramelise a bit. Remove and cool.
Time to stretch the dough. Ideally do so in a table where you can go around, at least 2 or 3 sides to help you with the stretching from all sides.
Get an old smooth blanket or table cloth and place it over the table. This will help rolling later, as it will be so thin, it would break otherwise. Flour lightly and roll with a pin at first as thin as you can. Then, the hand stretching begins. Roll up your sleeven and lightly flour your forearms. You can use either, your palms or the back of your hand, whichever works best for you to stretch, just make sure you have no watch, no rings that could damage the dough (watch out for long nails too!).
stretching strudel
Begin tugging softly in a center to otward motion  going around the dough to do so evenly from all sides. Continue until you can read through it or see your patterned tablecloth! If you get any holes, though some recipes suggest patching, I wouldn’t bother, as it will be rolled over, so it’s not that big of a deal, until it is all broken up!
Aim to get bigger than 60 cm x 90cm, as the thicker sides with be cut/ripped off. When ready do cut the thicker sides and drizzle the whole of the surface with the melted or clarified butter.
I found it best to lightly distribute it with my hands as a brush can damage the thin dough. Some recipes even suggest drizzling after filling to avoid that precisely. Try what works for you.You don’t need a lot of butter or it will be greasy rather than absorbed by the dough (as in puff pastry). So just enough for a light coat to avoid the paper thin dough from drying out.
Then, distribute the bread crumbs throughout the whole surface (it could be just the bottom third, as the apples, but since it will not wet the dough, I preferred it throughout to enhance the layers). Then, the nuts (if they are very roughly chopped you may prefer to add them just to the bottom, as they can damage the layers. Finally place the macerated apples (not taking their juices in the bottom of the bowl, which can be used to make a sauce, they are sooo tasty!) in the shape of a log in the bottom.
filling strudel
Take the end of the cloth closer to you and roll away to encase the apples. “Strudel” in german literally means vortex, which is the motion of rolling the dough with the help of the tablecloth. If needed, add a bit more butter in the end, so the ends sticks.
turning strudel
The ends you can tuck underneath or twist (if too long, cut off a bit).
Now another tricky part…tranferring to your baking tray! You supposedly should use the cloth to slide it into your tray, but mine was so long, I used a thin board (left over from some Ikea furniture) which I used as a baguette board.
If the log is too long, you can either cut into portions that fit, in this case, in half (some people divide the dough in half to begin with to make two strudels, but I find it a waste of time) and bake it as such, or even stretch some leftover dough to close the open ends (no apple fell off during baking in my case, though).
Brush with extra melted butter and place in a 180ºC (fan assisted) or 200ºC preheated oven for about 40 minutes until nicely golden. Halfway through baking, brush with butter again and if you like at the end of baking a light brushing too.
Give it at least 20-30 minutes to cool a bit, sprinkle icing/confectioner’s sugar to taste and enjoy!!!
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November 3, 2011

For autumn,two delicious butternut squash starters


One from Ottolenghi, the other from Jamie Oliver…This year we planted a seed from a butternut squash that we particularly liked last winter and saved. Up until recently we’ve been enjoying the blossoms day after day but finally the few fruits the plant gives have ripened into extraordinary sweet and tasty butternut squashes.

I had not long ago watched some of Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals videos and in amongst others a sweet potato, potato, feta and coriander salad caught my attention. When I picked our first squash and decided what to use it for…Why not that salad substituiting the sweet potato for the butternut squash? I tried it and we loved it!!Super quick to make, incredibly tasty, a burst of flavours, sooo comforting! I still haven’t tried it with sweet potato, but I doubt it can be any better than this!


The other simple dish is from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, I wasn’t too convinced if I would like it when I tried it, as I’m not a big fan of toasted cured cheese (I love parmesan, but have never really appreciated those toasted parmesan lollies which every “fashion” restaurant seem to offer as an appetiser. But combined with the lemon rind and garlic flavours, the results are super crusty butternut squash slices on one side and a creamy baked texture on the other. I acompanied it with a quick version of a lemongrass and ginger crème fraîche from another recipe, which I find is a must to go on the side (and everyone from my family who’s tried it agrees!).

Butternut squash, potato, feta and coriander warm salad

250g piece of butternut squash

200g of potatoes

1/2 a lemon

a handful of fresh coriander leaves

about 70g of greek feta cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

I suggest you watch the Jamie Oliver video in which he makes the sweet potato original recipe. Though you can find it in youtube, I suggest you go to this page (as the blog has all his 30 minute meals videos organised, in case you are interested) and watch the second video starting from minute 8 to get to that recipe. I love how he does everything so rustic and with that laid-off style!

Anyhow, even if you dont, wash your potatoes and butternut squash skin well, as all goes in! Cut the potatoes in half or 3, depending how big they are and similarly the squash piece in 3 or 4.

Place all in a microwave-proof bowl with the half lemon right on top. Cover 2 or 3 times with cling film (if you have a flimsy cling film that doesn’t stick very well, I suggest you turn it around the bowl rather than cutting two pieces to cover the top)

Microwave at full power (mine goes to 1000 watt) for about 12-14 minutes..You’ll see it looks like it has made a vacuum. Break it open.

Butternut salad

While it’s cooking, chop up 1 chilli finely (if you prefer, you can skip it) the bunch of coriander roughly and cumble the feta on top.

butternut salad 2

Mash the cooked potatoes and squash with a fork a bit and dump over the feta and coriander (or dump and chop together). Season with some salt (maldon is nicer) and pepper and a drizzle of oil and mix it all together as you chop a bit more with the knife. If you have a nice board, like Jamie, serve right as it is, topping with a bit more fresh crumbled feta, coriander leaves and an extra drizzle of oil. If not, pour in the dish or platter of taste and do that.

Ottolenghi’s crusty butternut squash with lemon grass & ginger crème fraîche

about 500g of butternut squash

olive oil, to drizzle over the squash

40g grated cured cheese*

20g breadcrumbs **

2 garlic cloves, grated

rind of 1 large lemon or more to taste, grated

pinch of salt and freshly fround pepper

optional: some fresh herb of choice finely chopped, I used lemon thyme (he uses a lot of parsley and thyme

*The original recipe suggests 50g of parmesan. I like to mix it with a cured cheese with milder flavour. My favourite test yet was with a smoked cheese similar to idiazabal.So, to me parmesan is not essential.

**if you can get hold of Panko, do so for a crunchier texture!if not it’s better to coarsely grate you own dried bread rather than getting the fine powder crumbs usually available.

For the sauce:

125g of crème fraîche (or sour cream)

1 lemongrass stalk, outer layer removed & finely chopped

1-2 tsp of finely grated fresh ginger

pinch of salt

drizzle of lemon or lime juice

Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, then cut in about 1cm thick slices (just try not to make it too thin as you loose the creamy texture of the bottom part to contrast with the crunchy top)


Arrange over some parchment in an oven tray. Meanwhile preheat the oven to around 190ºC.

Mix all the other ingredients (I used a microplane fine grater for all; cheese, garlic and lemon rind) except the olive oil in a bowl. Drizzle some lemon juice over the butternut squash slices and distribute the crust ingredients amongst them.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top and tender inside. If you find it is toasting too soon, you can lower the heat to 180ºC.

crusty butternut squash

For the sauce, simply mix up all ingredients, add lemon or lime juice to taste.


Hope you enjoy them both!

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