Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Peruvian Equivalent of the Pumpkin

On a cooking forum website, some Chilean participants heatedly discuss with Peruvian participants about the lucuma, an exotic orange fruit, that has a thick skin like a melon´s. The forum facilitator writes: "The lucuma is native to Perú." A few posts down, the Chilean participants declare: "It is NOT from Perú! I always knew it was from Chile!" and the discussion gets stronger, as they go on to complain about pisco sour, another firing source of debate. 
In that genuine South American ambiance, we are pulled closer to these two countries, and can now imagine the Incas in MacchuPicchu, amongst green mountains, growing dozens of varieties of beans and peas. 

We can imagine them drinking llama´s milk, too. If we head down to the beach, we could have Peruvian ceviche, or a raw fish cocktail (silky soft morsels of fish meat that are bathed in orange juice and exquisitely adorned with purple onions, a side of sweet potatoes, and a sprinkling of corn kernels).
In the Peruvian lowlands, we would be able to find the lucuma, or zapote (the fruit´s name in Central America) which is a power food that is rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Its fruit or seed has been used to treat anemia, artherosclerosis, or leukemia. 
This second name comes from the aztec "tzapotl", which means soft fruit. It is grown in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as Perú and Chile; several varieties have been tested in Homestead, FL. Some sources state the fruit originated in Central America, then spread to the Caribbean and South America. Others argue that it originated in Perú. The fruit is fibrous, and 
Perú, the largest producer, offers cans of lucuma puree that are readily available to the public, and are exported around the world. The zapote from Central America reportedly has a slightly different texture than its Peruvian counterpart. Its buttery texture reminds me of that of the avocado, and is possibly what makes its fans rave about it: "The lucuma is my favorite fruit!" or "You can find other flavors of ice cream, but none is better than lucuma!"
Peruvian websites offer numerous recipes of lucuma desserts, such as:  panna cotta, dulce de leche,  meringue, etc. Here is a recipe for ice cream, which I imagine must be the best tasting dessert, because it has  a much more incredible effect in your mouth when the cream has been frozen, than when it is at room temperature.

2 zapotes or lucumas
1/2 cup of sugar
4 egg yolks
2 cups of milk
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Remove the pit and skin and any sour-tasting parts of the fruit and mash it by hand, or place it in a food processor. Leave the puree as smooth as possible. Cook the egg yolks, the milk, and sugar in a double-boiler until the resulting custard is thick.  Place it in a closed container in the freezer. Once it is frozen, take it out and serve it. Its creamy, fruity taste will be more delectable when the weather is hot.

Zapote/lucuma ice cream next to Peruvian llama miniatures


List of many fruits and how to eat them:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Far Breton

Roman-style vase in the mosaic in the background
In 1863, a writer from Nantes in Brittany chats with fellow thinkers and sits down to write about a young man who opens his garage with electrical power, does business by sending a facsimile 20,000 leagues away, and jumps into a magnetic train in Paris to reach his destination within the city in six minutes. This novel, Paris in the XXth century, predicted Paris of the 1960´s, though it was unfortunately not published until 1994. I read it four years later, when I purchased it upon my first visit to the French metropolis. 

Its author, Jules Verne, along with Fulgence Bienvenue(creator of the subway), are one of many famous Bretons that include: Jacques Cartier,  Lafayette, actress Marion Cotillard, and Anne de Bretagne, who ate the first almond galette des rois with her son. 
Jules Verne was said to have been inspired by the immense ships that arrived and left his hometown. However, the entire region of Brittany, with its vast archipelagos, and fringed by ocean waves that crash on the sands of its long coastline, holds many treasures. Dolphins and 37 protected species of animals bob in the waves. Its rich geological formations tell prehistoric tales, and hold Roman ruins. 
It is in this region full of cliffs and sea foam spray that the Far (which means flour) Breton was born. It wasn´t always sweet. Created in the eighteenth century in Brittany, its predecessor, Farz Fourn or oven baked Far, used to have buckwheat or wheat flour and was a savory pudding served alongside meat dishes. Cooks added more butter and eggs to turn it into a dessert that became more popular in all of France in the nineteenth century.  In the western side of France, it is filled with prunes; in other locations, raisins adorn it. This rich pudding is similar to clafoutis, with the difference being that the latter, from the Limousin region, is made with unpitted sour cherries and is less firm.  

The traditional far breton doesn´t have that much fruit
It is best served warm along with cottage cheese or apple or blueberry marmalade.
The first time I made it, the recipe had obviously too many apples... it was absolutely delicious but certainly didn´t resemble any of the other pictures I saw declaring that it was a semi-firm pudding. You see, to start with you normally don´t see apple slices sticking out anywhere, much less the top of the dish. So I had to try a second time... this time I stuck to the "nature" (pronounced nah-chyuhr) version, which means plain. 
Nature (plain) version

220 g flour
130 g sugar
5 eggs
1 envelope of vanilla sugar
3 cups of milk
20 g salted and melted butter 
2 tsps. golden rum
Preheat oven at 350ºF. Mix the flour, sugar, vanilla sugar and eggs and beat well. Melt the butter, then add it along with the milk and the rum. Pour ir into an ovenproof dish and place it in the oven for 1 hour. To make it look golden, I put it under broiler for 3 minutes, then take it out of the oven. 
It is so-hoooo easy! The hardest part is waiting for an hour for it to finish cooking.
A slice of Far Breton next to a vase from Limoges (not in Brittany).

The taste is smooth and creamy, similar to a sweet version of Yorkshire Pudding (England) or Latin American Bread or Corn Pudding. Some sites mention it is similar to flan, but I don´t agree. Flan is sweeter and less firm, and does not contain flour.


Each week, I will choose my favorite website from all those referenced. This week, I would choose the free online Jules Verne book website:    You can´t beat getting free books online! That said, I´ve only read two books online before. Nonetheless, I hope to read more of them in the future!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Galette des Rois

Mmm, the almond flavor and chewiness makes this delectable pastry unforgettable. It also makes me think of freezing cold winter weather, and drifts of snow.
Epiphany is celebrated in France on the Sunday closest to January 6th, by serving a special puff pastry dessert filled with almond cream, also called Pithiviers, named after the town 50 miles away from Paris that specializes in making them. In southern France, they traditionally serve a brioche similar to the Spanish Rosca. A feve, or bean, is hidden inside, and the person who finds it in their piece of pie is the king of the evening, gets to wear a golden paper crown, and can play their role by bossing other people if they like. Another practice is to expect that person to purchase next year's galette. The children hide under the table, where they can't see the pastry, and say the names of the people who will receive the next piece of pie. The number of pieces equals the number of guests plus one. The extra piece is called "God´s piece" or the "Virgin´s piece". Next, most people continue eating galette during the entire month of January.
The origin of the pastry comes from Roman times, when they had parties called Saturnalia at the end of December; the slaves were similarly given a chance to be the "king of the day" if they found a bean in their piece of cake.
In 1650, the modern galette was first eaten by Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria.
During the French Revolution, the pastry was briefly renamed Equality Cake.
I got my recipe from Pierre Herme´s cookbook, and also tried Chef Simon`s:

600 g Puff Pastry
450 g Frangipane (made up of 1/3 pastry cream or creme patissiere, and 2/3 almond cream)
1 beaten egg,  to brush on the pastry 
To make the frangipane, you will need to grind your almonds in a blender or coffee grinder, as shown in this picture; this way you will obtain almond powder, which you can see on the left side, weighed on a small kitchen scale. In some places the almond powder can be found already made and ready for purchase in the supermarket.

Instructions for making the Galette: Mix the required amount of pastry cream in the almond cream. Next measure the pound of almond cream and reserve it to place it on the raw dough. Roll out an 11-inch round of puff pastry and place it on parchment paper on an aluminum baking sheet. Then place the almond cream in the center of the round, and make sure you have left a margin of 3 inches all around the mound of cream. Lightly moisten that margin with water on a brush. Add a red kidney bean, or a feve. Roll out another circle of dough and place it on top of the cream and first round of pastry. Pinch the edges shut.
Be careful to seal the edges shut, or the almond cream will crawl out of the pastry, and a pool of it will surround your galette and will overcook. It's tasty, but it's better if it stays inside the pastry. Brush the pastry with a previously beaten egg, then make a design by cutting into the top of your pastry with a sharp knife.You can make spirals that are separated by approximately two inches on the edge of the pastry, similar to the one in the picture. Or you can make horizontal and vertical lines that leave the pastry looking like graph paper.  Next, leave it in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before placing it in a 200ºC oven for 20 minutes, then 190ºC for 20 more minutes, or until the top is golden.

There are many recipes for galette des rois of different flavors. Whereas some people are horrified by seeing the traditional pastry transformed, others are entranced by Pierre´s chocolate Isadora, or look up ways to add fruit to their galette.


Día de los Reyes!

We had been waiting in Madrid at Plaza del Callao for half an hour in vain. "We were told that the Kings´Parade would start here, is that true?" we asked a policeman. "No," he answered, and told us what places the parade would go to. After racing across town, we made it to Cibeles (see picture below) just in time---to see everyone leaving.
Large TV screens were up to show the parade, people were singing the last songs, firecrackers were being set off, and there was still a crowd in sight. But before we had arrived at the Plaza, we had spotted some abandoned floats in the shadows--they were adorned with lifesize camel and giraffe statues, as well as elephants and an ostrich (I believe). I guess they were representing all of the kings´ modes of transportation...
We got a small Roscón de Reyes at "El Museo del Jamón"(see  which did not have artifacts; it was a cross between a Spanish bar and a delicatessen. That was the first time I ever celebrated that holiday.

January the 6th is literally the "Twelfth Night" after Christmas. Christians believe that three wise kings visited baby Jesus on that date. In Spain, children write letters to Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, to ask for presents, which they open on Epiphany. They eat a fancy bread called Roscón de Reyes, and hide a bean in it. The person who finds the bean becomes king that evening, and must purchase the next Roscón for the following year.

I was excited this Tuesday when I started making my Epiphany desserts way ahead of time. I´ve never been able to make anything on that date before! The Roscon dough was especially cooperative.The bread rose generously, the cream-colored dough blew up like a cloud on several occasions. I ended up with not one, but two Roscones! Is this bread called Rosca, Roscón or Rosco? I´m not sure, so I´ll use those names interchangeably. I picked the dried fruits that seemed most attractive to me at the time, so place your favorite dried fruits on your Roscon. 

The recipe is mostly Penelope Casas´recipe (, with a few variations:
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1 teaspoon orange rind
1/4 pound butter
1 tablespoon shortening
1/2 cup sugar
6 cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk, scalded and cooled
5 cups flour
1 cup fruit pieces
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
dates and dried apricots for garnish
Yield: 2 bread rings

Boil water, then pour it into a small glass bowl and wait for its temperature to reach 115 degrees F. Add a tablespoon of the sugar you´ve already measured for the rest of the bread, then add the yeast. In a mixing bowl, place the butter, brandy, rinds, shortening, sugar, eggs, yeast, and flour and mix together. Scald the milk and cool it. When cool, add it to the rest of the mixture. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, then turn the dough over. Let it rise for 2 hours. Knead for another 4 minutes. Shape the two rings ("crowns"), and let them rise for another hour, on cookie sheets. When they have doubled in size, brush the beaten egg with water on it. Sprinkle the sugar on top, and decorate with dates and dried apricots. Press a red kidney bean in each ring of dough, if you don´t have a miniature baby Jesus or trinket that is safe to place in it. The person who finds it will be the "king" or "queen" of the day! I thought the kidney beans I put in the dough, which happened to be inordinately tiny, were not festive enough, until we found them in the dough! The symbolism is what´s important. I had even forgotten I had placed the bean by the time I cut the second ring, and was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I wondered what strange object had filtered its way into the bread.

Place in oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, until it is golden brown. Eat it warm, and pour some pastry cream (crema pastelera) on it. Serve it on a festive plate! It is large and thus hard to store (I had to cut one of them in two as you can see below, to be able to put it in a container) so it is best eaten soon!

Coming up this Sunday: Galette des Rois, or Pithiviers, from France