Monday, April 30, 2012

Blueberry Scones for St. George´s Day- England


Rose Theater recreated on original site- interior

Rose Theater-exterior

Two men face each other, forcefully thrusting their swords and right feet forward. You have stumbled upon a fight among sailors! It seems that you have been whisked away to Elizabethan times, you guess, from the appearance of the white building with wooden accents and roof that you walked into. Could one of the men be Shakespeare himself?
You are inside a recreation for the Rose Theater, built on the original site, which was discovered in 1989. Shakespeare, whose birthday is on April 23rd, once acted on this site. That explains where he got some of his knowledge for writing his plays...
You are in London, where the Olympics and the World Shakespearean festival (See are taking place, and have a couple of more sights to see before heading to a St. George´s Day Celebration (on the same day as Shakespeare´s birthday). The baby blue sky shines behind the regal, yellow clock tower that is the most recognizable symbol of London. You are not sure you are in that capital city until you have seen that clock, that brings memories of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon´s European Vacation, driving around its traffic circle numerous times, unable to get out of it.

History of St. George´s Day
The patron saint of England is St. George, and St. George´s Day is on April 23rd. St. George was a soldier who was killed for protesting against the Romans´ persecution of Christians. The English Normans prayed to him during the Battle of Agincourt of 1415 that they later won; since then, he became their patron saint.  In the legend about St. George and the dragon, from 1250, the dragon is believed to represent the Roman emperor, Diocletian, who persecuted Christians.

This feast is also celebrated in Spain (Catalunya, Valencia, Aragon, and Majorca), Canada, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Macedonia, Russia (Moscow), Italy (Genova), Slovenia (Ljubljana), Lebanon (Beirut), Malta (Qormi and Victoria).  This day is also called Borrowing Day in England because farmers used to be able to predict their crop results and get a loan from the bank.

On this day, in England, the ideal food to eat is any traditional English dish; there is no specific dessert that must be eaten. I therefore chose scones.

You can halve or quarter Tyler Florence´s recipe, to have a romantic breakfast for two, without leftovers to worry about. If you halve the recipe, you will have enough to make four scones.
2 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 tablespoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup frozen blueberries (the original recipe mentions fresh blueberries, which I would imagine yield better results because you don´t have to deal with the melted ice that coats frozen blueberries)
7 tablespoons whipping cream

Cut the butter into the flour, salt, baking powder, and granulated sugar mixture.Coat the blueberries carefully with the mixture. Next, pour the whipping cream in the center, and mix softly and quickly. Don´t overmix, and be careful to not beat the blueberries, so they won´t make the mix turn purple. Gently shape the batter with your hands into a 6 x 3  inch rectangle. Cut in half, then cut each square diagonally in half to form triangles. Brush their tops with whipping cream. Place the triangles on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. When they are golden and out of the oven, drizzle them with the glaze mentioned below.

Lemon Glaze (adapted)
1/4 cup lemon or persian lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon or lime zest
1 3/4 cups confectioner´s sugar
1/2 tablespoon butter

Place the glaze mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds, then mix again until it is smooth. Pour over the scones when they have been taken out of the oven.

The scone is sunny yellow in color inside, and soft. The blueberries give it the exact tang that this pastry needs.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Salamanca and Charming,Fragrant Spanish Lemon Butter Cakes (Spain)

Sunset  at Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
A drummer advanced, next to a boy with a flute, as bystanders, entranced by the Piper, picked up their knees and legs to thump to the rhythm, and swirled their woolen capes from side to side. At a golden grand plaza in the center of town, the main square was wrapped in purple and pink clouds as the sun went down. It made the front of the buildings almost look like chocolate bars, engraved with a gridlike pattern formed by dozens of windows.  

At nighttime, the plaza resembled gold nuggets that shone amidst an electric blue sky. My first sobao pasiego resembled those nuggets, too; I tasted my first one in a hypermarket in the outskirts of Salamanca. It was a pit stop before my arrival to the city for the first time. A Walmart-sized supermarket held mass-produced sobao passiegos that were individually packaged like Little Debbie´s Cakes. Other interesting aisles in the supermarket were the boqueron aisles (luscious anchovies from Spain that are packed in vinegar or olive oil and eaten by the pound), the cheese aisles (overflowing with many Spanish cheeses that can´t be found in other countries), and of course the diversity of Spanish wines, and Spanish cookies/candy. 

All three pictures above (sunset, daytime, and nighttime) constitute a collection of "impressionist" views of the astounding city square. 

The oldest university library in Europe (from 1218) at the University of Salamanca
 The library above is the place where I looked up the history of this dessert (just kidding; I was only able to view the library from behind a window).
The Sobao dessert comes from the Pasieg valleys, (see a 3d recreation of the area at  which are located in the Cantabrian region, in the northern part of Spain. It used to be made with bread dough many centuries ago, but this changed in 1896, when the bread batter was substituted with flour.
Today, this popular dessert has a protected designation of origin, believe it or not! If it is not from the Pasieg valleys, it can only be called Sobao, but not Sobao Pasiego! The quality of the butter and other dairy products in this region is excellent and explains why they could protect the name of the product.

Recipe for Sobaos Passiegos, a Spanish Lemon Butter Cake

250 grams flour
250 grams butter
250 grams sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of rum
the zest of one lemon (I used a lime)
a pinch of salt

Cream the sugar and butter for three minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, creaming well for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and place in a mini loaf pans lined carefully with parchment paper (visible in the photos) so that the folds are creased at the corners of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or 180 degrees Celsius, for 15 minutes. The buttery cake will melt in your mouth, and the zest will color that flavor.

Sobaos passiegos set on a tablecloth from San Vicente, El Salvador


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Churros Espanoles

Churros with a caramel or dulce de leche filling remind me of school fairs where my sisters used to go to a booth called Noah's Ark, where they bought and pulled out tickets to win live animals. They returned home happily once with approximately seven baby animals (a quail, a couple of chicks, a couple of doves, a black rabbit, and two turtles).
Churros with chocolate remind me of La Rochelle in France. They sold them on the beach front, with a small  disposable cupful of thick melted chocolate so you could dip the churro sticks into them. The booth was next to the ice cream stand that sold oyster ice cream, among other flavors.
One of the versions of churro history is about shepherds who were out for more than a day with their sheep. They decided to make their own bread; however, since they didn't have access to an oven, they fried the batter instead.
Other sources state that in the beginning of the 19th century, churros were served in city fairs, in Madrid,Spain, often along with hot chocolate (hot chocolate in Madrid is so thick that it resembles melted chocolate, or a melted mousse). Churros are meant to be eaten when you're with other people.

The first and last time I tried to make churros the batter was too liquid, so I was careful about its consistency this time. The churro batter is very similar to the french choux batter that is used to make eclairs or cream puffs, so if you have trouble with it being too liquid, the way to solve it is probably by just making sure you cook it on the stove.

Note that it is actually quite simple to make!
All you need is flour and water, in equal quantities, to make the batter. Just make sure the water is warm, because that will guarantee your success.
I was surprised to discover this, because I was more successful at making it from scratch now than I was when I was ten years old and tried to use a mix. I wonder what could be in the mix, other than flour and a pinch of salt.....(!) 

1 cup flour
1 cup water
a pinch of salt
vegetable oil
Measure the flour into a bowl. Heat the water with the salt just until boiling and pour it into the flour. Mix it well. Place the batter in a frosting bag that has a 4B tip (or other large star tip) Heat the oil in a pot. When it is warm enough for frying, squeeze out long snakes of batter into the oil. When they are ready, remove them from the pot with a spoon, onto paper towels so they will soak up the grease. Next, roll them in granulated sugar.
Fill another frosting bag that is prepared with a Bismarck tip, with nutella. Poke 3 or 4 holes in each churro with the tip. Then place the tip in the holes, to pipe the nutella straight into the churro. If you don't have a bismarck tip, you can also try a round tip, such as number 6.
Note: There are other ways to enjoy your churros.
a. You can enjoy it without any filling at all, like many people in Latin America do.
b. You can pour the filling on top of the churro.
c. You can dip your churro into the filling, as described earlier.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Walnut Potica (Nut Roll) from Slovenia, for Easter

"My town has tigers and mangoes", my Indian pen pal from Bengal wrote to me. I wrote back "I have mangoes, too, but not tigers..." When I was twelve, I sent a letter to a pen pal association in Ireland. They sent me a list with ten typewritten names and addresses of people from different countries around the world. I sent out letters to each one of them, and received answers from many.  Pen pals often only answered the first time, but some of them were more constant, such as my Dutch pen pal who quickly picked up Greek after a vacation, or Spanish without making any grammar mistakes! Then I was able to meet and stay in contact with at least with one of them. 
Original letter from my Slovenian pen pal, with original photo
A guitar player from Slovenia not only sent me a lovely cassette with guitar music on it, she also sent me her grandmother´s recipe for Potica on green stationery, complete with a photo of it as you can see above. I have wanted to make it ever since. I attempted to make it once, but it didn´t turn out. I am very excited about trying it once more. 
The first time I tasted a similar nut roll,  I was in a train station in Munich. Here are a couple of photos of some of the sights I was able to see when I was in that city:

History of Potica
Potica or povitica is a yeast bread filled with nuts eaten specially for Easter, Christmas, and All Saints' Day. Poviti means "to wrap in". There are sweet and savory poticas, though the most common kind is the walnut version. Some of the other sweet versions are:   poppyseed, cottage cheese, hazelnut, chocolate, tarragon, leek, honey or carob.
Before 200  years ago, potica rolls were placed directly in the oven. 200 years ago, they started placing them in baking dishes to give them the shape they have today.
In the United States, they are eaten in Montana, or for Christmas in southwestern Pennsylvania. In both places, they were introduced by Central European immigrants but were later adopted by most in the region. 

The recipe is from,  by Barbara Rolek. I was pleased to find a fantastic collection of Eastern European recipes in Barbara's section. In other words, this won't be the last bread recipe I will try from that region.

"Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup ( 2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups finely ground walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar

Place the yeast in warm water, at 105 degrees, until it is warm to touch, but doesn´t burn your finger. Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside, covered in a glass measuring cup so you can watch it rise. Heat butter, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt until lukewarm and butter has melted. In large bowl, combine yeast mixture, butter mixture and beaten egg yolks.
Add flour gradually, beating well. Divide into 2 equal portions, wrap and refrigerate overnight. When I did so, the yeast made the container's lid puff up, and I feared that the yeast would no longer work later. However, it rose wonderfully.

Make the filling the following day by placing walnuts, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, 1/4 cup milk and honey in a saucepan on low heat. Stir constantly until the nuts are warm, then remove from stovetop to cool. Foam the egg whites and gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff. Mix together with cooled walnut mixture. Set aside. On a floured plastic mat, marble slab, or counter, roll 1 portion of dough into a 24-inch square. The dough is soft and stretches slightly and delicately, reminding me vaguely of the strudel dough I made weeks before.
Spread half the filling onto the dough, then roll. Coil in a well-greased, 10-inch tube pan or "flanera" (a pan for your flan). Repeat with remaining dough and place the second roll on top of the first. With a sharp knife, cut to bottom of pan in several places. Let rise, covered, until doubled, about 1 hour. You could also roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness, spread the filling onto it, roll it and bake as a log. The log option sounds tempting, though I haven´t tried it yet.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 1 hour or until nicely browned. Cool in pan 20 minutes and invert onto a wire rack.

In this slice, you can see that one roll was placed on top of the  other to make the potica.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mini Fried Peach Pies (Arkansas) and Churro Morsels

Miniature fried peach pie dumplings with whipped cream stars
Ozarks in Arkansas
Arkansas Sights
Near the Ozarks (a forest and national park) in Arkansas, the beautiful rolling hills can best be appreciated by driving on the charming winding road that takes you like a seesaw, up and down each hump. Soft green meadows in the valley are dotted with houses. If you are on them near sunset, when dusk arrives, you can circle the entrance of the thick pine forest on the outskirts of the national park, stop, and bend your neck backward to fully admire the glitter that covers the night sky, in a place where no other light will compete with it.
In the daytime, in contrast, you can leave this spiritual experience behind to go to Murfreesboro, Arkansas, in a volcanic region, to dig for diamonds in the midst of a large dug-up and muddy area that is filled with other treasure-seekers. Most of them leave with a geology lesson; after they have been kneeling in the mud under the sun for hours, they head to a shower to wash their rocks off with water and get help from an employee/rock consultant who will fortunately say what type of rock each find is. You will leave with some rocks that will be good-looking after you get them polished. If you´re lucky you might find a small piece of quartz that will leave you excited for a brief moment, as you wonder if it might be a diamond.

Peach filling, cooked in a skillet
History of Fried Peach Pies
Peach pies
Fried peach pies are typical food in Arkansas, and are believed to have originated in Alabama. I had never tried them before (except for McDonald´s or other fast food apple pies, which should count), and didn´t know what to expect. As I often prefer baked versions over fried food (for example: tortillas), I was sure I would want more baked peach pies than fried ones. I was wrong. The delectable, smooth taste of the delicately fried dumpling was worth it.
The fried pie is formed like an empanada or dumpling. A round piece of dough similar to piecrust is folded in half over the filling, which is usually made of fruit. The edges must be sealed shut, and after it is fried in fat, it is dusted with powdered sugar.

I used Emeril Lagasse´s recipe, though I made a much smaller version of the pie, a 2.5 inch-diameter half-moon, which I pressed it in a dumpling cutter-presser. I baked some of them, and found the fried version tastier, and similar to a Spanish churro. 
Dumplings of various sizes, ready to be baked in the oven
The cinnamon and cream cheese in Emeril´s dough makes the dough soft, tasty, and easy to work with.

Fried miniature dumpling
 When I had leftover dough, I filled it with nutella, and thus had mini nutella fried pies, which I rolled in granulated sugar as well.

Some nutella, some peach fried pies

To add the small whipped cream stars, you can use a large drop flower frosting tip (for example, a 1C) placed on a frosting bag. If you don´t have this tip, you can use a basic star tip or drop flower tip. After you have filled the frosting bag with the whipped cream, squeeze out a star or more on each dumpling.  

Click here to get the recipe:

Portable fried pie treats