Friday, January 27, 2017

Grapefruit-Vanilla Shortbread - A Teatime Treat

Just a quick post about one of those perennial favorites, shortbread. Or more specifically, the rather pretty looking disc of Grapefruit-Vanilla Shortbread with a decorated glaze and then cut into elegant triangles. One look at this pretty dessert the other day and I knew that it was calling my name.

Shortbreads are very easy to make. Basically, you just need three ingredients (sugar, butter and flour), then roll out the dough, trim it and shape it, so it is perfect if you want to make a quick dessert or teatime treat. Personally, I like to add a bit of fine sea salt to the dough – that salt adds a little extra something, and takes shortbread from being a bit bland into being rich and buttery. If you have enough time, you should make sure that once you shaped the dough, it should be chilled for about half an hour to an hour, then put into a fairly low oven and left to turn a golden color.

Shortbread should be crumbly, dense and rich. The rather generous amount of butter gives it its melt-in-the-mouth texture. Shortbread relies on really good-quality unsalted butter for its flavor, so don't skimp on this. It's also important to keep a light hand. Overworking the dough will develop the gluten in the flour and make the shortbread tough.

For this recipe, I chose to mix plain wheat flour and rice flour for a very softer texture, but you can use all purpose flour for a slightly crunchier result.

Shortbread can be eaten on its own or crumbled and used as a base for tarts or cheesecakes. You can make strawberry shortcakes by serving a sandwich of shortbread filled with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

This recipe includes grapefruit zest in the dough. Unlike lemons, the pungent taste of grapefruit often becomes lost when baked. That’s why you need lots of zest. And then the icing is a nice complement to the zingy dough. These cookies pair perfectly with coffee and tea!

Grapefruit-Vanilla Shortbread
(recipe inspired by Anna Posey)

Ingredients for the Dough
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest (organic or untreated if possible)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla sugar (or use 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup AP (plain) flour
  • 1/4 cup rice four OR use 1 cup AP (plain) flour in total
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Ingredients for the Icing and Toppings
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • dried hibiscus flowers, rose petals and cornflowers (optional - please NOTE: use only organic, untreated and edible flowers)

In Addition
  • a 9-inch (23 cm) tart/quiche pan with removable bottom or use a springform pan

  1. Lightly butter your baking pan. Line bottom with a round of baking parchment, then butter again.
  2. Pulse grapefruit zest, vanilla sugar (extract), 1/2 cup butter, and 1/3 cup powdered sugar in a food processor until smooth and homogenous. 
  3. Add flour(s) salt; pulse just to combine. 
  4. Press dough evenly into prepared pan, smoothing top with a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  5. Preheat your oven to 180° C (350°F).
  6. Prick shortbread all over with a fork and bake until edges are golden and center is pale but firm to the touch, 15 to 18 minutes.
  7. Remove band from pan and immediately cut shortbread into 16 wedges. Let cool.
  8. Whisk grapefruit juice and remaining 1 cup powdered sugar in a small bowl until smooth.
  9. Spread a thin layer of icing over shortbread with a small offset spatula, leaving a thin border of crust exposed. 
  10. Top as desired (optional).
  11. Let sit about 15 minutes to allow icing to set. 
  12. Retrace cut marks.
NOTE: Dough can be pressed into pan 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Then bake the following day.

This zesty teatime shortbread has a beautiful crumbly texture, plus zingy grapefruit and warm vanilla flavor. Tart grapefruit gives refreshing flavor to these but if grapefruit is not your thing, you could try using another citrus fruit like blood oranges (the market stalls are brimming with blood oranges around here right now), oranges, lemons or clementines. Very simple, but wonderful and so welcome after a heavy meal!

Shortbread cookies fill the kitchen with a wonderful buttery freshly-baked smell. So simple and easy to flavor with your own choice of vanilla, lemon zest or even lavender. And believe when I tell you, that kids will love making them too.

And last but not least, in this recipe, "a few textured and vibrant toppings gussy up a tender, buttery, and ultrasimple shortbread".

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Roast Tomato Soup with Pearl Barley - Comfort Food in a Bowl for a Chilly Winter´s Day

A lovely Roast Tomato Soup with Pearl Barley is a wonderful recipe to warm your heart and soul during the winter months. A rich, thick soup brimming with flavor is more than a meal in itself. In our house, soup is lunch or dinner, I usually serve it as a meal, not to start a meal.

Roast Tomato Soup with Pearl Barley

Ingredients for the Soup
  • 2kg (4½lbs) large ripe tomatoes, washed, halved, cores removed
  • 1 garlic bulb, cut in half horizontally
  • 2 large red onions, peeled, quartered
  • few sprigs fresh oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 250ml (9fl oz) vegetable stock (or more, depending on how thick you like your soup)
  • 100ml (3½fl oz) single cream (optional - I always use 10% cream suitable for cooking)
  • few drops balsamic vinegar (optional - itry to use a good product with a bit of natural sweetness)

For the Pearl Barley
  • 250 gram of cooked Barley (according to package instructions)

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
  2. For the soup, place the prepared tomatoes, garlic, onions and oregano into a large roasting pan and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Drizzle with the olive oil, and roast in the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes.
  4. Remove from the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Mash the garlic with the back of a fork, and discard the skins.
  6. Add the tomatoes, onions, mashed garlic and stock to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened.
  8. Using a hand-held stick blender, blend until smooth.
  9. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or cream.
  10. Add a little balsamic vinegar, to season, if you like.
  11. Add the cooked pearl barley (reserve some for sprinkling on top of the soup - optional), salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  12. Divide the soup between serving bowls and top with reserved pearly barley and/or some fresh cress.

This recipe is perfect even for out-of season tomatoes. If the tomatoes are really lacking in taste or sweetness, you could dust them with a little bit of confectioner´s sugar prior to roasting them. The addition of some Aceto Balsamico as well as using the red onions instead of white onions also helps to improve the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Make a big batch of this comforting soup, enjoy and share and stay warm this winter! It is cold out there!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

River Cottage Every Day - Online Cooking Club

Dear Members of the Cottage Cooking Club - after a few months hiatus, we will be resuming our online cooking club activities on February, 1st, 2017. We will be cooking from River Cottage Every Day - "RCED" (for all) and River Cottage Love Your Leftovers - "RCLYL" (optional).

The rules for the cooking club will be easy and rather more like "non-rules". We will cook as many of the recipes from the book as we will manage during a six-month period - so no matter whether we have cooked all recipes from the book or just a fraction, we will conclude our activities at the end of end of July 2017.

While the official starting day will be February 1st, all regular or occasional "guest" members (if I may call them that way) will only be asked to post once a month (six times in total) on the 28th of each month. The Cottage Coooking Club therefore will only have six posting dates Feb. 28th, March 28th, April 28th, May 28th, June 28th until July 28th when we will conclude our activities.

The recipes will not be chosen by me, you choose as many OR as little as you want each month, make one soup or ten dinners or three desserts, whatever you can. Then put together one post at the end of the month and let all of us know what you think of the dishes that you prepared. Are they worth trying? Does the recipe work? What would you change?

When chosing the recipes that you prepare each month, I ask you to let yourself be guided by seasonality and availability - what are the foods that YOU can find in YOUR area?

To get started and to get a feeling for the RCED cookbook, I made two recipes - the "Beet and Cumin Soup with Spiced Yogurt" (page 274) and the "Honey Whole-Wheat Cake" (page 386).

While I will not go on a length about those two recipes, I will say so much. They both definitely taste like true River Cottage recipes - the flavors are familiar and comforting and we enjoyed both.

If you like beets, you should try the soup while beets are now widely available and reasonably prized in winter (at least around here). The Spiced Yogurt is a wonderful element of the soup but you should not limit its uses to this soup, drizzle it on rôtisserie chicken or serve with pita bread and veggies.

The cake is a must if you are looking for a comfort-style cake with the definite taste of honey. Make sure to use a mild variety of local honey (if possible) that you enjoy, or it will overpower the cake. It is worth noticing that the recipe calls for whole-wheat flour and ground almonds (I left the skins on) and according to my experience if you want a more pronounced taste of almonds, you could toast them before you process them to make your own almond meal. You can also make this recipe with spelt flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder as well - I tried it and it works. What I really liked was serving this cake warm, with some Greek yogurt and fruit (whatever is in season) alongside. You can re-heat a slice and enjoy it as breakfast cake (very fashionable these days) as well. The almonds keep it moist for a day or two.

I sincerely hope that I have managed to inspire you to cook along with me for the next six months. It is lonely cooking through all these cookbooks on my own...and I would LOVE to have some lovely company! So, dust off the covers of your RCED and perhaps the RCLYL and let´s start cooking as many of Hugh´s dishes from them as we can fit into our lives and share with the ones we love.