Linzer cookies are one of those classic Christmas cookies I’d never gotten around to making until recently. I love sandwich cookies, but to be honest they can be time-consuming with all the chilling / rolling / stamping / filling. I recommend making them on an afternoon when you don’t have a ton of other baking to do; just throw on your favorite tunes and enjoy the process.
A couple notes:
This dough contains a high proportion of nuts, which makes it very delicious but also extremely delicate. I found it easiest to roll between pieces of plastic and chill overnight before cutting and baking. I also recommend using simple cookie cutter shapes (i.e. circles and squares) for best results (I used this set).
Linzers are traditionally made with almonds and raspberry jam; I used walnuts because I had a lot on hand and filled them with the ends of jam jars I always have lurking around in the fridge.
You can bake these cookies several days in advance (store them at room temperature in an airtight container), but I recommend filling them on the day you plan to serve them as the cookies will gradually soften once they’re filled.
If you don’t want to bother rerolling the scraps, you can shape leftover dough into thumbprint cookies instead. Just roll into balls, indent with your thumb or the back of a wooden spoon, and bake until golden. Fill indents with jam once cooled.
Makes about thirty 2-1/2″ sandwich cookies
105g (scant 1 c) toasted walnuts, chopped
75g granulated sugar
75g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
281g all purpose flour
225g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, cold
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 – 3/4 c jam or preserves
Icing sugar, for dusting
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the walnuts, sugars, and salt. Pulse together until the nuts are finely ground and the mixture is the texture of damp sand.
Add the flour and pulse to combine.
Scatter the butter cubes over the top and pulse until the butter is well incorporated, with no large pieces remaining. Scrape down the sides of the food processor a couple times during this process.
Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse just until a dough starts to form.
Transfer about half of the dough to a piece of plastic wrap. Pat into a square about an inch thick. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top and roll the dough to about 3/16″. Lift and replace the top piece of plastic occasionally to avoid creases in the dough. Repeat with other half of dough. Slide one sheet of dough onto a baking sheet (still sandwiched between pieces of plastic) and slide the second sheet of dough on top. Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours or up to 24.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge. Peel off the top piece of plastic, invert the dough onto one of the parchment-lined baking sheets, and peel off the other piece of plastic. Use a 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter to punch out as many rounds as possible. Remove the excess dough and set aside. Repeat with the second sheet of dough. Use a small round or other decorative cutter to punch out the centers of half the circles. Reroll and repeat process with dough scraps until you’ve used up all the dough (follow rolling process in step 5, chilling as necessary). If the dough is still firm, proceed straight to baking; otherwise, chill first until firm, about 15 minutes.
Bake sheets one at a time for about 15 minutes, or until cookies are just barely golden on the edges. Cool cookies on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Sift icing sugar over the cookies with the center cutouts. Using a small spoon or offset spatula, spread about a teaspoon of jam on the flat sides of the bottom cookies. Top each with a sugared cookie. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container between layers of parchment or wax paper until serving. I recommend filling cookies the day you plan to serve them (see notes above).
Just popping in to share this simple, festive bread idea for your holiday baking inspiration! A bread wreath is perfect as a dinner table centerpiece (just put a bowl of good salted butter in the middle!) or edible gift. You can also use this technique with larger or smaller pieces of dough (the bake time might change slightly), though I like the crust-to-crumb ratio of this size plus the fact that it’s the size of an actual wreath! This would also work well with any lean bread dough that’s not too slack (hydrated).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a loose round. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust with semolina / cornmeal. (Note: I like to double up on baking sheets for these wreaths to keep the bottom from scorching.)
Degas and shape into a tight, smooth boule (round). Lightly flour your hands and use your thumbs to poke a hole in the center. Gently stretch the dough to widen the circle. The wreath should be about 10 inches across and the hole in the center at least 4 inches (it’ll shrink back a bit when you put it down).
Place the wreath on a prepared sheet, seam side down. Lightly mist with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until the wreath is puffy and has increased by about 50% (this takes me about 1.5-2 hours). About an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone on the center rack and sheet tray on the bottom of the oven.
When the wreath is ready to bake, have ready a measuring glass with hot water and a pair of sharp kitchen scissors. Dust the top of the wreath with rice flour. Use the kitchen scissors to cut the dough at a sharp angle (30-45 degrees) almost all the way through the dough. After snipping, pull the point away from the center (towards you). Repeat all the way around the wreath.
Transfer the wreath to the oven and carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water into the sheet tray on the bottom of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 450F and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the wreath is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
One of the questions I get most often is, “How do you find time to bake?” I’ll admit, it can be a bit of a juggling act. Since starting this blog, we’ve gone from zero to three children, ages 4 and under. Baking projects that I used to finish in an evening are now slo-o-o-o-wly pieced together over the course of several days. I could write a book about it, but thankfully, I don’t have to — Michelle Lopez’s new cookbook, Weeknight Baking will teach you everything you need to know about baking to fit your schedule.
I received Michelle’s book as a literal birth day present — it arrived the same day our third child, Isabelle, did! Weeknight Baking was actually the perfect cookbook to help ease me into the new reality of baking with another tiny human around, because each recipe is either quick to make OR broken down into 15-to-30 minute tasks that you can piece together over a few days. And, as my family will attest, the recipes are delicious! So far, we’ve easily polished off a pan of her cheesecake bars and a batch of these oatmeal cookies.
I have always been partial to a good old fashioned oatmeal cookie, and I’m delighted to add this recipe to our rotation. These babies take about half an hour from start to finish — no chilling required! I made a couple small changes — first, I used sifted spelt flour instead of all purpose; and second, I popped a mini pretzel on each cookie (before baking) because I’m all about that salty-sweet combo. Feel free to go traditional with just raisins, or play around with the mix-ins — Michelle gives several fantastic sounding options. Whatever you do, make these cookies! And congrats, Michelle, on your new book!
1 recipe Oatmeal Cookie Mix-In of your choice (I used raisins and mini pretzels)
1 1/4 c (5.65 oz) all-purpose flour (I used sifted spelt)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2/3 c (5 oz) tightly packed dark brown sugar (I used light)
1/3 c (2.35 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 c (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 c (6.15 oz) old-fashioned rolled oats
Oatmeal cookie mix-ins
Classic oatmeal raisin: 1 c (5.5 oz) raisins
Oatmeal chocolate chip: 8 oz dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), from whole feves or a high-quality chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2-to-1-inch pieces
Oatmeal, Cranberry, and White Chocolate: 1 c (6 oz) dried cranberries and 3 oz white chocolate, from whole feves or a high-quality chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2-to-1-inch pieces
Oatmeal, cherry, and pistachio: 1 c (5 oz) dried cherries and 1/2 c (2.5 oz) shelled pistachios
Oatmeal and crystallized ginger: 1/2 c (3.5 oz) crystallized ginger, chopped into 1/4-to-1/2-inch pieces
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
Place the mix-in of your choice in a shallow bowl and toss to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and butter. Beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume, 2-3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low, add the egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. Scrape down bottom and sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Add the oats all at once and beat on low until combined, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed to fully incorporate oats. Add the mix-in all at once and beat on medium-low until the mix-in is evenly distributed throughout, about 1 minute.
Use a 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop to portion the cookie dough into 20 balls (about 45 g each, but may vary depending on mix-ins), placing them at least 3 inches apart on the prepared sheet pans. Bake one pan at a time for 15 minutes, or until the edges have set but the centers are still gooey. Cool the cookies on the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies have set and feel firm to the touch. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough (or freeze it to bake later). Serve warm or at room temperature. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Finding a solid sourdough challah recipe has been on my bread baking list for awhile. While I have a sourdough enriched sandwich bread recipe that I love, the appeal of challah to me is that it’s dairy free and the dough is easy to shape into beautiful braids — perfect for holiday celebrations! Leftover challah also makes excellent French toast, bread pudding, bostock…basically, I’m never sad to have a few extra slices!
After trying a few different recipes/methods, I’ve finally landed on one I like. The dough handles beautifully; and so long as you use fresh starter, there is barely, if any, a hint of sourdough tang. The formula is based on Maggie Glezer’s sourdough challah recipe, with a few adaptations to the flour mix and fermentation times. I’ve also been experimenting with add-ins and substitutions, so stay tuned for more challah-based recipes soon!
A few notes:
As with all bread recipes, proper fermentation is key to success. Although I’ve provided general timings which work in my kitchen, keep in mind they may vary greatly depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the strength of your starter. I’ve tried to provide visual cues to help you along — as they say, watch the dough and not the clock!
The original recipe called for all bread dough, but I prefer a mix of bread, all purpose, and whole grain for a balance of softness, chew, and flavor.
To make pumpkin challah, replace the 60g warm water in the final dough ingredients with 75g pumpkin puree. I like to use maple syrup as the sweetener in this variation. Pumpkin provides more color than flavor in this variation (see photo below), though for extra “pumpkin spice” you can spread the filling from this sourdough cinnamon raisin bread on the rolled out dough before shaping the dough into logs (replace the cinnamon with pumpkin spice). Make sure to firmly seal the seam and ends or liquefied sugar will leak out of the braid!
Like other enriched sourdough recipes, this recipe takes time — though most of it is hands-off. I like to break the work into the following 3-day schedule:
Day 1, right before bedtime: prepare stiff levain.
Day 2, morning: mix dough and ferment until doubled. Refrigerate dough once doubled.
Day 2, right before bedtime: shape challah and let proof at room temperature overnight.
Day 3, first thing in the morning: bake challah.
Note: If you want to mix and bake all in one day, you could shape and proof the dough right after the dough has doubled. Proof time will likely be a little shorter since the dough doesn’t have to warm back up to room temperature. I personally prefer the above schedule because I find cold dough easier to shape and I like having the bread freshly baked in the morning.
40g very active, fully fermented 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed 8 to 12 hours earlier
52g warm water
108g bread flour
Mix all ingredients together and allow to ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or until ripe (it should triple in volume).
For final dough:
60g warm water
3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
10g fine sea salt
55g olive oil (or other neutral oil)
65g honey or maple syrup
250g bread flour
100g AP flour
50g whole grain flour
All of the levain
Sesame / poppy seeds or pearl sugar, for garnish (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together all ingredients from water through honey/maple syrup until combined.
Add the flour and levain (torn into several pieces to make it easier to incorporate). Use a silicone spatula or your hands to mix until ingredients are roughly combined.
Mix the dough on a low-medium speed (3 or 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) until smooth, about 5 minutes. You can also do this by hand, which should take 8-10 minutes. The dough should be on the firm side but still easy to knead.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Ferment at room temperature until doubled. This took me about 4 hours, but will depend on the temperature of your kitchen and strength of your starter.
Fold the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 12.
When you are ready to shape, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide equally into the number of pieces desired on a lightly floured surface. (I like to do 6 pieces for a 6-strand braid or 4 for a round challah.) Loosely round, then cover and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Also, whisk the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for the egg wash.
Working one at a time, roll each piece into a thin sheet (about 1/8″ thick) — the shape isn’t important, but aim for an even thickness. Roll up tightly like a jelly roll, pinching the seams and ends to seal. Repeat with other pieces.
Roll each piece into ropes of even lengths (I aim for 24-26″), tapering the ends. Braid as desired (see notes above).
Transfer shaped loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the entire surface with a coat of egg wash, then cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate the remaining egg wash; you will need it later.
Allow the loaf to proof at room temperature until at least doubled and very puffy (but still defined). This takes me 8-10 hours at cool room temperature. About half an hour to 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Right after preheating the oven, uncover the loaf and brush with another coat of egg wash.
When the oven is ready, brush the loaf with a final coat of egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame/poppy seeds or pearl sugar, if desired.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking, or until the top is well browned and the loaf registers 200F. (Tent with foil if the loaf is browning too quickly). Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Every so often my kids and I will walk down to our neighborhood Italian bakery. I usually let them pick a treat for the road, and my son almost always walks past the cookies and pastries and chooses a plain, white Italian roll. (Once he did ask for a rum ball. Good thing I asked the cashier what it was before agreeing.) And he absolutely has no problem demolishing the whole thing (they’re probably 6-7 inches long!) in one sitting.
As an avid bread baker, I was determined to make something similar that would garner the same enthusiasm. And this is it! Simple rolls that are crusty-but-not-too-crusty and a soft but chewy crumb. They are naturally leavened, but are very mild and slightly sweet in flavor.
Also, these rolls are a lot of fun to make. The dough is easy to handle, and you can either make them in one day or retard the dough overnight (I’ve noted in the method when to refrigerate the dough if desired.) They are the perfect all-purpose roll: use them for sandwiches, as an accompaniment for soups and stews, or just eat them plain, like my kid. Personally, I like them slightly warm from the oven with some good salted butter.
(By the way, I asked my son why he liked this particular recipe so much, and he explained that it was because the rolls were oval. What can I say? That being said, you can shape this dough any way you want — baking time may need to be adjusted.)
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low to combine, then raise the speed to low-medium (3 or 4 on a KitchenAid). Continue mixing until the gluten is moderately developed. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.
Transfer the dough to an oiled container. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled, folding every 30 minutes for the first hour. The time it will take to double will depend on how active your starter is and the temperature of your room; mine took about 2.5-3 hours. (Note: if you’d like, you can retard the dough overnight after it’s almost doubled. When you’re ready to bake, allow the dough to rest and come to room temperature for 30-45 minutes after dividing.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces, about 130g each, and shape into loose rounds. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a large sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust with semolina / cornmeal. (Note: I like to double up on baking sheets for these rolls to keep the bottoms from scorching.)
Shape each round into a batard (oval) and transfer, seam side down, to the prepared baking sheet. For these rolls I like to degas fairly well and shape tightly for a nice, even crumb.
Lightly mist the rolls with oil and cover. Allow to rise at room temperature until the rolls have increased by about 50% (this takes me about 1.5-2 hours). About an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone on the center rack and sheet tray on the bottom of the oven.
When the rolls are ready to bake, have ready a measuring glass with hot water. Lightly dust the tops of the rolls with rice flour, if desired, and slash the top of each roll down the center with a sharp blade (I like a curved lame for this).
Transfer the rolls to the oven and carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water into the sheet tray on the bottom of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 450F and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Who doesn’t love a good taco? Personally, I think tacos are among the most fun foods to eat. I love getting to choose my own toppings and that you can pack so many fresh flavors into a small, handheld package. We have taco nights fairly frequently in our home, so I’m always brainstorming tasty and seasonal taco filling ideas to keep things interesting.
Chicken tacos might sound a bit dry and boring, but not this one! This chicken taco filling is tender and packed with flavor, thanks to a dose of homemade roasted salsa and the low-and-slow magic of the Paderno 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. I always spring for chicken thighs as they’re generally quite economical, not to mention a flavorful and forgiving cut. They only need a few hours in the slow cooker to turn tender and shreddable; and leftovers don’t dry out in the fridge.
While you could use a storebought salsa for this recipe, I definitely recommend trying this roasted version. Roasting the vegetables adds sweetness and smokiness to the salsa, and this recipe makes enough for both the chicken cooking liquid and for topping your tacos (and probably a bit left over to go with your favorite tortilla chips!).
Serve these tacos with your favorite toppings — I particularly like avocado slices, shredded cabbage, extra salsa and cilantro, and a touch of sour cream.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
For the roasted tomato salsa:
3 lbs fresh tomatoes (~10-12 medium)
1 medium red onion, skin removed
1 medium white onion, skin removed
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 head of garlic
1 bell pepper
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped (both leaves and stems)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Freshly squeezed lime juice (1-2 Tbsp), salt, and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450F with a rack in the upper third. Cut a deep “x” into the tops of the tomatoes and onions. Cut the jalapenos in half and deseed. Cut bell pepper into quarters and deseed. Peel and separate garlic cloves.
Arrange vegetables in a single layer in a large roasting pan or baking sheet (I used the Paderno Stainless Steel Multi-Roaster). Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
Roast for 10 minutes. Switch oven to broil. Broil for ~2 minutes or until vegetables are lightly charred. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
While vegetables are cooling, generously season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear on both sides over medium-high heat until browned. Set aside.
When vegetables are cool enough to handle, pulse in batches, along with dried oregano and cilantro, in a food processor or blender until desired consistency (I like to leave it a bit chunky). Taste and adjust seasoning with apple cider vinegar, lime juice, salt, and pepper.
Spread sliced onion, jalapeno, and garlic on the bottom of the Paderno 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. Arrange seared chicken thighs in a single layer on top. Add enough roasted tomato salsa so that chicken pieces are just barely poking through the top. Reserve and refrigerate remaining salsa.
Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours, or until chicken is fork-tender. Remove and shred chicken, then stir back into the cooking liquid.
To assemble tacos: Warm tortillas in a dry skillet or in the microwave. Spread a layer of shredded chicken on the bottom of each tortilla and top with your favorite accompaniments. Enjoy!
Before we round the corner into September (!!), I have one last ice cream recipe for you. Churning frozen treats has definitely been my summer 2019 obsession — I’ve been making frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, eggless ice creams, and custard ice creams as fast as we can consume or share each batch. It’s just so addicting (and delicious)!
I’ve especially enjoyed trying to incorporate various seasonal fruits into ice cream. While either sorbet or an eggless (“Philadelphia”) ice cream base has been my modus operandi when incorporating fruit — I find the lack of eggs helps the fruit flavor shine through better — this time I was going for a peaches and cream vibe and wanted a bit of extra richness. I used the same buttermilk custard base from the toast and jam ice cream, but added in a honey-sweetened roasted peach puree. Swirls of peach jam amp up the “peachiness” while sprinkles of crisp oat streusel add texture and nuttiness. It’s like eating a peach crisp a la mode!
A few notes:
This makes a fairly large batch of ice cream — probably the largest amount my home ice cream maker can handle. If you have a smaller machine you will want to churn in two batches (or reduce the recipe by 25-30%).
The oat streusel recipe is adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home and makes way more than you need for this batch of ice cream. But! It freezes beautifully and I have absolutely loved having a big batch on hand to layer in other ice creams / sprinkle on sundaes / snack on. So I definitely recommend just making the full batch and patting yourself on the back later.
My favorite containers for storing ice cream are these Cambro 1-quart Poly Rounds. They don’t take up a lot of room in the freezer and they’re the perfect size for a typical home batch. But you can use a loaf pan, empty yogurt container, or similarly-sized freezer-safe vessel. Whatever container you choose, I recommend sticking it in the freezer while you are churning your ice cream to help minimize melting!
Make the buttermilk custard base: Combine the cream and buttermilk in a large measuring cup.
Combine 100g (1/2 c) of sugar, dry milk powder, and xanthan gum in a small bowl and whisk well. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and remaining 25g (2 T) sugar and whisk until the yolks are lighter in color, about 1 minute.
In a medium pot, combine the corn syrup and half (1 1/2 c) of the buttermilk/cream mixture. Add the sugar mixture and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Set the pot over medium heat and cook stirring often and adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent a simmer, until the sugar has fully dissolved (about 3 minutes). Remove the pot from the heat. Start whisking the yolk mixture and continue to whisk constantly while slowly drizzling the hot liquid into the yolks.
Scrape the entire mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (it should register ~170F on a digital thermometer). Strain into a heatproof and airtight container and whisk in the remaining buttermilk/cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 6 hours and up to 1 week.
Make the peach puree: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the chopped peaches in a single layer on a quarter-sheet baking pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with honey.
Bake peaches for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the released juices have thickened. (The peaches shouldn’t be browned at all.) Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, scrape the peaches and all the syrupy juices into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until cold.
Make the crisp oat streusel: Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the all dry ingredients except the oats. Add the cubed, chilled butter and rub it into the dry mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the oats and stir to combine well. Spread the mixture in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet, aiming for clumps about 1/4″-1/2″ in size.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted and browned. Cool completely on a wire rack, then freeze in a ziplock bag or airtight container until ready to use.
Churn the ice cream: Whisk 1/4 tsp kosher salt and chilled peach puree into the chilled buttermilk base. Churn according to the instructions for your machine, until the mixture has the texture of soft serve. Transfer to a freezer-friendly container, alternating with dollops of peach jam and generous sprinklings of oat streusel. Cover with parchment paper, pressing it to the surface of the ice cream so it adheres, then cover with a lid. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. Ice cream will keep for up to 3 months.
Shepherd’s pie is a favorite meal in our house. Typically a casserole of meat, vegetables, and gravy topped with mashed potatoes, it’s comfort food at its finest. It’s also a dish that can take on any number of variations, depending on your mood and what’s in the fridge. For this version, I decided to go decadent by replacing the typical ground meat filling with a beef rib stew simmered in the Paderno 6-quart Slow Cooker.
Part of the magic of a slow cooker is its ability to transform inexpensive but tough cuts of meat into melt-in-your-mouth meals. Here we take full advantage of low-and-slow cooking by simmering beef ribs overnight until the meat literally falls off the bone. The simmering liquid is reduced to a luscious gravy, and the whole stew is topped off with a thick layer of Yukon Gold mash. Delicious!
A few notes:
You can easily make the stew portion several days in advance. After slow-cooking the meat, simply cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate until needed. When you’re ready to assemble the shepherd’s pie, skim the fat solids off the top and rewarm in the slow cooker on low for 1-2 hours before proceeding.
Since the stew is quite rich, I opted to make the mashed potatoes a little leaner by using the potato cooking water instead of a dairy product. If you prefer a more decadent mash, feel free to substitute milk/cream/sour cream.
Customize the stew with whatever vegetables you like or have on hand! Mushrooms and peas would be great additions (I’d add them in the last hour of cooking, or during the reheat if you make the stew ahead of time). You can also sub the apple juice for red wine or beer for a different flavor.
Beef Rib Shepherd’s Pie
For the slow cooker beef ribs:
5 lbs bone-in beef ribs, cut into single-bone portions
1 large onion, diced
Half a head of garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, shredded
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (or substitute fresh tomatoes)
3 dried bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 c apple juice
Salt and pepper
75g (1/3 c) unsalted butter
40g (1/3 c) all purpose flour
For the mashed potatoes:
2 lbs yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 in. pieces
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives or scallion greens
For the slow cooker short ribs:
Season beef ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Grill or sear beef ribs on all sides. Meanwhile, in a large pot, sweat onion, garlic, and carrots in olive oil over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, bay leaf, and thyme for the last couple of minutes.
Deglaze pan with apple juice. Add tomatoes, dijon, and worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine, and bring to a low simmer. Once simmering, remove from heat and set aside.
Once finished grilling/searing ribs, transfer ribs to slow cooker, assembling in an even layer. Pour vegetable and liquid mixture over ribs. Add water so the liquid level falls just below the top of the beef.
Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and falls off the bones easily. (At this point you can refrigerate the stew for several days if needed; skim the fat and reheat on low for 1-2 hours when ready to proceed.)
When ready to assemble and bake the shepherd’s pie, remove the bones and bay leaves from the slow cooker and discard. Strain the liquid into a large glass measuring cup. Transfer stew solids to an oven safe pan (I used the Paderno Classic Non-Stick Fry Pan) or casserole dish. Use two forks to shred any large pieces of meat.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Gradually add the reserved liquid, whisking constantly. Once all the liquid is added, raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until the gravy is thickened and reduced by about 1/3 (about 10-15 minutes). Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Add enough gravy to nearly cover the meat and vegetables (reserve the rest of the gravy for serving).
For the mashed potatoes:
Place the potato pieces in a large pot and add cold water to cover by about an inch. Add several generous pinches of salt.
Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Once the water is simmering, turn heat down to medium low and continue simmering until the potatoes are fork-tender (10-15 minutes).
Drain the potatoes, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Return the potatoes to the pot over low heat. Add the butter. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes, adding the reserved water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 425F with a rack in the middle.
Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the filling and score with the tines of a fork for texture, if desired.
Place pan on a sheet pan to catch any drips and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly browned and the edges of the filling are bubbling. Garnish with chopped chives or scallions, if desired. Serve with reserved gravy.
Have you ever tried making cheese? If not, ricotta is a great place to start — it’s one of the simplest cheeses you can make at home and honestly tastes so much better from what you find in the supermarket. And all you need is some milk and an acid!
Although you can make ricotta on the stovetop, this time I used the Paderno 6-quart Programmable Slow Cooker. Using a slow cooker offers a couple advantages. First, it allows for a more gentle heating of the milk (which you can stretch to a few hours if you are busy with other things). Second, it helps maintain a constant temperature once the acid is added.
While most ricotta recipes instruct you to let the acidified milk sit for 5-10 minutes before straining, I learned from a Serious Eats article that the yield and taste of homemade ricotta is vastly improved if you keep the mixture at a higher temperature for 20 minutes. On the stovetop, this means constant heat adjustments and pan babysitting. But thanks to the heat retention of the enamel crock and the precise temperature settings of the slow cooker, this part of the ricotta-making process is simple. Just hit a button and let the slow cooker do the work for you!
My favorite way to enjoy fresh ricotta is on fresh bread; and for these toasts, I baked a loaf of sourdough bread in the Paderno Dutch Oven. Baking bread in a dutch oven is a simple way to mimic the steam ovens commercial bakeries use. The thick walls and tight cover of the dutch oven seal in moisture and heat, allowing the loaf rise to its potential and develop a shiny, crackly crust!
Sometimes I top ricotta toasts with a drizzle of honey or swirl of jam. But during the summer (aka tomato season) you can’t beat blistered cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. I could honestly eat this any meal of the day — simple perfection!
A few notes:
This ricotta recipe is easily doubled; just note that it may take a bit more time initially for the milk to reach temperature.
To bake a loaf of bread in a dutch oven, put the dutch oven (with the cover) in the oven while the oven is preheating. Turn your unbaked bread dough onto a piece of parchment and score as desired. Carefully remove the preheated dutch oven and take off the lid. Transfer the dough, still on the parchment, to the dutch oven and replace the lid. Return the dutch oven to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (or roughly half the baking time); then remove the lid and continue baking the bread until finished.
Homemade ricotta and blistered cherry tomato toasts
For the homemade ricotta:
4 c whole milk (substitute up to 1/2 c heavy cream if desired)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp (20 ml) distilled white vinegar
Pinch of fine sea salt (to taste)
For the blistered cherry tomatoes:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 thick slices sourdough or country-style bread, homemade or store-bought
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper
For the homemade ricotta: Pour the milk into the slow cooker. Heat, partially covered, until a digital thermometer reaches 185F. This can be done over a few hours on the low or medium setting, or in 30-60 minutes on the high setting. Stir occasionally to keep the milk from scorching on the sides.
Once the milk reaches 185F, turn off the slow cooker. Add the vinegar and gently stir for about 10 seconds to distribute. Turn the slow cooker back on to the low setting and maintain a temperature of 175-190F for twenty minutes without stirring. Meanwhile, line a strainer with cheesecloth and suspend over a large measuring glass or bowl.
After twenty minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the lined strainer. Allow to stand until the excess liquid has liquid has drained off, or until you reach desired texture (less time for a softer ricotta and more for drier). Add salt to the curds and gently stir to distribute. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.
For the blistered cherry tomatoes: In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tomatoes and saute until blistered, about two minutes. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste.
Assemble the toasts: toast bread if desired. Spread on ricotta and top with blistered tomatoes. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, flaky salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper, and fresh basil leaves.
To me, the unofficial start of summer is the arrival of fresh strawberries. To be honest, I’m not much of a summer person — I don’t like hot weather and the mosquitoes that come with it. But I love summer produce, and our family definitely looks forward to berry picking every year.
For the past several years, I’ve made a fraisier to celebrate fresh strawberries. A fraisier is a traditional French strawberries and cream cake, and to me it’s the best way to enjoy candy-sweet, ripe strawberries (after eating them straight off the plant).
With these fraisiers I tend to be a bit casual — I usually make them a little differently every time. Sometimes I use a Japanese genoise as the cake; I’ve also made a matcha sponge version that was delicious. Sometimes I make a gelee layer for the top. I’ve also learned a few things over the years — like the need for gelatin to set the cream, and to keep the cake layers on the thin side to let the strawberries really shine through.
For my 2019 fraisier, I used some fresh basil from our garden to infuse the cream. And because the spring here was quite cool and strawberries didn’t show up until practically July, I added in a few blueberries to make this a fourth of July appropriate cake. (You could definitely just use all strawberries too, though.) The sponge is a lemon-scented chiffon, which is light and fluffy and pretty simple to whip up. The result: summer in every bite.
A few notes:
For easiest assembly, I recommend a 6×3 cake ring and acetate strips. You could also use a springform pan and plastic wrap, but you’ll get the cleanest results from the ring and acetate. (I use these same tools to make Momofuku-style cakes.)
You can make the basil pastry cream base up to 5 days in advance, but wait to add the gelatin and whipped cream until you are ready to assemble the cake.
For the cake, I used a half recipe of this lime chiffon cake and baked it in a 6×3 cake pan (total baking time was about 35 minutes). Don’t use a shorter pan; it will overflow. You could probably also bake this in a quarter sheet pan and cut out two 6″ rounds, but you would need to adjust the baking time.
Berry Basil Fraisier
Makes one 6-inch cake
Half a recipe of this chiffon cake, baked in a 6×3 cake pan (I subbed lemon zest and juice for lime)
1 recipe basil cream diplomat (recipe below)
~1 c chopped strawberries, mixed with a spoonful of strawberry puree or jam; plus about 10-12 strawberries, halved (try to choose ones that are the same height, or trim to match) and 10-12 blueberries
More berries and basil leaves, to decorate
For the basil cream diplomat:
1 c whole milk
50g sugar (1/4 c), divided
20g cornstarch or custard powder
2 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
3-4 sprigs of fresh basil
14g (1 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1/2 – 3/4 tsp gelatin*
1/2 tbsp cold
1/2 – 1 c heavy whipping cream*
*Use 1/2 c for a thicker filling and up to 1 c for a lighter filling (I usually use 1/2-3/4 c). If you use more than 1/2 heavy cream, use 3/4 tsp gelatin.
To make the basil cream diplomat: Bring the milk and basil sprigs to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat and cover. Allow basil to steep for about 45 minutes.
Strain the milk (add more to reach 1 cup if necessary) and return to the saucepan along with 40g sugar and a pinch of salt. Place a strainer over a heat-safe jug or container.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 10 g sugar and the cornstarch. Pour in a tablespoon or so of the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
Heat the milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from heat. Pour the milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, continue whisking on the heat for two minutes.
Strain the pastry cream into the prepared jug or container. Whisk in the butter until combined. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours).
When you are ready to assemble the cake, finish preparing the cream diplomat. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the cold water and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put two inches of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Measure 1/4 cup (60g) of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the saucepan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
Heat the cream until it is 120F. Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
Whip the heavy cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate while you continue assembling the cake.
To assemble the berry basil fraisier: Line a 6×3 cake ring (or same-sized springform pan) with acetate (or plastic wrap) and place on a cake board or plate. Trim the cake into layers ~3/4 inch thick (you should get three; you’ll need two for the cake. The rest is a baker’s treat!).
Place one layer of the cake in the bottom of the ring and brush generously with simple syrup. Place the halved strawberries, cut side out and pointed end up, around the edge of the pan. Add blueberries between the strawberries if desired. Pipe the cream diplomat between the fruits and a layer across the top of the cake. Use a offset palette knife to smooth. Fill the center with the chopped berries + jam, then cover with another layer of cream. Place the second layer of cake on top and press down to level. Soak with simple syrup, then spread a thin layer of cream across the top. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or up to three days.
Just before serving remove the cake ring and acetate. Arrange the cut fruit and basil on top as desired. (If you are doing this beforehand, brush a little warmed and thinned apricot jam on the fruit to preserve their color.) Enjoy!