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Archive for March, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is so easy and quick to make, you can mix it up in the time it takes the oven to preheat. This recipe is from Baking With Julia and has only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. It jumped to five when I substituted whole wheat flour for about half of the white flour. The raisins were optional, and I’m glad I added them. Their sweetness and chewiness perfectly complemented the moist interior and crunchy crust. I liked it best served warm and smeared with butter…so much satisfaction for so little effort.

You can find the recipe on the blogs of Cathy at My Culinary Mission and Carla at Chocolate Moosey, and also see their different approaches to interpreting the recipe.

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Rugelach

I don’t remember exactly when I first tried rugelach. A few years ago I was buying the Whole Foods version weekly when my daughter was a fan, and I have a good friend who’s been working on perfecting baking rugelach, but somehow I’d never tried baking them myself until two days ago. Lately, I’ve been making recipes from Baking With Julia, a Tuesdays With Dorie project. This week’s recipe was for rugelach and was contributed by Lauren Groveman, who you can read about here.

These have it all: a rich flaky cream cheese pastry dough spread with fruit lekvar and packed full of fruits, nuts, spices, and sugar, which spill out during baking, leaving the bottoms of the cookies caramelized and surrounded by crackly pools of caramel. I loved every part of them, the complexity of flavors and textures, each bite offering its own mix of chewy fruit and crunchy nuts.

Buttery rich and sweet, the dough is easily mixed and a piece of cake to handle.*

The fillings start with the fruit lekvars: thick butters of dried fruit, sugar, and ground nuts, with recipes included for apricot and prune varieties*. Apricot was fine with me, but I was all set to substitute for the prune: maybe a cherry lekvar, or chocolate, or a mango butter topped with coconut and macadamia nuts. I spent three days debating, but I kept circling back to the prune filling, thinking it was time to overcome my prune skepticism.

I made the prune and apricot lekvars ahead of time. I think their thickness and concentrated fruit flavor was key to the success of the rugelach. The remaining toppings are cinnamon & sugar, mixed chopped nuts, and dried fruits. I used almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts, and a dried fruit mixture from Trader Joe’s called Golden Berry Blend (golden raisins, cherries, cranberries, and blueberries.) The bowl on the bottom right holds the chopped nut-cinnamon-sugar mixture that the rugelach are rolled in before baking.

After rolling out to a 10″ x 14″ rectangle* and cut in half lengthwise, the dough is spread with one of the lekvars, sprinkled with the cinnamon & sugar mixture, strewn with the nuts and dried fruits, and rolled up like a jelly-roll. This is the only stage where the rugelach are pretty to look at, with the jewel colors of the fruit scattered over the lekvar (notice that I’ve shown the golden apricot version.) My rugelach-baking friend said that the Cooks Illustrated cook book that she has talks about their rugelach looking “home made” and tells the reader to just get over it.

It’s challenging to roll the dough with so much filling. It helps that you’re instructed to tuck in any nuts or fruits that fall out in the process (you get the idea that it’s supposed to be filled to bursting,) and the result is a chubby roll that’s chilled for four hours or overnight.

Out of the refrigerator, the rolls are brushed with egg wash, sliced into one inch wide pieces, and then tossed in a cinnamon-sugar-nut mixture. The rugelach are baked on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Removed from the oven: these are big overstuffed cookies; crunchy outside, soft inside, crammed with chunks of nuts and fruits mingled with the cinnamony scent of the crust.

You can find the rugelach recipe on the blogs of Margaret at The Urban Hiker and Jessica at My Baking Heart.

A couple of tips:

* The pastry dough was very sticky, so I added an additional half cup of flour (3 1/2 cups total.)

* The lekvar recipes understate the quantity produced by a lot. Unless you want leftovers, you can cut the recipes by half.

* Next time I’ll try rolling the dough out to an 11″ x 14″ rectangle, to get an extra 1/2″ for enclosing the filling.

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