Garlic herb salt, drying on the counter: the greatest air freshener you could ask for.
Tag Archives: rosemary
Orange Pan di Ramerino for Twelve Loaves April
Head above water. That pretty much describes where I’m at these days. I’m about a month out from completing my first year as a full-time faculty member at my college: my first real professorship! This means my desk is somewhere underneath a pile of research proposals from one class, reading responses from two more, and the weight of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene providing a ballast (read: another thing I have to work through) in one corner. My world is scattered with attendance sheets, evaluation materials, paperclips, and an amazing image of the shield from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that a student drew for me in February and I still haven’t gotten around to hanging on my wall.
This means that every week when it comes time to sit down and write a post, I scramble. At least it’s getting lighter outside every night, which means the moment when I can photograph the intricacies of one of our dinners – perhaps even on a week night – is coming. But for now it usually means making and photographing something on a Saturday, editing the photos (I do a little fiddling with white balance and noise reduction) and cobbling together a few things to say about it on Sunday, and scheduling it to go live as usual Monday morning.
It’s only a very few things, I find, that I have to say this time around. The Twelve Loaves challenge for April was oranges. Bake a bread, any bread, whether it be yeast, quick, muffins, biscuits, savory or sweet, and incorporate orange in some way. This one stumped me for a while until I read a post from my new blog obsession, Joe Pastry. Do you guys know Joe? He runs a delightful site in which he pulls inspiration for post topics from questions his readers ask, and along with some really interesting recipes, he explains the science behind baking.
Recently, Joe posted a procedure and recipe for Pan di Ramerino, a Tuscan take on the hot cross bun that incorporates rosemary and raisins. It’s a not-quite-savory-not-quite-sweet bun as welcome in a breakfast basket as on the dinner table. Joe provides a bit more history about it, but I’ll let him tell you that if you’re interested.
Remembering how much I like the combination of orange with rosemary from one of the first loaves I baked during my dough project, I decided to add a hefty scattering of orange zest to the dough, and replace the apricot glaze Joe advocates for an orange one instead to tie things together. Though I let mine rise a little too long (the room was quite warm and I was distracted by lesson planning) and thus the final product was a bit less puffy than I’d hoped, we scarfed our way through the first bun, and then bun-and-a-half, and then two, in little time. They are a soft, moist offering, not as eggy as challah but reminiscent of it in the sticky elasticity of the dough, with an intriguing herbal note that keeps them from turning resolutely into dessert.
The recipe to follow is adapted very slightly from Joe’s. I ended up with eleven buns, but that was just carelessness and poor counting on my part (thankfully I’m not a math professor…); you will easily be able to make twelve. Easter is over now, I know (head above water, people), but these are a lovely expression of spring for your kitchen, and would make really nice offerings for a bridal or a baby shower. Or, you know, roast a chicken stuffed with a sprig of rosemary and half an orange, and serve these up on the side.
Orange Pan di Ramerino
Adapted from Joe Pastry
3 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ cups warm or tepid water (at or just above body temperature)
¼ cup olive oil
3 sprigs rosemary (about 3 inches each) plus an optional extra 1 tablespoon, finely chopped
⅔ cup golden raisins
3 ¼ fluffy cups bread flour (that’s 17.5 ounces, if you’re being disciplined about it)
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons orange zest from one large orange
1 additional egg, for egg wash
Additional dribble of water, for egg wash
Orange glaze, recipe follows
- In a 2 cup glass measuring cup or a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and ¾ cups warm water, and set aside to burble for 5-10 minutes.
- While the yeast activates, heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium low heat. When it just shimmers, add the 3 sprigs of rosemary and sauté for 30 seconds. They will barely brown and the leaves will start to look a little weary. Remove and discard.
- Add the raisins to the same olive oil and sauté them for 30 seconds. Remove and drain, reserving the oil. Let the raisins and the oil cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt using the paddle attachment. Chop the remaining rosemary, if using, and zest the orange.
- By this time your yeast mixture should be assertively bubbling and smell like fresh bread. Add the cooled oil and the two eggs to the yeast mixture and whisk lightly.
- Add this collection of wet ingredients to the flour and salt and mix with the paddle attachment until most of the flour is moistened. Exchange the paddle attachment for the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 3-5 minutes. The dough will become lovely: supple and elastic.
- Add the additional rosemary, if using, the orange zest, and the raisins to the dough, and knead again until these flavoring agents are incorporated. This will take a good minute or two, since the first inclination of the raisins will be to hang out stubbornly at the bottom of the bowl. You may have to stop the mixing and fold them into the dough by hand a few times to get them to behave.
- Once things are nicely incorporated, the dough will be a bit on the sticky side, but that’s okay. Transfer it to a clean, oiled bowl, or just smear some olive oil around the sides of the bowl you’ve been using, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set it aside to rise until doubled. This could take as many as 90 minutes, or it could take more like 60. It depends on how warm your house is.
- When the dough has doubled in volume, turn it out onto a floured board. You may find it is still a bit sticky, so you want to be sure you have enough flour down to prevent frustration.
- Using a dough scraper, a pizza cutter, or a reasonably sharp knife, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. If you want to be precise about it, this should mean each chunk will be 2.75 ounces.
- With the palm of your hand, gently roll each chunk into a soft round. Joe has an excellent method for this – take a peek at his instructions if you want a method to work with.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and load them up, six buns on each. Lightly oil the tops of the buns, then cover with plastic wrap or a clean cloth and let them rise again for 45 minutes. At this point, you should also preheat the oven to 400F.
- Once the buns have risen again and the oven is hot, brush the tops with egg wash, made by beating the remaining egg with a tiny dribble of water. Then, with a sharp serrated knife, cut a criss-cross pattern in the top of each. As Joe notes, this produces something less than aesthetically perfect, but it’s traditional.
- Bake in the upper third of a 400F oven for twenty minutes. At this point the tops of the buns should be nicely bronzed. Take them out and let them cool for a bit before topping them with a light layer of orange glaze.
Makes enough for at least 12 buns
Juice of one large orange
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
- Combine all ingredients in a small pot or saucepan and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Cool slightly before brushing onto the warm pan di ramerino.
Go-to Dough III – Orange and Rosemary loaf
First, thank you. Thank you to you lovely people and the lovely way you responded to last week’s post about my sweet rolls and my Nana. Old friends, new friends, family, it warmed me to see your comments. I so appreciate you making yourselves known and sharing your own experiences and memories – I’m motivated to delve into more old family recipes and more new experiments. That probably sounds a little cheesy, but I mean it.
So I suppose you could call this a thank you loaf. It was delicious, it was easy (well, as easy as baking bread can be, I suppose), and I made it for you.
I wanted, as I’ve noted, a basic recipe, though I can’t resist adding a tweak or two to keep things interesting. My first boule was overbrowned; my second utilized an overnight leavening procedure I didn’t think added all that much to the final product. So the third had to be just right – the charm, you might say – and I really do think it was. Goldilocks bread.
I went back to Ruhlman’s directions for cooking the loaf in a pot. This strategy for maintaining the shape and for holding in moisture by using a lid makes so much sense, and I wanted to give it another shot.
This time I decided to add some fat to the bread in the form of olive oil. This made the crumb a bit moister and I think it kept the bread tasting fresh longer. To make the yeast extra happy, I proofed it (them? Is yeast grammatically plural?) with a few tablespoons of honey. This didn’t contribute noticeable sweetness to the final product, but it did make for an extra foamy yeast party. You could probably increase the honey if you wanted a sweeter end product. Since I was still on a high from the orange marmalade triumph, I decided this bread would benefit from some orange zest and, just for fun, some fresh rosemary too. I ended up with a really beautiful loaf: puffed, thin but crisp crust, moist dense crumb. The orange and rosemary creep up on you – perfumed subtlety lingering in the background until you’re almost finished chewing. Then they suddenly become present. It’s not a punch, it’s a slow sloping into flavor.
This was perfect for sopping up sauce from baked beans (it would make stellar toast for beans on toast), complementing the sweetness and the fatty bacon flavor with its subtle herbaceousness. I could see adding some dried cranberries to the dough for a wintry take on a breakfast slice. It dances well with a slick of salted butter, plain and simple, but its shining moment this week was as an open faced sandwich spread thickly with cream cheese and fig preserves. The orange and rosemary played beautiful back-up to the cream cheese and the fig, and I bolted it before I even considered taking a photo to share the triumph. If you make this bread – and you should, oh you should – don’t miss this combination.
Orange and Rosemary loaf
12 oz. warm water
2 TB honey
2 tsp yeast
2 TB olive oil
20 oz. bread flour (or 4 cups, give or take)
2 tsp salt (I’m currently obsessed with a gray French sea salt, which I found at Cost Plus World Market)
2 TB fresh rosemary leaves, minced
zest from 2 oranges
Combine the warm water, honey, and yeast in a small bowl or a measuring cup, and stir lightly. Set aside for 5 minutes or so to let the yeast revive from its hibernation.
In a medium bowl (I use my stand mixer), combine the flour, salt, orange zest, and rosemary.
When the yeast is bubbly and smells of bread and beer and awesome, add the olive oil to the wet mixture and stir lightly.
Pour the wet yeast mixture carefully into the dry ingredients, then stir to combine until you have a wet, shaggy mixture (if you are using a stand mixer, try the paddle attachment. I know it’s one extra thing to wash, but it brings the mixture together much more quickly than a dough hook).
Once the dough is shaggy but workable, knead for 8-10 minutes or until a small knob can be stretched gently between your fingers to a point of translucency. This is called the windowpane test. If you’re getting help from a stand mixer, use your dough hook and knead on medium speed, checking after 6-7 minutes.
Your dough should be warm, elastic, and smooth. Turn it into an oiled bowl and flip it around until all sides are lightly oiled. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled, 60-75 minutes (My preferred method is to turn my oven on for five minutes, turn it off, wait for five minutes, and then put the dough inside. This creates an environment warm enough to help it rise, but not warm enough to start it cooking already).
After the dough has doubled in bulk, push it down gently with your fist to release the gasses trapped inside, then let it rest for 10 minutes to get its breath back.
On a floured board, shape your bread. Since we are going for a round loaf, spin the dough in a circle, pushing it away from you with one hand, and using the other hand to tuck it under so you form a smooth, round ball. (There are a lot of videos and complex step-by-step series for this procedure, involving pinching seams, smoothing and pulling, spreading and folding and turning the dough, and a host of others to prevent the loaf from spreading rather than maintaining its round shape. Letting it rise and then baking it in a round pot takes care of many of these concerns. I haven’t been particularly firm about pinching seams, and my loaves have turned out nicely rounded.)
Transfer the loaf to a dutch oven or similar lidded pot and let it rise for another 90 minutes. I lined my baking vessel with parchment paper this time so I wouldn’t have to use olive oil, which I suspect made my previous attempt too brown on the bottom. This seemed to work fairly well.
When your dough has risen again, it will be puffed and pushing against the sides of the pot. It’s now time to score it with a sharp knife, drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt, then bake it with the lid on in a preheated 450F oven for 30 minutes. Keeping the lid on traps some of the moisture inside, so you don’t have to bother with flicking or spraying the inside of the oven, or even with adding a pan of water.
After half an hour, remove the lid and continue baking for 15-30 additional minutes, or until the bread is done (it should register 180-200F on an instant-read thermometer and sound hollow when you tap the bottom). Mine only took an additional 15 minutes before it tested done.
Let the bread cool for 10-15 minutes, if you can stand it, before slicing. This gives the center time to cool a bit and helps it stay together better.
Or, you know, just tear off chunks and eat them blisteringly hot. I won’t tell anyone.
Fading light. And bourbon.
My home office – the room where grading, blogging, photo editing, and general work happens – has the most wonderful light in our house. A huge sliding glass door lets sunlight pour in during the morning hours, and in the afternoon I get brightness mediated by the roof of the house. Even when it’s overcast, there is still so much natural light that it makes for wonderful food shots.
But winter is a problem. I’m discovering that if I make a dish for dinner, I’m not going to be able to photograph it from my office because it’s too dark by 5pm. And wedded to this blog and this project as I am, there’s no way we’re having dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon just so I can get the best light in the house. So I’m trying out new angles, and new placement, and new adjustments. I’m learning more about artificial light: which arrangements I find glaring and which I find acceptable. Bear with me, and look forward to the return of Daylight Savings Time!
“17. Sauté chopped onion in butter, then chunks of sweet potato and stock or water to cover. Simmer until the sweet potatoes can be pierced with a knife, then add chopped kale and cook until wilted.”
This was easy, and quick, and tasty. I made a few additions to Bittman’s recommendations and think the soup really benefited from them. I used:
½ a medium onion (mine was yellow)
1 big sweet potato, peeled and cut into small chunks (the smaller the chunks, the faster they will cook, so make your decision based on how much time you have and what size is most pleasing to you)
Salt, pepper, ground nutmeg to taste
4 cups broth – vegetable or chicken, depending on your preference
6 oz. kale
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Heat the butter in a pot over medium heat. When it has melted, add the onion and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent but not bronzed.
Add the sweet potatoes and seasoning, stir to combine for a minute or two, then add the broth. The quantity of liquid you need will depend entirely upon the size of your sweet potato. You may need more or less than the 4 cups listed here.
Let the soup simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Mine took about 15 minutes.
Add the kale and stir to combine. You will be bewildered by how quickly it collapses on itself, wilting from smoky green to a brighter, more vibrant hue as it is immersed in the liquid. Cook just until it reaches the texture you like against your tongue – I let it simmer for about 5 minutes, because I like my kale to still put up some resistance and retain its bright color.
I tasted and thought this needed something. Extra salt to heighten the flavor of the kale, certainly, but there was a kind of dullness about the whole concoction. Remembering my soup lessons from Alton Brown, I sprinkled in just a hint of red wine vinegar, and the difference was amazing. The whole thing was brighter, somehow, even though you couldn’t taste anything harsh or stringent.
We consumed this happily with freshly toasted, garlic-rubbed slices of pugliese. It was good, but could have been stuffed with even more flavor: I’d consider adding garlic, ginger, maybe even rice or ramen noodles.
“4. Onion jam with bacon and bourbon: Thinly slice red onions and cook in olive oil with chopped bacon until soft. Add a little bourbon and brown sugar to taste and cook until the jam thickens.”
Bourbon is new for me. N. has been enjoying the occasional scotch for a few years now, but we recently acquired a bottle of Knob Creek and I’ve been appreciating the floral notes of it – so much less musty and boggy than its British cousin.
4 slices thick-cut bacon, halved lengthwise into long strips, then sliced into small rectangles
½ large red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup bourbon
2 TB brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small sprig rosemary
I used about a tablespoon of olive oil to start the pan, but I don’t think you really need it. Just toss in the bacon slices over medium heat and let them work for about 5 minutes. You will get a shimmer of fat across the bottom of the pan that is more than enough to start the onions sizzling in.
Add the onions and cook over medium or medium-low for at least ten minutes, until the onions soften and the bacon is mostly cooked. Stir with some frequency to ensure even cooking.
Off the heat (especially if you are using a gas stove) add the bourbon and the brown sugar. Stir to combine, then return to medium heat and simmer slowly for about 20 minutes, to let the flavors mingle and the bourbon soak into the onions and bacon.
After a few minutes of cooking, I added pepper and rosemary for additional flavor components, and I think they were a good choice. The rosemary’s woodsy flavor was a nice contrast to the fatty bacon and sweet onions. Everything cooked down into a sticky, caramelized jam that I draped across some baked rounds of polenta.
This was delicious, but misplaced. The meaty, smoky bacon was intensified by the bourbon, and the brown sugar and onions had a nice note of molasses. It didn’t belong on polenta. It belonged, I think, on a freshly toasted piece of crostini, possibly smeared with a thick slice of brie. The funkiness of the cheese could stand up nicely to the sweet smoky strength of this jam.
We paired our misguided polenta with green beans, lightly blanched and then seared in a hot pan and deglazed with a bit of red wine. These, too, were delicious, but not the ideal pairing for the sweet saltiness of my jam. Apples, maybe, or red grapes would make better pairings. Regardless, we ate with joy and returned to the pan once or twice for a final sweet chunk of sticky, gooey jammy bacon to sweeten our palates, even though dessert was still to come.
“91. Pears in Red Wine: Simmer 2 cups red wine with ½ cup sugar, 2 cloves, a cinnamon stick and a few slices of ginger in a pot for a few minutes, then gently poach peeled and cored pears (use a spoon to hollow them from bottom), until soft. Cool or chill, and serve with a bit of the poaching liquid.”
This is supposed to be one of the most sophisticated desserts you can offer: not overly sweet, laden with mulled flavor, perfect for a gourmet adult party in celebration of autumn. Pears, with their temperamental habits and signature grainy texture, are perhaps the same kind of acquired taste as wine or coffee or any of those other “adult” tastes. As dessert for our onion-jam-crusted dinner, I decided to attempt these.
I used 2 pears, but followed the rest of Bittman’s quantities exactly.
Well, one exception to note: I thought about getting fancy and adding things like citrus peel or rosemary (apparently I’m hooked on the stuff these days). But in the end, I just splashed in a bit of bourbon to link the flavor profile back to our dinner: red wine from the beans, bourbon from the jam, and this dessert would fit right in.
After the first simmer, in which I stirred gently to let the sugar dissolve and the spices mull gently into the wine, I prepared the pears.
The issue with pears is that inside their tender skins they are slippery little beasts. You can’t grasp them too firmly or they sigh into bruises. You can’t hold them too delicately or they slide out of your hands and threaten to slip from the edge of the kitchen counter.
I dove into my attempt to core the pears only after peeling them. This, and the attempt to do so with a spoon, may have been a mistake. The spoon tore through the tender flesh of the pear but was too wide to remove only the core. Further, I wasn’t sure how much core I was supposed to be removing, so I ended up with two pale, naked, slightly mutilated pears, which I slid into their (hopefully) healing bath of alcohol.
I let them simmer, turning them occasionally to dye all sides a lovely burgundy, for about 15 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let them sit a further 20 minutes until we were ready for dessert.
Surrounded by a moat of spiced wine, these were achingly tender and nicely flavored. I would choose pears that were less ripe if I attempted this dessert again, because a bit of additional texture might have done them good. As it was, though, much of the graininess disappeared in the poaching, and the soft floral flavor was really nice against the wine and assertive spices. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side would have made this a richer endeavor, but I think the creaminess would have matched well with the fruit and the wine. Or maybe I just need the extra comfort as we roll into December…
Trick or Treat
Halloween is easily in my top three holidays. I have to give the prize to Christmas, because it means family and love and sweaters, but Thanksgiving and Halloween chase each other in circles to gain second place. Despite that love (overwhelming in some cases, especially if you, like N., are not invested in costuming yourself at every possible occasion), this is the first year in almost a decade that I’ve done nothing to celebrate. No costume. No party. No decorations. We bought candy for the six kids that showed up (only six! The whole evening! Was it just because it was a Wednesday, or do kids not trick or treat like they once did?) and I definitely listened to the Halloween party mix my friend D. made for me a few years ago, but it felt a bit like a lost holiday.
I did embrace the season, though, the following day. Having Thursdays off gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years: pillage Target’s day after Halloween sale for leftover clearance items (read: treats!).
The tricks began when I began work on the evening’s dinner. It was, I realize in retrospect, a bit of a Chopped style enterprise: appetizer, entree, and dessert, each made with ingredients I’d not expected to meld. In each case, however, the “trick” aspect of the dish was my doing, not the recipe’s.
“12. Garlic-Rosemary Figs: Soak dried figs, stems removed, in warm water until plump; drain and halve. Heat rosemary and lightly smashed (and peeled) garlic with olive oil on medium-low heat, until softened. Add figs, along with some fresh orange juice. Cook until saucy.
Pairing figs, garlic, and orange juice seemed odd. Nevertheless, I collected enough for one portion (this was not N.’s kind of dish):
6 dried black mission figs
1-2 tsp fresh rosemary
2 smashed, peeled garlic cloves
1 TB olive oil
juice from 1 small orange (⅓ – ½ cup juice)
I heated some water in my teakettle and poured it over the figs (which I’d halved prematurely. Apparently paying attention to the directions is kind of important), which I let stew on the counter for half an hour.
Figs vaguely plumped, I drained them and set them aside, then put the garlic cloves, rosemary, and oil into a cold pan. I heated it over medium for five minutes or so – just until the rosemary started to sizzle and the garlic turned a little blonde. Then I added the figs and orange juice, and simmered for fifteen minutes or so, until the orange juice had reduced considerably.
I plated, I ate, and I considered. This didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t marry absurdly well either. The rosemary and the figs were lovely. The orange juice and figs were fine (though the orange was a bit overpowering). The garlic and figs were… unobjectionable. They just weren’t my favorite.
I must say, though, I recalled while I was cleaning up after dinner that this entry was in the “Sauces and Relishes” category. I had eaten it straight. This was, perhaps, why I wasn’t enamored of it. Therefore, I’d recommend spooning this over lamb chops, or pork tenderloin, either of which would add some savory notes to make the garlic feel less anomalous.
Though this “appetizer” wasn’t fantastic, I ate it with a fantastic grain-salad-turned-hash inspired by Smitten Kitchen. I want to revisit this hash, because I think it could use some additions, but here are the basics:
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set it in the oven and preheat to 400F. Yes, you are preheating the pan along with the oven.
Peel and halve a butternut squash. Seed half of it and cut that half into small cubes. In a bowl, toss the cubes with salt, pepper, and olive oil, then tumble onto the baking sheet (where they will sizzle immediately – this is a good thing) and stow back in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until they have golden edges and creamy soft middles.
During the last ten minutes of squash roasting, push the squash to the sides of the pan (or just grab another pan, if you aren’t invested in avoiding dishes, like me) and stack 4 cups or so of trimmed, cut kale that has also been tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. The kale and squash will cook down a little more together, and you will be left with something not quite like kale chips, but a bit more textured than if you’d boiled or steamed it.
While the squash and kale roast, cook 1 cup of bulgur wheat in chicken (or vegetable) broth. When done, fluff gently with a fork and toss with squash and kale.
During the last few minutes of roasting time, toast 2 TB pumpkin seeds in a dry pan until they begin to snap and crack.* Be careful not to burn them. Toss with bulgur and vegetable mixture.
In the pumpkin seed pan (again, avoiding dishes), heat an egregious quantity of butter until foamy and crack in an egg to fry until the edges frizzle and brown and crackle. Despite a few careful taps, on this egg of all eggs – the egg I wanted to photograph quivering atop my hash, the egg I wanted to show just cut and lusciously runny – I somehow shoved my thumb through the yolk and it broke all over the pan. Nasty trick, egg.
Nevertheless, I piled my hash up on my plate, carefully laid the fried egg over it, and dug in. It was a hearty, pretty, perfectly autumnal dish. It needs some tweaking before I’m thrilled with it – perhaps some sautéed leeks folded into the bulgur, or some light spices on the butternut squash – but this was a delightful start.
I turned to dessert:
“96. Sweet Autumn Gratin: Combine cubed pumpkin or sweet potato with cranberries and hazelnuts in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar and toss. Drizzle cream all over, dot with butter and bake until soft, bubbly and browned, 50 to 60 minutes. Re-warm before serving if you like.
I’m going to give you a list not of my ingredients and procedure, but of what I should have used and done.
1 big sweet potato, peeled and diced
½ cup dried cranberries (I didn’t have fresh, so I don’t know what they would be like. Presumably more successful because they would emit, not swallow, liquid)
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (I couldn’t find hazelnuts anywhere – who would have thought this would be the food item I would miss most from Oregon?!)
¼ – ½ cup brown sugar, depending on how sweet you like it
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup butter
Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter a 9×13 inch pan (my round, much smaller dish was a poor choice).
Toss the sweet potato chunks, cranberries, and walnuts with brown sugar. Spread them out in the pan in an even layer. Pour on the cream, then pinch off pieces of butter and dot them over the top.
Bake for an hour, or until the sweet potato pieces are fully cooked.
I did few of these things. My sweet potatoes were in bigger-than-they-should-have-been chunks, piled up in a small casserole dish, starving for cream (I only had a tablespoon or two) and shorted on sugar. As a result, at the end of an hour they were hot but still resistant in texture. I think what you want is melting, creamy softness.
To remedy this problem, I tried several things. First, I made a bourbon hard sauce (equal parts sugar and water, stir to melt. Add ¼ cup butter, stir carefully until it melts. Add a shot or two of bourbon, cook just a minute or two to take the edge off) to pour over the top. This helped, and I willingly ate a serving, but it was lacking whipped cream or ice cream or, bizarrely, pie crust.
I didn’t figure out the pie crust thing until the next day when I was making empanadas for dinner. As I pressed my fork into the edge of the dough to crimp it, I was flooded with the right answer: tiny hand pies stuffed with my sweet potato mixture!
This was clearly the right thing to do. Saturday afternoon, I unrolled a pie crust on my counter, cut out 3 inch circles, and proceeded to fill them with a teaspoon or two each of the gratin, which I’d mashed with a fork to make smoother and therefore more manageable.
Once filled, fold in half, press and then crimp with a fork, and brush with egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 TB water). Sprinkle with turbinado or other raw, chunky sugar, and bake in a preheated 400F oven for 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the dough is flaky.
These make lovely, tiny snacks. The craisins give a punch of tartness to the sweet, earthy, almost heavy sweet potato and walnut pairing. There are subtle floral hints in there, because before putting it away that first night I admit to dumping the bourbon sauce over the whole thing, but this adds a flavor I wouldn’t change. The dough is buttery and flaky and collapses easily around the filling, and it’s difficult to prevent yourself from standing over the pan as it comes steaming out of the oven and eating four or five in a row, scalding your tongue and not caring at all.
Perfect November treat.
* You could, I suppose, use butternut squash seeds, if you are the sort of person with the forethought to save, rinse, and dry the seeds while you clean your squash. I, clearly, am not.