A Baker's Odyssey

by Greg Patent, Kelly Gorham and Dave Mclean

Hardcover, 369 pages, John Wiley & Sons Inc, List Price: $34.95 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
A Baker's Odyssey
Author
Greg Patent, Kelly Gorham, et al

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Book Summary

The James Beard Award-winning author of Baking in America travels the United States to pay tribute to the nation's diverse ethnic baking traditions with more than 130 recipes that represent the best of each culture's culinary heritage and its influence on American cuisine, accompanied by a DVD that features hands-on baking instructions.

Read an excerpt of this book

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: A Baker's Odyssey

A Baker's Odyssey


John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2007 Greg Patent
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7645-7281-4

Chapter One

Fried Sweet Pastries and Doughs

JUST ABOUT EVERY CUISINE IN THE WORLD FRIES DOUGHS AND PASTRIES, because bubbling-hot fat is an excellent medium for quick-cooking and for making foods taste great. All you really need is a heat source and a heavy pot. This one simple technique has given rise to a dazzling variety of pastries that are favorites in so many societies. The sweet recipes here come from countries as different as Thailand, Mexico, Lebanon, and Italy, the last representing the lion's share of the recipes.

The fried pastries in this chapter display an incredible range of shapes, from blobs formed by pinching or stretching doughs by hand (Puff Puff, Anise Sfinci, Malasadas) to fancier rolled and braided treats (Koeksisters). The textures range from soft with crisp exteriors (Calas, Casatelli, Sfinci di Ricotta) to slightly chewy (Lebanese Fried Dough, Paczki) to crisp with a creamy cheese filling (Cannoli), very crisp (Fattigman, Buñuelos), and nice and crunchy (Chin Chin, Strufoli, Koeksisters).

A couple of these pastries, Paczki and Malasadas, were originally made just before Lent as a way of using up rich perishable ingredients such as eggs, cream, and butter. Today they're made year-round, but their popularity peaks around Fat Tuesday or Fat Thursday. Several others are Christmas specialties, while the remaining recipes are cooked throughout the year. Please feel free to make any of these sweets any time you want.

Calas african american

MAKES ABOUT 36 FRITTERS

CALAS (PRONOUNCED "ka-LA") are not-too-sweet rice fritters with a heavenly light, slightly chewy texture. They were a traditional delicacy for decades in New Orleans, until the early 1900s, accompanying the morning cup of café au lait or coffee. African food authority Jessica Harris, in her marvelous cookbook The Welcome Table, says:

[Calas] seem to have been the exclusive culinary preserve of African-American cooks who peddled them in the French Market and door to door, carrying their covered bowls of calas on their heads. Their cry, "Belles calas! Tout chaud! (Beautiful rice fritters! Nice and hot!)" is all that remains today of the cala.

What is the African connection to a food so strongly identified with New Orleans? According to Jessica, the people of two rice-growing regions in West Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone, make rice fritters-their word for rice is kala-and Africans from those regions were recorded in the Southern slave census. I do not know how rice fritters from West Africa might compare with these calas, but I do know that these are sensational, and I am indebted to Jessica for allowing me to use her recipe. When you eat these, don't be surprised if you have a vision of a cala woman making her rounds, with her bandana tignon, guinea blue dress, and white apron, her cry piercing the morning air.

BATTER

3/4 cup long-grain rice

2 1/4 cups cold water

1 1/2 packages (3 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (105º to 115ºF)

4 large eggs, well beaten

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned into the cup and leveled)

Vegetable oil for deep-frying Confectioners' sugar for dusting

THE NIGHT BEFORE you plan to make the fritters, put the rice into a small heavy saucepan, add the water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir once or twice with a fork, cover the pan, reduce the heat to very low, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, without disturbing the rice, until it is very tender and the water is absorbed.

SCRAPE THE RICE into a large bowl and mash it with the back of a wooden spoon or wooden spatula to a mushy consistency. Let cool slightly.

MEANWHILE, in a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and give it a stir. Let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 10 minutes.

WHEN THE RICE is lukewarm throughout, add the yeast and beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Place a damp towel over the bowl and leave the rice at room temperature overnight.

THE NEXT MORNING, stir the beaten eggs into the rice, followed by the sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Gradually stir in the fl our. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the batter rise in a warm place for 30 minutes (or a bit longer). The batter will be very bubbly.

MEANWHILE, pour 3 inches of oil into a large heavy pot. Clamp a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot, or use a digital probe thermometer. Bring the oil to 375ºF over medium to medium-high heat. Line a large baking sheet with several thicknesses of paper towels.

USE TWO SOUPSPOONS to shape the calas, one for dipping into the batter, the other for pushing the fritter off into the hot oil; take a well-rounded spoonful of batter for each cala. Fry the calas about 8 at a time for 6 minutes or so, until well browned. I get a tremendous kick out of watching the calas round up in the hot fat, sometimes forming spiky projections, and magically rolling themselves over from time to time. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on the paper towels to drain. Let the calas cool for a minute or so, and dust generously with confectioners' sugar. Make sure the oil returns to the proper temperature between batches. Serve the calas tout chaud! These are best when eaten within 3 or 4 hours.

Fattigman norwegian crisps

MAKES ABOUT 60 PASTRIES

THESE QUINTESSENTIALLY NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS PASTRIES, thin, crisp, cardamom-scented diamond shapes, originated in the 1870s, when fl our from Russia had become cheap and readily available and most city homes boasted a cast-iron range. The range made a safe place for a pot of boiling lard, far safer than hanging it from a metal rod in the fireplace, as in earlier times, and allowed the cook to regulate the temperature of the fat somewhat.

"What I remember most as a child growing up in Norway was making Christmas cookies. This was right after World War II, and the years following, when the rationing and food shortages thankfully came to an end," Karin Knight, a petite, youthful grandmother with playful blue eyes, tells me as we roll, cut, and shape fattigman cookies. For seven days leading up to Christmas, her parents made a different cookie or pastry each day, and Karin and her sister helped. Some kinds of cookies were baked in an oven, others were cooked in an iron, and some, like fattigman, were deep-fried.

My first remembrance of making fattigman goes back to December 1945. I was seven years old. For the first time since I had been born, thanks to a Marshall-Aid package that contained, among many wonderful things, sugar, and to our friends on a nearby farm who brought us eggs and cream, my mother and father were making fattigman, the essential Norwegian Christmas pastry. We made them in assembly-line fashion. My mother rolled the dough so thin I could see through it. I sat next to her, carefully cutting the dough into ribbons from a pattern. I passed the ribbons on to my sister, who cut them into diamond shapes and finished forming the cookies. In the meantime, my father heated a pot of lard on our electric stove. When the fat reached the correct temperature, he fried the fattigman three at a time. As soon as they were golden brown, which took only a few seconds, he removed them from the pot and set them aside to drain. We didn't have paper towels then, so he put them on unleavened bread, which soaked up the excess fat. The bread was delicious!

Just why these fried pastries are called fattigman, which means "poor man's," is anybody's guess. "The name makes no sense," Karin says, "because the dough is rich with eggs and heavy cream. Of course, the name could be a kind of joke. There was a time when fl our, cream, eggs, and spices were so costly that you'd be a 'poor man' if you made these!"

And why the diamond shape? And why cut a slit in the dough and thread the tip of the dough through it? Some say the cookies were shaped to resemble a type of coin purse popular in Norway in the late 1800s, with the dough passing through the slit representing the purse's drawstring. The pastry itself might have symbolized something costly.

Whatever the story, the pastries are irresistible, and they melt in your mouth. Karin says, "Norwegian women often competed with one another to see whose fattigman were the best. Those that were the thinnest and crispest and had the best balance of flavors were always the winners."

The soft, sticky dough must be rolled on a well-floured surface until very thin and handled gently. It's best to work with one-quarter of it at a time; keep the rest covered in the refrigerator. Two or three people make quick work of fattigman, but I often make them by myself. Traditionally the pastries were fried in lard, but vegetable shortening or vegetable oil is a fine substitute. Be sure to keep the temperature of the fat between 360º and 370ºF. Too low a heat will result in greasy pastries, and too high a heat will cause them to brown too much, losing the delicacy of their flavor. The pastries will keep well for several weeks in a tightly covered container at room temperature-but chances are they'll disappear way before then. Note that the dough must be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

DOUGH

6 large egg yolks

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cardamom, preferably freshly ground (see Note)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Granulated or confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)

TO MAKE THE DOUGH, in a large bowl beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes, until thick and pale yellow. Add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes more, or until the mixture forms a slowly dissolving ribbon when the beaters are raised. On low speed, beat in the butter, Cognac, vanilla, cardamom, and salt.

IN A SMALL BOWL, beat the cream until it holds a soft shape. Fold the cream into the egg yolk mixture. With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the fl our to make a thick, sticky dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

TO MAKE THE FATTIGMAN, pour 3 inches of oil into a heavy 5- to 6-quart pot and clamp a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot, or use a digital probe thermometer. Bring the fat to 360º to 370ºF over medium heat.

MEANWHILE, dust your work surface generously with fl our. Scrape the dough onto the surface and divide it into quarters. Toss each piece to coat lightly with the fl our, then return 3 of the pieces to the bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate until needed. Roll the dough out until it is very thin, no thicker than 1/16 inch, preferably thinner. Handle it gently and fl our the dough and work surface as necessary to prevent sticking; use a pastry brush to brush away excess flour-you only want to use enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Don't be concerned about the shape of the dough or uneven edges.

USE A RULER to mark the dough into 2 1/2-inch-wide strips. Cut the dough into strips with a large sharp knife or a bench scraper, making your cuts cleanly with a downward motion. Don't drag the blade through the dough, or the dough may stick to it. Cut the strips into diamond shapes with the same downward motion. Each diamond will be about 5 inches long. Use the tip of a small sharp knife to make a 1-inch-long slit in each one, starting in the center of the diamond and moving downward. Remove the scraps of dough from around the diamonds, wrap the scraps in plastic, and refrigerate.

LINE A LARGE BAKING SHEET with a silicone baking pan liner or cooking parchment. Carefully pick up one of the diamonds, fold the point nearest the slit over, push it through the slit, and bend it back down so that it forms a point at the tip of the pastry; set the fattigman on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining diamonds, working quickly so that the dough doesn't soften. If the dough gets too soft to work with, refrigerate it for a few minutes.

WHEN THE FAT is at the correct temperature, carefully slip 3 fattigman, one at a time, into the pot. Wait about 5 seconds, and flip them over with chopsticks. Wait another 5 to 10 seconds, and flip them over again. Repeat the process, cooking the fattigman until they are blistery all over and golden brown with slightly darker edges. (The blisters indicate the pastries will be light and crisp.) Total cooking time is about 30 seconds. Immediately remove the fattigman from the fat with a large skimmer or slotted spoon and set them on paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining fattigman. Be sure to monitor the temperature of the fat so that it remains between 360º and 370º; adjust the heat as necessary. Let the pastries cool for a few minutes before serving. If you wish (Karin says this is not traditional), give the warm fattigman a dusting of sugar just before serving. Roll, cut, shape, and fry the remaining dough one piece at a time, reserving the scraps. Gather all the scraps together and form them gently into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes, then make more fattigman as described above. Do not use the scraps from this last rolling; the dough will be too tough.

Storing

Store the fattigman in layers in an airtight container, layered between sheets of waxed paper, at room temperature. They will stay fresh for 2 to 3 weeks.

Note

Cardamom, like all spices, loses its flavor over time. For the best flavor, buy cardamom pods (which keep well in an airtight jar). To use, husk them and pulverize the seeds in a mortar with a pestle or use a spice grinder. Pass through a fine strainer to remove coarser pieces, then measure. If you are able to buy decorticated cardamom seeds (just the seeds, without the pods), you can grind them.

Lebanese Fried Dough lebanon

MAKES ABOUT 12 PASTRIES

MAUREEN ABOOD, WHO TAUGHT ME THE LEBANESE RECIPES IN THIS BOOK, says that home cooks often turned leftover scraps of yeast dough into fried sugared pastries as a reward for themselves, but especially for children. If you've made the full Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough recipe (page 182) for Fatayar (page 178) and Talami (page 183), you'll have about one-fourth of it remaining to turn into this simple treat. This is exactly what the recipe says it is: nothing fancy, just delicious. Fried dough is best when very fresh.

1/4 recipe Basic Lebanese Yeast Dough (page 182), allowed to rise once

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Granulated sugar for sprinkling

PLACE THE DOUGH on a lightly floured surface and pat gently to remove air bubbles. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and shape each into a ball. Set the balls of dough slightly apart on the floured countertop and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

ROLL A BALL OF DOUGH into a roughly oval shape slightly more than 1/8 inch thick; the dough should not be too thin. Use a fingertip to create a hole in the center of the oval and set the dough aside on the floured counter. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

ABOUT 15 MINUTES before frying, pour 3 inches of oil into a large heavy pot and clamp a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot, or use a digital probe thermometer. Heat over medium heat until the temperature reaches 365º to 370ºF. Line a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels.

BRUSH OFF the excess flour and carefully add 2 pastries to the hot oil. The dough will sizzle and bubble up. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning the pastries once with kitchen tongs. Total cooking time is about 1 minute. Remove the pastries with the tongs, letting the excess oil drip back into the pot, and set the fried dough on the paper towels to drain. While they are still hot, sprinkle the pastries generously on both sides with sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure the temperature of the oil returns to 365º to 370ºF between batches. Serve warm.

(Continues...)