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walnut stollen

Walnut Stollen for the Holidays and Every Day!

walnut stollen

Slices of ground walnut and cinnamon stollen

Last December I checked Germany’s Dresden Stollen Fest off my quirky bucket list. Long before watching a 6,332-pound bread ride through Old Town in a horse-drawn cart, I’d consumed this sweet baked good.

A yeast bread, stollen usually refers to the sugar-dusted, dried fruit- and almond-studded masterpiece that I saw paraded through the streets of Dresden. In spite of the presence of dried fruit and its popularity at Christmastime, don’t confuse stollen with fruitcake. It is a sweet bread, not a cake, and has several versions including mohn or poppy seed and the ground walnut that I grew up eating.

a variety of stollen

Different types of stollen at a German Advent Market

In Germany this bread dates back to the 15th century but it didn’t appear as a Christmas treat until 100 years later. In my case it feels as though I’ve always known and loved this sweet.

While my mother was not a big fan of the kitchen, every holiday season she would break out her baking pans and make several loaves of the soft, sweet and buttery “nut roll” or stollen. For someone who claimed no German ancestry, she certainly baked an authentic looking, German bread. With its oblong shape, center fold and tapered ends her creation needed only a coating of confectioner’s sugar to be mistaken for traditional “Christstollen.”

loaf of walnut stollen

Walnut stollen made using my mother’s recipe

For years I asked about the origins of my mother’s recipe. Then, after inheriting her cookbooks, I finally found it in a yellowed, 1964 edition of Favorite Recipes of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Lena Kaercher of Beaver Falls, Penna. had contributed her “Aunt Mary’s Nut Roll” to this collection. My mother had tinkered with Aunt Mary’s Nut Roll, swapping out lard for margarine, adding a few ingredients to the nut filling and making it more like the breads that I came across in Germany. Taking a cue from her, I’ve likewise altered the recipe.

Makes 2 large loaves

for the dough:
1/4 teaspoon olive oil or softened butter
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 package dry active yeast
4 scant cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large egg yolks, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the filling:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups walnuts, ground in the bowl of a food processor or blender
1 teaspoon vanilla

Using either olive oil or softened butter, lightly grease a large bowl and set aside.

Place the yeast in a small bowl. Pour the milk over top of it and set it aside.

Whisk the salt and flour together in a large bowl. Add the chunks of butter. Using a pastry cutter or sturdy fork, cut the butter into the flour until incorporated.

Add the milk, eggs and vanilla to the flour mixture. Using a spatula or your hands, mix together the ingredients until a well-combined dough forms. Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in the greased bowl and cover the bowl with a piece of cling wrap. Placing the dough in a warm spot, allow it to rise for 1 hour.

walnut filling

Walnut filling mixed and ready to be spread

Once the dough has risen and doubled in size, make the filling. Mix together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, walnuts and vanilla and then set aside.

Divide the dough into even halves. On a lightly floured work surface roll out the first half until you have a rectangle about 12″ wide and 18″ long. Using a spatula, evenly spread half the filling over the dough. Repeatedly roll the dough over itself lengthwise–like a jelly or Swiss roll or as if you’re rolling up a sheet of paper–and cover it with cling wrap. Take the other dough half and repeat the above steps. Allow both to rise for 1 hour.

filling spread over the dough

Spreading a thin layer of filling over the dough

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 baking sheets and place one loaf on each. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and place on wire racks to cool completely.

stack of cookbooks

The Annual Cookbook Review: Books to Give, Get and Gobble!

stack of cookbooks

This year’s recommended cookbooks and food writing books

Although I write and buy books and cookbooks, I am always amazed by the tremendous number published every year. Who does cookbooks? Celebrities, celebrity chefs, musicians, athletes, bloggers, restaurants, farmers’ markets . . .. The list goes on and on. With so many new books on store shelves—and seemingly more coming out each week—it’s tough to know which ones will satisfy and which will leave you hungering for something more substantial. To help separate the filets from the hot dogs, the Bordeaux from the Two-Buck-Chuck, it’s the annual cookbook review! Included this year are baking books, a cocktail guide, vegetarian, Italian, German, Mediterranean and English cuisines as well as several food writing books and a graphic novel-like book. Happy shopping, reading and cooking!

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
If you want to learn the proper way to mix, bake and decorate a myriad of cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, breads, pastries and candy, reach for The Baking Bible. Perfect for bakers of any skill level, this comprehensive, IACP Award-winning cookbook provides over 100 recipes with helpful, step-by-step instructions, storage tips and color photographs. Here you’ll find out how to create soft, flavorful scones, flaky yet velvety pies and tarts and gorgeous cakes such as the red velvet-with-raspberry glaze cake Red Velvet Rose and the chocolate chiffon cake Chocolate Cuddle Cake. Use Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s invaluable cookbook to master a specific dessert, expand your repertoire or simply become a better baker.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Mark Bittman‘s exhaustive book on vegetarian cuisine, a revised edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has been released. In it the former New York Times food writer shares over 2,000 tasty vegetarian and/or vegan recipes. Although many have been updated, all still retain the straightforward approach to cooking for which Bittman is known. If you have a vegetarian, vegan or a friend who wants to eat more vegetables on your holiday shopping list, pick up a copy of this tremendous and timeless book.

The Reporter’s Kitchen by Jane Kramer (St. Martin’s Press, 2017)
The Reporter’s Kitchen features some of the best food stories from longtime New Yorker contributor Jane Kramer. Divided into four sections, Kramer’s book offers up chef profiles, including one of an author on this list, Yotam Ottolenghi, and essays on everything from kitchens and loosely structured cookbook reviews to foraging with Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma. The Reporter’s Kitchen is an engaging collection of nonfiction writing and a lovely gift for anyone drawn to good writing, cooking and international foods.

The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Chris Gall (Sterling Epicure, 2011)
I’ve given this cocktail recipe book to several friends. This year I finally gave it to myself. If you are or know of a fan of cocktails, both classic and contemporary, you’ll want a copy, too. The bartender at the NYC speakeasy Please Don’t Tell (PDT), Meehan serves up over 300 recipes and sidebars on fascinating beverage facts. Color illustrations from Chris Gall round out this handy book. Whether you want to dazzle friends with Hemingway daiquiris and pharaoh coolers or make yourself a memorable sloe gin fizz or sidecar, The PDT Cocktail Book has the information you need to mix delightful drinks.

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (Ten Speed Press, 2017)
Look through past years’ cookbook reviews and you’ll see that I’m a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful, creative and consistently good cookbooks. Sweet is fast on its way to becoming yet another favorite. In Sweet Ottolenghi and pastry chef Helen Goh offer over 110 recipes for such to-die-for treats as Apple and Olive Cake with Maple Frosting, Spiced Praline Meringues, Chocolate Banana Ripple Cheesecake and, my new go-to, Apricot and Almond Cake with Cinnamon Topping. They also provide more traditional, but no less tasty, goodies including sesame brittle, rugelach and lemon and poppy seed cake. With vibrant photos, engaging headnotes, clear instructions and a final chapter dedicated to baking tips and ingredients, this makes a great gift for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman (Storey Publishing, 2016)
Part of a series by illustrator Julia Rothman, Food Anatomy resembles a graphic novel in appearance and a food encyclopedia in content. Curious about the different types of wheat, millet, pasta, eggs and what they look like? Maybe you’re interested in learning where different cuts of meat are found on a cow, pig or chicken. Perhaps you’re more fascinated by cooking tools and appliances from around the globe. Rothman provides charming visuals and quirky facts that educate readers about these aspects of cooking and more. Food Anatomy is a fun book for anyone intrigued by food and the culinary arts.

Food for All Seasons by Oliver Rowe (Faber & Faber, 2017)
If you or your gift recipient loves reading a lush, well-written account of cooking through the seasons, pick up British chef Oliver Rowe’s book. If you or your gift recipient is a bit of an Anglophile, get Food for All Seasons. If your intended recipient enjoys straightforward yet creative recipes, well, you know, grab a copy of this book. Food for All Seasons can be read as a book, used as a cookbook or serve as a month-by-month guide to what’s in season in the UK and parts of the U.S. Three uses for one book? That’s brilliant! Besides, any cookbook with a recipe for oatmeal-crusted herring with orange zest gets a vote of confidence from herring enthusiast Kathy.

Osteria by Slow Food Editore (Rizzoli, 2017)
This fantastic, weighty tome comes courtesy of Slow Food, the grassroots organization that began in Italy and is dedicated to preserving local food traditions and cultures. In Osteria the group showcases 1,000 regional recipes collected from taverns, or osterie, throughout Italy. Pizzas, crostinis, frittatas, salads, soups, vegetables, pastas, meats, seafood, pastries, breads and desserts all get their due. Whether you’re new to or an old hand at Italian cuisine, you’ll appreciate Osteria‘s range of recipes, techniques, tips and stories of homegrown Italian food.

Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press, 2016)
Whether you’ve scoured the English language shelves of countless German bookstores, searching for a solid German baking book, or you just enjoy a luscious streusel, torte or pfeffernüsse, check out Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking. Weiss serves up over 100 recipes for sweet and savory baked goods including such traditional offerings as apple cake (apfelkuchen), flourless poppy seed torte (mohntorte), gingerbread (lebkuchen), springerle, potato strudel and soft pretzels (brezeln.) Those looking to spice up their holiday offerings will especially like Weiss’s final chapter, “Christmas Favorites,” which contains recipes for 24 festive baked goods.

Imbibe by David Wondrich (Perigree, 2015)
Originally released in 2007, Imbibe tells the histories of classic American cocktails and the 19th century saloon owner behind the world’s first bartender’s guide How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, Jerry Thomas. Here readers learn about everything from punches and fizzes to martinis and sazeracs and how Jerry Thomas became “the father of American mixology.” Engaging and educational, Wondrich’s James Beard Award-winning book is the perfect present for history lovers, food fans and anyone interested in American drink culture.

Herring: A Global History by Kathy Hunt (Reaktion, 2017)
I’m proud of the research, writing and effort that went into Herring: A Global History so I’m selfishly putting my book on this year’s list. Part of Reaktion Books’ Edible Series, Herring looks at the historical, economic, political, cultural and culinary impact of this small, omega-3-rich fish. Found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, herring has long been a mainstay of Scandinavian, Eastern European, British, Dutch and Japanese cuisines. In fact, so abundant were herring and the Dutch fishermen who caught them, it’s said that Amsterdam was literally built atop the bones of this fish. Filled with rich history, unusual tales, over 50 color photos and 15 recipes, Herring is ideal for natural and world history buffs, seafood aficionados and those with a passion for global food and culture.

In case none of those suggestions work for you, check out some of the previous years’ cookbook review lists.

2016 Cookbook Review
2015 Cookbook Review
2014 Cookbook Review
2013 Cookbook Review
2012 Cookbook Review – Baking Books
2012 Cookbook Review – Food Writing Books
2012 Cookbook Review – Cookbooks
2011 Cookbook Review – Food Writing Books
2011 Cookbook Review – Cookbooks

pickled herring on brown bread in Denmark

Further Fish Tales: Now It’s “Herring!”

pickled herring in Denmark

Pickled herring sailing off from Helsignor, Denmark

By now most know the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” In my case it takes a village of friends and family to launch another book. Two Fridays ago a wonderfully supportive group whom I’m honored to have as part of my village celebrated the publication of my nonfiction book Herring: A Global History. Part of Reaktion Books‘ Edible Series, Herring  explores the historical, economic, cultural and environmental impact of this small, omega-3-rich, silvery fish.

herring books at the Towne Book Center

Checking out the boatload of “Herring” at the Towne Book Center in Collgeville, Penna.

When people hear the topic of my book, they invariably ask the same thing. “Herring?” There are always a few who misunderstand and ask, “Hairy?” No, I didn’t write about hirsute people but I’m sure that would be a fascinating topic, too.

Once everyone is on the same page about the subject, we get into what attracted me to it. After the publication of Fish Market I had a wealth of knowledge about seafood. I also had a desire to share more about a specific, historic and fascinating fish, the Atlantic and Pacific herring. Although a staple of Scandinavian, Central European and Japanese cuisines, it barely makes a mark in modern American cooking. Yet, had we lived at any point during the 17th through 19th centuries we’d certainly have eaten this fish. Its abundance was such that Colonial settlers fertilized their crops with it. As we tend to do with plentiful resources, we exploited it until few remained along either coastline. Although their numbers have rebounded, you rarely see the fish in American markets or menus.

Herring cart in Amsterdam

21st century “haring” and hot dog cart in Amsterdam

While herring has slipped off our radar, it maintains a presence in Europe, in part because it has such a long, rich history there. Amsterdam was the place where medieval Dutch fishermen brought in, cleaned and sold “haring.” In fact, many say that Amsterdam literally sits upon the bones of this fish. Cities such as Copenhagen and Yarmouth, England likewise owe their early days to it.

jars of pickled herring

Jars of pickled herring in an Oslo, Norway market

Today you’ll still find fresh, smoked or pickled herring in European markets. In fact, Denmark supposedly has more pickled herring cures than days in a year. What do people do with all that velvety, flavorful seafood? Serve it with rye or hearty brown bread, crackers and a shot of aquavit. Make it into open-faced sandwiches. Feature it in salads. In the case of fresh or smoked, they may grill, bake or pan-fry the fish or put it in hearty casseroles. Looking for a specific recipe? Check out this June 2015 post.

Kathy Hunt talking about fish at the Towne Book Center

Talking about fish, world history and food at the Towne Book Center on October 20, 2017

As I said so often with “Fish Market,” I hope you get hooked on herring. I certainly have! If you want to learn more about this fish, check out the following video. Like it? Give it a ‘thumbs up!’ Have a question or comment? Send it my way!

Herring – A Global History

Though tiny, the herring has played an enormous role in history. Battles have been waged over it. International economic alliances have formed over it. Major cities owe their prosperity to it. Political powers have risen and fallen with herring’s own rise and fall in population. How can this all be attributed to this unassuming little animal?

In Herring: A Global History, Kathy Hunt looks at the environmental, historical, political, and culinary background of this prolific and easily caught fish. Over the centuries, herring have sustained populations in times of war and hardship, and the fish’s rich flavor, delicate texture, and nutritious meat have made it a culinary favorite. Its ease of preparation—just grill, broil, fry, pickle, salt, or smoke and serve—have won it further acclaim. Engaging and informative, the book features fifteen mouth-watering recipes. It will appeal to food lovers, history buffs, and anyone who has ever enjoyed a British kipper, German Bismarck, Dutch matjes, or Jewish chopped-herring.

Buy on Amazon

Series: Edible
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Reaktion Books (October 15, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1780238312
ISBN-13: 978-1780238319

cinnamon pie crust sticks

Cinnamon Pie Crust Sticks Like Nana Used to Make

A few weeks ago I attended a food journalism conference where editors told the assembled writers, “No more grandmother stories.” Everybody has a grandmother. No one wants to hear about her anymore.

jar of cinnamon pie crust

That watershed moment — seeing a jar of cinnamon pie crust at Reading Terminal Market

The timing couldn’t have been stranger. Just that morning, while wandering around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, I came across something that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years, something that reminded me of my paternal grandmother, whom I also hadn’t seen in years and about whom I’ve never written. A relic from early childhood, they were strips of pie crust dusted in cinnamon sugar.

At the Market they were called “cinnamon sugar pie fries.” When I was a little kid, they were ‘scraps of leftover pie dough that Nana had decorated with cinnamon sugar and baked.’ Now I think of them as cinnamon pie crust sticks.

cinnamon pie crust sticks

Plate of cinnamon pie crust sticks

Unlike many food writers, I don’t have charming stories of baking with my grandmothers or mother. By the time that I was old enough to whisk eggs or roll out dough, my maternal grandmother was gone and my paternal grandmother had eased out of her role as family cook and baker. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother equated time spent in the kitchen with a prison sentence; you grudgingly did your time and didn’t talk much about it. Needless to say, we didn’t bake together.

I do, however, have that memory of standing in my grandmother’s small, warm kitchen, munching on roughly cut pieces of pie crust decorated with cinnamon and sugar. As a six-year-old, I found few foods as exotic as those sweet yet spicy, flaky yet crunchy, irregularly shaped treats.

Scraps of pie dough

Scraps of dough waiting to become cinnamon pie crust sticks

Although I don’t bake pies very often, when I do, I save those scraps just as my grandmother used to do and turn them into cinnamon pie crust sticks. While you don’t need a recipe to make them, I will offer one below. Please feel free to fiddle with proportions so that you get the sweetness or spiciness that you crave. Likewise, if you don’t bake pies but still want to try these little sweets, pick up some frozen pie dough. It’ll be almost as good as Nana used to make.

Keeping in mind that not everyone makes her own pie dough, I’ve written this for frozen pie crust fans.
Makes approximately 4 dozen cinnamon pie crust sticks

2 9-inch frozen pie crusts, removed from the pie tins and defrosted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place one of the frozen pie crusts on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into strips approximately 2-inches long and 1/2-inch wide. Place the strips an inch apart on the baking sheet.

Unbaked cinnamon pie crust sticks

Cinnamon pie crust sticks all ready to bake

Stir together the sugar and ground cinnamon and sprinkle the combo over each strip of dough. Bake for 10 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the sticks to cool slightly on the pan before moving them to wire cooling racks.

As the first batch is cooling, repeat the above steps with the second pie crust. Cool completely on wire racks and then store in airtight containers.

uncooked lime-marinated swordfish kebabs

Grilling Lime-Marinated Swordfish Kebabs

uncooked lime-marinated swordfish kebabs

Lime-marinated swordfish kebabs threaded and ready to be grilled.

Want a quick, crowd pleasing seafood dish for your next summer cookout? Try lime-marinated swordfish kebabs.

Officially, I created this recipe for my seafood cookbook Fish Market (Running Press, 2013) but I’ve made variations of it for years. Lime appears often in my seafood cooking. I love the slightly sweet, clean flavor of this citrus and how it adds complexity and life to fish and shellfish. That dash of green zest on a white-hued fish isn’t bad, either.

When I can’t find sustainable, North Atlantic handline or harpoon-caught swordfish, I substitute another firm, white fish. That can be anything from Pacific yellowfin or longtail tuna and mackerel to U.S-sourced snapper, mahi mahi and striped bass. When making this and any other seafood dish, I consult Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to ensure that I use sustainable fish.

grilling swordfish kebabs

Swordfish kebabs on a hot, foil-covered grill

Because I’m always a little concerned about losing chunks of my fish kebabs to a scorching hot grate, I lay these skewers on lightly oiled tin foil before placing them on the grill. If you’re not the worrying type or your grates are seasoned enough that fish slides right off, feel free to skip the foil. Either way, you’ll end up with a quick, delicious dish that’s sure to satisfy.

From “Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013)
Serves 4

Grated zest of 2 limes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 pounds swordfish steaks, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the zest, juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Place the swordfish cubes in the marinade and toss to coat. Refrigerate the fish for 1 hour. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes.
Preheat your grill on high.

Thread the fish onto skewers and lay the kebabs either directly on or on a sheet of tin foil placed on the preheated grill. Grill until just cooked through, about 5 minutes, brushing the marinade over the kebabs as they cook and turning so that they cook evenly. Serve on or off the skewers.

slice of peanut butter pie

Perfecting Peanut Butter Pie

slice of peanut butter pie

A slice of creamy peanut butter pie

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, I always assumed that peanut butter pie came from my part of the country. Every picnic my family attended and almost every restaurant where we ate offered a version of this rich sweet. Some bakers made it with a classic pie dough. They spooned the no-bake filling into the crisp crust and served the dessert at room temperature. Others lined their pie pans with graham cracker, shortbread or Oreo cookie crumbs, added the peanut butter mixture and refrigerated or froze the pie before serving. Each type—crunchy yet velvety or crumbly, hard and cold—had its diehard fans.

The variations didn’t end with crust and consistency. Toppings ranged from chopped peanuts, shaved chocolate, cocoa powder or more cookie crumbs to whipped cream, chocolate glazes, or, my least favorites, overly sugary caramel, banana or strawberry sauces. No matter what differences existed, people gobbled up this dessert.

Decorating with chocolate sauce.

Decorating the pie with chocolate sauce

In spite of my home turf’s love of this pie, Western Pennsylvanians cannot claim it as one of their own. Peanut butter pie has its roots in the American South where both peanuts and pies thrive. Even so, the best that I ever ate was not in the South but in Bedford, Pa. Located two hours southeast of Pittsburgh, Bedford is home to the 18th century Jean Bonnet Tavern and the most extraordinary peanut butter pie.

Jean Bonnet Tavern menu

Jean Bonnet Tavern

I came across this pie on a recent road trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. Tired and hungry, my friends and I stopped in Bedford for dinner and a wisely chosen dessert at Jean Bonnet Tavern. That dessert was a slice of peanut butter pie accompanied by four forks.

What made the pie so delightful was its smooth, silky texture. This is achieved by folding whipped cream into the peanut butter filling. How do I know that? Because our server provided us with typed copies of the restaurant’s recipe for peanut butter pie. Since it would be greedy of me not share this treat, I’ve included the original Jean Bonnet Tavern recipe and just a minor tweak, which I’ve noted below.

Folding whipped cream into the peanut butter-cream cheese filling

Folding whipped cream into the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture makes for an especially light filling.

Recipe from Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford, PA
Serves 8 to 10

Because I prefer a thicker topping, I halved the amount of heavy cream (from 2/3 to 1/3 cup) and increased the amount of chocolate (from 2 to 3 ounces) listed in the original recipe. If you like a soupier consistency, use 2/3 cup heavy cream and only 2 ounces of chocolate in the topping.

for the crust:
1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

for the filling:
12 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream

for the topping:
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter until well combined. Spoon roughly half of the graham cracker crust into a 9-inch pie pan. Using your fingers, evenly press the crumbs into the pan. Repeat with the remaining crumbs.

Forming the graham cracker crust.

Pressing the graham cracker crumbs into the pie pan.

Place the crust in the oven and bake for 8 minutes, until the crust is beginning to brown slightly. Remove the crust and allow it to cool to room temperature.

While the crust cools, make the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the peanut butter and sugar and beat again until smooth and well-combined. Set aside.

Ingredients of the peanut butter pie filling.

Whipped cream and cream cheese-peanut butter will combine to make the peanut butter pie filling.

In a separate bowl beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture. When finished, you will have a light, creamy filling. Spoon this into the pie crust. Refrigerate the pie for a minimum of 4 hours.

About 30 minutes before serving the pie, make the chocolate sauce. Place the cream, butter, chopped chocolate, sugar and salt in either a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl. If using a stovetop, simmer the ingredients together over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients are blended together. If using a microwave, heat the ingredients for 30 to 60 seconds, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients are blended together. Cool the sauce to room temperature before spreading or piping onto the chilled pie.

peach puff

Got puff pastry and peaches? You’ve got dessert!

peach puff

Nope, it’s not a sunny side up egg. It’s a peach puff!

It’s probably no surprise that a lot of my recipe ideas come from travel. Unusual ingredients that I’ve tasted, signature dishes that I’ve tried and local recipes that I’ve acquired all influence my cooking. Although I gravitate to far flung locations, I do find inspiration closer to home. A perfect example is this spring’s obsession with puff pastry and stone fruit.

A few Saturdays ago I went to Philadelphia to meet up with an old friend. Since I’d done something extraordinary and actually arrived early, I popped into a little bakery selling pastries and a small assortment of breads. What better place to kill time than in a food shop? While the almond croissants and pain au raisins looked lovely, what caught my eye were the “apricot boats,” glistening ovals of puff pastry topped with halved apricots and pearl sugar. So simple. So elegant. Why didn’t I ever think of doing that?

apricot pastry

The inspiration, a bakery-bought apricot boat

Anything that easy and enticing I had to make. First, though, I should have a taste. So, with a box of apricot boats in hand I set off to catch up with my friend and sample this sweet. Our verdict? It was about as uncomplicated and delicious as a pastry could get.

On the ride home I mulled over apricot boats. I had puff pastry in the freezer and pearl sugar in my pantry. All that I needed was six ripe apricots and I could replicate this treat.

Because I couldn’t find fresh apricots at my local markets, I cheated and used canned halved peaches instead. As I discovered, any stone fruit, fresh or canned, works in this recipe. Just grab some puff pastry and some peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines or even cherries and start baking.

Makes 12 to 16 pastries

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Flour, for dusting the work surface
2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted
12 to 16 peach halves, canned or fresh
Pearl sugar, optional, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved. (Note that, if you are using fresh peaches, you will want to add the peach halves to the saucepan and allow them to simmer in the simple syrup until softened, 2 to 4 minutes, spooning the syrup over the halves as they cook.) Remove the pan of simple syrup from the heat and set aside.

Dust a clean work surface with flour. Place one sheet of puff pastry on the work surface and, using a flour-dusted rolling pin, roll out the pastry until it’s approximately 11″ x 15″ in size.

Cutting puff pastry with a 3-inch biscuit cutter

Cutting puff pastry with a 3-inch biscuit cutter to make peach puffs.

Using a 3-inch scalloped, round or oval biscuit cutter, cut out 6 to 8 puffs. Place each on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Roll out the other sheet of puff pastry and cut out 6 to 8 more puffs, putting them on the other sheet. Place the pastries in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, until they’ve started to rise. Remove the puffs from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Partially baked puffs

Partially baked puffs, ready to be topped with peaches

While the puffs are cooling, drain off the liquid from the peaches and set the peach halves aside. Note that, if you’ve simmered fresh peaches in simple syrup, reserve the syrup. If using canned peaches, you can discard the canning juices.

Using a pastry or basting brush, brush the partially baked puffs with simple syrup. Place a peach half in the center of each puff and generously coat the fruit with simple syrup. If using pearl sugar, sprinkle it on the edges of the pastry. Return the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the pastries have turned golden in color. Remove the peach puffs from the oven and cool completely before serving.

jam-filled plunderhörnchen

Is it a doughnut? A croissant? No, it’s a plunderhörnchen!

jam-filled plunderhörnchen

Break open a plunderhörnchen and you’ll find a dab of jam inside!

Plunderhörnchen or, to quote several German baking websites, “plunder croissant” or “plunder squirrel.” What better name for a treat that’s shaped like a croissant, glazed like a doughnut, tender like a roll, baked like bread and jam-filled like a croissant-shaped, doughnut-bread-roll.

I would love to share a fascinating origin story for plunderhörnchen. However, all I have are basic facts. In Germany and Austria plunder is a yeast-leavened dough used in sweet baked goods. Unlike croissant dough, plunder contains eggs. It also has less fat in it than other pastry doughs.

bakery case with plunderhornchen on display

A bakery case filled with plunderhörnchen and other sweets.

As for the designation “plunderhörnchen,” like whoopie pies, snickerdoodles and other unusually named treats, it remains a mystery. So, too, does the reason for calling it a ‘squirrel.’ What’s not a mystery is why I came across it so often while traveling in Germany. This pastry is light, portable, convenient and delicious. You can take it on the train, munch on it as you walk and never worry about crumbs, greasy fingers or sticky frosting.

Citron-studded icing

Filled with apricot jam and covered with a citron glaze

As with doughnuts, people generally eat this roll at breakfast. With its airy, bread-like consistency, mild jam filling and delicate icing, it offers a satisfying but not overly sweet or filling start to the day. For the same reasons it makes a pleasant snack or coffee time treat.

Similar to doughnut and croissants, plunderhörnchen tastes best when eaten fresh. As if there’s any other way to enjoy a homemade baked good.

Makes 10 to 12 rolls

for the dough:
1 1/8 teaspoons dry active yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk, warmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg, at room temperature
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

for the filling:
1/4 cup mixed berry or other fruit jam

for the glaze:
1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 to 2 tablespoons water

Place the yeast, sugar and milk in a small bowl and allow the yeast and sugar to dissolve, 3 to 5 minutes. While you wait, whisk together the egg and melted butter.

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the egg and milk mixtures. Stir the ingredients together until a rough dough has formed. At this point you will either place the dough on a flour-covered work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes or place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a dough hook, knead the dough until a smooth, soft dough takes shape, 5 to 6 minutes.

Once the dough has reached the desired smooth consistency, place it in a bowl, cover it with a clean dishtowel and allow it to rest and rise for 1 hour in a warm, draft-free spot.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cutting triangle shapes

Cutting triangles out of the dough

After an hour uncover and punch down the dough. Place it on a lightly floured work surface and, using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s a large rectangle roughly 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife cut the dough in half horizontally. Using your knife, cut 5 or 6 isosceles triangles (two sides the same size, one side a little longer) on the top half of the dough. Repeat with the bottom half.

Rolling up the dough

Rolling up the dough

If your triangles look too thick or small, roll them out again. Otherwise, center and place 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of jam toward the top of the triangle. Roll the long edge over once on itself and then over the blob of jam. Keep rolling until you reach the triangle’s point. Tuck the point beneath the roll and place the pastry, point-side down, on the lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cut dough.

Cover the baking sheets with clean dishtowels and allow the plunderhörnchens to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the rolls are golden in color. Remove the pans from oven and place the rolls on a wire rack. Cool completely before applying the glaze.

To ice the pastries, mix together the confectioner’s sugar and 1 tablespoon water; if the glaze seems too thick, add the remaining water. Brush the glaze over the top and allow it to harden slightly. Enjoy on the go or with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

ven pongal

South Indian Ven Pongal. It’s Not Just for Breakfast.

ven pongal

A plate of cashew-studded ven pongal

I always feel a little sheepish about discussing Indian foods. Obviously, I am not Indian nor do I have a long, rich history with this cuisine. Until a 2009 trip to Delhi and Rajasthan, my understanding came from the cookbooks of Madhur Jaffrey and local Indian restaurants. What I lack in background, though, I make up for with my passion for the country and its diverse, vegetarian-friendly cooking. Whenever I try an intriguing, new dish there, one that I may not find back in the States, I track down the recipe so that I can make it on my own. The latest of these at-home recreations is South Indian ven pongal.

pot of ven pongal

Big pot of ven pongal on the morning breakfast buffet table

During a recent trip to Chennai Air India had offered a scoop of ven pongal as part of my in-flight, vegetarian meal. The hotel where I stayed also served it as part of its breakfast buffet. After trying and liking it on the plane, I made a beeline for it at the buffet table. For the next eight mornings I skipped the glazed, fruit-filled pastries and pancakes and ate this hot, savory dish instead. Me skip sweets? That alone should tell you how good ven pongal is.

Moong dal in a pan

Moong dal or split yellow mung beans toasting in a pan.

Ven pongal begins with rice and split yellow mung beans or moong dal. The two are boiled together until soft and then mashed with a spoon until smooth. Generally, Indian cooks use pressure cookers to prepare the rice and dal. Since I don’t own a pressure cooker, I put the rice, dal and water in a heavy bottomed pot and bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat. Once the water has boiled, I clamp on a lid, reduce the heat to medium and let the ingredients simmer away until all the water has been absorbed. The pot method takes a bit longer but the result will be the same. Plus, you don’t have to buy and store another piece of kitchen equipment.

Mashing the cooked rice and moong dal

A pot of cooked rice and moong dal

In South India ven pongal is considered a breakfast dish. Because of its hearty consistency, I’ve begun to use it as a side dish as well. Its nutty, mildly garlicky flavor goes beautifully with fish and shellfish. Its complex flavor and abundance of protein also make it a pleasant main course.

The ingredients in ven pongal are fairly straightforward. With the exception of ghee and asofoetida powder, you should be able to find all at your local supermarket. If you can’t locate ghee, substitute clarified butter. As for asofoetida, this spice appears frequently in Indian recipes. Derived from fennel, it adds a mellow, garlic flavor to foods. If you don’t have an Asian market near you, replace the asofoetida with garlic powder. If you do go with garlic powder, I’d suggest increasing the amount to 1/4 teaspoon in the following recipe.

Ven  pongal on a plate

Tucking into a plate of ven pongal for lunch.

Serves 4

1/3 cup moong dal
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted, divided
1/8 teaspoon asofoetida powder
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed lightly with the back of a spoon
12 to 14 whole cashews

In a small frying pan over medium heat toast the moong dal until it releases its aromas, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place the dal and rice in a colander. Rinse under cold running water and drain thoroughly.

Place the cumin seeds in the frying pan and toast over medium heat for about 1 minute, until the aromas are released. Remove from heat and place half of the seeds in a large, heavy bottomed pan.

Add the rice, dal, water, asofoetida, ginger and salt to the pan and bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat. Once the water has begun to boil, place a tight fitting lid on the pot, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 16 to 20 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice and dal are very soft. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, leaving the lid on the mixture.

Heat the olive oil and ghee in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining cumin seeds, peppercorns and cashews and cook for 1 minute.

ven pongal

Ven pongal in a frying pan

Using a spoon or spatula, mash the rice and dal together until smooth. Add the mixture to the frying pan and stir together until well combined. Serve warm.