busy with citrus: orange with za'atar, yogurt, and pine nuts


Rhubarb and asparagus have started to show up at the market, but I'm still busy with citrus. Corners of my kitchen and dining room table continue to look like studies for a Dutch still life, with tulips and oranges and glasses of full-bodied reds that taste best on days when the sun sets early.

I am someone who snacks. I like a purse that is big enough for an apple or a bag of dates and nuts. I am also someone who lives for savoury paired with sweet, which means that I was completely seduced by the suggestion of seasoning segments of orange with za'atar, yogurt, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Could there even be a better snack? In addition to being easy, you can call this dish many things: breakfast, snack, appetizer, salad or even a savoury-sweet dessert. 


You're probably familiar with za'atar, a Middle Eastern mix of herbs and spices that includes sumac and sesame seeds. At its most basic it includes only thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. Longer ingredient lists can include oregano, marjoram, black pepper, and cumin. In other words, it gives you quite some room to play with. You can use fresh herbs, dried herbs, or fresh herbs that have just been quickly dried and toasted in a skillet or in the oven. I go somewhere between the most basic and the most layered of flavours and opt for thyme, oregano, salt, sumac and sesame seeds. Preferred ingredients aside, it is at its best when it is fresh so I make small quantities at a time. However, feel free to double or triple the recipe below if you find yourself in need of lots of za'atar. 

The possibilities for its use are as varied as the possibilities for its ingredients. It is particularly fond of chopped salads, nearly anything that has been roasted or grilled, dips, and bread that needs a little more flavour. However, ever since David Lebovitz wrote about eating croissants stuffed with za'atar for breakfast in Beirut, I've been meaning to introduce za'atar to my breakfast table too.

 
Orange with Za'atar, Yogurt and Pine Nuts

serves 1

adapted from the First Mess 

ingredients

1 orange, peeled and segmented
 3 tbsp yogurt
drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp za'atar
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
a pinch of coarse sea salt, optional 

Za'atar

2 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tsp ground sumac
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dried oregano 

To make the za'atar, begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a dry skillet. Pour the seeds into a clean jar, add the rest of the spices, put on a lid and give it a good shake. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

Once you have peeled and segmented the orange, place it on a plate. Dollop the yogurt on the side of the plate and drizzle it with olive oil. Sprinkle za'atar on top of the oranges and the yogurt, and then add the pine nuts. Add a wee pinch of salt if you wish and eat immediately.
 

Guten! 

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a brighter breakfast


In the battle that is sleep versus breakfast, breakfast will never be completely defeated: however, it does lose some territory now and then. Recently the desire to snooze and to sleep an extra few minutes has been the stronger opponent, which is to say that I'm in a bit of a breakfast rut. Thank goodness for granola, oatmeal, steel-cut oats and boiled eggs. They're all breakfast standards, delicious and reliable, but when repeated again and again, my faovurite meal of the day becomes a real snooze.

My years in Germany has made me a believer in the trinity that is rolled oats, a liquid of some sort - be it apple juice, yogurt, or almond milk - and an overnight stay in the fridge. My go to version of Bircher Muesli is with almond milk, fresh mint, shredded apple and chopped date. As good as that version is, sometimes a gal just needs a change and that change involves blood orange, coconut and chocolate. 

This recipes come from Bon Appetit and includes both fresh orange juice and chopped chunks of orange. It is bright and fresh and a very welcome addition to the best of breakfast hits that rotate on my table. Orange is no question great, but blood orange is even greater. As long as the magenta toned citrus is making an appearance at your market, I suggest going for blood orange. The recipe also calls for cacao nibs, which are rather difficult to find in Germany. I used dark chocolate chips (which are also difficult to find in Germany and no question a splurge) and although they add a little more sweetness than cacao nibs, they felt right at home in this Bircher Muesli. 

The best thing about Bircher Muesli is that you do most of the work the night before. Mix, stir, refrigerate. For this particular recipe, in the morning all you have to do is toast some coconut, something that you can mindlessly do while boiling water, and then add the coconut and cacao nibs or chocolate chips the oat mixture. In other words, the snooze button of the alarm might still win but in no way will this compromise your breakfast and make it a snooze. 


Blood Orange Bircher Muesli with Coconut and Chocolate

serves 1

adapted from Bon Appetit 

ingredients

1/3 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Medjool date, pitted and finely chopped
1/2 blood orange, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 tbsp blood orange juice (squeezed from the other half)
2 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips

The night before, in a small bowl stir together the rolled oats, yogurt, chopped date, orange and orange juice. Cover and chill overnight.

The next morning remove the oats from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Place the coconut flakes in a skillet over medium heat and toast until golden. Remove from heat and add to the oat mixture. Add the cacao nibs or chocolate chips and eat right away. 

Guten!

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a cake without candles


In The Breakfast Book Marion Cunningham describes a chocolate bread, one that is so chocolatey and so delightful that one should save it for a very special breakfast. There is no question that her bread is luxurious and indulgent and everything that you want something made with chocolate to be; however, this Chocolate Krantz cake from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem is one step up. It has pecans and is braided. Its ribbons of chocolate filling makes it much more dramatic than any bread that is simply left to rise in a loaf pan without being braided or twisted. 

February ends with a birthday in my house, which normally means carrot cake. Carrot cake is never a bad idea, but then again neither is a braided chocolate cake with pecans. It doesn't even need birthday candles to look and to taste festive. It also doesn't need cream or icing or marzipan to win over a man who is a good German and takes cake very seriously.

As someone who likes to eat and to write about it, it is my turn to wax poetic about Jerusalem. The cookbook is shockingly well-rounded. It is a little sexy - rice pudding with pistachios and rose water must be the sexiest rice pudding around - and a little cozy - the couscous with tomato and onion that Sami Tamimi's mother would make for him as a snack when he was a child has become my go-to lazy-night meal. In other ways, it is an accurate reflection of the food culture of the city after which it is named, a city full of contrasts. 

From comfort European baking (like these Krantz cakes) to fresh Mediterranean flavours, such as figs and aubergines and pomegranate molasses, you can probably find exactly what you feel like eating amongst its pages no matter what that might be. It has recipes that come together effortlessly and it has recipes that park you in the kitchen for a couple of hours, giving you an excuse to listen to the radio and sing out loud when no one is watching. This chocolate Krantz cake is no question an example of the latter. 
 

The idea of breading dough might make you want to stop reading, but I assure you that this cake isn't complicated to make, it just takes time. You need to make the dough, leave it overnight to rise, roll it, stuff it, shape it, let it rise again, and then bake it. Many steps? Yes. Complicated? No. Worth it? No question.

The original recipe has instructions for a mixer. Oh how I wish that had both a dough hook attachment and a mixer! Although truth be told, my kitchen is far too tiny for such luxuries and I much prefer kneading dough to lifting weights, so I don't mind putting a little elbow grease into my baking. For the recipe below, I've included both instructions. 

I strayed from the recipe when it came to the sugar. Instead of the usual suspect that is caster sugar, I used unrefined, brown sugar and the cake was still sweet and light and dreamy and chocolatey. I also decreased the syrup for the cakes by half. It was just the right amount of sweet, so the second half wasn't missed. Less syrup meant that this cake was able to sneak its way onto the breakfast table, a definite plus.

The recipe makes two cakes. If your house is home to only a few cake eaters at a time, freeze the second. I had enough cake-loving Germans to serve; however, I imagine that taking a chocolate Krantz cake out of the freezer and defrosting it for breakfast would feel victorious. Keeping with Marion Cunningham, it would also make any breakfast very, very special.

 
Chocolate Krantz Cake

makes 2 cakes

adapted from 'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

ingredients  

530g (4 cups) plain flour, plus more for dusting
100g (1/2 cup) unrefined brown sugar
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast (1 package)
zest of 1 small, organic lemon
3 large organic eggs  
120ml (1/2 cup) water
1/3 tsp salt
150g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
sunflower oil, for greasing

Chocolate Filling

50g (scant 1/2 cup) icing sugar
30g (1/3 cup) good-quality cocoa powder
130g (4 oz) good-quality dark chocolate
120g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
100g (1 cup) pecans, roughly chopped
2 tbsp unrefined brown sugar

Syrup

2/3 cup unrefined brown sugar
1/2 cup water 

If you have a stand mixer, place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in the mixer bowl. With the dough hook attachment, stir everything together on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix for a few seconds at low speed, and then increase to medium and mix until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until the butter is absorbed into the dough. Continue to mix for about 10 minutes on medium speed until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and add a little extra flour to the sides to prevent the dough from sticking.

If you don't have a stand mixer, in a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest with a spoon. Give it a good stir. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the water. Continue to stir until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then the butter, and then use your hands to incorporate the butter into the dough. On a floured surface, knead the dough until it is elastic, smooth and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. While doing so, add a little more flour to the surface or to your hands if necessary. 

Grease a large bowl with sunflower oil, add the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.

When you are getting ready to bake, grease two loaf tins with some sunflower oil and line the bottoms with baking paper. 

Divide your dough into two equal pieces. While you work with one, keep the other one in the fridge.

In a double broiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Once melted, remove from the heat and mix in the icing sugar and cocoa powder so that you have a spreadable paste. Set aside for a moment. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle that is about 38cm x 28cm. Trim off any uneven patches of dough. Place the dough so that the shorter end is closest to you. Spread half of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle with a palette knife, making sure to leave a 2cm border all around. Sprinkle the pecans on top and then half of the brown sugar.

Brush a little water over the long end further away from you. With both hands, roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the wet end and then use both hands to even out the roll into a thick cigar, sitting on its seam.

With a sharp knife trim about 2 centimeters of both ends of the cake (you can bake these later as tiny chocolate buns if you like). Then gently cut the roll into 2 lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam, essentially dividing the log into two even long halves. 

Now it is time to braid the dough. With the cut sides facing up, gently press one end of each half and then lift the right half over the left half. Then lift the left half over the right, creating a very simple, two-pronged plait. Repeat. once you reach the end, gently squeeze together the two pieces to secure. Carefully life the cake into a loaf tin. Cover the tin with a wet tea towel and then leave to rise in a warm spot for about 1-1 1/2 hours. The cake will rise about 10-20 per cent. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.

Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C / Gas mark 5. Make sure that you have plenty of time for the oven to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove the tea towels and place the cakes on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup by mixing the water and sugar in a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and as soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and let cool. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them, making sure to use all of the syrup. Leave until the cakes are just warm before removing them from the tins. 

Serve either still slightly warm or at room temperature.

Store leftovers in plastic wrap at room temperature for two days, or wrap them in foil and freeze them for a couple of weeks.

Guten!

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