Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today I'm chatting with Great British Bake-Off champion Nadiya Hussain. She tells us about making bread pudding with melted ice cream, falling asleep on a bed of nails to relax and what happened when she asked her daughter for help making Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday cake
Nadiya Hussain: I said, so, what do you think I should make the queen? And she said, Oh, that you've already beat for the queen? And I said, no, I haven't baked for the queen, and she said, yes, you have Mary Berry's the queen. Mary Berry is the queen of cake. The queen is the Queen of England.
CK: Later on in the show, Adam Gopnik considers fools messes and other desserts with amusing names. And we turn to the freezer to make the perfect Crumb Cake. But first it's my interview with Ana Sortun who brings us the story of Turkey's most prized baklavas. Welcome to Milk Street
Ana Sortun: Thanks, Chris. It's nice to be here. Thank you so much.
CK: You know, years ago, we were talking about a trip you made to Turkey, to the home of baklava or at least the place in the world it's most known for. And you made a comment to me which I just want to bring back up which you said the process of making baklava for you made French pastry look lazy. And I just think there are hundreds of French pastry chefs seething about that comment. But could you just before we get into all the details, just give me a brief retort about why you said that.
AS: Yeah, I think I I didn't really know the finesse that was behind the balaclava. But it's all in the phyllo dough. And it takes a lot of energy and strong arms and practice to get the the phyllo dough. so thin that you can see your hand through it when you hold it up. And it's it's quite a skill. You know, I've made puff pastry not too many times in my life, especially these days, but it makes puff pastry look like it's a simple process.
CK: That is definitely saying something. So, the baklava we’re talking about do you want to define it because it's quite different than let's say a Greek version.
AS: Yeah, I think I always have this sort of, I don't know, metaphor where you can have a croissant here in the United States and say you're at the airport and you have a croissant. And that's like your first and only croissant experience. And then you get on that plane, and you head to Paris and you get off and and you go into a really famous French pastry shop, and then you have a croissant there. And then all of a sudden you realize, oh my god, that's a croissant. And when I first went to Turkey 25 years ago, I was able to go behind the scenes and see these people make the pastry and it just it just split my mind. I thought I'd known what finesse and mastery of skill looked like but I was wrong. This just was something I've never seen before.
CK: So, there's a town and there's a number of places in the town that make baklava just tell us a little bit about where in Turkey is this? What's the town is like etc.
AS: So, I was invited about 25 years ago to go to a small town right on the border of Syria in the southeast of Turkey called Gaziantep. And I was invited to go study with a woman who her mission really was to try to get me to experience and understand like a crash course in Turkish cuisine. And she was going to show me around her town of Gaziantep that was sort of the gastronomic capital of Turkey and also one of the most famous places in the world for pistachios. And she took me into a place called İmam Çağdaş which is very famous for its baklava, and I got to watch the process of it. And it was sort of an experience of watching generations put it together. Like on the bottom floor there was the young kids that were sweeping the floor and tending to the cash register and wrapping up the baklava’s to take away and then when we walked upstairs to the first floor kitchen, there were more like teenagers or young 20s strong young men that were rolling out fresh phyllo in a wheat starch, not a corn starch but a wheat starch and in Gaziantep the air there's no humidity so the starch it's almost like foggy in the room. They call it starch fog. And it's so thick that it's on their eyelashes and on their arms and they're rolling out this phyllo that. You can see through its paper thin.
CK: How do you roll out something so thin. I mean, I did see a video from there. But these large wooden pins, they're they're three or four feet long, I guess. How do you do that?
AS: Yeah, I think there have to be I think they have to be young and strong is what they told me that it was the young and strong men that we're rolling it out but they're using You know, when I've done it in myself, it's a little bit of a stretch, you know, that happens, and they use these very thin rolling pins called oklava and they're, they're bigger than a dowel, but they're maybe like two inches in diameter smaller than a French rolling pin would be. And it almost like the dough almost is stretching like a like a streusel. And the starches like super fine like like powdered sugar almost so it doesn't absorb the same as flour. So, it just gets really thin very easily with still being very strong, so you don't put holes in it. But yeah, it does take practice, they make it look very easy.
CK: So, in the video I saw they were sorting pistachios by hand. I mean, I was like, man, I you know, sometimes I think I have a hard job. But I mean, this mound of pistachios, what are they they're looking for pistachios that are fresher or older. What color is is there a particular type that's best for baklava?
AS: Yes, so in Gaziantep they usually harvest pistachios early, like a month early, and so they're slightly under ripe but their color is more intense and more green and they're some people say they're sweeter but in my opinion, they're a little bit more bitter and they're kind of better in the baklava because it's soaked in syrup. It's almost like this meaty black walnut sort of flavor. There's umami in the in the pistachios, as far as I'm concerned, it's a different taste from our California pistachio. But yeah, the pistachios are taken pretty seriously and the ones that are early harvest are used for baklava because of the color, but also the nuance of flavor as well. And then they grind it very fine and they call it Burj pistachios. It's just the fact that it's ground really fine. And they use that it's like a like a vibrant Fern or asparagus green. You know, if you're a baklava chef or once in Gaziantep, you have prestige or you're like a doctor or a lawyer.
CK: So, then pistachios go on and then more layers. And then I didn't understand this as bait, but it's finished on burners. Could you explain how it's finished? I didn't understand that.
AS: So, the layers of sprinkled goat's milk, butter and the fresh phyllo go in. And I should know exactly how many but there are like 20 ish layers of the phyllo and then lots of the finely ground vibrant green early harvest pistachios, and then it gets caught and goes into the oven. And basically, the art of the baklava is when it comes out of the oven, it comes out really hot. But sometimes the bottom they want to get the bottom a little more crisp, and they want to get it to rise when the syrup hits it so they put it on a burner quickly to get the bottom, a little more crisp, so that when they take the ladle full of hot syrup, and they pour it on that very hot baklava. If they've done it right in the right amount, the whole balaclava lifts out of the pan. When they do it literally, like jumps out of the pan.
CK: I saw that I was going like what could you take us through that first taste?
AS: Yeah, so I think for me, there is this sort of shatter in your mouth kind of feeling. And then you get this really pungent flavor from the pistachio and goat's milk butter combined and it's almost a little gamey. It's almost a little umami-ish like a black walnut is when you combine the unripe pistachio flavor with the goat's milk butter, but then it's sort of sweet at the same time. And you know, it is it would be like going from that airport croissant to the croissant and Paris going oh, okay. Now I understand what baklava is supposed to be. Yeah,
CK: Now I'm desperate to go watch these people make baklava and eat as much as possible. Thank you so much.
AS: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Ana Sortun. She's the chef owner of the restaurants Oleana, Sofra and Sarma. Now it's time for my co-host Sara Moulton I to tackle some of your baking questions. She's the author of Home Cooking 101, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, here's the question. So, tortillas I've just spent some time in LA having phenomenal tacos. But do you prefer corn tortillas? flour tortillas? Do you buy tortillas from the supermarket? What's the deal?
Sara Moulton: Corn tortillas I prefer and my absolute favorite. It's one of those things you know how when you go to a town and you, if it's on the menu, you're going to order it for me. I mean, as long as it's in the right parts of the country, it's fish tacos. I'm always in search of the best fish taco. Tacos I love them, but I don't make a ton of tacos at home. No.
CK: You know, when I was in LA, we spoke to someone who didn't use a tortilla press and I watched her, and they make these incredibly large tortillas. I think they're flour tortillas actually but she does it like a pizza dough right? She starts that way with her hands. When it gets larger. She uses her forearms, and the dough flips over from one form to the next. It was amazing. So, in about one minute, she'll take a ball of dough, and it'll be about a foot wide. And it goes on to the griddle to finish it and it was just amazing. I mean, the food's just amazing.
SM: Do they make fish tacos?
CK: A shrimp taco was excellent. They make all sorts of tacos. You know fried long cigar rolls, filled with lamb and with a smoky sauce.
SM: Oh, dear you’re making me so hungry.
CK: Yeah. Anyway, let's take a call yeah.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Katie.
SM: Hi, Katie. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I am calling from Melrose, Massachusetts.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I have been struggling with my pie dough for a very long time. It seems that no matter what I do, this isfor not a two-crust pie a single pie. I put it in the oven, and it like shrinks and disappears and looks terrible. I feel like I've run the whole gamut of what I can do. And I'm out of ideas.
SM: Alright, well, I've got a couple of ideas. I think what might be the problem is when you put the dough into the pie tin, it's very important to ease it in not stretch it out. Because it is going to naturally shrink. So, you have to give a little extra room. If you stretch it when you put it in, it's going to really shrink. Okay. Do you pierce the dough with a fork?
Caller: Okay. Do you pierce the dough with a fork?
SM: Absolutely. To let the steam you know, come out. I assume you're blind baking it too, right?
Caller: Yes. So that I'm using ceramic pie weights. Is there a kind of pie weight, that's going to make this happen more than not happen?
SM: Well, I've only ever used beans or rice. And it's worked just fine. But I'm sure Chris has an opinion about this. So
CK: Oh yes, I do. I agree with Sara, I would say push the dough down into the sides of the pan. But I don't think that's your problem. What's the basic recipe in terms of fat to flour for your pie dough?
Caller: They're usually butter recipes.
CK: I'll give you just a few things I've found I've had the same problem you've had. Number one, the fat to flour ratio is critical for a cup and a quarter of flour, which is usually what you use for a single crust pie prebaked I would use no more than eight tablespoons of fat. Some recipes have 10 the more fat you have in it, the more likely it is to slump.Two the most important thing is cut the fat really into the flour in the food processor. I've said this a million times recipes always say process until butter is pea sized. That's nonsense forget it keep processing until you really coat the flour with the butter. By fully coating the flour you are not going to have pockets of butter. And those pockets when they melt in the oven is what really makes the slumping worse. Once you fit it in the pan as Sara said push down the edge. refrigerate for 20 minutes and freeze for 20 minutes.
Caller: Do both? Okay
CK: then put it in the oven 375 Pyrex pan I like best because it or brown the bottom better. bottom rack of the oven and use a ton of pie weights. This is something actually I didn't think of Stella Parkes mentioned this. Put the aluminum foil on the pie crust but then fill it up with weights. If you fill up the pie weights all the way to the top, you're going to have much less chance of that crust slumping. Make sure you don't take the foil off until the crust is pretty set and dry. If the dough is a little wet, or it's a little moist, it'll slump. So let it set with the weights in the foil in the crust (in the oven?) Yeah. And then it'll set in place. Then take the foil off and continue baking a few minutes to get a light brown. That'll do it.
Caller: Okay, good.
CK: You can tell this is like the only thing I care about in life. Pre-baked pie pastry. Anyway, give that a shot.
Caller: Ok perfect thank you
SM: Thanks so much
Caller: Thanks a lot. Bye bye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with your pie crust or a batch of brownies, give us a call anytime. Our number 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi this is Gary calling from Ohio.
SM: Hi, Gary, how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I'm calling in regard to some old recipes that I have from my grandparents. My grandparents came over to the states from Salamanca, Spain back in 1920. And I've been trying to do some of the recipes. And one it's kind of comical. I guess that's not my question but is they're all handwritten out. And one of them that she makes some Spanish doughnuts calls for six half eggshells of oil. You know, that was their measuring cups back then. (Wow) But the reason I'm calling is she makes a Spanish cookie using lard. Now my aunt who is 92 still makes them and she melts her lard first. Where recipes similar to that in the state’s there would be New Mexico holiday cookies calledKarachi, Tito's, they just use the lard and whip in the sugar whip in a solid state. What is the difference between melting the lard first and using it in a solid state?
SM: It would make the difference of a more spread crispy cookie, which would be the melted lard versus a more chewy higher cookie in the creaming lard. Do you like your aunt's cookies?
Caller: Yes, yes. But she's following her mother's recipe who is my grandmother's sister. And so, a lot got lost in the translations of them. I remember my grandmother's being tall and flaky. So, I've been kind of favoring using it in a solid state.
SM: Yeah, it's like creaming butter and sugar and say a chocolate chip cookie. If instead you melted the butter, you would get a really thin, crispy, almost greasy cookie. So (okay) your instinct is right.
Caller: Hers is basically one egg to maybe two to three cups of flour.
SM: Oh, okay. And it's just flour. And then it's the lard and the sugar.
Caller: Yeah, and some cinnamon and anise. Also, maybe a little bit of wine in there too.
SM: Oh, that's interesting. That all sounds fine to me.
Caller: Well, I didn't know really, if I should use a whole egg or just an egg yolk.
CK: If you want something that's sort of chewier and richer it just the yolk but the egg white will tend to give you a sort of crispy or lighter texture. The sound like polvorón’s right? I mean, this is like a Mexican wedding cookie or something. (Yes). So that's why you have such a low proportion of fat to flour because you have a very light crispy kind of crumbly cookie. By the way, leaf lard, the fat around the kidney in a pig is what we used, you know, for American pie dough for hundreds of years. It makes terrific pie pastry so it's actually a great ingredient for baking. So sounds like great recipe.
CK: Sounds good.
Caller: I appreciate that very much. Okay. Thank you very much.
CK: Thanks, Gary.
SM: Take care
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next. It's my conversation with Great British Bake-Off champion, Nadiya Hussain. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with TV host and author, Nadiya Hussain, she won the Great British Bake-Off in 2015. Her latest cookbook is Nadiya Bakes. Nadiya, welcome to Milk Street.
Nadiya Hussain: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: You're a very interesting person. I was looking at your history and resume. You got a place at King's College London to study psychology, but never did. And then you ended up baking. Why did you want to study psychology?
NH: I suppose back then when I think about it, I was quite interested in understanding the mind. But I realized, I think I was really desperate to kind of know myself. As a young woman growing up in England, from a Bangladeshi home first generation British, I think it was really hard to kind of really understand who I was. And I think that's, I think, partly the reason why I wanted to do a degree in psychology. And also, somebody once said to me that you could probably make loads of money as a psychologist. So, I was like, yeah, you know, when you're 18, you're like, that's what I want to do. I want to make lots of money.
CK: You want, this is fairly personal but you were married at age 20. It was an arranged marriage.
CK: The second day you met was your wedding day?
CK: What are your thoughts about that institution arranged marriage now that you've been through it?
NH: You know, arranged marriages are weird and wonderful in a bizarre sort of way. And I was just this 20-year-old who didn't go to university, and kind of thought to myself, well what’s next, then? You know, and at the time, I just kind of thought, well, marriage sounds like okay, well, I can't be bothered. And you know, for me, it just felt like hard work. I was like, mom, could you could you guys do it for me, I just can't be bothered. I mean, I got really lucky. And I think that somewhere between an arranged marriage and 16 years later, three kids and way too many pets, we've kind of struck this balance that really works.
CK: Before we get to food in the Bake-Off, shakti mat. Could you just explain what it is?
NH: Oh, yes. Oh, my goodness. I love that. That is one of my favorite things. So it's a padded mat that is covered in 1000s of plastic pins. And I discovered this about a year and a half ago. And you have to eventually get to a point where you can lay on this bed of nails completely with bare skin. And I'm quite competitive with my husband, but he's good at everything. So, I thought what can I win out and so essentially, I bought it in the hope that I could win and it turns out, turns out he's not good at laying on a bed of nails. And I am. The reason why I initially bought it was because I get kind of on an evening when I've worked really hard laying on my bed of nails really helps my muscles to relax, and I can go bare skin for about 20 minutes. In fact, I fall asleep on it. That's how hardcore I am. I fall asleep on my bed of nails. Yep.
CK: So, you said your mother used the oven to store frying pans? Yeah. You didn't realize the oven was actually used for baking, I guess early on?
NH: No. Well, we grew up in a family where it was stovetop cooking. And we always had an oven, but I just didn't know what it was useful. So, it was really interesting, because when I went to my first homemade class, when I was maybe 12. And I saw the teacher mixing eggs and butter and sugar and and then she then goes and pops it into this, what I call a cupboard. And I said to her Mrs. Marshall, this is this cupboard hot. And she said, oh, you silly girl. That's an oven. And I was like, oh, and that was when that was like a lightbulb click moment for me. It's like, oh, she's baking a cake. And I'll never that magic will never really leave me. I think it was something that was that will always even now when I bake a cake sometimes the smell when I forgotten that it's in the oven, and I go downstairs and I get that kind of slap in the face of butter and sugar and eggs, I think Oh, wow. But yeah, my mom, I remember going home that day, and ripping everything out of the cupboard out of the cupboard, the oven and saying, mom, you lied to me all these years, and I'm like trying to turn this oven on that was sticky shut with grease and she just like no, we don't use the oven. And it kind of begged the question why? And I suppose for me, it was a case of well, just because we don't use it doesn't mean that it's a rule that I have to follow.
CK: We need to mention that you won the six series of the Great British Bake-Off in 2015. I gather getting you to actually enter it was a chore your husband pushed you towards it, and you ended up winning it. How did you actually steal yourself to show up and do it?
NH: Well, I hadn't, like it wasn't something that I ever wanted to do. It was my husband that actually put the application he kept it, we'd watch Bake-Off together and he'd say, oh, you've made that. But yours definitely looked better, or I bet yours tasted better. So, he would make comments, and I wouldn't really pay any heed to them. And then one day, he just said, so you know, I've just done this application form. And I've done all the boring bits, but I can't actually do the actual baking questions. So do you want to just do this, and I said, Wait, this is for Bake-Off, I'm not doing this. And he kind of, he did sit me down and say, look, you've kind of spent eight, nine years at home raising the children, I've been able to do really well in my own career. And I'm just desperate for you to be able to do something without me and without the kids. Before you know it. I've done three telephone interviews, six months’ worth of baking and screen tests. And then suddenly, I get this call saying, you've made it into the final 12. And I remember being completely overwhelmed and said to my husband, I'm not doing it. You're going to have to tell him I died. That's, that's the only option we have. And he said, no, you ring them and tell him you died. I was like, well, that doesn't work, does it? And then he was like, just do it. What's the worst that's going to happen? And my husband said to me, what have you do that? Oh, don't get kicked out week one, because that would be so embarrassing. I'm like, Oh, great. Who even says that? Then says that, honestly.
CK: And then you wind up baking Queen Elizabeth 90th birthday cake. So, it's an orange drizzle cake with orange curd in orange buttercream? Is this something that the royal family specifically requested or was up to you to cook any kind of cake you wanted?
NH: Well, what's funny is that I asked for direction, and they said, we don't care. You just do whatever you like. Which is like, well, what if she hates oranges? I mean, that's orange, heavy, but bearing in mind, I never saw her actually ever eat any cake. But then I don't think anyone has ever seen the Queen ever physically eat anything. Weirdly, I took direction from my little girl who at the time was five, I'm going to say. And I said, so. What do you think I should bake the queen? And she said, oh, that you've already beat for the queen? And I said, no, I haven't picked for the queen. And she said, yes, you have Mary Berry's the queen. Mary Berry’s is the queen of cake. The Queen is the Queen of England. So she said, well, you made Mary Berry a lemon drizzle, so you could just make her something with oranges. And I kind of took that, literally. And that's exactly what I did. So, I took advice from my five year old who thinks the Queen of England is just an old lady in a very big house.
CK: One of the things I love about your cookbook is you have influences from all over the world. I mean, Lebanon, you know, you have those sort of meat pies via Japan in a macha or hurricane rolls, Scotland, jam Roly-Poly, you have all these influences you put together successfully. But the way you mix and match is more advanced, I think, than many other books. Any comments on on why that's your approach.
NH: You know, I'm always kind of collecting this back catalogue of recipes that I love and that I create at home based on recipes that I've tasted around the world. But I think, you know, being British and being Bangladeshi, growing up with that kind of struggle that fight between the two cultures. What happened was I kind of created my own gray area where I think lots of us sit. And and I mean, I shouldn't call it a gray space, it should be a colorful rainbow, unicorn space. And that's exactly what it is for me because, you know, it is important to create that space for yourself.
CK: You do a Bangladesh cake shinny cake. I don't know if I'm pronouncing it properly. Could you describe what what that is?
NH: That is one of my favorite things to make. So, it's a toasted flour cake, which is made with equal amounts of butter, sugar, and water. And then you keep mixing it till you get this gorgeous, sweet, toasted kind of batter. To me, it's a soft, spiced fudge. That's what it tastes like. And you just literally just throw it onto a plate. And everybody gets their hands in and they pinch and take pieces of it while it's still hot. But I wanted to make my version of it in a small kind of Bundt tin. So that was a kind of Bangladesh meets Britain for me.
CK: You know, I've done a lot of brownie recipes in my time and thought I had some pretty good recipes. This one is better. You want to discuss it. Its money can't buy you happiness brownies.
NH: Let's face it, everybody is on the quest for the best brownie. It's such a simple thing, but it can go so wrong. It should be chocolaty, it should be fudgy yet gooey, soft yet firm. And this brownie is exactly all of those things but it is topped with a dulce de Leche roasted hazelnut layer. And then on top of that it's got a really simple thin layer of orange cheesecake. Your Money can't buy you happiness brownies or all what my daughter likes to call. Turn your frown upside down brownie
CK: She's going to have a literary career. It's obvious. Yeah, that that caught my eye. You do a marshmallow butter cream?
CK: You actually use marshmallows?
CK: Which seems a whole lot easier. How do you make a marshmallow buttercream with marshmallows?
NH: For me, as much as I love making marshmallows from scratch, it's something that I would very rarely do. And you'd have to be pretty special to get me to make marshmallows from scratch for you. And so just to be able to step back and say, Actually, let's go backwards. Let's take ready-made marshmallow. Let's melt that down. Let's cool it down. Let's add butter to it. Let's add icing sugar to it. And let's make it a delicious, rich marshmallow fluff butter cream. It's about making recipes easy for people. As much as I love making a marshmallow. I'm a big fan of cheating and there's nothing wrong with it.
CK: Let's assume you don't bake, or you don't bake much someone doesn't. And they called you up and said look, I’ve got to throw something together for Saturday night, having people over Is there something either out of your book or not? That's really easy to put together and something that's good for a beginning Baker?
NH: Absolutely. I think if I was going to pick one recipe from the book for me, it would be the croissant bread pudding. Because what I love about bread-and-butter pudding is that it has everything all in one. You've got the custard, you've got the bread, buttered bread, you've got fruit, you've got a little bit of everything all baked in one. But what I really love about this recipe because it is all about cheating. Remember, we're allowed to cheat in food. But you take ice cream, and you melt the ice cream down because essentially a bread-and-butter pudding is a custard, and an ice cream is a frozen custard. So, I kind of worked backwards and thought, well, why can't I just use melted ice cream because that's exactly the same thing. And now you see how my mind works right? It kind of works is a weird way of working but it works for me.
CK: Well, you work backwards. Sort of
NH: Yeah, I always really work backwards. Backward baking that's it.
CK: That’s your next book.
NH: That’s the next one
CK: Is your family completely sick and tired of you baking all the time or do they just can't wait to come up with your next recipe?
NH: Well, when I'm recipe testing, I am like a woman possessed. I spend about two months at home just testing, testing, testing, and so they could wake up to shrimp for breakfast and cake for dinner. But they don't complain. They don't complain. But I've got to say on an evening when they come back from school, they kind of walk through the door and they go past seven, eight different dishes, cakes, starters, main dishes, you name it all laid out there and they go straight for the fruit bowl and say you were right mom, we’ll just have an apple. Really?
CK: Nadia it's been fun and just a great honor having you on Milk Street. Thank you so much.
NH: Thank you so so much.
CK: That was Nadia Hussain her cookbook is Nadia Bakes. You know, I was intrigued when Nadia mentioned that she had baked a three-tiered orange drizzle cake. It looked like something Salvador Dali might have painted for Queen Elizabeth 90th birthday. And when asked what the Queen said to her the humdrum answer was quote, which tier do I cut? Which makes me wonder if the royal families a bit less interesting than my two local fishmongers Eddy and Joe. Well, hello magazine thinks they are pretty interesting. They reported them the Queen's diet, cereal yogurt, toasted marmalade for breakfast, Dover sole and spinach for lunch, cucumber sandwiches for tea, fish pate at dinner with a slice of chocolate perfection pie for dessert. So, I say we need a new upper class. Those among us who are skilled at the art of conversation. You know, I once asked a nine-year-old Vermonter where Maple Street was, he looked at me curiously and said slowly, you're standing right on it. Now that's my idea of royalty. You're listening to Milk Street radio. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Plum cake with spiced almond crumble. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris
CK: You know I have a problem which would indicate I probably have dozens of them. But when you do a cake with fruit and crumble, you have to get all three components just right. Because the crumble can be too sweet. It can overtake the cake itself the fruit gets lost etc. So, we came across a recipe by Greg and Lucy Maloof in a book called Saha which solved the problem of getting the three components at just the right mix.
LC: It sure did. So, this cake is pretty much about the crumble. We did a lot of work with the crumble to get it just right. And as you said it's kind of a hard thing to do surprisingly to get it all nicely balanced with the cake and the fruit. The crumble is toasted almonds, butter, brown sugar, some really great spices cardamom, coriander, all spice that all gets mixed together by hand, and then we pop it in the freezer. And this was a trick that we learned from the book. And what that does is if you keep it at room temperature and then put it on top of the cake, as soon as it hits the oven, that butter starts to melt, so you're losing a lot of that crumble. As the butter melts into the cake, you're left with mostly just the toasted almonds on the top. So, this allows us a little bit more time before that starts to happen. So, you get a really nice layer of crumble.
CK: So, what about the fruit because it's really nice to have the fruits a little bracing you know, it's not just sweet on sweet. How do you do that.
LC: And the cake itself, it's a basic sort of 9 x13 kind of sheet cake has a little bit of almond extract in it some sour cream, but then instead of mixing that fruit into the cake itself, we sliced the plums and kind of layer them on top of the cake. So, you get a really nice punch of that sweet but slightly acidic fruit when you bite into the cake.
CK: Baking is just a typical 350 oven?
LC: The temperature is typical, the way it's baked is not and this was another thing we learned from the book. you bake the cake for 30 minutes without the crumble on top first. Then you take the cake out and put the crumble on. And we were having a lot of trouble with sort of a crumble kind of melting into the cake and becoming one with the cake. And we wanted those distinct layers. And this was a way to do that. And it was really really cool idea something we hadn't seen before and really allowed us to have those very distinct layers of crumble fruit and cake.
CK: Well thanks to Greg and Lucy Maloof, we learned a couple of things. The crumble should be frozen first, and then only put it on halfway through baking and you get that perfect division between crumble cake and fruit. Lynn thank you very much plum cake was spiced almond crumble.
LC: You're welcome. You can get this recipe for plum cake with spiced almond crumble at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: This is Milk Street radio coming up Adam Gopnik asks, what's in a desserts name? We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street radio. Right now. Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your baking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Olivia from Cleveland, Ohio.
SM: Hi, Olivia. How can we help you today?
Caller: Like many people, I have been baking a lot more over the last year. And it's just me and my parents. So, we end up with a lot of leftovers. And originally, I'd been storing the leftovers in a Tupperware on the counter. But I realized that they were retaining a lot of moisture and getting almost gummy after a few days. And it was worse with things like muffins or biscuits. And so recently, I've been using a cotton dish towel and wrapping up the baked goods and leaving that on the counter. But with that method, the baked goods dry out much faster. And so, I was wondering, is there some sort of happy medium way to store baked goods where they don't end up to moist and they don't end up to dry?
SM: Yes. First of all, muffins freeze well, those kinds of quick breads, freeze well, and you know, freeze them as soon as you can after you've baked them after they've cooled off. But in terms of leaving them absolutely the best place to leave them is at room temperature in Tupperware or you know, whatever closed container and sort of a cross between what you were doing, put a sheet of paper towel in there on top of them.
SM: That should absorb enough of the excess moisture to keep them the way you want them to be. Chris, do you have any thoughts?
CK: Oh yeah, I ain’t freezing my muffins. Look If I make some banana muffins or something I want instant gratification on day two. I don't want to have to go reheat them. So, what we've done recently which really works well is you get a cake stand, we bought a glass cake stand with a dome top. And we put that on the counter in the kitchen. And we have lots of you know how much banana bread we baked in the last year I can't count, but cookies, banana breads, donuts or whatever pretzels. We put that on the cake stand. And it's beautiful because it's glass. It also means you eat more because every time you go by, it's staring at you. But I think it really works well because there's enough air in there. So, they're not going to get moist like in a small container. But they're also not going to get right out. That's my new thing is a glass cake stand with a dome top. And I get to look at it 25 times a day, which is
SM: Well then for those of us who can't resist, we get into trouble.
CK: Yeah, it does. You know, those chocolate chip cookie piles diminish quickly
SM: Oh, geez. Yeah,
CK: I think you want a larger volume in the storage area, which I think gives you the bounce between soggy and dried out.
SM: No, that makes complete sense. You know, there's more air for the moisture to evaporate in. Good idea. Except for those of us who can't resist, it wouldn't work for me.
CK: I like guilty pleasures.
SM: Well again, As I've remarked many times, Chris, if I was six, two and a skinny bean, I'd eat anything I wanted too
CK: Did you just call me a skinny bean? Is that what you called me?
CK: You haven't seen me in a year though. I got to tell you maybe it’s not my true anymore
SM: This is true
CK: Olivia. Thank you.
SM: Yes, good question
Caller: Thank you so much. Have a good one
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you want to improve your baking skills, give us a call 855-426-9843 one more time 855-42 6-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Matt from Baltimore, Maryland.
SM: Hi, Matt. How can we help you today?
Caller: I am having the darndest time with no knead bread. I've tried several times. Jim Lahey, no knead bread and other variations of it. Every time I make it, the crust is sick and hard. And the inside is somehow both gummy and overbaked. It's just a disaster every time. I'm using a six-quart enameled Dutch oven with a lid and maybe that's too big. But help, please.
SM: Well, let me ask you a few questions. you weigh your ingredient I assume?
Caller: I weigh my ingredients. instant yeast, I'd say fairly fresh.
SM: Okay. So, when you do this, when you're giving it the 16 hours, are you looking for the visuals that he tells you, the bubbles on top of the dough?
Caller: I'm looking for the growth typically it feels like it maybe doubles in size. There's always lots of bubbles and it's very stringy when you try to pour it out of the bowl.
SM: Okay. And you give it the second rise, correct?
SM: And you heat the Dutch oven with the lid on in the oven from the beginning, right?
Caller: Yeah, and the hottest my oven or get is 500
SM: it's supposed to be I believe 450 not 500
Caller: Oh, okay.
SM: And then you put it on the towel and then you slide it in seam side up and you put the lid on and you time it and then you take the lid off and finish browning it correct?
Caller: Yeah. And it always gives a nice rise in the oven, so it comes out in the right shape. But the crust is much thicker than you'd expect. And it feels just hard and callousy and lumpy.
CK: Well, I remember when Mark Bittman wrote this up from Jim Lahey in New York Times, I made it a whole bunch of times, I came to the conclusion that it's I do almost no knead bread. Because if you knead it for like two minutes by hand, the bread is like 100% better. Oh, I mean, Jim Lahey, he has an advantage, which he's dealing with a kitchen where there's massive amount of yeast and it's hot. My kitchens probably 64 degrees. And there's no yeast floating around. So, I think he gets a tremendous amount of oven spraying and other things going on. So, my short answer to your long problem is knead the dough before you that second rise needed for two or three minutes by hand. The second thing is I use an instant read thermometer to gauge when my breads done. And the typical American logs about 195 but I found this spread unless you get it like up to 208 it is gummy, so you got to make sure that interiors about 208
Caller: 0h Wow,
CK: And that should solve the gumminess
Caller: Excellent. Ooh I'm going to try this out today and tomorrow because it's going to take a long time to raise the the dough but let us
CK but let us know
SM: please let us know, we want to know.
Caller: I really appreciate the help.
CK: Okay, take care
Caller: Thanks very much. Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: I almost never buy butter milk anymore because I realized that if I mix two ingredients that I almost always have in my fridge, locally made yogurt, a really tangy whole milk yogurt with whole milk and about even measures about half and half. It makes a substitute for butter milk that is so good. And it works really well in recipes and it's always in my fridge so it's really easy.
CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip or suggestion on Milk Street Radio, go to 177 Milk Street. com slash radio tips. Next up, it's time to find out what Adam Gopnik is thinking about this week. Adam How are you?
Adam Gopnik: I'm well Chris, how are you?
CK: What pronouncements will be coming down from the mount today.
AG: Well, I actually want to share not my thoughts originally but my wife's thoughts. I made her the other night that wonderful dessert called rhubarb fool. I’m sure you've made it often stewed rhubarb with a little bit of orange, perhaps a strawberry too, a touch of Grand Marnier, folded into whipped cream. Sometimes I put the Grand Marnier in the whipped cream sometimes I put it in the rhubarb puree, obviously sugar in the rhubarb puree to cut the sour and bitter taste. It's a wonderful dessert and it's her all-time favorite dessert. And she turned to me and said, why is rhubarb fool called rhubarb fool? Now I actually happen to know the answer for that though it's a delightful name. I know it came from the French word plier to fold right. It's something you fold the cream into the rhubarb. But fool is such a beautiful word. She was right. And as she ate her rhubarb fool, she turned to me and said, why do desserts have such deliciously silly names? There's not just fool. There's a mess at a local restaurant about as far removed from England as anything could possibly be. They serve Eton mess.
CK: Eton Mess yes,
AG: Everywhere you go. We know I think we've discussed in various times, the endlessly amusing differences if any exists between the crisp, the crumble and the cobbler. The same thing extends even into the seemingly sober precincts of French cuisine. As you know French main dishes entrees almost always have very sober descriptive names or at most they have an historical name associated with a particular place Poulet Marengo is associated with the Battle of Marengo, and so on. But French desserts have either local names or odd names. Croque _ Busch, for instance, Profiteroles roll my favorite French dessert those cream puffs with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Do you know from whence their name derives?
CK: I have no idea.
AG: It comes from Rabelais, the great French comic writer who used the word meaning little mountains, to reference the cream puffs, probably the biggest revolution in taste, at least in modern Western history was the moment in the 18th century when because of the discovery and the broad use because it got cheaper of refined sugar, dessert suddenly got expelled off into a separate course as you know, Chris, before then sweet tastes and savory tastes were mixed on every plate as they still are, say, in North African cuisine, you had apricots and lamb together, you had sweet tastes of honey and the savory tastes of meats all on one plate with no conception that you would have something separate, distilled out and sweet, put off on one side. That began to happen in the 18th century that the whole meal so to speak, tipped over and you began to have that sweet coarse, sugar-based course that we think of as dessert. And indeed, when you're making rhubarb fool, one of the things that impresses you is how much sugar you have to put into the rhubarb in order to make it foolish. If you tried to just to eat stewed rhubarb alone, it's almost close to inedible. And so, in a curious way, our taste for playful or foolish names attached to dessert is an unconscious cultural trace, if you like, of that business of jettisoning off one course the sweet course, to be a thing on to itself, something like the dance after the end of a six-act tragedy in Shakespeare, something like the recess in a school day. And we instinctively therefore adhere to that moment, a foolish name.
CK: Well, it's interesting. That most of the world doesn't do that though right? I mean, dessert is very European.
AG: Totally so Yep.
CK: Yeah. And the other thing is, it's so interesting is in Boston, it was actually late 19th century by the time sugar got cheap, but they'd have stores which had nothing but sugar confections. So, sugar became architectural, right?
CK: It was spun. It was created into palaces. It became an art form, which is, I think, quite different than most savory dishes. Not all, but sugar was, as you said, playful, but they actually played with it.
AG: Yes, that's right. And you can find that in aristocratic circles earlier in the 19th century, you know, around the time of Careme when we talk about spun sugar confections, and in fact, some of those spun sugar palaces that got invented then later got imitated in world's fairs and so on. So you have a whole kind of confectioner aesthetic. That's exactly right. And it is an oddity of our cooking style that we hive dessert off to a separate place we make messes and crumbles and crisps and cobblers procedurals from Rabelais, we make crooked bushes, we make cleft booties. And that vocabulary of playfulness is a sign of that special role. What strikes me as probably very likely is that that may be coming to an end because one of the things, I note is that the women in my life have now what they often call with a note of whimsical irony, girl deserts, which means locale deserts, and all of those desserts. I don't know if you've noticed, have virtuous names. They don't have comic names at all. They're called Enlightened or Halo. The names of those virtuous low calorie desserts always evoke self-righteous, indeed, sanctimonious pursuit of higher state. And in that moment, I think we may see passing away the long history of jollity in desert making.
CK: Adam, thank you very much. You've sorted out another philosophical quandary.
AG: Thank you. Delighted to do it.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker. If you tuned into later, just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street comm there you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season for TV show, or order our latest cookbook, Tuesday Night's Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH Executive Producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production assistant, Amelia McGuire and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional Editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX