Orange-scented Olive Oil Cake {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe from the Cakes section is one of those “but for” recipes. But for the Challenge, I would never have made this cake. As much as I love The Modern Baker and most of Nick Malgieri’s recipes, this one just didn’t jump out at me as one I had to try.

And there’s one simple reason I would have skipped this recipe:

Yes, folks, that’s 1 1/2 cups of olive oil. Like Margaret, the official Challenge blogger for this recipe, I was afraid that the olive oil would dominate the flavor of this cake and make it heavy, not to mention oily. But, like Margaret, I made it anyway.

And, like Margaret, I was pleasantly surprised.

Other than an obscene amount of olive oil, this cake contains orange zest, eggs, sugar, milk, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. The orange zest — from 3 navel oranges — is the predominant flavor in this cake.

It’s not exactly light, but it’s not heavy or oily tasting, either. As Margaret notes, it would be a good cake to serve at the end of a heavy meal, as it would stand up well to strong flavors. It was delicious plain, and would also be great served with a dollop of whipped cream and a few orange wedges.

One thing I liked about this cake was the fact that it makes 2 layers, but you serve a single layer, which means this cake could serve a crowd. Or, in my case, you end up with a cake to eat now, and another for the freezer.

So don’t fear the oil. This is really a delicious cake that is not at all heavy or greasy.

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Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar {FFwD}

This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie was, for me, a long time coming. Month after month, it appeared on the poll; and month after month, it got voted down. Finally, this month came around and, as fate would have it, there was no poll. Laurie (or fearless moderator) asked for suggestions for August recipes, and I jumped in with this one right away. My persistence finally paid off, and this week we are — finally — featuring cold cured salmon in a jar!

Even though it sounds kind of exotic, this is really a simple recipe. After curing salmon and boiling potatoes, you pack them in jars with herbs, spices, aromatics, and oil.

I began by tossing a few thick chunks of center cut salmon in salt and sugar, then packing them in a zipper seal bag and chilling them in the refrigerator for about 18 hours.

The next day I boiled some new potatoes in salted water until they were knife tender, then drained and sliced them. I rinsed the brine from the salmon and patted the pieces dry with paper towel.

I packed the salmon and potatoes in separate jars, layering them with coriander seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, carrots, onion and, in the case of the potatoes, a little salt.

I filled both jars with olive oil, then topped the potatoes with a splash of vinegar.

I refrigerated the jars overnight, then served the salmon, potatoes, and vegetables for lunch the next day.

This was a delicious and surprisingly light lunch. The salmon and potatoes both picked up a lot of flavor from the herbs and spices without becoming overly oily. As the only one in my family to eat salmon, I enjoyed several lunches from this recipe.

I was really looking forward to trying this recipe, and it didn’t disappoint. Now I just need to find some adventurous friends to share it with!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes {FFwD}

French Fridays with Dorie is kicking off August with a delicious, simple recipe that is sure to become staple in many a kitchen.

I picked up some grape tomatoes at the farmer’s market over the weekend, and they were perfect for this recipe. To roast the tomatoes, I cut them in half and put them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. I sprinkled the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and a couple cranks of ground black pepper, drizzled them with olive oil, and nestled a few cloves of garlic and some fresh thyme around them.

I roasted the tomatoes at 225°F for three hours (yes, three hours!), until they were shriveled and looked a little dry.

Although they looked dry, the tomatoes were still juicy, and roasting intensified the tomato flavor. And the garlic, herb, oil, and spices added subtle notes to the flavor. I ate a few of the tomatoes, then packed the rest in olive oil to use later.

But not much later. Dorie says that the tomatoes will remain usable in the oil for several weeks. I suspect they would keep for longer than that. Mine, however, never got the chance, as I kept finding uses for them. And before I knew it, they were gone.

So the next time you’re at the market and see a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, grab them and give this recipe a try. By slow roasting tomatoes, the flavor and color are intensified. And if you pack them in oil with garlic and herbs, you’ll find yourself adding them to all kinds of things.

Like eggplant caviar:

Or perhaps couscous salad:

Whatever you end up doing with them, they’re sure to go fast. Especially if you keep eating them out of the jar. Not that I know anyone who does that….

Tomato & Cantal Tart {ModBak}

The sixth tart recipe in the Savory Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge is the only tart in this section that doesn’t contain any eggs. Rather than a custard, this tart consists mainly of tomatoes and cheese. The recipe calls for Cantal, a French cheese similar to Gruyère. I ended up using Gruyère, as I couldn’t find Cantal at my market.

The recipe is also supposed to be made with fresh tomatoes, which unfortunately can’t be found around here this time of year. Not wanting to wait until summer to make this recipe, I decided to roast some tomatoes in order to make them taste more like fresh, ripe tomatoes.

I began with two Roma tomatoes.

I sliced the tomatoes, spread them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and sprinkled them with a little salt and sugar.

I roasted the tomatoes in a 350°F oven for about 35 minutes, until they were slightly shriveled and most of the moisture had evaporated.

It was amazing how much roasting affected the flavor and texture of these tomatoes. They obviously still weren’t as good as vine-ripened summer tomatoes, but they were by far the best tomatoes I’ve had in the middle of a Midwest winter. I allowed the Romas to cool on the baking sheet while I prepared my mise en place for the tart.

The tart is very simple to assemble. After making the pastry, I spread Dijon mustard in the bottom of the tart shell.

Then I sprinkled on some shredded Gruyère.

Next, I added tomatoes in an overlapping layer.

I sprinkled some pepper on the tomatoes, then added another layer of cheese.

I baked the tart at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until the cheese was melted and nice and bubbly.

I unmolded the tart while it was still warm, then topped it with basil chiffonade and a drizzle of olive oil.

I baked the tomato & Gruyère tart on the same day that I made the Swiss onion tart. I made each of them as mini tarts, so I decided to serve them side-by-side.

I enjoyed them both, and the tomato tart reminded me of a really good grilled cheese sandwich (I always put tomato slices on my grilled cheese). But I have to say that I missed the custard in the tomato tart, and I thought the onion tart won out in both flavor and complexity.

I will make this tart again, although I’ll probably wait until summer so I can try it with garden fresh tomatoes. I do like the idea of making mini tarts and serving them together. And I might even do four tarts and serve a wedge of each sometime for brunch.

If you’re following along on the Modern Baker Challenge page, you’ll note that I have one more tart to go before I get to the dreaded curried fish pie. Stay tuned. It should be interesting.

Olive Oil Dough for Savory Pies & Tarts {ModBak}

One of the main reasons I started the Modern Baker Challenge was to learn how to make a successful pastry dough. For all my adventures and experience in the kitchen, both cooking and baking, I’ve never quite mastered the art of pie dough. In fact, I have pretty much given up on it and keep premade, prerolled pie crusts in the freezer.

So when I first picked up a copy of The Modern Baker, I knew that the one thing I wanted to learn from master pastry chef Nick Malgieri was how to make  a good crust. After baking from Nick’s book for about nine months, we’ve finally reached the first section featuring tarts and pies — savory tarts and pies, to be precise. And so my pastry crust adventure has begun.

In this section of the book, Nick provides three crust recipes — rich pie dough, no-roll flaky dough, and this recipe for pastry dough made with olive oil. I have made all three doughs, and this one is by far the most forgiving and the easiest to get into the pan.

As with the other pastry doughs in The Modern Baker, this dough is mixed up in the food processor. I started by measuring flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into the bowl of the food pro and pulsing a few times to mix it all up. Then I added olive oil, egg, and a little water and processed it until it formed a shaggy ball.

I turned the dough out onto a floured board and pressed it into a disk. Then I wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it until I was ready to make a tart.

When it came time to bake, I took the dough out of the refrigerator and put it on a floured board. I pressed it out a little bit and was surprised at how pliable it was. It felt almost the same as when I put it in the fridge the day before. I rolled the dough out slightly larger than the size of my tart pan.

The dough was very soft and slightly tacky. When making butter-based pastry doughs, I fold the dough twice into a triangle shape to move it to the pan. I found that with this dough, it was easiest just to lift the dough gently into the pan without folding. The dough was pliable, and I found it quite easy to work it into the pan without stretching.

Using olive oil instead of butter makes for a less rich, more savory dough that’s perfect for savory tarts, especially those with a Mediterranean flavor. (I used this particular dough for the Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Tart.) The olive oil also makes this dough very easy to work with. It can be rolled at room temperature without becoming sticky or straight from the refrigerator without being too firm. And it’s nearly impossible to overwork, so you can roll it out without worrying about overdoing it.

The downside to dough made with oil is that it’s not as flaky and light as butter-based pastry dough. Although for a savory tart with lots of texture and flavor of its own, this isn’t such a bad thing.

While I wouldn’t recommend this dough for a sweet pie or tart, it is perfect for savory applications. And if you’ve long shied away from making your own pastry dough, this one would be a perfect place to start, as it’s easy, delicious, and very forgiving.

Rosemary Olive Knots {ModBak}

Rosemary Olive Knots is the next to last recipe in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge. The individually knotted rolls are stuffed with a savory mixture of olives, rosemary, and olive oil. So these rolls are not a side dish, complement your meal kind of bread; they stand on their own and are best served with a strong, hearty dish or on their own, split and filled with strong flavored cheese or meat.

As with many of the recipes in this section, this one calls for mixing the dough in the food processor. And as with the past few recipes, I ignored this part of the instructions and mixed it in my Kitchen Aid mixer.

The dough was fairly slack, but it rose well and developed some body as it fermented.

After the initial rise, I pressed the dough out into a square and put it in the fridge to chill for about an hour.

While the dough was chilling, I mixed the filling, which consisted of olives, rosemary, olive oil, and cracked black pepper. If you’ve ever tried to chop olives on a cutting board, you know what a challenge it can be. I always end up with as many on the counter and floor as on the board, so I came up with a better idea — chopping them directly in the bowl with kitchen shears.

The recipe calls for Gaeta or Kalamata olives. I used Kalamatas, but I was a little concerned as they can be a bit on the tart side, and these particular olives were. Given the strong, pungent flavor of rosemary, I worried that the rolls might come out bitter-tasting.

In order to strip the leaves off the rosemary, I held the stem with one hand and ran my thumb and finger from top to bottom, which caused the tender leaves to fall off the stem.

After mixing the filling ingredients, I retrieved the dough from the refrigerator.

I spread the olive mixture over the lower half of the dough.

Then I folded the dough in half.

The recipe makes 12 rolls, and I scored the dough to create a guide for cutting even strips.

Now came the fun part. As I read the recipe, I couldn’t imagine how it was possible to tie the strips into knots without spilling much of the filling out onto the board. In the end, I lost less filling than I thought I might, but I still left a good bit of it on the board.

I set the rolls aside to proof for an hour. While the rolls rose, I preheated the oven to 400° F.

I baked the proofed rolls for about 25 minutes, until they were golden brown and firm to the touch.

The rolls smelled amazing — in addition to the normal, fresh-baked bread smell, the rosemary and olives gave the rolls an irresistible aroma. I couldn’t wait to try them and wondered if my concern about the strong, bitter flavor of the olives and rosemary had been overblown.

I served the rolls with a dinner of chicken and forbidden rice. We all enjoyed them, but I found that, as I had feared, the filling was a tad on the bitter side. I think a milder olive would have been a better choice. But overall, these rolls were very good and would make an impressive dinner roll to serve to company.