Thursday, 11 October 2012
On Saturday, I was blindly speeding through my google reader when this post from Not Without Salt flashed past. The only thing my clouded brain latched onto was the italics of a quote.
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure.”
― Michael Law
A bell started to ting-a-ling in the back of my mind at each mention of fear but I still went back to alternately reading without comprehension and freaking out on the phone to my poor mum about this horrific, hostile situation I was sure to be placed in the moment I started.
I disagree with the first point of the quote. I think that perfectionism is more than fear. Fear is just the shadow, long or short, deeply shaded or dappled, depending on the time and place. I know that it can be a positive thing and that I wouldn't have achieved many of the things I have if I wasn't seeking perfection. When tamed, it makes me push myself, sparks creativity, makes sure all the little details are accounted for.
Yet if I do let fear take control, it becomes paralysing - as it did briefly last Saturday. If I listen to the voice telling me I can't do it, that I'm not good enough, I lose sight of everything. These days if it takes hold it's only for a few seconds, minutes, or - rarely - hours. I've grown into a strong fighter over the years. I'd love to get to the point where I never lose balance and hit the blank, numbing snow face-first. That's my goal. To be able to tell it to go away (possibly in saltier language than I'd use here) and see every single minute of my life clearly.
The actual reality of the new term is thrilling and inspiring. The moment I got on my bike to go home after the first day on Monday, I felt fully free again, my limbs loosening as they let go of the residual stress. I cycled home with a smile so big my cheeks hurt, my chest fizzing with the joy of it all, flying along the familiar roads of my beloved city with no effort whatsoever.
I bought a copy of the new Ottolenghi book, Jerusalem, a few weeks ago. The cover is printed fabric - it's a lovely touch, though I worry it'll get dirty in the kitchen. I believe the US edition is just about to come out.
By now it should come as no surprise that the first pages I slotted the blue ribbon bookmark between were in the sweets section, involved the largest amount of butter, sugar and chocolate and had the most complicated method.
I also thought that the recipe looked unusual. The yeasted dough is made with plain flour and treated similarly to a brioche. It barely rises when proving and doesn't greatly expand when you bake it. The loaf is then soaked with lots of sugar syrup, filling most of the crumb. It's dense and sticky, very rich, filled with nuts and pretty punchy with the chocolate. It's not bread but it doesn't feel like cake either.
I did change a few things: I halved the recipe, adding extra water and butter to replace the remaining half egg; swapped the caster sugar for brown sugar; toasted the pecans; baked the ends so they didn't go to waste (as you can see below, they didn't last long); didn't - despite the strict note - use all the syrup and, finally, sprinkled a hefty pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes over the top. Another time I think I would take the lemon zest out of the dough (I'm not a huge lemon-chocolate fan) - it could be replaced with vanilla, cinnamon or another sweet spice.
The technique of splitting the roll of dough lengthways and then twisting it is brilliant - it creates such a bold design. I might try it with a normal cinnamon bun dough soon.
Finally, I've decided to settle on one post a week on Thursdays. Before now I've aimed at 6-7 a month with one a week as a minimum but I think it'll be easier at the moment to formally organise it into my week and admit that I can't do more than one. So you can expect a post every Thursday evening - the email subscribers should get it on Friday morning.
I'm also proud to announce that last Thursday I won Best Food Blog at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2012! It was a bizarre, dreamy evening filled with sequins, sparkle and rather loud music (I'm getting old). You can watch a short video about the evening here - it includes the moment I won and a little interview bit, which starts at 1:10. Finally, I'd like to say a big thank you to whoever nominated and voted for me.
Chocolate Pecan Krantz Cake
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem)
For the dough:
265g plain flour
50g soft brown sugar
1 tsp fast action dried yeast
zest of half a lemon*
pinch of salt
1 large egg
85g unsalted butter, at room temperature but not too squishy
For the filling:
100g pecan halves
65g dark chocolate, approx 70%
60g unsalted butter
25g icing sugar
15g quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp caster sugar
130g caster sugar
big pinch of sea salt flakes (optional)
Tip the flour, sugar, yeast, zest and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir together with the dough hook in your hand. Add the egg and water and stir again. Once most of the flour has been absorbed into the liquid, put it on the machine. Knead on medium for 2-3 minutes until you have a uniform dough. Start adding chunks of soft butter, bit by bit (roughly a tablespoon), letting each piece work into the dough in between. Once it is all in, keep mixing for 10 minutes on medium - scrape down the sides a few times within that time. Once done, the dough will be totally smooth, silky, just come away from the sides and should pass the windowpane test if you want to check. Place in a greased bowl, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.
When you come back the next day, start by toasting the pecans in a dry frying pan until they start to smell nutty. Leave to cool. Grease a 9x4"(23x10cm) loaf tin and line the bottom with baking parchment (you could line the whole tin - might be easier to lift out at the end). Take the dough out of the fridge - it will be solid but don't worry. Place the butter and chocolate into a small pan (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water if you're nervous) and melt gently over a low heat. Transfer to a bowl then stir in the icing sugar and cocoa powder - you should have a thin paste.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Form the dough into a square shape with your hands then start rolling it out. It will get softer as it warms up but you don't want to let it get too warm before you've finished. It needs to be rolled out to a rectangle of 38x28 cm. Try to keep the edges as straight as possible - turn the dough 1/4 turns regularly as you roll. Trim the edges so they're straight when you have the right size. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the dough with a palette knife, leaving a 2cm gap around the edge. Sprinkle the pecans over the top followed by the caster sugar.
Take a look at this picture series to help. Brush one of the short ends with a bit of water and then start tightly rolling the dough up towards it - as you would for cinnamon rolls. Seal the end. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut 2cm off each end of the roll. Cut the roll in half lengthways. Weave the two halves together, cut side up. Transfer to the tin. I then popped the two ends into another little tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 - 1hr 20. The cake will only rise a little in this time - don't worry.
Towards the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 170C/ 340F. Unwrap and place into the middle of the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes - you may need to put a bit of foil over the top to stop it browning too much at the end. When it is ready you should be able to remove a skewer from the middle cleanly. My little ends only took about 15 minutes. While the cake bakes, make the syrup: place the sugar and water into a small pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and it has just come to a boil. Leave to cool a little.
Once the cake is out of the oven, immediately start brushing the syrup all over it - you may have to let it sink in a few times and come back again. I think I used about 2/3 in the end - if you want it really sodden, keep going. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes if desired. Take out of the tin once it has nearly cooled. Best fresh but keeps for 2 days in a tin and up to a month in the freezer.
(Makes 1 loaf)
* You could replace this with 1 tsp of vanilla extract or paste, 1 tsp cinnamon or another flavouring.
A few related posts:
Braided Lemon Bread
Pear and Chocolate Loaf 2.0
Super Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls