Here in New England, the leaves are just starting to turn from green to gold and orange and flaming red. The remnants of Hurricane Jose have been drifting in as fog and wind and rain. It’s chilly and clammy outside, the kind of weather that makes you want to wrap up in a warm blanket, sip a mug of tea with honey, or maybe indulge in a bowl of soup.
This is also the time of year when squash starts appearing at farmers’ markets, when zucchini and crooknecks and pattypans are supplanted by spaghetti, delicata, acorn, and butternut, their sweet golden flesh ready to be put to a vast array of uses. My favorite thing to do with winter squash is to balance its sweetness with something savory, and curry works beautifully.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook compiled by Victoria Wise and given to me by my friend and fellow meals adventurer, Megan.
CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE
1 medium butternut squash (about 1-3/4 lb.)
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large cooking apple, such as Cortland or McIntosh, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
Whole sage leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degF. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or coat with butter and place the halves cut side down on the sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork pushes easily into the thickest part of the squash. When mostly cooled, scoop out the flesh.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the onion, garlic, and apple and cook over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the curry, nutmeg, and flour and stir until the flour disappears.
With a food processor or blender, puree the onion-and-apple mixture along with the squash and 1 cup of the broth. Return the puree to the pot and stir in the tomato paste, half-and-half, minced sage, remaining broth, and salt and pepper. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it just begins to boil. Serve immediately, garnished with whole sage leaves.
Variations: for a richer flavor, use light cream in place of half-and-half. For a little more kick, increase the amount of curry, or add 1/2 teaspoon red chile or chipotle powder. If you don’t have butternut squash available, you can substitute 2-3 acorn squash or even a similar-sized pumpkin. If you use pumpkin, save the seeds, roast them, and use them as garnish along with the sage.
If you’re looking for a vegan version of this, I recommend this recipe in the New York Times.
My publisher has just made A Witch’s Kitchen available on Kindle Unlimited. So if you’ve been putting off buying the book, or if you have friends you’ve been telling to read it, this is your chance!
It’s no surprise that food brings people together. But it’s a rare gift when you come across a food that brings people together across an ocean and several hundred years.
Molletes are a sweet anise bread, a favorite in my family, similar in some ways to Portuguese sweet bread. My abuela is famous for her molletes, which come out soft and fluffy and golden brown, delicious with butter or jam. But it’s not a well-known bread, even in New Mexico. You won’t find it in typical bakeries or restaurants, the way you do biscochitos. They’re a secret delight, a recipe passed down through generations.
So you can imagine my surprise when I mentioned to a fellow parent that I was making molletes that evening, and he did a double take. “Did you say molletes?” he asked, pronouncing it properly (moh-yeh-tehs). It turns out that his wife grew up in a small town called Zamora in Spain, which is home to one of the few remaining enclaves of Spanish Jews. It is also the only town in Spain where you can find molletes.
This made sense to me. I’d learned about two decades ago about the Conversos of New Mexico, Spanish Jews who had converted, sometimes forcibly, to Christianity but still faced suspicion and outright persecution in Spain. They emigrated to the Spanish territories in the New World, and a large contingent settled in what is now known as New Mexico. Those were my ancestors. There’s nothing left of Jewish tradition in my family now, except molletes, which I often introduce as Spanish challah.
That’s because there are serious similarities between molletes and challah. Both are enriched with eggs and basted to attain a beautiful sheen and soft crust. Both are sweetened, almost a dessert. They’re rich and decadent and wonderful. Molletes, however, are a slightly drier bread than challah, and they contain anise seed, giving them their characteristic but subtle licorice flavor. I like to eat them with apricot jam, my husband prefers butter, my children Nutella.
Note that molletes are one of my inspirations for the elf cakes in A Witch’s Kitchen, along with banana cookies. I imagine elf cakes as tasting like molletes but as thin and springy as banana cookies. One of these days, I’ll try to find that magical hybrid. In the meantime, I’m starting to teach my thirteen-year-old, who can inhale an entire loaf of bread every day, how to make her own bread, and we are slowly working our way up to her favorite bread: molletes.
This recipe was handed down to me by my abuela, but I found an identical recipe in Great Southwest Cooking Classics, a compilation of recipes published in the Albuquerque Tribune, and the name of the author, Josephine Telles, seems vaguely familiar to me. Was she a cousin with the same recipe? It’s more likely that my abuela, when writing the recipe down for me, couldn’t quantify it easily – she has long baked by tossing ingredients in a bowl until they look right – and so she borrowed it from a ready source. How do I know she had a different recipe? Well, I remember her using lard in this, instead of shortening, and she never, ever used raisins.
I have modified the recipe to use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method of using a kitchen mixer to do the dirty work.
1-1/2 tablespoons (2 packets) yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup scalded milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large or 4 small eggs, well beaten
4 tablespoons melted shortening or butter
7 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons anise seed
1/2 cup floured raisins (optional)
Soften yeast in lukewarm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir remaining sugar and salt into scalded milk and cool to lukewarm. When cooled, combine with yeast mixture and all other ingredients. Knead by hand or using a kitchen mixer (prefered) until you have a smooth, elastic dough that does not stick to the bowl or your hands. If it’s still sticky (as often happens in the humid Northeast), add a little flour until you reach the desired consistency, without making the dough stiff. Cover (not airtight – in New Mexico, we use a moistened towel) and let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
Turn onto floured board and shape into four loaves. Place on greased pans or pans lined with parchment paper and brush lightly with melted butter on top. Cover with wax paper. Let rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degF or until golden brown. To test for doneness, tap sharply; loaves should make a hollow sound. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Brush again with butter for a softer crust. Store in plastic bags in refrigerator or freezer.
Which recipe would you like me to post next week? Tell me in the comments!
Prospective cover for A Pixie’s Promise
Hi, all! First, I hope everyone from Texas to Georgia and throughout the Caribbean is safe and dry today.
Second, I’m happy to report that I completed the first draft of A Pixie’s Promise on Saturday. Woo hoo!
I was surprised to discover that writing a sequel was significantly different from writing a standalone novel or the first in a series. It
was… easier. Much easier. I had done the worldbuilding. I knew the characters and their motivations. The sequel was a logical continuation of the first novel, so the plot flowed smoothly. Once I had a plot outline done, I could just sit down and churn out page after page.
Wait, you say. Maybe you’ve just gotten better at writing novels, now that you’ve written three of them. I’d love to believe that’s the case, but I have a counterexample. The standalone novel I wrote between A Witch’s Kitchen and A Pixie’s Promise… well, it kinda stinks. It’s deeply problematic, its theme is muddy, it has characters it doesn’t really need, and, in my husband’s words, it’s really only half a novel. Why? I think it’s because I haven’t had the time to think it through, the way I have with the universe and characters I created in A Witch’s Kitchen. They’ve been fermenting in my head for nearly four years, and they are now well developed and thus much easier to work with.
Which is not to say that there weren’t surprises. Lots of surprises. Unexpected new characters, a wholly unplanned aerial battle scene, and an entire new Realm I hadn’t known existed until I started writing it. I was delighted by this. I had been a little worried that plotting in advance would make the writing wooden and formulaic. On the contrary, it gave me just enough structure to plow through at high speed without restricting the flow of new ideas.
I loved this process. Having written and published the first novel, I could write this one with the confidence that it would also appeal to my readers. I could delve more deeply into individual characters and motivations. I could expand upon the worldbuilding without getting too technical. I could introduce social concepts relevant to our current surreal lives in the United States in fun and interesting ways. Seriously, I had a ball.
So did my readers. The comments I’ve gotten back have been, “This is such a pageturner, I can’t put it down,” and “Mom, stop bothering me, I’m reading your book.” Okay, my first readers were my family and they have to like it, but even so, they really liked it, and I’m so happy about the whole thing. I’d read blogs and articles saying that sequels are often harder to write, but I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case for me.
Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect. I changed things halfway through and have to go back and correct for them, and I need to do overall consistency checking and adjust chapter lengths. That’s just to get it ready for non-family beta readers. I also want to go back and really reinforce the character development and thematic elements. My current chapter titles are terrible. I need more bad jokes. On the whole, though, I’m pleased and think the novel is close to done.
But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?), something unexpected happened. When I got to the end of my two other novels, (the prequel and the standalone), I got this marvelous sense of done-ness, and large swaths of my mind, previously busy keeping track of all the plot threads and character development, emptied out and relaxed. It’s just a marvelous feeling, like finally hiking to the top of a mountain and being able to take off your backpack and put it down.
I finished A Pixie’s Promise, and I sat back and waited for that to happen. I waited all day, and part of the next. My brain did not empty out. In fact, if anything, it got MORE full. I discovered that I was forgetting things: events, appointments, grocery items even though they were on the list in my hand. Ack! What’s happening! My brain is too full!
I had to sort of drop everything and figure out what was going on in my head, and to my dismay, I discovered that I was still hanging on to several plot threads that needed tweaking in A Pixie’s Promise, and I was also busy plotting out two more sequels, and a bit of a third, all from small details I’d seeded in A Pixie’s Promise.
And it was too much. My series had exceeded my mind’s processing capacity and was crowding out the small details of daily life that I so often take for granted. Ow, my brain.
So I did what any self-respecting writer does in the age of the Internet: I got on Facebook and complained. How do I deal with this? I wailed. And other writers came to my rescue. Keep notes, they said. Make timelines and character worksheets. One author of a five-book series has offered to meet me for coffee and show me her wiki, which she
uses to keep track of everything.
I’m now in the process of retraining myself to write everything down: all appointments and commitments go in to my calendar, I’m setting up a TBD list on my phone so I always have it with me, and I’m starting to document my universe, something I’d never imagined needing to do for myself. When your brain isn’t big enough to hold everything, it’s time
to invest in external storage.
For those of you considering embarking upon writing a series, I recommend you set up your infrastructure first. Yes, do your plot outlines and your character worksheets, but realize that you may need to keep track of changes to your character in those worksheets. You might need maps, a timeline, a glossary of terms unique to your series. I need a searchable list of magic words and incantations so that I don’t have to keep flipping back through my first novel and the early pages of the sequel to find them. I also need a bestiary as I keep adding magical races. And I need to start tracking the interaction between mythology and the history/magic system of my universe.
Because, if it’s good, it gets weird, FAST.
Those of you who’ve actually written sequels or series: how do you track everything? What works for you? How do you keep your head from exploding? Please share!
Thanks, all, and happy writing.
Today is my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. He’s visiting from Sweden, and we always make a particular Swedish cake for him called Kronans Kaka or Crown Cake, which along with Princess Torte is traditional for birthdays. It’s a peculiarly delicious recipe that uses almonds and mashed potatoes in place of flour, and it has no leavening of any kind. This makes it a good, gluten-free dessert choice, and it’s also Kosher for Passover. My kids love it for its sweet, moist texture.
I’ve modified the recipe I found in The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook in several ways:
- The original recipe calls for blanching and grinding almonds, but now almond flour is available nearly everywhere, and I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly. I prefer Bob’s Red Mill, but Trader Joe’s will do in a pinch.
- The original recipe also calls for bitter almonds, which are illegal in the United States. They’re not necessary for the cake, but if you live where they are available, I recommend using them because it gives the batter a unique tang.
- The recipe recommends topping with lemon sauce, but my father-in-law greatly prefers chocolate frosting, and I’ve included my favorite recipe below. It’s halfway between glaze and frosting because the cake tends to be friable and will crumble under stiff frosting.
- The original recipe calls for the pan to be coated in bread crumbs, but I just use a bit of almond flour to keep it gluten-free.
- Finally, the original recipe is too small! I always double it, and the ingredients list reflects this.
1-1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened salted butter
1-1/2 cup almond flour
6 bitter almonds, blanched and finely ground (optional)
4-5 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled, mashed, and cooled (I recommend Yukon gold)
Light and fluffy
Preheat the oven to 400 degF. Beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add almond flour
Beat in the butter, almond flour, bitter almonds (if available), and potatoes. Make sure you beat in the potatoes thoroughly or the batter will be lumpy.
10″ Springform pan.
Butter a mold or springform pan, coat with a little almond flour, and pour in the cake mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is slightly browned on top and solid throughout. Beware baking too long; the cake will crack. Let cool slightly, then turn out onto a plate (if using a mold).
Frosting the cake
When completely cool, frost with orange buttercream frosting and decorate with slivered almonds and slices of orange peel. Birthday candles optional. Serves 8. Refrigerate leftovers (assuming there are any).
Orange Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 bar of Maya Gold chocolate (see below for substitutions)
1/2 cup warm milk
1 t vanilla
16 oz. powdered sugar
Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high in 30-second increments until chocolate is melted. Stir together. Slowly beat in powdered sugar, adding warm milk as necessary to obtain the right spreading consistency, neither stiff nor runny. Stir in vanilla.
Substitutions: Maya Gold is a deliciously spiced organic dark chocolate bar made by Green and Blacks. I can always find it at Whole Foods, and it is sometimes available in large supermarkets in the organic/natural section. If you cannot find Maya Gold, you may instead cream the butter with 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and either add 1/4 teaspoon orange flavoring or 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest when you add the vanilla. If you want a subtler chocolate flavor, use less chocolate/cocoa; conversely, if you want a stronger chocolate flavor, use more. It’s a very forgiving recipe and easy to experiment with.
Note: This recipe makes about twice as much frosting as you will need for a Kronans Kaka. It’s an excellent excuse to make two cakes, but you can also either halve the recipe or put the excess in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least two weeks.
This cake was the perfect ending to a lovely dinner, for which I made bearnaise sauce for the first time. Tasty, but needs a little work. Once I’ve mastered it, I’ll share that recipe with you as well.
The finished cake and happy recipient (plus photobombing from my daughter). Bow ties are cool!
Labor Day weekend was a never ending festival of potlucks. We went to three potlucks in two days! The first was at a board games party I helped run, and I invited several of my daughter’s friends over to make gaming munchies. They chose to make 20-sided dice cookies and rulebook s’mores from the Nerdy Nummies cookbook by Rosanna Pansino, and that was a big hit at the party (I also made Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, see last week’s recipe). For the Labor day brunch, I made a nice frittata with green onions, garlic scapes, king oyster mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, potatoes, eggs, manchego cheese and red peppers on top. For the Labor Day barbeque, I brought marinated beef kabobs and veggie kabobs, yum.
But out of all these, someone asked me for the recipe for a loaf of whole wheat bread I brought to the brunch. I make bread all the time. I’ve made seven loaves of bread in the past five days. We’ve had a lot of kids over, since school hadn’t started yet, and they just inhaled all that bread with butter and jam and Nutella. I brought two loaves of white bread to the gaming party with some funky pumpkin seed butter and Nutella-ish dark chocolate sunflower seed butter, and those also disappeared right quick. But I’m trying to make healthier breads for my family, and this particular recipe is a hit. I found it in my favorite bread-making book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois, and they in turn had modified the recipe from one by Chris Kimball which appeared in Cook’s Magazine in turn, and in that tradition, I modified it a bit as well. So, Andrew, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Makes two loaves in 9x4x3″ loaf pans
3 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1-1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup wheat gluten
3 cups white whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Neutral-tasting oil for greasing the pans (I use canola spray)
Mix the yeast, salt, honey, and butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook – I use one of these). if you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last of the flour. Alternatively, if you live in a moist climate or are baking on a rainy day, you may need to add extra flour. If you add a cup or more of extra flour, add another 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of salt. The dough should be firm and smooth, pulling away from the wall of the bowl, but not dry.
Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours. You can refrigerate the dough and use it later, but who has the patience for that??? Assuming you’re planning ahead for a meal, you can store the dough in the fridge, lidded but not airtight, for up to 5 days.
Lightly grease the loaf pans. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut it in half. Gluten-cloak each loaf by shaping it into a ball and stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball one-quarter turn as you go. Form it into an elongated loaf, lay it in the loaf pan, repeat with the remaining dough, and let rise for 40 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, you’ll need to let the dough rise for 1 hour 40 minutes.) Meanwhile, about 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400 degF.
Place the loaves on a center rack in the oven. If you want crustier bread, add a broiler tray and pour 1 cup of hot water into it. If you want a softer crust, as my kids prefer, brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter before putting them in the oven and after they are done baking. Bake for about 50 minutes or until browned and a bit hollow-sounding when you knock on them.
Here’s the hardest part: allow to cool before slicing or eating. 😉 Enjoy!