Turkish Pistachio Pastry (Katmer)

My friend Cenk Sönmeszoy first told me about katmer— a square pastry that contains several layers of dough as well as clotted Turkish cream, sugar, and finely chopped pistachios —and sent me links to videos of some very skilled bakers who throw the dough around like a bedsheet to make it larger and thinner. The method here is simplified but gives excellent results.

Pa Amb Tomàquet - Catalan Grilled Bread Rubbed with Tomato

Food is central in Catalan life. Tapas bars and casual cafés serve pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) already assembled, but some restaurants merely deliver the components to the table: a piece of chewy bread grilled over a wood fire, a perfectly ripe tomato, fine salt, and local extra-virgin olive oil. Such a simple combination depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients—they have to be perfect. The instructions here are adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Paula Wolfert’s World of Food, with her permission. This is the perfect appetizer for a casual late summer meal. Eat with a knife and fork!

Easy Strawberry Jam

As soon as the weather starts to warm up I start thinking about the upcoming preserving and pickling season.  I already picked up a couple of gallons of distilled white vinegar at the supermarket a few weeks ago, and yesterday I saw that strawberries were on sale, so I bought a couple of pounds.  What you see above is the result of those 2 pounds of strawberries and a little more than a pound of sugar:  almost a quart of really fresh tasting strawberry jam.  I've been making jam and preserves of different kinds for almost 50 years but I have to admit that I've really refined my methods for sweet preserves like these only in the past couple of years.

ORANGE BABAS MARCELLA

A baba should be a buttery, yeast-risen cake, low in sugar, soaked in a seasoned syrup to flavor it and make it moist. Unfortunately, what most pastry shops prepare are rather large, fine-textured babas that develop an unattractively sodden texture after they are soaked, in what is usually a syrup flavored with inferior liqueurs or fruit juices. So, most people look at a baba and flee.

These babas are quite different from those described above. They are tiny, so their rich sweetness is a pleasant mouthful; they are a bit coarse-textured, so they don’t become soggy after being soaked; and the syrup is flavored with orange liqueur and orange juice, which contributes a fresher taste than the usual rum and spices.

Almond Lace Cookies

Fragile and delicate in the extreme, these cookies are a labor of love to make because you need to bake them one pan at a time on the middle rack of the oven. If you have a double oven, start to bake another pan a couple of minutes before the first pan is ready to come out. These spread best on a bare buttered pan; brush the pans with very soft but not melted butter. If you don’t mind cookies that are a little thicker, you may use silicon mats to bake them.

Battenberg

Celebrate the Queen’s birthday with this very British cake. It bears the original German name of the family now known in Britain as Mountbatten. The batter is divided in half and cocoa is added to one portion of it. After baking, the two cakes are cut into even bars and stacked up checkerboard-style. Thanks to Kyra Effren for sharing her expert knowledge of British baking.

Mexican Chicken Pie

My friend Roberto Santibañez, chef owner of Fonda restaurants in New York City, suggested this combination when I asked him about a chicken pie with Mexican flair. Chicken and vegetables are cooked in a tomato and chile salsa from the Yucatan called chiltomate, then topped with a cornmeal and cheese dough before baking. Though the habanero is a classic for this, serrano or jalapeño could be substituted. Sour cream harmonizes well served alongside.

Leek and Mushroom Quiche

The sweet flavor of slow-cooked leeks complements the woodsy scent of mushrooms especially well in the creamy custard of this quiche. Although it might be delicious to use some fancy wild mushrooms in this, I’ve crafted the recipe with the white cultivated mushrooms available everywhere. I would definitely prepare the leeks and mushrooms the day before to cut down on the last-minute rush. Since they both need to cook slowly for maximum flavor, cooking them separately actually saves you time. This is a perfect appetizer for an elegant dinner.

Rehrücken

Typical of the Viennese love of the absurd, this rich chocolate almond cake is baked in a ridged, semi-cylindrical pan. After the chocolate icing is poured over the unmolded cake, it is stuck with pieces of slivered almond. Thus, it resembles a tied, larded, and sauced roast. For any of you who might not have the mold, this is equally delicious baked in a 10-inch round pan and served as an unwhimsical cake.

Koeksisters

I became acquainted with this delicious pastry when I visited South Africa for the first time in June of 2004. Afrikaners are the descendants of South Africa’s Dutch settlers and preserve many of their original culinary traditions. Koeksisters are widely available in the Cape Town area, and I tasted them at several different pastry shops. These are a bit of a production to prepare, and are best done by a two-person team. One can do the frying while the other attends to immersing the hot koeksisters in the cold syrup. They must be soaked with the syrup immediately after they are fried, so that they will absorb it well and won’t be dry. Your reward for all this work is the intriguing taste and texture of these exotic pastries.

Pear Slices

Fruit slices such as these made with pears are a standard in many pastry shops in France. Sometimes they are made with puff pastry, but this one is made with a tender sweet dough —a perfect complement to the melting texture of poached pears. This is an easy way of making individual tarts because you don’t need any special equipment aside from a jelly-roll pan.