Monday, October 19, 2009

Sugar - UK vs US

Being an American, I was used to just picking up a bag of granulated sugar at my local supermarket when I wanted to do baking. The only issue I had with sugar was to make sure it was pure cane sugar - no corn sugar, no maltose, etc added (to cheapen and stretch the product).

But, when I moved to the UK and bought what was labeled as pure cane granulated sugar something was different, wrong, weird. It looked wrong, it didn't dissolve right in coffee or in batter mixes.

The problem was classic - same names for different things. In the UK, what I thought of as granulated sugar was called Castor sugar. Now the experts on the web claim that Castor sugar in the UK is the equivalent of Superfine sugar in the US. Perhaps. But UK granulated sugar is absolutely not the same as US granulated sugar. End of.

So if I call for castor sugar in a recipe - and you are in the US, just use granulated sugar.

With liquids we get a whole new set of issues. They still have cups and pints here - but they are also very different. For example: US pint = 16 oz, UK pint = 20 oz

I try to be careful about these issues when I post recipes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sweet Potato, Raisin, and Cranberry Strudel

I saw this recipe in Leite's Culinaria, a blog I follow. I modified it a bit to our tastes and made a test batch at Asti's house yesterday. Sensational! A note about the coarse sea salt. You need to use proper flake sea salt for this. Not kosher salt, not regular salt. I use Malden Sea Salt flakes - absolutely the best, a must in your kitchen supplies! Amazing stuff - and that from a known anti-salt person. Anyway, I worried about the saltiness of the finished dish as I lightly sprinkled salt flakes onto each of the 7 layers of phyllo dough. No need, it was delicious. We'll be serving this as an accompaniment to our Thanksgiving dinner at Asti's house this year instead of the usual maple sweetened baked sweet potatoes; a welcome change.

1/4 cup dried cranberries (I used more of course)
1/4 cup golden raisins (Must use golden ones! And more is ok, too)
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks (US) or 1 250 gr block unsalted butter
1/2 pound (8 ounces) phyllo pastry, thawed (1/2 a standard box usually)
1/2 cup pecan pieces, finely chopped (yeah, more is fine)
Coarse sea salt
3/4 cup spiced crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)

1. Put the cranberries and golden raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water; set aside to plump for 10 minutes, then drain.

2. Put the potato and carrots in a medium saucepan, cover with hot water, and add a little salt. Cook over high heat until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and carrots in a strainer and set aside.

3. Put the butter in a small saucepan over high heat. Let the butter melt and then stir continuously until the butter starts browning on the bottom of the pan. It will also start bubbling and foaming a little. The butter should have a medium golden-brown color. Immediately pour the butter into a small dish and set aside.

4. Smash the soft-cooked potatoes and carrots with a fork. You are looking for a lumpy consistency. Stir 6 tablespoons of the brown butter into the vegetables. Blend in the dried fruit and season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and fit a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

6. To make the strudel, unroll the phyllo dough and lay it flat on a clean work surface. The dimensions of the dough will be 9 by 13 inches, or cut large sheets of phyllo dough to 9 by 13 inches. To help prevent the dough from drying out while working with it, cover with a slightly dampened clean kitchen cloth. Carefully place one sheet of dough on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with the melted brown butter, and lightly sprinkle with pecans and coarse sea salt. Lay another sheet on top and continue layering with brown butter, sea salt, and pecans. Layer and stack seven sheets together.

7. Carefully spoon the vegetable-dried fruit filling along one of the long edges of the dough, packing it with your hands into a tubelike shape. Starting with the filling side of the dough, roll the strudel tightly into a log. Place the strudel in the center of the baking sheet, brush with the remaining butter, and sprinkle with pecans and a little sea salt.

8. Place the strudel in the center of the oven and bake until golden brown, about 25 - 45 minutes depending on your oven. Remove the baking pan from the oven to a cooling rack. Transfer the strudel to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut the strudel using long sawing motions. This will help prevent excessive flaking of the pastry. Serve warm or at room temperature with spiced crème fraîche or sour cream (stir in some ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice to flavor the cream).