They say that certain activities are like riding a bicycle, you never forget. Well, "they" obviously never met Laura Vincent, She Who Could Not Be Bike-Broken. I'm sure I've brought it up before, but I cannot ride a bicycle. In New Zealand, when you say this, people will often sharply suck air through their front teeth or emit a low whistle, and say accusatory words to the effect of "you had no childhood." It's true, I never learned to ride a bike (I'm not that good at whistling, either.) Oh, people tried. At one point I did manage a few uncertain circles around a paddock before careening into a tree, but you know? I really don't care about bike riding, not everyone has to do it, and the only reason I brought it up was that I was nervous that after a month away in America I would have totally forgotten how to blog. And yet here I am, already one long, self-absorbed paragraph in! Hooray!
Firstly, an enthusiastic kickline and a round of applause for my two glorious and excellent guest bloggers who filled in during my absence. Thanks a million, Pocket Witch and Coco Solid! You are the ruliest.
Tim and I had the wackiest month on holiday, during which time we concluded that we LOVE America. Oh sure, I'll be the first to sneer at their politics (I mean, I love you hard Obama, my sneers are directed firmly towards Romney and his merry band of women-hating quease-mongers) and to be nervous about their gun-control laws and so on, but in general, it is the greatest. They have so much stuff. And that stuff is so cheap. And the people are so friendly, especially the further south we went. And, and, and. It was just, apart from a few mishaps which are now hilarious anecdotes the more time expands between myself and them, the greatest holiday ever.
And, uh, in case you'd missed me saying it, Tim and I are now affianced. Which is exciting and weird. In some ways it feels like it has been like this forever, and sometimes I will punch him on the shoulder and say "whaaaaat, we're getting married, I can't even." It's just so strange. It's very exciting, and yet - people get married all the time. Married people are not exciting. Yet we are? I don't know. Likewise, I veer between shrugging indifference towards the wedding and excitedly focussing on miniscule details and catering and planning three changes of dress during the party. However, we decided on the spot that we wouldn't actually get married until marriage equality was law in New Zealand - which is not to say that we do not abide people who are already married or planning to get married. No! Not at all! This is just a very personal decision we made to stay true to ourselves. So uh, any MPs reading this: I want my wedding, damn it! And lots of people want their weddings. Don't make me hate you. That aside - it's all just...really nice. For all of our sakes, I'll try to keep any syrupiness to a minimum. Which, given my non-propensity for syrupiness, shouldn't be too burdensome.
As with blogging itself, a month away from cooking makes one a little apprehensive in the kitchen. After three intense months of writing, testing, and photoshooting my cookbook (that's right! My cookbook!) it was utter bliss to traipse around America simply handing myself over to people and being fed. Would I be able to get back into it though? Well, yes. Luckily muscle memory kicked in and I actually remembered how to cook and bake after all.
Sorry to bring it up again, but rugelach were present at the picnic Tim and I had when he proposed to me (ugh, I know, the romance of it all) but that's not quite the reason I made them upon returning to New Zealand. That is, I'm not blogging about them because they're now my Cookies of Romantic Memories or anything, it's just that - eating them again reminded me how damned good they are, and that I hadn't made them since December 2007, and that I should make them again as soon as possible. That's all. These Jewish confections are simple enough to make, but just fiddly and involved enough to also feel like I'm really significantly catching myself in the act of baking.
They're also arrestingly delicious. Buttery pastry made particularly luscious with cream cheese kneaded through it, brushed with melted butter and rolled around chocolate and brown sugar. Oof. It really is everything good in this world, wrapped around everything else good in this world.
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson's recipe in her truly excellent book Feast.
425g plain flour (awkward quantity, I know, but go with it.)
250g cold butter, cubed
150g cold cream cheese
Optional: 1 sachet instant dried yeast.
50g butter, melted
250g chocolate (dark is specified, but all I had was Whittaker's milk chocolate, which so richly, caramelly delicious that I minded not)
50g brown sugar (I reduced this to 25g since milk chocolate is sweeter than dark. Fiddle as you wish.)
I know yeast makes everything sound scary to the not-overly-confident baker, but all you have to do is throw it in. There's no extra steps or anything. But if you really don't want to, just leave it out and these'll still be grand.
Mix together the flour, the sugar, and the yeast (do it, do it). Throw in the cubes of butter, and using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub everything together till the butter is incorporated and it all looks like damp sand. This is not a fast process, and you can totally just throw it all into the food processor. It's just that some dear friends of mine had their food processor break down recently and it would've felt disrespectful of their pain to go on about how convenient this piece of machinery is. So in solidarity, and because damnit if I don't like the feel of cold butter and flour against my fingertips, I went hands on.
Either using your hands, or switching to a spoon, thoroughly mix in the cream cheese. It'll start to look like a crumbly dough. Mix in the egg, which should, after some effort, see it coming together properly.
Cover with gladwrap and refrigerate for an hour (regardless of whether you added the yeast or not.) You can also leave it overnight if you need to. Just take it out of the fridge fifteen minutes before you intend to use it, is all.
Set your oven to 190 C and line a baking tray with a piece of baking paper. Roughly chop (or, sigh, process) the chocolate into rubble, and mix it with the brown sugar.
Divide the dough into three even portions. Take one and roll it roughly into a circular shape, of about 25cm - though did I measure mine? Nay. Slice this circle like a pizza into eight triangular shapes. Nigella says 12, which you're welcome to do, but with my shoddy geometry skills I felt better making eight. Which are, anyhow, bigger.
Brush the sliced up circle with melted butter. Liberally sprinkle over some of the brown sugar and chocolate, then, roll up each portion from the largest side till it forms a rather sweet, squidgy little croissant shape. Lay each one on the baking tray, and repeat with the remaining two portions of dough.
Brush the tops with any remaining melted butter, then, if you've used yeast allow them to sit on top of the oven for about 15 minutes first. Either way, bake them for 20 minutes till puffy and dark golden on top.
I ate, I would estimate, about an eighth of the pastry dough - it's incredible, and these make so many that you can't possibly feel bad about the diminishing returns. But it's also worth stopping at some point, as these are one of those creations where the finished result honestly tastes even better than the uncooked mixture. Puffy and aggressively buttery, somehow not too sweet, the chocolate just a little smokily scorched from the oven - this is baking nirvana. And a pointed reminder that though I love being on holiday, it's delightful to throw my arms around the kitchen again and give it a big old hug. Metaphorically, I mean.
I'll leave it there lest I suddenly get sick again and have to postpone this blog post by yet another day. Thanks for coming back to me, my people! I'ma metaphorically throw my arms around you, too. Actually I think I mean...figuratively? Because it's not a metaphor for anything. No: I really will leave it here, because I feel like my month away from constant writing and self-editing is becoming reeeeeally obvious all of a sudden.
In my haste to get this published, I did - somehow - forget one thing, which is that our friends met Tim and I at the airport at 9am, completely unbeknownst to us, to strew us with garlands and beads and hug us and pretty much make us feel like MUCH better people than we really are. The belovedness was just bouncing off the walls, and we couldn't have fathomed a better way to come home. Friends: we love you. See a few beautiful snaps (please be charitably kind about my blanched, long-haul-flight face) from that morning from clever photographer Sarah-Rose, if you please.
Title via: it's not a song, but it's Judy Garland's quote from The Wizard of Oz, and Judy Garland is flawless perfection, so.
Dark Dark Dark, Daydreaming. With a name like that, I knew I was going to love them. Tim and I saw this band in New Orleans. They're really, really beautiful.
Down In The Treme, by John Boutte. We...were not only staying in the Treme, we also saw John Boutte himself sing this song. Oh, that place. "It'll get you, child", as our host told me knowingly.
Next time: I'm not sure - am looking forward to just regularly cooking again. However, I am on a noble crusade to find a really, really good American biscuit recipe, being so sad that they don't seem to exist here in New Zealand - so if you know of one you can point me in the direction of, I'd be super obliged.