Sugar and Spice and Everything…Schmaltzy

Before yesterday’s chicken went in to roast, I claimed all the excess fat and skin for rendering down into chicken schmaltz, the most flavorful fat I know for roasting root vegetables.  Although a diet heavy in animal fats isn’t very healthy, a little schmaltz every once in a while imparts deep savoriness and yields nicely crisped edges on things like potatoes and the whitest of early turnips.

Rendering schmaltz is not something I often do.  But the word schmaltz – specifically the verbal kind found in highly sentimental prose – has been on my mind all week as I prepare to send my youngest off to college tomorrow.  I have sat down a million times over the past week to try and write a letter to send with him, only to witness my well-intentioned words veer off into maudlin territory.  And as I noted above, no one needs a heavy dose of schmaltz, not even the written kind.

Better, instead, to keep my words to myself for now, and dish out  small amounts of sentiment and schmaltz in the kitchen: a little savory in the vegetables, a little sweet in dinner’s dessert, and a little spice in the brownies packed to bring and share with new friends.  Good food gets its point across, no weighty words necessary.

Schmaltz for Roasting Vegetables

Before preparing a chicken for roasting, collect fat and excess skin by trimming these from the bird’s cavities and from the neck.  Roughly chop these into smaller pieces and add to a skillet set over medium low heat.  Add to the skillet one-half of a small-to-medium onion, chopped, and about a quart-cup of water.  Let the fat render out as the onions soften and the water evaporates.  Stir often.  The fat will melt while the skin will crisp up (may be used as cracklings, if desired).  Remove to a small bowl to cool.

Strain, discarding the onions and brown bits, and drizzle clear fat over vegetables for roasting alongside a chicken.

Brown Butter Berry Tart

I first adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine last summer.  Using the raspberries as directed, I added just a little almond extract to the filling and ended up with something that tasted more like frangipane than sweet and sticky custard.  We liked the depth of flavor.

This year I played with the recipe just a little more, adding blackberries to the raspberries and making the tart in a rectangular false bottom tart pan to show off the rows of fruit.  I think this would also be very good made with 2 cups of sliced plums.

For the crust:

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries, or 1 6-ounce container each blackberries and raspberries

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated.  Mixture will be crumbly.  Transfer dough to 9-inch round or 11-by 7-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto sides and bottom of pan.

Wrap the pan in a layer of aluminum foil to prevent leaking.  Bake crust until golden, about 18 minutes (crust will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and almond extracts; whisk until smooth. Cook butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until deep nutty brown, taking care not to burn it.  Stir butter often as it heats, and as soon as it begins to turn golden, immediately pour it into a glass measuring cup or bowl.

Then, gradually whisk the browned butter into sugar-egg mixture.  Whisk until well blended.

For round tart: arrange berries, pointed side up and close together in concentric circles, in bottom of cooled crust. For a rectangular tart: arrange the berries close together in straight rows.

Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over berries.

Place tart on rimmed baking sheet. Bake tart until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 – 40 minutes (time will depend on the pan used, so check beginning at 30 minutes). Cool tart completely in pan on rack.

When cool, remove tart pan sides. Place tart on platter. Cut into wedges or squares and serve.  The tart is rich, so serve small slices dusted with powdered sugar.

Chile-Chocolate Brownies

These brownies, along with their creator, Sandra Gutierrez, were introduced to me by fellow blogger and Twitter friend, Jacqueline Church.  Sandra is a cook of Southern-Latino cuisine, and both her blog and cookbook are highly recommended reading.  Jacqueline, also known as Boston’s Leather District Gourmet, champions both sustainable fishing practices and all around good food.  Both women have excellent palates.  For proof, look no further than Sandra’s recipe.

Glazed or not, these may be the best brownies you will ever eat.

For the brownies:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped and toasted pecans (optional)

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9x9x2-inch baking pan.

Place the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they have melted and are well combined. Lift the bowl carefully from the pan so no water droplets come into contact with the chocolate mixture; let cool for 5 minutes and transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the sugar; add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ancho chile powder, and salt; gradually add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, beating well until fully combined. Add the pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the center is set and the brownies begin to pull back from the sides of the pan. Cool brownies for 1 hour in the pan.  Cut into 20 bars.

(Optional glaze: in a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, butter, liqueur, vanilla, and chile powder; blend until smooth. Place the glaze in a pastry bag (or zip-top bag with a snipped corner), and drizzle back and forth over the brownies.)

©2011  Jane A. Ward