August 31, 2014

freshy, fruity, and crumbly

Summer may be slipping away, but I am still holding firm on summer fruits - or what I can have of them, at least.

There are a lot of things I like about summer in Nagano.  One of them is the solid fact that it is a lot cooler and pleasant compared to what I long suffered in Tokyo.  Another is the abundance of summer fruits that are available for us throughout the season.
Starting with locally-grown strawberries that begin appearing in around May and June, local green markets offer you fresh rhubarb (not technically a fruit, but anyway), cherries, apricots, raspberries (if you are really lucky), nectarines, plums, peaches, and blueberries; all of which you could of course get in Tokyo but they come far fresher and cheaper over here.  There are such quintessential summer fruits as melons and watermelons too.  And towards the end of August, you start seeing prune plums, grapes, Asian pears, and early-harvest varieties of apples.

So I should say it is only natural for me to gorge myself on these nature's gifts throughout the season.  This summer, however, I dedicated my body and soul and all my free time (and much of the freezer room) to popsicle making, as a result of which I didn't bake with fruits as much as I may have done in another summer.  Then again, I may have eaten fresh fruits as is that much more.

Summer fruits, especially white peaches, are not a big part of our common baking practice in Japan as it may be elsewhere.  And it can often be too hot to turn the oven on in the first place.  All in all, our instinct is that summer fruits are something you eat fresh, and that's often what you do here.  That said, you do sometimes crave some baked goods, too.  And that's where my fresh fruit crumble comes in.
Crumbles are my absolute favorite food group (it IS a food group, right?).  You can make them with all sorts of fruits throughout the year, and they get put together with a lot less fuss compared to, say, tarts and pies.  Of the many types of baked goods using fruits, crumbles are definitely one of my favorites to eat, and probably THE favorite to make.

Just to be clear, you DO need to turn your oven on to make these crumbles, but this does not require a lot of cooking time.  And most importantly, you have your fresh fruits fresh.
August 2011

It looks like I first made this fresh fruit crumble, or fruit salad crumble as I like to call them, three summers ago.  It began as my cravings for crumbles hit me, but I wanted to eat my fruits uncooked; what should I do?  What about baking a crumble topping on its own, and crumble it over a bowl of fresh fruits?
July 2012

As with regular fruit crumbles, you can use whatever fruits of the season that are around to make this recipe.  I like to mix and match several different kinds.  Some fruits you may not usually want to cook, such as white cherries, white nectarines, and white peaches; this crumble is a perfect thing to make using such delicacies.  You can leave your fruits as they are, but I find a bit of juice of lemon and honey perk things up really nicely.
August 2012

To be fair, the idea of serving a crumble topping together with uncooked fruits and/or cream is NOT my invention; I'd come across such things before.  But when I tried this fresh fruit crumble for the first time, I was like, AM I GENIUS OR WHAT?  Well, precisely what I was, we don't need to discuss here, but the crumble certainly was rather a genius thing.  You can serve it as is, or with yogurt or cream alongside.

You can use any of your favorite crumble topping recipe for this, but my go-to recipe is a one that uses olive oil and fresh mint leaves.
It comes from a Japanese baking book called French Baking with Olive Oil by Japanese cooking instructor and author Yoshie Isogai.  The original recipe is for cherry crumbles, which is done in a regular way (i.e. bake the crumble topping and the fruit filling together).  I've made it before and enjoyed it too, but it's the olive oil and fresh mint crumble topping that I find immensely useful, especially for my fresh fruit crumbles.  So now I often bake the topping alone.

As I already said, I like making and eating crumbles in general.  I've tried all sorts of recipes, from a deadly simple one that consists of only three ingredients, to something more involved, packed with nuts and spices.  This recipe is on a simpler side, very ordinary, even - apart from the part that you use olive oil rather than butter, and fresh mint leaves.  And these two ingredients are what makes the topping very light and vibrant, something that works really well with fresh fruits, to be enjoyed on a hot day.  This is the recipe I go back to every time I make my fruit salad crumble.
Other than olive oil and mint, you need only three ingredients: pastry flour, brown sugar, and ground almonds (almond flour).  You can make it as it is, or swap one or more of the ingredients for another kind.  You can also add some rolled oats or chopped nuts.  It's endlessly versatile.

I usually like to add some spices such as ground cinnamon and ginger to my crumble toppings (and fillings, for that matter).  But with this recipe, I like to keep it simple and let the fresh mint shine.  I imagine you can replace the fresh mint leaves with some other herbs, perhaps rosemary or thyme, but so far I'm happy with mint for my fresh fruit crumble.
Here are examples of variations I've made: spelt flour, maple sugar, and ground almonds for the topping, over yellow peaches and raspberries; and buckwheat flour, coconut sugar, and ground hazelnuts, together with blueberries and plums.  Both turned out well!

...But now, if this picture above has had you wonder, you might be right; they are done in a normal way, i.e. everything is baked together, the topping and fruits and all.
Wasn't 'fresh fruits eaten fresh' kind of the point of this crumble recipe of yours?  You may very well ask.  I know, I understand.  I have nothing to say, except to point out that this topping does work perfectly well in regular crumble baking, too.

While we are on this topic, here's another all-baked variation:
Chocolate and mint crumbles with blackberries.  When I was doing some research on other olive oil crumble recipes, I came across this and I just had to give it a try.  I took the recipe I've always used, and threw in some rolled oats and chocolate chips in it.  I also used some blackcurrants in addition to blackberries.  They were delightful served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I had some of the crumble topping left, so I found a good use for it.
I prepared a blueberry muffin batter (using the recipe from the same olive oil baking book), and topped each muffin with the crumble topping before they went into the oven.  Hence blueberry olive oil crumble muffins.  Super!

I like to eat crumbles in general (did I tell you that?), and that extends to crumble cakes and muffins.  Then, do I like to make them myself?  Sadly, no - I'm too lazy a baker to bother that extra effort, especially what I want to make is something so simple as muffins.  But unbaked crumble toppings can freeze well, and these muffins were a reminder for me to make some extra and freeze for a later use next time I fix a crumble topping.
Whatever you do, I think you'd want a fruity cake/muffin recipe for a crumble topping.  Crumbles are meant for fruits.

...Errr. we (that is to say, I) may have wandered off quite a bit from the original point, which is: eat crumbles with fresh fruits.
OK, back to fresh fruit crumble: this fruit and yogurt parfait with crumble is basically the same as the fruit salad crumble I've already talked about, but just comes in a glass.  A mixture of summer fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and white peach here) and greek-style yogurt are placed in a glass in layers, with the olive oil-mint crumble topping and a drizzle of honey to finish.  I often make breakfast parfaits of this sort using granola (that much better with a homemade kind), but a crumble topping works well too.

And (yet) another thing crumbles are good with?
Ice cream!  Alright, ice cream goes well with almost everything that's sweet (and not so sweet), but still.  Here I had a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (store-bought) with fresh strawberries tossed in a bit of balsamic vinegar and honey, and a little drizzle of olive oil and a handful of the olive oil-mint crumble topping, and voila!  Vanilla ice cream with balsamic strawberries and olive oil crumble.  Really simple, and really good.  You can also mix crumble into your homemde ice cream, like I did in making rhubarb crumble ice cream back in 2006(!!).

Now as the summer draws to a close, you start to see more autumnal fruits popping up next to the last of the summer bounties.  Here's something you can make now.
Strawberry, fig, and plum compote with crumble.  It is called compote, but it's only plums that get properly stewed (with some honey here); strawberries and figs are added to the plums after you take them off heat, so the delicate fruits are cooked gently in the residual heat, which makes them retain their fresh flavors (and shape).

The compote was from a recipe in How I Cook (Skye Gyngell, Quadrille Publishing, 2010).  It uses greengages, which I can't find here and had to replace with regular plums.  It turned the whole compote into deep red, but tasted fine.  Strawberries may be a quintessential summer fruit in many parts of the world, but here in Japan they come really early (I mean, like November) early and end early, too; they typically disappear in May or June.  Here in Nagano you find them in as late as early July, but I didn't at all expect to see them in late August - so when I did a few days ago, I was beyond excited.  It's not often I get to have strawberries, figs, and plums together. 
Again, this doesn't really fit in the category of eating fresh fruits fresh, but is distinctly different from making a regular crumble with the same combination of fruits, as the berries and the figs are not cooked into a mushy existence.  This I had with greek-style yogurt, too.

So, I hope I've made my point regarding the endless usefulness of this lovely little olive oil crumble with fresh mint in enjoying fresh fruits throughout the summer and beyond.  This is a really simple recipe, and I've long wanted to be able to share it with you - and now I can, thanks to the author Ms. Isogai who kindly granted me permission to publish the recipe here in an English translation.  Hooray!
Olive Oil Crumble with Fresh Mint 

30 g (approx. 1/3 cup) ground almonds

30 g (2 heaping tbs) brown sugar, sifted if too lumpy
30 g (scant 1/3 cup) pastry flour
1 tbs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbs olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and rub them together using your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle onto a baking sheet, and bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes.

* Amounts of the dry ingredients are provided in metrics in the original recipe; please note that the conversions in US standard volume measures given above are for reference purposes only.  Makes about 3-4 servings.

Recipe translated and adapted with permission from オリーブオイルでフランス菓子―おいしくて、体にもいい、新しい味のお菓子作り (French Baking with Olive Oil) by Yoshie Isogai. Bunka Publishing Bureau, 2010. (c)Yoshie Isogai
The original recipe is for cherry crumbles, where you toss fresh cherries together with some sugar, Kirsch, and olive oil, and bake with the topping on them.  A very simple affair, but the use of olive oil and fresh mint leaves really brightens things to up, making it a perfect match to fresh summer fruits.

You can make variations of the recipe by swapping some (or all) of the dry ingredients; whole wheat, buckwheat, or spelt flour in place of the pastry flour, maple or coconut sugar in place of the brown sugar, and ground hazelnuts or pistachios in place of the almonds, and so on.  You may also add some rolled oats (30-50 g / 1/3 - 1/2 cup) to the recipe.  Some chopped nuts work well too.

You bake the crumble topping on a baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment, rather than on top of a fruit filling.  You want to have a mixture with pieces of uneven sizes.
As I mentioned, the original recipe is for a regular crumble; it uses 300 g (approx. 11 oz) of fresh cherries, baked in four 13-cm (approx. 5-inch) dishes for 20 minutes.  I find 10-15 minutes do the trick for the topping alone.  Check after 10 minutes.

When the topping is done, remove from the oven and let it cool completely before use.  If you have any of the batch left unused, you can store it in an airtight container for a few days.  An unbaked topping may be kept in the freezer.
If you do wish to bake the topping together with a fruit filling, you will need to adjust the baking time.  It depends on the amount of fruits and the size of the dish(es) you use, but I would say 15-20 minutes for smallish dishes, and 30-40 minutes for large ones - or possible even longer.  Make sure the topping is golden brown, with some of juice of the fruits bubbling up around the edges of the dish.

Now, to have the baked crumble topping with fresh fruits:
Fruit Salad Crumble

Assortment of ripe, fresh fruits of season, slightly chilled, cut and peeled if necessary

(Choose fruits that are suitable for eating raw, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, figs, etc.)
Honey to taste
Juice of lemon to taste
Olive Oil Crumble with Fresh Mint (recipe above), to taste

Combine the fruits, honey and juice of lemon in a bowl and toss gently.  
Place in a dish and top with the crumble topping.
Serve immediately, with more topping on the side, and yogurt or cream if you wish.
If you have the topping ready, the dish comes together in no time.  You want to fix it right before you want to serve it, since it is often best to serve fresh fruits as soon as they are sliced, and the topping gets soggy when left sitting around on top of the juicy fruits.  Make it quick, and eat it quick too.

The crumble topping recipe above should make 3-4 servings, but it really depends on how much you want in your dish; for all the images above, I went easy on the crumble so the fruits can show in the picture.  When I actually eat them, I'd go for a lot more of the topping.

So, what do you think?  It's probably already cool enough to get your baking on where you are - it certainly is up here.  But I'm guessing I will make another batch of two of this crumble topping before the summer fruits are all over, and will definitely come back to it when the next summer comes around.  

Hope you've had a good summer and enjoyed the season's fruits too! -cx

August 12, 2014

summer on a stick

Because sometimes only frozen treats will do on dog days of summer.

...Then again, it's not as if it gets all that hot up here in the mountains of Nagano.
The ten year anniversary came and passed this humble blog of mine without many people taking notice, including yours truly (oops).  And almost every summer, I think I mentioned the fact that I have never been a summer kind of girl.  That is, not until very recently, before I came here in Nagano where summer is a fleeting and pleasant affair, with cool mornings and evenings, and shades that provide a respite from the heat - a luxury I never had in Tokyo.

And this particular area of Nagano Prefecture I hole up in these days is mostly where people come to spend summer holidays to escape from the heat as well as the hustle and bustle of city life, for a quiet and cool country air.  You can survive through a summer without an AC, or even an electric fan, and you can't imagine how grateful I am for that.  Mind you, this comes in a package with the long and harsh winter; but I really can't complain. 

What this all means is that I don't often need to find refuge in cold foods.  When I go out in town (which I don't often do) on a hot day, the heat does beat me and I might crave something cold to eat or drink.  But as soon as I get back in the house, the craving usually fades away pretty quick.  I do like ice cream and I make and eat it every now and then, but never in a large amount at a time.  Things like shave ice, which I used to love as a kid, are deemed 'overly chilling' and rarely find their way in my life here.

So when I first started noticing a lot of posts about homemade ice pops, or popsicles, or ice lollies, or whatever you call them, popping up on Instagram earlier this summer, I was curious but also a little skeptical about the idea.

January 28, 2014

going green

Happy 2014! Well, it may be a tad late to say New Year's greetings this late into January, but it wouldn't feel right if I didn't to begin my first entry of the year without saying something of the sort, so there. And I wouldn't even go into the question of whether or not it should feel right to leave your humble little blog in a state of near abandonment for so long. Better not say a word, friends.

And it also feels a little funny when I think that my last entry here was about granola (and muesli), because it is precisely what I am going to write about today. Yes, granola. Not your usual granola though, it's matcha granola. Yes, us Japanese never cease to find a new, less exploited way of using our beloved matcha in.

The idea of using matcha in granola has been in my mind for some time, but I never had a chance to actually have a stab at it. Then over the New Year's, I was eating a slice or three of matcha stollen with candied chestnuts that a friend of mine had baked for me, and decided that it was about time I got down to this matcha granola business, perhaps with some chestnuts thrown in the mix.  It was partly because I was at my sister's in Tokyo, where I had hardly any baking supplies to use; granola would be one of the few things I could throw together there.

First I did a bit of research (i.e. googling 'matcha granola'), and found a couple of recipes both in Japanese and in English. I went for this one (in Japanese) for matcha chestnut granola as a starting point, adding a bit of tweaking here and there.

The recipe makes a point that you should cook your oats and nuts at a very low temp so the matcha would not lose too much of its striking flavor and color, and that you add your dried fruits after the oats etc. have been cooked and removed from the oven, which is something I tend to do with any granola recipe. I stuck to these points, then brought it a bit further by sort of dry-frying my oats first, before I throw in other ingredients and add powdered matcha. This way, you can reduce the time for the matcha to be heated in the oven, which should help preserve its bright color and flavor in the finished granola.

As other ingredients, I used white sesame seeds (included in the original recipe - good match for matcha), macadamia nuts (because I preferred mild-tasting nuts for this), pistachios (for the color), pumpkin seeds (ditto), green sultanas (ditto), and a mixture of berries - dried cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, and red raisins.

When the granola mixture has cooled to  room temperature, I added Tenshin Amaguri, or 'Tianjin-style' sweet roasted chestnuts which we have in common in Japan as a snack, as suggested in the recipe.  Along came a good handful of chunks or matcha chocolate, which was my idea - or more precisely, my riff on the lovely Kerrin's idea; you see, once you have started adding chocolate chunks to your granola, it's hard to go back.

My first batch came out fine, not too bad for a first try - but not excellent, either. I tasted a bitterness, which I guessed was due to the fact that I had, rather foolishly, used pre-toasted sesame seeds. And I didn't like the noticeable tartness of cranberries in this particular mix; I found it clash the flavor of matcha. I also found the taste of honey, my choice of sweetener, slightly off too. The addition of matcha chocolate, meanwhile, was a huge hit and well made up for all the other shortcomings of the whole thing.
And it was still tasty as I had it with some fresh strawberries (a good match for matcha), and soy milk which would take on a gentle shade of green.

On my next try, I made sure I used raw sesame seeds to begin with, ditched dried cranberries, and replaced honey with maple syrup, as the original recipe does so. I didn't change the part of par-baking the oats first.

This time the granola came out beautifully, just as bright in color and flavor as the first batch, not a hint of distracting bitterness or tartness.
For my second batch, I got a few more Japanese-y ingredients in addition to the chestnuts: candied kuromame (black soy beans) and candied sweet potato cubes, both a dry-finish kind like marrons glacé.

Both the kuromame and sweet potato cubes are fairly sweet, but they worked nicely in the not-too-sweet granola. They are probably both hard to find outside of Japan, though, but I assure you that the granola tasted great without kuromame, sweet potato, or even chestnuts.
Speaking of hard-to-find, I suspect matcha chocolate might also be a bit of pain in the back to hunt down unless you are in Japan. So I took some of the finished granola aside, divided in two portions, and added dark chocolate to one and white chocolate to the other, both chopped. White chocolate and matcha are a natural, and they indeed went very well together, while I was pleased to find that dark chocolate wasn't bad at all either. But again, you can go without any chocolate at all, and the matcha granola will taste great on its own.

I tried and throw some crashed freeze-dried raspberries into the white choc batch, and loved it too. They added such an electric touch to the otherwise mild-colored and -flavored granola I think.
And since I had quite a few people asking me for the recipe when I posted a couple of photos of my matcha granola on Instagram, I'm writing it up here.  I've only made it twice and cannot say it's perfect, but perhaps you could start from here and adjust it to your liking.

+++ matcha granola (with chestnuts) +++

2 cups rolled oats
1 heaping cup mixed nuts and seeds (I used macadamias, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds), roughly chopped
1/3 cup white sesame seeds, untoasted
2 Tbs powdered matcha, plus more for finishing
2-3 Tbs vegetable oil, preferably a neutral-tasting kind
4-5 Tbs maple syrup
a pinch of salt
1 heaping cup mixed dried fruits (I used green sultanas, dried raspberries, currants, blueberries, red raisins... not cranberries!)
1/2 cup matcha chocolate, chopped (optional, but highly recommended; substitute with white or dark chocolate if unavailable)
1 cup Tenshin amaguri roasted chestnuts, chopped (optional; may be substituted with candied chestnuts but in a smaller amount)

Preheat the oven to 120C/250F. Line the baking sheet with parchment.

Spread the rolled oats over the lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice along the way. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on.

Tip the par-cooked oats into a large bowl, and mix in the chopped nuts and seeds. Add the matcha and toss, so that the whole thing is evenly covered with the powdered tea. Add the oil, then maple syrup and salt, and mix thoroughly.

Spread the mixture back onto the lined baking sheet, and cook for 20-30 minutes, until dry but not browned, stirring once or twice along the way.

Remove from oven. Add the dried fruits and a good sprinkle of matcha, and stir well. Let cool completely before adding the chopped chocolate. Add the chopped amaguri chestnuts just before serving if using. Serve with milk and fresh berries, if desired.

Recipe adapted loosely from this.