How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Breaking Bread

Simple.
Simple.

Bread is elemental. Flour, water, salt, yeast: that’s it.

And yet.

Some of my best memories are wrapped around these four ingredients. The details are, as always, blurry-edged and cloudy, but the fragrance of baking bread is sharp and distinct in my mind. Something inside me unclenches every time  I gather bread-making ingredients and tools.

Funny thing about memory, though. Bread may have only four ingredients, but the success is in the practice/process. Time. Temperature. Precision (or not). In my memories of bread, as in all my memories, there is very little true understanding, in this case of what exactly it takes to make a perfect loaf of whatever I am making. I remember flat bread that shouldn’t have been and gummy, underbaked insides when the knocking technique just doesn’t quite work.

I come to bake bread when my brain won’t settle. When there is too much of something troubling, or happy-making, or any other too much of something floating around, making all other thinking impossible. When I need to get my hands into something that feels grounding and real and practical and not up-in-the-clouds where I usually reside.

Flour, water, salt, yeast. Hands in dough. Meditation. Kneading. Resting. Baking.

But as I am usually distracted and elsewhere in the brain when I settle into the practice of bread, my bread always seems to not…quite…work. Close. But not quite.

This seems to be the rule when it comes to distraction for me (maybe you, too). A temporary relief from whatever needs to be put away for a time, good or bad, but then whenever that distraction – bread, shopping, TV, whateverthefuck – is done, the thing you avoid comes roaring back.

“[People] can starve from a lack of self-realization as they can from lack of bread.” ~Richard Wright~

So the solution seems to be to focus as much on the bread as The Thing, not just as a distraction from The Other Thing. Not as an escape. #WhereeverYouGoThereYouAre

This morning I woke with Paris and chocolate and cafe au lait and love and baguettes on my mind. I give in, Universe. I give in to allofthethings, and I have made you bread.

Baguettes

NOTE: These are, as ever, gluten-free. Gluten-filled recipes for bread abound on the interwebs, and because it’s bread it is highly unlikely that merely swapping out regular AP or bread flours will work. 

Ingredients

250 grams (about 2 cups) gluten-free all purpose flour (or another one, but note that the recipe may not quite work. Avoid bean flours, as usual)

25 grams (about 1/4 cup) almond meal

3 T. powdered milk

1 T. xanthan gum

1 t. salt

2 room-temperature egg whites

2 T. olive oil

1/2 t. apple cider vinegar

3/4 c. warm (80 – 100 degrees) water

2 1/4 t. rapid-rise yeast (one packet)

egg wash (use the leftover egg yolks with a little water, an egg white with water, or skip this step)

spray bottle with water

Method

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, powdered milk, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment (or in a big bowl), combine egg whites, olive oil, vinegar, and water. Add flour mixture in and mix to combine, then add yeast and mix for two more minutes.

If you are not using a stand mixer, beat the crap out of the dough for as long as you possibly can. It will be stiff and sticky. #ThatsWhatSheSaid

At this point, you can prepare one of two types of pans:

  1. Fancypants baguette pan lined with parchment, which is really how it ought to be done except most people don’t have those and don’t want to get those because they are really only good for one thing (baguettes) and ain’t nobody got time for that.
  2. Plain old cookie sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper. Errbody got time for that.

“Shaping” this dough is less like shaping and more like piping. There is no kneading because there is no gluten to develop, and the dough will be like very thick cake batter. Pour a splash of olive oil into a large freezer bag, then scoop the dough into the bag. Seal, then cut off one corner of the bag and pipe the baguettes into the pan you have prepared. This makes one big baguette or two thinner, smaller baguettes. Obvi, the size of the hole you cut out will determine the width of your baguettes and the cooking time. #KeepThatInMind

Brush the top of the loaves with egg wash if using, then use a very sharp knife to cut two or three diagonal slashes on the top of the bread. Place the loaves in the preheated-turned off oven for 30 minutes to rise.

Clean up your kitchen, surf the interwebs, navel gaze, meditate, write a letter to someone and mail it, call your mom, take a shower…whatever. There is nothing that really needs to be done while the bread is rising.

Remove bread and preheat oven to 375 degrees (regular oven) or 350 degrees (convection oven). Put bread back in the oven, spraying it with water as you close the door.

Baking times? Meh. They vary. 

I bake mine for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, then let it go until it is beautifully brown. I have also been known to stick a toothpick in this bread, or use my beautiful new instant-read thermometer to make sure it is cooked in the middle (an issue for all bread but especially for gluten-free varieties).

Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

Serve warm with tons of butter or Brie. Consider bringing this and a cup of hot chocolate to your darling child who is STILL SLEEPING, or maybe your lover if you are A) lucky enough to have one who will appreciate it, and B) they are within arm’s reach.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” ~Omar Khayyam~

What is elemental for you?