UO GIFTED: CHRISTMAS BAKING WITH ELENA AND ANA ARCEDecember 2, 2015
Authors of the Hermanas Arcë blog, Ana and Elena are sisters and friends. A little life advice from their grandparents, “you should always stay together” seems to have rung true as they are now roommates, sharing a mutual love for great food and cooking. We caught up with Elena and Ana on how to make traditional Spanish Christmas turrón, the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday in Madrid and their hero ingredients.
UO: Where does your shared passion for cooking come from?
Our passion for cooking comes, as it usually does, from a passion for eating. We both love food and everything that is related to it: discovering new ingredients, new restaurants, new markets, but one of us actually likes the process of cooking more than the other. It is probably due to the fact that it involves manual labour that enables you to turn raw ingredients into something completely different with very little help or equipment. We also love feeding people and the act of planning and preparing something for someone you care for and to see them enjoying something you cooked for them.
UO: Do you come from a family of passionate foodies?
We couldn’t say “foodie” necessarily because this word is somehow related to trends and to other things apart from enjoying good meals. We do come from a family who cares a lot about food and in very different ways: our mum has always cooked everything from scratch and has always known where to buy the best products, so going grocery shopping with her when we were small meant visiting a lot of different places in one morning just to get a few ingredients. We actually used to tease her and now we can be worse than she is. In the kitchen she likes to cook and eat simple dishes with very good ingredients, but she isn’t what you would call an adventurous cook or eater. Our dad, however, who doesn’t know how to fry an egg loves trying new cuisines and new restaurants, so we have got a bit of both: we love simple home cooking with good ingredients but we also love discovering new dishes and ingredients.
UO: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your family?
In terms of food, it would be to buy good ingredients if you want to make a good dish and to cook everything from scratch (if you can).
UO: What is the creation process when putting together new recipes?
We are quite chaotic in the sense that we get inspiration from a lot of different places: books, the internet, something we might have tasted at a restaurant but we are not meticulous recipe writers or followers for that matter. We think that once you have mastered the basics of cooking it is better to get inspired by a recipe rather than caring about weighing the amount of salt you put in.
UO: What are some of your favourite cookbooks that have influenced your own cooking and preferences?
The list changes through the years. We guess that you have to go through a Jamie and Nigella period to get to a Nigel Slater or a Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall one. What is funny is that even though we come from Spain, which has a brilliant culinary tradition, in terms of cookbooks we are very much drawn to English cookbook writers, such as Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall or to American bakers, such as Kim Boyce with “Good to the Grain”.
UO: Where do you seek inspiration both for you cooking and personally?
As we said before: it might come from books, the internet, a restaurant, a friend or even suddenly remembering something your mother made when you were young, which you took for granted and which, suddenly, you start to value and want to make again.
UO: What is your favourite thing about cooking and food?
The best thing about cooking is the actual transformation that goes on when you mix a couple of ingredients and put them in the oven, the actual touching of the ingredients and feeding people and seeing their reactions. You can’t love cooking if you don’t like feeding people and if you don’t like eating yourself. We also love that there is always something new to try, however much you have cooked, so you can never get bored.
UO: What is your absolute favourite thing to cook?
We are not sure that we have one particular thing we like to cook more than any other. Maybe the first thing you make with a clean kitchen – just because everything that goes on from there involves having to clean up and that is definitely the part of cooking we enjoy the least. Jams or granola can also be a candidate for the most satisfying thing you can make in the kitchen: they involve a little work but you don’t consume everything in half an hour and you have a nice row of pretty jars lined up on the kitchen counter to show as the result of your work, which you can enjoy for weeks or months to come.
UO: Have you had any recipe disasters?
Of course! The worst one was years ago when one of us mixed up salt for sugar in a recipe for chocolate chip cookies which were completely inedible! Imagine what about 100gr of salt can do to some cookie dough when adding a pinch to a stew is already enough to make it savoury!
UO: What is your hero ingredient?
Difficult question… but we think it would have to be onion and garlic! In Spanish cooking we use it in every dish so we can’t live without them!
UO: What do you love the most about Madrid?
We love the fact that you can walk for 30 minutes, cross three different “barrios” (neighborhoods) and see completely different people, places and buildings, each one of them with a very clear identity. Madrid is also a very open and welcoming city.
UO: What is your favourite way to spend a lazy weekend in Madrid?
We really like to enjoy the good weather taking long walks during Saturday morning, then you might meet someone for lunch or invite friends over for lunch at home. The best days are actually the ones you don’t really plan.
My favourite Christmas treat is turrón de Suchard for both of us
My favourite time of day is…the morning
If I could eat one thing forever, it would be…bread
My favourite season is… late summer beginning of autumn
In 2016 I want to… write a book (Ana) and start a personal project (Elena)
Milk chocolate & Hazelnut Praliné Turrón
Shops in Spain start filling their shelves with piles of “turrón”, the classic Christmas treat that is eaten for dessert at the end of a holiday feast, as a guilt inducing snack or, if you are a kid, at any time in the day. The most traditional ones are made with almonds or egg yolks and quite a lot of sugar. They can be hard or soft, but all of them are usually reserved for the adults. Kids generally enjoy an extremely sweet milk chocolate bar with puffed rice that is generally known by the name of the brand, “Suchard”.
In an attempt to make a slightly more adult version of this turrón we swapped the puffed rice for hazelnut praliné and some puffed quinoa and skipped some of the sweeteners and animal fat altogether. We got inspired by artisanal chocolate bar makers with the packaging so that if instead of serving this for dessert you decide to include it in a stocking, it can look pretty!
(makes around 6 (6x12cm) bars)
For the hazelnut praliné layer:
• 175gr hazelnuts
• 125gr dark brown sugar (we used pilloncillo/panela sugar)
• 1/3 teaspoon maldon salt
• 140gr milk chocolate
• 10gr vegetable oil
For the chocolate layer:
• 120gr milk chocolate
• 80gr dark chocolate
• 30gr vegetable oil
a handful of puffed quinoa as a garnish
1. To make the praliné, pulse the hazelnuts, sugar and salt in a food processor until you get a sandy texture. In another bowl melt the milk chocolate along with the vegetable oil. You can do this in a bowl over a saucepan with boiling water, stirring every once in a while or in a microwave oven. Mix the hazelnut mixture with the chocolate one and spread it on some parchment paper to create the first layer of the turrón. You should try to make a rectangle slightly bigger than 24 x 18cm so that when you start to cut the bars you can trim off any uneven edges. It should have an even thickness so you can either do it with a palette knife or by placing another layer of parchment paper on top of the chocolate mixture and flattening it out with a rolling pin. The thickness of this layer should be around 1/2 cm. Put this in the fridge to set while you do step two.
2. For the chocolate layer, melt the chocolates with the vegetable oil following one of the two methods described above. Once the chocolate is melted, wait until it cools down a bit. When it is cold to the touch but still perfectly runny it will have the perfect temperature and consistency for pouring over your praliné. Pour it over the praliné bar, being careful to create a layer which is again, more or less of an even texture and trying to avoid running over the sides too much. Once everything is covered in chocolate, drizzle the puffed quinoa over the top and put it in the fridge to cool down again.
3. Once the bar has hardened in the fridge you can get to cutting. We trimmed off the edges and cut the rectangle into 6 smaller 6x12cm rectangles, but you can do whatever shape you want.
4. To turn them into little gifts we wrapped them in aluminum foil and in some paper on which we had earlier painted some dots. You can improvise here and either create a pattern or a work of art. To finish it all off, stick a label with the name of the turrón and another one on the opposite side with the ingredients and use it to close up the parcel and you are done!
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