Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Sea-worthy Darng Bakers Challenge in the Land of St. Honore'

“You’ve got to make something spectacular for dessert!’, the Captain said to the cook as the winds abated at sea in that corner of the Land of St Honore’. “The gale the last two days has kept the crew up day and night…we need to raise their morale. A little extra sugar might give them just enough of a boost to get us into port safely, too.”

Eric the Cook was thrilled. With the violent movements the storm had caused, he had barely been able to cook at all. Now the winds were calming. He could bake something grand. Ever since the time when he was a lad and worked in a bakery, he loved to make fancy cakes. Since he hadn't been battening and bailing, he had the energy to make the long and complicated recipe he had in mind. Good thing the sun was just coming up and he had time.

So he went to work softening butter, measuring flour, grinding nuts,

separating eggs and making a nut praline, although he almost burnt the sugar. Soon he was making the cake in the genoise method and setting it to cool. Once cooled he cut it into three layers.

The nut praline he ground into a powder and then he made a syrup with water, sugar, and chocolate liquor. This was going to be a gorgeous, rich, memorable cake.

Using every bit of counter space available, and even a few tricks like putting a cutting board over a pulled out drawer to make more space to set things on, he whipped up the buttercream, added the praline paste and put the layers together…cake, syrup, praline buttercream, whipped cream,

cake, syrup…whoops forgot the syrup!, praline buttercream, whipped cream, cake. Whoops again… a sudden swell slid the cutting board with the syrup bowl onto the floor. Mop time!

Before he set the whole edifice in the cooler to chill he laid a thin coat of the praline buttercream all over the sides and over a few places on top that had crumbs. Because he had no jam or jelly he decided not to do a jam coat. Because the ship was still not as steady as he would like, he also avoided cutting any part of the cake…he would just as likely cut his hand!

After he had prepared a hearty stew and a nice salad for the crew's dinner, he took the cake out of the cooler, whipped up a wicked ganache of semi-sweet chocolate and whipping cream and waited…and waited…and waited for it to cool enough. Finally it was the right consistency and he poured it over the top of the cake. As it dripped down the sides he decided to not frost the sides with ganache, just with the drips of ganache…it looked so delicious that way. Into the cooler again to firm up the ganache.

The final fun was to pipe buttercream decorations on top, add a few peanuts and some chopped peanuts as garnish and serve it up to the happy crew. It was gone in a flash as you might well imagine!

Why peanuts? Well, that’s what Eric the Cook found in the pantry. It made for a truly magnificent cake. The praline was peanut brittle or course. The cake was lighter and moister than some genoise (so the lack of syrup on one layer was OK and the ganache gave plenty of chocolate flavor). The butter cream and ganache were classic and lucky were the crew who got to lick the bowl. The peanut and chocolate combination was simply delicious…peanut butter cup flavors in a delectable cake. That tiny bit of crunch in the buttercream from the praline paste was the perfect counterpoint to the soft and creamy ganache and soft cake.

This month I baked the cake with my friend Hil. She is a fabulous baker and cook and we spent a lovely day baking together, laughing, wondering if we were doing things right and, sometimes even parting ways with the recipe…as with the jam. Couldn’t figure a jam that wouldn’t overpower the peanut-chocolate thing. I even goofed by forgetting the syrup for the second layer. Still and all, Sweetie said that this was the best Daring Baker creation he’s ever tasted…we did good Hil!.

It was tough giving half of it to the sweet librarians in town, but I’m glad we did. My pants still fit and they give me big smiles when I come into the library. Thank you Hil for all your hard work grinding peanuts and your light hand with the buttercream and whipped cream and sifting just the right amount of ground peanuts and for all the fun. We must do it again!

This month's Daring Baker challenge was chosen by Chris at Mele Cotte. THANK YOU Chris! This was such a great cake. To see what the many, many, many Daring Bakers have done this month go to the Blogroll here for links. You are sure to see some masterpieces and some truly funny posts.

Here is my variation on the Hazelnut Chocolate Gateau:

Peanut Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter - with some variations

1 peanut Gateau
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with chocolate liquor
1 recipe Peanut Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons peanuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Peanut Gateau
Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.
1 ½ cups peanuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. grated lemon rind (I omitted this)
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. chocolate flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup peanut praline paste
Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy. Divide in half. Add praline paste to half. Use the rest to pipe decorations.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 ½ cups peanut brittle

Break the peanut brittle into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze (I omitted this step)
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

8 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, Scharfenberger is what I used
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla . If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache. ( I omitted this step, but did a crumb coat with the praline buttercream instead)

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Loves Meatballs

It is always tragic when the world loses a vibrant, creative, caring, talented person when they are still young. If you are younger than 30, then Sherry Cermak might have seemed old, not young, but from where I'm sitting she was a spring chicken and should still be with us blogging at What Did You Eat and saving cats and rescuing wildlife and being an inspiration to many. She was such a good writer and often made one smile. Unfortunately, a sudden heart attack took her a week ago. As a tribute, some bloggers are cooking things from her blog in her honor and posting today.

In going through her blog, there were lots of good recipes to choose from, but she mentioned that she loves meatballs. Indeed, there were quite a few good meatball recipes, too. I chose a recent post of meatballs that evoke some of the flavors and fragrance of Thanksgiving. They are easy to make, cook quickly, and are fairly healthy, too.

Anyone who knows me well knows I love turkey. I could probably eat it every night for a month and not be tired of it. Since Sweetie doesn't share my super enthusiasm for anything turkey, we have it in one form or another about once a week. These meatballs let turkey shine by staying simple. The original recipe on Sherry's blog called for a sauce using fresh or frozen cranberries and she said her sauce looked like nail polish :) Seems that the frozen cranberries I though I had are not in the freezer, so I substituted some ripe plums, keeping the skins on to approximate the tart sweetness of cranberries. I also left all of the sugar out of the sauce, which helped keep it tart.

The onions and celery, fresh oregano and salt and pepper add just enough flavor since turkey can be bland. The egg and bread crumbs hold it all together. The savory goodness of the meatballs made a great counterpoint to the sweet-tart sauce which uses fresh orange juice along with the plums. I also cooked extra onions and kept a tablespoon of them to put in the sauce...sort of tied it all together.

Here's to you Sherry! You are missed.

Herbed Turkey Meatballs With Plum Sauce
A variation of a recipe from What Did You Eat


2 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
1 yellow onion, finely chopped, divided
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 lb. ground turkey
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
2 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup fresh diced plums, peels left on

Make the meatballs

Preheat an oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and sauté two minutes. Set aside 1-2 tablespoons of the onions. Add the celery to the pan and continue to sauté’ until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and let cool. Set the pan aside.
Add the turkey, bread crumbs, egg, oregano, salt and pepper to the cooled onion mixture, and mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. Shape the mixture into 12 meatballs and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.

Cook the meatballs and make the sauce.

Bake the meatballs until opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the fry pan and combine the orange juice, and plums in the fry pan and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the juice comes to a boil and the fruit is warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide the meatballs among dinner plates, spoon the plum sauce over them and serve immediately. Serves 3- 4.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not So Lovely

Sometimes the best tasting food is not the best looking. Some of my favorite salads look like a mish mash of ingredients, held together by a little lettuce. I love soft polenta with a meat sauce, but when mixed together to combine the flavors in each bite, it really doesn't look very pretty even while it tastes delicious.

Tonight's pasta dish is a bit like that. Sweetie had found some beautiful ahi tuna steaks at a good price and I volunteered to make a baked pasta dish to go with it. A while ago I made a recipe which combined linguine, asparagus, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and it seemed like a good jumping off point.

In the freezer I found a box of frozen chopped spinach (I know, I know, fresh is so much healthier or more virtuous or something, but I worked a twelve hour day yesterday and went to a funeral this morning, so frozen it is) and some dried noodles in the pantry. The fridge yielded both ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and the cupboard held some garlic, so we were in business. While things were cooking I decided that mixing some bread crumbs into the grated Parmesan for the topping would be a good idea and remembered that I still had some pine nuts in the fridge, so they went on the top, too.

This dish goes together fairly quickly, is fairly healthy, and is really, really good. If you don't want to bake it (it IS summer after all), you can put the pasta mixture right into a heated serving bowl and sprinkle on the cheese (no breadcrumbs) and some toasted pine nuts (which can be toasted on top of the stove in a small cast iron skillet in no time...toasted tastes MUCH better than raw pine nuts). If you are really hungry this won't serve 4, either. It's not so lovely, but it is very tasty.

Not Lovely Pasta and Spinach with Ricotta & Parmesan & Pine Nuts

½ lb dried flat noodles (I used no yolk egg noodles)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach ( or one bunch cleaned, stems removed, steamed, drained and chopped), thawed and drained of excess water
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon already ground nutmeg
½ cup ricotta cheese (I used low fat variety)
Salt and pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (best quality you can use), divided
¼ cup dried bread crumbs, unseasoned
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons raw pine nuts

Fill a large pot with about 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the dried pasta (you could also use linguine or spaghetti), return to a boil and stir. Boil until pasta is al dente.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch square baking dish, or equivalent.

While the pasta water is heating, heat the olive oil and a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute’ for about a minute, just until the garlic begins to color. Remove from heat and set aside.

To the garlic and oil mixture, add the thawed and drained or cooked, drained and chopped spinach. Stir to combine. Add the nutmeg and stir to combine. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the ricotta cheese. Add ¼ cup of the pasta water once it is hot. Using a whisk, stir well to combine the cheese and hot water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it in a colander, then put the hot pasta over the spinach mixture. Pour the cheese mixture on top of that and stir quickly to combine all ingredients. Turn this mixture into the prepared baking dish.

On a plate or piece of waxed paper, combine the rest of the grated Parmesan and the bread crumbs. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the pasta mixture in the baking dish. Optional: sprinkle 1 – 2 tablespoons of pine nuts over the breadcrumb/cheese topping.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until the edges of the pasta are browned and the pine nuts and cheese are golden. Serve at once.

Serves 4

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer Soup

Sometime it's really hot, as it was last week when we were working on the south side of the house repairing some water damage and it was over a hundred degrees. Sometimes the fog comes in and hasn't even burned off by noon, which is what happened today. That's summer in Northern California for 'ya.

When the fog stays around until after lunchtime, it's cool enough to enjoy a bowl of soup. Today I threw together a chicken vegetable bean one with a few things from the pantry and freezer and a few things from the garden. It's simple but good. The flavors are a bit Italian, and it's pretty hearty due to the beans and vegetables.

Fortunately the sun came out a little while ago and so it was fun to do a little gardening and some watercolor painting. I'm doing a portrait of my daughter, which is tricky. It won't look exactly like her, because I'm not that good, but I'm hoping that it looks enough like her to catch some of her loveliness and inner beauty.

Summer Soup
Serves two

1/2 onion, diced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 - 1 red pepper, diced
1 frozen chicken breast, thawed and cut in1 inch chunks...or use leftover cooked chicken
1 can cannelini or other white beans, drained but not rinsed
1 can chicken broth...or use homemade chicken broth
1 cup water
freshly ground black pepper...about 1/4 teaspoon, to taste
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon poultry seasoning or dried thyme...or both
1 cup sugar snap or snow peas
1 small zucchini, quartered and sliced

In a saucepan, saute' the onion in the olive oil until translucent, about two minutes. Add the garlic, stir well and saute' another minute. Add the red pepper and saute' another minute. Add the chicken broth, white beans, including any sludge at the bottom of the can, the water, and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the snow or sugar snap peas & zucchini, cover, and heat over low heat one more minute. Serve. Can be garnished with grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Plum Lucky

Another part of our luck in landing here in our beautiful home is that we are right next to the volunteer fire station. When we first moved here we weren't sure how lucky that was because they still used the siren to call the volunteer to the station to go out on a call...sometimes at 2 am! Eventually we learned to wake up hearing the siren, think 'Oh, it's just the the fire siren', and then go back to sleep.

Now they use pagers, but we still see how hard the volunteers work. In California volunteers are required to have as much training as paid fire fighters, so there are drills each week on Thursday nights at the fire station, plus practice going on when volunteers can arrange it during the rest of the week. A few evenings ago I decided to make some plum coffee cake for the volunteers who were on call. It's a recipe I've been wanting to make since February and it seemed like plum season would never get here.
A tender, moist, buttery coffee cake with brown sugar, vanilla and cardmom flavors cradles plum halves. The plums first give up their juice as they cook, and then reclaim it s they cool. The plum halves sort of sink into the dough, so some of the dough gets the juices, too. The tang of the plums goes so well with that rich, delicious dough. Sweetie and I had a piece each, then the rest went next door. The volunteers seemed pretty please with the idea of fresh cake. We're really pleased that they volunteer their time to keep us all safe, particularly since fire season has come early to California.

Take a look at this coffee cake...isn't it pretty?

Andrea at Andrea's Recipes is hosting Grow Your Own and this post certainly qualifies since the plums come from my own tree down the drive. Since it is now a twice a month event, if you are growing your own food, consider joining in.

I changed the recipe a bit, using a combination of white and whole wheat flours instead of just white, using dark brown sugar instead of light brown, using a lot more butter and only a tablespoon of oil, and Meyer lemon flavored olive oil at that. Since I had some from making the Danish Braid, I used vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract. I also found that I didn't need to bake it quite so long as called for in the Greenspan recipe.

Simple Fresh Plum Coffee Cake
Based on Dorie Greenspan’s Dimply Plum Cake in Baking:From my home to yours

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
Grated zest of one orange
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract or the same amount of pure vanilla paste
1 tablespoon olive oil (I used Meyer Lemon flavored olive oil)
8 small to medium red or purple plums (I used fresh off the tree Santa Rosa red plums), halved and pitted, with the skins left on

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a square 8-inch baking pan. Center a rack in the middle of the oven.

On a sheet of waxed paper or in a bowl, whisk together the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy, about 3 minutes at medium mixer speed.

Add the dark brown sugar and beat 2 minutes more. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, scrape the bowl and beaters. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for 1 minute after each addition. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, scrape the bowl and beaters. On medium speed, add the orange zest, vanilla or vanilla paste, and the olive oil and beat to combine completely. Reduce mixer speed to low and blend in the dry ingredient mixture, beating until just combined. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, scrape the bowl and beaters. and mix again briefly if needed to mix in any flour from the sides or bottom of the bowl.

Using a rubber or silicon spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out in the pan. Arrange the plums on top of the batter, ( in rows of four usually works), pushing the plums down a bit in the batter.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and puffed around the plums. A thin knife inserted in the center will come out clean.

Place the cake on a rack to cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool with the plum side up. Serves 8.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Plum Lucky

When we moved here over 22 years ago, I wasn't so sure that it had been a good idea. I had been a full time office manager of a doctor's office, my kids were used to being in school or pre-school or at day camp, and Sweetie worked less than 10 minutes from home. Now I found myself out in the country, no longer able to just walk to town, with a houseful of boxes and no routines for any of us. It took a while for the kids to get used to me being at home all the time and it took me a lot longer.

On the plus side, my son had friends his own age just down the road and my daughter soon made friends with a girl on the other side of the road. Our home was fairly recently built, compared to the old one which had been built after the 1906 earthquake. Best of all there was lots of room for a garden and we had lots of fruit trees and walnut trees. Instead of walking to town, I walked down my drive to the garden and fruit trees. All in all, we were pretty lucky to end up here is such a beautiful place!

When we had lived in Berkeley we were near a park and, as they are wont to do, the blackberries took over parts of the park. We all enjoyed the blackberries, but my son really loved them. On our new property we found that we had early berries and then true blackberries, so that part was familiar and a delight and my son could pick blackberries to his hearts content.

One of the fruit trees was a Santa Rosa plum. It has red skin and sweet, juicy red flesh. When the plum is ripe the skin has a sort of bluish haze over the dark red skin. The skin is just a bit tart.

That tree is still bearing. Last year I missed when the fruit ripened (blame the new job) and so only had the last of the fruit. This year I've kept an eye out. It has been really warm, so all the fruit ripened almost at once. I feel lucky to have such delicious fruit just for the picking. So far I've made two things from the plums. There are still some to play with, so it's likely that the next few posts will be plummy.

The first recipe is a very simple one. All it takes is puff pastry, jam, walnuts and plums, a little butter and sugar, plus a hot oven.

I didn't keep close enough watch as it baked (I was typing up the got distracted), so the pastry was pretty brown, although not burnt. The sweetness of the plum flesh and the tartness of the plum skin made a great combination with the buttery pastry. The crunch of the walnuts offset the softness of all the fruit. Sweetie isn't fond of plums, but he ate two helping of this creation.

The recipe is based on one in Mitchell Davis's book Kitchen Sense.

Summer Plum Tart

You can make this with pie dough, tart dough or puff pastry. I chose puff pastry for ease. Variations for using the other doughs are given at the end of the recipe.

I sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
¼ cup jam (I used raspberry, but apricot would be good and so would marmalade- one that is just a bit tart is good.)
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
About 8 small to medium ripe red plums, washed (this would be good with almost any variety of plum)
½ stick butter melted
2 tablespoons sugar (I also used a teaspoon of crystal sugar)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Have a large sheet pan ready, lined with parchment or silicone mat.

Roll the thawed puff pastry out on a lightly flour surface to a rectangle about 10 by 8 inches or so, making the pastry ¼ inch thick. Transfer the rectangle to the prepared pan. If you want it to be fancy, trim the edges with a sharp knife to make them straight, being careful not to cut the silicone mat or parchment paper.

Spread the jam over the rectangle, leaving about an inch all around the edges with no jam. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the jam.

Slice each plum into eight slices. Leave the skin on for a nice sweet-tart taste. Arrange the plum slices on top of the jam area, completely covering the jam.

Brush the top of the fruit lightly with the melted butter , using a pastry brush, then sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 -25 minutes, turning the sheet around half way through the baking. Watch to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least five minutes. Be careful of the jam because it gets very hot.

Use a wide spatula to loosen the pastry, then carefully transfer to a cutting board or serving platter.

Cut into rectangles to serve. Serves 6-8 people. Leftovers can be kept, tightly wrapped, for a few days, but you may want to warm the tart briefly in a hot oven to crisp the puff pastry a bit.

Variations: If you are using pie dough, make enough dough for one crust, roll it in a 13 inch circle and place it on a 12 inch pizza pan, letting the dough hang over the sides. Spread the jam in an 11 inch circle, sprinkle on the walnuts, arrange the plum slices starting at the outer edge of jam, moving into the center, covering the jam completely. Fold in the dough beyond the jam, making folds. Moisten behind the folds with a little water and press to seal. Brush the butter over the fruit and folds of dough and sprinkle the sugar over all. Bake at 375 degrees F instead of 425 degrees F. until dough is golden and fruit is bubbly.

If using tart dough, line a tart pan with it, spread the jam over the bottom and follow the directions for the puff pastry version, watching to make sure that the tart pastry doesn't burn.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Colorful Brownies

Sweetie and I have been doing some major construction repairing a couple of windows on the south side of the house where the rain leaked in. The folks who built the house apparently neglected to put flashing in, so we've been dealing with many, many years of leaking. Being the type who tries to look at the bright side, I must admit that it has been a trial to find any silver lining, but learning to put up a fifteen foot high scaffolding was that tiny sliver of silver. It was sort of like playing on jungle gyms as we got higher and higher.

One of the results of this unexpected extra work was that I had committed to bringing more desserts to the picnic on the weekend than I had time to bake from scratch. I decided that the mini peach pies really deserved the time.

It also didn't take very long to slice up some juicy ripe watermelon and cut it into wedges. We kept it cold right up until it was served, so it was quite popular on a warm evening.

The third dessert was brownies. Brownies made from a mix, but dolled up with a few things to make them more appealing.

While they were still hot, I placed halves of York peppermint patties on half of the brownies (I used the small ones) and covered it all up with foil to melt the candies. Once they were melted, I spread the minty goodness over half the pan of brownies. The whole pan then went into the 'fridge to cool overnight.

A few hours before the party I made ganache with
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup whipping cream

The combination, in a bowl, was microwaved on half power for a minute at a time, with vigorous whisking after each minute, until the ganache was smooth.

After it had cooled a bit to thicken up, I poured about half of it over the pan of brownies and spread it out over the entire pan. While the ganache was still runny, I sprinkled mini-chocolate M&Ms over it.

On the half with the mint, I used only green ones.

On the other half, I used multi-colored M&Ms. This made for some pretty colorful and tasty brownies...and they sure looked like a party!

Sunday, July 06, 2008


There are few things more summery, if we are talking enjoyment, than a picnic. I'm not really a summer lover, far preferring fall's vivid hues and cooler days, but summer does have a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables to play with. Picnics can be thrown together with some string cheese or other cheeses, crackers and baguette slices, carrots and red pepper slices and celery sticks and zucchini sticks for veggies, plus bunches of ripe grapes, succulent sweet strawberries, blueberries to eat by the handful and cool, crunch slices of juicy watermelon...seed spitting is optional.

This is also the season of one of my favorite fruits, peaches.

This week my local market had ripe white peaches for a reasonable price...irresistible. For a backyard picnic at a relative's (Happy 5th Anniversary A&J!) my contribution was a basket of these cute four inch individual peach pies. They went fast!

The dough is easy and handles well. It is one I found on Peabody's new blog, Northwest Noshings. Do visit it if you haven't already. She gives a delicious glimpse of some of the iconic foods of the Northwest area of the U.S. and places to eat them. She used this dough for the crust of a yummy Salmon Pie. Go there to get the pie dough recipe.

Now this dough isn't low calorie, but it is flaky and delicate and very tasty. Fresh, ripe, juicy white peaches are a real treat but the pastry was just as much of a treat to eat. Together they were magical! I even added a sprinkle of crystal sugar to the finished little pies for sparkle and crunch. You could also make these little pies with yellow peaches, plums, cherries, blueberries, get the idea.

It was fairly warm in the kitchen as I worked, so I returned the dough to the 'fridge often to keep it cool enough to roll and cut and handle. The crimping of the edges after they were sealed was done with a regular dinner fork.

If you make these, be prepared for them to be the favorite dessert at your picnic...they even aced out the brownies I made (which I'll blog about later) and they went well with watermelon wedges, too. Make the dough at least an hour before you bake the pies to give it a change to chill thoroughly.

Individual White Peach Pies with Peabody's Crust

1 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Dough from Northwest Noshings (see above for link), chilled

4 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated (if possible) nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons half and half or cream
About 2 tablespoons crystal sugar

On lightly flour surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out half of the pie dough. The dough might be sticky, so flip it over about half way through rolling and sprinkle on a little more flour if needed. Using a 4 inch cutter or small plate, cut 12 discs of dough. Place them, with at least an inch of space between the discs, on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Mix the peaches, flour, nutmeg, and sugar together to blend, mixing gently so as not to bruise the peaches. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture int he middle of each dough disc, mounding it a bit int he center. (See photo below for approximate amount.) Run a moistened finger around the edge of the dough disc up to the mound of peaches. Chill while rolling out the rest of the dough.

Roll out the remainder of the dough and cut 12 more discs, re-rolling the scraps as necessary.
Place a disc on top of the mound of peaches and seal edges of dough disc to bottom dough disc. Flute with dinner knife tines to seal. Repeat until all twelve mini pies have been made and sealed.

Brush top of each pie lightly with half and half or cream and sprinkle lightly with crystal sugar (optional).

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for about 20 minutes, reversing pans top to bottom and front to back about half way through baking. Pies should be golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.

Peabody's Cream Cheese Pie Crust 2 cups all-purpose flour 8 ounce cream cheese, softened but still cool 2 sticks(8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
In a mixer, combine all ingredients and mix on medium-low until it forms a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Serving size - one per person.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Taking Apart Shortcakes for a Birthday

If anyone should be given a dessert for her birthday, it's Peabody. Her blog, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, has inspired hundreds of others to bake sweets and bake often. Sugar, butter and cream are no strangers to her. If you don't believe me, go check out her blog!
As she has mentioned in a comment on this very blog, I'm a nut about birthdays. That's my excuse for this post :)

I've been wanting to make madeleines for a while and it became a very strong urge once I had a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From my home to yours, as inspiration. Last week I finally purchased a madeleine pan and today I'm making Classic Madeleines from another Dorie book, Paris Sweets. These tender cookies are actually like little cakes. They have the distinctive shell shape and a sweet, buttery flavor with a bit of zing from the citrus zests I used. Next time I'll probably use a little less batter. Sweetie had a hard time to not eat every last one of them. They were that good.

Since it's berry season, and since madeleines are really just tiny sponge cakes, today's dessert is a deconstruction of Strawberry Shortcake. If you don't have strawberries, look for ripe seasonal berries. This would also be good with raspberries, blueberries, ollalaberries, marionberries, get the idea. I used locally grown strawberries that were so ripe they were almost falling apart. When it's strawberry season, you have to have shortcake (or something like it) with lots of whipped cream, at least once.

    Here is how to make Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake:

  1. Bake the madeleines using the recipe below or your favorite madeleine recipe. I used both lemon and lime zest to go with the berries.

  2. Take a pint of fresh strawberries, wash and hull them, then slice in half if small or slice in 1/4 inch slices if larger. If not really ripe, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar, stir, and let sit for 10 -15 minutes. Save a few good looking strawberries for garnish.

  3. Whip some heavy cream with a little sugar until soft peaks form. ) I started with about a cup of whipping cream) Divide in half. Fold the strawberries into half. Put the rest into a piping bag with a star tip.

  4. In dessert bowls or wine glasses, spoon a generous portion of the cream and berry mixture. Take 4 mini madeleines or two large ones and push them down into the cream and berry mixture. Garnish each serving with a whoosh of piped whipped cream and one strawberry on top. (This can be refrigerated for a short time, but is better served right away.)

    Classic Madeleines
    From Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan, adapted from patisserie Lerch

    ¾ cup all-purpose flour
    ½ teaspoon double-acting baking powder
    2 large eggs, at room temperature
    ½ cup sugar
    Grated zest of one lemon (I used zest from half a lemon and two key limes)
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    5 tablespoons (2 ½ ounces), unsalted butter, melted and cooled

    Sift together the flour and baking powder and keep close at hand. Working in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until they thicken and lighten in color, 2 – 4 minutes. Beat in the citrus zest and vanilla. Switch to a large rubber spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably longer – chilling helps the batter develop its characteristic crown, known as the hump or bump. (The batter can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)

    Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If your Madeleine pan is NOT nonstick, generously butter it, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. If the pan is nonstick, you still might want to give it an insurance coating of butter and flour. If it is silicone, do nothing. No matter what kind of pan you have, place it on a baking sheet for easy transportability.

    Divide the batter among the molds, filling them almost to the top. Don’t worry about smoothing the batter; it will even out as it bakes.

    Bake large madeleines for 11 – 13 minutes, small ones for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden and spring back when touched. Pull the pan from the oven and remove the cookies either by rapping the pan against the counter (the madeleines should drop out) or gently running a butter knife around the edges of the cookies. Allow them to cool on a cooling rack .They can be served ever so slightly warm or at room temperature.

    Never keep them more than a day (although stale ones can be dunked in tea), but do store them when cooled in an airtight container. Since the batter will keep in the fridge a few days, the best bet is to freshly bake the number of cookies you will need, then bake some more the next day to enjoy.

    Happy Birthday Peabody! Hope this year is the best ever for you. Elle