Sunday, August 31, 2008

Homecoming Dessert in the Land of St. Honore'

Return with me now to the Land of St. Honore’. It’s August and Amy is writing in her journal:

“Dear Diary,

I’m so excited I could spit! My brother came home from the war today. My sisters each made something for him. Mary made pot roast for dinner because he loved it as a boy. Annie made chocolate chip cookies because he loved them in his care packages. I didn’t know what to make, so I made a fancy dessert. I’d never made éclairs before, but they are actually pretty easy. The dough for the pastry is made in a pot at first and you do have to stir and stir, but then the mixer is used for adding the eggs. I piped out long sections of the choux paste…isn’t that a funny name?...on parchment paper lined pans, then put them in the freezer. When they were almost frozen I cut them into eclaire sized lengths. The hardest part was washing the pastry bag…that dough has a lot of buttah in it...heehee!

The pastry cream was sort of like making pudding. The hardest part was making the icing for the top. The recipe I used, from Pierre Herme’s, book, called for two things to be made for the sauce. It also made the kitchen a bit messy. Mary gave me a hard time about that, but I did clean everything up!

John really seemed to enjoy the éclairs. After dinner he asked me…ME…to take a walk with him! I guess it’s because I don’t talk too much. But he sure did a lot of talking after about the first block.

He said that the pot roast was good, but it reminded him of being a boy and he will never be a boy again. He said that the cookies were great, but they reminded him of his buddies still over there fighting, ‘cuz they always shared care packages. He misses them. He said that he is really, really glad to be home and that my éclairs were delicious, but also such a treat because they were a grown-up kind of dessert and something that you need to come home to enjoy…too delicate for shipping.

That made me feel really good. I told him I was so glad he was home and gave him a big hug! We walked back home and played Scrabble together for hours.” Amy

This wonderful dessert is brought to you as part of the monthly Daring Bakers challenge. Huge thanks go to Meeta of Whats for Lunch, Honey? and Tony of Olive Juice who chose this yummy recipe of Pierre Herme' s. There are literally hindreds of Daring Bakers who have posted their experience with the recipe and the results. Find them via the Daring Bakers blogroll.

My experience with this challenge wasn't the same as Amy's. I've been down with a summer cold, so there were a limited number made and the filling wasn't the recipe pastry cream. Still, a very yummy and elegant dessert. You can find the recipe below.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
2. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.

Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.

Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.

The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
3. Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.
1. The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)
1. Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
2. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
3. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.
1. If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
2. The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Cream Puff Dough
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
2. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
3. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.

You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
4. The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
1. Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2. You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.
2. Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3. Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
4. Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5. Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1. The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2. In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3. Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
1. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1. If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2. It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1. Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2. It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.
1. You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2. This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

One of the huge plus points about being in such a group is that there are so many experienced bakers out there, who are kind enough to give us a tip or two. The Daring Bakers Forum was full of extremely useful tips and tricks for this challenge. So I thought I would share them with you too. I thank everyone for sharing all your ideas, tips and tricks for this challenge.

Éclairs 101: Tips & Tricks: (Scroll up for recipe)
• Instead of piping individual éclairs, pipe one long line of dough on your baking tray line with parchment. Then freeze until almost firm, cut the éclairs, using a sharp knife, in the desired size. Place them in the oven and bake.
• It is important to let the choux pastry dough cool down a bit before you add the eggs. If eggs are added to a warm dough it causes the eggs to coagulate and the dough will not rise as required. If you are making the dough by hand, place a piece of plastic wrap and cover the surface so that the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the dough. Poke a few holes in it to allow the steam to escape.
If using an kitchen machine, place the paddle attachment and turn on to medium speed. Allow the dough to turn for a minute or so, cooling it down faster. Add the first egg, turn up the speed to high. This will bring down the temperature so that you can add the remaining eggs.
• Your éclairs deflate after you take them out of the oven
You are not baking them long enough. The instructions for the recipe indicates a total baking time for the éclairs to be 20 minutes, however, the first time I made these they deflated after I took them out of the oven. The second time I made the éclairs I baked them for 15 minutes longer and they were fine.
• Freezing éclairs - the éclair shells can be frozen unfilled and unglazed. Take them out and place them in a preheated oven at about 150 degrees C for a minute or two.
• How well do they hold up? Although the éclairs taste and look best when they are served fresh, you can place them in an airtight container and keep them in the refrigerator overnight. My tip here would be not to glaze them. Glaze them on the day you plan to serve them. This is due to the fact the glaze will loose its shine and the condensation trapped in the glaze will cause it to look speckled.
• If you do not have a pastry bag or the right sized tips - simply use a freezer bag and cut a corner the appropriate size and pipe the dough!
• Once the éclairs have baked, turn the oven of and allow the éclairs to cool in the cooling oven. This will help the éclairs hold up their shapes and give a crispier texture.
• Once you take the shells out of the oven, make small slits in the sides to release steam. Steam once cooled turns to water, which is the main reason why éclairs might turn soggy.

Monday, August 25, 2008


August might be a hot month in this area, but it is also the month when the harvest really starts to come in...corn, tomatoes, summer squash, pears, late blackberries, early apples, peppers, late strawberries and more. So many possible things to create with in the kitchen! Along with grilled zucchini, steamed corn on the cob, fruit salads, roasted peppers with onions and mushrooms (a great condiment with grilled sausages) and strawberries with yogurt and honey,

we have been having all manner of salads, but two stand out in recent days. Both are juicy!

The first is a fine plate of ripe, juicy, local tomatoes, lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and sprinkled with shreds of fresh basil. For those not allergic, it is the essence of summer.

The second was perfect for a warm summer evening. It's also great when you are busy (as I have been) because you put it together and marinate everything but the lettuce for a couple of days. What you get is a big bowl of cool shrimp, mixed with tangy red onions, juicy oranges, all of it flavored robustly with a zesty marinade that includes lemon, red wine vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed and the kick of some dried red pepper flakes. After I drained off the marinade, this wonderful mixture went into a bowl which I'd lined with the better part of a head of butter lettuce. This one should be served with plenty of napkins...messy but the best shrimp you'll ever taste. My thanks goes to my friend Pam, an excellent cook, who gave me the recipe.
Shrimp, Onion and Orange Salad can even go to a picnic if you make sure to keep the shrimp mixture good and cold.

Hands Down Best Shrimp Onion & Orange Salad
Based on a recipe from the New York Times Heritage Cookbook

1 large sweet red onion, halved, sliced thinly, and separated into half rings
1 ½ pounds shrimp – cooked, shelled and deveined (with tails left on)
4 oranges, peeled and sliced into wedges
1 ½ cup oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup wine vinegar
1/3 cup catsup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Bed of lettuce leaves (optional)

Combine onion rings, shrimp and orange wedges in a large glass or ceramic bowl (or large resealable bag).

Mix together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, catsup, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley. Pour over shrimp mixture and marinate 24-48 hours (48 hours is better!) in the refrigerator.

At serving time, drain off the marinade and serve the shrimp, onions and orange wedges. Looks nice served on a bed of lettuce, but for close friends just pile on a platter. (Include a small dish to hold the discarded tails.) Provide plenty of napkins. Serves 4 - 6

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Something New-ish

I was having lunch today with some women friends and one of them asked me how I manage to to so many things...blogging, working, watercolor, photography, P.E.O., constructions projects, cooking, baking, reading, gardening and my latest...golfing...which is the new-ish in the post title. I told her "Careful Scheduling". The truth is that I enjoy the hell out of so many things that I don't really have enough time to put into many of my I don't get really, really good at most of them. Still, life is too short, so I continue to pack in a lot of fun.

The golf came about because Sweetie wanted an activity we could do together that was fun and that required a little more exercise than plain walking (which I also do when I walk the dog 3-4 times a week). Due to my eye condition, I can't play sports where the ball is moving, so tennis, a favorite sport of Sweetie's, is out. Same for softball, baseball, basketball, handball, squash, badminton, and so on. Ever since Grandma L hurt herself so badly while cycling, he has been down on bicycle riding. He's not fond of water sports either. Guess we could still take up fencing or rock climbing :)

I find golf intriguing. Each swing is important. How you hold your body, how you move your wrist, the strength of the wind, the wetness of the grass...lots of things have a bearing on where and how the ball flies and where it lands and how many strokes lands it in the cup. In truth one is soon in competition with oneself, no matter who else you are playing with. I know that some people get frustrated, but (so far) I find it hilarious and true play in the best sense of the word. I played golf a long, long time ago, so that's why this isn't really new, just new-ish.

Another thing that is new-ish is happening at work. When we did the clinic on the same property, I helped to cook lunch three out of the six days. Now we are doing the clinic in the 'big city'. Last month I returned to work on Friday and made dinner from what was around in the kitchen so that the PT, doctor and PT assistant would have food fairly quickly. Friday is a late day. It was such a success that I'm making dinner for Thursday and Friday this month. Yesterday I agreed to make dinner for the doctor and a few of his friends each Tuesday. I'll get to take some of the food home for dinner with Sweetie and I'll blog about some of it, too. Sweet. On occasion work will be too busy to allow time to make dinner, but most weeks I'll get to play in that wonderful kitchen! And I'll get paid to do it. That's hard to beat.

Today's lunch was a pot luck. I offered to bring dessert. Looked through multiple cookbooks. Looked at bookmarked recipes. Just couldn't find the right thing to bring. And then I visited Laura Rebecca's Kitchen, always a fun place to visit, and saw the perfect dessert for a luncheon meant to be finger food...butter cookies dipped in dark chocolate. They are delicate and decadent and just right. I changed them a bit by making the cookies lemon flavored. The dark chocolate really brought out the lemon flavor. The dough is a bit sticky, so chilling the logs thoroughly is a must before slicing the cookies.

Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey is having one of her lovely mingles. For this one we are bringing dishes that included fruit and chocolate. If her guests enjoy these cookies as much as my lunch mates did, they will disappear fast.

Chocolate Dipped Lemon Butter Cookies adapted from a recipe from Laura Rebecca’s Kitchen which was
Adapted from a recipe originally published in Gourmet, Feb. 1999

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
zest of a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon lemon extract

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest, lemon extract and vanilla and beat until well combined. Gradually add flour mixture, beating just until mixture forms a dough.

Divide dough between 2 large sheets of parchment or wax paper and form each half into a 10- x 1 1/2-inch log, wrapping it in the paper, and sealing the wrapped logs in a zip top plastic bag. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 5 days. (Or, dough may be frozen up to 2 months.)

Let dough soften slightly before cutting (or, if frozen, thaw). Preheat oven to 375-degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place about 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before dipping in chocolate.

In a microwavable bowl, or in a double boiler top over simmering water, place 2-3 oz. finely chopped dark chocolate. If microwaving, do so a minute at a time at half (or less) power, stirring after each time, and only until chocolate has just melted. If there are tiny lumps left, let sit a minute, then stir…they should be gone. If using the double boiler, stir just until chocolate melts, then remove from heat.
Dip half of each cookie in the chocolate, then place on parchment paper until the chocolate hardens. You can use a spatula or knife to spread the chocolate a bit if you like. This amount of chocolate will do about half the batch. Use twice as much if you want all of the cookies dipped.

Store cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 5 days.

Yields about 50 cookies.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pear Season

Not only are the apples ripe early, but the pears are too. They are usually ready to be harvested (hard and green) in early September. If you let them turn golden on the tree you cut in to them and find that the inner part is browning and pasty in texture. Found that out the hard way our first year here. They do much better if you pick them green and let them ripen in a brown paper bag. Did that a week ago, so we now have a lot of ripe pears...the Bartlett variety.

Recently I found the site of the Pie Lady, Brittany. It's a great blog if you like to bake and she has some great recipes. Go check it out!! You'll be glad you did. Then come back and see what I did with her recipe.
One that caught my eye was for Buttermilk scones with fruit. This morning I decided that I'd make some Buttermilk Scones with Pears for dinner. I used her recipe to jump from, but made a lot of changes.

I like oatmeal a lot. Have it most mornings, cooked in the microwave. For the scones I decided to grind up some oatmeal to replace part of the flour. It adds a nutty taste and some good nutrients. Healthy eating and scones are not really partners, but there's nothing wrong with having some of the ingredients be nutritious. I replaced some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, too. The finished scones are darker that way, and sort of homey.

Sweetie loves molasses, so I decided to replace the sugar with molasses, except for a sprinkle on the tops for decoration. Having eaten the finished product, I think adding about 1/2 cup of sugar, plus the molasses, would have been better, so that's how I wrote up the recipe.

Pears go really well with almonds, so I included some almond extract. Buttermilk provides tang, butter and eggs do their thing well. Salt, baking powder and baking soda provide flavor and leavening. Pears and golden almonds provide the fruit.

The result is a light scone with great flavor, juicy bits of pear, chewy little raisins. If I were to do it again, I'd throw in some orange zest and/or finely chopped candied ginger for a little more pizazz. I might also put in a little more butter. These were more muffin like than scone like in texture. More fat might improve them and you can't beat the taste of real butter. i could have added it when I ate the scones, but I didn't. I did try some orange marmalade with them. It was a good combo.

Buttermilk Oat and Wheat Scones with Pears and Golden Raisins
Based loosely on Buttermilk Scones recipe by the Pie Lady, Brittany

1 egg (or ¼ cup egg substitute)
¼ cup molasses
½ teaspoon real vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups buttermilk

½ cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 ½ cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
6 oz. unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 cup fresh diced pears, peeled and cored first
1/3 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a measuring pitcher, whisk together the egg, molasses, vanilla, almond extract, and buttermilk. Put in the fridge while making the dry mix.

In the bowl of a food processor, whirl the rolled oats until a fairly fine flour is formed. Add the two flours, the sugar, the salt, the baking soda and the baking powder. Pulse to blend. Add the cold butter and pulse briefly until the mixture is crumbly. (Elle’s note: the butter almost disappears…that’s OK).

Put the dry mixture into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center, pour in the liquid mixture and with your hands or a spoon, stir until about half way incorporated. Add the diced pears and the raisins and continue to mix, just until the dry mix is incorporated. Don’t over mix.

Turn the batter out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently pat into a long rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 8 squares. Then, cut each square diagonally so you have 16 scones. Place on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet and sprinkle with some sugar if desired. I used crystal sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the scones are brown and firm to the touch. Remove to a rack to cool.
Serve warm or cold, split and spread with butter or lemon curd. Some orange marmalade goes well, too.

Jazz It Up: These scones would also be good with a few tablespoons finely diced crystallized ginger, and/or a tablespoons of orange zest.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer Morning with Fog

Summer hearabouts often means waking up to a gray day. It bothers some folks, but I love the fog. A foggy morning means the day won't get too hot, usually. It also means that I can bake something lovely for breakfast and the house will stay cool. Since ours is a solar home, with not central heat or airconditioning, we take that into consideration. A few days ago when the day broke with the sun heating things up right away, not only did I not bake, but we also shut the windows and kept what cool there was trapped in the downstairs. We have a concrete floor and that cools down overnight if we leave the windows open and the night cools down. We've been "green" that way for years, but it does take some getting used to and a little extra thought.

This morning seemed like the perfect time to make some fresh blueberry muffins. The blueberries were on sale at the store, I had bought buttermilk and my brother and a friend were visiting. It was likely that they would appreciate some home cooking since hotel food (and conference hotel food at that) had been their fare for days.

These muffins are so good and very simple. They go together quickly. Melt the butter first, so that it can cool a bit as you measure the dry ingredients and zest the lemon and prepare the blueberries. Blueberries do need to be picked over to remove any mushy ones and any little stems still attached, but even that is faster and easier than peeling and dicing peaches, which was my other choice.

Once baked, these muffins have a soft, tangy interior with juicy hot blueberries, a nice crust on the sides and top and just enough sweetness. Butter was on the table, but these didn't need any. Not a muffin was left by the time breakfast (which also included a fruit compote with lots of fresh melon, berries, and bannanas) was over. Having freshly made blueberry muffins is a great way to start the morning off. Now, where is that second cup of coffee?

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup sugar
Zest of ½ a lemon
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup blueberries, washed, drained, and picked over

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin. Set aside

On a piece of waxed paper, or in a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.

Rub together the sugar and the lemon zest and add the mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a fork to combine.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the buttermilk, egg, and butter. Add to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix with a few swift strokes, just until combined. Don’t over mix. Fold in the blueberries and immediately scoop the muffin batter into the prepared pan, dividing evenly among the cups.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 – 25 minutes, until tops are golden brown and a gentle push on the top has the top springing back.

Let cool 2 – 5 minute, then put into a basket lined with a kitchen towel, folding the towel over the muffins to keep them warm. Serve warm.

Makes 12 muffins

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Start of Apple Season

Although the true days of fall are still far off, in this area we start apple season in August with the Gravenstein apple. It is an old variety and doesn't store at all. A few days, maybe a week, then they begin to turn to mush.

The good news is that they are tart, delicious, and make wonderful baked apple dished since they get nice and almost gooey when they are cooked. Apple pies made with them are wonderful. Apple sauce is superb. For a very quick treat, an apple crisp made with Gravensteins can't be beat.

Although you certainly can make this dish with peeled apples, I left on the peel for ease of preparation (my focus was on the trim in the dining room that I was giving a fresh coat of paint, so time was at a premium), and because it keeps a lot of the nutrients in the dish. The maple syrup added sweetness in a mellow way, and the crisp benefited from the old fashioned rolled oats that I used. That kind seem to get crisper when baked than the quick cooking kind of oatmeal. Butter, raw brown sugar, flour and some cinnamon and allspice are the easy ingredients that combine with the oats for the topping. Try it topped with some vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. It's a late summer delight. Glad that apple season has begun.

Gravenstein Apple Crisp
serves 4-6

4 cups sliced apple - Gravensteins preferred, but any tart cooking apple will work
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, cold
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup raw brown sugar, or light brown sugar
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/8 teaspoon allspice

In a shallow cast iron skilled or shallow baking pan, mix the apples, syrup and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Spread the fruit out in the pan.

In a medium bowl, place the butter, cut into tablespoon sized pieces, the flour, brown sugar, and oats. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon and the allspice over all. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the remaining ingredients until well mixed. If you prefer, you can use you hands, although the results will be clumpier.

Distribute the crisp mixture over the fruit and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-20 minutes or until the fruit is cooked and juices bubble and the topping is golden brown and crisp.

Serve warm or cold. This dish is great with the addition of a scoop of ice cream, or frozen yogurt.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Stuffed with Summer Berries

Sweetie and I enjoyed a meal a few days ago at a restaurant that was once in Santa Rosa and is now in a roadhouse on the highway on the way to Bodega Bay. It's called Saint Rose, it's small (although bigger than Cafe Saint Rose was in Santa Rosa), and the food is simple.
Of course the most difficult thing to do is to create something so simple that it is sublime. They do that with seasonal foods, some from their own garden. The white corn soup was the essence of summer. The heirloom tomato salad was enhanced with just the right amount of balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil. The salmon was adorned with perfect roasted cherry tomatoes. The best dish however was the summer berry pudding.

I've read recipes for summer pudding over the years but never got around to making any. It's pretty simple...bread slices line a mold, the center is stuffed with berries and more bread and the mold is topped off with more bread. In some variations all of the berries are cooked with water and sugar, in some the berries are uncooked and a current jelly or apple jelly syrup holds them together. In some the bread is buttered and in some it's not.

After enjoying Saint Rose's version, I was inspired to try my hand at making a summer pudding. Since I only needed enough for three, I used a fairly narrow but deep bowl with straight sides as a mold. I lined it with the bread after removing the crusts, making sure to tightly fit the bread together across the bottom and up the sides.

In a pot I put a cup of fresh strawberries in 1/4 inch dice, and a cup of ripe blackberries fresh off the bushes down by the old garden. I added 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons sugar and let it simmer for 10 minutes and then cool a bit. If the berries weren't so ripe and sweet, I would have added more sugar. As I found out when we finally ate it, the Saint Rose version used more sugar. Both are good, so go for sugar to your taste.

Once the mixture had cooled a bit, I added another cup of sliced strawberries and another cup of blackberries, plus a cup of organic blueberries from a farm stand near Ross Station Road. They were plump and bursting with flavor. The Saint Rose version seemed to have used only blueberries and blackberries, both cooked a bit, but I wanted the flavors of all three. Having some of the berries uncooked gave it a sparkling flavor and a little more bite to the texture. Again, both were good, so you could easily cook all the berries, just keep the cooking time short.

Most of the berry mixture was spooned into the bread lined mold. I added another layer of bread about half way through, more of the berry mixture, then topped it off with a layer of bread.

The extra berry mixture went into a pint canning jar to be used for garnish.

The mold went into the 'fridge for a couple of hours, then I put a plate over the top and weighed it down with a large can of enchilada sauce (it was the largest can I had in the pantry) and put it back in the fridge overnight.

When it was time to serve, I slid a knife around the edge of the bowl, and turned the berry pudding out on a plate. There were a few places where the juices hadn't soaked all the way through. Those got a little dribble of the reserved extra berry mixture. Then I put some more berry mixture around the edge of the pudding to serve. It really was pretty with bread tinted a reddish purple and all the red and blue and purple colors of the berry mixture.

The pudding cut easily and held together pretty well. More of the sauce garnished the serving. A spoonful of whipped cream would have been the perfect addition if I'd had any.

It made a lovely dessert with the essence of summer berries. The bread had soaked up the juices and turned pudding like. The berries themselves were just sweet enough, but with a tang of tartness, perfect on a warm summer evening.

Stuffed with Berries Summer Pudding

about 1/2 loaf of fine textured bread, sliced, crusts removed
2 cups fresh, ripe strawberries, divided
2 cups fresh, ripe blackberries, divided
1 cup fresh, ripe blueberries
(Any combination of berries is fine - a larger amount would be needed if you are using a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan - probably 6 or 7 cups total)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoon to 1/2 cup taste
Whipped cream for garnish, if desired

Line the bottom and sides of a mold with tightly fitted pieces of the bread slices. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 cup strawberries, hulled and cut in 1/4 inch dice, and 1 cup blackberries, the water and the sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes to soften fruit and create a syrup. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (You could also simmer all of the fruit for the pudding if you prefer, let cool and then proceed to fill the mold.) Add the uncooked 1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced, the uncooked 1 cup blackberries and the uncooked 1 cup blueberries. Stir to combine.

Spoon one half the berry mixture into the prepared mold. Add another layer of bread, fitted to cover the berries. Spoon enough of the rest of the berry mixture to fill the mold, leaving enough space at the top for the last layer of bread. Fit that last layer of bread to completely cover the berry mixture. Place the mold in the refrigerator for two hours. Reserve any extra berry mixture for when you serve the pudding.

After two hours, remove the mold from the refrigerator. Place a plate that fits the top of the mold over the bread layer and weight it down with a heavy canned good. Return to the refrigerator and leave overnight.
To serve, run a knife around the sides of the mold to loosen the pudding. Place a serving plate over the mold and invert. If there are any spots where the juices didn't soak through the bread, spoon a little of the syrup of the reserved berry mixture over the spots.

Garnish with the extra berry mixture and whipped cream. Serve cold.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Stars and Strawberries

Last time I was at the local store that carries a gazillion variations of Bundt cake pans, I saw one with a pattern that has lots of stars. Couldn't resist. See the stars?

This morning the scholarship group met about a grant application, so I had the perfect reason to bake a bundt cake in my new pan. After lots of fun looking in this cookbook and that, I came back to one of the first that caught my eye...the Brown Sugar Bundt Cake in Dorie Greenspan's perfect book called Baking: from my home to yours. It has lots of brown sugar which makes the crust shiny and delicious with a little crunch. The cake is moist and dense but delicate at the same time. Buttermilk gives it tang and the buttah...ah the buttah..there is plenty of buttah.

A local farmer has been selling the most wonderful ripe, sweet and juicy strawberries. Sweetie bought three pint baskets on Wednesday, ate one for lunch with cheese, served us both the best part of another for Thursday breakfast, but left me one to bake with. Strawberries sounded like the perfect thing to put with this cake...and it was delicious, but the brown sugar overpowered the strawberries (perhaps I should have used light brown sugar??) so next time I'll use plums or a really assertive apple. I added the flour mixture to help keep them from sinking to the bottom of the pan and that's why I saved some for near the top of the pan, too. It mostly worked. There were berries throughout, although there was a band from the top that sank a lot, so maybe that wasn't the way to go. The lemon was a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the berries and the brown sugar. Next time I'll go with zest of a full lemon...especially with plums.

This cake barely had time to cool, much less sit overnight as Dorie suggests. It was a big hit with the P.E.O. women, and Sweetie was taken with it, too.

Brown Sugar Cake with Strawberries
A variation of Dorie Greenspan’s Brown Sugar Bundt Cake in Baking: from my home to yours

2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 0z.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups fresh, ripe strawberries, dice in ¼ inch dice
Zest of one half a lemon
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Juice of one lemon
Confectioners sugar (about 1 cup)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 – 10 inch (12 cup) Bundt or tube pan and dust the inside with flour & tap out the excess. Baker’s Joy nonstick spray works the best with Nordicware Bundt pans and lets you not do the flour part. If you have a silicone Bundt pan, don’t butter or flour it. Be sure to put the pan right on the oven rack…no baking pan underneath.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large mixing bowl (preferably with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape the beater and bowl well.

Put the strawberries and lemon zest and 1/3 cup of the flour mixture in a small bowl and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Add the flour in three additions and the buttermilk in two. Mix only until the ingredients are incorporated, scraping the bowl and beater as needed. With a rubber spatula gently stir in half the berry mixture. Scrape about 2/3 of the batter into the pan, then spread the rest of the berry mixture over the batter in the pan and top with the remaining batter. Smooth the top with the spatula.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 – 65 minutes, covering the top loosely with a foil tent if it looks like its browning too fast. Test for doneness by inserting a thin knife deep into the center of the cake..if it comes out clean it is done.

Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature on the rack

When cool, transfer to a serving plate. Stir together the lemon juice and enough confectioners sugar to make a nice glaze…not too thick. Drizzle the glaze over the cake, allowing it to pool in the Bundt indentations. Makes 12 servings.