Monday, August 29, 2011

a peach revival

I haven't always loved peaches.  In fact, my memory of peaches is mostly one of gooey, sugary, caned glop.  And even after experiencing the wonders of a perfectly ripe fresh peach, I am sometimes still turned off by their fuzzy exterior and swear that from time to time they taste like nail polish.  That being said sometimes all you want to bake is pie...

and from time to time it just has to be peach, and a little nectarine, my favorite and highly underrated fruit.

 For the crust I used a recipe my sister sent me a few weeks ago, but it's been the standard pie crust in our house since the beginning of time.  Mid way through making the crust though, I realized that although I would say I've baked many a pie in my life, this was actually the first one I've baked without my sisters.  So while I have been witness to the backing of many many pies, I guess it's safe to say this is my first pie ever.  The recipe technically makes two pie crusts, but I found it was the perfect amount for a shell and a lattice top crust.  I also used a wine bottle instead of a rolling pin, which i don't own, so that may have something to do with my less then perfectly even crust.

For the filling I sliced peaches and nectarines and macerated them with a little lemon juice and maple syrup.  I would use regular sugar if you don't have good syrup (from Vermont it's the only real syrup there is really), but I recently had some house guests stay with me on their way through Seattle via Vermont, so I am putting maple syrup in everything these days. I mixed the fruit with some flour and then filled the pie shell.   Forewarning I wish I had strained the fruit a bit prior to baking.  There was a lot of liquid.  Also, the pie isn't all that sweet with the syrup, so if you are one for sweeter pies you could add some regular sugar to the filling as well.

I am of the belief that Maple Syrup is the best thing ever created by man.  This is maple syrup from the Irwin Family. You should get some if you are ever in Vermont.

Anyways, back to the pie.  Since I decided to bring my very first pie to work, and I work with a bunch of chefs, I got a lot of good feedback.  Par-baking or blind-baking especially with such a juicy pie would definitely be a good idea. Also, punching holes in the bottom crust also helps absorb some of the juices.  Obviously you can't par-bake the latice top, but that bakes quickly, and is only really necessary if you are like me and love the way it looks.  Letting the crust rest is important too.   Lastly, something that I did do on my own accord, right before baking coat your crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. I like Turbinado, but think brown sugar would also be great.   In the end though even a bunch of chefs appreciate a simple peach pie, especially after a long day at work.

Crust:  (makes a double crust) 
2 cups flour 
1 stick butter 
salt (pinch)
2-4 tablespoons cold water 

3 large peaches 
3 large nectarines 
1/3 cup maple syrup 
sugar to taste 
juice from one lemon 

For someone who isn't always a fan of peaches, I want to bake this pie over and over again...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sometimes upside down is right side up...

Or maybe, it's that from time to time the only way to move forward is to change directions.  This latest creation is a testament to science, birthdays, and the fact that things often don't turn out as planned. Sometimes they turn out even better...

I guess I am still shocked this cake turned out at all. The cake itself is rather simple, however as requested by my roommate who's birthday was on Friday, it needed to be gluten free.  As a general eating rule, I am not a fan of gluten free baked goods (unless it's a macaroon), and I assumed with good reason that I would also not be a fan of baking with gluten free products.  I get it I swear, but cake is cake, and it's hard to imagine it made out of garbanzo beans.

Therefore, to disguise the gluten-free nature of this birthday cake, I wanted something moist, dense, and covered with carmel sauce.  After playing with the idea of lavender for some time, another taste I usually dislike in baked goods as it is more often than not too soapy, I landed upon a gluten free version of the lemon yogurt cake I made a few weeks ago.

I consulted the blog gluten-free goddess  as she seems to be the expert on all things delicious and gluten free, however it is essentially the same recipe I used from Smitten Kitchen, but with gluten free baking powder and blanched almond meal. If like me you are also obsessed with with cakes in bundt pans, remember to double the recipe.

The real fun started after the cake came out of the oven.   When using a bundt pan I always flour the bottom before baking, however, since flour was out of the question I decided to forgo the flouring and see what happened.  Bad idea. After some amount of patience, loosening, tapping, and tricks there was no denying that the cake was stuck to the bottom. I managed to keep the sides in tack but after finally extracting it from the pan I was left with two cracked halves of cake.  Lesson for the day on patience: don't do the first thing that comes to mind when deciding how to save your cake. Do the second.

My first thought was to take the cake halves, crumble them and make a bread pudding of sorts with the Jalapeno Lavender Carmel Sauce. But, what kind of birthday cake would that be? So, after taking a few breaths and talking myself down from the ledge, I landed upon plan B, or I suppose plan C.

Step 1.  Flip your cake upside down and perforate the bottom with small holes. Step 2.  Heat in a double boiler one entire jar of Jalapeno Lavender Carmel Sauce. I used Hot Cakes, a local Seattle Company, or you can make your own.  Once the sauce is thinned out pour it over the cake and use a pastry brush to coat/ form a tasty edible glue to hold together your broken cake.  Step 3. Sprinkle cake with powdered sugar. Step 4.  Open your fridge and find some pretty looking fruit. Anything will do, but I used a mixture of plums and nectarines.  I think berries would be nice as well, but I like the half moon look of nectarine slices.  Step 5. Sing Happy Birthday.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A week in Review

I'd like to say it's been a crazy week. But really it's been a lot of this...
lounging cups of coffee

Raspberry Oat Birthday Scones (Happy Birthday Marley!) 

                                                  Macaroons for breakfast yum...

and this...

and let me please introduce you to my new houseplant....


I suppose it has been a busy week after all....

Monday, August 15, 2011

I am not a patient person...

There I said it. I am, very often, not in the least bit patient.  Rephrase. I am not patient when it comes to baking.  I am enthralled by the idea of spontaneous baking. The type of baking that involves early mornings, aprons, last minute house guests, and the kind of recipe you've made so often you don't even need to reference the tattered hand-written recipe card. And while this past week did include whipping up a batch of banana bread at 6:30 in the morning, I am starting to realize that somethings are just worth the wait. Some cookies are worth the wait. Specifically,  these cookies are worth the wait...

I have baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my life.  I have also baked a lot of not so great chocolate chip cookies.  Luckily for me, my father is an ardent lover of all things sweet and homemade and easily impressed. He also doesn't discriminate between chewy and crunchy (and I mean burnt) which is great because I have been know, in the past, to be easily distracted in the middle of baking. I have to say now that I live on the other side of the country these cookies may just be worth a plane ride.

Just maybe.  In fact, in the time it takes to prepare these cookies, you could leave Vermont, drive to New York, hop on a plane, arrive in Seattle, jump on the light rail, catch the 5, and arrive at my doorstep just in time for gooey-fresh-baked cookies. Just saying...

Here's the thing with this particular cookie recipe. THEY TAKE 36 HOURS TO REST.  That is a long time. It's a long time for cookies. It's a long time for me. Furthermore, it really shoots my romantic notion of spontaneous baking in the proverbial foot.  However, rather than find another recipe I am resolved to redefining my definition of spontaneity.

Things to know about these cookies: 1. You should really just read the article PERFECTION? HINT because it is well written, detailed, and full of little chocolate chip cookie trivia. 2.  Be patient. Don't bake them right away. But, if we are being honest,  I only made it 30 hours... 3. I used a mix of semi-sweet choc chips and crumbled 60% chocolate. I like the variety in texture the combination gives, but I would like to try a batch with the recommended chocolate disks. If only for the fact that I like some consistency.  4. Don't forget the Seat Salt. I did until I had baked off almost the entire batch of dough. While it was tragic, somewhat salvageable, and yummy nonetheless, I suggest a good sprinkling of sea salt just prior to placing them in the oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
New York Times 

2 cups (minus 2 tablespoons) Cake flour
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1.4 light brown sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate choc chunks, chips, or disks

Sift together dry ingredients, whisk, and set aside.  Cream sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time. Mix.  Stir in Vanilla. Add in dry ingredients. It will get messy, flour will most likely go everywhere, and will definitely poof up in your face. Get ready.  Add in chocolate pieces, cover tightly, and place in fridge for 24 to 36 hours.  If you forget about it, which you won't I promise, or if you want to bake in batches, which you may, the dough will stay fresh for 72 hours in the fridge.  Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350 for 18 to 20  minutes on parchment paper. Cool. Eat as you will.

I happened to bring this particular batch to a dinner that included fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, and watermelon.  I'd say that's about right!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Homage three times

Things you should know about my latest recipe:
1. It is mostly made up, or at the very least highly adapted from any real recipe
2. It was a complete accident
3. It pays tribute to 2 places and 1 person

 So here goes. Last night I went to the Corson Building in Georgetown for their Sunday dinner seating.  It was ridiculous. To start, the space is beautiful. It's simple, rustic, and charmingly elegant despite the fact it's tucked away underneath the freeway and right next to the airport.  Even despite a few roaring planes careening overhead a bit too close for comfort, dinning on their back patio-garden is like being transported to a hunting-lodge-family-estate-domestic-dream-house in the middle of France.  Well maybe it's just my dream house, but the country touches like distressed wood, vintage fox hunting wall paper in the bathrooms (I died), and bone handled knives from Paris work so well together I felt far far away from Seattle, WA.

We ate outside on long wooden bench tables and the weather was one of those oh-my-god-why-would-i-live-anywhere-else-the-winter-isn't-so-bad Seattle days.  Everything from the happy-hour cocktail, Limoux with Nasturtium syrup, to the Orvieto from Italy with dessert was exactly what I wanted without even knowing it.  The food was my kind of food. Simple, fresh, and rustic.  The courses: pork rillet, raw beet and heirloom tomato salad, oil cured Tuna and salted zucchini salad, roasted quail (my first time eating quail!) with chanterelles, emmer and radicchio salad, and of course the dessert that inspired it all.

 Since this is a blog about sweets and things I suppose I should tell you about this dessert.  DESSERT. While always my favorite part of any meal, I was a bit nervous that I could possibly eat another bite of anything that would satisfy me more than my last bite. Who was a kidding?  It's dessert. Dessert at the Corson Building.  How many times can I say that? A lot...

Here we go: Shortbread, lemon curd, and blueberries.  In harmony with the rest of the meal, the final course was uncomplicated, effortless, and quite provincial in texture and plating. It of course delighted my sweet tooth and only augmented my love of both lemon and the Corson Building.

 So as you know, I love lemon. What I love most though is lemon curd. Seriously, I could (and will only somewhat shamefully) lick it off the plate/bowl/whatever.   After the first bite I knew there was absolutely no way I could not make lemon curd today.

So lemon curd check. Homage number one check.  Next comes the cookie part of this adventure.  This past weekend I went to Cafe Besalu, my second favorite Seattle bakery. While I often prefer Besalu's savory dishes to their sweets (I almost don't believe it myself) they always have some variation of a cornmeal cookie that melds sweet and savory together in a delightfully chewy and crunchy bite.  I took two things from that visit. 1. I should really try to make Croissants sometime and  2. i need to make cornmeal cookies now.  From that my dream of lemon, thyme, cornmeal cookies was born.

Cookies check.  Or so I thought.  This leads me to my final cookie homage. Mike, the produce vendor at WholeFoods Westlake.  I know it is their job and all to be helpful and resourceful (I used to work there in fact), but Mike is awesome.  I am brining Mike a cookie.  After unsuccesfully locating yellow cornmeal, Mike suggested I try blue cornmeal, which he gave me as a sample.  Although I would have happily paid, especially considering how well these cookies turned out,  I really appreciate free things. I also really appreciate excellent customer service.  Thank you Mike. Seriously, the blue corn is subtle and gives the cookie an earthy stone ground kind of feel. Yum....

Lemon-Thyme-Blue Cornmeal Cookies 

1 cup flour
1/3 cup blue cornmeal. DON'T use yellow. I promise it's worth it
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons soft butter
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (heaping) lemon zest
1 tablespoon (heaping) chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 350. Combine first four dry ingredients. Add in lemon zest and thyme, whisk together, and set aside. In separate bowl cream sugar, butter, and lemon juice together until fluffy. Add in egg. Combine dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir till just combined.  Roll dough into small 1 inch balls. These cookies will spread out A LOT. So if you want even, round, cookies for eating or for making into lemon curd cookie sandwiches then air on the side of really really small.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden brown I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper, which worked well. Cool.

This part is optional.  Making lemon curd for me is never not an option if I can find a reason for it and I usually can, however, I made some lemon curd cookies and left some plain for snacking.  The lemon curd itself is powerful, so you loose the subtle thyme flavor of the cookie. For the curd I used a recipe from Joy of Baking and stuck to the recipe.  I may have snuck a bit more lemon in there, actually, but I really don't think it needed it.

After the cookies and curd are completely cool. I layered two cookies with a smear of lemon curd and pressed them together like little macaroons.  Some of my cookies were small enough (batches 2 and 3 out of the oven) however my first sheet to go into the oven were enormous and oddly shaped. I used a cookie cutter to cut rounds out of the larger cookies to make the little sandwiches.  That seemed the best method for making small, consistent, soft cookie-curd-wiches.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bundt pans make it better

Truth: bundt pans make everything better.  At the very least, baking in a bundt pan will make everything you bake look and taste better too.  The combination of the soft peaked ridges and elegant edges  have the capacity to turn ordinary cakes and breads into something equally whimsical and rustic.  The perfect combination of lady-like charm and hunting-lodge tea snacks.

 Ok, use your imagination on this one. Pretend, like me, you know anything about hunting-lodges and then pretend it is a magically rustic yet well kept place that would indeed serve tea snacks.  The excitement of my latest baking endeavor has transported me into a make-believe world in which I wear a lot of lace, eat tea snacks, and go pheasant hunting. Role with it.  While that particular day dream is pretty unlikely, the possibility that I will now start baking everything in my new bundt pans is a certainty.  I am obsessed.  


So, after purchasing said mini-bundt pans at GoodWill last week, it seemed only fitting I find something to fill them with.  You will undoubtably start to notice that I am also in love with lemons. Everything about them. Color, zest, juice, smell, all of it, I love.  Hence, I decided to whip up a batch of lemon yogurt cake and because I also wanted to give them a rustic east-coast vibe, I used Maple Cream Yogurt in place of plain whole milk yogurt.  Very New England. Very Yum.

I used a base recipe from Smitten Kitchen, however I believe the recipe originated with Ina Garten.  I made some adjustments: omitting blueberries, substituting maple yogurt, using a bundt pan over a loaf pan, and doubling the amount of lemon zest. I really like lemony things. Really.

These cakes are moist. I mean really moist, as in sponge like, could (and should) be used to sop up any remaining lemon glaze and powdered sugar.

Lemon-Maple Yogurt Cakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Ina Garten 
( 350 50 min)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
2 cups maple whole milk yogurt 
                                                                 1 cup sugar 
                                                                 3 eggs 
                                                                 3-4 teaspoons grated lemon zest approx. 3 lemons 
                                                                1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
                                                                1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 

Voila! Whimsy meets country living.

You may recognize this picture. If you don't look up....
I am really that into these pans I changed the blog tittle to fit this picture, so get used to seeing these. They aren't going anywhere anytime soon!

While the cakes cooled I brought honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest to a boil on the stove top. After using a bbq skewer to puncture small holes in the cakes, I poured and brushed them with the glaze, giving them that much more lemony flavor and moisture.  Finally, I dusted them with powered sugar.   Both batches were completely cooked, however, I personally prefer the look of the slightly darker ones.  They look a bit more gobble worthy.

Plus. I can't stop taking pictures of them...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bananas, Breakfast, and other wise words

The most vivid childhood memory I have of my mother is the vision of her in the kitchen. Despite the fact she was a fabulous cook and baker (I will surely share some of her recipes, namely German Chocolate cake and Rhubarb Dream Bars) my favorite image of her is not one in which she is stationed in front of the stove, oven, or counter.  Instead, I picture her most clearly eating a bowl of Cheerios and sliced bananas as the early morning sun pierced through the large bay windows of our kitchen.  I swear she must have eaten that same breakfast every morning of her life. The simplicity and beauty of her morning routine translated perfectly into the kind of woman she was.  Everything she did, including my annual German Chocolate Birthday Cake, in the kitchen was simple, homemade, and full of love.

I feel the need to preface this post with the fact that I have never really been a huge banana fan. I eat them if they are still green, but the moment I see a brown speck any volition I had when I bought them goes out the window.  Also, I am not sure if anyone else feels this way, but I often find that no matter the size there is always just a little too much banana?  Plus, who likes the end part anyway?

As you may imagine I have frozen my fair share of brown speckled bananas, all with the intention of creating something new from their soft and mushy inwards. I have tried it all. Banana ice cream. Frozen bananas and chocolate. Bananas instead of eggs in cookies.  Banana ice cream take two (it is obviously crucial to freeze the bananas before blending and not after).  However, as ashamed as I am to say it,  the freezer was the last place many of these on-their-way bananas ever saw. That is, the last place before hitting the compost.  Oddly enough, I am not sure how or why the idea of banana bread has escaped me for so long, but rest assured it's back and back with an attitude.  While the warm, dark, gooey, moist bread was somewhat of a staple in our house as a child (my grandmother was always brining it over in chunks with other half-opened containers of unwanted food she was assured we would eat) the bread I've experimented with the past few days is definitely not your grandmother's banana bread.

It took me two attempts  and some investigative work compiling the best things about several recipes to get it where I wanted it.   The original inspiration came from a recipe from (guess who) Molly Weinberg for bread that incorporated chocolate chips and candied ginger.  Banana bread with a punch, if you will. A punch that turned into a powerful roundhouse after some adaptations. While the first loaf was good, it was a little too dry and lacked that rich gooey baked banana-ness.   Round 2 included an extra egg, 2 more mashed bananas, and some yogurt. Here's what I landed upon:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 chopped dark chocolate bar ( I like Theo)
  •  chopped ginger (to taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 cup well-stirred yogurt (I wouldn't use nonfat but I only had low-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The verdict?

The additional wet ingredients and the extra bananas made for a much denser and gooier bread that tasted particularly delicious fresh out of the oven.

I added the eggs, yogurt, and smashed bananas together in one bowl. Mixed the flour, sugar, etc. and then combined the wet with the dry. The dough and final product were much lighter than the banana breads of my youth, however. I wonder how one gets a darker, more carmelized loaf? Is it the bananas? The flour?

The best part of baking items with longer bake times?

1. The time forces me to clean as I wait and 2. it gives me time to make juice.  Mostly the second reason though.  My latest juice related obsession is different incarnations of carrot juice.  A type of juice I believe on its own is often insufferable, but I've been told will make you live forever.  Words of wisdom.  This weeks creation: Carrot, ginger, lemon (lots of it), and peach.