Thursday, December 4, 2008

Jewels and other things that dazzle. . .

This Thanksgiving was unusually lovely for me, I hope that it was likewise for you. If somehow it wasn't, may I recommend a lovely tart to cure whatever leftover stings and bruises you may have? If somehow it was, you should try the tart anyway, because as Mae West famously said, too much of a good thing can be wonderful.

Here's something heart wrenching; I made this tart for someone else to take to their dinner. I presented some simple and sweet Pumpkin Pies at the dinner that I attended, but I selflessly gave this little beauty to my mother to bestow on her hosts (who were different from my own.)

Well, not entirely selflessly. I demanded at least a slice in return. Of course not until the dinner was over so that the dessert could be presented grandly, that is to say in its entirety.

In the end, I was glad to wait until late that night to taste the fruits of my labor. It was the perfect bite to round out a surprisingly peaceful day, something I'd been looking forward to for nearly 48 hours at that point.

Alright, enough suspense. Lifted straight out of the 2008 Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet, the Prune Cherry and Apricot Frangipane tart is one that initially I passed over. Somehow it called to me on a second, time-killing browse through the issue. Thank goodness for the boredom that drives us to reread and issue already cast aside, because without it I doubt such perfection would have passed my lips this year.

The ingredients are stupidly simple, and the tart more than the sum of its parts. Little mesmerizing jewels, the cherries, prunes and apricots soak overnight in Grappa and a little sugar, plumping and becoming wholly seductive.

Something about making a tart in one of those pans with the removable bottoms inspires me to make my own crust, but I'm sure that you could buy one and stuff it into the pan and few would be the wiser. Use whatever recipe is your favorite if you decide to make your own, I made an all-butter crust and it was, shockingly enough, dreamy.

Whip up a pillowy Frangipane filling while the tart shell pre-bakes. Pressing the glittering, tipsy with Grappa fruits into the frangipane is pretty much one of the most enticing things I've done in my baking career, so you may want to allow a lot of time for it. Or you could be done in under 2 minutes. Your call.

Sip the remaining Grappa as the tart bakes, this is a must.

May it bring you comfort and joy. It certainly did me.

Prune, Cherry and Apricot Frangipane Tart

(From Gourmet, Nov. 2008)

2/3 cup Grappa (I used Clear Creek Fresh Oregon Muscat Grappa)
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup prunes
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots

7 oz almond paste
1/2 stick of softened butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/2 + tsp salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons flour

Chop up the prunes and apricots. Or use all cherries and skip the chopping.
Heat the Grappa and sugar in a pan over med-low heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit and simmer gently for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let it sit overnight. Stir now and then.

The next day, get your tart shell pressed into a round tart pan with a removable bottom. Prick it all over with a fork and bake the tart shell at 375 for about 15 minutes. Let it cool and work on the filling.

Beat the butter and almond paste together with the sugar, extract and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, and don't worry if it looks a little separated. Finally beat in the flour.

Pour the cloud-like mixture into the cool tart shells and press the strained jewels into it gently. Save the Grappa syrup that comes from straining.

Bake for 30 minutes at 375. It is done when puffed and just golden. Brush the hot tart with the Grappa Syrup. Impress your friends with your mad skills.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Big Night

Election night is finally upon us!

My fellow Americans, we have endured months and months of non-stop newsfeed not only from television, radio and newspapers, but also, and perhaps most tryingly, from those we hold most dear.

Not only have I seen and heard my very own friends and family become political junkies, I myself do not claim to have come through this election unscathed. I've chuckled at a Sarah Palin joke or five, I've got Obamagirl on my iPod. I'm only human.

If you've somehow missed my not-so-subliminal message I've been blaring thus far in todays post, here's what.

Thank the Lord this is over. Let's all have parties exactly like this post-- that is to say Absolutely Bubbling over with Champagne! Do everyone a solid and spring for the good stuff. We have more then earned it!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

when life gives you pumpkins. . .

I could hear the rain pouring this morning as I luxuriated in my bed, drinking up my day off in lazy sips of sleep. It was a glorious morning, quiet and peaceful down to my bones. Didn't have to be anywhere until 3, when I'd walk down and meet David when he finished work.

My walk was dreamy. The day had become crisp and bright in the aftermath of the morning shower and Flogging Molly reeled out of my iPod to put a good jaunt in my step.

David's foul mood threatened my flawless day, so I whisked myself off to the little French bakery near my house. It is always overrun with strollers and their pushers, ladies who mocha and the men who love them, not to mention scary Lance Armstrong wannabes. But today is charmed because it's just me and another scattered few right now. A perfect day to spend a little time with you, and gush a little about the pumpkiny fun I've been having.

Believe it or not, there are people who can refuse a slice of Pumpkin bread in Fall. I believe that people like this have likely developed said ability after being the victim of a Bad Slice. Bad Slices come from Bad Recipes, of which there seem to be many. Thankfully, I'm here today to bring you a Really Darn Good One.

Nothing smells so cozy as something pumpkin-pie-spiced baking slowly in the oven, as evidenced by the oodles of “Pumpkin Harvest”-ish candles that vie for shelf space at the very whisper of the first chill of autumn. Call me bonkers, but I always thought it more fun to actually BAKE something rather then light a candle and pretend so I have tried quite a few Pumpkin Breads in my day. Vegan Pumpkin bread, Alton Brown-hyper-analyzed-until-it's-no-fun Pumpkin Bread, Hippie whole wheat unrefined everything Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Bread with no leavening agent (accidental, but a trial nonetheless). Some were ok, others so gross they'd have turned a weaker person off pumpkin anything for good, but none were IT.

Then I met David, and in turn, his mother's recipe for Pumpkin Bread. THE recipe. Although it's taken me a little practice to recreate the ethereal perfection that David's mother effortlessly coaxes out of the simple recipe, I have no qualms about sharing it with you. You can do it.

Just know, tempting though it may be, this cake will not turn out if you sleep walk through it's stupidly easy steps. I don't know how else to put it.

Pay attention to the harvest moon-colored batter as it splashes around in your mixing bowls. Make flirtatious googly eyes at it as you ripple it into the baking pan. It may take a little practice but you'll be well rewarded.

I sat munching away at a freshly baked loaf this past Sunday with some of my best girlfriends, we all agreed there was magic in the way indiscretions of the night before were gently melted away by its spicy goodness. Come to think of it, if your Halloweens are anything like mine, this is just the thing to have around the house for the after party. . .

Here's the recipe, I hope it brings you plenty of warmth in the cold days ahead. . .


3 1/2 cups Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 cups sugar
1 cup Oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned Pumpkin

Combine all the ingredients and beat for 3 minutes in a electric mixer. Pour into 2 medium sized loaf pans or 1 10 inch tube pan that are greased and floured.

Bake 1 hour (or more, usually it takes a little longer but I'd give it a poke at 1 hour).

Cool 10 minutes and then invert on the cooling rack. Some people like it with a little cream cheese frosting, but I prefer a good slather of butter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

a piece of cake

Here's what I love. Champagne.

Here's what I hate. The word 'foodie'.

In case you couldn't tell, I am a complete rookie when it comes to blogging. My previous post was a case of testing the waters, of testing myself, too. Food is what I want to think about and work with in my life, and I am a really lucky girl because since graduating from college, I've found a couple of tasty ways to make it my day job.

In college I tried my hand at writing about food for the college paper, eventually having my own weekly column and becoming the Big Fancy Editor of the A&E section. Now, I spend my days with my hands deep in chocolaty goodness, which is an all out pleasure, but my mind needs a little exercise beyond converting ml to grams or imagining a new way to pair up chocolate and peanut butter (suggestions on that especially burning question are welcome, by the way). So here I am, jumping on the blog train at last, better late than never.

Clarity comes to me when my hands are busy pouring, whisking, rolling out. Like so many others, the kitchen is my shrink's office. Food only happens as quickly as it happens, only bakes as fast as it needs to bake. It demands that I listen to something other than the noise of the day; mustard seeds popping, jam simmering, ice crunching, chocolate bars snapping. Baking is my go-to therapy, but I have been known to try a thing or two on the savory side as well. No doubt I'll write a bit about bars and restaurants here too, because I live for a great night out. I love food and the meaning that it has in our lives, the memory is carries. 'Foodie' is a contender for Word Most Likely to Make Me Vomit (followed closely by 'classy, but that's another story). Now my lovely and very appreciated readers, enough about me.

So that's my story, that's why I'm here. I hope that this blog will be a juicy pleasure to read and write. In the spirit of laying all my cards on the table, I'm offering up a recipe that I've become rather known for in my circle and has thus become a real part of my culinary identity. It's a SUPER chocolaty layer cake and really, is there a more pure joy than making a layer cake for someone? I think not! Breezy to throw together, and gloriously tolerant of a night in the fridge, this is the most requested thing I have ever made-- at least 6 times in the last year, one of which was for a wedding, which totally counts for at least 5 more. Be prepared for that oh-so-awesome feeling of flattery when someone asks for your magical cake on their birthday, as though only you hold the key to taste bud bliss.

Resist the urge to tell them how easy it is, and bask in the glow of adoration and chocolate-induced euphoria. This cake is absolutely moist, full of buttermilk and oil and even hot black coffee, which you use to melt 3 oz of the best dark chocolate you are willing to bake with ( I used Ecuadorian 71% from Chocovic.)

Good cocoa powder is important too, as fully 1 1/2 cups of the stuff give the cake much of it's chocolaty depth. A Kitchen Aide is useful as always, but the cake can be mixed up pretty easily without it, which is always a bonus if you happen to be in the mood for a little therapeutic old-fashioned whisking, which I find is often the reason I'm baking in the first place.

The icing on the cake is quite literally a chocolate ganache, which is the only tricky part. There is nothing to be afriad of , but I have changed this recipe a bit because I don't think that the version from Gourmet is as simple or as good as it can be, so I hope that will make this potentially intimidating step simple. It can be helpful now to have a friend around because you'll want someone to help you lick the bowl. . .

. . .or not.

Without further ado, here goes! Enjoy and thanks for reading!
For Cake Layers
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot coffee
3 cups of sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetend cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
For Ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb good dark chocolate

Make Cake Layers
Preheat oven to 300F. Grease pans and line them with wax paper.

Chop up the chocolate super fine and pour the hot coffee over it. Let stand, stir occasionally.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat eggs with an electric mixer until thick and lemony looking (about 3 mins.). Drizzle in oil, buttermilk, vanilla and lastly the coffee-chocolate mixture. Beat until well mixed.

Add the sugar mixture and mix until just combined. Divide between the two pans and bake for 1 hour.

Cool the layers, and when they are cool, invert them on the rack. They can be made 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. I like to give them a good chill before I frost them.

For Ganache:

Chop up the 1lb of chocolate into very small pieces and put in a nice big bowl. Heat the cream in a saute pan to just boiling. Remove from heat and pour it quickly over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit at least 30 seconds until the chocolate seems soft.
Using an immersion blender, emulsify the cream into the chocolate. It is important not to over-mix, and to do this quickly, moving the blender in clockwise circles and trying not to incorporate any air.
It is good to stop mixing as soon as it appears uniformly smooth. Chill it a little, and frost the cake when you think that the ganache is at a good spreading consistancy. Last but not least, be sure to serve with lots of bubbly to some good party people.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

promising. . .

Tonight is looking very, very sweet, thanks to a little inspiration from last months Gourmet and the irresistible bounty of chantrelles. Mushrooms two ways with poached eggs and of course a Pearl Bakery baguette to chew on. Ultra-salty butter and a bottle of red from the south of France to absolutely send me over the moon.

This afternoon, I took a walk in the autumn sunshine down to see the crazy-knowledgeable wine guys at Liner & Elsen, a great wine shop near my house, and they nerded-out with me until we found the perfect wine for tonights dinner. It was a complete blast and left me with a jubilent feeling about the rest of the day. A bottle of wine and a cliffs-notes-esqe intro to the Languedoc all for the total bargian price of $11.50.

I practically skipped all the way to the co-op, where I loaded up on criminis and the aformentioned chantrelles. Lobster mushrooms tempted, but I resisted. I didn't want to totally blow the budget, and besides, there can always be mushroom risotto tomorrow.

I wasn't going to write today, I'm working on an "Officially Introducing Miranda" post for later in the week, but this dinner was just too good to keep to myself. I hope you are relishing this gorgeous September day as much as I am. Maybe I don't miss summer so much after all. . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

a very early morning, a very grey day

When I have a Sunday afternoon, and it is gray outside, nothing could be nicer than being asked to bring dessert to a dinner that night. Especially on a Sunday like today when I am the giddy new owner of "The Last Course" by Claudia Flemming. Page by precious page of real passion and detailed understanding, it is a book that demands the most of it's reader, and it's the most inspiring cookbook I've read in a good while.

Deep purple little flirts that they are, a small but promising mound of Italian prune plums caught my eye at our neighborhood shop the other day. I felt like there was something a little criminal about missing a chance to spend a little time with them, but I was doing simple shopping that day and resisted the urge to snatch them up. So, today, with dessert as my excuse to leaf again through Flemming's book, I happened upon her Italian Prune Plum Crisp and all at once everything fell into place. Those plump indigo beauties had a home and I had my dessert.

Though 2 1/4 pounds is a LOT of prune plums to pit, the pits are very agreeable and pop out without a fight. Quartered and sprinkled with a little sugar, they are gorgegous to behold and just begging for a crispy coat.

Let it be known that I am no a crisp aficianado, but I was surprised that the topping has no oatmeal. It's nuttiness and body come from ground walnuts, which sounded so much more luscious and rich than the toppings that I am used to. Anyway, with sugar, flour, cardamom, and plenty of melted butter, it's a breeze to toss together and its' really messy fun to spatter around the top.

Here's what it looks like! Oh, and welcome to my blog, we'll see how this goes. . . .