Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cherry Macaroon Tart


Yes, another cherry tart recipe. You gotta make hay while the sun shines, right? Unlike strawberries, cherries are only good and cheap for a few weeks. Now's the time, so get pitting. And quit your whining about stained cuticles - the grocery store sells latex gloves, ya big baby.

I'm really not much for cherry pie, Billy Boy. (Did I just give you an ear worm? You're welcome!) Fruit pies seem so wet when compared with cake, the world's most perfect food. But I saw a similar recipe to this one on 101 Cookbooks, and I knew I had to tinker with it. I wound up with something chewy and crunchy, which I love. I'll probably give it another look around Passover, since macaroons are an essential ingredient in our weeklong anti-cleanse. But I digress...


Cherry Macaroon Tart
3/4 pound red cherries (340g)
1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
5 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut, divided (14oz bag, 395g)
1/4 cup brown sugar (45g)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (105g), melted
2 large egg whites (70g)

9" tart pan with removable bottom


Preheat oven to 350° (325° convection), and spray the tart pan. Stir together the butter, flour, brown sugar, salt and 1 cup (80g) of coconut. Knead it into a ball, then press into tart pan and up sides. The crust won't be perfect, but what in this life is? Bake for 15 minutes while you get on with slicing the cherries in half and removing the pits.


If you are the cautious type, you may want to bake your tart on a tray in case heavenforbid it should leak onto the oven floor and fill your kitchen with smoke. Last week, I was the uncautious type, and I dropped a pie crust on the floor as I was taking it out of the oven without a tray to bolster it. That was bad.

Mix the coconut and egg whites together, then blob them on the crust with the cherries. I know that blob is an inelegant way to phrase it, but don't mash the coconut down into a flat mass. It should have lots of bumps with cherries peaking through. Like this.


Bake for 35-40 minutes, depending on how brown you like it. Cool completely on rack, then slide onto serving platter.

Serves 6-8, depending on how much your guests like coconut.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

White Cherry Almond Tart


I know a food blogger is supposed to treat the local farmer's market like a temple, making weekly obeisance and great sacrifices of cash. And I kinda do feel that way. My mother did push my stroller to the very first weekend of the Waverly Market in Baltimore. There are lots of other markets in this city, but that one is my market.

But, also, too ...


Ranier Cherries are here! And by here, I mean in my supermarket. They came all the way across the country on a refrigerated truck. If I were actually Listening to the Food, these cherries would be saying, "We don't belong here. Eat Maryland and Pennsylvania Cherries. You stink."

But I can't help it - they're just the best!

Of course I bought ten pounds. Nine of them survived the car ride home from the store. (Does spitting the pits out the window count as littering? Just asking for a friend.)

The untouched red cherries from last week are also giving me a guilt trip every time I open the fridge. Yeah, I got a lot of issues with fruit. But, while the Ranier Cherries are here, I will eat them at every meal.

I don't care! I love it!

These cherries are too perfect to bake, so I used them raw in a tart. Don't pit them more than a couple of hours in advance, or they'll brown.


Almond Crust
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (180g)
1/2 cup almond meal (50g)
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (65g)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter
1 large egg

10-12" tart pan with removable bottom

In a food processor, pulse the flour, almond meal, sugar and salt several times to combine. Add the butter in a dozen chunks, then blitz the mixture to crumbs. Throw in the egg, then run the machine for about 20 seconds until the dough comes together into a ball. Press into a flat disk between two sheets of wax paper, and place in the freezer for ten minutes to firm up.

Spray tart pan with cooking spray, then press the dough into it to form a crust. I dip the bottom of my measuring cup in flour and use it to ease the dough up the sides of the pan. Use a fork to "dock" the crust, that is poke it several times to prevent it swelling with air bubbles. Freeze solid for at least two hours.

When crust is cool, spray a piece of foil with oil, then press the greased side against the crust. Take extreme care to make a tight fit in the corners and up the sides, which will prevent your crust shrinking. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes to brown slightly. The almonds make the crust very crunchy, so you can fill the tart several hours before serving and not worry about it getting soggy.


Pretty pie crust, no? This is the one I dropped on the floor taking it out of the oven. I made another one, but it wasn't quite as pretty. I was a little distracted inventing new swear words. Bake this on a rimmed cookie sheet, even if it's marginally more difficult to wash than a flat one.


Pastry Cream
1 1/4 cup milk (300ml)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar (50g)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (20g)
1 tablespoon flour (10g)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 lbs cherries, preferably Ranier

Heat milk in medium saucepan until steaming.Whisk yolks and sugar together, then add cornstarch and flour and beat smooth. Temper eggs by adding a few teaspoons of hot milk at a time, then repeating until the eggs and milk can be combined without producing lumps of scrambled eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and whisk constantly over low heat until cream simmers and thickens substantially, about two minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and almond extract . If you have lumps that don't want to whisk out, strain the cream before chilling. (I always tell myself that these are just air bubbles. This is always a lie.) Decant to glass dish, cover with plastic wrap to prevent skin, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use.


Pit cherries just before assembling tart, to minimize browning. Fill tart with cream and smooth with a spatula. Pile cherries on top and refrigerate for at least twenty minutes to firm up.

This one was saying, "Eat me now."



So, I did.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Preserved Lemons


When my husband and I were dating, before we created people who require restaurants where The Game is on, we used to go to a little Indian place downtown. It was practically underground, and I guess they were aiming for mood lighting. As we waited for our pupils to dilate, they brought us poppadoms and an amazing red condiment. It was briny chunks of red something which the waitress just called "lemon pickle." I'm sure that stuff came out of an industrial-sized jar along with the coriander and tamarind sauces, but we devoured it. Since then, I've bought a lot of jars labeled Lemon Pickle, but they all tasted like kerosene.


Weirdly enough, it was a recipe in an Israeli cookbook that got me the closest. If you love salty, sour, spicy foods, Balaboosta by Einat Admony is the book for you. I played around with her recipe a bit, taking out some salt, adding more pepper. Now I use these lemons to perk up a sandwich, dress a chicken, or in salsas. And if you add chopped onions, it tastes just like the "Lemon Pickle" in the dark restaurants of my youth. Yes, this recipe does take three months to complete. But I've been waiting 15 years to find it.

Namaste and L'Chayim!


Preserved Lemons
1/3 cup kosher salt (90g)
2 tablespoons sugar (30g)
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (5g)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (5g)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
7-8 medium lemons
2 bay leaves

1 liter jar, wide mouth


In a bowl, stir together the salt, sugar, coriander, pepper, turmeric and paprika. Scrub the lemons and slice into wedges, removing the stems and seeds. Pour half the salt mixture in the bottom of the jar, then pack the lemons in tightly all the way to the top. As you go, squeeze each wedge slightly to begin releasing the juice. Slide the bay leaves in, then top with the rest of the salt mixture. Add water just to fill in the air pockets, then seal the jar and write the date on top. (You really think you'll remember without marking it? Girl, please!)

At first, the salt will collect at the bottom of the jar, but don't worry. Within a month, the liquid will thicken as the pectin breaks down. I think the jar is pretty, so I store it on a shelf in my kitchen. Wherever you put it (not the fridge), give it a shake every day or two. In 90 days, you'll have preserved lemons. Enjoy them as a briny condiment, peels and all.

Or make Pistachio Lemon Salsa.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Strawberry Lavender Cake


I'm not really a Lavender Lover.

Okay, that sounds like a float in the Pride Parade. But the taste of lavender has always reminded me of my granddad's aftershave. Mmmmmm, Old Spice.

On the other hand, how many chocolate cakes can a girl make? No mas!

Must.
Bake.
Something.
Else.

So, inspired by this gorgeous Strawberry Lavender Buttermilk Cake from the Sweetapolita blog, I designed my own version. One day I'll actually follow a recipe.

But not today.

This cake isn't difficult, but it does have a few extra steps that can't be skipped. Making the concentrated strawberry puree is tedious, but if you just use pureed berries, your frosting will be thin and flavorless. And you can hardly complain about the extra thirty seconds it takes to infuse the lavender into cream, ya whiner.


Strawberry Puree
12 oz bag frozen strawberries
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
infinite patience


Buttermilk Cake
4 whole eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (345g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon (20g) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5g) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cold


Lavender Frosting and Filling
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried culinary lavander
2 fresh egg whites
1 teaspoon dried egg white powder (optional)
1/3 cup light corn syrup (100g)
3 tablespoons strawberry puree
pinch of table salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar (260g)
purple gel coloring (optional)
1 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced 1/4" thick


Strawberry Puree
(adapted from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum)
  1. Defrost the strawberries completely, then rough chop them. Take care not to puree them, since you want to strain out the juice without allowing chunks of strawberry through. 
  2. Place the berry bits in a fine-mesh strainer over a small saucepan, and use the flat bottom of a spoon or gravy ladle to push out the juice. This is a major pain in the neck, which will take about ten minutes. Sorry about that.
  3. When you've extracted as much juice as possible, put the mashed berries aside and heat the saucepan over a medium flame. Reduce the juice by 3/4, until it is a bright-red syrup. If you feel inclined to skim the foam, knock yourself out. (I never feel so inclined.)
  4. Add the fruit and lemon juice back to the reduced syrup, then puree with a stick or upright blender. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Buttermilk Cake
(adapted from the Sweetapolita Blog)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (325° convection). In a measuring cup with a spout, lightly whisk the eggs, yolks, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, and the vanilla.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer set to low speed, add the cold butter half a tablespoon at a time, mixing for a few seconds after each addition. Continue mixing on low speed until all of the butter has been blended and the mixture has the texture of cornmeal.
  3. Add the remaining buttermilk to the dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the egg mixture, then increase speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Gently scrape the sides again and fold in any stray un-mixed ingredients.
  4. Spray-flour three 8" or 9" cake pans, then divide the batter evenly between them. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, rotating the pans occasionally to ensure even cooking. Try to pull the cakes out at that magical moment when they are set in the middle, but haven't pulled away from the sides of the pan yet. If you miss, don't sweat it.
  5. Rest cakes for five minutes before inverting to cool on a rack.

Lavender Frosting and Filling
  1. In a glass bowl, microwave the cream with the lavender for 20 seconds on high. Set aside to steep while preparing the frosting.
  2. Using the mixer's whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, egg white powder, and salt on medium speed until frothy. Add two tablespoons of the sugar and kick the mixer up to high, beating until soft peaks form.
  3. Meanwhile, stir the remaining sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for a full minute, then remove from the stove. In several additions, pour the hot sugar syrup into the meringue, beating after every addition. 
  4. When all the syrup is in, turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for several minutes until the bowl cools to room temperature. One tablespoon at a time, add the soft butter to the meringue, beating well after each addition. 
  5. Beat in one cup of powdered sugar to stiffen the mixture. Strain the lavender cream to remove the herbs, then add it to the frosting with the vanilla, salt, and strawberry puree. Beat in the wet ingredients, then finish with the remaining cup of powdered sugar. 
  6. If using gel coloring, beat in a few drops now to achieve your desired hue.

Assembling Cake
  1. Trim cakes to make the tops level.
  2. Cover the bottom cake with a layer of strawberries, then spread approximately 1/2 cup of frosting over. Repeat with middle cake, then cover with top cake.
  3. Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting over cakes, filling in the space between layers and poking in any escaping berries. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to allow the frosting to set up.
  4. When cake is slightly hardened, apply a smooth coat of frosting and any decorations. Store in the fridge and eat within two days. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Matzah Balls


In the past, I used the matzah ball recipe lovingly handed down to me from my grandmother.

I used a mix. Two eggs, two tablespoons of oil, slice open the envelope of meal.

Don't judge! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof.

I did try several times to make matzah balls from scratch, but they always turned out terrible. Which is probably why my Bubbe relied on that trusty box from Manischewitz.


I have two theories on this.
  1. The Streitz-Manischewitz Conspiracy: All the recipes were designed to failed spectacularly. They were just trying to ensure our perpetual dependence on the boxed mix.
  2. Life Was Hard in the Old Country: The recipes are actually trying to make dense golfballs, replicating the hard matzah balls our foremothers made in Eastern Europe.
I will admit to a third possibility: I am just incompetent. 

This year, I wound up with six pounds of matzah meal left after Passover. I used it as breading for chicken, but that tasted like sawdust. So, I've been making a lot of matzah balls golfballs. I tried several recipes, and Claudia Roden's was the worst! Which I wouldn't mention, except she so clearly disdains Ashkenazi cooking. Anyway...


What worked for me was somewhere in the neighborhood of Ina Garten's recipe. Hers called for schmaltz, and if you're going to make it, I've got a tub of the stuff in the back of my fridge and you are welcome to it! That s*** is never getting eaten. But I used canola oil, and made some other changes, and these were even better than the mix. Go know!

Matzah Balls
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley minced (optional)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons matzah meal


Beat the egg whites stiff in a medium-sized bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together yolks, water, oil, parsley and salt. Stir matzah meal into yolk mixture, then fold in the whites. Dump it all back in the smaller bowl to save space, then refrigerate for at least two hours so that it firms up.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and lay a piece of wax paper on the counter next to it. Scoop the matzah ball batter in tablespoon-sized blobs onto the wax paper. With wet hands, roll them into balls and drop them into the boiling water. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 90 minutes, until they are quite tender.


Leave the matzah balls in the hot water until you are ready to serve them in hot chicken or vegetable soup. Garnish with dill or parsley, if that's how your family does it. (Sometimes I get the stink-eye for putting green stuff in ours.)

If you are making your matzah balls ahead or storing leftovers, save a little of the cooking water and refrigerate them in it. Never reheat matzah balls by warming them in the chicken soup, or you'll end up with cloudy soup and misshapen dumplings.

They say that chicken soup is good for what ails you, and I believe them. Gezuntz!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies




Have you tried these? It's the new craze! All the kids are doing it.

Okay, I know you know how to make chocolate chip cookies. You've been making the old, reliable recipe on the back of the yellow bag of chips since you were a kid. Yeah, me, too. (Do you think the original 1938 tollhouse cookies called for 12 ounces of chocolate? I have my doubts.)

I've tried dozens of  "Ultimate" chocolate chip cookie recipes. Most of them seem like an exercise in cramming more fat and sugar into something that was pretty tasty in the first place. How many sticks of butter can a batch of cookies hold without turning into a puddle? A lot. Should you brown the butter? Umm, no. Can you improve dessert by adding more fiber? Gag.

My go-to formula is adapted from Jacques Torres' recipe published in the New York Times. It made me realize that the key was in the technique, not the ingredients. Namely, you have to
  1. Let the dough sit in the fridge for a day to develop a malt-y flavor;
  2. Freeze the dough in pre-formed balls;
  3. Bake the cookies while the dough is still frozen; and
  4. Take out the cookies when they are still wet in the cracks, i.e. grossly undercooked.
This requires you to plan ahead by two days, but there it is. On the flip side, you can store the frozen dough balls and pull out a couple any time you want warm cookies. 

I always make these for teacher gifts at the end of the year. Pretty, no?


Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/2 sticks softened butter (285g)
1 1/4 cups brown sugar (280g)
1 cup granulate sugar (195g)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (480g)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (310g)

With the mixer's paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and beat in the eggs, then the vanilla and salt. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients. Stir the chocolate chips in by hand to avoid them getting broken. 

Cover the dough and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to develop the flavor. It helps to take the dough out of the fridge to soften up an hour before you plan to scoop it. If you forget, well, you'll get a workout. 


Portioning out cookies is much faster with a cookie scoop or disher. (Also, all the cookies are the size - TG!) For large cookies, I use a #20, which holds 3 tablespoons, or sometimes a #40 at 1 1/2 tablespoons. The #20 makes a giant cookie that your grandmother would likely have disapproved of, around 4 inches in diameter. Your kids will suffer no such scruple.

Guess which one he chose?

Line a tray with waxed paper and scoop out the dough. You can squeeze the whole batch onto one tray, since you won't be baking them on it. Freeze solid, and then either bag them up for baking when you get around to it, or place them five inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. (Yes, I know this recipe takes two days. Do you want chewy cookies or not?)


Bake at 325 until the edges just start to brown and they are still wet in the cracks. Approximately 18 minutes for giant cookies, 12 for normal-sized. Remove from the oven and rest on the pan for three minutes before cooling completely on a rack. Makes 24, or 48.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Brown Butter Cake wtih Butterscotch Frosting


Tomorrow is Shavuot, a Jewish holiday where we celebrate the gift of the Torah. For reasons not entirely clear, tradition holds that we must eat dairy on Shavuot. Which is a strange custom for a people who are largely lactose-intolerant, but you gotta do what you gotta do.


In the olden days, people ate cheese blintzes on Shavuot and considered it a treat. But that tradition seems to have gone the way of people who are excited for chopped liver. Nowadays, many Jews eat cheesecake on Shavuot. But I've been working on this butterscotch cake for a while, and it is dairy-licious. So, for a new Shavuot tradition, try Brown Butter Butterscotch Frosting. And take a Lactaid first!



Butterscotch Sauce
1/3 cup butter (90g)
1 packed cup brown sugar (225g)
1 cup heavy cream (240ml)
1 tablespoon whisky (15g)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (7g)
pinch of kosher salt

Brown Butter Cake
1 cup milk (240ml)
4 tablespoons butter (60g)
4 eggs
2 cups sugar (400g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10g)
2 cups all-purpose flour (190g)
2 teaspoons baking powder (10g)
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Butterscotch Frosting
1 cup butterscotch sauce
1 1/2 cups cold whipping cream (360ml)

Decoration
Chocolate Butterscotch Balls (optional)
Sliced almonds (optional)


For the Butterscotch Sauce:
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mixture begins to pull together like taffy, whisk in 1/4 cup of the cream. Add remaining cream, and bring back to a simmer for another 8-10 minutes, until the mixture is thicker and slightly darkened. Remove from the burner and let the sauce sit for ten minutes to cool. Then add the vanilla, salt and whiskey. Refrigerate until completely cold before using in the frosting.



For the Brown Butter Cake:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then continue cooking for about five more minutes. First it will foam, then splutter a bit, then the milk solids will cook out into little brown dots. Before the dots get black, add the milk and heat it until it's almost but not quite boiling. While you're seeing to the milk, beat eggs in the mixer with the whisk attachment on high for two minutes, then add sugar and beat for another two minutes.

Decant the hot milk and butter back in the measuring cup and add the vanilla to it. (Or pour it directly from the pan, and slop half of it down the side of the bowl - up to you.) With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the milk into the eggs. Kick it up the speed a bit to fully incorporate. Whisk salt and baking powder into the flour, then gently beat them into the batter. Use baking spray to grease two 8- or 9-inch pans, or three of the 7-inchers that are the skinny jeans of baking blogs. (Peer pressure made me do it.) Bake at 350 (325 convection) for 20-30 minutes, depending on your pan configuration.


For the Butterscotch Whipped Cream Frosting:
Beat cold butterscotch and cream together for several minutes until thick but not lumpy. This stuff is divine, and you may have a fair amount leftover. Try not to eat it all immediately with a spoon, especially if you are baking for Shavuot, because dairy is probably not your friend!

Assembly:
Use a serrated knife to level your cakes - I always regret skipping this step! Line the edges of your cake plate with waxed paper, and . . .


Nope. Not going to tell you about how the frosting goes between the layers. I feel confident that you've eaten a cake before! I will say that you can smooth out the sides and top by dipping your offset spatula into a glass of hot water, quickly drying it off on a towel, and then running it over the frosting. Rinse and repeat until your OCD impulses dissipate.

You can decorate with almonds or candies. Or just leave it plain and drizzle with the leftover butterscotch sauce. A spiral design is also cool.


Cake adapted from The New Basics, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
Frosting adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.