Posts tagged baking

A Rustic Fruit Dessert

Usually after a prolonged absence from the blog I take a few minutes to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. Well, this time is different, as I don’t have any excuses or stories to share. The simple and short explanation is that I got lazy, swept up in the easygoing vibe of summertime. I pushed the blog to the back burner and spent some quality time at the beach, computer be gone. But one look at the piles of fresh peaches and plums at the farmers’ market near my office last week quickly changed my attitude. The multiple baskets of tender stone fruit, bursting with their sweet, sticky juices, instantly awakened my urge for cooking, and yes, blogging.

cake

I knew exactly what I wanted to make with this summertime bounty. During one of those relaxing afternoons at the beach (as I sat under an umbrella with my toes buried in the sand, of course) I came across a gorgeous-looking recipe for a stone fruit tea cake in Gourmet magazine. Published from a new cookbook called Rustic Fruit Desserts, this recipe seemed perfect for me and this sunniest of seasons: simple, forgiving, and filled with ripe fruit. 

The key to this recipe is in the dough. Instead of a traditional pie dough, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and eggs are combined into a loose, almost cream-like mixture. No rolling or painful dough transport required here, as I carefully spread half of the sticky dough into an even layer across my tart pan. After tossing the peaches and plums on top, I dropped the remaining dough in tablespoon-size pieces across the mounds of fruit, wherever I found room. This liquidy batter doesn’t follow any rules, but that’s what being “rustic” is all about, right? A sprinkle of brown sugar, 40 minutes in the oven, and my cake emerged. Bits of pink plums and orange peaches peeked through browned cushions of cake, promising a sweet taste of the season.

slice

I brought the cake to a barbecue over the weekend, and all I can say is that if the rest of the recipes in Rustic Fruit Desserts are this good, then I have to run out and buy the book. Every bite revealed the inherent luscious nature of the fresh fruit, while the surrounding cake was light and airy in its own right. The recipe suggests serving this dessert with a dollop of cream, but we didn’t bother. Oh, and if you can’t tell, you don’t need to serve tea with this tea cake either. It is perfect on its own.

I didn’t change the recipe (except for substituting a sprinkling of turbinado sugar with brown sugar before baking), so I am not reprinting it here. You can access it in the August 2009 issue of Gourmet, on Gourmet’s website, or in the new cookbook Rustic Fruit Desserts.

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The Tart That Changed Everything

blueberrytart

A few months ago I made a firm and definitive statement on this blog: I don’t like yogurt. I told you how throughout my entire life I had attempted to make my peace with this sour dairy product by mixing it with granola or fruit, but to no avail. I simply hated it.

Well, today I am here to openly recant my anti-yogurt diatribe. I’d bow my head in shame except I’m so happy about my recent conversion I can’t hide it. And it’s all because last weekend I made Food & Wine’s glorious Honeyed Yogurt and Blueberry Tart. A smooth sea of honey-enhanced yogurt nestled in an electrically spicy graham cracker crust and dotted with plump, fresh berries has finally vanquished my yogurt-related negativity.

You may be asking why I would even attempt to make Food & Wine’s tart, given my professed aversion to the contents of its cool and creamy center. Honestly, I made this dessert because the recipe looked easy. All it requires is a quick whir of graham crackers, candied ginger, salt, sugar, and one egg white in the food processor. After being shaped into a tart pan, the crust is baked for a mere 20 minutes. (Actually, next time I think I will bake the crust for a few minutes less, as it was slightly overcooked and too crisp after 20 minutes.) The whole process takes less than half an hour and the crust can even be prepared the day before you plan to serve the dessert.

After mixing a few tablespoons of honey into the yogurt, spread the mixture into the cooled baked shell and top it with the blueberries. The slightly sweetened yet still tangy yogurt is perfectly complemented by the ginger-spiced crust and fresh berries. As I cautiously tasted my first bite, for once I was not overwhelmed by the sour flavors I usually associate with yogurt. It may have been the addition of honey that made the difference, or perhaps it was the powerful crust. Whatever the reason, I can’t wait to make it again when blueberries are actually in season. Try this tart. I promise, it will change everything.

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Cooking with Yogurt: More Than a Snack in a Cup

muffins

As a teenager, I would browse through the shelves at the supermarket, picking out cups of yogurt infused with my favorite fruits. I’d get home, open a container, maybe mix in some granola. As I raised a spoonful of the creamy mixture to my mouth I’d think, this is it…I’m going to love yogurt.

Nope, it never happened. There was something about yogurt’s sour taste that always made me grimace and recoil from the container after a few bites. I knew it was full of healthy stuff like protein, calcium, and vitamin B. But no matter how hard I tried, I failed to make my peace with it and it has never been a regular part of my diet.

Recently, though, I’ve discovered that I enjoy the effect of yogurt in baked goods. It adds extra moisture and tenderness to muffins and cakes, and can be used as a substitute for high-fat ingredients such as sour cream. Best of all, its sour aftertaste is camouflaged by whatever I am baking it into. I’ve even used yogurt as a binder in meatballs with successful results.

Over the weekend I made Food & Wine’s Spiced Yogurt Muffins. In place of the low-fat yogurt called for in the recipe, I used skyr, a thick, non-fat yogurt that is actually Iceland’s most popular snack. Perhaps because of the thicker nature of the skyr, the muffins came out a bit denser than I expected. No matter, as they still retained the soft, spongy texture that I had been looking forward to; they were positively squeezable. Cinnamon, allspice, clove, and nutmeg combined with a bit of applesauce to create muffins as comforting as hot apple cider on a cold winter day.

I see infinite possibilities for these muffins: Next time I make them I think I’ll add some chopped walnuts, and perhaps I’ll substitute some whole wheat flour in with the white. Whatever I decide to do, I’m sure the yogurt will make everything taste great. I have finally found yogurt-related peace.

 Recipe for Spiced Yogurt Muffins (adapted from November 2008’s Food & Wine magazine)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups plain low-fat yogurt or non-fat Norwegian skyr
  • 4 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners. (Food & Wine suggests spraying the cups with vegetable oil. I skipped this step, and once the muffins cooled, I didn’t have a problem removing the muffins from the liners.)

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, clove, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk all of the ingredients together. Break up any large clumps of brown sugar with a fork.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, butter, applesauce, and vanilla. Gradually add the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients until just blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Fill each cup halfway, as the contents will rise a bit during baking. Sprinkle the granulated sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg over the muffins. Bake for 18 minutes. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy!

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Hiding Behind Dessert: Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Let’s face it, things are a mess right now. The economy is in shambles, our leaders can’t agree on a solution, and the world is basically in chaos. Plus, have I mentioned that the sun hasn’t come out since last week?

As the rain poured down on Sunday I decided to cook my way back into cheer and comfort. I started with a recipe for Lemon Olive Oil Cake, reprinted on Serious Eats from the new cookbook Olives and Oranges. Even a cursory look through the Artichoke Heart archives will prove my culinary affection for the powerful pairing of olive oil and lemons. Whether featured in a rice salad or fried zucchini flowers, these Mediterranean staples are the embodiment of sunshine and happiness. I bet even Wall Street would agree.

My obsession with this dessert actually dates back a few weeks. I first saw a version of it in the September issue of Food & Wine, which included a gorgeous photograph and recipe for Olive Oil-Thyme Cake with Figs. But my enthusiasm quickly waned when I saw that the recipe required both pastry and bread flour and came with a long page of instructions. I’m not lazy or cheap, but I just didn’t feel like investing in two different kinds of baking flour when I don’t bake very often. (I also didn’t feel like carrying home a ton of ingredients from the grocery store. OK, so maybe I am a little lazy.)

A week or so later I came across the simplified recipe for Lemon Olive Oil cake on Serious Eats. Except for a springform pan, I already had all the ingredients and tools I needed at home. All I had to do was pull that darn mixer out from under the sink, combine the ingredients together, and my simple, Italian-inspired dessert was ready in an hour.

Now, that piece of cake in the photograph above may look like a bland little poundcake, but oh my, does it make up in flavor what it lacks in appearance. The combination of good quality, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon rind, and tangy whole-milk yogurt creates a simple yet explosive dessert that emits sunshine with every slice. I’ve been eating it for dessert after dinner and for breakfast all week, hiding from the front page news behind its soft, spongy texture and satisfying crumb. Believe me, it works. I feel better already.

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Sunshine, Cobwebs, and Baked Orrechiette

I thought I’d let you know that I’m determined to get past my writer’s block and general food malaise. Last weekend’s gorgeous weather actually inspired me to get off the couch and think about writing again. Focus, clarity, and blogging seemed to be within my grasp, and I looked for a new recipe to help bring everything together.

I can never resist a baked pasta dish; there’s something about the mix of melted cheese, tomato sauce, and chewy pasta that hits the spot and lifts my spirits every time. So as soon as I received this month’s Food & Wine and saw this recipe for Baked Orrechiette with Pork Sugo, I folded down the page and vowed to make it as soon as possible. In my mind it promised to be a more elegant version of my beloved Baked Ziti with Spicy Sausage recipe, and we all know I could use a little more class in my life.

As the sun shined through my kitchen window on Sunday afternoon, I chopped celery, carrots, and garlic. Next I browned the pork in my Dutch oven and added the vegetables, tomatoes, red wine, and chicken stock before allowing it all to simmer slowly for a couple of hours. After cooking a batch of orrechiette and grating some Parmesan cheese, I threw everything into a baking dish and then into the oven.

As I proudly pulled the pan from the oven thirty-five minutes later, it hit me: I completely forgot to add onion to the sauce. I guess sunshine isn’t enough to clear the cobwebs from my brain. I swear I read through the recipe several times before I started cooking, but somehow the word “onion” never registered with me.

Sigh. Obviously I’m not over this nasty bout of block yet. And since I forgot an essential ingredient in this dish I’m reluctant to pass judgment on it. The salty cheese, rustic shredded pork, and vegetables mixed with one of my favorite pasta varieties indeed provided me with the comfort I was seeking. But clarity and focus? I think I still have a ways to go.

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Good-bye Summer

Sorry I’ve been so slow about posting this week, but I think I’m in denial that summer is over. I shouldn’t be so shocked, considering that it starts and ends the same way every year: Around the 4th of July it seems like the languid months of July and August will last forever. And then, just a few weeks later, Labor Day abruptly (and rather rudely, I might add) signals the end of beach parties and backyard barbeques.

So as I think back to how I celebrated the beginning of summer, I’m surprised at how similar it was to its farewell. On our nation’s holiday I whipped up Cook’s Illustrated’s buttery, crumbly Blueberry Buckle, while I prepared Food & Wine’s slightly less buttery Spoon Cake with Peaches for summer’s closure.

There’s no need to pit these fruity confections against each other; both admirably celebrated summer and its seasonal produce. Cook’s blueberry cake was chock-full of luscious berries from one end to the other, and the few remaining leftovers were enjoyed at breakfast the next day. Likewise, my family and I devoured the sweet, juicy peaches supporting Food & Wine’s spongy spoon cake during our Labor Day get-together.

As you can see, both desserts were winners in this head-to-head comparison. But now it’s time to say good-bye to summer and start dreaming about apples, pears, and pumpkins. Actually, now that I think about it, things could be a lot worse.

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Jamie Oliver’s Torta di Riso, with a Twist of Lemon

Ingredients for Jamie Oliver’s Torta di Riso

Jim and I celebrated Easter at my parents’ house over the weekend. As noted in last week’s New York Times article about Easter desserts, many Italians prefer to buy their sweets at the pasticceria rather than bake them at home; my Italian-American family is no different. So I figured that while my mother was busy making her traditional dish of lamb, peas, and eggs, I would add a homemade touch to our dessert options.

(By the way, that lamb dish is a family secret. I promised my mother I wouldn’t share it, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with this tart.)

I turned to Jamie’s Italy and settled on the torta di riso, a sort of rice custard tart flavored with vanilla and orange zest. With its ingredients of Arborio rice, milk, and citrus, it reminded me of the Easter desserts discussed in the Times. At Jim’s request I decided to flavor the filling with lemon instead of orange zest, which made the tart seem even more Easter-appropriate.

While preparing the filling, I was surprised at how similar the process was to making risotto. Instead of slowly adding meat or vegetable broth and stirring the Arborio rice until it absorbed the liquid, for this dessert I poured milk into the pot while the rice simmered. The recipe recommends taking the pot off the heat while the mixture is still quite liquidy, with the milk becoming slowly absorbed by the rice as it cools.

A slice of the torta di riso

My torta di riso emerged from the oven as a smooth, serene sea of lemon goodness. Topped with fresh whipped cream, the tart emitted subtle citrus flavors combined with the texture of silky rice. Should I admit that we ate the torta on Saturday night instead of on Easter? We just couldn’t wait. That’s another characteristic of my Italian family: We love to eat.

Recipe for Easter Torta di Riso (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy)

  • 1 shortcrust pastry, baked until just browned in an 11-inch tart tin with a removable bottom (I followed the recipe on page 279 of Jamie’s Italy. It produces a very sweet, flaky crust, and takes about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. If you use this recipe, make sure to roll the crust out very thin; I always forget, causing it to come out a little too thick after baking.)

For the filling:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 vanilla beans, sliced in half
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • zest of 3 1/2 lemons
  • 1 wineglass of white wine (about 3/4 of a cup of wine)
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the filling, melt the butter in a high-sided pan at low heat. Remove the seeds from the vanilla beans, add them to the butter, and stir. Cook for 1 minute, then add the rice, granulated sugar, and lemon zest. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine. Stir until the wine has almost cooked away.

Slowly add the milk while continuing to stir the rice. Simmer the rice and milk mixture over low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes. Do not cook the rice all the way through, as it will continue to cook in the oven. It should still have some bite when you remove it from the heat, and the mixture will still be quite liquidy.

Allow the rice mixture to cool slightly. I noticed that at this point the rice absorbs much of the liquid. Mix in the whisked eggs. Pour the rice into the tart case, sprinkle it with powdered sugar, and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Cool. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Enjoy!

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