Posts tagged sweets

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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Nunu Chocolates and a Bridal Shower

chocolatebox

A maid of honor has numerous responsibilities. Some are emotional, such as keeping the bride calm and radiant on one of the most special days of her life. Others are more practical, like making sure all of the other bridesmaids are wearing the same color shoes. (Yes, it really does matter.) But perhaps the most crucial maid of honor responsibility is hosting a kick-ass bridal shower. A few weeks ago, I threw one for my younger sister Melissa, who is getting married in August.

For the favors, I turned to Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates in Brooklyn. I knew these handmade chocolates, with their creative fillings and shapes, from tasting them at the Brooklyn Flea last year. Pringle opened her own shop on Atlantic Avenue a few months ago, and that’s where I met her to discuss the favors. Tall, blonde, and extremely friendly, she asked me several questions about the upcoming wedding, my sister’s sense of style, and her wedding colors. We looked at different colored gift boxes and quickly came up with a plan for the package design. I knew within minutes that I had chosen the right person to create something special for my sister.

While I was originally interested in using Nunu’s chocolates because they tasted so delicious, I was also attracted to the story behind them. The chocolate ganaches, caramels, and other chocolate products at Nunu are totally natural, made from cocoa beans procured directly from a sustainable farm in Eastern Colombia. Being environmentally conscious has always been a strong theme in Pringle’s life, as she has a degree in Environmental Management and Technology, and worked in environmental waste management before turning to chocolate. Looking for unique merchandise to sell at husband Andy Laird’s music concerts, she studied at the Ecole Chocolat and started making chocolates. They soon became popular in their own right, and Nunu Chocolates was born.

chocolates

For my sister’s favors, Pringle and I selected four different chocolates that demonstrated a wide range of Nunu’s flavors. I was immediately attracted to the salt caramels, whose gooey caramel center combined perfectly with the rich chocolate and crunchy salt on the exterior. The festive prosecco ganache was entirely appropriate for an Italian-American themed shower, while the floral earl grey and sweet organic raspberry ganaches calmly closed the day’s festivities. Unique and tasty, they were coveted by everyone who came to the shower.

Pringle will soon build a beer and wine bar, as well as a production kitchen, at her Atlantic Avenue shop. I can’t wait to stop by and relax with a selection of chocolates and a nice glass of wine, perhaps after Melissa’s wedding later this summer. Until then, a maid of honor’s work is never done.

Nunu Chocolates, 529 Atlantic Avenue, between 3rd and 4th Avenues, in Brooklyn. T: 917-776-7102. Check the website for ordering information and other locations that sell Nunu Chocolates.

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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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My Cookie of the Month: Gorayba

As I’ve already mentioned, one benefit of my knock-down, drag-out hummus competition was that it required several trips to Atlantic Avenue’s Middle Eastern food shops. At Sahadi’s I slowly wandered among the imported, exotic foodstuffs. I also spent some quality time ogling the piles of pita bread, cookies, and sweets at the Syrian Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop

Of course I never left either store empty-handed. But let’s concentrate on my visits to Damascus, where I bought sweet, sticky baklava, in both walnut and pistachio varieties. Intricate bird’s nest pastries currently await me in a white paper bag on my kitchen counter, almost too pretty to eat. I stocked up on light, airy, white and whole-wheat pita bread. I also purchased an unfamiliar shortbread cookie that I couldn’t bring myself to save for later: gorayba

I knew I had to try these bracelet-shaped butter cookies from the moment I saw them behind the glass display case at the pastry shop. They practically begged me to buy them, bring them home, and enjoy them with a hot cup of tea. 

Gorayba are usually defined as Arabic cardamom shortbread cookies, made on special occasions and found throughout the Middle East. Sometimes almonds or pistachios are placed at the intersection where the two ends of dough meet. According to Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, it’s important not to overcook the gorayba (also spelled ghorayebah). They must remain quite white in color, because their flavor changes greatly if they even slightly brown.

Some recipes say that the addition of cardamom is optional; I’m not sure I tasted it in the cookies I recently bought. Roden’s book also suggests hazelnut, nutmeg, and cinnamon variations. In any case, these cookies are memorable for their buttery, slightly sweet simplicity. Jim says his Greek grandmother used to make a similar cookie called koulourakia, but we have to investigate this more fully. And I have to make another trip to the Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, as I’ve eaten all of my gorayba.

Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, 195 Atlantic Avenue, between Court and Clinton Streets, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.  T: 718-625-7070

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