Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. Continue reading

Maple Cream Tart

maple cream tart, just baked

Sometimes things just work out for the best. Just as I was about to declare Thanksgiving ruined — my third corn syrup-less pecan pie tasted just as curdled and watery and messy as my first — I took a stab at yet another recipe, making a most-delectable discovery in the process: maple cream tart, a recipe Food52 adapted from NYC’s Left Bank.

I am in awe of this tart’s texture. The absence of eggs makes it exceptionally light yet somehow it tastes as smooth and creamy as an untorched crème brûlée. For maple syrup lovers, nothing could be more delicious, and best of all, it’s a cinch to assemble. The custard, as promised, comes together in two minutes and while the tart shell requires a blind baking, the assembled tart bakes in just twenty-five minutes.

I know it’s very late in the game to start switching up dessert menus, but if you’re still looking for something to serve or perhaps to bring to a Thanksgiving feast, this one is just as festive as any of the classics. For me, it’s even better and will always be considered the tart that saved Thanksgiving 2012. Gobble Gobble. Continue reading

Double Chocolate Cake, Fair Trade Cocoas, & A Giveaway from Lake Champlain Chocolates

chocolate cake with chcolate glaze

Nearly a decade ago, a pan of brownies emerged from my oven that changed everything. Before discovering this recipe, I couldn’t stash enough brownie recipes away, particularly those sounding most outrageous, the ones loaded with chocolate, the more varieties the better.

What inspired me to give this recipe a go, I do not know. There is nothing eye-catching about the ingredient list — unsweetened cocoa powder is the sole chocolate product — or intriguing about the method — it’s a simple two-bowl, no-mixer job. But I did, and while I know there are lots of fantastic brownie recipes out there, I have not tried another recipe since. And every time I bite into one of these brownies, I wonder in amazement how unsweetened cocoa powder on its own can impart such a deep, intense chocolate flavor all the while producing a fudgy, moist and utterly delicious brownie.

I still do not know its secret. I am no food scientist. But over the years I have gotten better at eyeing up recipes and am not so eager to bite at the ones sounding most outrageous. In cakes and quickbreads, it’s ingredients such as buttermilk and oil (as opposed to butter) and unsweetened natural cocoa powder that catch my attention. So when I saw the ingredient list in this chocolate cake recipe on epicurious, I suspected it would be a good one. (The 1,517 positive reviews and blue ribbon decoration may have played a role in that, too.) Continue reading

Homemade Angel Food Cake

Graham

On Monday, Graham turned one, and the four of us celebrated the only way I know how, with an angel food cake, the cake my mother made for me and each of my siblings for nearly the first two decades of our lives. Angel food cake played such a role in celebrations growing up that for many years I assumed it was a Greek tradition — seriously, every aunt and great aunt and cousin seemed to celebrate with it, too.

While the absence of fillo and syrup should have perhaps been a giveaway, I was shocked to learn that the tradition in my family started with my mother’s mother who liked everything light light and served her angel cake with a simple chocolate glaze that poured down the cake’s sides freezing halfway down in a beautiful scalloped edge. But even more shocking than learning that angel food cake was not invented by the Greeks was discovering that for many years my mother didn’t make our birthday cakes from scratch. Yes, the woman who would never consider making soup without homemade broth, the woman who turns her nose at jarred roasted peppers, the woman who thinks nothing is more revolting than bottled salad dressing relied on Duncan Hines to make 90% of our childhood birthday cakes.

But I don’t blame her. Boxed cake mixes, particularly angel food cake mixes, are pretty good. And if the ingredients in these mixes were even remotely recognizable, she, and I in turn, would likely be keeping our pantries stocked with them. Continue reading

French Apple Tart & Cinnamon Snails

French apple tart, just baked

If you struggle with anger management, this post might be a good one to skip. Just send it straight to your trash can if you’re reading via email; just skip back to the grilled cheese or the French toast, if you’ve happened upon here via google. At apple-rosette attempt three, I envisioned flinging this tart frisbie style straight into my tv; at apple-rosette attempt five, I imagined raising it above my head, slamming it straight down, and splattering it all over my kitchen floor.

Fortunately — and I never imagined saying this — I have a child that drives me to read self-help books. I put myself in a timeout for two minutes (grossly ignoring the minute-per-year-of-age rule, which would have had me sitting for half an hour), during which I took a few deep breaths and told myself to let the apple rosettes go.

When I came out of my quiet time, ready to be a nice girl again, I set to work. Within minutes the tart shell brimmed with fanned apple slices, not quite so pretty as Saveur’s, but pretty nonetheless. And best of all, not too pretty to eat. Continue reading

Real Frozen Yogurt

frozen yogurt

I’ve been eating frozen yogurt for 15 years. My sister, who used to run to TCBY during high school cross country “practice,” introduced me to it; roommates in college fueled the addiction; California taught me to consider it a major food group.

Over these past 15 years, I’ve genuinely loved each and every bowl of frozen yogurt I’ve eaten, despite how sugary and artificial tasting and generally crappy most of them have been. There’s just something about the ritual of getting a fro-yo with friends that makes whatever’s squirted into the bowl inconsequential, for me at least.

But when I took one bite of this homemade frozen yogurt, a David Lebovitz recipe made with full-fat Greek yogurt, I thought, “Ohhh. This is what frozen yogurt should taste like.” I couldn’t believe it. It actually tasted like, wait for it, frozen yogurt. Yes, like yogurt frozen. I know, I know, mind blowing.

Made with only three ingredients, Greek yogurt, sugar and vanilla, the base for this frozen yogurt comes together in about one minute, and after an hour of chilling, it’s ready to be churned — so simple, so delicious.

And that’s the only trouble with it. It’s so easy to make and so damn good. It’s impossible to walk by the freezer without giving a spoon a little dip-a-roo into its storage container. If you struggle with self-restraint, this is the sort of thing that should only be made while you have a houseful of guests prepared to tuck in immediately after it’s finished churning. Not a squirt will remain. I promise you.

frozen yogurt

yogurt, sugar, vanilla

yogurt, sugar, vanilla

frozen yogurt, churning

frozen yogurt

I thought some sort of granola “bowl” would make a nice vessel for serving this vanilla frozen yogurt. Using another Lebovitz recipe as a guide, I substituted in 1 cup of my granola bar mix for the sliced almonds. The result? Good, not great. Unfortunately, they were too sweet, and the sweetness masked the granola flavor. I’ll report back if I give them another go.

granola cup cookie batter

granola cups, unbaked and baked

granola cups

Frozen Yogurt
Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Yield = 1 quart

3 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Update 8/28: I think I prefer the 2/3 cup sugar quantity. I made about 5 batches without altering the sugar, but just made a batch tonight with 2/3 cup sugar — it’s just a touch less sweet but no less flavorful.

1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar and vanilla. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacture’s instructions.

frozen yogurt in granola bowls

Lemon Blueberry Crisp

blueberry crisp

Several months ago I watched Dorie Greenspan make madeleines on the Martha Stewart Show. While the madeleines looked divine, what struck me most from her demonstration was her handling of the lemon zest. Rather than whisk the zest directly into the dry ingredients, she placed it in a small bowl with the sugar and massaged the two ingredients together with her fingertips until she had created a moist and fragrant citrus sugar, a technique, she says, that serves to release oils from the zest into the sugar, making the lemon flavor twice as pronounced.

I still haven’t made the madeleines, but, when I remember to, I employ this citrus-sugar technique when appropriate when I’m baking. While it’s not critical — freshly grated zest, massaged into sugar or not, always adds a nice flavor — I have found that the technique does heighten the citrus flavor, which is especially nice in cakes and muffins and cobblers. Moreover, making the citrus sugar is kind of fun. Try it. It smells so good! And it makes just about the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ever imagine.

The most recent dish I’ve given the citrus-sugar treatment to is my mother’s blueberry crisp, one of my favorites. Like most crisps, this one takes no time to prepare, and if you have a food processor, the topping — a mixture of flour, sugar, almonds and butter — comes together in seconds. The absence of oats and brown sugar in this crisp topping makes it particularly light and allows the lemon-sugared blueberries to really shine. Have a Happy Fourth Everyone.

crisp topping ingredients

Cuisinart with crisp topping

colander with blueberries

blueberries and lemon sugar

Lemon Blueberry Crisp
Serves 8-10

6 cups blueberries (3 pints), washed and stemmed
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes

vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF.

2. Place blueberries in 9×13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, rub zest and sugar together with your fingers until sugar is moist and fragrant. Spread over blueberries and toss to combine.

3. Pulse sugar, flour, almonds and salt in food processor until nuts are chopped. Add butter and pulse until mixture begins to clump. Spread over blueberries. Bake 25 minutes or until crisp topping is browned and blueberries are bubbling.

4. Serve with ice cream if desired.

unbaked crisp

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream

butterscotch budino ice cream sandwiches

This is what happened. My husband, who dislikes butterscotch, went out of town. I took the opportunity to make butterscotch budino, a dessert I discovered at Pizzeria Mozza several years ago, one that (along with the pizza) inspired many a 70-mile drive up to LA despite the inevitable, incessant, insane traffic.

I made the New York Times recipe (adapted from Pizzeria Mozza), which I discovered (too far along in the process to turn back) yields enough budino for a small village. My husband was only out of town for one night. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

After four too many budinos, I needed to take action. I couldn’t toss such a delicious creation, but eating it at the rate that I was seemed excessive. To prevent myself from assuming the role of small village, I dumped the remaining budino into my Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment and let it churn.

Never has such an intervention been more rewarding. I’ve never tasted salted caramel ice cream, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly how it would taste. And it is absurdly delicious. Budino, in its new frozen carnation, prevented me from becoming a small village, but only for one day. The ice cream disappeared from my freezer as quickly as the budino had from my fridge. And the recipe was revisited shortly thereafter, the new batch made with a few adjustments, namely without butter — I mean, butter in ice cream, as delicious as it was, is kind of gross.

The new butterless batch was just as, if not more so, delicious. I don’t know if it’s the relatively high amount of cornstarch or the presence of rum, but there’s something about this custard that produces the nicest textured ice cream. I made a third batch, too, and decided, just for kicks, to make ice cream sandwiches with about half of the batch. The cookies, made from a Fine Cooking recipe, taste just like the soft chocolate cookies flanking classic ice cream sandwiches. I have a feeling I’ll be making them all summer long.

Finally, Commenters, five of you — Trish, Kamilla, Elisa, Judy, and Dorothea — will receive a bag of Tipo 00 flour. With the exception of my friend Bates, who foremost deserves a bag, I used a random generator. I have emailed you. Wish I could send you each a bag.

ice cream maker

butterscotch budino ice cream

My aunt sent me these Everything Clips in the mail a few weeks ago. They are awesome for everything, but especially for securing parchment paper to pans:
pan clipped with parchment

batter spread in pan

baked batter

soft chocolate cookie, ready to be cut

cookie cut in half

fluted cutters

cutting cookies

cookie rounds ready for ice cream

sandwiches, ready to be topped

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream
Adapted from the butterscotch budino recipe served at Pizzeria Mozza

If you just want to make butterscotch budino (versus the ice cream) follow this recipe.

for the custard:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rum

1. Combine cream and milk in bowl or pitcher, set aside. Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch (read note in next sentence first) in medium bowl, set aside. Note: There has to be a better way to whisk egg yolks and cornstarch than what I have been doing, which causes the yolks to clump all around the whisk. This is what I’ll do next time: Crack yolks into bowl. Spoon a little bit of the cornstarch into the yolks. Stir with a spoon until incorporated, then add more cornstarch and continue this process until all of the cornstarch has been added.

2. Combine brown sugar, kosher salt and 1/4 cup water in pot. Place over medium-high heat and let sit until edges start to brown. Tilt pot as needed to even the browning until caramelized, nutty and deep brown, about 10 minutes. Notes: The mixture should be bubbling (not crazily, however) the whole time, so adjust heat as necessary. Do set a timer. It’s hard to tell visually when the mixture is ready, but every time that I’ve made this, 10 minutes seemed to be the magic number.

3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture, mixture will steam and caramel will seize. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Whisk a cup at a time into egg mixture until half is incorporated. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk egg mixture back into pot until custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.

4. Whisk in rum. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a storage container (preferably glass or pyrex). Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate until completely chilled, the longer the better.

5. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Freeze until ready to serve.

for the ice cream sandwich cookies:

I followed the recipe on Fine Cooking for the cookie recipe.

Notes:
I used my 2.5-inch round fluted cutter to make individual sandwiches, which is fun, but also wasteful. If you go this route, you’ll get about 12 sandwiches per batch of cookie recipe. What is nice about this method is that the ice cream doesn’t have to be too soft — mine was a little too soft, in fact — in order to start the assembly process. If your ice cream is scoopable, you are good to go. Also, I froze my scraps from the cutting process. These could be crumbled up and sprinkled onto the sides of a cake or toasted and crumbled onto ice cream or … I’m sure you have some good ideas? Again, what isn’t nice about this method is the waste as well as the extra steps cutting/scooping/etc. Next time, I think I’ll stick to the traditional method. Also, the flavor of the butterscotch budino ice cream I found got a little masked by the cookie. Next time, too, I would choose a different flavor ice cream, probably vanilla, to use for the sandwiches. I’m thinking the best vessel for the butterscotch budino ice cream might be a thin chocolate wafer cookie bowl or something of the like? Will report back if I discover something.

ice cream sandwiches

Straining the custard after it thickens is important — it removes all of those curdled little bits.
straining the custard

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, C4C Gluten-Free Flour, Kerrygold Butter

Lemon Thyme Shortbread

Have you ever spotted Kerrygold butter at your super market? Inexplicably in the cheese section? And wondered if it were any good?

Well, it is. My mother brought me some this weekend. She spoils me, still, at age 30. Along with the butter, she brought her favorites from the Greek market — a tin of olive oil, a branch of dried oregano, a block of manouri cheese; some pantry items she knows I hate spending money on — cheese cloth and parchment paper; and of course, some baked goods — Bakery Lane’s honey-whole wheat bread and toasted coconut-raspberry jam bars. Delicious. As my mother says, I felt like a bride.

But don’t be too jealous. No sooner had she unloaded the basket of goodies had she pulled out her travel file, spilling with newspaper clippings along with her latest neuroses.

“Just read the middle paragraph,” she insisted waving the clipping in my face, “about human skin cells and dander and dust mites and their feces. And about how much humans perspire every evening. And about…”

“Sure thing, mom.” I didn’t want to eat my breakfast anyway.

Yes, my friends, my mother is worried again. She’s worried about the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom; the dead, unfelled pine tree in our backyard; the dime-sized rash on my 6-month-old’s neck; and the copper can I store olive oil in — “What’s that lined with?” she asks every visit. These are worries I expect, however. Par for the course, really. But this latest concern — a personal hygiene affront veiled by a When to Clean the Sheets article — was a first. I’m starting to develop a complex.

I suppose some things never change. My mother worries about me, still, at age 30. Oh mama, you know I love you. And thank you for being such a good sport.

OK, on to some fun stuff:

1. As I mentioned, Kerrygold Butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows in Ireland, is delicious. It’s definitely a splurge, best saved perhaps for spreading on good bread and topping with radish slices, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

2. C4C Flour. Several months ago, after watching Thomas Keller make polenta waffles and fried chicken on tv using his new C4C flour — a gluten-free mix that can be subbed one-for-one with all-purpose flour — I immediately ordered a bag. Beyond curiosity, I didn’t have a reason to buy this gluten-free flour, but I’m so happy I did. So far, and I’ve only made a couple of things (shortbread and waffles), I’m impressed. It’s pricey, certainly, but it’s a good product — worth it for the mere convenience of being able to use it in nearly any pastry, dessert or quick bread. But if you want to make your own mix, this recipe looks promising.

Side note: My mother recently tipped me off about a simple substitution when making our favorite brownie recipe gluten-free: She swaps the flour for almond flour. So simple. You’d never know the brownies were gluten free, and the almond adds a nice flavor, too. I suspect this works best when little flour is called for.

3. Lemon Shortbread. Melissa Clark’s shortbread continues to be one of my favorite foods on the planet. I find a reason, it seems, to make the rosemary variation at least once a month. Inspired by a visit to 2Amys, where a wedge of lemon shortbread stole the show (after the pizza of course), I had to make a batch. A few appropriate adjustments to Clark’s recipe produced a lemon shortbread to swoon over. This time, I also added lemon thyme from our CSA and used gluten-free flour. I can’t stop eating it.

Lemon Thyme Shortbread
Incidentally, the article my mother passed along, When to Clean the Sheets, is informative and entertaining, if you can get over the yuck factor. It’s perhaps best not read at mealtime.

newspaper clippings

lemon

kerrygold butter

When making shortbread, it’s important to not over pulse the dough. This is about what the mixture should look like:

cuisinart

c4c flour

c4c Flour

lemon zest & lemon thyme

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, Gluten-Free or Not
Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times

A few notes:

The thyme or lemon-thyme is purely optional. It’s a very subtle flavor, one I really like, but if you’re not into herbed sweets, just leave it out.

If you’re not a lemon fan, try the rosemary variation or any of the other suggested variations.

2 cups all-purpose flour or C4C gluten-free flour or your favorite gluten-free substitution for flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or thyme (optional — this flavor is very subtle)
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, thyme, zest and salt. Add butter, honey and lemon juice, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.

2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. (Note: When I bake this in a 9-inch pan, it takes about 32 to 35 minutes minutes. And When I make it in my 8-inch pan, it takes about 35 to 37 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm. (Note: I have let the shortbread cool completely — cut it the next day in fact — and had no trouble cutting it up when cool.)

Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

rhubarb buckle

Ok, I think I’ve got this. An old recipe for blueberry buckle printed in the “Letters” section of the July 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine led me to just the crust I had longed for after making my first buckle last week. This dough, made with egg yolks and a little cream, yields the perfect bottom crust — not too cakey, not too crisp, a slightly sweet, perfectly sturdy layer that really allows the rhubarb to shine.

Anyway, I hate to bore you with the same dish two Fridays in a row, but rhubarb season is fleeting and so getting to the bottom (ha ha ha) of this buckle business was of utmost importance. Martha said it best: “This dessert belongs in everyone’s outdoor entertaining file.”

But if you blink and miss rhubarb season altogether, don’t despair. I suspect blueberries and peaches and every other wonderful stone fruit and berry will make dream-worthy buckles all summer long.

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb & sugar

rhubarb buckle

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart and Rosebank Farms Café via Gourmet Magazine, July 2004
Yield = 16 squares

A few notes: I thought the buckle I made last week could have used a little more streusel, so I doubled up this week and topped the buckle with a more generous layer of streusel. I did have a little bit leftover (about a heaping 1/2 cup), which I threw in the freezer. And, I did have some leftover dough as well — I used about 3/4 of the dough recipe for this buckle. I plan on making mini homemade pop tarts with the remaining dough? Thoughts? I’m sure you all have wonderful ideas as well, and if you care to share, I would love to hear. I’m too often guilty of letting dough scraps go to waste.

Also, if you prefer more of a cake-bottomed buckle, view this post.

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used whole milk and 1/2 and 1/2…all I had)

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Make the crust: Whisk together flour and sugar in a large bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together yolks and cream with a fork and stir into flour mixture until combined. Gently knead mixture in bowl with floured hands just until a dough forms. Flatten dough into a 6-inch disk and chill, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

3. Stir together rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar and lemon zest; set aside to macerate. Note: I did this step right before I started rolling out the dough. When I dumped the rhubarb into the pan, it hadn’t soaked up all of the sugar — in other words, the sugar was still very much visible, but it didn’t seem to make a difference that it hadn’t macerated for very long. I dumped rhubarb and all of the remaining sugar straight into the pan.

4. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. Set aside.

5. Unwrap dough. OK, because the dough recipe yields enough for a 9×13-inch pan, cut off about a quarter of the dough and set it aside. Roll out the bigger portion of the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or wax paper) into a 10×10-inch square, or as close to this shape as possible. Peel off top layer of parchment and invert dough into prepared baking pan. Trim up the dough where it creeps a little bit up the sides of the pan; patch the corner holes (if any exist) with trimmed dough.

6. Top this crust layer with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with as much crumb topping as you would like — as I noted above, I was left with about a heaping half cup of streusel topping. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 35 minutes more or until golden on top and cooked through. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle