Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Steaks, Oven-Roasted Potatoes & All-time Favorite Brownies

Balsamic Parsley Caper Sauce for Grilled Steak

steak and potatoes

My mother is worried. This isn’t a new sentiment, I can assure you. Worry, I’m afraid, pervades her daily existence. She’s worried about the plastic wrap in this recipe and would like me to offer you all an alternative. One Thanksgiving, my mother was so worried, she sent me an oven. An oven. She didn’t know how I could possibly make my turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with only one oven, and so she sent me an oven.

Last week, my mother became worried about my husband, Ben. She’s worried he might wilt away if I keep feeding him tofu and edamame and beets and eggs. So driven by her worry, my mother sent me 10 pounds of steaks, just, you know, to tuck in my freezer in case an iron-deficient Ben starts looking pale and cold.

But my mother is so thoughtful, too. And a wonderful gift-giver she has always been. Sensitive to my feelings about animals and food-miles, she sent me grass-fed steaks from the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. I took the opportunity to make this Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye with Balsamic Caper Vinaigrette recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. Damn, steak is good. I’ve forgotten. And this sauce — reduced balsamic seasoned with crushed red pepper flakes and mixed with parsley, capers, shallots and olive oil — is fabulous. It’s such a treat to have our freezer stocked with this incredibly flavorful, humanely raised and relatively local meat.

Mama, worry no longer. Rest assured that the love of my life is beaming, a hearty helping of meat and potatoes certainly to credit. Thank you for the wonderful gift!

raw steaks
Pictured above: Raw, grass-fed ribeyes, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic, pepper and salt.Note: While this smoked paprika rub adds a nice flavor, I don’t recommend using it for these grass-fed steaks. We’ve cooked the Hearst Ranch steaks twice now, once with the rub, once without, and we preferred the steaks without the rub — a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt brings out the real flavor of the meat. Also, be sure not to overcook these steaks. For medium-rare, try two minutes a side and allow the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Balsamic-parsley-and-caper sauce:
parsley-caper sauce

Have I not yet shared with you my favorite brownie recipe? I can’t believe that. I discovered this recipe in a Fine Cooking magazine three years ago and have not tried another brownie recipe since. Like the pizza and the muffins and the orange and olive oil cake, these brownies are it.

brownies and milk

Rich Fudgy Brownies
Source: Fine Cooking
Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies

Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.

Also: To make this gluten-free, simply swap the all-purpose flour with almond flour. You’d never know the difference.

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour or almond flour (for gluten free); plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Grilled Grass-fed Ribeyes with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette
Source: Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for steaks and grill
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

4 3/4-inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye steaks
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Simmer vinegar in small pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Add shallots, 1/4 cup oil, and crushed red pepper; return to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in parsley, capers, and thyme. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

2. Rub both sides of steaks lightly with oil. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack with oil to coat. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to plates. Spoon vinaigrette over or serve on the side.

Holiday Linzers: Too Pretty To Eat

Linzer Cookies

Linzer Cookies

Last Saturday morning, while warming up with a cup of coffee and some sweets in an adorable cafe in Boulder, my mother offered me her latest theory: “The prettier a cookie is,” she said, setting down a handsome palmier, making no effort to hide her disgust, “the less edible it becomes.” Though the palmier may have been an unlucky pick that morning, I think Liza might be on to something. 

I had been eyeing this Dorie Greenspan recipe for linzer cookies for weeks. And after reading last Wednesday’s New York Times’ article, “Butter Holds The Secret To Cookies That Sing,” I felt primed for an all-star baking session in my all-but-neglected kitchen. I would follow the recipe to a T, and with my recently acquired butter knowledge, I would think science not just mechanics.

I would cream my 65-degree temperature butter — “cold to the touch but warm enough to spread” — for at least three minutes with the paddle attachment of my stand mixer set on medium speed — no higher, lest the butter’s temperature rise to 68 degrees — until enough air bubbles formed to create the required texture and aeration to produce a cookie to rival all cookies. My adrenaline was pumping. It was game time. I laced my apron around my waist, pounded a quart of Gatorade and set to work, not veering ever so slightly from the recipe, fighting off laziness every step of the way. 

I whipped. I chilled. I rolled. I baked. I baked again. I dusted. I jammed. I sandwiched. I admired. 

Expectations were high. Perhaps too high. After assembling all of the linzers, I ate one. And then another. And then another. I kept tasting, hoping with each new bite, I would be overwhelmed with satisfaction and joy, which I could then take to my computer and report to all of you. But alas, it never came.  

I can’t quite pinpoint my disappointment. These cookies are not too sweet, which I like, but I find them a bit too dry, which I don’t. The final sandwich, I felt, needed more jam to combat the dryness, but the nature of the cookie only allows so much jam to exist between the two layers before a mess oozes out the sides. I offered one of my creations to a four-year-old boy who promptly spit it out. His six- and eight-year-old siblings ate theirs happily, with smiles even, but I think at that age, they’ve already learned tact.   

I can say with certainty these are the prettiest cookies ever to emerge from my kitchen. Truly. I only wish I could say they were the tastiest, too.

Linzer cookies

cookie shapes

As the above tale reveals, I am not totally satisfied with this recipe. Several years ago I made a batch of linzer cookies for Valentine’s Day, which I prefer to this recipe. It has a higher butter content, which I think adds to the flavor. The cookies are not as pretty, but if taste is what you are after, I think you might have better success with this recipe

Linzer Sablés
Adapted From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours  

1½ cups finely ground almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional — I did not use any cloves)

1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

½ cup raspberry jam (or any jam you like) plus 1 teaspoon of water (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Whisk together the ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, cloves (if using) and salt. Using a fork, stir the egg and water together in a small bowl.

2. Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute more.

3. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Don’t overmix. If the dough comes together while some dry crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer and finish blending the ingredients with a rubber spatula or your hands.

4. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, put the dough between two large sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap.(*See note) Using your hands, flatten the dough into a disk, then grab a rolling pin and roll out the dough, turning it over frequently so that the paper doesn’t cut into it, until it is about ¼-inch thick. Leave the dough in the paper and repeat with the second piece of dough. Transfer the wrapped dough to a baking sheet or cutting board (to keep it flat) and refrigerate or freeze it until it is very firm, about 2 hours in the refrigerator or about 45 minutes in the freezer.

Note: I divided the dough into two pieces, chilled it overnight, then rolled it out the next day. It was a little tricky rolling out the dough the next day because it was so cold, but I made it happen. I chilled the cut cookies on the pans for about 15 minutes before baking.

Note: The rolled-out dough can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just thaw the dough enough to cut out the cookies and go on from there.  

When ready to bake: 

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.  

2. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper from one piece of dough and, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter — a scalloped cutter is nice for these — cut out as many cookies as you can. If you want to have a peekaboo cutout, use a small fluted cutter or the end of a piping tip to cut out a circle (or heart or whatever shape you have) from the centers of half of the cookies. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheets, leaving a little space between the cookies. Set the scraps aside — you can combine them with the scraps from the second disk and roll and cut more cookies.

3. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden, dry and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second disk of dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches. Gather the scraps of dough together, press them into a disk, roll them between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, then cut and bake.

Preparing the sandwich cookies: 

1. Place the jam in a small saucepan or in a microwaveable bowl and stir in the 1 teaspoon of water. Bring to a boil over low heat. When the jam is hot, pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds (optional), then let it cool slightly.  

2. Place the cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet or cooling rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and place about ½ teaspoon of the jam in the center of each cookie. Top with the confectioner’s-sugar-dusted cookies.

cookies1

Orange and Olive Oil Cake & Temecula Olive Oil Company

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I must share some disheartening news with you about olive oil. The extra-virgin olive oil you find at your local supermarket very likely is not extra-virgin at all. It turns out that the USDA doesn’t even recognize classifications such as “extra-virgin.” As a result, bottlers all over the world can blend olive oil with cheaper vegetable oils and sell it for a premium price as “extra-virgin.” If you care to learn more about the widespread fraud in the olive oil industry read this: Slippery Business, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007.

A recent visit to the Temecula Olive Oil Company’s shop forever changed how I think about olive oil. I learned so many incredible things and recorded them all here. In sum, the company is awesome, their olive oil is delicious, and, as with all foods it seems, it pays to know your grower.

Now, about this recipe. I made this cake — a longtime family favorite — using the TOOC’s citrus extra-virgin oil, and never has it tasted so delicious. I didn’t even use fresh-squeezed orange juice (the horror!). As you can see, I baked this batch in my mini springform pans, but a standard 9-inch springform pan works just as well. This cake puffs up a touch when it bakes, and sinks when it cools. It is moist and delicious, perfect with coffee or tea, and only needs a dusting of powdered sugar to make it fit for consumption. 

Note: If you cannot get TOOC extra-virgin olive oil or any other extra-virgin oil you know to be from a credible source, use an olive oil as opposed to an extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve made this cake with e.v.o.o. from the grocery store and the taste is too overpowering. That is not the case, however, with TOOC oil.

A few notes: This cake sinks way down as it cools. Don’t worry. It will still be one of the most delicious cakes you have ever tasted. It is so moist. Also, this is one of those cakes that seems to get better by the day. Don’t be afraid to make it a day early if serving for company.

Orange And Olive Oil Cake

Yield = One 9-inch cake or six 4-inch cakes, Serves 10-12 people

Butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1¾ cups sugar
2 tsp. grated orange zest
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (the juice from about 2 oranges)
2/3 cup olive oil, such as any made by the Temecula Olive Oil Company, 

Note: If you cannot get TOOC oil or oil you know to be from a credible source, use olive oil as opposed to extra-virgin olive oil.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a springform pan (or pans) or a 9-inch cake pan. (If using a cake pan, place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.)

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until blended, then gradually add in the sugar, beating until thick. The mixture will be pale yellow. In a separate bowl, whisk the zest, juice and oil. Add to the egg mixture in thirds alternating with the flour mixture.

4. Spread batter into pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for 15 minutes.

5. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top before cutting and serving.

Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse

tart2

Surely you’ve heard of Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse. No? The best translation I’ve found so far is this: Delectable Pear Custardy Caramel.

Attention all crème brulée, tarte tatin and crème caramel lovers. Here is another recipe that must be added to your repertoire, especially now during pear season. Apples would make a fine substitute as would quince, (though the quince might need some preliminary cooking. Maybe? Maybe not.) For my mother, this recipe rivals Balzano Apple Cake — my favorite fall (maybe, all-time) dessert, a recipe everyone should try, at least once.

Just a slight warning about the preparation of this gateau: Nothing about it feels natural. If you are out of practice cooking sugar, the first step might turn you away. Don’t be afraid. It’s quite quite simple. Moreover, the recipe calls for a sprinkling of yeast. Again, don’t worry — no rising or proofing is called for. And lastly, the batter in its final state looks like a curdled mess. But fear not. In the oven, the caramel, pears and batter combine to form, as my mother described, a delectable custardy goodness.

Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup sugar
1¼ tsp. yeast
4 large ripe pears, about 2 pounds, (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and sliced very thin
1/3 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
7 T. unsalted butter, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 9”-round cake tin. In a large skillet cook ¾ cup of the sugar over moderate heat until it begins to melt. Continue cooking until it turns a golden caramel. Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast over one tablespoon of lukewarm water.
2. Pour the hot caramel into prepared pan. Make sure caramel covers the bottom. (If your caramel has hardened up before you allow it to cover the bottom of the pan, place the pan, using potholders, over one of your stovetop burners and hover it over the heat until the caramel begins to melt.) Arrange thinly sliced pears in slightly overlapping circles on top of caramel.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the flour, 1/4 c. sugar, the yeast mixture and vanilla. In another large bowl (sorry about all of the bowls!) beat the butter with an electric mixer (or standmixer) until smooth. Add the egg mixture and beat until the mixture is combined well, but do not overbeat. It will look slightly curdled. Pour the mixture over the pears being careful not to dislodge the pears.
4. Bake the cake on the middle rack for one hour or until golden. Let cool on rack for five minutes and then run a knife around the edges, and invert onto a large dish or platter deep enough so the syrup won’t flow over the edges. Serve warm.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

ice cream PS

What do you get when you combine heavy cream, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, fresh mint and dark chocolate? Absolute, pure, utter and complete deliciousness. I don’t know what else to say about this mint chocolate chip ice cream except that it is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever. Seriously.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie’s recipe

1 cup half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch salt
pure peppermint oil* (not extract), optional
1 cup chopped dark chocolate, such as Valrhona 70%, chopped with a chef’s knife into ¼-inch pieces
*Peppermint oil can be found at specialty cookware shops. I found mine at Fante’s in Philadelphia, but Alice Q. Foodie says Henry’s Market carries it as well.

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the cream and half and half with the mint leaves until it’s good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.) Cover pan and set aside to steep for 30 mins. Strain out mint and discard (or compost) it.

2. Whisk yolks in a large bowl. If your cream mixture is still relatively hot to the touch (which it should be after only 30 minutes), slowly ladle the mixture into the egg yolks whisking constantly. Transfer yolk-cream mixture back to the saucepan and add the sugar with a pinch of salt.

3. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula. When the mixture begins to coat the back of the spoon, remove the pan from the heat. (If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.)

4. Strain the hot custard into a bowl. If using the peppermint oil, take it and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (This stuff is powerful and can easily ruin a batch of custard if restraint is not used.)

5. Chill the mixture until completely cold. Churn in an ice cream maker. During the last few minutes of churning, add the chocolate chips. Freeze mixture until ready to serve.

Peach Blueberry Cake

peachandblueberries

This recipe has so much potential. And I so badly want to rave about it. I mean, I have been snacking on it morning and night for the past two days. But something, I must confess, is not quite right.

This recipe appeared in the August 2005 issue of Gourmet. If you care to hear what other people think of the recipe, you can read the 143 reviews posted on Epicurious. Online, I just discovered, the recipe is prefaced with this:

We’ve received some letters from readers complaining about a burned crust when making the peach blueberry cake, so we ran through the recipe two more times. Baked in a standard light-colored metal pan, the cake was perfect; baked in a dark metal pan, however, it burned — be aware that the cake’s high sugar content makes it more susceptible to burning at high heat.

A burnt crust was precisely the problem I ran into. The recipe calls for baking the cake at 375ºF for 1 hour and 45 minutes. 1 hour and 45 minutes! Does that sound crazy to you? I mean, sometimes I wonder what people (recipe writers) are thinking. I baked my cake at 350ºF for about 1 hour and 15 minutes because it smelt too good to leave in the oven any longer and the fruit looked bubbly and delicious. You can’t see the pastry below the layer of stewing fruit, so there is no way of knowing if “the crust is golden” as the recipe suggests as a determining doneness factor.

When I bake this cake again — which I am determined to do before summer is over — I will bake it for one hour and see if that improves the texture of the crust, which in addition to being slightly burnt tasted slightly dry. When I bake it again, however, I might use a different pastry all together. My mother suggested using a shortbread pastry recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, which she adores and which could be the perfect substitute for the current dough. All I know is this: whatever pastry is used in this dessert must be strong enough to support a thick layer of juicy, oozing fruit. And in an ideal world, it must be moist and delicious, too.

For all of you bakers out there, any suggestions?

Cake just before entering the oven:

Cake after resting for 20 minutes out of the oven:

Peach Blueberry Cake
Serves 8

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 stick (½ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 lb. firm-ripe large peaches (about 4), halved lengthwise, pitted, and each half cut lengthwise into fourth or fifths
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch salt

1. Make pastry. Pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-sized butter lumps. Add egg and vanilla and pulse just until the dough clumps into a ball, about 15 pulses.

2. With floured fingertips press dough onto bottom of an ungreased springform pan. Chill pastry in pan until firm, about 10 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss until the fruit is evenly coated. Pour filling over chilled pastry and cover pan loosely with foil. Bake for about an hour, until filling is bubbling.

4. Transfer cake in pan to a rack and cool uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove sides of pan and cool longer or serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.

The pastry for this cake comes together quickly with just a few pulses in the food processor. Of course, it can be made by hand as well.

One Peach, One Tart, A Favorite Recipe, Simplified

peachtart

As the title suggests, the tart featured in this post is based on a longtime favorite recipe printed in Fine Cooking several years ago. The original recipe calls for making a frangipane — an almond-based filling — to spread in a thin layer across the dough. The fruit lies over this creamy base and the combination of dough, frangipane and fruit in every bite is absolutely delicious. The addition of frangipane to any free-form tart — from plums, peaches and apricots (really all stone fruit) in the summer to pears and apples in the fall — seriously raises the bar of the classic fruit tart, adding a most subtle flavor, but a dimension that pure fruit tarts lack.

That said, in the tart pictured above, the frangipane has been omitted, and had I never known frangipane existed, I wouldn’t have missed it. A dessert of warm peaches in a flaky, buttery crust topped with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream alone is pretty damn good. And whereas frangipane requires almond paste, rum and room-temperature butter, this simplified fruit tart can be made with pantry items in no time.

All I’m saying is this: If you have the time and the ingredients, make the frangipane. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t have the time or the ingredients, however, make this tart anyway. You will still produce an elegant and delectable dessert. You won’t be disappointed.
This recipe yields two small tarts each of which will serve three or four people. I used only one peach in the tart I made and froze the remaining portion of dough. I love love love this dough recipe. I’m not quite sure how it differs from a traditional pie dough but it without fail produces a perfect crust.
 It should be noted that while this tart probably tastes best when warm, I am discovering that it complements morning coffee very nicely as well.

Galette Dough
Yield=Two mini tarts (each tart yields 3-4 small servings; double recipe to yield two 9-inch tarts)

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 T. sugar
¼ tsp. table salt
8 T. unsalted butter
¼ C. + 1 T. ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt together. Cut butter into flour and using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until butter is in small pieces. Add ice water and continue to stir with fork until mixture comes together to form a mass. Add more ice water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Gently form mass into a ball and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight. (Dough can be frozen, too.)

Frangipane
Note: I did not use a frangipane in the above pictured tart. This frangipane makes for a truly special tart. If you’re pressed for time, however, or don’t feel like making frangipane, the peaches and the galette dough alone will make a wonderful dessert.

¼ C. almond paste
2 T.. sugar
2 T. butter at room temperature
2 tsp. rum
1 small egg

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, combine almond paste, sugar and butter. Beat until combined, then add rum and egg and beat until smooth, or until only small lumps remain. Set aside.

To Assemble:

1 peach, sliced (If making two tarts, use two peaches.)
pinch sugar, pinch salt
1 T. butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar
parchment paper
vanilla ice cream

1. Toss peach slices with the pinches of sugar and salt. Set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one disk out approximately into a 9-inch circle, using flour as needed to prevent sticking. Line a rimless cookie sheet (or upside-down jelly roll pan) with parchment paper. Transfer dough to parchment paper. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the frangipane (if using) into the center of the tart and spread toward the edges, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles over the frangipane.

2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over the tart onto itself, crimping to make a folded-over border. Chill tart in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Brush dough with butter and sprinkle sugar over entire tart. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until crust is golden. Let cool for five minutes on tray then slide parchment paper and tart onto a cooling rack. Let cool another 20 minutes before slicing.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.


Buttermilk Panna Cotta: Simplest Dessert Ever

PannaCotta

This dessert takes five minutes to make. Ten minutes tops. And it’s a great way to use up leftover buttermilk.

For example, I opened the fridge a few days ago and spotted a carton of buttermilk dated August 13. It smelt a little funky and I noticed a few lumps, but doesn’t buttermilk always kind of look/smell this way? I gave the carton a good shake, poured the buttermilk into a clear, glass measuring cup to inspect for anything looking particularly threatening and proceeded with the recipe. Success. I have now eaten panna cotta three nights in a row and have yet to feel a tinge of sickness.

Even if you aren’t trying to use up a half-empy carton of buttermilk, this is a great recipe to have on hand for several reasons:

1. It can and should be made the night before serving — perfect for entertaining.
2. It is made in individual servings — perfect for entertaining.
3. It is light and summery.
4. It literally takes no time to whip up.
5. It is delicious.

Also, you don’t need fancy ramekins or custard cups. I have them, (and love them, obviously), but for the sake of demonstration, I poured this batch into various-sized glass cups including an old-fashioned mason jar. It looked precious. The panna cotta doesn’t even really need to be inverted onto a plate, and if you chose to use glasses, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend inverting. Just eat it right out of the glass. Yum.

Note: If you do have a set of ramekins, invert the panna cotta onto plates and serve with fresh fruit or a raspberry coulis, as my grandmother does.

What is panna cotta? Panna cotta, meaning “cooked cream,” is an Italian dessert made by simmering milk or cream and sugar together. It is thickened with gelatin and must chill for a few hours to set. According to Wikipedia, panna cotta originates from the Piedmont region of Italy.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Update 05-01-2012: I no longer make this recipe. I find it to be way too sweet. This is my go-to panna cotta recipe. It’s a Claudia Fleming recipe and it’s just about perfect.

If you have 1½ cups buttermilk on hand:
1½ tsp. unflavored gelatin
½ cup milk, not skim, but 1% and up
½ cup sugar
1½ cups buttermilk
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

If you have 1 cup buttermilk on hand:
1 tsp. gelatin
6 T. milk
6 T. sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/8 tsp. vanilla

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup (or 3 tablespoons if using 1 cup of buttermilk) of water. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. In a saucepan, heat milk and sugar over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot but not boiling, 3-5 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in gelatin mixture, then buttermilk, and vanilla. Pour into 4 or 6-oz ramekins* and chill until set, 3 hours.

3. To serve, run a knife around edge of ramekin, place a plate on top, flip over and gently shake to turn out onto plate.
Garnish with some fresh berries.

*Note: Pour into any vessel you have. If using tall, narrow glasses, do not worry about inverting. Serve right in the glass. Keeps well in the fridge for at least a week.

Wedding Cake, Desconstructed

cake

Somebody please come save me from myself. I am home alone with this now 2/3-eaten cake. Every morning I tell myself I’m going to throw it into the compost bin*, but somehow I talk myself out of it and find a reason to cut myself another “sliver.” This isn’t even the kind of dessert I really adore. I much prefer a dense almond torte or chocolate souffle cake or fruit galette. Alas, it’s still too good to trash or turn into soil for my garden. (*Yes, I purchased the Back Porch ComposTumbler!)

Why do I have this cake all to myself? Well, on Sunday, Ben and I celebrated with cake and champagne the recent marriage of two friends. Because the bride had to jump on a plane shortly after the festivities and the groom would be out of town for a month, the cake remained with the Staffords. And the reason I say I have this cake all to myself is because Ben never pulls his weight when it comes to sweets. Blast him!

Anyway, this recipe can be multiplied and turned into a real wedding cake. Last November, I made this exact cake with the exception of the frosting, strawberries and assembly for two dear friends. The lemon-buttermilk cake bakes evenly and is both moist and light. The lemon curd adds a nice tang and helps keep the cake moist. And the bright-white, Swiss Buttercream frosting (made in place of a cream cheese frosting) gives the cake a really festive, professional feel. If you don’t feel like making a Swiss buttercream, which really is not too difficult, a cream cheese or whipped cream frosting will work just as well.

Emily and James’ & Ibeth and James’ Wedding Cake
Adapted From This YouTube Video

Lemon (or Orange) Buttermilk Cake
Yield = 2 9-inch cakes (the amount used in this four-layer cake)

3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 T. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, whisked lightly
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (or orange juice)
1½ tsp. lemon extract (or vanilla extract)
¼ tsp. lemon zest (or orange zest)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.

2. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly add the whisked eggs to the mixture and beat until combined. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the mixer. (The recipe says to start and end with flour, but I’m not sure there is any science behind that.) Add the lemon juice, extract and zest, and mix just until combined.

3. If making this layer cake, coat a 9-inch cake pan with nonstick spray (or butter liberally). Pour half of the batter into the pan and bake for about 35 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Note: If you have two pans, bake the cakes simultaneously. If you have only one pan, repeat with remaining batter. Alternatively, bake all the batter at once. The cake will take longer to bake and might not bake as evenly, but it certainly can be done.

Filling for the wedding cake:
Lemon (or Orange) Curd

¼ cup sugar
7 egg yolks
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or orange juice)
6 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (butter really must be at room temperature)

1. In a double boiler (or a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water), whisk sugar and yolks together until pale yellow. Whisk in the juice. Stir constantly until mixture starts to thicken, about 8 – 10 minutes. (This is always a little tricky to gauge, but you’ll know it’s ready when it starts to thicken.) Remove bowl from heat and slowly whisk in the butter about a tablespoon at a time. This is sort of tedious, but only add more butter once the previous tablespoon has been fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap (place the wrap right up against the curd) and chill until ready to use.


Frosting for wedding cake:
For Emily and James’ wedding cake, I made a cream cheese frosting, which I love. For this layer cake, I took a stab at making Swiss Buttercream following the method described on Smitten Kitchen, which worked perfectly. This recipe produces a bright white, more professional looking icing, but either frosting tastes great.

Cream Cheese and Butter Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar to taste

Beat cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add confectioners’ sugar to taste. Chill if not using right away or frost cake immediately. (It’s easier to use if you use it right away.)

Smitten Kitchen’s Swiss Buttercream

For a 9-inch cake (plus filling, or some to spare):
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

2. Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly. Ali’s note: I whipped the egg whites in the bowl that fits into my stand mixer so that I didn’t have to transfer anything.)

3. Add the vanilla. Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip, whip, whip.

Note: If you refrigerate the buttercream, leave it at room temperature for at least 10 hours before using. Also, the icing has now held up perfectly (on the cake) for three days. I’m not sure if there is any health risk here, but so far it still tastes good, there is no sign of mold, and I have yet to get sick.

Assembly:

If I were to make this cake again, this is what I would do: I would reserve enough of the Swiss Buttercream to swirl all over the top of the cake. Then, I would whisk together equal parts lemon curd and buttercream to spread in between each layer. I find the buttercream to be a tad rich and think the lemon curd would cut it nicely. So, cut each cake in half with a serrated knife. Spread center with lemon curd-buttercream mix, frost top with buttercream, top with strawnberries and serve.

S’mores and an Awesome Margarita Recipe

smores

A recipe for s’mores I believe is unnecessary. This recipe for margaritas, however, I must share with you.

Over the weekend, during a little trip to Half Moon Lake, Wisconsin to visit Ben’s family and friends, a classic, summer deluge left eight of us housebound. Not to worry. Within minutes, Tom and Liz Bennett had whipped up this concoction and delivered it in festive glasses to all the guests. With the fridge fully stocked with back-up pitchers, the storm and afternoon passed in no time.

Simple, tasty and lethal, the Bennetts’ margarita is a must try:

Bennetts’ Margarita
The original recipe calls for one can of each of the listed ingredients, but the Bennetts have tweaked the recipe slightly for taste. The recipe below, I considered perfection, but feel free to adjust according to taste.

3/4 of a 12-oz can limeade (the frozen can of concentrate)
1 beer, such as Corona
tequila
Sprite
salt for the glasses if desired

1. Place the limeade and beer in a pitcher. Discard (or reserve for another use) the remaining limeade. Fill the can halfway with tequila and add to the pitcher. Fill the can with Sprite and add to the pitcher. Stir. Taste. Adjust as needed. Pour into salted, ice-filled glasses.