Black Prince Tomatoes & Chocolate Chip Cookies

best chocolate chip cookie

I never thought I would say that I have a favorite tomato, but as of this past Saturday I do. As I passed through Reading Terminal Market on my way to the Fair Food Farmstand, I stopped at the Livengood stand, struck by the array of tomatoes on their table. I asked one of the men to suggest a tomato for a simple salad and he handed me a Black Prince. I purchased a dozen, made my way to the Farmstand for grass-fed ground beef, then headed home.

After a slight detour that led me to purchase 10 tiki torches (the price was ridiculous, really), I found my way home and started preparing for a dinner with five friends: Bates and Will, recently married and about to move to Syria for a year; Steph and Mike, recently engaged and big fans of grass-fed beef and their new East Coast city; and our friend Jon, single and still recovering from his great Asian adventure. Oh and much to my surprise, when I greeted my friends at the door, Bug, Bates and Will’s dachshund, had decided to make the trip from New York City too! Read all about the life of Bug (and Bates and Will), the latest plans for Steph and Mike’s wedding in Cabo and Jon’s wild last day in Hanoi.

By the light of the torches and a few candles, the six of us wholly enjoyed homemade hummus and pita prepared by Steph, olives brought by the New York crew and hamburgers made with Dr. Angusburger beef. The tomatoes, however, were the highlight of the evening. With basil from the farmstand, Claudio’s fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt, the tomatoes made a perfect salad.

Bates particularly appreciated how the tomatoes had been cut — in irregular chunks as opposed to slices — finding them easier to eat. For these shapes, I must give credit to the chef I worked under at Fork, Thien Ngo, who always plated food with a “chaos theory” in mind. He would “trash” restaurants whose food looked like “legos” on the plate. He preferred the very natural look, believing that the plating of food reflects how much the food has been handled.

Warm chocolate chip cookies and delectable green figs from the Farmstand finished the evening nicely. The simple dinner had been a success, as had the weekend as a whole: The following day, we walked to the Headhouse Farmers’ Market, where my friends all purchased cheese from Birchrun Hills Farm and met the wonderful Sue Miller. Then we walked to Reading Terminal and of course paid a visit to the Fair Food Farmstand where I showed my friends where I buy, among many groceries, grass-fed ground beef and raw milk, which we had all delighted in that morning for breakfast. And before sending them back on the Chinatown bus, we savored fresh rice noodles at Ding Ho — a perfect weekend indeed!

Soft and Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Yields about 35 1¾ oz cookies

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Portion into 1¾ oz sized balls. This is a tedious task, but it makes for beautiful and uniform cookies that bake evenly. If you have a digital scale, this is an easy task; if you have no scale, use a small ice cream scoop or some other uniform measuring device. Chill the portioned balls for at least three hours, or freeze for months.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place portioned balls nicely spaced on an ungreased jelly roll pan. Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon. Bake 8-11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking. Keep a close watch. You want to remove the cookies from the oven when they still look slightly raw—you will think you are removing them too early. The cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven. Let sit for 5 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before storing.

Bug, enjoying the wilderness in a Philadelphia backyard:

Baklava

baklava

This past Friday night, after dinner at Buddakan with nine of my high school friends followed by an evening of dancing at Plough and the Stars, two of my friends and I found ourselves famished back in my apartment. Luckily, I found some trusty items in the pantry: popcorn, frozen pizza dough and a whole tray of baklava.

I set to work in the kitchen. I heated oil in a saucepan for the popcorn. I preheated the panini machine. I unwrapped the pizza dough and threw it in the microwave to defrost/rise instantly. (This wasn’t a frozen pizza, rather an unbaked ball of dough.) I had only completed a fraction of my prep work when my friends wandered into the kitchen to inspect — they were really hungry.

Both asked why I had placed a pot on the stove. After explaining the non microwave popcorn process, I handed them the tray of baklava and guided them back into the living room. Kristin happily tucked into the nutty, honey-laden dessert, but Liz, after just a few bites, demanded her homemade pizza! I worked furiously in the kitchen to bring them more food. I rushed them the bowl of popcorn, but neither was impressed: The ratio of unpopped to popped kernels was probably 2:1. They had a valid argument.

By this point I had rolled the thawed dough into a small disk and thrown it onto the panini machine. After a few minutes, I pulled it off and slathered it with fresh ricotta cheese and fig jam. As a finishing touch, I drizzled some truffle oil — Liz’s favorite ingredient — over the top. I brought the pizza into the living room, where I found Kristin on the couch settling into her food coma and Liz on the air mattress awaiting her meal.

We finished the pizza while recounting the evening, our stomachs aching from laughing, nearly crying, and very likely from eating. Kristin went to bed swearing off baklava forever, and while Liz made no mention of giving up her truffle oil, I think she identified with Kristin’s state.

Fortunately, much to my relief, this bold declaration only lasted so long. Around three o’clock the following afternoon, Kristin admitted she was ready to give what remained of the baklava another go.

Baklava

1 lb. fillo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
1 lb. walnuts
½ C. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 lb. clarified butter
1 lb. honey (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Pulse walnuts in a food processor until chopped (not too finely). Remove from processor and place in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and cloves.

Grease a 10- by 15-inch pan with one tablespoon of the melted butter. Layer one sheet of fillo dough on top. Spoon one to two tablespoons over the dough — do not use a pastry brush. (It’s ok if much of the dough is left unbuttered.) Layer with another sheet of fillo. Spoon more butter over top aiming for areas of the dough untouched by butter in the previous layer. Repeat this layering process with half of the fillo, about 14 sheets depending on the box. Spread the nut filling evenly over the top of the fillo, then top the nuts with the remaining fillo, layering in the same manner as before.

Brush the top layer of fillo with butter. Using a sharp knife, score the baklava in a diamond pattern. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the honey over top.

Cut and serve.

Peach Ice Cream

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Last Wednesday afternoon, with the temperature climbing to 98 degrees and the heat index steady at 105, I couldn’t help but join the masses in Capogiro for a tasting spree. Welcomed by a case teeming with colors and custards flowing in ribbons out of countless tubs, I happily joined the 15 other customers huddled around this oasis on 13th Street, entranced by its myriad flavors.

I knew what I wanted before walking in, but like the others, sampled away, contemplating each spoonful, searching — pretending to search — for that one irresistible flavor, until I sensed my server knew what I was up to.

“I’ll have the pesche con panna, please.” I paid my $4.55 for the small, claimed a table and savored every bite of my Lancaster County peaches and cream gelato and every moment out of that oppressive heat.

This time of year I can’t get enough of the local peaches, both Jersey and Lancaster, which have been particularly delicious this season. Inspired by this sweet, juicy fruit and Capogiro’s creation, I’ve made a peach ice cream, which to be quite honest, is best eaten straight out of the machine. Enjoyed the day of, like fresh peaches and cream, this ice cream is nearly irresistible. A day later, unfortunately, it firms up considerably and requires a good 10 minutes at room temperature before scooping is even a possibility.

Peach Ice Cream
Yield = 1½ quarts

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
½ vanilla bean
8 egg yolks
2 peaches

Combine milk, cream, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pot and drop remaining bean in as well. Heat over medium until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot but not boiling. Place egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly ladle hot milk into egg yolks, whisking constantly. When about three quarters of the milk has been added to the pot, return the milk-yolk mixture back to the pot and turn the heat to medium. Stir constantly with a spoon or spatula until mixture thickens and coats the back of the utensil. Remove from heat, strain into a shallow vessel such as a Tupperware, cover with plastic wrap (placing wrap directly on custard) and chill in the refrigerator until completely cold.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Make a small slit in the bottom of each peach, add to the water and boil one minute. Drain, run the peaches under cold water and gently rub off their skin. Let cool slightly, then cut into large pieces and purée in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

Transfer custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When custard is just about done, add peach purée and churn for 1 to 2 more minutes, until incorporated. Transfer ice cream to storage containers and freeze until ready to serve.

Gluten-Free Cooking Spree

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First let me make known that I’ve borrowed this “Gluten-Free Cooking Spree” slogan from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), an amazing organization started by Alice Bast, a Philadelphia woman full of energy and initiative. I spoke with Bast over the phone a few days ago and listened to her recount her tragic yet inspiring story.

Bast, after suffering the trauma of delivering a stillborn baby followed by several miscarriages, visited 23 doctors before learning she had celiac disease. When she discovered that all of her health complications could have been prevented had she changed one aspect of her life — her diet — she quit her job (a top executive at a tech firm), started the NFCA, and resolved to devote her life to raising awareness about this debilitating digestive disease. Read Alice Bast’s whole story on the NFCA’s Web site.

One out of every 133 people has celiac disease — 3 million Americans — yet 97 percent of celiacs don’t know they have it. Through the efforts of Bast, the NFCA and other organizations sharing the same goal, more doctors are recognizing the prevalence of the disease, and fewer people as a result are suffering. Currently the only cure for this disabling disease is to eliminating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, from the diet.

While Bast told me a half dozen or so stories about celiacs restoring their health and reclaiming their lives after adopting a gluten-free diet, one is particularly poignant. Last August, a woman who had been trying to get pregnant for 10 years without success, read Bast’s story in Good Housekeeping. The woman sensed she had celiac disease, began the diet, and within 6 months became pregnant.

Other celiacs have seen their migraine headaches, incessant stomachaches, diarrhea and nausea — stresses they have suffered their whole lives — disappear within days of beginning the gluten-free diet.

The “Gluten-Free Cooking Spree” is the name of an event the NFCA is bringing to cities across the country. This past June, 10 chefs and doctors in Philadelphia teamed up to prepare tasty gluten-free dishes in a competition judged by George Perrier of Le Bec-Fin and Christina Pirello of Christina Cooks. Read more about the event on the NFCA’s Web site.

I decided to see for myself what gluten-free cooking entails. I’ve now introduced my pantry to a host of ingredients I never thought it would meet — brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour and xanthum gum. And, I have to say, the two recipes I tested were delicious. I have been slathering fresh ricotta on the focaccia for breakfast, and enjoying a brownie each night after dinner.

I am not in any way trying to prove that anyone can easily conform to this diet by simply purchasing the necessary ingredients. This diet requires celiacs to inspect all food labels thoroughly and question restaurant wait staff and chefs exhaustively, because even the tiniest trace of gluten — present in soy sauce, vinegars, lunch meats, panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and most soups — can trigger an adverse immune response.

While I’ll likely never know what life as a celiac is like, I have a better understanding after speaking with Alice Bast and reading other personal stories on the NFCA Web site. I greatly admire Bast’s many noble efforts to prevent others from suffering the same tragedies she unnecessarily endured.


Gluten-Free Brownies
Adapted from Karina’s Kitchen: Recipes From a Gluten Free Goddess
www.glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com
Yield = 16

5 oz. dark chocolate chips (gluten-free) + more for topping
½ C. butter
2 eggs
1 C. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ C. almonds, processed into a fine meal (or ½ C. almond flour)
¼ C. brown rice flour
½ tsp. fine sea salt
½ tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan.

Microwave the dark chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl for 45 seconds, stirring once halfway.

In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat well for 1 minute. Add the vanilla and whisk until blended. The chocolate will look smooth and glossy. Remove bowl from stand and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ground almonds (or flour), rice flour, salt and baking soda. Add this dry mix to the chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle another 2 to 4 tablespoons of chocolate chips evenly over the batter if desired. Place in the oven and bake for 32 to 34 minutes. Test with a paring knife or a toothpick.

Cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan. Turn pan over quickly and slam onto a cutting board. The whole block of brownies should come right out. Leave the brownie block face down and cut into 16 squares, wiping knife in between cuts. Serve or store in an airtight container.

Gluten-Free Focaccia
Adapted from www.celiac.com
Yield = 8 sandwiches

¼ cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
1½ C. brown rice flour
½ C. buckwheat, amaranth or teff flour
2 C. tapioca flour
2/3 C. instant non-fat dry milk powder
3 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 T. active dry yeast
1 T. sugar
1½ C. lukewarm water
4 egg whites at room temperature
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
sea salt for sprinkling

Grease a parchment paper-lined or Silpat-lined sheet tray with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours, milk powder, xanthan gum, salt, yeast, and sugar. In a large bowl, combine the water and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add olive oil-water mixture to dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Transfer dough — it will be very sticky — to the prepared sheet tray. With greased hands, gently spread dough out, dimpling the dough slightly with your fingers — dough will not fill the entire tray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 40 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap, gently dimple dough again with your fingers, being careful not to deflate. Lightly drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with the rosemary and salt to taste. Place in the oven, close the door and reduce the heat to 400ºF.

Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer until the focaccia is nicely golden. Remove from the oven and transfer bread from pan to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing and using for sandwiches.

Nectarine and Blackberry Crostata

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Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Whenever I have a question regarding a recipe or a cooking technique, I consult the authorities: my mother, my aunt and my grandmother. Sometimes I need to know if I can safely substitute one ingredient for another, sometimes I may need an old family recipe, and sometimes I just need to know if what I plan to do is acceptable.

Let me explain. These women have established some unwritten rules — chicken stock should always be homemade, pie dough should always be all butter, lamb should be from New Zealand and chickens from a kosher market — that, while sometimes I want to challenge, I ultimately fear breaking.

Another one of their rules regards crisps. Crisp toppings, according to the family arbiters, should not contain oats. Their favorite recipe contains flour, butter, sugar and slivered almonds. It’s perfectly sweet and crisp, and it works well on any seasonal fruit.

I love their recipe but I have found one that I love even more (gasp!) and that fortunately doesn’t break the rule: the recipe requires no oats. This Michael Chiarello crostata topping recipe, made with a mixture of cornmeal, flour, butter and sugar, crisps up beautifully in the oven and tastes perfectly sweet, buttery and crisp.

The addition of cornmeal — an uncommon crisp ingredient — adds a wonderful texture, and the subtle corn flavor really complements the fruit. While I love a mix of stone fruit and berries such as nectarines and blackberries, peaches and raspberries, and apricots and blueberries — any seasonal fruit will do.

I know the authorities will approve.

Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Nectarine and Blackberry Crostatas
Crostata topping comes from Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne
Serves 8 to 10

for the topping:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
large pinch salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon aniseed, toasted (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 large egg, beaten lightly

for the filling:
2 T. sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
butter
3 lbs. nectarines, pitted and sliced into thick wedges
8 oz. blackberries

for serving:
vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and aniseed (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Cut butter into bowl. Pulse until butter resembles the size of large peas. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the egg. Using a fork, gently work the flour into the egg until the egg is uniformly mixed throughout the dough. Note: The dough will not form a mass like a traditional dough would. Rather, it will clump together if pressed together.

2. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish or individual ramekins or crème brulee dishes. Stir the 2 T. sugar and 2 T. flour in a large bowl. Add the nectarines and blackberries and toss to combine.

3. Spoon the fruit into the prepared dish or dishes. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake until the nectarines are tender and the topping is golden and crisp, about 30-40 minutes for individual servings and close to an hour for a large dish. Cool at least 10 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Grand Marnier Summer Berry Trifle

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If you’re looking for a summery dessert that feeds many mouths for an upcoming dinner party or potluck, consider this trifle. I only wish I had had such an event to attend before I made this massive concoction of Grand Marnier-soaked cake, creme anglaise, whipped cream and berries. With each day that passes, it seems to get better and better, and as it is slowly disappears from my refrigerator I really am afraid I may just polish off the whole thing myself.

Mixed Berry Trifle
Serves 8 – 10

for the cake:
½ C. all-purpose flour
1½ C. sugar
½ tsp. salt
8 large egg yolks
3 T. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10 x 15 x 2-inch or 9 x 12 x 2-inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar and the salt. Add yolks, milk and extract and whisk again until smooth.

3. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly sprinkle in remaining ½ cup sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks — don’t over-beat. Stir one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites. It’s ok if white streaks remain.

4. Pour batter into pan, place in the oven and bake until cake is golden and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, invert cake onto a cooling rack, peel away parchment paper and let cake cool completely. Set aside.

Note: Cake will fall considerably once removed from the oven and will be very moist.

for the custard:
4 yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1¾ cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Beat yolks and sugar on medium high speed for 3 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Reduce heat and add cornstarch. With mixture on low, slowly pour hot milk into eggs. Put back on stove, stir with a wooden spoon until thickened, strain, add vanilla and chill.

to assemble:
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. Grand Marnier plus more for sprinkling*
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
6 cups mixed berries such as strawberries (stemmed and halved), blueberries, blackberries and raspberries

*optional, if children will be eating the dessert, leave it out

1. Cut the cake into ¾-inch slices, then cut each slice in half. Set aside. Whip cream on high speed. Drizzle in the Grand Marnier. When cream begins to thicken, slowly sprinkle in the sugar. Beat until thick. Fold into custard and chill mixture until ready to assemble.

2. Line the bottom of a bowl (ideally a clear glass bowl with straight sides) with cake. Sprinkle with Grand Marnier. Top with 1/3 of the fruit mixture. Top with half of the custard. Layer more cake on top. Sprinkle with Grand Marnier, top with 1/3 of the berries and the rest of the custard. If more cake remains, layer it on top, sprinkle with Grand Marnier and top with the rest of the berries.

Pluot And Frangipane Galette

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Little could 16th century Italian nobleman, the Marquis Muzio Frangipani, have guessed a perfume he invented to scent the gloves of Louis XIII would inspire pastry chefs for centuries to follow. Soon after Frangipani, living in France, released his fragrance made from bitter almonds to the public, the local patisseries created a cream made with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and ground almonds. They named it frangipane.

While frangipane can be applied to myriad desserts, it nicely complements fruit, particularly summer stone fruit. A layer of frangipane beneath warm sweet peaches, plums, apricots or nectarines, encased in a free-form pastry shell transforms a simple tart into an elegant finale.

For a change from tradition, try making this galette with pluots, a three-quarter plum, one-quarter apricot hybrid. Introduced to the markets in 1989 by Floyd Zaiger, pluots exist today in over 20 varieties. With an intense plum perfume and taste, and a higher sugar content than either apricots or plums, pluots make a nice addition to morning cereals, afternoon salads and evening summer tarts.

Pluot-Frangipane Galette

Yield = One 9-inch tart

Note: The galette dough yields enough for two tarts. Halve the recipe if desired, or freeze the remaining dough round for a later use.

Galette Dough
yield = Two 9-inch tarts

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
½ tsp. table salt
16 T. unsalted butter
½ C. + 2 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 until ready to use.

Frangipane

½ C. almond paste
¼ C. sugar
4 T. butter at room temperature
1 T. rum
1 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.

Finishing the tart:

1½ lbs. stone fruit such as pluots, peaches, nectarine, apricots or plums
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. sugar
parchment paper
Frangipane (see recipe above)
Galette dough (1 9-inch disk, recipe above)
vanilla ice cream

1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one disk out approximately into an 11-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 and chill for 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

2. Spoon the frangipane in center of tart and spread toward the edges, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Cut the fruit into ½-inch thick slices. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles over the frangipane.

3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over the tart on itself, crimping to make a folded-over border. Chill tart again in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Brush dough with butter and sprinkle sugar over entire tart. Place in the oven for 35-45 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.

Classic Cherry Clafouti

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Sweet Bing and Rainier cherries currently abound in the markets. While cherry pie is traditionally made with tart cherries — the smaller, bright red variety grown primarily in northern Michigan — sweet cherries can still be used for desserts until the sour Montmorency cherries arrive, usually in mid-July.

Although clafouti, a batter cake originating in the Limousin region of France, is traditionally made with unpitted black cherries, pitting makes the dessert far more pleasant. A cherry pitter expedites the preparations for this classic dessert. Many grocery stores carry plastic stoners for $3.99 that work perfectly well — there is no need to spend $25 for a fancy OXO brand pitter: It likely will get used only once a year. With the help of a food processor or a stand mixer, preparations take fewer than 15 minutes. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, this sweet cherry clafouti looks particularly elegant in individual crème brulée dishes.

Cherries are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and Vitamins A, C and E. They also have high levels of melatonin, which not only controls sleepiness at night and wakefulness during the day but also functions as an antioxidant to help the body destroy free radicals. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends sweet cherries for their powerful phytochemicals, believed to help prevent cancer of the breast, lung, liver and skin. To read more about a recent study linking an increased intake of tart cherries to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, click here.

Cherry Clafouti
Serves 8 (Yield = 4 crème brulee dishes)

unsalted butter for greasing
4 crème brulée dishes, or 1 (10-inch diameter) glass pie dish
4 teaspoons sugar, plus ½ cup
2 cups cherries, pitted (about 32)
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups whole milk
¼ cup all-purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease the crème brulée dishes with butter and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Gently tap each dish so the sugar disperses evenly. Place the dishes on a rimmed cookie sheet. Drop approximately 8 cherries into each dish and set pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer, beat the eggs with the remaining ½ cup of sugar, vanilla extract and salt until well-blended. Add milk and beat to blend. Sift flour into mixture and beat until smooth. For easier pouring, transfer batter to a bowl or liquid measuring cup with a spout. Pour batter evenly over cherries.

Place pan in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. An inserted knife should emerge with just a few moist particles. Let cool 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches

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During a recent visit to upstate Vermont, I enjoyed several Chester Bars with two of my little cousins. Chester Bars, a Vermont specialty, are ice cream cookie sandwiches, similar to Chipwiches, but so much better. This red, white and blue star-dipped version, while not quite the same as the original, makes a festive dessert for Memorial Day weekend. The cookies, delicious on their own, are soft and chewy and make a perfect base for a rich vanilla-bean ice cream filling.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
Yield = 17 sandwiches

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

½ gallon vanilla ice cream
red, white and blue sprinkles

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Place heaping tablespoons of the dough onto an ungreased jelly-roll pan. (If you have a digital scale, each ball should weigh 1¾ oz. If not, each ball should be approximately equal to two level tablespoons.) Bake only six cookies at a time.

Bake 10-11 minutes. Keep a close watch. The cookies will still look uncooked when you remove them from the oven. (You will think you are removing them too early, but the cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven — this will guarantee a moist and chewy cookie.) Let sit for 10 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

Line half of the cookies on a work surface face down. Scoop ice cream from tub and place on top of each cookie, about ¼ – ½ cup of ice cream. Top each with a cookie and gently press. Wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. (If you have space for a cookie sheet in the freezer, line the sandwiches on a sheet pan, cover whole pan with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.)
Place various sprinkles in separate bowls. Let kids, adults, guests dip their own sandwich in desired topping.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

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Every Tuesday at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market, the Rineer Family Farm from Lancaster brings the sweetest, most fragrant strawberries. Inspired by their prized berries and the rhubarb from the Livengood’s Produce stall, I made this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Unlike most rhubarb desserts — requiring masses of sugar to counter the rhubarb’s tartness — this cobbler, made with naturally sweet strawberries, needs much less. With a buttermilk biscuit topping, this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, when paired with vanilla ice cream, makes a light and fruity spring dessert.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cobbler
Serves 8-10

1 lb. rhubarb
1 lb. strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
zest of one lime
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cold
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons demera sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Wash rhubarb and cut into 1-inch lengths. (This should yield about 3½ cups.) Wash strawberries, cut off stem and slice in half. (This should yield about 3 cups.) Place rhubarb, strawberries, cornstarch, sugar, lime zest and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

In separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture in small pieces and stir with a fork to combine. Whisk buttermilk and vanilla together, then pour mixture into dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture comes together — the dough will be very wet and sticky.

Transfer fruit to a 12 x 8½-inch (2 quart) baking dish. Break off portions of the dough (about 8-10) and arrange over the fruit. Brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle the sugar over both the fruit and dough portions of the dish.

Place in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling.

Let cool on rack 30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.