Best Dessert Ever

Seriously, this may be my favorite dessert ever. After cookies and cream ice cream, that is. No really, I have taken this don’t-take-your-mother’s-advice thing way too far. She, I mean my mother — (Liza hates to be referred to as a pronoun) — has been telling me to make this cake for years, well at least since 2004, when the New York Times printed the recipe.

I baked this cake this morning, ate one quarter of it for lunch, and another quarter for dinner. I’m tempted to include a picture of the half-eaten cake in this post, but am too embarrassed. I don’t know what else to say. It’s moist, delicious, seasonal and can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or dinner. I mean it. Make it!

Balzano Apple Cake
Adapted from New York Times 2004
Serves 8

1 stick butter, plus more for greasing pan
parchment paper
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

4 Fuji apples
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt such as fleur de sel
½ cup milk at room temperature
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nine-inch-circle pan with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and place inside pan.

Melt butter in small saucepan. Set aside. Beat together eggs and half of sugar in a bowl. Continue to beat while slowly adding remaining sugar until thick — it should form a ribbon when dropped from spoon.

Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into the egg-sugar mixture and add pod to melted butter.

Peel apples and cut straight down around the core into four big chunks. Discard the core then slice the apple pieces thinly.

Remove vanilla pod from butter and discard. Stir butter into sugar-egg mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking powder, then stir into batter alternating with the milk. Stir in apples, coating every piece with batter. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, until cake pulls away from pan and is brown on top. (A thin-bladed knife inserted into the center will come out clean when it is done.) Cool 30 minutes, then cut into wedges sprinkling each with powdered sugar if desired.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Today, I arrived to work to find a bag filled with heirloom tomatoes sitting on my desk. I knew right away they had been left by Brian, one of the men who works in advertising for The Bulletin, who travels to the city from Lancaster, where he and his wife have a small farm. He has been bringing in his goodies all summer, sharing them with the staff, and his tomatoes are incredible. They really don’t even need olive oil, vinegar or basil — a pinch of salt does the job.

While I prefer to eat these gems raw, this recipe still allows the tomatoes to shine. Filled with caramelized onions, corn, and Gruyère cheese, and topped with a layer of heirlooms, this tart makes a wonderful summer dinner. Any leftover makes a great lunch too.

Heirloom Tomato Tart
Serves 4

1¼ C. all-purpose flour
1/3 C. cornmeal
1 tsp. sugar
1¼ tsp. salt
6 T. unsalted butter, chilled
4 T. olive oil, divided
¼ C. ice water
4 medium heirloom tomatoes
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
kernels from one ear of corn, a scant cup
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ C. fresh tarragon, minced
4 oz. Swiss or Gruyère cheese, grated
basil for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal sugar and salt. Cut in the butter using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, until the butter resembles the size of large peas. Mix 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the ice water, add to the flour mixture, and stir until the dough begins to come together. Gather the dough into a ball, pat into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch thick slices and place in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels. Sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. Let stand 30 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out approximately into a 10-inch circle, then transfer to 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. With lightly floured hands, press dough into bottom and sides of pan. Place tart pan on a cookie sheet. Line dough with foil or plastic wrap, fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Remove pan from oven, remove beans from center, and place on cooling rack.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions in the remaining one tablespoon of oil over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn kernels and garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the tarragon and remove pan from heat.

Pour onion mixture into center of tart. Top with cheese. Pat the tops of the tomatoes dry with another double layer of paper towels. Arrange the tomatoes over the top of the onion mixture in overlapping circles. Bake 20 minutes longer or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden.

Almond Scones with Strawberry Jam

So many goodies arrived today in my CSA basket, but most notably, a jar of homemade strawberry jam from Countryside Produce in Paradise, PA. Last week we received a quart of strawberries, this week jam — heaven! Sadly, we may already have reached the peak of strawberry season: This past Tuesday, at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market, Gloria from the Rineer Family Farmstand doubted she would bring any more strawberries this summer. Although I will miss the fresh strawberries, I will happily savor this jam. For a wonderfully sweet breakfast, serve the jam with these buttermilk-almond scones.


CSA Week 5:
1¼ lbs sugar peas
1 head cabbage
1 crown broccoli
3 zucchini
1 bunch scallions
1 head green leaf lettuce
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 kohlrabi root
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch garlic scapes
1½ lbs kale

Almond-Buttermilk Scones
Yield=6

a scant 2¼ cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (2.33 oz) sugar
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sliced almonds
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick cold unsalted butter

2 tablespoons milk
turbinado or demera sugar for sprinkling

Set oven to 375°F.
In a medium to large-sized mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the almonds and stir to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the vanilla. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Gently knead the dough together in the bowl until it is just combined. Be careful, however, not to mix and knead the dough too much—you just want to combine the ingredients. If you have to add a tablespoon more of buttermilk, do so, but otherwise just gently pack the mixture into a ball and then turn dough out onto a work surface.

Gently pat and shape the dough into a rectangle approximately ¾ to 1 – inch thick. With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into six triangles. At this point, either freeze the cut scones in a zip lock bag or place them on Silpat or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

Brush the scones with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar. (Note: you can brush the scones with anything you like: eggs, egg whites, cream, even water. If you don’t have turbinado or demera sugar, regular granulated sugar is a fine substitute.) Bake the scones for approximately 15-18 minutes. (When you bake frozen scones, remove them from freezer while oven preheats. Brush with wash just before baking and bake 18-23 minutes.) Serve immediately with strawberry jam.

Unfortunately, as of now, I have no recipe for strawberry jam, but will post one as soon as I find one. These and the strawberries above are from the Rineer Family Farmstand.

Almond-Buttermilk Scones

My many intentions to bake lots of holiday treats this season have amounted, uncreatively, to the sole production of these scones. In an attempt, truthfully, to avoid leaving a nearly full quart of buttermilk in the refrigerator before leaving for Minnesota for the holidays I perused my recipe collection for a solution. After considering various biscuit, cornbread and panna cotta recipes, I opted simply to make a batch of my favorite buttermilk scones. I prepared and divided the dough at night, placed two scones on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator and froze the rest. In the morning, I baked off the reserved two and my husband and I happily enjoyed these flaky, not-too-sweet, and almond-packed treats for breakfast. They make a nice change from a usual routine of oatmeal and toast and feel quite festive this time of year. Any other nut, fruit or flavoring can be substituted for the almonds and the dough freezes beautifully. Enjoy!

Almond-Buttermilk Scones
Yield=6

a scant 2 ¼ cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (2.33 oz) sugar
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sliced almonds
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick cold unsalted butter

2 tablespoons milk
turbinado or demera sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a medium to large-sized mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the almonds and stir to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the vanilla. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Gently knead the dough together in the bowl until it is just combined. Be careful, however, not to mix and knead the dough too much—you just want to combine the ingredients. If you have to add a tablespoon more of buttermilk, do so, but otherwise just gently pack the mixture into a ball and then turn dough out onto a work surface. Gently pat and shape the dough into a rectangle approximately ¾ to 1 – inch thick. With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into six triangles. At this point, either freeze the cut scones in a zip lock bag or place them on Silpat or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Brush the scones with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar. (Note: you can brush the scones with anything you like: eggs, egg whites, cream, even water. If you don’t have turbinado or demera sugar, regular granulated sugar is a fine substitute.) Bake the scones for approximately 15-18 minutes. (When you bake frozen scones, remove them from freezer while oven preheats. Brush with wash just before baking and bake 18-23 minutes.) Serve immediately.