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.
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.
At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt.
The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.
Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.
Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.
Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.
Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts
tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray 1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks 1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks 1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled a few carrots, peeled and cubed olive oil kosher salt fresh cracked pepper
3-4 slices bread (French or Italian) about 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety 1 bunch fresh basil crushed red pepper flakes Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional
Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.
1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.
2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.
3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.
Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.
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.
I haven’t quite nailed down this whole gardening thing yet. My cherry tomato plant grew so tall that most of its branches, weighed down by the bundles of fruit at the ends, ended up snapping in two. In an effort to alleviate some of the stress on the rest of the plant, I pruned the broken branches and lay them over the railing outside my apartment.
Amazingly, in just a few days, the little green teardrops turned bright red. And now, I have more cherry tomatoes on my hands than I know what to do with. This salsa has helped deplete the supply somewhat, but I’m going to have to get a little more creative if I want to enjoy these sweet treats before they shrivel on the vine and fall to their death in our carport.
I served this tonight over a piece of pan-seared cod. Yum. And, I ended up eating the salsa more as a side dish than a condiment. This salsa almost could be served as a salad itself. Or, tossed with some bulgur or quinoa or any grain really, it could be made into a meal.
I have about a cup of it left which I am going to stir into some scrambled eggs manana. I cannot wait.
Grilled Corn and Cherry Tomato Salsa Yields enough for two people. Serve with pan-seared fish or chicken
2 ears corn, shucked 2 cups cherry tomatoes ½ red onion fresh basil 1-2 hot peppers, such as Thai bird chilies, jalapenos or serranos kosher salt olive oil ½ a lemon or lime
1. Preheat the grill to high. When ready, grill the corn very briefly on each side, just enough to leave a few kernels charred. Remove corn from grill and let cool briefly. Cut kernels from cob and place in a mixing bowl. (Note: The corn will taste very crunchy still. The grilling is just to add a nice, smoky flavor.)
2. Meanwhile halve the cherry tomatoes through the stem and place in the mixing bowl. Peel and finely dice the onion to yield a scant half-cup. Add to the bowl. Tear basil leaves into the bowl. Finely dice the chilies, seeds and all, and add to the bowl. (Obviously, add according to what heat-scale you prefer.)
3.Season the mixture with a pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive (maybe more, maybe less) over the mixture. Juice the half lemon or lime over the mixture. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary, and leave at room temperature until ready to serve.
This salsa is particularly delicious served over a pan-seared filet of fish such as cod, halibut, trout, striped bass, etc.
Broken branches of cherry tomatoes ripening in the sun on my railing.
In a May 19th New Yorker article, Bee Wilson wrote: “As of 2006, there were 800 million people on the planet who were hungry, but they were outnumbered by the billion who were overweight. Our current food predicament resembles a scenario largely created by overproduction rather than underproduction. Our ability to produce vastly too many calories for our basic needs has skewed the concept of demand and generated a wildly dysfunctional market.”
This confused me. How could so many people in the world — 100 million people currently are at risk of joining the one billion people on the planet living on $1 a day — be hungry if there is no overall shortage of food? The answer, I learned, is complicated.
China, India, Europe and the United States are all to blame. Trade officials in these nations (and other wealthy nations), of course, design policies that will protect their farmers. What’s so bad about that? Well, when governments intervene in markets by imposing import tariffs and subsidies, for example, markets do not operate as they should and false equilibriums are reached. This, in turn, leads to market failures — such as food shortages — and the consequences can be dire: misery, malnutrition, starvation.
I’ve been trying to understand this food crisis for the past few months now, and I have summarized below what I have learned. Links to all of the articles I have read regarding this matter can be found at the end of the post (before the recipe.)
• Usually food crises are localized, but for the first time in 30 years, food protests are erupting in many places at once: 33 countries (including Haiti, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt, the Philippines, El Salvador and Pakistan) are at risk of social upheaval because of the high food prices.
• Human suffering is vast. Food inflation could push 100 million people into poverty, wiping out all the gains the poorest billion have made during almost a decade of economic growth.
• The era of cheap food is over.
What is causing the high food prices?
1. The growing middle-class in China and India: A half-billion consumers in these countries are increasingly emulating rich Western diets. (They are eating more meat.)
2. High oil costs have sent diesel fuel, fertilizers and farm chemical prices sky-high. Industrial agriculture has become so dependent on fossil fuel — for fertilizer, for pesticide, for processing and transportation. Today it takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.
3. Western biofuel programs converting cereals into fuel. This year, one-fifth of the American corn crop will be devoted to Ethanol. High corn prices have led farmers to plant more corn and less soy and wheat, leading to the surge in the price for all grains.
4. Arable acreage is continually being cut back due to environmental regulations, water scarcities and urban development.
5. Government interference in markets. In a perfect world: the response to higher prices is higher output; with farming, however, this isn’t the case. For one, it always takes a season to grow more food (unlike a toy factory, which can respond immediately). And second, by imposing export quotas, price controls, consumer subsidies, export restrictions and lower tariffs, governments muffle signals to farmers and further delay their reaction to price signals. In a free market, imbalances get smoothed out naturally.
What is the solution?
First: Get food and help to the famine-ravaged places. In the short-term, humanitarian aid, social protection programs and and open trade policies will alleviate the suffering. To achieve this, the World Food Program (the world’s largest distributor of food aid) needs an extra $700 million. Though the importation of American and European surplus harvests could damage domestic markets in poor nations, given the widespread food shortages, this is the short-term solution.
Second: Open up trade. Governments need to liberalize markets not intervene. Victor Davis Hanson writes: “The best thing that the United States could now do is to stop interfering with its own farmers, let markets and need determine what they grow and how they farm — and then by such a principled American example, persuade the rest of the world to do the same.”
• Reduce modern agriculture’s dependence on oil. Michael Pollan writes that “agriculture is the original solar technology, and sustainable farmers have shown us how we might put our food system back on a foundation of sunlight. For example, when you take cattle off their typical feedlot diet of grain and allow them to eat grass, those hamburgers put less pressure on the prices of both oil and grain.”
• Pollan continues: “Most of the world’s grain goes to feed animals, not people, and meat is a very inefficient use for that grain — it takes 10 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. There would be plenty of grain for everyone if we actually ate it as food and didn’t use it to make meat. Reducing world meat consumption — or feeding our food animals differently — would leave more grain for the world’s hungry.
• The Economist asserts that the way to feed the world is not to bring more land under cultivation, but to increase yields, and science, thus, is crucial. (The Economist: The quickest way to increase your crop is to plant more, but in the short run, there is only a limited amount of fallow land. Food increases thus need to come from higher yields.)
Oh and P.S.: This bread, like all of the other loaves produced from recipes printed inArtisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, is delicious. As the pictures show, this isn’t the typical, sweet, cake-like creation most often associated with the word “cornbread.”
Broa (Portuguese Corn Bread) From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = four 1-lb. loaves
3 cups lukewarm water 1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets) 1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt 1½ cups stone-ground or standard cornmeal 5 cups (22.5 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)
2. Mix in the cornmeal and flour. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary.
3. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) and allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.
On Baking Day:
4. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.
5. Place the shaped ball on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel. (If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal covered cutting board. Allow the loaf (uncovered) to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes.
6. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450ºF, with a baking stone placed on the lowest rack. (If you don’t have a stone, don’t worry.) Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. (This helps to make the crust crispy, but you’re bread will still be delicious if you omit this step.)
7. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Make several ¼-inch-deep slashes across the bread. (Again, an uncritical step.)
8. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated stone. (Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour about one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.
On Wednesday, I found the dollar bin at the Santa Monica farmers’ market. Well, a dollar bin of sorts. One of the stands was selling bell peppers, a mix of yellow and red, for $1 a pound. I picked up eight, slightly misshapen, on-the-verge-of-spoiling peppers for $2. That’s crazy. I basically had hit the jackpot. I took them home, roasted them, and now I have a stash in my fridge to be used as I wish. For dinner tonight, I made scrambled eggs and ate them with warm bread topped with some slivers of roasted red peppers. Yum.
So it seems, even with crazy-high food prices — the Washington Post recently reported that since March 2007, the price of eggs has jumped 35 percent; a gallon of milk, 23 percent; a loaf of white bread, 16 percent; and a pound of ground chuck, 8 percent — deals can be found. And “green,” delicious deals at that.
I know, I know. It’s not always so easy. But seriously, a simple way to buffer the sting of these high food prices is to eat more vegetables. These peppers, which taste so sweet when roasted, can be used in so many ways. Meat will not be missed. At least for a few days.
Here are some other tasty locations to place your roasted peppers: • Sandwiches with cheddar cheese, mustard and red onion. • Salads. • Paninis filled with sautéed Swiss chard and Gruyère. • Pasta or pasta salad. • On pizza. • In omelets. • As a dip when coarsely puréed with feta and parsley. • Quiche. • A savory, summer tart.
Roasted Red Peppers Yield = As many as you like. Estimate about half a pepper per person.
bell peppers, a mix of red, yellow, orange and green is pretty, but red are the sweetest and the best parchment paper, makes for easy cleaning, but a thin coating of olive oil does the trick, too olive oil kosher salt or fleur de sel fresh cracked pepper basil or parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF*. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper (for easy clean up — make sure it extends over the edges).
2. Meanwhile, cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and white veins. Place peppers cut-side down on parchment paper. (Alternatively, rub a small amount of olive oil on the sheet tray.) Place pan in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the skin is blistery and charred. Don’t be impatient here: If the skin isn’t blistery enough, the peppers will be difficult to peel.
3. Place the peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 or 5 hours (or longer.) When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard.
4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can also store the peppers with the skins still on — I do this when I can’t get around to peeling them right away.
*Note: You could also broil the peppers. If you prefer broiling, which takes less time, do not line your baking sheet with parchment — it will burn. The peppers take about 20 minutes under the broiler.
Note: Bring to room temperature before serving — the cold masks their flavor. For a simple appetizer, slice the peppers into slivers. place on a platter. Taste. Sometimes the peppers are so sweet that they don’t need anything. If they need a little seasoning, however, drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and top with fresh herbs. Serve with warm bread.
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.)
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.
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.
Oh, to live in New York in August. And late July and early September. To have access to New York bagels during tomato season would just be a dream. I’m not trying to dis Bagel Shack (my local bagel shop, which I love) or anything, but there really isn’t anything like a New York bagel.
That said, however, the tomato here is the star. Subpar bagels are just fine when meaty, heirloom tomatoes sit on top of them. This has been my breakfast now for three days in a row: A toasted sesame bagel spread with chive cream cheese (purchased from bagel shack but which could easily be made from scratch) topped with a slice of tomato and sprinkled, of course, with sea salt. Amazing.
Also, I feel I must clarify something I said last post. I do feel that tomatoes, when being prepared for Caprese salad, should be cut into irregular chunks, for reasons explained here. That’s not to say, however, that tomatoes should always be cut this way. The heirloom tomato varieties, in particular, look stunning when cut into rounds, which is a practical shape for certain dishes, namely this breakfast.
Also, it should be noted that tomato rounds look completely different depending on which way the knife passes through the fruit. Cut the tomato crosswise (not through the stem) for the prettiest slice. (In other words, if a tomato is sitting just as it would on a board, you would cut the tomato holding the knife parallel to the board. Does that make sense? Or, turn the tomato on its side, then cut down, perpendicular to the board.)
It has been done to death. Caprese salad that is. But there’s a reason it appears on nearly every restaurant menu come summertime: It’s so unbelievably good. I promise I’m not trying to bore you. I just have have a few things to add, in an effort, I hope, to maximize your tomato-eating experience this summer.
1. Tomatoes. I’m sort of stating the obvious here, but likely the tomatoes you pick up at your local farmers’ market will be superior to store-bought varieties. This past Sunday at the San Clemente farmers’ market, I learned from one of the Carlsbad farmers that the darker tomatoes tend to be sweeter. The man wasn’t lying. The tomato pictured in the upper left corner of this photo was the sweetest and tastiest of the bunch. It reminded me of a variety I discovered last summer, back in Philadelphia, called Black Prince, which I loved for the same reasons.
2. Fresh basil. Nothing like it. So fragrant. So sweet.
3. Mozzarella. I hate to be a snob, but buffalo mozzarella is so good, and there’s really nothing like the imported Italian varieties. However, as we are all so aware of our food miles these days, we can make smarter choices. I just discovered this Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella, which is made in Gardena (near L.A.) from the milk of water buffalo grazing in Northern California, if I understood the story correctly. Anyway, it is exceptional. And for Philadelphians, Claudio’s mozzarella is wonderful. (For all of you in between CA and PA, I wish I could give you more direction. Alas, my knowledge extends only to two places.)
4. Salt. Invest in a small tub of nice salt, like this one pictured below. I use it only on special occasions, like when I’m salting tomatoes or salting avocados or salting butter spread onto bread. So, basically I use it every day. My sister found this little tub in France earlier this summer but any variety of nice sea salt will do. (If you can’t resist this precious container, you can buy it from Salt Works.) And don’t be afraid to give the tomatoes a real sprinkling — I swear it makes them sweeter not saltier. Really.
5. Olive Oil. With good tomatoes, a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is the only dressing needed. I have yet to add a splash of vinegar to my tomato salads this summer. Though a splash certainly wouldn’t hurt. And it does make a nice little sauce to soak bread in.
6. Preparation. Try cutting your tomatoes into irregular shapes as opposed to thin slices. They look prettier; they’re easier to eat; and the tomatoes taste better, too. Really, they do. Cut the mozzarella the same way. And when you arrange it all on a platter, don’t toss it around to much. Just sprinkle the tomatoes and cheese with salt; tear basil leaves over the top; drizzle it with oil; and serve.
Two very hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, one heirloom tomato and a few very tired sprigs of basil picked from my garden. Yay, the tomatoes are turning red! I am particularly enjoying the dark red heirloom tomatoes. They are sweet and delicious. I found these along with Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella at the Santa Monica farmers’ market this past Wednesday.