Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

Figs will always be associated with some of the happiest times in my life, and with the geographical locations of this happiness. I think of the black mission figs rolling down the steep sidewalks of the Berkeley hills, too plentiful to collect before the early autumn sun softened them too much. Homeowners guarded their Meyer lemons fiercely up there, but the fig trees, with their too-high boughs too heavily laden, invited urban foragers to find a perfect fallen fruit.

As a grad student and a poetry lecturer, we were ridiculously lucky in the location of our home: the top floor of a run-down building on a prominent curve of Euclid Avenue. Our front windows looked out over the San Francisco Bay. We became aesthetically immune to spectacular sunsets and the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny morning. This storm caught our attention, though.


This was where we lived when Jack was born, and I used to walk with him in the Baby Bjorn or Ergo all around the hills, picking up a fig here and there. I’ve been thinking about this time a lot lately because I’m trying to remember what it’s like to have a baby. Our second one will arrive in about two weeks…

Was my big boy ever this small?

The other happy fig-associated time in a Mediterranean climate that I think about is of course our year in Rome. How many fresh figs drizzled with honey did I eat? Mmmm… too many to count.

Cool shade of the fig canopy:


The other day I bought a tray of California figs at Trader Joe’s, knowing full well that they’d turn to mush in a few days. But I wanted them! And this weekend we have the perfect excuse for me to go through a pile of figs: a dinner party for which I volunteered to bring dessert. Ever since I tried the fig tart at Patisserie 46, I’ve been wanting to recreate it. I’m fairly sure the figs were nestled in frangipane—that transcendent almond filling—so I looked in all of my cookbooks for a fig or fig frangipane tart recipe, but didn’t find one. (I could have looked online, but my cookbooks have been suffering neglect.) I did find, in a Williams-Sonoma Pie & Tart cookbook that my sister gave me for Christmas one year a recipe for a pear and frangipane tart. I decided to use this one, modifying for figs, and substituting my favorite crust recipe, from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from La Brea Bakery.

Sweet Pastry Dough
2 3/4 c. unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
2 extra-large egg yolks
1/4 c. heavy cream

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar and pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter, and pulse on and off or mix on low until it’s the consistency of a fine meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add to the butter mixture and pulse a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dip the heel of your hand in flour and, working with small sections, smear the dough away from you to blend it together. When the dough has been all smeared out, using a metal scraper or spatula, scrape and gather it together. Divide the dough in half and gently knead each half to gather into a ball. Flatten into discs and wrap in plastic to chill at least 2 hours, until firm. Freeze for longer storage.

Since this tart calls only for a bottom crust, I used the other half of the dough to make sugar cookies in the shapes of pumpkins and ghosts. Jack will help me decorate them later.

Fig and Frangipane Tart (based on Pear and Frangipane Tart in Williams-Sonoma’s Pie & Tart book)

Filling:
2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 c. raw, whole almonds, finely ground
2/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. rum (or lemonade)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
10-12 ripe figs
honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

When butter has cooled, mix it with the almonds, sugar, eggs, extracts, rum, salt, and zest. Spread mixture evenly in the tart shell. Slice each fig in half and arrange in the tart

Bake until the filling is firm to the touch in the center and golden, about 45 minutes. Drizzle with honey. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Read Full Post »

Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

Read Full Post »

These sweet little heirlooms are from Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton, Vermont. This was one of the farms that got me hooked on supporting local organic farmers. I was in college, taking a journalism course, and the assignment was to write a profile, so I interviewed the owner, Suzanne Long. Her dedication to living off of the land, and to biodynamic farming in particular, was inspiring to this twenty-year-old. One of my high school friends who apprenticed at Luna Bleu is now an organic farmer herself, in Guilford, Vermont.

Anyway, Caprese salad and tomato tart season is here! The tomatoes above were at the Hanover Farmers’ Market, held on the green every Wednesday afternoon. We also picked up some locally produced beer brats from Hogwash Farm, and Jack enjoyed a very large snack.

My last day in Vermont was a relaxing and delicious one.  In the morning, my mom and I drove out to Woodstock to check out a new cafe owned by a young couple, Mon Vert Cafe.

We each had a cappuccino, and I also had a piece of coffee cake that looked like your basic cinnamon-swirled bundt but that turned out to be swirled with spices much more interesting: nutmeg and clove hints laced through the cinnamon, and the crumb was as moist and dense as an olive oil cake. I enjoyed reading their irony-touched wine list, too:

Another fruit of summer that I love, although I’m not getting them locally, is the cherry. Since my mom and I weren’t getting enough help in making the huge bowl of them disappear, I decided to make a clafoutis. I used the recipe in Chez Panisse Fruit, which calls for cooking the cherries in a skillet first. The end product was a bit wet on the bottom, but there’s nothing like warm poached cherry juice, so that was fine with me. The cake part had a souffle-like lightness with a hint of almond. This will be my new go-to dessert: so easy, and yet so impressive.

Now we’re back in Minneapolis, and there’s a bowl of cherries in the fridge….

Before I end with the recipe, I’ll just drop a news tidbit. I’ve launched a new website! Please check it out at: english-thyme.com

And now, here’s a jotted-down version of the recipe:

Clafoutis

2tbs. butter
1/3 plus 3tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
2 eggs, separated
3tbs. flour
1tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 pinch saltIn a skillet over medium heat, foam the butter, add cherries and sugar, cinnamon, zest. Cook for 7-10 minutes until cherries are tender and juice thickens.  Arrange cherries in a 9-inch dish.
Preheat oven to 375.
Beat egg yolks and 3 tbs. sugar. until light and thickened. Beat in flour, vanilla, almond extract, and cream.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Fold into yolks and pour batter over fruit.
Bake 20 minutes.

Read Full Post »

hot oranges

Remember when M.F.K. Fisher warmed tangerines on the radiator?  Well, less elegantly and inadvertently, I just invented a new snack for myself: hot orange.  I decided this morning to make that  orange-scented olive oil cake again, and, attempting to multitask, I popped an orange in the microwave to take the chill off and proceeded to quarter three oranges, forgetting that 10 seconds goes by in a flash.  Oops! 30 seconds later, I heard the beep and took out a hot, sweating, fragrant orange.  The peel came right off, the sections were steaming, and the flavor was intense! I’m going to do this more often….


The cake, then. It is a perfect cake: crumbly, moist, full of flavor, and, in fact, healthy!  The only fat in it is olive oil (and egg), the sugar is not too high.  And it’s an any-occasion cake: dinner-party dessert, breakfast, tea-time, or mid-morning little smackerel of something.

(It would be good with honey.)

I also love the process of it.  First, three successive boilings of the orange quarters to temper the acidity, then a slow simmer of orange in simple syrup.  The drained oranges are then pureed and mixed into the dry ingredients with eggs and olive oil.  The cake is finished with an orangey glaze that soaks into the crumb structure through the top and the bottom edges where the glaze puddles.  The process also fills the house with the most wonderful aroma of tropical warmth.

Read Full Post »

In just under a month, we’ll be moving from Auburn to Minneapolis. Quite a change.  We’ve been soaking up the summery May weather here by spending time in the big backyard.  We found blackberry bushes in the corner near the wren house.  The nasturtiums we planted are blooming in spite of the drought. It sounds silly, but these nasturtiums have given me one of my most satisfying gardening experiences.  They pop up in no time, they’re colorful, they’re edible, and their vine-like stems grow into beautifully negligent nests (a good description of my garden-style).

For a dinner party the other night, I made the orange-scented olive oil cake I’ve written about here before, and decorated it seasonally.

And here are Jack and Jordan the other day.

For Jack’s birthday party last month, also on the deck in the backyard, our little geography buff wanted a map cake, so I made two layer cakes decorated as the eastern and western hemispheres.  Jack drew the continents.

Read Full Post »

Allechante

This is the name of a little cafe in Norwich, Vermont. They make really good food.  They actually know how to bake. This doesn’t sound like a compliment or even a recommendation, but it is.  The perfection of their pastries always inspires deep respect, gratitude, and even awe in me, because there are so few towns that have real bakeries that don’t take short cuts with vegetable oil, that eschew muffins, that use time-tested recipes and forms—such as the Swiss honey-walnut-stuffed engadiner—and that don’t inflate their pastries to size of a toddler’s head.  I always look forward to their almond croissants, which sell out quickly because of their perfect flakiness, not-too-sweetness, delicacy, and pure yumminess.  I was lucky yesterday that there was one left when we got there as late as 9:40.  It was 16 degrees outside. I sat in the sunny corner and enjoyed my moment of marzipan and toasted butter bliss, and watched the Christmas cookies sparkle and turn on their branches.

Read Full Post »

holy holidays!

Once again, we’ll be traveling during Christmas, so we got a small, manageable, multi-purpose, potted tree: a rosemary bush.

Saturday was an interesting amalgam of holidays, of kitsch and authenticity, peppermint sticks and latkes.  In the morning, we joined some friends at the local John Deere dealer for a picture with Santa and to climb around on tractors.

Oh yeah!

This event reached a height of absurdity when the hay wagon took us on a circuit through the parking lot of the Lakeview Baptist jumbo-church.

We ended the day at little Mimi’s house eating latkes and lighting the menorah. To celebrate oil, I once again made the orange scented olive oil cake I wrote about recently.  This time, though, I had confectioner’s sugar so was able to make the glaze and to dot the top with coarse fleur de sel.  The oranges I used were a variety of blood orange from Florida, just in, which gave the cake a peachy hue.  It was deeply moist and tangy.

All and all, it was a satisfying weekend for the little ones. On Sunday, I bought my first wreath, strung up lights, and lit all the candles in the house. We’re having a spell of 30-degree weather, so it feels pretty cozy.

Today after school, it was time to turn that frozen disk of sweet pastry dough into cookies.

(Those crispy critters out front are my favorites.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.