Monday, October 29, 2007

Apples and Thyme: Oatmeal cookies for Mom

Of all the blog events happening in November- this one was my favorite. Apples and Thyme, which is hosted by The Passionate Palate andvanielje kitchen, is a celebration honoring our Mothers and Grandmothers, and the influence they had over us in the kitchen. Perfect timing for my Mother Kym, who's birthday just happens to be today.
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Happy Birthday Mamma!

My grandmother has been mentioned here many times, and she obviously influenced me a lot in the kitchen. But it was mom who really should get credit for inspiring me to become a pastry chef. You see, my mother has a special something inside her. I don't know how, but for as long as I can remember she has been able to make everything she touches beautiful. Be it the home, garden, clothing, jewelry, make-up, hair, etc.- she has a true artists eye and outstanding taste. For over 2 decades, she has been a hair stylist. She used to deal in antiques as a hobby, and now she makes stunning jewelry.
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everything in mom's house, right down to the napkins, is beautiful

I am a lot like my mom, personality wise- but have never, ever been good at putting together an outfit. Make-up is a big pain in the ass for me, I don't usually bother. I forget to even put on jewelry. This is the worst part- I have my husband do the home decor.
I did however, inherit Mom's taste for great food. Just like everything else, she could even make recipes prettier. She followed a recipe to the letter the fist time and we'd all like it. Then she would make it again, adding her own sense of style and flair, with scrumptious results. This is how I too, always cook. She has an adventurous palate and was always trying new things. If we didn't like what was put before us at dinner, we were made to take 3 bites. After that, we could gag all we wanted. But rarely was that necessary. It was usually pretty damn good. She also baked with my sister and I. Especially Christmas cookies. I have very warm and fuzzy memories of sugar dough candy canes, butterscotch wreathes, and Jonny Mathis.

Her biggest inspiration on me were the two things she installed into my brain regularly. Number one: Get married because you love the man, not because of his pocketbook (which I did, I love my hard working hubby more than anything). Number two: Go to school to become a pastry chef. This one started around 10th grade, when I had expressed an interest in baking. Rather than pushing the 4 year university thing, as most of my friend's moms were doing, she nurtured my interests and started doing research on local culinary schools. She encouraged it all through high school as my enthusiasm toward the idea kept growing. I now have the coolest job ever, in an incredibly exciting industry.

As I mentioned it's her birthday, so her and my dad are celebrating in New York. I am house sitting for them, which is always an opportunity to cook in a way cooler kitchen than mine in a way cooler house than mine. Today, for mom, I am baking oatmeal cookies, which I will leave for her to snack on when she comes home tomorrow. This is a recipe adapted from another lady who has influenced my career, Sherry Yard.
My mom loves oatmeal. Her oatmeal should be another post of it's own. It's amazing. Thick steel cut oats, slowly cooked and served with the traditional accompaniments. For mom's oats, once the bowl is served, drizzled with milk, and sprinkled with brown sugar (berries and nuts are sometimes in there too), stirring is an absolute no-no. It must be left as is. Just trust me, it's better this way. I wouldn't dream destroying a perfect steamy bowl of oatmeal by swirling my spoon around in there.
Mom, you deserve a big thanks for how happy I am today. You nudged me toward my dreams. I admire you, I respect you, and I LOVE you! Here, have some cookies. You deserve them.
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Oatmeal Cookies adapted from Desserts By the Yard by Sherry Yard
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
7 oz. softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cup fat raisins*

sift flour and soda together in a bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter until it's lemony yellow- about 2 minutes. Add the sugars and spices. Cream until smooth and lump free- about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl in between additions. On low speed, add the flour, beating just until it's incorporated. On low speed, mix in the oats and raisins.
Form dough into 2 logs and chill for a minimum of 1 hour**
Once the dough is cold, slice off 1/2 inch rounds of dough. bake for 17-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven
*fat raisins are in her book- basically just raisins plumped with a little white wine, orange juice, rum and sugar. I just used plain currants and had good results.
**Instead of the logs, I scooped the dough a seen in the slide show. This is also mentioned as an option in Sherry's book.

Hanging out at Mom's, baking cookies

A big thank you to our hosts!
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East Meets West: The Daring Bakers are at it again...

And this time, I'm playing too!

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Bostini Cream Pie

It's official! One of the many reasons why I started this little food blog was to get in on the action with the Daring Bakers. This is a rapidly growing community of baking enthusiasts who meet up via the blogospere to partake in a monthly baking challenge. Created in November of 2006 by Ivonne of Cream Puffs In Venice, and Lis of La Mia Cucina, these guys and gals have tackled everything from Strawberry Mirror Cake (involving components such as Bavarian cream, sponge cake, and gelatin) to the doozy of them all: Gateau St. Honore. Also known as "The Patron Saint of Bakers", this dessert in his honor involves puff dough, pate a choux, pastry cream, and caramel sugar work to boot. All of which are some of the most difficult skills to master. Especially from the home kitchen. I've watched in awe from the sidelines, amazed that the majority these talented people don't do this for a living. Last month, after drooling over the milk chocolate caramel tart they conquered, I knew I wanted to play.

I waited all month in anticipation of what our October challenge would be. The ants can now leave my pants. This month's event, hosted by Mary at Alpineberry, is a Boston classic, updated by the San Fransisco Restaurant scene. "Bostini Cream Pie" is a similar idea to the Boston Cream Pie, but sexed up a little. Rather than the standard issue vanilla sponge cake, filled with standard issue vanilla pastry cream, and finished with ganache; the bostini version is an individual dessert of orange chiffon cake nesting atop a layer of vanilla bean custard. Each portion is glazed a la minute with warm bittersweet chocolate. I knew right off the bat that this dessert and I would get along famously. Chocolate and orange is such a heavenly combination, and I love a good eggy custard.
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The actual recipe required that we first make the custard and pour it into ramekins. We were then supposed to bake the chiffon cake in ramekins that were the same size as our custard cups. This way we would have an individual cake to unmold and place inside the ramekin of custard, then pour chocolate over it. It was meant to be served inside the ramekin. Confused yet? This seemed like a very silly way to go about putting this dessert together. For one thing, I don't have the 16 ramekins required for this recipe sitting in my cupboard. I was convinced the procedure could be tweaked and I was right. The custard is basically a pastry cream, which will hold up on it's own if it's properly cooked. And why not just bake the chiffon cake in a sheet pan and use cookie cutters to punch out the desired size? This was a recipe from a very well reputed San Fransisco restaurant, but sometimes the way things are done in professional kitchens are not prudent for the home.
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Armed with ring molds, parchment paper strips, and refrigerator space, I went about making the custard. The recipe for this is pretty straight forward. I ladled the cooked pastry cream into the parchment lined ring molds and refrigerated them overnight. The chiffon cake was also easy to put together, and delicious! Once the cake was cooled, I cut out adequately sized rounds and placed them over the chilled pastry cream. Once the glaze was cooked (no problems there either), it was time to unmold. I slipped off the ring, peeled away the parchment and poured the warm chocolate over the whole thing (side note: the sight of warm chocolate cascading down a piece of cake is the hottest thing ever. It kind of turns me on).
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The verdict? Pretty darn good. The custard itself was just too rich for me. I'm used to pastry cream made with all milk. This was mostly cream. A few bites were all the hubby and I could get through with out feeling sick. The chiffon was my favorite. It has lots of orange juice and zest, adding tons of flavor to a normally somewhat dull cake. And the chocolate? You just can't go wrong with good bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffenberger- a San Fransisco treat) and butter. It was as good as it sounds. I would make this again, but for the sake of my ever growing bum, I would make an all milk pastry cream. Other daring bakers have substituted the orange in the cake for things like coconut milk and raspberry puree, which also sound delicious. speaking of other daring bakers, check out their versions of the bostini, you will be impressed, I promise...these people have chops!
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For the recipe for Bostini Cream Pie, head over to Mary's blog

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sugar High Friday #36- Drunken Apples

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Nighthawk Applejack Cake

Oh what a perfect theme for my mood today. It's been a rough weekend- physically at least. It all started at work on Saturday morning when I was peeling apples for a pie and accidentally peeled off most of the nail on my middle finger. It's now hanging there by a thread. If you have done this before, you know that not only does it hurt, but it also kind of gives you the heeby jeeby shivers. Later that day, as I was adding the butter to a dry caramel, I foolishly just threw it in there. Hot caramel came splattering at me, resulting in about 9 huge burns on the inside of my palm and forearm in about half a second. I know, caramel is really hot and can cause the most painful burns. Why did absent mindedly toss that butter in? I Dunno.
And finally: My mom and I went to Crow last night for dinner and a bottle of wine....and a really stiff cocktail...or was it two? Working at Betty gives me an employee discount there and I live a block away. Perfect excuse to order lots of booze. It will be cheap an I can walk home. Well- on my drunken walk home, I tripped and fell, skinning the hell out of my knee. Why does this hurt so much more than I remember skinned knees hurting as a kid? I can barely friggin' walk today. My nice pants now have a big ugly blood stain on them. Good thing I live in a quiet neighborhood and nobody saw. That would have hurt more.
Oh yeah- my husband made me watch Transformers with him when I got home. I think that was more painful than all three injuries combined.
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Apples, booze, and a naughty kitty

I woke up this morning having all sorts of laundry and chores to do, but all I felt like doing was hanging out in the kitchen and soothing my aching body with some sort of cake. I got on the computer, looking for something to do with these goregous local Newton Pippin Apples I had sitting on my counter. Then, I found myself visiting a blog that reminded me of Sugar High Friday and it's deadline, which is today.
Hosted this month by SpittoonExtra who chose apples and booze as this months theme, I knew I had found my project for the day. I've been wanting to make the Nighthawk Applejack Cake from The Northwest Best Places Cookbook and now I had the perfect excuse. This is an upside down style cake from The Breadline Cafe in Omak, Washington.
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It's really simple to put together and it's ingredients are all pantry staples. The finished product is a really moist (due to the batter being mostly chopped apples), gooey, Yukon Jack laced treat. The best part is that this cake needs no embellishment whatsoever. Let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then flip it out, dowse it in Yukon Jack, and serve. Ice cream or whipped cream, in my opinion, would just tame the tangy apple and whiskey flavor. It's the dessert version of a beverage my parents used to drink while we were on ski trips: "Apple Jacks" or as they used to call it- "courage"- Yukon Jack and hot apple cider. I was of course a child and could not partake in the libations, but I remember the smell of the sweet cider hitting that whiskey and wishing I could just hurry and become a grown-up.
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Nighthawk Applejack Cake adapted from The Northwest Best Places Cookbook

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark brown)
3 medium sized tart apples (I used Newton-Pippens and highly reccomend them)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts & I toasted 'em first)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbl. Yukon Jack whiskey, plus more for serving
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 or 9 inch cake pan (* put a circle of parchment paper on the bottom of the greased pan to be safe). Combine 1/4 cup of the melted butter with the brown sugar. Stir to mix well. Pour into the cake pan. Peel, core, and thinly slice one of the apples arrange the slices on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Peel, core, and coarsley chop the remaining 2 apples and put them in a large bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup of melted butter, egg, yukon jack, granulated sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Stir to mix.

Sift the dry ingredients together, then stir into apple mixture until combined. Pour batter into the cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes (* Mine only took 35 minutes and my oven is pretty accurate- keep an eye on it)

Allow the cake to rest for 10 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a serving plate. Lace the top with a generous splash of Yukon Jack and serve.

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Sugar High Friday was just what I needed today. I still hurt, but this cake sure made it better. And now to go dowse myself- in peroxide...and maybe a swig of the leftover Yukon Jack...
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Improvising Pear Butter

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Pear-Vanilla Bean Butter on Brioche

I picked up some bartlett pears- oh, I don't know- maybe three weeks ago! And thats just a wild guess, because truth be told, I really can't remember. Yikes. They were pretty green and crunchy when I bought them, and they had ripened to a yellow-spring green- with just the slightest give when squished- when I moved them from the counter to the refrigerator. There they sat in a little basket, lonely in the corner, and forgotten about. Yesterday when I came home from work and opened the fridge, their perfume came at me in one big sweet waft. Remember us lazy-ass? Remember your big plans for pear gingerbread? Oops...but maybe not. These pears were really yellow with brown splotches in a few spots- I wouldn't want to eat it out of hand at this point, but they were truly at their peak for flavor. The meat of the fruit was very soft, yet unblemished, and it melted on the tongue. I had to use these pears TODAY. But at 5:30 on a Tuesday night? Brilliant timing Britt. The last thing I wanted to do was put off these pears any longer. I was going to have to suck it up and come up with something.

Pear butter came immediately to mind mainly because it's cooking process involves a few minutes of light prep in the beginning, then pretty much ignoring it all night with the exception of the occasional stir. It also seemed like I had all the necessary ingredients on hand. I had just returned from the store- only an idiot would go back in the middle of rush hour.
I have made apple butter at work in the past and have never been completely thrilled with it. Years ago, my mom used to make apple butter and it's still the best I've ever had- the reason why is a mystery. When I asked for the recipe a few years ago, she said it was in some cookbook- but I never found it. Her butter was really thick and really dark, but still delicate in flavor. Apple butters I've since tasted are too saucy, too chunky, or "off" flavored. So, when I went to make pear butter, I didn't bother looking for a recipe to go by. There was no point. All the recipes I have attempted from my cookbooks and online have not blown my hair back. My Mom's has set the bar way too high. Might as well save myself time by skipping the research and just throwing the damn thing together.

Talk about dumb luck. This stuff turned out beautifully. Still not quite as good as Mom's apple butter, but not far behind it either. I used a light hand with the sugar and cooked it down with an un-filtered cider. On brioche, it was fantastic. But there is more to this butter...
It just so happens that we were roasting a pork loin with root veggies for dinner. I wish I could somehow let you all smell my kitchen last night. The pear butter was in it's third hour of cooking when we pulled the loin out of the oven. We dropped a few spoonfuls onto our plates and smeared it onto our pork. I don't think I even need to tell you how good it was. I know- You're drooling.

Vanilla Bean Pear Butter- A "rough" outline

8 ripe bartlett pears- peeled and diced
1 cup water
cook until pears are quite soft. Pass through a food mill and return to pot. Add:
1 1/2-2 cups unfiltered cider
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2/3- 1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
cook for several hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until desired
thickness is achieved. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add:
1 strip of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler- strip should be about 2-3" long)
1 strip of orange zest

Remove vanilla pod and zest. Cool and refrigerate- or process and can.
PS~ food discovery: vanilla bean works with meat. I have had it with fish, and knew it was savory-friendly (thanks again, Kevin!), but had yet to try it with pork. I guess many birds were killed with one delicious stone last night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ressurecting the Scone Lady....and a little Pie Lady backstory

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I named my blog "The Pie Lady" because it describes me on many levels. I grew up eating my grandmother's pies that she made in big deep ceramic pie plates, loaded with blackberries that my sister and I would often pick for her. I can remember Mamo sending us out with a huge Tupperware bowl and being ordered to fill 'er up. We would come back to her, thinking what we had picked would be plenty. "Nope, more", she would say, and we would grudgingly walk down the street to pick more. We would do it with minimal complaints, because Mamo makes the best blackberry pie known to man. Don't even try to argue with me on this one. She just does. I'm still not sure what she does to it that makes it so good- perhaps it's the copious amount of fresh Washington blackberries and the loving touch that can only come from my dear little granny. My Mom's apple pie is also incredible. She clipped the recipe from a newspaper article sometime in the late 80's and it's been a favorite of mine ever since (though she never makes it anymore! Ahem- MOM!). Pie is my favorite dessert- good old double crust fruit pie with a big scoop of ice cream. You can keep your fancy pants tortes, tarts, trifles, and terrines. I'm sure they're delicious, but I'd rather have pie. If I had to live in a chocolate-less world, that'd be just fine if theres pie. I make a seasonal fruit pie daily at work, and judging by the way it sells, I am not the only one of this opinion. A few months before I gave birth to this blog, my friend Lesa and I were taking advantage of my employee discount at the restaurant. She ordered the bing cherry pie, took a bite, and said "Britt- you are the pie lady." Thus, the idea for my blog was created.
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Bartlett Pear Scones

But there was a time, many moons ago, when dubbing me The Scone Lady would have been more accurate. First, at the old Greet Cat Cafe (may the Green Cat, beloved by many a vegan hipster in Seattle, rest in peace) where the recipe for their vegan scones was handed over to me. These were just damn good scones. Vegan or not- people loved them. When the business was sold and became Local Cafe, I was asked to stay on as pastry chef and brunch cook. Local was decidedly vegan un-friendly. I morphed the scone recipe into a buttery version and they were an even bigger hit- what a shock, people like butter. One day, a young couple looking to open a wholesale bakery out of the kitchen of their movie/dinner theater stopped in for a scone. I week later I was offered the job of running the bakery. Aching to get back into full time pastry, I accepted. For 2 years, these scones were a major part of my life. At 1:30 am, I would clock-in and start producing 200-300 of these guys for the coffee houses.

I've been out of the bakery gig since March and I couldn't possibly love my current job more. But sometimes, because I am insane, I do miss the graveyard life. listening to the BBC all by myself at Oh-God O'clock chugging Rock Star energy drinks(ew, I know) and digging my hands deep in pounds of soft, sticky scone dough. It was the ultimate in baking zen.

I'm now working a 9-5 shift with a big group of crass cooks...and I love it to pieces. I love my co-workers to pieces. They make kind gestures like setting aside a bit of the family meal they are serving that night before putting it out for the waitstaff. They box it up all neat and tidy, complete with a hello note, and put it in my pastry fridge labeled "Britt's lunch." It's the little things that matter to me. Oddly enough, even though I work in a restaurant, it's hard to make yourself something to eat. Theres plenty of "ingredients", but I rarely have time to actually cook anything for myself. Plus, I am constantly tasting my product, which means nothing but sugar in my tummy- not good. I get fooled into thinking I'm full, when really all I've had is little bites of empty calories and caffeine. Packing a lunch is just plain silly. Why bring sand to the beach? I've had this problem for going on 10 years. This is the first time I've had co-workers that recognize that. Today, having a nectarine leftover from the weekend dessert special, and a perfectly yellow bartlett pear sitting in the fridge, I decided to both satisfy a personal urge to go down scone-memory lane, and show my adoration to my fowl-mouthed compadres. I spent my lunch break in the kitchen, rather than on my derriere, making fresh buttermilk scones and munching on last night's root vegetable casserole.
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Nectarine Scones

The boys arrived at 2 pm, to a couple of plates of scones, a few crocks of butter, and a fresh pot of coffee.
"who are these scones for?"
"They're for you guys, and that coffee is fresh too."
"Fuck Yeah!"
...Fuck Yeah. Thats all I needed to hear to know they appreciated the goodies, and to secure the tradition of leaving me lunch.
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This is the basic recipe for buttermilk scones. I'm not going to go into great detail on the procedure, because a huge part of the scones outcome results from finesse in handling the dough. That is difficult to describe. Just pulse up the dry ingredients with the butter until it's crumbly,dump it into a bowl, add the egg and buttermilk, and mix gently- I use a bowl scraper to mix, or my hand. Fold in the fruit, pat the dough out onto a work surface, and cut it into 12 to 16 triangles, depending how big you want them. Bake at 350 until golden brown and firm to the touch. If you can pull off biscuits, these will be a cake walk.

Buttermilk Scones

4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
5 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/3 cup cold buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup fresh fruit, diced

*for more in depth instructions on scones, and a variation of the buttermilk scone, see the everbearing strawberry post.*
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Sunday, October 7, 2007

So Long to the Queen Anne Farmer's Market.....

...And a"last crop"nectarine tart
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Last Thursday was it. It's done for the year. The small, but charming Queen Anne Farmers Market made it's debut this June and was an instant hit with the locals. Especially me. I found out that Queen Anne would finally have it's own market the month we were opening up the restaurant, which was in May. Luckily for us, it's location was to be just a few blocks down the street. Immediately, the idea for a weekly series of dessert specials bloomed in my head.

The last week of June this year, the market opened, and my idea took fruition. "Queen Anne Farmer's Market Finales" made it's own debut on my dessert menu with perfect, fresh raspberries from Jesse's Berrie's in Yakima. They were piled on top of freshly churned greek frozen yogurt, drizzled with local lavender honey, and sprinkled with sugared pine nuts.
I walked down the street after work on the first day of the market with the intent to pick up whatever looked the most beautiful, take it back to the restaurant, and create a dessert special for the weekend revolving around whatever I came back with. I did this every week all summer long. Plump, ready to burst, apricots from Bill's Fruits in Puyallup were transformed into a creamy, yet puckery apricot ice cream. Several trips back to Jessie's Berrie's resulted in a fragrant black raspberry compote draped over a layered lemon curd mousse cake, homey blueberry cobbler with lavender ice cream, Ricotta bavarian cream topped with tiny sweet strawberries and balsamic syrup, and my personal favorite: warm blackberry turnovers served over a thick pool of white chocolate-orange creme anglaise. Making each dish was a chance to experience my craft in the most organic way. Picking out fresh, just picked local fruit in the peak of it's prime, and turning it into a spontaneous dessert that celebrates it's flavor, all the while establishing relationships with local farmers.

This last Thursday, I walked my final walk of the year to the market thinking fall. Perhaps I can find some nice ripe pears to brush with honey butter while they bake onto a round of puff dough. Or maybe they will have some acorn squash for little individual pies. I strolled through the stands somewhat unimpressed by it all. Pears were not very ripe, plums are pretty much gone, and the squash selection was kind of lame. I was feeling uninspired when I came across the last stall. Batista Farms had their last crop of nectarines piled up in their yellowy-pink glory and looking like they wanted to go home with me. Naturally, being that it's October, I was a little wary of their quality. Then, I tasted one.....Whoa! They had a smooth, buttery texture that melted in your mouth- and a flavor that screamed Summer at a blustery autumn day. The next morning, they were turned into a warm nectarine almond tart served simply with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and bits of marcona almond brittle

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with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and marcona almond brittle

This buttery rich tart is nothing more than a flaky pate sucree tart shell, filled with frangipane and topped with fresh sliced fruit- I used nectarines this time, but plums, pears, and pitted bing cherries are also delicious. The tarts are then baked until golden and puffy. You end up with a rich, but not too sweet almond filling and perfectly textured fruit who's natural sugars help to create a glazed appearance.

It seems too early to be wrapping up my dessert special series, which was the highlight of each week for me this summer. There are all kinds of goodies coming our way with fall's harvest, which is why most farmer's markets are open through the month of October. But, I am thankful to of at least had a market in my neighborhood this year. So- to Jessie's Berries, Acma Orchirds, Batista Farm, River Valley Ranch, Sidhu Farm, Foraged and Found, and all the other local farmers I had the privilege to visit weekly; thank you for making my job easy with such beautiful produce, and see you next year!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Double C-Cup-Cakes: The Boobie Bake-off

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a nice pair...sorry, I couldn't resist.
Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

As you can see, I'm getting my blog events out of the way for October. The Boobie Bake-off is hosted by Marye at Apron Strings and Simmering Things and requires that we all bake something pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The super cool part is that readers can donate $1 to vote for their favorite on October 31st. All proceeds will be donated to breast cancer research in the winner's name.
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I am so 7th grade. I really wanted my pink entry to look like boobs. I know there is nothing funny about breast cancer, but who says we can't have fun while promoting awareness? Another personal rule I gave myself was to leave food coloring out of the equation. With those guidelines, I came up with a deep chocolate cupcake, topped with a sour cherry-cream cheese icing. I used my "old stand-by" chocolate cake recipe, David Lebovitz's candied cherries, and a cream cheese icing from the top of my head. Turns out, they're really good too. I can't say I was crazy about the way they looked though. Pink, though they were, the texture of the icing is just a tad bit runny. Not so much that it hurt the outcome of the cupcake, but I was hoping for a stiffer consistency so I could pipe it into big rosettes. Sadly, the pretty picture in my head did not match the cupcake before me. Having said that, they were so tasty that I ultimately did not care. Plus, they totally look like boobs.

Fudgy Chocolate Cupcakes adapted from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts
Makes 24 small cupcakes or 12 Large

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 3 T cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 packed brown sugar

2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cups or grease with pan spray. Sift the dry ingredients together onto a sheet of was paper.
Cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer on med-high speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Lower the speed down to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions. Divide batter amongst the prepped muffin tins and bake for 18-22 minutes.

Candied Cherries adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

1 # sour cherries, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 T lemon juice
1 drop almond extract (but I use 1 tsp amaretto)

Heat everything but the almond flavoring in a large sauce pan. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the juice is syrupy. Cool then stir in almond flavoring.

Sour-Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. soft butter
5 oz. room temperature cream cheese
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup candied sour cherries, strained and chopped, juices reserved

Cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add chopped cherries and mix. Slowly add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of the sour cherry juice for pink frosting, or omit it for a sturdier frosting.
Smear on cooled cupcakes

Monday, October 1, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge #9 "The Candy Man"

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My retro offering to The Candy Man: Whoopie Pies

When I saw the big picture of Sammy Davis Jr. on dolores' blog announcing the theme of this month's Retro Recipe Challenge, which she is hosting, I knew I was going to have to be in on this one. Not only is the super cool Sammy Davis our spokes model for the event, but the theme is something I am somewhat familiar with. Sugar! Yup, in honor of Halloween, Dolores has picked "the candy man" for October. Rules: The entry must be from a dessert recipe published before 1980.

A while back I picked up Betty Groff's Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook which is filled with all sorts of recipes for RRC's. For full disclosure, the book was actually published in 1990, but contains a collection of non-revised "hand-me-down" recipes from generations of cooks from Lancaster County, home of the Pennsylvania Dutch community. This book is chock-full of good old, hearty farm cooking. Including Whoopie Pies. "Perfect!" declared The Pie Lady.

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A Whoopie Pie is basically a fluffy, white frosting-like filling, sandwiched between two discs of chocolate cake. No one really knows exactly who came up with the first one, though it is rumored to have been born in the 20's in Massachusetts. Fillings can range from store bought marshmallow fluff, to light meringue based buttercreams. My whoopie would be the latter.

I followed Groff's recipe, for the most part, to the letter. My only revisions are substituting unsalted butter for any margarine or shortening. Recipes written in times of yore are sometimes a little difficult to follow. It seems like they are rarely as precise as modern ones, so ones sixth "kitchen" sense is required when working with them. This one is no exception. Several key instructions are missing, such as the necessary temperature of your ingredients. That is why these retro challenges are so fun! They're challenging!! Anyhoo- I'm posting the recipe as written, but if you have any questions, feel free to post them as comments and I'll be happy to answer them the best I can.
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Whoopie Pies

1 cup shortening or Margarine........(use butter instead, you won't be sorry)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup hot coffee


2 egg whites
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound butter

Cream the shortening* and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. In another bowl, sift the flour with the cocoa, salt, and soda. Gradually add this to the creamed mixture alternating with the buttermilk. Mix in the hot coffee. Drop the batter in spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 8 minutes. Store on wax paper until all the cookies have been baked.
For the filling, beat the egg whites until fluffy. Gradually beat in the vanilla, milk, sugar, and flour. Add the shortening and butter (Brittany sez: butter should be @room temp.) and beat until very fluffy. Take one cookie and spread a generous tablespoon on the flat side. Top with another cookie; they should look like yo-yos. They freeze well if wrapped individually.

*or unsalted butter, at room temp.
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Final Verdict: Well....the cake part is really good, and stays nice and soft when frozen. I used good cocoa powder, and butter. The filling reminded us of a the middle of a hostess cupcake. To the husband, with his effed up taste in desserts, that was just fine. I would have preferred a simple, but delicious buttercream. I would absolutely make these again using different variations of icings and spreads. They are basically just tasty and portable little cakes which can be filled with whatever your heart desires. Smear them with ganache or nutella for a decadent whoopie. Cut the sweetness of the chocolate with dollops of creme fraiche of whipped cream for a lighter whoopie. The possibilities are endless, which makes me glad that I have leftover cake discs.
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Be sure to check out the Candy Man round up On October 31st to see all the cavity endusing entries!

Thanks Norm!