Tag Archives: dessert

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
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1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

first ice creams of the season: honey pistachio & rhubarb ripple

For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.

The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,

“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.”

This experiment turned out better than I could have even hoped for. Despite my non-proclivities for sweets, I found myself sneaking spoonfuls of this a bit more often than I should for someone trying to fit in a wedding dress in 3 months. Those pistachios! (I’m on a bit of a pistachio kick right now, by the way.)

The second ice cream I made, a few days after the first, was designed to use up some rhubarb I’d over-enthusiastically purchased at the farmers’ market. I made a rhubarb sorbet with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur) that turned out so-so, but still had a fair quantity left over. I made a basic vanilla custard, a rhubarb purée, and combined the two into an ice cream that tastes like rhubarb pie à la mode. I made the custard slightly sweeter than I normally would, to balance out the pucker-tart rhubarb, and it turned out just right. After making the ice cream, I thought of a better way to get the “ripple” effect (detailed in the recipe), but I suppose there’s always next time for that.

Meanwhile, I offer you these recipes, two of my best to date. The other half of my household, who happens to get very uncomfortable if our ice cream supply ever threatens depletion, is in full agreement.

Honey, Pistachio & Orange Flower Water Ice Cream
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2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (doesn’t matter whether it’s skim, whole or whatever)
4 egg yolks
½ cup flavorful honey
¾ teaspoon orange flower water (available in most Middle Eastern groceries; rosewater may be substituted if that’s all you can find)
¾ cup pistachios

Heat the milk and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the honey. When the milk is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). Add the orange flower water and remaining 1 cup cream. If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, toast the pistachios either in a dry skillet on the stove over low heat, shaking frequently, or spread on a tray in a low (250°) oven or toaster oven until warmed through. Either way, watch them closely, as nuts burn easily. Allow enough time for the nuts to cool before adding them to the ice cream. When the ice cream is the consistency of soft serve, stir in the pistachios. Pack into a container and place in the freezer for about 2  hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream
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For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean

For the rhubarb purée:
½ pound rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
½ cup sugar

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. When the milk/cream is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled through.

To make the rhubarb purée, combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is falling apart. You’ll need to stir at the beginning so the sugar doesn’t burn, but the rhubarb will quickly begin to render its juices. If you have an immersion/ wand blender, use that to purée the rhubarb; otherwise, you can use a regular blender, but don’t over-mix as it adds too much air to the purée. Transfer to a zip-loc bag and chill thoroughly.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Snip the tip off one corner of the bag containing the rhubarb. Layer the ice cream in your chosen container,  squiggling the rhubarb over it as you go. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

buttermilk-sweet corn ice cream with berry coulis

What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision?  Combine them, of course!

I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party.  I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?).  I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down.  I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect.  I was torn- which one to make?

I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor).  Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe.  I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers.  The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.  The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness.  In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.

If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.

A couple of ice cream-making notes:  Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine.  You could even go with 6 if you wanted.  The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent.  As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs.  For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken.  Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER.  As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK.  Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.

*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year.  Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades.  Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy.  They will be sorely missed.  In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous.  I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.

Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
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2 cups buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 ears sweet corn
½ a vanilla bean (1 tsp vanilla extract may be substituted)

Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it.   For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.

Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds.  Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife,  reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.

Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar.  Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat.  Let steep for one hour.

Remove the corncobs and discard.  Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside.  Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*.  Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar.  Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan.  Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.  Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours).  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.

*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Mixed Berry Coulis
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1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional

Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity.   This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.

Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.

When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly).  Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic.  Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches).  You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded.  Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.

coulda-woulda-shoulda meyer lemon coconut crepes & lemon meringue tarts

Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays.  My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping.  Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand.  However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette.  Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd.  But what to pair it with?  She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence.  Then it hit me.  Crêpes!  I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up.  The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.

Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else.  I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time.  Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat.  But even after finishing them off,  I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over.  The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts!  Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise.  I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.

A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust.  It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine.  I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich.  The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect.  For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand.  I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.

A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand.  I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them.  Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly.  I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.

Meyer Lemon & Coconut Crêpes (batter recipe paraphrased from Crêpes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook by Lou Seibert Pappas)
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2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan

To serve:

1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
powdered sugar

Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds.  Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)

Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat.   Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated).  When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter).  Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan.  (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.)  If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon.  Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds.  I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.

Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half.  Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)

*I own this crêpe pan and I like it.  I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.

Meyer Lemon Curd (adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
6 Tbs butter
1 whole large egg plus 6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar.  Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer).  The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created.  Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools.  Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate.  The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.  Makes about 1 ½ cups.

candied kumquat & coconut sorbet

Oh my poor little neglected blog! I haven’t really been any busier than usual; maybe I’m just going through a little slump.  I’ve still been cooking, but it’s been pretty utilitarian- soup and chili to get me through the week; a roasted chicken with some veg and risotto over the weekend.  I did make one “superfluous” thing, though- this really quick kumquat and coconut sorbet.  In my effort to try to take advantage of seasonal items while they’re around, I picked up a pint of kumquats at Trader Joe’s, without any clear idea what I was going to do with them.  I decided to candy them, which I’d done before and knew was a breeze… but then what?  Ice cream was an obvious answer; ever since I got my ice cream maker I’ve been using it whenever I have fruit I’m not sure what else to do with (see my posts on blood orange sorbet and Meyer lemon sherbet…).  I just wanted something quick and easy, so instead of making a custard as you would for ice cream, I just used coconut cream and the sugar syrup from candying the kumquats to make a sorbet.  The bonus is that it was vegan so I could serve it to a couple vegan friends who came by.

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe.  Grab a pint of kumquats while they’re still in season and whip up a batch this weekend!

Candied Kumquat & Coconut Sorbet
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1 pint kumquats (about 12 oz)
1 can coconut cream (14.5-oz size)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbs coconut rum (you can sub a plain or orange-flavored rum or vodka)
optional: 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Note: for non-vegans, you can add a teaspoon of gelatin for a smoother, less icy texture; just dissolve it in 2 Tbs water in a small saucepan over low heat; when fully dissolved (no visible graininess), add it to the sorbet base before putting it in the refrigerator.

Wash the kumquats and slice into 1/8″ slices, removing the seeds.  Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat.  When the sugar has dissolved,  add the kumquats and bring to a very gentle simmer for about 10 minutes or until kumquats are tender.

Put the coconut cream and rum in a bowl.  Strain the kumquats over the bowl, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Stir the coconut cream and syrup to combine and place in the fridge until cool.  Chop the kumquats and set aside.  If you wish, you can reserve some of the kumquat rings for garnish.

Remove the coconut cream/ syrup mixture from the fridge, giving it a whisk to combine and stir out any solidified bits of coconut cream.  Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions. When the base is frozen but still semisoft, stir in the kumquats and coconut, if using, and transfer to a container.  Place in the freezer until firm.  Makes about 1 quart.

remembrance, fidelity, and cake

When it comes to indulgences,  I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course).  In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above.  But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert.  Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.

The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake,  enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary.  This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal.  (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)

This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”.  It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home.  I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted.  Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.

I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance.  Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.

(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy.  It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)

Olive Oil, Citrus & Rosemary Cake (from Regional Foods of Northern Italy by Marlena DeBlasi)
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5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375.  Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle.  Beat the yolks and sugar until pale.  Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.

In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined.  Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling.  DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake.  If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured.  My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).

homemade graham crackers & nanaimo bars (daring bakers)

It’s been a little quiet around ye olde simmer down kitchen for the past month or so, but things are finally starting to kick back into gear.  Two weekends ago I finally made that yuca shepherd’s pie I’ve been wanting to make, and this past weekend I went nuts and made about 5 different Indian dishes.  To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on participating in this month’s Daring Bakers because I  didn’t think I’d have the time, but I found an eleventh-hour burst of energy and decided to go for it, especially seeing as how I missed last month’s gingerbread house challenge.

The challenge was two-fold: to make gluten-free graham crackers, and to use those graham crackers to make a Canadian treat called Nanaimo bars.  Because I was doing the challenge super last-minute (like, um, the day before it was due) I was not able to go hunt down the special GF flours the recipe called for, but luckily the challenge hostess was gracious enough to allow for regular flour, which was cool because I happened to have a bag of graham flour left over from this challenge that I wanted to use up.  Rather than try to convert the GF recipe, I just used the graham cracker recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (see below).  It was easy but the crackers came out VERY rich and buttery, more like shortbread than what I think of as a graham cracker.  Since the Nanaimo bars only required 1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, I reserved half the dough for future use as a pie or tart shell.

I have mixed feelings about the Nanaimo bars- any of my regular readers probably know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth; I prefer desserts with more complex flavors or a note of sour or bitter to balance the sweet.   The base of the bars, made of butter, cocoa, egg, almonds, coconut and crushed graham crackers, was right up my alley.  I used Green & Black’s organic cocoa powder and the flavor was wonderful.  Where this recipe lost me was on the middle layer.  I originally thought it was a sort of custard, but it’s actually an insanely sweet buttercream.  I tried to do this layer really thin because I knew I wouldn’t like it, but it still ended up too thick for my taste.  I even flavored it with some instant espresso powder to try to counteract how sweet it was, but it didn’t make much difference.  The top layer was just melted chocolate with a little butter to make it spreadable, so no objections there.

It was fun to make the homemade graham crackers, but I will probably be giving away the bulk of the Nanaimo bars- the icing layer just made them too sickly sweet for me.  Or perhaps I’ll end up disassembling some and eating the bottom layer by itself… coconut, chocolate, graham, almonds, yum!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.


Martha Stewart’s Graham Crackers
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1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups graham flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs honey

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Put the flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; stir to combine.

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  If it’s still on the cold side, you can cut it in chunks and mix it by itself for a minute or two to make it more malleable.  Add the brown sugar and honey and mix until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Put the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture about ¼ cup at a time until fully combined.  You may want to scrape the sides down once or twice during the process.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Note: Martha doesn’t instruct you to rest the dough, but if it’s at all difficult to work with, 10-20 minutes in the fridge won’t hurt.  Roll out each piece between 2 layers of wax or parchment paper into a 6″x9″ rectangle (I use my bench scraper to coax the dough into the right shape and to even up the sides).  Cut the dough into whatever size crackers you want.  I used a zigzag cutter that came with my pasta maker and cut each rectangle into 12 crackers.   Transfer the dough to a sheet pan (keeping the parchment underneath) and chill in the freezer until firm, 10-15 minutes.  Prick the dough with a fork in a decorative pattern.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through.  These can quickly go from a nice toasty brown to burnt, so keep an eye on them!  Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.