Friday, November 20, 2015

Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake

If you want to light up a table with a gorgeous blast of color this season, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that could top cranberries.  Their bold and bright jeweled saturation, especially when simmered or baked, is pretty stunning.

And what better application than to have them crown an upside down cake?  This cake is a simple dessert that highlights not only a gorgeous layer of gooey cranberries but a few slices of the always reliable pop of sunshine of sliced oranges.  Burrowed in a butter and brown sugar mixture, they bake into a luscious topping for a tender cake laced with vanilla and orange zest.

This cake was baked each winter at Chez Panisse for years.  It’s rustic and spare but also befitting a centerpiece.  It's delicious served with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream enhanced with a splash of vanilla or perhaps Grand Marnier.

Here’s wishing everyone a sumptuous and warm Thanksgiving.  I hope you are surrounded with irresistibly good food and cherished loved ones, savoring every tidbit in a grand gesture of gratitude.

Bench notes:
- I bought a medium and a small orange for a fun decorative variation in size. 
- I line the bottom of the pan with parchment after greasing so the topping releases in one piece.
- The amount of cranberries you’ll use will depend on the size of your orange slices.  Do crowd the cranberries in one layer as tightly as possible.
- Although the recipe states a 55 minute bake time, check the cake at 45 minutes.  Mine was done, although I suspect my oven is running rather hot these days.
- Let the cake cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before turning it out.  You want the cake to cool enough so that the topping stays in tact but also warm enough so it releases easily.
- Add about 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom or cinnamon to the batter for a different flavor profile.

Cranberry Orange Upside Down Cake
adapted from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook and Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Serves 8

2 oz (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
2 oranges
1 3/4 – 2 cups (7 oz) fresh cranberries

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of 1 orange
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9” x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

For the topping, melt the butter and pour into the prepared cake pan.  Add the brown sugar and blend with the butter until it dissolves.  Pat this mixture into an even layer, spreading to the edges of the pan.  

Use a sharp knife to cut away the peel and pith of each orange, preserving the shape.  Cut into 1/4” slices and place randomly on top of the butter and brown sugar topping.  Fill in with as many fresh cranberries as you can fit in one layer.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  Combine the milk, vanilla and orange zest and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 – 4  minutes on an electric mixer.  Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated and emulsified before adding the next.  Scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour mixture in thirds alternately with half the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Take off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to fully incorporate all the fat and dry ingredients.

Pour the batter over the topping and spread evenly, taking care not to disturb the fruit.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 - 55 minutes.  Cool for 20 minutes in the pan.  Run a thin bladed knife around the circumference to loosen the edges and turn the cake out onto a platter.  Gently peel off the parchment and cool.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Glazed Almond Lemon Cookies

It’s always nice to have a stash of homemade cookies tucked away in a tin to share when friends or family drop by.  And now that the holiday season is surely upon us, it’s good to stock up on ideas for little pastries to share at teatime and for gift giving to all those good people you love and appreciate.  Homemade cookies, loaf cakes and confections are among the season's cherished receivables.

Today’s cookie is of the simple, subtle and crumbly variety.  It’s made with ground almonds and brightened with lemon zest that's been processed with granulated sugar for maximum effect.  It’s all done in a food processor, which makes quick work of getting the mixing done.  The lemon glaze adds just the right touch of sweetness.

This plate of cookies is nothing fancy but a nice way to enjoy a moment of friendship at a time of the year that can feel way too busy and a notch stressful.  It’s for just those occasions when you crave a light but satisfying nibble rather than the richness of chocolate or something that screams spice.  For those understated moments of quiet relief, reach for your favorite hot beverage and one of these little treats.  Time to take a deep breath and relish the simple things in life.

Bench notes:
- I like to use sliced almonds because they result in a mixture that is more finely ground.
- To toast sliced almonds, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in a 350 degree F oven for about 5 – 7 minutes.  Watch them closely as they will burn quickly.
- A microplane is the best tool for zesting.  Zest the lemons directly over the sugar in the food processor to capture the oils. 
- The cookies don’t take on much color and firm up as they cool.
- Sift the powdered sugar for the glaze to eliminate lumps.
- I really love the combination of almonds and lemon.  If you do, too, be sure to put Lemon Almond Ice Cream on your list of things to do.

Glazed Almond Lemon Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2 1/2” cookies

1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar                                                    
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup (3 oz) sliced almonds, toasted                             
2 cups (10 oz) flour                                                            
1/4 teaspoon salt                                                   
8 oz (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter                  
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract                                           

3/4 cup (3 oz) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (1 oz) lemon juice

Pulse sugar and lemon zest in food processor until the sugar is damp and fragrant.   Add the toasted sliced almonds and process until finely ground.  Add flour and salt and process until thoroughly combined.

Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the flour mixture.  Add vanilla and almond extracts and process until the mixture starts to clump in the middle of the machine and there are no dry streaks.

Place the dough into an airtight container and chill for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Portion the cookie dough into 1 1/4” balls and place 12 on a baking sheet.  Gently flatten them until they’re 1 3/4” in diameter. 

Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, place the lemon juice in a bowl.  Sift the powdered sugar into the lemon juice and whisk to combine.  Use a pastry brush to apple a thin coating of glaze on top of the cooled cookies or dip each one into the glaze.  Place on a wire rack to dry.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Pecan Maple Loaf Cake

With the winter winds rolling in and turning back our clocks to shift from Daylight Savings Time, somehow maple syrup and toasted pecans come to mind.  Maybe the fact that maple syrup was first collected and used by Native Americans, it seems like a good time for it to make an appearance for some pastry making.   

This also feels like the season for loaf cakes.  Whether you're making a treat to enjoy with your favorite afternoon beverage or thinking of someone who may appreciate a gift, loaf cakes are a welcome pleasure, a simple and unadorned pastry that comes together in a jiffy without much muss or fuss.

This cake is made using the standard creaming method.  There’s a little spice, a good sampling of maple syrup and lots of toasted pecans.  Orange zest and a touch of brandy add more flavor and a festive touch appropriate to the season.  After the cake is baked, it’s brushed with a mixture of butter and more maple syrup for a nice finish.

For a sweet nod to autumn, share a slice of this cake.  You can always count on a little pastry to liven up your table. 

Bench notes:
- Toast pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.
- "Room temperature" butter means the chill has been take off and it's pliable but not soft to the touch.  It should not look oily or greasy.
- For cake mixing, always add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next.  The batter is ready for the second egg when it no longer has a shiny slick on the surface.  
- It's super important to scrape down the bowl often when mixing cake batters to ensure that the fat clinging to the bottom and sides gets fully incorporated into the batter, avoiding streaks of butter that will leave tunnels in your baked cake.
- If you're not enamored of pecans, toasted walnuts are a good alternative.

Pecan Maple Loaf Cake
Makes 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 oz) brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla                             
zest of 1 orange                  
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature                          
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons 
(2 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs 
@ room temperature                                                       
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 3/4 oz) maple syrup
3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz) toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

1/4 oz (1/2 tablespoon) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan and line with a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang along both sides of the length of the pan.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside

Combine milk, brandy, vanilla and orange zest.  Set aside.

Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 - 4 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add eggs one at a time, making sure that each one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with 1/2 the milk mixture and 1/2 the maple syrup and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix just until well blended.  Fold in the toasted pecans.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface.  Bake the cake until a tester comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake, about 50 minutes.   Place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from the pan and cool completely.

For the glaze, melt the 1/2 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon maple syrup.  Brush the top of the loaf with the glaze. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Oatmeal Date Walnut Cake

The fall and winter months always draw me toward cakes that are hearty and rustic.  These are generally pastries that aren’t overly fussy and can be mixed in a bowl using easy to locate basic ingredients and that satisfy just about everyone. 

Dates and walnuts are a well-tested and enduring pairing in the pastry world.  There’s something about the richness and soft chewy sweetness of dates that gets tempered by the slight bitter quality and crisp texture of walnuts.  This cake highlights their union and adds a few extra ingredients to their wonderful chemistry. There’s oatmeal for another level of earthy chewiness, coffee to balance the sweetness, orange zest to brighten the whole mix.  Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and vanilla deliver a big blast of rich flavor for a taste and aroma that take this cake out of the realm of the ordinary.  

This pastry can easily be a luscious brunch or afternoon snack cake or dressed up with a dollop of whipped cream for a very soothing dessert.   Date lovers will no doubt be very pleased with every bite of this delicious little treasure.  

Bench notes:
- Lightly toast the walnuts at 350 degrees F for about 8 - 10 minutes or until they just start to turn golden and give off a light toasty aroma.  Watch them closely so they don’t burn and become very bitter.
- If you’re not enamored of walnuts, try substituting chopped pecans or sliced almonds. 
- The oats and coffee should only be combined for about 5 minutes.  You want them to be moistened but not mushy so there’s still some chew to them.
- I highly recommend using Medjool dates because they are gorgeously plump and have a sort of natural toffee flavor. 
- If you notice a white powdery film on the surface of your dates, this is due to their natural sugar and is not cause for alarm.  It's just sugar crystal formation.  Once the dates are warm, the crystals dissolve.
- If you love dates, you’ll enjoy Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices.  I like to serve them with a cheese course.  And there's Date Walnut Chocolate Slices and Oatmeal Chocolate Date Bars in The Global Pastry Table.

Oatmeal Date Walnut Cake
Serves 9

3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 1 orange
1 oz (2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

4 oz (about 9) Medjool dates                    
1 cup (3 oz) old-fashioned oatmeal        
1 cup (8 oz) strong coffee                                                             
1 1/4 (6 1/4 oz) cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon                   
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves          
1/2 cup (4 oz) canola oil
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed                            
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature       
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9” square cake pan and line with parchment, leaving a short overhang on two sides.

Prepare the topping by combining walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and orange zest in a bowl.  Cut the cold butter into 1/4” pieces and add.  Toss until the butter pieces are coated with the dry ingredients.  Using your fingers or a fork, press the butter pieces until the mixture is moist and clumps together with large and small chunks. Chill until ready to use.

Pit the dates and remove the stems.  Coarsely chop them and place in a medium bowl.  Place the oats on top.  Pour 1 cup of strong coffee over the top and set aside for about 5 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the oil, both sugars and eggs until thoroughly blended. Add in the vanilla and date and oat mixture.  Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mix in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with half the milk.  Mix just until there are no dry streaks of flour.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer.  Sprinkle the walnut topping evenly over the top of the batter.  

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 - 32 minutes [Please note: My readers are reporting that the baking time for this cake is closer to 50 - 60 minutes.  Ovens do vary greatly so please take that into consideration as you check for doneness].  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the cake.  Gently lift it out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Using a platter, flip the cake over and peel off the parchment.  Use another plate or platter to flip the cake right side up.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream

The formula for cheesecake is pretty simple.  Depending on the texture you seek, there are basic ratios of cream cheese, sometimes sour cream, sugar, vanilla or lemon and some eggs to lighten the density and set the cake.  Sometimes just a little bit of flour is added to give it a cakey texture.  The cheese can also be in the form of ricotta, farmer’s cheese, goat cheese or mascarpone, which all lend their own flavor and texture.  If you beat in too much air, the cheesecake will soufflé and sink.  A gentle and even oven temperature is crucial to avoid a dry and cracked cheesecake.

This is a seasonal Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream, a chance to get all the flavor of cheesecake without any of the fuss of making sure it’s not over-whipped or properly baked or cracked.  It's super easy to produce cheesecake in this form.  You just throw everything in a food processor and blend.  There are no eggs to worry about or a crust to shape.  Like most cheesecakes, it isn't overly sweet; just a touch of lemon juice brightens the flavor.  I used restraint when it came to the spices because I didn’t want to overwhelm the flavor of either the pumpkin or the tanginess of the cheese and sour cream, which can become muted after freezing. You can certainly adjust all these flavors to your own liking.  Just taste as you go.

I also folded in some chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies that I chopped into small bite-sized pieces to add some texture and mimic the sensation of a crust.  Use ginger snaps, graham crackers or your favorite cookie.  Or leave them out if you wish.

Here’s to the full flavor enjoyment of the pumpkin season!

Bench notes:
- Plan ahead so you can let the ice cream base chill at least overnight to allow the ingredients to co-mingle and ripen.  I actually sort of forgot about mine and after 3 days, the flavors were much improved and superb.
- Do have the cream cheese at room temperature so you don’t wind up with lots of lumps.
- When your ice cream is finished, put it into an airtight container and pack it down to avoid air pockets where ice crystals can form.  Pressing a piece of plastic into the surface also helps keep ice from forming on the surface.  
- Homemade ice cream doesn’t have any commercial emulsifiers and because there are no eggs and not a lot of sugar in this recipe, the ice cream freezes up fairly hard.  Let it sit at room temperature for several minutes to soften before serving.
- Also try the plain Cheesecake Ice Cream and garnish however you wish.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
Makes about a pint

8 oz cream cheese @ room temperature
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream                                                                
1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) solid-pack pumpkin                                                              
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar                                                                
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
slight pinch cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) lemon juice
ginger cookies

Place the cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream and pumpkin in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the sugar, salt, spices, vanilla and lemon juice and process.  Taste and adjust for salt until you have a bright flavor.  Pour into an airtight container and chill overnight.

Chop or crumble a few ginger cookies into small bite-sized pieces. 

Freeze according to your ice cream machine’s instructions.  Fold in the cookie pieces.  Pour into an airtight container.  Press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface, cover and place in the freezer.

To serve, let the ice cream sit for several minutes to soften before scooping.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ginger Molasses Cookies

With apple and pumpkin pastries in good supply, it’s also absolutely a good time to roll out ginger cookies.  Everybody knows it wouldn’t be fall without them.  Spicy, chewy and crisp, they pack a real burst of flavor to remind us just how pleasing a little sugar and spice can be.  They are impossible to resist.

Ginger is a delicious and powerful ingredient in all its forms.  It comes from a flowering plant indigenous to China and has long been a central ingredient in Asian and Indian food.  We now find it enhancing cuisines all over the world.  In America, it's also a part of the pastry and beverage universe.

Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process.  The first syrup produced from boiling the juices of sugar cane is called cane syrup.  Molasses is the product of a second boiling.  Blackstrap molasses is the very strong and slightly bitter result of a third boiling.  

Of course, ginger cookies also appeal to us because they are full of lots of strong spices.  In this batch, I add a heady mix of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.  This means your kitchen will be filled with quite an intoxicating aroma as you slide them into the oven and let them do their magic.  

If you have a cookie jar, I suggest you fill it with these cookies ASAP.  After all, it’s October and nothing says autumn like Ginger Molasses Cookies.  I'm definitely feeling it.

Bench notes:
- I always use Grandma's Molasses for baking.
- A #40 ice cream scoop is great for portioning the cookie dough.  This produces 36 2 1/2” cookies.
- I like my ginger cookies soft and chewy in the center and crispy at the edges so I baked mine for 11 minutes.  For crispier cookies, bake them another minute or so. Since all ovens are different, I recommend baking just a couple cookies first to get the timing right for your idea of perfect texture.  Let them cool for about 5 minutes, taste, judge and then carry on.
- If you want to crank up the heat in these cookies, toss in a couple tablespoons of fresh grated ginger when you add the molasses.
- I also recommend the easy and sublime Gingerbread Bars.  If you like chocolate mixed with your ginger, try Ginger Chocolate Cookies.  Ginger Cream with Blueberries is a creamy pop of ginger as is Ginger Ice Cream.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Makes 36 2 1/2” cookies

2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 oz) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
scant 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
6 oz (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg @ room temperature
1/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) molasses
2 tablespoons (1 oz) candied ginger, minced

1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz) sugar, for dusting
pinch cinnamon
pinch allspice

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and both sugars until smooth.  Scrape down the bowl and add the egg.  Beat until fully combined.  Scrape down the bowl and blend in the molasses.  Add the flour mixture and the minced candied ginger and mix just until there are no streaks of flour.  Chill the dough until firm, about an hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
Place 1/3 cup of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon and allspice in a shallow bowl.

Scoop or portion the cookie dough into 1 1/4” balls and roll in spiced sugar to coat them evenly.  Place 12 on each prepared baking sheet.

Bake until the cookies are light brown, puffed and cracked on the surface and just set around the edges, about 11 - 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking. Place the pans on a wire rack to cool.