Category: Dessert

Five Years and a Strawberry Tart

May 10, 2013

Today marks five years since I started this blog. In some ways, I am surprised I started it at all. I don’t know what Myers Briggs personality type I am but I can be tentative, hesitant. Certainly far from the first to start or join anything. I wait in the wings until I feel safe and then maybe I join in. When I started writing here, I felt I was already really late to the party. The writers whose blogs I admired had already been at it for a year or two. Was it worth it to even start? Silly now to even think about how I felt then.

It is also a little surprising that I started given my, not fear, but deep discomfort around technology. The fact that I got a web site up and running, figured out how to upload photos, found a designer to help me with the aesthetics of it, all of this makes me realize that I was really motivated to write. And I’m so glad I bit the bullet. In the past five years, I have made some wonderful friends (some of whom have made the move to the Bay Area much more friendly), have been able to travel a bit to learn about companies and products, have pushed myself outside my comfort zone as a cook and as a writer.

Randy was out of town the first part of the week and I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. This is something I did often in Seattle and am just starting to do here in Oakland. I get the urge to cook but I don’t want to cook for just myself. So I have friends come sit around the table with me. I decided on this Strawberry Tart for dessert because strawberries are in full swing here and it seems a shame not to celebrate them. Every June, which is when strawberries start to make an appearance in the Seattle markets, I would bemoan my lack of a perfect strawberry dessert. When they are small and sweet and too soft to travel far, strawberries are a revelation. They have always been Randy’s favorite fruit but the first time he popped a real strawberry in his mouth, his eyes got wide and he was speechless. The taste is so clean and pure and sweet. My favorite berry is definitely the blueberry but very little can compare to the taste of the first of the season strawberry.

With a fruit this special, you want a dessert to honor it. Not crush it or overpower it, but celebrate it and make it even better than it already is. I have made many attempts over the years, but I have not found the right thing. So when I happened upon this Strawberry Tart in Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet, I thought I might have found the one.  In that moment, I started mentally composing this post. I would give you the background (see above) of my search for the perfect dessert to celebrate the strawberry and then I would reveal that (ta-da!) I had found it. Except it didn’t go like that. The crust, which was described as easy to work with and not crumbly, was hard to work with and crumbly. The filling, which sounded smooth and slightly tangy, had little bits of clumped cornstarch in it. The boys ate through all my small and delicate strawberries so I was relegated to the large (but still local) grocery store kind. I was annoyed as I assembled the tart. But in the end, it looked pretty and tasted wonderful. The crust had a nice snap and just a subtle sweetness, the filling was smooth and slightly tangy, and you could not tell that there was any undissolved cornstarch. The berries left a little to be desired but I dressed them up with a drizzle of my most expensive balsamic vinegar, a gift from a friend.

In thinking about this tart and my expectations for it, I realized that it is really a metaphor for this blog. Expectations, sometimes realistic and sometimes not, set, dashed, and then redeemed.  I started this blog because I wanted to write about food but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t secretly hoping for big things.  What those big things were are hard to say.  A cookbook deal.  Lots of recognition.  Money.  I was a theatre major and there is still a very small (very small!) part of me waiting to be “discovered”.  I’m cringing as I’m typing this – it is embarrassing but it is the truth.  My first few months worth of posts are not written in my voice.  I was channeling other people.  My food, other people’s voices.  Then I slowly started to find my groove.  People started to read.  And I realized that I liked writing.  A lot.  I liked keeping a record of  the food I made and I liked writing about my family.  I like the interactions I have had with my readers.  I like to think of you as a relatively small but loyal group of friends.  I am proud of the work I have done here.  So no publishers have been knocking down my door begging me to write a book and no brands have been begging me to be their representative.  But I haven’t chased those things down either.

Anyway.  Five years is a long time to do anything.  I know the past year has not seen the usual number of food posts here and I hope you haven’t lost patience.  A lot of travel and a big move in 2012 put me off kilter.  I am grateful for this space.  I am extremely grateful to those of you who read, those of you who comment and email.  I got my first negative comment the other day.  It was short and not a big deal and I deleted it.  But it made me realize how fortunate I am.  Five years with only love coming from you.  Thanks to everyone.

Two Years Ago:  Stir-Fried Sesame Broccoli and Tofu with Rice Noodles
Three Years Ago:  Corn Salad Sandwich with Tomatillos and Jack Cheese
Four Years Ago:  Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Moroccan Carrot and Hummus Sandwiches
Five Years Ago:  Meet Me
Strawberry Tart
Short & Sweet
Makes one 9-inch tart

½ recipe Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe follows)
Flour for rolling
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg white
¼ cup super-fine sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup crème fraîche
3 cups strawberries

Chill the pastry for 30 minutes, then roll it out and line a shallow 9-inch tart pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper and dried beans and blind bake at 325ºF for about 30 minutes until a really golden color all over, removing the parchment paper and beans halfway though.  Allow the shell to cool completely.

Whisk the milk with the cornstarch, egg white, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan till smooth, then heat, whisking constantly, till boiling.  Remove from the heat, spoon into a bowl and cover with a plate to stop a thick skin from forming as it cools.  When cold, beat in the crème fraîche and spoon this into the pastry shell.  Hull the strawberries, slice them in half, and fan them over the top.  (DT:  I drizzled the berries with just a tiny bit of really good balsamic vinegar.  If you don’t have a good sweet one, take a cheaper version and cook it down, in a saucepan, until about half its original volume.  You want it syrupy and sweet.)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Makes enough for two 9-inch tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
10 tbsp unsalted butter, cold but pliable
2 egg yolks
1-3 tbsp. ice water

Spoon the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl.  Break the butter into small pieces and rub this through the flour until it vanishes.  Stir the egg yolks with the water and mist this into the flour to form a very soft and smooth paste.  (DT: I needed an additional 2+ tablespoons of water to make this work.)  Pat it into a flat block, wrap well, and chill for at least 30 minutes before using as it needs time to firm up.

Apple Crumb Crostata

January 20, 2013

When I was a kid and then a teenager, I spent the first half of every summer at Camp Nor’wester.   The pain I experienced when it was time to go back home is something I have rarely felt since.  Leaving the intense friendships that were made in that short time felt physically painful.  We would be on the deck of the ferry grasping on to each other and crying, and when the announcement came that we had to board the buses because the ferry was about to dock, people would wail.  We didn’t have email or blogs or Facebook or cell phones or any other way of staying in touch other than letters and long distance phone conversations.  We would say to one another, with hope in our voices, “It’s not goodbye, it is ‘see you later.'”

This past summer, as we were getting ready to leave Seattle, we tried to see as many friends as possible.  I decided against having a big blow out party because, although I am sometimes disguised as an extrovert, I am actually an introvert and big parties – even if I know everyone – can be hard for me.  I decided I would rather make lots of dates with the people we were going to be heartbroken to leave, and spend our remaining weeks that way.  The problem was, we still didn’t have time to see everyone and saying goodbye to the ones we did didn’t make it any easier to leave them.  We do have email and blogs and Facebook and cell phones and all of those things make it easier to stay in touch.  But we knew we would miss our friends and family.  So we made sure to buy a house with a guest bedroom and we encouraged our friends and family to come visit, and we just hoped that they would take us up on the offer.  Not goodbye, just see you later.

We’ve been in place for about four months and already we’ve had quite a few visitors.  Thankfully.  We are learning the places we need to take these visitors.  That list was very short when we had our first guest and it has grown impressively since then.  It will continue to grow, especially once we start making a dent in the endless list of day trips that are a stone’s throw from our great new city.  We’ve fallen into a nice pattern with regards to dinner.  Over a weekend, one night out and one night in.  If we have three nights, one of them in Oakland, one of them in San Francisco, and the last at home.  I love the casualness of a Saturday afternoon spent prepping for a big dinner.  When our house is full of friendly voices and the happy hour starts promptly at 5pm on the deck.  The kids get nachos for dinner, then popcorn and a movie and extra treats and the adults can just stay put enjoying a leisurely dinner and dessert, then have one more glass of wine or two before rolling into bed.

Some of our best friends came to town last weekend.  A man and a woman, a boy and a girl.  I have known John and Lauren since the summer of 1996, just after my first wedding and just before their only wedding.  I wrote about them here.   I visited their boy in the hospital the day after he was born and he was a six month old baby at Randy’s and my wedding.  I met their girl a few months after she was born, after we returned from London and while I was pregnant with Graham.  We love them all.  My boys love them all.   When we made the difficult decision to move, this family was at the top of the list of people we would miss.  They are easy and fun to be with.

One of my favorite Kid Meets Dessert stories involves John and Lauren’s son.  When Randy and I got married, I made our wedding cake.  It was a very impressive feat given that I had an oven that barely worked, about 1 foot of counter space in my kitchen, and was not nearly as good a baker as I am now.  It had three tiers and would probably have topped any “Least Impressive Looking Wedding Cake” lists.  It was towering, listing to one side, a bit greasy because it was warm and there was approximately one ton of butter in the buttercream frosting, but it remains one of the best tasting wedding cakes I’ve ever had.  My brother still talks about it.  I have re-created it twice, in smaller and non-listing form, and one of the times their son, who was around 18 months at the time, took a bit of his mom’s cake and then just stuck his face in the cake.  Like “let’s dispense with this plate and fork crap and just get that cake in my mouth”.  This boy, now 11 years old, remains a big fan of my treats.  So when I see him, I make sure I have something special to share.

Couple this with his father’s love of pie (the only sweet he really likes), and I knew this Apple Crumb Crostata, which has been rolling around in my brain for over a month, was the dessert for Saturday night.  How is a crostada different from a galette?  When John asked me that question, I guessed that crostata is Italian for galette and it turns out I was right.  They are both free form tarts which means they are not made in a tart pan.  The dough is rolled out, the filling is placed in the middle, and the dough is pulled up and crimped around the filling.  I’ve never made a galette that I didn’t like but this one was extra special with a crumb topping.  I am a sucker for a crumb topping.  Galettes/Crostatas are amazing in my opinion because they look kind of sloppy when they are unbaked but come out looking professionally rustic.  And I mean that in the very best way.  I served this beauty with homemade salted caramel ice cream but a good store-bought vanilla would be terrific too.

One Year Ago:  Spinach Salad with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Champagne Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago:  Deluxe Double Chocolate Cookies, Winter Market Soup
Three Years Ago:  Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard
Four Years Ago:  Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese

Apple Crumb Crostata
Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts
Serves 10

This wonderful dessert has three parts to it but don’t let that deter you.  I made both the crust and the topping a day ahead and just kept them in my refrigerator.  You could probably also make the apple filling a day ahead too.  Be sure to follow the directions about rolling out the dough and filling it on the baking sheet.  It is nearly impossible to transfer a filled crostata to a baking sheet – not that I’ve ever tried.  Ahem.  Finally, you will need space in your refrigerator to put the finished crostata before baking and if that is a challenge for your kitchen, embrace winter and put it in the garage.

For the crust:
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp. coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 1 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 large egg yolks, plus 1 large whole egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
3 tbsp. ice water
Fine sanding sugar, for sprinkling

For the Filling:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 pounds tart, firm apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ cup granulated sugar

For the topping:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground allspice
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Make the crust:
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat flour, sugar, salt, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add egg yolks, and beat slightly.  Drizzle ice water over mixture, and beat until just combined.  Form dough into a disk; wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Make the filling:
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add apples, zests, and salt, stirring until coated.  Sprinkle sugar over mixture, and cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, liquid has thickened, and apples are almost golden, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and let cool to room temperature.

Make the topping:
In a food processor, pulse flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and butter just until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll out dough to a 14-inch round, ¼-inch thick.  Place dough and parchment on a baking sheet.  Pile cooled apple mixture in center, leaving a 3-inch border.  Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over apples.  Fold edges of dough over apples, overlapping and leaving an opening in the center.

Refrigerate or freeze until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.  Lightly brush dough with beaten egg, and sprinkle dough with fine sanding sugar.  Bake until pastry is golden brown and apples are tender, 40 to 50 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Cake for Thursday

November 19, 2012

You may have noticed that I have been awfully quiet about Thanksgiving this year.  I’m feeling a little misty about it to tell you the truth.  For the last five years or so, Randy and I hosted Thanksgiving in our black house with a red door in Seattle.  We had large gatherings and small intimate dinners.  Most of the meal was the same from year to year with a few curveball side dishes to make things interesting.  Before those five years, my parents hosted every year in my memory with the exception of one trip to New York City and one trip to visit me in college.

This year, we no longer live in the same city as my family does.  When it came down to whether or not we would visit Seattle for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I didn’t hesitate to say Thanksgiving.  Because my mom is recovering from hip surgery, she will not be hosting.  It falls to family friends, with whom we have shared every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner (with the exceptions noted above) since I was two years old, to host this year.  So I am not hosting, my mom is not hosting, and I will not really be cooking much.  My mom was given a couple of assignments which I will either be helping her with or cooking myself, depending on how she is feeling.  But it’s not the same.  I’m not making the bread that I have made every year for twelve years.  The excitement I usually feel at this time of year is missing.  I think it is partly that the sun and mild temperatures make it hard for me to believe it is November, let alone turkey day.

Wah wah, poor me.  I am grateful that my boys have the whole week off from school so we can spend a little extra time in my hometown.  I am grateful to a dear friend who is going to put us up and another who is going to host a get-together for me.  I am grateful to our family friends who are stepping in to host in this year of odd circumstances.  I am grateful that I get to celebrate the birthdays of my mom, Graham, my niece, and my sister-in-law in one fell swoop.  Wait – grateful?  No, I am thankful.  For this and so much more.

This cake will not have a place on our Thanksgiving table.  But if you are hosting and you haven’t already decided on dessert, you might want to consider this amazing treat.  I first made this cake years ago and I think the recipe came from Sunset.  My mom dictated it to me over the phone – she didn’t direct me to a web site or send it to me via email, so that will give you an idea of how long ago.  The note paper I scribbled it onto slipped behind other recipes in my notebook and I completely forgot about it until I was trying to decide on a dessert to make for special friends.  This just popped into my head.  It is the perfect fall cake and I think it would be terrific after Thanksgiving dinner.

This is a simple jelly roll cake.  The cake itself is pumpkin and it is filled with vanilla ice cream.  I made it back when I was a pretty novice baker and it turned out perfectly, so don’t let the shape of it scare you.  In my more novice days, I bought a quality vanilla ice cream to fill the cake and a quality caramel sauce to drizzle over top.  Now that I am more experienced, I made the ice cream to fill it and a salted caramel sauce to drizzle over top.  Either way, what you have is a beautiful fragrant slice of fall that can be made in advance and brought out to a chorus of praise.  And thanks.  I wish you all the very best – whether you are making a big dinner, attending one, or Thursday is just another day.

One Year Ago:  Squash Hummus and Homemade Flatbread, Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger
Two Years Ago:  Three Cheese Mini Macs, Orecchiete with Creamy Leeks, Vegetarian Gravy, Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake
Three Years Ago:  Maple Roasted Delicata Squash, Naan, Peanut Curry with Sweet Potato and Collard Greens
Four Years Ago:  Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies, Brussels Sprouts Hash with Caramelized Shallots

Pumpkin Roll Cake
Adapted from Sunset (I think)
Makes 1 large roll, serving about 8-10

As I mentioned, you can certainly make this with store-bought ice cream and caramel sauce.  Use the best you can find.  My roll was more flat this time, my guests actually thought their slices were large biscotti, but I have gotten it to look more rounded in the past.  Patience helps as does ice cream that is soft but not too soft.

¾ cup flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
Powdered sugar

1 quart vanilla ice cream (recipe follows)
Salted caramel sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Grease a jelly roll pan, then line the pan with parchment paper.  Grease the paper.

Mix flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.  Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes, or until very thick.  Gradually beat in the sugar.  Using low speed, mix in the pumpkin, followed by the flour mixture.

Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth it well.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until the center of the cake springs back when touched.

Sprinkle a clean kitchen towel generously with powdered sugar.  Remove the cake from the oven and carefully invert the cake out onto the towel.  Remove the parchment paper.  Roll the cake up with the towel into a cylinder.  Cool completely.

Soften your ice cream for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.  (If using homemade, you can use it directly out of the ice cream maker.)  Unroll the cake.  Spread the ice cream over the entire surface of the cake.  Roll the cake back up without the towel.  Working quickly, wrap the cake in parchment paper and then foil and immediately place in the freezer.  You can make this cake three days ahead, allow it to soften by pulling it out of the freezer about 10 minutes before you serve it.  Serve with caramel sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream
The Perfect Scoop
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart (2l) bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the cream into the bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Rewarm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.

Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Salted Caramel Sauce
Bon Appetit
Makes about 1 cup

¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Place cream in a small pitcher.  Scrape seeds from vanilla bean; add bean.  Set aside.
Stir sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat to medium-high; boil, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until deep amber color forms, 506 minutes.  Remove from heat; gradually add vanilla cream (mixture will bubble vigorously).  Whisk over medium heat until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat; whisk in butter and salt.  Strain into a heatproof measuring cup.  Let cool slightly.  (Sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead.  Reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.)


August 16, 2012

I’ve been baking a lot.  I didn’t bake for the entire month we were in France – I never even turned on the oven – so I think I am compensating.  Also, summer fruit always makes me want to bake.  I love eating it all out of hand but berries and stone fruit sure do make amazing desserts.

The only fruit better than a peach, in my book, is a nectarine.  I prefer to bake with peaches and eat nectarines over the sink.  I’ve made two peach cakes in the past couple of weeks and I’m going to share them both with you.  They are very different.  That top one comes from Cook’s Illustrated and features roasted peaches in the cake and raw peaches on top.  It is one of those “fruit held together by a bit of cake batter” cakes.  I thought it was going to be extraordinary (roasted peaches!) but it fell a little short of my expectations.  I recognize that many of you just want to bake something yummy, that you don’t need to have your socks blown off by dessert, which is why I’m sharing.  It is a great way to use delicious fruit and it looks pretty too.

The second one comes from Bon Appétit and it is not technically a peach cake.  It is Sour Cream Pound Cake with Lavender Peaches.  The looks to taste ratio for pound cakes is very out of whack, if you ask me.  This is especially true with this cake.  It is flatter than most and a very uninspiring shade of tan.  But what looks like a whole lot of nothing has the most amazing texture and buttery rich taste.  The not completely indecent amount of butter and sour cream give you terrific richness and mouth-feel, and the whole vanilla bean boosts the flavor beyond the ordinary (which is not at all ordinary) pound cake.  It would, of course, be amazing with any fresh berries but the lavender peaches are pretty spectacular.  The whipped cream flavored with lavender syrup takes it over the top.  I have lavender growing in my yard so I used fresh but you can buy culinary lavender at places like Amazon.

Two Years Ago:  Lavender and Honey Tea Cakes, Polenta Baked with Corn, Tomatoes, and Basil
Three Years Ago:  Cold Melon Soup with Cucumber Chile Ice (fantastic on a hot day), Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata (ditto)
Four Years Ago:  Farro with Green Beans and Corn

Sour Cream Pound Cake wtih Lavender Peaches
Bon Appétit
Serves 8

¾ plus 1 tbsp. all purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. fine sea salt
¾ cup sugar
10 tbsp. (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 large egg
1 large egg white
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream

Lavender syrup and peaches
1½ cups sugar
3 tbsp. dried lavender blossoms
4 medium firm but ripe peaches, pitted, cut into ¾-inch wedges
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Make the cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325ºF.  Butter 8½x4½x2¾-inch metal loaf pan.  Dust pan with flour; tap out excess.  Sift ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp. flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Combine sugar and butter in large bowl; scrape in seeds from vanilla bean (reserve bean for lavender syrup).  Using electric mixer, beat sugar mixture until fluffy.  Add egg, egg white, and vanilla extract; beat until mixture is pale and thick, about 2 minutes.  Beat in sour cream.  Add flour mixture; beat just until blended.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.  Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes clean, 56 to 58 minutes.  Turn cake out, then turn top side up.  Cool completely.  (Can be made up to 1 day ahead.  Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.)

Make lavender syrup and peaches:
Combine 2¼ cups water, sugar, lavender, and reserved vanilla bean in saucepan.  Boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat; cover and let steep 10 minutes.  Strain syrup into medium bowl; discard lavender.  Pour 2 tbsp. lavender syrup into small bowl; reserve for whipped cream.  Cover and chill.  Return remaining syrup to same saucepan; add peaches and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, about 5 minutes.  Transfer peaches to bow.  Boil syrup in pan until reduced to 1 cup, 12 to 14 minutes.  Pour over peaches.  Chill uncovered 2 hours.

Beat cream and 2 tbsp. reserved syrup in medium bowl to soft peaks.  Slice cake.  Serve with peaches, syrup, and cream.

Summer Peach Cake
Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8-10

2½ pounds peaches, pitted and cut into ½-inch thick wedges
5 tbsp. peach schnapps
4 tsp. lemon juice
6 tbsp. plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1¼ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup sour cream
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs, crushed fine

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425ºF.  Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray.  Gently toss 24 peach wedges with 2 tbsp. peach schnapps, 2 tsp. lemon juice, and 1 tbsp. granulated sugar in  bowl; set aside.

Cut remaining peach wedges crosswise into thirds.  Gently toss chunks with remaining 3 tbsp. schnapps, remaining 2 tsp. lemon juice, and 2 tbsp. granulated sugar in bowl.  Spread peach chunks in single layer on prepared sheet and bake until exuded juices begin to thicken and caramelize at edges of sheet, 20 to 25 minutes.  Transfer sheet to wire rack and let peaches cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF.

Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil spray.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl.  Whisk brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and eggs together in second bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds.  Slowly whisk i butter until combined.  Add sour cream, vanilla, and ¼ tsp. almond extract; whisk until combined.  Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Transfer half of batter to prepared pan; using offset spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surfgace.  Sprinkle crust bread crumbs evenly over cooled peach chunks and gently toss to coat.  Arrange peach chunks on batter in evenly layer, gently pressing peaches into batter.  Gently spread remaining batter over peach chunks and smooth top.  Arrange reserved peach wedges, slightly overlapped, in ring over surface of cake, placing smaller wedges in center.  Stir together remaining 3 tbsp. granulated sugar and remaining 1/8 tsp. almond extract in small bowl until sugar is moistened.  Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over top of cake.

Bake until center of cake is set and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.  Transfer pan to wire rack; cool 5 minutes.  Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen.  Remove cake from pan and let cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Memories of Blackberries

August 7, 2012

When I was nine years old, we moved from one house in a Seattle suburb to another.  The suburb was the same but everything else was very different.  Our first house was on a cul-de-sac where almost every house had kids around my age.  We walked to school through the woods, rode our bikes in endless loops around our street, fed carrots carefully to the mean pony who was stabled next door to the house next door, climbed trees, and played in sandboxes.  The new house was on a street so steep that it was years before I would be able to ride my bike up it.  There were five houses, only one of which had kids, and those kids were weird.  There was the lake at the bottom of the street but not pony and no climbable trees.  I had to take the bus to school.  It was a hard move.

But we did have blackberries.  Incredible amazing huge blackberries.  Blackberries are everywhere in the Northwest.  The bush that is a terrible nuisance for 11 months of the year (so big! so many thorns! so hard to get rid of!) is suddenly everyone’s best friend come August.  If you drive along any quiet roads in the late summer, you will see people with pails, picking and eating.

The bush near our house was giant, stretching the length of our car and probably seven feet high.  I don’t think anyone had every picked those berries because they were the largest I had ever seen.  I have an extremely faint scar on my right wrist from that bush, so eager was I to get at the sweet deep purple berries, that I practically threw myself in there.

Blackberries mean August to me and I was thrilled to see huge ones, like those I remember, at my farmers’ market last week.  I had just ripped out a page with a Blackberry Buttermilk Cake from Bon Appétit and it seemed like the best thing to do with them.  If you would like to see a photo of how the cake was supposed to look, click over here.  I got a little carried away with the blackberry placement on the bottom of the pan.  How could less be better than more?  It turns out that more makes everything more jammy and rather than restrained pretty cake I got gooey jammy kind-of-a-mess.  Flipping it over was dangerous and stained my already stained favorite oven mitt.  But once I tasted it, I was glad to have overdone the blackberries.  The cake is very calm, a nothing fancy buttermilk cake.  So having a bit of chaos piled on top of it seemed just not right, if not perfect.

One Year Ago:  Raspberry Cake with Marsala (given the choice between the two, I’d make this raspberry cake over the blackberry one)
Two Years Ago:  Rice Noodles with Marinated Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms
Three Years Ago:  3 Different Cheeseballs
Four Years Ago:  Pasta with Cauliflower, Peppers, and Walnut Pesto

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake
Bon Appétit
Makes one 9 or 10-inch cake

You can use either a 9 or 10-inch springform pan for this cake.  I like using a 9-inch for a taller cake.

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
2 1/3 cups cake flour (sifted, then measured) plus more for pan
2 ½ cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries
¼ cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter pan; line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter parchment. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Arrange berries in a single layer in bottom of pan; sprinkle evenly with ¼ cup sugar.Sift 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat ¾ cup butter and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl at medium-high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and zest. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until incorporated. Pour batter over berries in pan; smooth top.Bake until cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Let cool in pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen. Remove pan sides. Invert cake onto rack and remove pan bottom; peel off parchment. Dust top generously with powdered sugar and let cool completely.

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