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Posts from the ‘Fruit’ Category

Quince, Squash, Beans – Simple Fall Pleasures (& a New Class)

quince and delicata

When you cook and adapt and create recipes every day it’s easy to get swept up in the many variations and tricks that are certainly fun but not always necessary. And a few of  the teaching projects I’m currently working on are forcing me to strip things down to the very simplest preparations, to really practice what I preach– that cooking can be liberating, a way to frankly make life less complicated rather than more; that cooking can be simple, creative and just plain fun, not to mention delicious, economical and convivial.

It still feels like fall has just begun since the weather here in Oregon is warm and glorious, however, the produce at the markets clearly marks the passing of summer and early fall. The peppers are gone and cabbage is here and so is winter squash in its many sizes, shapes, and flavors. And this year’s crop of dry beans is arriving and my quince tree is loaded. This week I was feeling overwhelmed by the fairly labor intensive ways to preserve  quince (my dwarf  tree produced 50 quince this fall!) so I decided to simply bake the whole unpeeled fruits in a covered pot, as  I was already roasting beets. And voila, after an hour the quince had become sauce and I just needed to pick out the cores and stir in some honey.

quince ready to bake

The beauty of this season’s produce is intoxicating and I’m reminded that even this time of year, the hard, grainy quince and the unwieldy, weighty winter squash can be prepared and enjoyed with ease. And in the case of the latter it can be sliced and baked and enjoyed with nothing more than salt and maybe a little olive oil or maybe some salsa verde.

roasted squash wedges

And then there are beans! The humble, wonderful and under appreciated dry bean I love so much. I just ordered 30 lbs of pinto beans from one farm and will be loading up on other varieties from another soon. Nothing makes me feel more secure than big jars of beans in my pantry. Soaked and then cooked with a bay leaf a clove of garlic and chunk of onion and then left to cool in their broth, . . .then a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of oil and lunch is served.

bowl of beans

And put the three together–wedge of squash, bowl of beans and quince sauce for dessert-simple indeed!

And speaking of fall and what the changing temperatures and products mean for the kitchen, I’m co-teaching a class with Ellen Goldsmith who will bring her experience with Chinese culinary philosophy to our evening of conversation over dinner and would love to have you in class! Details below:

A Taste of Autumn: East meets West at the Dinner Table

Are you wondering how to make your autumn cuisine delightful, delicious, and inspired? Join Ellen Goldsmith and Katherine Deumling for an evening of conversation and eating just for autumn. What does this season’s food tell us about our bodies, our vitality, and our appetites? Katherine will bring her cook-with-what-you-have approach to delicious, produce-driven dishes for this abundant but cooler time of year.

Ellen will offer an overview of the Chinese medicinal and seasonal culinary philosophy as it applies to the autumn season to enliven your cooking.

Infuse your fall season of cooking and eating with a conversation over supper. We will discuss:

• The elements of a vibrant seasonal meal

• To utilize local and seasonal produce in a new way

• The benefits, from a Chinese medicine perspective, of cooking with the season

• How tastes of different foods energize your cooking and you!

You will receive materials, including the evening’s recipes.

When: Tuesday, November 5, 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Where: Home of Ellen Goldsmith in Northeast Portland (Address available upon registration)

Cost: $60/person

Ellen Goldsmith, licensed acupuncturist, brings a passion for cooking and food with over 25 years of experience practicing Asian medicine and teaching all about the vitality and potency of food through the lens of Chinese medicinal principles. She practices acupuncture, dietary therapy, Chinese herbs, body-mind health, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at Pearl Natural Health in Portland. In addition, she shares her passion for transforming our lives through our health on her weekly podcast Health Currents Radio and as a board member at the National College of Natural Medicine, the oldest naturopathic medical school in the country.

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Zwetschgendatschi

Italian Prunes make this simple tart so delicious and there is a short season for these so take advantage if you can find some.

There are many versions of this Bavarian dessert and many of them use a yeasted cake as the base. I grew up with a butter heavy, short crust version and am thus devoted to it. You want Italian Prunes since they have the acidity and complexity that makes this simplest of all desserts so incredibly good. Italian Prunes are sometimes called Prune Plums or just Italian Plums. I know over the years growers and marketers alike began avoiding the word prune and conflating it with a dried prune but I cling to what I think of as the real name!

My home state of Oregon used to be a very large producer of this wonderful fruit, delicious both fresh and dried. Many of the orchards have been taken out over the years, often to make room for vineyards which admittedly produce a sexier crop. These prunes are the epitome of late summer to me and my mother brought me a big bag of them and I couldn’t resist pulling out her recipe and making this childhood favorite. And while there are  many variations of this cake, they are ALL (in Germany at least) served with lightly sweetened whipped cream so please don’t skip that, unless you’re having it for breakfast, and even so it wouldn’t be a bad  idea.

When cooked, the prunes take on a lovely pink hue and the dusting of cinnamon and sugar just barely caramelizes the fruit.

Zwetschgendatschi (Prune Tart)

Makes one 10-inch tart

For the crust:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature if you remember–cold butter will just make you a work a bit harder:)
scant 1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more to bring the dough together depending on if you use one whole egg or just the yolk)
1 small egg (or the yolk of a large egg)
Pinch of salt

For the topping:

About 2 lbs of prunes (you may only need about 1 1/2 lbs but it depends upon how tightly you want to pack them onto the crust)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the butter with the sugar until just mixed. I know it seems silly to try to split one egg in half but it’s possible so do that or just use the yolk of a large egg. Or if you  happen to have a very small egg use the whole thing. It doesn’t really matter so much how you do this. You can always add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky. The original recipe is double the above quantities with one whole large egg. It makes a lot of dough which is why I halved it since it fits perfectly into a 10-inch tart pan. Feel free to double it and make a larger version of the tart or save half the dough for something else. When the egg has been incorporated mix in the flour and salt. Use either a wooden spoon or your hands. Work the dough until it’s nice and cohesive. It may be a bit sticky so just add a bit of flour.

Pat the dough evenly into a 10-inch tart pan with the palm of your hand. You want to bring the dough up the sides just by 1/3 -inch or so. If you don’t have such a pan you can also press it into an 8″ x 13″ pan. If you are using a 10-inch tart pan you may have a little excess dough with which to make a little mini tart as happened to me on my second batch recently.

Now cut the prunes into quarters and arrange them tightly in circles, starting from the outside and moving inward. If you’re using a rectangular pan arrange them in rows instead. The fruit will shrink so pack them in well, pressing down just a little. When you’ve covered the dough mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle evenly over the fruit.

Bake in the lower half of the oven for about 35 – 45 minutes until the fruit has released some juice and is bubbling a bit and the edge of the crust is golden brown. Let cool to room temperature and enjoy with lots of whipped cream.

I like this tart both on the first day and on the second, when the crust softens a bit and absorbs the juice.

Ready to go in the oven.

Enjoy these heartbreakingly beautiful days with so much bounty to cook and preserve and eat!

Apple Cider Syrup

Apple cider cooked down to a syrup. Spectacular in salad dressings, cocktails, etc.

I have a few aces in my cooking repertoire, not that many, but a few. And this one is probably at the top of the list. Like most things I cook and teach it’s pretty straightforward, laughably simple actually. It came about a few years ago when I had lots of apple cider left over from my family’s cider pressing party. So I decided to reduce about a gallon of the cider until it just got syrupy which took my gallon down to about a pint. (If you reduce a bit too far, add some cream and a little salt for the most divine apple cider caramel sauce!)

I started using a teaspoon or two in salad dressings and I was hooked. The stronger winter greens this time of year are perfectly complemented by this “mystery” ingredient in the dressing. Countless times people have asked me what was in my salad dressing and a friend now can’t make big enough salads since her 8-year-old eats practically the whole bowl. I have to admit this has not worked with  my 4-year-old  . . ..

This syrup also inspired the Party Class I co-taught with cocktail wizard Scott Taylor this last weekend. He encountered the syrup in a Beans Class  (that by the way I’m teaching again with new recipes January 7th) earlier this fall and immediately went home and started mixing drinks with it. It is a winner mixed with bourbon, ginger syrup, bitters and lemon!

Cider syrup over Greek yogurt.

Beyond salads and cocktails the syrup is wonderful over ice cream or Greek yogurt, drizzled onto soups or braises or roasted vegetables or fruits, on pancakes or waffles. . .. It’s sweet and tart and complex and contributes almost anywhere. So go buy a couple of gallons of apple cider, reduce it and give your friends who like to cook and drink a little jar or it as a gift. Or just make a bunch and freeze some. It also keeps well in the fridge for several months.

And speaking of gifts, you might also give the gift of a cooking class (to yourself or others) this season– a gift that doesn’t clutter anyone’s home yet makes a daily difference for the tummy!

Apple Cider Syrup

1 gallon apple cider (not apple juice)

In a large pot or saucepan bring the cider to a boil. Let boil, uncovered until gallon has reduced to approximately two cups of syrup and consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 40 to 90  minutes depending on the size of your pan, the strength of your stove, etc. Refrigerate or freeze when cool.

Apple and Quince Tart

The last three quince from the little tree in my back yard.

Before we get into the tart I want to talk about veggies. And before we talk about veggies, you might have noticed that things look a little different around here. I’ve upgraded the blog a bit and combined it with my website. Now you can find everything Cook With What You Have in one place!  The recipes are newly categorized and more searchable and I’ve shared some of your feedback to my classes. A big thank you to Andrea Lorimor Photography and Brenna Switzer of Square Lines for making this transformation possible!

I can get carried away with salads and other dishes and keep adding things: nuts, cheese, dried or fresh fruit, lots of herbs, and so on and so forth. And I love all those things and I love them all together in salads but as I get ready for Thanksgiving I’ve decided to simplify, at least for this meal. I’m going to make a salad with just really good salad greens, maybe some whole parsley leaves and a simple dressing. And I’m going to braise some green cabbage as a side dish in a little butter with some onion and a dash of sherry vinegar at the end–nothing else.  There will be so much going on on the table that I think the simplicity will be nice. Maybe it’s because I cook and experiment so much that I’m craving these pared down versions. However, if this week is your chance to really cook and get creative, by all means do. It will be wonderful. But if you don’t want to buy a bunch of ingredients and do lots of chopping and planning, don’t be afraid of making something with a couple of ingredients and serving it proudly (with plenty of good salt and olive oil!).

Russet apples and quince

Now to the tart that kind of follows the above, simplified veggie theme. And it was a total cook-with-what-you-have process. I had combined the leftover pie dough from three pies from this weekend’s class into one ball and put it in the fridge. One of the doughs had ben for a savory tart and had been made with an egg and the other two were classic all-butter pie doughs. The chunk seemed about right for one single-crust tart or pie. I had three quince (I’ve been add ind a few quince to apple and pear sauce all fall and they are divine in this form too!) on the counter that needed using and a handful of russet apples. So I sliced the fruit, mixed in some lemon zest and a little sugar, a few tablespoons of reduced apple cider and some vanilla.

Sliced apples and quince with lemon zest

I baked the whole thing until it was bubbly and the fruit was tender, though that was a bit of a problem. I had tried to slice the quince thinner than the apples knowing they take longer to bake but if I were to do this again, I’d keep the quince and apples separate and put the quince in a layer right on the crust and then spread the apples over them. That way the quince would cook in the cider reduction that coats the bottom and be steamed a bit by the apples above and would probably cook in the same amount of time. I ended up just leaving it in the oven longer than would have been needed for the apples and all turned out fine. You could of course poach the quince for a few minutes first too.

The finished product.

This is the kind of tart that you can eat several slices of and still not feel overly indulgent. It’s the opposite of the rich, gooey pecan pies or custardy pumpkin ones. And even with a dollop of whipped cream it’s on the lighter end of desserts so it might make a nice complement to the typical, richer fare this Thursday.

I hope you have a wonderful time cooking and eating this week. I’m so grateful for all the bounty we have and wish you all a warm, cozy place to be with a good plate of food and friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Apple Quince Tart

You could make this with pears and apples or just pears for a nice variation. You can use a favorite pie or tart dough recipe or the one below which includes an egg and is very easy to work with. You do not need to let this dough rest in the fridge, though you certainly can.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
(or ¾ cup apf and ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Make the dough by mixing the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands, or a pastry blender, to break in the butter until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. Mix the egg with 2 tablespoons of the water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg mixture, stirring the mixture until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of ice water. Gather the dough into a ball and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. Roll it out a bit larger than your tart pan and fit the dough into in snugly. Fold any rough edges over on itself even with the rim of the pan and press into the side of the pan.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Filling:

about 5 cups sliced apples and quince (or apples and pears, see headnote), keeping apples and quince separate
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar (depending on tartness of fruit)
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons reduced apple cider*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Depending on your ratio of quince to apples mix each with the respective amount, more or less, of sugar and lemon zest. Mix the reduced cider and vanilla in a small bowl. Spread the quince on the bottom of the unbaked tart shell. Spread the apples over the quince and then drizzle the cider vanilla mixture evenly over the fruit and dot it with little pieces of butter. Bake for about 45 minutes until all the fruit is tender and is starting to brown around the edges.

*I keep reduced apple cider on hand to add to salad dressings and many other dishes this time of year. You just reduce 1/2 gallon of cider down to about 1 1/2 cups for a nice, slightly syrupy consistency.

Perfect Pie

A sour cherry pie I made this summer.

I’m compelled to post about pie several times a year, but especially and most regularly, this time of year. Cakes and quick breads are great, as are cobblers and cookies but pies evoke more superlatives for me than all else. Maybe it’s my family’s Thanksgiving tradition that involves more pies than seem reasonable but after all, it’s really about being able to have pie for breakfast (and lunch and dinner!) the day after Thanksgiving. It’s about crimping that dough and praying that it won’t droop in the hot oven in all its buttery goodness. And it’s about apples and pumpkins, nuts and even leafy greens with eggs and spices that fill those buttery shells, that makes me happy.

Apple Pie waiting to be covered and crimped (my favorite part).

I’m dying to try this pie and this crust (even though I’ve always stuck with all-purpose flour for pie crust) and finally trying butternut squash instead of pumpkin in a “pumpkin” pie  . . .as I’m getting ready for the annual Pie Class at Cook With What You Have. I’d love for you to come, share your pie stories, roll pie dough and slice fruit and enjoy a meal of pie, both sweet and savory (and a salad or two) on a cozy Saturday! Saturday, November 19th that is–the weekend before Thanksgiving–so you’ll have license to ignore other household tasks or work to come make pie because you’ll improve everyone else’s day the following Thursday with your home-made beauty!

Baked Apples

Here are the key ingredients for this dish though any number of substitutions for the nuts and dried fruit would be great . . .raisins, dried cranberries, cherries or apricots; almonds, pecans. . . .

I’m testing all kinds of healthy desserts for part of a series of classes I’m teaching at Columbia Sportswear this fall. I know ‘healthy’ is a terribly subjective term but I’m focusing on dishes that traditionally don’t use lots of refined sugars and flours (like these Baked Apples) or adapting ones that do, to use less of those things.

Baked Apples filled with walnuts, dates, a little butter and coconut sugar.

It’s a lot of  fun and I loved these apples I made last night for our dessert and loved them even more for breakfast this morning with Greek yogurt and maple syrup. Many European countries have a variation of this dish (which is also delicious with pears) and I grew up with some German renditions of this. The below recipe was loosely inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s in Around my French Table, however, I simplified it significantly. Enjoy!

I’m also having fun testing soups these days in preparation for Fall Soup Class which still has a few spots. So far I think there will be a pureed chickpea soup with cumin and lemon; a leek soup; a potato chowder and a soup with different kinds of beans and greens!

Breakfast of baked apples topped with Greek yogurt and maple syrup.

Baked Apples 

4 apples, cut in half, peeled and cored (or pears or quince)

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans

1/2 cup of chopped dried fruit (dates, raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, prunes or apricots)

2-3 tablespoons coconut sugar or brown sugar (or 1 -2 tablespoons honey)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup apple cider or water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the apples cut side up in the 9 x 13 baking pan. They should be fairly snug so they stay upright and hold their filling. Put a small piece of butter into each hollow (where the core used to be)

In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon, sugar (or honey), salt and nuts and dried fruit. Divide this mixture evenly among the hollows of the 8 halves. Dot each half with another piece of butter. Pour the cider or water into the pan and sprinkle the remaining butter onto the liquid in the pan.

Bake until the apples are nice and tender (but not falling apart) which can be anywhere from 45 – 70 minutes depending on the size and kind of your apple. Baste with the buttery juice every 15 minutes.

Let cool for a few minutes before eating or eat at room temperature as is or with Greek yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Blackberry Pie for Breakfast and other Summer Treats

Blackberry pie for breakfast is an annual late summer treat.

Cooking in the summer for me is a funny combination of quick, whatever I have on hand because I don’t want to be sweating over a hot stove meals, and on the other hand, making more laborious, involved things that I only get to make once or twice a year because the season is fleeting and precious. And somehow sweating over a hot stove for hours is part of that fleeting pleasure and experience that makes it what it is. And it’s often done in the name of preserving that treasure for the cooler months so it’s time extra well spent.

The past few weeks have seen lots of the former and a few of the latter. Blackberry pie, though not terribly time-consuming is in the latter category. I just don’t make pies that often and blackberry may be my very favorite. It manages to evoke the feeling of hot summer afternoons picking blackberries in the woods–dusty, sticky sweet and all scratched up–in one single bite. I use an all-butter crust (this is a good recipe) and about 6 cups of blackberries, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, juice of one lemon and maybe a little lemon zest, for this summer treat. And if you make a blackberry pie, leave it out over night (covered with a dish towel) and don’t refrigerate it. In the morning you’ll have the best summer breakfast imaginable waiting for you.

In the slow and hot department, I’ve made lots of jam this year: raspberry, strawberry, marionberry peach vanilla, blackberry, peach vanilla, and blackberry fig lemon. I’ve approached jam with a cook-with-what-you-have (and desperately need to use up before it goes bad) attitude. Thus the blackberry fig (Dolores thank you for both!) and marionberry peach. It’s been fun, hot and sticky and I can’t wait to give many of these jars away come the holidays.

In the quick department, it’s been tomatoes and more tomatoes these days. Oh and a beet salad that’s worth briefly noting. I tossed chunks of cold, roasted beets with avocado, green onions, cilantro, feta and a bit of lime juice, olive oil and salt. It was an impromptu lunch but will certainly turn into a planned affair in the future.

Back to tomatoes and quick lunches. This is my idea of  the perfect summer lunch:

Fried egg on a slice of tomato, some basil, a few slivers of sweet onion, butter, a good pice of toast and topped with some basil and salt and pepper! Divine!

And finally, my new favorite tomato dish, that I made for dinner last week and will make again, at least once, this week. It’s a brilliant, quick combination of simple ingredients. I got the idea and only slightly changed the recipe from Deb at smittenkitchen.com who only slighted adapted if from Ina Garten.

Their versions call it Scalloped Tomatoes but because there is no milk or cream in it, which I think of when I think of scalloped anything, I’ve started calling it a Tomato Bread Gratin. But no matter, it’s really good.

Tomato Bread Gratin--a quick, hearty but light summer dish that is much lovelier than this lackluster photo conveys.

Tomato Bread Gratin

–adapted from smittenkitchen who adapted it from Ina Garten.

You can vary the quantities and ratios here with no problem. More tomatoes will make it a little moister and might take a little longer to cook and more bread will make it denser and more crisp. I used less cheese than the original(s) listed and loved it. You can vary the herbs and increase the quantity if you’d like.

3 cups cubed, stale bread (not sandwich bread–something with a bit more texture and heft), crusts included

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 – 3 lbs tomatoes, diced

2 -3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt (yes, use all of this)

1/3 cups of basil, sliced into thin strips (or combination of basil and oregano)

1/2 cup (or more) grated Parmesan or other hard cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish or other shallow dish.

Toast bread cubes in a large skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the bread is toasty.

Add the diced tomatoes, sugar, salt and garlic  to the skillet with the bread and stir really well to incorporate evenly. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often. Take off the heat, stir in the basil and pour contents into baking dish. Top evenly with parmesan and bake until bubbly and crisp on top, about 35 minutes.

Serve with a big green salad or other summer salads. This is, as Deb at smittenkitchen suggests, fantastic with a fried or poached egg on top.

Happy Cooking!

P.S. Now that school has started I’m gearing up for fall classes. Lots to choose from here at Cook With What You Have including the next two classes that take advantage of all this fabulous, late summer/early fall produce. So come take a class and enjoy these fleeting treats with some new ideas.

Strawberries, Roasted, Baked, . . .

Strawberries: ready to be transformed into popsicles, ice cream, jam and a roasted compote.

It’s been a tough season for strawberries here in the Northwest. The cold and rainy spring has delayed the season and the berries tend to be smaller and less sweet than usual. However, they still are a treat, a long-awaited treat. They are my husband’s favorite berry and they’re really quite versatile. Once you’ve had your fill of them plain, right out of the green cardboard pint basket there are so many options. And if you’re like me and u-pick them or buy them by the flat you’ll quickly realize there really are only so many berries one can eat in the moment before they spoil.

So, this is what my kitchen counter looked like last week after my first real haul of the season. And I’m going back for more later this week since I don’t yet have my quota for plain, frozen berries, jam, etc.

Sliced strawberries waiting to be turned into jam, strawberry yogurt popsicles, roasted strawberries and strawberry ice cream.

I make popsicles all summer and usually add a bit of yogurt and honey to any fruit that’s suitable for popsicles (berries, peaches, etc.). The strawberries I picked last week were not very sweet or particularly flavorful so I decided to roast a bunch of them which is what is in the container on the far right of the photo above. Roasting brings out the sweetness in most any fruit or vegetable and strawberries are well-suited to this technique. I spread about 2-3 pints worth out on a sheet pan (cut in half), drizzle them with about one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and about 1/2 cup of sugar (more if you like them sweeter or the berries are particularly tart), toss well and roast at 375 until they are greatly reduced and the juice becomes syrupy. This can take anywhere from 40 – 70 minutes. They are wonderful over ice cream, stirred into yogurt, mixed with other, fresh fruit in a crisp or cobbler, etc. . . .they are quite intense in this preparation so can go along way.

Baking with strawberries is a bit trickier than other berries. They don’t hold up so well and tend to lose their punch. As you might recall from my wedding cake adventures last summer, creating a concentrated, stable strawberry filling was quite the task. So I was delighted to find this simple strawberry cake recipe on smittenkitchen this spring and have been enjoying it immensely. It’s quick, beautiful and delicious. I have adapted it only in two small ways. I reduce the amount of sugar in the batter to 3/4 cup  and I add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper to the batter–Makes for a slightly more mysterious cake. And if you’re feeling really adventurous add a little Kirsch to your whipped cream.

Strawberry Summer Cake

And if you really find yourself in a time crunch and need to process berries just freeze them whole in containers or bags. In mid-winter those berries are perfect in a bowl of steaming steel cut oats.

Happy Summer!

Bake With What You Have – Part I

Apple Oat Muffins . . . not the most photogenic muffins in the world but satisfying nevertheless.

I have a private client at the moment who has three sons; 11, 14 and 16. I grew up with three brothers so I know how much they can eat, but for years now I’ve lived in a household of two and more recently three and I’m just not accustomed to those quantities anymore. This client wants ideas and recipes for hearty, healthy snacks for the boys. So I’ve been testing and making a variety of things including lots of muffins. Muffins are in many ways ideal: they are baked in individual portions; they freeze well; they are portable; and they are adaptable to many different tastes/styles/ingredients. I have a feeling my client’s boys could eat a whole batch of these in one sitting but for those with smaller families, freezing part of the batch is a great idea.

I have always loved to bake and made more than my fair share of layer cakes out of the Joy of Cooking as a teenager. My tastes have changed over the years and I like things a bit less sweet now but until a few years ago, I carefully followed dessert recipes. Not anymore. The cook-with-what-you-have mindset has wormed its way into my baking (and other desserts) as well and I substitute and tinker to my heart’s content. There are still some recipes I strictly follow and certain chefs whose recipes I know better than to change because they are always perfect (David Lebovitz among others). . . .However, muffins are the perfect foil for tinkering and I want to convey that freedom to adapt baked goods like this to my client(s) so that good, home-made snacks like the below muffins become part of people’s regular routines.

I’ve been playing with these Apple Oat Muffins this week and they are a perfect example of a quick-to-make snack (dessert, breakfast, picnic treat) using items you might already have in your pantry or you can substitute with ingredients you do have on hand. They are just barely sweet but the combination of the fruit, the texture of the oats and the spices works well.

These muffins call for as much oats (by volume) as flour.

Muffin (and waffle, pancake, biscuit. etc.) recipes often call for buttermilk. I hardly ever have buttermilk on hand so I substitute either whole milk with 1 tsp of lemon juice per cup of milk or yogurt or a combination. Both work really well. I use whole milk in all my baking/cooking and think it gives the best results but 2% is workable too.

These muffins would also be delicious with the addition of raisins, chopped walnuts or almonds, shredded coconut, other dried fruit or fresh blueberries or raspberries. You could substitute mashed bananas for the apple sauce though you might reduce the sweetener a bit since bananas are sweeter than apples. And speaking of sweeteners, you could substitute maple syrup for the honey or use brown sugar or granulated sugar though honey is a bit sweeter than sugar so reduce the sugar amount by 1/4 or so.

You could also play with different kinds of flour or combinations of flour. You might use half spelt flour and half all-purpose, etc. Kim Boyce’s wonderful book Good to the Grain is a wonderful resource on whole grain flours of all kinds.

Apple Oat Muffins

When tinkering with baked goods you do want to keep the proportion of dry and wet ingredients the same. There are a few other rules (which I will explore in Bake With What You Have – Part II) but muffins are pretty forgiving so go ahead and play around and see what you like.

These muffins are not very sweet. If you like things a bit sweeter by all means add a few more tablespoons of honey.

12- 15 muffins

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (or other flours-see note above)

1 1/4 cups oats

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup whole milk or plain yogurt (if using milk, add 1 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar)

1/3 cup honey (or other sweeteners-see note above)

2 tbsp olive oil or sunflower oil (or other vegetable or nut oil)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 large apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

grated zest of half a lemon (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil or butter a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another bowl combine applesauce, milk (or yogurt), honey, oil, egg and lemon zest, if using. Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir quickly until just combined. Add the chopped apple and fill muffin cups.

Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Ellis loves muffin-testing days.

Wedding Cake

Vanilla Velvet Cake with Strawberry Curd and Strawberry-Kirsch Buttercream

More than three months after the wedding for which I made the above cake, I am finally going to share some photos and stories. Now, as I gear up for my brother’s wedding it’s fun to reflect back on the last wedding in which I played a small culinary part.

I had never before made a wedding cake. And I didn’t hesitate for long when Margo asked if I would make hers. She’s a very good friend, the wedding was not going to be huge and I had plenty of time to test, learn, fail, test again. . . .The wedding, however, was going to be populated by foodie/wine types with sophisticated palates so the pressure was on. In hindsight, the pressure was all entirely and needlessly self-induced and Margo never contributed to it whatsoever. The guidance she gave me was that the cake be centered around strawberries since the wedding was going to be in late June in Oregon. Fair enough!

Margo, Me, the cake, and Ian

I’ve made strawberry rhubarb pie; roasted strawberry and balsamic tart; strawberry ice cream; strawberry shortcake; and strawberry jam, but I did not realize at the outset of this project how challenging it is to get a true, strong strawberry flavor into a layered cake. Luckily the Cake Bible came to my rescue on this matter. The best way to accomplish this strong, fresh strawberry flavor is to pick the best berries you can find–not an easy task during this cold, water-logged spring–freeze them whole, then thaw them (this helps break down the membrane), then strain them, then reduce that juice significantly and finally mix with the blended pulp, a little lemon juice and touch of sugar. And voila! you have a super concentrated puree. I substituted this puree for the lemon juice in a classic lemon curd recipe to make the cake filling. It was delicious! I had tried both stabilizing the plain puree with gelatin and mixing it with whipped cream but neither of those fillings held up well enough with the size and weight of the cake layers and would not have cut or transported well.

Thawing Strawberries

Strawberry Puree

My next challenge was cake flour. I tested cake after cake made with cake flour–the hyper-processed, bleached , soft white flour that gives typical wedding cakes and other special occasion cakes that signature fine crumb. However signature it is, it often reminds me of grocery store sheet cakes. My test cakes tasted sort-of fake and like the smell of the plastic trays they come on. Then came the color. I wanted a really pale, almost white cake to create a nice contrast to the strawberry curd filling and buttercream and, however, tasty some of the cakes I tested were, they were too yellow. After testing half-a-dozen base cakes, I landed back on the first one, Grand Central Bakery’s Vanilla Velvet Cake. It uses just egg whites and all-purpose flour and holds up very well, both in structure and flavor.

My dear pastry-chef-friend Ellen not only lent me her cake pans and ideas (the strawberry curd was her idea) but her sophisticated palate and showed up with her husband–an excellent eater and critic in his own right–on a regular basis for taste tests.

The buttercream was actually the least complicated part of the cake. The Cake Bible once again had the answer in Neoclassic Buttercream that I also flavored with the strawberry puree and just a touch of Kirsch. The puree lent the buttercream a wonderfully marbled, reddish-pink hue and the Kirsch cut the richness just a bit. I’d make another wedding cake just to have an excuse to test and eat that much buttercream.

Strawberry/Kirsch Buttercream

The trickiest part of the whole wedding cake project I think typically is baking perfectly flat cake layers. The instant give-away of the cake made by the novice is the sloping, slanted look noticeable even with the slightest asymmetry.  The Cake Bible has elaborate tables with equations for  avoiding such slanting affairs. It all has to do with the leavening and how to decrease it in proportion to the other ingredients as the cake layers get bigger. I was careful and followed her instructions–by far the most complicated math I’ve found myself doing in my adult life. I weighed the batter for each pan precisely and ended up with very even layers.

I also had done lots of research on the assembly and how best to support the layers: dowels, drinking straws, etc. I had purchased my cardboard cake circles at the Decorette Shop as well as an off-set spatula (the most important tool of all) where I had seen all sorts of crazy things I didn’t know existed including shelf-stable strawberry cake filling in a plastic bag. I did not ditch my strawberry curd plans for said, bright red filling. . . .And I happened to have a beautiful red glass cake plate from my grandmother that just fit the cake so I was able to avoid the foil-wrapped board.

I filled, frosted and assembled the cake the day before the wedding in a house all to myself. Ellis was at my mother’s and Brian was off watching a World Cup Soccer game and I cranked up the music (Bruce Springsteen I think) and went to work.

Assembly!

All the research and prep paid off. Everything worked and at the last-minute I remembered a trick I had seen on one of my favorite baking blogs to create a marbled effect with the buttercream. I left a bit of buttercream plain and gently mixed in some of the strawberry puree in the pastry bag and used that to pipe on my borders. Finally I decided against the flowers the wedding florist had set aside for the cake and went to my back yard and picked real strawberries with their stems and leaves and used those for the final touch.

Marbled Buttercream

Voila!

To make a now very long story a bit shorter, the trip to the location of the wedding (actually two trips since the restaurant sent us back home with the cake as they supposedly didn’t have anywhere to keep it for the few hours until the wedding!) was by far the most stressful part. But the buttercream held up despite the warm weather, the bride and groom loved it and we had plenty to go around.

And yes, I would make another wedding cake but again only for someone I know and love. I will not be going into the wedding cake business. The Cook With What You Have philosophy is a bit at odds with all those structural and visual needs of a wedding cake!