Archives for category: Desserts

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“I like to hang out with people who make me forget to look at my phone.”
-quote I heard recently

I’m in the middle of my summer sabbatical. As some of you know, each summer I take time off from my life in New York City and retreat to my on-again off-again childhood home of Vermont. This is the loveliest time of year in one of the loveliest places on earth. (That’s a fact by the way, not some silly opinion; seriously, check wikipedia.) The Champlain Valley of Vermont: the western side of the state, close to Lake Champlain, and not as far north as you can get, but pretty up there. It is where my heart feels most at home, most at ease. My father and stepmother have the good fortune of calling this place home year round. Up here in the summer I can swim in their pond, shower outside under the stars, read in the hammock on the back porch, and this month, play—or attempt to play—with the three new kittens that were born in their garage. We pick chard and kale and cukes and tomatoes and dill and basil from the garden.

It’s been a good summer for me so far but not without its challenges. I have been working harder than almost any other time in the past few years, while also tending to a tender heart. As you may have noticed I have not been too focused on making or writing about food and I miss it. Although I am editing a cookbook this summer and it’s been both a great pleasure and challenge and once I’m done with the manuscript can hopefully share some of the recipes here.

The only hitch in these lovely summer sojourns is that my time in Vermont must come to an end, and as much as I like Brooklyn, I never want to return to my 400-square-foot apartment or riding the subway or meetings or general lack of lakes to swim in.

While up here though, I, on occasion, leave what we call “the compound,” and venture out to swim in the lake, meet friends for dinner at Black Sheep Bistro, get pastries at Vergennes Laundry, shop at the Middlebury Food Coop (where I worked in high school!), eat ice cream at Lulu’s in Bristol (slumdog millionaire ice cream flavor anyone?), or, like I did today, go blueberry picking. Pelkey’s is the go-to place to pick blueberries in this part of the state in August. I’ve been doing it every summer for the last number of years in a row. Here’s a blueberry cobbler recipe on my blog from July 2011 (and an unrelated potato and green bean salad from July 2012, and a summer roundup from Vermont in August 2012).
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I picked six pounds of blueberries today in just under an hour. I would have stayed and picked double that but I was with friends including a one-year-old in need of a nap and it was about 85 degrees and I was without a hat to block the sun. So, what to make with all these blueberries? My friend Emmanuelle gave me a great idea the other day: Nigel Slater’s Cake for Midsummer, a not-too-sweet peach-and-blueberry inflected cake with hints of almond and orange zest. Slater, being from the UK, writes in the metric system of course, but so does the chef I’m working with and so metric to imperial conversions have become a snap for me.

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A Midsummer Cake

adapted from Nigel Slater
serves 8–10

175 grams unsalted butter, room temp (about 1 1/2 sticks)
175 grams sugar (orig. recipe, I reduced to 2/3 cup and used half white half brown sugar)
2 large eggs
175 grams flour (approx. 1 1/4 cup)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
100 grams ground almonds (scant 1 cup)*
1 tsp grated orange zest + splash of orange juice
a few drops of vanilla extract
200 grams ripe peaches, roughly chopped (1 peach)
150 grams blueberries (approx. 1 cup)

Grease and flour an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius).

Using an electric or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. (Use good butter if you can, it makes a difference here in the flavor.) One by one add the eggs and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and almonds then add, gradually, to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the orange zest, splash of juice, vanilla, and incorporate. Then fold in the chopped peaches and blueberries.

Transfer the mixture to the cake pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour and ten minutes, depending on the size of your pan. My 9-inch pan required about a 57-minute baking time. An 8-inch pan might take an extra five minutes or so. Stick a toothpick in and it should come out clean. Let the cake cool before sliding it out onto a serving plate. Some unsweetened freshly whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, as would a strong cup of tea.

*I think a neat substitution would be cornmeal in place of the almonds. Or, buckwheat flour in place of the all-purpose flour.

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Rhubarb rhubarb everywhere. It is a sure sign of spring turning into summer. It means, here in the northeast U.S., peak asparagus has passed, strawberries are not far behind, and early summer lettuces are at their best. And I have a newly potted basil plant on my fire escape next to sweat peas that are appearing as thin tall shoots.

This week, rhubarb could be found at every farmer’s market around New York City, just asking to be brought home and stewed, baked, or turned into jam.

Two Junes ago I made a strawberry rhubarb pie and last year it was a rhubarb crumb cake. This year I was thinking more along the lines of caramelizing the stalks and pairing with ginger. I managed the former but forgot all about the latter. (I blame that on the fact I was baking while trying to watch the men’s French Open final.) I ended up with an upside-down cake—you melt butter and sugar in a cast-iron skillet then add the rhubarb, caramelizing the pieces and adding a flour mixture on top.

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In other food-related news this week, I was lucky to dine at Brooklyn’s Mile End with my friend Daniela, where chef Eli Sussman (2014 James Beard nominee) treated us royally. Two highlights for me were the roasted sunchoke salad with curry yogurt and the cauliflower tabbouleh. On Friday I was at a meeting on Elizabeth Street and found myself face to face with the new Black Seed Bagels. Hand rolled, wood fired, best bagel I’ve had in years. Last night, after a long fun day at Rockaway Beach, I had the pleasure of eating at Greenpoint’s Selamat Pagi, serving food inspired by Bali. It’s from the team behind the delicious Van Leeuwen ice cream and Chef Jason Greenberg; as my friends said, how nice to eat something other than “new American.” Oh, and, when in Greenpoint…you must stop at Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop. We got the ice cream sandwich between chocolate donut halves. What a day.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Kenzi Wilbur, Food52

3/4 c sugar plus scant 1/2 c
4 tbsp unsalted butter plus 1 stick and 5 tbsp cut into small cubes and chilled
Zest of one lemon
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 c whole milk
2 eggs

Heat the oven to 375F. Melt 3/4 c sugar, 4 tbsp butter, the lemon zest and juice, vanilla, and 1/4 tsp salt in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Once the butter and sugar have melted add the rhubarb, stirring occasionally. It will take between 5 and 10 minutes for the rhubarb to cook through, depending on their size.*

In the meantime, combine the remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Add remaining butter, and using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Add the milk and eggs and stir until a sticky dough forms. (You may need an extra splash of milk for the dough to stick together.)

Spread the dough over the warm rhubarb mixture, trying to cover the entire surface. Bake on a baking sheet until the cake is golden and cooked through, about 35 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let the cake rest for about 10 minutes. Now very carefully, place a large flat plate underneath the skillet and invert deftly. If any of the rhubarb has stuck to the skillet just scrape off and you can place back on the cake. This cake would be yummy served with unsweetened whipped cream, vanilla or ginger ice cream, or just plain of course.

*It is at this point that I intended to add about 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh ginger! I totally forgot. You could also add about 1/4 tsp dried ginger to the flour mixture.

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This was somewhat of a magical spring weekend in Brooklyn. Finally, warmth. Finally, a reason to use sunscreen. Finally, dust off the bike and get in the park. I didn’t waste a minute of it. Saturday I was at the farmer’s market in Grand Army Plaza plucking asparagus and radishes (post to come soon). The cherry blossoms made a rosé carpet of petals. Today it was the Fifth Avenue market in Park Slope, stopping by to visit friends at the Butterstein’s kettle corn stand and Runner & Stone‘s tent for Peter Endriss’s almond croissants and rye miche. Other weekend treats included nettle gnochi (from Runner & Stone’s brick-and-mortar restaurant in Gowanus), tatsoi dressed with lemon and olive oil that I made at home, and these chocolate coconut date bars. Raw, vegan. Inspired by fellow blogger Emily von Euw’s recipe for chocolate cream caramel bars over at This Rawsome Vegan Life.

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My friend Jill and I made some substitutions which ultimately worked well but left us with more of a peanut-butter-and-jelly style bar than a chocolate-cream-caramel. We substituted a cup of dates in the nut butter layer with a cup of dried cherries (because we ran out of dates, oops!); and we used peanut butter instead of cashew butter mostly because it’s cheaper. Next time though I think I’ll try with the cashew butter and dates, but this version is lip-smacking. And there is no baking, no heat involved. All you need is a blender or food processor.

And go see the new Jon Favreau movie Chef. It’s the story of a father learning how to get close to his son. It’s a story about how to make the best Cubanos. About how not to settle in life. Just don’t watch this movie hungry like I did.

I also include a photo below of the new Dan Graham installation on the Met’s rooftop garden. If you’re in New York, go see it!  The views, even on a rainy misty evening, are sublime.

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Chocolate Coconut Date Bars (Raw & Vegan)
Adapted from This Rawsome Vegan Life

For the crust:
1 1/4 cup almond flour (or 1 cup almonds)
1 cup dates
pinch of salt

For the nut butter layer:
1/2 cup peanut butter or cashew butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup dried cherries or dates

For the chocolate layer:
1/3 cup coconut oil
2-3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup sweetener (I used date syrup; maple syrup or honey would work)
Sea salt, for sprinkling

To make the crust:
Blend the almonds (or almond flour) with the dates in a food processor or blender until smooth and stuck together. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of a loaf pan or 8 x 8 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate while you prepare the rest.

To make the remaining two layers:
Mix the nut butter, coconut oil, and dried cherries or dates in your food processor or blender until smooth. Pour over the slightly chilled crust layer. Refrigerate while you prepare the final layer. Wipe out your blender and add the remaining coconut oil, cocoa powder, and sweetener. Blend until smooth and pour this final layer on top. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Or in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Before serving sprinkle some Maldon sea salt flakes over the top.

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