Archives for posts with tag: butter

I’m the first to admit I’m a little late to the strawberry rhubarb party this year. It’s not my fault! My day job has turned into a day-and-night job leaving little time to tend to matters of the kitchen. Take heart, yesterday morning I woke up with my priorities straight. I ran (literally) to the Fort Greene farmer’s market (site of the fiddlehead fiasco a few weeks ago) to fetch strawberries so small and sweet they resembled raspberries and tasted like jam. And I was delighted to see the rhubarb still hanging around, weeks after I first saw it (and rushed by it) at the Union Square Greenmarket.

But what’s that I see? Cherries?! I haven’t even tasted my first bite of a strawberry-rhubarb crisp this season and already there are cherries to contend with? Maybe next week. Yesterday I was on a mission and would not get distracted, no matter how sweet the cherries looked.

I was after the classic strawberry rhubarb pie. A fool’s mission, you may think, given the tendency for strawberries to explode mid-baking, making for a runny mess for your crust to sop up. So call me a fool. I love this particular pie. I love it in June (I love June period). I love it with ice cream or without. I love it standing up in a Brooklyn kitchen late at night or in a backyard in Vermont. And most importantly, so does my grandmother, and I wanted her to have a big ole piece of it.

I thought about fussing of course. I picked up and smelled the herbs at the market, wondering at first how sage would go with these flavors, then thyme, then mint. And then wondered about balsamic vinegar and black pepper, before deciding to keep it simple. Well, mostly simple.

The only two additions I allowed were freshly grated ginger and lemon zest, just to spice things up a bit without going completely rogue. I love the combination of rhubarb and ginger, and that of strawberry and lemon. The proof was in the filling: when baked this pie was not too sweet, but lusciously fruity, jammy, June-y, tart, with just a hint of the lemon and ginger to elevate the senses.

And fear not—the pie crust took all of five, maybe eight, minutes to make, and no food processor or pulsing required. I’d been wanting to try Cook’s Illustrated recipe using vodka in place of the water. The theory is that vodka, in large part pure alcohol, provides the necessary liquid to bind the dough, then cleverly evaporates during baking to yield a flakier crust. I proceeded cautiously and used only 1/4 c of ice-cold vodka (left over in my freezer from New Year’s), mixed with 1/2 c water. And you know what, the crust was buttery and flaky and darn tasty.

Next week: cherries anyone? And good luck to Rafa at the French Open this morning, I would love to see him put an end to Djoki’s streak. Only two months til the US Open!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

For the crust:
2 1/2 c flour (I like 2 c all-purpose and 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter (16 tbsp), cut into small cubes
1/2 c cold water
1/4 c cold vodka

Combine the water and vodka, add an ice cube or two, and set aside. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and work quickly (with a pastry blender, whisk, or your hands) to combine until pea-sized crumbs form. Add 1/2 c of the liquid and continue mixing. You can add the rest if and when you need it, which you probably will. Separate the dough into equal halves, flattening a bit and transferring to plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of an hour and up to one week.

For the filling:
1 1/4 lb rhubarb, cut into small pieces
1 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 c cane or white sugar
1/4 c light brown sugar
dash of salt
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 c corn starch
Optional: 1 egg yolk mixed with a little water for glaze

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare to roll out the dough by cleaning a large surface and flouring it. I like to roll out dough directly on a large piece of saran wrap. Roll half of the dough into a roughly 12- or 13-inch diameter. Carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie dish and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, salt, zest, lemon juice, ginger, and corn starch. Transfer the filling into the pie crust. Roll out the second half of the pie dough, this time to a slightly smaller diameter. Transfer over top of the filling, pressing around the sides to remove any gaps. Trim the ends of the pie and crimp the edges. Make decorative slits to let steam escape. Brush the top with the egg yolk mixture.

Place on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven, baking at 400 for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and let cool completely (if you can resist) before digging in.

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Forget salt and pepper, garlic and lemon. The most successful seasoning for what we eat is a good pinch of nostalgia.

I could spend all day reading Nigel Slater. Correction: I have spent whole days reading Nigel Slater.

Slater is one of the best cooks writing today. His food is simple and straightforward, not unlike Jamie Oliver’s or Yotam Ottolenghi’s; it’s seasonally-driven, basic, and satisfies cravings you didn’t know you had. His writing has filled seven cookbooks and countless articles for The Guardian. His 2004 memoir, Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger, kept me up one night until I had no more pages to turn.

When Tender was published in the U.S. last year, combining the UK edition’s two volumes into one 600-page tome, I was eager to get my hands on it and smudge the pages with buttery fingers. Organized by ingredient (this seems to be a popular method in UK cookbooks), I stumbled upon the Beet chapter and not one, but two, cake recipes therein. This guy’s good.

Of course a cake that includes beets, melted dark chocolate, poppy seeds, and crème fraîche called to me, especially one that promised a molten lava center. I remember wanting to make this for my sister Hope’s birthday back in November but decided it was too risky. At last I’ve embarked on the project, during my own birthday week no less.

Turns out this chocolate cake is dreamy, silky, and not too sweet; the beets keep the cake moist without offering a beety flavor. Think carrots in a carrot cake, or zucchini in zucchini bread. The cake is served with tangy crème fraîche and poppy seeds, a playful take on the classic beet and sour cream flavor combination in eastern European cooking.

To serve, I thought of the china I keep in my cupboard that belonged to my father’s mother, my namesake, whom I never met. Reading Nigel Slater always makes me a little nostalgic, and the old, delicate china that once belonged to Mahala McLaughlin seemed like a fitting presentation.

Serve to friends. Serve with love. And you don’t have to tell anyone there are beets inside, unless, like me, they’re into that kind of thing.

Incredibly Moist Chocolate Beet Cake
From Nigel Slater, Tender

8 ounces (240 g) beets, unpeeled and rinsed (approx. 2 beets)
7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c (60 ml) hot espresso
7 ounces (200 g) butter, room temp, cut into small cubes
1 cup (135 g) flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tsp baking powder
5 large eggs, separated, at room temp
1 cup (190 g) superfine, or caster, sugar

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20 cm) springform cake pan, then line with a disc of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling, unsalted water for 30 to 40 minutes, with the lid slightly askew. They’re done when a knife can easily pierce through the flesh. Drain and rinse in cold water. When cool, peel them, and pulse in a food processor until they’re a rough purée.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Do not stir. When the chocolate is just about all melted, turn off the heat, and add the hot espresso, stirring only once. Add the butter to the melted chocolate, pressing it into the chocolate but not stirring. Leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Put your egg whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the egg yolks together by hand.

Working quickly but gently, stir the butter into the melted chocolate, and leave for a few minutes to cool, then stir in the egg yolks. Fold in the beet purée. Whisk the egg whites by hand or using a stand mixer until stiff, then fold the sugar into the egg whites. Fold the egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture, careful not to overmix. Fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, turning the temperature down to 325 F (160 C). Bake for 40 minutes; the rim will just barely be separating from the edges and the center will still be a bit wobbly when gently shaken.

Let cool completely in the cake pan on a wire rack (it will sink a little in the center). Loosen around the edges with a butter knife after a half hour or so. Only remove the cake from its pan when it has cooled completely. Serve in thick slices with crème fraiche and poppy seeds. Grandmother’s china optional.

This post is a shout out to everyone who is sick to death of holiday over-indulgence: fruit cake, panettone (yes, panettone), christmas cookies, kugel, stollen, chocolate truffles, sugar cookies, egg nog, and on and on. In early December all that powdered sugar and almond paste is so exciting and new! Like turkey on Thanksgiving Thursday; then by the fifth turkey-and-cranberry sandwich on Sunday you’re: so. over. it.

So now that we’re nestling into mid-January I propose a return to normalcy. Nothing so dramatic as a cleanse or diet. But I’m talking about rosemary shortbread. You may be scratching your head saying huh? I thought you were sick of cookies?! Well I am. But sometimes if you have people over or are asked to bring a dessert there’s no getting around it. So what I’m proposing are these salty-mildly sweet buttery cookies. Serve these after the main course has digested and your guests will perk up instantly and feel not that they’re over-indulging circa Dec. 31st, but, that they’re being responsible grown-ups enjoying a delicious (and addictive I might add), but not absurd, dessert.

Plus these can be made from start to finish in about 40 minutes and use mostly ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. They stay good for at least a week sealed in an air-tight container. Leftovers go well at the office around 11 am with that second cup of tea or coffee when your stomach doesn’t realize that lunchtime is still two hours away.

So congratulations on doing more yoga, quitting smoking, getting the blood pressure down, and eating better desserts in 2012.

Special thanks to my stepmother Bonnie for this just-in-time recipe.

Rosemary Shortbread

2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus a little extra for sprinkling and photo shoots
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 tbsp honey
1/2 c powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate, large bowl, mix together the butter, honey, and sugar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring to combine.

Shape the dough into a ball, gently kneading it.

Press the dough into two 9-inch cake pans, square or round. (Use square if you want square or rectangular cookies, round for round ones.) The dough will be quite thin but will rise a little in the oven. Lightly score the dough with a knife to the size/shape cookies you desire before placing in the oven.

Before baking, sprinkle rosemary and a little sea salt on top, then bake for approx. 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut the cookies where you had scored them.

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