8.29.2015

The Curious Path of a Midsummer Cake

There are many paths to knowing you have stumbled upon a winning recipe.

Perhaps the quintessential indicator is when company in the room goes silent.  (Laurie Colwin notes this is also how you know you will not be enjoying leftovers.)

Our busy lives often separate us from communal eating.  In which case, modernity may allow that you receive a message sent by way of a technological gadget in ALL CAPS.

Or it could be an employment of expletives, a telltale that transcends time.  As is the invocation of a saint or religious figure, as in: “holy Mary sweet mother of God.”  

This cake’s praise, however, took a path less traveled. After sending a slice with Brett to work, I received an ALL CAPS text.  (The cake was absolutely FANTASTIC.) But he then momentarily became a nineteenth century British diplomat and said, “I tip my hat to you madam, superb job.”

After earning madam status by way of cookery, things diverged further.  A fellow blogger-friend identified the cake’s origin by both cookbook and name, with nothing but a picture (above) and the mention of raspberries and almonds.  (I did also note its superlative breakfast qualities, though I am certain this is true of any cake known to man.)

The cookbook:  Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard. The name: A cake for midsummer.  I am painfully aware it is no longer midsummer. As I am also painfully aware I have largely missed apricot season in Massachusetts, yet again.  But this recipe has been on my list to make for an embarrassment of years and I was not going to let another cake slip past me with the summer wind.

So there are late summer peaches—instead of the white whaled New England apricot—and raspberries in the cake. (I doubt this detail matters.)

As with so many of Nigel Slater’s cake recipes, the batter is thickly stiff and still supple, like a buttercream. It then becomes littered with raspberries and chunks of stone fruit. And again, as with so many of his desserts, it becomes beloved immediately. 

The cake is a crowd-pleaser plain and simple.  Compliments, of any shape and size, don’t get that kind of thing wrong.

Raspberry Stone Fruit Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

Ingredients:

¾ cup (175 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 ground scant cup (175 grams) demerara sugar (see notes)
2 medium peaches or 4 to 5 apricots (200 grams)
2 large eggs
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup plus 1/3 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 scant cup (100 grams) almond flour
2 tbsp half and half (or whole milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups (170 grams) raspberries

Instructions:

Butter an 8-inch springform pan; line with parchment paper and butter the paper; set aside.  Set oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (about 5 minutes); scrape down the sides occasionally, if needed.  Meanwhile, halve, pit, and chop the peaches into ½-inch pieces. 

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. With the mixer running on medium-low, slowly add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar; mix until fully combined, scraping down the sides to corral the batter occasionally.

In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, and salt together; mix in the almond flour.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flours in two or three additions; add in the half and half.

Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and with a rubber spatula, gently fold in the vanilla extract, peaches, and raspberries until just combined.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan (the batter will be thick); lightly smooth the top. 

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool slightly in the pan then run a knife around the edges and release from the springform. Let cool completely.

Yields 8 to 10 slices

Notes:
-The original recipe calls for golden bakers sugar.  If you can't find it, grind demerara or turbinado sugar in food processor instead.


-The original recipe calls for 1-1/3 cups white self-rising flour, which you could substitute for the pastry flour, cake flour, and baking powder. The salt may need to be modified, depending on the brand. ¼ tsp will yield about 600 milligrams of sodium.

7.31.2015

Honey Mustard Chicken Wings and Legs, Of Parts and Self

Wednesday night I got home from a therapy session around 9:45 PM and got to work making this recipe.  Seeing a therapist has been helpful for many reasons, one of which includes attempting to corral the neuroses that compel a person to start a chicken project at an ungodly hour in a ninety-degree heat wave.

Last week the same scenario played out, but the task was a sour cherry pie.  I believe in the power of pie.  Yet, as I age, I also believe in the power of sleep. And—rationally speaking—staying up until 1 AM is just not worth it. 

I also view pie making to be like childbirth.  There is a lot of swearing and sweating involved, sometimes tears. The whole time all you can think about is how you are never making one of these ever again (pie or kid, take your pick).  But then you are done and the thing is beautiful and you develop instant amnesia about the whole goddamned process.  The pastry holds a special place in the crevices of my generalized anxiety-driven parts and given the choice today I would probably do it again.

All that aside, I have no business basting anything after 10 PM, let alone poultry.  That should be a rule.  Though I am pretty sure therapy is against ‘rules,’ and also should-ing, so I might suggest if you try this recipe, attempt it at an hour you deem reasonable. Perhaps a time that might even allow for seven whole hours of sleep.

The problem the other night was I knew how good the chicken is.  Because I am a professional at extreme future thinking, I also knew I was not going to have time to make it for another two days.  Which made me catastrophize Pseudomonas spoilage. And also ruminate about what I was going to have to substitute for lunch the following day.

So there I was keeping chicken thighs company instead of sleeping.

The thing is, the recipe is worth it.  It takes on a nice pleasing char in small spots and walks a tightrope between sweet and tangy.  The bone-in pieces make for a much more forgiving process than cooking breasts. Plus, at the end of the day, I find baking and basting chicken in this manner to be a near therapeutic endeavor. 

It also really only takes about ten minutes of active time.  The rest is spent in the oven.  Plan for an hour, give or take, overall.  While it will not solve all your problems, it should may help solve what’s for dinner.

Honey Mustard Chicken Wings and Legs
Inspired by Food52

Ingredients:

2 whole wings (wing mid-section tips and drummettes connected)
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup dijon mustard
1½ tsp chili garlic sauce
½ to 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ to 1 tbsp ponzu sauce
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Instructions:

Set the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the chicken parts with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and top with a wire metal cooling rack. Set the chicken on the metal rack skin side up and place in the oven once it reaches temperature.

While the chicken is cooking, combine the honey, mustard, chili sauce, Worcestershire, ponzu, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Set aside 1/3 of the mixture in another small bowl to baste when the chicken is almost finished cooking.

After the chicken has been cooking for about 20 to 25 minutes, remove it from the oven and brush on 2/3 of the honey mustard, covering both sides liberally.  Place back in the oven and cook another 20 to 25 minutes and then brush with the remaining mixture.  Cook for about 10 minutes more or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Makes 6 pieces

Notes:
-If you cannot find whole chicken wings substitute two mid-section wings and two drummettes, or just four wings of your choice.


-The chili garlic sauce and ponzu should be available in the Asian section of many grocery stores.

6.30.2015

Listen to Your Pancakes.

Last Tuesday I finished my career as a part-time graduate student.  I sat around my professor’s dining room table for six with nine other people in sticky, humid air and listened to ethnobotanical presentations and ate wild green pie, filled with lamb’s-quarters and wood sorrel from the lawn outback.

At one point someone’s homemade kombucha exploded and my professor used white linen napkins that were once Julia Child’s to clean up the fermented tea.  Then we ate peanut cake with salted chocolate icing made using a family heirloom recipe born from life on a Mississippi legume farm.  I talked about the cultural thorniness of the black raspberry and of Dr. Oz and scientific hubris.

It was a very odd, very appropriate, ending to the past five years.  A time that has deeply tested the limits of my sanity, has limited my social capacities and back account, and has forever broadened my view of food and society.

I am grateful to have this perspective and am looking forward to reacquainting with my kitchen.  Most recently this has included pancakes.  The past few years have left me perpetually searching for recipes that incorporate spent sourdough starter and also for pancakes that puff up like the kind served by someone who calls everyone honey. 

My Life in Sourdough has that version.  The ingredient list is admittedly a bit limiting, as it requires you know someone who regularly maintains a starter.  My brother has killed at least three.  And I’m hoping these pancakes might motivate him to put an end to his microbial massacres once and for all.

If you regularly feed a starter, you are in luck.  This will aid in creating thick, fluffy saucer-sized shapes that take to maple syrup far better than any other breakfast food.  (Even better than the waffles of insane greatness.) I have made the recipe at least three times in the past month.  That alone should come through loud and clear.

Because if I have learned anything over the past five years, it’s that it is sometimes better to let the food do the talking.  As Mel Brooks once joked, listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.  Something tells me that pancakes can speak even louder.

Sourdough Blueberry Brown Butter Pancakes
Adapted from My Life in Sourdough

Ingredients:

½ to ¾ cup sourdough starter (not fed)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter
1 scant cup frozen or fresh blueberries
zest of one lemon (optional)

Instructions:

The night before

In a large bowl, mix the starter, flours, milk, and sugar until well combined; cover and place in the fridge overnight (ideally 10 to 20 hours ahead, see note below).

The day of

In a medium or large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat; continue to cook until it turns a light caramel and starts to smell nutty; set aside to cool slightly.  To the starter mixture, add the egg, salt, baking soda, and vanilla extract.  Slowly add in the melted butter and then fold in the blueberries and lemon zest (if using).

Wipe out the sauté pan to remove any dark bits and butter the pan again; set the heat to medium.  Scoop about 1/3 cup heaping batter into the pan and then cook until it starts to bubble and turn golden on the underside.  Flip and cook about 1 minute more or until cooked throughout.  Repeat with remaining batter, buttering the pan after every pancake.

Makes about six to eight 4 to 5-inch diameter pancakes

Notes:
-The whole wheat adds a nice nuttiness and I’d definitely encourage it.  The milk can be swapped depending on your preference.


-If the starter mixture rests in the fridge about 10 hours, it benefits from being left on the countertop an hour or two to let the microbes warm up; this helps the pancakes rise better.  The longer it is left in the fridge the less time it needs on the countertop.  (But this is a living product and may need some individual tweaking.)