Aside

Mandarin Orange Cake   I am a last-minute baker — a procrasti-baker. As such, I am most likely going to make the least complicated sorts of desserts and baked goods. On the occasions I have my act together, I like to make cakes — and even then, I want them to fit my schedule. At one point, I believe, Mandarin Orange Cake — also known as “Dream Cake” or “Pig Pickin’ Cake” — was made from scratch. Continue reading

Mandarin Orange Cake

Grilled Bananas with Buttered Maple Sauce and English Toffee

Grilled Bananas

I quit eating bananas years ago because I would buy them and not eat them. They would sit in the fruit bowl idling away, eventually passing through the different stages of ripeness. I would watch, like a gambler calling another’s bluff, knowing that I had until they turned black to do something with them. It was then that I would convince myself I needed to make banana bread. I even froze them for future use and had a stack of them in the freezer, until one day they fell out onto my wife’s toe and broke it.
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Breton Butter Cake

Breton Butter Cake

This morning little Lynnie keeps yelling and pointing in excitement at the cake I made for last night’s Sunday dinner. She is telling me she wants it for her birthday. The heels on the last three slices of the cake have been nibbled. Last night she kept slipping her little hand in and under the wrap so she could pinch and sneak little pieces off. The edges now look like we have a mouse in the house, and I finally had to move the cake to higher ground.

We had guest last night for dinner and while making dessert yesterday I recalled making a promise this year to make more desserts. I haven’t been. So I started thinking about this commitment while making this cake. I figured I need to sort out my likes and dislikes. Set some parameters and set myself up for success.

Most of the time I don’t want anything sweet. I am not a big sweets person. When I do a simple, small piece of dark chocolate usually suffices. I don’t want anything overly sweet.

Not only that, but as with many chefs I have a certain disdain for making desserts. It’s not that I don’t like to make them but that these grumblings occur because I usually wait till everything else is done before I think to make something. It is like opening the dishwasher to to put in dirties only to find you haven’t yet put up the clean ones. I have no explanation for this other than I think it comes with the toque. It’s why the gods made pastry chefs.

The idea of a dessert that holds the potential of a coffee or tea break snack but can double as an after-dinner treat always appeals to me. I am always out to kill two birds with one stone.

I have made this cake multiple times but I haven’t made it since I became gluten-free, so I figured now would be as good a time as any. Knowing the kind of cake it is — a very buttery shortbread — I figured it would make the conversion without suffering. It did. In all honesty I think I like it better gluten-free. The rice flour really gives it a quintessential butter cake texture in a shortbread way.

There are technical things I like about it too, or maybe I should say, the lack of technical things. It is a put-all-the-ingredients-into-a-bowl, mix, dump and bake affair. Not a lot of extras to clean up.

It holds well too. It is on day three, still on the sheet tray, covered with plastic wrap and pieces keep disappearing.

It is a cake of no regrets and, if this afternoon I do have any, they are gone by the time I have finished my last delicious bite and sip the last sip of coffee from the cup. Again, two birds with one stone.

Breton Butter Cake (Makes 12 pieces)

  • 600grams King Arthur all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 30grams corn starch (1/4 cup)
  • 395grams sugar (2 cups)
  • 448grams salted butter, yes salted, soft (4 sticks)
  • 140grams egg yolk (7 yolks)
  • 22grams rum (2 tablespoons)
  • 1egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon of milk
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Sift the flour and cornstarch into the bowl of a mixer. Add the sugar and butter. Use a rubber spatula and scrape every bit of butter off the butter wrappers and put it into the bowl too. Then, using the paddle attachment, mix until combined. Add the yolks and rum. Mix till smooth.
  3. Using one of the butter wrappers grease the inside of a 9 inch ring mold that is 2 inches deep or spring form pan. If you use a spring form pan, dust it with flour after greasing and tilt and shift the pan so you get the sides dusted too. Shake out the excess.
  4. Using a spatula, scoop the batter into the mold then spread the batter out evenly. You may need to moisten the spatula with a little water to keep the dough from sticking to it.
  5. Using the tines of a fork make a cross hatch pattern on the surface of the cake. Using a pastry brush gently paint the top of the cake with the yolk and milk wash.
  6. Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it and if it starts to brown to quickly reduce the heat. The top should brown and it should be firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely before removing the ring.

Madeira Tart

Madeira Tart

This is a tart with an agenda. Its roots are old fashioned and small town but don’t let that fool you. It is as luscious and silky as Scarlett Johansson sauntering the red carpet. It is as lascivious as True Blood and as beaten-up as Mickey Rourke on a bad day.

There are tarts and then there are tarts. The best are the kind that even your mama would like. Never suspecting or questioning what makes up its character but just enjoying it for what it is because it is so good. All the while, later, you know you are going to lick your fork like…well, lets just say it is a tart that likes to please and it will.

Truly, it is like fine champagne on a Sunday afternoon. The basis of this tart has been around for a long time, the old fashioned egg custard pie, you know the one with nutmeg that has shown up at every family reunion since people started having reunions.

Well, take that base and an idea from Alice Waters and her Marsala cream pots, add in the videos on the FOOD52 site from Shuna Lydon about cooling your custard and then use duck eggs(again Waters idea) which make for an even silkier tart and what you come up with is nothing less than sexy. Never fear, I have written the recipe to use chicken eggs but if you ever come across fresh duck eggs by all means use them to make a custard.

SERVES 8

For the crust::

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 finger pinch of salt

For the custard::

1 1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons madeira

4 large eggs, or 3 duck eggs

For the custard:

1. Place the milk into a sauce pan and scald it over medium high heat. Remove the pan from the burner. In a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, madeira and salt. Temper the eggs by whisking in a 1/2 cup of warm milk and then add the rest while whisking. Cover the bowl and place the custard base into the fridge. You want it to be cold. It can sit in the fridge overnight which is probably best but at least let it get to 35 or so degrees. You could do this in an ice bath if you are in a hurry.

To finish the tart:

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl and using a large wooden spoon mix all the crust ingredients smashing the butter into the mixture with the back of the spoon until you have a cornmeal and cous cous looking crumble. You can use your hands rubbing them together with the mixture between them to make some of the bigger chunks smaller.

2. Place an 8 inch tart pan onto a sheet tray. This will make it easier to move around and get out of the oven. Dump the crumbles into the tart pan. Press the dough up the sides, packing it tightly as you go, and then work toward the center until you have a crust. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

3. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Strain the chilled custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any albumen pieces. Pour the custard into the tart till it is half full. Place the tart into the oven and then finish filling the tart. You will probably have about a 1/2 cup of base left. I made a little extra so you wouldn’t come up short in case your tart pan was a little bigger.

4. Back the tart for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for another 20 to 30 minutes or until set. Depending on how cold you custard is will lengthen or shorten the baking time. If you give the sheet tray a gentle but sharp shake the tart should jiggle like jello if it is done. If it creates waves that look like you dropped a pebble into still water continue cooking.

5. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut and serve.

Rustic French Honey Cake

This cake is only slightly sweet. It is a cake that answers the age old question, “is it ok to put a slab of butter on my cake?” with a definitive yes. I find it great in the afternoon with an espresso and if it is a Saturday I might even attempt an armagnac, cognac or a sweet walnut liquor. If you just can’t help yourself you could add another 1/8 cup of honey.

The cake is good wrapped in plastic wrap for a couple of days. It was eaten over the course of 3 days here and, for me, only got better.

Makes 9 pieces

1 cup rye flour, fine grind

1 cup unbleached cake flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2cup whole milk

1 cup prunes, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease an 8 X 8 inch square cake pan. A parchment square in the bottom might be a good idea if you think the cake will stick to your pan. Grease the parchment too.

2. Sift the flours into a mixing bowl. Any large pieces of bran left in the strainer can be discarded. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves.

3. Add the eggs, honey, milk, and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the prunes and stir to distribute them.

4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

5. Remove it from the oven and let it cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve.

Persimmon Chocolate Muffins

These are a favorite of mine.  Chocolate and persimmon go together with buckwheat in the best way possible.   This recipe is adapted from one in the book Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce which is a really good guide to teaching how to incorporate whole grains into your baked goods.

Makes 12 muffins

1 pound persimmon pulp

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coco powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips or chop 4 ounces with a knife

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin liners and put them in the tins.

2. In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter with the light brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix. Scrape down the sides as necessary. Now add the buttermilk and persimmon pulp.

3. Mix until combined. Scrap down the sides.

4. Combine the flours, baking powder and soda along with the coco powder and the salt in a bowl, stir it to mix. Add it to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrap down the sides.

5. Mix and add the chocolate chips. Mix until combined. Fill the muffin liners until 2/3 full.

6. Bake in a preheated 350˚ F oven for 35 minutes.

Advent at Dusk

country captain soul gravy for noodlesby Lynda Balslev @tastefoodblog.com 

It’s the weekend of advent, and I am sitting in my California living room, sipping gløgg and watching the flames dance in the fireplace. It’s raining outside. As I listen to the drops furiously pellet the windows and tap dance over the wooden deck, I take another sip of the steaming spiced wine and sink further into the sofa. I don’t mind the weather one bit. It reminds me of Denmark.

I lived near Copenhagen for 6 years with my Danish husband and our 2 children before we moved to California in 2007. Each first advent weekend before Christmas we would load up our car with kids, dogs and provisions and drive 1 ½ hours to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm, a thatch roofed cottage nestled in a pine and beech forest in the center of Zealand, the largest island of Denmark. The capitol, Copenhagen, was a mere 60 kilometers away, but once we turned off the main highway and snaked our way over the gently rolling hills deep into the wooded countryside, we might as well have been a light year from the bustle of the city.

The winter sun is finicky in Denmark. If it shows its face at all, it’s austere and reserved, never shining too high or bright, shimmering white like an icy Nordic beauty. More often than not, it rains. Mindful of the elusive daylight, we would immediately get to the task at hand upon our arrival. The youngest kids would be swathed in fleece and goose down suits, and the adults would pull on their hardiest outerwear, while stuffing their pockets with bottled libations capable of fortifying a grown man in near freezing temperatures. Strong, dark Danish beer is the best portable antidote to the winter climate.

Three generations of family would pile into the flatbed of the battered old Land Rover, where we bumped and swayed as my brother-in-law navigated the rugged pitted paths and trails as only he could do, the hired game keeper for this compact and tidy forest kingdom. Finally the truck would grind to a halt in a clearing, who knows where, and we would tumble out of the truck with wicker baskets and burlap bags in hand. Every man, woman and child would scatter in 4 directions, scurrying about gathering twigs, pinecones and moss from fallen logs, low hanging boughs and the forest floor. We had to work fast. The silvery sun, if visible, would begin its descent at 3 pm, and the cold would eagerly creep in, numbing our fingers, toes and tips of our nose, despite the paddings of wool and fleece. Long shadows would grow between the trees, challenging our footing and teasing our imaginations. If you believe, then this is the time you would keep watch for the forest spirits and elves who would make their presence known, and if you didn’t believe, then you would take another long pull of the hoppy Christmas brew, and be very careful with your step. As the darkness marched in, we would climb back into the truck with our collected loot and head home to the warmth of the farmhouse, glowing like an ochre beacon in the dusky valley.

The pillowy warmth of the kitchen would envelop us like a plump grandmother as we walked indoors and shed our cold and soggy clothes. Muddy boots would be replaced with felt and shearling slippers, fires would be stoked in the ovens and the stove would be lit under a cauldron of gløgg, a heady purple concoction of wine, spirits, fruit and spice. The convergence of our chilled bodies with the warmth of the crackling fires would fog up the leaded window panes with steamy silhouettes reminiscent of shadowy mountainscapes. It might have been cold and wintry outside, but inside everything was warm and toasty. We then laid claim to a space at the long farmhouse table where our forest harvest was dumped and heaped in the center. Candles would be lit for hygge, the special Danish brand of cosiness. Adults and children would sit shoulder to shoulder on the long benches and get to work, weaving branches into wreathes, candle holders, and tree ornaments bejeweled with holly and moss. While we did this, the scent of orange, cinnamon and cloves would waft through the room from the simmering gløgg. My sisters-in-law would take turns making batches of æbleskivers in worn well-seasoned cast iron skillets with golf ball sized indentations in which the cakes nestled. A continuous cycle of platters of golden pancakes would be passed up and down the table. We would pluck a few and dip them in bowls of homemade strawberry preserves – a whisper of summer past – and sprinkle with powdered sugar before greedily devouring them, washed down with mugs of hot spiced wine.

This is the 6th winter we won’t be in Denmark for Christmas. The rain has stopped outside, and from the sofa I can see spots of blue sky peeking through the towering redwoods on our steep hill. Friends will be arriving shortly. It’s time to get up and prepare the batter, since it must rest for at least an hour. If the rain holds off, we will take an afternoon walk by the lake near our house. Then we will return home, and while my family and our friends sit by the fire and sip gløgg, I will make aebleskivers.

Two beautiful recipes, one for gløgg (mulled spiced wine) and one for æbleskivers.

Meyer Lemon Tart

Meyer Lemon Tart
Meyer Lemon Tart

I have been making lemon bars for many years now from a recipe by John Taylor also known as Hoppin’ John.  A while back I thought it would make a great tart, and guess what, it does. If you like Low Country cooking you should search out his cookbook Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah: Dining at Home in the Lowcountry. It seems like a good time to share this recipe.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

For the custard:

2 to 3 Meyer Lemons, zested first then squeezed for 1/3 cup juice

5 large egg yolks

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup ussalted butter, room temperature and cubed

zest from two Meyer lemons

powdered sugar, for dusting the tart

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer, or in a bowl and mixing with a wooden spoon, cream the butter with sugar and salt. Add the flours and mix well. The shortbread crust will look crumbly and like cous cous or cornmeal. Turn the dough out into an 8 inch tart pan and press it evenly into the pan starting with the sides and working toward the center. Place your index finger over the top of the flutes and push the crust upward using you index finger as a back stop.

2. Slide that tart shell into the oven and bake it for 20 minutes.

3. While the tart is in the oven combine the eggs, sugar, zest, 1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice in a heat proof mixing bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients.

4. Place the mixing bowl over low heat, if you are worried about this you can most certainly use a double boiler, and whisk the custard until it starts to thicken. It takes about 13 minutes on low so it will take longer in a double boiler. Once it is very thick, like warm pudding and leaving ribbons as you whisk, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter.

5. When the tart crust is done remove it from the oven and add the lemon curd. Bake the tart another 10 minutes or until set.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool completely. Once cool sprinkle it with powdered sugar just before serving, slice and serve.