Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sour Cherry and Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Easter morning is all about sweets and treats and the beginning of a day of indulging. That makes it a great day for coffee cake, and I had a list of options from the March issue of Living magazine. These recipes were all shown with possible variations, and the one that caught my eye was the sour cherry and cream cheese version of the yeasted coffee cake. The dough was rolled up just like when making cinnamon rolls, and then it was swirled into a spiral before baking. The filling was to have been fresh or thawed, frozen sour cherries, but neither were available. Instead, I used dried sour cherries that I plumped in some orange juice. The brioche-type dough was easy to make, handled very well, and expanded nicely in the oven. I didn’t realize the cream cheese filling mixture would bake into the dough when spread thin. That did make the cake very tender and delicious, but clumps of cream cheese here and there would have offered more of a cheese Danish experience. I’ll try that next time when fresh cherries arrive and I make this again.

To start the dough, yeast was added to warm milk, and sugar, an egg, and an egg yolk were combined and then whisked into the yeast mixture. That was added to flour with salt in a mixer. It was mixed with a dough hook while butter pieces were added. It looked like it would never come together, but letting the machine do its thing for about eight to ten minutes resulted in a smooth dough. It was left to rise for an hour and a half, and then the filling was made. Meanwhile, I covered a cup and half of dried sour cherries with orange juice and let them sit. Then, softened cream cheese was mixed with an egg yolk and confectioners’ sugar. When the dough had doubled in volume, it was rolled out into a big square. The cream cheese mixture was spread across the surface leaving about an inch border all around. As I mentioned above, some clumps of cream cheese might be interesting rather than spreading it completely evenly. I drained the soaking dried cherries and sprinkled them across the cream cheese layer. The dough was then rolled up into a log shape which was turned into a spiral. The spiral-shaped cake was placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet and covered with plastic wrap. It was allowed to rise for half an hour before being baked. The baking started at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes, and then the temperature was reduced to 325 degrees F for an additional 15 minutes. When the cake was cool, it was drizzled with a confectioners’ sugar glaze.

I was so happy with the pretty shape of the cake, it might not have even mattered if it didn’t taste good. And, of course, it tasted great too. Rich and lovely yeasted brioche dough studded with chewy, dried sour cherries was a fitting cake for Easter morning. I’m sure I can think of some other mornings suited to this treat too. For instance, aren’t Tuesdays deserving of coffee cake? They should be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuffed Poblanos in Chipotle Sauce

Stuffed peppers have a reputation for being a little on the heavy side as food goes. There are meat and rice filled options. Sometimes polanos are stuffed and then breaded and fried. Other times, they're stuffed and covered with cheese and then broiled until gooey. Those options have their desirable qualities, but you rarely hear about a light and healthy kind of stuffed pepper. I've found one, though, that's definitely worth mentioning. It was a couple of weeks ago when I couldn't decide whether to make these stuffed poblanos or a spring barley risotto, and happily, I eventually made them both. This is also from the book Power Foods, and I've been enjoying everything I've tried from it. I'm finding that all the dishes I've tried from that book have a light and healthy feel to them but are still very satisfying. The filling for these poblanos is a mix of quinoa, sauteed mushrooms, black beans, and corn. They're topped with a little goat cheese and set into a smoky sauce of pureed chipotles, garlic, and cilantro. That sauce with some spiciness and the flavor of the roasted poblanos themselves brought some spunk to the quinoa filling, and there was just enough rich tanginess from the goat cheese on top.

I went my own way with the roasting of the poblanos. In the book, you are instructed to roast them on a baking sheet in the oven, but I always roast them right over the gas flame on top of the stove unless I roast them on the grill. I use tongs to turn them as they roast and char. Then, let them cool until you can touch them, then peel off the char, and cut down one side so you can remove the seeds. The poblanos can be roasted in advance if you'd like to get a head start. Next, the quick sauce was made by pureeing canned chipotles chiles, garlic, some salt, and water in a blender. To start the filling, quinoa was simmered while mushrooms were sauteed. Once cooked through, black beans and thawed, frozen corn were added to the mushrooms. Some of the goat cheese was stirred into the mushroom mixture with the cooked quinoa. That was spooned into the four roasted poblanos. The sauce was poured into a baking dish, the poblanos were set on the sauce, the remaining goat cheese was sprinkled on top of the poblanos, and the dish baked for about 20 minutes.

A heavy filling, crispy, fried coating, and thick, gooey, melted cheese layer were not needed here. Instead, flavors of chiles mingled with the quinoa, mushrooms, beans, and corn. There was added interest from the bits of goat cheese on top that browned as the poblanos baked. The lightness of the dish was nothing like what a stuffed pepper usually is, and that made it even better.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coffee Power Panna Cotta

I have an Earth Day story to share today. Back in 1992, I attended an Earth Day event at which I learned about the environmental damage caused by large animal feedlots and how consumption of beef and pork was rising sharply around the world. I wanted to do something and put my money where my mouth was literally I suppose, so it was then and there that I decided to stop eating red meat. And, what does that have to do with panna cotta? Well, even though I had stopped eating red meat, I continued to use gelatin which is made from collagen extracted from cattle and pigs, and gelatin is needed for dishes like panna cotta. I had read about other gelling agents, but hadn't tried any other alternatives until now. For Earth Day, and to learn something new, I decided to experiment with agar agar powder which is a natural substance derived from red algae.

Also, in celebration of Earth Day, I had just received a basket full of samples from the Central Market Organics line. I've shopped at Central Market since the first-ever store opened in Austin, and I bring home items from the Organics line every week. I was thrilled to receive this basket of samples which included organic rice milk, organic coffee, organic peanut butter dots breakfast cereal, and organic agave syrup, in addition to organic almond milk, strawberry preserves, oatmeal, and tea. My plan for this panna cotta came together when I saw the rice milk, coffee, and peanut butter dots. Maybe I should explain the peanut butter part of that. I've been hooked on the mix of flavors of coffee and peanut butter since my first peanut butter espresso milkshake years ago. Add a banana, and it's even better. And, since I remembered seeing a dessert in the book Delicious Days which involved a layer of gelled Kahlua on top of a coffee-flavored panna cotta, my idea was to re-create that in a completely vegetarian incarnation and top it with crushed peanut butter dots cereal for added flavor and texture.

After reading up on using agar agar, I realized this might require some testing and tweaking. I found a recipe online for a vegan panna cotta made with coconut milk and soy yogurt. I didn't want to add coconut to the mix of flavors I had in mind, so I tried this recipe with rice milk instead. After pulling ideas from the Delicious Days recipe, I simmered rice milk, agave syrup, seeds from a vanilla bean, and crushed coffee beans with agar agar powder. The mixture was simmered and strained into a bowl, and soy yogurt was whisked into it. It's necessary to cook agar agar for it to dissolve, but it will set up at room temperature if necessary. Also, it sets up very firm, so less is better. The general ratio is two teaspoons of agar agar powder to two cups of liquid, but I found the result of that to be too rigid. I wanted the panna cotta to have a little wobble. I also found my first experiment to be a little too virtuous. There was no richness, and the coffee and vanilla flavors seemed flat in the finished dessert. So, I decided this wasn't going to be vegan but just vegetarian. I tried again with the same initial process of simmering rice milk with agave syrup, vanilla seeds, crushed coffee beans, and a little less agar agar powder. Then, I poured that through a sieve into a bowl and whisked in cream. One taste before it was even set and I knew this was going to be a winner. I poured the mixture into ramekins and placed them in the refrigerator for an hour. The next step, also taken from the Delicious Days recipe, was to simmer some Kahlua with agar agar powder and then pour that over the set panna cotta in the ramekins. After they had chilled and the Kahlua layer had set, I turned out the desserts onto plates and sprinkled crushed organic peanut butter dots cereal on top.

Working with agar agar does take a little getting used to, but it's completely flavorless and dissolves once simmered. Depending on the texture you want, it might require some testing. I'm happy to have learned to use a vegetarian alternative to gelatin though, and I can't wait to try it in homemade marshmallows. As for the flavor of the final dessert, I was delighted. The coffee and vanilla with a little richness from cream was divine especially with the sweet liqueur of the gelled Kahlua layer. I always like a mix of textures too, so the crunch of the organic peanut butter cereal worked well and reminded me of those incredible milkshakes. I hope you find a delicious way to celebrate Earth Day too.

Vegetarian Coffee Power Panna Cotta
(adapted from Enlightened Cooking and Delicious Days)

1 1/4 cup organic rice milk
1/4 cup organic agave syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon agar agar powder
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons coffee beans, crushed so that they can be sieved out without leaving graininess behind
1 c cream

1/2 cup Kahlua
3/8 teaspoon agar agar powder (I realize that's an odd measurement, but 1/2 teaspoon is a little too much.)
1/4 cup crushed organic peanut butter dots cereal

-Place rice milk, agave syrup, 1 1/2 teaspoons agar agar powder, vanilla seeds, and crushed coffee beans in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Let sit for a few minutes before bringing to a simmer. Simmer while stirring occasionially for about eight minutes.
-Pour rice milk mixture through a sieve into a heat-proof measuring pitcher. Add cream and whisk to combine. Divide evenly between four six ounce ramekins and place ramekins in the refrigerator for one hour.
-For the Kahlua gelee layer, place Kahlua and 3/8 teaspoon agar agar powder in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer while stirring. Simmer and stir until agar agar has dissolved. Carefully pour or spoon Kahlua on top of set panna cotta in ramekins. Let ramekins chill again for at least one hour.
-To serve, place hot tap water in a wide bowl. Dip bottoms of ramekins into hot water for about 15 seconds. Then, use a pairing knife to loosen edges of panna cotta all around the ramekin. Invert ramekin over a plate and use the knife to pull out the panna cotta if necessary. Top with crushed peanut butter dots cereal.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

I've been fascinated by the idea of Scotch eggs for a while now. Traditionally for Scotch eggs, hard-boiled or soft-boiled or even pickled eggs are encased in a sausage mixture, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried. Since I don't eat red meat, I'd never attempted to make them or even tasted one. Then, along came this lovely vegetarian version with an outer layer made with beets. They couldn't be more perfect. The beets give the outside a good contrasting color to the white and yellow of the egg inside. Just in time for Easter, I found these on Mess in the Kitchen the other day and headed straight to the kitchen. The beet mixture was actually first imagined as a veggie burger and then was used for coating Scotch eggs. I made just a couple of changes to the recipe so as to use what I had on hand, and I was beyond thrilled with the results. The mixture held together very well, and the outside fried to a crisp around the soft-boiled eggs. Not only do you get a tender soft-boiled egg surround by a crispy, tasty, fried coating, there's another bonus to making Scotch eggs. You know how fresh eggs can be difficult to peel after boiling? If there are any uneven surfaces on the eggs after they're peeled, you'll never see them once they're coated with the beet mixture. Everything about these eggs made me very happy.

I decided to go with soft-boiled rather than hard-boiled eggs thinking that the eggs would cook a little more in the hot oil causing the yolks to set, and that's exactly what happened. I used the smallest ones from the carton I had, but you can really use any size of eggs you'd like. I placed five eggs in a saucepan, covered them with water, added a pinch of salt, and brought the water to a boil. As soon as the water bubbled, I turned the heat to low, covered the pan, and let the eggs cook for eight minutes. I drained the eggs and peeled them while still warm, and they were fresh enough to still be difficult to peel but, delightfully, that didn't matter here. For the beet mixture, I peeled two medium beets and chopped them. The beets were placed in a food processor with a chopped leek, about three ounces of firm tofu that I squeezed a bit to remove some water, two chopped green onions, about three tablespoons of flaxseed meal, a quarter cup of toasted breadcrumbs, two peeled and chopped cloves of garlic, an egg, and salt and pepper. The mixture was processed until a paste developed. If the mixture is too dry, try adding a tablespoon or two of water, and if it's too wet add a little more breadcrumbs. The beet mixture was pressed around each egg, and I had extra which I formed into two veggie burgers for another day. Once the eggs were encased in the beet mixture, I rolled each one in some remaining breadcrumbs before frying. I fried them, two or three at a time, in about an inch of grape seed oil in a saucepan, turning from time to time, for about five minutes total.

Did I mention how much I enjoyed these eggs? I already want to make them again for a party and use quail eggs for a daintier portion. They'd look great cut in half and lined up on a serving tray. Or, I could imagine going the other direction and using duck eggs. One Scotch duck egg cut in half with some smoked salmon on top of each piece would make a lovely brunch meal. Obviously, I'll be making this recipe repeatedly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Barley Risotto

Spring is here, and I'm having a thing with asparagus. I keep bringing it into every meal. It partners so well with eggs like in a baked egg dish with parmesan I've been making for years or even just simply roasted and then topped with softly scrambled eggs. For dinner meals, I've been making different grain dishes with asparagus and other spring players like scallions, leeks, and peas. This barely risotto was my favorite of those so far, and it's another recipe from Power Foods. I have bookmarks sticking out of several pages of that book, and last week, I asked for votes on Twitter about which of two dishes to try next. It was this risotto or stuffed poblanos, and it was a very close race. Of course, I made the poblanos too, so watch for those soon. In making the barley risotto, I embellished the dish just a tad by adding some pea shoots I had from my CSA and by sprinkling a little lemon zest on top. Otherwise, I stuck to the instructions for a simple, light, spring meal. And, unlike a traditional Arborio rice risotto, this one doesn’t require constant stirring.

To start, a little olive oil was heated in a large pan, and pearl barley and chopped leeks were added. Once the leeks had softened, white wine was added and minimal stirring ensued until the wine evaporated. Then, water was added, brought to a boil, and left to simmer until absorbed with just an occasional stir here and there. Vegetable broth was added next and the mixture was stirred occasionally over about 10 or 15 minutes until the barley was cooked through and the liquid had thickened. I placed a big handful of pea shoots on top and let them steam for the last few minutes. Then, thawed, frozen peas were added with grated parmigiano reggiano and thinly sliced mint leaves. I served the risotto with lemon zest and shards of parmigiano on top.

It's a light dish with no butter and just a half cup of grated cheese, but chewy, nutritious barley rounds it out and makes it filling. The spring vegetables shine, and the mint points up their flavors. I know zucchini is coming soon, along with summer tomatoes in every color, but I need a little more time with asparagus first.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Falafel Pitas

Whether they’re regional specialties or family favorites, sandwiches are well-loved in many sizes, flavors, and forms, and there’s a new book completely devoted to them. The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches is by Susan Russo from Food Blogga, and the photography is by Matt Armendariz from Matt Bites. I’ve known about this book for a while since I had the pleasure of testing a recipe for it, and I recently received a review copy. The sandwiches appear in the book in alphabetical order, and there are options made with waffles, bagels, doughnuts, English muffins, cookies, pound cake, rolls, buns, and many, many different types of bread. There’s also background information on where types of sandwiches originated and suggested alternative fillings in some cases. I was unfamiliar with a few of them like the chow mein sandwich and the chip butty, but there are also well-known favorites like the dagwood, the po’boy, and sliders. There are breakfast sandwiches like the Denver sandwich and the classic breakfast sandwich on an English muffin, there’s dessert with the pound cake sandwich and the ice cream sandwich, and there are classics like the Elvis and the lobster roll. It’s a fun book to peruse for sandwich ideas, and everything is so beautifully presented, I was instantly hungry when I started turning pages. The falafel pitas was my first stop since I can’t resist the mix of crunchy fried patties and cool, crisp toppings.

The sandwich recipe itself is followed by one for quick and easy falafel which involves using canned chickpeas rather than soaked, dried beans. To make the falafel, minced onion and garlic were briefly sauteed before being added to a food processor with rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, chopped parsley and cilantro, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Flour and baking powder were added, and the mixture was pulsed until it formed a paste. Then, balls were shaped from the mixture, they were rolled in sesame seeds, and they were flattened before being fried for a few minutes. I also followed the recipe in the book for tzatziki, and that was a quick mix of diced cucumber, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper, and fresh mint. The sandwiches were built in halved pita with falafel patties, some tahini, chopped lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and tzatziki.

Pita is such a perfect container for a sandwich. In the book, it’s also used for kofta pockets and spiedini pockets. Here, the falafel fit nicely with the toppings and tzatziki, and it’s just enough bread without being too much. The flavors and textures and the hot and the cold made this great. Now, I’m eyeing the toasted chocolate sandwich, or maybe next I should try the torta or the pepper and egg sandwich. With so many good options, I'll being trying lots of different sandwiches soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pecan Squares Americana

These pecan squares were one more item I baked for the bake sale, but they’re not just any pecan squares. This recipe originated at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach, it found its way to Maida Heatter so she could include it in her first dessert book, and it appears again in the recently released paperback edition of Maida Heatter's Cookies. This book presents a collection of cookie recipes that were previously included in some of her other books, and I received a review copy. I first learned about Maida Heatter years ago in an issue of Saveur in which she was named The Queen of Cake. This quote from that story explains why I instantly became a fan: “A stranger from the Miami area once looked Maida up in the phone book and called her for help with a recipe that she just couldn't make work. ‘I may have been crazy, but I invited her over to show her how to make it.’ (It turned out that the lady had been using margarine instead of butter and omitting the sugar, Maida recalls—still sounding a bit annoyed.)” I not only became a fan, but I realized she writes the kind of recipes you can definitely trust, so long as you actually follow the recipes. She really wants the reader to get things right, and the instructions for these pecan squares are a perfect example of that. She explains the how's and why's carefully, and I once again really enjoyed learning from her while baking.

In the intro to this recipe, she notes that someone who attended one of her classes suggested the use of foil to line the pan to make removing the squares simpler. So, that is step one. The pan was lined with foil, and she explains the best way to do that. Then, the pan was placed in the freezer because spreading the dough on a cold pan is easier, and the dough will cling to it. While the pan chilled, the dough was made by mixing butter until softened, and then sugar was added followed by an egg, salt, and lemon zest. Flour was slowly added until the dough was formed. Next were the instructions for spreading the dough in the chilled pan. It’s explained that the dough should reach all the way up the sides of the pan to contain the pecan filling. The dough was to be placed bit by bit around the sides of the pan and across the bottom and then pressed out to form smooth, even surfaces. The dough was pierced with a fork before it was chilled in the refrigerator while the oven preheated. More details were included for baking the dough to be sure it baked flat and didn’t bubble up in places. For instance, if it puffed, you were instructed to prick it with a cake tester and not to let the dough win the battle. The dough was then removed from the oven while the filling was made. For the filling, butter was melted with honey, and then granulated and dark brown sugars were added and cooked to dissolve. After it came to a boil, it was removed from the heat and cream and pecans were added. It sat for a few minutes before being spooned into the prepared crust, and then the pan went back into the oven for another 25 minutes. There are also careful instructions for turning the whole sheet of bars, once cool, out of the pan removing the foil, and turning the sheet back right side up. After it was back to right side up, it was chilled before being cut.

Yes, these were a lot of specifics for simple cookie squares, but I like that she offers all of those tips from her experience. The crust came out exactly right, the filling worked perfectly, and pan removal and cutting went just as it should have. The lemon zest in the crust was a nice addition to the buttery flavor as was the honey in the filling. These were like little pecan pies in cookie form. And, now I have several more cookie recipes from the book to look forward to, and I know they'll turn out great.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Breakfast Biscotti

Last week, I mentioned that I was baking for the Austin Bakes for Japan bake sale which was held on Saturday. As I wrote about that, I hoped there would be a good turnout, I hoped we’d have a lot to offer at each sale location, and I really hoped the fundraising would be a success. All of those things happened and exceeded our highest hopes. There were beautiful baked goods overflowing the tables at all five locations of the sale, and people kept coming to visit the sales, choose treats to take home with them, and leave behind donations. The positive response and generosity of the community were stunning. Kathryn was our leader of the efforts to organize this event, and all of her hard work resulted in the bake sale going perfectly. The other team leaders who helped with planning as well as overseeing bake sale locations were Carly, Rachelle, Shelley, and Stephanie. As of the end of Saturday, the fund raising total was over $11,400, and because the online giving page is still active, the total is now over $11,700. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this event and for all the wonderful generosity.

So, this being a bake sale, I had a perfect excuse to pull out some recipes and bake several things in a couple of days. Timing was an issue since I couldn’t bake everything at the very last minute, and that’s how I decided on biscotti for one item. They’re cookies that last well, so I baked them two days before the sale. I remembered there were several good biscotti versions in Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, and that’s where I found this recipe. As with all the recipes in this book, this one included an upgrade option for tweaking the main ingredients. It’s a kind of healthy type of biscotti with whole wheat pastry flour, oats, walnuts, and dried fruit, and the upgrade was the addition of sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed meal. There were also additionl tips and an overview of biscotti making. For instance, in the US we have adopted biscotti and made it our own. So while the traditional Italian biscotti or cantucci are very dry and crunchy and usually flavored with anise, our American biscotti are slightly cakey in comparison with lots of additional flavors.

This breakfast biscotti recipe is of the American style, and this was an easy cookie dough to prepare since everything was just whisked and then stirred together. All purpose flour was combined with whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, brown sugar and oats were mixed. Then, milk and butter were heated until the butter melted, and that was added to the oat mixture and left to stand for a few minutes. Eggs and vanilla were added followed by the flour mixture, and then I added toasted chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed meal. The dough was transferred to a silpat-lined baking sheet, and using wet hands, I formed it into a long, rectangular shape, not too wide. By using wet hands to shape the dough, it will become shiny as it bakes. I needed the biscotti to fit into the cellophane bags I had already bought, so I made the shape about four inches wide. The first baking was at 325 degrees F for about 35 minutes. The pan was removed from the oven and left to cool, and the oven was turned down to 300 degrees F. Once cool enough to handle, the baked dough was transferred to a cutting board and cut into half inch or so slices. The slices were set on a baking sheet, on their edges, and the second baking was for 25 minutes. I always worry biscotti might not be completely crunchy, so I moved the cookies around on the sheet and gave them five more minutes in the oven just to be sure.

My biscotti anxiety exists because I’ve tried a few recipes in the past that just didn’t work quite right, but there was no need to worry here since this came from Alice Medrich. Her tips such as using wet hands to shape the dough and standing the cookies on their edges for the second baking as well as the timing and ingredients all worked very well. The biscotti were deliciously crunchy and the nuts and seeds added to that effect. Since I packed them all up for the bake sale, I’m going to have to make another batch just to enjoy at home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lemon-Strawberry Cake with Lemon Buttercream

Even though I always start pondering cake options weeks in advance of my birthday, I usually end up choosing something lemony or berry-filled or both, unless I decide on butterscotch. I always have to try something different, it’s never the same cake twice, but the flavors are usually similar. I’ve been enjoying baking from Flour since receiving a review copy last fall. Not only has everything from the book been completely delicious, the recipes have also just worked really well. Even if you have a standard approach to apple pie, and I did, the one from this book might change your mind about it. The techniques resulted in the best apple pie I’ve ever made. So, I’ve come to trust this book, and I’m thrilled that Joanne Chang is working on a second one. I knew there would be a good option for a birthday cake in Flour. The name of the cake in the book is lemon-raspberry cake with lemon buttercream, but I had fresh, local strawberries to use instead. It’s intended as a three layer cake with lemon curd mixed with buttercream and berries between each layer. I cut the quantity down to two layers for the cakes and stored the extra buttercream and lemon curd in the freezer for another use. This was a special occasion cake, meaning there are a few parts to making it, although none of them are difficult.

I started by making the lemon curd in advance, and I used meyer lemons for the juice. The next day, I made the cakes which began by creaming together butter and sugar and then adding vanilla and lemon zest. A mixture of flour, baking powder, and salt were added alternately with milk. Last, egg whites were beaten until they held peaks, and they were folded into the cake batter. While the cakes baked and cooled, I gathered ingredients for the French buttercream. First, a sugar syrup was made in a saucepan, and it was brought to 238 degrees F. Eggs and egg yolks were mixed in a stand mixer until pale, and then the syrup was slowly added to the eggs while mixing on low speed. Once all the syrup was added, the speed was increased to medium, and it was mixed until fluffy and cool. Next came the butter, and this was an obscene amount of butter. Three cups of butter were cut into chunks, and the chunks were slowly added while mixing until the buttercream became smooth and lovely. A pinch of salt was added, and the frosting was completed. One last item to make was the lemon syrup which was a mix of lemon juice, sugar, and water which was brought to a boil to dissolve the sugar and then left to cool. That lemon syrup was brushed on top of each cake layer before the filling and toppings were added. A little of the lemon curd was mixed with a little of the buttercream to make the filling that was placed between the cake layers. And, I need to pause for a moment while I remember that mixture of lemon curd and buttercream because it was delightful. I placed some of it in a plastic bag so I could pipe a quick circle of the mixture around the edge, and that held the berries in place preventing berry juice from running on the outside of the cake. Sliced strawberries were placed on the curd-buttercream layer inside the circle barrier. The other cake layer went on top, it was brushed with lemon syrup, and the remaining plain buttercream was used to frost the top and sides of the layers. Last, some lemon curd was spread on top of the cake, and I decorated with a few whole strawberries.

The cake met my requirements perfectly for lemony-ness and berry flavor. Lemon curd, buttercream, and fresh strawberries couldn’t possibly disappoint. The cake layers themselves were light as can be, and the brushed-on lemon syrup kept them from becoming dry. With the strawberries, it was a cake for spring, and I bet the lemon flavors would be great with blueberries too. I’m not sure I can top this, so I might have to bake the same cake again next year.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Radish Rye Flatbread

I grew up in Illinois, the very center of the Midwest US, where we used to say that every recipe had a can of soup in it. Yes, despite being the agricultural mecca of the country, the Midwest was known as a land of casseroles more so than one of fresh, fabulous food, but all of that might have changed in the last few years. I received a review copy of the new book Heartland the Cookbook and learned of several new things about the food scene there. The number of artisan food purveyors has drastically increased. There's now La Quercia in Iowa which makes prosciutto from heritage Berkshire pigs, foraged foods are showing up on high-end restaurant menus, microbreweries and microdistilleries are making small batch products, and Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Illinois and other small dairies are making chevre. Years ago, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I don't recall any local cheese purveyors in town back then. I was thrilled to read about this change and the growing focus on local foods. I also learned that the Midwest now has thirty-three Slow Food chapters making it second only to the California Oregon Washington region. In addition to delivering all of that great news, the book is also full of beautiful photos of rural landscapes and, of course, food.

The recipes include breakfast dishes, breads, nibbles and drinks, salads and soups, main courses, and desserts. Several of the dishes recommend locally made items like that chevre from Champaign, Illinois or Chicago-made Vosges chocolate that's used in a hot fudge sundae with salted caramel sauce. I haven't made it back to the Midwest for a visit lately, so instead of using specific products from there, I cooked with the spirit of the book by using what I could get locally in Austin. There's a recipe for four seasons flatbread which showcases seasonal items in different toppings. The flatbreads themselves are made from no-knead recipes also in the book. I chose the no-knead sour caraway rye dough topped with a fresh herb cheese, sliced radishes, and chives. I used a feta, spinach, and herb spread made by Full Quiver Farm, and I found pretty, Easter egg radishes, and some green garlic which I added to the toppings, at the farmers' market last weekend. The no-knead dough was as simple as dough gets. Bread flour, rye flour, instant yeast, salt, cocoa powder for color, caraway seeds, molasses, yogurt, and water were mixed in a large bowl. Since there's no kneading, you do need to mix thoroughly with a spoon, but then the dough just sits to rise for a couple of hours and that's it. The dough was patted into an oval on a baking sheet, and it baked until browned and crisp on the surface. Once cool, the cheese was spread on top, and it was covered with sliced radishes and green garlic and chopped chives.

Fresh, early spring flavors of radish and green garlic and a thin layer of rich cheese were complemented nicely by the rye flatbread with caraway, cocoa, and molasses. As soon as local heirloom tomatoes appear, I'll use them for the flatbread version made with clover honey dough. The other recipes I'm looking forward to trying are prairie panzanella made with cornbread, an heirloom bean ragout in an acorn squash, and the next time we use the grill, I'm making the smoked goat cheese. Mostly, I'm looking forward to my next visit to the Midwest where I'll be seeking out some of the food artisans I learned about in the book.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

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