Today’s post combines the exotic and the familiar: artisanal chocolate from Ecuador with a Southern staple, chess pie.
Do you know about chess pie? I was first introduced to it after I moved to Nashville many years ago. The tangy-sweet (sometimes teeth-achingly sweet!) egg custard pie is one of the defining desserts of the South that has somewhat of an undefined history.
It was reportedly brought from England to the colonies. It took hold in Virginia, and became a mainstay in kitchens below the Mason-Dixon line. The name “chess” is curious: some say it is called that because pies of this sort were kept in the pie chest–a specific piece of furniture for pie storage. Others assert that it has more to do with the content of the pie itself–a bake of eggs, sugar, butter, and vinegar—so that it’s a play on words, as in, it’s “just pie”, or, in the vernacular, “jest pie.”
In any case, the pie’s neutral palette has lent itself to numerous variations, such as buttermilk chess, lemon chess, and chocolate chess.
When the kind people at Kallari asked me to sample their specialty chocolates (who could resist such a request?) I was more than happy to accept the offer. I was curious to taste the sustainably produced confection in varying strengths: 70%, 75%, and 85%. But I was really interested in using it in a recipe. Chocolate chess pie seemed like a good place to start.
I was also intrigued by the story behind this chocolate.
Over 900 families of the Kichwa, an indigenous people of Ecuadorian Amazon, belong to the Kallari collective. Using sustainable organic practices, they grow, tend, harvest, and ferment the heirloom cacao beans. They make the chocolate in a factory that is four hours away from their cooperative center. This proximity–and hands-on approach– further distinguishes Kallari, as most cacao growers do not fabricate the chocolate. Few have ever tasted really good chocolate. Most beans are shipped to factories in Europe and North America to be roasted, and processed into bars.
Kallari has 2 meanings in the Kichwa language: “To Begin” and “The Early Times”. This is fitting, as the work of the Kallari collective has meant a new start for the growers, while harkening to the heritage of the crops. As a collective, the Kichwa completely own the company, and therefore reap greater earnings for their harvest than if they sold their beans to another company for fair trade pay. Three varieties of cacao beans that flourish on the Kichwa lands go into making the chocolate, each contributing to the complexity of the bars.
The result is astonishing, swoon-worthy. Eaten out of hand, the 70% chocolate has such creamy mouthfeel, very like milk chocolate, except that it is dark, with notes of caramel and berry. The 75% is richer still, yet silken, with nuances of tropical fruits, and a little peppery bite.
The 85% has firm snap, earthy almost smoky richness with an undercurrent of fruit–a bit bitter and dry to eat out of hand, but an ideal chocolate to bake into my pie.
Much loved for its taste, a chess pie is well-appreciated for its easy-as-pie method. Chocolate chess follows suit. Likely I spent more time making the pie crust than on the filling…
…which gets a kickstart in the microwave, melting the chocolate, butter, and sugars together. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, a splash of bourbon–you can do this all by hand in a blink.
In no time, you could be pouring this lush filling into the pie shell. Thirty minutes later, you could be having a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate chess pie. (add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, slices of ripe peach, fresh blackberry puree–ah, sublime!)
Make it with Kallari chocolate, and you are doing good, while feasting well. You can order it from them or check at Whole Foods–many of them carry it.)
CHOCOLATE BOURBON CHESS PIE
2.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup raw sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
unbaked pie shell
Into a large microwaveable bowl, place chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces, along with butter, and both sugars. Microwave for about a minute to melt the butter and chocolate. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds, to make sure that all the chocolate and butter is melted.
Whisk in the vanilla and bourbon, until the mixture is smooth. Beat in eggs (using the same whisk) one at a time–adding the second egg after the first is incorporated.
Beat in flour and salt.
Pour into a prepared, unbaked pie shell.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Remove and cool on a pie/cake rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream
Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice
Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.
That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.
This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.
For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.
My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.
Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.
The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.
While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.
Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).
I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.
The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.
To round out the plate:
I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.
We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.
MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks
Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.
Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.
Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.
Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream
Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.
Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.
Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Makes 6 individual ramekins.
*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.
Who wants to lick the spoon?
Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN
That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)
This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.
In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.
Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.
Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.
You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.
The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.
I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.
Pretty crafty, eh?
And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.
It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?
I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.
Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.
Pickiness is just another step along the path.
Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.
Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.
I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.
MAPLE VANILLA BEAN BREAD PUDDING
3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish
Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.
Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.
Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.
Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.
Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,
a pitcher of real maple syrup.
Hello out there!
I realize that I’ve been away for awhile, but I have a few moments to check in, say hey, and share an update or two.
I am posting today from the Washington DC area, where I have been since Thanksgiving.
We are on Baby Vigil.
This baby, my first grandbaby, could be born at any time.
His or her “due date” was December 1st. (I know, it’s an approximation. Only 4% of the babies are born on the due date.)
The nursery is ready. The parents are ready. My daughter is really ready.
It’s just a matter of time. A lesson in patience. This miraculous thing will happen in its own rhythm.
So, what to do while Waiting for Baby?
Time to exercise my grandmotherly skills.
It requires its own kind of timing and patience—although within a very tight framework.
I hadn’t made cookies for a while, and I was reminded of the art of the bake:
One minute can make the difference between a moist chewy cookie and one that shatters at the bite.
One minute–and a cookie could have a nice brown edge, or an overall brown burn.
Cookies are done when you think they aren’t quite done.
They continue to crispen on the sheetpan after they come out of the oven.
Timing and patience. Every oven is a little different. It requires the tricky but rewarding art of discernment.
Today, I baked two kinds of drop cookies, contemporary takes on classic goodies. We’ll bring them to the hospital to share with the birth team, if we don’t eat them all. While waiting.
Number one is a double chocolate pistachio cookie, its dough rich with dark cocoa, butter, brown sugar, and a generous chop of bittersweet chocolate. Creme de cassis–just a splash– adds an intriguing hint of berry. I think you’ll like its topping of pistachios, toasted and flecked with salt.
The second takes the traditional oatmeal cookie as its base. Here I use organic brown sugar whipped into butter. Along with the rolled oats, I fold in dried blueberries and chopped bittersweet chocolate.
Blueberries and dark chocolate make an uncommon, but delicious pairing in the cookie. These are especially for the expectant father, my son-in-law. Blueberries and dark chocolate are his favorites.
While you’re in the midst of the holiday hustle, take a little time for yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and patience.
Have a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie or two.
I’ll be back, soon I hope, with news about this baby. Or another cookie recipe.
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons creme de cassis (optional)
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup chopped toasted pistachios
Cream softened butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt together. Beat into egg mixture.
Fold in vanilla, creme de cassis, and chopped bittersweet chocolate.
Line baking sheets with parchment.
Gather the dough in tablespoon-sized lumps and drop onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1″ space between cookies.
Sprinkle the tops with pistachio pieces. Gently press pieces into the dough.
Bake cookies in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack before using a spatula to remove from baking sheet.
Makes 4 dozen cookies
Note: both cookie recipes can be cut in half with fine results, if you want to make smaller batches.
BLUEBERRY-OATMEAL-CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Demerara (or turbinado, or organic brown) sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats (not the “quick” kind)
2 cups dried blueberries
2 cups chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
Cream softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.
Beat into egg mixture, a little at a time.
Beat in oats.
Fold in dried blueberries and chopped chocolate.
Drop by the tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 1″ space between cookies.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Remove and cool on a rack.
Makes 4-5 dozen cookies
Life has been full and moving apace; and I’ve been a bit remiss here on Good Food Matters. But, exciting things are in the works—including a cookbook! I’ll share more details on that project soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d give you a look at our beautiful spread, an hors d’oeuvres buffet from last weekend. We held a shower honoring my daughter, son-in-law, and (grand!) baby to come.
No funny games or balloons, just a gathering of family and friends in the late afternoon for appetizers and sweets. We had a colorful array of foods, with a meat dish, a fish dish, and a bounty to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Plus, The Pie Board! My daughter Madeleine wanted not just pie, but Pies. A table filled with these assorted treats, great and petite, fruit or nut filled, chocolate cream or baked vanilla custard is a fun alternative to, say, a single cake. Easy as pies…..
While our party was a baby shower, it doesn’t matter: our menu would work for any kind of event, like a cocktail supper.
For your inspiration, with tips:
An Hors D’oeuvres Buffet
Marinated Grilled Beef Tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, sundried tomato rolls
Orange-rubbed Smoked Alaskan Salmon Fillet
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Dip
Roasted Butternut Squash-Yellow Bell Pepper-Honeycrisp Apple Quinoa
Black Eyed Pea “Cowboy Caviar”
Hot Baby Spoon Spinach-Artichoke Dip both served with blue and white corn chips
An overnight marinade of olive oil, red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, and lots of fresh garlic help insure a succulent and flavorful piece of meat. Liberally salt and pepper the beef before grilling.
I rub the salmon fillet with orange zest and good olive oil before placing on my Big Green Egg to gently smoke. The fish stays moist, and is fragrant with citrus.
Simply roast diced butternut squash that you’ve first brushed with olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Do the same with diced yellow bell pepper. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Fold in roasted vegetables and diced fresh apple once the quinoa is cooked. The heat of the quinoa lightly cooks the apple, while retaining its crunch. Served warm or cool, this makes a delicious fall-inspired side or salad.
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Sauce: Easy to make, easy to pick up and eat! It doesn’t take long to plunge the spears into boiling water, let them cook less than 2 minutes, and plunge them into an icy bath. Season plain Greek yogurt with plenty of fresh dill, scallions, fresh lemon juice and sea salt.
Like the quinoa dish, this vegan “Cowboy Caviar” is healthy, full-flavored, and universally enjoyed. I was lucky to find fresh black eyed peas at the market, which I cooked with garlic, sea salt, bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the peas became tender and cooled, I added diced avocados, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
This is an updated classic, made with fresh baby spoon spinach and artichoke hearts stirred into a green onion studded bechamel sauce. Always a favorite! Top the casserole with shredded pecorino romano cheese and bake until bubbly.
THE PIES: Rustic Honeycrisp Apple Galette, Chess Tarts, Plum Cream Cheese Pie, Maple Pecan Pie, Double Chocolate Cream Pie
Double Chocolate Cream Pie (the first to go!)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups lowfat milk
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoon creme de cassis (optional)
pinch of salt
Whisk cocoa, cornstarch, and brown sugar together in a bowl. Pour milk into a 2 qt. saucepan set on medium heat and stir in cocoa mixture. Continue stirring until dissolved. Then add chopped chocolate. Flavor with vanilla, creme de cassis, and a pinch of salt. Stir ( a wooden spoon is good for this.) steadily, as the mixture begins to simmer and thicken. It will become smooth and puddinglike. Remove from heat and pour into pre-baked pie shell. Cool before refrigerating.
Whip a cup of heavy cream with 2 (or so, depending on how sweet you want your whipped cream) tablespoons confectioners sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Top chilled pie, and garnish with shaved chocolate.
Individual Chess Tarts: these were made by good friend Wendy. A true Southern dessert: Eggs-Butter-Sugar-Buttermilk-Vinegar. Deceptively simple, and somewhat addictive, Chess Pie deserves a post all its own. I promise, I will deliver that soon!
Guests really have a great time making up pie sampler dessert plates for themselves!
Blissful Parents to Be
Due Date is December First
These cool September mornings have me thinking about transitions. Soon, the fall harvests, and bushels of apples picked from area orchards will be arriving at the markets. Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladys and Granny Smiths, Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks. Beautiful varieties, each with a distinct taste and culinary use.
I welcome this time of year. It ushers in another wave of foods and festivities that bring people together.
From my office perch looking out into the backyard, I see signs of a season in shift. Leaves getting tinged with yellow. Persimmons ripening on the rugged tree by the alley. Hummingbirds gorging on nectar before making their migration further south. I’ve lived in middle Tennessee for a long time, lived out many long hot summers. Autumn always invigorates me with its crisp clear air and blaze of color. I relish the changes of the seasons. Although anything can happen, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
A sense of place. That gets entwined with many things, especially in a transient society. Where we were born, where we grew up, where we went to school, where we work, all play a part in grounding us, informing that deepest part of us about where we belong. We all have the right place to be.
It’s a potent and poignant theme that Luisa Weiss explores in her food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Known to many as The Wednesday Chef, Luisa tells her story of finding that sense of place. A confluence of cultures is at the heart of her journey.
In 1977, she was born to an Italian mother and an American father in West Berlin. At age three, her parents divorced and she moved to Boston with her father. She grew up, traveling back and forth, straddling two homes, two worlds. Her divided life, in a way, paralleled Berlin of the Cold War.
As a young adult living in New York, Luisa worked as a cookbook editor. A touchstone to memory, an anchor for comfort, food and cooking became central in her life. In 2005, she launched her blog, initially as a way to plow through the scads of recipes she’d clipped and saved. The Wednesday Chef became more than a food blog; readers worldwide followed her journal as she came to grips with the feeling that her life in New York, ideal as it appeared with a terrific job, fiance, and circle of friends, was not where she belonged.
My Berlin Kitchen chronicles that larger arc of self-discovery, and courage to make bold change. It is a love story, sprinkled with delectable recipes, gleaned from her world travels. Many have an intriguing, decidedly Berliner bent. Roast goose, braised red cabbage, poppyseed whirligig buns, white asparagus salad, spiced plum butter…
I enjoyed reading her story, and found real inspiration in her recipes. Today, I made her Apple Tart.
I call it a Perfect Apple Tart, for it truly honors the apple, in all its crisp sweet-tart glory. In Luisa’s words, ” This tart is about the pure, clear taste of apples, sugar, and a little bit of butter. There are no spices to muddle the flavors.”
And, its crust—the crust could be reason alone to make the tart: thin and golden, immeasurably buttery and flaky.
She credits her recipe to four culinary luminaries: Jacques Pepin, who originally conceived it; Alice Waters, who has kept it a constant offering at Chez Panisse; Deb Perelman, who brought it out into the wide world through her blog, Smitten Kitchen; and Melissa Clark, whose New York Times pastry-making video showed that leaving the butter in larger, lima bean (rather than pea) sized pieces in the dough insured a richer, flakier crust.
Of course, your tart will only be as wonderful as your apples. Select firm ones. Luisa recommends Golden Delicious. I chose Ginger Golds, an early harvest variety with a spicy-tart finish. They are good to eat out of hand, and bake into pies or cakes.
As we come into apple season, you’ll no doubt find other varieties that will appeal to you.
Here’s the tart’s magic. You peel and core the apples before slicing them. Then, you immerse those trimmings in water with sugar, and cook them down. After straining, you reduce the apple-infused liquid to a marvelous syrupy glaze.
After baking and cooling, you brush the tart–apples and crust– with apple syrup. Oh, my!
Apple-Apple-Apple! The tart is all about the apples, not-too-sweet, baked tender in a butter-crisp rustic crust:
From Jacques Pepin to Alice Waters, Deb Perelman to Melissa Clarke, from Luisa Weiss to me, and now to you.
Wishing you contentment wherever you are, Nancy
A PERFECT APPLE TART from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/8 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted Butter, cut into 1″ pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons icy water
food processor fitted with pastry cutter
Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down into lima bean shaped pieces. Pulse in water, a spoonful at a time, until dough comes together.
Dump out onto lightly floured work surface and gather it together, flattening into 4″ wide disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes. (or up to 3 days)
The Apple Filling
2 lbs. crisp firm Apples (I used Ginger Gold) peeled, cored. and thinly sliced–Save the peels and cores
2 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
3-5 tablespoons Sugar (I used 4 tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees, if using a convection oven).
Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll out onto a flour-dusted work counter.
Rolling and rotating the dough, dust with more flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until you’ve made a 14″-16″ thin round.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the rolled dough round on it.
Place the apple slices in overlapping circles on the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Crowd as many apple slices as possible.
They will cook down in the oven.
Fold the edges of the crust over the tart, creating a rustic look, leaving the center of the tart exposed.
Brush melted butter over the apples and onto the crust. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust and apples as well.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tart after 20-22 minutes.
The crust will become golden brown, as will the edges of the apples.
While the tart bakes, make the apple syrup. (recipe below)
Remove the baked tart and let it cool for 15 minutes before brushing the apples and crust with apple syrup.
Serve warm or room temperature. Makes 8 servings.
The Apple Syrup
Reserved Apple Cores and Peels
1/2 cup Sugar
Put cores and peels into a saucepan along with sugar. Pour in water–enough to cover.
Bring to a boil, them simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the liquid; discard the apple trimmings, and return liquid to saucepan.
Reduce on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.
Our friend Jennifer Barrie has been almost as busy as her bees.
This is the first year that she’s had success: her hives holding frame after frame of cured-and-capped honey. Fortitude and backbone are beekeeper requirements. It takes a full cycle of the seasons–sometimes longer— for a colony to build a large enough population to create a honey surplus, fit for harvest.
Time and weather, pollen and patience all worked in Jen’s favor. She’s extracted copious quarts of light amber honey from her backyard hives–enough to sell.
I was excited to purchase a jar, and couldn’t wait to taste it: the closest to home honey I’ve ever had.
What a revelation! There was a flower garden in that spoonful of honey.
I swirled some into plain Greek yogurt.
Bill and I slathered more onto thick slices of toasted sourdough, letting it seep into that hole-riddled bread.
Next, I wanted to cook with it, bake it into a simple cake to highlight its floral sweetness.
What I came up with was a humble one-layer cake.
It incorporates the honey with restraint.
Caramel-browned butter deepens that flavor.
Fresh thyme leaves add an herbal undercurrent that seems right with Jen’s floral-forward nectar.
Not-too-sweet, it’s the sort of cake that you’d enjoy with a cup of hot tea or coffee.
Although you’d be proud to serve it to guests, sidled by a scoop of ice cream
I’m thinking Strawberry, Orange, French Vanilla,
or fresh fruit.
such as Peaches, a scatter of Blueberries,
I could have left the cake plain, or brushed it with a glaze of citrus and honey.
Instead, I whipped up a basic frosting–just butter, cream cheese, and honey. I split the single baked layer after it cooled, and spread it over the moist and fragrant crumb. I finished it with a top coat, strewn with pistachios.
Jen told me that she’s just extracted a new batch. This time, it is deep yellow-gold in color. It all depends on what is blooming in the summer cycle. I’m anxious to sample this honey, and compare the differences in taste.
Meanwhile, a piece of delectable, very local honey cake awaits—I’d love it if you’d stop by for a slice.
BROWN BUTTER HONEY CAKE
1 cup Brown Butter (slowly cook butter in a skillet on medium heat, occasionally stirring, until solids becomes toasty brown)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1 cup Honey
2 1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
2 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt
1 cup Milk
Juice from 1 Lemon (about 2 T.)
1 T. Vanilla
equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, 9″ cake pan
Toss thyme leaves into warm brown butter.
Sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt together in a separate bowl.
Place lemon juice and vanilla into the cup of milk and stir. Let it stand and lightly thicken/curdle.
When butter is cooled, pour it into a mixing bowl and beat in the honey.
Beat in milk mixture.
Beat in flour mixture.
Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Pour batter into prepared 9″ cake pan. (bottom lined with parchment, sides and bottom coated with baking spray)
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.
HONEY CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 oz. (1 stick) Butter, softened
8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
3-4 T. Honey
1/2 cup Pistachios–coarsely chopped to garnish
Beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
Beat in the honey, one tablespoon at a time. Mixture will be creamy smooth, and somewhat fluffy.
Spread onto split layer and top. Garnish with chopped pistachios.
The first time I tasted Chocolate Sorbet, it spun me into a state of denial. I could not believe that this creamy-dreamy, deepest-darkest chocolate confection had no cream, no milk, no eggs, nada.
“It’s basically chocolate and water, ” the waiter informed with a shrug.
“Impossible,” I muttered, and then dipped my spoon in for another bite. Firm yet silken, ice cold yet melty, the sorbet dissolved on my tongue, cloaking it in über-rich layers of flavor. Hints of cinnamon, butter, berry, coffee, and caramel emerged. And lingered. I looked over at my friend Wendy, who was having a St. Teresa of Avila moment. Ecstasy.
“This is the best dessert I’ve ever put in my mouth,” she finally spoke.
We were guests at a fundraising dinner held at a fine restaurant. The dessert course, two bourbon-pecan squares sidled by this sublime scoop, was the highlight of the evening. That was almost two years ago. I filed the experience away as one to revisit and, with luck, recreate.
So you can imagine my excitement when I came across this Chocolate Sorbet recipe last month. Created by ice cream maven and Parisian food writer, David Lebovitz, it is the ne plus ultra of frozen chocolate treats. The concise list of ingredients aligned with the information from that waiter:
pinch of salt, drop of vanilla.
This had to be it.
I had everything in my pantry.
No ice cream maker.
I dashed out to buy one.
I located a small (one quart) and cheap ($22.) machine. As soon as I got home, I put its inner canister into my freezer to get super-cold. The next day was Father’s Day, and I had planned a food gift for my dad. At 85, he doesn’t need or want any thing, but a special meal always pleases him. Especially when chocolate is involved. The sorbet would be the pinnacle for the chocoholic.
Manufacturer’s directions recommend a 24 hour freezing period. We didn’t have that full cycle; 16 hours would have to suffice.
Like anything you cook, the quality of the ingredients is key to success. When faced with such a terse ingredient list, that axiom becomes all the more crucial. Your sorbet will only be wonderful as your bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder. I had two bars of 70% Scharfen Berger artisan chocolate and a container of Ghirardelli premium unsweetened cocoa.
I’ve made the sorbet three times now. The first time, for my dad, yielded rich and creamy results—yet it was soupy. The canister needs the full 24 hour deep-freeze time prior to churning. My dad didn’t mind. He ate a bowl of sorbet soup and moaned. “This is too good. Maybe the best.” he said. “The chocolate just stays in your mouth.”
He was right. There is something so pure, so direct and immediate about the sorbet experience–an intense chocolate delivery system!
He let the rest harden overnight in his freezer, and blissfully devoured it within a couple of days.
The second time I was over-anxious, and forgot a critical step: the hand-held blender part, where the mix is initially whirred and frothed before cooling. It was still a delicious batch, but denser.
Third time’s a charm: I followed all the steps, and modified the recipe slightly. I substituted Turbinado sugar for 1/2 of the sugar requirement, and increased the vanilla. Incredible, I tell you.
I also learned that regardless of freezer time, the sorbet has a high meltdown factor, once scooped.
No matter. You’ll not be able to let this pure chocolate delight languish in a bowl for any time, at all.
CHOCOLATE SORBET, adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
2 1/4 c. Water, divided ( 1 1/2 c. and 3/4 cup)
3/4 c. Cocoa
1/2 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Turbinado Sugar
pinch of Salt
6 oz. high-quality bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
1 t. Vanilla
Whisk together 1 1/2 cups of water, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Let it boil for almost one minute, while you continue to whisk.
Remove from heat, and pour into mixing bowl. Add chopped chocolate, stirring until melted throughout.
Whisk in vanilla and remaining 3/4 cup water.
Pour into a blender, or use your hand-held blender, and mix for 30 seconds.
Place into the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Mixture will be thick.
Place mixture into frozen canister and churn for at least 20 minutes.
Return canister to the freezer and let set.
Scoop and enjoy immediately.
Good morning, Friends!
As I write this post, squirrels and birds are finishing off the last of the plums on our little backyard tree. A frenzy, you can believe it. I don’t mind. In my kitchen, there’s a huge pot filled with simmering fruit, a pantry stashed with fresh preserves, and a table covered with bowls of the plucked, all in varying shades of red violet, awaiting their destiny.
So many plums. Too many to count!
Conditions must have been beyond ideal this year. A mild, wet winter and a warm, almost summerlike spring–our tree blossomed 2 weeks early, dazzling in its fleecy whites. Over time, its limbs became vertical, dragging the ground, overladen with ripening fruit.
In years past, I’ve been forced to act quickly, snatching plums as soon as they showed that first rosy blush, in order to garner any before my backyard menagerie decimated the crop. This year, no problem: there’s been a gracious plenty for all.
Now, what to do with them?
Friend Maggie likes to make plum jelly: long-simmer the fruit and skillfully strain it for all its juices to make a pretty, ruby-clear spread for toast.
I’m more of a jam-preserves kind of girl. I’ve been cooking down the plums in a bit of sugar, allowing their skins to dissolve into the mix. The plums are juicy and tart; I cook them with just enough sugar to bolster their flavor, while still honoring that tartness. As they soften and release their juices, I fish out the pits. (Sometimes I run the cooked plums through the food mill to accomplish that.)
I pour the preserves into sterile jars and process them in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I also keep some handy, in sterilized, but unprocessed jars, tucked in my fridge. (This freezes well, too–for those of you leery of canning.)
This way, I have plums in a plain yet versatile form, ready to slather on crusty bread with goat cheese, ladle over ice cream, blend into a marinade for grilled chicken, or whisk into a vinaigrette. Add ginger, garlic, hoisin, and the plums take on an Asian flair. Lemon and cinnamon for an Italian plum-good cake.
In crisps or crumbles: whole ripe plums lend themselves nicely for this kind of dessert. I’ve concocted a gluten-free version that uses oatmeal and ground toasted almonds that I think you’ll enjoy. I look forward to learning your ideas, too.
Here’s a round-up of my plum goodies.
BASIC PLUM PRESERVES/SAUCE
10-12 c. whole plums, washed
2 c. Sugar
large heavy-duty stockpot, canning tongs, clean jars, lids, seals
Place plums into your large pot on medium heat. Pour in the sugar. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or so. Uncover. Spoon off the foam collected on the top. Stir and continue to simmer, uncovered for another 15 minutes or so.
When the skins seem to have melted into the liquid, and the flesh of the fruit gives way, you can begin straining the plum pits. Some you will see floating in the red sea–just spoon them out. For the rest, set a strainer over a large bowl, and begin pour the cooked plum and juices through. Press with the back of a wooden spoon to crush the fruit and release the pits. Or, run the plum-mix through a food mill set with the largest openings. You’ll get a lush puree. And the color, a knock-out!
Return the puree to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes.
Pour into sterile mason jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.
Makes 6 half pints.
PLUM VINAIGRETTE/GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD
3 T. White Wine Vinegar
6 T. Plum Preserves
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 c. fruity Olive Oil
Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Whisk (or use a hand-held immersion blender) until combined. The plum preserve acts as an emulsifier. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Makes a thick creamy vinaigrette.
For the Grilled Chicken Salad:
2 boneless Chicken Breasts
1 bunch of mixed lettuces
1/4 lb. Sugar Snap Peas
2 Green Onions
2-3 Nasturtium flowers
Slather a couple of tablespoons of the plum vinaigrette onto boneless chicken breasts and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Grill char the sugar snaps and green onions.
Grill the chicken breasts. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing onto salad.
Compose Salad: bed of lettuces, charred sugar snaps and green onions. Sprinkle with nasturtium leaves for color and peppery bite.
Place sliced grilled chicken on top and dress with plum vinaigrette.
GLUTEN-FREE PLUM CRUMBLE
1/2 c. Oatmeal
1/2 c. Almonds, toasted and finely ground
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
4 T. melted Butter
2 c. sliced ripe Plums (about a dozen)
9″ pie dish
Toast almonds in the oven and cool. Place into the food processor fitted with a swivel blade and pulse until the nuts achieve a powdery form.
Mix ground almonds, oats, brown sugar and melted butter. Add a pinch of cinnamon, if you like.
Take half of the mixture and press it onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan.
Slice plums and arrange in overlapping concentric rings on top of the crust. Continue until the dish is well filled. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and dot with butter.
Take remaining almond-oatmeal crust and press over the top.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
Delicious served warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream. Garnish with some plum sauce. Serves 6-8
Bill claims he doesn’t have a sweet tooth,
because in reality he has Sweet Teeth.
The man has an undeniable weakness for a range of creamy confections.
You have to watch him.
He has the best of intentions.
He means to exert willpower.
He makes bold pronouncements about his indulgence.
“Just a small piece for me, please.”
And that’s how it starts. The gateway bite. A slippery slope. A cycle of eternal returns.
You know the thinking.
“That wasn’t a very big serving. Maybe I’ll have one more. A sliver. And that’s it.”
Or, “I’m just going to even up the edges. Clean it up. The cake looks ragged.”
I try to remove temptation. I’ll wrap up the remaining cake, and tuck it into the back of the fridge, out of sight.
To no avail.
Because what occurs are the man’s repeated surreptitious visitations to the refrigerator, knife in hand, a steady whittling away of the dessert.
The next day, I’ll find that half of a cake or pie reduced to a mere wedge.
But very neat.
This routine is predictable, especially when it comes to my Banana Boston Cream Pie.
For Bill, whose fondness for bananas equals–or exceeds—his fondness for sweets, this dessert presents the double-whammy of temptations. Knowing this penchant, I years ago started adding layers of sliced bananas to this classic.
That unexpected element makes it one of his absolute favorites.
There’s another surprise: a hint of citrus—grapefruit zest—in the pastry cream. As the bananas and creamy filling merge and meld into the softening cake, the resulting subtle tang becomes especially alluring.
That secondary fruit note gives him yet another reason to carve “just another little piece.”
Who can blame him?
BANANA-BOSTON CREAM PIE
Grapefruit-Scented Pastry Cream
1/2 c. Sugar
1 T. Butter
3 T. All -purpose Flour
2 c. Milk
1 t. Vanilla
1 1/2 t. Grapefruit zest
In a medium non-reactive saucepan on low heat, melt butter, and mix in sugar and flour. Add half of the milk (one cup) Stir in vanilla and zest.
Whisk eggs with remaining milk until well homogenized–no streaks of yolk.
Pour into the saucepan and stir well. Increase heat to medium. Cook until thickened.
Cool; cover and refrigerate.
4 Eggs, room temperature
3/4 c. Sugar
8 T. (one stick) soft Butter
1 cup Cake Flour, sifted
2 t. Baking Powder
1/4 t. Salt
1/2 c. Milk
1 T. Vanilla
Using a stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar and softened butter together on medium high speed, until the mixture becomes thick, creamy, and light-lemon colored. Beat for a 5-7 minutes.
Sift flour baking powder, and salt together. Beat into the egg mixture.
Beat in milk and vanilla.
Pour into 1 parchment lined, buttered 8″ or 9″ cake pan.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Test for doneness.
Remove and allow to cool on racks.
Note: To make an extra big cake, double the recipe and use 10″ cake pans. You can make it a triple or quadruple layer.
1 1/2 c. Heavy Cream
12 oz. chopped Bittersweet Chocolate (or combination of bitter and semi-sweets)
2 T. Vanilla
In a heavy duty saucepan, bring cream to a simmer. Add chopped chocolate and stir until melted throughout. Turn down heat. Add vanilla. Stir and continue cook until chocolate ganache is thick, smooth, and shiny.
Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before pouring over the layered cake.
Split Cake in half. (thirds, if you want to get really fancy-rich)
Spread with pastry cream
Cover with sliced bananas
Top with next cake layer
Repeat–if split into thirds
Pour cooled ganache over the layers
Garnish with pecan halves—optional
It’s fine to refrigerate–to let the ganache really set up.
When serving, keep a glass of warm water handy to clean the knife between cuts. This will insure neat-easy slicing.