My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.
If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.
Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.
We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.
When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.
Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.
NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)
Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.
While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)
There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!
And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.
It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!
When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.
Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.
NOTORIOUS LEGENDARY EBINGER’S BLACKOUT CAKE
Serves 12 to 16
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.
Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts â€” about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.
Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.
Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.
Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Yes, I realize that it has scarcely been a month since the holidays, ever a cookie fest. No matter. It is always a good time for cookies, especially ones that have noble aspects about them without sacrificing great taste.
Noble aspects, you ask? Indeed!
One recipe boasts reduced fat and sugar and the other is gluten free.
You see, I have become involved in Cookie Trials!
Today’s foray into Cookie Trials brings us Easiest Peanut Butter (remarkable, with only 4 ingredients!) and Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal (orange zest, sour cream and egg white distinguish this batch). As the batches of both came together quickly, with minimal effort, I thought I would share them with you. Two more cookie recipes for your culinary stockpile…
We’ll start with our 4-ingredient wonder, with a confession.
I love peanut butter, but I’ve never been crazy about peanut butter cookies. The ones I had have been either too dry and crumbly. Or too sweet. And not “pea-nutty” enough.
So, I was intrigued by the idea of a peanut butter cookie made without flour. Maybe flour has been the culprit in forming my distaste. Peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla—that’s all that goes into this recipe. I could imagine the peanut taste really coming through. But, how would it bake up? Would it have a good cookie texture?
The verdict: These are very good peanut butter cookies. They are crisp and a little chewy and have a rich, roasted peanut flavor.
They baked up nicely, thickly. I could have made them smaller. I used an extra-crunchy peanut butter, which fills the dough with plenty of peanut bits. A creamy peanut butter would result in a lighter batter that might spread out a bit more as it bakes.
It should go without saying, but a peanut butter cookie is only as good as the peanut butter going into it. Be sure to use your favorite.
Next up is a “lightened” Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal cookie, its recipe taken from Cooking Light’s Cranberry-Oatmeal Bars.
The ingredient list looks long, but likely you’ve got most of the items already in your pantry. I had to run out for some sour cream.
I was excited to try this recipe; the classic oatmeal cookie ranks high in my world. So a variation on the theme is generally welcome.
The lightly beaten egg white helps bind the batter, making it a softer cookie: more airy and delicate, like a macaroon.
Orange zest and juice, paired with the sour cream, really bring this cookie to life.
The recipe calls for quick oats, (which I had) but I think you could use the regular “old fashioned” rolled oats, and actually have better results–the oats being more defining, in both taste and texture.
Verdict: overall, a delicious cookie. I like that these can be made easily into a small size–another lighter aspect of the cookie.
Small but good bites are satisfying, especially in these starker, post-holiday times.
GLUTEN FREE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES from Southern Living
1 cup peanut butter (your choice of creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is well-combined. Form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, one inch apart. Flatten the tops gently with the tines of a fork.
Bake on the center rack in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5–7 minutes before removing the cookies from the baking sheet.
Makes 20-24 cookies
CRANBERRY-ORANGE OATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, dried cranberries, both sugars, orange zest, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Beat in the sour cream, melted butter, orange juice, vanilla, and egg white.
Scoop small rounds of dough, placing them onto the parchment lined baking sheet, each an inch apart.
Bake on the center rack for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.
Makes 3 dozen cookies
There’s a huge pot simmering on my stovetop, (yet to be photographed!) filled with white wine, lemons, onions, celery, assorted peppercorns and bay leaf. I call it my spicy-winey lobster bath. Later this evening, my guests and I will be plunging our lobster tails into this heady bath, which will poach them into succulence.
I’ll also make drawn butter, spiked with lemon and cayenne, and place the bowls of that decadence within easy reach for dunking the rich meat. I think the term “gilding the lily” applies here. Oh, well–it is our farewell to 2013.
This is our communal lobster pot gathering, a tradition born a few years ago when we could no longer face going out New Year’s Eve, and, serendipitously, lobster tails happened to be on sale at the market.
Here’s the basic plan: Everyone brings his/her own luxuries–crustacean, and champagne, if that’s your pleasure . In the beginning of this new tradition, I would do a seated dinner. In addition to the spicy-winey bath, I’d make the accompanying courses, which I served at a leisurely pace. In more recent years, we’ve become less formal. We share the making of different dishes and set everything out buffet style. Graze as you will.
Tonight, Heather is bringing a big salad, and a plate of fruits and cheeses. Teresa is bringing some tasty hors d’oeuvres. She’s not sure what they’ll be yet, but our food styling friend always has some terrific ideas and ingredients on hand.
To insure the most good luck possible, I am making “Hoppin’ John” risotto with kale pesto.
But what I want to quickly share with you now is a dessert. I want to end this last day of 2013, which also is this humble blog’s 200th post AND 5th Year Anniversary, with something sweet. (I know! Time. Fleeting!)
It’s a flourless chocolate torte, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe, which caught my eye for its lightness. It has a lower caloric count, yet imparts a depth of rich chocolate taste–especially if you use high quality cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, like this bar from local artisan Olive and SInclair.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I am serving it with my brandied cherries and a dollop of whipped cream. So, no, it isn’t Super Light, but it is gluten-free, and a sliver of this treat is all that you need to satisfy that one lingering need for a sweet bite, after a fine meal.
Here’s my wish to you for a very happy, healthy, creative, loving, peaceful, generous, and open-hearted new year. May it be filled with many delicious things, too.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH BRANDIED CHERRIES
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, divided
6 tablespoons ground toasted almonds
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment. Coat the sides and bottom with butter and dust with 1 teaspoon (or so) cocoa.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Then, beat in the cocoa and ground almonds.
Place the coffee and chopped bittersweet chocolate into a small saucepan set on medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is just melted.
Beat this to the egg yolk-cocoa mixture.
Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
Serve the cake slightly warm, topped with brandied cherries and whipped cream.
I originally made these for my friend Wendy, who love the Manhattan cocktail. She’s got the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, now she’s got the luscious brandied cherry to place into the drink. I kept a container to make into other things, like the sauce for this cake.
2 pounds frozen, pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup brandy
2 ribbons orange zest
1 cup water
Â¼ teaspoon salt
Fill 2 glass jars with frozen cherries, dividing them evenly.
Place sugar, cinnamon stick, brandy, orange zest, water & salt in a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour equal parts over the cherries. Let cool with the top off then cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cherries to cure for a couple of weeks–but know that they will last for several months.
BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup brandied cherries, drained from brandy mixture
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup brandied cherry juice
Place drained brandied cherries into a small bowl.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir the cornstarch and brandied cherry juice together until the cornstarch is dissolved. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. It will thicken and become glazy. Remove from heat, and pour over the drained brandied cherries.
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.