Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two-Persimmon Tea Cake


I never thought I'd say this, but I seem to be buttered-out.


Perhaps it was the scant half pound of butter in this combined with the fact that 1) I had to make it three times and 2) I have no willpower when it comes to pie. Or maybe it was this, chock full of butter, cream, bacon, and cheese. (I think I had a heart attack just typing that.) Maybe it was the knitting party that I went to where I was forced to devour crack sticks (made by the host! who I'd never met before! from this blog!), the best snickerdoodles ever, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, hot chocolate, and brie.


Whatever the case, I need a break. Today I made a vegan kale and quinoa salad for dinner. It felt like opening the car window when the heater has begun to suffocate you.

And then I did something else out of character: I swapped out the butter in this cake for olive oil.


I know! It must be because I turned thirty last week. That means I can do whatever I want now, right?

So I made Deborah Madison's persimmon tea cake from Local Flavors, which I'd made before. But for some reason, this time it emerged from the oven sporting a cavernous center and dry texture.

Inspired by this pound cake, I decided to trade my beloved butter for olive oil. Just this once. Since olive oil is liquid at room temperature, whereas butter is solid, it can keep cakes and quick breads more moist.


It worked like a charm (though I did make it three more times to get the proportions just so). Persimmons have a complex, fruity flavor and so does a good extra-virgin olive oil. They bring out the best in each other, each creating a depth of flavor that you can't quite put your finger on.

Hachiya and fuyu persimmons

As you may have inferred from the title, this loaf contains not one, but two types of persimmons. Heart-shaped hachiyas, ripe to the point of bursting, get turned into a silky puree and whisked into eggs and brown sugar. I love having those sunny orbs lined up and ripening on my windowsill in December, the darkest time of the year. Fuyus, the squat ones, are tumbling into the markets now, too, colored the same reddish-orange as the freshly painted Golden Gate Bridge. These are ripe when still firm, and excellent simply sliced and crunched. Diced fuyus get folded into the batter which is laced with plump currants, toasty walnuts and a bit of spice.


Jay gushed that the baked pieces of fuyus resemble gooey, sweet marshmallows – and this from a man who doesn't even really like persimmons (or marshmallows... or gushing). In fact, Jay has been downright possessive of this bread, forbidding me to give any of it away (sorry, people I usually foist baked goods upon).


Maybe that's because this tea cake is stingily sweetened, and made with whole-grain flour. The tender loaf crumbles slightly when you slice it, keeps like a dream for days, and makes an excellent breakfast or snack on its own, or toasted and smeared with cream cheese.


Or, you know, butter.


Persimmonious:
Persimmon Pudding

Persimmon Galettes

One year ago:
Nibby Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Cranberry Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread
Two years ago:
Horchata Ice Cream
Migas


Two-Persimmon Tea Cake

This recipe calls for two types of persimmons: puree from heart-shaped hachiyas, and diced, squat fuyus (see photos in post, above). To make the hachiya puree: Start with 3 large squishy-ripe hachiya persimmons – they should feel like water balloons that are about to burst. Slice them in half and squeeze or scoop the flesh into a mesh strainer set over a large measuring cup or bowl. Work the pulp through with a ladle or rubber spatula. (Extra puree is excellent on its own or over yogurt or oatmeal. Read more about hachiyas and how to avoid persimmon trauma here.) Fuyus will be firm when ripe, but look for specimen with a deep reddish-orange hue that have a hint of give. A fruity extra-virgin olive oil, such as Sciabica's, will make your cake taste that much better. All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes one 8x4" loaf

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves

1 cup packed (7 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces by weight) olive oil
3/4 cup (6 ounces) hachiya persimmon puree (see headnote)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped or broken up
1/2 cup plump, fresh currants
1 cup fuyu persimmon in 1/2" dice (from 1 large or 2 small fuyus, see headnote)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line an 8 x 4" loaf pan with a sling of parchment paper (or grease with softened butter or pan spray).

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices.

In another large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, oil, persimmon puree and vanilla.

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wets until almost smooth, then stir in the walnuts, currants and diced fuyus, and stir to distribute evenly.

Scrape the batter into the lined pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (a few moist crumbs are fine), 60-70 minutes. Cool completely at room temperature.

Slices of cake are excellent toasted and topped with cream cheese, greek yogurt or crème fraîche. 

The cake will keep for up to 4 or 5 days at room temperature, but refrigerate it if the weather is humid to prevent mold from forming.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie


Several years ago, when I was slightly less bojon and worked as a barista at Farley's,  I used to treat myself to the occasional massage by the brutal thumbs of Helen Hickman. Helen's massages were a masochist's dream of the deep tissue variety, more excruciating than relaxing, but I always knew they would make me feel better in the long run.


One day, Helen gave me something that was excruciating in a different way: a large bag brimming with pecans still in their shell, a gift from her aunt in Texas. While the nuts weren't nearly as heinous to peel as chestnuts, they did take a long time to exorcise from their shells. When I was done, I didn't want to waste them on just any baked good, I wanted to really showcase their freshness. So I baked them into a bourbon pecan pie, adapted from a recipe in Cook's Country, Cook's Illustrated's sister magazine. That pie was excellent, and I have gradually tweaked the recipe to its current configurations.


Pecan pie is notoriously sweet. The base is essentially a custard made with sugar, rather than milk or cream, and eggs and butter. Some recipes cut the sweetness of pecan pie with corn syrup, kumquats, coffee or citrus zest. But this recipe deals with the excess sugar by adding generous doses of salt and bourbon.

I substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup because corn syrup scares me. It is heavily processed and doesn't taste very interesting, whereas grade B maple syrup, which is minimally processed, retains some healthy trace minerals and tastes like heaven flowing from a tree. The maple has the added benefit of giving this pie an even softer set.

Bourbon's spicy-tart flavor blends beautifully with earthy maple and rich nuts, and two applications of salt – fine salt in the custard and a sprinkle of flaky salt on top – make this pie as addictive as bourbon is to some. The ample amount of bittersweet molasses in organic dark brown sugar adds complexity.


A few unconventional techniques result in a sublime pie true to Cook's perfectionism. First, the well-toasted pecan halves are broken up with one's fingers, rather than chopped with a knife. This only takes a minute or two longer than chopping (unless you're making 20 pies) and it results in more even pieces and less dust, which would muddy the custard. Next, the custard is warmed in a saucepan. This allows the pie a shorter baking time, and it also helps eliminate the froth that gets churned up when whisking in the eggs. Like Cook's pumpkin pie, the warm custard goes into a warm pie shell, shortening the baking time and helping the crust stay crisp. The custard bakes up clear and creamy, and softly set, the texture of a fine crème brulée, with a thick layer of toasty, almost candied nuts on top. The whole-grain crust flakes and shatters against the smooth filling.

Even with these few extra steps, pecan pie is an easy pie to make. You don't have the potential sogginess of a fruit pie, or the long baking time (vegetables, then pie) of a sweet potato or pumpkin pie. If you're pie-phobic, this would be an excellent and forgiving one to start with. And if you're not pie-phobic, you should also make this pie. Because it is amazingly tasty.


If you don't have the wherewithal to shell your own pecans, just make sure you start with fresh, raw pecan halves. You don't even need to have Helen's burly thumbs to easily break them up.


But it wouldn't hurt.


High on pie:
Creamy Pumpkin
Pecan-Topped Sweet Potato
Berry Crumble

One year ago:
Bojon Eggnog

Sage, Thyme and Mimolette Cheese Straws (a.k.a. Crack Sticks)
Two years ago:
Winter Squash and Sage Tart
Satsuma Ginger Oat Scones
Triple Ginger Molasses Cookies, Three Ways

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie

Makes one 9" pie, 10-12 servings

Inspired by Cook's Country's Bourbon Pecan Pie

For the best flavor, use fresh, raw pecan halves (rather than pieces) and toast them yourself while the pie dough chills. Breaking up the nuts with your fingers, rather than chopping them, gives you more regular pieces and creates less dust, leaving the custard clear and smooth. Be sure to toast the nuts thoroughly or they will taste bland and soggy in the finished pie. On that note, be sure to par-bake the crust until it is almost fully baked, as it doesn't cook much after the filling is added; it should be golden and dry all over.

Organic dark brown sugar contains more molasses than the conventional stuff and is highly recommended. Grade B maple syrup counter-intuitively has a deeper color and flavor than grade A; use it. This is a boozy pie, not for children, expecting mothers or recovering alcoholics. For a milder bourbon bite, omit the 2 tablespoons of bourbon that are added at the end. I used Bulleit bourbon, but I've also made this pie with Jack Daniel's with great results; I'm guessing that any decent bourbon will make a tasty pie. Unsweetened whipped cream makes a fine foil to this pie; though a slice of warm pie with a scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream would be sublime, too.

This pie needs to cool at room temperature for 3 hours post-baking. For the cleanest cuts, chill the pie after it has completely cooled, cut slices, and then let the slices sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, or warm them briefly in a 300º oven.

All-butter crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
about 4 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
2 1/4 cups raw pecan halves

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (preferably organic)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 large eggs
2/3 cup pure maple syrup (preferably grade B)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons bourbon, divided use

a few pinches of flaky salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling (optional)
unsweetened whipped cream, for serving

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Drizzle the ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze. Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough (a metal bench scraper works well here), gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" glass pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is lightly golden, 15 - 18 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
Spread the pecan halves on a small baking sheet in a single layer and toast in a 350º oven until fragrant and very slightly darkened in color, 12-14 minutes. To check if the pecans are thoroughly toasted, let one cool on the counter, then taste it – it should be crispy and have a toasty flavor. Let the nuts cool, then use your fingers to break each half into 4-8 pieces.

Reduce the oven temperature to 275º.

In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar and salt. Off the heat, gently whisk in the eggs one at a time, then the maple syrup, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the bourbon. Return the pot to a low flame and cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula, until the mixture is warm to the touch (130ºF on an instant-read thermometer). Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of bourbon and the pecan pieces. Pour the mixture into the hot, pre-baked pie shell. (If the pie shell has cooled, return it to the 275º oven for 5 - 10 minutes to heat it up.)

Bake the pie at 275º until the custard is mostly set, 25-40 minutes. Ways to tell when the pie is done:

The pie wobbles slightly when you shake it from side to side, but doesn't slosh wetly.
An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160-165ºF.
When you press down on the center of the pie with the back of a spoon, the custard feels softly set, like Jell-o.
The sides of the pie may be very slightly puffed, but they should not be so puffed that the pie cracks around the edges.

Whew! Take that pie out of the oven and let it cool to room temperature, around 3 hours. Fleck with a few pinches of flaky salt, if desired. For the cleanest slices, chill the pie until firm (an hour or so), then cut slices and let them sit at room temperature, or place them in a low oven for just a minute or two until gently warmed (but not melted).

I like this pie equally cold, at room temperature, or very slightly warm. It keeps well in the fridge for up to several days.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bacon, Leek and Fennel Quiche


Fennel grows like a weed all over coastal California. I used to love grazing on the herbaceous fronds while walking through Topanga Canyon wilderness. (But then, I would eat pretty much anything.)


During my 'commute' (a ten minute walk) to Farley's many years later, I would feel a nostalgic kinship with the forest of fennel that grows on a grassy hillside on 18th street. Every month or so, some determined gardener would attempt to eradicate the fennel by mowing down the four-foot-high stalks. They would lay like fallen soldiers, their licorice scent wafting through the air. But to my delight, the fennel always won: the forest would re-grow to its previous majesty not a month later.


Since fennel grows so easily, I could never understand why the bulbs in the market were so darned expensive. Apparently, bulbed fennel is a different variety than the wild stuff, which doesn't form those pretty, smooth-textured bulbs, and, presumably, it is harder to grow.


Luckily for me, our box has recently been gifting us large, pale green, frond-tufted orbs. Not only have we scored one in each of our last two boxes, but some fennel-hater left their bulb behind both times, and both times we snapped it up. Needless to say, we've been in fennel heaven (which is not exactly the place where good fennel soldiers go, but it does smell the same).

Jay's been slicing the bulbs thinly into his epic salads, I cut one into matchsticks and stuck them into a jar of brine left over from pickled green beans (they stayed crisp and delicious for weeks) and I paired the last monster bulb with caramelized leeks and bacon for this savory tart.


I cooked up some lardons of super smoky, thick-cut bacon from the Corralitos Market (how can you not love something called 'lardons'?), then cooked the leeks and fennel in the rendered fat until meltingly tender and caramelized, and deglazed the pan with a few splashes of white wine. At the bottom of the par-baked pate brisée, I put down a sprinkling of parmesan, which creates a barrier between custard and crust, then layered the bacon and veggies on top, and poured over a custard of eggs and cream, seasoned with a few generous grinds of black pepper.


It didn't seem like very much bacon at first, but the finished tart is undeniably bacon-tastic. The lardons, which lose a lot of volume when first sauteed, seem to soak up liquid as the tart bakes, like those magically expansive sponges shaped like dinosaurs and such. I was surprised how much bacon meat and flavor ended up in the finished quiche. Isn't there some cliché about quiche being un-manly? A 'quiché?' Well this tart would be the answer to that.

Despite the abundant baconage, the fennel can be tasted, its clean anise flavor layering the sweet leeks and smoky meat. The bright-yolked eggs from Eatwell turned the custard a rich yellow. The crust flakes tenderly against the creamy custard, and all that vegetable matter makes this substantial enough for brunch, lunch or supper, accompanied by a crisp salad (preferably made with chicories and arugula to counteract the sweet richness of the quiche).


If you're stuck with an over-abundance of fennel, try using it anywhere you would celery: in egg, tuna or potato salad, in a mirepoix, in a soup (such as the Lentil Soup with Chestnuts and Fennel that I posted one year ago), or on a platter of crudites.


Or give me a call, and I'll take it off your hands.


Tarted up:
Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart
Roasted Winter Squash and Sage Tart
Lemon Mascarpone Tart

One year ago:
Lentil Soup with Chestnuts and Fennel
Two years ago:
Sourdough Deep-Dish Pizza
Brown Butter-Glazed Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Coffeecake


Bacon, Leek and Fennel Quiche

Makes one 9 or 10" quiche, about 8 servings

If you're not of the mind that everything tastes better with bacon (and even more better with more bacon), use the lesser amount listed here; or, for a vegetarian version, omit it entirely and cook the leeks and fennel in equal parts butter and olive oil.

Serve wedges of this tart with a crisp salad, preferably made with pungent greens such as arugula and/or chicories.


All-butter crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
about 4 tablespoons ice water

Meat and veg:
4-8 ounces bacon (preferably thick-cut, smoky; see headnote)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium-large leeks
about 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as sauvignon blanc)
sea salt
1 large fennel bulb, a few feathery fronds reserved for garnish

Cheese and custard:
2 ounces grated parmesan (about 3/4 cup)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few turns of freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Drizzle the ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze. Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough, gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least an hour or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 10" quiche pan (or a 9" pie pan or 9" deep tart pan), fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang inside to create double-thick walls, and press firmly into the sides of the pan. (Hint: if you make the crust 1/4" higher than the sides of the pan, you will allow for a bit of shrinkage. Hint #2: Save any dough scraps in case the crust bakes up with a tiny hole or tear; you can patch up the hole and avoid a leaky [read: not 'leeky'] tart)

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pushed into the corners of the crust to hold it up.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is lightly golden, 5-10 minutes longer.

Reduce the oven to 350º.

While the tart dough is chilling and baking, make the filling:
Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon to a bowl, leaving behind the fat. Pour off all but 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat and reserve.

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice the white and light green parts crosswise 1/4" thick. Place the leeks in a large bowl and fill with cool water. Let the leeks sit for a few minutes, swishing them around occasionally to dislodge any dirt or sand.

Heat the skillet with the fat in it over medium-high. Gently lift the leeks out of the water, shaking off excess moisture, and add them to the pan. Cook the leeks, stirring and scraping the pan frequently with a metal spatula until they reduce in volume and begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Turn the flame down to medium low and continue cooking the leeks until meltingly tender, splashing in wine as needed when the pan looks dry, about 10 more minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Scrape the leeks out of the pan and into a small bowl to set aside.

Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, place the cut sides down, then slice the bulb thinly lengthwise. If you see any dirt or sand inside the layers of fennel, place the pieces in a bowl of water as you did with the leeks to remove any gritty bits. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat to the now-empty skillet and warm over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is golden, adding wine the pan as needed, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and cook the fennel until it is very tender, stirring occasionally, 5-10 more minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.

Assemble and bake the tart:
Spread the parmesan over the bottom of the crust. Scatter the bacon pieces over the cheese. Spread the leeks over the bacon, and finally arrange the fennel over the leeks.

In a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs to combine thoroughly. Whisk in the half and half, cream, salt and pepper. Pour the custard mixture over the tart.

Bake the tart in a 350º oven until set, the edges are slightly puffed, and there's no wet liquid if you peek under a piece of fennel in the center, 50-60 minutes.

Let the tart cool to warm, 30 minutes or so. Cut into wedges and serve warm. The tart is best the day it is baked, but will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Re-warm before enjoying.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Vittles


My family never had many traditions around holiday fare – or maybe I was just too blinded by the greed of gift-getting to notice. There was the time that I decided to make 10 different kinds of truffles to give as gifts, but that was not a tradition worth repeating by my tired, grumpy self. However, I can totally get behind (other) people whipping themselves into a cookie-baking, booze-mixing, hors d'oeuvres munching frenzy and I am here to enable you to do just that with a collection of snacks, treats and libations from this very site.

Triple Ginger Molasses Cookies, three ways

Why not start things off right with a glass of creamy Eggnog? It's perfumed with sweet vanilla bean and peppery nutmeg, and (optionally) (very) boozy.


If you're looking for something to warm you to your toes, add a shot of rum or whisky to a steaming mug of Masala Chai (a favorite of ours lately).


Get your guests hooked on Herbed Cheese Straws (a.k.a Crack Sticks)


and Lentil Walnut Pâté.


Consider ending a festive meal with Persimmon Puddings,


Cranberry Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread,


Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake


or Sticky Date Pudding.


A mason jar filled with homemade granola would make a welcome gift; choose from Maple Almond,


Chocolate,


or Honey Cardamom.


Give new meaning to the term 'fruit cake' and spread cheer in the form of Tangerine Olive Oil Pound Cakes instead.


Wow anyone on your gift list with a box of Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Bars


or Buttercrunch Toffee.


Sticky Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns, made with Pumpkin Challah dough, are a luxurious way to start both Chanukah and Christmas mornings.


As for cookies, some of my favorites include:
Rosemary Pine Nut Biscotti


Maple Bacon Sugar Cookies


Cardamom Snickerdoodles


and Triple Chocolate Chile Cookies


For more cookies (even some gluten-free/vegan ones) see the recipe index (which was designed by Genius Jay, and is the second nicest gift anyone's ever given me).


Happy Holidays!