December 8, 2010 § 1 Comment
There are few things that make me happier than a group of rail-thin French women cooing with delight and diving into slices of a warm American pecan pie for their petit gouter alongside steaming cups of thé vert. Or when they profess to adore carrot cake, cream cheese frosting and all, and suggest I open up an American style bakery in Paris, because they just know it would be a huge success. Indeed there are several American-style places here, if you want to search out bagels and brownies — which seem to be the main focus — but few places to buy ingredients with which to make your favorite American treats. It’s surprising what Americans seem to feel they need imported — the likes of Betty Crocker icings in all flavors, yellow cake mixes, and colored marshmallows, although I think it was the French girls that were cooing over those in the Etats-Unis aisle of La Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marché.
But it was on that aisle that I finally found Grandma’s molasses and ordinary corn syrup, which are both still practically unheard of here. Actually I take that back. The minute you say corn syrup here, you get a quick intake of breath and a mumbled “c’est pas bon pour la santé” as if the pound of butter dumped in every French dish is bon pour la santé. So needless to say, you don’t see any French women dumping the container of corn syrup into their tarte fillings — because tart is the closest approximation I can find to pie — but they won’t hesitate to eat it when it’s placed in front of them in the form of this gooey-still-warm-from-the-oven tart that the little American girl brought in this morning. Because, eating is, afterall, about indulgence.
This pecan pie — or pecan squares as they go in my house — is a classic on my family’s Thanksgiving table. It has a strong molasses flavor and is packed full of pecans, avoiding that gooey, far-too-sweet layer of sugar and corn syrup that many pecan pies pack in the middle. Nothing horrifies me more than a badly made pecan pie, with a thick layer of cooked sugar and a sprinkling of nuts on top. I may have Frenchified the classic a bit by making a tart crust with a generous amount of sugar and egg, instead of the simple butter-and-flour combo my dad uses, and baking it in a fluted, rectangular tart pan instead of a brownie pan.
But either way, this is the way to go come Thanksgiving (or for me, come breakfast) no matter where you live. A couple of weeks late to the Thanksgiving post, but there you go. Now excuse me while I eat the last piece with my cup of tea for breakfast. Can’t be worse for you than a café crème with a half a baguette, split down the middle and spread liberally with butter right?
Adapted from Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (or half unsulphered molasses, half corn syrup)
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecan pieces
One recipe of Pasta Frolla pastry dough or simply use your fingers to combine cold butter and flour until you achieve a shortbread-like consistency.
If using a crust made of just butter and flour (combine until crumbly and the dough stips together when you press it with your fingertips), bake pastry shell until golden (about 10-20 minutes) at 350 degrees Farenheit.
If using the Pastra Frolla, there is no need to pre-bake the pastry shell, just follow the directions here and press the rolled-out dough into the tart pan and fill.
Make sure your tart shell has no little holes as the filling with leak and burn in your oven.
Melt butter over the stovetop and set aside. Combine eggs and sugar. Add corn syrup, salt, bourbon, butter, and vanilla. Stir in pecans. Pour the filling into the pastry shell. Bake until mostly set at 350 degrees Farenheit, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Let cool before cutting.
August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
When I made the decision to start eating healthy again, I never imagined what would be the first cake recipe to fall in my lap. It is almost as if fate meant for me to make a diet change right at that very instant, meant for me to sort through our bins of whole grain flours, meant for me to skip right over the white sugar—and even the brown sugar, and land on a jar of unsulfured molasses. It meant for me to be browsing 101 Cookbooks at that very minute and open I recipe I had never thought to open before, despite the many times I have scoured the site for wholesome baked goods and sorted though dinner recipes, even knowing that I would never cook them because, let’s face it, I don’t cook. But at that very moment, I opened up this recipe for Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake and I knew the palate had changed.
If you do not love molasses, I suggest you stop here. This cake is not for you. It is entirely sweetened with molasses, which lends it a deep, dark color, so dark in fact you would swear it’s chocolate on looking at it. But that first bite, through the crunch of the walnut topping, reveals that that darkness is not chocolate at all. And you are not disappointed at the discovery. Because just when you thought someone so healthy could not be so deeply satisfying, you take another bite of cake and the flavors that were so unexpected in the first bite become wonderfully addicting in the second. It’s rustic, it’s hearty, it’s not for the faint-hearted (in the flavor sense of the idea, not in the butter content) and it’s, dare I say it, pretty quaint. And it’s one of those cakes that you have to cut off three tablespoons of butter from the stick, instead of just throwing the entire stick (or two) in the bowl. Have you ever noticed that most recipes call for either ½ cup or 1 cup of butter, conveniently the size of a stick of butter or two? I wonder who came up with that. Was it the recipe writers or the butter packagers?
But back on subject, you should make this cake. With more blueberries than I used, because blueberries have a habit of disappearing (read: I have a habit of eating them by the handful) when I am baking with them. And with the chopped walnuts on top, though I think many other nuts would do, sprinkled with (okay, I admit it) maybe a teaspoon of brown sugar. And bake it in one of your prettiest pans, because this cake deserves it.
This cake accompanied me to my old high school’s English office, alongside my travel journal, which I have been jamming full of sights, restaurants and many, many bakeries, to visit during the coming year. I have a Paris section (of course) and a Provence section (of course). And then there is Venice and Wales and Barcelona. And so many others that I am afraid I am trying to go everywhere, but I just can’t pick up a travel magazine and not want to go everywhere it writes about. I wonder if the French like molasses. I packed a jar of peanut butter and another of maple syrup, but now I am on the plane wondering if I needed to bring molasses too. I hope not.
Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons milk (divided)
1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted
1 1/2 cups blueberries, frozen (I freeze fresh berries)
1 teaspoon flour
For the topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or a small rectangular pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl combine the molasses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the cider vinegar mixture into the molasses mixture, then whisk in the eggs.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the butter. Fold the blueberries, tossed with the small amount of flour, into the batter. Top the batter with the chopped walnuts and sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about thirty minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
June 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
Awhile ago I mentioned that my family had started baking our own bread. While I was home we made a couple loaves a week, the first being a molasses rye bread and the second a honey whole-wheat walnut bread. I can now honestly say that I do not think I will ever be scared of yeast again. It’s like a baby. Set it in a bowl with a little warm water and a sugar to consume and it will grow, flourish, and make beautiful, tall loaves of bread. To be eaten right out of the oven, still warm and slathered in butter. Bread is one of those wonderful foods whose smell just radiates the feeling of being home. I think it will be the first thing I make in my new house in Washington D.C. (I just moved in two days ago!).