Nectarine-custard tart

July 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Houses stacked on top of each other, walls touching, vines wrapped around balconies as if to protect the inhabitants from the streets, which are invariably delicately smudged with dirt and garbage and fallen fruits from the trees above. Buses are packed full of businessmen and women, middle-school children who giggle obnoxiously loudly and 30something men who casually sit in the back and make you distinctly uncomfortable with just one look. This, in my eyes, is a city. Here, I see people at three times of the day, 8:50 a.m., lunchtime, and 5 p.m. During those times, the pristine metro is packed, the streets bustle with people in a rush to get to their destination — which alternates between the office, the restaurants, and home — and for a brief moment, I am reminded of home. During the other times, I am shocked by the empty streets, surrounded by 6 story buildings with glass walls, housing cubicles, and, if you’re lucky, large personal offices. Washington D.C. seems to me a city made to be a city but not much else. Maybe I am just shocked by a city government that actually keeps the sidewalks clean and the streets drivable, but there is so much vapid, empty space here and it makes me uncomfortable.

Yesterday, I took the metro up to Friendship Heights after work. I wanted new baking pans from Williams Sonoma so that I could finally bake in shapes other than a 9-inch circle and a brownie pan. I picked up a long, rectangular tart pan, a couple mini tartlet molds and a set of four 5-inch spring-form cake pans, which are super adorable. Then I decided that since I was on Wisconsin Ave. anyway, I might as well walk home. I had no idea how far it was until I was halfway home (I checked on the metro maps at all the bus stops, yet somehow did not get on a bus) and I had already been walking for 40 minutes. When I finally got home, I decided a run was unnecessary and went right to breaking in one of the new pans.

I was really excited to use my new rectangular tart pan. At home, the Boulangerie Bay Bread makes all their tarts as rectangles and sells them by the slice. I used to love their thick slices of flan after school. Nothing other than a traditional tart would do to christen my new pan. I made a traditional flaky crust with just a smidgen of sugar, layered a bit of almond flour at the bottom, then topped it with a creamy vanilla custard. As soon as the custard was mostly set in the oven, I topped the tart with a layer of fresh nectarines, gently dusted with cinnamon sugar and turned the broiler on. The sweet custard, juicy, tart nectarines, and crackled, golden, sugar topping made this tart a true winner.

I wish I could post better pictures of the tart. Unfortunately, blogging from this house is becoming incredibly difficult. Often, I get home around 8 p.m., spend about an hour deliberating over what to make and crossing out recipes for which I don’t have half of the ingredients. When I finally get something out of the oven, it is too dark to get a reasonable picture. The biggest hurdle is getting through the night; there has been many a time when I wake up the next morning, intending to get a good picture in the daylight, only to find that whatever it was I left out on the counter has been devoured by my housemates. When there is a tiny sliver left to photograph, I run into camera problems. My own camera is still chilling somewhere next to the IRAs race course in Camden, NJ or (equally likely) being enjoyed by the clever person who managed to steal it at the regatta.

Flaky Tart Dough
Adapted from Tartine

1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and keep in fridge until ready to use.
Add the flour to the work bowl. Cut butter into 1″ chunks and scatter across the top of the flour. Pulse briefly until you have large crumbs. (I don’t use a food processor and instead do this with my hands) Add the cold water/salt mixture and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still see chunks of butter (about pea size).
On a floured surface, divide the dough into two balls, shape into disks 1″ thick (work the dough as little as possible). Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make the custard:
3 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups milk

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt until smooth and frothy. In a saucepan, warm the milk until just before boiling. Add the milk to the bowl and whisk until combined. Pour the custard mixture into the tart pan.

Assembling the tart:
Take the tart shell out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle a generous layer of almond meal over the inside bottom of the shell; this will help absorb the moisture from the custard and prevent a soggy crust. Pour the custard mixture into the shell and brush the side of the tart with an egg white. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the middle of the tart is set. Remove the tart from the oven, layer with thin slices of nectarine and sprinkle (sparingly) with cinnamon sugar. Put the tart back into the oven under the broiler on HI for a couple minutes or until the top is just starting to brown.

A day in the park to remember: Lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake

June 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

There are few things that feel more comfortable than afternoon picnics in your hometown, especially when surrounded by old friends. In fact, picnics are possibility one of my favorite activities and I don’t know why we don’t have them more often. A couple weeks ago, a friend and I snatched up a reunion brunch and decided to skip out on the popular brunch restaurants in San Francisco and hold our own little picnic in Dolores Park. It has been quite awhile since then, as it was the day before I left for New York City, but it was the perfect ending to an extended stay at home. We ate our homemade bagels, muffins, salad and fruit, and this wonderful lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake on the grass before going to Philz Coffee, which makes every cup of coffee individually, for a full cream, no sugar Mocha Tesora.

You did read correctly that we made our own bagels for the picnic. But more on that later. The black horse of the spread was the lemon bread, which really stole the limelight. It is a yeasted loaf, made by stacking layers of sweet dough with lemon zest, butter and sugar. It billowed up in the oven, creating really pretty layers of sweet bread with a bright, sunny yellow punch. One bite of this and you will never look at ordinary cinnamon coffeecake again.

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake
Flo Braker, Baking for All Occasions, Chronicle Books, 2008

For the sweet yeast dough
About 2 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces) whole milk
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the lemon paste filling

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

For the tangy cream cheese icing
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Make the sweet yeast dough
Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F [49 to 54°C]), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) of the remaining flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.

Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F [21°C]) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. While the dough is rising, make the filling.

Make the lemon paste filling
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests. Set the sandy-wet mixture nearby (the sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create the consistency).

Make the coffee cake

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Or, lightly coat the pan with nonstick spray.

Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle it with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.

Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (While there is plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips widthwise in the pan, fitting the strips lengthwise is tight. But that’s fine because the spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F [21°C]) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.

Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make the tangy cream cheese icing

In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

To remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the coffee cake, invert the cake onto the rack, and carefully lift off the pan. Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack.

Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it. (Cover and refrigerate the leftover icing for another use. It will keep for up to 2 days.)

Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature. To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don’t attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.

L’imagination au pouvoir: Almond Cake

April 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spring is finally here, albeit through the random bursts of rain showers and thunders. Yesterday we were standing at the door of Rosana’s, ready to leave, after picking up last minute necessities for lawnparties, when the clouds burst. I realize I don’t have a very standard definition of last minute, lawnparties are after all over a week away. But per usual, the dress was bought a couple weeks ago, the obnoxious sun hat scored last week (finally!). Fake eyelashes were picked up on a whim for formals right around the time everyone else started thinking about maybe finding a dress. And that’s just how I work. I’m a big believer in themes and an even bigger fan of in your face, impression-making, big-impact themes. So while it may just be formals, for me it’s about the entire outfit.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how excited I am to no longer be wearing drab colors. I didn’t realize outfits could be coordinated to the season until I came out here. I’m excited for yellow, flowery prints, my new summer boots (yes, ask and I’ll show you they exist) and the ten-thousand pairs of sunglasses that have been chilling in my desk for months. And then, I’m excited of this cake because what says spring more than a light, French almond cake dusted with powdered sugar and served with berry compote?

I made this for my French class as part of a presentation on the development of French cuisine through the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a favorite of David Lebovitz, who is my favorite. I once made his lemon curd to go alongside a lemon cake and ended up eating it by the spoonful straight from the pan on the stove. Please go check out David’s site for the full story behind the recipe.

Almond Cake

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup almond paste (not marzipan)
10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (this is a LOT of butter, over half a pound. It lends a lot of moisture to the cake but I may try cutting it down to 8 ounces next time to decrease the prominent buttery taste of the cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (next time I think I’ll try using some almond flour in place)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position the rack to the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up (the sugar crystals helps break the paste into pieces-so don’t add the butter yet!)

3. Now add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, or a measuring cup with a spout, stir together the eggs with a fork then dribble it into the batter as you beat. Add the vanilla.

4. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just incorporated.

5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The baking time may take a but longer due to the variation in different brands of almond paste.

Cool the cake on a rack before serving. This cake is extremely moist and will keep well for up to a week if well-wrapped.

This one takes the cake: Pear upsidedown gingerbread

April 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is the best cake I have ever made. Do not take that lightly. A dense, spicy gingerbread cake topped with thin slices of apples in ooey, gooey, caramelized sugar. This is the type of cake you can make equally as the grand finale to a fancy dinner party or as the cake that sits on the kitchen counter and gets slowly devoured, one sliver or bite at a time. This is the cake I will make over and over again every winter. This is the cake I will forgive for stealing the spotlight from my first ever pumpkin pie. And of course, this is a gingerbread cake deserving of a post well into spring, when all things molasses and pear seem to have gone out of season.

It’s equally good made with apples. Both apples and pears are a good recovery food for athletes. So allow the lightweight athlete in me make the claim that this cake is excellent recovery food. It’s also wonderful served with a dollop of maple whipped cream.

The recipe comes from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery. It can be found here.

Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook

For the topping:
3 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
4-5 medium to large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered lengthwise

For the batter:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs peeled, grated ginger
3 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a 10-inch circle of parchment paper.

To make the topping, combine 3 Tbs butter, ½ cup brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat for about 1 minute; then pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan, completely coating the parchment paper. Place the quartered pears on top of the butter-sugar mixture, lining the pieces up tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.

To make the batter, cut 2 sticks of butter into 1-inch pieces, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add ¾ cup brown sugar, and cream the mixture on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until it is smooth and a pale tan color. Add the grated ginger, and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed and making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. When all the eggs have been added, slowly pour in the molasses and beat to fully mix. The mixture will look as though it is “breaking” or curdling, but don’t worry—it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.

In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine.

Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, stirring and folding with a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just absorbed. Do not overmix the batter. Pour and scrape the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a rubber surface. The pan will be nearly full.

Carefully transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven, and bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cover the pan with an upside-down serving plate; then carefully invert them together. Release the sides of the pan, and lift it away. Gently lift the pan’s base off the cake, and peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool for a half hour or so, and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Just a note, this cake does not work equally well as cupcakes. The sugar topping becomes unequally distributed and overpowers the smaller amount of fruit on each cake.

Mommy aren’t you proud? sugar cookies

April 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

Watching isn’t really the same as doing. I’ve now realized that I may have a problem with my life goal of being a soccer mom, minus the small detail of really wanting to be a hockey mom. This weekend I played my hand at being a crew mom, after having to sit out on the racing. I ran around the race course taking pictures, cheering and updating the team Twitter site with race results. It’s such a power trip to think that Row2k actually cares about my texts. So maybe actually watching the races wasn’t really my thing but the power trip? Yes. And feeding 20 lightweight girls post weigh-ins? Double check.

These orange and black sugar cookies were super yummy and super in theme. I used the sugar cookie recipe from my first cookie book, The Christmas Cookie Book by Lou Seibert Pappas. I’ve used it so much that the book is coming apart at the edges and is now mostly a disorganized stack of colorful recipes and pictures. The recipe for Frosty Snowmen originally calls for lemon zest and a lemon glaze, which is absolutely marvelous (and featured on the cookie plate every single Christmas). I made hearts, stars and flowers and dipped half of each cookie in chocolate instead. A mixture of yellow and red sugar sprinkles gave some orange sparkle on top.

Here’s the original recipe with my variations in parentheses:

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (I left this out)
2 ¼ cups all-puspose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

The optional lemon glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Framboise or water

Cream together the sugar, butter, egg yolk and lemon zest until light. Add the flour and salt and mix to form a dough. Gather in a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes until firm.

Roll out the dough 3/16 inch thick on a flat surface and cut using a cookie cutter of your choice. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to the racks to cool.

To make the glaze, mix together the sugar, lemon juice and Framboise, adding extra water to reach the desired consistency. I find that a simple squiggle of glaze on each cookie is enough to make the lemon flavor pop but feel free to ice the entire surface.

I tend to like to underbake cookies so they have a slight chew in the middle. However, if you bake these cookies a little past golden brown, they develop a subtle caramel taste, which is appealing without the glaze. The cookies are light, so be sure to only dip half in chocolate as a full chocolate dip would be overpowering.

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