Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Reverie: Fig Gallette

Have you ever seen or tasted something that makes you miss a time or place in a visceral, gut wrenching way? So much so that your breath catches and you feel a little queasy? Figs are one of my triggers. Just seeing them conjures up childhood memories of steamy summers and fruit laden trees ringed with fallen, rotting figs half eaten by squirrels and giving off the cloyingly sweet smell of overripe fruit on the verge of decomposition. 

Figs make me think of my Granny’s little white house in rural southern Alabama. A red dirt road leads up to and wraps around Granny's house which perches on top of a hill. We took to calling it Hart Hill after the family surname. Granny’s gone now and the house on the hill is no longer white but the imagery in my mind remains the same.

My memories of home are often evocative in such a manner. I refer to home as the cumulative places and people that informed the experiences that shaped my childhood. Granny’s house in Alabama is as much a part of home for me as the Florida beach community where I grew up. I’m not sentimental enough to invoke such sayings much, but I guess home really is where the heart is.
When I saw some pretty figs at the market last week, a flood of memories came to me. Memories of Granny, of course, and then of a conversation I had with my mom recently. She was telling me that Aunt Shelley, for whom I’m named, has been picking and canning like a mad woman. Her blueberry and fig trees are full of fruit and she’s been racing to put it all up before it goes to waste.

If I were home, I’d help my Aunt with the picking and then I’d bake a fig tart for her and mom. We’d drink coffee (never mind that it would be as hot as Hades outside this time of year) while we lingered over dessert and gossiped about other family members. While I know this won’t be possible as I’m not going to make it home before fig season is over, it’s nice to daydream while I savor a piece of fig gallette.

Fig Gallette
Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

I only picked up one pound of small sized figs at the market as they were fairly pricey so I divided the dough and made two smaller gallettes- one fig and another with blueberries and a few blackberries that I already had on hand. I think two pounds of figs would be sufficient for a 12 inch gallette but make your own call based on the size of the fruit available. I pinched David’s idea of drizzling honey over the figs after baking from his recipe for a fig and raspberry tart.
1 ½ c all purpose flour
1 T sugar + 1 T additional for crust
½ t salt
½ c unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces
6 T ice water

2-3 lbs ripe figs, quartered

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. Add the chilled butter cubes and use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the mixture is the size of large corn kernels. Add the ice water all at once, and use the cutter to mix until the dough holds together. Shape dough into a 5 inch disc and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
3. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough into a circle approximately 14 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet.
4. Arrange the sliced figs in concentric circles over the dough round leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the border of the dough over the figs. Brush the folded over dough with melted butter and then sprinkle additional sugar on top.
5. Bake the galette until the figs are tender and the crust has browned, about 30 minutes for a smaller gallette or 45minutes to one hour for a larger gallette. Slide the galette off the parchment paper and onto a wire rack. Drizzle honey over the fig gallette while still warm.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eat your Heart Out Rose Bakery: Mom's Carrot Cake

I've mentioned previously that my mom and her sisters are quite the cake makers, usually in a lament on how a cake I’ve made didn’t turn out as I would have liked. Because practice makes perfect, I decided to challenge myself to keep making cakes until my efforts rivaled theirs. So now every couple of months, I make a cake. Slowly but surely, I’m getting better at cake making.

Mom’s carrot cake is my favorite of all the cakes she makes. Back some time ago, I called her for the recipe and she recited the ingredient list from memory while I hastily scribbled it down on a piece of paper. When I made the cake based on the recipe I had jotted down, the cake layers came out of the oven as flat and heavy as bricks. Thankfully, I had prepared the cream cheese icing while the cakes were baking so I ate it by the spoonful while consoling myself over my failed attempt at what logically should be my birthright. The icing helped but it still stuck in my craw that I couldn’t even make my own mother’s prize recipe.
I decided to do some research before making another attempt so I pulled out Rose Bakery’s cookbook Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, which includes their carrot cake recipe. I noticed right off the bat that Rose Bakery’s recipe listed both baking soda and baking powder. My mom’s recipe, as I had transcribed when she recited it to me, only called for baking soda. Immediately, I suspected that the lack of baking powder was the culprit in my previous foiled attempt.

When I called Mom to ask about the ommission, she responded that she did use baking powder. Apparently, either she made a mistake when relaying the recipe to me or I wrote it down wrong. I’d prefer to say it was the former rather than the latter but since I get my tendency for forgetfulness from my mom, it could have easily gone either way. 
Last weekend, I pulled the now revised recipe back out again. Much better results this time and Eric assured me my cake was just as good as Mom’s. I liked it, but to me, it just didn’t taste as good as my mom’s cake. Maybe that’s just ‘cause nothing ever tastes as good as when Mom makes it.

Happy Birthday Mom! I wish I could be there to eat cake with you.

Mom’s Carrot Cake

Rose Bakery may be known for their carrot cake, but it doesn’t hold a candle to my mom’s carrot cake. I found their carrot cake not quite sweet enough and the icing to cake ratio was far too low for my liking. Mom’s carrot cake is light, fragrant, super moist, and always delectable. Its sweet, but not terribly so, and she uses pecans in her cake. To me, this quintessentially southern cake calls for a southern nut like a pecan. What are those crazy English/French people at Rose Bakery thinking using walnuts? I did adopt Rose Bakery’s use of sunflower oil to sub for the vegetable oil that Mom’s recipe calls for. Either oil works just fine so use whatever you have on hand. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m thinking about using clarified butter in lieu of the oil. If anyone has tried such, let me know. I’d love to know how it turned out.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups grated carrots (approximately 6 medium sized carrots)
1 cup roughly chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Icing
1 stick butter
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup finely chopped pecans for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit and butter and flour two nine-inch or three eight-inch cake pans lined with parchment paper.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Add the eggs to the bowl of an electric mixer. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and on medium-high speed, begin to beat the eggs, then gradually pour in the sugar. Continue to beat until the mixture lightens and begins to look fluffy. Pour in sunflower oil and continue to beat for another couple of minutes.
4. Take the bowl off of the mixer stand and, by hand, use a spatula to fold the carrots in. Then fold in sifted flour mixture and last, fold in pecans.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 35-40 minutes or until done. To test if done, a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake pan should look clean and dry when removed. 
6. While the cake layers are baking, wash and dry the mixer bowl and paddle attachment and refit on the machine. In the mixer, prepare the icing by beating the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until well combined. Add the confectioner sugar and vanilla and continue to beat on high speed until all ingredients are fully combined and the icing is a smooth consistency.
7.  When the cake layers are done, remove from oven to cooling racks. When fully cooled, assemble the layers and ice the cake.
8. Coat the sides of the cake with finely chopped pecan pieces by placing a small amount of nuts in the palm of your hand and gently pressing onto cake until all sides are fully covered. It helps to do this with the cake set on a cooling rack over a sheet pan to catch any nuts that fall off of the sides. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Celebrating National Ice Cream Month: Crema Ice Cream with Blackberry Sauce

In case you were wondering what to do with the four egg yolks left over from Jan’s Famous Biscotti recipe, ice cream is the perfect solution. Crema refers to cream and this ice cream really allows the flavors of cream and milk to shine. I made this ice cream with non-homogenized, low temperature pasteurized cream from Way Back When, a local dairy. Whatever cream you’re using, taste it beforehand to make sure you like it or you won’t like the flavor of this ice cream.

While it is delicious alone, I made a blackberry sauce to complement the ice cream. I couldn’t resist these berries when I saw them at the farmer’s market, despite having been disappointed in a couple of pints of too tart berries I picked up earlier in the season. This time I sampled the goods before buying and they were scrumptious. The vendor explained that the blackberry season in Texas is very short and that these were likely the last of the pickings so I’m glad I didn’t pass them by.
In related news, July is National Ice Cream Month and this Sunday, July 18th is National Ice Cream Day, a designation conferred by the late President Regan. Despite his political positions, surely a man who loved Jelly Bellys and ice cream can’t be so bad.  So on Sunday, I’m going to raise a spoonful of ice cream in honor of Ronnie. Thank you Mr. President!

Crema Ice Cream
from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

2 ¼ c heavy cream
1 c whole milk
1/3 c sugar
1/8 teaspoon slat, rounded
4 large egg yolks

instant-read thermometer
ice cream maker

Blackberry Sauce

2 c fresh blackberries
1/4 - 1/2 c superfine sugar

1. Place a strainer over a clean bowl and have it ready near the stove to strain the finished ice cream base. In a saucepan, bring the milk, sugar, and salt to a simmer over medium heat.
2. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks to just combine. Pour the heated milk mixture in a very thin stream into the egg yolks while constantly whisking. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the sauce pan and continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens and reaches 175 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Strain the mixture into the clean bowl to remove any cooked egg. Pour in the cream and stir to combine before covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and allow the base to cool thoroughly for a minimum of 4 hours.
4. Freeze according to your ice cream makers instructions. Transfer the ice cream to an air tight container and place in freezer for 3- 4 hours until the ice cream has set up enough to scoop. If the ice cream gets too hard to scoop, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes to allow it to soften before serving. 
5. While the ice cream is freezing, puree whole blackberries and strain the juice to remove seeds. Add sugar, to taste dependent on the sweetness of the berries, to juice and whisk to combine.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jan's Famous Biscotti

If you aren’t already a biscotti maker, Jan’s recipe will convert you…

I was reminded of Jan’s biscotti recently when an old co-worker emailed me to ask about the recipe. She had tried one of the chocolate iterations I made on the original recipe and remembered it as the only biscotti she had eaten that didn’t turn to mush when dipped in coffee. I used to make these biscotti quite often and can’t fully account for why I’ve lapsed lately. I decided to make a batch to remind myself why they’re so well remembered. And since Dianne was not the first co-worker, friend, or acquaintance who has tried them and inquired about the recipe, I thought it was high time to put it on the blog.

Jan has fed more skeptical eaters (and later converts) these twice baked cookies than I’m sure I can count. The recipe has made the rounds in San Diego several times over and she gave it to me many years ago when I was a newly wed. I’ve been a believer ever since.

(Seeing as how you don’t mess with Sicilians) I got Jan’s permission to share the recipe here, although she modestly won’t claim credit for it. According to her, it’s the culmination of many recipes that she has made over the years and so probably has many contributors. No matter… I still like to refer to them as Jan’s Famous Biscotti. So without further ado…

Jan’s Famous Biscotti

Almost any nut will work in these biscotti but I just happened to have pecans on hand. Adding almonds and subbing almond extract for vanilla is heavenly. Also, if you like chocolate, add 4 ounces of melted, unsweetened chocolate to the dough.

3 c unbleached white flour
1½ c sugar
½ c butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
4 large egg whites
¼ c coffee or milk
2 tsp vanilla
¾ chopped pecans

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment or lightly grease and flour. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and stir to combine well.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, make a meringue by whipping the egg whites until stiff and then gradually pouring in the sugar.
3. Add the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue and then add butter, coffee or milk, and vanilla to make dough. Stir in pecans.
4. Form the dough into 2-3 slightly flattened logs, no more than 1 inch thick. Bake 35-40 minutes until firm. Cool 10 minutes and then cut with a serrated knife into diagonal slices about ¾ inch thick.
5. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the slices back on the baking sheet and bake another 10-15 minutes until dry. 
*Jack is my faithful oven monitor

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Truffle Salted Caramels with Bacon

It is way too hot to be eating caramels this time of year but I’m on a mission. The kind of mission that drives you slap crazy before it’s over so really it’s more like I’m on a tear. Back during that lovely, oh so short period (what we call Spring) in central Texas when the outdoor temperature is pleasantly warm, right before it got hot as h-e-double-hockey-sticks, I made lavender honey caramels and brought some of over to my neighbors to share the wealth.


Nancy liked the caramels so much she decided to make a batch herself. She had the brilliant idea to sprinkle her caramels with truffle salt instead of fleur de sel. As soon as I tasted them, I was hooked. Hooked and sure that the only thing better than truffle salted caramels would be truffle salted caramels with bacon. I couldn’t wait to get started but I probably should have mulled it over a bit before diving in.


Unfortunately, my first attempt was too greasy, overly salted, and spread like butter. I used the same recipe as the lavender honey caramels and subbed bacon for the lavender. They were tasty but were just too much- too truffley, too bacony, too glutinous. So I decided to set the idea aside for a while and let it gel. Over the long July 4th weekend, those caramels kept popping into my head so I knew I needed try again. I browsed through a few cookbooks for another caramel recipe and decided to try out Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from Pure Dessert. I’d yet to make her caramels but she’s never steered me wrong before. As usual, her recipe produced impeccable results. I’m sure I’ll still tweak (just can’t help myself) these caramels but I’ll continue to use her recipe as a base.

Truffle Salted Caramels with Bacon 

adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich


Alice’s recipe called for a little over ¾ t of salt but I like salty caramels so I increased the amount. Also, I would advise against subbing truffle salt for the fleur de sel in the caramel as the truffle flavor is quite strong. I found that just a bit sprinkled on top is more than enough. This recipe can get a bit messy. I got caramel everywhere- to include in my hair and on the ceiling. So worth the mess, though!

1 c golden syrup
2 c sugar
2 t fleur de sel
2 c heavy cream
1 T plus 1 t pure vanilla extract
3 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened
3-4 strips of bacon, crumbled or chopped
½ t truffle salt

8-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer
1. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with two pieces of parchment cut to fit and allow an overlap on each side. Grease the parchment lightly with vegetable oil.
2. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and sea salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Rinse the spatula or spoon so it will be clean for using later.
3. Uncover the pan and wash down the sides using the pastry brush again. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (do not stir) until the mixture reaches 305°F.
4. While the sugar mixture is cooking, heat the cream in a small saucepan until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.
5. When the sugar mixture reaches 305 degrees Fahrenheit, take off the heat and stir in butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream, be very careful as it will bubble up and steam. Turn the burner back on and adjust the heat so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260 degrees Fahrenheit for soft, chewy caramels or 265 degrees Fahrenheit for firmer chewy caramels.
6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the caramel into the lined baking pan. Sprinkle the truffle salt and chopped bacon on top of caramel. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.
7. When firm, lift the caramel from the pan using the overhang and invert the sheet of caramel onto a cutting surface. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife into approximately 1” x 1” pieces.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lavender Honey Ice Cream with Candied Lavender Flower Topping

Many people liken the hill country in central Texas to the hills of Tuscany. I can’t speak to Tuscan comparisons because I’ve yet to make it to Italy; however, the first time I drove through the hill country, I immediately thought of Spain.  The hill country's topography and vegetation looked so familiar to the countryside I remember in Spain. After visiting a local lavender farm, now I’m convinced the hill country looks like the Provence region of France.  Aren’t we lucky to have Italy, Spain, and France in such close proximity?

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the cooler aspects of living in Austin is that you can get in a car and drive an hour or so to any number of delightful little towns. Checking out a barbeque joint we haven’t been to yet is usually our excuse for a day trip, but heading out to the hill country during lavender season was also high on my list (not so much on Eric’s list- next time I’ll have to find some good ‘cue so we can kill two birds with one stone).
We decided to go at the last minute on a Sunday afternoon so I didn’t have time to do much research. I must have picked the first site I found when I Googled “hill county lavender” because, low and behold, the farm we navigated to was called the Hill Country Lavender Farm. It was a sweet but tiny little place- calling it a farm might be a bit of a stretch as the entire field would practically fit in our backyard. Nevertheless, the ladies running the farm stand were sweet and I was able to pick up some really fragrant dried lavender flowers and a little lavender plant that they assured me I couldn’t kill even if I tried. I’m told once the plant is established, it needs very little water and full sun so it should thrive in my un-irrigated, entirely without shade yard. Hmmm… maybe I’ll start a lavender farm and put up a little stand on the corner.  That will give the HOA something to complain about other than parking our boat on the street. Heaven forbid the boat remains on the street even 1 hour over the 24 hour limit or we get one of those annoying warning letters. Apparently the fees we pay every quarter go to such usefulness- who needs a dog park and bike trail?
Since, in addition to lavender season, it is also ice cream season, I made a batch of lavender honey ice cream with a candied lavender flower topping. This ice cream has more of a soft serve consistency, as the use of honey in lieu of sugar makes for a softer ice cream. It literally melts in your mouth!

Lavender Honey Ice Cream
from Chez Panisse Desserts

¾ c honey
2 T dried lavender flowers
1 c half-n-half
2 c whipping cream
6 egg yolks

Candied Lavender Flowers
1/2 c dried lavender flowers
1-2 egg whites
1/2 c superfine sugar
1. To make candied lavender flowers: Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a small paint brush or pastry brush, coat the lavender flowers with egg white. Dip flowers in superfine sugar, shake off excess, and lay on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake 1- 2 hours until thoroughly dry. 
2. To make the ice cream: Place the lavender flowers in a tea ball (or similar) and drop into a small saucepan containing the honey.  Warm the honey and lavender in the sauce pan to allow the lavender flavor to infuse into the honey. Taste the honey after a few minutes to check the strength of the lavender flavor. Warm longer, if needed, until desired taste is reached.
3. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until just broken up. Heat the half-n-half and cream in a medium sauce pan until barely boiling and then pour a little cream into the egg yolks and whisk in.
4. Pour the egg yolk and cream mixture into the saucepan of cream and cook over low heat, while constantly stirring, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a container and stir in the flavored honey.
5. Allow to chill thoroughly before freezing according to your ice cream makers instructions.  Makes approximately 1 quart of ice cream.