Tuesday, September 27, 2011

{TWD} Flip Over Plum Cake

There's something very special about cooked plums. Raw, plums are fine, although not my favorite fruit by a long shot. But cooked? Plums become a completely different fruit. The flavor intensifies and the texture almost melts. Paired with the right ingredients, plums make spectacular desserts. What's more, lovely plum desserts are perfect for transitioning from summer to fall baking, which makes this week's assigned recipe, Flip Over Plum Cake, very timely.

The Tuesdays With Dorie baking group has baked with plums in the past. In 2009 we made the Dimply Plum Cake, and my I enjoyed the cake so much I actually posted a follow-up to the original post. I couldn't fathom why Dorie would include another plum cake in her book, nor could I imagine how it would be different or that it could be better.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Becky of Project Domestication chose Flip-Over Plum Cake and will have the recipe on her blog today.

- Dorie says that the cake is a cross between a cake and a pudding. As I was preparing the recipe for this "cake" it reminded me of the southern-type of cobbler - where you make a batter and scatter fruit on the top and as it bakes in the oven, the fruit sinks to the bottom.

- In addition to flour and milk and butter, the batter for this cake is made with ground cinnamon, ginger, vanilla extract, almond extract, and a surprise ingredient, ground coriander.

the verdict:

This was an amazing fruit dessert. The plums get jammy and flavorful, and the addition of the spices to the batter elevate this one above the simple cobbler (or cake). It's one of the best fruit desserts in Dorie's book. In fact, we liked this as well, or better, than our old favorite, the dimply plum cake!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

{TWD} Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads

Is there any flavor combination more classic than salt + pepper? In recipes and at the table, the two stick pretty close together; in fact, it is considered bad etiquette to pass one at table without the other. Never separate "the twins"!

Although it seems that the two have been paired for all eternity, it turns out the 17th century French can take the credit for elevating the status of pepper and putting it with salt, familiar from ancient times. Separately, salt and pepper are intensely savory and assertively spicy, respectively. But they really shine when they're together; they complete each other to wake up the flavors of the food they visit.

This week the Tuesdays With Dorie bakers were treated to Dorie Greenspan's spin on the traditional combination; the assigned recipe was Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads. I love salt and pepper in sweets, although they usually appear separately, so I was excited to try these cookies.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Tia of Buttercream Barbie chose these cookies, and if you click over to her shortbread post, you can find the recipe.

- When I first heard of these cookies, I thought they were just salt and pepper shortbread. And they sounded really good. Then I realized they were salt and pepper COCOA shortbread. Oh. That still sounded fine, but not as good as a basic shortbread amped up with salt and pepper treatment. It turns out that my baking buddy Phyl had the same idea; he baked one batch with cocoa and one batch without, and reported that he actually preferred the non-chocolate version. I got a little lazy and baked them with the cocoa, as conceived by Dorie.

- The cookies were simple to put together, and the dough chilled for several hours in the refrigerator until they could be formed for baking. Rather than making the shortbread as refrigerator slice-and-bake cookies, I piled all the dough into a medium tart ring and baked the shortbread that way.

- My daughter ALE had baked these cookies when she first got her copy of Dorie's book, and had told me that the salt and pepper flavors were relatively mild. Based on her advice I increased the quantity of both salt and of pepper that I used in the dough. And just before baking, I sprinkled fleur de sel and coarse pepper over the top of the shortbread.

- When making shortbread in a pan, it's helpful to score it with a bench scraper or knife before baking, and then, after it's baked, cut along the score lines while the shortbread is still hot from the oven.

- I served at a meeting of my book group, accompanied by some of David Lebovitz's Black Pepper Ice Cream, which I previousl posted here.

the verdict:

The shortbread was fairly crumbly when warm, but settled down nicely by the next day. As for the taste, on first bite I thought, "these are interesting, if a bit odd." The next bite was pretty good, and thereafter I found the shortbread curiously addictive. I thought - and my book club tasters agreed - that the cookies were especially delicious paired with the black pepper ice cream. The creamy cool pepperiness of the ice cream mellowed the salty, dry, chocolatey pepperiness of the shortbread. Except for the crumbly nature of the shortbread, the combination would be a delicious ice cream sandwich. As it was, I just balanced a bite of each on the spoon and ate it that way.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plum Caprese Salad

My dad was an inveterate reader of newspapers. He subscribed to at least 4 papers at any given time, and he was rarely, if ever, seen without a folded section of newspaper stuck in his back pocket. He took great delight in finding articles of interest to his relatives and friends; in fact, when my siblings and I grew up and left home my parents reserved a desk drawer for each of us, just to hold newspaper clippings. Every time I visited my parents I'd open my drawer to find a stack of newsprint articles with my name scrawled in pen across the top margin.

Some of my favorite recipes are ones that my father unearthed in the newspaper, usually the New York Times. My own newspaper reading is spotty, but I rarely miss perusing the Food section of any paper that's in front of me. A few weeks ago, I was shuffling the sections of the weekend Wall Street Journal, and on the front of the Off Duty section I noticed an article about the many uses of the herb basil. It was written by none other than Dorie Greenspan, and was complete with several appetizing recipes. I immediately pulled out the ingredients for a fanciful Basil, Mozzarella, and Plum Salad. This is, in essence, the old standby, caprese salad, but, in a stroke of genius, Dorie substitutes plums for the traditional tomatoes.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the article and recipe here.

- The first step in the recipe is to make basil oil, which is not difficult but takes a bit of time to infuse.

- Once the basil oil is steeped, it is used in two ways. It's tossed with salad greens, and it's also stirred into a mixture of plums, mozzarella, torn basil, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, salt and pepper. The salad is assembled by spooning the plum/mozzarella mixture over the greens.

- We had some non-plum eaters around our dinner table the evening I served this salad, so I made theirs a traditional caprese salad with tomatoes instead of the plums.

the verdict:

This salad is both surprisingly beautiful and unusually delicious. It's a wonderful transitional salad - perfect for the end of summer/early autumn, when stone fruit is plentiful, and fresh basil is readily available.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

{TWD} Classic Brownies

One thing I'm glad I did when my two daughters were young was to cook and bake with them. From the time the girls could stand next to me on a stool in the kitchen, they got to measure, pour, and stir ingredients, not to mention licking the spoon and the bowl. I can't say I had them join me in the kitchen from any conscious life plan, but it has played out beautifully. Each of the girls is culinarily confident and more than competent.

My older daughter, ALE, chronicles her domestic adventures on her blog Friends and Hammers - she bakes marvelous bread and I can never get enough of her homemade jams. My younger daughter, JDE, is the one who started me on the Tuesdays With Dorie path more than three years ago, and she is equally talented in preparing savory or sweet dishes. So when she heads into the kitchen, I know we are in for a treat!

Case in point: JDE came into the kitchen on one recent morning and offered to bake something. What luck! I pointed her to this week's TWD assignment, Classic Brownies, and she took it from there.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- These brownies were chosen by Anne, of the blog Anne Strawberry. Her post has the recipe and four different brownie variations, too!

- Dorie's recipe calls for walnuts in the brownies, but these were baked by my daughter, and when the baker doesn't want nuts, the brownies don't get nuts.

- We were planning to make a half batch, but when we saw the relatively modest quantity of ingredients and the 8-inch pan, we opted for a full batch. I'm glad we did; they are not super tall brownies. If you're planning to feed several people, I'd definitely double the recipe.

- As always, the trusty King Arthur Flour Divot Test proved that the brownies were perfectly done.

the verdict:

These brownies are chocolatey and rich. They were not not quite as fudgy as I like, but I'm pretty sure that an overnight stint in the fridge would remedy that. As it turned out, we scarfed down just a few of these, and popped the rest in the freezer. I'm guessing that they will be denser and fudgier after they thaw. While these are not my very favorite brownies (that honor goes to these or these) they were a solid, classic, brownie, sure to please folks on most parts of the brownie-loving spectrum. And the best part? Not only did JDE bake these and share them with me, she left my kitchen spotless after baking!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

{TWD} Chocolate Spice Cookies

Sweets that are quickly made have a solid place in my baking repertory; they are perfect for late-notice guests or to finish a more complicated dinner. One of the virtues of the Swedish Visiting Cake, for example, besides the universally appealing flavor, is that it is simple to throw in the oven. Our family butterscotch brownie recipe is super-fast. It's hard to beat the speed of my stand-by cobbler recipe. I make mental notes of those things that I can put together on a moment's notice, even memorizing the easy recipes. Do you?

Cookies are rarely difficult, but they can take a bit of time to form each one, and to bake in successive cookie sheet-fuls in the oven. So fast recipes for cookies are welcome finds. This week's assignment for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is Chocolate Spice Quickies. An intriguing name for a cookie: promising speed and spice in the same recipe.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This week's hostess is Jessica of the blog My Baking Heart. To find the recipe, click over to her post, and to see how other bakers make these cookies, check here for their links.

- I made 1/2 recipe, and got about 20 cookies. These are petite little things, so they all fit on one baking sheet.

- The recipe gives a choice of cloves or allspice for the spice. I used cloves because I found them first in my spice cabinet.

- Rather than grinding almonds in the food processor, I used almond meal from Bob's Red Mill.

- I'm not sure why Dorie chose the recipe's title: these are no quicker than any other cookie; slower actually, if you count in letting the butter warm to room temperature, melting and cooling the chocolate, and the substantial chilling time before the cookies can be sliced and baked. They weren't difficult or super-time-consuming, but I wouldn't call them quick. In fact, I was baking madeleines at the same time and they were much faster and simpler.

the verdict:

These cookies didn't exactly deliver on either promise of their name: not only were they were no quicker than other cookies but the spice was almost undetectable. No matter, though, because they were addictive little morsels, tender yet chewy, and quite chocolatey. They were a bit like Dorie's World Peace Cookies (also slice and bake and chocolate) but not as sturdy and without the studded pieces of chocolate.