Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Blood Orange-Syrup Loaf Cake

Most people who bake have a couple of tried-and-true recipes that they turn to whenever they feel like baking, but aren’t sure what to make or don’t want to experiment too much. For me, one of those cakes is Nigella’s Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake. The cake is quick and easy to make and doesn’t use any fancy ingredients – everything can basically be found in my kitchen at all times. What makes this cake so great is that once the cake is done, you poke a bunch of holes in it and pour the syrup – a mixture of lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar - over it, letting the warm cake absorb all of that sugary goodness. The acidity of the lemon juice provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the sugar and adds a freshness to it, plus adding the syrup keeps the cake moist for days. This is not a fancy cake to serve as dessert at a dinner party, but it’s a wonderful afternoon cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch at One Market with a couple of friends and former co-workers. (I’ve been meaning to write a post about that, but in the meantime you can read what Buttered BlasphAmy had to say about it) Our dessert was a blood orange financier with mascarpone ice cream, and it was truly delicious. A financier, as it turns out, is a type of French pastry, similar to a sponge cake and is usually made with ground almonds. This was my first time eating a financier, and while delicious what stood out for me was the blood orange. On the outside blood oranges can look just like regular oranges, although some of them do have a reddish tint to them. They generally taste sweeter than regular oranges; the flavor has been described as having hints of raspberries, but what really stands out is the color: a deep-red crimson, sometimes almost purple flesh – such a surprise when you cut them open.

So when I got the urge to bake the other day, I decided that since blood oranges are currently in season I would use them instead of lemons in the loaf cake. First, however, I had to track down these elusive crimson globes – not as easy as I thought it would be. My first stop at Safeway yielded nothing, although a nice employee pointed me towards the Cara Cara navel oranges (which can have pinkish-colored flesh, like a pink grapefruit) when I asked for blood oranges and even went so far as to get a knife and slice me a piece of one. While juicy and delicious, it was not what I was looking for; I wanted that crimson interior. Nothing at Trader Joe’s either, but fortunately a trip to Real Food Co. on Fillmore was more successful, and I found blood oranges there of an unknown variety. When I happened to be at Whole Foods the next day I also picked up a few of the Moro variety which is supposed to be the most colorful of the three types of blood oranges.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I cut one open and gazed upon this:

Kinda looks like a regular orange, doesn’t it? Not exactly what I would refer to as “deep maroon interior”, is it now Sunkist? Now, it could be that this particular blood orange was not ripe enough or whatever, but still…not what I was expecting, and certainly not from a product bought at Whole Foods which is always so particular about their produce.

Fortunately, my unknown type from Real Food Co. came through:

That's what I’m talking about! Just look at that color. Truly glorious! This is what the juice looked like when I made the syrup:

Once the cake was baked and out of the oven, I poked it all over to make tiny holes for the syrup to seep into the cake.

And then you pour the syrup over the warm cake:

Now comes the hard part: you wait. This is probably the worst part for me, because you absolutely have to wait until the cake is completely cool before you take it out of the pan and cut it. If you don't, the cake will crumble. Mind you, it will taste just as delicious, but I do recommend waiting, however hard it might be. The cake will be sticky from syrup, but it will be incredibly moist and last for a few days if you wrap it well. (That is, if you don't eat it the whole thing immediately :-)

I was hoping that some of that blood orange color would permeate the cake all the way through, but as you can see it's mostly yellow with a bit of red tint at the top. Nonetheless, it tasted amazing - sweet, but not overly so, although next time I might add a bit of lemon juice or use less sugar in the syrup, since oranges are sweeter than lemons, and you don't want a cloyingly sweet cake.

Blood Orange-Syrup Loaf Cake

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake in How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For the cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
zest of 1 blood orange
1 cup and 1 tablespoon self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk

For the syrup:
Juice of 1 1/2 blood oranges (approx. 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

9 x 5-inch loaf pan, lined with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 F and line the pan with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar first, then add the eggs and blood orange zest, beating them in well. Add the flour flour and salt, folding gently but thoroughly, and then the milk. Spoon into prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. A cake tester should come out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Put blood orange juice and confectioner’s sugar in a small saucepan, cook on a low heat until all the sugar dissolves.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately puncture the cake all over with a cake tester, and pour over the syrup. Make sure that the middle absorbs it as well as the sides. Don't take try to take the cake out of the pan until it is completely cold or it will crumble.

Serves 8-10.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Judy's Mushroom Risotto

Over the years, whenever I would attempt a new dish or dessert, Mr TruffleBird would often ask me if it was difficult. At my level of cooking, things are rarely difficult per se, at least not in terms of technique as I'm not exactly taking part in advanced French cooking, but they can often be time consuming. (So now he knows to ask if a dish was time consuming – quite trainable is that Mr. TruffleBird). Making Danish pastry was probably one of my more difficult undertakings as rolling out pastry dough can be quite tricky and does require some skill in order to attain a flaky final product.

Risotto is a dish that I for years thought fell into not only the time consuming, but also the difficult category. I pictured Italian mamas slaving over a hot stove for hours ladling spoonful after spoonful of hot broth into the pan, waiting for the rice to reach that creamy perfection. Thus, great was my surprise when I watched my friend Judy prepare a delicious mushroom risotto one night, and it dawned on me that there wasn’t really much skill required here, just an enormous amount of patience as risotto cannot be rushed. (This is by no means to take away from Judy’s cooking skills as she is a wonderful cook.)

Now, people who know me well know that while I have many wonderful virtues, patience is definitely not one of them, but nevertheless I decided that I would attempt this amazing mushroom risotto on my own. Judy was kind enough to share her recipe with me – how it came to her I don't know, so unfortunately I can’t give credit to the original creator.

The recipe follows below, but let me start by saying that I used it more as a guideline than an actual recipe. When I cook, I eyeball things a lot (contrary to when I bake) – I mean, who seriously has the patience to measure out 2 tbsp of fresh parsley or thyme? I just chop and add as I see fit. Dried porcini mushroom, while wonderful I’m sure, also sounded way too fussy for me, so instead I used about 1 ½ pounds of fresh mushrooms, and the beauty is that you can use whatever you can find at the market. This time I used crimini (also known as baby bellas, they are in fact baby Portobello mushrooms), oyster and shitake mushrooms, but use whatever you like. Since I was only cooking for two, I used about 1 cup rice and 4 cups chicken stock, but again – you can kinda eyeball it. Finally, I found a good pecorino Romano at the store and decided to use that instead of Parmesan. Again, feel free to substitute as you like.

First up, cooking the mushroom in a skillet with butter and thyme:

When they are done, add final parsley:

Saute onions and garlic, add the rice and wine, and then start adding the broth slowly. Every spoonful of broth should be incorporated before you add the next. I won't lie; this is when I start to get bored.

But after 15-20 minutes of stirring constantly, the risotto is done. Add the cheese and a handful of fresh parsley, and you're ready to eat!

The flavors are absolutely wonderful - the soft soft, creamy rice, the earthy flavor of the mushroom, the fresh thyme, the saltiness of the melted cheese...creamy, rich goodness. Mama couldn't make a better risotto, I swear :-)


Judy's Mushroom Risotto
8 cups chicken broth, low sodium
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 pound fresh portobello and crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon truffle oil
1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 onion and 1 clove garlic, cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, herbs and butter. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly browned, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in truffle oil then add the dried porcini mushrooms which were reconstituted in1 cup of warm chicken broth. Season again with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sauté 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.

Coat a saucepan with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté the remaining 1/2 onion and garlic clove. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well-coated and opaque, 1 minute. This step cooks the starchy coating and prevents the grains from sticking. Stir in wine and cook until it is nearly all evaporated.

Now, with a ladle, add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining broth, 1 cup at a time. Continue to cook and stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of broth before adding more. The risotto should be slightly firm and creamy, not mushy. Transfer the mushrooms to the rice mixture. Stir in Parmesan cheese, cook briefly until melted. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil and chopped parsley before serving.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Danish Almond Pastry

Lately, I've been obsessed with pastries - croissants, pain au chocolat, bear claws, you name it. And while you can get some good stuff here in the US, nothing really beats the real deal: Danish pastry or what we in Denmark call wienerbrød (literally "Vienna bread"). By all accounts, however, Danish pastry is a bit of a pain to make, because you have to roll out layers of dough, cover with a layer of butter, chill, and repeat the process several times to get the flaky goodness that characterizes good Danish pastry, and while I love to bake that just sounded too fussy.

Thus my excitement when I saw that Nigella (God bless her!) has a recipe for food processor Danish pastry where you basically just throw all the ingredients together in the food processor and voila: pastry dough! I had to give that a try.

Making the dough was surprisingly easy. Don't be alarmed that it looks like a big gooey mess with big butter lumps - it will turn into dough once it's been in the fridge overnight.

Rolling the dough out proved to be a bit more difficult. It kept sticking to the board and the rolling pin, and I had to use a pastry scraper to keep it from getting stuck while trying to get to that 20-inch square. But with some patience (not my strong suit!) and a bit of flour, I managed to roll it out, fold it, roll it out again etc. until I had repeated the steps the required three times. Then off to the fridge again for 30 min.

While the pastry rested, I made the almond filling. Again, the recipe calls for throwing almonds, sugar and other ingredients into the food processor, whizzing for a few seconds and you're all set. Rather than buy already toasted almonds, I toasted my own which is easy to do. Just throw the almonds or whatever nuts you're using into a warm skillet and toast over medium heat. Make sure you keep an eye on them, though, cuz nuts can burn surprisingly fast, and nobody likes the taste of burnt nuts. When you can smell them, they are probably done or perhaps even too done. Transfer to a plate as the nuts will continue to cook if you leave them in the skillet. Once cool, process with sugar and other ingredients.

So now I had my pastry dough and my filling - time to make the actual pastries. Rolling out again proved somewhat difficult, but by then I was getting the hang of it, and I decided not to roll it out too thinly to save myself some trouble. The filling was placed in the middle of each square, opposite corners pinched together and lo and behold - they actually looked like pastries! The recipe said to brush with egg wash now, which I did, although I usually don't do that until after the dough has risen, but Miss Nigella probably has her reasons, so who am I to argue with that? I left them to double in size on a baking sheet and then baked them in a 350F degree oven. My oven runs a bit cold, so I ended up baking them a bit longer than then recipe calls for - almost twice as long in fact, about 25 min. By then they were golden and puffy and looked like this:

Once they had cooled a bit, I added the clear glaze which is basically a simple syrup and makes the pastry deliciously sticky. When they had cooled completely (and believe me, this requires discipline!) I zigzagged white icing across them as well.

For a first attempt at pastry making, I have to say that these came out pretty well. Alas, they were not as flaky as I had hoped for, but I think that has to do with my problems with rolling out the dough. The flavor, however, was there, and they actually taste a lot like the bear claws you can buy at say Peets.

I tested them on my friend J, and she loved them as did her husband, so this is definitely a winner. I still have half a quantity of pastry in the freezer, so next time I'm thinking maybe a chocolate filling...yum!

Danish Almond Pastry
from Nigella Lawson How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups white bread flour
1 package (1/4 oz.) rapid-rise yeast or 1 tbsp fresh yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into thin slices

For the pastry:
A half quantity of pastry dough, rolled out and ready to use
Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

For the filling:
5 oz blanched almonds, toasted
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
½ tsp almond extract
1 large egg white, beaten lightly

For the egg glaze:
1 large egg, beaten with
2 tbsp milk

For the clear glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

For the sugar glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp warm water

Pour the water and milk into a measuring cup and add the egg, beating with a fork to mix. Put to one side for a moment. Get out a large bowl, then put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the processor, and give one quick whizz just to mix. Add the cold slices of butter and process briefly so that the butter is cut up a little, though you still want visible chunks. Empty the contents of the food processor into the large bowl and quickly add the contents of the cup. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together, but don’t overdo it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator, and leave overnight or up to 4 days.

To turn it into pastry, take it out of the refrigerator, let it get to room temperature, and roll it out to a 20-inch (50 cm) square. Fold the dough square into thirds, like a business letter, turning it afterward so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book. Roll out again to a 20-inch square, repeating the steps above three more times. Cut in half, wrap both pieces in film and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. You can keep them for up to 4 days if you haven’t already done so at the earlier stage or you can refrigerate one to use now and put the other one in the freezer to use later which is what I did.

To make the almond filling, process the almonds and powdered sugar together until finely ground. Add the butter, pulse again, then add the almond extract and 2 tbsp of the egg white. You can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

Roll the pastry out to a big square and cut into thirds horizontally. Then cut it half down the middle, giving you 6 squares. Take each square and put a tablespoon of the almond filling onto the pastry at a diagonal. Bring up the opposite corners and pinch together.
Place on the baking sheet and brush with the egg glaze. Leave them to rise until they double in size and feel like marshmallow, about 1 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Cook for 15 minutes or until golden.

Remove to a wire rack and make the two remaining glazes. To make the clear glaze, heat the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then take off the heat. To make the sugar glaze, add the water to the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time to make a runny icing. Brush the pastries with the clear glaze first once they have cooled a bit; then when almost cold zigzag the sugar glaze over them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A New Year - A New Beginning?

So I started this blog almost a year ago, and after the initial post nothing really happened. It wasn't that I stopped baking or cooking; I just didn't blog about it. For a while I didn't even know if I wanted to blog about anything at all, but lately I've been baking up a storm (Christmas will do that to you) and have been posting pictures on my Facebook page, so I figured - why not give this blogging thing another go? When a friend and former co-worker sent me a link to her new food blog Buttered BlasphAmy I felt both jealous (why wasn't I doing this?) but also inspired to give it another try. Yes, there are thousands of food blogs out there, and maybe this one won't offer up any original recipes or change the world of baking, but what it will do is show you my love of food and hopefully inspire someone out there to try their hand at something new.

Happy Eating!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nigella's Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

To me, the arrival of rhubarb always signaled that summer was finally here. In mid to late May the luscious red stalks would start to pop up in stores, and my grandmother would make rødgrød med fløde, the quintessential Danish dessert pudding whose name is unpronounceable to anyone but native Danish speakers. The arrival of rhubarb and, to a certain degree, strawberries (although now it seems you can get the latter year round here) brings back so many memories of sun-filled summer days in Denmark

So I was excited when I spotted rhubarb at the store the other day, seeing how it's not even April yet. I knew immediately what I wanted to make with it - Nigella's Rhubarb Cornmeal cake. Lately, I've been obsessed with How to Be a Domestic Goddess, and, like Nigella, I'm of the opinion that you can never have too many rhubarb recipes. This recipe is rather straightforward and doesn't require any particular skill or equipment.

Once I had cleaned and sliced the rhubarb, I realized I didn't quite have the pound and 2 ounces that the recipe calls for, but that didn't really affect the final product.

Sprinkling the rhubarb with sugar draws out the liquid.

This is how the cake looked prior to baking:

And after:

Visually, it's not a fancy cake that will impress your guests, but it is incredible moist and really delicious, full of rhubarby goodness. The cornmeal adds a nice texture, and the pink splashes of rhubarb brighten up an otherwise beige cake. I will definitely make this again, but next time I'll cut down on the cinnamon as it tends to overwhelm the other flavors.

I served it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but I think it works just as well, if not better, on its own.

Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess

1 pound 2 ounces rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp fine cornmeal (polenta)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter (soft)
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
9-inch springform pan, buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Wash and dry the rhubarb if necessary, and then trim, removing and stringy bits, and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Put into glass or china bowl and cover with 1/3 cup of the sugar, while you get on with the rest of the cake. Don't let the rhubarb stand for more than half an hour or the sugar will make to much liquid seep out.

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cornmeal together. With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the rest of the sugar, then gradually add the egg and vanilla mixture, beating while you do so. Then add the flour-cornmeal mixture alternately with the yogurt. They just need to be combined: don't overmix.

Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary, pink juices, folding in to mix, and then pour the speckled batter into the prepared pan. Put in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour or until springy to the touch. You may need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes so that the top doesn't scorch. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for a while before unmolding.

Serves 8-10