Archives for category: baking
Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

I have not been doing so well with the Daring Bakers’ challenges lately. I started the June challenge on the morning of the day I was leaving for France. Everything went wrong, from the lemon curd having gone missing to the cake rising unevenly and sticking to the barrier. I left the curd, the cake, and the white “chocolate plastique” in the refrigerator and fled to Europe. I did write about the cake, hoping to post the blog from Paris, but that proved impossible and by the time I got back I didn’t feel like posting the sad story anymore: the upshot was that my Mom assembled the cake and it tasted fine, but it did not look much like a checkerboard because the cake batter was yellowish and my flavors were lemon and coconut. C’est la vie.

Today I am finishing the July challenge on August 1st. Mea culpa. It has been a busy month with new things to do. Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers. Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Original painting shows plate of two kinds of crackers, plus ingredients.

Crackers. 6″x 6″ Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

I have a house guest at present who cannot eat gluten or cow’s milk-based dairy projects. Because the July challenge required us to make two kinds of crackers using two different methods I decided I would try to make gluten and dairy-free crackers for Ann, using the Seedy Crackers as a basic recipe and substituting a garbanzo and fava bean flour from Bob’s Red Mill for the cited wheat flour.

Often when I have tried to make gluten-free baked goods it has been difficult to get them to stick together. Gluten-free cooks buy xanthan gum or gluten-free baking mix to get around this problem, but I use what I have, so I just measured the garbanzo flour cup for cup as I would wheat flour, measured in the poppy and sesame seeds, added the salt. For oil I used a French olive oil that has been infused with hot red pepper. So far so good.

When I added the water, a texture problem appeared: the dough was not crumbly as I had feared — it was wet and sticky. Oops. I covered it with a tea towel and let it sit for fifteen minutes as advised. When it did not firm up, I added another 1/3 cup of garbanzo flour and poured at least half a cup of garbanzo flour onto my cutting board.

I was able to roll and cut the first batch, barely. The dough stuck to the rolling pin. For batches two and three I ended up just patting the dough as thinly as I could before cutting it with a fluted cutter.

The crackers began to smell sweet and I opened the oven. I baked three batches and let them cool. Ann said they smelled really good. Then she tasted one. She really likes them and asked for the recipe (below). I was unhappy that the dough was so wet and that I couldn’t roll them thinly and get them super crisp, but the flavor is fine.

After dispensing with cracker trial number one I went to the all-dairy, all-gluten, all-butter recipe for cheese crackers made in a log and sliced. Because my iconic cracker of addiction is the commercial Cheez-It, I modified the recipe to eliminate walnuts and rosemary, flavoring the crackers with cheddar cheese, Pecorino Romano, paprika and a little nutmeg instead. I shaped them into logs and rolled them up in wax paper to chill for at least an hour.

We could just call these things “heart-attack-on-a-plate” with their stick of butter and ten ounces of cheese and salt. I did sub in some whole wheat pastry flour, although I used mostly white flour as called for. They are utterly delicious, thin, crispy, buttery and cheesy.

Without further ado, the recipes I used:

Gluten-Free Seed Crackers

Whisk together:

2 and 1/3 cups garbanzo and fava bean flour (gluten-free)

1/3 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup poppy seeds

1 scant tsp kosher salt

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder.

Stir in 3 Tbsp olive oil*

Add about 3/4 cup water, slowly.

You will want to add the water slowly — in my experience, the dough was too wet, making it hard to roll and cut.

Rest dough for fifteen minutes, covered with a towel. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425.

Flour a board with another half cup of garbanzo flour or more. Take 1/3 of the dough. Either use a rolling pin (it will stick) or flatten the dough with your hands. Cut out with a biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheets and into oven.

The recipe I started from recommends baking them for seven minutes, flipping them over, giving them seven minutes more and then an extra five minutes. I did not do that. I did turn them and checked occasionally to see if they were done, mostly by the smell.

* I used an olive oil from France that has been infused with red peppers, but you can use any you like.

Fully-Leaded Cheese Crackers (All the butter, cheese and salt)

Soften 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)

Grate 8 ounces of good quality Cheddar cheese, plus an ounce of Pecorino Romano

Combine butter and cheese in a bowl (I used my hands).

Add 1 cup unbleached flour, 3 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour, 1 scant tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp paprika and grated fresh nutmeg to taste.

Knead to combine and form into logs. Wrap logs in waxed paper and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 325.

Slice logs thinly and place slices on baking sheets (there is so much fat in here that I did not bother to grease them). Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes.