Archives for category: desserts

I was excited to see rhubarb at the Berkeley Farmers’ market last Saturday — I think it is the first time I have seen it there. I had seen a delicious-looking recipe for a rhubarb-cherry crumble with fresh ginger on local kitchen, one of the blogs I always enjoy reading. Kaela preserves a wonderful variety of jams, pickles and marmalades. Here was a crisp that I could tackle easily with cherries in season.

I have had few encounters with rhubarb in my life. My mother never cooked it at home, although she ate it as a child in Illinois. Neither of us like cooked strawberries, preferring to eat them raw, so strawberry-rhubarb pie is not in our pie arsenal. I once ate some rhubarb pie at a doll class potluck — the baker thought its pink color was particularly appropriate for a group of women artists. While I didn’t have to choke it down, I didn’t jump for joy and ask for the recipe either.

Now, if rhubarb grew abundantly in our yard or if a neighbor left baskets of it on our porch I would figure out how to make it palatable or resort to ferreting out all of my rhubarb-loving acquaintances and foisting it on them. Riverdog Farm has not included it in a box in the last five years either. But a couple of years ago I had had my best encounter to date with rhubarb: Toni, who grows it in her Oakland yard, smothered it with brown sugar, dried fruit, nuts and sweet spices, popped it into the oven and roasted it. The result was brown and syrupy and sweet. But when I asked her for the recipe this year she could not remember ever making it that way, a brilliant improvised recipe lost to the world.

When I bought the rhubarb last week, I tasted it cautiously at the bus stop, breaking a small piece off the end of a raw stalk. How sour would it be? I am happy to report that it didn’t lock my jaw. The taste reminded me of chewing sour grass when I was a kid, faintly reminiscent of lemon and green plants. But rhubarb is one of those things like quince — most people do not eat it raw. Cooking transforms it, but tasting it raw does not help you plan how to cook it.

painting shows rhubarb in various preparations.

Rhubarb Experiments. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

This morning I turned to the guidelines of other cooks: what have they done with it? Well, they boil it with sugar, raw or white or brown. They stew it with prunes and apricots. They combine it with strawberries in pies and compotes and jam. Enterprising cooks use it in sauces for roast pork. I hunted through some cookbooks for awhile. Then I cut and measured my remaining rhubarb: I had three cups left.

Fine. Enough for three small experiments. Experiment #1, rhubarb roasted with vanilla bean and Creme de Cassis, suggested by The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market Cookbook. Experiment #2, rhubarb cooked down to a syrup, a variation on Heidi Swanson’s Rhubarb and Rosewater Syrup recipe. Experiment #3, rhubarb cooked in a compote with dried fruit, adapted from the Eat Fresh, Stay Healthy cookbook, an offering from the used book sale at the Kensington Library.

Experiment #1, the roasted rhubarb, smelled wonderful, both before and after baking, from the perfume of the vanilla bean and the Creme de Cassis. This rhubarb, mostly pale green with red ends remained green after roasting. The syrup has a slight dark red tinge. I tasted the result cautiously, one piece on a small spoon. It is delicious. The white sugar, vanilla and black currant liquor have mellowed the rhubarb into something tasty: I could eat it straight from a bowl, topped with cream, milk, half and half or yogurt, or I could mix it into cereal.

Experiment #2, rhubarb syrup, essentially rhubarb simmered in a simple syrup to which I added a vanilla bean, tasted good, with just a hint of rhubarb flavor. I used 1 cup of rhubarb, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and 1/2 of a vanilla bean. I let the rhubarb marinate in the sugar for a couple of hours before I added the water and brought it to a simmer. I strained the syrup from the cooked rhubarb. It came out blush pink. I tried an ounce of it in about four ounces of sparkling water with lime. I also tried an ounce of it in some cold tea. I’ll eat the leftover sweetened rhubarb puree with some light cream for dessert some night this week, or stir it into my morning cereal. It is too early in the day to put some of the syrup in a glass of sparkling wine, but I may get to that.

Experiment #3, the compote, may be the least successful. I simmered 3/4 cup dried prunes and 1/4 cup dried apricots in a cup of water with some nutmeg, fresh ginger and 1/3 cup of sugar before adding the rhubarb for five or six minutes. The problem with this is that the rhubarb has not absorbed the flavors before it begins to break down. But it may taste better tomorrow after sitting — compotes often do. I tasted it warm.

I brought the rhubarb-cherry crumble to a singing session on Friday. Some people liked it. I was disappointed. The color was lovely: the rhubarb and cherries melded into a deep red. The fruit proved to be too sweet for my tastes (I was afraid to scant the sugar due to my inexperience with rhubarb preparations) and there was an off-putting flavor, which I believe was the taste of the rhubarb. I made a crumb topping with butter, homemade granola (not very sweet), brown sugar and a few tablespoons of flaked coconut. I thought the topping was also too sweet and will go back to using plain rolled oats in crisp topping (Local Kitchen’s recipe calls for a gluten-free topping with  brown rice flour, oats, butter, and flax seed).

Food notes: If you are a confirmed rhubarb lover and have no fear of canning, you might want to try Local Kitchen’s rhubarb prosecco jelly. It’s the sort of thing I would love to have a taste of, but would not want to commit to making it unless I had tasted it first. Disclaimer: I have been exercising a lot lately, which might be why the sweet rhubarb syrup, roasted rhubarb and puree suddenly tasted great…

P.S. I mixed rhubarb compote into my blue corn cereal this morning and it was just fine: with the heat of the cereal, the cooked rhubarb melts into the compote and what you get is a spicy syrup. And rhubarb syrup in water is nice on a hot day.

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painting shows a Mexican chocolate beet bundt cake with birthday banner.

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes I think I am wacko. Having gotten up to roll and fill Nazook, an Armenian pastry, before breakfast, I lingered in the kitchen to make a cake for someone who isn’t here and isn’t going to be here — isn’t a definition of whacked doing things at the behest of people who aren’t there?

Let me explain. There is this blogger who goes by the name of Movita Beaucoup. She challenged all comers to bake her a birthday cake and send her a photo by midnight. She promised us prizes. If you are reading this before 10 PM on Friday you still have time to get in on the action: just bake a cake and submit a photo of it to Miss Movita by midnight in your time zone.

Anyway, cakes are not my thing. How many times in the life of this blog have I said I prefer pie to cake? Many. I like to bake. I like to bake bread and pie and pastry as long as it is not too fiddly. But I couldn’t resist baking a cake for Miss B. because she makes me laugh and because she has said that someday she would like to own a Kale Chronicles painting. Besides, she writes about running from bears and worrying that the bathtub will fall through the floor.

When I met Movita (Well, I haven’t actually met her) here in the blogosphere she was carrying on about her need for an iPhone, I believe — some fool bit of modern technology to help her through culinary school. I joined in the chorus of readers offering her congratulations on signing up for a culinary program and informing her husband, charmingly called “2.0,” that she needed an iPhone. I don’t even have a cell phone of my own.

In my childhood, Mom baked us birthday cakes or cupcakes, any flavor we requested. I used to look at all of the cake pictures in our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to think about what I wanted. That was before I figured out that I could request a birthday pie instead, and before my brothers figured out that they could have a fancy whipped cream cake from Virginia Bakery or an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. I remember relatively few cakes from those days, chiefly the igloo cake Mom made for Kevin’s birthday, an excuse to cut cake layers in half, frost the cake with white icing and upholster it with the cocktail sugar cubes my Dad kept in a secret location. This cake was the stuff of kid dreams, an entire cake covered with cubes of sugar meant to look like blocks of ice.

I have more sophisticated cake dreams now: I have eaten cakes from Tassajara bakery full of mocha buttercream. I have made genoise soaked in rum (twice). But I am still not a cake baker: I don’t own a piping bag and I don’t think fooling with frosting is fun. Plus, I write a blog featuring seasonal cooking and I’m not about to declare it Cake Season.

One of my pet peeves in baking fads is the popular red velvet (or blue velvet or green velvet) cake, which requires one to use vast amounts of red food coloring to produce a chocolate cake that was more appealing when it was left to look like chocolate instead of a vampire’s breakfast. What can I say? I have gray hair and I don’t think ingesting food dye is good for you. Many people, including my late brother, are allergic to food dye, or go berserk when they get it (No, I have not been sipping from the Schilling bottle). Now watch me find out that Movita’s favorite cakes are velvet cakes….

Fortunately, it is beet season, and I have learned to make a cake featuring a dark red batter, owing to the presence of pureed beets. Before you get upset, please remember that beets are often grown to make sugar and sugar is a valid ingredient in cake. This cake is chock-full of things people call superfoods, including beets, chocolate, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil, as well as the usual suspects of eggs and flour. I considered making it with ground almonds to make it gluten-free, but I am not having the kind of a week that bodes success with those sorts of experiments.

I first made this cake from a recipe at recipezaar, reprinted in my farm newsletter by the folks at Riverdog Farm, but I have messed with it — you knew I was going to, didn’t you? I incorporated part of an egg yolk I had left from this morning’s egg wash and I wanted to use Mexican chocolate for its distinct flavor. Then I needed to add cocoa because Mexican chocolate is sweeter than the chocolate the recipe called for and I scanted the sugar. I added some cinnamon as well.

To make this cake, you will need at least a cup of pureed beets. I recommend preparing them ahead of time: you can boil or steam or roast them. Let them cool, remove their skins, and whirl them in your blender or food processor. I will not go into the five times I had to clean the stove or the seventeen times I washed my hands while preparing this recipe — if you need to have your all-white kitchen white at all times, do not make this cake.

For the brave, fun-loving and vegetable-minded, read on:

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake

Preheat oven to 35o.

Rub a bundt pan with olive oil and dust it with a mixture of cocoa powder and ground cinnamon in lieu of flour

Cook, peel and puree 1 cup of beets (I used five small red ones) until completely smooth.

Melt one tablet of Mexican chocolate (3.15  oz) in your microwave and combine with beet puree.

Measure 1 cup olive oil, 1 and 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and blend until light-colored.

While you wait, sift 1 and 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa into a small bowl with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Whisk to blend.

Add to oil mixture 1 egg yolk, then 3 eggs, one at a time, beating smooth between each addition.

When eggs are fully incorporated, add the chocolate-beet mixture. Then add flour-cocoa mixture in two or three additions.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Place on middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This is a moist cake: mine took forty minutes to bake through.

Now the hard part: for best results, let the cake sit covered overnight. This helps the flavors blend. Olive oil cakes tend to get better as they age, so age it for twenty-four hours before digging in. I’ll be taking mine to a potluck tomorrow afternoon.

To Movita Beaucoup: I made this healthy for you, within reason. But I am not there to stop you if you want to eat it with a little cacao nib whipped cream or a puddle of caramel sauce. Just saying. Happy Birthday!

Food notes: I used plain old red beets in this cake, but you can fiddle with the color by using mixtures of red and yellow beets. The batter is a dark, vibrant purple-red, but the cake bakes up red-brown. If you don’t have the extra egg yolk, leave it out — no one will miss it. Cinnamon is fat-soluble — that’s why I put it in with the oil — if you want to incorporate it more smoothly, you could mix it with the sugar before adding the sugar to the oil.

In Northern California spring can start in February and continue through May. First we see daffodils, then flowering pear, plum, crab apple and quince trees. Spring crops come in slowly: green garlic, lettuce, then asparagus, followed by peas. On my last Farmers’ Market visit two weeks ago the strawberries had white shoulders and the grower I like to buy them from (Lucero Farms of Lodi) had not yet taken up a stall, but I had a feeling I would find strawberries today, and there they were, small red Seascape berries with long stems destined for the year’s first strawberry shortcake.

Painting shows a heart-shaped strawberry shortcake and baskets of berries.

Strawberry Shortcake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

There are many variations of strawberry shortcake: you can make it with angel food cake or lemon pound cake or sponge cake or olive oil citrus cake. I have tried them all, but my favorite recipe for strawberry shortcake is a biscuit base, split and covered with fresh strawberries, served with lightly sweetened whipped cream. To honor the ritual of spring I will use organically grown Farmers’ Market strawberries, and whipping cream from Straus Dairy in Marin County.

I will buy my cream at a local supermarket, but because it is Earth Day I want to think a bit about what it took to produce this traditional spring dessert. Someone had to plant the strawberries, tend them, water them, pick them, bring them to market. Someone had to raise sugarcane and refine it. Someone mined the salt, picked vanilla pods, raised wheat, ground it into flour. Someone had to raise the dairy cow, feed her on grass, milk her. Someone had to separate the cream, sterilize the bottles, fill and cap them. Someone had to drive the cream to the supermarket. Someone had to put it on the shelves. Someone had to drive the bus that takes me from market to market and home again. In a day gone by, members of my family, relatives from a few generations back, might have kept the cow and skimmed the cream and planted the strawberries in Illinois where they farmed, but my parents both moved to California as teenagers and never went back to the Midwest. Celia’s small farm at The Kitchens Garden might be something like the farms my mother knew in her youth, farms with hedgerows, vegetable gardens, small orchards, cows and chickens, diversified crops.

In California I now buy the bulk of my produce from an organic farm eighty-seven and a half miles from where I live. Someone drives to Berkeley each Wednesday and places boxes of vegetables and fruit on a front porch. I take a bus and walk several blocks, load the heavier vegetables into my backpack and the delicate items into a canvas bag. I have no choice in what goes into my produce box: someone at Riverdog Farm decides what is best each week and loads it up. I unpack the box and fold it: the farm driver will collect it the next week. I like the idea that I am getting produce picked that morning or the previous day and I like it that in a small way my food dollars are supporting small, diversified agriculture on a farm that uses organic growing methods: although I cannot farm myself I have farming roots. Small farmers are real to me,  people that raise food and think about how they are raising it. The Capay valley where my produce comes from has many small farms started by former students at U.C. Davis on land that agribusiness did not want.

I shop at the Farmers Market to supplement my produce box. There I can buy a flat of peaches in June, more corn in July, bunches of fresh basil in August, these first spring strawberries in April. Every week I can walk down the center aisle and look to see what has come in, compare prices, sniff the air perfumed by seasonal fruit. I am grateful to live in a state where the growing season is long and next to a city that supports three different farmers’ markets year-round.

Enough. Now it is time to go into the kitchen to make that special shortcake with the first strawberries.

First, shake the cream bottle to redistribute the fat evenly. Then pour the grassy-smelling cream into a small mixing bowl and set it into the refrigerator to chill, along with the beaters. The cream will triple in volume as you whip it, so make sure your bowl is not too small. If you wish, you may season it at this point: I like to add  2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and, sometimes, the barest grating of fresh nutmeg.

While the cream chills, prepare the shortcake:

Preheat the oven to 425.

Sift together 2 cups of flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 Tbsp sugar.

Cut in 1/3 cup unsalted butter (if you use salted butter, omit the kosher salt)

Add 1 cup milk

Stir just until combined.

Put into a buttered cake pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned in spots.

While the shortcake bakes, prepare the strawberries: remove the hulls and stems and then wash berries in a minimum of water. Let them drain in a colander or pat them dry. Taste one. If your berries are ripe and sweet, you need not add anything, but if you are my mother you will insist on adding a few tablespoons of sugar so that the berries give off more juice — it’s your choice since Mom is not in the kitchen with you. You will also whip the cream now. We like ours moderately stiff so that we don’t have to whip it again the next day.

Once the shortcake is out of the oven, split it in half and pile berries between the layers and on top. Serve with whipped cream.

I will return the plastic strawberry baskets to the market next week for re-use (and perhaps buy more strawberries). I will return the cream bottle to the grocery store eventually, collect my deposit and try not to buy more cream for awhile.

Food Notes: Strawberry shortcake features two elemental foods, cream and strawberries. To make a delicious shortcake, start with the best cream and berries you can find: local dairy cream and organically grown berries will give you the best flavor. Some things are worth waiting for and it is better to make this with ripe, red strawberries that have developed their sugars than to use white-capped or green berries. If you cannot get local cream, choose cream from your market that has not been marked “ultrapasteurized.” Ultrapasteurized cream has been heated to a high temperature to give it a longer shelf life and has a cooked taste that you will want to avoid once you have tasted the alternative. We sweeten our cream with white cane sugar to keep the flavor pure, but you are free to use any sweetener you prefer as long as you do not introduce chemical sweeteners. Finally, you may use any sort of cake or biscuit base that you like, but I implore you to bake it yourself and eat it while it is warm from the oven.

painting shows four cups of atole with chocolate and other ingredients

Atole with Chocolate. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Because it is April 15 and I am still working on a giant art inventory for my tax returns I’m giving you a quick and easy recipe for atole with chocolate, good for those chilly mornings or chilly evenings of spring. I made it for the first time on a cold April morning of 2010 when we had had a bag of masa harina sitting around for a year or two and Jacqueline Higuera McMahan had published a recipe for atole in the San Francisco Chronicle. McMahan’s recipe called for added cornstarch, but I think the masa thickens it adequately by itself.

The first time I made this I used a Oaxaca chocolate bar containing chilies. Later I made it with Sharffen Berger bittersweet and added some pasilla chile powder. You can make it without chile if you don’t like the kick.

Atole makes a good, warming breakfast drink, a heavier form of hot chocolate. It would be good to serve at a holiday party. I’ve thought of adding more masa and thickening it into a pudding, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Atole with Chocolate (4 Servings)

Film a large saucepan with water

Heat over medium heat 1 quart of milk

Add:

5 oz. chopped chocolate

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup masa harina

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split open.

a pinch of salt, if desired

powdered chiles to taste

Whisk this until the chocolate melts, until everything blends and until it thickens to your liking. You will need to cook it for at least five minutes to cook the masa, which will expand as it cooks. Fish the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick out before serving, or just push them to the side with your serving ladle so that they continue to flavor whatever you don’t drink immediately.

Food Notes: Masa harina is the flour Mexicans use to make corn tortillas. Look for it in your Mexican grocer or online. If you find this too sweet, add cocoa powder to a small portion and add it back into the pan, or add some bitter chocolate or some brewed coffee. Next time use a darker chocolate or scant the sugar to achieve less sweet results. I’ve been thinking about using a tablet of Mexican chocolate to make it next time with some bitter chocolate added. For the ultimate in decadence, serve it with a float of barely sweetened whipped cream. Drink this for breakfast and you may even have the strength to complete your tax returns on time. Good luck! We have two extra days this year.

Painting shows pear tart tatin and ingredients.

Pear Tart Tatin. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

I had a music potluck to go to yesterday. I started thinking Friday night about what I would make: it came down to orange pound cake made with orange juice and zest, a repeat of the St. Patrick’s Day knishes sans Canadian bacon in deference to vegetarian singers, or a pear tart tatin. Those of you who read about our grocery finds a few posts ago will recall that I bought three pounds of Bosc pears. I have roasted pears to eat as dessert and I have included roasted pears in a few winter soups, but I had never before made a tart tatin. I was somewhat swayed by the thought that I had one pie crust waiting in the fridge. I was also swayed by the fact that I greatly prefer pie to cake and I love fruit desserts.

As it turned out, the pie crust in the fridge was a little too crumbly and a little too small and I ended up making a whole new batch: now we have old leftover crust and new leftover crust. Oh well: making and eating things with pie crust does not trouble us in this household.

While I used my Mom’s never-fail pie crust recipe for the tart tatin, I used the method and ingredients for the most part described in Chez Panisse Desserts, with one change, two additions and one error, which may have proved beneficial.

Alice Waters and Lindsey Sher give the ingredients as one 10-inch circle of pie dough or puff pastry, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, about 5 medium Bosc or Winter Neli pears and an optional tablespoon of rum, Cognac, brandy or Armagnac. I used salted butter, eight small Bosc pears, and rum. I added 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract and a sprinkling of ginger. Waters and Sher say to bake the tart at 400 degrees, which I would have done, except, despite reading the recipe, I had set my oven at 350.

If you don’t have pie crust on hand, you’ll have to make that first. You will find my Mom’s recipe here. If you make it, you will have three more crusts, or at least two and a half because Mom’s recipe makes four crusts (It is hard to make less with her recipe because it calls for a whole egg).

Once you have gotten your pie crust made, set it to chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients. It’s up to you whether you want to peel and core pears first or make caramel first. At any rate, you will be peeling and coring pears. You can use halves or quarters in the tart. I used halves, which looked quite nice. I put the tablespoon of rum and the half-tablespoon of vanilla in the bowl with the peeled, halved pears.

I then got out a cast iron skillet and set it on medium heat. I added the butter and sugar to the skillet and stirred with a wooden spoon until the caramel turned light brown, at which time I removed the pan from the heat and continued to stir. The caramel continues to darken: you keep stirring it so that it turns evenly instead of darkening in any hot spots. Mine came out a lovely, reddish brown.

Place the pears in the caramel in a circle with the narrow ends pointing to the center. I had a small, pear-less circle in the center, which I filled by cutting the last pear into smaller pieces. I put my pears cut-side down, although Alice and Lindsey say to put the rounded side down. You are going to flip this dessert over after it is baked, so, whichever way you do it, it is going to come out the opposite. My brain does not like to think in reversals (it gets confused). Do what you like. When you have got your pears looking all pretty and symmetrical, you are going to put the pastry over the top. Before I did this, I poured the leftover vanilla-rum mixture over the pears and sprinkled them with perhaps 1 tsp powdered ginger. I folded the crust in quarters, then unfolded it over the fruit, tucking the edges down into the sides of the pan since this crust will end up being the tart base. I also, as instructed, pushed the dough gently into the pears — it forms a slight wave pattern, molding around the curves of the pears. Cut a few slits in the crust and transfer the tart to your hot (or not so hot) oven.

I checked my tart after 30 minutes — that’s when I discovered my temperature error: plenty of browned juices bubbled up, but the crust was not brown. I cranked the oven up to 400 and let the tart bake for another 20 minutes until the crust was properly browned. My error with the oven temperature may have caused deeper caramelization of the fruit, which I happen to like, and had no ill effects on the caramel or the crust, save needing extra time for browning.

When the crust has browned to your satisfaction, remove the tart from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes — the pan will be really hot. When you are ready for the next step, take a plate larger than your skillet, place the plate on top of the pan and carefully invert the skillet onto the plate. With any luck, your tart will come out whole. If a pear or two get left behind, just use a spoon to transfer them back to their place on the tart. If you have lost a bit of crust, you will have the pleasure of sampling the caramel-infused crust: the caramel layer transforms basic pie crust into a new delight.

Mom dug out the top of a popsicle mold, which we plopped in the center of the tart to hold the wrappings away from the fruit. I wrapped the tart in two layers of aluminum foil and carted it off on the bus in the rain to my friend Elaine’s house. The singers consumed every scrap of the tart. Toni had three pieces. Elaine, who does not like Bosc pears, had two. Elaine said she would like the tart made with stone fruit. I said I thought it might be delicious with fresh figs. We have to wait for those fruits, but some pears are in season now. I was pleased with how easy it was to make a dessert that had intimidated me (the caramel, the flipping, the careful arrangement of the fruit, would the crust withstand the weight of the tart and all of that caramel? Would it leak?). Trust me, friends — if I can do it, you can do it.

Food Notes: If you are afraid of pie crust, you can also make this with frozen puff pastry. I recommend, however, that you visit your nearest crust expert to overcome this fear. Most pie bakers would be glad to help you learn to make pie crust.

Okay, so you know that Riverdog Farm keeps me well-supplied with winter and spring citrus: if you read The Kale Chronicles frequently, you will notice that lemons, tangerines and oranges show up in a lot of my recipes from November on. I’ve given you Swedish rye bread with orange and anise, orange-sesame vinaigrette, tahini-citrus salad dressing, orange-fennel salad, orange-cumin bread, tangerine curd, orange muffins, lemon sponge pie and Shaker lemon pie, lemon bars with a coconut brown sugar crust, a recipe for home-candied citrus peel. And then there is all of the stuff I don’t blog about: the orange zest and juice stirred into French toast, the lemon squeezed onto roast vegetables and greens and stuffed into chicken cavities. And still the tangerines roll on.

original watercolor painting of clementine bundt cake

Clementine Cake. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

A pound of Murcott tangerines rolled in last week and coincidentally I ran across a recipe for a clementine cake on Smitten Kitchen. Now, Deb can cook, and she got the recipe from Nigella Lawson, who makes her living as a cook. Separately, they insisted that I could boil my pound of tangerines for a couple of hours and then incorporate them into a gluten-free cake. Deb voiced the doubts anyone would surely have about this recipe. Would it be bitter? Would it rise? Would anybody eat it?

I needed to try this because it would use a whole pound of tangerines at one fell swoop and because I was going to a singing party at the home of a gluten-free friend yesterday and because it was such an odd method of making a cake, particularly the part about boiling a pound of whole tangerines. Deb had suggested that this cake got better as it sat and Mom suggested that I make it on Friday afternoon for the Saturday afternoon party.

I put my pound of tangerines into a saucepan, covered them with water and brought them to a boil and then let them cook for two hours. No, I did not peel them or seed them. I didn’t even wash them since they were organically grown and I would be using the nicely acidulated cooking water for some lucky outdoor plants.

While the tangerines cooked, I had plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients. I started with whole, skin-on almonds because I needed 2 and 1/3 cups of ground almonds. I tried running them through the meat grinder, but they only gummed up the works and ground unevenly as well. Then I realized I had a large Vietnamese mortar and pestle and started pounding away — after all I had two hours to wait for the tangerines (You modern types could use your food processors or buy ground almonds at the store: I enjoy knowing I can get ground almonds and some exercise at the same time). I scooped the first batch up with a 1/3 cup measure and put them in a small mixing bowl and started another batch. When I got tired of pounding, I took a break to take six large eggs out to sit at room temperature. While the eggs warmed, I went back to my mortar and pestle. When I had measured out enough pounded almonds, I set them aside in the small mixing bowl and turned my attention to the eggs.

I made a genoise once: it took me two tries to get it right. What I learned from making genoise is that you can get eggs or egg yolks to incorporate a lot of air and triple in volume like egg whites — you just have to beat them for a long time. I turned on my electric mixer at cake-mixing speed and eventually cranked it up higher and watched the volume of the eggs increase and the color get paler. When the eggs were three-quarters of the way up the bowl I started adding sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, until I had incorporated 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I did not even think about scanting the sugar because this cake was going to contain tangerine skin and pith — all of it.

About now, the tangerines in the pot hit the two-hour mark so I used a cooking fork to remove them from the water and set them on my cutting board. While they cooled, I added my ground almonds slowly to the egg sugar mixture with the 1 heaping teaspoon of baking powder. I then preheated the oven to 375 with a rack in the central position and took out my precious bottle of Mosaic blood orange oil to grease a bundt pan. Hedging my bets, I sprinkled a generous tablespoon full of sugar over the oiled pan.

Then, as instructed, I sliced my tangerines in half and extracted all of the seeds. You must do this because citrus seeds are excessively bitter. I then used a chef’s knife to chop all of the tangerines as finely as I could, catching the juice in a bowl (the one the almonds had been in earlier), When they were chopped pretty evenly with just a few larger pieces of peel here and there I put them into the mixer with the other ingredients and let it run for two or three minutes.

The resulting batter was a beautiful thing — foamy, pale orange, flecked with bits of bright orange and brown. I tasted it cautiously. It had a slight bitter edge, but would be edible. The recipe made enough for me to make a small test cake in a rice bowl in addition to the big bundt so I was able to sample the finished cake without disturbing the party edition.

I baked my small cake for thirty minutes, at which point a toothpick came out dry. I left the big one in for ten more minutes and it, too, passed the toothpick test. We ate the rice bowl cake warm, only noting that it had a tendency to fall apart.

Saturday I took the other cake to the party. I ran a knife around the edges (which had pulled away from the pan) and upended it on a plate: it came out cleanly. The hostess, who eats gluten-free, liked it. One man asked for the recipe. The woman who has a baking contract with me asked if I would make her one next time she was in town. They sent me home with perhaps one small serving.

What did I think? I thought it was good. Perhaps not great. You have to excuse me for not being a big cake fan in any case. Other people like cake. People who liked cake liked this. One man asked for the recipe. One woman mentioned liking the bitter marmalade-like tang, although she wondered if she would like it with a tangerine juice and powdered sugar glaze. I did find it a bit hard to slice — it was rather soft and moist. I offer it to my gluten-free friends as a possible cake, not too hard to make, not too many ingredients and another use for the rolling river of tangerines.

Food notes: if this cake interests you, be sure to check out the comments on Nigella Lawson’s site: people have done some creative things with spices, made it into a Christmas cake, etc.

Painting shows lemon bars.

Lemon Bars. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two of my mother’s favorite flavors are brown sugar and coconut: when she was a child she mixed up a big jar of coconut and brown sugar, planning to eat it. Not only did her mother punish her for “wasting food,” she also threw out the mixture. Now, I ask you, who wasted that particular food?

Anyway, I arrived home yesterday from several days in the foothills of Amador County. In my absence, Mom had made a pot pie and roasted a pork loin and some vegetables. As we ate the pot pie for lunch, Mom said, a little sadly, that there were no sweets except chocolate and that she might have to just eat oranges.

My Mom is a hard worker and she has a sweet tooth. Plus, she had been given some Meyer lemons by our next door neighbor. I offered to make something since it was blogging day. I had just seen a recipe for lemon bars from Sawsan at Chef in Disguise this morning, which had sent me running to my Alice Medrich Pure Dessert cookbook and my binder of recipes to compare ratios for lemon bar base ingredients. I like lemon bars and will eat anything that even looks like one, but Mom and I agree that the crust on lemon bars is often too thick, too rich and too sweet. I asked if there was pie crust left from the pot pie. Negative. That meant I would be starting from scratch. Mom asked if I would want to make a lemon pudding instead. I naturally thought she meant our favorite lemon pudding which has lemon filling trapped between two layers of a rich mixture of Wheaties, butter, coconut and brown sugar. And then I thought, “Why not combine them? What if I made a base of butter, brown sugar, crushed Wheaties, flour and coconut and then put lemon filling on top of that?”

Down to the kitchen I went, taking the Medrich cookbook with me: I would use her recipe as a guideline for my lemon filling because she likes a tart lemon bar. I dug out the recipe for lemon pudding from a file box in the cabinet and studied the crust ratios for three recipes. I decided I would use 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 cup crushed Wheaties and 1/3 cup flaked coconut, plus 1/4 cup brown sugar for the pastry base, which I combined with a pastry blender and baked for twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven. I then turned the oven down to 300.

I meant to use Medrich’s measurements for the lemon filling, but I couldn’t bear the thought of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar, so I decided to use 1 scant cup instead. I was aiming for her 1/2 cup of lemon juice, but after I zested and squeezed five small Meyer lemons and one stray tangerine that some cat had batted under the sideboard (it resurfaced last week and had seen better days, looking a little battered), I had 1/3 cup juice plus a little and decided to go with that. I used 1 Tbsp of whole wheat pastry flour and 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour, whisked that with the 1 cup sugar, whisked in three eggs, added the lemon juice and zest, and poured the result onto the hot crust.

I baked the bars at 300 for nearly half an hour until the filling no longer jiggled when I tapped the pan. I cooled the pan on a rack while I went to Berkeley to pick up my vegetables. It was a bad day for bus service: I returned three hours later, put the vegetables away and cut the first square from the pan. I cut it in half and brought half to Mom who was watching T.V. She approved of the strong lemon flavor, but wondered why there was no topping. I said that lemon bars usually don’t have a topping and if I had made crumb topping for the top it would have taken twice as much butter. She asked why I hadn’t dusted them with powdered sugar and I said I was afraid that they would be too sweet.

These lemon bars came out buttery and lemony with a delicious brown sugar and coconut crust. Despite the scant cup of sugar they were not too sweet. Many lemon bar recipes call for shortbread crusts that take an entire stick of butter: with 1/3 cup of butter, the flavor of butter comes through beautifully.

Food notes: To get a generous 1/3 cup of juice I used five small Meyer lemons and one small battered tangerine. If you use Eureka lemons, you may not need more than two. Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than ordinary lemons, so you may need to increase the sugar to a generous cup and add a dusting of powdered sugar. If you have access to Meyer lemons, you can follow my measurements exactly, if that is your style. I was afraid to use all whole wheat pastry flour in the filling, but it worked fine in the crust. If you do not have Wheaties, you can substitute ground oatmeal (put rolled oats or quick oats in a blender for a few seconds), crushed wheatmeal biscuits, or a dry cereal of your choice.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
Henry David Thoreau

and if that means 15 kinds of citrus meals, so be it.
Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio
http://saltworkstudio.wordpress.com
Ms. Edminster is my best friend and kindly sent me the Thoreau quote this afternoon for the blog. To me the quote and her comment capture the essence of seasonal cooking: things never taste fresher or more lovely than in their true season and we are wise to eat them then and let them pass for the rest of the year as the calendar and the fields move on to new delights. We may, like Greg Brown’s grandmother, put the summer in jars, if we have the skill, and be able to taste raspberries on our toast in February (to my mind preferable to any red velvet dessert). Or we may make do with frozen berries and store-bought jam and wait for each season to come round again. And while there are delightful days for seasonal cooks when we buy our favorite things at the market or get our favorites in our CSA there are also the days when we say, “Oh, God. Another bunch of kale. Another four pounds of tangerines. What am I going to do with ten leeks and four celery roots?” A cleverer person than I called this “vegetable triage.” Most of us seasonal cooks are dedicated to this way of eating and living and will eventually grumble and take up the challenge.
Painting depicts partial Shaker Lemon Pie in front of a Meyer lemon tree.

Meyer Lemon Pie. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil, watercolor and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

Debra of Three Well Beings wondered if I needed an assignment to get me going again on blogging about seasonal food. She asked if I had any more lemon recipes. Well, there is one lemon recipe I have been wanting to try ever since hearing about it: Shaker lemon pie, a pie of thinly-sliced lemons marinated in sugar overnight before being mixed with eggs, butter and flour and baked in a two-crust pie. You heard me right: two crusts. Every other lemon pie I make is a one-crust affair and even though I am temporarily out of unbleached flour I have pie crust in my refrigerator because we always make four crusts at a time. You can find my mother’s pie crust recipe here, if you need a recipe.

You can’t get any more local than going outside the front door to pick Meyer lemons off your own tree. Our tree is organic, too, meaning we give it very little: coffee grounds, tea leaves, water and a little copper now and then. Mom has been pruning it relentlessly to try to get it to bear its fruit high above the ground, hoping that snails all have fear of heights, so it is not the most prolific lemon tree on the block, but it had enough lemons for the pie (the recipe I used called for two, but that looked so pitiful in my glass bowl that I went out and picked a third to add to it).

I brought the lemons back inside, rinsed them and dried them. Before I even went to the kitchen or the yard I Googled a recommended recipe and tried to find out how to slice lemons “paper-thin.” No luck. Considering that recent tests put me in the first and fifteenth percentile for manual dexterity (that means either ninety-nine or eighty-five percent of people tested are more dextrous than I am), I recognized that thin rounds might be a problem. I have neither the patience nor the experience of Shaker women who have made this pie many times, although I share their desire to cook frugally.

First I tried a thin-bladed serrated knife. I worked slowly and held the lemon firmly. I even sliced off a slab on one side so that the lemon would sit flat on the cutting board. Try as I might I could not get those tissue-thin perfect slices. Next, I got out the mandoline. The mandoline sliced through the pith and tore the lemon flesh. Not good. Finally, I took up a sharp steak knife and slowly, carefully, tried to cut see-through slices. I got a few. The closer you get to the far end of a lemon, the harder it is to hold it steady. I need a lemon vice. The only thing I didn’t try was the meat slicer.

Because I was using whole lemons, minus only the seeds, I put in the entire two cups of sugar the recipe called for: lemon pith is bitter and I did not want a bitter pie: tart, yes, bitter, no. And I followed the recipe for filling that my friend Carol uses, purloined from the online version of Joy of Cooking because I had never made this pie before.

I put the lemons to marinate in a clear glass bowl in the refrigerator, placing a china plate on top to seal the bowl (I am one of those people who feels bad when I use plastic wrap and I love finding ways around it). Then yesterday we went out and bought the flour we needed to finish the pie during our weekly grocery-shopping rounds.

First I rolled out the bottom crust and put the oven on to preheat at 425. Then I whisked 4 large eggs in a mixing bowl and added 3 Tbsp flour. Why didn’t I whisk an egg slowly into the flour and avoid lumps? Because sometimes I don’t think, that’s why, but you can do it that way. Then I melted 1/4 cup unsalted butter in the microwave and had to let it cool. Why didn’t I melt the butter first before beating the eggs? See above answer. I don’t often use mise en place, although quite often I should.

Anyway, with a lot of whisking I got a fairly smooth mixture, then added the lemon-sugar mixture and whisked again. I poured it into my prepared pie shell and rolled out a top crust, pinched the edges together and put the pie into the oven. This is one of those stay in the kitchen (or use a timer) recipes because you need to turn the oven down to 350 after 25 minutes. It might be a good idea to turn it down a little sooner or start it at 400 — my crust browned awfully fast. The filling turned a jammy, deep golden color, reminiscent of the color of the ripe Meyer lemons themselves.

Madge, the pie critic, commented that it was a little bitter. She’s right — it has a slightly bitter edge like a mild marmalade does because you use the whole lemon. I don’t mind it. It has deep lemon flavor. And her comment did not stop her from having another piece at lunch today. If you need a pie that is all sweetness and light, this is not your pie, can’t be your pie. If you love all lemon desserts all the time, make it and see what you think.

painting shows a single red shoe.

One Red Shoe. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Okay, so what’s this about the red shoe? Not in the pie, silly. Cecilia of TheKitchensGarden kindly awarded me the Educational Shoe Award, given to blogs that teach, because I preach the gospel of seasonal cooking and because I chime in with helpful hints on other food blogs when I think something I say might be helpful. It came with a high-heeled red shoe. I am grateful to Cecilia for honoring me and my two cents worth: she lives on a farm, raising animals and bees and crops, preserving her own bounty and wishing us cheery good mornings from her Illinois homestead. She also writes and coaches us on how to take better photos. I am also grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to paint red shoes. Turns out I own and have owned several red shoes, but this is the first red shoe that came to mind, a little flat number because I can’t walk in high heels. I will pass on the award in a future post after I have had time to study some potential recipients and think on it.

Food notes: You need the sugar in this pie — all of it: you need it to transform the bitter pith. I can’t recommend experiments or substitutions because this is the first time I have made this pie, although I can confess to wondering if I could make it with thin-skinned Valencia oranges, or a mixture of oranges and lemons. The official recipe says “thin-skinned lemons” (Meyers are perfect). You need thin-skinned varieties because they have less pith.

painting of tangerine curd and ingredients

Tangerine Curd. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

It’s tangerine season and that means tangerine curd. Riverdog Farm delivers pounds of mandarins and oranges each week. Because I have a contract baking/barter arrangement right now with my friend C., who brought me to music camp, I offered her some curd. She wanted eight jars. Eight jars! See Sharyn scurrying around the garage, looking for empty jars of an appropriate size. See Sharyn buying three dozen eggs at Trader Joe’s. See Sharyn topping a couple of those jars with plastic wrap and rubber bands because good lids were wanting. See Sharyn making angel food cake from scratch to use those first twelve egg whites.

Now, I had on hand eight organically grown tangerines from the farm and eight tangerines of unknown provenance from Safeway. Using the blood orange curd recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts for proportions, I made my first batch with the eight organic tangerines, 18 tablespoons of butter, a dozen egg yolks, plus three whole eggs, 3/4 cup sugar and the juice of three Meyer lemons. This yielded nearly two cups of juice and five jars of tangerine curd. Then I made a second batch with Safeway tangerines. They only yielded a little over a half cup of juice. I added Meyer lemon juice to get to a cup and followed the recipe as written, except for using tangerines instead of blood oranges. The lesson? Different tangerines will yield different amounts of juice — either buy organic ones or get a few extra in case your juice is too scant. The second recipe yielded three small jars of curd.

Tangerine Curd (adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts)

Zest, then juice 4 tangerines to yield 7 Tbsp juice (have a few back-up tangerines in case yours are dry)

Add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice (I juiced 1 Meyer lemon)

Separate 4 eggs and reserve whites for another use.

Whisk 4 egg yolks and one whole egg with 1/4 cup sugar in a non-reactive sauce pan.

Add juice and zest.

Cut 6 Tbsp unsalted butter into small pieces and add to saucepan.

Bring to low-medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook until curd coats the spoon. Hint, draw a clean finger through the curd on the spoon — if the track remains clear, the curd is done.

Pour curd into clean glass jars (I washed my jars and lids and boiled them in a water bath before filling them).

This recipe will yield three small jars. Cool and store in refrigerator. The curd will keep for one-to-two weeks. It is good on rye toast or as a cake filling. Or, you might do as my friend Bob suggested and make a tangerine meringue pie. If you want to use curd as a pie filling, Lindsey Shere suggests that you mix 1/4 tsp cornstarch with the sugar before you make the curd — apparently, it helps the curd hold together under oven heat.

Now, remember I made a triple batch the first time and had a dozen egg whites leftover: the simplest thing was to use them to make an angel food cake, delicious with curd. I had not made an angel food cake from scratch since I was a teenager, but I saw no reason not to attempt it. My trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook offered not one but two options for homemade angel food. I chose option two, which contained confectioner’s sugar and seemed to skirt the possibility of being grainy. I got out my whisk, tube pan, metal utensils, beaters, scrubbed and dried them all, got down the cake flour and confectioner’s sugar and set to work. The recipe said to sift the flour and sugar together three times. Uh-huh. Right. Instead, I sifted them each once into a mixing bowl and used my whisk to blend them. Then I beat egg whites, added sugar, beat them again until they nearly overflowed the mixing bowl. I then followed the instruction to sift the sugar and flour over the top of the egg whites. I found this to be quite tedious, perhaps because our sifter is sixty years old and cranky, or perhaps because I really don’t like to sift, just as my mother does not like to stir. What the recipe should have said was to sift some of the mixture on top of the egg whites, fold it in, sift some more, because if you do it all at once you then have a difficult job of folding the mixture into the egg whites because you have no room left in your bowl. I got the job done, however. The other hard part is scraping the batter into the tube pan with a metal spatula. It is much easier to scrape things with a rubber scraper, but verboten for egg whites.

The reward for all of this excess and troublesome labor was a good-tasting cake with none of the odd flavors that show up in commercial angel food cakes or mixes. The cake tastes purely of vanilla and sugar and has a moister texture than you would expect. Mom says I didn’t beat the egg whites enough, but I thought the moist texture was gorgeous.

Here is the amended recipe from Betty Crocker

Angel Food De Luxe (sic)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together 1 cup sifted Softasilk cake flour and 1 and 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar.

Beat 12 egg whites with 1 scant teaspoon of cream of tartar and 1/4 tsp salt until foamy.

Add 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, while continuing to beat egg whites.

Beat to stiff peaks and fold in 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Sift 1/4 of the flour sugar mixture over the meringue and fold in. Repeat until all flour and sugar are incorporated.

Using only clean, dry metal utensils, transfer cake to waiting ungreased, unfloured 10 x 4 tube pan. Level cake gently with metal spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until top springs back when gently pressed with finger.

Set tube pan on top of glass or plastic bottle (I used a ketchup bottle) and cool completely before unmolding. Use table knife to loosen edges. Eat with curd or plain. Yum.

P.S. When the comments started to come in, people suggested that angel food cake was a North American dessert. I didn’t know that. Now I do. I consulted Granny Wise and she’s written up a history of angel food cake for you.

painting of English toffee and ingredients as seen by a horse.

Sebastian and the English Toffee. 12″ x 12″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Last week Susan Darm showed up to show you how to make her delicious caramels. This week she is back with her English Toffee recipe. The basic recipe has only three ingredients — shouldn’t you be making some? Think of how nice it will be standing over a warm, fragrant pot of caramel on these cold days.

Susan says:

I did not get this recipe from a book. It may have been given to me by a neighbor, Mrs. Steel, who was from England. I never wrote it down because the recipe was simple, consisting of only three ingredients. These were cooked together carefully then poured out, cooled and broken into pieces which could be covered or dipped in chocolate and robed in chopped almonds. I made English Toffee at the holidays for years. So far I have not found any commercial toffee that tastes as good.

English Toffee

One pound granulated sugar

One pound butter (I have used salted and un-salted. Salted works better for me).

One cup raw almonds

Prepare a buttered cookie sheet. I use a buttered silicon cooking mat on a cookie sheet but it works just as well without the silicon. In a good quality saucepan about 10 inch diameter, place the sugar and butter. Melt these together stirring continuously until they are completely melted and start to bubble. Add the raw almonds. Continue to cook at a slow boil while stirring constantly never lifting the spoon from the mixture. If you are using a candy thermometer you will do this until it reads 290-300 degrees f (between soft crack and hard crack stage). If not using a thermometer, cook until the candy starts to turn a beautiful toffee color and pulls away from the sides of the pan as you stir. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully remove the stirrer from the pan. Do not allow any candy on the stirrer to drip back in to the pan, it could taint your candy and ruin the texture. Pour the candy on to the baking sheet or silicon mat. I let it cool just a little then use a silicon spatula to smooth the surface and spread the nuts uniformly. I sometimes score the candy lightly with a knife just before it hardens so I get uniform sized pieces when I break the cooled candy. Once the candy has cooled you can do what you want, break it in to pieces to dip in chocolate, crumble it, or chocolate coat the whole big piece to give as a gift along with a little hammer. Have fun and be creative!

Food Notes (from Sharyn): We pour our candy into buttered Pyrex oblong pans. It works for us.

Painting note: Today’s painting features Susan’s horse, Sebastian, who says, “Western tack, please, but English toffee!”

Susan promises to come back next fall and teach us how to cure olives.