Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Celebrity Recipe - and a camera fail

I baked Irish Soda Bread. I forgot to take pictures. (If I bake something in my kitchen and don't take a picture, does it exist?) I also did it on March 25, just a little over a week after St. Patrick's day. But I figure that procrastination is an Irish thing, or at least it is in my family.

Anyway, the point of this post is - it was Anjelica Huston's Irish Soda Bread. And after just watching The Witches for the first time, I was inspired (and a bit frightened) by all things Anjelica. The link is right here - it's a very wheaty, rustic loaf that my friend referred to as a "wheat flower" (my attempts to draw a cross on the bread apparently weren't so successful). It bakes up extremely dense, even after I added a cup and a half of buttermilk to the dough to make it hold together. However, and perhaps this is due to the free-flowing wine at the housewarming, people loved it. Especially good with a thick layer of butter or cheese on top (who wouldn't?).

Buttermilk Spice Cake

Not perhaps the most springlike of desserts I could have gone with, but after seeing this cake featured on Epicurious, I knew I had to make it. It's just the sort of cake I love to make for small gatherings - simple, just one layer, nothing overwhelming either in the baking or the eating of it - and I had a housewarming coming up.

pears up top...

The texture was lovely - perhaps a little on the dense side, but certainly still crumby and tender. I loved the flecks of lime peel throughout, with just a bit of the lime showing through on the pear topping as well.

As per the suggestion of one of the reviewers on Epicurious, I substituted Chinese Five Spice for Star Anise. I'm sure it affected the flavor profile, but I thought it also gave it a slightly musky, mysterious scent (and I mean musky in a good way, somehow). A few friends claimed it smelled like gingerbread. The pears definitely provided a nice contrast, transforming the dessert into something lighter and more playful. So there you have it: musky, mysterious, light, and playful. All in one dessert! Also - the original recipe called from creme fraiche, which I just wasn't feeling. I think a dollop of homewhipped cream might be a lovely addition though.

Buttermilk Spice Cake from Epicurious


Pear compote:

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Large pinch of salt
3 Bosc pears (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Buttermilk spice cake:

1 C plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 C cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground whole star anise (or substitute chinese five spice...and I used a heavy hand)
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
3/4 cup buttermilk
Powdered sugar*
1 1/2 cups crème fraîche*



For pear compote:
Mix sugar, lime juice, and salt in heavy large saucepan. Add pears and toss gently to coat. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until pears are just tender, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

For buttermilk spice cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; line pan with round of parchment paper. Sift first 9 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add lime peel; beat to blend. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions, scraping down bowl occasionally. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until beginning to brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on cooling rack. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Turn cake out onto rack; peel off parchment and turn right side up onto platter. Sift powdered sugar over (optional, I don't think it needed to be any sweeter). Cut into wedges. Serve with pear compote and dollop of crème fraîche (optional).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

NYT: In the Night Kitchen

Just a link to a whimsical little piece on how we feel as we cook, the way certain times of day or half-snatched memories or a mouth-watering cake at an unfamiliar bakeshop can nudge at us persistently.

In the Night Kitchen, by Leanne Shapton.

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Oatmeal Muffins

Not the pithiest name out there, is it? This recipe jumped to the top of my ever-growing list when I saw it on the blog And then I do the dishes. I've been looking for some healthy muffins to make for on-the-go breakfasts, and this one fit the bill. To my personal taste, it's still a little too sweet for my average breakfast, but that doesn't mean I won't grab one if I'm in a rush. All it really means is that I'm just as likely to grab it for a late-night snack...

I made these with old-fashioned oats, not quick-cooking. I'm pretty sure it resulted it a slightly chewier muffin, but it was still soft - no dense bran-like muffins here. I love baking recipes that use applesauce - I find they result in a really nice, moist finished product, and there's just something so healthy-seeming about it. Which allows me to add some extra chocolate chips.

No liner! A nice, hearty, naked muffin...

I'm copying And then I do the dishes' recipe and directions pretty much verbatim, which I'm not quite sure of the blogging ethics of, but at least this is full disclosure. Head on over there for much prettier pictures!

Buttermilk Oatmeal Muffins Recipe (adapted from Sweet Savory Southern)
Makes 16 muffins

1 1/2 C oats (either quick-cooking or regular, but accept it may change the consistency slightly)
1 1/2 C buttermilk 2 eggs, beaten 3/4 C packed brown sugar 1/4 C vegetable oil 1/4 C unsweetened applesauce 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt Handful of chocolate chips (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a muffin tin (or use muffins cups, but I just never see the point). In a bowl, soak oats in buttermilk for 15 minutes. Stir in eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir into oat mixture just until moistened. Fill prepared muffin tin three-fourths full. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, if using. Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until muffins test done. Cool in pan 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Ricotta Cookies

I hate cakey cookies. I like chewy cookies, or sometimes even crunchy cookies. Serious cookies, in other words, and if you want to throw in some chocolate or dried fruit, who am I to stop you? But these cookies are the quintessential "prove the rule by breaking it" cookies. These ricotta cookies are soft and cakey, completely subtle flavorwise, and absolutely addictive. Throw a little citrus-flavored icing on top, and they're an elegant midday cookie. Or any time of day. No judgments.

My friend Katherine used to make them in college - all it took me to get hooked was one night. I started off muttering about the intrinsic superiority of chocolate chip cookies, and that muttering gradually died down in favor of stuffing more and more of these ricotta cookies in my mouth. Lesson learned. And it's not just me - more people have fallen, and fallen hard, for these cookies than almost any other that I make.

Anyway! To the making! Really easy to mix together, this is a quick recipe that makes a ton of cookies. I always buy super fresh ricotta from the East Village Cheese Shop because I'm convinced that the fresher and sweeter the ricotta, the better. The dough is pretty dry - almost the same spongy consistency of lefsa dough, actually. It's not a slick, fully-incorporated dough like you get with sugar cookies, so don't worry if it's a little clumpy. I usually whip up a quick glaze with powdered sugar and a little fresh lime (or lemon) juice. Katherine swears by adding a little butter (and who can blame her?).


*note: this makes a huge amount - more than 40 cookies - so I often half it.

1 C unsalted butter
2 C white sugar
2 large eggs
16 oz. ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 C all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat eggs in, one at a time, and add the vanilla extract. Fold in the ricotta. Combine the dry ingredients, then add to the ricotta mixture. I then roll the dough into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball, and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for roughly 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are light golden brown. Let cool on the sheet, then remove and frost.