Thursday, February 28, 2008


I have a post up on FitFare today on Decadent Double-Chocolate Cake. Stop by and check it out. It may be the next post here, but until I can get a write up done, you can get your chocolate fix there.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Simple Things: Ricotta Cheese

If you have the following in your house:

6 cups of whole milk (the higher the quality the better, although plain old milk will be fine)
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
A little salt
A pot big enough for the 6 cups of milk
A large spoon (slotted is better, but if you don’t have one, it’ll still be fine)
A candy thermometer (or an instant-read thermometer and two wooden spoons)
Some cheesecloth
A colander
A bowl large enough to hold the colander

You have the makings of the most amazing, most wonderful, most incredible thing you’ve ever eaten. It's absolutely simple, yet people will marvel that you made it. Fresh homemade ricotta cheese.

I’ve read about people making their own ricotta and always threatened to try it. In the last couple of weeks I’ve read in two different places about making cheese in general, and ricotta specifically as one of those. The first was in the spring issue of Donna Hay magazine, which I was rereading since spring is standing on the threshold. The second was in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He has a section on Cheese & Eggs, and part of that section includes instructions for making one’s own cheese of various kinds, including ricotta.

I stuck more closely to Donna Hay’s method, because she was more specific with things like temperatures and overall instructions. Mark Bittman’s method was to heat the milk on medium for 10 or 15 minutes until it took on a certain appearance and then add the acidifying ingredient to make cheese. Having never done this before I was more comfortable with Donna Hay’s very specific instruction to heat the milk to 176 degrees F and then add the acidic component.

Donna Hay did call for a candy thermometer, which I didn’t have. Instead I had an instant read thermometer that I rigged up a suspension device for using two wooden spoons.

I heated the milk over a fairly gentle flame, and it did take quite a bit of time to reach the right temperature—probably 10 or 15 minutes. I never let it actually boil, or even simmer, but just heat. From Mark Bittman I did learn that a pinch or two of salt wouldn’t hurt the finished product, so I added that during the heating process. When the thermometer read 176 degrees F, I removed the pan from the heat, poured in the vinegar, and held my breath. The milk immediately took on the appearance of curdled…well, milk, of course.

I let it sit for several minutes, then began scooping the curds gently out into the cheesecloth-lined strainer (funny, to actually use cheesecloth for cheese) to drain. The gentle touch is needed, Donna Hay explains, to keep the curds intact. After a few minutes in the strainer, I moved the cheese to an old jar (I keep old jars of likely sizes—jam, pickles and the like—for just this sort of project).

With trepidation I tasted the result. Would it be any good, or would I have just trashed 48 ounces of milk for nothing?

Well. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was. Silky and smooth with the faintest milky flavor, but with the proper cheese flavor too. It was pillowy, I tell you. It looked like soft fluffy clouds as I spooned it into the jar.

I immediately added “whole milk – 2 gal.” to the grocery list I was making. Having bought it, I made another batch of ricotta.

This time I was making my children’s lunch at the same time—home made pizza. My attention was divided, I was less devoted to the ricotta-making process than before. Now I used a medium flame, but checked the thermometer (which was by now a candy thermometer that I bought at the grocery store with the milk) only when I happened to think of it. By the time I was able to focus my thoughts on cheese and cheese alone, the temperature was probably closer to 200 degrees F. I don’t even really know. I swirled the skin that had formed over the heating milk into the mixture with the probe of the thermometer, noticed that the gauge immediately shot up, and crossed my fingers as I dumped the vinegar into the milk. It curded up just the same as before.

Then I got involved with some disaster involving flour and a two-year-old and it sat in the pot for really quite some time. At least twice as long as the five minutes originally called for. Once again I carefully scooped the curds out into the prepared colander. In fact, it turned out better this time. The first time I’d felt like I was throwing away quite a bit of milk. This time the liquid left was just yellowish whey.

It also strained longer the second time, again having to do with my children’s lunch preparation schedule, and again, I felt the result was more successful than before. The ricotta was dryer this time and more closely resembled that which I could buy in the store, but with that fresher, more immediate flavor than store bought gives. This also taught me that if all I had was a regular spoon that I could let as much of the whey as possible run off as I scooped it up, and then let it drain longer, possibly turning it carefully a time or two as it drained in the colander.

I now have two jars of this wonderful stuff in my refrigerator, and bought the ingredients for lasagna at the same time I was buying the additional milk. In fact, the only disappointment in this whole experience was that it didn’t occur to me to make lasagna with the finished product. It had to be pointed out to me that it would probably make fabulous lasagna. After I made the first batch, and raved about it, Alex said, “Wow, if it’s that good, think how good a lasagna made with it would be…”

I could only smack myself in the forehead and add to the grocery list.

Ricotta Cheese
adapted from Donna Hay magazine #35, and Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”

makes about 1 and 1/2 cups of cheese

6 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.

Heat milk over medium heat until a candy or instant read thermometer reaches 176 degrees F.

Remove pan from heat, and add vinegar to milk. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes as curds form.

Using a slotted spoon, gently scoop curds into prepared colander. Allow to drain until fairly dry, five to ten minutes at least.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Springing: Lemon Tart

It’s almost too much to hope that spring is here. We got conflicting reports from groundhogs, and which one was to be believed? But sitting in my living room yesterday afternoon with the French doors wide open, the gentle breeze wafting around the room, and the setting sun tiptoeing across the floor as I sipped a glass of Chardonnay that could have been its sister, I was inclined to believe the “four more weeks of winter” prediction. It’s been sunny and tragically beautiful (tragic in a “How can they insist we work in a stuffy office on a day like this?” kind of way) since last weekend.

Perhaps as a way of wishing spring had really arrived, or perhaps as a sort of magic charm to bring it on, we made a lemon tart last weekend. Citrus is one of those ingredients that straddles the seasons, much like squashes, potatoes, mushrooms and onions do between fall and winter. When few other fruits are particularly nice, lemons and limes are little splashes of warmth and cheer. They’re so accomodating and flexible too, lending a hand in sweet dishes with as much enthusiasm as they do in savory ones.

This particular recipe is from Donna Hay magazine. Donna Hay is less well known in this country, although she certainly has her followers. Because she’s Australian, and antipodean seasons are exactly opposite of ours, I always look longingly at the (incredibly beautiful, amazingly styled) pictures of warm, homey roasts in July, and summery berry concoctions offered as dessert options for Christmas dinner.

But because I subscribe to the magazine (at exorbitant rates, but an addict must pay the price) I can just reach back two issues and find the right season and be browsing through crisp salads and picnic fare. For those who would prefer to support their local magazine retailer, the issue on the newsstand is usually the correct one for the North American season (I checked my local bookstore last weekend, and indeed, issue 35 Spring, Oct/Nov 07 is the one currently available). The downside to not subscribing is that most stores only get a few issues, so you do run the risk of missing out if you don’t show up pretty promptly when the shipment comes in. It was the disappointment of missing out that urged me to subscribe. I also bought all the back issues all the way to issue 1.

This lemon tart comes from a column called Inspired, in which the recipes are generally centered around a concept, rather than an ingredient. “Folded,” for instance, or “paper thin.” Folded consisted of recipes for things like crepes, and paper thin featured home made potato chips, and things made with phyllo. In issue 35, the theme is Citrus. How timely and convenient, since decent citrus is available pretty much all year. This lemon tart seemed like an excellent way to usher in (or beg for the arrival of?) spring.

Like almost every recipe I’ve ever made from Donna Hay, this one was outstanding. The only change we ever have to make is in the cooking times. I’m not sure why, but our cooking times always seem to be about twice as long as hers, regardless of the cooking method. The tart said to cook it for 20 minutes, but in the end it was in the oven for closer to 40 minutes. No matter, it was terrific, a well balanced sweet-acidic filling with a lovely biscuity crust. The filling was smooth and creamy and tart and wonderful. This is not a fast recipe, but well worth the time spent, and an excellent reminder that, no matter what the groundhogs say, it can be spring inside, even if it’s not quite spring outside.

Lemon Tart
from Donna Hay magazine, issue 35
serves 8, or 2 people really anxious for spring to arrive

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 ½ oz cold unsalted butter, chopped
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar*
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon filling
1 cup (single or pouring) cream**
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
½ cup caster (superfine) sugar
½ cup lemon juice

Place the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and vanilla and process in short bursts until the pastry just comes together. Turn out and bring together to form a ball. Flatten the pastry, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 360 degrees F. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until 1/8” thick. Line an 8 2/3” (we used a 9”) round pastry ring (we used a tart pan with a removable bottom) with the pastry, trim, and prick the base with a form. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Line the pastry with non-stick baking paper, fill with baking weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and paper and bake for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden. Set aside.

Reduce the oven to 285 degrees F. To make the lemon filling, place the cream, eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and use the back of a metal spoon to skim the surface to remove any bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until just set. Allow to cool and refrigerate until completely set.

* caster or superfine sugar is available at some grocery stores, but you can make your own by whizzing regular granulated sugar in a food processor until fine. The benefit of superfine sugar over regular granulated sugar is that it dissolves more quickly.

** we used heavy cream; Donna Hay gives fat content comparisons in several of her books, but the problem I find is that most of the milk sold in this country doesn’t include information about percentages of fat on the labels. Australia, like England, has products like double cream that we can only dream of here (or pay huge sums for at specialty stores). Our heavy cream is approximately equivalent to their single cream.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making It Myself: Ethiopian Food

I think I’ve mentioned several times that we live on an island. Contrary to my husband’s grandmother’s perception of a sort of Robinson Crusoe scenario with indoor plumbing, it’s a pretty well-populated island. We’re just a short ferry ride from Seattle, but putting that water between us and the metropolis makes it seem farther away, more remote. I work in Seattle so I have access to lots of the comforts of an urban lifestyle, but every evening I get on the ferry and watch the city slide away. On the island side, a “traffic jam” is a line of more than five cars. “Downtown” is four blocks long and four blocks wide. We have seven traffic lights, and two of those are just constantly flashing red lights at intersections with four-way stops. Nothing is more than 20 minutes away from anything else.

Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Where I came from, a “traffic jam” meant at least an hour sitting on the highway, barely creeping along, and it took 20 minutes just to get out of my neighborhood, onto the main road, and over to the grocery store (if you walked, which I did once or twice, it was about a mile as the crow flies, but there were no sidewalks, few cross walks, and the whole layout was pretty unfriendly to pedestrian traffic).

While this is island has a significant population, and that population generally quite well-educated and possessing fairly sophisticated tastes (generally speaking, of course), what we don’t have is a vast selection of restaurants. As these things go, we have a pretty good roster to choose from: a café that serves what I suppose would be termed “New American cuisine,” an Asian fusion restaurant, a couple of Mexican places, a couple of Thai places, a couple of seafood places, and a Chinese, and an Indian restaurant. There are a few more, including a couple of wine bars and pizza places, but those are the highlights as far as sit-down restaurants go.

However, you’ll notice that there are some omissions there. No Italian (although there is a little pasta shop). No steakhouse. No French. No tapas. All these things are available on the other side of the water, but sometimes we just want to stay on our little island. That means we either go without, or shop for unusual ingredients on our lunch hour and try our hand at making things at home.

This is a somewhat roundabout way of explaining how it is that Ethiopian food became part of my cooking repertoire. There are only a few Ethiopian restaurants in Seattle that I’m aware of (and if your awareness is guided by Zagat, there are none). I wasn’t really craving Ethiopian, but then I stumbled on a series of recipes in the March 2006 issue of Sunset magazine while I was at the hairdresser. They even had a recipe for bread (injera). Suddenly, I was dying for Ethiopian. The hairdresser let me tear out the page, and off I went.

These are only two of many dishes you’re likely to find at a true Ethiopian restaurant, but they’re representative of the things I love best about it. The stew is beef in a zingy tomato based sauce that thickens up to the point where you can pick it up with the injera. The lentils are a little different from what I used to get back east. The recipe calls for yellow lentils, rather than red, and they’re scented with lemon, which is actually a perfect foil to the warm spices of the beefy stew. I’ve made the injera, and it even turned out as I remembered it in the restaurant, but it wasn’t such a hit with *ahem* other members of my family, and since it takes a little time and effort to make and wasn’t appreciated, I stopped making it. However, just the beef and the lentils alone make a very filling meal, and the bread is not critical. What you get is a bowl of soupy sunshine with a spicy, beefy sauce on it.

This makes a lot of food. I take the leftovers the next day for lunch. The lentils aren’t all that pretty when they’re reheated, but they’re still delicious. The smell when it’s reheating will have your coworkers asking, “What is that? It smells great.” And you say, “Thanks, it’s Ethiopian food,” and they’ll ask where you got it, and you’ll respond, “Oh, I made it.”

You’ll impress them, but more importantly, you’ll impress yourself that you can make something so warming, so wonderful, and so seemingly exotic. You’ll start wondering what other culinary challenges you’re up for. The next hideous rainy afternoon when you’re thinking that you just can’t face another casserole, you won’t hesitate to consider some previously intimidating cuisine. After all, you’ll think, that Ethiopian food was really wonderful!

Beef Stew in Spicy Berbere Sauce
from Sunset magazine, March 2006
serves 6

If you can get the fenugreek, it really does add a little something. I’ve made it with and without, and there’s just a little more authentic flavor if you do use it. You can reduce or increase the amount of cayenne to suit your preference for heat. I’m not a huge fan of super spicy things, so I usually cut it down to a teaspoon or so.

2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon each ground paprika and cayenne
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon each ground turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom
1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves and allspice
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) crushed tomatoes in purée
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 1/2 pounds boned beef chuck, fat trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1. In a food processor, pulse onions until very finely diced (almost puréed).

2. Melt butter in 4- to 5-quart pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and stir until browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Add ginger, paprika, cayenne, cumin, fenugreek, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and allspice; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, wine, and beef; bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beef is very tender when pierced, about 2 hours. Add salt to taste.

Lemony Lentils
from Sunset magazine, March 2006
serves 6

I always use yellow split peas for this, which I have to believe are the same thing as yellow lentils because I’ve never seen truly yellow lentils anywhere. Green, brown, red, yes; yellow, no. Even if I’m wrong and there really are yellow lentils, the yellow split peas work just fine and taste great.

2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups yellow or brown lentils, sorted for debris and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Grated peel from 1 lemon (yellow part only)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Chopped cilantro and lemon wedges

1. Melt butter in a 3-quart pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute.

2. Add lentils and stir to coat with butter, then add broth. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender but not mushy, 20 to 30 minutes. They will thicken as they cool.

3. Stir in ginger, lemon peel, juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro and lemon wedges on the side.

from Sunset magazine, March 2006
serves 6 (12 flatbreads)

You can use buckwheat flour, which is more widely available than the traditional teff flour. However, I found teff flour at my local grocery store after I’d already made the injera and it had been indifferently received, so I’ve never made really authentic injera. If you do, let me know how it turns out. It was fine with buckwheat flour. At least, I thought so. Humph.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
About 3 cups club soda

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs and club soda and whisk until batter is smooth. It should have the consistency of pancake batter; add more club soda if needed.

2. Spray a 10-inch nonstick frying pan lightly with cooking oil spray and set over medium heat. When hot, pour 1/3 cup batter into the pan, tilting to coat most of the bottom. Cook until flatbread appears bubbly and dry on top, 2 to 3 minutes; do not turn.

3. Slide bread onto a serving platter. Cover with a kitchen towel and keep warm in a 200° oven while you cook remaining breads.

4. Place one injera flat on each of six dinner plates and top with stew. Serve with remaining injera to scoop up the food.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Well Fed Network

I have a couple of posts today up on the Well Fed Network. For a summary of the Jam Crumb Cake debacle, see this post. For some interesting uses for parchment paper, see this post.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Oat Affair

I can’t even begin to explain it, but I have been completely obsessed with oats lately. I’ve been making anything and everything with them. This weekend alone I made oatmeal (a given), failed bar cookies (which got broken up and are currently being used as granola, and the recipe for them will be the foundation for my own granola recipe), and oatcakes. Still waiting in the wings are a baked oatmeal recipe, the aforementioned granola, and two loaves of oat bread (one maple flavored, one plain).

Oats are so friendly, so innocent. They can be sweet or savory, and are happy whole or chopped up. They’ll play a staring role, or share the limelight. Oats are just so darned nice.

This weekend I happened to remember an oat recipe from Jill Dupliex’s Simple Food (which is now sadly out of print). I was trying to think of snacks to take with me to work, and reading the ingredients on the box of Ritz crackers my children were consuming sent me running as fast as I could for a recipe that had as few ingredients as possible.

These little cakes take almost no time, are an excellent vehicle for cheese, and are buttery and nutty at once. The food processor does all the work. They could be jazzed up with some herbs or cayenne or even black pepper, but I like them plain. They make a wonderful blank canvas for anything you want to have stand out boldly. And they’re so forgiving—you can manhandle the dough all you like, kneading and re-rolling to maximize the output from the recipe, and they won’t toughen up or get in a snit the way biscuits will.

The original recipe was for oatcakes with tomatoes and goat cheese, which I’ve included below, but the oatcakes can be made and used as a base for just about any other snacky or nibbly thing you cared to top them with.

These don’t actually brown up in the oven. They’re a bit pale and wan looking, which is why they’re good topped with things. However, if you were concerned about appearances, you could add a touch of sugar to the dough, or paint them with a little cream or milk to help encourage them to color up. If you decided to add cayenne pepper, that would give them a bit of a tinge right there.

I can recommend these with blue, cheddar, and manchego cheeses. They also have my daughter’s seal of approval. It doesn’t get much more official than that.

from Jill Dupliex’s Simple Food
makes approximately 20 oatcakes

1 ½ cups rolled oats
2/3 cup all purpose flour
6T butter, softened
2-4 T cold water

Preheat oven to 350. Whiz oats, flour, butter, and salt in a food processor. Add water, 1T at a time until mixture starts to come together. Turn dough out onto a floured board, and push together into a mass. Gently roll or pat out to ½” thick. Cut into 2” rounds with a cookie cutter or glass. Re-roll scraps and cut out more. Bake on a baking sheet covered with parchment for 10-12 mins. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

For the original recipe:

Toss 20 cherry tomatoes with 1T olive oil and bake for 15 mins until soft and squidgy. Cool to room temperature.

Top each oatcake with one round of goat cheese (cut from a 7 ounce log) and one cherry tomato.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Now is the Time: Potato Gratin Gruyere

It’s getting to be that time of year. The time of year when it feels like winter is endless, and spring will never come. The holidays are long over, Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday has passed (for some of us the only day we get off between New Year’s and Memorial Day). The 5-day forecast keeps showing a little grey cloud with streaks underneath it. Is that a mistake? Isn’t that the same graphic they printed last week? Five little grey clouds in a line? It has to be a mistake.

Oh sure, there are a few daffodils pushing through here and there, but mostly everything looks leaden grey; sky, water, mountains.

The remedy for this is the warm stews and comfy baked dishes we were all anxious to make as soon as the air took on the slight nip of fall. All we could think of was making beef stew, roast chicken, and soup, soup, soup. We made some of them, and then the holidays were upon us, and we all started a baking frenzy. Cookies for Santa, cinnamon rolls for a family brunch, rolls to accompany the holiday dinner. Our houses smelt of frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and cinnamon.

But now we’ve all recovered from the holidays, and yet it’s still cold, and still dark. I’ve been making a point of buying fresh flowers for the house, to remind myself that winter can’t last forever. But tulips, while cheering, aren’t very warming, so I’ve also been exploring in magazines, finding things to make that are comforting, but new and exciting.

I recently stumbled on a recipe for gratineed onions, and thought the sauce sounded wonderful. While searching for something to go with our Saturday night steaks, I remembered it. But we had already chosen a vegetable, and what we were really in need of was a starch. I looked at the ingredients and thought, why not make potatoes out of it? And that’s how this version of Potato Gratin Gruyere came to be.

It’s homey and filling, thick with a creamy sherry-spiked sauce, given a zingy twist with some mustard (the original recipe called for both Dijon and whole grain, which you could use in this dish; I chose to use all Dijon for a smoother consistency). The melted Gruyere over the top browns up to a wonderful crust and makes the whole a thing of cheesy goodness.

Make up a big pan of this and serve it with one of those roasts you spent all of September dreaming about. Now is the time!

Potato Gratin Gruyere
adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2008
6-8 servings, depending on how cold, dark, and/or rainy it is

2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup stock
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper
1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere or Comte
4 potatoes, about 3 lbs, cut into approximately 1/4 “ thick slices

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add stock and milk and cook about 8 minutes, or until thick. Whisk in the mustard, salt & pepper and cook 3 minutes more. Taste sauce and correct seasoning.

In a large ovenproof casserole, arrange ½ of the potatoes. Spoon ½ of the sauce over the potatoes, making sure to cover them well. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Add the remaining potatoes and top with remaining sauce. Add more salt and pepper, if desired.

Bake for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, and sauce is bubbly. Top with cheese and bake 20 more minutes, or until cheese is golden.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Jam Crumb Cake Third Attempt: The Charm

The springform pan and melting the preserves seem to have done the trick. I have, at last, a successful version of this cake. I feel like I’ve just finished my first marathon. I’m exhausted, but proud of my accomplishment.

This recipe has drifted pretty far away from the original, mostly in technique, rather than ingredients. To ensure success I now have everything ready to go, then combine it all, and get it in the oven within 5 or so minutes. The original instructions for this cake called for mixing up the batter, plopping in some preserves, then mixing and scattering the crumb topping over it and baking. I’ve managed to complicate this process somewhat.

Here, at last, is the recipe, with my notes:

Jam Crumb Cake
adapted from Gourmet magazine, December 2007
serves 6-8

For Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder (I use single acting homemade baking powder)
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves
Juice of ½ a lemon

For Crumb Topping
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
½ cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Make Cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with rack in middle. Generously grease an 8 ½” or 9” springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray parchment paper with cooking spray.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk together butter, milk, vanilla, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan.

In a small pan over medium heat, heat preserves with the juice of ½ a lemon until almost completely melted. Remove from heat and stir until all jam is melted, then drizzle over batter. Using a knife, stir preserves into the batter until well incorporated, but not completely combined (some streaks of jam should still be visible in the batter).

Make Crumb Topping:
Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of the cake.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, and sides begin to pull away form the pan, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove outer ring of springform pan and let cool to room temperature.

I’d probably add even another teaspoon of vanilla to this the next time I made it. And I combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another, melt the jam, and then make the topping. Then I mix the wet and dry ingredients, pour them into the prepared pan, add the jam and swirl, then top and bake to get the whole thing into the oven as quickly as possible.

The end product is not too sweet, has a nice shot of fruit from the preserves, and a firm, moist texture. The reason I was so devoted to this thing is because I think it’s a nice change from the usual sour cream coffee cake, or variation on sticky buns that calls for pecans or other nuts. I think this cake would be good with any kind of preserves stirred through it (I’m intending to make it in the summer when the blackberries are ripe and I can make a variation on blackberry preserves to use), lemon curd, or for kids with melted peanut butter and jam mixed in. The basic cake is so simple that it would be a good blank canvas to play with.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Jam Crumb Cake: Second Attempt

After reviewing what may have been my mistakes in my previous attempt, I gamely gave this cake another go. This time I was careful to follow not only the recipe instructions to the letter, but also my own modification intentions.

I did some reading on the single acting baking powder I make from scratch. Everything I’ve read cautions that you must be sure to get the batter into the oven quickly quickly because the baking powder starts to act as soon as the liquid hits it. Too much delay results in a flat product. Check.

My own modifications included making only a half recipe of the crumb topping, and reducing the baking powder to 1 teaspoon. Check, check.

And the result was…still a flop. After 35 minutes I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool. It looked beautiful, as you can see. When I tried to cut it, I discovered that the preserves I used settled to the bottom of the pan, making it difficult to get the pieces out whole. Because the thing was cooked in a 9” round cake pan, it was impossible to flip the cake out without destroying the topping (later it occurred to me that I might have been able to do the two-dinner-plates flip flop thing, although the topping still would have suffered somewhat).

This time I called in a consultant to help me assess the damage and identify a mitigation plan. Alex looked at the heap of crumbs on the cutting board and suggested using a springform pan and lining it with parchment paper. We have a small problem, because I don’t think I have a 9” springform pan (just a 10”), but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

My thought is that the preserves are too solid and that’s why they’re sinking. Next go around I’ll melt them, possibly with a little lemon juice, on the stove, then drizzle them into the batter. We also agreed that the batter itself could use a shot of vanilla.

By the time I’m done with it, the only remnants of the original recipe will be the flour and the preserves.