Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake With A Side of Cookies

The other day, I got a very nice compliment on my recipe for Gingerbread Peach Upside Down Cake (really my mom's), and it dawned on me that I've never even had the original upside-down cake: pineapple!  I suppose it's no accident.  Pineapple upside-down cake traditionally involves the horrific combination of canned pineapple and maraschino cherries.  I find the combination no more appealing congealing atop a slice of syrup-shellacked cake.

When I saw a recipe for pineapple upside-down cake in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook, I had to reassess.  Surely Thomas Keller wouldn't put his stamp of approval on an unworthy dessert!  Mr. Keller's admitted taste for canned pineapple aroused my suspicions, but the recipe called for fresh and I've never met a Keller recipe I didn't like, so I forged on.

The sugar topping of the recipe also intrigued me... instead of sticking to the usual brown-sugar and butter combo, Keller invented a "schmear": a fluffy concoction of whipped butter, brown sugar, rum, vanilla and salt. 

Oddly, the recipe only calls for a fraction of the schmear, and Keller unhelpfully advises that you can save the remaining schmear in your refrigerator for up to two weeks (or frozen for 1 month!).  What am I supposed to do with a big bowl of schmear in my refrigerator? Make five more pineapple upside-down cakes in the next two weeks?  At this point in the recipe I wasn't even entirely sure I liked pineapple upside-down cake so the remaining schmear's fate seem precarious at best.

Of course, the schmear proved to be evilly delicious.  As I stood over the sink, licking the sugary, rum-spiked butter from my fingers, the spoon, and the bowl, I simply couldn't bear to wash it down (the sink, not my throat--let's just say its a good thing I didn't have a glass of milk handy...). Since I'm the only one crazy enough to eat it by the spoonful, I had to find some way to use it in order to save myself from a diabetic coma.  Enter Keller-Schmear Cookies!  The schmear closely resembled cookie dough pre-eggs and flour so I just tossed in a few more ingredients, and viola!  Side of cookies!

Now, I know what you are thinking: I made a batch of cookies so that I wouldn't be dessert-less and disappointed when my first bite of cake confirmed that pineapples taste better on pizza and peaches taste better on upside-down cake.  Not so!  I trust Thomas Keller... even though he likes canned pineapple.

The pineapple upside-down cake proved to be quite good, although I personally prefer gingerbread-peach.  And the Keller Schmear cookies?  Maybe it was a little weird to serve cookies with cake, but I think my cookies were better!  I should change this post Keller-Schmear Cookies with a Side of Cake.  And Thomas Keller should include them in his next cookbook! 


Keller Cookies + Schmear
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 T. honey
1/2 t. dark rum
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 t. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 c. flour
1 scant 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt

Upside Down Cake
1 pineapple
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/3 c. flour
2t. baking soda
1/2 c. plus 2 T sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 T + 1t milk

Preheat the oven to 350.  To make the schmear and cookies, combine the brown sugar, butter, honey, rum, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth.  Spread 1/3 cup of the schmear onto the bottom of a 9 in. cake pan, sprinkle with kosher salt, and set aside.

Mix 1 egg into the remaining schmear until well-blended.  Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and mix until combined.  Refrigerate the cookie dough while preparing the pineapple.

Hack off ends of the pineapple, cut away the fibrous peel, and slice into rounds or half-rounds.  Remove core from the rounds (or half-rounds) and arrange in the pan on top of the schmear (you won't need all the pineapple... for a scrumptious way to use up the leftover pineapple--besides just eating it--try my recipe for Pineapple A La Cabo).  Go back to making cookies.

Form the chilled cookie-dough into balls (think ping-pong), roll in granulated sugar, and place on a cookie sheet 2 in. apart.  Bake at 350 for 10 min.  Cool while you make the cake.

Sift the flour and baking soda together and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium speed for three minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla, and beat to combine.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides after each addition.  Beat in the milk.  Add the flour in 3 batches, stirring with a spatula until just combined (do not overmix! overmixing = tough cake).

Spread the batter over the pineapple, pop in the oven, and bake 15 min.  Turn the pan 1/2 turn to ensure even baking, and bake another 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool cake for 30 min before inverting onto a plate.

Serve with freshly whipped cream (beat 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream 'till soft peaks form, add 2T granulated sugar and 1/4 t. vanilla, beat gently to combine), and to really dress it up, a glass of Sauternes (a shout-out to the person who inspired me to write my first post in over 4 months!).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Berry Pavlova

I've been delinquent with my postings in the last four months due to my new diet.  It's called the "I'm too busy to eat let alone cook" diet.  Really, practicing law does wonders for your figure!  Unless you're going for toned... this diet calls for a strict adherence to a no-gym policy, and requires that you sit motionless in a chair for at least 14 hours per day.  You'll be as skinny and floppy as a cooked noodle!

Since I mainly subsist on squished granola bars dredged from the bottom or my purse, or cheese, this simple raspberry pavlova is the most complicated cooking endeavor I've managed in the last four months. 

As I've mentioned before, I'm usually not a huge fan of meringue.  Meringue gets a bad rap in my book as being "healthy" since it mostly consists of egg whites and it's low in fat and calories. *shudder* There is nothing worse than a low-fat dessert.  BUT this meringue is different.  I actually have no idea if this particular dessert is low in calories or fat. I would suspect not given the exorbitant quantity of sugar stuffed into the marshmallowy meringue and the tart raspberry topping, not to mention the thick blanket of heavy whipping cream that crowns the finished creation.  YUM!  As I said, this meringue is different.

 On the other hand, it was named after ballerina Anna Pavlova, presumably because the lightness of the dessert rivaled that of Ms. Pavlova on point (or maybe because ballerinas have to eat meringue instead of cheesecake so they don't get fat?)  Either way, this pavlova is so good that it feeds a lively rivalry between New Zealand and Australia over which country invented it first! (according to good old Wikipedia). 

It's delicious, it's light, and best of all,  it's as easy as pie (or pavlova...) to bake.  So whether you're on a real diet, or the "I'm too busy to eat let alone cook" diet, this is the perfect dessert (thank you to my sister who just pointed out that this sentence previously read, "I'm too busty to eat let alone cook."  Whoops!  If that's the case, you [literally] have bigger problems than I do).  I'm going to have a slice right after I finish my dinner of potato chips... I literally just ate potato chips for dinner.  Ooook I also had a chocolate peanut butter truffle and a glass of flat champagne.


5 large egg whites
1 1/4 t cornstarch
1 1/2 t champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
pinch of salt
1 1/4 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar

2 pkgs raspberries
2 pkgs blackberries
1T lemon juice
1 cup sugar + 2-3T extra for the whipped cream
1c heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Medium peaks
Whisk the egg whites on low until foamy, then add the cornstarch, vinegar, and salt and whisk at medium speed until medium peaks form.  Medium peaks = the tips of the whites flop over slightly when you pull the beaters out and look at them.  Gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat at high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form.  Stiff glossy peaks =  the whites are stiff and glossy when you lift the beaters out and look at them.  No brainer.  Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Use a rubber spatula to scoop the egg white mixture onto the parchment.  Shape it into a rough circle as you scoop, and use the spatula to create a shallow well surrounded by a 1-2 in. rim.  Like an egg-white pizza, sort-of...

Stiff glossy peaks
Pop the egg white pizza into the oven and bake for 2 hours - until the outside is firm to the touch and the bottom lifts easily off of the parchment.  The insides will still be fluffy and soft.  Turn off the oven, and let the meringue cool with the oven door ajar for 2 hours (the gradual cooling prevents the meringue from cracking).

While the meringue cools, make the berry topping.

Pour 1pgk raspberries, 1 pkg blackberries, 1c. sugar, and lemon juice into a large saute pan.  Crush the berries with a fork and bring to a full boil over medium-high heat.  Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berry mixture gets syrupy and gooey. ~ 10 min.  Fold in the remaining 2pkgs berries and refrigerate until cold.

Egg-white pizza
Just before serving, make the freshly whipped cream.  Mmmmmmm.  I love freshly whipped cream!  Freshly whipped cream is to canned whipped cream as artisan cheese is to cheese whiz.  In other words, don't use canned whipped cream unless you want to make your dessert taste like you bought it, expired, from the bakery section of Safeway and then left it in the freezer until it got freezer burn, thawed it, re-froze it and thawed it again, let your cat lick it, and then served it.  After you scraped the mold off of it.  Seriously, don't use canned whipping cream.

Anyways, to make the whipped cream, beat the heavy whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually whisk in 2-3 T granulated sugar until medium peaks form.  Don't overwhip or you might as well have bought canned whipped cream.  Overwhipped cream is way more disgusting... like old butter than you left out so that it melted, the cat licked it, and then it re-congealed into a lumpy blob.

Hopefully I didn't just ruin your appetite, because now it is time to assemble the pavlova!

Pour the chilled berry mixture onto the center of the meringue, and spread so it reaches the rim.  Top with the freshly whipped cream.  Serve with dark roast coffee.  Slice and eat.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crème Brûlée

This post happened entirely out of necessity.  I've been lazy about baking lately, and haven't felt inspired to write a clever post.  Then, while idly leafing through my ad hoc at home cookbook one evening, the urge struck to make TK's whole bass in a salt crust.  TK's recipe instructs you to bury the fish in so much salt that your blood pressure rises just reading the ingredient list.  In addition to the extravagant amount of salt, the recipe calls for 8 egg whites.  This, of course, leaves 8 lonely, unused egg yolks.  Strangely, while I felt no guilt about wasting a whole box of salt on a silly fish, I did feel a twinge of guilt about throwing all those cheerful looking yolks down the drain.  What to do with a big bowl of egg yolks? Custard custard custard!  And the creme de la creme of custard just so happens to be crème brûlée. 

I figured I'd whip out a few of these babies, serve them to the fam, and be done with it.  No post necessary...  WRONG!  No sooner had I caramelized my first custard and cracked its sugar shell when I knew I would have to post this recipe.  With one gentle tap of my spoon, the thin, glassy brûlée snapped into sugar shards, revealing the creamiest custard I'd ever laid eyes on.  The first bite was cool, sweet, and outrageously luxurious - the silk negligee of the dessert world.  You might save your silk negligee for special occasions, folded neatly between tissue paper and tucked away in the back of your drawer... But there was no way I could let this recipe languish between the dusty pages of some old cook book, waiting for someone's anniversary or bridal shower.  Onto the Internet we go!  Gasp! (Keep your drawers on.  It's just dessert.  No photos of unmentionables here).  Please try this recipe.  It's super easy, and even if you're not a food freak who has every kitchen utensil known to man, including a mini-blow torch, you can still get the brûléed effect by user the broiler in your oven.

3 c. heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1T vanilla
1/3 c. sugar, plus extra for the brûléed topping

Preheat the oven to 300.  Combine the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan, and set the pan over medium-high heat.  Cook until small bubbles form at the edges of the pan, about five minutes.  Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let it stand for fifteen minutes while you whisk the eggs.  Heat a kettle of water to boiling for a water bath.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and the 1/3 c. sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes.  The cream mixture should have cooled a bit at this point, but you should still be careful not to curdle the eggs in this next step: slowly drizzle the warm cream into the egg mixture, continuing to whisk the eggs as you add the cream.  If you add the cream too quickly you will risk cooking/curdling the eggs, so take your time! 

Divide the egg-cream mixture evenly between six 6oz ramekins, or between nine 4oz ramekins.  Place the ramekins into a roasting pan or glass baking dish and carefully pour the boiling water into the pan/dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this is a water bath).  Carefully transfer the pan(s) with the custards into the oven, and bake until the custards are just set.  The centers should still jiggle a bit when you jostle the ramekins.  40 minutes should do the trick.

Remove the custards from the oven and let them cool in the water bath.  Lift the cooled ramekins out of their bath, and stick them in the fridge to chill for 4 hours, or overnight.

To serve, sprinkle about 1t sugar on the top of each custard.  Using a kitchen torch, hold the flame 2-3 inches above the sugared surface and slowly sweep it back and forth until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes.  Alternatively, preheat the broiler and move the oven rack to the top rung (within one inch of the heating element.  If you can't get it that close, just broil it for a bit longer).  Stick the sugared custards under the hot broiler for 20-30 seconds - until golden brown.  Allow the caramelized surface to cool and harden for that satisfying *snap* as you dig in!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mystery Mint Chip Ice Cream

I do weird things with food when I'm bored... although, some would argue I do weird things with food all the time.  Just earlier today I (regrettably) found myself slathering almond butter on a spoonful of peanut butter chocolate ice cream.  It was 107 degrees outside, and the only edible thing in my freezer was a meager spoonful of ice cream, so I'm not sure why I felt the need to smother that final, cold, precious bite with sticky warm goo.  It must be my insatiable quest for adventure and experimentation!

The lack of ice cream in my freezer on a day when I so desperately needed ice cream inspired me to action- as did the article I had just read in this month's Bon Appetit about infusing cocktails with herbs.  Our garden is full of herbs!  I could infuse my ice cream with herbs!  Unfortunately, due to a laissez-faire gardening regime, our herb patch has grown into a monstrous thicket.  The labels marking the once-neat rows of herbs have long-since been engulfed by vines, fronds, and giant spider webs.  I managed to recognize the basil, rosemary, and curry plants by sight (and smell!), but I doubted anyone in my household would embrace savory ice cream, and never curried ice cream (except my bf who puts curry in everything! I don't want to encourage that haha).

However, I vaguely remembered my mom mentioning that she had planted some different types of mint in lieu of the usual peppermint.  Something about chocolate mint or pineapple mint...? Bingo!  What better treat on a hot day than a cool scoop of mint chip?

I traipsed through the herb jungle, dodging gigantic arachnids, ducking spiky stalks, and squinting through the leaves in search of labels, to no avail.  None of the plants remotely resembled any mint I'd ever seen.  I crushed a few stems between my fingers to see if I could detect a whiff of sharp, minty perfume, but the surrounding foliage failed to produce that familiar fresh scent.  One towering plant, however, did smell rather nice.  It wasn't too earthy, like rosemary, or too peppery, like basil, and it didn't overpower my nose like the curry.  I plucked a fuzzy leaf and inhaled... it had a mild, sweet scent... And did I detect a hint of mint?  Sure, why not? 
                  Mint? Poison Oak? Let's eat it and find out!

I figured if the plant was in the herb patch, it probably wasn't toxic, whatever it was (I've since learned that at least one species of mint, the pennyroyal, IS toxic if ingested, but what dingbat would plant a toxic variety of mint in an edible garden?  Hm.... maybe the same type of dingbat who infuses ice cream with random leaves she discovers sprouting up between her tomato bushes...).  And so, mystery mint chip was born!  The curious herb had such a delicate aroma that I nixed bittersweet chips in favor of the milder flavor of white chocolate.  I wanted this bashful plant to have a leading role in my concoction! (although I wasn't above a drizzle of homemade dark chocolate sauce on my own finished scoop).

The resulting ice cream definitely had a robust minty kick, tempered by the buttery shards of white chocolate folded into the custard.  Based on a Google-image search of different mint varieties (and the fact that I haven't yet sickened and died), I think I may have used chocolate-mint after all.  Phew!

3 cups of fresh mint leaves, rinsed and packed (I used chocolate-mint, I think...)
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar
pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
two chocolate bars (I used two 3.5oz bars of Lindt white chocolate)

Put the chocolate bars in the fridge so they remain cold, unless you're lucky enough to have air conditioning.  In a medium saucepan, combine the mint, milk, and one cup of the cream.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until the cream is scalded (bubbles will begin to form at the edges of the pan).  Do not let the cream-mixture boil.  Remove the pan from heat, cover, and steep for 30 minutes.

Reheat the mixture until the cream is scalded again, remove from heat, cover, and steep an additional 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk the six yolks together in a small bowl, and set aside.

Strain the mint out of the cream mixture, and return the cream to the saucepan.  Use a spatula or fork to press any remaining cream out of the mint and into the pan. 

Add the sugar, and stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Using a ladle or big spoon, drizzle the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks constantly to prevent curdling.  Continue ladling cream into the yolks (tempering) until they are hot, but not cooked.  Return the yolky cream (pre-custard!) to the saucepan.  Stirring constantly, cook the custard over low heat until it thickens enough to coat the spatula.  Be very careful not to let the custard get to hot or disaster will befall you in the form of curdled custard.  As soon as it starts to thicken, take it off the heat!  You can always put it back if it's not thick enough.  The process will take between 5 and 10 minutes.

When you're custard has thickened, pour it through a sieve into a separate bowl, and stir in the remaining cup of heavy whipping cream.  Stick the whole shebang in the fridge until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours (or if you're impatient and you have a big empty freezer, you can put it in the freezer to speed things up.  Stir it every five minutes or so until cold).

While the custard chills, use a big sharp knife to shave the chocolate bars.  The goal is to make chocolate shards that will melt in your mouth, instead of big chunks that will freeze into gravel and ruin the consistency of your hard earned treat.  Just slide the knife firmly against the edge of the chocolate bar, and little shavings should just pop off!

When the custard is completely cold, pour it into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.  Add the chocolate in the last ten minutes of freeze-time. I do not recommend adding almond butter.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chocolate Meringue Cake

This recipe gets its name from the crisp-chewy meringue (studded with toasted hazelnuts and pockets of gooey chocolate... mmm) that crowns the chocolate souffle cake beneath. 

When my mom requested that I make this recipe for her birthday, I was not thrilled about it.   Up to that point, my contact with meringue had been mostly limited to soggy pie topping and those stiff little cookies resembling pastel ping pong balls (and tasting no better).  In my book, meringue had a bad rap as the "light" alternative to my favorite accompaniment (luxurious mountains of sweetened whipped cream!).  Why top a delicious chocolate cake with a wispy pile of over sweetened egg-whites when you can just as easily serve it with a dollop of luscious whipped cream?

Despite my misgivings, I went along with the recipe, grumbling throughout the sticky process... but just one bite proved me wrong.  Though toothache sweet, the meringue oozed with chunks of dark chocolate and paired perfectly with the rich cake and earthy nuts. 

And so began my turbulent, love-hate relationship with meringue.  Sometimes, in my quest for the next ethereal meringue delicacy, I beat my whites into a froth only to have them collapse, wet and weeping.  Other times, my meringue whips up as soft and sweet as cotton candy, and I fall in love all over again.  Worst are the recipes resulting in those cratered wafers that shatter into shards and sugar-dust at the slightest provocation.  But this recipe is tried and true.  When I want that meringue magic, this is where I turn.   What fun to ladle those soft, shimmering layers onto my crackling cake!  How glamorous to dress my dessert in silken folds, laden with nuts and chocolate!  The voluptuous gown of meringue is quite extravagant and fanciful. 

If you want to impress your friends, show up to the party with this little lady in tow (the cake, not me! haha).  

10T. unsalted butter, plus a little extra for the pan
1c. hazelnuts
A sprinkle of flour for the pan
3/4c. light brown sugar
6 large eggs, separated
4 large egg whites
12oz. bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
4oz. bittersweet chocolate bar, roughly chopped
1T. vanilla
1T rum (optional)
pinch of salt
1T. cornstarch
1/4t. cream of tartar
1c. superfine sugar (regular granulated will do just fine though)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter a 9in springform pan, and sprinkle it with flour.  Tap out the excess flour.  Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast them in the oven until your kitchen smells wonderful, about 10 minutes.  Remove them from the oven and rub them vigorously in a dish towel to remove the skins (don't worry if some of the skin sticks around).  Allow the nuts to cool, then roughly chop them and combine them with the 4oz chopped chocolate bar.  Set aside.

To make the cake, cream the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy.  Add the 6 egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Drizzle in the cooled, melted chocolate, the vanilla, and the rum, and beat until well-mixed.  Set the batter aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the pinch of salt with the 6 egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form (use a CLEAN whisk!  If you get even a drop of batter, or even water into your egg whites, they won't whip well).  This will take about 2 min.  Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter, then gently fold the remaining beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined (don't over-mix!).  Pour the batter into the springform pan, and bake 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the meringue.  Beat the remaining 4 egg whites and the cream of tartar on high speed (again, clean beaters, clean bowl = important) until frothy.  With the mixer running, add the cup of sugar in a slow stream, and then continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes.  Stir the cornstarch into the chocolate-hazelnut mixture, and then fold the chocolate and hazelnuts into the meringue. 

Remove the cake from the oven, and spread the meringue mixture over the top of the cake.  Pop it back in the oven and bake until the meringue is lightly browned, crisp, and crackling, 25-30 minutes. 

Let the cake stand at least 10 minutes before unmolding, and allow it to cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tomato Tarte Tatin

"Add heavy whipping cream to that list."
"What for?"
"The tomato tart."
"Whipping cream and tomatoes?"
"It's for dessert."
"It's a dessert?"
"Yes, it's a dessert."
"So, it's sweet?"
"Yes, lots of sugar.  There's a caramel syrup."
"Caramel and tomatoes... I don't know about that.  What do you serve it with?"
"Whipped cream, of course!  It's a tart!"
"Aren't you making a side dish for the salmon?"
"No, it's a dessert."
"Well, I think that sounds weird."

And so went the conversation as I explained the tomato tarte tatin to my mom as she made her grocery list for our dinner.  I'm sure she secretly put chocolate ice cream on the list too, in case the tomato tart indeed tasted weird.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, oh ye of little faith!  When have my oddball creations failed you?  Did we throw away my Avocado Bread?  Was there a single crumb remaining of my Chocolate Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake? When eyebrows raised as I painted balloons with white chocolate, did I not deliver on my promise of delicious panna cotta Easter eggs?

Of course, if forced to choose between no dessert and weird dessert, my family will always choose weird dessert.  So with grudging approval, I embarked on my tomato tarte tatin.  Given that a tomato really is a fruit anyways, and the recipe appeared in Bon Appetit, I was pretty confident that the dessert would be edible, and probably delicious.  Bon Appetit surely wouldn't devote an entire full-color page to a dessert that tasted like Hunt's on puff pastry!  The photo was what caught my eye in the first place- it showcased dark red fruits nestled in glossy pools of their own caramelized juices, appearing to be exotic plums on a bed of golden pastry.  I was surprised and excited to discover they were not plums, but plum tomatoes!

For some reason, I am endlessly delighted by even the smallest of coincidences.  Perhaps because I'm convinced there is no underlying theme to the ebb and flow of life, I've developed the notion that a happy coincidence should be savored.  You never know what will happen next time!  Morbid and exciting at the same time I suppose...  Anyways, when I saw the recipe for tomato tarte tatin, my eyes lit up.  Our garden had recently sprouted a ridiculous thicket of tomato bushes.  What a coincidence!

One could certainly argue that it wasn't really much of a coincidence... after all, we did plant those tomatoes in June for the express purpose of cooking and eating... but those spindly little plants could have succumbed to blight, been eaten by the army of squirrels camped in our yard, died from our frequent forgetfulness with the watering, or generally failed to flower and flourish.  Bon Appetit could have focused on cucumbers!  Instead, bushels of fat tomatoes had taken over the entire vegetable patch, rudely intruding into the space reserved for zucchini and peppers and burying the basil under gigantic fuzzy fronds.  And Bon Appetit printed a recipe for tomato tarte tatin.  A happy coincidence, I say.

The avant garde tart wowed the crowd and the skeptics were skewered again.
It tasted similar to a plum tart, but with an interesting tomato flavor that would have been hard to place had no one been the wiser.  The recipe called for plum tomatoes, but my bounty included plum, cherry, and heirloom so I used all three.  Served hot, dripping with tangy tomato-caramel, and smothered with sugared whipped cream, this weird dessert was irresistible.

Ingredients for the Tarte Tatin
1 3/4 lbs plum tomatoes
3T. softened butter
3/4c. sugar
1t. vanilla
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (I know, using frozen pastry is cheating, but making puff pastry is way too much effort and your puff pastry likely won't compare to the frozen kind, unless you're a professional pastry chef)

Whipped Cream Ingredients
3/4c. heavy whipping cream
1/2t. vanilla
2T granulated sugar

Bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare a large bowl of ice water.  Cut shallow cross-hatched slits in the bottom of each tomato, and drop them in the boiling water four at a time.  Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water until the skin begins to peel away from the slits, 15-30 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes and plunge them immediately into the ice bath to stop the cooking.  Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, in batches of four.  Peel the tomatoes, discard the skins, and cut each in half crosswise.

Spread the softened butter over the bottom of a 9 inch cast iron skillet (or other ovenproof pan) and sprinkle the 3/4c. sugar over the butter.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, over the sugar and butter.  Fill the skillet completely, nestling the tomatoes close together.
Place the skillet over medium heat and cook until the butter and sugar reduce to a thick amber syrup, about 25 minutes.  Watch the pan carefully and use a spatula to gently shift the tomatoes, and do not allow the tomatoes or the syrup to blacken.  While the tomatoes cook, preheat the oven to 425.

Remove the skillet from the heat, and drizzle the teaspoon of vanilla over the tomatoes.  Top with the pastry, and use a knife to tuck the edges of the pastry around the tomatoes.  Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the puff pastry rises and becomes a deep golden color, about 24 minutes.

Cool the tart in the skillet for ten minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife.  Place a large platter over the skillet, and using oven mitts so you don't sear your hands, hold the platter to the skillet and flip the whole thing over.  Carefully lift off the skillet, and arrange any tomatoes that have slipped out of place.  Let the tart cool slightly while you make the whipped cream.

For the whipped cream, beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the vanilla and sugar, and continue beating on low speed for a few more seconds, just to combine the sugar and vanilla with the cream.
Serve each bejeweled wedge of tart with a fat dollop of sugared cream.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mascarpone Cheesecake

I almost called this post "High Maintenance Cheesecake," but then I figured no one would make it because it would sound like too much work.  People, sometimes the good things in life take a little extra work!  Yes, you have to go out and find some semi-exotic ingredients (mascarpone and creme fraiche).  Yes, you need to buy the expensive, delicious brand of shortbread cookies instead of the crappy ones to make the crust.  And yes, you either need a food processor, or a big kitchen mallet and a lot of patience to pulverize your expensive cookies into crumbs, but you will be rewarded for your efforts with the creamiest, richest, most luscious cheesecake you have ever eaten.

It's kind of the same with high maintenance people, right? Right?  At least, that is my new motto after realizing that I might be a more high maintenance person than I thought.  I like to think of myself as pretty laid back, but when I proclaimed this to my bf (an otherwise very polite and considerate person) he guffawed in my face without a shred of restraint.  "You? Ha. You may not be 'high maintenance' but you are DEFINITELY not low maintenance."

News to me!!!!  I championed my cause for an hour or so, and finally convinced him that maybe he was defining "high maintenance" differently than me.  Satisfied with my position in the debate, I turned my attention to the cheesecake..... and was promptly put in my place...

Things were going swimmingly.  The shortbread crumbs whirled in the food processor, the oven glowed, and the eggs and cheese waited patiently to be elevated to dessert royalty.  I pressed the crust into the pan, popped it in the oven... and ten minutes later shouted a stream of expletives that filled up my cuss quota for the month.  My crust had baked to a slightly darker shade of brown than the coveted golden I was going for! 

I sniffed it.  "&*%$# Goddammit!" I detected a hint of that hated burned smell.  I sighed and dumped the crust into the sink.  As the cold sink-water soggified my brown crust and sizzled against the hot pan, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't so laid back.  Would a laid back person freak out because the crust of their cheesecake was the wrong shade of brown?  Hmm... I hate being wrong, but I do know when to concede defeat and when to battle on, and I wasn't done with this cheesecake just yet!  Some things are worth the effort (right??).

So, pajama-clad and batter-splattered, I headed to Walgreen's with the hope that they carried shortbread cookies so I could start over.  It seemed that the world was determined to teach me a lesson for being such an irrational perfectionist.  My faulty car alarm began to sound the second I touched the car door, and refused to turn off.  The clerk at Walgreen's didn't speak English and directed me to the tampon aisle.  When I finally found the shortbread, I hastily grabbed it, which caused the entire towering stack (apparently not too many people purchase shortbread at Walgreens) to catapult into the aisle in a rain of red-checkered boxes.  As I approached the checkout counter with my wares, the checkout clerk silently raised an eyebrow (that's what you get for buying four boxes of cookies from a drugstore at night, alone, and in a disheveled state).  I paid for the cookies, hurried to my car (lights flashing, horn blaring), and began at square one.  I had learned my lesson...

Back at home, I set the oven at a lower temperature so I wouldn't have to throw away a second crust (what, did you think I was going to say I had learned to be laid back and accept a less than perfect dessert? Not gonna happen).  This time, the crust, and the cheesecake, turned out beautifully. 

We devoured our oversized slices of perfect, creamy, hard-earned cheesecake, and the exchange of "mmmmm's" said it all: some things definitely are worth a little extra patience and effort!  (here's to hoping I'm the human equivalent of cheesecake... haha...ha?)

Crust Ingredients
1 1/2 c. crumbs from crushed shortbread cookies (Pepperidge Farm Chessmen work well)
3T. sugar
1/4 c. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400.  Combine the shortbread crumbs, butter, and sugar until evenly moistened.  Pour the mixture into a 9-in springform pan, and press it evenly onto the bottom and up the sides.  Bake until golden (so very important), about 5-10 minutes.  Mine was irreparably charred (aka slightly too brown) after 10 minutes, so check at 5.  Let the crust cool while you make the cheesecake batter.

2 8oz bricks of cream cheese
2 8oz tubs of mascarpone
1/2 c. creme fraiche
3T. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 1/4 c. sugar
1T. vanilla
3 eggs

1c. creme fraice
1/4 c. sugar
1t. vanilla

Turn the oven temp down to 325.  In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, mascarpone, flour and salt.  Beat until fluffy and well-mixed.  Add the sugar, creme fraiche, and vanilla, and beat until well-mixed.  Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula between each egg, to ensure even incorporation.  Pour the filling into the crust and bake 50-60 min. 

While the cheesecake bakes, make the topping by mixing together all of the topping ingredients in a small bowl.  5 minutes before the cheesecake is done, take it out of the oven, pour the topping onto it, and return it to the oven to finish cooking.  When the cheesecake is done, it should be slightly golden, and should jiggle in the center.  Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool in the oven with the door ajar.  When completely cool, cover the cheesecake and chill it overnight before serving. 

If this were a Martha Stewart recipe, it would tell you in great detail how to cut your cheesecake into clean, pretty slices using a thin knife and hot water, but I'm not THAT much of a perfectionist.  Hell, I'll eat the cake out of the pan.