custom cakes/cookies

Saturday, February 27, 2010

the chase...limoncello tiramisu

Do you ever feel like you're chasing ingredients in the kitchen? Here's what I mean: a recipe, say gelato, calls for 6 eggs--just the yolks; now 6 divested whites sit waiting for your attention. Possibly a family dinner of skinny omelets or dessert of angel food cake? Or, if feeling daring, aged to make a double batch of macarons? But wait! The filling for the macarons calls for several eggs--just the yolks. Now you've more whites to chase around both the kitchen and you're imagination. Certainly the scenario could just as neatly apply to say making a stock from leftover bones, or was it, that you now have extra poached chicken because you needed to make a stock for a certain dish. If you're frugal (which I am, or as my mother would say "a good steward") using every last bit of something becomes that much more important.

Ingredient chasing happens to me quite a lot, and I dare say, actually pushes me to be more creative with the leftovers. In fact, it was from ingredient chasing that I decided to make a less traditional version of tiramisu to complete this month's baking challenge. The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession. The challenge included making from scratch the ladyfingers (or savoiardi biscuits), mascarpone, and two components not normally found in tiramisu recipes: a zabaglione (egg custard) and a vanilla pastry cream.

I happened to have a large supply of lemons on hand from recently having had purchased an entire bag, when really just one would have been fine for my purposes. What to do with all the extra? Also, I knew my friend Susie had homemade limoncello in her fridge. As such, I invited Susie to bake with me, and this is the version of tiramisu that came about. On a technical note, we decided to make our version in tiny spring-form pans, which necessitated a retooling of the ladyfinger. Ours were piped in a round, spiraling, saucer shape; if you're making your own anyways, why not custom fit it to the baking pan at the outset?

The day we got around to baking, Susie's DIY limoncello was long gone, meaning a new (non-DIY) bottle had to be purchased. Currently, the ingredient chase is on for as what to do with the extras. A similar story could be said for the day I took these photos. I forgot to reserve lemon peel to place curled as a garnish. Not wanting to chase a single ingredient more for a silly photo shoot, I decided to let that one go. I hope you'll understand. Not to worry, though. I can almost guarantee that lemons will make another appearance here soon. And yes, this recipe leaves you with 3 extra egg whites. Imagine away what I did with them; more than likely, they became a buttercream.

(Recipe sources: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 which I varied based on Lidia Bastianich's recipe)
8 servings
For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 TBS sugar
¼ cup limoncello
¼ tsp vanilla
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:
¼ cup sugar
1 TBS all purpose flour
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup whole milk

For the whipped cream:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the limoncello syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup limoncello
¾ cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar

To assemble the tiramisu:
⅓ cup mascarpone cheese
1 TBS lemon zest
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less depending on size and shape)
2 TBS lemon sugar or large curls of zest for garnish

For the zabaglione:
Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.

In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the limoncello, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.

Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency. Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the pastry cream:
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk. Whisk until smooth.

Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.

Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)

Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

For the limoncello syrup:
Mix together the water, limoncello, lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently and allow to cook 5 minutes or so until syrup-like. Refrigerate to cool completely.

To assemble the tiramisu:
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or I used four 6-inch springform pans.

In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese and zest with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.

Working quickly, dip the ladyfingers in the lemon syrup, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the serving dish, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. The spongy nature of the wetted cookies will allow them to squeezed snugly side-by-side into the dish. I simply stacked the saucer-shaped cookies neatly in the springform pan.

Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.

Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.

To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with lemon sugar or garnish with lemon peel curls. Cut into individual portions and serve.

(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
makes 12 ounces of mascarpone cheese

2 cups whipping cream
1 TBS fresh lemon juice

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.

It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.

Vera’s notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it’d been cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.

(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2" to 3" long) ladyfingers.

3 eggs, separated
6 TBS granulated sugar
¾ cup cake flour, sifted
6 TBS confectioner's sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.

Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and ¾" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips. I cut a pattern the shape of my small springform pans and used that as a template to pipe large, flat swirls of dough.

Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.

Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.

Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.

Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.

Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Earl Grey Tea Madeleines

I often contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here is the latest recipe I developed using one of their teas.

Buttery and cake-like in texture with an ornamental, fluted shape, the madeleine is quite likely the most beautifully described cookie in literary prose. For it is the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea that sets into motion a vivid flood of memories recounted in Marcel Proust’s fictional novel, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Traditionally a dry cookie, perfectly conducive for dunking into a complementary cup of tea, this madeleine recipe combines the elements of tea and cookies in a singular elegance. The citrusy flavors of bergamot (from the tea) and orange (from the zest) play brightly in the foreground of these delicate cookies, while brown butter provides a nutty base. Although it may seem a bit unusual, adding ground tea directly to the batter creates lovely flecks of texture (not unlike a poppy seed) in addition to flavor. Grind loose tea leaves in a coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle and use straight away for maximum freshness.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 large or ~36 mini madeleines

6 TBS unsalted butter
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 TBS Earl Grey Tea, ground to a powder
Pinch of salt
⅓ cup sugar
Zest from ½ an orange, grated
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 TBS honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the butter to melt and then continue cooking, swirling the pan often to prevent burning, until it turns light brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Cool completely before using. Meanwhile whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground Earl Grey tea, and salt in a separate bowl.

Working in a mixer bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment (you can make this batter easily with a handheld mixer or just a whisk, if you prefer), add the eggs to the bowl and beat until the mixture is light, fluffy and thickened, about 2 minutes; beat in the honey, then the vanilla. Switch to a rubber spatula and very gently fold in the dry ingredients followed by the melted and cooled brown butter. Spoon the batter into generously buttered madeleine molds filling each one full, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least three hours or up to 2 days. (The batter can be baked immediately, but it's even better if allowed to rest in the fridge overnight.)

Preheat oven to 400° F. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, place the madeleine pan on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. Bake 11 to 13 minutes for large madeleines or 8 to 10 minutes for minis, until golden and the tops spring back when gently pressed. Remove the pan from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just-warm or room temperature. Madeleines are best eaten shortly after they come from the oven, so try to time your baking to your serving time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

*Vegan* Citrusy, Raspberry Triple Chocolate Layer Cake

Finally, I am posting a layer cake. I adore making layer cakes, as my profile states, but I've yet to actually put one on this blog. Layer cakes are quite celebratory in nature, kinda necessitating a reason to make them. There's been plenty to celebrate of late, I've just been down other avenues with cupcakes and macarons and cutout cookies. I was starting to think about updating my profile, removing the mention of layer cake, when my friend Karin's mom contacted me about making a cake to surprise Karin on her first wedding anniversary. Oh boy was I delighted and honored!

Immediately my head starting spinning with flavor combinations. Because Karin was my faithful canning partner last summer, I knew I wanted to do something with jam. This idea has been in the works since before Christmas! Karin's mom was really cute about pinning down the details: "It has to be vegan, I'm afraid." No problems here, I'm no stranger to vegan baking; I've got a handful of vegan friends to lean on for taste testing! While personally I prefer whole cream and real butter in my desserts, vegan baked goods are usually a snap to whip together--often less finicky in the details (although not always the case).

This is a rich, moist chocolate cake layered with homemade citrus-raspberry jam and decadent tofu-based chocolate amaretto mousse and finished with a poured chocolate ganache. All accomplished without the use of dairy (or much refined sugar for that matter). The chemistry of vegan baking really is fascinating. An early version of this cake was going to incorporate DIY vegan white chocolate as an elegant decoration, but that's a trick I've yet to master; test trials did not turn out favorably. So I assessed my strengths and looked to my friend Heather for help with fondant. The love bird decorations were inspired by a spool of ribbon used to decorate the cake board. I'm hoping it's the perfect touch of whimsy befitting a first wedding anniversary celebration.

Congratulations, Karin and Jes! And thank you, Marcia for trusting me with such an important task!

Triple Chocolate Cake
adapted from New Vegetarian
makes two 8-inch cakes

2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 oz. dark chocolate chips, melted
½ cup canola oil, plus more for greasing cake pans
½ cup raw organic agave nectar
½ cup maple syrup
2 cups chocolate soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 TBS Amaretto

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two 8-inch cake pans with oil and line each bottom with a round of greased parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl combine melted chocolate and ½ cup canola oil. Add the agave and maple syrups to the chocolate mixture, stirring to combine. In a third bowl, preferably one fitted to a stand mixer, mix together chocolate soy milk, vanilla, vinegar and Amaretto. Add the chocolate syrup mixture to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Next add the dry ingredients to this and mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, until a thicker batter forms.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans and bake for about 30-35 minutes until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and springs back when gently prodded. Allow cakes to cool in their pans for about 20 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Remove parchment rounds. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Citrusy Raspberry Jam
makes 1 pint

10 oz. raspberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup candied kumquats in syrup with candied citrus zest, puréed

Combine raspberries and citrus purée in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Allow fruit to boil until thickened and liquid has cooked down. Consistency looser than typical jam is helpful for spreading.

Amaretto-Spiked Chocolate Mousse
straight from 101 Cookbooks
makes enough to completely frost a 4-layer, 8-inch round cake

½ cup chocolate soy milk, room temperature
10 oz. dark chocolate chips
12 oz. soft, silken tofu, drained and at room temperature
¼ cup Amaretto
¼ tsp almond extract

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until completely melted. Remove from heat. Process tofu and chocolate soy milk in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted chocolate chips and process again to fully incorporate. Stir in the Amaretto and almond extract. Taste and adjust for flavor, adding a bit more extract if needed. Keep at room temperature to frost cake or refrigerate in individual cups for several hours until firm to serve as a separate dessert.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze
adapted from Post Punk Kitchen
makes enough to glaze a 4-layer, 8-inch round cake

¾ cups soy creamer
6 TBS nonhydrogenated margarine (such as Earth Balance buttery sticks)
10 oz dark chocolate chips

Place chocolate chips in a large bowl. Heat soy creamer on medium high until it comes to an active simmer. Add the margarine to melt. Remove from heat and immediately pour cream over chocolate and stir until completely mixed and glossy. Allow ganache to cool before pouring over cake as a glaze. The longer you allow the ganache to cool, the thicker it will set. For piping consistency, allow the ganache to completely cool and set up. Once cooled completely, the ganache can also be whipped with a mixer for several minutes at high speed to give it a more airy, spreadable texture.

“Butter”cream Frosting
adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World
makes about 4 cups

½ cup nonhydrogenated shortening
½ cup nonhydrogenated margarine (such as Earth Balance buttery sticks)
3½ cups confectioners sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp rum extract
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp maple extract
¼ cup plain soy creamer

Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until fully incorporated. Add extracts and soy creamer, and beat until smooth (5-7 minutes). Tint with food colorings and use to decorate.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I’ve never…

You know that party game, right? It’s about honesty, supposedly, or perhaps more aptly, it’s about daring and prowess. Well, I find myself “playing” it in the kitchen all the time—albeit with a different set of “rules” and definitely minus the binge drinking. In my relative adolescence as a cook and a baker, there’s a huge list of things I’ve never eaten and techniques I’ve never tried. Some of which are deceptively simple and others, understandably complicated. I’d like to do it all…eventually…and without paying tuition to a culinary school. But there is that notion of time and interest and duty, all of which take precedence in some sort of amalgamation to determine what challenge I tackle next. I consider it my personal adventure, that, yes, is often influenced by food trends and seasonal availability, but not swayed by other’s opinions. At least I’m trying not to be influenced by other’s opinions. When you blog about what you are doing in the kitchen, it’s really rather hard to ignore an imposed set of expectations. When so many others also blog about what they are doing in their kitchens, it’s even harder to set yourself apart from what’s “already been done”.

Take for instance this month’s Daring Cooks challenge….

The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

The mandatory recipes for this challenge were to make pita bread and hummus. Additional options, including recipes for cucumber raita, falafel, and preserved lemons, were also given. My mezze consisted of pita, hummus, falafel, baked kale chips, and preserved lemon.

Seemingly simple, made-from-scratch pita bread and hummus. Sure, lots of home cooks have done this already, but actually, I’ve never. Years ago I clipped a magazine recipe to make homemade pita, but I’ve never gotten around to making it. Sure, I make hummus all time, usually per request of my sister at family gatherings, but I’ve never made it using dried beans; always, they come from a can. Finally, I’ve never, ever tasted a preserved lemon, let alone preserved one myself. Until now. Thanks to this challenge, I can check a few more “I never’s” off the list. I'm actually kinda proud of my ingenuous naïveté. For if I’ve done it all (in the kitchen and in other aspects of life), then I'll no longer be adventuresome and youthful. And THAT (in spite of my calendar age) is surely something I plan to hang on to for quite some time.

Pita Bread
adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

2 tsp regular dry yeast, not instant
2½ cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBS table salt
2 TBS olive oil

1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.
2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1½ hours.
3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F.
4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than ¼-inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

1½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking)
2 lemons, juiced
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 TBS tahini (sesame paste)
1 TBS cumin
¼ cup olive oil

1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

from Joan Nathan and

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
½ large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
2 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
2 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
4 TBS all-purpose flour

tasteless oil for frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, etc.), you will need enough so that the oil is three inches deep in whatever pan you are using for frying

1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain.
2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. If you don’t have a food processor, then feel free to mash this up as smooth as possible by hand.
3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees F in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
6. Drain on paper towels.

Note: You can bake these on a nonstick pad (silpat or the like) at 325 F, just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.

Preserved Lemons
from Paula Wolfert and Epicurious

5 lemons
¼ cup salt

Safi Mixture:
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
5 to 6 coriander seeds
3 to 4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed for volume

1. Special Equipment: 1 pint Mason Jar – Sterilized
2. If you wish to soften the peel, soak the lemons in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily.
3. Quarter the lemons from the top to within ½ inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.
4. Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice and not water.) Leave some air space before sealing the jar.
5. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days.
6. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.

Notes from Epicurious:
• According to the late Michael Field, the best way to extract the maximum amount of juice from a lemon is to boil it in water for 2 or 3 minutes and allow it to cool before squeezing.

Notes from Paula Wolfert:
• Located on Morocco's Atlantic coast, south of Casablanca and north of Essaouira, the city of Safi is known for its seafood specialties.
• To most closely approximate the flavor of Moroccan lemons, Wolfert recommends Meyer lemons for this recipe. This lemon/mandarin orange hybrid, in season in January and February, has yellow-orange flesh, a smooth rind, and a sweeter flavor than other lemons.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Making Happy Hearts

This weekend I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen with Sweet Heather Anne, my talented, cake-decorating friend. Armed with our fancy royal icing flooding technique, we had a mission to bake, decorate, and package 13 dozen Valentine's cookies to mail as gifts across the country. Hopefully, these will bring warm smiles to the faces of each recipient. Already there's been some talk of selling another batch to celebrate the arrival of spring. So let us know if you are interested... Meanwhile, I thought you might enjoy pictures of a few of our recent favorites. Happy V-day y'all!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Savory Bread Pudding and an Announcement

Today I was back in the SELMA kitchen, this time cooking with Nick Roumel. Nick and I collaborated on two specials: (his) a riff on eggs benedict with a sweet potato croquette standing in for the more traditional English muffin and (mine) a savory bread pudding (see recipe below). The first time I met Nick at the SELMA café, we talked of food writing and aspirations. On the spot he offered to share his food column at Current Magazine with me. Without much hesitation, I gratefully accepted. In turn, when Nick mentioned his desire to cook at SELMA, I gladly volunteered to help as a sous chef. I find it fitting that today was not only the day I cooked with Nick; it also marks the official publication of my first article for Current. You can read a digital copy of the article here or (if you are in the area) look for the print addition at local businesses around Ann Arbor. For the foreseeable future, I'll be splitting the column with Nick, contributing local-food-related stories every other month or so. Feel free to send along ideas for stories. I see this as an amazing opportunity to dip my toes deeper into food writing and look forward to wherever this adventure takes me!

Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Kale Bread Pudding
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
Serves 12

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 pints mixed mushrooms such as oyster & king trumpet (available at Michigan Mushroom, LLC), roughly sliced
4 TBS olive oil
2 TBS unsalted butter (from Calder Dairy)
4 cloves garlic, small dice
-- thyme leaves or rosemary, fresh or dried
-- Kosher salt
-- Freshly ground black pepper
1 crown of curly kale, rinsed, stripped from center vein and torn into bite-sized peices (from Tantré Farm)
1 large day-old loaf shoku pan (Japanese pain de mie) (my favorite is from Café Japon) or challah or brioche, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large eggs (from Our Family Farm, LLC)
3 cups whole milk (from Calder Dairy)
3 cups whipping cream (from Calder Dairy)
-- Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded Comté or Emmentaler cheese (we used Gouda from Grassfields Cheese)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat about 2 TBS olive oil and 1 TBS butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook gently, stirring minimally for about 45-60 minutes. Allow onions to caramelize to a deep golden brown. Turn off heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, heat 2 TBS olive oil and 1TBS butter in another large sauté pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and garlic and season generously with salt, pepper and herbs. Cook, flipping often, until mushrooms are soft and deeply golden (about 25 minutes). Turn off heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, spread bread on a baking sheet and toast in oven for about 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave oven on.

Lightly whisk eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg and herbs. Sprinkle ¼ cup cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, kale and bread in the pan and sprinkle with another ¼ cup cheese. Scatter remaining onions, mushrooms, kale and croutons over and top with another ¼ cup cheese. Pour in enough custard mixture to cover bread and press gently so it soaks in the milk. Soak for about 15 minutes.

Add remaining custard, allowing some soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for about 1½ hours, until pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling. Serve warm.