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Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

As I mentioned last time, pumpkin is a fall friend of mine. Up until this fall, however, it had never occurred to me to add a bit of pumpkin to those great American breakfast staples, pancakes and waffles. Am I ever glad I took the plunge this year, and not once but twice: first in preparation for a day of apple picking at home in NY and then a few weeks later, when the piles of fallen leaves in the Fields were in their prime and I was finally ready to break open the precious bottle of real NY maple syrup I brought back from home (which makes all the difference, as far as pancake/waffle-eating goes – and that means alot coming from a former Aunt Jemima-holic). I’m going to go out on a limb and say the pancakes were my favourite of the two variations, but it was a close call. There’s something much more subtle about the waffles, and I think the cinnamon sugar I poured on top of the pancakes gave them an unfair advantage. Subtle, at least in the sweetness department, they certainly were not. Rest assured that whether you’re a fan of waffles, like most of my family and friends, or the lone person in your household to beg for pancakes on a Sunday morning (that is, until you somehow find a fellow pancake lover out there in the vast, waffle-loving world who will share one or two or twenty with you over the course of the day) one of these recipes will suit you. And both will certainly suit the season.

Pumpkin Waffles

Pumpkin Waffles
(from Smitten Kitchen)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil for brushing waffle iron or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 250°F and preheat waffle iron. Sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl with buttermilk, pumpkin, and butter until smooth. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.

In a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks (as in, far softer than the over-beaten whites you’ll see in my picture above). Folk them gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.

Brush waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter (about 2 cups for four 4-inch Belgian waffles) into waffle iron, spreading quickly. Cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
(from Joy the Baker)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

Whisk together flours, salt, spices, sugar and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg, pumpkin and vegetable oil or melted butter.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Don’t worry if you have a few lumps. You don’t want to over beat the batter, it’ll produce tough pancakes.

Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while you heat the skillet. Over low-medium heat melt a tablespoon of butter or vegetable oil . Once skillet is hot, spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake into the skillet. When pancake starts to bubble slightly, carefully flip over.

Once browned and cooked through place pancakes on a oven proof plate and place in the oven set at 200 degrees F to keep warm while the rest of the pancakes are cooked.

Serve with whipped cream and cinnamon sugar.. or maple syrup.

Yield: 14-18 small pancakes.

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Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

There are so many cooking supplies that I’ve learned to live without in England (cake flour, kosher salt, corn syrup, molasses, proper marshmallows and graham crackers to name but a few), but I’m pleased to report that Libby’s canned pumpkin is not one of them. Somehow, Libby’s has made it across the pond in spades and I am currently able to buy it one can at a time without fear of it falling off the shelves inexplicably and sans any sort of notice (why, yes, I am still traumatized by the removal of Skippy’s from the shelves of Waitrose and now hoard it in batches of seven or more wherever I can find it). And although I applaud anyone who makes their own pumpkin puree, there is something so nostalgic for me in that little Libby’s can that I just can’t give it up. It instantly reminds me of Autumn at home as a child, helping my mother prepare pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or pumpkin cheesecake for Halloween or…pretty much any dessert including pumpkin. I wouldn’t want to bake during this time of year without it.

This cake was prepared during one such fit of nostalgia, when I woke up on a rainy Sunday morning to watch my brother run in the ING New York City Marathon on a tiny computer feed. I used to live minutes from the finish line in Central Park and would march down each year to cheer on the runners, always wishing I could see FDW among them. My brother, never one to shy away from pain or athletic feats (how unlike his sister), has run many a marathon, but it was NY that always eluded him. That was until he finally achieved a qualifying time and was automatically cleared for entry this and any year in the future. You can’t imagine just how thrilled I was for him and yet how crushed I was at the same time to know I wouldn’t be there to see it in person. It’s such a give and take, this European adventure of mine – one weekend I’m walking through Amsterdam, thrilled at all the opportunities I’ve had to travel over the past few years and the next I’m so fiercely wishing I was home I can’t see straight. That’s where this cake came in: baking, as it so often does, became a way for me to escape on Sunday, to clear my mind of worry for FDW’s run and sadness at my inability to be standing at the finish line, banging pots and pans and cowbells (I’m sure the other spectators are thankful I wasn’t there, come to think of it). I dragged the computer down to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon, still sleepy from staying up half the night to watch the Yankee game (another downside of the cross-continental divide), and watched my brother’s little tracker move from mile to mile, over the Verrazano, through Park Slope, up First Avenue and all the way to the park, while I baked and ate this delicious pumpkin cake. It was simply enough to prepare while simultaneously tracking one runner in a sea of thousands, but the brown butter icing and caramelized pecans (I didn’t have walnuts, but prefer pecans in any event) gave it a sophisticated taste that made me feel like it should have taken much longer to bake and assemble. The combination of the pecans and the thin layer of brown butter icing is a success in itself, so much so that I’ve taken to saving that bit of each slice for last. That combination, coupled with an incredibly moist yet subtle pumpkin base, made this cake an Autumn dessert worthy of being added to my permanent Libby’s line-up. It also officially sold King H on brown butter for life. He was astounded by its nutty taste, as am I nearly every time I make it.

It defies logic to think that a pumpkin cake made for someone while they were running a marathon, a cake they would never even get to eat, would spur them on and entice them, too, but I’d like to think FDW would have been pleased to think of me baking away while he ran his heart out. It’s the way it’s always been in our family, the way I remember it, and the way I hope it will be the next time he’s running on the first Sunday of November, when I’m standing there banging my pots and pans like a loon. So here’s to FDW, the boy who bonked and still reached the finish line in three hours – I’ll eat to that.

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

For the cake:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup homemade Pumpkin Puree, or canned
1/2 cup warm (110 degrees Fahrenheit) milk

For the icing:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

For the caramelized walnut/pecan halves:1/2 cup sugar
10 well-shaped, large walnut or pecan halves

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line pan with parchment, and butter the parchment. Coat pan with flour, and tap out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, and beat until combined. Add pumpkin puree and milk; beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture; beat on low speed until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool. Let cake rest 20 minutes.

In a small skillet, melt sugar over medium-high heat until medium golden, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, drop walnut halves, one at a time, into the melted sugar. If the sugar hardens, return skillet to low heat, and stir several minutes. Using a fork, turn walnuts until they are evenly coated. Transfer walnuts to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in color, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and pour butter into a bowl, leaving any burned sediment behind.

Add sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk; stir until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add the remaining tablespoon milk, a little at a time, until consistency is spreadable. Let cool 5 minutes.

Unmold cake. Using an offset spatula, spread icing over top of cake, and decorate with caramelized walnut or pecan halves.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Breaking out the Bundt

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

I have a confession to make: I purchased a Bundt pan nearly a year ago and, up until this weekend, I had yet to use it. It feels good to get that out in the open. I’ve discovered that’s the beauty of the Bundt pan, though: when one has made enough brownies and cupcakes and tarts and crumbles to last a lifetime (or at least a summer), there it is, the promise of a dense and delicious slice of pound cake, staring back at you from/falling out of your ridiculously overstuffed cupboard like some sort of divine culinary sign (or perhaps just a sign that you need to do some cleaning).

I will be the first to admit what a mistake it was to wait this long to put that Bundt pan to use, particularly if everything I make in it from now on is even half as good as this gem from Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occassions (one of my favourite go-to dessert books). I stumbled upon this recipe on Saturday afternoon when I found myself in an unusual mood for dessert simplicity. Normally what I love most about baking on the weekends is the lack of time contraints, albeit such a lack often leads to marathon sessions in the kitchen at all hours and a trail of flour in my wake come Monday morning (have I mentioned how badly I need to clean?!). But, this weekend, I wanted none of it. Perhaps it was my eventful tart-making escapade the previous weekend, or the fact that I had batches of Polperro chips to dunk in hot oil, or that we’d spent the past two weeks knee-deep in the most decadent peanut butter brownies EVER. Whatever it was, I set out to peruse a few cookbooks with the express desire to find something simple, not too sweet, but a bit summery, befitting of one of our final barbecues of the season. I was sold on this recipe the minute I read Flo’s preface to it – this cake, she assured me, is simple and perfect for a leisurely picnic beneath a shady tree. And, it is. It’s dense, citrus-y, incredibly easy to prepare and the speariment-lime glaze gives it a moist inside that almost makes you forget you’re inhaling a solid pound of cream cheese and sugar. But, my favourite part by far is the very bottom, where the cream cheese batter bakes to form a sweet crust that is simply heavenly and which has to be tried to be believed. This is the kind of recipe that will draw your co-workers into your office on a Monday morning to tell you you’re in the wrong line of business (oh, how I love those recipes!). It works for dessert, it works for breakfast, it works for a snack…it works for everything. I’m pretty sure it could cure anyone’s easing into Autumn blues and I, for one, plan on making it again and again. King H is already begging for more, for one, and that Bundt pan refuses to work its way back into the overstuffed cupboard. A divine culinary sign, if you ask me.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze
(from Baking for All Occassions)

For the cake:

3 1/4 cups (13 ounces/370 grams) cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces (2 1/4 sticks/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
One 8-ounce (225-gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups (1 pound, 5 1/4 ounces/600 grams) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 325 degrees Fahrenheit if the pan has a dark finish). Butter a 10 by 3-inch Bundt pan, light coat it with nonstick spray, then flour it, tapping out the excess flour. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, add the sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs, 2 to 4 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. The entire process of adding and beating the eggs should take 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and lime juice during the final moments of mixing. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing after each addition only until incorporated and stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The entire process of adding the flour mixture should take about 2 minutes. Detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer, and tap the paddle against the side of the bowl to free the excess batter. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the lime zest. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the spatula.

Bake the cake until golden and a round wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

For the spearmint-lime glaze:

6 tablespoons (3 fl ounces/90 ml) water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup lightly packed spearmint leaves
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces/140 grams) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

In a small saucepan, combine the water, lime juice, butter and mint leaves over low heat just until the mixture bubbles around the edges. Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 minute.

Without delay, tilt and rotate the cake pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake onto it, and lift off the pan. Slide a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the glaze.

Press the mint leaves against the side of the saucepan to release most of the moisture, and then discard the mint leaves. Stir the sugar and lime zest into the liquid until smooth. Using a pastry brush, coat the top and sides of the warm cake with all of the glaze. Let the cake cool completely before serving. As the cake cools, the glaze sets up to form a shiny coating.

To serve, slide the bottom of a tart pan, a small rimless baking sheet, or a large offset spatula under the cake and carefully transfer it to a serving platter. Cut into thin slices with a serrated knife.

So Long, Summer

Summer Barbecue Staples

As the summer draws to its inevitable close (the trees in the Fields are already turning yellow and I’m spending a significant amount of time daydreaming about a long weekend Autumn respite at home), we have taken it upon ourselves to fire up the mini-grill out front for the almost last time and, in doing so, I’ve been reminded of all the now summer staples I’ve accumulated over the past few months. Aside from the Pimm’s (which have been documented here and are an English summer staple in themselves), it’s been the brioche burger buns found in the New York Times which have been the most reliable and the biggest hit (particularly for the nibblers/carb-lovers amongst us). I could be (and have been) perfectly happy eating these on their own, without a piece of meat in sight. They are light and moist and oh so simple – so simple, in fact, that they make you wonder why you ever bought burger buns in the first place. As with all bread-baking, don’t let the rising time deter you. If you have the time, I implore you to make these a few hours before your barbecue. You’ll never think the same way about buns (at least in burger form) again.

And those homemade chips/fries, how happy they have made me this summer. Taken from a cookbook FDW fell in love with at Williams Sonoma during my visit home in May (and, fittingly enough, first made by FDW to perfection when he came to visit me in foggy Londontown), the secret to these crisp and golden potato wedges is in the double fry method. Well, that and the sea salt and the mayonnaise and the Old Bay and the new addition of cheddar cheese, inspired by a trip to Polperro in Cornwall, where cheddar is brought in fresh from the Cheddar Gorge and piled high on everything from chips to fish pie. These are downright addictive and will linger in your mind long after the fire in the grill has died and all the blankets have been brought back in from the Fields. And, speaking of lingering, this first recipe has stuck with me all summer long. It’s simple and fresh and perfect for guests – almost like a greener version of my mother’s antipasti. You can throw in just about anything (prosciutto, peppers, fresh basil) and let it speak for itself. While Fall will always be my favourite season, it’s recipes like these that make it hard to say goodbye to Summer.

Summer Composed Salad

Summer Composed Salad
(adapted from Orangette)

1/2 of a small ripe cantaloupe, seeds and rind removed, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into six slices
About 4 ounces baby arugula
1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
Crunchy salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper

Divide the melon, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella between two plates, arranging each item in its own little pile. Set aside.

Put the arugula in a medium bowl. In a small cup, whisk together 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Drizzle the dressing over the arugula, and, using your hands, toss very gently. Put a handful of arugula on each plate, alongside the melon, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the mozzarella. Splash a bit of lemon juice over the melon. Drizzle the melon and mozzarella with olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of parsley over the plates, if you like.

Yield: 2-3 servings.

Burger in Brioche Bun

Light Brioche Buns
(from the New York Times)

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened.

In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat 1 egg.

In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 buns.

Polperro Chips

Polperro Chips/Boardwalk French Fries
(adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook)

I can’t say enough about The Summer Shack cookbook and so I’ll leave it at this: go out and buy it! Thanks to Jasper, I found myself clearing out the local fish market in my small town in upstate NY, lugging home 10 pounds of cherry-stone clams to make the most delicious clam chowder I’ve ever tasted.

2 pounds Idaho or russet potatoes of uniform size and shape (about 6 to 8 ounces each), washed
About 7 cups peanut, canola or other vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sea salt, such as Maldon or fluer de sel
Old Bay seasoning (optional)
Cheddar cheese (optional)

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 3 inches of oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat or in a deep fryer.

While the oil heats, slice the potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks. Stack the planks 2 or 3 high and cut them into 1/2-inch-wide fries.

Drop all the potatoes into the oil and swirl them with tongs. Fry until the middle of a fry is hot when tested and doesn’t snap when broken in half, about 3 minutes. The fries should not pick up much colour at all – do not let them brown. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, lift up the fries and drain them over the pot, then transfer them to the lined baking sheet and allow them to cool completely at room temperature, at least 20 minutes (or up to 3 hours). Let the oil cool as well.

When ready for the second frying, line a second baking sheet with paper towels. If you want to keep the first batch of French fries warm until they are all cooked, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Add additional oil as needed to come 3 inches up the sides of the Dutch oven or deep fryer and heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drop half the potatoes into the hot oil and swirl them with tongs. Transfer the fries to the lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt (top with grated cheddar cheese if desired). You can serve them immediately or keep them warm in the preheated oven. Fry the remaining potatoes, making sure to let the oil come back to 375 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the second batch. Drain on the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and Old Bay seasoning (and top with second half of cheddar cheese, if desired), and serve hot with mayonnaise (or Ketchup, for those who haven’t seen the light).

Yield: 4, as a side dish.

Plum Tart

Imagine my surprise when I trudged down to the Royal Mail delivery office on Saturday morning to pick up a mysterious package I presumed to be yet another batch of Twizzlers from my mom or Jacques Torres disks from FDW, only to discover this, which I had been lusting after for ages. To be clear: I love every guest that walks into my house and spends time visiting from the States, whether or not they shove an industrial-sized bag of Twizzlers and bottles of C.O. Bigelow hair products with them in their suitcase for me (though such gestures are always appreciated). They bring a bit of home with them, a bit of my old life, and I’m always so thankful for that. But, it’s a rare guest who can be just as satisfied spending the majority of their visit baking my favourite things and eating at my favourite spots as I am. N was one of those guests. We spent 6 glorious days last month eating our way through the likes of Albion, The Modern Pantry, Freggo, Stein’s, La Crêperie de Hampstead, Roka (where FDW and Natalie Portman mind-melded at the dinner table) and The Wolseley, all while baking breakfast every morning (chorizo frittatas, cinammon and pecan buns, almond and chocolate chip scones, etc.), barbecuing in the Fields (where N and I admittedly spent most of our time nibbling away at the homemade brioche hamburger buns and hoping no one would notice) and making afternoon pit stops for raclette at Borough Market. In between bites, at one point or another, I must have mentioned my desire to visit Tartine as soon as I could get back to San Francisco (N is a SF native). And, lo and behold, a few weeks later, I am now the proud owner of the Tartine cookbook, in all its mouthwatering and beautifully written, insightful glory.

I would be lying if I said this plum tart was the first thing that popped out at me while perusing the book on Saturday morning. On the contrary, I spent a considerable amount of time drooling over recipes for Shaker Lemon Pie, Soft Glazed Gingerbread and Bavarian Cakes. But, eventually I wiped the drool from my mouth, cleared the visions of Brioche Bread Pudding dancing in my head, and recalled that my fridge was full of not one, but two punnets of ripe British plums, which I had intended to use to make a plum kuchen. As I stood before my fruit-filled fridge, I instinctively decided to postpone my Germanic endeavour and put the plums to a higher use. And so, here they are, arranged crosswise (a technique N and I mastered during her visit) on a light and delicious pâte sablée (so light and delicious that I think it will become my go to recipe) and a perfect pasty cream. Elisabeth and Chad (authors of the Tartine cookbook, owners of Tartine, and husband and wife duo extraordinaire), I’ve now read, test potential cooks by having them make a batch of pastry cream, so what better what to start working my way through the book than with a basic, but “challenging test of a baker’s skill and focus”? I’m sure the lemon pies and cream-filled cakes are not far behind, but as an accompaniment for succulent, end of summer plums, this tart is perfect. It’s also my meagre attempt at an overseas thank you, and, while it could never compare to sharing the real thing together in person, I hope it reminds N of home. Because we all deserve a bit of home every once in awhile, most especially when there’s food involved.

Plum Tart

Tartine’s Fresh Fruit Tart

(from Tartine)

Elisabeth and Chad suggest any soft fresh fruit that will give easily to this bite for this tart.

For the Sweet Tart Dough tart shell:

1 cup + 2 tbsp (9 oz/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 oz/200 grams) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room tempterature
3 1/2 cups (17 1/2 oz/500 grams) all-purpose flour

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in 1 egg. Add the remaining egg and mix until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1/2 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight or freeze 3 for future use (this dough will keep for up to 3 weeks).

To line a tart pan, place a dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath as necessary to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm. Cut out a circle 2 inches larger than the pan. If the dough is still cool, carefully transfer the circle to the pan, easing it into the bottom and sides and then pressing gently into place. If the dough has become too soft to work with, put it in the refrierator for a few minutes to firm up before transferring it to the pan. If the dough develops any tears, just patch with a little extra dough, pressing firmly to adhere. Trim the dough level with the top of the pan with a sharp knife. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm, about 15 minutes.

If you are making tartlet shells, roll out the dough in the same way, cut out circles according to the size of your pans, and line the pans. The rest of the dough, including the scraps, can be frozen for future use (I used the scraps from forming a 9-inch tart to make a 4-inch tartlet).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the tart shell or tartlet shells with a fork or the tip of a knife, making tiny holes 2 inches apart. Place in the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes for a partially baked large shell or 5 to 7 minutes for tartlet shells. The pastry should be lightly coloured and look dry and opaque. Check the shell(s) during baking and rotate the pans if necessary for even colour. If you want to brush the shell with a glaze (Elisabeth and Chad do this to keep the shell crisp longer), beat an egg with a pinch of salt in a small bowl. A minute or two before the desired colour is reached, remove the shell(s) from the oven and lightly brush the bottom and sides with the glaze. Return the shell(s) to the oven and bake until the desired colour is reached and the glaze is set, about 10 minutes longer.

Let cool completely on wire racks. The pastry shells will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: four 9-inch tart shells or twelve 4-inch tartlet shells.

For the pastry cream:

2 cups (16 oz/500 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp (4 oz/115 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp (2 oz/55 grams) unsalted butter

Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting in the rim.

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the trip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The larger the batch, the more careful you need to be.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lighty whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream. Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skim from forming on top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon (15 ml) pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit), whisk the butter into the patry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.

To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap dorectly onto the top of the cream (the plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface). Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Yield: 2 1/2 cups (enough for at least a 9-inch tart).

For the fruit/assembly:

Have tart shell ready for filling. Spoon the pastry cream on top of the tart shell and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. You may not need all of the pastry cream. The amount you will need will depend on the depth of the shell and how much fruit you are using. You don’t want to fill the shell to the top, as the weight of the fruit can cause the pastry cream to overflow the rim, making slicing difficult. The shell should be about three-fourths full. Top with the fruit.

Glaze the fruit if using cut fruit. In a small saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of apricot jam over low heat just until it is liquid to make a glaze, and then strain through a medium-mesh sieve. Brush the glaze over the fruit. The tart can be eaten right away, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Serve it cool.

Yield: one 9-inch tart (plus a bonus tartlet, if you’re lucky!).

Plum Tart

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

There are times when no excuse is necessary to make something sweet (read: most of the time). And then there are times when something sweet becomes an excuse in itself, not to mention a bit of procrastination, particularly when one has little time and a pressing need to pack for an impending holiday.  These brownies were whipped up as a “breakfast snack” for the train trip to Cornwall bright and early on the Saturday morning of a bank holiday weekend. Because, really, what better way to both polish off a Tuesdays with Dorie assignment and bake something “nutritious” and “perfect for travel?”  I was licking my clever fingers all the way to Polperro (admittedly because, while delicious, these brownies turned a bit gooey over the course of the 4 hour train trip) while we munched happily on these brownies, swirled with a rich and creamy espresso cheesecake (the slightest hint of espresso, really) and topped with a sugary sour cream icing.  There are few things finer than eating such a brownie for breakfast, staring out the window watching the green rolling hills of England pass by in the sun, all while beating your noble Uno opponent time and time again.

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
(From Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the brownies:

1/2 cup ap flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9″ square baking pan placed on a baking sheet and set aside.

Whisk together the first three ingredients. Put the butter and chocolate over a double boiler with water simmering. Stir until the ingredients melt, but don’t overheat so that the butter separates. Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside.

Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture with a whisk, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg, then beat in the vanilla. Next, gently stir in the dry ingredients until they disappear. Set aside.

For the cheesecake:

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon ap flour

Allow the espresso to cool to tepid. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese on medium until it’s completely smooth. Add the sugar and continue to beat for 3 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla and espresso before adding the eggs one at a time. Beat for 1 minute after each egg, then reduce the speed to low and add the sour cream, then the flour. The batter should be smooth.

Pour about 3/4 of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth it out, then pour the cheesecake layer over the top, taking care to make it even. Place spoonfuls of the rest of the brownie batter on top, and use a knife to swirl the dark and light batters together. Be careful, however, not to plunge the knife into the base brownie layer. Swirl only as much as necessary.

Bake for around 30 minutes. The brownies should come away from the sides of the pan. The cheesecake will puff and turn lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the pan to a wrack to cool. Once it reaches room temperature, refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until well chilled.

For the topping:

1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Warm the sour cream and sugar in a small saucepan over very low heat. You need to stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the chilled brownies, then return them to the refrigerator and chill for at least another hour. Cut the brownies into squares and serve.

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie

Linda of Tender Crumb made the excellent choice of Dorie’s Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie for this week’s episode of Tuesdays with Dorie and my sweet tooth and love of any recipe featuring curd thank her. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect dessert to accompany a barbecue in the Fields. This pie was perfectly tart, deliciously rich and I can attest that the lime cream was truly the creamiest I’ve ever tasted (Dorie certainly doesn’t lie when it comes to her recipe titles). Coupled with a helping of cake batter ice cream and a trip to admire Audrey and Coco in Coco Avant Chanel, it made for the sweetest summer evening.

Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie
(from Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the filling:

1 9-inch Good for Almost Everything Pie Crust, fully baked and cooled (see recipe below)
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 limes
4 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 6 limes)
A 1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 ½ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature

Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or a food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest into a heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest between your fingertips for few minutes, until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lime is strong. Whisk the eggs, then whisk in the juice, ginger and cornstarch.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lime cream until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. As whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting it to the temperature can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the cream from the heat and strain the cream into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let it cool until it reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high speed (or turn on the processor) and add the butter a few pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. After all the butter is in, continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If you find the machine is getting really hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate the cream for at least 4 hours, or overnight. (The cream can be packed airtight and and frozen for up to 2 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator.)

Whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the pie shell. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet.

For the meringue:

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

Working in a clean dry mixer bowl with the clean whisk attachment, whip the egg whites at medium speed until opaque. With the mixer running, add the sugar in a slow stream and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and form firm peaks.

Spread the meringue over the lime filling, swirling it if you’d like. Make sure the meringue comes all the way to the edges of the crust, because it will shrink when it bakes.

Brown the meringue with a blowtorch. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough (single crust)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) very cold (frozen is fine) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
2 ½ tablespoons very cold (frozen is even better) vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
About ¼ cup ice water

Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse just to combine the ingredients. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the butter and shortening are cut into the flour. Don’t overdo the mixing — what you’re aiming for is to have some pieces the size of fat green peas and others the size of barley. Pulsing the machine on and off, gradually add about 6 tablespoons of the water if making a double crust, 3 tablespoons if making a singe crust — add a little water and pulse once, add some more water, pulse again and keep going that way. Then use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour. If, after a dozen or so pulses, the dough doesn’t look evenly moistened of form soft curds, pulse in as much of the remaining water as necessary, or even a few drops more, to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. Big pieces of butter are fine. Scrape the dough out of the work bowl and onto a work surface.

Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour before rolling. (If your ingredients were very cold and you worked quickly, though, you might be able to roll the dough immediately: the dough should be as cold as if it had just come out of the fridge.)

Have a buttered 9-inch pie plate at hand. Roll the dough out on a floured surface. Turn the dough over frequently and keep the counter floured.

If you’ve got time, slide the rolled-out dough into the fridge for about 20 minutes to rest and firm up.

Fit the dough into the pie plate and, using a pair of scissors, cut the excess dough to a ¼- to ½-inch overhang. Fold the dough under itself, so that it hangs over the edge just a tad, and flute or pinch the crust to make a decorative edge. Alternatively, you can finish the crust by pressing it with the tines of a fork.

Refrigerate the crust while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil, fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust and fill with dried beans or rice or pie weights. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and, if the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake until golden brown, about another 10 minutes. Transfer the pie plate to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

Yield: 8 servings.

Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie

Bonus Tuesday Recipe: Cake Batter Ice Cream
(adapted from Recipezaar)

I blame Cold Stone (Stone Cold if you’re B&R) Creamery for my infatuation with cake batter ice cream, which is replicated perfectly in this recipe. One thing to note: I substitute single cream/half and half for milk, because I don’t believe in using anything but cream in my ice cream (calorie counters be damned).

1 cup single cream/half and half, well chilled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups double/heavy cream, well chilled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup cake mix

In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla to taste.

Stir in cake mix, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and let mix until it has thickened (about 25-30 minutes).

Remove ice cream from freezer bowl and place into a separate container.

Place freezer bowl and the ice cream into the freezer to further harden.

Yield: 10 or more servings.

Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie