Saturday, April 23, 2011

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO PECAN TORTE

I’M LISTENING…


I am occasionally accused, wrongly so, I might add, of not listening. Or, worse, of being “tĂȘtue comme une mule”, headstrong and going my own way, not adapting to the necessities of the situation, of refusing to understand the needs and requirements of those around me. This usually, under normal circumstances, has to do with our sons. Yes, he has told me time and again that I speak to our sons as if they were daughters, explaining where no explanation is required, using too many words where one sharp No! would suffice. Of appealing to their better judgment, their feelings as sons, reasoning with them when all that I should be doing is setting down the law, our law, and giving them the iron eye if they attempt to argue. I negotiate, plead, understand, and, according to others, cave in. Instead of listening to him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CHOCOLATE ALMOND TORTE FOR PASSOVER

EXODUS or Let My People Go!


Zig, Puce and their trusty black and white sidekick Alfred have finally made a return appearance. The silly cartoon side of our couple has been in hibernation for much too long, huddling together in our secret hideaway, keeping together and keeping our heads low. Our once-weekly ramble through the vineyards on the outskirts of town took a downturn that arrived with hunting season and slogged on throughout the cold, wet months of autumn and winter. No fun strolling through mud, whistling or singing loudly so as not to be mistaken for the odd hare or deer as the shots ring out and whistle by. And then as trouble mounted, as our world began closing in with tough choices and tension had us in a stranglehold, we chose the safety of our cozy apartment, stuck close to home and took shelter in each other’s company. We survived on love, humor and baked goods, making plans as best we could, our dreams tempered by the odd dash of reality.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

ISABELLE'S ORANGE CAKE

NOSTALGIA


I am just another big old softie, tearing up over black & white movies, ruggedly handsome tough guys and perky yet glamorous leading ladies never failing to fall into each other’s arms at the end, lips pressed together, camera fading into the distant horizon. The hefty weight of an old hardbound book in my hands, spine cracking as I riffle through in search of illustrations, following breathlessly the hopes of the most proper heroine battling against society’s rules, unable to declare her true passion for yet another ruggedly handsome man, a most eligible bachelor. I get all weepy over babies being born or people exchanging wedding vows, I am a sucker for happy endings. I adore traditions and festivities, am the first to start planning holidays or buying gifts, always as excited as a small child as birthdays approach. Entering anyone’s home I gravitate towards their bookshelves, staring at family photographs, skimming the titles of the books lining the walls, searching for secrets, wanting to know every tiny detail of their lives, understand who they really are.


I am just another sentimental fool, brooding over the past, dreams that have slipped through my fingers, turning to dust no matter how badly I try to hold on. Smiling, laughing aloud at each whimsical incident as it comes to mind, happy to return to some distant point in my life and savor the amusement. Whether funny or sad, I turn back so often to catch a glimpse of some souvenir, searching to capture each as a memento that I can hang on a charm bracelet and always keep close by. Photographs scattered across the tabletop, images fading with time, I slide one away from the next, uncovering a history, evoking a memory, a pinpoint bursting the bubble of time allowing those memories to spill out into my upturned hands. My drawers are filled with objects dear, keepsakes of those I love, reminders of my past.

So it is understandable that I am drawn to food with a history. Like a genealogical chart tacked up on the wall, I am fascinated when I can trace a recipe backwards in time, from one generation to the next, moving up the tree from daughter to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother and hopefully beyond. I close my eyes and imagine each of these women – or the occasional man – measuring, sifting, whisking, hands rubbed clean on the corner of a stiff cotton apron, then waiting patiently – or impatiently – as whatever they have prepared with love simmers on the stovetop or bakes in the oven, trying to keep occupied during this long period of anticipation. Who created this recipe? On what occasions was it served? Why was this particular recipe passed down from hand to hand, family cook to family cook, saved, cherished, preserved?


We recently spent a wonderful weekend in Brest with Isabelle and Dominique. Yet another weekend such as all the others, snuggled up cozily in their home, cooking and baking and catching up, sharing stories of our shared histories. We wander up the street on Saturday morning to the market in search of crabs and clams, freshly caught fish and tiny bigorneaux, cheeses and bread. Sunday morning, we stroll along the windswept coast, perched atop a cliff high above the ocean watching the waves crash wildly against the gorgeous stack of rocks spread out below. We return home to yet another homecooked meal, piles of crayfish and a platter of oysters followed inevitably by a homebaked dessert. Together the four of us have created our own history together as we have watched each others’ children grow up, our careers evolve, our hair turn gray. And over each meal shared, whether at their table or ours, the bonds grow stronger, the laughter louder, the emotions more intense. So when Isabelle offered to share with us her grandmother’s recipe for Orange Cake, I was as thrilled as I was intrigued. This is one recipe that has passed down from mother to daughter over four generations. In fact, she telephoned her own daughter, Clementine, for the exact quantities. And now this fabulous, magical cake has passed over to me.


Today would have been my brother’s birthday. Memories of him, of time spent together, hang heavy over me, swallowing me up in nostalgia and sadness. I think of the food we made together, dinners cooked, cakes created, celebrations feted with a special meal and I rummage through cookbooks and recipes clipped from magazines looking for hints of what we made together. You see, I think we are all aware of just how emotional and sentimental food is. Food is more than nourishment; food celebrates and consoles, food stirs up emotions and evokes memories, food brings us together and ties us together by what is created. Scents and tastes have the power to evoke times past, to bring us back to a special place or milestone that meant so much to us. Food is filled with memories of people, places, it is a reminder of what has been.


An absolutely stunning cake! The syrup permeates the cake leaving it dense, moist yet never wet, the perfect, most satisfying texture possible. A simple cake full of the flavor of winter's best oranges, as sweet or as bitter or as tart as you like them. Served simply as is, this is the perfect ending to a family meal, drizzled with Chocolate Ganache adds a certain pizzazz, an elegant touch, marrying perfectly with the orange. Simple to make, so easy to eat, I now understand why this is one recipe that has been kept and loved throughout the generations.

ISABELLE’S ORANGE CAKE
A cake made by Isabelle’s grandmother, the recipe handed down from mother to daughter again and again through 4 generations, now made by Isabelle and her daughter Clementine.

2 medium to large juice oranges, preferably pesticide free
230 g (8 oz) granulated sugar, either white or brown
230 g (8 oz, a little more than 16 Tbs) salted butter, sliced into chunks or large cubes
4 large eggs
200 g (7 oz) flour
¼ tsp salt (increase to ½ tsp if using unsalted butter)
1 ½ tsps baking powder

Orange Syrup:
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained orange juice, about 2 medium to large juice oranges
2 Tbs granulated sugar, either white or brown

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a round baking pan, line the bottom with parchment then butter the parchment. Flour the pan, shaking out the excess and set aside.

Rinse the two oranges and rub dry. Finely grate the zest being careful not to include the bitter white pith underneath the orange zest. Juice and strain the two oranges; you should obtain about 2/3 to ¾ cup liquid and about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon zest, more or less.

Gently melt the butter over low heat until about 2/3 to ¾ melted. Remove from the heat and carefully swirl the pan until the butter is completely melted. Set aside off of the heat to cool to room temperature.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl and using a wooden spoon, stir the sugar and the cooled melted butter until blended and smooth. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously with the wooden spoon after each addition. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet in four additions until combined, smooth and lump-free after each addition, being careful not to splatter the flour out of the bowl. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the finely grated orange zest. Add the orange juice and stir until blended together very well.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the center is just set and the cake is golden. (Isabelle bakes hers at 185°C and it takes closer to 25 minutes to set)

While the cake is baking, prepare the Orange Syrup: Gently heat the orange juice and the sugar in a small saucepan over low heat just until all of the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is warm. This should only take a minute or two at most. Set aside while the cake finishes baking.

Prepare a serving platter or plate larger than the cake by placing a large piece of aluminum foil on it.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen. Place a cooling rack on the top of the pan and, wearing oven mitts so as not to burn yourself on the hot pan, flip the cake over. Lift off the pan, peel off and discard the parchment paper then place the aluminum foil-lined dish or platter on top of the cake then invert the cake upright. Immediately (the cake should still be hot) spoon the Orange Syrup all over the top of the cake allowing some to drip down the sides. Make sure the entire surface of the cake is infused/soaked with the Syrup. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Note:
Isabelle does not line her pan with parchment. When the cake was removed from the oven, she spoons the syrup evenly over the top of the cake while it is still in the pan, allowing it to cool in the pan before serving… directly from the cake pan, family style.

If you like, drizzle some Chocolate Ganache over the top of the cake just before serving. I used an orange-infused dark chocolate to make the ganache.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

WHIPPED LIME CREAM TART

LIFE AS AN ADVENTURE


We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.
- Anais Nin


I am bursting with news, overflowing with stories, tales of Adventure and Excitement, Challenges and New Beginnings! Yes, indeed, each of these words, these ideas does demand to be scrawled across the page in capital letters! Big, bold and brash plans deserve to be proclaimed from the rooftops, achievements bragged about, courage flaunted! The excitement is palpable in our house and growing with each new step we take. This may not be the Giant Leap for Mankind, yet our own Small Step for Man has the power to change lives! We are moving forward to making plenty of announcements, I do hope, and I can hardly think of anything else! But for now, this is truly a waiting game and my lips must be sealed until things are settled, decisions taken, heads nodded.

I’ve always yearned for adventure and of achieving great things! Little girl, as shy, reticent and quiet a homebody as I still am today, I would dream of flying away, free from the constraints of society, the small world in which I lived of school, parents, teachers and chores. My imagination, fueled by hours upon hours of books and reading, was filled with discovery of the odd and unusual, mysteries to be solved, treasures to uncover. But days would find me curled up in an armchair or perched up in the branches of a tree, nose buried inside one of these books, rather than out living anything even remotely exciting! I lived vicariously through my favorite youthful heroes and heroines, those who did indeed dare, reading the tales of their courage to run, the adventures of their discoveries, my daydreams alive and vibrant as if I had joined them on their travels, participated in their pranks, been a part of their war council! I would lose myself in worlds before unknown, unafraid of the challenges set out before me, boldly grab onto whatever dropped down in my path and rewrite my own personal history without ever leaving the safety of home.


Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
-André Gide

Yet eventually, adventure has come to me, and then to us, in many forms. We have jumped at each occasion with the knowledge that these things aren’t to be refused. Drawn to adventure, excitement and travels and energized by each and every challenge, we also play a part in our own destinies by creating, nurturing, opening ourselves up to new worlds. Around each and every corner lurks something to be learned, discovered, savored and appreciated. Many look at us as if we were absolutely crazy, as if each change in our life were simply a decision to cut and run, at best a fancy escapade made to draw attention to ourselves, at worst some wild and dangerous undertaking, risking society’s displeasure and falling off of its radar. Yet don’t they realize that each step we take, each unexpected opportunity that lands in our lap is something thought about, worked for, sought after? Some days we feel as if we are two storybook characters with a panoply of skills and hi-tech gadgets at the ready, our bundle of most treasured belongings tied up in a tidy little parcel, ready to be snatched up at a moment’s notice, cameras strapped to our backs and sneakers laced up oh-so snugly, just waiting for our parents’ backs to be turned when we can dash off unnoticed towards new exploits and accomplishments, the realization of yet one more dream.


Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
- Henry David Thoreau

Meanwhile, the man’s birthday came and went in a tumble of giggles, good moods all around inspired by visions of that new and exciting future. I sacrificed my subscription to my American newspaper so he could receive that new gadget he had been dreaming about, staring longingly at each time we passed the Mac shop, nose nearly yet not quite pressed to the window. He swore he didn’t really want it, certainly didn’t need it, but such joy and pleasure written across his face as I urged him into the shop, pushed him across the threshold, that I convinced him that nothing would give me more satisfaction than his having this particular machine warming his idle hands and his weekend hours. He and son have been sitting huddled over it, giddily fiddling with it, learning everything it could do, reveling in all of the magical possibilities and calling me over now and again to show me in all of their schoolboy-like innocence and glee.

I’ve been baking up a storm lately, activity spurned on by all of the excitement and nervous energy: cakes and cookies and breads of all sorts and flavors, and now we were in the mood for something different. I asked the Young Dudes what would be their pleasure, if they had any favorites or ideas. They are, after all, expected to consume most of what gets baked in this kitchen of mine so I thought it only fair that they have a say in the matter. I also run out of ideas now and then and was hoping that they wouldn’t be too shy to make a suggestion or two, let me know what they really loved! And Valentin told me that Lemon Tart was high on his list of favorites. Bingo! I had a jar of freshly made Lime Curd in the refrigerator just looking for its own adventure. I knew that Clem loved the Lemon Tart I make, in fact he makes it himself when he has a dinner party to go to. The wheels started turning as my mind raced through the multitude of possibilities and I finally decided to whip up a Lime Cream Tart just in time for the Big Day. Why make the expected 2-layer, frosted Birthday Cake when I could surprise and delight with something creamy, dreamy, tangy and tart?


Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
-Helen Keller


WHIPPED LIME CREAM TART
This luscious tart is a snap to create and truly a pleasure to eat. Light as air yet rich in flavor, the ideal treat for any citrus lover and adventurous palate.

1 pre-baked Sweet Almond Pastry Crust
1 ½ cups (375 ml) Lime Curd, more or less, to taste
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled

LIME CURD
6 Tbs unsalted butter
3 large eggs, whisked to blend
½ cup sugar
½ cup limejuice (4 – 6 limes)
Zest of 1 or 2 limes

Have a very clean pint jar or 2 jelly jars prepared and waiting.

Melt the butter over low to medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the sugar, the limejuice, the zest and the lightly beaten eggs. Continue whisking as the mixture cooks and thickens and a custard forms. This should only take a few minutes and the custard should thickly coat a spoon. The Curd should be creamy, unctuous and smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before pouring into the clean jar or jars. Refrigerate to chill before using.


SWEET ALMOND PASTRY CRUST
1 ¼ cup (175 g) flour
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
½ cup (45 to 50 g) finely ground almonds or hazelnuts
7 Tbs (100 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Combine flour, sugar and ground almonds in a mixing bowl or on a work surface. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the consistency of damp sand and there are no more large chunks of butter.


Using a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten egg until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to pull together. Gather the dough together into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little, inch by inch, pressing into the table and away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well. Scrape up the dough together, reflour the surface lightly and working very briefly and quickly, kneading until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at 15 to 30 minutes until firm enough to roll out without sticking to the rolling pin.


Butter a favorite pie tin or plate, approximately 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter and 1 1/2 (4 cm) inches deep then flour, shaking out the excess. As the pie is not baked (although the pie crust is) there is no particular need for a pie plate of a certain size. Using a larger pie plate will make for a larger, shallower tart while using a smaller pie plate will make for a deeper, thicker tart, but I would suggest a tin no smaller than 8 inches (21 cm). You can also make individual tartlets.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until you have a circle the diameter of the bottom of the pie plate plus the width of the two sides. Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin and lift and unroll onto the pie dish. Line the prepared pie tin or plate by lifting and pressing into the dish and onto the sides. Trim any overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Remove the chilled pie shell from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Prick the shell all over with a fork. Line the shell with a piece of parchment or oven paper and weigh down with ovenproof weights or dried beans, pushing the beans up against the sides of the tart shell. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes then carefully remove the shell from the oven and gently lift out the parchment liner with the beans. Return the shell to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or so until the shell is set and golden and the edges are lightly browned. Carefully lift up the pie dish (if using a transparent glass pie dish) and make sure that the shell’s underside is also uniformly golden brown. Remove the baked shell from the oven and allow to cool completely on a rack before filling.


Prepare the Whipped Lime Cream Tart:

Using an electric beater, beat the chilled whipping cream until very thick and peaks hold when the beaters are lifted up. Add the chilled Lime Curd about a half cup at a time to the whipped cream and continue beating until all of the Lime Curd has been incorporated into the cream and the resulting cream is thick and fluffy. Carefully pour or spoon the Whipped Lime Curd into the pre-baked Sweet Almond Pastry Crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until ready to serve.

Just before serving, decorate with fresh raspberries or strawberries.


Alternately, you can spread the Lime Curd over the bottom of the pre-baked Sweet Almond Pastry Shell then top with whipped cream beaten until stiff peaks hold and sweetened with just a couple of tablespoons of powdered/confectioner’s sugar.


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