Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A late summer coffee cake

As I returned from my honeymoon, I started stripping my menu. It had been set the month before with items that could fill my absence from the kitchen. Needless to say, I was ready to move on, quickly, and all at once. The first morning back in the kitchen found me pensive, spinning ideas round and round, trying to find new and exciting ways to present the late summer flavors I was working with.

A delivery of wine broke me from deep thought, and I began discussing the Erik's own baking adventures of the week. As he was leaving, he made the offhanded comment, "It's funny, I always pick the most challenging recipe in the book, just to see if I can do it, and people like it. But when I make the simplest thing, like a coffee cake, everyone raves about it all night."

Back to my own menu, it became clear. I could over think, over work, and over do the new menu items, but a simple coffee cake was the answer.

Simply called a late summer coffee cake, this rich, dense cake takes its seasonal name from a medley of fruits baked on top. Huckleberries, plums, and nectarines crowd the top bursting with the seasons last bright colors and flavors. A streusell of brown sugar and cinnamon baked on the fruit hints at the autumn just weeks away. I am serving it warm, with caramelized cinnamon icecream, but a simple vanilla would be heaven.

While you stroll the late season farmers markets, tempted by summers lingering jewels, remember this coffee cake. Don't feel limited by my own choices in fruits, rather let your own tastes or availability dictate. And feel free to include as many or as few fruits as you like. Have the fruits and the streusell ready before you begin mixing the cake. The batter shouldn't wait while you prepare the two.

For the fruits

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 nectarines
4 plums
1 cup huckleberries

1. Slice the fruits into desired sized pieces. I quarter the plums and cut the nectarines in 8 pieces.

2. Mix the cinnamon and sugar and toss the fruit to coat.

For the streusell

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon well.

2. Add the butter and break it up with your fingers or a pastry blender, making sure it gets tossed with the flour mixture constantly. Continue breaking up the butter, cutting it in, until it becomes very small and the mixture looks like a coarse meal.

For the Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs separated
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk

A 9 inch round or 8 inch square baking pan greased and lined with parchment.

1. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together, and set aside.

2. Place the whites in a large, very clean bowl and set aside with a very clean whisk.

3. Cream the butter and sugar for 3 minutes until it becomes light and fluffy. Add the 2 yolks and continue creaming for 1 minute. Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated.

4. Add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the milk. Mix on low speed careful not to over mix. This will make a thick batter.

5. Whip the whites to stiff peaks. Transfer the tight batter to the bowl with the whites and carefully fold the two together.

6. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Cover with sliced fruit and berries, then sprinkle with streusell. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes. The juices from the fruits should begin to bubble, and the cake should spring back when touched.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

An Inspired Caramel Macadamia Tart

Great inspiration can be drawn from outstanding dining experiences. An unforgettable dessert creates an indelible mark on the senses and their memory. Beyond just memories, a spark is created, which later ignites the creative fires. A burning desire to pay tribute and recreate a special dish rages within, which nothing can extinguish but success. Much amazing cuisine has been born of this muse, the perfect dish.

However, Claudia Flemming points out in her book The Last Course that it is not only in gratifying experiences that inspiration is born. A disappointing experience too can send a cook to the fire, not to recreate, but to make it right. For Flemming, an outstanding sweet corn icecream was born of a disappointing experience in the Southwest. For me, an unfortunate caramel Macadamia tart in Durango, CO has been fueling my creative fire.

The offending tart had spent an evening or two on the dessert cart that arrived at the end of the meal. The Macadamia nuts for which the tart was named were coated in plenty of caramel, but being undertoasted their flavor was completely lost. Wrapped top and bottom, tart was encased in a thick layer of underbaked pastry. Not even a coat of chocolate could hide the bitter taste of raw flour.

With Macadamia and caramel being such a natural pair, my only problem was finding a place to begin.

I started by eliminating the top crust altogether, and removing the caramel coated Macadamia nuts from the inside of the tart shell. In their place sits a lightly whipped white chocolate coconut ganache. The caramel covered Macadamia nuts are returned to the tart, crowning the top. The two are kept separate until ready to serve, when the nuts are placed on top giving the caramel has just enough time to lazily drip down the sides before being placed on the table. Bittersweet balance is found in a spoonful of dark chocolate whipped cream served along side.

Use a tart shell of your choice, even a crumb crust would pair well with these flavors (just make sure to freeze it before adding the thick filling.) Take note that the ganache gains much of it's flavor from sitting in the fridge overnight, and the caramel coated nuts must cool on the counter for a few hours. This tart takes a little planning, but is well worth the time.

White chocolate coconut tart
with caramel coated Macadamia nuts

1 prebaked 9 inch tart shell

For the white chocolate filling
1 1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
1 pound white chocolate, finely chopped

1. In a small saucepan combine the cream and the coconut and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let this mixture steep for half an hour.

2. Place the white chocolate in a large bowl. Rewarm the coconut cream and pour over the white chocolate, allowing this to sit for 1 minute.

3. Stir the ganache until the mixture is even and all the chocolate is melted.

4. Pour the warm ganache into a container, pressing plastic wrap directly on the surface, and let this set in the refrigerator overnight.

5. Bring the ganache out of the fridge for an hour to come up near room temperature. The ganache should not be very cold and feel softer. Place the ganache in the bowl of your kitchen aid, and with the paddle attachment, beat the ganache on speed 4 for about a minute. It should lighten in color.

6. Working quickly spread the ganache in the tart shell. Cover with plastic wrap and let set in the refrigerator for an hour before cutting.

For the caramel Macadamia nuts
3 cups Macadamia nuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups cream

1. Toast the Macadamia nuts in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they begin to take on a golden hue. Set aside to cool.

2. Place the cream and salt in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, and keep warm while the caramel is cooking.

3. In a small bowl stir the sugar and water until the sugar is moist. Transfer this to a small saucepan and cook over medium high heat, washing down the sides of the pan with a moist pastry brush to remove any crystallized sugar. When the sugar has turned caramel colored, add the cream, a bit at a time, carefully stirring to incorporate after each addition. Be aware this will splatter a bit.

4. In a large heat proof bowl combine the Macadamia nuts and the hot caramel. Stir the two, and set aside on the counter to cool slowly. Continue stirring the mixture every 20 minutes until the caramel has come down to room temperature.

For the chocolate whipped cream

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3 cups cream
1/4 cup sugar

1. Bring the cream and sugar to a boil.

2. Stir in the finely chopped chocolate, and cook over medium heat until the chocolate has been combined completely.

3. Strain into a container and chill in the refrigerator for 6 hours, or overnight.

4. Whip the cold chocolate cream to desired stiffness.

You can present the tart with the Macadamia nuts on top, or in a pretty bowl set aside a bowl of the chocolate cream

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Coming back.....

For those that check this blog regularly, even randomly, you will surely have noticed a lack of new entries this past 6 weeks. Being confronted by the same pictures of hot fudge, you may have thought I'd given up, my blog left to collect cyberdust. Quite the contrary, this blog is a constant thought, just tucked quietly away behind the excitement of my wedding and honeymoon.

But I'm back, basking in the glow of my new marriage, and stripping my menu clean. While I finish fine tuning the menu's transition from summer to autumn, I will be keeping this blog in the front of my mind. Stay tuned.....