Tuesday, January 28, 2014

might as well bake a cake.

I think it's safe to say that as I write this, almost everyone I know is in a place that is really, really cold. According to my omniscient iPhone, in Nashville it's 16, in Charleston 32, in Atlanta 19, and in Bamberg 30 (and on top of that it's hailing there). So, I win the coldest place contest, but to be honest it's not a victory I want to claim.

I don't know about you, but when it's cold (read: under 50 degrees) all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket, read novels, eat carbs, and drink wine. (I hate how much that sounds like the start of a chick lit novel, but I suppose mass marketing gets you somewhere.)

Anyway, since "read The Witness of Preaching" and "write a paper about theology and suffering" are not on the list of things I want to do, I figured I'd put them off by writing something about a cake that I made before Christmas. This is no ordinary cake. I asked for a cookbook specifically because of this cake. It's quite the project, more like two desserts in one, as it involves peeling and poaching pears on top of making batter and a glaze. So, what I'm really saying is that it's the perfect project for a snow day. If you're stuck inside, why not make something beautiful and delicious?

A couple of small but important notes: 1) make sure you poach the pears until they feel tender enough that you think you could eat them easily with a fork. I didn't poach mine long enough and this made the cake a bit difficult to eat without a knife; 2) if you don't want a huge cake, you can cut this recipe in half and make it in a loaf pan, which is how it was originally written.

cardamom cake with whole pears & white chocolate
adapted from homemade winter, by Yvette Van Boven
serves 16-20

for pears:
6 medium crisp, firm pears, peeled but whole, with stems left on
1 (750-ml) bottle dry white wine
2 1/2 c sugar
8 whole cloves
6 star anise
16 cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks

for cake:
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, softened
2 c sugar
8 eggs
3 c self-rising flour
2 tbsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz white chocolate, cut into chunks

Poach the pears: in a large saucepan, combine the pears, wine, 2 1/2 c sugar, cloves, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon and poach for 30 minutes over low heat, or until you can easily pierce the pears with a fork.

Take the pears out of the poaching liquid and set them aside to cool. Add 2 1/2 c water to the poaching liquid, turn to medium-high, and boil to reduce the liquid by half. (Watch this carefully so you don't burn it--which is what I did!) Let cool.

Make the cake: preheat the oven to 350. Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift the flour, cardamom, and salt over the batter and gently fold it in with a spatula.

Grease a large tube pan, and spoon the batter into the pan. Press the pears into the batter, stem ends up. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in the pan, then gently remove it to cool completely on a wire rack. (You might want to find a helper for this part--you have to flip it twice to make it right side up, and it can be tricky to hold this massive cake with one hand without breaking off the pear stems...or just breaking the cake! But I have faith in you.)

Melt the white chocolate: set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir the chocolate in the bowl until melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the cake.

Let the chocolate dry for a bit before serving the cake in thick slices, with the reduced pear syrup poured on top.

Monday, October 21, 2013

hey, this recipe has pumpkin in it.

It's pumpkin season. I know this because every person I have ever met has posted about how many pumpkin muffins/lattes/soups/pies he or she has already had and it's not even November yet. As you may have guessed, I am not as big of a pumpkin fan as every else that I know. But I am a people pleaser, so I bake pumpkin things when people want pumpkin things.

I made this recipe for a "pumpkin potluck" my friend Leslie hosts every year. Last year I made Dorie Greenspan's "pumpkin stuffed with everything good"...so if you want a serious pumpkin fix (and accompanying post-pumpkin food coma), you could double up. Fair warning: both recipes are very rich but also very good.

While we're getting into the fall spirit, here are a few pumpkin jokes for your viewing pleasure (yep, it's that time of night):

Q: What does a pumpkin pie say after a big meal?
A: That was filling!

Q: What is a pumpkin's favorite sport?
A: Squash!

And my personal favorite...
Q: How do you mend a broken jack-o-lantern?
A: With a pumpkin patch!

I'll be here all week.

pumpkin whoopie pies with bourbon-maple-cream cheese filling and candied walnuts
adapted from Gourmet Live
makes 16

for the cookie-cakes:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
pumpkin cookie-cakes ready to be filled!
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 (15-oz) can pure pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
for the candied walnuts:
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 c pecans
for the filling:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 c confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tbsp pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)


For cookie-cakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl.
Whisk together sugar, oil, pumpkin, egg, and vanilla in a separate large bowl until well combined, then stir in flour mixture.
Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or tablespoon measure, drop a scant scoop's worth of batter or 2 scant tablespoons of batter onto a lined baking sheet to form 1 mound. Make 15 more mounds, arranging them 2 inches apart until baking sheet is full (you will have batter left over).
Bake until springy to the touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookie-cakes to rack to cool.
Form and bake remaining batter on the other parchment-lined sheet. You should have a total of 32 cookie-cakes.
Leave oven on.
For candied walnuts:
Line a small sheet pan with parchment paper.
Stir together sugar, salt, and 1/2 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Heat over moderate heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Stir in pecans.
Spread mixture on lined sheet pan and bake until coating is bubbling and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Cool completely on pan on a rack.
Coarsely chop candied walnuts.
For filling:
While cookie-cakes are baking, beat cream cheese, butter, and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar, bourbon, and maple syrup, and mix on low speed until smooth.
Chill filling until firm enough to hold its shape when spread, 30 minutes to 1 hour. 
Assemble whoopie pies:
Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of filling each on flat side of half the cooled cookie-cakes, then top with other half of cookie-cakes. If necessary, chill whoopie pies just long enough to firm up filling again, about 30 minutes.
Gently press walnuts onto filling around middle of each whoopie pie to help them adhere to filling.

the finished product.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

pie time for a party.

When I first came to divinity school, I wanted to keep throwing dinner parties like I did in Charleston, but there was just one small problem: I didn't have an income to pay for these parties. My mom suggested that I start a potluck supper club, which I did, and it was fun the first 3 or 4 times we did it, but most people's enthusiasm waned much more quickly than mine. Unless you really like to cook, committing to doing that once every two weeks just doesn't sound like that much fun.

Two years later and I'm trying again. This time I actually know some people in Nashville (which tends to happen when you've lived somewhere for two years), and I put out an open call on Facebook asking who was interested in joining. We had our first supper on Friday, and it was wonderful. Everyone brought amazing food--Senegalese peanut stew, butternut squash, rosemary, and goat cheese flatbread; and salted beer crescent rolls, to name a few--and several of our friends stayed for 3 or 4 hours just talking, laughing, and drinking the wide variety of pumpkin beer people brought. It was basically my dream come true.

Who knows if this iteration of the supper club will last, but I'm pretty sure I'll keep trying to make these happen as long as I live. There's just nothing I would rather do with my time than enjoy good food with good people.

Anyway, about what I brought to the party: When I was a kid, we used to have this savory pie at least 2 or 3 times a year, usually when we were in the middle of a "cold" snap (i.e., under 50 degrees). It's a magical dish, the epitome of warmth and comfort, but I hadn't made it in years. I'm not sure what reminded me of it, but as soon as I thought about it I knew I had to make it. I just ate the last leftover piece for supper tonight, and I already want to make it again. In fact, it was so good that every time I cut myself a slice I forgot to take a picture until I had already eaten a couple of bites. I promise, it tastes better than these pictures make it look.

A few notes: Feel free to substitute 1 lb. regular sausage + 1 tsp red pepper flakes if you don't have hot sausage. It's not spicy either way, but omit the red pepper if you don't want any spice at all. You can also use any frozen greens here in place of the spinach, or cook/drain about 32 oz (2 lbs) fresh greens to replace the frozen. Unless you happen to have fresh greens on hand, because you're mixing this with so many other ingredients I would stick with the frozen variety. Also, you can certainly use a pre-made refrigerated pie crust, but I think the flavor and flakiness of this recipe make it worth the effort.

cheesy spinach, mushroom, and sausage pie
serves 8

1 lb hot sausage
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 10-oz packages frozen spinach, thawed and drained
7 eggs
2 c grated mozzarella
16 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
2 prepared pie crusts

Preheat oven to 350. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown sausage with garlic; drain. In the same pan, brown the mushrooms; remove from heat.

In a very large bowl, beat 6 of the eggs, and beat yolk of remaining egg with 2 tbsp water; reserve egg white. Add sausage, mushrooms, cheeses, and salt to 6 beaten eggs and mix until combined (you may want to use your hands for this).

Roll out one layer of pie crush into a greased 9-inch deep dish pie pan and brush crust with egg white. Spoon filling into the crust and top with remaining layer of pie crust. Press edges together and crimp to seal. Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape, and brush top layer with the egg yolk-water mixture.

Bake for an hour and a half to two hours, until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out hot. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.