The New Convivialist

Category: fruit

pancake day

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In honor of Shrove Tuesday, known in some parts of this world as, yes, Pancake Day, I present you with this fine recipe for a baked apple pancake. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Dutch Pancake’, the trick to this pleasantly puffed show-stopper is the dual treatment of the stovetop and oven. For this I like to use a very special pan from the Netherton Foundry, an English company I got to know a couple years ago, whose owners Neil and Sue actually first told me about the tradition of Pancake Day in the UK.

The vision of a big baked pancake is actually the reason I bought the 10” spun iron pan by Netherton in the first place. Although frittata is also nice. I dreamed of lightly caramelizing apples in butter and sugar on the stovetop, only to pour the batter over top and flip the whole pan lightly into the oven without care or fuss. And with spun iron material, as opposed to massive cast iron, this ‘flipping’ I speak of really is no hyperbole. Spun iron is a far lighter-weight material than cast; it won’t take four hands to haul it out of a hot oven. I can only recommend it. Made in England and from local materials only, you don’t have to worry about chemical coatings and the like. And the gorgeous wooden handle of local oak and brass fittings can simply be unscrewed (or left unscrewed) if you are doing a lot of stovetop to oven maneuverings.

Pancake Day stems, like just about everything of European religious origin, from Paganism. This year its date falls rather early, but originally it would have marked the start of Spring, fighting a victorious battle against the dark forces of Winter. Thus, a pancake would be baked to represent the sun and the warmth it begins to emit around this time of year. As I sit here drinking an Earl Grey tea (pure coincidence: something I almost NEVER do) I can’t help but feeling delightfully British on this sunny Pancake Tuesday.

 

Recipe: Baked Apple Pancake

2 eggs

½ cup flour

½ cup milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1 apple, thinly sliced

1 tsp cinnammon

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tsp sugar, divided

sprinkling of powdered sugar

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.
  2. Melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet (preferably spun iron) over medium heat. Add the sliced apples and cook down a bit, adding the sugar and cinnamon after a couple of minutes. When the apples are slightly caramelized and very soft, turn up the heat to med-high, add the rest of the butter and let foam.
  3. When the butter is very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  4. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and, using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with the powdered sugar.

Serves 2 to 4

 

Blue Sky Bakery Muffins a la Vegan

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I always love a good challenge in the kitchen. Some years ago I started trying my hand at ‘special diet’ baked goods, not because I was vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, paleo, low-carb, or anything really, but because I thought it was fun. This may also have coincided with my decision to join the local food co-op, whose alternative diet offerings were endlessly appealing. The rows of organic produce, whole grains and nuts and fresh spices inspired eating in a specific (healthy) way. But maybe I really just wanted an excuse to buy that big brown bag of teff flour or huge squeezy container of agave nectar. They just looked so exotic that they needed to take a rightful place in my kitchen cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

Autumn Means Apples and a Recipe for Tarte Tatin

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Autumn means apples. More specifically, apple picking. At least where I come from. Though, unfortunately, not where I currently reside.

After what felt like days spent in futile research for locales in the Berlin area suited for selber pflucken, I managed to find a small farm where one is allowed to roam the orchard, chomping and picking away through rows of Boskoop and Elstar. I only truly realized how typically American apple picking as an autumn activity is after noticing that there were more English speakers than German at this small orchard about an hour and a half outside of Berlin.

Now, many of you from the Northeast of the United States are familiar with that wholesome tradition of bounding out into the wild countryside on a sunny October weekend, in search of the kind of apples you just don’t find in the supermarket. You want not only to pick the apples yourself, but also to be guided out into the orchard by a friendly, suntanned farmer (ideally in the back of a hay-filled pickup truck or similarly-decorated vehicle) and given a hand-hewn wooden crook with netted basket on the end, to pluck the best trappings at the top of the tree. The apple trees should be large enough to climb, their branches dripping with red or golden-colored fruits. While onsite, you should eat apples from as many different branches as you possibly can without paying for them. If that means taking one bite, and throwing it aside, so be it. That’s the glory of apple picking. Because if you don’t eat it, its fate will be on the ground, in apple mushdom.

But the process of actually picking the apples is only the start, and, dare I say, a minor part of the experience. I have already mentioned farmer- driven hay rides. But let us not forget a stop by the cider house, to watch the rotten apples being churned to delicious cider (it’s not just for kids!) right before your very eyes. Buy a few bottles to bring home (you’ve rented that expensive car, after all – better fill it), and drink one on site, to wash down the two or three apple cider donuts that you will inevitably purchase and immediately consume. But, please, do me a favor and skip the fudge counter in the gift shop. You really don’t need all that white sugar after eating three apple cider donuts on top of countless apples back in the fields. You will only regret it later when the sugar crash hits during the car ride home.

Kitsch? Yes, maybe a little. The lowest on the totem pole of apple picking locales are simply over-priced traps for wide-eyed city folk wanting a day out in the fresh air. The best of them, typically lying far outside the reaches of the New York or Boston metropolises, are colorful, unpretentious hillside orchards marked only with a ‘U-PICK’ sign. A pile of half-broken baskets, a big scale, and maybe a couple of ladies selling fresh donuts and apple cider from the leftover harvest is really all it takes by way of ‘customer experience’. If the focus is on the farm itself, and caring for the apple trees, the decision to allow the public to come and self-pick being an option, the rest should follow naturally.

Long story short, I didn’t need the Disneyland of Apple Picking to satisfy my longing for a New England fall day. I won’t say that what we found was disappointing, but a bit lackluster when compared to what I know apple picking to be in my past. Nevertheless, we came home with a stash that’s still hanging around, with varieties I have never tasted before, from tiny plum-sized sour apples to huge and sweet crunchy ones.

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I have already written about my own (and – if I may say so – superior) apple pie. But this pie is currently being challenged by its French stepsister, the Tarte Tatin. My friend Benoit, with a fine reputation for down-home French cooking  (see previous canelé post), baked a classic Tarte Tatin to contend with my American-style apple pie. I’m not kidding; there was actually a well-attended competition. Complete with secret ballots. While the vote was close, I won’t say who the victor was, but only that I have secured his simple, mouth-watering recipe to share with you all here.

 

Benoit’s Tarte Tatin

Recipe

 

For the tarte dough:

-1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

-1/2 tsp salt

-1/2 tbsp. sugar

-125 grams (one stick US, or 8 Tbsp) chilled butter, in small cubes

-ice water

For the apple part:

-6 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters

-a pinch of cinnamon

-6 Tbsp (approx. 95 grams) butter

-1 cup (approx. 200 grams) sugar

 

1. Preheat the oven to around 200° C (almost 400° F)

2. Begin by preparing the tarte dough. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and cut in the small cubes of butter with a pastry cutter or two knives. When the butter is pretty well incorporated (crumbly feeling), drizzle some of the ice water, little by little and mix dough with hands. Add enough until dough just comes together without being wet or sticky. If too dry and crumbly, add a little more water. Shape into a flattened disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

3. Prepare the apples: peel, cut into quarters and remove seeds as needed. If you like, you can sprinkle with a splash of lemon juice so that they do not brown.

4. Prepare the caramel. Add the butter to an oven-proof skillet and melt. (Note that an oven-proof skillet is the ideal pan to use for Tarte Tatin. I don’t have one, so I simply used a medium sauce pan for the caramel and apple layer, pouring it out into a parchment-lined spring-form pan for the baking part. Though this is not the true Tarte Tatin way, it worked fine and the cake was still pretty when flipped.) Once butter is melted, stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon. Cook until the syrup bubbles and caramelizes, and turns a chestnut brown color, stirring occasionally. Benoit reminds to be sure it doesn’t darken too much or it will impart a bitter flavor to the end result. Remove from heat.

5. Arrange apple pieces in a layer over the caramel (largest on the bottom). Arrange the remaining pieces over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Return the skillet to the burner at medium high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, covering after the first five. Every few minutes press down on the apples and baste them with the juices. When the juices are thick and syrupy, remove the pan from the heat. You will probably start to smell the caramelization of the apples here.

6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a circle, approx. 5-mm (3/16-inch) thick and 2.5-cm (1-inch) larger than the top of the pan. Lower the dough over the apples in the skillet, pressing the edge of the dough between the apples and the inside of the pan. Cut 4 small steam holes on the top of the dough.

7. Bake the Tarte Tatin for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden, with crispy caramel pieces bubbling up from under the edges. Take it out of the oven and let cool for 10 or 15 minutes, just long enough so that you can handle it. To make it look like a Tarte Tatin you need to turn it out onto a plate, so that the apple layer is on top.

8. Put tarte aside for a few minutes to let the caramel seep down and cool off a bit more. Serve with a spoonful of crème fraîche or ice cream.

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psssss: if you made it this far, I will share with you the results of the apple pie vs. tarte tatin competition…. apple pie by ONE VOTE! oh, YES.

Seasonal Salsa – A Recipe from Maine and… France?

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Everyone was talking about my aunt Nancy’s strawberry salsa when I was home visiting Maine a couple weeks ago. Strawberries are perfectly in season there now, and though I would have preferred being in Maine a month later for blueberry picking, I was not in any position to turn down these perfectly-ripened berries. The strawberry is never something I had considered for a savory dish. When freshly picked, I think they’re perfect just the way they are and don’t need much fluffing and fussing to make delicious. But strawberry salsa, with tortilla chips. Hmmm, well, why not? Come to think of it, strawberries and fresh tomatoes can have a similar texture, and when a tomato is good, it is in fact also quite sweet. So, matched with something more vegetal and sharp, it might just be a golden summer treat. And it was. Everything I had hoped for. My aunt and sisters matched the salsa with these cinnamon chips, which made the snack more dessert-like, but I found it more satisfying with normal tortilla chips.

When I saw the recipe, I was surprised (confused?) to see a half up of “Catalina Dressing” on the list of ingredients. What in god’s name is Catalina Dressing, I thought. Is that like, a bottle of Thousand Islands or Creamy Ranch, or something equally turn-offish? Where does the name Catalina come from? It sounded vaguely Italian to me. Or from Catalina Island in Southern California? Yes, that must be it.

Like me, you might be suspicious of recipes that include a bottle or a can or a jar of something or other from the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store. “Just add two cans of Campbell’s mushroom soup and bake at 350°- it’s delicious,” you can practically hear a one of the Stepford Wives declare. But the strawberry salsa tasted so perfect and naturally sweet, that I couldn’t believe this “secret ingredient.”

A quick google search yielded a photo of a reddish colored Kraft bottle with the subtitle “Anything Dressing”. Ok, great, but what IS it? I urge you to check out www.kraftfoodservice.com and take a peek under their portfolio of dressings. Yes, portfolio, as if they were works of art and not chemical compounds. Kraft Catalina Dressing is, and I quote: Red French dressing characterized by a sweet, tomato flavor and tomato-red color. Basically, upon researching a bit further, I learned it is a kind of ketchup and mustard salad dressing with a bit of chili sauce. This is apparently what American food giant Kraft considers to be French.

The original salsa I tasted in Maine was exceedingly fresh and, I admit, had no taste of anything processed or Kraft-like. So, if you have access to the above-mentioned in your local supermarket, do go ahead and give it a try, for convenience’s sake. A simulation of Catalina Dressing using fresh ingredients is, however, quite easy and probably cheaper. It should stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, so it can be a great way to process strawberries that you may have over-picked. From my experience, though, with a group of eight people on a hot summer day, it won’t stay around for more than a half hour.

(photo above: adorable wooden strawberry – flea market find; odd thing found inside a bell pepper; fresh strawberry)

 

recipe strawberry salsa

 

Recipe – Strawberry Salsa

Yield:  approx. 3 cups

2 l/2 cups or about 500 grams finely chopped fresh strawberries

1 medium sized chopped green or yellow bell pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped green onions

2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

1/3 cup “Catalina salad dressing”, homemade version uses the following:

-1 small/medium tomato, halved and seeded

-1/4 cup vegetable oil

-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

-1 tsp. grainy mustard

-1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

-a few dashes of hot sauce or to taste

-salt and pepper

Tortilla chips

1. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, green pepper, onions and parsley.

2. To make the salad dressing, place the tomato pieces in a food processor or blender and process with the oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar and hot sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

3. Stir the salad dressing into the strawberry mixture.

4. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Serve with tortilla chips and lemonade.

 

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A Winter’s Cake

blood orange polenta cake

I promise it is not the winter blues that have kept me from posting for the past couple weeks. Though I have a few visiting kitchen opportunities in the works, I will pause for a moment and share with you one of my personal favorite recipes, which I assure you remedies anything that may be going on outside. Wind chill, be gone!

With its heavy reliance on citrus, namely blood oranges, this cake recalls a Floridian grove or perhaps a Southern Italian Sunday afternoon much more than it does a snowy cityscape. But with an influx of imported citrus to Northern Europe during January and February, adding a bright note to your cooking seems to be a sensible, not to mention cheery, solution to the abundance.

This is a classic upside down cake. The first layer is a caramel, which is a poured into the bottom of a spring-form pan and left to harden, followed by a layer of tightly packed sliced blood oranges, and lastly the cake batter. The miraculous thing that happens is that the caramel and the orange layers fuse together during baking, and when the thing is removed from the oven and flipped, the sweet/sour medley drips down, infusing the entire cake. I also particularly like the crumbly nature of the cake itself. This is due to the uncooked polenta and ground almonds added to the batter. And if that’s not enough for you, the orange marmalade glaze adds the finishing touch in order to slightly counter-act the rich flavor of the caramel (and to make it look prettier).

The recipe is not my own. I found it a few years back in Gourmet magazine, which itself ‘borrowed’ it from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Maybe it was a coincidence that this cake just popped into my head today, but I suppose I already had Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi on my mind after reading a fascinating New Yorker feature on him during a long train ride last week. Nevertheless, I have followed trend and also slightly adapted the recipe, most notably switching out regular navel oranges for blood oranges. If you want, you can alternatively use a combination of blood and navel oranges to play with the colors of the finished cake, since there will be a subtle difference, even after baking.

Recipe: Blood Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake

 

Caramel Orange Layer

1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

2 – 3 blood oranges, depending on size

Cake

1 3/4 sticks (about 200 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup superfine granulated sugar

3 large eggs

zest from one orange

½ orange, juiced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups ground almonds (7 oz)

2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta

Glaze

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 175°C with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.

2. Make the caramel layer:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Keep a close eye on it so that it does not burn.

Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.

3. Peel blood oranges including white pith with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.

4. Make cake:

Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Zest orange and juice one half of it. Mix in orange juice and reserved zest.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula).

5. Place in oven and bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.

6. Glaze cake:

Heat marmalade with water in a small saucepan until melted. Strain through a sieve into a small bowl. Brush top of cake with some of glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

recipe- blood orange polenta upside down cake