Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sweet Pea Cake with Lemon Buttercream + a Spring Lunch

Sweet Pea Cake with Lemon Buttercream and edible flowers

As I've mentioned before, Rose's Luxury, with their Eggplant Tarte Tatin, Smoked Celery Mascarpone, and my favorite-- an English Pea Cake, has really opened my eyes into the exciting possibilities of vegetable-based desserts. While Aaron Silverman and crew certainly give these treats their own creative spin, these are not without their roots in traditional American and British baking. Of course, there's carrot cake and pumpkin pie, but I've also seen less common selections in old cookbooks-- Tomato Soup Cakes, Carrot Pie, Fannie Farmer's Caramel Potato Cake, and this Pretty Black Eyed Pea Cake-- a spice cake variety that's distinctly southern. There isn't much information about the cultural history of such desserts readily available, but it's a genre I'm planning to explore more.

Edible Flowers and Elizabeth Graeber Flowers
Frosting a layer cake with buttercream

This Sweet Pea Cake with Lemon Buttercream is British in tone (and not just because it's adapted from the UK blog Veggie Desserts)-- I imagine it as a perfect al fresco tea time accompaniment. It's a little more classic and oriented for the home baker than Rose's Luxury's pudding-like variety with mint curd and buttermilk cream. But in both, the pea purée makes the cake dreamily moist with a shocking green hue, while the pea shoots and other fresh greens position it squarely in the season of SPRING, no matter when you're actually eating it.

Radishes with Salt and Butter
Salmon with Lemon and Chard

I baked this for a little luncheon with Morgan (of Panda Head Blog) and illustrator Elizabeth Graeber. Elizabeth and I both have birthdays in April, so we were doing double duty--picking up our collaboration series again as well as celebrating with a colorful spring meal.

Morgan made the zingiest Salmon with Lemon over Greens for our main course, and fresh radishes with butter and salt held us over while we snapped the obligatory photos and iced the cake. Big thanks to the P St. Whole Foods for offering up most of these ingredients.

Spring Lunch Menu by Elizabeth Graeber
Sweet Pea Cake with Lemon Buttercream and Edible Flowers

Sweet Pea Cake with Lemon Buttercream
Adapted from Veggie Desserts

Makes a 9'' 2-layer cake

For the pea cake:
3 cups fresh or frozen peas
18 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

For the lemon buttercream:
2/3 cup (11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

To finish:
pea shoots and/or microgreens
edible flowers

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line two 9” cake pans (or three 6” pans) with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover the peas, bring peas to a boil for 3 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water. Place peas in the bowl of a food processor and puree until completely smooth. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking gently to combine. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the cooled pea puree, vanilla, and lemon zest and juice. On low-medium speed, add the flour mixture just until incorporated.

4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pans, spreading batter evenly and leveling. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

For the lemon buttercream:
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream the butter until fluffy. Add in the confectioner's sugar and beat at least 3 minutes. Beat in the zest and a little of the lemon juice. Add more lemon juice as needed to make it a spreadable frosting consistency and beat to combine. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

To assemble:
1. Spread the buttercream between the layers of the completely cooled cakes and sandwich together. Cover the cake in the remaining buttercream and decorate with pea shoots, microgreens and edible flowers.

Spring Feast
Spring Lunch Table, Overhead

Find Elizabeth's brilliant related illustrations (including the menu) at Food on Paper and visit Panda Head Blog for more of Morgan's photos and the recipe for Salmon with Lemon over Swiss Chard.

Related recipes:

Photos by Morgan Hungerford West (except for 1 & 8-- I took those!)
Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pine Nut & Honey Tart

Pine Nut & Honey Tart Slice, Overhead

Honey may just be the most sacred food there is. It is literally concentrated nectar, tastes sweeter to the tongue than refined sugar, and according to Hattie Ellis in The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets was the first and most flavorful sweetener in the West until the sugar plantation production system was developed in the 1600s. It was prevalent in both foods and rituals of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, appears as a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity, and has been used as a medicinal tonic for at least 4,000 years.

What I particularly find fascinating about honey is that no two are alike--they are highly dependent on season, region (even micro-region), weather, and nectar source. When I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, my housemates and I developed a great fondness for the particular honey of a beekeeper who sold at the open air market. He had a huge white beard, overalls and a straw hat, and his name was Claude Qui Dort (translated as "Claude Who Sleeps." Aside from being a magical creature in our imagination, he also had the best honey and I've never had any that tasted quite like it since. Now I'm partial to Anarchy Apiaries honey from the Hudson Valley and was recently gifted some Oregon Old Blue Raw Feagles Creek blackberry and thistle honey from Camille Storch that I'm saving for something special.

Pine Nut & Honey Tart Ingredients in Kitchen

For this Pine Nut & Honey tart, I used wildflower honey from Singer's Glen, Virginia's Golden Angels Apiary-- a local honey available at Whole Foods P. Street as part of their work to support pollinators and restore wildflower habitats). I paired it with a lighter Italian lime blossom honey. Martha's original recipe (yes, we're on a first-name basis) called for additional sugar in the filling, but I didn't want to detract from the complex honey flavor, and frankly it didn't need any more sweetness. The pine nuts added a great savory crunch and together the combination felt rather Mediterranean-- like something Claude Qui Dort might eat.

Pine Nut and Honey Tart Slice, Side View

Pine Nut and Honey Tart
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes a 10-inch deep-dish tart

For the crust:
1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

For the filling:
1/3 cup amber or dark-amber honey (I used Golden Angels Apiary wildflower honey)
1/4 cup light amber honey (I used lime blossom honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups pine nuts

For the crust:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together cream, egg and egg yolk, and vanilla and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder until homogenous. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles cornmeal and peas. With the machine running, add the cream mixture, and process just until the dough begins to come together. Shape dough into a flat disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. On a clean and lightly floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. (My dough was pretty sticky and soft, so I ended up mostly piecing it together). Cut out a 14-inch round, and fit it into a greased and floured 10-inch springform tart or cake pan with a removable ring, pulling tart dough about 2 inches up the sides and creating a thick rim. Place in freezer while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring honeys and salt to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, add butter, and whisk until melted. Transfer the honey mixture to a medium bowl, and let cool for 30 minutes. Once cool, whisk in the cream, egg, and egg yolk until combined.

2. Place tart pan on a baking sheet with a rim. Scatter pine nuts over the bottom of the crust and slowly pour filling over the nuts, redistributing pine nuts evenly with your fingers if needed. Bake until crust is golden brown and center is set but still slightly wobbly, about 1 hour. Transfer the tart to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Remove ring from pan and serve immediately.

Pine Nut and Honey Tart Crust, Side View

Related recipes:
Meyer Lemon Honey Marmalade Linzer Torte
Salty Honey Pie
Swiss Chard & Goat Cheese Galette (with pine nuts)

Thank you to Whole Foods P St. for supplying the honey, pine nuts and eggs for this recipe. No additional compensation provided and all opinions my own. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sally's Lemon Meringue Pie Cake

Lemon Meringue Pie Cake with Text

This post comes from my dear friend Sally Anne Morgan of Asheville, NC (you may remember her from her previous guest post). Sally is an old-time fiddler-- with The Black Twig Pickers and otherwise, guitar player, and singer, as well as a talented artist (as evidenced by the above "multimedia" visual). She also runs the letterpress company Ratbee Press and Design, and bakes a fine pie, cake, and as it turns out, also pie cake! She made this lemon confection for our third annual women's old-time musician's retreat last month. More from Sally....

Last week, I packed up my fiddle, guitar, bottle of Elijah Craig, selection of vinyl records, and KitchenAid mixer to head to Wingina, Virginia for our third annual Women’s Weekend. In Wingina. Yes. As always, it was a time of celebration, empowerment, music and merry making, and lots and lots of talking and eating.

One of my contributions to the culinary spread was a layer cake. I must admit I messed up the steps in mixing the cake batter, which resulted in a slightly denser cake than I was aiming for. I’ll blame my mistakes on the fact that I was trying to sing harmony with the lovely Lorie while reading the recipe off my I-phone and operating the stand mixer, all at once. But the fluffiness of the meringue topping and delightful tartness of the lemon curd filling made up for it. 

Originally I wanted to make a pink strawberry cake with whipped cream because, Wingina. But I ended up cobbling this recipe together as several of us have dairy allergies or sensitivities. It uses butter, which was okay with everyone, and lots and lots of eggs, but no cream or milk. Plus, lemons seemed more seasonally appropriate, and I have always loved Lemon Meringue Pie (this is essentially the cake version). And I love that my mouth puckers even when thinking of lemons.

Lemon Meringue Pie Cake, Overhead with Fresh Lemon Slices

Lemon Chiffon Cake with Lemon Curd and Meringue Icing

Lemon Curd
Adapted from Fine Cooking

Make this the day before you plan to bake the cake, or the morning of.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1. The trick to this recipe is to use the electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar for about 2 minutes, then slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for about a minute. Mix in the lemon juice. It will look curdled but should smooth out as it cooks. (Some recipes don’t call for beating it all together beforehand, which results in uneven cooking of the eggs, and then you need to strain it all)

2. For the next step, you need to stir constantly. In a medium sized saucepan, cook over low heat until it looks smooth as the butter melts. Increase to medium heat, keep stirring. It takes about 15 minutes until it is thick and reaches about 170 degrees. Don’t let it boil.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest. Pour into a mason jar and chill in the refrigerator. It will thicken more as it cools.

Lemon Chiffon Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks at room temperature
8 large egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper or newspaper.

2. Sift the flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt together twice into a large bowl.

3. Using your mixer, beat the yolks, water, oil, zest and vanilla on high speed until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture until smooth. In another large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

4. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Do so gently, only until the egg whites are no longer visible. Overdoing it will deflate the egg whites, and yield a denser, shorter cake.

5. Pour the batter into the cake pans and spread evenly. Bake them until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Check every five minutes after the first thirty minutes.

6. Let cakes cool for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release, then flip out onto a plate. If the cake rises too much in the oven, after it is cooled, using a very sharp knife or a good serrated knife, cut off the domed top to make a flat surface. I secretly like doing this because I can taste the cake before everyone else.

Meringue Icing & Cake Assembly

I looked up several recipes for a topping for the cake before deciding the one from this recipe. I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but it got amazingly fluffy, light,  and voluminous, and was really really easy! The egg whites as basically raw, so be sure to use non-factory farm eggs.

I was unsure of how well this topping would hold up over time, as I assembled the cake a couple hours before it was served. It held up just fine for probably 4-5 hours. By the next morning when some of us wanted cake for breakfast, it looked slightly worse for wear-- not too bad, but a tiny bit deflated. Just keep this in mind – you can’t assemble this cake a whole day in advance.

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, and dash of salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240° (about 4 minutes).

 2. Combine cream of tartar and 3 egg whites in large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating at high speed until medium peaks form (this took several minutes)

3. Gradually pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg white mixture, beating first at medium speed and then at high speed until stiff peaks form. Beat in ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.

4. Assembling the cake:  With the cake fully cooled, and topping and filling both ready, place one of your two layers on a plate or cake stand, and cut strips of parchment paper to put around it (this will make cleaning up topping that drips much easier).

5. Fold about ½ a cup of the meringue into 1 cup of the lemon curd, and slather on the bottom cake layer using a spatula. Gently place the second cake layer on top, and cover with meringue. You can load the topping on pretty thick at the top if you want, I think mine was about 1 1/2 inches high at the center. Smooth with a spatula.

Note: If you're the kind of person who has a pocket blow-torch, you can use it to brown the edges of the cake. Alas, I am sans blow torch. I wouldn't try putting it in the broiler-- that seems too risky for a cake (not to mention if it's on a cake stand!), but it's fine fresh. I added thinly sliced a lemon to the top of the cake, which looked nice. You could sprinkle some lemon zest around if you prefer, or leave it bare. Enjoy!

Related recipes:
Lemon Chess Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie
Lime and Raspberry Italian Meringue Pie
Pecan Layer Cake with Salted Caramel Filling and Vanilla Buttercream

Friday, April 03, 2015

Whole Grain Bread Pudding with Apples & Pecan Streusel

Whole Grain Bread Pudding with Apples & Pecan Streusel in Cast Iron Skillet

I'll admit,  I've never been that big of a fan of bread pudding. Mostly it just hasn't been on my radar-- my family didn't really make it and the times I've had it, it was often a bad combination of too sweet and too mushy. But I recently had a glut of leftover whole-grain bread from Bread Furst bakery via the P St. Whole Foods that I didn't want to go to waste, so decided to give bread pudding another chance.

From both the process of making it and some subsequent research, I realized that bread pudding bears many of the qualities I value in food. It's thrifty, humble--not flashy, and has a storied past, with historical touchstones in ancient Egypt, Medieval Europe, and the Civil War (both the Blue and the Gray made it in their respective camps, though it was often rather meager and lacking sugar). It also appears in both southern and northern classic cookbooks-- including Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife (1884 ed.) and the 1918 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, with small variations according to region. (See Food Timeline for more historical info).

Using whole-grain bread really turned bread pudding around for me-- instead of soft and saccharine, it became dark, hearty, and complex. I like the Kitchn's recipe because it's very adaptable to whatever you have on hand-- an aspect in line with the essence of bread pudding. For me that was apples and pecans, but you can really throw in whatever you have in your pantry.

Whole Grain Bread Pudding with Apples & Pecan Streusel in Cast Iron Skillet

Whole Grain Bread Pudding with Apples & Pecan Streusel
Adapted from the Kitchn

Serves 6

For pudding:
5-6 cups stale whole grain bread, torn into bite-size pieces (I used a variety of Bread Furst breads)
2 1/2 cups whole milk or your favorite non-dairy milk (I used coconut milk)
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract (or bourbon for a kick)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
2-3 large baking apples, cut into bite-size chunks

For streusel top:
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/3 cup pecans, roasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Butter an 11-inch cast iron skillet or equivalent baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt until well combined. Add bread pieces and stir until incorporated.

2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least an hour or overnight so bread can absorb the custard.

3. Meanwhile, make the streusel by combining brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F and remove bowl from fridge. Add apple slices to pudding mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the buttered skillet or baking pan and distribute evenly.

5. Place in middle of the oven and bake for 45-55 minutes. Halfway through (after 25 minutes), remove skillet and and sprinkle with streusel, then bake for 20-30 minutes more. Pudding will be done when a toothpick or fork inserted in the middle comes out clean and the bread pieces are beginning to toast.

6. When done, remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. Leftovers can keep in the fridge for about a week.  

Whole Grain Bread Pudding with Apples & Pecan Streusel serving

Related recipes:

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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