Friday, July 29, 2011

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake . . . with Honey Whipped Cream

As a kid, the only upside-down cake I ever encountered was the classic pineapple ring and maraschino cherry model. I couldn't stand the stuff. As I recall, my dad adored it. He was the only one in the family who showed unfettered interest. Not even my mom, devoted dessert lover that she was, could bring herself to crave the canned-fruit laden cake. As a rule, it was atrociously sweet, sodden with that sugary syrup and just not an altogether great concept. She'd make it for him, of course, but the woman had her standards; given the choice, she would always have opted for a slice of something chocolate.

I guess it's no surprise, then, why I've never launched with abandon into the production of that sticky, inverted confection. Those pineapple cakes may be endearing in a retro sort of way, but not enough so to motivate me into actually baking one. No siree.

But this cherry and nectarine upside-down cake, on the other hand, while bearing some resemblance to that toothache-inspiring item of yesteryear, isn't as cloying. Made with thin slices of ripe nectarine, fresh sweet cherries, honey, plain yogurt, a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a teeny tiny splash of peach schnapps thrown in to jazz things up, this baby's an improvement on that fusty old relic.

In fact, were the two cakes to pass on the street, I'd wager they'd acknowledge each other with a polite nod but, figuring they hadn't much in common, the pair wouldn't even stop to chat.

About this recipe . . .

Today's cake is adapted from a recipe in the gargantuan volume, Bon Appetit Desserts. It's a dream of a cookbook and, with 700+ pages, it's heavier than heck. Weighing in at 6.5 lbs., it's the size of a full-term newborn. They should sell it with a complementary stroller so readers can cart it around the house. Or, better yet, a forklift.

I customized the original recipe, which called for peaches along with a lot of spicy cardamom. What did I alter? In addition to using a combo of nectarines and cherries instead of peaches, I omitted the cardamom entirely, using just a little cinnamon and a scant pinch of nutmeg instead. I also added in a wee dab of peach schnapps, for a bit of zing, and I slightly increased the amount of salt (coarse kosher). Threw in the seeds of half a vanilla bean, and reduced the amount of granulated sugar in the cake by a small margin. In the honey whipped cream topping, I used less than half the amount of honey called for. (Have you ever mixed honey with heavy cream before? Fact is, you need a remarkably small amount to get the desired effect.)

With the adjustments, this cake is still sweet, but not ridiculously so. Some sweetness is just the nature of an upside-down cake. The flip-it-over-while-it's-still-really-hot concept wouldn't work without that gooey glaze permeating the top/bottom of the cake. In any case, if you want a concentrated sweetness infusion, an upside-down cake is definitely the ticket.

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake 
with Honey Whipped Cream

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!) 

Yield: One 9" one-layer cake

6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (divided use)
1/4 honey (I used clover honey.)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 and 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Scant 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, large
2 tsp. peach schnapps (optional)
seeds of half a vanilla bean (or, 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 medium size nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced in crescents (about 1/4" thick)
Approximately 16 fresh sweet cherries, pitted

For the honey whipped cream:
(Note: The original recipe suggested adding a little plain yogurt into this mixture. I didn't try that, but thought I'd mention it in case you'd like to give it a whirl!)
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2 tsp. honey (Or use up to 2 Tbsp. if you want really sweet whipped cream.) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in middle of oven. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 9" round cake pan. (After buttering, I took the extra step of lightly spraying the pan with vegetable oil spray; as far as I'm concerned, one can't be too careful where inverted cakes are concerned.)

In a medium size sauce pan, melt 2 Tbsp. of the unsalted butter. Add into that the brown sugar and the honey. Cook on medium high heat until the mixture begins to boil; stirring often, let boil for about 2 minutes or until the mixture begins to darken just a bit.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour all of it into the buttered pan. Set the pan aside; the syrup will harden in the pan while you're preparing the rest of the cake.

 In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and kosher salt. In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium high speed, combine the remaining butter and the granulated sugar until it looks somewhat fluffy. Beat the egg into this on medium speed, along with the vanilla been seeds, and the peach schnapps.

Pour in half the flour mixture on medium speed just until well blended; blend in all of the yogurt. Add in the remaining flour on low speed, just until blended.

Arrange the nectarine slices (you may not need to use them all) in a spiral design around the edge of the cake pan, over the hardened syrup. Arrange the cherries similarly in the middle of the nectarine spiral. Using a spoon, gently dollop the soft batter over the fruit, being wary not to disrupt the design. Smooth the top of the batter carefully to completely cover all of the fruit.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the sides begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let the finished cake cool for only 5 minutes after removing it from the oven. At that point, have your serving platter ready and place it snuggly over the top of the cake.

Quickly invert the hot cake pan onto the platter and delicately lift the hot pan off. If all goes well, you'll be faced with a lovely fruit design atop a glistening cake. Let the cake cool before slicing.

To make the honey whipped cream: 

Whip the cream in your mixer on medium speed in a chilled bowl. Drizzle the honey in and whip until the cream forms soft peaks. Add more honey to taste, if you'd prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter. Keep refrigerated and serve over individual slices of the cake.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chocolate Moosetracks Ice Cream with Mini Peanut Butter Cups . . . Heat Waves Have Their Benefits!

I have to believe that humans had a harder time enduring summer before the advent of ice cream. I mean, come on, how did those cavemen get along on the steamiest days with all that excess hair, no air conditioning, and--worse yet--no ice cream whatsoever?? It must have been hellish.

Yes, the present era may be heavily laden with its own problems, but historically speaking, I figure we're pretty darn lucky. For one thing, we have easy access to moose tracks. And I'm not talking about the kind of tracks imprinted in mud by a four-legged creature. No, I refer only to the endearingly frosty, alluringly creamy variety. The kind you can scoop up, press down into a brittle sugar cone, or plop generously into a big shiny bowl. I speak, my friends, of that singular ice cream that's swirled with fudgy streaks and dotted with mini peanut-butter cups.

It's one of womankind's favorite treats (and probably mankind's too). It's moose tracks ice cream, and it's a flavor concept that was, by the way, born and bred right here in Michigan. I guess it was only a matter of time before I had to take a stab at producing a homemade version.

Too much heaven, you say? Oh please. This is me you're talking to. We both know there's no such thing.

About this recipe . .

Everything valuable I know about making ice cream at home I owe to pastry chef David Lebovitz. I've probably already told you in the past that I never made really spectacular ice cream until he wandered along and published what I now view as nothing short of a seminal volume, The Perfect Scoop.  

Dear David, 
You've done civilization quite a service. 
Are you even remotely aware of that? Gosh, I hope so. 
Love, Jane.  
P.S.  I seriously think a copy of The Perfect Scoop should be placed in a time capsule at the North Pole, post haste. Just in case. 

I've lately been reading his memoir/cookbook, The Sweet Life in Paris, and in doing so have become ever more enamored of this down to earth, fun-loving pastry chef. He's got poetry in his soul, whimsy coming out of this ears, and by all accounts he's the kind of dedicated chef who tests and tests and retests again until he gets it right. What more can one ask?

Today's recipe is adapted from his formula for milk chocolate ice cream in The Perfect Scoop. I changed his base recipe very minimally, by deleting the 3/4 cup of cocoa nibs as well as the 2 tsp. of cognac. Instead, I used 2 tsp. of Kahlua (coffee flavored liqueur that goes fantastically well with chocolate), and I added a few swirls of homemade milk chocolate ganache into the just-churned ice cream before freezing it, along with a half cup or so of Trader Joe's mini PB chips (they're actually very good, not too sweet, and not waxy).  And, of course, I reworded the Lebovitz recipe to reflect exactly what I did 'cuz, well, that's just what I do.

Thus, I present you with my version of chocolate moosetracks . . . or as I imagine David Lebovitz might casually blurt out, in a cute French accent, "Voila le moose tracks du chocolat!"

(Oh, and before I forget, many thanks to Denali brand ice cream, for coming up with their original moose tracks flavor to begin with. You are a credit to our great mitten-shaped state!)

Milk-Chocolate Moose Tracks Ice Cream 
with Milk-Chocolate Ganache and Mini Peanut Butter Cups 

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

8 oz. milk chocolate (with at least 30 percent cocoa solids), finely chopped (I used Trader Joe's brand milk chocolate; comes in a very big bar and has, I think, 33% cocoa solids. Not expensive, but nice  flavor. It's a good bargain to use for everyday baking, etc.) 

1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I use cane sugar when I make ice cream. Has better flavor, I feel, and they say it has fewer impurities than beet sugar.)
1 large pinch of salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
4 large egg yolks
2 tsp. Kahlua (coffee flavored liqueur)
1/2 cup mini peanut butter cups (I used Trader Joe's brand for these, too. Yummy.)
1/2 cup milk-chocolate ganache, at room temperature (See separate recipe for ganache below.)

In a large metal bowl set atop a saucepan of simmering water, heat the chopped milk chocolate and the heavy cream. Stir gently, heating until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, using care to get no water into the bowl. Set the bowl aside and place a clean mesh strainer close to it. 

Set up an ice bath by placing ice cubes and cold water in a large shallow bowl. This will be used to cool down your egg-based ice cream mixture before it goes in the fridge. Have the ice bath ready and waiting before you start the next steps.

In a medium size saucepan, warm up the whole milk, sugar, and salt. While they're warming, in a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Pour the warm milk mixture slowly into the yolks, whisking constantly. Then quickly scrape this mixture back into the saucepan with a flexible spatula.  Over medium heat, stir constantly, until it thickens and can coat the spatula or a wooden spoon. Be very careful not to over thicken this mixture. It should be very pourable; you don't want it to look like pudding at this point.

Pour the heated mixture quickly through the mesh sieve placed over the bowl of melted chocolate and cream. Urge it through with your spatula if needed. Stir to combine the two mixtures. Stir in the Kahlua. 

Place the combined ice cream mixture, in its bowl, atop the waiting ice bath, being careful not to let water get into the ice cream mixture. Stir the mixture now and then to help it cool. 

When it's at least room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least several hours or overnight. 

Make the milk chocolate ganache at least an hour or more before you plan to churn the ice cream in your ice cream maker. The ganache needs to be no cooler than room temperature so you can swirl it quickly and easily into your just-churned ice cream.

To make the milk chocolate ganache, and to finish making your ice cream: 

4 oz. milk chocolate, finely chopped (I used the same type of chocolate that I used for the ice cream mix.)
4 oz. heavy cream

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Heat the cream slowly in a small saucepan. When it's hot but not boiling, pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then gently stir it until all of the chocolate has dissolved and the ganache is smooth and silky. Let the ganache cool uncovered until it reaches room temperature.

When you're ready to churn your ice cream, have on hand the ganache and the mini peanut butter cups. Churn the ice cream mix according to your ice cream maker's directions. As soon as it's done churning, quickly spoon in dabs of the ganache, swirling it in as you go, and sprinkling in the peanut butter cups as evenly as you can manage. Freeze your churned ice cream overnight so it can fully ripen. (I prefer to keep my churned ice cream in a couple of pint-sized sturdy glass containers that have tight lids because it seems to freeze more evenly and quickly than when I do it in metal or plastic.)

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Spelt Scones with Dried Tropical Fruit . . . Taking Spelt for a Spin!

I wasn't sure just how I was going to feel about these scones, never having used spelt before, but I'm  pleased to report that they exceeded all of my expectations. Strange word, spelt. What the heck is it anyway? Sounds like something you'd find piled on the ground in a greenhouse, doesn't it? "Just dump that load of spelt over there, right next to the cedar mulch."

The first thing one tends to hear about spelt flour, it seems to me, is that it's an ancient grain dating back to the 5th millennium BC and, secondly, that it's quite nutritious. Made from the whole grain, spelt flour is uniquely mild and subtly sweet. It works well in recipes mixed with some white flour, and it doesn't add nearly the same heaviness as typical whole-grain wheat flour.

Spelt's flavor doesn't come on strong. If regular whole wheat flour struts up to your taste buds like a muddy paratrooper, spelt flour saunters up slowly, like a waiter in a white jacket who doesn't want to interrupt the conversation.

I actually made two slightly different batches of scones using this recipe. First, the wedge-shaped scones that are pictured with chopped, dried, tropical fruits (kiwi, mango, papaya, and pineapple; I didn't end up liking the taste of the dried star-fruit, so I left that one out).

And then, pictured below, I made a  softer dough (I added in a bit more cream) to make drop scones; for those I used only dried, sweet, Michigan (of course!) cherries. I brushed cream on the top of all the unbaked scones and sprinkled them with sanding sugar. Both varieties were very good. All of my males (that would be the hubby, the almost-15-year-old, and the 18-year-old) liked them a lot.

Like all scones--well, all the scones I've ever had the pleasure to meet--these are definitely best the first day, as they tend to dry out quickly. Second day, they benefit from being warmed before serving. Warmth revives them.

About this recipe . . .

From the 2010 book, Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce, this recipe is one of many from that source I'd love to try. Cleverly organized by flour type, it recently won the James Beard Award in the baking and dessert book category. I changed the recipe slightly (it originally included only currants, and wasn't patted out and baked in wedges, among other things), and reworded it to reflect exactly what I did.

Spelt Scones with Dried Tropical Fruit (Kiwi, Mango, Papaya, and Pineapple)

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: 8 or more good-sized pieces, formed either as wedges (cut pie-style) or as drop scones

1 and 1/4 cups spelt flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand.) 
1 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar (Doesn't sound like much, but the sugar on the dried fruit, along with the fruit itself, lends sweetness as well.) 
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt

2 oz. cold unsalted butter (1/2 of one stick), cut into 1/2" chunks
1/2 cup (Or add a little more if you like!) mixture of chopped, dried, tropical fruits (I used chopped, dried kiwi, mango, papaya, and pineapple; or, try sweet dried cherries instead.)
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus a couple extra tablespoons for brushing on the unbaked scones

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the first five ingredients, putting back into the bowl anything that didn't sift through (like, perhaps, some of the kosher salt).

Toss the cold butter chunks into the bowl, and begin pinching the butter into the dry mix with your fingertips. Keep doing this until it's the texture of fine cornmeal (Or, if you're squeamish, do this with a hand-held pastry blender, or even an old-fashioned potato masher. I've done it all three ways for scones, and it always works!) 

Pour in all of the dried fruit and stir it in evenly. Make a well in the center and, if you want your dough to be quite moist for drop scones pour in all of the cream.

If you want your dough to be slightly firmer in order to pat out a circle and make wedges, hold back 3 to 4 Tbsp. of the heavy cream.

Stir just until the dry mixture is more or less evenly moistened.

For drop scones, simply drop 8 large spoonfuls onto your parchment covered baking sheet, being sure to leave adequate space between each one. (No need to tidy up each "drop" but you certainly can if you wish. Might want to flour your fingers first.) For wedge scones, first dust a sheet of parchment lightly with flour. Plop the entire amount of thick, doughy batter onto the center of the parchment, and flour your hands well. Pat the dough into a circle about 10" in diameter.

Using a sharp pizza/pastry wheel (or a very sharp chef's knife) dipped first in flour, quickly cut the circle into 8 wedges, pie fashion.

Using a thin metal spatula if needed, gently lift each wedge and place it evenly on the parchment lined baking sheet.

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush heavy cream onto the tops of the scones and then sprinkle them with coarse/sanding sugar (granulated sugar will do fine as well, but the coarser sugars look more sparkly once baked). 

Bake the scones at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes or so, until the scones are golden on top and bottom.

Let them cool a few minutes on a rack before diving in. (Excellent served warm with butter--you heard it from me.) Best eaten the day they're made.

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