Sunday, November 27, 2011

Plum Sorbet

The end of plum season has sadly arrived, so I'm thinking of this as Last Chance Plum Sorbet. It’s an icy cold concoction of tart and sweet and a burst of bright color.

Sorbets are usually a fast and easy way to celebrate the pure flavor of fruit and this recipe from Emily Luchetti is no exception. The plums go into a handy food processor to become fruit purée. Put it through a strainer, add sugar, water, salt and lemon juice and off it goes into the refrigerator to chill. Give it a churn in your ice cream maker and there you have it. Last Chance Plum Sorbet.

Bench notes:
- Choose plums that are ripe but still fairly firm.
- If you decide to add more sugar, go easy or the sorbet won’t freeze properly and it will be very slushy.
- Add a tiny note of good quality kirsch if you’d like.

Plum Sorbet
adapted from A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti

2 lbs (about 8) ripe plums
1/2 C sugar, to taste
1/4 C water
large pinch of kosher salt
1 t fresh lemon juice

Halve the plums, remove the pits and cut into 1/2” pieces.

Purée the plums in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. There will be about 2 3/4 cups purée.

Whisk in the sugar, water, salt and lemon juice. Taste for sweetness and add a little more sugar if it tastes too tart. Chill thoroughly.

Churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pour into a clean container, press a piece of plastic into the surface, cover and freeze for about 4 hours or until the sorbet can be scooped.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares

As we head full speed ahead into what will surely be a season of busy kitchens bustling with inspired cooking and baking of all kinds, this recipe is blissfully simple. Not quite a full-blown pie, these squares are a super delicious pastry for those of us who can’t bear to wait for that dose of traditional Thanksgiving dessert coming in a few short days. So this is a sort of sneak peek of pumpkin enjoyment right now. I think you’ll be thrilled you didn’t have to wait.

To be sure, all the familiar elements are here - lots of spice and a lovely crust. But there’s also the additional benefit of chewy oat goodness added to a pastry dough that is pressed into the pan rather than rolled. The orange zest in the pecan topping adds a little burst of fresh citrus flavor. The pecan topping really adds a lot of flavor without being overly sweet.

Easy to throw together in the midst of a full schedule, this test run for the holidays is an irresistible treat of creamy soft pumpkin custard and buttery brown sugar caramelized pecans, the best of both holiday pie worlds. You will likely be extremely tempted to eat more than your fair share. Let's get this party started!

Bench notes:
- Yes, you can smuggle some rum or brandy into the whipped cream. ‘Tis the season!
- You could make the pastry base in a mixer but it’s much more fun to just mix it with your hands.
- The pumpkin filling has to bake for 20 minutes to set up a bit before adding the pecan streusel to prevent it from sinking to the bottom.
- The squares will continue to firm up as they cool. Store leftovers in a covered contained in the refrigerator.
- This recipe makes 12 servings. It can be doubled and baked in a 9" x 13” pan. You won't be able to lift it out of the pan easily so just cut into squares and remove by sections.

Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares
Makes 1 dozen squares


1/2 C flour
1/4 C oats
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
1/8 t salt
2 oz (4 T) butter

Pumpkin Filling

8 oz (1 C) canned pumpkin
1/2 C whole milk
1/4 C heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t cloves
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t vanilla

Pecan Streusel

1/4 C chopped toasted pecans
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
zest of half an orange
1 T butter

1/2 C heavy cream (optional)
1 1/2 t sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare an 8” square pan and line with parchment with a few inches overhang on two sides.

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and work into the dry ingredients. The mixture should look like moist streusel. Press into the prepared pan in an even layer. Bake for 13 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Whisk together pumpkin filling ingredients and pour into the baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the pumpkin filling is baking, prepare the streusel by combining the pecans, brown sugar and orange zest. Cut the butter into small pieces and work it into the nut mixture until it's moist and crumbly.

When the pumpkin filling has baked for the initial 20 minutes, sprinkle the streusel evenly over the surface. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 - 20 minutes until filling is set. Cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into 12 squares. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Caramel-Glazed Cardamom Palmiers

When you work in a French pastry kitchen, puff pastry is the centerpiece of production. It takes a long time to prepare and due to the amount of butter involved, is quite dependent on temperature conditions. It's used for a range of classic French pastries, from tart bases to Chaussons aux Pommes, Napoleons and Palmiers, a small cookie-like pastry in the shape of a palm leaf. Puff pastry is always baked off to a deep golden brown to ensure its flakiness and full flavor. For Palmiers, a rectangle of pastry is rolled up from each side toward the middle to form a palm shape. Sugar is layered into the folds to create a caramelized look and taste.

This recipe for Palmiers from the incomparable Alice Medrich substitutes a very easy butter and cream cheese pastry for the laborious puff pastry. She then introduces cardamom to the sugar that is sprinkled throughout. This subtle but unmistakable embellishment makes for a super delicious variation on a theme. The utter simplicity of Palmiers is turned into a very different experience just by the haunting touch of spice. My advice would be to make sure you’re not alone when these come out of the oven. The aroma, the beautiful caramelization, the crunchy, crispy, chewy tenderness will have you unabashedly reaching for another slice.

These cookies would make a supreme partner at an afternoon break for refreshment, an elegant gift for a good friend or a lovely addition to your holiday cookie platter - or a cookie platter for any season for that matter.

**A special note of appreciation to Victoria, a long-standing East Coast reader of my blog who recently inspired me with a very gracious gift. Thank you very much for your thoughtful generosity!!**

Bench notes:

- This dough is pretty easy to work with. Although it sounds like a bit of work to prepare these, it really is quite simple once you get the idea of how to roll up the dough.
- Sugar is used generously to prevent sticking as you roll out the dough and to ensure that the cookies will caramelize properly. I also use a bench scraper to gently loosen any dough that appears to be sticking.
- Every oven has its own personality. Should the cookies brown at different rates, remove the darker ones and let the lighter ones continue to bake.
- I sliced mine a bit too wide and they took twice as long to bake.
- While the recipe calls for an ungreased cookie sheet, I used a silpat.
- The cookies will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.

Caramel-Glazed Cardamom Palmiers

adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
Makes about 48 cookies

2 1/2 C flour
2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold butter
8 oz cold cream cheese

For the cardamom sugar:
1 C sugar
1 t ground cardamom
2 large pinches salt

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients.

Cut each stick of butter into eight pieces. Cut the cream cheese into pieces. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse bread crumbs. Add the cream cheese pieces and pulse until the dough begins to clump together, about 30 seconds. Pour the dough out onto a work surface and gather it gently. Divide it in half and flatten into 2 squares. Wrap and chill until firm.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it soften for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Mix the sugar with the cardamom. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture to a small cup and mix in the salt. Set aside. Divide the remaining cardamom sugar in half. You’re going to use each half of the sugar for each dough packet.

To begin forming one packet of dough, sprinkle the work surface generously with cardamom sugar. Set the dough on the sugared surface and sprinkle it with more sugar. Roll out the dough, generously sugaring the work surface and the dough and lifting the dough to be sure it isn’t sticking. The desired shape is a rectangle 24” x 8” and about 1/8” thick. Trim the rectangle to form clean edges.

Mark the center of the long side of the dough with a small indentation.
Starting at one short edge, fold about 2 1/2” of the dough almost one-third of the distance to the center mark. Do not stretch or pull the dough. Continue to loosely fold the dough toward the center three times, leaving a scant 1/4” space at the center mark. Repeat with the other end, folding it in the same fashion toward the center three times, leaving the 1/4” space at the center. The dough should now resemble a narrow open book. Fold one side of the dough over the other side, as if you are closing the book. You should have an eight-layer strip of dough about 2 1/2” wide and 8” long.

Sprinkle the remaining cardamom sugar under and on top of the dough. Roll gently from one end of the dough to the other to compress the layers together and lengthen the strip to about 9”. Wrap the dough loosely in parchment or waxed paper (plastic wrap will cause moisture to form on the outside of the sugared dough). Place in the refrigerator to chill. Repeat this process for the second dough packet. Chill the formed dough for at least 30 minutes.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the oven is ready, remove one packet of dough from the refrigerator. Trim the ends of the roll and cut into 1/3” slices. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 1/2” apart.

Bake until the bottom of the cookies are golden brown, about 8 - 10 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking. Remove the pans from the oven and gently turn the cookies over. Sprinkle each cookie generously with the reserved salted cardamom sugar mixture. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until they are a deep golden brown, another 3 - 5 minutes. Rotate the pans and watch the cookies closely at this stage of the baking to prevent burning.

Transfer the cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears

Fall is definitely in the air. It’s time to turn the corner and begin to focus on the flavors and spices of the new season. The weather will bring a crisp chill, the leaves will rustle and soon we’ll be turning back the clock. The moment has arrived for apples and pears, quince, lots of spice and chocolate.

This is a scone/shortcake recipe from Cindy Mushet that is reminiscent of a light gingerbread. It has a different texture but features the same sort of warm mixture of spices and a small dose of heady molasses. The food processor does all the work, so there is minimal handling and then a quick 14 minute bake in the oven.

I serve them here with pears and whipped cream but they’d also be really fabulous with some apples sautéed in a bit of butter, sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The aromas and flavors are perfect for this time of year.

Bench notes:
- Unless you really love cloves, I recommend reducing the amount of ground cloves, which can really overpower other spices. The recipe calls for 1/2 t and I’d probably reduce by half from 1/2 t to 1/4 t and also increase the cinnamon to 1 3/4 t. Maybe add a little pinch of nutmeg.
- Once the dough is mixed in the food processor, handle it very little to ensure tenderness. Gather it together on your work surface and gently press it to form a cohesive circle, making sure the edges of the circle are firm.
- I used Bartlett pears. D'Anjou would also be nice.
- For a richer dessert, Cindy Mushet includes a recipe in her book for Cider Sabayon made with Calvados to use in place of whipped cream.
- These shortcakes would probably be great with sautéed bananas or a plum compote.
- It's very easy to over whip heavy cream. As it begins to thicken, stop every few seconds and check for a very soft peak.
- Dress up the whipped cream with a little splash of brandy or rum.
- Serve these as breakfast or brunch scones with a delicious pumpkin or apple butter, pear or raspberry jam.
- Shortcakes and scones should be eaten the same day.

Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears

adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking by Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet
Makes 8 shortcakes

Poached Pears

3 ripe but firm pears
2 1/2 C water
1 C sugar
1 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeded

Gingerbread Shortcakes

2 C flour
2 1/2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon [I recommend 1 3/4 t]
1/2 t ground cloves [I recommend 1/4 t]
1/3 C brown sugar, firmly packed
1 3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
1/2 C + 2 T (5 oz) cold buttermilk
2 T molasses

1 egg, lightly beaten
2 t water
3 T turbinado or Hawaiian washed raw sugar

1 C cold heavy cream
2 t sugar, to taste
1/2 t vanilla

To poach the pears, bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean to a low simmer. Peel and core the pears. Cut them into 1/4" slices, placing in the poaching liquid as you go. Simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and cool completely.

For the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the flour, spices, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for 10 seconds to blend. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse about 5 times or until the butter is cut into smaller pieces. Combine the buttermilk with the molasses, add and pulse just until the dough starts to hold together in large, thick clumps. The mixture will look a bit like dark lumpy cottage cheese. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather the dough and gently pat together into a circle about 7” in diameter and about 1” thick. Cut the dough into 8 equal wedges and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2” apart.

Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons of water. Brush the tops of the shortcakes with a thin coating of the egg wash (you will not use all of it). Sprinkle generously with turbinado or raw sugar and press it gently to secure.

Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack.

Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla just until very soft peaks form.

Gently slice the shortcakes in half with a serrated knife. Place a dollop of cream on the bottom half and layer some pears. Drizzle with the poaching liquid and top with the other shortcake half. Serve immediately.