Friday, December 28, 2012

Sponge Cake with Quince & Crème Anglaise

Throughout history, quince have been associated with romance and commitment, a gift from Aphrodite.  By the early 18th century, this unique fruit had found its way to the United States.  Although quinces are a staple in savory Moroccan tagines, North African and Middle Eastern stews, Chinese teas and Hindu chutneys, in America, they are mostly poached in a light syrup, used as a pastry filling or made into a sweet paste and served as an accompaniment to cheese.

We are at the very end of quince season, so I thought I'd jump in before we forge our path into a new year.  It's hard to believe we've breezed right through the 2012 holiday season, but here we are.

This dessert is composed of an Olive Oil Sponge Cake that is one of the easiest and tastiest sponge cakes you'll ever make.  It's my very favorite of its kind.  The quince compote is served alongside the cake with a helping of crème anglaise, a classic French dessert sauce.  The contrasting combination of textures and lightness and richness is more than satisfying for fans of each.  If you don't have time for the sauce, vanilla ice cream is purely perfect as a delicious accompaniment.

Wishing you a really terrific New Year's celebration with close family and friends and sending heartfelt thanks for your lovely companionship here at my blog.  Let's set our tables in 2013 with great friends, sumptuous meals and beautiful pastry.  Cheers!!

Bench notes:
- Quince compote can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.  The sponge cake can be made, wrapped in plastic and stored in an airtight container at room temperature one day ahead.  (It also freezes well.)  The crème anglaise can be made one day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Be care when peeling and cutting into quinces.  They are very hard and will take steady but careful force.  Use a sharp chef's knife and a non-slip work surface and watch your fingers.  I find them easier to work with if they are first cut into quarters.
- I like a crème anglaise that is less rich than most recipes, so I use whole milk rather than cream.  If you prefer a richer sauce, you can substitute 1 cup half-and-half (or 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup milk).

Sponge Cake with Quince & Crème Anglaise
Makes 8 servings

Poached Quince
3 C water
3/4 C sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1/2 cinnamon stick
3" strip of lemon or orange peel, pith removed
2 - 3 quinces

Olive Oil Sponge Cake

Crème Anglaise
1 C whole milk
2 egg yolks
2 T + 2 t sugar
1/8 t - 1/4 t vanilla, to taste

For the quince compote, bring the water, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and citrus peel to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer.

Cut the quince into quarters and then peel and core them.  Cut them into 1/2" slices and place in the simmering syrup.  Bring to a boil.  Press a round of parchment paper onto the top of the mixture to hold in the steam.  Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the quinces are tender and have turned a deep rose color, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.  Cool and transfer the fruit and syrup to a clean airtight container and chill.

Prepare the sponge cake and cool completely.

For the crème anglaise, bring the milk to a simmer.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thoroughly combined.  Add half the warm milk to the yolks and whisk together.  Add remaining milk and whisk thoroughly.  Pour the mixture into the saucepan and return to low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula until the mixture thickens slightly.  Do not boil.  The sauce is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and a finger traced through it leaves a clean track, about 3 - 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and immediately pour into a clean bowl to stop the cooking.  Add vanilla and cool.

To serve, plate a slice of cake and garnish with thin slices of quince and crème anglaise.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Raspberry Almond Coffee Cake

If you have some brunches with family and friends coming up on your horizon, this is a very easy little brunch cake that will serve 8.  This cake is light, very tender and presents a nice layer of tart raspberries for a bright splash of both flavor and color.  The almonds are a perfect garnish, adding just enough texture and nuttiness to the mix.

The raspberries are macerated in some sugar to sweeten them up and a bit of lemon juice to boost their flavor.  There's buttermilk and melted butter in the cake for extra tenderness.  Along with the jammy fruit, each bite sort of melts in your mouth.

What I like about this cake is it's not heavy or too sweet, so it doesn't ruin your appetite for a full day of festivities.  Add it to your Christmas morning table along with steaming hot coffee and tea and enjoy the start of your holiday.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- Most commercial cartons of raspberries are equal to 6 oz.
- The raspberries should macerate for about 10 minutes or the time it takes to assemble and mix the remaining ingredients.
- There isn't a lot of batter but you will get two thin layers out of it.
- Be careful when removing the cake from the pan.  It's tender and a bit fragile while still warm.

Raspberry Almond Coffee Cake
Serves 8

6 oz fresh raspberries
2 T sugar
1 t lemon juice

1 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 egg @ room temperature
1/2 C + 2 T sugar
1/2 C buttermilk @ room temperature
3 oz (6 T) butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1/4 C sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

Combine raspberries, sugar and lemon juice and set aside to macerate.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, whisk the egg, sugar, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla.  Use a fork to stir in the flour mixture and mix until moistened and there are no streaks of flour.

Spoon a little over half of the batter into the prepared pan, making sure to cover the entire bottom surface.  Top with the raspberry mixture.  Dollop the remaining batter over the raspberries and spread out in an even layer.  There will be some raspberries exposed and that's fine.  Sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Run a thin knife around the edges and gently turn out the cake.  Invert again onto a platter.  Cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Honey Spice Loaf

It's been quite a long time since I've had Pain d'Epices, a French spice bread typically made with rye flour, honey and spices with origins that date back to the Napoleonic era.  When I worked in a French bakery, we produced it every week.  The texture is usually dense and it's often served as an accompaniment to savory food at holidays.

This loaf cake is different but somewhat in the same vein, although it has the texture of cake rather than bread.  The focus is really on the interplay between the raisins and the anise seeds, which I think are well matched.  There's a touch of whole wheat flour to keep the taste fairly rustic.  It's plain in nature and would pair well with a smear of soft cream cheese.

In this season of strong flavors and textures, I like the subtle flavor and the soft crumb of this cake.  So while it's a fairly simple and understated composition, I think it's still worthy of a holiday brunch table or afternoon tea or coffee affair when you feel a momentary urge to stray away from the usual seasonal loaf cakes and breads.

Bench notes:
- Plump the raisins by pouring hot simmering water over them and letting them stand for 1/2 hour.  Then place in a strainer and drain for 5 minutes.
- As with most spice cakes and cookies, this tastes better the next day.  The cake will keep for a few days wrapped and placed in an airtight container.

Honey Spice Loaf
Makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
1/2 t anise seeds, crushed
1/8 t allspice
1/8 t cloves
pinch nutmeg
1/2 C canola oil
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/3 C honey
1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 C granulated sugar
2 t vanilla
zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 C buttermilk @ room temperature
1/2 C raisins, plumped and drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/12" loaf pan and line with a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang on both sides along the length of the pan.

Sift together the flours, baking soda, salt and all the spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, honey and sugars until smooth.  Add the vanilla and orange zest.  Alternately add a third of the flour mixture and half the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix just until the batter is blended and has no streaks of flour.  Stir in plumped and drained raisins.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a tester comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.  Remove from pan and peel off the parchment.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pear Cranberry Cobbler

This chilly wet weather seems to be inviting thoughts of comfort food.  And among the most satisfying of comfort foods in the realm of pastry is fruit cobbler, a good old-fashioned spoon dessert.  This is a winterized version with a pear and cranberry filling.  The fruit is tart and spiced with a touch of cardamom.  The biscuit topping is tender and perfect for soaking up the juices.  And it's a welcome dose of bright color in a season of spice cakes and chocolate.

The cobbler is easily tossed together, something you can appreciate if you're beginning to feel the stress of many, many errands.  The fruit is first baked in the oven to soften and release the juices.  Then the biscuits are spun together and placed on top of the bubbling filling and baked until they're golden brown.  Easy, familiar and of the season.  Serve warm for a nice dose of simple comfort in the midst of the rain and all the holiday preparations.

Bench notes:
- Pears should be ripening but firm.  I used D'Anjous.
- I love tart desserts but you may want to sample the fruit halfway through cooking to see if you'd like it sweeter.  Then add sugar accordingly and continue to bake.
- Stir the sour cream before measuring to integrate all the liquids.  You can substitute heavy cream or buttermilk for the sour cream.
- Place the baking dish on top of a baking sheet to catch any potential spillover as the fruit cooks.
- Gild the lily with a scoop of ice cream!

Pear Cranberry Cobbler
Makes 6 servings

3 fresh pears
1 1/2 C fresh cranberries
1/2 C sugar
heaping 1/4 t cardamom
zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 C water

1 C flour
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 oz (4 T) cold butter
1/2 C sour cream

1/2 T butter, melted
sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter a deep 9" pie or square baking dish.

For the filling, peel and core the pears and slice into 1/4" wedges.  Place them in the baking dish and toss with the cranberries, sugar, cardamom, orange zest and water.  Cover the dish tightly with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

While the fruit is baking, prepare the cobbler biscuits.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture, tossing to coat each piece.  Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal.   Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the sour cream into the well.  Using a fork, fluff the flour into the center and gently stir and turn the ingredients.  It will look lumpy and clumpy.

Turn out the dough onto a work surface.  Give it a very gentle kneading.  About 3 - 4 turns should be enough to consolidate it.  Pat into a round about 7 1/2" in diameter and nearly 1 1/2" thick.  Use a 2" or 2 1/2" cutter to form the biscuits.  Gather the scraps and gently press and pat them into an additional biscuit.

When fruit is ready, place the biscuits on top.  Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Bake until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Cakes

It's at this time of year as the rains roll in and the wind picks up that I go to my cupboard to assess my supply of dried fruit.  In order to get through the winter months, I have tucked away dried apricots, figs, dates, cranberries and cherries.  And while they aren't nearly as pleasing as fresh fruit, they still work their own magic in various pastries and desserts.

For these little cakes, I soaked some dried cherries in port to soften them up.  Then I plopped them into a very moist and simple chocolate cake that is a basic canvas for lots of things.  In this case, I also added some ground nuts and dribbled some chocolate glaze on top to make them more festive.  But they'd be just as good if you served them with a dollop of brandied whipped cream or a scoop of your favorite ice cream.  A very quick and easy dessert to lend warmth to a chilly night.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- Soak the dried cherries in the port until they are softened, about 1/2 hour or so.
- If you use almonds, the sliced variety are easier to get to a finer grind.
- I baked these in 6 oz (3.75" diameter) tapered ramekins for 18 minutes.  You can also use Pyrex custard cups or a standard cupcake pan.
- For the chocolate glaze, chop the chocolate into fairly small bits to help it melt evenly and efficiently.
- Extra cakes can be stored in an airtight container and will stay moist for a couple of days.

Chocolate Cherry Cakes
Makes 8 cakes

1/2 C dried cherries
1/3 C port
1 C flour
1/4 C toasted walnuts or almonds
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/4 C + 2 T natural cocoa powder
1/4 C + 2 T warm water
1/4 C + 2 T canola oil
1/2 C + 2 T granulated sugar
1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg @ room temperature
1/4 C milk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla

Chocolate Glaze
3 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 C heavy cream
1 T corn syrup
1/2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease eight 6 oz ramekins or 8 wells in a standard cupcake pan.

Roughly chop the dried cherries and plump them in the port until they are soft.

Place the flour, nuts, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the nuts are finely ground.

Stir the cocoa and warm water together until thoroughly blended.  In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, sugars and egg and blend well.  Add the cocoa mixture.

Combine the milk and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the sugar-egg-cocoa mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Stir in the cherries and port.  Pour into prepared ramekins, filling each about 3/4 full.

Bake until a tester comes out clean with just a couple of moist crumbs attached, about 18 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Run a thin bladed knife around the edges to loosen and turn out the cakes.

For the chocolate glaze, finely chop the chocolate.  Heat the cream and corn syrup on low heat until it reaches a good simmer.  Remove from heat, add vanilla and pour into a large measuring cup.  Add the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about a minute.  Stir slowly until fully combined.  Let it cool for a few minutes to thicken.

Plate the cakes and pour some chocolate glaze over the top of each.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hazelnut Nutella Sandwich Cookies

The popularity of Nutella is pretty staggering.  But I have to confess, for someone who loves the combination of hazelnuts and chocolate - giandiua in Italian - I'd never tasted Nutella.  In order to remedy that, I set off to make a cookie that incorporates it.

Nutella was created in Italy in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, a confectioner who also later developed the tremendously popular Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates.  Since chocolate was in short supply at the time due to rationing, Nutella spread was made with cocoa rather than chocolate and that's how it's made today.  Nutella was introduced to a broader market in the early 60s and the rest, as they say, is history.

I've gotten into the habit of making cookies in my food processor, so this recipe is pretty quick to produce. The cookies are crunchy, crumbly and nutty.  For a simple Hazelnut Sandie tea cookie, they're good served plain.  But for something more adventurous, make them into sandwich cookies with a dollop of Nutella.

Bench notes:
- Toasting nuts brings out their oils and heightens their flavor.  Toast hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 - 10 minutes.  Watch them closely as they will taste bitter if they are left too long.
- I'm kind of a freak about chilling cookie dough to be sure the cookies hold their shape when baked.
- If you prefer, roll the dough into logs.  Chill until firm.  Slice about 1/4" thick and bake.  You'll get more cookies that are smaller in diameter.
- Add an extra pinch of salt if you enjoy a salty nut cookie.
- Although I didn't have any on hand, I was tempted to add a small dab of natural raspberry jam as well.  Or, if you prefer, simply fill the cookies with about 4 oz chocolate melted with 2 oz of butter.

Hazelnut Nutella Sandwich Cookies
Makes 32 cookies; 16 sandwich cookies

2 C flour
1 1/4 C powdered sugar
3/4 C (about 3 1/2 oz) toasted hazelnuts
1/4 t salt
8 oz (16T) cold butter
1 egg
1 t vanilla


Place flour, powdered sugar, toasted hazelnuts and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the nuts are finely ground.

Cut the cold butter into small 1/2" cubes and add to the flour and nut mixture.  Process until the mixture looks like coarse meal, about 10 seconds.  Combine the egg and vanilla and add.  Process until the dough starts to form clumps around the center of the machine and holds together when pinched.

Divide the dough in half and place each portion on a piece of plastic wrap.  Put another piece of plastic wrap over the top of each portion of dough and flatten into discs.  Using a rolling pin, roll out each disc of dough between the two sheets of plastic wrap to a circle about 10" in diameter.  Slide onto a baking sheet or pizza pan and chill thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Cut out cookies using a 2 1/2" cookie cutter.  Gently re-roll scraps for additional cookies.  Place 12 cookies per baking sheet.  Press a whole hazelnut into half of the cookies.  Bake until just lightly browned around the edges, 10 - 12 minutes.  Place the pans on a wire rack to cool completely.

Spread a dollop of Nutella on the underside of half the cookies.  Top with remaining halves.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Orange & Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Coconut macaroons are an old standby, the gold standard sought out by coconut aficionados and found in countless bakeries just about anywhere.  They are more than satisfying to those who love their chewy richness.

This is a basic recipe for coconut macaroons with just a little bit more.  To add a note of citrus, I tossed in some orange zest along with lemon zest for backup.  I also spiced it up ever so slightly with a smidgeon of cardamom.  As the macaroons bake, the exterior gets toasty and caramelized and the interior remains moist and chewy.  And then to give it a necessary dose of luxury that serves the season, I dipped the bottoms in chocolate.

There are a few different methods to produce macaroons but I like to stick with the easiest.  Simply combine all the ingredients together in one heatproof bowl.  Then place the bowl on top of a pan of some barely simmering water.  The mixture is cooked for about 5 minutes or so until it's thickened and dried out a bit.  This cooking is to prevent the batter from slumping and forming puddles of liquid on the baking sheet, which burns and ruins the whole thing.

If you're a coconut lover or happen to know one who might enjoy this cookie, this is one of those pastries you can whip up in very short order without a lot of muss or fuss or lots of equipment and dirty dishes.  Although they're also good without the chocolate garnish, it balances the flavors and textures in an important and delicious way.

Bench notes:
- For this recipe, I use sweetened coconut because it's very easy for most people to find in their local grocery store.
- To measure the coconut, I scoop it into the cup without packing it.
- The standard weight for egg whites is 1 oz.  If you have a stash in your refrigerator, weigh out 4 oz for this recipe.
- I added just a pinch of cardamom, probably a very scant 1/8 teaspoon.  You want just a hint of spice.
- I used a small #40 cookie scoop to portion the batter.
- These cookies are gluten free.
- Also try  Pineapple Coconut Macaroons from David Lebovitz.

Orange & Chocolate Coconut Macaroons
Makes 2 dozen cookies

1/2 C + 2 T sugar
zest of 2 medium oranges
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
3 C sweetened shredded coconut
1 t vanilla
pinch of salt
pinch of cardamom

3 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 oz (3 T) butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Place the sugar, orange and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the zest is finely ground and releases its oils into the sugar.  It will look orange in color and smell like citrus.

Whisk together the sugar and citrus, egg whites, coconut, vanilla, salt and cardamom in a heatproof bowl and set it over a pan with a couple of inches of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water.  Stir the mixture with a spoon or heatproof spatula, scraping the entire bowl to prevent scorching.  Cook until thickened and the liquid has mostly been consolidated, about 5 - 6 minutes.  The goal is to dry it out so it will hold its shape without slumping or making a puddle of liquid on the baking sheet.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons into a ball and place 12 per cookie sheet.  Bake until the edges and bottoms are golden brown, 13 - 15 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  You may need a small spatula to assist in removing them if they stick.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  Place the butter in a heatproof bowl and add the chocolate on top.  Melt the butter and chocolate over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water.   Whisk to thoroughly combine.  Remove from heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes.

Dip the bottoms of the macaroons in the chocolate, scraping the excess off the bottom against the side of the bowl.  Set the macaroon on its side on a piece of parchment or a silpat to dry.  Store in an airtight container between sheets of parchment or wax paper.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Yeast Bread

'Tis definitely the season for baked goods that celebrate pumpkin.  With images of pumpkin pie, loaves of spicy pumpkin cake and pumpkin cheesecake dancing across our thoughts, the anticipation of enjoying the holidays is upon us!  As you gather your own thoughts to plan your special treats for the holidays, consider making this very delicious yeast bread to grace your brunch or breakfast table.

This is a recipe for Pumpkin Yeast Bread from the bakers at King Arthur flour.  Although I love working with yeast, I have to confess this is the first recipe I've tried from them.  I cut the recipe in half to make one loaf and I decided to add a cinnamon swirl for more flavor and visual interest.  The result was a smashing success and I do highly recommend it to you for something fun and different.

The dough is soft and supple and very easy to work with.  It bakes off into a flavorful bread with a nice soft and chewy open crumb.  the cinnamon swirl adds just the right amount of sweetness and spice.  In fact, you may want to consider making two loaves.  I think it would make a great slice of buttered toast or maybe as the star in a batch of French Toast.  An extra loaf would also make a lovely gift for a friend or neighbor in need of a thoughtful gesture.  So double the ingredients or follow the King Arthur link below for the full recipe.  You'll have a very easy and festive seasonal bread and your kitchen will smell fantastic.  OK, holiday revelers, it's on!

Bench notes:
- Both the water and the milk for the bread dough should feel warm (but not hot) to the touch.
- I wound up using 3 cups + 2 tablespoons of flour in the mixing of the dough and another 1 tablespoon for the kneading.  You'll also need just a light dusting of flour on the work surface when you roll it out.
- I didn't really detect the ginger or the cardamom in the finished bread, so if you don't have those spices on hand, don't let that stop you from pressing ahead.
- After you roll out the dough to the desired dimensions, brush the surface with egg wash before dusting with the cinnamon sugar.  This helps to prevent separation and gaps in the swirl as it bakes.
- Since I had extra egg wash, I brushed it on the top of the bread just before putting it in the oven.  I also loosely tented a piece of foil over the bread after 15 minutes of baking.  My bread baked in 25 minutes.
- A serrated knife works best for slicing bread.
- This bread will keep in an airtight container for about 3 days and still taste fresh and moist.
- To use up any extra bits of pumpkin puree, try Pumpkin Pecan Madeleines.
- One of my favorite pumpkin desserts for this time of year is Pumpkin Pecan Pie Squares, the best of both worlds.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Yeast Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 loaf

1/4 C warm water
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/3 C warm milk
1 egg
3/4 C pumpkin
1 T canola oil
1/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
1 t salt  [I used 1 1/8 t]
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground cardamom
3 C - 3 1/4 C flour

1/4 C granulated sugar
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Place the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast.  Stir and let sit for 2 - 3 minutes to soften.  Add the warm milk, egg, pumpkin, oil, brown sugar, salt, ginger and cardamom and stir together until blended.  Add 2 3/4 cups flour and combine thoroughly.  Keep adding flour 2 tablespoons at a time, kneading until you have a smooth and elastic dough.

Oil the bottom and sides of a clean bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl and turn it over once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan.  Combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.  Combine the egg and water for the egg wash and set aside.

When the dough has risen, press it down gently to release the gases.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Roll it out to a 17" x 10" rectangle.  Brush the surface of the dough with egg wash (you'll only use a small portion.)  Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar evenly over the surface.  Starting with the short end, roll the dough into a log.  Pinch and press the ends and the seam to seal.  Gently lift the log, seam side down, and place in the loaf pan, tucking the ends underneath.  Set in a warm place for the second rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the top of the loaf with egg wash or oil if you want a shiny crust (check on it and tent the bread loosely with foil after 15 minutes, if needed).  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven and gently loosen it from the pan with a small spatula or a table knife.  Turn the bread out of the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rustic Chocolate Pie

If you crave a good and unusual chocolate pastry, this is definitely one to add to your list of delicious things to bake.  It's a recipe from Alice Medrich, so you know all the elements are in balance with plenty of deep chocolate buzz.  But I have to say, it sort of defies description.

This "pie" is built upon a very buttery pastry.  It's rolled out into a thin free-form base like a galette and it's very delicate and flaky.  The filling is a billow of meringue folded into melted chocolate and nuts.  Once baked, it's not dense like a truffle or brownie nor soft and airy like a mousse.  It's gooey and rich without being too heavy.  So it's a very offbeat sort of pie.  In fact, it's not really a pie so much as a very simple but interesting composition of pastry, chocolate and nuts that's incredibly easy to compose and super delicious to consume.  And it's fun to set it on your table and slice into it randomly and watch the crumbs fly.

I'm sure you can find an occasion to celebrate the wonders of good chocolate sometime soon.  This is a grand treat sure to elicit sighs of pure pleasure and good cheer.

Bench notes:
- The dough can be made ahead and stored in your refrigerator for 2 - 3 days.  Any longer and it begins to oxidize and discolor.
- I know a lot of people really fear working with pastry doughs.  Handling dough can be trying if you don't have any practice.  But just remember a few important tips: 1) Keep the butter and water very cold.  As you mix, work quickly to make sure the butter doesn't warm up and get soft.  Once the dough is mixed, chill it to relax the gluten, firm up the butter and allow the flour to absorb the moisture.  2) It may seem counterintuitive, but once the dough has been thoroughly chilled, you need to set it out and let it rest for a few minutes at room temperature to warm up enough to roll it out without a lot of resistance and cracking.  So chill it thoroughly but then let it sit at room temperature to take the chill off.  3) Keep your work surface and the surface of the dough lightly floured as you roll it out.  You don't want it to stick at all.  After each roll, lift the dough to make sure it isn't sticking.  Handle it gently and continue to dust with flour.  This is important because I think this is where people begin to get discouraged.  If the dough is sticking, it raises the possibility of tearing, which is very, very frustrating.  So lift it often and keep it lightly dusted with flour.  Once you've rolled it out to the desired shape and size, dust off any excess flour.  I use a 3" wide paint brush with soft bristles.  4) If at any time the dough starts to get too soft, don't hesitate to return it to the refrigerator for a few minutes.  It's important that it remain firm enough to handle without the butter getting warm and softening.  5) For ease of handling, I always roll out doughs on parchment paper.  It makes it easier to form the pastry and then simply slide it onto a baking sheet without having to lift the dough and risk stretching, tearing or misshaping.  Once you've made a few doughs with these tips in mind, you'll find your own zone with tarts, pies and galettes.  It just takes some practice to get the feel for the right temperatures and a light touch.
- There's a good ratio of butter in this dough but oddly it doesn't take on much browning at all even though it's pre-baked at 400 degrees.  The temperature gets lowered to 350 degrees once the filling is added but it only bakes for 10 additional minutes.
- I used a mix of 4 oz of semisweet chocolate and 2 oz of bittersweet.  Alice Medrich suggests either bittersweet or semisweet but also says the chocolate you choose shouldn't exceed 62%.
- Egg whites are 1 oz each so if you have a stash, weigh out 2 oz.
- Nuts are definitely important for texture and flavor.
- Bake for just 10 minutes so the interior is gooey.  The surface should look dry and a bit shiny and may look slightly cracked in places but still have a soft interior.
- The recipe suggests 3 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts and chocolate shavings as optional garnishes.  I just used a portion of the same nuts I folded into the filling.

Rustic Chocolate Pie
adapted from Alice Medrich for Better Homes & Garden
Makes 10 servings

3/4 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 oz (5 T) cold butter
1 1/2 T - 2 T cold water [I used 2 T]

6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 egg whites at room temperature
1/8 t cream of tartar
1/4 C sugar
1/8 t salt
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 C chopped pecans or walnuts

For the crust, toss together the flour and salt.  Cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour, tossing to coat the butter thoroughly.  With a pastry blender or your fingers, incorporate the butter into the flour until you have some larger pieces the size of pine nuts and smaller pieces that resemble coarse bread crumbs.  Don't let the butter get too soft or blend completely into the flour.  Drizzle the cold water over the flour mixture.  Toss and mix just until moist enough to hold together when pressed. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Gather and consolidate the dough into a flat disc.  Wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unwrap the pastry dough and place on a floured piece of parchment or work surface.  Let it sit for a few minutes at room temperature until pliable enough to roll without cracking.  Roll the dough out to a 14" x 9" oval about an 1/8" thick.  Brush off excess flour.  If you didn't roll it out on parchment, fold the dough in half to transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.  Unfold the dough and loosely roll up the edges to form a rimmed crust without pinching or pressing too firmly.

Bake 10 - 12 minutes or until you see some browning.  The crust edge will still be a little raw inside.  Place on a wire rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

For the filling, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.  Place the bowl on top of a pan of barely simmering shallow water, making sure the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water.  Stir until the chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until opaque and soft peaks form.  Gradually add sugar and salt.  Beat until the whites form stiff peaks that are not dry, adding the vanilla in the last few seconds.  Fold the whipped egg whites into the melted chocolate until it is nearly blended.  Add the nuts and fold until there are no streaks.

Dollop the filling onto the baked crust and spread evenly to the edges.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Garnish the top with extra nuts and serve warm or cool.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ginger Chocolate Cookies

I am a very big fan of ginger in any form - simple ginger cakes, ginger upside-down cakes with pears or plums or apples, ginger ice cream, ginger custard or ginger cookies.  And whether it's powdered ginger, crystallized ginger, freshly grated ginger or a halting combination of all three, I love the spicy explosion it introduces to pastries and desserts.

As we approach the holidays, it's time to get our cookie act together.  And since it's the fall season, spices are never far from our reach, along with chocolate.  So this cookie is a celebration of all these things.  It's a chewy cookie with crispy edges and each bite brings a different sensation.  It's either a pop of crystallized ginger, a gooey hit of dark bittersweet chocolate or a punch of salt.  I find it very satisfying, especially if you hit all three.

Bench notes:
- I like bittersweet chocolate in these cookies.  If you prefer a sweeter cookie, use semisweet.
- You can find less expensive crystallized ginger at bulk groceries or Trader Joe's.
- I use a #40 ice cream scoop to portion the cookie dough.  It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies.  (The #40 refers to 40 scoops per quart.)
- If you have the time, scoop the cookies, place them all together on a smaller 1/4 baking sheet, wrap with plastic and place in the refrigerator to firm them up before baking.
- If you're a ginger fan, check out Plum Ginger Upside-Down Cake, Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears and Ginger Ice Cream.

Ginger Chocolate Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies

2 C flour
1 T cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
2 t powdered ginger
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 oz (8 T) butter, melted
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C molasses
1 egg
2/3 C crystallized ginger, finely chopped
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, spices, salt and pepper.

Combine the melted butter, sugars, molasses and egg until thoroughly blended.   Stir in the flour mixture.  Add the chopped ginger and chocolate.

Scoop the cookie dough into 1 tablespoon portions and form into balls.  Place 12 on each baking sheet.

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack before removing from pan.  Store in an airtight container.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cakes

Today I'm re-visiting Pineapple Upside Down Cake, that old stand-by and household favorite originating in the 20s and popularized in the 50s.  It appeared on many a dessert and pot-luck table all across America for decades.  It was an easy cake baked in a skillet that, once inverted, impressed everyone with its glistening sweet pineapple and bright red cherries.

This isn't your mom's Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  I thought I'd do something a little different and fun with it so I used fresh pineapple, skipped the cherries, added some booze and made individual servings.  The cake is very tender and moist with a touch of rum to liven up the party.  The topping is the usual brown sugar and butter blend but with a splash of rum, a 1/2 vanilla bean and a pinch of salt.  The tart acidic fruit is bathed in the traditional caramel flavor just as before but with a bit of depth and a little contrast added.  The aroma is big and inviting.

Next time you'd like a little flashback to another era but with a modern twist, have a slice of this rum version.  It's an especially good treat to warm your spirits on a chilly night.

Bench notes:
- You'll need a medium-sized fresh pineapple or about 20 oz if you prefer to use canned.
- I use a large ice cream scoop to portion the batter.
- The recipe could just as easily be made into one 9" cake to serve 8 people.  Bake for about 45 - 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
- This cake would also be great topped with fresh pear or apples.

Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cakes
Serves 6

2 oz (4 T) butter
1/2 vanilla bean
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
2 T rum
pinch salt
2 C chopped pineapple

1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 oz (8T) butter @ room temperature
3/4 C granulated sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 T rum
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/2 C milk @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease the sides of six 4 1/2" diameter ramekins.

To make the topping, place 2 oz of butter in a saucepan.  Split and scrape the seeds from vanilla bean and add to the butter along with the casing.  Melt the butter over low heat.  Add brown sugar and cook, whisking to combine, for about 2 - 3 minutes.  Whisk in rum and a pinch of salt and remove from heat.  Distribute evenly to each of the ramekins.  Arrange chopped pineapple on top of the sugar mixture.  Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.  Combine rum and vanilla with the milk.

Beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.   Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix just until blended, scraping down the bowl and incorporating everything together.  Portion batter over pineapple and brown sugar topping and spread to the edges.  Bake until golden and a test comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Place on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto serving dishes and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pumpkin Pecan Madeleines

I have some fun news to share and it's about Madeleines, those little French teacakes that everyone seems to find irresistible.  Chronicle Books has a new cookbook release on October 17th entitled, We Love Madeleines.  It's a compilation of all kinds of Madeleine recipes and I'm delighted to say they've included my Chocolate Olive Oil Madeleines in the collection.  I love this recipe with its great mix of chocolate, extra virgin olive oil and salt, so I was very pleased when I was contacted about using it in the book.

We Love Madeleines is Chronicle's first crowd-sourced cookbook.  There are 40 recipes that range from Molasses Spice, Apple Buckwheat with Sea Salt Caramel and a savory Rosemary Parmesan Polenta.  It also features gluten-free and vegan options and a chapter on glazes, dips and toppings.  I'll be trying out some of these in the not-too-distant future.

In the spirit of this new book as well as the arrival of pumpkin season, I thought I'd put together some Pumpkin Pecan Madeleines.  Madeleines are usually made in the genoise tradition, which means the eggs and sugar are whisked to a ribbon stage.  I didn't stray too far from my basic formulation, so they are light, moist and subtle in flavor.   For this recipe, once the mixture has reached full volume, I add vanilla and 1/4 cup pumpkin and then garnish with a good dose of spiced sugar and finely chopped pecans.  The result is a moist little teacake with edges that are crispy and chewy and an interior that is spongy and soft.  While I also appreciate all the pumpkin loaves and cakes of the season, this is a nice alternative you can bake when you have extra pumpkin puree on your hands.  Bon Appetit!

Bench notes:
- The recipe instructions are for a stand mixer.  If you're using a hand mixer, it will take a bit longer to get the eggs and sugar to the ribbon stage.  To test, lift the beaters about 6" and let the ribbons of batter fall to the surface.  If they hold for a second, it's ready.
- If you have an orange on hand, you might consider adding a smidgeon of zest.
- I use a small #40 ice cream scoop that is perfect for forming cookie doughs to portion the batter.  The wells should be nearly full.
- Madeleines are best eaten the same day.

Pumpkin Pecan Madeleines
Makes 20 Madeleines

3/4 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
scant 1/4 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of ginger
3 oz (6 T) butter
2 eggs
1/4 C + 2 T granulated sugar
3 T dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 t vanilla
1/4 C pumpkin

2 T sugar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch allspice
pinch cloves
2 T finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Generously butter a Madeleine pan.  Lightly dust with flour and knock out the excess.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices.  Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

Beat eggs and both sugars until thickened and batter falls in ribbons when whisk is lifted, about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla and pumpkin and blend.  Take off the mixer and fold in the flour by hand in 3 additions.  Fold in one-third of the butter until combined.  Fold in another third and then fold in the remainder and mix thoroughly.

Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of allspice and clove.

Portion the batter in the madeleine pan.  Dust generously with spiced sugar and garnish with pecans.  Bake until the cakes spring back when touched and the edges are darkened, about 11 - 13 minutes.  Let them cool for 1 minute and then use a small spatula or knife to dislodge them.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Repeat with remaining batter.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spicy Caramel Pear Ice Cream

A few weeks ago I wrote about some Spicy Caramel Pears from David Lebovitz that I paired with chocolate cake.  The pears are baked in an intoxicating sauce of butter and brown sugar along with a warm complement of cognac or brandy.  There's also a healthy dose of cinnamon, cloves, star anise and pepper for lots of depth and complexity.  Once they're baked to a soft and juicy texture, the sauce is finished with a splash of cream to give it a touch of luxury.  It's a great aromatic pear dessert made even better when served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I always find the transition between seasons to be sort of slow pokey.  It takes me a while to shift from one set of seasonal pastry and dessert ideas and ingredients to the next.  But with each successive visit to the markets I start to shift gears.  And since pears are the fruit of the moment and I happen to really love pears, I decided to re-visit David's easy and delicious recipe and turn the baked pears into this spicy caramel pear ice cream.  And it was ridiculously easy to do!  I simply took the baked pears and the sauce and pureed them in my trusty food processor.  Then I added more cream, a balance of milk, some lemon juice and a good pinch of salt.  The result of this little excursion is some really good ice cream and a house that smells incredible with the warm spices of the season.  It's another good way to enjoy David's inspired pear dessert and definitely make the shift to fall.

Bench notes:
- Pears should be ripe but firm so they'll be tender and juicy for perfect flavor and texture.
- Depending on the size of your pears and the amount of the resulting puree, add the cream and milk, lemon juice and salt to your own taste.
- You can certainly make this all in one day but I did it in three stages.  I first baked the pears and let them sit overnight with the sauce to encourage the spices to flourish.  The next day, I pureed the pears with the sauce and added the remaining ingredients.  I let that chill overnight.  The next day I churned the ice cream.

Spicy Caramel Pear Ice Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 - 2 pints

Spicy Caramel Pears
adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz

2 oz (4 T) butter
1/2 C light or dark brown sugar, packed [I like dark]
15 whole cloves
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 t black peppercorns
1/4 C Cognac, brandy or rum [I used rum]
4 pears, Comice or Bosc [I used D'Anjou]
1/4 C heavy cream

For the Ice Cream
1 1/2 C - 2 C heavy cream, to taste
1/2 C - 1 C milk, to taste
2 t lemon juice, to taste
pinch salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Choose a baking dish large enough to hold the sliced pears in a single layer.

Cut the butter into small pieces and place it in the baking dish with the brown sugar.  Set the dish in the oven for a few minutes until the butter is melted.  Crush the whole spices by placing them in a plastic bag and pounding with a rolling pin.  Peel and core the pears and cut them into quarters.

Remove the dish from the oven and add the crushed spices and liquor.  Stir to combine all the ingredients.  Add the pears and toss everything together to coat the fruit.  Arrange pears in a single layer.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 - 45 minutes, depending on the size and firmness of your pears.  The pears should be easily pierced with a knife but not mushy.  Stir and baste them a couple of times during baking so they're evenly coated with the sauce.

Remove the pears from the oven and lift them out of the cooking liquid and onto a plate to cool.  Scrape all the juices and spices from the baking dish into a saute pan.  Add 1/4 cup cream and cook over medium heat until the mixture turns a deep color, thickens and caramelizes.  Strain the finished sauce into the bowl of a food processor and let it cool.

Add the pears to the food processor and process with the sauce until you have a smooth puree.  Pour into a bowl and whisk in the cream and milk to taste, depending on how much puree you have and how you want to balance the richness.  Then add lemon juice and salt to taste.  Start with the lower end of suggested amounts and keep adding and adjusting these last ingredients until you have the right strength of flavor and a balance of sweet, fat (mouthfeel determined by the ratio of cream and milk) and brightness (lemon juice and salt).  Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze according to your ice cream machine's instructions.  Pour into a clean airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap into the surface, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Whole Wheat Apple Spice Cake

With the onset of fall, this is the season for apples and spice.  It also feels like a good time to invite the wholesome goodness of whole wheat flour.  With a chill in the air and evenings soon scheduled to arrive a bit earlier, there's plenty of reason to warm up the kitchen with the scent of a spice cake baking in the oven.

Baking with whole wheat flour isn't what it used to be.  With access to better quality flour and more balanced ingredient ratios found in today's recipes, whole wheat pastries no longer suffer from being too heavy, too dense and too dry.  And that means the flavor is much improved as well.

Thankfully, apple cakes have many lives.  There are so many great versions and traditions to choose from.  Here the apples are baked in familiar upside down fashion with brown sugar.  Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and molasses lend character and complexity to the cake batter along with the flour.  This is one way to welcome the oncoming fall harvest.  If you're like me, there can never be too many apple cakes.

Bench notes:
- I used Fuji apples.
- The ground wheat germ in whole wheat flour contains oil that can become rancid over time.  Whole wheat flour will keep 1 - 3 months at room temperature.  For longer storage, place it in an airtight container or freezer bag in your refrigerator.  It will maintain good quality for about 6 months in the refrigerator and up to 12 months in the freezer.  If you store it in the freezer, bring it to room temperature before use.  The very cold temperature of frozen flour will discourage the baking properties of yeast or baking powder.
- I like King Arthur Traditional Whole Wheat Flour for its superb flavor and easy availability.  It's milled from the hard red spring wheat of the northern Great Plains and uses 100% of the wheat berry, which provides the full flavor and nutrients of the bran and the wheat germ.  I think it's the best of its kind.
- Now is a good time to take stock of your spice collection.  Check to see if you have everything you need for holiday baking and whether your spices are fresh.

Whole Wheat Apple Spice Cake
Serves 8 - 10

2 apples
1/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
pinch cinnamon

1 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice
pinch nutmeg
1/2 C canola oil
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 C molasses
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 t vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk @ room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9" x 2 1/2" cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

Peel, core and cut apples into 1/2" slices.  Place in a bowl and toss with the brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.  Set aside.

Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together.

Whisk the oil, brown sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla together until thoroughly blended.  Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix until completely combined and there are no streaks of flour.

Arrange the apples in the prepared pan along with their juices.  Pour the cake batter evenly on top of the apples and gently tap the bottom of the pan on the work surface to release any air bubbles.

Bake 28 - 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake.  Place a platter on top and invert the cake.  Carefully remove the parchment and cool completely.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Buckwheat Shortcakes

Today is officially the last day of summer.  So what else could I do but whip up a fresh batch of shortcakes?  But not just any old shortcake for this occasion.  For something unusual and delectable, I baked these Buckwheat Shortcakes from Alice Medrich.  They're tender little cream scones that are wonderfully light and flavorful.

Shortcakes are incredibly easy to make and quick to bake.  This recipe has the perfect balance between all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, sugar and salt.  With a delicious light note of buckwheat flavor, they go well with acidic fresh fruits of the season.  And although the recipe calls for strawberries, I had some blueberry and plum compote waiting for companionship and I think this pairing is terrific.  And I bet fresh peaches or figs would also be really incredible.  So tuck this recipe away for the next time you have some of these fresh fruits on hand.  You'll be very pleased to have this unusually delicious shortcake in your repertoire.

Bench notes:
- Medrich recommends lining the baking pan with two layers of parchment to protect the bottom of the shortcakes from browning too much.  Or you can double stack two baking sheets.
- My shortcakes were done in 12 minutes so be sure to check on the early side.
- I buy small quantities of buckwheat flour at my local bulk market.  It has a higher fat content so it's likely to go rancid in large quantities.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before use.
- For a blueberry compote: Place 1 1/2 C fresh blueberries, 2 T - 2 1/2 T sugar (to taste), 1 1/2 T water and a pinch of cinnamon in a saucepan and simmer on low heat for 2 - 3 minutes.  Dissolve 3/4 t cornstarch + 3/4 t cold water and stir into the blueberries along with 3/4 t lemon juice.  Cook for another 2 - 3 minutes, stirring to keep from scorching.  Set aside to cool and thicken.  Toss in a couple of sliced plums for variation.
- For another delicious fall and winter shortcake, try Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears.

Buckwheat Shortcakes
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

1 C + 2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 C + 2 T buckwheat flour
1/4 C sugar
1 3/4 t baking powder
3/8 t salt
1 C heavy cream

2 - 2 1/2 pints fresh ripe strawberries
1 T - 2 T sugar, to taste
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1 T sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with two layers of parchment.

Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the cream.  Using a rubber spatula, push the dry ingredients into the well with a folding motion just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  The dough will look a bit shaggy.  Gather and press the dough into a cohesive ball and turn out onto a floured surface.  Pat dough into a 6" x 6" square that is 3/4" thick.  Using a sharp knife and a quick up and down motion, cut into 9 squares.  Place them 1" apart on prepared baking sheet.  Brush with cream or milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until golden brown, 12 - 15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

For assembly, hull and slice the strawberries and toss with 1 - 2 T sugar, to taste.  Whip the heavy cream with 1 T sugar until it forms very soft peaks.  Slice each shortcake in half and place bottom half on a plate.  Spoon a generous amount of berries and a dollop of whipped cream.  Cover with top half of the biscuit and serve.