strawberry elderflower layer cake

My to-do list for 2012 is growing daily. At the very top of the list: elderflower procurement. Plant it, buy it, forage for it, whatever it takes – I absolutely must have elderflower next year.

Why the urgency? I wanted to make an elderflower cocktail for an upcoming event that I’m planning, so I bought a bottle of elderflower syrup. But after I brought it home, I found myself wishing I could have made it myself. Elderflower is pretty hard to come by in these parts, and I believe I’ve just missed the small window of availability for the year. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a bit obsessive, right?

Since I had been daydreaming about elderflower, I couldn’t wait to put that elderflower syrup to use. I was already in the process of baking a cake for the July birthday festivities when it occurred to me – strawberries + elderflower cream + cake = heaven.

If you’re in search of the perfect cake for summer, look no further. This cake is a winner.  I’m a sucker tall cakes, and with four layers of tender sponge filled with elderflower-spiked whipped cream and fresh strawberries, this is most definitely a tall cake. To get the most of the elderflower flavor, I also brushed a little bit of the syrup onto each layer of cake. What you’ll end up with is a cake that is incredibly light, subtly floral and showcases the fresh, sweet strawberries perfectly.

Not only is this cake totally scrumptious, it is also quite a beauty. With its exposed layers and elderflower essence, it’s like the scantily clad, lightly perfumed cousin of the strawberry cakes my mom used to buy from the bakery for our birthdays. Now if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

strawberry elderflower layer cake

adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart

makes one 9-inch layer cake

unsalted butter, for pans

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

6 large whole eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup vegetable oil

4 cups heavy whipping cream

6 tablespoons elderflower syrup, plus more for the cake layers

2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

3 pints small strawberries, hulled

mint leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside.

In large bowl, sift together the flour and corn starch; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks salt and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. With the mixer on low speed, beat until just combined. Add the oil in a steady stream and mix until just combined. Fold the mixture with a whisk a several times.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the cakes spring back when touched and a cake tester inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Immediately invert cakes onto a wire rack. Then reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine cream, 6 tablespoons of elderflower syrup, and confectioners sugar. Starting on low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high, whip until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, trim the tops of the cakes to make level. Slice each cake in half horizontally into two layers. Place one of the bottom layers on a serving plate. Brush the later with elderflower syrup. Spread a quarter of the whipped cream over the layer; arrange a quarter of the strawberries on top, reserving the best looking strawberries for the top layer. Repeat with the remaining cake layers, syrup, cream, and strawberries. Garnish the top with mint leaves. Chill the cake if not serving immediately. Slice with a serrated knife and a large spatula.

tomato panzanella

A few weeks ago, a friend asked for recommendations for summer side dishes and salads. The first thing that came to mind was panzanella. Why panzanella? Because it is an excellent way to show off gorgeous, summer tomatoes. And it’s hearty but still very fresh and light – just the sort of thing I like to eat on a hot day. I had panzanella on the brain for the entire week that followed. Something had to be done.

If you ask me, the key to a good panzanella is great bread. And if you ask me where to get great bread in these parts, I would have to say Tartine.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I love me some Tartine. One of my favorite things to do after work is hit the bakery and pick up a loaf of bread right as it comes out of the oven.  And since I wanted panzanella, I popped in on my way home one evening and picked up one of their famous country loaves (and a slice of coconut passion fruit Bavarian).

There is nothing like fresh Tartine bread, still warm from the oven. The aroma will fill your car and you will be forced to savagely break into the crusty loaf with your bare hands as you make your way down I-80 because the 25 minute drive home is just too long. It happens every time.

Luckily, for all of us, the Tartine Bread book was released into the universe last year. Along with recipes and techniques for making their bread at home,  it features a chapter devoted to dishes that give day old bread a second life, including this tomato panzanella.

If you like bread and you like salad, this is a perfect union of the two. Imagine really fantastic homemade croutons after they’ve absorbed the vinaigrette and tomato drippings at the bottom of a salad dish. It’s the best part of the salad, right? Now imagine a big bowl of those croutons, tossed with heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumber, and basil. It cannot be beat. No joke.

tomato panzanella

adapted from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfinger

serves 4 to 6

red wine vinegar

2 pounds baby artichokes 

1 cup + 6 tablespoons olive oil

salt

4 thick slices day old rustic, country style bread, torn into large pieces

4 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese

4 ripe heirloom tomatoes

1/2 red onion, finely diced 

1 English cucumber

1 bunch basil, stems removed

Preheat oven to 400°F. Fill a large bowl with water and add a generous splash of vinegar. Remove the tough outer leaves from each artichoke until you reach the tender leaves surrounding the heart. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and place the halves in the water.

Drain the artichokes, place in a bowl, and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Arrange the artichoke halves cut-side down in a large ovenproof skillet. In the same bowl, toss the bread pieces with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. spread the bread over the artichokes, grate Parmesan all over, and put the pan in the oven. Roast until the artichokes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and the bread is a deep golden brown, 15-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut each tomato in half crosswise. Holding each half over a small bowl, gently squeeze it (as if juicing an orange) to release the seeds. Reserve the tomatoes. Add the onion, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and salt to the seeds, and stir to combine. Stir in the olive oil.

Cut the reserved tomato halves into 1-inch chunks. Peel the cucmber. using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave the cucumber into thin strips.

In a serving bowl, combine the artichokes, bread, tomatoes, cucumber, and basil. Add the vinaigrette and toss. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

ginger cayenne rhubarb ice pops

It’s finally beginning to feel like summer around here. Barbecues, sandals, sundresses, sunscreen, sunburn. It’s warm. It’s sunny. I love it. I think this calls for frozen treats.

I might’ve mentioned a few months back that I was having quite a time finding rhubarb around here. So when I finally spotted some, I bought about three pounds – I had a few projects in mind. Long story short, my original plan didn’t really work out. But I still had some rhubarb to play with. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it; I wanted rhubarb ice pops.

When I visited Chelsea Market in May, I was totally overstimulated. There were infused oils and flavored vinegars and lobster rolls and bakeries galore. And there was also the newly opened People’s Pops counter, where they slang their shave ice and ice pops made from local produce. I almost left without checking it out, but I was thirsty and the place across the way had run out of coconut water. So I jumped on the wagon and left Chelsea Market with a ginger-cayenne rhubarb ice pop. It was superb – sweet and tart with a kick from the ginger and a little lip-tingle from the cayenne; very refreshing. It was the best damn pop I’ve had in a long time. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Which brings us back to my surplus of rhubarb. I knew I wanted to re-create the ice pop I had in New York, so I started to do a little research. And then I found a recipe for the People’s Pops’ rhubarb ice pops. The recipe didn’t include ginger or cayenne, so I did a little improvising. And the pops were perfect – cool and creamy and a little bit spicy; I was totally pleased with the results. There is something so very satisfying about making your own ice pops. I’m ready for more.

ginger cayenne rhubarb ice pops

adapted from New York Magazine Online

makes 8-10 3-ounce ice pops

1 pound rhubarb

4 ounces water, plus more to cover rhubarb

4 ounces cane sugar

1  one-inch piece of ginger, cut into thick slices

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon  cayenne pepper

2-1/2 ounces heavy cream

Wash and chop the rhubarb into one-inch pieces. Place rhubarb in a wide-bottomed, nonreactive pot, and add approximately 1 inch of water, or enough to cover the rhubarb. Cover the pot, and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb breaks down into a lumpy purée, about 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the purée from its juice, and reserve both.

In a small pot, combine 4 ounces of water with the cane sugar. Add the sliced ginger. Gently heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from burner, cover, and let ginger steep in the syrup for 10 minutes.  Remove ginger from the syrup and mince.

In a pitcher, combine the rhubarb purée and the ginger syrup. Adjust sweetness—keeping in mind that some sweetness will dissipate upon freezing—by adding some of the reserved rhubarb juice. Save remaining juice for another use. Stir in the minced ginger and cayenne pepper. Stir in the heavy cream until completely incorporated. Pour mixture into ice-pop molds, and freeze overnight.

chickpea, cilantro and feta salad

With the long holiday weekend ahead, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘What am I going to bring to that barbecue?’ I have an answer for you.

This chickpea salad has been one of my favorites for a while now. I find myself making it at least once a month, if not more. Here’s what I like about it:

It’s full of chickpeas, which I love. They remind me of the salad bars of my youth. The chickpeas were always at the end of the salad bar next to the croutons and bacon bits. It turns out that they are an excellent source of fiber – definitely a plus in my book. You can use canned chickpeas for this salad, but I really like soaking and cooking dried beans.

It’s herbaceous, which makes it really fresh. A generous amount of chopped cilantro, scallion and flat leaf parsley provide a lot of flavor and great texture.

It’s terrific served alongside grilled meat and/or veggies. But it also stands well on its own.

It’s the perfect dish for non-meat eaters. It has a good amount of feta, which gives it a nice salty finish and makes it a bit more substantial than just a plain bean salad. Your vegetarian friends will love you.

It’s incredibly easy to throw together, especially considering that there are so many layers of flavor. Because we’re expecting gorgeous weather, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in my kitchen cooking or baking; this salad will allow me to get out and enjoy this glorious July 4th weekend.  I hope you do the same.

chickpea, feta and cilantro salad

adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros

serves 4-6

1-1/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water or 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans

1 cup olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped 

5 cloves garlic,  finely minced 

1-2  red chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1-2/3 cups crumbled feta

1 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

4 scallions, green part only, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

If you’re using canned chickpeas, rinse and set aside. Otherwise, rinse the soaked chickpeas, put them in a saucepan, cover generously with water, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat slightly and cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until they are soft but not falling apart, adding salt toward the end of cooking time. When cooled, drain and put the chickpeas in a large bowl, removing any loose skins.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and gently saute the red onion until it is cooked through and lightly golden. Add the garlic and chile and cook for a few more seconds, until you can smell the garlic (take care not to brown the garlic). Let cool completely.

Add the feta, scallion, cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice to the chickpeas and season with pepper and salt to taste. Add the cooled onion mixture and remaining olive oil and mix until well combined.