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Ooooh weee. That was quite a break if I do say so myself. It feels like those carbomb cupcakes happened a lifetime ago. I’ve gotta start by saying that I sure have missed you. Not a single day went by where I didn’t think about this place. And I made several attempts to share things here. But nothing felt right. So it seemed like the only thing to do was take a time out.
But being away for so long was beginning to stress me out a bit, similar to the way cutting class in high school and college would make me feel crazy. One day turns into five and then you find yourself scrambling for an excuse for your absence. I was starting to worry that I’d never find my way back here. But I love this space more than anything, so I knew I’d figure it out eventually.
I don’t have much of an excuse for our little hiatus. I didn’t skip town or run into any trouble with the law. I did have a mean case of writer’s block. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a grand ole time. There were parties and dance parties and really great shows (Band of Horses and Beach House in the same week!) and brunches and nights out with friends – old friends, new friends, best friends, friends from out of town. I drank fantastic whiskey cocktails. I Instagramed. There were a few serious, not-so-fun moments thrown in there as well. To sum it up, life was just happening.
If you’ve been tuning in here for a while now, you might’ve figured out that I have a thing for rhubarb. I wait all year for those gorgeous pink stalks to show up at the market. And when they do, I can’t contain myself. One year it was these ice pops, last year it was this boozy fool and a couple of batches of jam. This time around, all I really wanted was a good old fashioned strawberry rhubarb pie.
I’ve made a couple of strawberry rhubarb pies in my time, and if I’m being totally honest, none of them were great. They were all a little too soupy, a bit too tart. So when I found a recipe that required sauteing the rhubarb, and macerating and draining the strawberries before baking, I was pretty sure I had found a winner. Plus, an all-butter lattice-top crust is always enticing.
I was totally smitten with this pie, but I was convinced that I would love it even more if I swapped out the allspice in the original recipe for vanilla bean. So I gave it another go. And it was just what the doctor ordered. Flaky crust, sweet-tart fruit and a dollop of whipped cream on top is a truly wonderful thing.
strawberry rhubarb pie
adapted just slightly from The Wall Street Journal Online
makes one 9-inch pie
for the all-butter pie crust:
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 to 10 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed, with a splash of cider vinegar
Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Add butter to the dry ingredients and coat it using a spoon or spatula. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; do not over-blend).
Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over the mixture and cut the water in with a spatula. When water is fully incorporated, add more water, one to two tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with drops of ice water if necessary to combine.
Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for one month.
for the pie:
all butter pie crust
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 cups rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 grind fresh black pepper
1 to 2 dashes Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters (or Old Fashioned bitters)
1 teaspoon orange zest
1-1/2 teaspoons al-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon raw sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter a 9-inch pie pan.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over strawberries. Let sit 1 hour.
Roll out one disc of pie dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Place disc in pie pan and trim the edge, leaving 1 inch of overhang. Place in fridge to chill.
Roll out the second disc of pie dough and cut into 1-inch-wide lattice strips. Lay strips on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place in fridge to chill.
Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté rhubarb until it softens slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and let cool.
In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, ¼ cup sugar, salt, black pepper and arrowroot.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries into bowl with cooled rhubarb, leaving behind most juices.
Add bitters, orange zest, vanilla, and dry mixture to fruit mixture. Stir gently with a spatula.
Sprinkle 1½ teaspoons flour and 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar into bottom of prepared pie shell and spread around with your fingertips.
Pour filling into pie pan, arrange lattice on top and crimp edges.
Lightly beat together egg and cream or milk and brush pie top with it. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
Place pie on a baking sheet and bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350°F, move pie to center rack and continue to bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and pastry is golden.
Allow to cool at least 2 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Best served same day it is made.
This year, I’m going to make a serious effort to have a relaxing Thanksgiving. I’m going to prep the night before, maybe even two nights before because it’s that serious. I’m going to stick to the plan, and not decide to make a different dessert the morning of or make an extra dessert just for the hell of it. I’m going to arrive to dinner on time, my pies will not still be in the oven when I’m already supposed to be at my aunt’s place with the rest of the family. I’m going to be rested and put together AND I will still have energy to see friends after dinner (and maybe even go out dancing to burn off some of that turkey). My mind is made up.
If you’re still looking for a dessert to make for Thanksgiving, I have something for you. This gem comes from the final issue of Gourmet. It’s been three years and I am still mourning the loss of Gourmet. Because it was the Thanksgiving issue, I find myself thumbing through the pages every holiday season, flagging recipes that I want to add to my repertoire. I’m finally getting around to trying one of them.
I was pretty set on making my usual pie and gallette for Thanksgiving this year. But this pear cranberry cake really grabbed my attention. It just screams “happy holidays.” So I decided to give it a whirl last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I was also surprised by how much I consumed. I’ve test driven it twice in the past week and it has gotten the thumbs up from my most discerning tasters.
This cake is the perfect ending to your Turkey Day feast, especially if you’re not a pie person. But even the most die-hard pie lovers will swoon over this cake. You can make it in a bundt or tube pan. It’s studded with tart, fresh cranberries and diced pear, and finished off with a generous coating of brown sugar caramel sauce, which is to die for. And since it’s the easiest thing to throw together, you can have yourself a cocktail (or three) and take it easy this Thanksgiving.
pear cranberry bundt cake
adapted from Gourmet, November 2009
for the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1-3/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum (optional)
3 Bosc pears (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups cranberries (thawed if frozen)
for the glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 (3-inch-long) cinnamon sticks
special equipment: 10-by 4-inch angel food cake pan or 15- cup Bundt pan
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together sugar and oil at low speed. Continue mixing and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and rum and beat on low until combined well.
At low speed, mix in the pears and cranberries, then mix in the flour until incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, then simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
Cool glaze 5-10 minutes, until it is the consistency of a medium-bodied caramel sauce. Discard cinnamon sticks, then pour glaze over cake, letting some drip down sides.
Do you ever read your old journals and cringe? Like you want to curl up and die or at least scratch your eyes out because you’re so mortified by the things you wrote and the feelings you felt and the boys you liked? I’ve kept a diary since junior high; my little brother used to call it my book of secrets. He also used to steal it and recite passages out loud when my friends were over. And I would die a little bit from the horror every time. Ugh.
I came across an old journal from 2006-2008 while I was doing some major housekeeping over the weekend. 2006 doesn’t even feel like it was that long ago, but it was like another person wrote it, which is why I couldn’t put it down. It was certainly entertaining. And embarrassing. And it made me remember people and things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It was also sort of sweet, and more poignant than I had expected it to be. In a strange way it made me happy to be older, but it was also a reminder that no matter how old I am, be it twenty-five or thirty-something, my fifteen-year-old self will always be somewhere inside my heart.
My fifteen-year-old self was momentarily obsessed with baked meringue. As a child, the only meringue I knew was the foamy, squishy stuff found on top of lemon meringue pies, which I was never fond of. But I remember being really intrigued when I found a recipe for star-shaped baked meringue cookies. And I was so pleased with myself when those cookies came out of the oven; they were light and crisp and pure white. They were definitely the prettiest things I had ever made. Looking back on it now, I’m pretty impressed with the idea of my teenage-self making meringue cookies. She was kind of fancy.
I think my love for pavlova is rooted in that past infatuation with baked meringue. Pavlova is one of my favorite summertime desserts because it is the perfect platform for all of the gorgeous fruit that is so bountiful this time of year. The baked meringue shell is crisp on the outside and soft and almost marshmallowy in the middle. It’s so delicate that it practically collapses when topped with soft whipped cream and fruit. It’s pretty dreamy. And hard to beat.
from Simple Essentials Fruit by Donna Hay
4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
a splash of rosewater (optional)
fresh fruit, to serve ( I used a combination of figs, raspberries, strawberries, and currants)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating well until the mixture is glossy. Sift the cornstarch over the egg white mixture and fold through with the vinegar and vanilla.
Pile the meringue mixture into an 7-inch round on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place in the oven, reduce the temperature to 250°F, and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meringue to cool in the oven.
Just before serving, place the heavy cream and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Add rosewater and mix until incorporated.
Top the meringue with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Serve immediately.
Do yourself a favor this weekend. Pick up a couple pounds of cherries from the market. Don’t wait – cherry season is pretty much over. And buy or borrow a cherry pitter. We’re making pie.
I always panic towards the end of cherry season. So this year, I decided to can a few pounds of cherries for later use (yes, I’m hoarding cherries). I also had a real hankering for cherry pie.
I’d never actually made a cherry pie. But I’ve come to understand that real cherry pie is made with sour cherries, which are pretty hard to come by in these parts as this is the land of sweet cherries. A sweet cherry pie sounded just fine to me. When I was growing up, my dad used to come home with bags of super sweet Bing cherries. It was one of my favorite summertime treats. It still is.
Speaking of childhood, does anyone else remember Home Run Pies? You know, those individually packaged pies that came in flavors like lemon and cherry and apple and chocolate pudding? They were really popular in the 80′s. I can’t even remember the last time I had one, but I do remember that as an adult, I wasn’t so impressed. Reminiscing about retro junk food made me want a grown-up version of Home Run Pie.
So I made my favorite all-butter pie crust, divided and rolled out eight discs of dough, and loaded them up with sweet cherry filling. Made little cutouts with the scraps. Egg washed and sprinkled with turbinado. Baked until each pie was golden and bubbling. Picked up a still warm pie and ate the whole thing in minutes. And there you go.
cherry hand pies
basic pie dough
from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
makes 2 10-ounce balls of dough; 1 double-crust 9-inch pie, 2 11-inch tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup ice cold water
1 large egg
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a fork. Add the butter and work into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips, leaving some of the butter in fairly large, irregular pieces.
Pour in three quarters of the water, stirring all the while with a fork until the dough begins to form clumps and hold together. Keep adding water if needed.
Divide the dough into eight pieces (a food scale is helpful here), rolling each piece into a ball, and then flatten into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic. Let rest, refrigerated for 1 hour or longer.
adapted from The Fearless Baker by Emily Luchetti and Lisa Weiss
1-1/4 pounds fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons tapioca starch or cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Put the cherries, sugar, tapioca starch, water, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently but gently and scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula to prevent sticking as the liquid comes to a low boil. After about 8 minutes, the cherries should have given off juice and thickened and cherries should still be whole. Let cool. Refrigerate until cold.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Remove dough from fridge right before assembling. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin and roll out each disk of dough until about 1/8-inch thick.
Place a heaping tablespoon of the cherry filling onto one half of the circle of dough. Fold the other side of the dough over the filling and press the tines of a fork into the dough to seal the edges together. For a neater looking pie, trim the edges with a pizza cutter or pairing knife. Make a small cut on top of the pie to make a vent. Repeat with the remaining discs of dough. Place the pies on the prepared baking sheets.
Collect any extra scraps of dough and roll out until about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes using a small cookie cutter. With a pairing knife, lightly score the back of each cut-out. Set aside.
Whisk the egg with a little bit of water. Brush the back of each cut-out with egg wash and place on pie. Lightly brush the top of each pie with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and pies are golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes and serve warm.
June was so good. Like so good I wish it didn’t have to end. Here are a few of my favorites from the month:
Moonrise Kingdom I went to see Moonrise Kingdom the night it opened in SF. What a MASTERPIECE! First love. Whimsy. Nostalgia. Welcome to the wonderful world of Wes Anderson. His films have a very special place in my heart, as do his characters – Maxwell Fischer, Margot Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou. I’ll be adding little Sam Schakusky to the list. I want to watch it over and over and over again. And I want to go to summer camp.
Beach House Bloom Gorgeous. Lush. Dreamy. The official soundtrack of Summer 2012. This is in heavy rotation at the moment. Beach House just keeps getting better and better.
Girls I have to admit I was hesitant at first, not because I had been paying attention to the buzz that it had generated (I was actually completely in the dark), but mostly because I had imagined something pretty generic. After catching the last few minutes of an episode, I decided to check it out from the beginning, which resulted in a three hour, six episode marathon. Girls perfectly captures those awkward, at times painful to watch, often hilarious moments that are so very much a part of being twenty-something. I find it admirable that Lena Dunham has created a female protagonist who is far from perfect, even somewhat unlikeable, yet you find yourself routing for her. She also birthed the most quirky, complicated, loveable man/boy on television. I can’t wait for season 2.
au revoir, foie gras My sister and I had been meaning to have dinner at Gary Danko since last September, we just never got around to it. But we were especially motivated to get a reservation this month so that we could have our last rendezvous with foie gras before the ban. Oh California, I love you, but sometimes I just don’t get you. I decided to go big and ordered the five course foie gras tasting menu, which included a foie gras torchon, seared foie gras, foie gras custard, squab with pistachio-crusted foie gras, and foie gras profiteroles. You only live once, right?
SF Pride Since my early twenties, this has been one of my favorite weekends of the year. It is always filled with good friends and sentiment and the best kind of ridiculousness. It is also a reminder of why San Francisco is such an amazing city. This year, I learned a few important lessons: 1) You’re never too old for Pink Saturday, especially if you’re with friends. 2) Your judgement is slightly impaired after a couple of bourbon cocktails; you should listen to your friend when he says you should not get the Four Loko. 3) After age twenty-nine, you are too old to consume malt liquor energy drinks (chased with a beer) and you will pay for it the next day. And maybe even a little the day after that.
lavender strawberry shortcakes One of my favorite vendors at the farmers’ market sells Albion strawberries. They get sweeter every week and I’m totally addicted. They are perfect in their natural state, but I especially like them dressed up as a shortcake. The lavender biscuits are an excellent platform for the strawberries and I love the simplicity of the creme fraiche on top, which really ties it all together. A lovely way to end any meal. I also imagine this making an appearance at brunch.
lavender strawberry shortcakes
from The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
4-6 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lavender flowers (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
2 quarts small fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved
6 – 8 tablespoons creme fraiche
fresh mint sprigs and lavender flowers, for garnish
Heat the oven to 350F. Combine the flours, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, baking powder, salt and lavender flours in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix and break up the lavender. Drop in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, while pulsing. Mix until the dough resembles course meal. Slowly add the cream, pulsing until just incorporated. (Alternately, you can make the dough by hand using a pastry blender or two butter knives. Use a fork when adding the cream.)
Drop 8 large scoops of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.
While the biscuits are baking, gently toss the strawberries with a few tablespoons of brown sugar (taste to determine how much sugar to add) until some of their juices are released. Set aside.
Slice the biscuits in half crosswise. Lay the bottom of the biscuit on a plate/bowl and spoon some strawberries and their juice over the biscuit. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and top with the other half of the biscuit. Garnish with mint and lavender flowers.