fig & blackberry tartlets

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More summer, please! I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I have a maxi dress hanging in the closet that’s never been worn. And I could really, really use a proper beach day. And a few more bottles of rosé (aka summer drank). Can’t we keep the barbecues going for just a bit longer?

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We spent last weekend camping in Big Sur. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. My love for Big Sur runs deep. It’s been an entire decade since my very first trip down there. And just as long since the last time I camped. I almost forgot how much I love sleeping in a tent and lazy afternoons by the river and a good ole fashion s’more and cocktails by the campfire. I had such an amazing time. I can’t wait to get back there. I think this needs to happen every summer.

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Guess what else needs to happen every summer? If your guess had anything to do with these tartlets, you are correct. I get super excited when the late season figs come rolling into town. And they are abundant at the moment. There’s nothing like a super ripe fig, sweet and jammy and practically bursting at the seams. They are perfect as is, and they are equally wonderful baked with blackberries and hazelnuts in a sweet, buttery pastry. Make it happen.

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fig & blackberry tartlets

from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater

makes 4 tartlets

for the pastry: 

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour 

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar , plus more for dusting 

1 large egg yolk 

Put the flour in a medium mixing bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour. Add the powdered sugar and egg yolk and mix until combined. Bring the dough together and squeeze it into a round. Roll it into a short log, fat log. Wrap the dough in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill for 30 minutes.

for the filling:

8 ounces blackberries, about 1-3/4 cups 

4 large figs, coarsely chopped  

4 tablespoons blackberry or red currant jelly, melted

juice of half a lemon 

1/2 cup ground hazelnuts 

Place the blackberries, figs, and chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Add the melted jelly and lemon juice and toss.

to assemble:

4  3-1/2 inch tartlet pans

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Divide the pastry into four equal pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the dough. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each piece on a floured board. Line each pan with a round of dough, leaving the excess hanging over the edges. Don’t worry if the dough cracks – just patch it together. Divide the filling between the four tart shells, then loosely fold over the pastry, leaving the fruit in the center visible.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or cool.

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chocolate mascarpone cake with berries

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This cake is for the summer babies. I’ve accumulated quite a few Leos in my life over the years, not to mention both of my siblings, so July and August are always full of birthday celebrations. And cake. If I love you, and it’s your birthday, I can almost guarantee there will be cake.

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Since I only see my friend Ash once or twice a year, I really wanted to do it right for his birthday. This man is my idol. I don’t know anyone who hosts a dinner party with more grace or whimsy. We’re talking proper place settings and multiple courses. And party favors. And the most glorious tablescapes ever (and not in that Sandra Lee kind of way). Anyway, a birthday cake was in order and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

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This cake. Now this cake really takes the cake. I may be partial to chocolate cake, but I know a good one when I see one. First of all, who can say no to a chocolate mascarpone frosting? It’s an excellent alternative to your everyday buttercream, with just the perfect level of sweetness but still incredibly decadent. And then there’s all the gorgeous summer berries. I love the combination of rich, creamy, chocolatey and bright, juicy berries. Plus, they really make this little cake quite stunning.

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What really makes this cake a winner is how simple it is to throw together. It’s just a matter of layering and building. I ended up making this beauty two weekends in a row because it was such a hit. The first time I made it, I put my cake pans in the oven without realizing the oven had been turned off, sending me into a panic because I was due in the City in less than two hours. But by some miracle I was able to bake, cool, frost and finish this cake in record time and disaster was averted. I wasn’t even late to dinner.  That’s how quickly this cake comes together. Pretty and easy. Need I say more?

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chocolate mascarpone cake with berries 

adapted just barely from call me cupcake

makes 1 6-inch cake

for the cake: 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup cocoa powder 

1/4 teaspoon baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 cup butter, softened 

3/4 cup light brown sugar 

1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

3 ounces semisweet or bitter sweet chocolate, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1/2 cup whole milk 

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 6-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with cocoa powder, and knock out the excess. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Repeat with the egg yolk. Add the melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla to the milk. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack and continue to cool completely.

for the mascarpone frosting: 

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients. Beat on low speed and slowly increase to medium, beating until the mixture just comes together. Keep an eye on the mixture and beat for just a few more seconds until the mixture begins to thicken. Be extremely careful not to over-beat as this will result in a grainy frosting.

to assemble:

12 ounces fresh berries, I chose a combination of red raspberries, blackberries, and sunburst raspberries 

2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)

Place the first cake layer on a cake board or serving plate. Add half of the mascarpone frosting to the center of the cake. Using a spatula, gently spread the frosting over the cake layer until it just reaches the edges. Scatter half of the berries over the frosting. Add a dusting of powdered sugar over the fruit. Place the second cake layer on top of the fruit and repeat.

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honey panna cotta with blackberry panzanella

May has already proven to be one of those months. Friends visiting. Friends moving away. Grandparents departing. Birthdays non-stop. I am only slightly  exaggerating when I say that almost all of my friends were born in May. Having seven friends with birthdays between the 9th and the 27th has always made May a fun, but very full month.

The month began with a somewhat foreseen but still overwhelming loss. My grandfather, whose health had been slowly declining over the last four years, passed away quietly on May 1st. He was ninety-four. Through his passing I’ve been reminded that I am of the breed of those who deal by not dealing. And I’ve realized that not dealing ultimately kicks your ass (and then you end up having to check out from your life for about 10 days).

That evening I had tickets to see one of  my favorite bands ever at the Fillmore. My bestie and I went to our first Fillmore show when we were teenagers, so I get a tad nostalgic whenever I go there. I know this sounds dramatic, and I feel like my fifteen-year-old self as I say this, but I think that show changed my life a little bit. It was that amazing. I’d like to think of that night as the musical equivalent of my twenties – fun and magical and heart-wrenching at times. Thank the Lord for Canadian indie rock.

A few days later I was sent on assignment to photograph dishes at the new student-run bistro that just opened on the Laney College campus. The Bistro featured an Italian menu that day, and my photo partner and I were able to sample some of the dishes that we shot. We very reluctantly gave the osso bucco back to the wait staff so they could do their pre-service tasting. But we enjoyed the short ribs and gnocchi that were sent out afterwards. And luckily for us the pastry students produced some really impressive desserts that day, including an insanely good chocolate torte and a very nice olive oil cake, but my favorite was most definitely the panna cotta. Naturally, I’ve had panna cotta on the brain ever since.

I’ve always overlooked panna cotta on dessert menus. I usually go for the chocolate or some sort of fruit pie or tart. To be quite honest, panna cotta was never very alluring to me – what’s so great about cream and gelatin? I stand corrected. It’s ridiculous how good and decadent panna cotta can be. It’s creamy and rich and custard-like without involving a single egg yolk. The fact that it is so simple is really, in my opinion, what makes it special.

While ogling the pages of the A16 cookbook (more about that another day), I stumbled upon this honey panna cotta with a panzanella of blackberries and buckwheat cookies. What a dream come true! The combination of silky panna cotta, blackberries and crunchy cookies is absolutely lovely. Actually, the cookies alone are quite fantastic – perfect coin-size bites of sweet buttery goodness. I also loved the unexpected elements of basil and black pepper. The beauty of panna cotta is that it can be so elegant and yet it is practically foolproof to make. It literally takes minutes to throw the ingredients together. Then you get to pop it in the fridge, forget about it for a few hours, and voila!  So much easier than any cake or tart. I can’t wait to make this again at the peak of blackberry season. I am truly converted.

honey panna cotta with panzanella of blackberries and buckwheat cookies

from A16 Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren

serves 6

honey panna cotta

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

buckwheat cookies

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon heavy cream

panzanella

1 pint blackberries, picked over

2 to 3 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

6 large fresh basil leaves

freshly ground black pepper


to make the panna cotta:

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for at least 3 minutes. In a small pot, heat 1 cup of the cream over medium heat until warm. Stir in the honey and salt and continue to heat the mixture until it begins to simmer. Remove from the heat, add the gelatin, and slowly stir in the remaining 1 cup cream.

Divide the mixture among 6 nonstick standard muffin cups or 6 (3-ounce) paper cups*. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

to make the cookies:

In a food processor, combine the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder and pulse to blend. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture appears coarse and crumbly. Add the egg yolk and cream and pulse a few more times. The dough will appear as if it is starting to come together, though it will still be somewhat dry and crumbly.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 2 minutes, until it comes together. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Using your fingers, and widening the distance between them as the dough extends, roll each portion back and forth into a long rope 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Transfer the ropes to a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks so that one is in the center of the oven and the other is in the upper third, then preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly butter them.

Remove the dough from the freezer. Using a sharp knife, cut each log into 1/4-inch thick slices, and place the slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies, rotating the sheets once, for 15 minutes, or until they are medium gold and slightly puffed. Transfer the sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool.

to make the panzanella:

In a bowl, toss the blackberries with the sugar to taste and the lime juice and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Right before serving, tear the basil into small pieces, scatter over the berries, and toss to mix. Toss in the cookies and mix until they are moistened.

to serve:

Unmold each panna cotta by running a paring knife around its edge** and inverting it onto a plate, placing it off-center. Divide the panzanella evenly among the plates, and finish each plate with a grind of black pepper.

* I used standard size silicone baking cups, which I really like because they are freestanding. Be sure to place them on a cookie sheet before filling as they are a bit difficult to pick up once filled.

** You can place the your molds in warm water for a minute or so when you’re ready to unmold, which helps to release the panna cotta and gives them a smoother finish.