Posted tagged ‘Baking’

All Cherries, All The Time

July 10, 2017

Here in eastern Washington cherries are bustin’ out all over, so I thought I’d pop this post and recipe up again from 2011. It’s still the best one ever, à mon avis, in my opinion. And why am I speaking French again? Because this is the week I leave for France! I’ll be telling you more about that cherry on top soon.

French women are famously fastidious eaters, as we all know. Unless faced with this clafoutis, that is, in which case all bets are off. Recently I watched two women (for some reason clafoutis is considered to be kind of a feminine dessert) delicately sigh their way through generous servings, and then, apologizing just a little, just for form’s sake really, dive right in to seconds.

I had always found clafoutis ( pronounced klah-foo-tee) to be a bit insipid; after all, it’s more or less fruit baked in pancake batter. But this time, combining two different recipes that I found on the French website I made the queen of clafoutis, a memorable clafoutis that will enchant all cherry lovers and encourage them to excessive consumption.  After all, cherries are only once a year, and it’s our duty to eat as many of them as possible during that sweet season.

The French believe that leaving the pits in the cherries makes the clafoutis more flavorful. It’s certainly easier on the cook, and provides lots of opportunity for playful pit-spitting and juicy red fingers when you serve the dessert.  The squeamish may pit their cherries, but if you want the real deal, leave your cherries intact.  As it were.

Cherry Clafoutis

For the cherries:
1 1/2 lbs perfectly ripe cherries, stems removed, unpitted
1 T butter
1 T sugar

For the batter:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
a pinch of salt
5 T flour
5 T sugar
2 ounces butter
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
extra butter for topping

In a large non-stick pan melt the 1T butter and 1T sugar.  Add the cherries and let them slowly caramelize over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices begin to run and the cherries look glazed, about 10-15 minutes.  Butter a 9×13″ pan and place the cherries in it, distributing them evenly.

Preheat oven to 350° and while the cherries are cooling a bit, prepare the batter. Melt the butter in a small pan or bowl and set aside.  Beat the eggs well with the salt, using a whisk. Beat in the sugar, then sprinkle in the flour while continuing to whisk until batter is smooth.

Mix together the milk, melted butter, and vanilla and add it to the dry mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter carefully over the cherries in the pan, being careful to keep the fruit evenly distributed.  Generously dot the top with little slivers of butter.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is puffed and deeply golden. Serve warm or at room temperature, warning your guests about the pits.

Something Good From Russia

January 23, 2017


We’re all up in arms about Russia these days, and with good reason. However, when I recently posted a picture of this delicious cake on Facebook people were content to forget all about politics in the interest of pastry. I made it with homemade apricot preserves, which is why there are such large pieces visible, but Bonne Maman is a good substitute.  And as you can see, I don’t decorate with the chopped walnuts called for in the recipe, because I like the look without them.

I’ve had this recipe since Putin was in diapers. No, not really, only since 1991, when it appeared in Bon Appetit, but that sounds better than saying that I’ve had it since Putin was in the KGB. Every time I’ve made it people have been ready to forget all about the cold war and embrace our Slavic brothers and sisters. Maybe we should rename this World Peace Cake. Try it and see whether you don’t get a yearning to dust off your passport and visit its homeland.


2 cups toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
7 large eggs — separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate — chopped
1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
2/3 cup powdered sugar — sifted
2/3 cup apricot jam
Chopped walnuts
FOR CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch-diameter
pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment. Dust
pans with flour. Finely grind toasted walnuts with 2 tablespoons
flour in processor. Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup
sugar in large bowl until pale yellow and tripled in volume, about 5
minutes. Mix in fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gently fold in
nut mixture, breadcrumbs and minced lemon peel.

Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry beaters, beat whites in
another large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup
sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into yolk
mixture in 2 batches. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake
until tester inserted into centers comes out clan, about 45 minutes.
Transfer cakes to racks and cool completely. (Cakes will shrink
slightly as they cool). (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover cakes and
let stand at room temperature.)

FOR MOCHA CREAM: Combine 3 tablespoons water, rum and
espresso powder in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Stir until
espresso powder dissolves. Add chopped chocolate and stir until
melted and smooth. Cool.

Whip cream in bowl to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat to
medium-stiff peaks. Add chocolate mixture to whipped cream and
fold together.

Place 1 cake on platter. Spread half of jam over. Spread 3/4 cup
mocha cream over. Top with second cake. Spread remaining jam
atop cake. Spoon 3/4 cup mocha cream into pastry bag fitted with
medium star ti. Spread remaining mocha cream over sides (not
top) of cake. Pipe mocha cream decoratively around edge of cake.
Sprinkle with walnuts. Cover with cake dome and chill at least 30
minutes and up to 4 hours.


An Easter Birthday

March 27, 2016


You know how it can be, the kids are grown, there’s no reason to fill an Easter basket or cook springtime food. No chocolate bunnies hop your way, ho hum, just another day.

But today my classmate Kelly was kind enough to have an Easter birthday, and to tell me that her Mom always used to make her an angel food cake with confetti color dots inside. Yippee, an Easter project! I wasn’t too sure whether the color would run all over the cake or stay in nice dots like it used to do in those long-ago funfetti cake mixes, but lo and behold, it worked just as it should. I can’t show you the inside of the cake, because between the squishy nature of angel food, and the billowy soft frosting, the cut slices were a mess. but you can make it for yourself, and you’ll have a fun and fluffy cake to serve when whimsy is called for. I used this angel food recipe, omitting the chocolate and adding 1/4 cup of colored sprinkles instead. Then I used this recipe for fluffy pink frosting, a recipe unlike any I’ve used before. It remained very soft and never set up, although it looked like a sort of unicorns-and-rainbows confection on the cake so that didn’t matter.


It wasn’t a total sugar-fest, though. Guests brought a beautiful fruit salad and fragrant raspberry sour cream muffins, which, derelict hostess that I am, I neglected to photograph. I made an egg casserole with asparagus, artichoke hearts, cheeses, and ham, that was pretty darn good and used up the 10 extra egg yolks left behind by the angels. But the star of that plate, to me, was the salad.

A composition of bitter leaves, endive, radicchio, and arugula, it had a beguiling preserved Meyer lemon and crème fraîche dressing that will definitely become a staple in my kitchen, and went exquisitely with a rosé of pinot gris made by one of the guests. The salad recipe is here,  and although I always make preserved Meyer lemons when they’re in season, if you don’t have homemade, you can buy them in a jar. To add to the merriment, we had three different wines made by guests, the rosé, a chardonnay, and a cabernet sauvignon, a definite perk of living a life surrounded by winemakers.  I look forward to the day when every wine on the table is made by one of us, and I thank Kelly for requesting such a delightfully eccentric birthday cake. It’s one of the most fun treats I’ve baked in quite a while, and I recommend it to you as a sure-fire cheerer-upper.

Thar She Blows

July 6, 2014

DSC_8607We’ve had a beautiful 4th of July weekend, our first without Shel. We kind of alternated between saying things like “Oh, Shel would have loved to see our new kayaks and see how Eric modified the boathouse to give them a snug home that I can get them in and out of” and “You know, if Shel were here, we’d never be eating lunch outside in the rain under the patio umbrella like the demented Northwesterners we are.”

DSC_8557-001The weekend started off with this procession of feathered friends, the baby goslings now almost indistinguishable from their parents, even though they’re just a few months old.

DSC_8589Then, early in the morning of the 4th, before Eric and Jessica and Jordan arrived, I thought I heard cries for help from out on the water. I went and looked, and saw a sailboat with several adults aboard, not going anywhere but not sinking, so I went back to my holiday baking. But then I heard it again, distinct cries of “Help! Help!” I went out with the binoculars and realized that the sailboat didn’t have any wind, and they also seemed unsure about how to set the sails, and their motor must have crapped out. Several motor boats passed them by, perhaps not hearing their calls, and then another sailboat, under motor, stopped to help them, and ended up towing them out of sight. First time I’ve seen something like that happen, and it really made me think about what I would have needed to do, besides call the Coast Guard, if they’d been in real trouble and no one else were around.

DSC_8598Once they were safely under tow I went back to my baking, and that baking resulted in this, an Internet baking meme if ever there was one. Possibly you yourself baked this patriotic cake too, whose recipe is here . I halved the recipe so that I could make it in a 9×13″ pan, since the recipe as written makes an enormous cake. Also I added a little almond extract to the batter, and the cake was pronounced to be delicious by those that devoured it.

But the most amazing thing that happened on the 4th occurred when I was too far from my camera to show it to you – the passage of two small gray whales right in front of the house. Jordan and I were on the beach watching Eric and Jessica give the new kayaks their maiden voyage, when WHOOSH, the spouts of two passing whales blew right in front of us. We were totally spellbound, and followed them down the beach for a while, until they swam out of sight. I’d heard that very occasionally whales come through here, but had never seen a single one. I’m so sorry that Shel didn’t get to see this – he would have been beside himself with joy, just as we were.

DSC_8631And then today, right after everyone had left, I was once again realizing that I live in the midst of incredible beauty, but I live alone with it. And I have to say that alone is probably my least favorite word in the English language right now. But suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of a marching band, right outside my door. Astounded, I ran to look, and there, on the deck of a passing ferry, was in fact a band, playing a New Orleans kind of tune for what I assume were delighted passengers.

Thirteen weeks now since Shel died, the longest three months of my life. Time bends in the most peculiar way all around me, sometimes it seems that he was here with me just a minute ago, sometimes like he’s been gone for years. But right here and now there were whales, and a brass band, blowing me back into the present, which was a very great and much needed gift.

Fit For A King

March 26, 2014

DSC_8210Hospice has a thing they call respite care, which allows the caregiver (me) some time away from the patient (Shel). But actually, as you might imagine, I don’t actually want to be away from Shel, although I definitely do want to get away from thinking about cancer all the time. What’s my respite? Baking. Which is a good thing, since sweets are about the only food that appeal to Shel these days, so we’re in synch.

Today I wanted to bake something fancy, but I didn’t want to go to the store. I searched around for something I could make from my pantry and fridge, et voila, galette des rois! As I wrote here, eating galette des rois, a crispy buttery frangipane-filled treat, is an annual custom in France, deliciously done in early January. So making one at the end of March, not to mention making it rectangular instead of round, would give a Frenchman fits. Nonetheless, there you have it, my first homemade galette des rois. And really, it could scarcely be easier.

I followed David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe, with just a few tiny tweaks. He calls for orange zest, I used a few drops of orange oil instead. He calls for rolling out the puff pastry, but I had some all-butter puff in the freezer that is already sheeted out flat, so I just used it as it was, no muss, no fuss. (Seattle folks, get this at PFI) He calls for several chilling stages, but I just went ahead and put it together as soon as my puff pastry was thawed and popped it straight in the oven.

Decorating it is really fun, and is actually the reason I was drawn to this recipe. David demonstrates a cool edge-fluting technique that I’ve never used before, but am certain to use again. And drawing on the top to create that chevron pattern is an exercise in thinking about anything but cancer.

So there you have it, my respite solution, fit for a king, fit for Shel, and providing a sweet surprise for the next few folks that are here and hungry. Beats cancer any day.

Euro Cookie Time

December 20, 2013


I got a lot of feedback that my Tree Metaphors made people cry, and I certainly would rather make people happy, especially at this time of year. So here’s a little ditty that’s bound to make you smile: Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls.

I was given this recipe about 20 years ago , and I’d swear that the friend who passed it on said it was Italian. However, it definitely looks and tastes more German than Italian, kind of like a chocolate pfeffernüsse, so I’m really not sure of its origins. In any case, it’s a very Euro cookie, dense, not too sweet, spicy, full of nuts and raisins. The fragrance of the dough, as you’re hand-rolling it into little balls, will take you back to Christmas past, to the days of sugar and spice, when everything was nice.

Glazed Chocolate Spice Balls

For the cookies:
4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk, or a little more, as needed

For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 T milk
1 T brandy
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Work in the butter with a pastry blender, then stir in the nuts and raisins. Pour in the milk and vanilla and work into a stiff dough, adding a little extra milk if needed to make it all come together.

Form the dough into walnut-sized balls and bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until done in the center, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Make the glaze by combining the cocoa and sugar, then stirring in the remaining ingredients to make a thick glaze. Dip the top half of each cookie into the glaze, place cookie on a rack, and decorate with sprinkles. If the glaze becomes too stiff as you work you can warm it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it.

Let cookies dry for several hours, until the glaze hardens, before bagging or boxing them up to share with friends. To really get in the Euro spirit you can serve these with vin chaud (my recipe is here) or mulled wine, glögg, or glühwein.

Tarte Bourdaloue Aux Poires

September 15, 2013

DSC_7605There’s a famous French tart called Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires, created by a renowned patissier, Paul Coquelin, around the turn of the last century. It’s a luscious concoction of almond pastry cream and poached pears, and a perfect autumn baking project, if you have 2 1/2 hours to spend in the kitchen.

One of the first comments I got last night, when I served this to a congenial group of neighbors, was “how long did this take you to make?” And indeed, this tart is fussy, although not finicky, lengthy in its preparation, and makes a lot of dirty dishes. You’ll never get away with saying “oh, it’s just a little thing I tossed together,” because it’s obviously a labor of love. But if people you love deserve the best of peardom, by all means allez-y, get some pears and get going. Don’t plan to be able to do anything else during the time you’re making this, although you will have half an hour to attack the heap of dishes while the tart’s baking.

DSC_7566-001Down the road from us is the most beautiful pear tree I’ve ever seen, its rosy, golden pendants just inviting theft. Ergo the sign, which we obeyed, after just admiring the fruit of someone else’s labors. Instead we had to content ourselves with some nice organic store-bought pears. I used Bartlett pears, although I think Bosc are more traditional. I also added a star of anise and a stick of cinnamon, also non-traditional, but which I think lend a subtle, haunting flavor to pears. And by the way, if you find the name too much of a tongue-twister, you can just call it French Pear Tart.

Tarte Bourdaloue au Poires*

For the pastry:

1 2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
10 T chilled butter, cut in pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 T ice water

For the pears:

4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
1 star anise
4 ripe but firm pears

For the almond cream:

2 1/3 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 T butter
1/2 cup crushed amaretti (optional)

Begin with the crust. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and add the cut up butter. Whiz until the butter is well integrated, as you would for a pie crust. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and whiz to combine. Add the ice water and whiz just until the dough begins to come together. Dump out the dough, press it into a flattened oval, and put in the fridge to chill a bit.

While the dough is chilling, poach the pears. Peel them, cut them in half, leaving the stem and core intact to help keep the pears’ shape. Place them in a large pan with the water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise, bring to a near-boil, then simmer them for about 15 minutes, turning them over once, until the fruit is just tender. Don’t over cook them here or you’ll have trouble with them later. When the pears are tender remove the pan from the heat and allow the fruit to cool in the syrup.

While the pears are poaching, preheat the oven to 400°. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured board to fit into an 11 or 12″ tart pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then gently fit a sheet of foil into the pan and fill it with beans or rice, or pie weights if you have them. Bake the dough for 20 minutes, then remove it from the oven, carefully remove the weighted foil, and allow the tart shell to cool. You can leave the oven on here, or heat it up again a little later.

While the tart shell is baking, begin making the almond cream. Place the milk in a large measuring cup, scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the milk, and toss in the rest of the vanilla bean. Zap the milk in the microwave until it is near boiling, about 3-4 minutes.

While the milk is heating, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a sauce pan, then whisk in the flour. Slowly whisk in the hot milk (after removing the split vanilla beans), being careful to whisk out any lumps. Cook this mixture over medium heat until very thick, whisking constantly, about 8-10 minutes. Pour this custard into a mixing bowl and whisk in the butter until it melts. Grind the slivered almonds in the food processor with the powdered sugar until you have a very fine powder. Whisk this almond powder into the custard and set it aside to cool. Whisking it frequently will help it cool faster.


While the custard is cooling, remove the pears from the syrup and place them on a cutting board. With a small, sharp knife, delicately remove the stems and cores, doing your best to keep the pear intact. Turn the pear halves over and slice them thinly, but leave the pointed end intact, only slice them up to about 1/4 inch from the top. This is easier to do than to describe, just take your time here, because the beauty of the tart depends on this step.


Once the custard has cooled to room temperature place it gently in the tart shell and smooth the surface. Using a small offset spatula, carefully scoop up the pear halves and nestle them into the custard. Bake the tart at 400° for 30 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven, and if you’re using the amaretti (which give a nice little crunch and additional hit of almond flavor), tun the oven to broil. Decoratively scatter the cookie crumbs over the custard (I chose not to sprinkle them on the fruit itself, because I wanted to show it off), dust the pears lightly with powdered sugar, and place the tart under the broiler for a minute or two while the crumbs brown.


Arguably I let my crumbs brown a little too much, as it happened really fast, but I have to say that no one complained, and I think that the tart would be lovely sans crumbs too. Now sit back and wait for the applause. I guarantee that you won’t have to wait long.

* adapted from this version of the recipe.