Waiting fruit

You’re not going to be able to make this recipe right away. First, you’ll have to buy three or four persimmons at the grocery store. They will be pale and hard. You should put them in a glass bowl on the table where you eat (we call this the “dining room table” but we don’t have a dining “room” any more than we have a kitchen “room”). Commercially available persimmons take about three weeks to ripen fully, so they should be somewhere you can keep an eye on them. Turn the fruit every few days so it doesn’t bruise. Their color should deepen to a lumenescent sunset orange and the calyx dry out to a pale green. They don’t really give off an aroma. Once the fruit is soft and yields easy to a fingertip, you’re ready for cake.

Persimmon pulp

  • 3 very ripe (very soft) persimmons (1 1/4 lb total)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace (or ground cloves)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup loosely packed dried pitted dates (5 oz), finely chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans (3 1/2 oz), finely chopped
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 15- by 10-inch shallow cookie sheet/baking pan (1 inch deep).

If you have time, toast the nuts and then chop small in a food processor. Dump them out into a small bowl and chop the dates (you don’t have to clean the food processor between any of these steps) add to the nuts. Discard dried green or brown calyx (stem and leaves) from each persimmon, and scoop out the pulp into the food processor. Process until smooth. I’ve been making this recipe for a while and before I had a food processor I had to force the pulp through a sieve into a bowl, using a rubber spatula – which you can do but it’s a lot more work. Not to mention chopping walnuts and dates all day long. Transfer 1 to 1 1/2 cup purée to a small bowl and stir in lemon juice and baking soda. (The cake doesn’t change much with the varied amount of fruit.) The mixture will become foamy, then jell slightly.

Sift together flour, salt, and spices in another small bowl.

Whisk together egg, sugar, and oil in a large bowl until just combined. Add flour mixture and persimmon pulp stirring until just combined. Stir in nuts and dates.

Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.

Stir together all glaze ingredients until smooth, then spread over top of cooled cake.

Vitamin C!Totally worth the wait. . .

Spritz!

Spritz cookies with a 60's influence, FTW.Spritz cookies are a wonderful tradition this time of year, and an easy treat once you have the little machine that squeezes the dough out in shapes. I have an old copper and aluminum Mirro cookie press, which I guess is not available any more. There are battery powered versions on the market for those of you who need to make these cookies by the gross, I guess? The rest of us mortals should buy the ubiquitous screw-down cylinders and save our money for all that butter we’ll be using in the basic recipe.

1 C unsalted butter softened, or melted and cooled; 3/4 C sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 1/4 C white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar well, beat in egg and extracts. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Fill cookie press and form on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 37 degrees 10 – 12 minutes. Yields @ 60 cookies.

A few hints:

  • Don’t chill the dough. The cold dough will be harder to push through the die and won’t stick as well to the cookie sheet, but
  • DO chill the cookies once they are shaped on the cookie sheet. The shapes will hold up better in the oven.
  • Avoid handling the dough. It will soften almost immediately in the heat of your hands. If you need to scrape the sides of the barrel or clean residue off to change dies (and you will), use a spatula or a kitchen knife.
  • If you use food coloring don’t color the dough all at once. Instead, fill the press canister with plain dough and add a few drops of color near the top. As you press cookies out, add more plain dough and then more food coloring. Better than tie-dye, and makes the dough less “stiff” than mixing it in.

Serious cookies

Today I took off from work – somehow a day off is even better when it’s a really bad idea – and made cookies. I did errands, cleaned the house, visited my mother, cleaned the house some more, put up the tree, and made cookies. That last item is the important part, because these are serious cookies – you need the whole day.

I lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s and had a wide selection of part time jobs while I went to art school. Around Christmas-time I worked evenings at an Italian bakery that had plaster models of fantastical wedding cakes in the windows and specialized in traditional, labor-intensive treats for the holidays. We made anise biscotti and weird sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, almond crescents, white fruit cakes studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with gold leaf, but mostly we made seven-layer-cookies. Pink, white and green almond cake layers with apricot filling and a chocolate frosting on both sides, we made them in huge sheet pans, sold them all to happy housewives the next day and spent the night making more. I know all about how to make them in a bakery , with a walk-in freezer and professional ovens, but I’d never thought of making them at home until I read this post at SmittenKitchen.

I love this site and I’ve found that I can completely trust her work. So – hop right over there and read the recipe, study the comments, and then take tomorrow off to make cookies! Let me know how it goes.

One hint that’s not on SK’s list – at the bakery we added a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the batter, and were free to add a Tbs (or more, if the ovens were blasting heat) of cream to the colored divisions right before laying them out in the pan. Both additions made the batter easier to spread in a thin, even layer. As a bonus, here’s a pic of the pink layer (colored with Ameri-Color Super Red gel paste) cooling on the table. Doesn’t that look like a fun way to spend an afternoon?

OMG PINK

PS Because I just posted this and someone is already asking, the other cookies on the plate (equally delicious and a lot easier) are Excalibur cookies from Food from the Field’s blog. Great stuff!

Peach pie

Ripe summer peaches need a strong pie crust. Even with the advantage of tapioca and an egg white finish, peaches right off the tree are too juicy to be contained in a thin, dry pastry that might be perfectly suitable for winter apples. Someday I’ll have an outdoor wood-fired oven  and then during the long, slow cool-down of a bread fire I’m going to dry some peaches and make pie with the soft, withered fruit. I bet that will be outstanding.

For the crust: put 4 C white flour, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp baking powder in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1 C cold unsalted butter (two sticks) cut into 1/2″ pieces, pulse just until there aren’t any large chunks. Mix 1/2 C very cold water with 2 tsp of good quality cider vinegar and add to the processor bowl by tablespoonfuls as you pulse. You want the pastry to just begin clumping together, but not be totally wet.

Dump the contents of the bowl out onto a large piece of wax paper. The dough will be crumbly and not entirely cohesive. Push it together using the ends of the sheet of wax paper. Cut the lump of crust in half with a bowl scraper or a large knife, pile one half on top of the other and squish them gently together. As you do this a few times the crumbs at the edge will gradually be incorporated and the crust will have lovely layers, like danish pastry. Cut the lump almost in  half once more (you want one piece slightly larger to be the bottom crust, the top will use less), wrap each piece in some waxed paper, put both pieces into a plastic bag and refrigerate for half an hour, or overnight.The vinegar and baking powder make a very soft, resilient crust that rolls out beautifully and doesn’t crack or develop holes where the fruit pokes up.

Now go pick some peaches.

I confess that while my pantry is stuffed with wonderful cookbooks full of pie recipes, including handwritten ones from family members, the only recipe I use for fruit pie is the one on the back of the Minute tapioca box. It works every time, adds nothing objectionable to the basic fruit and pastry, and is incredibly easy – what more could one ask? I’m also fond of the idiosyncrasies. The box lists instructions for apple (sliced), blueberry, cherry, peach (sliced), and strawberry rhubarb. Did someone, somewhere, put whole apples or peaches in a pie?

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Separate an egg and pour the white into a small dish or a coffee mug.

Following the instructions for peach pie, add 1/4 C tapioca, 3/4 C sugar and 1 Tbs lemon juice to 4 C of (sliced) peaches. Mix gently and let stand for 15 minutes while you roll out the crust. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dishtowel because fruit flies will arrive out of nowhere to have some of this stuff.

Retrieve the dough from the fridge. If it’s very hard, give it a minute to soften slightly. Roll it out fit it to the pie plate, being careful not to stretch the dough. Cut the excess off the edge with a pair of kitchen shears, and make a pie tail with the “leavings” that you wish you could mail to the Boy who is at university. Sadly, it doesn’t travel well.

If your peaches are really juicy, pour about 1/4 C of liquid off before you dump the fruit into the bottom crust. Dot with a Tbs of butter cut into small pieces. Brush egg white on the edges of the bottom crust and gently lay the top crust over it. Again, try not to tug or pull on the dough. Trim the edges close to the pie plate again with shears. Press all around the pie with a sharp-tined fork to seal. Cut a few holes in the top crust and brush all over with egg white. Sprinkle a tsp of sugar over the top for a slightly crunchier crust.

Bake the pie at 400 F for about 50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and fruit juice is bubbling in the vents. If the pie tail is small you may have to take it out at 45 minutes.

Eat pie.

Angelica

Angelica, known in my grandmother’s garden as “Holy Ghost”, is a tall biennial plant with large lobed leaves, greenish white flowers, and fluted stems.

The stems are traditionally candied and used like citron in breads and holiday cakes. Angelica is a very generous plant, seeding itself all around my garden. I’ve always wanted to take advantage of this abundance and candy some myself. Last fall I took the time to research recipes and found that the stems are harvested in the spring, when they are still bright green and tender.

Last week I picked a plastic grocery bag of stems, or about 2 lbs. I trimmed off the leaves and cut the stems in random lengths as none of the recipes I read seemed to specify size. They didn’t specify much of anything, actually, and differed wildly on how long to cook the raw plant material, how to dry it, and what it should look like when finished. I’ve simplified the process because no way am I boiling anything in sugar syrup for four days, and my adaption seems to have worked just fine.

Make a 2:1 sugar syrup by mixing 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, bring to a boil and stir until dissolved. Dump the stems into the syrup and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and set for 24 hours. I let it go from one night to the next.

Remove stems from syrup and allow to drain on a rack. I used a cookie rack with a pan underneath. I dried the stems in a very slow oven (250 degrees) for a few hours. It rained for almost the entire month of April here, and the drying part might work for you without an oven if the weather cooperates.

When the stems were solid and cooled, but still tacky, I put them in a ziplock bag of granulated sugar and left them overnight to soak up as much as possible. Then I stuffed them into canning jars, where they look pretty cool – all bright green and shiny. I have two jars in a canning cupboard and one in the freezer, to see which one preserves the color and texture best.  I’m going to try out a recipe next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Snacks for Thomas

I loved making treats for my son. J. didn’t have any allergies, but some of his friends had to avoid peanuts and it was just easier to discover all the wonderful things I could make without: snacks with fruit, seeds, grain, oats and brown sugar. Occasionally there might be a chocolate chip or three, golden raisins, dried blueberries, good times! Now our friend Thomas is newly peanut-free and we’re happy to contribute.

I don’t have a picture for either of the recipes, so here’s a photo of the Boy, snacking.

Brown Bag Banana Bars, adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla,3 ripe bananas

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,  1/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. poppy seeds, 3/4 cup raisins (I like the look of golden raisins. Experiment with softened dried blueberries, too.)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg and vanilla. Mash the bananas (which will make about 1-1/2 cups) and stir them in. Combine the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppyseeds and stir into creamed mixture until all blended. Add the raisins. Spread in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on a rack and cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen bars.

 

Oaties

Ingredients: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries, 2 teaspoons fennel seed (optional), 3 tablespoons  butter, melted, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 cup buttermilk. (After you get a feel for these you can really load them up with fruit: fresh raspberries and blueberries with plumped raisins, chunks of papaya or peach, dates, really just about anything.)

Directions; Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, oats, raisins, and fennel seed, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, egg, and buttermilk until combined, then add to flour mixture. Stir until batter is evenly moistened (do not overmix). Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. I use the Silpat for these, because they can be a little sticky. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let scones cool on a wire rack, 5 minutes.

 

 

Winter honey

Bee colonies die over the course of the Maine winter for all kinds of reasons. The most common is starvation. We have a short summer of very long days and the bees are well, busy, from April when the maples throw their nearly invisible flowers through early November and the last of the goldenrod. Some summers we have a drought in August that kills off any chance at an autumn honeycrop, and that’s what happened in 2010. I encourage goldenrod in my garden and have even planted a few hybrid varieties to lengthen the season, and I grow Japanese buckwheat and autumn blooming clematis, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

Some winters a colony doesn’t make it through for other reasons. My autopsy of “Stripey” found a medium number of dead bees and a lot of honey so- not starved. I couldn’t find the queen but that’s not unusual in a dead hive. There were some pupae and larvae in evidence but not nearly enough. The colony may have been weakened by a late season swarm that I missed, or the queen may have been old. In any case, it was time to clean house. Mice and red squirrels will nest in a hive that has honey comb and no bees to defend it and they make a terrible mess of the equipment.

I opened the hive, lifted out the frames and scraped the comb into a 10 gallon food bucket with a petcock in the bottom. I cut the comb up into chunks with the flat end of my hive tool and let it sit overnight in front of the Rinnai heater. There was no evidence of disease in the hive, so I wrapped the scrapped frames in plastic and put them in the freezer. I’ll feed them to the new colonies that will be arriving in early May. This afternoon I drained the honey out of the bucket into jars through a strainer. It was much slower work today than it was last July, when the summer heat made the honey flow like water. This batch is very dark, with flavors of buckwheat, goldenrod and asters.

I filled 8 pint jars and had enough left over for honey cake. Honey cake!

For the Cake

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ( or 1/2 teaspoon for a more pronounced cinnamon flavor) and 1/4 tsp cardamon
  • 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal and 1/2 cup all – purpose flour
  • (I add 1/2 tsp baking powder. The addition of leavening to the recipe, at this time of year, means this isn’t traditional! My apologies to Julia, who gave me this recipe.)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds or walnuts, or a combination. Black walnuts are very nice.

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 8″ square pan.

Using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. (If you’re a little impatient and don’t get them quite to the “pale yellow” stage it’s OK – you’re using baking powder!) Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the syrup ingredients together in a small bowl. A whisk is helpful for blending the honey and OJ.

Pour the syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup. Refrigerate so that while it is absorbing the liquid, it is also firming up.  Serve small pieces on splayed muffin liners. It’s also very nice served with sliced strawberries and drizzled with more honey.

Carrot cake

Last night I made our family’s favorite carrot cake recipe and shared it with the neighbors. It was a big hit with folks who aren’t used to pistachios and cardamon mixing it up with staid New England carrots from the root cellar, so I’m posting the recipe by their request. I dust the top with confectioners sugar in lieu of cream cheese frosting, which I don’t care for because I don’t make it very well. I’m sure it will be wonderful if you have the knack.

The original recipe was in Madhur Jaffrey’s book, “World of the East Vegetarian Cooking”, but it has undergone a few changes since.

Oil and flour a 9″ square pan and preheat the oven to 350.

Whisk two eggs, 1 C sugar, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground cardamon, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 C softened ghee (or butter) in a large bowl. Add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking soda and mix just until incorporated. Add 1/4 C chopped pistachios, 1/4 C currants and 1 1/2 C grated carrots firmly packed, and mix well.

Spread the mixture in the pan and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the cake springs back in the center. Dust the top with confectioners sugar when cool.

Mystery

Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Crispy

When did I turn into the mom who has the ingredients for rice crispie squares on hand at all times? When The Boy was small I tried to make healthy treats, and alternated whole wheat hermits with what I think of as “heritage comfort food”; Fannie Farmer brownies and blueberry buckle, pumpkin pie and the blondies from the King Arthur Flour book. Now that we’re all adults, our favorite treat are the crispies-with-browned-butter-and-sea-salt from Smitten Kitchen. They are just, wow.

I’m not sure how Ms. Kitchen feels about lending out her recipes, so I’m just going to link to it (above). A few pointers from my experience making LOTS of these:

1. Work fast. This is one of those “quick before it hardens into concrete” recipes – make sure you have everything prepped before you start.

2. If someone has actually been eating the cereal as CEREAL, the recipe will work with as few as 4 C of crispies, even though the recipe calls for 6 C.

3. Decant the marshmallows into a bowl. You’ll thank me as you are not dangling an open bag of marshmallows all stuck together in a clump over the pot of sizzling brown butter. And I receive 4 zillion bonus points for using the verb “decant” to describe marshmallows.

4. The recipe says to turn the heat off after you pour the marshmallows into the butter, and that the residual heat will melt them. This has never worked for me – I turn the (gas) burner to low. Residual heat may very well work on an electric stove, but keeping the pot on low heat won’t harm the result.

5. If you’re taking these to a bake sale, make a batch to eat at home. Taking them all away is just cruel.

The Betterbee catalogue is just a bonus. It came today and I’m reading it every chance I get. The rest of the photo is the start of my new campaign to rid the world of over-wrought food photography. You know who you are.