December 22, 2010

Five Golden Butters

Man, December moves as fast as lightning and I freely admit that I can’t keep up. In lieu of a full post about bourbon ice cream, cardamom cookies, potato-gruyere tartlets, or chestnut wedding cookies (see how far behind I am?!) this post is dedicated to unveiling the Tanglewood Recipe Box and to reminding you of some excellent holiday-appropriate recipes that it’s definitely not too late to bake. These triple ginger cookies have become a serious year-round favorite in my kitchen, as has this molasses gingerbread and these honey walnut tartlets. Chewy amaretti cookies with chocolate filling, classic peanut brittle, and sugar cookies with espresso topping would all make welcome gifts or contributions to the holiday table!

December 2, 2010

Quince Pie with Biscuit Top + Kickasserole

For the longest, most incurious time, I thought that quinces were just bootleg pears. I always wondered why farmers market vendors didn't wipe off the cobwebs before selling them, and I instead skipped on to fruit that did not appear to have been colonized by dust bunnies. I still don't know why quinces are furry on the outside, but what I've recently learned is that the quince is pretty much one of the most ancient fruits of all time--preceding the apple in most countries--and that Greek myths and certain biblical stories involving apples might actually be referring to quinces. Ladies of the day used to bite into quinces in order to "perfume their kiss before entering the bridal chamber" (shudder), and I believe it, because this is absolutely the most perfumed fruit I've ever cooked with. Raw, it tastes like an astringent potato, but cooked up and softened, the quince magically becomes rosy and tastes like a more floral apple or a concentrated pear.

Christian tells me this is a Japanese maple. It was at its brightest during the weekend of Kickasserole!

My favorite cooking site, Lottie + Doof, seems to have incidentally started a one-blog education campaign about the fruit when he posted a Martha Stewart quince pie recipe a few weeks back. Lo and behold, that mysterious moldy-seeming pear-ish fruit was explained! And used in a beautiful pie recipe to boot! A pie recipe with no bottom crust, minimal grunt work, and enough disarmingly fruity goodness to cut through the buttery, rich, and fried tides of any Kickasserole feast. This pie, impressive if sort of homely looking as well, ended up being one of my favorite Kickasserole desserts, so much so that I literally licked the plate clean. If you can't find quinces in your area, the technique of this pie would work great with any combination of hard fruits--poach in maple syrup until palatable, cover with a salty biscuit top, and bake until bubbly and awesome.

Just about the whole Kickasserole crew!

Quince Pie with Biscuit Top!
Barely adapted from Martha Stewart via Lottie + Doof

In his version, Tim of Lottie + Doof made a maple whipped cream to go along with the pie. Most regrettably, the kitchen folk and I were not in the proper state to be whipping cream by the time the people were ready for their dessert. There was no love loss, but I'm sure the experience would have been that much better if the pie had been accompanied by the whipped cream.

For the filling
5 quinces, peeled, cored, and quartered
5 cups water
1 cup pure Grade B maple syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1.  Bring the quinces, water, syrup, sugar, and vanilla seeds + pod to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Cover pot with parchment paper, and cook until quinces are soft and rosy pink, about two hours. My quinces turned ruby red, but sometimes they don't change color until late in the process if at all, so be sure to judge doneness by the softness of the fruit. Discard the vanilla pod and proceed with the recipe.

For the topping
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup fine yellow cornmeal (grind it finely in a food processor if yours is coarse or medium)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons slivered almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Sift the ingredients a second time (this helps giving the biscuits lift as the topping bakes). Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives or rub the butter into the dry mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse cornmeal with some large pieces remaining. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour in cream and stir until well-combined.

2.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer quinces to a nine-inch deep-dish pie plate set on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add one cup of the poaching liquid (reserve the rest) and the cornstarch. Toss gently. Arrange large spoonfulls (quarter- to half-cup each) of biscuit dough on top, leaving a hole in the middle; this is your steam vent. Sprinkle almonds on top and bake until biscuits are golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Allow pie to cool completely; the flavors are a bit strong when warm, and this is much better at room temperature. 

For the maple whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup maple syrup

1. Just before serving, whip the cream in a glass bowl until soft peaks form; fold in maple syrup. Garnish pie with scoops of cream, et voila!

And what about that poaching liquid?
Again, Lottie + Doof has the bright ideas! Tim suggested making a cocktail of rye and the leftover poaching liquid, suitably dubbed The Poacher. We mixed the poaching liquid with Knob Creek bourbon and found the flavors to be slightly too intense, so we added some sparkle water and ice and served the drink in a collins glass -- it was pretty outstanding. You could also reduce the liquid to make a syrup for use as a yogurt mix-in or ice cream topping, or maybe as a caramel addition!