May 25, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (Revised)

It’s practically summertime, baby. I know because there was a strawberry rhubarb pie in my life last week and because I’m headed to Maine today to splash in the lake, read books in the hammock, play Yahtzee with Joey, and obliterate my parents at Chinese checkers over lobster rolls and cola: two sure signs that the season of swimming holes and cookouts is well on its way. Even though the Internet has been ablaze with tales of rhubarb for weeks if not months now, I only just got my hands on some pieplant (check it!) to make the real-deal pie mascot of early summer. Like I mentioned last week, the food tales from ye all bloggers had me really ramped up to make fool or custard or curd, but the market strawberries and my own seasonal rituals were just too persuasive to take on anything but a classic.

And although it’s a pie that I reprise every year, it’s been awhile since I updated it on this here blog. Kind of fun to see the other strawberry rhubarb pie recipe, but it’s from way back when I was using vegetable shortening in my pie crusts and taking terrible photos (not that this post’s is all that much better). This pie recipe and my blog have both grown up some since then, and this latest iteration of the pie eliminated the cinnamon, ignored vanilla, forwent the lemon, and settled for a bit of orange and a more rhubarb-heavy fruit ratio. Classic pie, classic start to summer: cheers to a long, beautiful weekend spent with good friends, family, food, and hopefully your body partially submerged in a body of water somewhere.

All-Butter Pastry Dough
Makes enough for two crusts

2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold
1 cup ice water, divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

1.  Start by cubing your butter into small, half-inch pieces.  Put these in the freezer while you ready the rest of the ingredients.  Measure one cup of water, add some ice cubes and set aside to chill.

2.  I use a food processor for my dough, but was for a long time making very nice crusts with a pastry blender--which are easier to control. Do your thang. Add all of your dry ingredients to the bowl of the processor, and pulse once or twice to blend the mixture. Sprinkle the cubes of butter over the top, and blend in pulses about 15 times, or until some pieces of butter are the size of hazelnuts, and the rest resembles oatmeal.

3.  Dump the mixture into a large, shallow bowl, and drizzle just a half-cup of the ice water (minus the cubes) over the top.  Using a rubber spatula, cut the moisture quickly into the dough, gathering it together as you do. If the dough is too dry, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a shaggy mess. (I never use more than two or three additional tablespoons of water, and generally keep it to a half-cup anyway, but this all depends on the moisture and heat in your kitchen!) Knead the dough gently a few times to make it come together more, divide into two equal pieces, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Flatten into disks about five inches in diameter, and store in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably longer.

Pie Filling
4 cups (about 1.5 pounds) rhubarb chopped into one-inch pieces if thick, or 1½-inch pieces if thin
3 cups strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled and halved
½ cup golden brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
¼ cup quick-cooking tapioca pearls
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 egg
1 tablespoon large-grain sugar for sprinkling

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a well-floured surface, roll out one pie dough to a 13-inch circle. Gently fold into quarters to transfer to and unfold in a 10-inch pie plate. Place pie plate in the fridge while you assemble the filling.

2.  In a large bowl, gently mix fruit with the sugars, salt, tapioca, and orange juice. Spoon the filling into your bottom pie crust, mounding just a bit in the center, and put back into fridge to keep the crust from softening while you roll out and prepare the top crust.

3.  On a well-floured surface, roll out top crust to a 13-inch circle. For a lattice-top pie, or checkerboard as Joey calls it, cut the dough into strips that are ¾-inch to one inch wide. I prefer fat strips, so I cut mine into 11 one-inch strips. I am a visual learner and always have to look at photos when I make lattice-top pies (no shame!), so check this out for a picture tutorial. Place six parallel strips of crust cross your pie, leaving just a smidgen of space between each. Fold every other strip back on itself, and place one strip of crust perpendicular to these guys, meeting the strips where they fold. Unfold the folded strips. Now fold back the parallel strips that are underneath the perpendicular strip and fold them back, place another perpendicular strip across, unfold the folded strips, and repeat until your pie is latticed! Okay, again, you might want to see here for that photo tutorial.

4. Trim ends of dough strips if excessively long, and fold strip ends and bottom-crust overhang under. Fold in edges with your fingers or crimp with a fork to seal. Lightly beat egg in a small bowl, brush crust all over with the egg wash, and sprinkle the large-grain sugar on top. Put pie plate on top of a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Then, reduce oven temperature to 350, and continue baking until crust is very golden and the filling is bubbly and thickened, another 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely, about two hours.

May 22, 2012

Chocolate Buckwheat Strawberry Cake

Y’all Internet friends have been so deep into the strawberries and rhubarb. Cardamom rhubarb fool. Sour cherry rhubarb jam. And some babes in California are already breaking out the apricot recipes? Put ‘em away, jerks! Your carefree riches are making my produce-impoverished life feel awfully drab. But, after weeks of wondering when my turn would come, I’m finally here with my pride intact to rejoin the springtime Internet with...this chocolate cake...that doesn’t really have a lot of strawberries in it. That’s cool though, don’t worry, it is totally worth your time and minimal efforts and will not disappoint you at all, especially if you bake by mood and it’s the least bit rainy or cool where you are. Or if in general you are a fan of things that taste good.

Last Saturday evening, Joey (Hume), Roomrunner, and the Dope Buddies (check it) played an inaugural show at the Coward Shoe building in Baltimore, Hume's new home and place of many good things to come. So out-of-town have been we though, and so missing every single Sunday farmers market and thus the spring fruits, that we drove an hour home at 4:30 a.m. after an intense and amazing night filled with broken glass and punches so that we could be lined up for berries and rhubarb when the farmers market rang its opening bell. “We” mostly means “I,” but Joey is a great sport and got a strawberry rhubarb pie and this chocolate cake out of it.

And the strawberry rhubarb pie was, in many ways, more impressive and appealing than this buckwheat chocolate cake, but I’m stuck on this. It’s a terrific low-key dessert, the strawberry flavor really shines, and buckwheat and fruit is such a natural and delicious pairing. There aren’t a lot of whole grains on this blog either, and I’m pumped to share something slightly new here. Plus it’s gluten-free! This might not be a rhubarb flambe or whatever, but check it out. I promise it’ll answer some of your fruity spring wanderings. 

Chocolate Buckwheat Strawberry Cake
Adapted significantly from Tartine Gourmande, via Smitten Kitchen

The original calls for bittersweet chocolate, more sugar, no berries, and a 9-inch pan (for a thinner cake), but take a gamble with me and try it this way. Even if bittersweet chocolate is like your religion, you might still enjoy this. Oh, and it's gluten-free!

Makes one eight-inch cake

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for buttering pan
3 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate
4 large eggs at room temperature
5 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon granulated or blond cane sugar (so, divided)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup buckwheat flour
¼ cup (or 1 ounce) almond meal
6 ounces small strawberries, hulled and halved

Powdered sugar or whipped cream to serve (optional

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch cake round and line the bottom with parchment paper; butter the parchment round as well. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double-boiler or a heatproof bowl resting on a pot of lightly simmering water, and set aside to cool.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (thanks Emily’s mom!), beat the eggs and sugar with salt on medium until light and pale and doubled in volume, five to ten minutes. This took me ten. Your eggs will airy; this is the key to giving this cake its lift and crumb.

3.  Fold in the vanilla and melted chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the buckwheat and almond flours over the batter and fold gently to combine. Arrange strawberry halves bottomside-down evenly over cake. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top; this will give the top a nice crackled texture. Bake cake in the center of the oven, and start checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Mine was finished at 30, but overbaking cake is obviously the worst, so get down with your cautious self. Cake is finished when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

4.  Cool cake for five minutes on a rack, invert onto rack, remove parchment paper, and put cake rightside up to serve. Top slices with powdered sugar or whipped cream or berries or all of it, if you want. Cake will keep covered at room temperature for about two days before getting soft around the berries; it also tastes great cold outta the fridge.

May 10, 2012

Labneh Tart with Sesame Brittle and Mixed-Pepper Tuiles

With all the crap going on in the earth, I often question why I even bother to write about baked goods or keep this blog at all. Sometimes it’s comforting to have a eked out a microscopic personal pocket of the internet, but a lot of the time I feel totally useless for using my (very) modest soapbox to talk your ears off about, for instance, this labneh tart and how much I love Alice Medrich. Two icons from my childhood recently passed away, one who captured my heart and the other my imagination, and with the bad business of Amendement 1 in North Carolina (but yay Obama, finally! Although marriage equality should be a fundamental right, not a state issue.) and the untold amounts of frustrating news that I am, by virtue of a computer-based job, able to read every day, this space sometimes feels alienating to me for its lack of more important content.

I’m so lucky to find time to do all of this baking and equally lucky to have time to write this blog, and I don’t often acknowledge it here because it feels artificial to move from something serious into something buttery. But I’ve been sitting for nearly a week on a blog post about all of the “lasts” I am planning for as I prepare to move to Maine, and it ended up reading like a long list of awesome shit that somehow I was complaining about. It didn’t really get at what I’ve been feeling lately either, which is totally sad and frustrated about a lot of political and social goings-on, but equally happy and grateful for the personal progress I’m making in my own life. Sometimes this blog only reflects the latter because it’s more in keeping with the medium, and while this post itself isn’t meant to make up for all the levity or start any specific discussions, I did just want my handful of checkers-in to know that I’m thinking about how to strike a balance. I admire Lottie + Doof so much for that reason: he’s often brief and light, but is able with equal seriousness to talk about baking and politics and disagree with people and critique the food culture. I aspire.

Which sort of inelegantly brings me to this tart, of which I made three for the most recent edition of the Mod Attelet supper club. I’ve been collaborating with those folks for just about the better part of a year, working initially just on desserts and eventually on several other elements, and our latest menu was by far my favorite. It was totally special not just because it was my last, but also because we served my and Joey’s homebrewed spiced session ale, two of my very good friends attended, I made a three-part dessert, we smoked a pig, and the night was full of some super social folks who were still mingling when I went home at 1:00 a.m. The dinner brought out my favorite aspects of these supper clubs: an awesome, cohesive menu and a totally jazzed group of strangers who clicked and had a great night. Plus this tart, which is utterly simple, tangy, and drop-dead delicious. And balanced. Perhaps the most important quality and my goal for this blog moving forward. Thanks for reading, as always!

Labneh (Lebni) Tart
Barely adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

Never had labneh (also spelled lebni and lebneh)? It's essentially sour cream meets cream cheese in a way better, tangier form, and you can definitely find it at Whole Foods, Middle Eastern markets, and specialty stores. I spread the leftover labneh on toasted baguettes with olives, tomato, olive oil, and mint: a super breakfast! 

Also, Medrich calls for 9 ½-inch tart pans, which I do not have, so I used 8-inch tart pans. The cooking time was actually in the same range. I did remove about two tablespoons of the tart dough to accommodate the difference in pan size so that my crust would stay thin around the edges.  

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups labneh (kefir cheese)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt

1.  Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix (a fork will do) just until well blended. Dough might seem oily, but it will work!

2.  Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up sides of a 8 inch tart pan with a removable bottom to make a thin, even layer; to avoid ending up with extra-thick edges, press the dough squarely into the corners of the pan. To even out all crust, I pushed a flat-bottomed dry measuring cup along the bottom, then into all the edges and up the sides. Place tart pan on a cookie sheet when finished.

3.  Bake until the crust is a deep, golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, checking after about 15 minutes to see if the dough has puffed up from the bottom of the pan. If it has, press the dough down gently with the back of a spoon and prick it a few times with a fork.

4.  While the crust is baking, make the filling. Medrich specifies the order in which ingredients are mixed here, saying it has a big impact on the smoothness of the texture:  In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Then whisk in the cheese until very smooth.

5.  When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F. Brush the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of the beaten egg yolk to moisture-proof it. Return the crust to the oven for one minute to set the yolk.

6.  Pour the filling into the hot crust and spread it evenly. Return the tart to the oven and bake until the filling is set around the edges but, when the pan is nudged, quivers like very soft Jell-O in the center, about 15 to 20 minutes (all three times, my tarts were finished at 19 minutes). Check often in the last few minutes as overbaking will ruin the silky-smooth texture of the filling. Cool the tart completely on a rack before removing the tart pan ring; it will firm up as it cools. Refrigerate if not serving within three hours. Leftovers (yeah right!) will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about four days.

Sesame Brittle
Adapted from
Pure Dessert

I altered the instructions after making this a few times since I didn't have any issues with stickiness, which the original recipe seemed concerned with. Nice and easy!

½ cup granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
¼ cup sesame seeds (I used black and white)

1.  Spread a thin slick of oil on a cookie sheet and set it aside. Mix the sugar and salt in a dry, light-colored 10-inch skillet. Set the pan over medium-high heat, and cook without stirring until edges of mixture start to turn clear. Turn the heat down to medium, and shake the pan while continuing to cook as long as syrup remains clear. This first part takes only a few minutes.

2.  When the syrup begins to darken, use a rubber spatula to push it around until all the sugar is melted and evenly colored; if some parts of syrup darken more quickly than others, lift pan off heat and continue to stir until the color balances. When the syrup looks pale amber, add in the sesame seeds and stir to coat. Continue stirring until syrup turns dark reddish amber; immediately spread brittle onto cookie sheet in a thin layer, using the spatula to flatten and make it as thin as you can. You can shape the brittle--carefully!--while it’s still warm, or allow it to cool as is until hard, about 30 minutes. To achieve small pieces for the tart garnish, I smashed the brittle in a plastic bag. In a sealed container, the leftovers kept for about a week before the texture softened.

May 2, 2012

Pecan Birthday Cake with Caramel Filling and Vanilla Buttercream + Panda Head

May and September are birthday months ‘round these parts. I’ve got a few late April and early June babies and a handful of Scorpios in my life too, but many folks I know—including me and my sister—celebrate in May. I’ve always felt like a bit of a spring cheat since I was supposed to be born on the Fourth of July, but it was with great and telling baby aplomb that I ruined my sister’s eighth birthday party with my newborn homecoming; none of her guests, she cites as evidence, remember watching Splash. Morgan Hungerford West of Panda Head Blog is also awash in May birthdays, and she contacted Tarts by Tarts last month about putting together a birthday cake for the May edition of her monthly newsletter. Emily and I agree on a lot of baking things, but one point of particular sameness is in the utter glory of the birthday cake—towering and covered in frosting, filled but not with fruit, white on white is tops, nuts are always awesome, one can get away with pink.

Photo by Michelle Rigg. Thanks Michelle! This shows step four of assembly.

After being totally inspired by the baking prowess of Yossy from Apt. 2B Baking Co., we came up with a pecan cake filled with caramel and covered in a yellow ombre design to ring in the spring and season of birthdays. Tarts by Tarts is also handy with a cocktail shaker, and for the birthday shoot Em and I devised the Mayday (visible below), made with blackberries, lavender simple syrup, lime juice, and two shots of an awesome gin out of West Virginia called Smooth Ambler—this drink will float your keister to the floor. Morgan and her pal, photographer Michelle Rigg, swung by our house on Easter Sunday, where they proceeded to bowl us over with their casually rad styling abilities and quips about ’90s tattoos and our jungle lawn. It was a joyful afternoon, and we’re so glad to finally share the cake with you! Morgan released the May newsletter yesterday, and you can get the cocktail recipe over there and more photos from the shoot, plus Morgan’s breezy take on summer tees, brewing beer, and Arnold impressions; seriously, check it out. Below, I’ve got a couple more cake close-ups and the handwritten recipe. If I were to blow out my candles today, my only wish would be that you could read it. Enjoy!

A rare shot of us in the kitchen. Also by Michelle Rigg!

Pecan Cake!
Just wanted to offer a few notes on the baking, which my hand was too cramped to include. We used the recipe below, but baked the photographed cake in six-inch pans with the leftover batter yielding six cupcakes. The baking time for six-inch layers was actually the same as the time for eight-inch layers, but start checking the cake around 30 minutes if you choose to go the route of smaller rounds. There will be a bit of leftover frosting and filling if you make smaller cake layers, but um, the frosting is good on anything and the filling is awesome on ice cream. Also, click the images to embiggen to a readable size.