dimply plum cake

September 14, 2010 § 11 Comments

I can’t really get behind the saying that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve spent hours wandering bookstores, mired in indecision, and the only thing that finally jolts me out of it is getting distracted by a pretty cover, and then just buying that one out of desperation. How should I know if it’s a good book until I’ve read it? Isn’t this what covers are for?

By the same token, my ever-wandering attention was captured by this recipe mainly because of the name: Dimply plum cake! Charming, no? And with legions of Dorie Greenspan fans having already given it a test run for me, I knew it was worth trying. My first attempt was unfortunately in a temperamental oven that left the insides gloopy and the outsides burnt. But it looked so promising, with silky batter studded with gorgeous plums, that I finally gave it a second chance when I was back home.

And I was glad I did, because it was a success. It’s a simple, orange-scented cake with a sturdy crumb, which is definitely needed to hold up the plums and their delicious juices. Even though I used a bigger pan than was called for, I couldn’t fit in more than two-thirds of the plums, but I put this down to me having mutant monster plums rather than any fault of the recipe. The cake isn’t too sweet and I suspect it would be great for breakfast as well as dessert, but I can’t actually tell you, because mine was all gone before it even had the chance to cool.

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Dimply Plum Cake – from Dorie Greenspan

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    3/4 cup light brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
    Grated zest of 1 orange
    1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    8 purple or red plums, halved and pitted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan (I actually used a 9-inch and still couldn’t fit all the plums).

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.

In another bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each egg. Beat in the oil, zest and vanilla – the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are just incorporated, no longer.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cut side up in the batter – Dorie usually makes four rows of four plum halves each, I managed this once but the second time I could only fit three – and jiggle the plums a bit just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up. Once fully cool, you can wrap the cake and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.

crispy oatmeal cookies

September 7, 2010 § 4 Comments

Have you heard? There was a hurricane in my part of town, and I survived. A hurricane! Okay, maybe it wasn’t my town, or even my county, but still, my general area. I am so hardcore.

I prepared for this apocalyptic event as I always do (for those many apocalypses), by baking something impractical. At least if I’m going to be trapped inside all day with the rain, I will have something delicious to munch on. The other requirement was that I had to already have all the ingredients in the house, because I’m not going outside in any hurricane. The solution was crispy salted white chocolate oatmeal cookies – despite the exceedingly long name, the ingredient list was short! I even had a fancy bar of white chocolate to use, but I opened it to find a weensy little worm crawling around, and I wish I had a photo if only to document the look of extreme horror on my face.

Luckily I also had white chocolate disks, and cookies were promptly baking. These cookies are both delicious and unusual – they’re a departure from the typical soft and chewy oatmeal cookie, but instead are thin and crisp and nearly hollow, and they fall neatly in line with my love of all things salty. In the end, the hurricane only managed a bit of rain and then lots of sun the next day, rendering my cookies unnecessary, but somehow no one minded having them around.

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Crispy Salted White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies – from Smitten Kitchen
The dough here isn’t very salty, so don’t skip the sprinkling of salt on top. Also, use good white chocolate! The chips are usually artificial and kinda weird tasting.

Yield: 24 cookies

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon table salt
    14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
    1 cup sugar
    1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
    6 ounces good-quality white chocolate bar, chopped
    1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon or fleur de sel), for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl again. Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons. Roll between palms into balls, then place on lined baking sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using fingertips, gently press down each ball to about 3/4-inch thickness.

Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on each cookie. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool.

strawberry frozen yogurt

August 31, 2010 § 5 Comments

To state the obvious, I am not usually a fan of low-fat desserts. I love butter and cream and eggs, and now I’ve even devoted a blog to combining them in as many ways as possible (I’m still not sure this is a good idea.) But although frozen yogurt is also considered a low-cal alternative by many people, I actually love it – it’s not an ice cream substitute, it’s an entirely different concoction, delightfully tangy and light and refreshing. It also has enough sugar in it to make any health food label a bit of a stretch.

I usually like my ice cream to be rich and decadent and studded with chunks of deliciousness, preferably in cookie dough form. But frozen yogurt is beautifully suited to fresh fruit, and I caught one last gorgeous batch of local strawberries to make it. It’s one of the easiest desserts you can make as long as you don’t mind waiting a few hours: let berries macerate in sugar, chill with yogurt, freeze in ice cream maker. 10 minutes of labour gets you a brilliantly coloured, slightly-less-bad-for-you dessert!

Incidentally, I accidentally took this even further off the healthy spectrum when my hand slipped and I added about three times as much vodka as I meant to. Oops! I was concerned at first, since the purpose of adding alcohol is to prevent the yogurt from freezing too solidly, but with the amount I used it actually stayed a perfectly good consistency. I don’t know that I’d recommend it, though – people, be careful with your vodka.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt – adapted from The Perfect Scoop

    1 pound strawberries
    1/2 cup to 2/3 cup sugar (I prefer 1/2 cup, but most of my family likes the original amount of 2/3)
    3 teaspoons vodka
    1 cup Greek-style or whole-milk yogurt
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Hull the strawberries and slice into small pieces. Gently stir in sugar and vodka, until sugar starts to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a food processor, and add yogurt and lemon juice. Blend until the mixture is smooth. If you like, strain the mixture to remove the seeds (I don’t bother). Chill for 1 hour, then freeze in ice cream maker.

rainy day cookies

August 25, 2010 § 8 Comments

Oh my, what a weekend. It was my first back home after lots of travelling, and my roommates were all out of town, leaving a big, echo-y house to settle back into. So I slept. Did the laundry. Mopped the floors. Made molasses spice cookies. That last one was probably the highlight.

I was a little reluctant to make these at first, as they just seem like a very fall-appropriate recipe, and I refuse to give up on summer any earlier than I have to. But it was rainy and I wanted something toasty, and it turns out that these cookies are perfect. They’re soft and chewy with a slightly crisp outside, and even though the molasses makes the dough taste pretty iffy, once they’re baked it all balances out and they end up spicy and sweet and wonderful. The icky dough is probably actually a good thing, since this may be the first time I managed to get as many cookies out of the recipe as I was meant to. They definitely evoke fall, but in a comforting way, and it’s only August so I don’t even really need to worry yet – I have months of summer left! Months! Please don’t tell me otherwise.

Molasses Spice Cookies – adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: about 20 large cookies.

    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons of baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon of salt
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
    1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling cookies
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/3 cup unsulphured molasses

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice and set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with mixer set at medium speed. Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Place remaining 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough in 2 tablespoon clumps and roll into 1 3/4 inch-wide balls. Roll balls in sugar and place on prepared sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.

Bake until the outer edges of the cookies begin to set and centers are soft and puffy (the inside of the cracks will still look raw), about 11 to 13 minutes. Don’t overbake these cookies! Cool cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. These cookies stay nicely chewy for a few days if kept in an airtight container.

simple blueberry tart

August 18, 2010 § 8 Comments

I’ve had a fair amount of practice now, but I’m still a little wary of making pie crust. I’m getting good at the whole cutting-in-the-butter process, but rolling out pastry is still embarrassingly hard for me. Why is it so hard to roll things? It seems like a basic skill. Along with doing the laundry before completely running out of clean clothes, and remembering to put on sunscreen. I guess there are a few things I need to work on.

I gave myself a break with this tart – it uses a pat-in crust that is refreshingly simple. Even more refreshing is the filling: although my summers are usually a time for pies and crumbles and other things best served warm, it’s been unbearably hot and this tart has a stovetop filling, that sets in the fridge. Half the berries are cooked into a velvety base, and then fresh berries are folded in so that you still get tart berry explosions in every bite. It is very pretty before you cut into it, and then when you take a slice it kind of splodges everywhere. But no one minds, everything is splodgy once it’s in your tummy anyhow.



Fresh Blueberry Tart
– adapted from The Canadian Living Cookbook

Pastry:

    1 1/4 cups flour
    3 tablespoons icing sugar
    Pinch of salt
    2/3 cup cold butter, cubed

Filling:

    2/3 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    Pinch of salt
    1/3 cup cold water
    5 cups blueberries, divided
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Using pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until crumbly. Press dough together with fingers until it holds together. Press dough into 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Prick all over with fork. Bake in bottom third of oven until light golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool on rack.

For the filling: In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in water, 2 cups blueberries, lemon zest, and cinnamon. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring often, until glossy and thickened (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and butter. Let cool slightly.

Gently stir remaining berries into cooked berry mixture. Spoon into prepared crust and smooth top. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until set.