Thursday, 23 August 2012

Summer Bounty: Plum and Nectarine Pie

Sometimes stone fruit is a dream. You can slice cleanly into that juicy, fragrant flesh. It pulls smoothly away from the hard pit. The firm flesh holds the sweetness, complemented perfectly by the slight tartness of the skin.

But other times it's a nightmare. Soft fruit squelches unresistingly under the knife's edge. Errant sprays of juice squirt you in the eye. Soft skin tears and peels away from the flesh and the hard pit refuses to give up its grip on the succulent fruit.

This was one of those times...

But that's okay. Sometimes baking is a little messy. Sometimes things don't keep the shape you intended them to. You might end up with sticky fruit juice up to your elbows and a smudge of flour on your nose. And that's just fine.

This pie is like a good summer: satisfying, sweet, and a little bit messy. The pastry is buttery-flaky deliciousness and the filling is soft and full of fragrant plum and sweet nectarine.

Plum and Nectarine Pie

2 1/2 cups all purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup COLD butter, cubed (two sticks or 225 g)
6-8 tablespoons cold water

Combine the flour salt and sugar. Now add the cubed butter, cutting it into the flour with a knife or a pastry blender (or pulse it in a food processor) until it has the texture of very course sand with some pea-sized lumps of butter (don't over mix it or your pastry will be tough!) Now begin adding the water, a little at a time, and lightly mix it in with a fork. Add just enough water so that the dough will hold together when pressed into a ball.

Now turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in two (these will be your top and bottom crusts). Use your hands to lightly shape the two halves into rough disks. Wrap each disk in cling wrap and refrigerate them for at least an hour but no more than two days.

5 nectarines
5 small plums
1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour

Thinly slice the fruit and toss together with the other ingredients.

Once your dough has chilled for at least an hour, preheat the oven to 375° F (190° C). Lightly flour your dough-rolling surface and remove one disk from the refrigerator (the other one can stay in until you're ready to roll it out and top the pie with it). Working quickly and smoothly to avoid over-working the dough, roll it out to a thickness of no more than 1/4" and at least 2 inches wider than the diameter of your pie tin. Gently lift the sheet into your pie tin (you can roll it onto the rolling pin to move it or carefully fold it in half, lift it onto the tin, and unfold it again). Trim the excess dough, leaving between 1/2 and 1 inch of overhang.

Now spoon the filling into the crust and repeat the process with the top crust. You can fold the edges of the top crust over the bottom and flute them. If you have extra scraps of dough you can cut out decorative designs to place on top (brush the bottom of each addition with a little milk before placing it on so that it will stick during baking).

Brush the top of the pie with a little milk or eggwash so it will brown nicely in the oven and you can sprinkle it with a little demerara sugar.

Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for an additonal 25-35 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Banana Muffins with Streusel Topping

Did you have food obsessions as a child? I remember being addicted to carrots for a while. And I couldn't get enough of cucumber. And bananas. I definitely a special place in my heart for bananas. I loved the way they came with a natural wrapper. I loved peeling them, one section at a time. I loved the smooth, firm texture. I just hated how fast they turned brown. Sometimes after just a couple of days in the fruit bowl, brown spots would already start showing up. Somehow, as a child very fond of the familiar, I couldn't accept the change in appearance and flavor as my favorite fruits began to age. That slightly heady sweetness and steady softening repulsed me.

But things are a little different now.

Eating raw, browned bananas still isn't my favorite activity (some impressions just don't go away!) but I now know the secret joy that only over-ripe bananas can bestow. Banana bread. Banana muffins. Moist, sweet, and so, so delicious. The squishy, sickly sweetness of brown bananas elevates the humble muffin or loaf cake to glorious, scrumptious heights. And I don't have to feel bad about letting those bananas go steadily browner, uneaten on the counter.

Banana Muffins with Streusel Topping

1 3/4 cups all-purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 grams) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar (if you like your goodies sweet, go ahead and add 3/4 cup!)
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed (I left mine pretty chunky so there were globs of banana in the muffins when they were cooked, yum!)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C)

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the bananas and then the eggs and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, stirring until just combine (don't over mix).

Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, about 3/4 full.

Top with streusel topping (see this recipe)

Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes.

Allow muffins to cool in tins before removing to a cooling rack.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Almond Cake with Tart Raspberry Sauce

When I eat chocolate ice cream, I want it to taste like chocolate. When I have lemonade, I expect the taste of lemons. In my opinion, there are few things more disappointing than biting into a slice of almond cake, anticipating the aromatic, comforting taste of almonds, and discovering that's it's just a vanilla cake. With some sliced almonds on top. That is not an almond cake, whatever the recipe might say.

But this, this is definitely not that cake.

David Lebovitz's almond cake is sweet, moist, and buttery, full of the heady flavor of almonds. The flavors really come into their own as the cake sits, so it's even better after a day or two. This is a proper almond cake.

The tartness of the raspberry sauce perfects complements the sweetness of the cake but definitely isn't necessary. This cake is pretty fabulous on its own.

Almond Cake with Tart Raspberry Sauce
recipe from David Lebovitz

1 1/3 cups sugar
8 oz almond paste (not marzipan which is sweeter)
1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks, 225 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
6 eggs

Preheat the oven to 325° F (162° C)

Grease and flour a 9 or 10 inch cake pan with sides at least 2 inches high (because the case rises during baking so a shorter, layer pan might not contain it). I used a springform pan, which made the cake much easier to remove after baking.

In a food processor, pulse together the sugar, almond paste, 1/4 of the flour until clumps of almond paste have broken up and the mix has the consistency of very course sand. I used a powerful blender (due to a lack of food processor) and mixed together small amounts at a time. It took quite a bit of time because I had to keep scraping sugary almond mixture off the blades so a food processor is a better bet (but not the only option).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the flour (3/4 cups) with the baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Tip the almond-sugar mix into another bowl and mix in the softened butter until smooth (mixing well will ensure that the almond paste is even more thoroughly combined). Next add the vanilla and almond extracts and then the eggs, one at a time.

Once the mixture is fully combined, begin adding the flour mixture, stirring until just combined.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for about 65 minutes. The top of the cake should be a dark golden brown.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan before removing.

Raspberry Sauce:

1 pint fresh raspberries
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brown sugar

In a small saucepan, slowly heat the water and raspberries, stirring frequently. As the berries liquefy, stir in the sugar. Turn the heat down to the lowest possible temperature and allow to simmer and thicken for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Can be refrigerated for a few days once cool.