Friday, August 22, 2008

Panna Cotta with Fig Compote and Orange Granite

I absolutely love the flavor of orange. It probably all started with Creamsicles as a kid, that incredible treat of creamy vanilla ice cream surrounded by orange popsicle. Those were the dreamiest. Or those little tiny cups of vanilla ice cream swirled with orange sorbet that we ate with a little flat wooden spoon. The best!

As I think about those delicious treats, I’ve been wanting to pair orange granite with a simple vanilla panna cotta. And since I had some fresh figs on hand, I thought it would be fun to incorporate a fresh fig compote to the mix. I like the idea of different textures and flavors layered upon one another and this one has several great sensations, from tart to slightly sweet and creamy to slushy iciness. The orange flavor complements the figs perfectly.

Bench notes:
- Fleming flavors her panna cotta with 1 T Framboise. I substituted 1 t vanilla to simplify the flavor profile.
- I might be tempted to add Rosemary Syrup to my Fig Compote another time.

Panna Cotta with Fig Compote and Orange Granite

Fig Compote

1 pint of fresh figs
2 – 3 T water
2 T sugar, to taste
1 t orange zest

Chop the figs and place in a saucepan with the water. Cook on low heat until the figs are soft and juicy, stirring to prevent scorching. Pull off the heat and adjust sweetness. Cool completely.

Spoon fig compote into serving glasses or dishes and set aside.

Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta
adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming
6 servings

1 t powdered gelatin
1 1/2 T water
2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C crème fraiche
1/3 C sugar
1 t vanilla

Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand a five minutes to bloom.

Warm the cream with the sugar until it dissolves. Remove from heat. Liquify the gelatin over a bain marie and add to the cream, whisking to combine thoroughly. Add in the crème fraiche and whisk until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Pour into tall glasses or parfait glasses, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Chill until firm, about 3 hours.

Orange Granite

2 C orange juice
1/4 C sugar
3 T water

Combine water and sugar and bring to a boil to dissolve. Cool. Combine with juice and pour into a shallow tray or pan. Place in freezer and let set for about an hour until it begins to firm up. Take a fork and slush it up every half hour or so until it is set.

Once the panna cotta has firmed up, top with Orange Granite. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chocolate Cherry Cake

Last Chance Cherries.

I had some end of season cherries this week so I decided I should splurge on a flourless chocolate cake to share with some real chocolate fiends in my circle. Looks like the time has come to say goodbye to cherries for this year and begin the yearning for the next time they will show up in our markets. Sadly, that’s a whole year away but that seems to be what fruit seasons are all about – anticipation and fulfillment, anticipation and fulfillment. I hope you’ve had a chance to do some canning because you will have to make Gateau Basque sometime to tide you through the long winter.

This is a simple recipe that marries chocolate and cherries seamlessly. Use the best chocolate and kirsch you can find and you’ll have an ultra moist super-chocolate full-tilt dessert.

Bench notes:
- This is a very rich cake and will serve a lot of people.
- The cake will keep up to 3 days at room temperature.
- The recipe also includes a Roasted Almond Crème Anglaise for those who really want to go to the far end of the indulgence spectrum.

Chocolate and Fresh Candied Cherry Cake

adapted from Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Serves 10 - 12

The Cherries

1/2 lb fresh pitted cherries (about 1 1/2 C)
1 C water
1 C sugar

The Cake

12 oz bittersweet
6 oz (12 T) butter
6 eggs, separated
2 T kirsch
3 T sugar

Place the cherries, water and sugar in a 4 quart saucepan. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes on medium high heat until the juice is syrupy (the mixture will foam). Be careful not to overcook the cherries or they will become too caramelized. You’ll begin to smell them if you take them too far. Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup. Cool.

Preheat the over to 325 degrees. Prepare a 9” springform pan with butter and a parchment paper circle.

Coarsely chop the cooled cherries.

Chop the chocolate and butter into small pieces and melt them together in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Whisk slowly to combine. Add 1/2 C of the reserved cherry syrup. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks, kirsch and cherries.

Whip the egg whites until they just begin to hold their shape. Slowly add the 3 T of sugar and beat just until they form a soft peak.

Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure you are cutting through the center as you fold. The batter is ready when there are no white streaks.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes. Cool the cake. Run a thin knife around the edges to loosen the cake and transfer onto a serving platter.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blueberry Buckle

Blueberries are a beautiful and healthy fruit with a very unique flavor. There is really nothing like blueberry pie. That unmistakable deep blue-purple juiciness combined with a tender flaky crust is hard to beat. But if you fear pie-making or you’re in a hurry and want a pastry that still hums with a bright blueberry buzz, try this Blueberry Buckle.

So, what is a buckle anyway? A buckle is a layer of cake with berries folded in and covered with a streusel, much like a crumb cake or a coffee cake with fruit. And as long as we’re on the subject, what about all those other strange sounding fruit desserts? Here’s a brief glossary to keep it all straight:

Betty: A baked pudding made of layers of fruit and buttered breadcrumbs.
Buckle: A simple, single-layer cake made with berries with a streusel topping.
Cobbler: A fruit dessert topped with a thick biscuit crust.
Crisp/crumble: Fruit topped with a crispy/crumbly mixture.
Grunt/slump: An old-fashioned dessert of fruit topped with biscuit dough and stewed.
Pandowdy: A deep-dish dessert made of apples, butter, spices, brown sugar or molasses, topped with a biscuit batter that becomes crisp and crumbly after baking.

OK, back to our Blueberry Buckle. This is a very moist, very fruity cake. It’s an extravagant way to enjoy the incredible blueberries we have at the moment. Some eat it for breakfast, others for dessert. As you wish.

Bench notes:
- I love this cake because it’s bursting with blueberries and it's not very sweet, so the fruit really shines. I’ve made it without the streusel and that works for me. The streusel does add more sweetness and a nice crumb texture as well as a hint of spice and it, too, is very delicious in its own way. Depends on personal taste and your mood.
- This is a very, very thick batter, which allows the blueberries to remain suspended and evenly distributed throughout the cake. Don’t be tempted to thin out the batter. Just gently fold in the blueberries.
- Use firm blueberries that are not overripe so they maintain their shape and don’t discolor the batter as you fold them.
- Check the cake around 40 minutes. My oven runs hot and the cake was done in 45 minutes.

Best Blueberry Buckle
adapted from Cook's Illustrated


1/2 C flour
1/2 C light brown sugar
2 T sugar
1/4 t cinnamon
1 pinch salt
2 oz (4 T) butter, cut into 8 pieces, softened but still cool


1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
5 oz (10 T) butter, softened but still cool
2/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t lemon zest
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 quart (4 C) fresh blueberries

For streusel, mix together flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Add butter and mix on low on low speed until you have a moist mixture with some small pieces of butter still in tact. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9” cake pan with 2” sides with parchment paper, butter, and a dusting of flour.

For cake, whisk flour and baking powder together and set aside.
Cream butter, sugar, salt, and lemon zest until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl.
Add vanilla and mix about 30 seconds.
Add eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. The mixture will appear broken. It will come together soon.
Add flour and mix until almost completely incorporated, about 20 seconds.
Remove bowl and finish mixing with a rubber spatula, scraping bottom and sides of bowl, until no flour pockets remain. The batter will be very heavy and thick.
Gently fold in blueberries until evenly distributed.
Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly.
Distribute streusel evenly over batter.
Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes.

Cool 15 to 20 minutes. Turn out the cake. Cool completely. Serve!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beaumes-De-Venise Cake With Grapes

I was recently searching for a dessert to bring along to a family party up in the Napa wine country when I remembered a very interesting cake recipe that I’d made long ago that seemed to have all of the right ingredients. I dug it out and instantly realized this would be the perfect choice because the cake has as its principle ingredients the lovely Beaumes-de-Venise Muscat wine and red grapes. And it’s incredibly good, so I knew it would be perfect for our vineyard setting.

Beaumes de Venise is considered the best of Muscat wines. It has a very distinctive flavor and aroma that is very floral and a bit musky with strong notes of honey. It pairs very well with peaches, melon or fresh figs. It's also a nice contrast with lots of different cheeses.

The cake is super moist, as cakes should be. The olive oil really adds to its sumptuousness in both flavor and texture. The citrus zest brings everything into focus and the grapes remind us where it all began.

I really encourage you to try this wonderful pastry. It’s just the thing to bake when you’re looking for something very different and very delicious.

Bench notes:
- I used a Beaulieu Beaumes de Venise and I thought it was perfect. However, this time I decided to add a bit less and include a bit of water. So I measured out 3/4 C Muscat and added 1/4 C water. I really liked this best as it tempers the flavor of the Muscat just perfectly. But either way, it’s good.
- I love Spanish olive oil, so I used that. It's slightly more refined yet a bit bolder and I love how it tastes in baked goods.
- My oven runs hot, so my cake was done in about 35 minutes. Check your oven temperature and adjust accordingly.
- This cake will keep nicely at room temperature kept in an airtight container or plastic wrap.

Beaumes-De-Venise Cake With Grapes
adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 C flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 C sugar
3 oz (6 T) butter @ room temperature
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 C Beaumes-de-Venise or other good quality Muscat wine
1 1/2 C red seedless grapes

Olive oil for preparing cake pan

1 oz (2 T) butter @ room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 T sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 10” springform pan with olive oil. Line with parchment and brush parchment with olive oil.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda together.
Beat 6 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons oil together until smooth.
Add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until thoroughly mixed.

Whisk in eggs, one at a time until blended.
Add citrus zest and vanilla.
Add flour mixture alternately with Muscat in 3 additions each, starting and ending with flour. Stir just until smooth after each addition. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Press grapes lightly into the batter.
Bake cake until the top is set, about 20 minutes.
Open the oven door and dot the top of cake with 2 tablespoons of butter and then sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the surface of the cake.
Continuing baking until the cake is a beautiful golden color and a tester placed into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes longer.
Cool in the pan on a rack for about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake and release the sides of the springform pan. Cool.