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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

hungarian sour cherry cake

hungarian sour cherry cake

Well, thank you, dear friends, for such an lovely outpouring of support and enthusiasm! The comments, the emails, the tweets! You are too good to me! I remember the amazing support almost two years ago when I took a little time off and even though it was a tough time for me, your comments and emails made feel really loved and connected to this lovely web of people somewhere out there, reading, and actually caring. Thank you for coming here, and thank you for staying here. I can’t wait to share more of my “hunk” with you!

hungarian sour cherry cake

Considering how lovely you have all been, it seems terribly unfair of me to tell you about sour cherries when they’re done for the season, and all you can really do is just stare at these pictures and bookmark the recipe in hopes of remembering next summer (don’t worry I’ll remind you!). Except, this cake was so good, I just couldn’t let it languish in the depths of my computer for a whole year – it was going to get lonely and would need some company. Besides, I know some of you are quite the industrious types, and probably froze your sour cherries like I did. I do this with cranberries every November. I buy a half a dozen bags and stuff them in the freezer and then make boozy banana bread studded with those gems. Next year, you should do the same with sour cherries. This cake could come in handy on a cold, rainy day when you want to hang out in your house and bake.

hungarian sour cherry cake

Whether or not you froze them this year, I wanted to tell you about this cake so much, I simply couldn’t wait a year. All that excitement of the moment just might fizzle, and excitement is a terrible thing to waste. I bought these cherries in the eleventh hour of the sour cherry season, at a stand at the Union Square Market. The stand appeared to be the only one selling sour cherries, and upon spotting it, I let out a little squeal. I had plans, friends, for these babies. These cherries were going to be baked into a pie that inspired me not just by its lovely top crust design (aren’t circles pretty?), but also by the pre-baked bottom crust (genius!). I had the recipe printed and stuck to my door. I even had a pie crust skulking about the freezer. But then I spied this little winner of a recipe at Saveur and could think of nothing better for these sour cherries than finding themselves surrounded by a whole wheat thin layer of cake. They would look so pretty scattered around.

hungarian sour cherry cake

Some of you might still be wondering what is the big deal about sour cherries. Most of you wondering that have probably never tried them. It’s difficult to put into words what sour cherries are like. My best description of them goes a little something like this: a sour cherry is what a sweet cherry aspires to be. Don’t for a second think that I’m downplaying the glory that a sweet cherry is. But that tart zing, the opalescence, that gentle yield to the touch, the ephemeral, fleeting season – a sour cherry is something of a treasure. Blink – and you’ll miss it.

egg shells hungarian sour cherry cake

We had them abundantly in the summer in Russia, upon our arrival to the US, they were nowhere to be found. Of course, I was too busy lamenting my introduction to Nutella (while we were in Italy) and its absence from the American supermarket shelves to really notice or care about sour cherries’ absence from the produce landscape. It wasn’t until a few years later, when my family and I went to visit their friends in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and took a road trip through the Michigan countryside, that I rediscovered sour cherries again. There were numerous stands by the side of the road offering travelers pints of sour cherries and freshly hot-smoked trout. To this day, one of my favorite meals remains this trout, mixed with cold, boiled potatoes we brought with us on the road, and sour cherries for dessert. I had forgotten how tart and delicious they were.

hungarian sour cherry cake hungarian sour cherry cake

When I finally got around to my batch of frozen and pitted cherries, I was feeling rather bold, and decided to give the recipe a major overhaul, swapping out enough ingredients to create a recipe distinctively different from its original creation. I still credit Saveur with the inspiration, which goes a long long way. I decided to stick with wheat flour and only wheat flower; I scaled back the sugar, because I always prefer my everyday cakes to err on the less-sweet side. Out went the kirsch, and in went creme de cassis – I’ve got nothing against kirsch, but I wanted something with a more berry-like zing, and creme de cassis sings so beautifully in desserts. Have you ever had creme de cassis? Smelled it? It’s intoxicating – I am always tempted to pour a bit over a “boule” of vanilla ice cream, because it’s really one of the best things ever. And also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I realized I was flat out of kirsch, and felt a bit lazy having to walk over two whole blocks while all my ingredients sat neatly in a mise en place. In my last throes of creativity I decided to use buttermilk instead of regular milk the original recipe called for. I find that buttermilk yields a more tender crumb in a cake, and who doesn’t like a tender crumb?

hungarian sour cherry cake

This is a hearty cake – the whole wheat gives it heft and body, and the berries make the batter shine. But here’s the rub – this cake would be a perfect breakfast cake over coffee on a crisp, rainy fall day. So, don’t despair if sour cherries are out of season, throw some blueberries in it. Or, I wonder, how will this cake taste with some thinly sliced apples, sprinkled with cinnamon? I bet you it’ll be perfect. You really can’t go wrong!

hungarian sour cherry cake

I made this a week ago and a bunch of us, my plus one included (should I tell you his name?) ate it for dessert and there was still lots of the cake left over, (this makes a lot of cake, so be sure to invite friends over!) and then (and this part here is tragic and my lower lip quivers as I type this), then we forgot about the cake and it sat in the fridge for over a week until I discovered it again, but by then it had gone bad and needed to be tossed. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Sour cherries! I worked so hard for them! All the pitting and freezing and unfreezing! Sigh. I’ll have to dispose of the cake tonight. Most likely with a proper burial, followed by moment of silence. And perhaps a somber song or a poem.

hungarian sour cherry cake

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Monday, May 24, 2010

strawberry rhubarb buttermilk pudding cake

strawberry rhubarb buttermilk pudding cake

We are, believe it or not, in the full throes of spring. I know, I know, those of us living in the Northeast are still wearing sweaters and can’t leave home without our umbrellas, but spring with its bounty and harvest has certainly arrived. Just look at the offerings at your farmers markets. My eyes (and heart!) leap at mere sight of the bounty: strawberries! rhubarb! sugar snap peas! asparagus! I can’t resist putting an exclamation point behind each of these because I am so excited to finally see these guys in season. Much as I love a good curry or soup, it’s finally nice to have more than just root vegetables in season. No offense to all the turnips and parsnips out there.

strawberries at the market

So when I finally got out to the Prospect Park farmers market this past Saturday (thanks to Jennie for bringing me along!), I nearly lost my mind. The smells alone render you faint with excitement. I pretty much gathered all the produce I could get my hands on. I also bought some meat and leaf lard from these guys as well for some future delicious experiments.

You know how sometimes you read a recipe through and you realize how good it’s going to be when you make it, and then a flash of brilliance goes through your mind and you figure out a way to make it even better. And then you make the recipe, hoping, praying that it does, indeed, deliver fabulous results. Lastly, you taste, worrying that instead of what you’re hoping to be the most winning recipe ever, you have on your hands an epic fail. And then, when you finally taste your creation, you want to dance around your apartment, squealing for joy, because what you made is not only amazing, but happens to be way better than anything you could have even anticipated in your mind’s palate.

strawberries!

This is such a recipe. Words elude me, my dear readers, because this is so breathtakingly good, and so breathtakingly easy, things like this, at least in the kitchen, should be illegal. You almost feel shame, yes shame, for creating something so delicious and yet with so little fuss. In fact, and this is my favorite sentence to write of all today, the whole thing comes together without the use of a mixer. So if you’re lacking one, or want to lessen that carbon footprint, or just want something unfussy to cook for your next Sunday supper, this recipe here is for you.

rhubarb!

The cake name itself is like a great seduction song to my senses. Strawberries! Rhubarb! Buttermilk! Pudding! Cake! Now put these words together and what you get is something that is transcendent: Strawberry Rhubarb Buttermilk Pudding Cake. Like a sweet nothing, a whisper in your ear. Much like the pumpkin bread pudding souffle I keep waxing poetic about Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving (and the most requested holiday dish to date!), this is going to be filed under of “now-why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-earlier” or “I’m-going-to-have-to-make-up-for-lost-time-and-eat-lots-of-this”.

stewing the rhubarbfruit, batter, fruit

I’ll claim part genius to this recipe since the buttermilk addition is my idea. The original recipe calls for regular milk, but I had some leftover buttermilk nearing its expiration date, and thought, if anything, it was going to add to the depth of flavor to this cake. And so, I substituted the buttermilk in, and hoped and prayed that it would work. It did. And then some. And what I’ve got now is a recipe that I want to make over and over. I want to serve it straight out of the oven and pour cream over it. I want to serve it at room temperature with some coffee. I want to drop a big dollop of ice cream on top and enjoy it as an afternoon snack. But most of all, I want to share it with you, if not in the physical I’m-going-to-put-a-slice-on-your-plate way, then here, on these pages. It’s not quite as nice as having you over for a Sunday supper, but it’s the next best thing.

strawberry rhubarb buttermilk pudding cake

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Monday, March 22, 2010

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberry puree

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

I don’t know about you, but Passover baked goods fail to excite me for the most part. The sponge-cake I’ve been used to eating for the holiday is dry and boring with barely any flavor to offer. And we are talking about dessert here, people. The period at the end of the sentence. Because that is what dessert is. Without it, a meal feels incomplete somehow, ending with an ellipsis, waiting for more.

egg shells
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

But before I get carried away about punctuation and how it relates to dessert, let me say this: my Passover dessert woes are over. Completely, totally, wholly over. This cake you see here below comes together fairly quickly and doesn’t need much fussing. The olive oil makes the cake moist, giving it a delicate crumb. It’s not a dry and boring sponge cake that I remember eating in the past. Instead of flour, you use almond meal, which, if you cannot find it in your grocery store, you can make at home by taking almonds and pulverizing them in a food processor until the mixture becomes a fine meal. Some lemon and orange zest brighten up the flavors – whispering, “Spring is here!” and if that’s not enough – a homemade fresh strawberry puree takes this cake to a whole new level. When I tasted it, the bright, clean berry flavors made me want to take a leap in celebration of the brand new season and the most amazing weather New York has enjoyed since autumn last year. Immediately, I decided this is what I’ll make for our family Passover Seder this week.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

Baking for my family is a tricky proposition. My mother, who is diabetic, can’t eat most baked goods and so I almost never bake at my parents’ house, because I hate the idea of her not being able to partake in it. But this cake here, without flour and low on carbohydrates (did I just write the word “carbohydrates” or what?) and a moderate amount of sugar – this is something she can have a slice of along with the rest of the family. And it makes me very happy to know that this time around, she’ll be able to have dessert after the Seder.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

Lastly, the recipe on the web advises a 10-inch spring-form pan, which I didn’t have. I had a 9-inch cake pan, left a bit of batter in the bowl and adjusted my baking time accordingly – it worked for me. Be carefully cooling the cake – it’s delicate and might sink if you move it around too much before it cools completely.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

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Monday, December 14, 2009

guinness stout ginger cake

guinness stout ginger cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart. No, this stout ginger cake is bold, serious, intense, brooding. Yes, brooding. A cake can brood; this one does. Trust me. And if you’re the kind of person who only likes yellow cake (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love yellow cake myself) then this might give you pause. Because this is a cake for those who like their sweets scaled back. It balances bitter notes with the spices, and adds a doze of restrained (we like our sweets restrained), mature sweetness. It’s complex, yet comforting; dark, yet not heavy and, unlike its last year cousin which goes much better with tea, this Guinness ginger cake is the perfect candidate for your Christmas morning coffee, making it a perfect accompaniment to opening presents. Besides, if you make it the over Christmas eve, you’re in luck–the cake tastes better the day after you make it. And who doesn’t love a make-ahead cake?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

hazelnut chestnut cake

hazelnut chestnut cake

If you had to describe the hazelnut, what words would come to mind? Small? Plain? Uncommon? Well, Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at the famed Babbo, calls the hazelnut “enigmatic” and I can’t disagree with her. Aside from Nutella and Fererro Rocher chocolates, it’s not exactly a popular nut (giggle)* you find on the shelves of many grocery stores.

The hazelnut, otherwise known as the filbert, has never won a popularity contest – having never grown to be as popular as a peanut or an almond, who are the mainstream nut darlings. If you think of Kristin Stewart as the It-Girl of the moment – the peanut, is its nut equivalent. The hazelnut, on the other hand, is more like Zooey Deschanel, with a cult following but not the kind of a blockbuster hit that invokes teen hysteria. You don’t find hazelnuts in many stores and I’ve yet to see a commercial exalting its virtues (unlike the pistachio, the commercials of which are now on every channel).

hazelnut chestnut cake

Aside from not winning any popularity contests, the hazelnut is wildly adaptable and makes friends with virtually everything from baked goods to wintry salads (more on that soon). I like having a bag on hand for snacking and keep a stash at work, lest I become tempted by the sugary cereal shelf.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Because, I’ve always had a soft spot for the humble hazelnut, I’m a bit biased towards recipes that allow it to be the star of the show. And when I saw this recipe and realized that it was created by my all time chef crushes – Gina DePalma, I pretty much changed my morning plans to bake this cake. That’s right, I skipped my Saturday morning spin to bake (those of you who know me, realize this is huge!). And before I keep you in suspense any longer, and with apologies to my all time favorite spin instructor (hi, Kristin!), I can tell you now – it was well worth it. Gina DePalma has never let me down – the woman practically walks on water as far as I’m concerned.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Speaking of chef crushes (and I’ve got a few) mine are almost exclusively pastry chefs and women (though a few men are sprinkled in the mix like the creator of those celestial meatballs). I don’t know if that says I gravitate towards a certain kind of cooking, but chefs like Gina DePalma, Karen DeMasco, Claudia Fleming (whom I met last summer when she signed my book and was speechless, no doubt, making a lasting impression as the mute who likes to bake), Gabrielle Hamilton and Anne Burrell all create the kind of food I want to eat and make for others. There something warm, honest and approachable about their cooking. It’s the kind of meal you have at the end of your day, and even if your day was the kind that makes you just want to crawl into bed, that first bite instantly brings a smile to your face and wraps you in comfort. And while I can’t eloquently describe or put my finger on it, it is, for me cooking always meant creating that warmth, memories and comfort. Bringing people together, making them smile, taste, feel loved. This cake is an embodiment of the kind of cooking I love – unfussy, simple, comforting, yet festive and celebratory. It’s both everyday and special occasion. And its sweet, nutty smell is perfect for the holiday season as it fills your house with its welcoming, warm fragrance.

hazelnut chestnut cake

I like this cake for the holiday season because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with overly sweet desserts, and it’s nice to have an option of something more restrained for the palate. Though I’m always up for dessert, I tend to steer clear of overly sugary things. I find that with dessert, as with people, the ones who are overly sweet are off-putting. I like a little bit of sarcasm, some edge, a bit of a dark side, if you will. And I like dessert that challenges my palate – gives me a bit of sweet but not overwhelmingly so. A dessert that holds back a little. World, meet this cake – it’s got some edge, all right.

hazelnut chestnut cake

This cake calls for hazelnut paste, which isn’t the easiest thing to procure, as I learned. But since I decided to make this cake on a whim at 8 o’clock in the morning, I wasn’t as well prepared ingredients-wise. Though I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t locate hazelnut paste anywhere in the vicinity of my house and had to settle for chestnut paste, I have to admit the results were anything but disappointing.

hazelnut chestnut cake

A perfect finish to a meal on a cold fall day, some friends and I had this over glasses of tawny port, but it’s the kind of dessert that goes well beautifully with a fresh pot of coffee or espresso. A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream not only makes for a festive presentation, but also lets the flavors sing even more. And though I didn’t think that chestnut and hazelnut would go well together – necessity (or desperation) is the mother of invention – because they do. With dessert like this, the hazelnut could very well be propelled from obscurity into the spotlight. Which would make it the It-Nut?

hazelnut chestnut cake

*Since I have a maturity level of a 5th grader I giggled every time I wrote the word “nut” and hope you do as well reading it. Because, this and also this, never get old.

I chose this dessert for the Bon Appetit 2009 blog envy bake-off because I love its simplicity, yet uncompromising taste and complexity of flavors. If you want to raise the ante, you can double the recipe and make a marron butter cream (please let me know if you wish for me to post the recipe for it). Otherwise, it’s a wonderfully comforting and clean holiday dessert that resists going into the extremely sugary zone. In the meantime, go over there and vote for your favorite dessert – I hope it’s mine, but there are lots of amazing entries!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing – chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn’t sounds like something I want to eat.

While we’re talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery’s my thing) and I don’t disagree with her – medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation – which is really what cooking is all about.

yeah, this ain't no joke herefrothy
then bubblythen sorta sudsy and you gotta see those solids

Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter – nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language – brown butter.

brown butter - swoon

I think it’s impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn’t been completely seduced by it. I say “seduced” and not “won over” because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion.

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it’s my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn’t the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I’m a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical “we like bourbon here” by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke.

brown butter pound cake

So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven’t ever tried brown butter, then you’re in for quite a treat, and if you have – then I’m surprised you’re still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me – being ruined never felt so good.

brown butter pound cake

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