Blueberry Cobbler

This is one of those dishes that missed its final photo shoot. It’s just so good that when you pull it out of the oven, you gaze in awe for a moment, and then immediately leave the room because you know that if you look at it any longer you’ll never have the willpower to give it the 15 minutes or so it needs to solidify and cool off before you should thrust a spoon into it. When you come back to heap a serving onto a small dessert plate, the last thing you could possibly thing about is grabbing your camera before you dig in.

I made this twice this summer, the first time in my mother’s kitchen in Connecticut. While traveling in the States late July, I bought a pint of blueberries almost every day and ate them as snacks while wandering around New York City in the heat, while reading in the Amtrak, and while sitting on a friend’s back porch outside of Boston.

When we got to my mother’s house, I told my French counterpart that I needed to make a blueberry dessert while we were in New England because the blueberries in France cost around twice as much. I nosed through my mother’s cookbooks, eyeing the recipes of my youth, but deciding to make something much simpler – no sour cream, no buttermilk – just blueberries, a bit of sugar, and a touch of topping.

The first weekend we were back in France we were perusing our usual Marché Aligre on a weekend morning, when I spotted a fruit seller on the corner of the square – Les myrtilles, 1 euro les deux ! 

Blueberries - two pints for a euro

Blueberries – two pints for a euro

In disbelief, I approached the plastic pint containers, expecting the berries to be covered in mold. I picked up two, three, four boxes – not moldy. I was sure the berries wouldn’t last very long (since the cheapest fruits at the market are usually waiting to be consumed immediately,) but I bought six boxes to the hefty tune of 3 euros. (Usually, a one-pint box of blueberries will cost 4-6 euros.)

I re-made my cobbler, and found that, unexpectedly, it actually tasted a bit better here in France – thanks to the better quality of our butter (sorry, Americans!)

Preparing the cobbler - before topping

Preparing the cobbler – before topping

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe: http://markbittman.com/blueberry-cobbler/

500-600g (5-6 cups) blueberries
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
75g (½ cup) all purpose flour
115 grams of butter (1 US stick) softened, plus scant extra for the dish
pinch salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Rinse the berries and dry them – I do this by letting them sit on the windowsill for an hour or so. Butter an 8 inch (20cm) square ceramic dish, and preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Gently pour the berries into a large mixing bowl and toss them with 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch, mixing carefully but well enough to ensure no lumps of cornstarch remain, then pour them into the baking dish.

Pour the other 1/2 cup of sugar into the mixing bowl along with the flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Cut the butter into thumbnail-sized cubes and incorporate it into the dry mixture along with the egg and vanilla, being careful not to let it get too soft. I mixed it together with my hands, with a bit more force than tossing a salad, pressing the flour and sugar mixture into the butter cubes with my thumbs.

Once you have a mostly uniform, but sticky and thick, batter mixture, spoon it out into heaping tablespoons on top of the blueberries.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking after 20 minutes, until it is fully golden and browning at the edges.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before you dig in!

 

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Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

A friend of mine told me she’d met a woman who’d asked her to do a reading in a bathtub.

“What do you mean? Like, with water in it? Naked? Or with clothes on?”

“She’s going to host a literary salon in her home and she wants to cover her bathroom in red velvet. She wants me to read from the bathtub, with LOTS OF BUBBLES. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll have anything on underneath.”

“Ok, wow, count me in. But she’s going to have food, right? Does she have anyone preparing food? What about beverages?”

I’d bugged Shannon two or three times to know who was preparing the food for this thing, and let her know that if the author in question needed help preparing the food I’d be happy to lend a hand. Finally, about a week before the first event, I got a phone call from Anne.

“I would love your help preparing the food!”

The food for first salon was fairly low-key, planned only a few days in advance: beet tartare served in endive leaves, polenta topped with roasted peppers and chorizo, deviled eggs, etc.

The Kingdom of Flowers

The Kingdom of Flowers

The second salon I helped to cater would be deemed the Kingdom of Flowers, with big ideas to tantalize guests with flower-inspired treats. Orange blossoms? Lavender? Roses? Acacia flowers? And what to pair with it – chocolate? Almonds? Meringue? Vanilla? Lemon? My mind wandered…

Lavender Meringues

Lavender Meringues

After lots of thinking, lots of testing, lots of feeding of cupcakes to colleagues and friends, I came up with the menu:

  • Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting
  • Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant
  • Lavender Meringues
  • Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake
Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

I bring you my favorite recipe amongst the bunch, which has become my go-to chocolate dessert (and it’s gluten free!)

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

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Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

An ode to the apricot, part deux : sweet version.

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Another day, another apricot inspiration. Similarly to the day when I was in the metro daydreaming about pomegranate molasses and chipotle pepper, one day a few weeks ago I was in my office, in between emails and phone calls, and that little background brain of mine was thinking about the big bag of apricots in the crisper drawer.

In the summer time, I love upside-down cakes. Gooey, sticky, fruity upside-down cakes with buttermilk or yogurt batter flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Raspberry upside-down cakes, peach upside-down cakes, why not an apricot upside-down cake?

Better yet, what about cupcakes? And what better way to decorate an upside-down apricot cake than with rosemary. But the rosemary would need something to rest upon – frosting, of course.

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And there you have it: a handful of summertime bliss.

The batter for this recipe is adapted from a cake I have been making over and over this summer: Candied Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake from Epicurious (try that one, too!) The base for the mascarpone frosting comes from none other than Martha Stewart.

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

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Tsoureki, and overcoming loss

With most of my family firmly planted on the other side of an ocean, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how I would feel, what I would do, the day a dear loved one would pass. During the first few years abroad, I panicked every time the thought came to mind: what will I do? I can’t afford to fly home. My heart would seize up and waves of guilt and helplessness would sow their seeds.

Years past. I got older and became more financially secure. I relaxed knowing that if the day were to come and I felt the need to hop immediately on a plane to Boston or New York, it would not be completely impossible. My preemptive grief waned. I worried less.

More recently, my perspective has changed. Maybe it’s all that yoga, maybe it’s India, maybe it’s the dabbling in meditation: but I no longer felt like I would need to book the next flight out if “something bad happened.” Finances aside, I felt that if someone I loved had come to the end of a long happy life, I would be able to mourn their passing without jumping in an airship and scurrying back to my native land.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Last winter, when I shared my Grandmother’s family bread recipe, a dear friend in Greece shared a couple more with me. One, she said, looks very similar to my bread but is usually made at Easter. I kept it aside and thought, if I had the time, I would bake the bread in come spring.

At the end of March, my Grandmother’s health took a steep turn. She had a stroke and, less than a week later, left us peacefully. I learned that despite years of imagining this scenario, I still couldn’t avoid the roller coaster of emotions I would feel now that the day had come. I still couldn’t help but take a look at last-minute plane ticket prices, couldn’t not contemplate, at the least, sprinting home to be there for her last breaths.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Grandpa and Dad reassured me, insisted there was nothing I could do from near or afar except think good thoughts for her and wish for the best. So, on the day of her funeral, April 3rd, I stayed put in my kitchen, and I did something that she would have enjoyed doing with me. I made a new bread recipe, and perhaps, created a new tradition.

Tsoureki is seasoned with ground cherry pits (mahlab), and a special kind of tree sap called mastic. It’s sweet flavor sings the arrival of spring, and hints at summer yet to come.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

For the tsoureki recipe, check out My Greek Dish.

The one-egg wonder: Lavender Orange Blossom Cake

A quiet Saturday afternoon in my apartment. A lull between birthday parties, between seasons. Springtime is coming, or it’s here – the raspberry plants are growing. The jasmine has buds and will bloom any second now. The mosquitoes are back, bit by bit.

Springtime looms

Springtime looms

When you cook a lot, you feel this pressure to always bring something homemade and fabulous. Showing up with just wine is better than bringing a store-bought cake. And when there’s a party, well, it’s just another excuse to test recipes on people.

The lone egg

The lone egg

There was only one egg left in the pantry, and the supermarket (half a block away) was too much of a bother. I decided to let the pantry inspire me, to come up with something unexpected. With springtime imminent, I thought of the bright flavors of the orange blossom water hiding in the back of the garde-manger, of the lavender flowers I bought years ago to make a delicious cocktail, of the violette liquer in the liquor cabinet.

Lavender flowers, orang blossom water

Lavender flowers, orang blossom water

The internet revealed a plethora of options, and I used this one to loosely base my experiment: One Egg Lemon Pound Cake. Most friends thought it was delicious, but one with a particularly keen palate asked me discreetly: “Are you sure this is fully cooked?” “It only has one egg,” I smiled, glad that somebody was there to keep me in check. The verdict: delicious, but a bit dense. Try for yourself!

Lavender flowers

Lavender flowers

Lavender Orange Blossom Cake

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Grandma Joyce’s Christmas Bread

Every family has taste traditions around different holidays they celebrate together. Be it a particular aunt’s potato salad that always made it to a summer picnic, or even your mom’s awful overcooked, over-buttered green beans that no one ever said anything about at Thanksgiving – but for those who grew up celebrating Christmas, there is almost always an annual sweet treat kids and grownups alike look forward to when the days are at their shortest (speaking from the Northern hemisphere, of course.)

My family couldn’t possibly have imagined Christmas without our Grandmother Joyce’s Christmas Bread. It’s sort of like challah bread, sort of like Finnish pullah – but if you try to call it anything else to my cousins, aunts, and uncles – we don’t want to hear about it. Christmas Bread is just Christmas Bread.

Like snow that had fallen on the bread, she’d decorate the soft buttery loaves with a simple white icing. The chopped red and green candied cherries on top were like little elves’ sleds skiing down the slopes of the buttery braided bread. The bright red, white, and green holiday colors always showed through the wax paper bags that she packed them in, folded and sealed with care with a name tag for each family.

At the peak of her Christmas Bread baking career, Grandma Joyce would prepare over 25 loaves during the month of December. She’d photocopy her recipe and make a list on the back of all the people she planned on giving a loaf to. On the grease-stained and torn copy I have, the lists on the back are from 1991 and 1993.

Christmas Breads

Christmas Breads

The original recipe comes from a copy of Parade magazine from a December long gone – not sure which one – and Grandma modified it slightly over the years, I have modified it still.

I’ll be eating some tomorrow morning, as I always have on December 25, and as I always will.

Jen's Christmas Bread

Jen’s Christmas Bread

Grandma Joyce’s Christmas Bread

Makes three loaves

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Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting

Baking has never been my forté. Translating cake recipes from American to French and back again, with my Tefal kitchen scale and my trusty metal American cup measures, something always seems to get lost in translation. Yeast is called “levure boulangère” and baking powder is called “levure chimique.” Baking soda is something you buy at the pharmacy and it’s called “bicarbonate de soude.” All this confusion has led to a lot of flat cupcakes!

In the last couple of years, with a bigger kitchen, a real (enough) oven, and better baking supplies, my skills have improved. It is only very recently that I have started experimenting with cakes – not following an exact recipe and just going as I see fit, with eggs, yogurt, milk, flour, and of course, the various forms of levure.

Last week, I had a particular task at hand: give pastry-chef friend a break from always making dessert for our get-togethers.

What was left in the house: a half a bunch of golden carrots, four ripened bananas, various nuts, raisins, flours, and half a dozen eggs.

I thought about carrot cake, banana cake, banana cream pie, something with meringue, frostings, nut crusts…

Then I thought, why make carrot cake or banana cake when you can combine the two?

One of our dining friends decided to name this Bananorama Cake. But I’ll call it Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting.

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Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting

 Ingredients
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
1 small container (125grams) plain yogurt
2 medium golden carrots, peeled and finely shredded

Icing (from Bite Me More):
¼ cup butter, softened
1 banana
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

To finish:
½ cup hazelnuts, lightly roasted and skins removed, chopped medium-fine

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Method
Pre-heat oven to 175C/350F.

Stir together flour, almond meal, baking soda, cardamom, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a food processor or mixer bowl, blend oil, eggs, sugar, and yogurt until smooth. Gently whisk in shredded carrots. Add flour mixture gradually, forming a smooth batter.

Pour batter into a medium size loaf pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then pop it out and cool for another 15-30 minutes. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting by blending all ingredients except the sugar in a food processor. Add the sugar gradually, letting it completely absorb in the wet ingredients. You will end up with a thick glaze.

Once the cake has cooled, cut it lengthwise down the middle. Spread about a fourth of the frosting on the bottom layer and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Lightly spread about a tablespoon along the cut end of the top layer and place it on the bottom layer. Top the rest of the cake with as much frosting as you please, finishing with a line of chopped hazelnuts on the top.

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Cool the cake down in the fridge for at least an hour to let it solidify. Enjoy after a family dinner with friends on a Sunday evening.

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Other ideas to experiment: a mixture of shredded coconuts and carrots in the cake; and/or a cream cheese or marzipan base in the banana frosting with less sugar.