A Sweet Weekend

It’s funny how when autumn comes to the NW, people really get good at holing up inside in the best sort of ways. Movies, too many library books, and of course, tasty food. I am totally guilty of this. I think I have about 4 library books right now, which is way more than I can read in 3 weeks. Good thing now I have a lot of treats to go with. Hmmm…

Ok time to be serious. One thing Seattlites are good at this time of year (at least some of us) is sharing what we have.
Today I got to take part in Will Bake For Food, the second annual even to help raise money and nonperishable donations for the Seattle and King County Emergency Feeding Program. It was very successful, and it was even more fun.
There were so many amazing bakers and bloggers in attendance, and of course a lot of very kind patrons. Some of whom were so excited to get there and get goodies that they were lining up well before 11 o’clock, the official start time of the event. We got to schmooze and check out each others wares before the public started to show up, which The Jennys (from here and here) finished up organizing and getting everybody set up. And, at the end we got to swap out any leftover treats from the ones we had been eyeing along the way.
This was not leftover. It went rather quickly.
I tried way too many goodies, and I might have come home with more than I started with (well maybe not that much considering I brought 4 dozen cookies and a whole bundt cake, but lets just say it was like a gourmet second Halloween). When the boys asked me if we could have dessert after dinner tonight, I almost couldn’t even answer I was so sweeted out. Good thing I had a big salad with dinner.  (Tomorrow I’m going to do even more balancing by taking a class at The Pantry to learn how to make amazing pizza a la Brandon Pettit from Delancey. Yay!)
Of the two things I brought, the one that most intrigued people was the Chai Spice Snickerdoodle cookies. The conversation I had with myself when I tried them (I had to eat the ugly ones, quality control) was pretty much this:
“Shut up. These cookies are awesome”
And then there wasn’t any more talking because I had told myself to shut up. Basically so I could, you know, eat more cookies.

That’s a wrap.


So here is the recipe, promised to a few lucky folks today who got to pick up cookies from me in person, and gladly shared with all of you. And no, drinking a cup of sweet, milky chai tea with these cookies would not be overkill. I promise.

Chai Spice Snickerdoodles
(makes about 2 dozen, using a # 30 scoop)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

for the sugar to roll the cookies in:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp each all the above spices, omit allspice

Preheat oven to 400ºF. This might sound crazy for a cookie, but it will allow the cookie to bake without getting too brown and crispy. Trust me. Put one rack in the top 1/3 and one in the bottom.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, mixing completely between each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Add the flour mixture in 2 or 3 batches, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Mix just until combined.

Scoop. You may need to chill your dough for a bit if, unlike me, your kitchen is actually warm.  Roll each cookie completely in the sugar mixture before placing on parchment lined baking sheets, just 6 to a sheet. Bake about 6 minutes then rotate and bake for 6 more, adding a minute or two to the end if they are still very soft in the middle. They will not brown very much, which is just what you want for them to stay chewy. Cool for a couple minutes on the pan before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Or not, because you probably won’t be able to wait that long.

The Day That Should Have Been

Today was supposed to be the happiest day for two people. One person: A beautiful, witty and truly unique lady. The other: A fantastic, generous, wacky, brilliant guy.

Spike, today was going to be your day. You finally found your dreamboat, Grace. Who seemed to come from nowhere into your life and we, your friends, welcomed her as your soul mate.

Grace, today was going to be your day. You found the match made just for you, Spike. Who adored you so much. It was beautiful to see, and with ease and open arms we made you a part of our “family.”

But today was not to be what you intended. It went off not according to plans, and while the love is still there and will forever be, it has been rendered intangible–just a memory. Some of the best memories that people who knew Spike could ever hope to have.

But, in all this, Spike would not have wanted too much sadness. He was all about life, living, giving, loving, building and creating. He would not have wanted us to feel like anything was amiss, he would want us only to build something new from the pieces we were left holding. Spike built things for all of us. Thing we can hold in our hands, and things we can hold in our hearts. The things in our hearts are the more important of the two, but sometimes it helps to see the bits and pieces you left behind you. The little handmade treasures that we took for granted while you were still here.

I can’t speak for the huge community of people that Spike’s life touched. I can only speak for myself. I am going to build something for you Spike, and I know just what it will be.

I was going to build it for today, for you both, but now I will build it for tomorrow. For the lives you would have touched. For the lives who will go on remembering you. It will be a little different than we planned, but it will be special nonetheless, and it will be sweeter than ever before. Because, it will have a little something extra–a little Spike, if you will, in the batter. It will be the best cake you ever had, Spike Perry, and even though you won’t get to eat any, we will all think of you when we sit down to enjoy it.

But even more than that, we will enjoy the company we savor it with, because that’s how you would have wanted it.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
Serves 8-10, Adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
For the cake:
2 1/2 C. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon zest
4 large eggs
1 1/4 C buttermilk
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp poppy seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease and flour two 8″ cake pans. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, creaming until very smooth and light in texture. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
Alternating the flour mixture with the buttermilk, incorporate the remaining ingredients in 3 batches, mixing on low and scraping down the sides as needed. Once everything is in the bowl, add the lemon juice and mix for another minute or so, until it’s light and smooth.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, and bake until the center springs back when gently pressed, about 30 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Let cool all the way before frosting.
For the buttercream:
2 C unsalted butter, room temp, cut into 1″ cubes
5 egg whites
1/4 cup water, plus extra for washing
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp good vanilla extract
Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
In a heavy saucepan, boil the sugar and water together. When it comes to a boil, use a pastry brush to “wash” the sides of the pan to remove any stray sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer.
When the mixture reaches 130ºF, begin whipping the egg whites on high, until they reach a stiff peak. Once the sugar reaches 140ºF, and with the mixer still going on high, slowly (and carefully!) pour a thin stream of sugar syrup into the bowl, using all of the syrup. Allow the meringue to whip until cool, about 5-7 minutes.
Turn the mixer down to medium, and slowly add the butter. Once it’s all incorporated, turn it off, scrape down the sides, and then continue to mix on high until the frosting is smooth. Blend in the vanilla extract.
You can use the buttercream right away, or refrigerate for up to several weeks in the coldest part of the fridge. Let it come to room temp and then mix it with a paddle until smooth before using, if you choose to store it. It also freezes very well, so if you have extra, don’t throw it away! Save it for when you need to share a little treat with a loved one.

Bare Bones

What’s a girl to do when she wants to make a tart and her flour bin looks like this?

Well, she could experiment with some of that gluten free flour mix in the cupboard, or she could find a recipe that calls for some other obscure flour. Or, if she has already made bagels that day and is feeling sorta lazy after that, she can reach deep into the freezer and pull out a patty of chocolate short dough the origins of which she can’t quite recall. It can’t have been in there that long, right?

And then, she will take out a pound of fresh black figs, but in so doing realize that there is a disturbing lack of ingredients for pastry cream in her refrigerator. This is, again, the bagels’ fault. She was making bagels instead of going to the grocery store. 

This is what happened to me yesterday. I wanted to make something like this tart, but I wound up making my own instead.  I impulse bought some figs at the end of last week, and they have been waiting for me to be inspired. Well, inspired to do something with them, the figs. I’ve done plenty of other things since they made their way into my kitchen. Like make lemon curd frozen yogurt, and go to an awesome cookbook club picnic. But those are altogether different stories. 

Back to the figs.

I grew up in a house with a huge fig tree in the front yard. I mean huge. So huge we would have to go up on the roof to pick the figs. Birds always ate them, and my mom would sometimes pick them and sell them to an organic juice bar near Greenlake. I have vivid memories of my mom running out onto the porch during the day to try and scare the birds away. It was pretty futile, but I think it made her feel better. Our figs were green–my mom always said they were Adriatic figs. 

Ours was like this, but about 3 times bigger. Photo courtesy Route79 via flickr.

I don’t really know how we had such a prolific fig tree, being in Seattle (Yes, I’m a Seattle native. It’s OK to be jealous…), but we did, nevertheless. There was always way more figs than we could do anything with, and I don’t really remember anybody but me ever even eating them. I do remember some failed teenaged attempts at making fig type bars, but I guess I had some learning to do in the kitchen department. 

I do still love figs. I almost always keep some dried ones around, and when summer comes I like to eat them fresh with honey and yogurt, or some other tangy dairy thing. So yesterday, with these figs in hand and the mystery chocolate dough thawing on the counter, I got to work. 

Since our chickens are kind of…not really laying a lot right now, for some mysterious reason…I am short on eggs. I couldn’t make any fancy fillings from scratch. But I did have some thick, molassesey pecan pie filling that I saved from a big batch I made for a dessert tasting. I know, I know. Right now you are thinking, that sounds…terrible. I know that you are thinking that because I thought it too. And then I thought about chocolate and pine nuts, and then I thought about food processors and that lemon curd frozen yogurt…

And then I made a delicious tart. 

We ended up eating the tart all by itself, because by the time we sat down to eat it I was so excited/curious/nervous to try it that I had forgotten all about the frozen yogurt. Maybe tomorrow.

Fig and Chocolate Tart
serves 8

For the dough: (adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg)

4 oz granulated sugar
14 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb 2 oz bread flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

This recipe makes quite a bit of dough, so if you want to cut it in half, use only the yolk from the egg. If it’s a touch dry, add a little water, just a tsp at a time, until the dough comes together.

Sift the flour and cocoa powder together and set aside. Mix the sugar, egg and vanilla on a low speed using a dough hook, just until combined. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until just smooth. Press dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using to allow the flour and butter to really meld.

To prepare the shell for baking, use a patty about the size of a large hamburger bun. Let the dough warm up a bit, and roll it out until it is about 1/2 cm. thick. Gently transfer the dough to your tart ring (on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper) and press it into the sides as you rotate the pan slowly. Instead of cutting off the scraps, carefully press the overhang down into the sides of the pan. This will give the sides a little bit more strength and make them less likely to break when you remove the tart from the ring, since the crust is very delicate. Put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes while you heat the oven and prepare the filling.

For the filling:

1 lb fresh figs
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks, or chop your own from a favorite bar
1 cup of your favorite pecan pie filling, preferably one with some molasses in it

Heat the oven to 350º F. Rinse the figs, and trim off the stem end. Quarter them and toss them into your food processor. Pulse for a minute until the smallest pieces are about the size of a black bean . Add the pine nuts and pulse a few more times. You don’t want the filling to be a paste–the nuts and fig pieces should still be recognizable as what they are. 

Put the filling into a bowl and stir in the chocolate and pecan pie filling. Pour it into your shell and put it straight in the oven. Bake about 35 minutes, or more depending on your oven, until the filling is set in the middle.  Remove from the oven and place the sheet pan on a rack to cool completely. 

If your tart pan has a bottom disk (unlike mine) you are in luck because it will be very easy to get out! Just slowly press the bottom upwards until it is free of the ring, and, using a pancake flipper, gently slide the tart onto a cake plate. If it doesn’t, put a piece of parchment paper on top, then a cutting board. Flip the whole thing carefully over, take off the ring, then flip it back onto your plate. Applaud for yourself if your tart is in one piece.