Monday, July 21, 2014

hello again {sour cherry pie}

Well. It's been a while. After a long stretch of time where I just didn't feel like blogging, I'm back, inspired by a new apartment, and more importantly, a new kitchen. By New York standards it's huge--so huge that all of my prior apartment kitchens would likely fit inside of it comfortably at the same time (though that's not saying much). It also has a window, which is a first for me (unless you count my law school apartment, but my "kitchen" there was really just a wall of appliances in the living room) and a machine that washes dishes for you. I don't know how I survived eight years without a dishwasher, but I am never going back. Ever. I would marry that dishwasher if I could. I should also mention that I share this kitchen with someone else. His name is Ben and he's an enthusiastic eater and an excellent kitchen-cleaner. For those and about a hundred other reasons, cooking is so much better when he's around. So I've been back in the kitchen in earnest, with the winners so far being these chicken fajitas, this spinach, these muffins, and this sour cherry pie, which was Ben's birthday request.

Oh this pie. It involved an early-morning trip to the farmers' market, a hefty sour cherry bill, and even a bit of cursing-the-baking-gods as I attempted to roll out the dough in my overheated kitchen. But all of that strife was quickly forgotten as soon as I took my first bite. Ben claims that I proclaimed myself a "pie genius" upon tasting it, but I think he must have been hearing things. (He totally wasn't--this pie is definitely genius-level). Two days later, it's nearly gone and I'm already planning to make another. If you can get your hands on some sour cherries, I suggest you do the same. I'm so happy to be back--more sweets soon.

sour cherry pie
adapted from Food Network

enough pie dough for a double-crusted 9 inch pie, chilled and divided in two (see note, below)
5 cups sour cherries, rinsed and pitted
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
3-4 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For the Filling: Place the cherries in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to release their juices. Add 1 1/3 cups of sugar and 3 tablespoons tapioca, and cook, stirring very often, until the mixture thickens. Stir in the almond extract and remove from the heat. Let the filling cool. If it is too thick, add a little water. If it is too thin, add another tablespoon of tapioca.

To Assemble and Bake the Pie: Preheat the oven to 375. Roll out the bottom crust and transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate. Pat the dough into shape and trim the edges. Pour the cooled cherry filling into the crust. Roll out the top crust and place it over the top of the pie. Flute the edges, and cut steam vents either by making slits in the top crust with a sharp knife, or by using small cookie cutters to make a decorative pattern, as I did above. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top of the pie, and bake for about 50 minutes. The pie should be golden and the filling should be bubbling. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before serving.

Note: I always use Dorie Greenspan's Good for Almost Anything Pie Dough, which has never failed me. It's flaky, buttery, and, in my experience, very forgiving. The recipe is available in her book, Baking From My Home to Yours, and online here

Sunday, December 15, 2013

peppermint chocolate bundt cake

It's the most wonderful time of the year. And to celebrate, I have a tradition of packing 30-odd people into my 500 square foot studio apartment and plying them with bourbon punch and cookies until they forget the close quarters and start feeling festive.

There are a few things that are always on the menu: the aforementioned punch, my favorite cookies ever, iced sugar cookies, and some sort of over the top, no holds barred peppermint chocolate show stopper. Last year, it was this pink candy cane layer cake. This year my version was more casual, but no less delicious. A devil's food bundt cake was spread with a pillow of mint buttercream, drizzled with chocolate mint ganache, and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.  It's hard to resist the holiday spirit with this on your table. Even if you're packed like sardines into a small studio apartment. Happy Holidays!

Peppermint Chocolate Bundt Cake

For the Cake
*Note: My bundt pan is only 10 cups, so I did 2/3 of the recipe

For the Peppermint Buttercream
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons whole milk or half and half
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, or more to taste
pinch salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until soft and well combined. Add milk or half and half, peppermint extract and salt and beat several more minutes, until light, fluffy and the desired texture. Taste and add more peppermint extract if necessary. If your icing is too dense and buttery, add more powdered sugar until it's the desired consistency. 

For the Mint Chocolate Ganache
*Note that I halved the recipe, and added a little additional cream to make the ganache the desired consistency for drizzling

For Assembling the Cake
3 candy canes, roughly crushed by sealing in a ziplock bag and using a rolling pin to pound to the desired texture

Place the bundt cake on a cake stand or plate. Use a spatula to spread a thick coating of the peppermint buttercream over the top of the cake. Put the mint chocolate ganache in a liquid measuring cup or other vessel with a spout, and drizzle a thin stream over the top of the cake, letting the ganache run decoratively down the sides. While the ganache is still soft, sprinkle candy canes over the top of the cake. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

olive oil ricotta cake with concord grape coulis

Sometimes you just need to bake a cake for no reason at all. Take last Monday night for example. After having spent the better part of the weekend cleaning and organizing my apartment, I was sitting on my couch enjoying a healthy dinner and catching up on some very sophisticated and intellectual television programming (fine it was the Vampire Diaries) when I suddenly realized that my night was missing something, and that something was cake. Thankfully, my weekend cleaning binge also involved a full pantry restock, so I was well-prepared for a spur of the moment baking emergency.

There was also a big bunch of concord grapes in my refrigerator (or at least it was a big bunch before I started popping them like candy), and a quick flip through some cookbooks revealed the perfect solution to my dessert dilemma--Smitten Kitchen's olive oil ricotta cake with concord grape coulis. Decidedly an everyday cake, this dessert isn't frosted or fancy, but it's a very sweet way to end an ordinary day. And it pairs perfectly with hard hitting political news teen vampire drama. Yum.

Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Concord Grape Sauce 
Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
rounded 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups concord grapes
2/3 cups water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment. In a large bowl, whisk ricotta, olive oil, lemon zest and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt directly over the wet ingredients, and mix with a spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top and sides of the cake are golden, and a knife or tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the grape sauce. Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat and simmer for about five minutes, until the grapes have burst and the sauce has just begun to thicken. You may want to mash the grapes a bit with a wooden spoon as they're simmering. Carefully pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

homemade pinkberry

Among the areas in which my willpower is the weakest, soft-serve frozen yogurt reigns supreme. I'm not saying that I picked my first post-law-school apartment based on its proximity to Pinkberry. . . but let's just say that it didn't hurt. By last month, things had reached a fever pitch. A stop at the frozen yogurt shop had turned from an occasional treat to a near-nightly indulgence and I was loading my cup up with everything from Reese's Pieces to gummi worms (sometimes simultaneously). Clearly it was time to get back to basics. 

I've been chasing the perfect plain frozen yogurt recipe for years, and I think I've finally found my go-to. It's sweet, tangy, and totally delicious. I also love knowing exactly what's going into the dessert I'm inhaling occasionally often okay nightly. While I doubt I'll ever kick the soft-serve habit for good, it's nice to know I can make some in my very own kitchen.

Homemade Pinkberry
Adapted from Epicurious

2/3 cup sugar
scant 1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain full-fat or 2% Greek yogurt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (or more or less to taste)

Heat the sugar, corn syrup, water and salt in a saucepan over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Whisk in yogurt, buttermilk and lemon juice and chill until very cold. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions and freeze in an airtight container until firm.

Note that I reduced the sugar a bit from the original recipe because I like my frozen yogurt tangy and not too sweet. I suggest tasting the base before processing and adding more sugar or lemon juice as necessary to suit your preference.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

fresh blueberry pie

Growing up, things were pretty healthy around our house. The salads were leafy and green, the bread was always whole wheat, and even the fruit rolls ups were all-natural fruit "leather." But one fateful July evening, my mother pulled a fresh blueberry pie out of the refrigerator, placed it in the center of our table, and cut us each a giant slice in lieu of dinner. Ever since, I've considered blueberry pie the quintessential summer dessert, and for me, it's not really summer until I've tasted my first bite. Last week I had my chance, though this time I did have dinner first (this salmon and these brussels sprouts--both highly recommended). I made my favorite no-fail pie crust, and instead of a dense sweet filling, suspended ripe blueberries in a quick jam so that the fresh fruit flavors could shine through. (Did that sound convincing? It was really because it was so hot in my apartment I couldn't stand the thought of leaving the oven on another minute, let alone laboring over a lattice layer.) The result was a sweet, tangy pie that tasted like pure summer. And though I may not have skipped dinner in lieu of dessert, I can't say the same for breakfast the next morning.

Fresh Blueberry Pie 
Adapted from Epicurious

pie dough for a 9-inch crust (I used Dorie Greenspan's Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough)
4 cups blueberries, rinsed
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
pinch salt

Roll out your dough on a floured surface, transfer to a 9-inch pie plate and crimp the edges. Cover it loosely and refrigerate for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 425.  Line the pastry with parchment paper, cut it to fit the pie plate, and fill with rice or dried beans to weigh it down. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then carefully remove the parchment and beans. Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes until golden brown. Let the crust cool before filling.

Bring 1 cup of blueberries and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and remaining 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl.  When the blueberries come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until the blueberries burst and the juices begin to thicken. Add the cornstarch and water mixture, and the sugar, lemon juice and salt while stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute, until the filling becomes translucent. Remove from the heat, and immediately fold in the remaining blueberries. Pour the filling into the crust, and let the pie set for 2 hours before serving.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

{sweet things} spring 2013

It's been a while since I've reported on my current favorite things, so here's a look at what I've been loving this spring. 

1) The Great Gatsby Soundtrack: I've been listening to this soundtrack nonstop, especially the orchestral version of Lana Del Rey's hauntingly beautiful song, Young and Beautiful. 

2) Essie's California Coral: A perfect pinkish coral that's my new go-to color for summer. 

3) The Americans: My TV obsession de jour features suspense, romance, and eighties clothing to boot.

4) Alaska: I just returned from a week long cruise in Alaska with my family where we played with sled dogs on a glacier, watched humpback whales breaching alongside our boat, and took in some truly amazing scenery. As travel destinations go, this one comes highly recommended. 

5) Sour Patch Fruits: My current choice for curing those mid-afternoon office blues. Sweet, sour, and way more interesting than regular old sour patch kids (grape! watermelon!) these just may be my new favorite candy.

6) Gap's Bleecker Tank: This slightly oversized, flowy tank is the perfect base for layering on cool summer nights. I bought a white one and went back the very next day to pick up extras in black and pink.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

chocolate red wine cake with blackberry buttercream

Admittedly, it's been a slow year for me and sweets. Between work, travel, fun and a prolonged health kick, I haven't been spending much time in the kitchen. But when the birthday of sweet tarte's strongest supporter, pickiest proofreader and undisputed number one fan rolled around, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves and get back to baking. But what to make for the milestone birthday of someone so devoted to following my culinary commentary that he emails me to let me know when he thinks too much time has passed between postings?
This chocolate red wine cake with blackberry buttercream is sweet but not saccharine. It's definitely a celebration cake, but one fit for a grown up gathering. Which made it the perfect birthday cake for sweet tarte's number one fan: my dad. Happy birthday dad! 

Chocolate Red Wine Cake with Blackberry Buttercream
Recipe from Love and Olive Oil

For the Cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment. Butter the parchment. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, wine, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk well or beat with an electric mixer to blend. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans and bake 30-35 minutes. Leave the cakes in the pans until cool enough to handle, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. 

For the Buttercream
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
pinch of kosher salt
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup blackberry preserves, or more to taste

Beat the butter on medium high until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar slowly, beating well after each addition. Mix in the salt, vanilla, cream and preserves. If the buttercream is too thick, add more cream, If it's too thin, add more powdered sugar. Taste the buttercream and add more preserves if desired. 

For the Dark Chocolate Ganache
3.5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tablespoons warm water

Heat the chocolate and cream over a double boiler until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the powdered sugar. Add the water one tablespoon at a time until the ganache is a good pouring consistency. You may not need all of the water. 

To Assemble the Cake
Place one of the cooled cake layers on a cake board, plate or cake stand (whatever you are going to use for serving your cake). I like to place my cake layers (well wrapped in plastic) into the freezer to firm up a bit before frosting them--this makes them easier to work with. Spread a thin layer of blackberry buttercream over the top of the cake layer, and top with the second layer. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top of the second layer, and top with the third cake layer. Spread a very thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake using an offset spatula, if you have one. Do not use all of the buttercream. This is your crumb coating, or a very thin layer of icing in which all of the cake crumbs will be suspended so that they are not visible in the finished product. Don't skip this step--it's especially important when you're dealing with a dark cake and light icing. 

After you have spread the cake with the crumb coating, chill it for about 20 minutes so that the frosting has time to firm up. Then spread your cake with the remainder of the buttercream. After the cake is fully frosted, its' a good idea to chill it again before topping it with the chocolate ganache--this will help you achieve artful drips down the sides. (I refrigerated by cake overnight and applied the ganache the next morning). When you are ready to add the ganache, pour it on to the center of the  top of the cake, and use an offset spatula to spread it just over the edges so that it drips down the sides. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the ganache to firm up. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.