Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Fig Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I wish I had a fig tree in my backyard. Growing up in Brooklyn many homes in Italian neighborhoods had fig trees. The fruit is colored with deep plum flesh (or white) and has a subtle delicate flavor. Once inside, it's squishy with tiny seeds. Also, figs are good for you, filled with phosphorus, calcium and iron.

The assignment from my weekly baking club, Tuesdays With Dorie (TWD) selected the Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake. This recipe called for dried figs, fresh figs are smooth on the outside. The texture of the cornmeal and the chestnut honey make this cake delicious. This cake is a keeper.

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 cup medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey (if you’re a real honey lover, use a full-flavored honey such as chestnut, pine, or buckwheat)
1 stick (8 tbl ) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 tbl, cut into bits and chilled
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Check that the figs are, indeed, moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half.

Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled bits of butter.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the pan, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Carrot Cake

Just a quick post to let my friends at TWD see the results for Bill's Big Carrot Cake. This is it. My son's baseball coach gave it the thumbs-up, so it's a wrap.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Passover and the Pope

Passover and the Pope have taken over the Upper East Side. Barricades on Park Avenue line the streets, and Citarella's is impossible to shop. Thankfully, most of the cooking and baking is done. This year, returning to the Passover Seder, is an adaptation of Fran Bigelow's chocolate torte. It's from her beautifully styled and photographed book Pure Chocolate It is a chocolate and orange torte that is not too sweet and feels like a light brownie with a refreshing orange taste. With the butter glaze, store at room temperature, since chilling dulls the glaze.
Here is the recipe:

Adapted from "Pure Chocolate" by Fran Bigelow

6 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 oranges - 2, preferably large navels with dark, rough-textured skin
1 1/2 (12 Tbl.) sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 2/3 cup almond flour

Chocolate Butter Glaze

4 oz. oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick (8 Tbl.) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325F
Butter a 7-inch flared cake pan and line with parchment paper. In a double boiler melt the chocolate over low heat.
Wash the oranges and zest them directly in the mixing bowl, so that all the fragrant orange oils are captured. With a wire whisk attachment, beat the room temperature butter until light and fluffy for 3-5 minutes, Add the sugar on medium-high speed until light in colour, 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding the eggs slowly, one at a time. Continue beating until well mixed, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the ground almonds. Then fold in the melted chocolate. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.
-Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed and domed in the center with a slight fracture 1 inch from. A cake tester inserted in the center will have a few moist crumbs.

In a double boiler or bowl over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Remove the top of the boiler or bowl when chocolate is nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth. Add the softened butter, slowly stirring with a spatula until no visible traces of butter remaining. (if butter starts to liquefy, stop and let the chocolate cool slightly.)
The glaze should be glossy and smooth with a temperature of 80-85 degrees F. When stirred, it will hold a line on the surface for about 10 sec before disappearing. If the glaze is starting to set up, return briefly to the double boiler.

Place torte on a cooling rack positioned over a rimmed parchment lined baking sheet. Beginning 1 1/2 inches from the edge of the torte, slowly and evenly pour the glaze around the torte layer, making sure that the sides are sufficiently covered. Then pour remaining glaze onto the center.
Working quickly, using a metal offset spatula, spread the glaze evenly over the top, letting excess run down the sides.
Let set at room temp until the glaze is slightly firm. Once set, slide torte onto serving plate. Can be stored at room temp up to 3 days.

Monday, April 14, 2008

After-School Delight

While, walking my dog, white Bradford Pear trees are in bloom, and tulips will just about open. it's a time of optimism. Good things to come. Number one son (he's the one and only), arrives home from school on the crosstown bus and calls to tell me his estimated time of arrival. With that I know it's time to start the hot chocolate. It's become a daily ritual. It started as hot chocolate in a mug. Next, the chocolate was topped with whipped cream, and after that, followed by chocolate shavings, and finally, marshmallows. To enjoy all of this, it's sipped through a silver spoon straw. Not bad.

Learning this week's TWD recipe (Tuesdays With Dorie) ( is Marshmallows was a welcome surprise and a challenge. Marshmallow making is about multi-tasking, a habit I've since kicked after my time in the corporate world. It's about the sugar reaching the right temperature, timing the gelatin to bloom and egg whites remaining glossy. Dorie guides us with ease. The first try was a bust. It was also a rainy day. Second try, not quite right. Third time, I'm pleased. Although I'm still wondering how many batches were made to look like the photo in the book?

This past Sunday was the Passover dessert demo at Williams Sonoma's Madison Avenue location. Thanks for joining me there. Here is the recipe I promised.
Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch 
Makes approximately 30 pieces of candy
Adapted from David Lebovitz…Living the Sweet Life in Paris

4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs, 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks,
1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar, 
big pinch of sea salt,
 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet (approximately 11 x 17") completely with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 375F
2. Line the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.
3. In a 3-4 quart heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof spatula.
4. Put the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350F degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but make sure it's not burning every once in a while. If it is in spots, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 325F then replace the pan.
5. Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula.

Let cool completely, the break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep well for about one week.

Thank you David. It was a big hit!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


It's spring, I think.  I want spring.  Mets opening day and the temperature will be in the high 40's and partly sunny. This is my homework assignment to report baking results from baking (TWD) blog.  Fresh Orange Cream Tart is the recipe.  First, the crust.  It's a no-brainer: mix, press, chill, bake & rest.  But the custard, WOW, taste and sends me!   Soft and  cloud-like.  An emulsification.  The blender is a beautiful thing.   When it's all said and done, you've got a Creamsicle.  Smooth and orangy, no puckering, just smiles.