I’ve never exactly been a trendsetter. All too often I find myself clambering onto the bandwagon just as all the cool passengers have already transfered. Take fourth grade, for instance. My best friend and I spent weeks choreographing a dance to our favorite song, Ice Ice Baby, for our school’s talent show. When you’re 9, that seems like a really long time. While we looked great in matching black bike shorts, oversized t-shirts, slouch socks and Converse, the performance got off to a rocky start when the sound came on too low and we couldn’t really stick our dramatic and suspenseful opening. We did our best, though, jumping, spinning, popping, locking, and finishing in breathless exhilaration. Afterwards, riding a stellar performance high, a fifth grader sauntered up and, rolling her eyes, notified us that Vanilla Ice was totally last year.
Which, to be fair, he totally was.
Similarly, while many conoscenti have been touting the gustatory pleasures of curry powder for years, I have only just begun to feel the craze. I have sprinkled it on popcorn covered in butter, olive oil, salt and nutritional yeast. I have eaten Humphry Slocombe’s Peanut Curry ice cream and liked it. I have taken multiple swipes of the curry flavored, coconut milk enriched sweet potato shiitake goo that comprises the veggie empanadas where I work.
Inspired by that combo, I decided to bake these flavors into a rich, moist, and satisfying tea cake. I had sweet potatoes and coconut milk left over from last week’s canela buns, and decided to use coconut oil rather than butter in the batter. A happy amount of curry powder, some eggs, sugar, flour and leavening made a simple batter which I spread in a loaf pan and sprinkled with a salted, curried sugar.
If you want to be even more badass, and if you can find it, use coconut palm sugar in the batter. Toss in half a cup of dried fruit if you like (golden raisins plumped in coconut rum would be sweet; chopped dates or prunes would be good, too), or some toasted pecans or shredded coconut. This tea cake works any time of day; breakfast, lunch, or, well, tea time. Enjoy plain, or with a smear of cream cheese, creme fraiche or greek yogurt.
This recipe could be easily veganized by using egg substitute or 2 tablespoons flaxseed blended with 6 tablespoons of water until smooth. But, honestly, vegans are so last year…
Curried-Coconut Sweet Potato Tea Cake
Makes one 8 x 4″ loaf, 8 – 10 servings
1 cup (8 oz.) sweet potato puree
6 tablespoons (3 oz.) virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
Preheat the oven to 350º. Line an 8×4″ loaf pan with parchment paper, and brush lightly with a bit of coconut oil.
Combine the sweet potato puree, coconut oil and milk, sugars and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder, curry powder and salt. Add the dries to the wets and fold gently until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly in the pan.
Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Bake the loaf for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly dry with a few clinging crumbs. Cool 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely before slicing.
A vegan’s worst nightmare, and not diet food by any stretch of the imagination, you would be hard pressed to find a better cure for a hangover than these deliciously satisfying cakes, other than a bit of the old ‘hair of the dog.’ I made this discovery the first time I made the original recipe, from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, on New Year’s Day of this year. But this makes a satisfying breakfast even when your liver is not chastising you for the uncouth way you treated it the night before.
In my un-ending quest to find more ways of using up sourdough starter, I adapted this recipe yesterday morning, subbing starter for the flour and buttermilk originally called for. I’ve never been a huge bacon fan (I like the smell of it better than the taste) but I sampled my first bacon ice cream a couple weeks ago and it brought on the bacon lust of which so many have already fallen victim. I purchased some cured, applewood smoked Niman Ranch bacon to use for a future post (spoiler alert: butternut squash mac and cheese with sage, collard greens and the ‘b’ word), and was anxious to test it out. I couldn’t think of a better accompaniment to these cakes. The cured bacon crisped up beautifully in a hot skillet in just a few minutes. I toyed with putting the bacon IN the pancakes, but had mercy on Jay, a ‘vegetarian’ (or ‘environmentally responsible eater,’ he just corrected indignantly, reading over my shoulder), but you sure could. I did, however, cook the cakes in the rendered bacon fat, which may make you feel obese just reading about it but, really, it’s pretty much the same as using butter. And it would be a shame to let those flavorful oils go to waste. (If you want to go the veg route, you won’t be any worse off using butter to fry the cakes. You might try using a smoked cheddar on top, such as Meyenburg’s smoked goat cheddar.)
A couple things make this recipe unique. First, the eggs get separated, the yolks whisked into the batter and the whites whipped to soft peaks and folded in. Secondly, the acidity in the starter reacts with the baking soda, causing the batter to foam up, as per usual in sourdough cakes. Last but not least, slices of extra sharp cheddar are laid over the cooked side of one cake, melting and giving the cakes a deliciously unexpected bite. Oats and grated apples give the cakes texture and earthy, tart flavor; a drizzle of maple syrup brings it all together, and the side of smokey, crisp bacon- well, it just makes everything that much better.
Don’t just save this for hungover mornings-after; these tasty cakes are the perfect way to start any crisp, fall, bojon day. If you are nursing a hangover, try sipping a bit of Calvados along side.
Sourdough apple-oat pancakes with aged cheddar and bacon
Makes 8 4″ cakes, 2-4 servings
3 strips of bacon per bacon-eater (I recommend Niman Ranch, cured, applewood smoked)
8 oz. (1 cup flat, 2 cups or more bubbly) liquid sourdough starter
2 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons melted butter (or try bacon fat!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 large, crisp apple (such as granny smith, pink lady, or cameo), 7 – 8 oz, grated (about 1 cup)
2 oz. aged, extra-sharp cheddar, thinly sliced
maple syrup, for serving
Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet (or a griddle if you are so fortunate) over medium heat, turning a couple times, until done to your liking, 5 minutes or so. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour the fat into a ramekin and reserve.
Measure the starter into a medium bowl. Whisk in the yolks, butter, baking soda, spices and salt to combine. Stir in the grated apple and oats.
Put the egg whites in a clean, large bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.
Heat a bit of bacon fat in the skillet (or a griddle) over medium heat. Pour in 1/3 cup of batter and cook until deeply browned, about 2 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. Flip the cake over, and place a couple slices of cheese on top. Cook until browned on the second side. Continue with the rest of the cakes.
Serve with the bacon alongside, and pass a pitcher of warm maple syrup.
And this one time? at band camp? I baked cinnamon buns for 200 people. No hobart had I, so I kneaded the dough in 6 batches in the kitchen aid. I spent hours shaping the buns late into the night, amidst giant moths, spastic june bugs and drunken musicians; just the usual. The buns finished baking somewhere around 2 a.m. and, knowing many campers would sleep through breakfast (including myself) we tucked into one of the pans. I proffered a bun to my friend, Malaika, but she refused, telling me she didn’t like sweets that didn’t have ‘strong flavors’ in them. ‘Well what d’ya call cinnamon?’ I thought, but I just shrugged and shoved another cinnamon bun in my mouth. (Bet you didn’t think I remembered that, huh?)
I know Malaika would love these buns, as they contain two of her favorite things: rum and coconut milk. Like many great things in the world, they came about entirely by accident. I woke up early this morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Jay rolled over and asked if I was planning to bake something, managing to sound both suspicious and somnolent. He can tell when that’s what I’m thinking about, which is, unsurprisingly, quite often; he generally has a 99% chance of being right.
The foggy morning made cinnamon buns sound like a brilliant plan, but we lacked milk for the dough. I wondered if I could use coconut milk instead, and what flavors might be complementary. Then I remembered a post I saw a while back by Sugar Plum, aka Emiline, for sweet potato cinnamon buns. I checked to see if by some magical twist we had received sweet potatoes in our box yesterday, and, lo… we had!
While reaching for the coconut milk, I brushed against a cone of panela, an unrefined sugar from Latin America that tastes deliciously of molasses, toffee and maple. I decided to grate it to use in the filling in place of brown sugar, and that made me think of rum soaked currants, though I usually eschew dried fruit in my buns. I thought a bit of orange zest, clove and nutmeg would go nicely, so I added them into the filling as well. I whisked some of the extra coconut milk and the strained curranty rum into powdered sugar for a final glaze. If you like toasted coconut and/or pecans, they would be delish sprinkled on top before the glaze sets.
The sweet potato gives the buns a warm golden hue and makes the dough pleasantly springy, while the rich coconut milk keeps it supple and moist. The buns burst with sweet, latin flavors and would make a nice addition to a Mexican themed brunch, after some migas and frijoles negros. I imagine you could make these vegan by omitting the egg in the dough and using coconut oil in place of the butter, but I generally consider vegans to be a personal affront and resist doing them any favors.
Panela (sometimes also called pilconcillo) comes in a hard cone wrapped in dried corn husks, and is kind of a bitch to grate; I wouldn’t go to the effort for just anyone. Use the large holes on a box grater. You should be able to find it at any latin american grocery, but lacking panela, you could use dark brown or muscovado sugar and they would still be muy sabrosos.
Sweet Potato Panela ‘Canela’ Buns
with Coconut Milk and Rum Soaked Currants
Makes 12 large buns
Total time: about 3 hours
Sweet potato dough
1 10 oz. sweet potato (garnet or jewel), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 cup canned coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (or 2 teaspoons active dry, or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
Put the sweet potato chunks in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and put in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the paddle until smooth. Slowly add the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients (make sure the mixture is cool enough not to kill the yeast – it should be just warm to the touch) and mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed until the dough is soft but pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to make sure the texture is right. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl clean, you can use it to mix the filling sans washing.) Place in a lightly oiled bowl or container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
3 tablespoons melted butter, plus 6 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup currants
enough dark rum to cover the currants (about 1/4 or 1/2 cup)
1 cup (8 oz.) grated Panela (also called pilconcillo, or use dark brown or muscovado sugar)
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
While the dough is rising, get on with the filling. Cover the currants with the rum and set aside to soak. Put the panela and softened butter in the mixer fitted with the paddle, and beat on medium low until smoothish and lightened (it won’t get totally smooth), about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (except the melted butter) and beat to combine. Set aside.
Brush a 9x12x2″ glass casserole with some of the melted butter. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air bubbles. Pat or roll into a 16×12″ rectangle with a long side facing you. It will be about 1/2″ thick. Use an offset spatula to spread the dough evenly with the filling mixture, leaving a 1/2″ gap on the top, but going all the way to the other edges. Drain the currants well, reserving the rum (of course!), and sprinkle them evenly over the butter mixture. Roll the dough up snugly from the bottom, and pinch the seam closed. Place the log seam side down and cut into 12 equal rounds. (I like to cut the log in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter into thirds. I like to use a sharp chef’s knife and a back-and-forth sawing motion.)
Place the rounds in the prepared pan, 3 by 4, evenly spaced, with the smaller, end pieces in the center. Brush the tops and sides with the remaining melted butter. Let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. The buns are ready to bake when they hold an indentation when poked lightly with your finger, rather than springing back. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden on top. Let cool at least half and hour before eating.
3/4 cup (3 oz.) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 tablespoon rum soaking liquid
Whisk all together until smooth, thinning with additional drops of rum if necessary. Use a spatula to drizzle over the top of the slightly cooled buns.
I would be embarrassed to admit how many of these I have eaten in the past week. Luckily I’ve lost count. I came up with the idea, as often happens, lying in bed one morning. I wanted to bring something sweet to a birthday party that night, and had considered making a classic pumpkin cheesecake. But on a crisp fall morning, it seemed a shame to stay indoors for too long, messing around with water baths and springform pans, long baking times and longer chilling. So I decided to bake cheesecake squares instead, which would be quicker and easier, and more cocktail party appropriate, being finger food.
I wanted the robust, fall-friendly flavors of a gingersnap crust, but didn’t want to deal with baking my own snaps, letting them cool, pulsing them in a food processor, mixing them with melted butter, and rebaking them into a crust. (Though doing this does produce the best crust…) And I would sooner die than buy packaged cookies. So I took a cue from Martha Stewart, who, for her New York cheesecake recipe, has you make a chocolate cookie dough which you press right into the pan to bake. I used Elizabeth Falkner’s “Sammysnaps” recipe, which she cuts into dachshunds in honor of a friend’s hound, and based the filling on Cook’s Illustrated’s pumpkin cheesecake. I guessed at the quantities I would need for a 9×12″ pan and set to work.
The cookie dough recipe was too large by almost double, the cheesecake filling would have overflowed the pan had I added it all, leaving no room for the abundance of sour cream topping. So I lined a second pan with the gingersnap dough and used the excesses to make two pans full.
At the party, my bars got eclipsed by a (heavenly) pecan pie brought by another talented baker, and Jay and I were stuck (alas and alack!) with a plethora of cheesecake squares. Regardless of how hard we tried get rid of them, we kept finding ourselves in the kitchen with our fingers in the pan and crumbs round the lips. Luckily, these bars work equally well as breakfast, a mid-day snack or a satisfying dessert, as we can now attest.
I (very sacrificially) made the recipe a second time, tweaking the amounts to arrive at one panful of cheesecake squares. And then, you know, that pan needed to be eaten as well, and cheesecake squares are rather hard to give away, being delicate and needing refrigeration and all. So I may be done with pumpkin cheesecake squares with gingersnap crusts for a little while, like at least a week or so. But I hope you’ll give them a try.
These squares would be equally at home in a lunch box, on a buffet at a cocktail party, or sliced into triangles and served with a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of whiskey caramel sauce and some toasted pecans for an elegant plated dessert. Try adding some finely grated fresh ginger to the filling and top each square with a sliver of candied ginger for an extra gingery variation.
A word about squashes: the first time I made these, I had some very dense-fleshed ‘gold-nugget’ squash puree left over from these pumpkin cheesecake muffins. The cheesecake filling came out very firm and a brilliant orange, as you can see in the photos. This last time I used a butternut, and the filling turned out wetter and less firm, less orange. So if you’re going the roast-your-own squash route, I recommend a dense-fleshed variety such as gold nugget, red kuri, hokkaido or kabocha for the tastiest and most photogenic results. To roast your squash, cut it in half longways, place it cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and stick it in a 375º oven for about an hour, or until soft and collapsed in places. Let it cool, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard them, then scoop the flesh into a food processor, discarding the skin. Blend until smooth. If your puree is watery, put it in a fine-mesh sieve for an hour or so.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares
Makes 1 9×12″ pan, or 24 2″ bars
Time: about 2 hours, plus 2 hours to chill
This recipe calls for half an egg. Odd, yes, so if you fancy, make a double batch of the dough and set half of it aside to roll out and cut into gingersnaps. Or just have half an egg lying around to add to a scramble or brush on a set of buns. To measure half an egg, break the egg into a bowl and beat well to combine. Measure out 2 tablespoons.
I’ve written this recipe to be as quick and easy as possible. For an extra-delicious crust, don’t spread the cookie dough directly into the pan; instead, wrap it and chill until firm, about 1 hour. Roll out to 1/8″ thick, and cut into 2″ squares. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, spaced 1″ apart, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm and slightly darkened around the edges. Let cool completely, then grind finely in a food processor. Toss the cookie crumbs with two or three tablespoons of melted butter until they clump together, then press them evenly into the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes until toasty, let it cool slightly, then proceed with the recipe.
3 oz. (6 tablespoons or 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened but cool
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz.) sugar
2 tablespoons molasses (unsulphured blackstrap)
1/2 egg (about 2 tablespoons)
5 1/2 oz. (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Preheat the oven to 350º. Place a rack in the lowest position. Grease a 9×12″ (1/4 sheet) pan.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, then the egg, beating to combine after each. Sift together the dries, then add to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.
Using an offset spatula or moistened fingers, press and spread the dough into the prepared pan, making it as flat and smooth as possible. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl well enough, you can reuse it for the pumpkin filling.) Place in the oven on the lowest rack, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm. Remove and set aside. Turn the oven down to 325º.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
To ensure smooth cheesecake, have all your ingredients at room temperature. Be patient while mixing the batter, and don’t skimp on scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Keep the mixer on medium-low; anything higher will incorporate too much air into the batter, resulting in unsightly bubbles in the finished product. I can think of nothing more embarrassing.
12 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) winter squash puree or canned pumpkin
12 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (6 1/2 oz.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon each cloves and allspice
3 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy
Line a large plate with a triple layer of paper towels and spread the squash puree evenly over. Place another triple layer on top (I don’t hate trees, I swear!) and top with another large plate. This will press out excess moisture and prevent a watery cheesecake. Get on with the rest of the cheesecake. When you’re ready to add the squash, remove the top plate, peel off the top layer of towels, grasp the bottom layer and flip the squash onto the plate. You should have 10 or 11 oz. of puree.
Beat together the cream cheese and sugar on low in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until very smooth and well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the salt, spices and squash puree and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle between eggs. Beat in the cream, vanilla and booze until combined, scraping the paddle and bowl to incorporate thoroughly.
Spread the puree onto the baked gingersnap crust. Place in the 325º oven on the lower rack. Bake 25-35 minutes until the sides are just barely starting to puff up a bit. The center should wiggle like jello when you jostle it, but should not seem liquidy. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.
Sour Cream Topping
12 oz. sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat all together to combine. You can use a bowl and spoon for this. Gently drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the outer edge of the cheesecake, then use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to carefully spread the mixture to evenly coat the cheesecake. Return to the oven for 5 minutes until set. Remove.
Let the cheesecake cool to room temp, about 1 hour, then chill for at least 2. Using a sharp knife dipped into hot water and dried between each cut, slice in the pan into squares (6 the long way by 4 the short way, or whatever size you like).
My first baking job, during my freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, lasted about three months. Our shift began at 4 am and often as I left my on-campus apartment, frequently still drunk from the night before, my apartment mates, who hadn’t yet gone to bed, would set down their joints and pipes to wave goodbye. I’d work until 11 am or so, then go straight to a day of classes and a night of partying, to repeat the scenario again at 3:30 the next morning. This all makes me sound rather un-bojon and go-getterish, which I assure you is not the case. About once a week, I would turn off my alarm clock in my sleep and be awakened, either naturally or by a phone call, around 9am, 5 hours late for work. Needless to say, my roommate hated me, but my boss let me continue to work there, probably because I was the only female/person under the age of 40 out of the dozen or so employees in the bakery.
Working at College 8, which provided baked goods for the entire campus’s cafeterias, was not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. Most days, my tasks consisted of mixing canned bright red cherry goo into a waiting hotel pan of muffin batter, then scooping out six hundred muffins; or operating the “cookie machine,” which, when it wasn’t getting jammed, spat out a dozen balls of cookie dough at a time onto waiting sheet pans.
My favorite part of the job was dimpling out the oiled, herb-coated focaccia dough as it slowly rose in multiple hotel pans. But my least favorite part of the job was hearing my burly, mulletted boss pronounce the word “focaccia”. He’d start in with a sort of growl (fuuuhhhh…), then add a hacking sneeze in the middle (“GAH-tchuh”), followed by a redundant, polysyllabic description of what focaccia means in English (“BRAY-ed”). Sort of endearing, I suppose, but the defilement of such a beautiful language made me want scream “Focaccia you! Eh?”
Since that trauma, I’ve managed to avoid early morning jobs for the most part. But I still enjoy making “fuh-GAH-tchuh bray-ed” in the quiet and grammatically correct comfort of my own home. This recipe came about a couple years ago when I wanted to bake a sourdough focaccia but didn’t have the hours and hours to wait for a dough leavened soley with wild yeasts to rise. I tinkered with a recipe for yeasted focaccia, adding sourdough starter and tweaking the rest of the ingredients accordingly. What I pulled out of the pan that day was the best focaccia I’d ever eaten or made; (pathetically) one of my more triumphant moments in life.
Full of big, “old-dough” flavor, the generous dose of olive oil makes the outsides addictively crisp and keeps it moist for several days. A sprinkle of flaky salt and fresh herbs add palate pleasing complexity. Cut into fingers and serve as hors d’oeuvres, or slice horizontally for sandwiches or bruschetta.
Because the dough uses commercial yeast, this is a great way to use up starter that isn’t strong enough to raise bread on its own, such as young or neglected starter, or what you would throw away while feeding your starter to build it up. Just be sure the starter still smells nice. I’ve experimented with a few different flours and found that all spelt makes a spongy, springy focaccia, while bread flour makes a chewier dough with bigger, more irregular air pockets, as shown in these photos. You can vary the herbs and toppings to your liking. I plan to try pressing whole, roasted garlic cloves into the top next time. The dough is extremely wet, and probably impossible to knead by hand, so use a stand mixer for sure.
Quick Sourdough Focaccia
Makes one 9×12″ bread
Time: 3 – 5 hours
mix the dough – 20 minutes
first rise – 1-2 hours
second rise – 45-60 minutes
bake – 30-40 minutes
cool – 1 hour
6 oz. (3/4 cup flat, 1 1/2 cups or more bubbly) liquid sourdough starter
1 teaspoon instant, rapid rise yeast (or 1 Tablespoon fresh yeast)
1 cup (4 1/4 oz.) whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups (8 oz.) all purpose or bread flour
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water, lukewarm
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup good olive oil (I like Sciabica’s)
1/4 teaspoon or so crunchy salt, like malden or fleur de sel
optional toppings: 1/2 cup halved pitted black olives; chopped thyme, rosemary, or sage; whole roasted garlic cloves; anything else you can think of
Combine the starter, yeast, water and flours in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low a couple of minutes until combined, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then increase to speed 3 and beat for 8 minutes. The dough should be very wet and sticky, almost batter-like, but not liquid. Add more flour or water as you knead if the dough seems overly wet or dry. Sprinkle on the salt, and beat on 3 for another five minutes. The dough should still be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl while it’s mixing. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap, and let rise 1-2 hours until doubled or tripled in bulk.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and place a baking stone on top, if you have one. Place a sacrificial metal or cast iron pan on the floor of the oven – you will put ice in it to steam the oven, and it will become rusted and nasty. Preheat the oven to 500º.
Line a 9×12″ (1/4 sheet) pan with a sling of parchment paper (the paper should lay flat in the bottom with the long ends sticking out.) Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil all over the bottom and sides of the paper. With a plastic scraper, turn the dough over in the bowl a few times, tamping out some of the air bubbles, then blob it onto the center of the oiled parchment. Drizzle the remaining oil on top and use your fingers to dimple the dough outwards towards the sides and corners. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour, until it mostly fills in the pan, dimpling out the dough a few more times to fill in the corners. The olive oil will pool in the corners, so use a teaspoon to “baste” the top of the focaccia with that oil. Sprinkle a bit of crunchy salt over the top, and any other toppings you like, and give the dough a last dimpling.
Fill a 1 cup measure with ice cubes. Quickly place the focaccia pan on the baking stone and toss the ice cube into the sacrificial pan on the floor of the oven. Close the door and don’t open it again for the next 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, rotate the focaccia, then turn the oven down to 450º and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until golden and lovely on top. Remove to a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then lift out of the pan and cool completely before snarfing.
Store the focaccia at room temperature in a plastic bag for up to a few days (but I doubt it will last that long!)
My absolute favorite type of dessert is one made with ripe, seasonal fruit, hot from the oven, with a buttery flakey crust or topping and a big scoop of melting ice cream. For this reason, nothing beats a fruit crisp for ease, speed and sweet tooth satisfaction. Nothing, except maybe that same, gooey, buttery fruit crisp contained within a tidy, crispy tart shell.
I adapted this recipe from one I clipped from Gourmet a couple years ago. While it may look complicated and time consuming, it is delightfully simple to make and comes together quickly and efficiently; just the sort of recipe I like. You make the beginnings of a pie dough, then set aside a portion of the butter-flour mixture to which you add sugar for the crumble topping. Roll out the dough, toss the fruit with cornstarch and sugar, lay it in the unbaked shell, then crumble the topping over. Stick it in the oven and forget about it for a while (I recommend rewarding your hard labor with a glass of wine), and you’ve got yourself an impressive and swoon-worthy dessert.
The beauty of this recipe is that it can be adapted to use any fruit you like throughout the seasons. I decided to add lemon juice to the fruit in order to complement the figs and huckles, but you could add 1/4 teaspoon or so of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom, or use orange zest or vanilla bean seeds. The original recipe called for nuts in the topping, but I omitted them this time; oats would work well, too. A few nice combinations might be:
Strawberry- or raspberry-rhubarb, oats in topping, fresh ginger ice cream
Cherry-apricot, almonds in topping, noyaux ice cream
Plums with oats, honey ice cream
Peaches with almonds, lemon verbena ice cream
Mixed berries with creme fraiche ice cream
Blueberries with lavender ice cream
Apple blackberry with cinnamon in topping, vanilla ice cream
Pears with pecan topping, cardamom ice cream
Poached quince with rose geranium ice cream
(See the end of the recipe for a variation with rhubarb, berries and cardamom)
With the abundance of sliced figs and bags of huckleberries in my freezer, this tart all but made itself. A scoop of fig leaf ice cream finished it off nicely, and I still had enough energy afterwards to watch the Daily Show while enjoying a slice.
My favorite thing about this recipe is that the fruit and topping go into an un-baked crust – yay! I made this in an 8″ tart pan, but I think a 9″ pan would work fine, as well. See below for a Rhubarb Berry variation with Cardamom Oat Crumble.
Makes one 8 or 9″ tart, 8ish servings
Tart crust and crumble:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, cold, diced
ice water, as needed
1/3 cup sugar
(opt: 1/3 cup rolled oats or finely chopped nuts of your choice, zest of 1 lemon, or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom)
4 cups fruit (such as 3 1/2 cups sliced fresh figs and 1/2 cup huckleberries)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work with your fingers until some pea-sized chunks remain. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the mixture into another medium bowl and set aside. To the original bowl, drizzle in the ice water slowly, tossing with your fingers or a rubber spatula, until the dough just starts to come together when you give it a squeeze. Gather into a ball, flatten into a disc, slip into a plastic bag and chill for 1 hour, until firm.
Meanwhile, add the sugar to the 1 1/2 cups of the mixture, and any other flavorings, nuts, and/or oats. Rub with your fingers until some large clumps form. Leave at room temperature. (Or chill if making the tart later.)
Preheat the oven to 375º. Position an oven rack on the lowest position. If you have a baking stone, place in on the rack.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 10″ round, a scant 1/4″ thick. Ease it into an 8 or 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom, trim the edges to a 1″ overhang and fold over, pressing the sides even. Freeze 20 minutes.
Toss the fruit in a bowl with the sugar, cornstarch, juice and salt to combine thoroughly. Turn into the unbaked tart shell and spread even; it may mound slightly in the center. Crumble the topping evenly over the fruit. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment (for easy cleanup), and place in the oven, on the stone.
Bake about 1 hour, rotating once, until the fruit is bubbling thickly, and the crisp topping and tart shell are nicely browned. Remove from the oven. Let cool at least 20 minutes. Remove sides and slide the tart onto a cutting board or serving platter. Slice and serve with ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.
Variation: Rhubarb Berry Tart with Cardamom Oat Crumble
Add 1/3 cup quick (baby) oats and 1/2-3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom to the crumble topping. For the fruit, use 1 1/2 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2″ dice, 1 1/2 cups blueberries, and 1 cup raspberries. Increase the sugar in the filling to 1/3 cup. Serve the tart with vanilla ice cream.