Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Matter How You Slice It

During the Vermont summer we move from one fresh fruit to the next.  It’s July and we are now smack in the middle of raspberry season.  Up here we have a choice of pick-your-own at a nearby farm or a nearby thicket.  Raspberries can also be purchased at farm stands and farmer’s markets.  And, yes, they an also be purchased at the local supermarket, but the flavor of these commercial berries is so noticeably inferior, why would we?!

There are so many ways to prepare raspberries—pies, muffins, shortcakes, ice cream, jams (to name a few), but my absolute favorite is Raspberry Slice. I discovered this delectable dessert many years ago in a cookbook published in England—a cherished gift from a friend and my introduction to the delights of European baking. 

The elegant presentation of the Raspberry Slice belies its simplicity.  The flavor and texture are positively rapturous.  No matter how you slice it, Raspberry Slice is absolutely delectable. 

Notes for this recipe:  When preparing the genoise do not over beat or over mix as this causes the texture to be coarse and increases the chances that the cake will fall during cooling.  The genoise can be made one day in advance.  To store:  cool completely, wrap carefully in plastic wrap, place on an open sided cookie sheet and store in the refrigerator.  This dessert is not a keeper and must be eaten within several hours of assembly.  Organic heavy cream is recommended due to its superior flavor and whipped texture.  Double boiler:  make your own using two stainless steel bowls (see the picture below).  Cutting and serving:  Use a very sharp knife (to cut cleanly) and a cake server (to support the slice during cutting) simultaneously for cutting and serving.  Finally, my apologies for the pictures--working alone has its drawbacks!

Raspberry Slice

1 recipe genoise baked in a sheet pan (recipe below)
1 pint heavy cream (preferably organic)
Splash of pure vanilla extract
1 quart fresh raspberries

Cut the genoise into four equal sections each about 4 inches wide.  Select a platter for the cake and set aside.  Put the heavy cream in a bowl, add the splash of vanilla extract and whip the cream.  

Place one section of the genoise on the selected platter and spread with about ¼ of the whipped cream and top with 1/4 of the raspberries.  

Repeat with 2 of the 3 remaining layers.  Put the last slice of genoise in place and pipe 2 heavy lines of whipped cream down the sides of the slice.  Pipe rosettes at each end and around the base of the slice.  

Carefully fill the space between the piped lines with the remaining raspberries.  Serve immediately or chill up to 2 hours before serving allowing the cake to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.  Cut the cake with a sharp knife.

6 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour, sifted with a pinch of salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp, unsalted (sweet) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter two 8-inch round baking pans or one 11-1/2 x 15-1/2 inch sheet pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the parchment paper.  Set pan(s) aside. 

In a bowl over simmering water gently whisk the eggs and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is lukewarm. 

When the mixture is lukewarm, remove the bowl to the countertop.  Beat the egg and sugar mixture with a hand mixer at high speed until it becomes thick and pale.  The mixture will fall in a thick ribbon from a rubber spatula and mound on top of the batter for several seconds before sinking when it is ready.  

Sift the flour over the batter and gently fold in, only until it is mixed in.  Drizzle the butter over the batter, add the vanilla, and gently fold in only until incorporated. 
Pour the batter into prepared pans.  Bake until the cake pulls away from the edges of the pan, is lightly golden, springs back when gently touched, and tests clean in the center.   About 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove cakes to wire rack.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and very gently turn the cakes onto wire racks.  Gently remove the parchment.  Cool the cakes completely.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summertime Favorite

Potato Salad is a favorite summertime side dish.  We serve it at barbecues and picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers.  It is considered an important part of the “fixings.”  But, not all potato salad is created equal.  Actually, most potato salads hold a distinguished place on my Scary Food List. 

I grew up with American-style potato salad: over-cooked potatoes drowning in commercial mayonnaise, or even worse---sandwich spread.  The addition of chopped celery, green peppers and onion would sometimes redeem these mayonnaise-drenched side dishes.  The addition of hard-boiled eggs was an instant no go.  I’m a real hard-boiled egg fan, and I am quite partial to Deviled Eggs, but in potato salad? No thank you.

For this potato fan, German Potato Salad was a revelation. It is easy to prepare and travels well. Best of all, potato salad never tasted so good. 

Notes:  Do's:  Yellow onion can be substituted for red onion; Red potatoes can be substituted for Yukon Golds; Curly parsley can be substituted for flat leaf parsley;  Select potatoes that are about the same size Don't:   Substitute yellow mustard for the Dijon; Over cook the potatoes or allow them to sit in the water once they are cooked, as this will cause them to be mushy; Peel the potatoes before or after cooking. 

German Potato Salad

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
4 Tbsp. chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, mined
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. red peppercorns, crushed (optional)

Put the potatoes in a large pot with salted water to cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and lightly boil potatoes until they just tender and test done with a paring knife.  (When the potatoes are "just" tender, there should be a little resistance to the knife as it pierces the flesh.)  Watch potatoes carefully and be sure not to over cook them.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Drain well, and cool only enough for them to be easily handled.  

If the potatoes are large cut them in quarters or halves, leave small
potatoes whole.  Do not peel.  Put the potatoes in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. 

Gently mix with a rubber spatula coating the potatoes well.

Serve the salad slightly warm or cool completely--about 30 minutes, before covering tightly and placing in the refrigerator.  Allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.  Adjust seasoning and serve.  Store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Short, But Ever So Sweet

Strawberry season means that summer in Vermont has arrived.  The season is short, but ever so sweet.  This year we picked late, but found the berries plentiful and flavorful, in spite of the wet growing season.  Too much rain during the ripening of berries can water log the fruit often resulting in a less flavorful berry. 

Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits.  As a kid every strawberry season I’d break out in hives from over indulging.  As an adult, practicing restraint remains a challenge!  Although I love strawberries and know how to grow and prepare them (in ohh so many ways) I realized that I didn’t know all that much about their origin, and decided to do some research.  Here is what I learned:

Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and the strawberry itself is what is known as a “false fruit.”  The actual fruits are the 200 or so “seeds” that dot the surface the berry.  Each of these “seeds” is a teeny tiny fruit containing a single seed. 

Strawberries are native to Eurasia and the Americas, and have been cultivated for centuries. Romans cultivated strawberries and believed them to alleviate many medical conditions, including gout, melancholy, and infection.  The French began cultivating strawberries in the 14th century, and believed them to be an aphrodisiac.

In the Americas although wild strawberries were plentiful they were cultivated by indigenous peoples on both continents.  Colonists relied on the ready availability of wild strawberries. In the mid 1700’s when the expansion of settlements made the harvesting of strawberries in the wild difficult, colonists began selecting for cultivation the plants that produced the largest fruit.

The earliest recorded existence of an American strawberry species in Europe is in England in 1624.  South American strawberry species produced larger fruit, and were brought back to Europe from Chile early in the 18th century by a man named Frezier.  (Anyone want to guess where “fraise” the French word for strawberry came from?) And the rest is horticultural history!

Notes for this recipe:  For best results use only fresh, in season native strawberries.  Cloves and mace may seem like odd choices for a strawberry recipe, but this paring is no accident.  After years of experimentation, my dislike for the overuse of cinnamon coupled with my belief this spice does nothing to compliment the delicate strawberry, I finally settled on clove and mace.  These two spices add a fresh cool dimension to the pie and enhance the subtle flavor of the magnificent strawberry.  Yes, the pie in the picture was baked in a cast iron skillet, the precursor to Pyrex.

Strawberry Pie
2 lbs. strawberries, hulled, halved & if very large, quartered
¼ c. tapioca
¼ c. sugar
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 9” pie plate

Prepare pie crust, wrap in wax paper and place in refrigerator while preparing strawberries.

Place prepared strawberries, tapioca, sugar, mace and cloves in a large bowl.  Mix gently with a rubber spatula to combine.  Set aside to macerate and juice for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425.  Roll out half of the pie crust and fit into selected pie plate.  Trim so edge of pie crust hangs slightly below the lip of the pie plate.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape the prepared berries into the pie crust.  Roll out the remaining pie crust.  Fold into quarters and cut to create decorate vents.  Place folded crust on top of the berries.  

Unfold and stretch ever so slightly to open vents.  Trim crust to hang slightly below bottom crust.  To seal the crusts and create the edge, fold the upper crust under the lower crust, pinch and flute.

Place the pie in the oven and bake at 425 for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until juices are bubbling through the center vents in the top crust—about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove pie to a wire tack and cool completely or serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Store any leftover pie tightly covered in the refrigerator.