Thursday, January 24, 2013

Calico Cupboard

Cream Puff
Calico Cupboard, $6.49

I learned about Calico Cupboard from a rabid fan of their apple cake who was loudly talking smack in a rival bakery.  Visiting lovely little La Conner on a day trip, I reckoned I'd judge that apple cake for myself--but it turns out only to be available "in season".  So instead I had (part of) a cream puff the size of a kickball but much more toothsome:  flaky pastry, glassy chocolate, rich custard, and airy whipped cream. 

And I added "apple cake" to my fall calendar.

Calico Cupboard
720 S 1st St 
La Conner WA

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Buttermilk Lemon Sorbet


Buttermilk Lemon Sorbet

While I can vividly remember resenting buttermilk for not tasting like melted butter, I've since either matured enough killed off enough taste buds to appreciate this tart, old-fashioned dairy stalwart.  

Buttermilk in pancakes?  Yes!  In bran muffins?  Of course!  In this crazy-easy buttermilk lemon sorbet?  Don't get between me and my spoon!  

The buttermilk contributes an easy-to-digest but velvety richness that comes through even if you skip using an ice cream maker.  Meyer lemon juice adds another layer of tartness, so mix in just enough sugar for balance. 

Don't be put off by the large number of variables in this flexible recipe.  Using regular lemon juice instead of Meyer?  You might want a little more sugar.  Trying to cut back on the sugar?  You might want to go for the cream or milk option instead of full-on buttermilk.  If it comes out too tart, just serve with shortbread or a little chocolate syrup.

Buttermilk Lemon Sorbet

2/3 c freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 c sugar (to taste)
2 c buttermilk + 2 c other dairy (more buttermilk, cream, whole milk, kefir, etc) 

Combine the sugar lemon juice and either whisk in a bowl or shake in a sealed jar until the sugar completely dissolves. Whisk the juice together with the buttermilk and any other dairy products. Pour into a large tupperware container and chill for an hour. Transfer to the freezer and rake with a fork every 45-60 minutes to break up the ice crystals as they form.

I based my recipe on Katie at the Kitchen Door, who based hers on Rozanne Gold's Radically Simple cookbook. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Nata de Coco

Nata de Coco
Chakoh, $1.68/jar

In the Philippines, around a third of the population makes a living from coconut-related activities and products.  Known affectionately as the "tree of life", the coconut palm yields an astonishing range of goods, from buttons and building materials to a store's-worth of edibles including coconut flesh, cream, milk, jam, curd, sugar, flour, and oil.  

One of the simplest coconut products is the basis for one of the most complicated.  To make coconut water all you do is poke a hole or two through the hull and pour out the refreshing drink sloshing around inside.  To make nata de coco, you combine that water with a specific bacteria, acetobacter xylinium, and let it ferment.  The bacterial colony produces a thick, squishy mat of coconut-flavored cellulose.  Cleaned, sweetened, and cut into pieces, that gel is a high-fiber, low-fat delicacy enjoyed in drinks, pudding, fruit salad, or shaved ice desserts.  

Although nata de coco is Spanish for "coconut cream", these cubes have a uniquely rubbery texture.  Nata de coco is chewier than agar, less sticky than tapioca, and much tastier than an eraser.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Cake

New Year's Cake

This New Year, how about partying like it's 1834?  You'll just need a batch of New Year's cakes.

The practice of making New Year's cake arrived in this country with seventeenth century Dutch immigrants, spread from there to their New York neighbors, and then to Quakers and Congregationalists.  The cakes were a perfect match for the old New York custom of throwing open one's doors on New Year's Day to a parade of visitors.  The occasion called for impressive but achievable refreshments, so hostesses relied heavily on small cookie-like cakes; they might be cut into exacting shapes, dotted with exotic aromatic spices, or embossed with ornate designs. 

The popularity of the illustrated cakes sparked an entire industry centered on the production of carved wooden "prints" of varying size and intricacy for both commercial and home use.  John Conger was one noted print carver; his large mahogany molds are now rare and extremely valuable.

With no Conger in my kitchen, I tried making my own mold--but new to both carving and using this type of mold, I made several rookie mistakes.  Next time I'll carve my designs more deeply, roll the dough and then chill it before doing the embossing, and let the raw cookies sit overnight as instructed.  The finished cookies were great with coffee:  light and just sweet, with the unexpectedly cool, savory flavor of the caraway seeds--and the faint hint of my intended design!

New Year's Cake Recipe
-circa 1834, from William Woys Weaver, America Eats

2 sticks salted butter
2 c sugar
1 c sour cream or plain yogurt
2 T caraway seeds
5 c pastry flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t cream of tartar

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the sour cream and caraway seeds.  Sift together the flour, soda, and cream of tartar twice, then sift into the batter and mix well.  Wrap and allow to ripen in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Roll part of the dough out to 1/2" thickness and if using a mold, press it into the dough and then cut out the cookie; if not using a mold, use a knife or cookie cutter to create shapes.  Rework all the dough scraps until all of it is used up.

Set the cookies on greased baking sheets with at least 1/2" between them.  Let them sit in a cool place overnight so that the imprints will set.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 10-12 minutes; the bottoms should be golden and the tops pale.