Sunday, March 20, 2011

Feasting on Art Recipe Contest

I do love a good challenge, especially one that involves ingredient pairings. When Feasting on Art announced that her second annual recipe contest would revolve around one of my favorite gastronomic subjects, cheese, I could not easily pass it up. Though, I have done an excellent job procrastinating on completing the project, as the deadline is close.

Floris Gerritsz van Schooten, A Still Life of Cheese, c.1585
oil on oak panel, 39.3 x 55.2 cm, Private collection

As much as I wish to be more balanced in my ease in both cooking and baking, baking tends to be my go-to, so instantly that was the direction my brain started spinning. I latched onto the idea of preserving the delicious flavors of spicy, salty blue cheese paired with sweet fruit and rich honey. It took me awhile to land securely on the form this took, as I know it has been done before in varying ways, and when including cheese in dessert-type recipes, there is a balance between intrigue and weirdness. I wanted to avoid the impression of the latter.




Hence, I hope you enjoy this creation. It was inspired by the easy jam tart recipe Smitten Kitchen provided on her blog about a year ago, which she adapted from David Lebovitz's wonderful cookbook Ready for Dessert. I modified the crust by deepening its flavors with buckwheat and honey and added a thin layer of blue cheese before laying down the jam. To finish, a honeyed marmalade glaze subtly balanced the flavors and added a nice sheen to the aesthetic.



I had fun adjusting the purposes in my photography for documenting this tart as well. In honor of the still life by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten that inspired this contest, I wanted to present it in a still life form as if I was setting out to render it with paint myself. Originally my intention was to carry on and do just that, but the afternoon didn't allow for it, and I am about to head into a busy week in which I really shouldn't leave cheese, sliced pear, and this tart (all of which I would like to eat) out in the open air indefinitely. I often wonder how the many still life artists from earlier centuries managed this, regarding food subjects. How long did it take them to finish their paintings? Did van Schooten's enormous chunks of cheese become too moldy? How much food was sacrificed in these endeavors as layers of oil paint dried, similar light was sought each day, and details were meticulously rendered?


Fig Jam and Blue Cheese Tart with Honey Buckwheat Crust

In selecting the cheese to use, I went with Bleu d'Auvergne because it has a creamy richness that is appropriate to dessert but also a relatively assertive spice that would help it hold its own among the other flavors. Any blue that balances these elements will do. I also had the advantage of using a wire cutter to slice the cheese thin, as I work at our local cheese shop. Do your best to get the cheese as thinly sliced as is reasonable with whatever tools you have on hand.

I chose to use a fig jam here because I had a fabulous one on hand. Its rustic texture and honey-like sweetness worked well, but you can certainly be flexible in the flavor you choose.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, whole
1 large egg yolk
3 Tablespoons honey, divided
1/3 pound blue cheese (see above)
1 1/2 cups jam (see above)
1/2 cup orange marmalade

Prepare a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom by thoroughly buttering it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, buckwheat, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar until smooth. On low speed, add the egg, the yolk, and 1 tablespoon of honey. Beat until all is combined, and then gradually add the dry flour mixture. When the entire dough begins to look wet and come together, remove the bowl and stir with a spatula for a few last turns to bring it together into a large ball.

Placing a large square of plastic wrap on the counter, transfer a third of the dough onto it and shape into a a log by folding the plastic around it and squeezing it long. It should measure about two inches (5 cm) in diameter. Place in freezer to harden until needed for the top of the tart.

Transfer the rest of the dough into the buttered tart pan and press it evenly around the pan. Using your fingers, spread the dough up the sides to the scalloped rim, bringing it level. When this is completed, refrigerate or freeze the dough until firm (I froze it for thirty minutes, and then it was ready to go).

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Lay a single layer of blue cheese down against the bottom crust of the tart. Spoon the jam over this and spread evenly.

Retrieve the log of dough from the freezer and cut it into very thin rounds. Layer each round on top of the jam, arranging to overlap each other and cover the top completely. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

As the tart is cooling, heat the marmalade and remaining 2 tablespoons of honey in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir frequently, until it smooths and thins out. Pour through a fine sieve, separating the orange rinds from the hot liquid. Discard rinds and brush the top of the tart with this glaze.

Savor and enjoy! The tart will keep well at room temperature for a few days and still taste good if kept longer in the refrigerator. Perfect for breakfast, afternoon tea, or dessert.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chronicling Days Off II

The sun has been generous to show its face in Bellingham the last few days.

window views III

Though it will be nice to finally have curtains on all my windows soon, I might just get in the habit of pulling one back right before slipping into bed so that I don't lose these opportunities for slow soft awakenings by morning light. An old fence, dirty white, and barren branches of plum trees fill my view. I know whether it is windy by the sway of the tall pines beyond. A damp grey blanket, puffy white clouds, or clear blue offer hints as to what I will encounter as I habitually move through quiet living room, step across cold kitchen floor, and fill my water glass at the sink beneath a window that faces the fresh day's sun.

This little house embraces outside light in such a rich sweet way that ten months into dwelling here, I still revel in it...

window views I

[Days off are for] admiring new curtains hanging over closet space.

new curtain

[Days off are for] sipping another brand of ginger ale/beer and hoping I'll taste a bit of New Zealand.

ginger ale
(I have yet to find one that matches up, though Delancey's house recipe is the closest.)

[Days off are for] making wheaten tea biscuits to replenish my depleted supply of Digestives.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Memories [Old and New]

Life has circled back around, and it is March. I am stirring two separate bowls of thick batter, one of which is creamy white and the other bright green and bitter. Tulip bouquets are now available outside the co-op, and I have a pitcher-full in the living room. Four years ago so many things were different, but two things are the same: I am in the kitchen making Matcha and White Chocolate Cake; there are tulips in reach, and I swear they are lifting their chins for the nearest camera lens.

matcha + white choc cake

I have made this marbled cake to share before, and upon request I am layering a bit of green and a bit of white and swirling a fork throughout. A certain friend is coming to town, and if she asked, I would make her five batches of puff pastry, a Bûche de Noël (with meringue mushrooms, even), or Boeuf Bourguignon - she's that sort of friend. But all she wants is Matcha and White Chocolate Cake.

I delivered a slice of this cake on a plain napkin to her journalism department when we were students focusing on papers, dreaming of more sleep, and scheming up future plans. The latter hasn't ceased, and it never should. But now we gather and savor this precious opportunity for catch-up as we talk about our day-to-day professions, friends who are married or soon will be, and what life looks like in opposite areas of the country.

Three of us gather, the third being an integral part of this reunion, and completing a trio of girls getting a trio of days to laugh, to draw serious, and to savor the pre-spring feel all about Puget Sound.

beach picnic salad

picnic lunch

We scoot close on beached logs lining a pebbled shore. We brave wind and persevere despite chilled fingers to nibble wheat berries mixed into a salad of greens, sweet potatoes, and walnuts, with an orange-shallot vinaigrette.

matcha cake


mustaches and windy beaches

We break apart the homemade loaf, view foreign shores, and pose with a whimsical bottle opener.

ferry riding


We ferry to Bainbridge Island. The pace is slow; the sun appears and disappears; there is wine to be sipped, and as the Seattle skyline draws close again, it is agreed that dinner at Delancey will be the right end to the night.


cupcake goodness

spring blossoms

Morning comes with a few last stops squeezed in before a dear friend's plane departs: chocolate samples before noon; decadent cupcakes boxed for carry-on back to Texas; hopeful spring blossoms; a visit to the Fremont Troll and his bridge.

So we return to this memorable marbled cake. Its flavors are simple and yet exotic, and each slice reveals a different pattern of gorgeous color. I really don't know why I let four years go by without making it again. I followed the same recipe practically to the letter, so I will simply refer you back to the beautiful blog La Tartine Gourmande by Béa. My original post is here.

matcha + white choc batter

matcha + white choc cake

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brazen Proclamations: The Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake

Sometimes the name of a recipe can make all the difference in its appeal. Beyond just listing tasty components like chocolate, cardamom, anchovies, lavender, or fresh fennel (preferably not all together), I am likely to dog-ear a recipe if its name includes something like "The Cake That Got Me Fired" or "The Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake".


Around the time that I discovered Saveur magazine (thanks to my culinary-savvy uncle), I stumbled across the recipe on its website for "The Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake." Such a brazen proclamation caught my full attention and has held it for at least two years.

Finally, I got around to making the recipe last week when I decided to veer off my grocery list (a frequent occurrence, actually). Too evocative of the coming spring season to pass by, I scooped up six meyer lemons and have been squeezing them into pasta and zesting them into vinaigrettes, but not before I set aside three for this set purpose.

Even though my experience in lemon cakes is limited, my results from this cake recipe were indeed damn good. The crumb was tight and moist. The taste was pure and gentle with fresh lemony tang around the golden crusted edges. I probably could have achieved more lemon flavor throughout but did not want to purchase lemon extract, since it is so rarely called for in recipes I encounter. Zesting an extra lemon ensured sufficient flavor, and I would use the same method all over again.


The Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8-10

I did not use the pan the original recipe specified (a light-colored metal loaf versus a dark one). Because of this, my cake did brown to a degree, but in no way that altered its taste. I simply needed to slip foil over it about twenty minutes into the baking process. Also worth noting before getting started, this cake improves with some sitting time, so try to bake it well enough ahead of serving. I allowed twelve hours from baking to slicing, but twenty-four is recommended.

8 Tbsp. melted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. fine salt
2 eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temp
1/2 cup almond meal
Zest of 3 meyer lemons
Juice of 2 meyer lemons

Heat oven to 350°. Butter a loaf pan measuring 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 3/4" and, for extra security, you may tuck in a square of parchment paper to line the long sides for easy removal.

Melt butter and allow it to cool slightly as you sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Combine butter and 1 cup of sugar in the large bowl of a standing mixer (or large bowl with electric hand beaters within reach). Mix until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just long enough to incorporate.

Next, alternate additions of the flour mixture and milk: on low speed, add a third of each batch at a time, beginning and ending with the flour.

Using a broad spatula, scrape down sides of bowl and gently fold in the lemon zest and almond meal to complete a sunshiny yellow fluid batter. Turn it into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 60 minutes. (Depending on the tint of your pan, it may start to brown around 20 minutes. If so, cover with foil). Once a toothpick comes out of the center clean, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

In the last ten minutes of baking your cake, prepare the glaze: in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Stir frequently until dissolved but not boiling.

As soon as the cake is out of the oven, and while the glaze is still hot, begin to brush it over the slopping surface of the cake. Patiently brush layer over layer until all the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, turn the cake out of its pan and allow it to cool upright on the cooling rack. When it has reached room temperature (or close to), wrap well in plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature for at least 12 hours.