Thursday, March 22, 2012

Raspberry Euphoria Coffee-Cake . . . A Tale of Magnetron Redemption

It was 11:00 on Wednesday morning and I stood in my kitchen, face to face with a kindly appliance repairman. "Whatcha need here is a new magnetron . . . that's whatcha need." His tone was laced with sympathy. He knew the very word sounded expensive: Magnetron. Like something Superman might keep stashed under his cape for emergencies.

I gaped at him silently. "Why not just tell me I need a new cyclotron?" That's what I wanted to say, but I  merely nodded and let him continue. "Now, you might still be under warranty, but I dunno. Gotta go to my truck and check it out." While he was gone I pondered the implications. The odds were slim and none that I wouldn't have to pay to replace this futuristic-sounding part. All I wanted was for my once-high-end built-in microwave oven to heat stuff again, and to do so without making aggrieved grinding noises. It had suddenly conked out a couple of days before. My 15-year-old son, a devoted user of the thing, stuck a little note on it that read, "May God help us all."

Imagine my surprise when the friendly repairman popped back in the door and glanced at me reassuringly. Yep, I was still covered and he actually had the part with him! He finished the job within half an hour and my bill was minimal, relatively speaking. I was so happy I just had to bake something. Not in the microwave, of course, but you know what I mean. Sometimes when little daily events like that actually go well, a girl gets the urge to celebrate by baking. It's a perfectly natural response, don't you think?

About this recipe . . .

This one is all mine. Yep, a completely original recipe right from the get-go (whoo hoo!) and I thought the cake turned out really well--not overly sweet, not too rich, just right. It's a simple formula that makes use of ricotta cheese in the batter, and a small amount of cream cheese in the streusel. Fresh raspberries and a smidgen of seedless raspberry jam factor in as well. So, all in all, it was a very good day. I made the cake shortly after the repairman, whose name I never did catch (Clark Kent, maybe?), drove away. If he'd still been here, I'd have given him a nice big wedge of it to take home.

Raspberry Euphoria Coffee-Cake
(or, if you prefer, Raspberry Ricotta Coffee-Cake with Cream Cheese Streusel)

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. This can be made in a 9" round regular cake pan, or a 9" found springform pan.

Butter your pan. Line the bottom with a round piece of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Flour the inside of the whole pan, tapping out the excess.

Ingredients for the streusel topping, and glaze:
3 oz. cold cream cheese, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 small pinch salt (I used regular salt)

3 Tbsp. seedless raspberry jam (to drizzle atop the streusel when you assemble the cake)

For the glaze:
1 cup (or more) confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. milk (add more if you'd like a thinner glaze)
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)

Ingredients for the cake:
1 cup traditional ricotta cheese, not too cold
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted but not hot
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
6 oz. fresh raspberries

Make the streusel first:
In a medium size bowl, mix the sugar, flour, and salt with a fork. Cut-in the cream cheese and butter chunks using a hand-held pastry blender or a couple of knives (you can even do this with your fingers if you're quick about it), until small visible chunks of miscellaneous size remain. Cover the bowl and chill the streusel while you prepare the batter.

Make the batter:
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium-low speed, mix together the ricotta, eggs, melted butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth; about two or three minutes.

Now on low speed, add the flour in gradually, mixing just until well combined for a minute or so. 

Spread half the batter into your prepared pan.

Dot the batter with half the fresh raspberries and gently press them partway down into the batter.

Spoon the rest of the batter on top and smooth it out with a small offset spatula; scatter the remaining berries and gently press them into the batter.

Stir the chilled streusel with a fork, and evenly scatter all of it onto the top of the cake batter. Drizzle the seedless raspberry jam here and there in little streaks over the top of the streusel.

Bake the cake on the middle rack for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly dry. The cake should be just lightly golden on top, and more golden on the sides. The sides of the cake should look like they've begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.

While the cake is starting to cool, mix up the glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, milk, and almond extract. Just keep stirring until the glaze is completely smooth. Add more sugar if you'd like a thicker glaze; add slightly more milk if you prefer a thinner glaze. 

Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, no more and no less, on a rack before attempting to remove it from the pan.

Run a thin knife or metal spatula around the sides of the pan. Place a plate over the top of the cake and quickly invert it, tapping firmly on the bottom of the pan to help knock it out. Lift off the pan, then place the cooling rack on the cake bottom; still holding firmly onto the plate, re-invert the cake back onto the rack to let it finish cooling.


(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bumbleberry Pie . . . for Pi Day 2012!

I don't know about you, but I always seem to miss Pi Day (03/14!). In the almost three years since I started this blog, I have never remembered to make a pie for the big day! Maybe it's because I'm no good at math? That's one theory. I had no real trouble until seventh grade, when geometry reared its ugly head. It was just too abstract for my liking, I guess, and things went down hill from there.

No wonder I took cover in books (pun intended) and eventually became an English major, who worked--predictably--in a college bookstore. Then I dabbled as a high school English teacher until I realized that wasn't where my heart lay, and then spent almost twenty years working in editorial departments for a publishing company. So, no math for me. Well, at least not the real scary kind.

This year, though, I felt I should give Pi Day its due with a nice--what else!--pie, and it just so happened that I was already planning to make a bumbleberry pie when the special occasion conveniently rolled around. Thus we have today's treat--a bubbly, juicy, gorgeously fruit-packed dessert for all of you math lovers (and math haters) out there!

About this recipe . . . 

The crust recipe--a really good one and very reliable--came from Ken Haedrich's massive chunk of a book (over 600 pages), which is aptly titled Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. I have no doubt this volume is getting a heavy workout today in kitchens across the country.

The filling was pretty basic, so didn't require a formal recipe. I just cobbled it together based on my own past experience: thawed frozen Montmorency (sour) cherries (from northern Michigan, of course!), fresh blueberries, a few fresh blackberries, and one small, sweet, peeled Honeycrisp apple, chopped into small pieces. All of  it mixed with sugar, cornstarch, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a splash of lemon juice. That's it! Too easy.

So what's a bumbleberry anyway, speaking of abstraction? There's no such thing! It just refers to a fruit-filling involving any assortment of berries, as well as apple and/or rhubarb.  What a great name for a pie! Bumble bees come from north and south to hover around these pies, as you can see (that little design I put on the top is supposed to be a bee . . . can you tell?).

Bumbleberry Pie
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the crust: 

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp.  salt (I used coarse kosher.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into small chunks
4 oz. very cold water

In the large bowl of a food processor, dump the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse it a few times to mix it up. (You could certainly also make this dough by hand, using a pastry blender.)

Add in all of the butter pieces and pulse several times. Open the lid and use a fork to unclump the contents. Add in all the shortening and pulse several times. Open the lid again and unclump/fluff the contents with your fork. Now, drizzle 4 Tbsp. of the cold water all over the top. Pulse about six times. Drizzle in 4 more Tbsp. of the cold water and pulse again about six times. It should look crumbly, with chunks here and there the size of large peas. Gather a small bit in your fingers and squeeze it together. Does it hold together easily? If so, good. If not, drizzle a tiny bit more water and pulse again. When it's the proper texture (it should be not too sticky--too much water wrecks pie crust--and not too dry), dump it all out into a large bowl. With your hands, gather it all together into a big ball. Cut the ball in half almost evenly (the slightly larger part will be for the bottom crust), and shape each half into a disk about an inch high. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill it for at least an hour, preferably longer (up to about 24 hours max) and, if you want to be on the safe side, mark them with the date/time you made them, and note which one is slightly larger (I write "top" and "bottom").

When you're ready to roll out your pie crust, take the disks out of the fridge and let them warm slightly for about twenty minutes or so. Flour your work surface, your rolling pin, and the dough disk you're about to roll out. Very lightly grease your pie plate with vegetable shortening. Roll the dough out so it's a couple of inches larger than the circumference of your pie plate. Transfer the rolled dough to the plate (I find it easiest to roll the crust loosely right onto my rolling pin and then unroll it directly onto the plate, but use whatever method works for you). If you'll be baking within half an hour or so, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If it'll be more like an hour until you bake, refrigerate the  dough-lined pie plate.

To prepare the filling: 

4 cups frozen sour cherries, thawed and drained (I used Montmorency cherries.)
1 and 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup fresh blackberries
1 sweet apple, peeled and chopped into very small pieces (I used a very firm, medium-size, Honeycrisp.)
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

In a large bowl, place sour cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and apple pieces. Drizzle with lemon juice and toss gently to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scatter this over the fruit and stir gently to distribute it evenly. Set aside for about ten minutes.

When your oven is heated, and your pie is ready to be filled with fruit, pour all of the bumbleberry mixture into the shell. Dot the top with little pieces of unsalted butter. Roll out the top crust and place it over the fruit, sealing the edges firmly as you prefer (with your fingers, with the tines of a fork, etc.). Carefully cut a few steam vents/slits in the top. Brush the top of the crust lightly with milk (don't brush the edges of the pie; they're the first to darken) and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar. Place the pie in the oven atop a baking sheet, or atop a piece of foil you've sprayed with vegetable spray (so it won't stick to your plate) to catch spills. Bake at 400 for about 25; check the pie and turn it around. If it's browning too fast, cover the top lightly with foil. Continue baking until the pie is golden, at least 15 to 20 more minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 if at any point you're worried about it burning.

Let the pie cool completely (or almost) before slicing.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Winter Peach Ice Cream on a Popcorn Cookie

Around these parts, as I'm sure you know, ice cream is pretty popular year round. Homemade peach ice cream, though, is usually reserved for those long sunny months when the fuzzy fruit is well in season, when markets are loaded down with those gorgeous rosy globes. That's the general rule, right? Whenever you can, use fresh fruit in season.

But rummaging around in our freezer the other day, I came across a bag of long forgotten, but still fully viable, peach slices and thought it might just be time to whip up a batch of the homemade stuff--winter or no winter. After all, there's no law on the books prohibiting it. May not be preferable, in ideal circumstances that is, but using frozen fruit's not even a misdemeanor. No jail time will be served. So go check your freezer, right now. Way in the back. Bet you've got a bag of frozen peaches in there somewhere, too.

But wait, enough about the ice cream . . . what is that curious disk supporting it? Why, that's made from a happily baked concoction of popped popcorn that's been pureed with sugar, a tiny pinch of salt, and melted butter. Who knew that popcorn could ever morph into such a neat little platform, crunchy as all get out, and tasty as heck? I admit I never knew popcorn even had this potential until I took pastry classes.

Pastry chefs have been known to use the wackiest components imaginable in coming up with fancy desserts, some of them so commonplace you would hardly believe it. So why not employ the most plebeian treat of all in something that can be made at home in a few minutes? If pastry chefs can do it, so can we. Don't be shy. Get out the popcorn!

About this recipe . . .

Pulling out my copy of The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz, I noticed it's getting increasingly dog-eared, some of the pages lightly smeared from the residue of whatever ingredient was on my hands while using it. The book's a little masterwork, in my opinion, and it's chock full of the best ice cream recipes I've ever come across. I had to wade through some very disappointing ice cream volumes before finally being saved by The Perfect Scoop.

Yeah, I know, I'm preaching to the choir and I've sung this hymn of Perfect Scoop praise before. Needless to say, this peach ice cream is refreshing and too darn simple to be believed. No eggs in this particular formula, and nothing to heat on the stove. In other words, it's screw-up proof. You have nothing to lose.

I adapted the recipe to suit my purposes by adding in a wee dab of peach schnapps and reducing the amount of vanilla extract, omitting the water and lemon juice altogether, and using frozen uncooked fruit versus the fresh cooked fruit suggested in the book. I also reworded the instructions to reflect exactly what how I assembled everything. 

The popcorn cookie recipe was adapted from a recipe for an herb-spiked tart shell, designed for use with a cheesecake filling, that I found here, in the McCormick spice company's site. I nixed the herbs entirely and adjusted the method, rewriting it in the process.

Winter Peach Ice Cream and Popcorn Cookies
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: 6 large cookies and a full quart of peach ice cream

To make the popcorn cookies:

3 generous cups of plain, freshly popped, popcorn
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 pinch salt 
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.

Place all of the popcorn in the large bowl of your food processor. Sprinkle the sugar and salt over it. Pulse repeatedly until the mixture starts to resemble the texture of rough cornmeal.

Pour in the melted butter and pulse again, a few more times, until it's evenly mixed in.

Divide the mixture evenly into the ungreased cups of a jumbo-muffin-top pan (that's what I used, similar in size to a whoopie-pie pan) or a regular muffin pan, pressing down to form a flat cookie shape in the bottom.

Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cookies look golden around the edges.

Let the baked cookies cool on a rack, in the pan, for about 15 minutes or so, then lift each one out carefully using the pointed tip of a sharp knife for leverage to help get them out. They should not stick to the pan.

They are kind of delicate, so handle them carefully and let them cool completely. Keep them in an airtight container until you're ready to use them.

For the the ice cream:

2 lbs. of semi-frozen unsweetened sliced peaches, chopped and drained
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream (I suggest using a predictably thick brand, like Breakstone or Daisy)
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. peach schnapps

In a large bowl, mix together the peaches and sugar. Let it sit until the peaches are almost completely thawed.

Pour the entire mixture into the large bowl of your food processor and pulse repeatedly until there are only small lumps remaining (at this point, if you prefer an ice cream with no little visible pieces of peach, go ahead and puree the mixture until smooth).

Add in the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and schnapps, and pulse just until well combined.

Pour into a clean container, cover it well, and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Process the chilled mixture in your ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's directions (I use the ice cream maker attachment that goes with my Kitchen Aid mixer, then I put the churned ice cream into a freezer-safe container and leave it in there for almost a day or so before serving).

Let your frozen ice cream soften slightly before serving so it will scoop more neatly.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)