Sunday, June 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart

A day late, but better late then never . . .

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England. I remember thumbing by a recipe like this in one of Nigella's cookbooks and not paying it much mind. It sounded English, and, to be honest, I wasn't much interested in English desserts. After trying this one, I might have to rethink my avoidance, because it was pretty darn good! I love anything almond, and the frangipane came together quickly and behaved beautifully! I used a strawberry-rhubarb-rosewater preserve I had made a few weeks ago- the sourness of the rhubarb cut the sweetness from the dough and frangipane nicely. I did make a few cookies out of the dough scraps with peach jam and frangipane, and I must say it was a beautiful pairing!

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: Porcini

I know what you're thinking – oh, great, another Italian BYOB review. That's what I'm thinking too. Porcini has been around for quite some time; six years, at the very least, because that's the last time Lauren and I visited it. But now that we're within walking distance and with Lauren's visiting friend Sara offering to take us out, we gave it another go.

Claustrophobes might be advised to stay away, because Porcini is almost as small as its namesake mushroom, and the tables are pretty close together. Aside from a large party of eight-plus, it wasn't too crowded, though, so noise wasn't an issue.

We started with a trio of bruschetta, one topped with the traditional tomato and basil, one with white beans, and one with pesto. Tasty and a fine way to start the meal, but nowhere near a bargain at over $6. Sara had one of the specials, a salad of arugula, pears and blue cheese, which was about what you would expect.

All three of us went for pasta dishes, which make up the bulk of Porcini's menu. I had the linguine rustica, a simple dish of linguine tossed in a pancetta-studded pecorino cream sauce. The sauce achieved my holy grail of Creaminess Without Glopiness, and the smokey, crisp pancetta was a great addition, but the pasta was a little oversauced.

Lauren had the fra diavolo, which was a well-executed version of the shrimp and tomato classic. Sara had the homemade porcini ravioli, full of earthy mushroomy flavor.

Portions are sensibly sized, not huge, which may disappoint some given the $15-18 price range of the pastas, but quality over quantity, that's what I always say.

As for dessert, well, Capo Giro is half a block away, so we were unable to resist its magnetic pull.

Porcini may be "just another Italian BYO", but its quaintly cramped and homey interior plus solid execution on pasta classics makes a worthwhile addition to your rotation.

Porcini on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 7, 2009

German Chocolate Cake

I've had German Chocolate Cake on the brain lately. I don't know why, I've only had it a handful of times in my life. I think I might be getting bored with plain old chocolate cake, which I've been making A LOT lately. When Paul volunteered me to make a birtday cake for our friend Frank, I heard a little "wuh wah" in my head when he asked for chocolate. I forced Paul back to him to see if he might want a jazzed up chocolate, like German Chocolate or Black Forest. I heard a "dun-da-da- DAH!" in my head when Frank said German Chocolate was one of his favorites! Hooray!!

I had drooled over this recipe at David Lebovitz's blog, so I knew this was the one I was going to make.  I left out the rum syrup he suggests- the cake was great without it, but it could be a shade moister, so next time I'm going with the syrup.

Be sure to use a candy thermometer, if possible, when making the pecan-coconut filling.  I had mine at the ready, but it was stuck on celcius, and things were moving fast.  I couldn't figure out how to switch it back to fahrenheit, and was burning my fingers on the thermometer shaft, so I just ball-parked it.  The mixture does thicken as it cools, but I would have liked mine a tad more viscous.

The cake was met with raves at Frank's party, much to my relief.  Happy Birthday, Frank!  I'll make you another next year!

German Chocolate Cake- from David Lebovitz

One big, tall 9-inch cake; about 16 servings

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light 
corn syrup
1 ½ ounces unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

5. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

6. In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

7. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there's no trace of egg white visible.

8. Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

To make the filling:

1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the 3 ounces butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)

To make the syrup:

1. In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

To make the icing:

1. Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and 1 ½ ounces of butter.

2. Heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife.
Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush well with syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.

Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Review: Capital Grille

Lauren was out of town for a few days last week, which meant the time was right for some good-natured gentlemanly mischief. So I rounded up some of the boys from work, and we set out in search of a nice piece of meat. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but two of my colleagues had, apparently inspired by an episode of "Scrubs" I never saw, started a Steak Night tradition several months hence. Their previous visits were to the Broad and Chestnut outpost of the Capital Grille mini-chain, so we headed back there.

For lack of a better term, the vibe of the place is distinctly "lawyery". Large parties of besuited attorney types dominated the joint, but as a quartet of twenty-something "creative" types, we still felt comfortable. Tensions ran high when two of my companions' beloved lobster bisque was not on the menu, but luckily it was being offered as a special that day (though I get the feeling it may be a special every day). As we considered our beefy options, our white-coated waiter brought over a very well-made Manhattan and we were on our way.

I'm not going to waste too much time going into detail on the menu: it's standard steakhouse. It's not a salad until there's bacon on top of it, and my spinach salad didn't disappoint in this regard. A classic iceberg "wedge" salad had a nice buttermilk dressing on top. I can't speak for the bisque, since men don't share soup, but it looked mighty thick, which is a turnoff for me but some people might like it that way.

So the steak – I must say, I would love to see a little more variety on the menu. There's the filet, and the filet Oscar, and the porterhouse, but no ribeye, and the porterhouse is the only bone-in option. I went for the sirloin, medium-rare.

I can't say it was a bad piece of meat. It was juicy, tender, and flavorful, but it felt a little underseasoned to me. I found myself craving the alluringly salty, crispy crust of the ribeye I had a few months ago at Butcher & Singer. Still, it filled the bill, and there was some left over for steak and eggs the next morning.

For sides, we got the creamed spinach, which was excellent – maybe not quite as good as Butcher's lighter version, but a more ample portion. The sauteed wild mushrooms were a little lackluster.

I can't tell you how their cheesecake was, because dessert was a glass of Johnnie Walker Black at XIX.

So, for this Steak Night, at least, Capital Grille did the job. Workmanlike steaks at pretty decent prices, well-prepared drinks and sides, and professional service in a comfortable (if a bit corporate) atmosphere. For the money, my choice would be a return to Butcher & Singer, but if you can't get in there and you need a steak nearby, Capital won't disappoint.

Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CEiMB: White Gazpacho with Grapes and Toasted Almonds

White Gazpacho has been on my must-make list since January, just waiting for a nice summer day to come around. I was very excited to see the recipe in Ellie Krieger's cookbook, The Food You Crave, and when I was asked to pick the recipe for the first week of June, I had no problems going right to it.  

This was great- very substantial and filling for a soup, due to the bread.  Paul thought the vinegar was essential- I agree, but my favorite part was the cool, sweet grapes cutting the acid and the garlic.  

This is quick and easy enough for a weeknight supper, but I think it's pretty, and a little fancy, which makes it great for company.  

White Gazpacho with Grapes and Toasted Almonds

2007 Ellie Krieger, All rights reserved


  • 2 large English cucumbers (or 3 large regular cucumbers), peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 slices white bread, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 scallions, whites only, divided
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar or Sherry vinegar, plus more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup green grapes, halved


Set aside 1 cup of chopped cucumber for a garnish. Soak the bread in water until soft, about 2 minutes. Place soaked bread, the rest of the cucumber, garlic, 3 of the scallions, vinegar, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the almonds, salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until cucumbers are completely blended and liquid and almonds are almost completely invisible, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and vinegar, if desired.

To serve, ladle 1 cup gazpacho into a bowl. Mound 1/4 cup reserved chopped cucumber, 1 tablespoon scallions, 2 tablespoons grapes and 1 teaspoon almonds in the center of the soup.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: Varga Bar

I read about Varga Bar on Phoodie the week that it opened, but it was by chance that I landed in there the first time. Lauren's friend's boyfriend Karl and I were walking to meet the girls at a wedding rehearsal dinner and found ourselves in need of refreshment, so we ducked into Tria, only to find it too packed. Two blocks of walking later, we stumbled into beer Valhalla.

About twenty beers on tap. All American; about half local from such luminaries as Sly Fox, Dogfish Head and Flying Fish, and a smattering of nationwide standouts like Rogue – and most importantly for native Michigander Karl, Bell's Oberon. Karl went for that and I had a Rogue pilsner that was quite good. Karl's good-natured protest about the lack of an orange slice in his Oberon so endeared him to the bartender that we were treated to a taste of Backwoods Bastard, from Founders, another Michigan brewery. Aged in bourbon casks and clocking in at 9% ABV, it was like a smooth velvet hammer on the tongue, with a creamy head that made it taste like dessert. Luckily it was only a taste or I would have been in no condition to go to the rehearsal dinner.

But what's this: they serve food too? The menu looked pretty dynamite, and when I saw that they had Up in Smoke, possibly my favorite cheese ever, I knew we had to come back to eat soon. The menu proved far more seductive than the pin-up ladies painted on the ceiling.

So we went back, and here's what happened. First, we had to have the Up in Smoke. It's a goat cheese that's wrapped in smoked maple leaves, and it was served with a rather unfocused array of accompaniments, from sliced apples and pears to grapes to a mustardy sauce to a dried cherry and root beer sauce to ... well, let's say it would be helpful if the kitchen narrowed down the pairings so as to provide a more focused cheese experience. For $5, it wasn't a super-large hunk of cheese, but not bad considering what it must retail for, and again an excellent cheese nonetheless.

I was going to get the roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and truffled provolone, but our chat about the Clambake for Two was rattling around in my head and we made a last-minute decision to go for that instead. It sounded great from the menu description: lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels, along with potatoes, corn and sausage, all in a rich broth. For $36, a bit of a bar-food splurge but we figured what the heck.

I suppose it was the $36 floating above the pot that soured me on the experience, but I found myself somehow wanting more. Everything was delicious, but just too sparse. Once the lobster was out of the pot, there was one large shrimp, and then maybe 3-4 each of the shellfish items. I realize it's not a bad price if the lobster is taken into account, but I would have been happier with no lobster, more other stuff and a lower price tag. Even the cheap stuff, like the potatoes and corn, were in short supply – at least bulk things up by throwing more of them in there.

Again, though, the quality was very good. My lack of enjoyment of the dish was more attributable to the price (and my cheapskateness) and my aversion to disassembling crustaceans.

Though the chef still seems to be tinkering with the menu quite a bit, all signs point to this place being a hit. At the very least, it has established itself as one of the more formidable places in town to drink some quality beers. I will no doubt be back to give a few more items on the menu a shot.

Varga Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 1, 2009

R2R: Falafel

I find that falafel can be a very divisive food.  Where do you fall in the falafel universe?  Baked or fried?  Chickpea or fava?  Stuffed in a pita pocket or rolled up in the pita?  My go-to falafel is fried, fava based ball in a pita pocket.  Paul likes his rolled in the pita, for, according to him, maximum ingredient distribution.  

We haven't made falafel in forever, so I was excited to see this month's challenge for Recipes to Rival.  We've never made chickpea based falafel, only a chickpea/fava blend, so this was a new venture for us. They turned out very well – crispy and flavorful, and nice and moist inside, not dry at all like some chickpea-based falafel I've had.  The meal was a cheap one too, and pretty easy if you plan ahead to soak the chickpeas.  

In a related note, I tried to make fresh pita, a challenge put to us by Lori, our host this month. It was an utter failure.  Decent flatbread, but it had no pockets and it was pretty doughy for a pita.  

We served our falafel with homemade tabouleh and baba ghanoush.

Pictures to come when I get home to the camera!

Falafel: Chickpea Patties

Recipe by Madelain Farah, Lebanese Cuisine, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001

    *  1 pound dried chickpeas
    * 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
    * 2 cloves garlic, crushed
    * 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    * 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    * 1 teaspoon baking soda
    * 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    * 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes, optional
    * Salt and pepper, as needed
    * 1/2 cup vegetable oil


    * 6 to 8 pitas, tops sliced open and lightly toasted
    * Shredded lettuce, as needed
    * Tomato wedges, as needed
    * Sliced red onion, as needed
    * Sliced cucumbers, as needed
    * Tahini Sauce, recipe follows


Make the Falafel: Soak the chickpeas in cold water in the refrigerator overnight.

Drain the chickpeas and place them with the onion in the bowl of a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the oil. Mix well. Process the mixture a second time. Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls and deep-fry or pan-fry in hot oil.

Make the Sandwiches: Stuff the pitas with lettuce and nestle the falafel patties inside. Top with the rest of the ingredients and drizzle with the tahini sauce. Serve immediately.