Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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One whole apple per person

Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)

Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)

Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)

Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)

Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)

Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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A soup in shades of green

17 January 2017

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Sometimes color is the guiding principle when I cook. Or let me correct that. Color is always a guiding principle when I cook, but sometimes it is the main thread that weaves the inspiration of a dish. As in this soup. It comes together through the shades of each one of its elements. From a palette of wintry and tender greens to the pale yellow potatoes and onions.

The result is an effortless, delicate, everyday soup.

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2 medium onions
3 celery sticks
3 leeks
2 small celeriacs (celery root)
1 fennel
Bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel and dice the onion. Wash and slice the celery sticks finely. Remove the leeks’ outer leaves, wash the stalks well to remove all grit, then slice the stems finely. Remove the outer leaf of the fennel, cut in half lengthwise, then slice very finely (or with a mandoline). Peel the celeriac, cut in half, then each half into 2 cm wedges, and slice each wedges as finely as possible to get —approximately— thin two-cm pieces. Peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces of the same size as the celeriac.

Heat some olive oil at the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Let the diced onion and sliced celery sweat on medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes (they shouldn’t get brown). Add the rest of the vegetables, give it all a good swirl with a wooden spoon, add the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper, cover completely with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (the vegetables should be soft but not mushy).

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Christmas baking

8 December 2016

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There is nothing terribly new or ground-breaking about our Christmas baking. These are tradition, which is as it should be.

I say ‘our’ and ‘we,’ because my mom is the standard-bearer, she is present in each one of those painfully pressed out and carefully cut out stars. I find cookies a bit tedious, and many Christmas cookies are especially fiddly with an unnervingly sticky dough and precise shaping requirements. But they are custom, and the most exacting ones are also the very best (the cinnamon stars — but, hush, don’t tell the others).

Luckily my mom gets on with it, and before I’ve had the chance to write out the list of ingredients for the Stollen, the almonds are already ground, and the scent of cinnamon awaft.

Marcelle’s cinnamon stars

But lest anyone catches on to the fact that I am a lazy cook, here is my valiant  contribution to the Christmas spread: Stollen. I’ve rarely broken the promise, I’ve baked Stollen in Berlin, I’ve baked it in New York, I’ve flown it home across the Atlantic, I’ve made it through the night watching films while waiting for the dough to rise, and I’ve made it in London with yeast a few days too old, watching anxiously as the dough barely became plump. It’s a whole day’s (or night) work and worth every minute.

My grandmother’s Stollen

But for the indolent cook, here are little shortbread cookies that are a cinch to make and endlessly adaptable. I’ve known them all my life simply as ‘almond and currant cookies,’ but I’ve also used pistachios and saffron, and, here, pecans, cranberries, and orange blossom water.

Classic Christmas almond and currant shortbread cookies

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Finally, I have in the archives the recipe for another Swiss confection, small footed aniseed Chräbeli.

Swiss aniseed Chäbeli

Happy baking!

 

Quinces poached with honey and bay

20 October 2016

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For someone who has named their blog after the fruit, I have far too few quince recipes on this site! So if you have made too much quince jelly, if you have no time for quince paste, if you are still waiting for the lamb and quince tagine promised some six years ago (blame this, like so much else, on Thomas), here, finally, is a recipe for poached quinces.

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Poached quinces
Recipe inspired by Alice Waters’ poached quinces in Chez Panisse Fruit and Skye Gyngell’s baked quinces from A year in my kitchen

2 cups golden/caster sugar

4 medium quinces (about 2 lbs)

3 Tbsps flavorful honey

1/2 vanilla bean

One bay leaf (I used a fresh one)

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 untreated lemon

Make a syrup with the sugar and 6 cups (1.5 liters) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer briefly until the sugar has dissolved.

Meanwhile, wash, peel, core, and slice the quinces lengthwise into quarters then eighths (this must be done at the last minute as quinces tend to turn brown very quickly).

Slice one half of the lemon very thinly, and juice the other half.

Add to the simmering syrup the honey, the vanilla bean after scraping out the seeds into the syrup, the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, the lemon slices, the lemon juice, and finally, the quince slices. Cover the liquid with a round of parchment paper and place a weight on top if possible to ensure that the pieces of quince are submerged in the liquid as they cook. Let the quince simmer for approximately 45 minutes until they are tender.

Once cooked, carefully strain out the pieces of quince and place them in a bowl or canning jars. Return the syrup without the quinces to the heat and simmer down for a good 20 to 30 minutes to concentrate the liquid (there must be enough left to cover the fruit!).

If preserving, sterilize the canning jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and close the jars immediately after pouring the reduced hot liquid on top of the fruit.

If using immediately, pour the hot liquid over the fruit and let cool to room temperature.

In both cases serve with thick Greek-style yogurt.

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French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller varieties, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also stands deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. Whil

e exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — We French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold

1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)

1 1/2 tsps baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

4 large organic eggs

1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar

5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)

1 tsp real vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tins, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

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

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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