Archive for the ‘Easy’ Category

Illustrious plum torte

6 October 2018

I buy plums because how can I not, in the momentary season that will soon give way to an endless monotonous expanse of apples and pears?

Five days later they are still on the kitchen counter and, miraculously, apparently intact, without the dispiriting tinge of fermentation that has all too often come to taunt me with an accusatory waft of neglect.

It is high time to use them up, and I am hesitating between jams and quick compotes, just as a friend writes to say she is coming to London and can she stay with us. Of course, as always. And so it will be cake.

I could have made either of the ones already on these pages (here and here), but my attention is turned elsewhere. I want to bake Marian Burros’ illustrious plum torte, which I’ve heard about and read about for years and decades, but, just as those impulsively purchased plums, neglected too often, too long.

The recipe* was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and every fall thereafter, during peak plum season, for the next twelve years. When they decided to stop publishing it, with the last printing in extra large type ‘with a broken line border to encourage clipping,’ the paper was nonetheless assailed by angry letters. It is said to be the most requested and most often published recipe in the newspaper’s archives, and is usually described as famous, iconic, one of the newspaper’s most popular recipes.

It could seem difficult to come on the trail of so much lore, but astoundingly, after all those years, the cake lives up to its reputation. I won’t regret that I hadn’t made it before, I’m just glad it has become part of my dream plum life.

*The recipe was allegedly given to Burros by Lois Levine, her co-author on the 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook.

Marian Burros’ plum torte (<— click link to the original recipe)
I have doubled the recipe and substituted ground almonds for some of the flour. I preferred to omit the cinnamon.

250g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter
210g (1 1/2 cups) flour
75g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
15 to 20 plums
Brown sugar and juice from 1/2 a lemon for topping (and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamon, why not?)

Heat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter a springform pan about 25cm (10″) in diameter.

Leave the butter to soften at room temperatire until easy to mix.

Wash and cut the plums in half lengthwise, removing the stones.

Beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, paking powder, salt, and eggs and stir well.

Spoon the batter into the dish. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter so they fit snugly. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice (and a spice if using).

Bake for about an hour until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean (the cake will remain moist from the plum juices). Cool before eating. As with most cakes, it will taste even better the next day, covered and left at room temperature.

Classic French tomato tarte with mustard

20 September 2018

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From memory, it was in Elle magazine; one of a sweeping collection of recipe cards, cut out along the dotted line, neatly organized, in a couple of bright orange bakelite boxes, color-coded and arranged by dish — starter, meat, dessert, etc. — most probably from the nineteen eighties. My mom’s.

This, at least, is how I remember it. Neither my mother nor my sister can recall where the recipe for this tarte — the clever combination of tomatoes with sharp mustard which mellows as it cooks — really comes from. In fact, it seems to be part of the French subconscious. As I was trying to corroborate the recipe’s origin I realized that according to the usual web search engines, in France ‘tarte à la tomate’ automatically defaults to ‘et à la moutarde.’

Regardless of whether it actually did once appear in Elle, there is no doubt that it is a French classic, and in my view firmly anchored in the 1980s. There are tomatoes, Emmental, mustard, a sprinkling of dried thyme at most. No fancy flours in the crust, no fresh herb flourishes.

I break these rules sometimes and add a few cut herbs, or substitute Comté for Emmental. But at heart the combination of tomatoes, mustard, and cheese remains. Its simplicity is testament to a recipe classic.

We make versions of it every summer, often on days when there isn’t a plan but always an enormous stash of tomatoes at different levels of tenderness that need rapid eating.

Tomato tarte with mustard

One uncooked savory pie pastry (see recipe below)
Strong Dijon mustard
Hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté, grated
Tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried or fresh thyme (also oregano, basil)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Roll out the pie crust and carefully transfer to a well-buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork (so it won’t puff up as it bakes).

Spread a generous amount of mustard over the crust (like a shmear of cream cheese, the sharpness will mellow as it cooks). Sprinkle the grated cheese all over the crust. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Season with salt and pepper and thyme (or other herb).

Slide into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, the tomatoes cooked, and the juices bubbling.

Serve immediately.

***

Quick savory pie pastry

200g cold butter
200g flour
A pinch of salt
A little ice-cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks.

Prepare the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingertips, crumbling the butter and flour together until most of the butter chunks have become grains, but other larger bits remain. Add a little ice water, just enough to gather the crust into a smooth ball. (It’s important not to overhandle the dough, which will ensure that it remains flaky when cooked.)

Let the rest dough rest, covered, in the refrigerator, for at least one and up to 24 hours.

If the dough has been in the refrigerator for a few hours, allow a little time for it to soften before rolling it out.

Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

12 July 2018

These were the last of the gooseberries here this year but I had to write down the recipe for next summer — in that magic week or two when gooseberries and cherries have a chance to meet, make this clafoutis!

Last year by happenstance I mixed gooseberries and strawberries — in jam, and in cake (about which I finally wrote last week). What an incredible combination. And now this. Yesterday, by chance again, just because I buy much too much fruit at this time of year and actually had a forgotten bag of cherries and some gooseberries on the verge of shriveling, I made another cake.

I’m starting to believe that goosegogs are the berry equivalent of msg. They make everything more delicious. All at once they enliven and deepen the flavor of each fruit with which they are paired — dessert umami.

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Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

About 500g each of cherries and gooseberries
2 Tbsp flour (one for the batter and one for dusting the fruit)
3 eggs
4 Tbsps light brown sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis
250 ml (1 cup) milk
2 Tbsps ground almonds
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp kirsch

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

Wash and pit the cherries. Wash and rub off the fuzz from the gooseberries. Cut them in half if quite large.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sifted flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour and ground almonds, lemon zest, salt, and kirsch.

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool before eating.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

5 July 2018

Our season of birthdays has come and gone, and it was marked by a few disconcerting cake wishes. Our tradition is to celebrate birthdays, with presents and cake, at breakfast. This brought about some unsettling cake choices.

Crumbles. An apple crumble seemed like a humble birthday cake wish, but in March, it’s acceptable. In June, it is not. I was quite distressed about having to ask our local grocery shop for apples in June. (They did scoff. Or was I imagining it?) But birthday wishes are not open to veto.

Luckily, my other June birthday child was willing to give in to my gentle nudging — or was it open pleading — that I make him THIS cake. This perfect, easy, quintessentially June cake.

It is based on the classic French yogurt cake — easy as pie — about which I’ve spoken before. Yogurt cakes are the first cakes many French children learn to bake because all the measurements are calculated in volume, using a standard yogurt pot as the unit. [Read more about it here.]

I make it often because it is so easy, and also for the perfect light sponge texture. On popular demand, here is its early summer strawberry and gooseberry incarnation, the recipe translated for a country where 100ml yogurt pots are not ubiquitous.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
2 pots (100ml) melted butter
3 pots (300 ml) light brown sugar plus 2 Tbsps for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) flour plus one Tbsp for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 1 lemons
Strawberries and gooseberries about one cup each
Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Stir all the ingredients together except the fruit in a large mixing bowl to obtain a smooth batter.

Wash and trim the berries. Cut the strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on their size, and the gooseberries in half. In a medium bowl, toss with 2 Tbsps sugar and one Tbsp sifted flour (this will prevent the fruit from falling to the bottom of the cake while baking).

Gently stir the berries into the batter. Pour into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven. Once completely cool, sprinkle with icing sugar for decoration.

Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

5 October 2017

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Autumn is here, majestically, and there are just a few more chances to eat plums before apples and pears, like cuckoos displacing another’s eggs, occupy our fruit baskets until spring.

In this season, plums signal cake — a streak of autumn riding on the rays of summer; the rhythmic reassurance of an oven heating after months of outdoor grilling and barely any cooking.

And to the point, I already have at least one October plum cake on these pages somewhere. It is a fine plum cake, but there can never be too many, and as a genuine ritual it bears validation.

Like many of my cakes, this one is easy. It is loosely based on a basic pound cake recipe, simply transmogrified by those plums, some lemon zest, and a scattering of buckwheat. An astonishing combination.

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Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

Juice and zest from one lemon
240g butter
200g light brown sugar plus one or two tablespoons for the plums
4 large eggs
100g flour
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds (or almond flour)
1 lb (450g) plums (one or a combination of greengages, Victoria plums, Italian plums, quetsches but not the plump watery supermarket varieties that have no taste)

Let the butter soften at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter generously an 25cm (9″) round cake form.

Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Wash, cut, and stone the plums. Toss the quarters with the lemon juice (not the zest!) and one or two tablespoons of sugar. Set aside.

Beat the softened butter and sugar thoroughly with a wooden spoon until creamy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well between each egg. Once all the eggs are incorporated, add the flours together with the baking powder, then the ground almonds and the lemon zest.

Gently add the plums to the batter and stir to combine. Scrape into the prepared cake tin, slide into the oven, and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes. The cake will be done when a knife/toothpick/skewer comes out clean (the juicier the plums, the longer it may take).

Let cool a little or completely before serving. As always, thick yogurt or clotted cream are fine companions.

 


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