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Archive for August, 2015

I had my last piece of this cake for breakfast this morning.

apricot amaretti cake

It’s the apricot cake I made for shabbat last week and after I shared it with my guests, I made another one for myself. All for me!

It’s a variation on the cake I’ve started calling my “back pocket cake” – I wrote about it for the Forward this week and it’s a cake that’s so incredibly simple and versatile that I make it all the time with whatever fruit looks good. I’ve even developed a super cheesy mnemonic so that I no longer have to refer to the recipe. I quote (myself): “So far, my best attempt has been counting it out like a bandleader revving up his crew with a few snaps of his fingers: a 1, and a 2, and a 1-2-3-4. If you squint and cock your head to the side and use a little imagination, you’ll remember this stands for a one (cup flour), and a two (eggs), and a one-half (cup oil) three-fourths (cup sugar). It’s a bit of a stretch, but once you make it, you’ll never need the recipe again.”

I first made the cake with apples just a few months into this blog when I was hosting my first ever Rosh Hashanah dinner. It is, I believe, the most linked-to post on my blog and the recipe that my friends make year after year for their own families. Some actually refer to it at Gayle’s apple cake. I’m blushing.

Today’s version is apricots with amaretti. Amaretti are crunchy little meringue cookies that have an almond flavor but are actually made with ground up apricot kernels (which are sometimes known as the poor man’s almonds because they taste like the nut, only slightly more bitter). Clearly a perfect match for the apricots I found in the market.

Now, up until last week, I’d never tried a fresh apricot and I’m not really sure I was missing much. I twisted one open and it tasted like a lesser version of a peach, as if it was unwilling to share itself with anyone. But I had made up my mind to bake them into a cake, so I went ahead with my plan. Worst case, I had ice ream.

Now fresh apricots might not be much to talk about, but cooked? Whew, cooked is where they shine. The heat loosens up their greedy grip on flavor and they transform. In the cake, they slump into the batter and release syrup that pools in the wells left by the pits and leaks into the cake.

Out of the oven, the cake has a dense crumb – just the way I like it – with pockets of sticky apricot and the crunch of almond-flavored cookies. A little reminiscent of coffee cake, which, again makes me feel justified eating it for breakfast.

apricot amaretti cake

Apricot and amaretti cake

This is a variation on my any-fruit back-pocket cake (see below).

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  ½ t vanilla extract
–  ½ t almond extract
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 7-8 apricots, sliced into halves or quarters
– 3 T crushed amaretti cookies (6-8 cookies)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, and extracts until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want. Halves skin-side down make a dramatic cake as the fruits sink quite a lot and you end up with a craggy cake moonscape. Quarters balanced on their sides allow the cake to rise more evenly, resulting in a more, well, traditional cake. Sprinkle with the crushed cookies.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch the fruit to make sure its juices don’t burn.

Back pocket, any-fruit cake

This recipe was adapted from Marian Burros’ plum torte published in the New York Times. I replaced the butter with oil to make it parve and like to use different fruits depending on what’s in season. The batter is thick but still pourable; a few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. Any type of juicy fruit works.

A few suggested flavor combinations:

apple or pear, vanilla, cinnamon
– blueberries or raspberries, vanilla, lemon zest
plums, rose water, lime zest
– peaches or nectarines, vanilla
– apricots, almond extract, cardamom, amaretti cookies crumbled on top

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  1 t extract (vanilla, almond, rose water, orange blossom water)
– 1 t citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange)
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 2 cups fruit
– Optional: 2-3 T raw sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, extract, and zest until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Apples and pears take close to the full hour; stone fruits burn more quickly, so I take them out around 45 minutes.

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a chaotic tumble

Just a quick hello and recipe for you. I’m having friends over for shabbat dinner tonight and am keeping it easy. There will be watermelon salad with a touch of feta and a mint dressing, salmon with a quick Italian green sauce to spoon on top (more on that in a sec), carrots, and roasted potatoes. Also, an apricot amaretti cake that’s a variation on my Rosh Hashanah staple.

This month I’ve been able to get out of the city quite a bit – a day baking with Dorie Greenspan and her husband Michael (just like last year), a day at my friend‘s pool in Atlantic Beach, and another weekend at another friend‘s place in Huntington. I’ve been doing a fair amount of cooking and writing, but haven’t had a chance to sit down, here, to tell  you about it. Fear not, there will soon be sorbet and a smattering of recipes from tonight’s dinner.

For now, that green sauce. I’ve been reading through my friend Rachel’s book – it’s really a combination of recipes, photos, and musings that’s satisfying to read in bed. Yes, I read it before I fall asleep, but I’ve also found myself waking up and sneaking a few peeks before morning pages. Her writing is infectious and it helps that I can hear her clipped accent in my head. I was looking at her blog yesterday and randomly skipped to August of 2012 to see what she was making a few summers ago. Seasonal blog roulette, you might call it. The recipe that popped up was for green sauce – Rachel describes a version she had in a restaurant as “a chaotic tumble of parsley, capers, onion, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil.” I love that. A chaotic tumble. It’s how I feel my entertaining comes about. It’s how I feel my life comes about sometimes as well.

This tumble must have been stuck in my head – an earworm of a recipe – because I found myself grabbing herbs by the fistful right after I bought the fish with no plan other than to wrap it in paper and cook it over a bed of lemons.

Italian salsa verde

There was a lot of chopping and scraping and a few glugs of oil and I ended up with a peppery sauce – saline from capers and anchovies, sharp from raw garlic, fresh from the herbs –  that will be great over the salmon. I’m also envisioning mixing it with tuna. Spreading it on bread and topping with roast beef. Drizzled on eggs. Oh, there’s so much I can do with this sauce. I may have to hide some of it before setting it out on the table at dinner tonight.

Shabbat shalom and happy weekend, all!

Salsa verde (Italian green sauce)

Adapted from Rachel Roddy here and here. Measurements are approximate.

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

– 1 fistful of flat-leaf parsley, approximately 1/2 C chopped

– 1 fistful bunch cilantro, approximately 1/2 C chopped

– 20 leaves mint, approximately 1/4 C chopped

– 2 T capers in salt (don’t rinse)

– 2 cloves garlic

– 4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

– 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

– 2 T lemon juice

Chop. Chop the herbs finely and put in a large bowl. Roughly chop the capers and add to the herbs.

Scrape. Rub garlic on a microplane into the bowl. Roughly chop the anchovies and then scrape them against the cutting board with the edge of your knife until it forms a smooth paste. Scoop into the bowl.

Mix. Add the oil and lemon juice and mix everything together. Let the flavors meld in the fridge for a few hours.

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When I came home from Sicily, zucchini (and its family) season was in full swing. Tender, thin-skinned squash was everywhere. Yellow and green, solid and striped, eight-ball and pattypan.

There were squash blossoms too, and I picked a few myself when I spent the day out in Brooklyn with Edible Schoolyard NYC (check out this photo of my colleagues here), weeding a border along the fence separating the school garden from the street. There is an art to collecting these long yellow flowers, I learned. You only take the male ones (the females, with a bulb of an ovary along the stem, when fertilized form the fruit, er, squash) and you have to give each a good shake to scare any bees out. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bag of buzzing blossoms. Now you know.

This year, I’ve gone sweet with my squash, baking up a zucchini cake with two types of chocolate – cocoa and bittersweet shards. The recipe comes from Chocolate & Zucchini, one of the first blogs I ever read and a huge inspiration for my own. The cake itself is more rich than saccharine, with a deep dark chocolate flavor and a crumb moist with flecks of zucchini. I like to bake it in a loaf pan – which is how I like to bake most of my cakes – but you can fancy it up in a round or bundt if you’d like.

Before we get to the recipe, a little reading. First off, Luisa wrote about the language of food workshop that I attended at Case Vecchie in Sicily last month. And Rachel, our other teacher, has written so convincingly about the importance of a good tomato sauce that I’m considering buying a food mill to make my own smooth silky sugo to coat a bowl of (homemade, hopefully soon) pasta. Finally, women talk about balancing motherhood with the realities of restaurant life.

chocolate and zucchini bread

Chocolate and zucchini cake

Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini. I use olive oil to make the cake non-dairy. The batter is very thick and you may need to use some strength to smooth out the top once you’ve wrestled it into the pan. 

If you do want to go savory with your zucchini, try it raw, roasted, or tucked into a frittata

– 1/2 C olive oil or room temperature butter, plus more for greasing the pan

– 2 C flour

– 1/2 C unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder

– 1 t baking soda

– 1/2 t baking powder

– 1 t fine sea salt

– 1 C granulated sugar

– 1 t pure vanilla extract

– 2 T strong cooled coffee or 1 t instant coffee granules

– 3 large eggs

– 2 C unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini

– 6 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 1 C)

olive oil

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 3-inch loaf pan.

Whisk. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Mix. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl), beat the sugar and oil or butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

Combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much. This will help make sure that the zucchini and chocolate don’t just sink to the bottom of the cake.

Fold. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface.

Bake. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and turn on to a cooking rack.

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