Friday, April 9, 2010

Olive Oil Cake, Banana Cake, Cake, Cake, Cake!!

In preparation for my son's second birthday party and the ensuing fairy cake madness, I have launched myself headlong into the world of cake baking once again.  Since we arrived in the UK over a year ago I have been interested in self-raising flour, but have had little excuse to try it out.  I have grown used to my little teaspoons of baking soda/powder and sift sift sifting my way to risen cakes.
But I recently realized that it was silly of me not to give it a shot.  And now I am pretty convinced that adding the leavening in before the mixing begins is nothing short of genius!  It's a simple equation, so I'm left a little puzzled as to why this hasn't made it over to our side of the pond.

The first big trial of these magical flours (they come in white and wholemeal) was a half batch of Banana Muffins which I decided to fill with some leftover ganache I had.  I'm a little in love with the recipe I found in The Baker's Dozen, which I've modified slightly by using lard instead of the suggested vegetable shortening (ugh, Crisco).  I know that there are many out there who think lard in cakes sound awful, but never a lighter, chewier texture will you get than when using our porcine friends' fat.

As I was pressing my very ripe bananas through my ricer (this really beats hand mashing, done quickly, less mess) I realized that I also had some very very ripe pears waiting to be put to use.  I had some non-lard-eating friends coming over the next day and knew I would just end up with way tooooo much cake if I used lard in both baked goodies, so I decided to fiddle with my "Kona Inn Banana Bread" recipe once again.  Lots of substitutions this time.  Cross out mashed banana, insert chopped unpeeled pear.  Cross out baking soda, half the salt and insert self-raising flour.  Cross out walnuts and insert stem ginger (crystallized in the States)... and so on. But I just couldn't bring myself to use vegetable shortening.  Not only do I dislike using it, I don't have any around and I didn't want to leave the kitchen this particular morning.  So I thought on it and decided olive oil was definitely the way to go.

I pulled out my Maryann cake pan (some call it a Charlotte pan, I am one of those, but this one I bought at Crate and Barrel 2 years ago used the former), did a poor job of prepping it, which ended in the cake sticking very well to the pan all the way around the edge.  But I was undeterred after smelling the cakes baking, how could this cake fail?  I needed something to pretty everything up and spackle the cake back together.  Of course, mascarpone!  And then the final touch, little toasted hazelnuts on the peaks of all of the icing.  The whole new recipe was a success.  All guests loved it, and now that there is only one slice left, I am already missing it.

Here's the recipe:

Pear Ginger Cake with Mascarpone Hazelnut Top
2 cups chopped, unpeeled anjou pears
1 cup wholemeal self raising flour*
1 1/2 cups white self raising flour*
generous pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temp
3 T coarsely cut stem ginger

*if you don't use self raising, add 2 t baking soda and 1 t salt for the whole recipe

Preheat the oven to 180º C (350º F). Lightly butter and flour a charlotte pan or 9" springform.
In a large bowl, mix the olive oil and sugar and then add the eggs, one at a time incorporating well after each addition.  Stir in the pear and stem ginger. Fold the flour and salt in in two parts.  Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for an hour, until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 20 minutes then loosen the edges with a small offset spatula and carefully de-pan.
Let cool completely before topping.

Mascarpone Topping
2 cups mascarpone
1/2 cup soured cream
3 T turbinado sugar
1/2 cups toasted, peeled hazelnuts
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and blend until it stiffens again.  Transfer the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a large, open tip. First pipe a large circle around the interior edge of the circle.  Follow the pattern of the circle with mounds or a spiral, depending on how you'd like it to look.  Top with hazelnuts.

We had ours with strong Lapsang Souchong Tea. (We drank Twinings brand from their Aromatics range, but my first L.S. way back in the mid 80s was crafted by Taylor's of Harrogate and it was sublime, I still remember being stunned by the smoke and sweet).  The smoky flavor was a nice foil to the earthy pear and ginger and the creamy mascarpone.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tiny, perfect, local organic greens

I am so thrilled that the Farmer's Market at Swiss Cottage is back in full swing! I ambled through on Wednesday and paused a little longer at the stall for Wild Country Organics. I was encouraged to grab a handful of anything I wanted to try and nibble away... so of course I did. I started with the Bubble Cress, which fits its utterly delectable name. The flavor comes on mild then sort of percolates over your palate and gives you a little hint of pear and persimmon on the way out. Mmmmm. I moved on to Land Cress (wow! It sure did pack a wollop!) and then Claytonia (we called it Miner's Lettuce in California, mostly because of the gold rush miners who used it for nutrition and Vitamin C, I've been told), sorrel, lovely sweet broccoli called Kaibroc and so on and so on down Mizuna Lane just past Rocket Way- a lovely drive for my palate.
I brought my lovely bag of greens home with two beautiful mahogany colored radicchio, spotty and loose leaved, which I plan to braise in some brown butter and serve with pork roast this Easter Weekend. The bag of greens I shared with my lovely friend Florence and then made a simple salad dressing the greens in Winter harvest Olive Oil, mandarin orange juice and a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt. After all of the sharing and salad making I still had a good 2 cups of greens, so I decided to pull out an old recipe for Sorrel Sauce.
I first made this as an accompaniment for Salt Roasted Thai Snapper at a Secret Restaurant we used to host in our flat in San Francisco. I had quite a bit of greens other than sorrel, so the flavor was a bit less lemony and a bit more peppery. I imagine that I will poach some lovely eggs tomorrow and serve them on crostini with generous dollops of the Wild Greens Sauce on top.

Wild Greens Sauce

4 oz butter

2 cups chopped fresh sorrel, claytonia, land cress, bubble cress or the like

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 T minced shallots

1 1/2 cups tomato peeled, seeded and diced

1 cup double cream

1 T fresh lime juice

fresh ground white and black pepper

Melt butter. Combine sorrel, wine and shallots in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sorrel wilts, about 2 minutes. Add tomato, cream and lime juice. Simmer until reduced to sauce consistency, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and purée until smooth. Season with ground white pepper and salt. The sauce is good right away but matures overnight if you have the willpower to wait!

Makes approximately 7 cups