Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boston Cream Pie and Baking Together

Alicia and I had the (unfortunately rare) pleasure of spending a few days together in San Diego last week. We went to the beach and walked and rode Segways, and of course we ate lots and lots of good food--mostly good Mexican food, which we won't be able to get in France.
We also took the opportunity to do a bit of a baking project together: Boston Cream Pie.
Alicia and I have always loved this dessert, which is not a pie but seems to have been invented by a French chef at the Parker House restaurant in Boston. Alicia was recently in Boston and saw a plaque announcing the Parker House as the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie (and, of course, the Parker House roll). It's a sponge cake filled with vanilla pudding/pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze.
As Maida points out in the headnotes, it's a simple dessert but not an easy one to make. The pastry cream took FOREVER to put together (Alicia seems to have spent a good half hour standing over the stove whisking the milk and flour mixture), the sponge cake (which I made) is a rather fussy little genoise, and there's lots of chilling time involved. Fortunately, the chocolate glaze (which Alicia made) is a piece of cake to put together. The cake took so long to make that we weren't able to eat it the same day we made it. We saved it for Sunday breakfast.
This is what awaited us when we showed up at Alicia's house Sunday morning. Mmmm...look at all that chocolate!

You can see all the yumminess on the beautiful Blue Minton plate that Alicia uses on a regular basis.

The cake disappeared within about 10 minutes. There were about 10 of us, and we were hungry, and the cake was really good. That's my daughter scraping the last crumbs and drops of glaze off the cake plate. The only issue some of us had with the cake was with the almond extract--I found that it was too strong. I personally would use only vanilla extract in the pastry cream.

Here's the recipe. Make it when you have plenty of time and patience.
Boston Cream Pie

2 large eggs
1/4 c. + 1 T. (1.25 oz.) sifted flour
1/4 t. salt
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar
2 c. (16 oz.) milk
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract (optional)
2 T. (1 oz.) butter, cut into pieces

Beat the eggs in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Gradually beat in the milk, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps of flour. Put the saucepan over medium (maybe medium-high, if you're careful) heat and whisk constantly for a really long time until the mixture comes to a boil and starts to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon a bit of the hot milk mixture into the eggs and whisk. Keep adding milk to eggs until you've added about half (or until you have no more room in your small bowl). Now return the egg/milk mixture to the saucepan. Put the pan back over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes. Take back off the heat and add the butter and extracts. I would recommend straining the mixture into a bowl and let it cool (put plastic or waxed paper on top to keep a skin from forming) and then refrigerate it for at least an hour. Or you can put the bowl in a bigger bowl filled with ice and water, which will chill it faster.

While you're waiting for the pudding to cool, make the cake.

1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 t. baking powder
2 eggs, separated
1/4 t. salt
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. cold water
3 T. (1.5 oz.) melted butter

Heat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan; line it with parchment or waxed paper, then grease and flour it. Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
In one medium bowl (this is a good recipe to use a hand mixer), whip the egg whites and salt until foamy. Add half the sugar gradually and beat until you have just barely stiff peaks.
In another, perhaps larger, bowl, beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar at high speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice, and then beat in the water at low speed. Fold the egg yolks into the egg whites in a few additions, quickly and not too thoroughly. Put a sifter or a sieve over the mixture and then sift the flour over the mixture, folding as you sift. Finally fold in the melted butter until just barely incorporated. Pour this into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. When the cake comes out of the oven, cut around the sides and let cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before unmolding it onto a rack.
When the cake is cool, refrigerate it for about 10 minutes before slicing it in half horizontally. Spread the chilled pastry cream on the bottom layer and then top with the top layer. Chill while you make the chocolate glaze:

4 oz. semisweet chocolate (chips are OK for this)
1/4 c. (2 oz.) cream

Chop the chocolate and put in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in the microwave for about 1 minute (watch it carefully--cream boils over fast). Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about 30 seconds before you stir it--the chocolate should melt and become smooth and beautiful. Let that cool for about 10 minutes. Then pour the glaze over the cake. You might have drippage, as Alicia did, but never fear--there will be someone there to wipe up the spill. Serve cold, and prepare for no leftovers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blueberry and Peach Buckle

To continue my summer-fruit-related baking streak, I made this buckle recently when we had my aunt and uncle over for dinner. The dinner we had, involving ribs and succotash, was delicious (despite the recipes' dissing by a certain blog co-author) and rather rich, so a relatively light and fruity dessert was in order. Bring on the peach and blueberry buckle.
I repeat, this was what you might call a relatively light dessert. The next day I made a crumb cake with almost two sticks of butter, making this dessert, with its one stick of butter balanced out by lots of healthy fruit, seem like regular health food.
We discussed what a buckle actually is while chowing down on this one: a buckle is like an upside-down cobbler, with the cake on the bottom and the fruit on the top. Apparently the cake "buckles" under the weight of the fruit. This recipe doesn't really conform to this--the blueberries are in the batter, and the peaches are in between layers of batter. But whatever--it's really good.

Here are my peaches blanching. These were from the same batch of cling peaches, but they sliced up OK.

Simple cake batter with butter and sugar.

Doing the alternating flour and milk is easy when you use a scale. And if you're especially picky about being even, it's the only way :-).

Here's the first layer. Note that it doesn't make it all the way to the edges of the pan--it's a thick batter and not much of it. The giant blueberries also don't help in the spreading.

Here come the peaches.

There is another layer of blueberry batter under the streusel topping. And a note on the streusel: I browned the butter before adding it to the flour and sugar, and it was delicious that way. Another note: the cake sat on the counter for an hour or so before the oven was free for it, and it turned out fine, since it's a milk and baking powder cake rather than a sour cream and baking soda cake.

Slightly out of focus but completely delicious, on its own or with whipped or ice cream.

Here's the recipe as I made it. Make it now, while both fruits are in season.

Blueberry and Peach Buckle

2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter (leave the other half on the counter for the cake)
1 t. cinnamon
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar
1/3 c. (1.3 oz.) sifted flour (whole wheat is OK here)

Put the butter in a pot over medium-high heat. You may want to cover it if you have watery American butter, which spatters all over the place. While the butter melts, mix together the cinnamon, sugar, and flour in a small bowl. Watch the butter carefully--when it stops sizzling and foaming and starts to brown, immediately take it off the heat and pour it in the bowl with the dry ingredients. Scrape out the brown bits if they're brown and not black. Mix the streusel with a fork and set aside (chill it if you want).

2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
2/3 c. (4.5 oz.) sugar
1 egg
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (part whole wheat is OK)
1/2 c. (4 oz.) milk
3 c. (12 oz.) blueberries
3 large peaches, peeled and sliced

Heat the oven to 375; butter a 2-quart baking dish. Cream the butter with the baking powder and salt; add the vanilla and almond. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the egg. On low speed beat in the flour in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions. Gently stir in the blueberries.
Dollop half the dough over the bottom of the baking dish and do your best to spread it out without smashing the blueberries. Layer the peaches over the batter. Then dollop the remaining batter over the peaches. Get out your streusel and sprinkle it over the cake. Admire your masterpiece.
Bake this for 35 minutes--the cake under the streusel should start to brown and a tester not stuck in a blueberry should come out clean. Serve this warm with some kind of cream, preferably outside on a lovely evening.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sugarbush Mountain Peaches...

...or When a Simple Recipe Becomes Complex. This is a super-simple recipe: you peel and halve peaches, put them in a baking dish, pour on maple syrup, bake, reduce the syrup, serve. No problem: easy! (So easy that I forgot to take pictures...) Except I had a few issues in the making of this dish.
The first issue was with the peaches. I went to the farmer's market to find some peaches that were ripe but not one-dimensionally sweet. I searched and dithered and tasted, and finally bought some peaches I liked pretty well. After I had blanched them, though, the reality hit me: these were cling peaches! They would not let themselves be halved, no matter what. OK, I thought, these babies are going in the oven whole. End of story. So I took a smaller baking dish to make up for having less surface area to cook, buttered it, put in the peaches, got out the maple syrup, and began pouring. Nasty green patches came out and floated on top of the peaches. Ew! Time to wash off the peaches, wash out the dish, and go to the store for more maple syrup. Once I came back, the thing came together quickly and easily. This was a simple dish, and I'm sure it would have had a more toasty taste and melting texture had I used halved freestone peaches, but these disappeared in a matter of minutes and tasted great with ice cream. I bet that if you thought ahead and chilled these, as Maida wants you to, they'd be fabulous with Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Here's the recipe, such as it is. Make sure your peaches are freestone and your syrup is sufficiently fresh, and you're home free.

Sugarbush Mountain Peaches

4 freestone peaches, ripe but not squishy
1/2 c. maple syrup

Heat the oven to 350. Put on a pot of water to boil. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish. Cut a little x in the bottom of each peach. When the water comes to a boil, put the peaches in the water and let blanch for about a minute. Cool under cold running water, and peel: the skin should slip off easily. Cut the peeled peaches in half and lay in the baking dish; drizzle the maple syrup over them. Bake for about 20 minutes, basting 2-3 times, until the peaches are tender. Take the peaches out of the syrup with a slotted spoon and then pour the syrup into a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and boil hard for about 3 minutes--230 on a candy thermometer, if you have one handy. Pour the syrup over the peaches. You can let this cool a bit and then serve it warm with ice cream, as I did, or you can refrigerate this and serve it cold, plain or with yogurt.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blueberry Applesauce Loaf

I'm hoping in the next few weeks to do a lot of Maida's recipes involving summer fruit--especially peaches and blueberries. While peaches are readily available in France, they are especially delicious here in California; blueberries, on the other hand, are not a very common fruit in France, at least not as common as they are here. So summer fruit, here I come!
Dad had about half a Costco-sized container of blueberries in his fridge, and we had a visit to my aunt coming up, so I decided to make this blueberry applesauce loaf. Of course my planning was a bit off--a couple of hours before we were supposed to leave for Fran's house, I pulled out my cookbook and realized we were missing some key ingredients. Fortunately, Trader Joe's is not far away (how I'm enjoying that!), and I could make a quick run for pecans and whole wheat flour. Soon the oven was preheating and I was mixing up batter.

The recipe says it makes two small loaf pans. Well, Dad and Sharmyn have a large loaf pan. They also have lots of muffin pans. Thus I made a large loaf and 6 muffins. That served our needs nicely: a loaf to take, plus muffins to have for breakfast.

I made the mistake of mixing the batter in the food processor: after all, it was out and I had used it to chop the pecans. It worked great until I realized I had to mix in the blueberries without chopping them into smithereens. Oops--more dishes to wash.

Mmmm...blueberries and pecans. I'm pretty darned sure I used more than the two cups of blueberries called for in the recipe.

Blueberry batter.

The finished product in some impatient hands (note that these will stick even in a silicone mold. Butter it!)

The verdict: Good but not great. There was lots of blueberry and pecan flavor, but the cake was perhaps just a bit too hearty. In any case there's still a bunch left, which to me means that it's far from irresistible. But if you have a lot of blueberries and are looking for a breakfast treat that's not too sweet or too rich, this might be the recipe you want to try.

Blueberry Applesauce Loaf

6 oz. toasted pecan pieces
2 large eggs
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. mace (or nutmeg)
1/4 c. salad oil or melted butter
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar (you'll need a bit more for sprinkling later)
(1/2 t. vanilla)
1 c. (10 oz.) unsweetened applesauce
2 t. lemon juice
2 c. (about 7 oz.) fresh (or frozen) blueberries
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4.5 oz.) sifted whole wheat flour

Heat the oven to 350. Get out two small loaf pans, or a normal loaf pan and some muffin cups. Grease them. Grind half the pecans into a fine powder in the food processor and coat the pans with the pecans. If you have more than you need, mix those nuts with a couple tablespoonsful of sugar and set them aside.
In the large bowl of a mixer (or in a bowl with a whisk), whip the eggs with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and mace. Mix in the oil, sugar, and vanilla, then the applesauce and lemon juice. Then stir in all but a tablespoonful of the flour. Mix that remaining spoonful of flour into the blueberries; mix them and the non-ground pecans into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle it with the nut/sugar mixture. Bake for 25 minutes for the muffins; 50 minutes for the loaf. A toothpick should come out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and unmold. Serve this fresh, preferably warm. Maida warns that this doesn't keep well, and I believe she's right. If you don't want to eat/give this away quickly, freeze it and try not to forget about it.