25 June 2010

Classic Pound Cake - Half-Pound, Actually

Pound cake is a British invention of the early 18th century, I'm told, and got its name from being made from a pound each of the primary ingredients--eggs, flour, sugar and butter. These proportions have been altered over the years, but I wanted to make a cake that held as closely to that proportion as possible. I LOVE experimenting in the kitchen! The recipe I came up with uses approximately a half pound of each.

For some reason, at the last minute, I decided to replace half the butter with organic canola oil. (Sorry, Julia [Child], but I really do need to cut back on my butter consumption!) I used organic eggs, butter and milk, too. Cake flour is supposed to be best for cakes, but I make all my cakes with organic unbleached all-purpose flour. And I haven't had any complaints yet!

I think it's pretty much the perfect pound cake! I loved the texture as well as the flavor. Lemon pound cake is good, too, but I like the classic vanilla pound cake for trifle. And I'll be using half the cake for trifle for next week's post. Stay tuned! In the meantime, tell me about your favorite pound cake and how you like to serve it.

Classic Pound Cake – Half-Pound Cake, Actually

(Makes one 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf)

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 2/3 dip-and-sweep* cups (8.33 ounces/236 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (8.75 ounces/248 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup organic canola oil or second stick of butter

1 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Butter and lightly flour, or spray with cooking spray, one 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf tin
. Putting a piece of parchment paper in the bottom, and then buttering or spraying the paper, is a good idea if you're worried about sticking.

2 In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla; set aside.

3 In bowl of electric mixer or other large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and mace; mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to “sift” the dry ingredients. Add the butter; mix on low speed to combine. Add the oil and half the egg mixture; mix on low speed to combine, then on medium speed for one minute. Add half the remaining egg mixture; mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add remaining egg mixture; mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.

4 Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350F/180C/Gas4 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325F/165C/Gas3 and continue baking 55 to 60 minutes.

5 Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely. The cooled cake can be wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days. Can be double-wrapped and frozen for a month; thaw, wrapped, at room temperature.

* All my recipes specify a "dip-and-sweep" measure of unsifted flour. The weight of a given measure of flour varies a lot, depending on whether it was packed, scooped, sifted, unsifted. A scooped and leveled cup, the most consistent volume measure, of unsifted unbleached all-purpose flour weighs about 5 ounces. All my recipes are based on that and will not turn out right if the flour is measured some other way.


18 June 2010

Strawberry Freezer Jam with Less Sugar

Strawberry freezer jam is the perfect answer for anyone who likes strawberry jam. You know how there are recipes for the easy version of something and then there are recipes for the best version? Well, strawberry freezer jam is both easier and better than regular strawberry jam.

Back when I wanted to spend an entire day in the kitchen "putting up" various things, including jam, I turned up my nose at freezer jam. I thought it was for people who couldn't make the real thing. Then my dear friend and honorary grandmother Elsie, who at 91 still likes to pull out all the canning equipment, gave me a taste of her strawberry "less sugar" freezer jam. Wow! It tasted like fresh strawberries! Why would anyone make any other kind!

I looked at the directions in the box of Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes and thought "This is too simple. Grandma must have added some special something to it." But, no, that's all there is to it!

Perfectly scrummy on a scone, it's always the jam on my tea table. And if you can save a biscuit for after dinner, slather it with strawberry "less sugar" freezer jam to cap off a good Southern meal. And toast--spread this jam on a piece of toasted whole grain bread or homemade classic white sandwich bread. It's so good you don't even need butter.

Have you made freezer jam yet? Or regular jam? What's your favorite flavor? You can whip up a batch of this in under an hour. C'mon, just do it!

(05/06/11 Note: I made a little change to the method, so read my latest on Strawberry Freezer Jam before you proceed.)

Strawberry Freezer Jam(Makes six 8-ounce jars)

Adapted from the recipe in the pectin box; all ingredients the same, just a few additions to the directions.

4 cups prepared fruit (buy about 4 pints fully ripe strawberries)
3 cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes
1 cup water

1 Rinse clean containers and lids (I use glass jars) with boiling water. Dry thoroughly.

2 Slice and, with a pastry blender (works better than a potato masher), thoroughly crush strawberries, one layer at a time. Or use a food processor*: With metal blade in place, add halved strawberries to work bowl and chop using short pulses. Or, as my dear friend and honorary grandmother Elsie does, use a blender. Measure exactly 4 cups crushed strawberries into large bowl.

3 In 3-quart saucepan, stir together sugar and pectin. Stir in water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Add strawberries; stir 1 minute or until well blended.

4 Fill all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze extra containers up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.

* I was recently cleaning off my Cuisinart DLC-10E food processor and putting it back in its place of honor on the counter when I realized I've had it for about thirty years! It seemed terribly expensive to the young girl I was at the time, but I never imagined I'd be using it for so long. I've replaced the work bowl for cosmetic reasons, but the motor/base is just like new. Sounds like a pretty wise investment! (See the "My Little Shop" page for a current model.)

13 June 2010

Sally Lunn Buns and Jane Austen Comfort Food

When I'm not cooking, eating or writing about food, I like to read. There's nothing so delightful to me as a rainy day at home, in my robe, with tea and buns (or scones or crumpets) and a good book (preferably English). There are good books I've only read once, but some books are meant to be enjoyed again and again. Has anyone ever read a Jane Austen novel just once? A day spent in Jane Austen's world can be a marvelous restorative, and I just recently discovered Jane Austen's World, a most scholarly blog where a Janeite can find anything s/he needs to know.

And there I have posted a short piece along with my Sally Lunn buns recipe. Basically a brioche, they are good with either sweet or savory accompaniments. My method is so simple--no need for great skill or strength (no kneading) and no need for any special equipment (no food processor or heavy-duty stand mixer). Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Come back here on Friday for the strawberry jam!

11 June 2010

Afternoon Tea Review - The Peninsula Beverly Hills

Afternoon tea is an absolute necessity (necessi-tea?). And when you love (prize, value, need) afternoon tea the way I do, you don't mind traveling for it! No matter where I go, I search out the best tea venues in town. A quaint little tearoom has its charms and is sometimes precisely what one needs. At other times, only a posh hotel will do.

The Peninsula Beverly Hills offers precisely what I was looking for recently. The luxurious boutique hotel serves a traditional afternoon tea in The Living Room, aptly named for its residential feel. The light and airy room, elegant but unstuffy, is a delightful setting for afternoon tea accompanied by a harpist. The gracious Peninsula staff (our server was a charming young man named Edgar) is always there to see to your needs without ever hovering.

The Imperial Tea started with a glass of sparkling wine and freshly sliced strawberries with whipped cream, followed by a generous portion of caviar over creme fraiche on pumpernickel. Then the three-tiered stand was brought out: scones, sandwiches and pastries. I don't eat smoked salmon, so I can't tell you about that sandwich. The chicken salad, charred vegetable, and egg salad were excellent. The assortment of pastries was delectable, and we were sent home with the signature Peninsula Page Boy-Inspired "Cap Cake."

To make reservations, call 310-788-2306. For tea at home, see: How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea and Tea and Scones. Also, my guest post at Anglotopia, The Ultimate Anglophile's Complete Guide to Afternoon Tea.

04 June 2010

Blackberry Cobbler with No-Roll Pie Crust

Blackberry cobbler, the way I make it, is like blackberry pie only much easier. I make it with my usual pie crust but with a little twist on the method, making it easy for cooks who don't "do" pie crust. I know, I know! There are plenty of people out there who will insist that "real" cobbler isn't made with pie crust. There are those who insist on a biscuit topping; others, a cakey topping.

Even among the Pie Crust Faction, there is controversy: top and bottom crust or top crust only. There are even a few who add a third middle crust, which is fine for a really large, deep cobbler--if you want to take the trouble to roll out a third crust and prebake it before assembly (otherwise, it can be kind of a soggy mess!).

I won't be making a "really large, deep cobbler" this week. Not with the current price of organic blackberries! Besides, unless I had a big party coming up, I would be forced to eat most of it myself; and I need to save some of my calorie allowance for when the peaches come in.

My Southern grandmother made fabulous pies and cobblers. She most frequently made apple or coconut custard pie and peach (my favorite) or blackberry (my cousin Charlotte's favorite) cobbler. And she made her cobblers with pie crust, top and bottom, which explains why I make mine that way. Don't get me wrong, if you serve me one of those other types of cobblers, I'm going to lap it up; but I have to make mine Grandma's way!

Blackberry Cobbler

(Makes 8 servings)

2 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (12.5 ounces/354 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (8 ounces/227 grams)) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar
Ice water to make 3/4 cup liquid

4 cups fresh blackberries or 2 10-ounce bags frozen blackberries
2/3 cup (4.67 ounces/132 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400F/205C/Gas6. In large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. (Not at all sure that baking powder makes a bit of difference. Just heard about it years ago, started doing it and, well, here I am, still doing it.) Add half the butter and with pastry blender cut butter into flour until mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Cut in remaining butter until the butter is the size of small peas.

In one-cup glass measure, combine lemon juice or cider vinegar and enough ice water to make 3/4 cup. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of it over flour mixture; stir with large fork. Pinch dough with fingers; if dough is dry and does not hold together, stir in a little more ice water a tablespoon at a time until dough holds together.

Put half the dough in a
CorningWare French White 1-1/2-Quart Oval Dish
or 11-by-7-inch 2-quart Pyrex baking dish. Press it out right in the pan. There, now isn't that easier than rolling it out with a rolling pin? It should be between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. If it is thicker than that, just press it partway up the sides of the pan to thin it out. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Put remaining dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper and press it out into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Doesn't have to be smooth, doesn't have to be pretty. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Put berries in medium bowl. In small bowl, whisk together sugar, flour and salt. As soon as you remove prebaked crust from oven, add sugar mixture to berries and stir gently to combine. Pour over prebaked pastry. Sprinkle lemon juice over berries. Remove top pastry from refrigerator, and cut into pieces and place them over berries in no particular way (doesn't matter if the pieces overlap or there are bare spots). You may not need all the pastry.

Bake for 45-55 minutes until pastry is nicely browned.