26 September 2013

Fig Upside-Down Cake


I was recently given a box of fresh Black Mission figs and was deciding what to do with them, when I cut one in half and knew I had to do something that would show that beautiful profile. Ah, I thought, a fig up-side down cake. So I dug out my pineapple upside-down cake recipe that I'd developed many years ago and quickly stirred one up using figs instead of pineapple.
According to the California Fig Advisory Board, most of the nation's figs are grown in California. They actually have quite a long season, but check with your grocer to see when they are available in your area. Some people even order them online. Two of the guests I served this to had never had fresh figs, so I have a feeling a lot of people probably haven't. If you haven't, do give them a try!

Wish I'd taken a photo of the whole cake, but I was trying to sneak a photo at the same time I was serving guests, so I was a little discombobulated. Notice the perfect texture--light and tender, but not so much so that it could collapse under the weight of the figs.
If I were going to try another version, I've got my eye on SippitySup's fig upside-down cake.
Fig Upside-Down Cake
(Makes one 8-inch cake, 8 servings)
10 (about) small figs, halved
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided

6 to 8 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 packed cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon mace or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the microwave, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in an 8-inch round Pyrex baking dish. (If you're using a metal 8-inch round pan, you can do your butter melting in a separate dish.) Swirl the melted butter to grease the sides of the pan. Add the brown sugar to the butter in the bottom and blend. Spread mixture evenly. Place fig halves, cut side down, in a pleasing pattern. Set aside.
2 In mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for one minute to blend. Add the 5 tablespoons softened butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix on low speed for 1 1/2 minutes, then add the egg and mix 1 1/2 minutes longer.

Or do it by hand, as I did this time. Just whisk together the dry ingredients; use your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients; add the milk, egg and vanilla; beat by hand for a couple minutes. Couldn't be easier!
3 Spread the batter evenly over the figs with a rubber spatula. Run a knife through just the batter, not disturbing the figs, a couple of times to break up any large air bubbles. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, loosen edges with knife, and invert immediately onto a platter. Replace any figs that did not release from the pan. Let cool a bit before serving with whipped cream.

19 September 2013

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead - Food, Lodging, Activities

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead / www.delightfulrepast.com

Am I just timid, or is it normal for a lifelong flatlander to be a little anxious about heading to the mountains? I needn't have worried; I didn't even feel a twinge of carsickness. Just 90 miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 44 miles east of LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) in Southern California, Lake Arrowhead is an accessible and very popular destination in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead / www.delightfulrepast.com
Lake Arrowhead is a man-made lake carved out of a forest of several species of pine, as well as cedar, alders, oaks, willows, cottonwoods, dogwood and things I wouldn't recognize. On the south shore of the lake stands the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. The atmosphere of the resort could be described as upscale but casual, refined but relaxed.
For starters, valet parking is available for those who want it but is not forced on those who do not. Bellmen are there to assist if needed but not to escort each and every guest to his room just to point out the light switches. The lobby is spacious and comfortable, decorated in a "mountain style." Our first order of business was to have lunch, so the bellman stored our luggage until we were ready to pick up our keys. 

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead - Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa / www.delightfulrepast.com

Aroma's is a combination snack bar-gift shop that we didn't get a chance to try because we enjoyed the restaurant so much. BIN189 is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I mentioned, our first meal was lunch--outside, overlooking the lake, of course. No photos of the food, I'm afraid. What kind of food blogger dives into her lunch before she has photographed it? A very hungry one! But, take my word for it, it was gorgeous.

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead - Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa / www.delightfulrepast.com
Then we checked into our room. Wow! We stepped through double doors into a stylish entry hall, with a powder room to the right. Ahead was a large dining room and a living room with a fireplace. Both rooms had sliding glass doors to the wrap-around balcony overlooking the lake. To the left was the bedroom with a wall of windows, also overlooking the lake, and another fireplace. The bathroom was just as luxurious as you would expect to find in a lakeview corner suite.

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead / www.delightfulrepast.com

After wine and cheese on the balcony (looking at the view above), it was time for dinner at BIN189. I had enjoyed the Creamy Chicken and Mushroom soup at lunch so much that I ordered it again at dinner! My husband had the Porterhouse Pork Chop, which he pronounced delicious.

Of course, I'm all about the food; but I did manage to do a few non-food activities the next day. I am a great believer in the benefits of massage, so scheduled a massage in the Spa of the Pines on the first floor. The spa is gorgeous and well-appointed and has the ideal spa atmosphere. I'm sure all the massage therapists at Spa of the Pines are very good, but my therapist was exceptionally good. So much so that I scheduled an appointment with her the next day for my husband.

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead - Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa / www.delightfulrepast.com
The spa also has estheticians on staff--what a treat that would be (as long as I don't have to look at my skin through that magnifying glass)! Hmm ... maybe next time ... There is also a full-service salon at the spa. I just might be willing to try taking a steam next time, too, as long as I can get my hair done afterward!

Another fun non-food thing we did: a narrated tour of the lake. The Arrowhead Queen is a traditional paddlewheel Mississippi riverboat. Tours run every hour and a half. Though our captain had already taken several groups out that day, his narration was as fresh as if we were his first. I plan to take the tour every time I return to Lake Arrowhead!

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead / www.delightfulrepast.com
Though we would have been happy to have a second dinner at BIN189, a friend recommended The Grill at Antlers Inn in nearby Twin Peaks. This log-cabin mountain lodge restaurant is very popular with the locals, and deservedly so. We had the Tequila Chicken Fettuccine and the Chicken and Penne Gorgonzola, both excellent. (For squeamish types like me--you will be relieved to find that, despite the name, there are no animal body parts on the walls!)

We had little time on this trip to explore charming Lake Arrowhead Village--something we will definitely do next time. And there will be a next time!

PS Did I mention the pool and private beach? Oh well, another time ...

Travel Review - Lake Arrowhead - Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa / www.delightfulrepast.com
Disclosure: Though parts of this trip were comped or discounted, I assure you that does not alter my opinions or influence my reviews.

12 September 2013

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls with Browned Butter Icing

With autumn on the way, can cinnamon rolls be far behind? If you're not gluten-free, make my regular Cinnamon Rolls. But if you are, try this recipe I developed at the request of a friend who just went gluten-free several months ago and who was really missing the ooey-gooey, pecan- and raisin-filled cinnamon rolls of his youth.

If you're one who doesn't "do" yeast doughs, you might like to try gluten-free yeast doughs. They are usually more like batters and require no kneading. And now that so many people are going gluten-free, it's good to have a few gluten-free recipes in our repertoire.

Rolling up the soft, gluten-free dough is a bit trickier than rolling up regular dough. I found the greased parchment paper technique at King Arthur Flour. And transferring the slices to the pan is different as well, but I came up with a way; just follow the directions and all will be well. 

I've never found a store-bought blend that was completely satisfactory, so I've experimented with all sorts of combinations of individual gluten-free starches and flours. You'll find my favorite below Number 1. Do leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on cinnamon rolls, gluten-free baking or comfort food in general. 

PS If you are serious about baking, please invest in a scale. The OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Digital Scale has turned out to be THE best kitchen item I have acquired all year! I use it nearly every day for one thing or another. You can set it for grams or pounds/ounces, which is a very handy feature.     

Cinnamon Rolls

(Makes 12)

The Dough

2 2/3 packed cup gluten-free blend* (13.5 ounces)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant (rapid rise) yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup warm milk
2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Filling

2/3 cup dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened completely

1/3 cup currants
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon gluten-free blend

The Icing

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 In large bowl, whisk together gluten-free blend,* xanthan gum, sugar, yeast and salt. Add the softened butter, milk, eggs, vinegar and vanilla extract; mix until thoroughly combined. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Cover and let rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until puffy.

*Gluten-Free Blend: I use Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flours and starches. If you use a different brand, the package sizes might be different, in which case you would need to use a scale to duplicate this formula. 

In large bowl, whisk together until thoroughly combined: a 24-ounce package potato starch, a 22-ounce package sorghum flour and a 20-ounce package tapioca flour.

I don't include xanthan gum in the blend because different types of baked goods require different amounts of xanthan gum. Pour into air-tight container and store in refrigerator or freezer, depending upon how often you use it.

2 Meanwhile, make the filling. In small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter. In another small bowl, stir together the currants and nuts with a teaspoon of gluten-free blend, separating any currants that are clumped together.

3 Lightly grease a 16-inch length of parchment paper. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto the parchment paper and press it out to a 16x8-inch rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the currants and pecans evenly over the filling.

4 Starting with the long edge of the parchment nearest you, roll away from you; the dough should release from the paper as you roll. Using dental floss or serrated knife, trim away the ragged ends and cut roll into 12 slices. Place rolls in a well-greased muffin pan. Let rise, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour, until puffy.

Note: If your dough comes out especially soft, as mine did with this batch, the slices will be impossible to pick up and place in the muffin cups neatly. Not to worry. Just use a narrow spatula or pie server to lift a slice and transfer it to a muffin cup any old way. Trust me, it will be fine. My dough this time was very soft and I just slopped the dough in, and they came out fine.

5 During last 15 minutes of that time, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

6 While the rolls are baking, make the icing. In small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; whisk in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract.

7 Turn rolls out onto cooling rack; place close together. Spoon glaze over warm rolls.

Here is a photo of the OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Digital Scale:

As you can see, the bowl I was using registered 2 pounds 2 1/8 ounces. You just press the "zero" button to zero-out the scale before adding ingredients. That's called taring. A great feature for jam-making as well. The digital display pulls out so you can read it even if you set something large on the platform.

05 September 2013

Gluten-Free Vanilla Mini Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

Not too many people seem to make cakes by hand these days; and yet sometimes it's quicker and easier (when you count set-up and clean-up) than doing it with a mixer. Next time you're making a small cake or small batch of cupcakes, please try my method and let me know if you don't agree. 

Didn't intend to do mini cupcakes two consecutive weeks on the blog, but a gluten-free friend came to town and I whipped up a batch of these for her. Though she was the only gluten-free person, everyone else loved them as well. I don't know about you, but I'm not satisfied that something is merely "good, for gluten-free;" I want it to be good, period!

If you do a lot of gluten-free baking and like a particular blend, it's easier just to mix up a whole canister. If you're still experimenting with the wide range of gluten-free flours and starches, keep them separate. One gluten-free flour I've tried to like, but just don't, is quinoa. I like quinoa in salads, but quinoa flour has too strong a flavor for baked goods. 

As I've said before, I hate waste and so develop all my recipes for a specific pan size or quantity. If you measure exactly as I say in the recipe, you will come out with exactly 24 mini cupcakes and no extra batter. And my no-muss-no-fuss mixing method is so easy. I hope you'll try it.

Gluten-Free Vanilla Mini Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

(Makes 24)

The Cupcakes

1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Frosting

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 packed cups powdered sugar, unsifted
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strawberry jam

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put two 12-cup mini-muffin tins on a
15x10x1-inch rimmed baking sheet, and put paper baking cups in the tins. (Or I could break down and finally replace those two tins with a 24-Cup Mini Muffin Tin, since I never make just 12 mini muffins or cupcakes!)

2 In medium mixing bowl, whisk together flours and starches, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Whisking for about 30 seconds sort of sifts the dry ingredients. With pastry blender,large fork or your fingers, cut softened butter into the flour mixture until it is thoroughly combined and looks rather like cornmeal.

3 In 2-cup glass measure, combine milk, vinegar, egg and vanilla extract. With your favorite mixing spoon, gradually beat in the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. (A wooden spoon works perfectly well, but I use an English cake whisk, a kind of stainless steel wire spoon that has been made in Britain for over a hundred years.)

4 Using measuring spoons, spoon just one tablespoonful of batter into each cup; then spoon just one-half teaspoonful into each cup. Bake at 350 for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place baking sheet on wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes before removing cupcakes from tins. Cool completely before frosting.

Note: Since it's such a tiny amount of batter, I want to be really clear about how I measured. It's a thin-ish batter, so it is a level tablespoon and half teaspoon. And, most important, I don't scrape every bit of batter out of the spoon. If I did, perhaps I wouldn't need the additional teaspoon of batter. But it's a lot faster to just dump the spoonful of batter in the cup and move onto the next and then come back with the half teaspoon.

5 In bowl of stand mixer, or with a hand mixer (I love my
KitchenAid hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the powdered sugar and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and jam; beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You will likely have to add the liquid ingredients before adding all the powdered sugar.

6 With a pastry bag fitted with a
2D tip or a 1M tip, pipe frosting on cupcakes by simply placing tip in the center and squeezing. You don't even have to know what you're doing; it'll look pretty!