Project Baklava

by Caroline

Quick: name a Turkish food.

If you said falafel, go read my post about the falafel in Paris and then come back. We did eat falafel in Turkey occasionally, always part of a meze platter; we never saw it offered on its own in a sandwich.

We prepared for our trip to Turkey by eating at Turkish restaurants and cooking from a Turkish cookbook, including baking two different kinds of bread: simit and pide.

We did not prepare for Turkey by seeking out, making, or eating any baklava, because we figured it would be a) an easy sell for the kids and b) ubiquitous in Turkey.

So of course, somehow we didn’t eat any. And then when we came home, the kids complained. So we made it at home.

They continue to complain because we didn’t make the phyllo by hand, but until someone buys me a bigger kitchen and a pastry sheeter, I’ll continue to buy phyllo from the grocery store. Because with store-bought phyllo, making baklava is easy enough for the kids to do while I just hang out snapping pictures:

I read many different recipes for baklava, from Joy of Cooking to Gourmet to my Turkish cookbook, and it can get rather complicated if you let it, but really all you need is phyllo, melted butter, nuts, and simple syrup and/or honey. We made one with some rosewater for flavoring, which tasted too much like potpourri, and another with a little cinnamon and orange zest, which we liked much better. Explore recipes, play with ingredients, and chop, brush and layer your way to a tasty dessert.

Late Summer Plum Crumb Cake

by Lisa

It was the end of summer. We were finally headed out of the woods. We were headed into the woods.  We needed something sweet. We needed something new.  I had a pile of miniature deep purple French plums. I had a cherry pitter. I had a craving for a crumb topping. I had a new summer cake.  I took a deep breath and channeled my inner-Caroline. The cake was dense and sweet, studded with the occasional tart-sweet surprise of a mouthful of plum, and the kind of fat, addictive crumb that is impossible not to pick right off the cake. It went into the woods with us. Very little of it came back.

Late Summer Plum Crumb Cake

adapted from Food52

For the cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cups plain greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8-10 small French plums
For the crumb
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third. Butter a 9 x 2-inch round or 9 x 9 x 2-inch square cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Pit the plums and cut in half, if using the very small French plums. Mix the plums with a 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on their sweetness and how many you use). Set aside.
  3. Make the crumb by melting the butter in a small sauce pan, then mixing in flour, sugar, and cinnamon until crumb forms. Do not overmix. Set aside.
  4. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.
  5. Beat the butter and sugar until light, then mix in the eggs, one at a time.
  6. Beat in the yogurt, then the vanilla.
  7. On low speed, add the flour mixture just until combined.
  8. This is a very thick batter. At this point, gently fold in the plums so they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  9. Spoon batter carefully into cake pan, being careful not to break up the plums.
  10. Top generously with the crumb topping.
  11. Bake until the cake is golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted near the center tests clean.

Birthday Bread Pudding

by Caroline

future bread pudding

It should come as no surprise, given all the baking I do around here, that my kids can order up whatever they like for a birthday dessert. But it was definitely a surprise, after a solid six years of chocolate birthday cakes, to hear Eli request bread pudding. And not just any bread pudding, but Chef Ric’s Bread Pudding.

So I went to school and asked Ric if he would share the recipe he makes for the school, only to learn that — talented chef that he is — he wings it. And of course, he’s making dessert for three hundred people, so even if he could give me the exact recipe he makes at school, it would have taken a bit of math to scale it down for our family. But luckily he has chef friends who do write down their recipes, and he passed on this recipe for a New Orleans bread pudding. It calls for more butter than any bread pudding recipe I have ever seen. I think it’s going to be great.

Bread Pudding

12 oz bread, cubed

½ pound butter

4 whole eggs

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

Vanilla (to taste)

Ground Cinnamon (to taste)

2 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 325. While it’s warming, put the cubed bread on a baking sheet and let toast it in the oven till just golden, about five minutes.

Lightly grease a 13X9 baking pan and put the toasted bread into the pan.

Heat milk and cream with butter and vanilla. Whisk eggs till pale in color and add sugar and whisk some more. Temper egg mixture with the cream mixture off heat. Pour the liquid over the bread and allow it time to soak for a few minutes.

Bake until set – approximately 30-40 minutes. Serve, if you like, with caramel sauce and seven birthday candles.

edited to add: I actually ran out of butter and sugar while making this (my pantry is usually better stocked than that!), so can report that this tastes just fine if you only use 1/4 pound of butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar

Cake for my Mom

by Caroline

I really didn’t intend to write about cake again, but some weeks around here seem to occasion lots of baking and this was one of them: birthday cake for Tony, four batches of cookies for various events and finally, a delicious almond layer cake with sherry-lemon buttercream, just because. Just because my mother sent me the recipe, saying “Doesn’t this look good?” Just because my parents were visiting. Just because I like to try out new recipes when I have extra people around to eat the results.

It’s a delicious cake, best (I think) with a sprinkle of raspberries and three generations around the table to share it.