Extra Easy Peach Tart

by Caroline

The last time I saw my friend Yuka, Ben was just a few months old. He’d been crying all day when she arrived, stopped for the length of her visit, and then started back up again when she left. Frankly, it made me feel like crying, too.

After the earthquake and tsunami last spring, I checked in with all my people in Japan and quickly, happily heard back that everyone was ok — except for Yuka. As a reporter for Reuters, she travels a lot, and we’ll go ages without contact, but still, it weighed on me, and I was hugely relieved when she emailed that she’d be in town this week. I wanted to make something special for dinner, but with a day full of back-to-school activities, I didn’t have a ton of time.

Enter my daily Food52 email with this peach tart recipe from Amanda Hesser. She had me at “To make it all you need is a knife, a bowl, and some kind of pan.” A tart without finicky requirements? Yes, please. This recipe is easier than pie: it’s as easy as cake. Get a bowl, gather ingredients, stir, slice, bake. It was ready to go into the oven before the oven was hot enough to bake it. And any recipe that makes it easy for the kids to help is a winner in my book, too:

Two Cherry Cakes

by Caroline

It’s been a couple years now since Lisa wrote about fresh cherries, plain and simple, and that’s how I like them best, too. But this year, having signed up for an all-fruit CSA, we’ve been inundated with cherries, more than anybody wants to eat, so I’ve been exploring cake. It’s not, I know, the traditional direction to go with cherries; why not clafouti, or a pie? Because I felt like cake.

So, here’s where I started: cherry-cornmeal upside-down cake.

It gets off to a lovely, fragrant start with a caramel-balsamic syrup:

to which you then add the cherries:

At this point, though, I’d recommend switching from this recipe to this one, for an apricot upside-down cake which I have made several times (click here for a picture); the cake for the apricot recipe is less sweet, so I think a nicer contrast to the cherries, and much less fussy, since it doesn’t require that you separate the eggs. Either way you go, though, you’ll wind up with a delicious cake:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 cups whole pitted fresh Bing cherries or other dark sweet cherries (about 21 ounces whole, unpitted cherries)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground medium grind)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Combine 1/4 cup butter with brown sugar and vinegar in 10- to 11-inch ovenproof skillet with 2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add cherries and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter in large bowl. Add sugar; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each, beating just until blended and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until whites are stiff but not dry. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten slightly. Fold in remaining whites in 3 additions (batter will be thick). Spoon batter over cherries in skillet, then spread evenly with offset spatula to cover cherries.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in skillet on rack 5 minutes. Run spatula around edges of cake to loosen. Place large serving platter upside down atop skillet. Using pot holders or oven mitts, firmly hold platter and skillet together and invert. Leave skillet atop cake 5 minutes. Remove skillet. Stick back any wayward cherries. Let cake cool at least 45 minutes. Cut cake into wedges and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Cherry cake #2, or Cherry Brown Butter Bars, came via the always-fabulous blog, Smitten Kitchen (oh, look; she made the cherry cornmeal upside-down cake, too!). She had me at brown butter.

Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Adapted from Bon Appetit, via Smitten Kitchen

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1 pound sweet cherries, which will yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries, (alternately, you can use 12 ounces of the berry of your choice)

Make crust: Preheat over to 375°F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. Congratulations! You’ve just faked a square tart pan.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the sugar and vanilla and stir. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to your prepared pan, and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, about 18 minutes (it will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

Make the filling: Cook butter in heavy small saucepan (a lighter-colored one will make it easier to see the color changing, which happens quickly) over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often and watching carefully, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange pitted cherries, or the berries of your choice, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bars completely in pan on rack.

Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully remove cooled bars from pan and place them on a cutting board and cut them into squares with a very sharp knife.

I’ll make this again, and I’ll vary it, too, by topping this easy pastry with lemon custard, or lemon custard + raspberries, or blueberries… the possibilities are nearly endless.

Celebratory Fruit Turnovers

by Caroline

We were watching the Giants/Braves playoff game Sunday afternoon with nothing to munch on but little bowls of peanuts (it was almost time for dinner; I’ve been sick for two days) when the boys started dreaming of how our snacks might improve as our team plays deeper into the postseason. “Crackerjack!” one shouted. “Yeah, homemade crackerjack!” “Sure,” I promised, “I’ll make homemade crackerjack if we’re playing for the pennant.” “And It’s-Its?” Eli asked, “It’s-Its for the World Series?” “Yes, I assured him, “It’s-Its for the World Series.

We are a long way from the World Series still, and the last time the Giants got that far Ben looked like this:

eight years ago...

But Sunday’s game went well, and as we turned off the TV and turned our attention to dinner, I looked around the kitchen to see what I could make to celebrate. There was a sheet of puff pastry in the fridge; I’d gotten it out of the freezer a couple days ago to make some savory apple, beet and cheddar cheese tarts, but then I came down with a stomach bug. While I was in bed, the beets got turned into soup and the cheese and apples got eaten, but the puff pastry was still ready for use. We had a bowl of ripe pluots on the table (probably the last of the season), plus an orange, so I turned the oven on to preheat while I improvised dessert.

I chopped up the pluots, sprinkled them with brown sugar and cinnamon, then zested the orange into the mixture. I rolled the puff pastry out and cut it into six pieces, spooned my filling into the center of each one, and crimped them shut with a fork. I didn’t have an egg for the egg wash (a couple days out of commission and our supplies start to run seriously low), but a little milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar worked just fine. By the time I was finished assembling the turnovers, the oven was hot and I slid the pan into bake. I tossed the remaining fruit filling into a saucepan to cook down into a chunky sauce. Half an hour later, our pluot turnovers were ready.

You won’t find these at any ballpark, but I didn’t hear any complaints on that score. We’ll plan a bit better for the games to come, and I’ll post recipes for some baseball-friendly snacks. In the meantime, this dessert served as a good reminder that it doesn’t take much advance thought or planning to come up with a nice finish to your meal. Obviously, we don’t all have thawed puff pastry ready to go at a moment’s notice — it was a first for me — but I could have just as easily (and quickly) made a fruit crisp; all you ever really need, as we find ourselves saying again and again, are a well-stocked pantry and some fresh produce. I’m looking forward to the next game already.

The 2A Farmer’s Market

by Caroline

The 2nd grade curriculum at my son’s school is built partly on the study of communities, so every month or so there is a field trip to a different part of the city, where the kids hear stories about the neighborhood and eat some snacks: fried chicken feet in Chinatown, tacos in the Mission, you get the idea. The Civic Center field trip was timed to hit the Farmer’s Market, and although Ben missed it because of a nasty case of strep throat, the kids had such a ball, tasting fresh produce and chatting with the farmers, that the 2nd grade teachers decided to put on a classroom farmer’s market the following week.

The kids were assigned a single fruit or vegetable, and worked with partners to create informational posters about their produce:

Ben was assigned the orange, and not only did it give us a nice excuse to talk with the orange farmer at our neighborhood market, but (at my dad’s suggestion) we checked out John McPhee’s lovely book on oranges and learned this:

“Botanically, [oranges] are spectacularly complicated. They can be completely unripe when they are a brilliant orange and deliciously ripe when they are as green as emeralds. An orange grown on one side of a tree is better than an orange grown on the other side. Citrus is so genetically perverse that oranges can grow from lime seeds. Most California lemons grow on orange roots. Most Florida oranges grow on lemon roots.”

Oranges are crazy! And they’re also delicious. The farmer’s market offered naval oranges, Valencia oranges, and Moro oranges, so we bought some of each for Ben to cut up and share with the students, parents, and school staff who came to the market. He even wore an orange shirt for the occasion.

Ben loved the project, as his enthusiastic classmates clearly did, too. And I loved seeing food and farming get such close attention in the classroom. Now all we have to do is find room at the school for a garden…

Strawberry Clafouti or, Trying Again After a Recipe Failure

by Caroline

The pudding wasn’t setting.

I’d had my doubts about the recipe. It seemed to call for way too much sugar, it called for milk instead of cream. But, I had it in my head that we should have fresh vanilla pudding to go with our strawberries.

I know, I know. There’s nothing wrong with ice cream or Greek yogurt (we didn’t have cream to whip) on berries; really, there’s nothing at all wrong with plain strawberries. But I felt like cooking something. I’d already made strawberry pie, didn’t feel like strawberry shortcake (and again, we didn’t have any cream). I felt like something different.

So, pudding.

I usually flip through three or four recipes when I haven’t made something in a while, to remind myself of the various techniques and/or ingredients involved, and then I either choose one or combine a few. But I was in a hurry to get it made and chilling in the fridge before I headed out on an errand, so I just embarked on the first recipe I found. I tossed the ingredients in a sauce pan and stood at the stove, stirring and stirring the only-slightly thickening mixture, checking the clock, needing to leave the house. I finally poured the soupy pudding into ramekins, set them in the fridge, and hoped for the best.

On the way home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that vanilla soup. I called Tony and asked him to get a stick of butter out of the fridge and turn the oven on. “What are you baking?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I answered. “Something for the strawberries. That pudding’s not going to work.”

In the event, I didn’t even need the butter.

Clafouti is basically a pancake batter poured over fruit and baked until set. It tastes a bit like a fruity Yorkshire pudding. Traditionally it’s done with cherries, but strawberries were lovely, and raspberries or blueberries would be nice, too. It’s not something I’ve made before, but plenty of experience with pancakes, popovers, and Yorkshire pudding made me more confident than I was about the pudding. The recipe I used (from Sunset Magazine) couldn’t be simpler and, unlike the pudding recipe, it worked.

The lesson for me here is not to never try new things (I’ll certainly try vanilla pudding again), but to slow down in the kitchen and to trust my instincts. We’re on kind of a pudding kick around here, having already enjoyed milk chocolate last week, and with butterscotch still to come, so I’ll try vanilla again, and post the recipe when I get it right.

In the meantime, if anybody has suggestions for how to repurpose my too-sweet vanilla soup, I’m all ears.