Tuesday, June 11, 2013

strawberry fields forever: summer strawberry cake

Strawberries. Rhubarb. Something dessert-like.

How to decide? I turned to the internet for some spring dessert inspiration, looking for a simple recipe for a pint of strawberries and bunch of rhubarb, waiting patiently in the fridge. I searched through some reliable blogs, and instead of turning up one recipe, I'm faced with a difficult choice: there are 20 tabs open on my browser, each one a promising and tantalizing dessert. Impossible!

In the end, I chose a strawberry summer cake, from smitten kitchen - a recipe I ment to make last year, but stumbled across after strawberries were long gone. What better way to celebrate the beginning of strawberry season? I made a few minor changes to her recipe: I added rhubarb and substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose. It's a delicious, simple cake. The strawberries melt into pockets of jam, the cake is fluffy and light, despite the whole wheat flour. Next time, I might add in some citrus zest or a vanilla bean.

As noted in her recipe, use a deep 9-inch pie plate, or a 10-inch pie plate. It seems like the batter would fit in a smaller dish, but it rises a lot. Like, overflowing batter in the bottom of my oven. Which smells delicious when it first happens, then turns into a awful burning smell next time you use the oven. So don't use a 8x11 pan, like I did.

summer strawberry cake
adapted very slightly from this recipe on smitten kitchen.

6 tbsp (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature + extra for greasing pie plate
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 lb rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10-inch or 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream sugar and butter together until pale and fluffy. Add in egg, milk and vanilla, and stir until just combined. Mix in flour mixture, stirring until smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Cover batter with strawberries, cut side down, in a single layer. Scatter rhubarb pieces around strawberries. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tbsp sugar.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350, then reduce temperature to 325 and bake another 50-60 minutes, until centre of the cake is set, and a tester comes out clean.

Done! Delicious with whip cream, yogurt, or vanilla ice cream.

Here's my shortlist of recipes that didn't make the cut for tonight. I''ll report back, since I still plan on working my way through them.

Strawberries and Cream Biscuits - Smitten Kitchen
(like a strawberry shortcake with the strawberries baked right into the dough.)

Rustic Rhubarb Tarts - Smitten Kitchen
(little rhubarb galettes with a cornmeal + corn flour crust.)

Rhubarb Cordial - Food 52
(a pretty pink colour, a tart taste, the only drawback is the month-long wait.)

Rhubarb Chutney - Food in Jars via Food 52
(small batch, easy as pie, delicious on grilled cheese or tossed with garlicy greens.)

Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberries - Food 52
(inspired by 101 Cookbooks, roasted strawberries are out of this world.)

Strawberry Brown Butter Betties - Smitten Kitchen
(a crust made out of bread, brown butter, jammy strawberries, what could be bad?)

Rhubarb with Earl Grey, Cardamom and Orange - Food 52
(what a grown-up, intriguing combo of flavours, can't wait to try!)

Strawberry Cupcakes with a Brown Sugar Buttercream Icing - Not Without Salt
(a cupcake batter with pureed strawberries? sounds amazing.)

Rhubarb Snacking Cake - Smitten Kitchen
(is it a buckle, a streusel or a bar? it can't decide, but it's filled with rhubarb.)

Strawberry Shortcakes - Food 52
(a classic recipe from a classic man - James Beard - with a bonus secret ingredient.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

boozy concoctions part III: homemade vanilla extract

Cooking with booze continues, but this time it's not for drinking. It's an essential ingredient for all those summer desserts: vanilla extract!

homemade vanilla extract
from a variety of sites, including this onethis one, and this one

3 vanilla beans
1 cup high proof alcohol (vodka, rum or bourbon)

Split vanilla beans down the centre with a knife. Put in a clean jar, and cover with alcohol. Leave at room temperature. You can multiply this recipe by however much you like - I started with two cups of bourbon and 6 beans. You can replenish the extract with more alcohol and beans as you use it up. If you use the seeds from a vanilla bean, throw the used pod into the extract to help replenish! It should be ready in 1 to 2 months - just taste for strength. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

boozy concoctions part II: strawberry-rhubarb gin

The summer drink extravaganza continues! If you start it right now, it'll be ready in time for the next long weekend. What are you waiting for?

strawberry-rhubarb gin
If you want to be fancy, call this a cordial, since it does have added sugar. But if you're going to call if a cordial, you must drink it in an old fashioned crystal glass, while sitting in the shade with a fan. 

2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries
1 cup sliced rhubarb
1 750ml. bottle gin
1 cup sugar

Combine everything in a clean quart jar (you might not need all the gin - congrats, make a cocktail to celebrate). Leave in a cool, dark place for a month or two, shaking every week or two to help dissolve the sugar. Strain out and discard solids, and store in a clean jar at room temperature. Use as you would gin, in any kind of cocktail or martini, but remember there's added sugar, so cut back on other sweet ingredients. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

boozy concoctions part I: meyer lemon limoncello

Cooking + alcohol is a match made in heaven. A glass of wine or a bubbly cocktail is always welcome in my kitchen, both in the hands of the chef and the happy people waiting to eat the food. But I don't stop there. What about cooking with alcohol? Not just for deglazing and simmering, but making your own fancy, flavoured infusions?

The recipe for fruit-infused liquor is simple: put fruit in a clean jar, cover with sugar and booze, leave for a month or two. Sugar isn't necessary, but since I'm usually using these infusions in mixed drinks, it saves you from having to add simple syrup at a later point.

Last year, I made plain old rhubarb gin - it turned the gin a purple-pink colour, and gave it this amazing rhubarb flavour. This year I'm branching out. 

There's a scene in Under the Tuscan Sun where Diane Lane is given a glass of homemade limoncello by her dreamy Italian love interest. Sitting on a beach. Under the Tuscan sun. All I want is to taste that limoncello. (Boyfriend, if you're reading this, take me to Tuscany some day.) 

Here's the closest I'm gonna get to that. If you don't have meyers, definitely make this with plain old lemons - more tart, just as good! I would encourage you to use organic lemons, because you don't want all those pesticides mixing in with your hard earned homemade booze. Adapted from this recipe.

meyer lemon limoncello

16 organic meyer lemons
1 750ml bottle vodka
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey

Quarter meyer lemons, and stuff them into two very clean quart jars. Pour over the vodka, seal tightly and set aside for a month or two. 

After that looooong wait, strain out the gorgeous, lemon coloured vodka and set aside. Put the lemons, water, sugar and honey in a large pot, and bring to a gentle simmer. Don't boil - you'll cook off all that leftover alcohol in the lemons! Stir often, mashing the lemons with the back of your spoon, or a potato masher.

After about 10 minutes, the sugar will have disolved, and you'll have this awesome lemon mash. Strain with a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Stir together the vodka and the sugar/lemon/honey liquid, and pour into clean jars. Store in the fridge, not in the liquor cabinet, because of the high quantities of lemon juice. It'll keep for a couple of months, but good luck with that. 

How will I be drinking this? I might use an ounce or two to fortify some lemonade. Or I might drink it mixed with club soda and garnished with a lemon twist. Best of all, I might shake it over ice with some strawberry-rhubarb gin and strain into a chilled martini glass for the perfect late-spring martini. Strawberry-rhubarb gin, you ask? That's in tomorrow's post.