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Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

A great pleasure of opening any of Martin Walker’s “Mysteries of the French Countryside” books is anticipation of the dishes that Bruno Courrèges, his police-chief detective, will be making for dinner guests in the intervals of solving crimes. Bruno’s kitchen work is described so fully, I’ve been able to recreate several of his recipes for myself – about which I’ve done posts, here and here.

This time Tom and I and the friend who shared those earlier occasions gathered to make a dinner based on two of Bruno’s recipes from The Shooting at Chateau Rock: a main course of chicken and a dessert of cherries. Earlier, I’d written up the book’s information on each dish, so we could make notes on scaling down and quantifying. This we did while having kirs, the aperitif that Bruno served.
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For our appetizer at the dinner table, we couldn’t match Bruno’s homemade pâté de foie gras, but we had a hearty chunk of peppercorn-crusted pâté de campagne, served with cornichons and mustard.
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Our main course was this dish of chicken thighs, which, owing to a peculiar omission in the book, might well have been called a “mystery of the French countryside” itself.
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For all the book’s detailed narrative of chopping shallots, garlic, and tarragon, softening them in butter in a casserole dish, adding wine and stock, bringing it to a simmer, covering and putting it in the oven for 45 minutes, it never said to put the chicken thighs in the pot.

I kid you not. All three of us had read and reread the book’s pages, and once the raw chicken thighs are salted and peppered on the kitchen counter, the next we hear of them is when they come out of the casserole to wait while the sauce is being finished.

Needless to say, we needed an intervention. When would Bruno have put the chicken in the casserole? We opted to brown ours quickly in butter at the beginning, took them out of the pan to wait while we softened the vegetables, and returned them in time for the addition of wine and stock. From there, we were able to return to the book’s “instructions.”

Finally, the pan juices were reduced, and the sauce was finished with crème fraiche and lemon zest. We served the chicken with a very plain rice pilaf, as Bruno did (plus green beans, which he didn’t). The whole dish was excellent, with just a touch of spicy-sweet tarragon in the creamy sauce.
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Bruno’s dessert was cherries (picked from his own tree, of course) lightly stewed with honey and topped with a custard made from crème fraiche and heavy cream. It sounded luscious. Alas, our version didn’t entirely succeed.
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We did take extreme care in the time and temperature for heating the two creams and in the continuous vigorous whisking, both when beating them into the eggs and when finishing the cooking. But our custard first refused to thicken, and then – slowly but inexorably – curdled. Too much heat, I fear. I’ve found custards made with milk much easier to work with, and baked custards are easiest of all. Wish we’d used a double boiler here!

Our dessert wasn’t quite ruined: The cherries were fine, and you could think of the topping as a kind of furry, sweetened ricotta. But it didn’t have the silky texture you expect in a custard. Still, well chilled, and with cherry juice drizzled over the top, it was a pleasant enough ending to the meal.

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And finally: Tom produced three white wines for us to drink in the course of the dinner. A Mâcon-Villages for the kirs, a Condrieu with the pâté, and an older Savennières with the chicken. He’s done a post about them on his blog.
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A cobbler can be a great fruit pastry for an ease-loving home baker. You do have to make and roll out dough but, unlike making a pie, you don’t have to fit a round of dough into the baking dish, fit another round over the fruit filling, trim and seal the two together, and shape an attractive rim.

The cobbler section of Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts opens with a two-page spread showing a rustic blackberry cobbler, made with dough merely partially folded over the berry filling, leaving large (artistically placed?) gaps.
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In the recipe headnote, the author declares this to be his favorite kind of cobbler. I’ve made and enjoyed his peach cobbler, so the prospect of an even tastier one was very tempting. And berries are easier to work with than other fruits: no peeling or slicing needed.

There were no fresh blackberries in my Greenmarket yet, so I bought a commercial pack. Happily, it contained three cups of berries, which was exactly right for a half recipe’s worth.

I usually make pastry in my heavy-duty mixer, but this recipe requires a food processor, because it calls for frozen butter and frozen vegetable shortening. That’s certainly a way to keep the dough cool, but I’ve never had trouble using just chilled fats and very cold water.  This should have been my first clue that Bailey’s favorite cobbler might require a bit more effort and complication than other, less special, ones.
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The processor noisily and laboriously turned the frozen fats, flour, and salt into a rough crumble. Then I had to trickle in more ice water than called for, in order to make it gather into a mass. Good thing the fat was frozen: in the process, the machine had thrown a lot of heat.
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The dough, shaped by hand into a ball, had to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I used the time to clean the dough residue from the processor parts, which was harder than cleaning my stainless steel mixer bowl. Another clue? Hmpf!

When it was time to roll out the dough, I faced a mathematical question. If a whole recipe needs a circle of dough 15 inches in diameter, how big should the circle be for half a recipe? It was obvious that a half-sized circle – 7½ inches – would be too small, so I resorted to my trusty A = π r² formula and rolled the dough to 11 inches.
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Probably unnecessary precision, as I realized later. I could just have eyeballed the job. I think I was already a little spooked. Anyway, I draped the dough over a small pie dish and heaped the berries in the middle, adding sugar and dots of butter.
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Here I diverged from the recipe. For three cups of berries, it would have wanted six tablespoons of sugar – much too much, I thought. I gave it three tablespoons. Then, just before closing over the dough, I chickened out to the extent of one more tablespoon. In the upshot, that was unnecessary: Those berries were plenty sweet already.

Back to following directions, I folded the overhanging dough around the filling (it wasn’t supposed to cover completely), and sprinkled a little more sugar over the crust.
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The cobbler baked at 425° for 45 minutes, to come out lightly browned and bubbling – and with a large puddle of breakthrough juices. Hmpf again!
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Inartistically messy as it looked, my blackberry cobbler was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet for us, but richly berryish and with a firm, tasty crust. Well worth the amount of unexpected effort it took. (Though next time I might try making the crust with unfrozen fats.)
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The half of it that we couldn’t finish for dessert that evening made a sinfully good breakfast the next morning. That none of it lasted longer than that is a testimony to how much we enjoyed it.

 

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Basque Cornmeal Cake

I’m getting fond of making simple, lightly sweet cakes that can serve both as a dinner dessert (e.g., with fruit and/or whipped cream) and for breakfast the next morning (toasted and buttered or just plain). I found an interesting one this week in Bernard Clayton’s book The Breads of France. His Gâteau au Maïs is a curious little country cake, something like a cross between cornbread and pound cake, that’s baked in a charlotte tin.
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Clayton always has interesting things to say about his recipes. Here, he tells us that corn entered Basque cooking with Christopher Columbus, who brought back corn to the Old World as a curiosity. His Basque crew took the foreign grain home to their families, and it became an important part of the local culture.

To make my cake, I brought three eggs to room temperature and melted a stick of butter and let it cool. In a large bowl I mixed ½ cup of cornmeal with ½ cup of sugar and a dash of salt. I separated the eggs and added the yolks to the bowl.
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Very gradually, I drizzled the melted butter into the bowl and whisked everything together.
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I stirred in another ½ cup of cornmeal, making a thick paste, then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and folded them into the corn mixture.
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The recipe said this would make a thin batter. Not mine: it remained very thick. But it looked good. I buttered my smallest charlotte mold and scraped the cheerful daffodil-yellow mixture into it.
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When the cake had had 30 minutes in a 375° oven, I checked it, as directed, and it was rising and browning, as it should. (The recipe didn’t say what to do if it wasn’t!)
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Another 15 minutes and the cake was done and ready to be unmolded onto a rack. Actually, it needed some persuasion to loosen from the pan, but it conceded in the end. I left it to cool on the rack, as you saw in the first photo above.

Clayton’s headnote says the cake is excellent with fresh fruit, and he especially recommends pineapple. So that’s how we had our first slices of it.
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The cake was indeed very good, all by itself. It had a nice light corn sweetness and a pleasant graininess: both flavor and textural interest. It was also quite nice with the pineapple, though that’s not one of our favorite dessert combinations. Next time I make it, I’ll choose something softer, like a compote of peaches or plums, or a strawberry sauce.

And how was it for breakfast? Just fine. Lightly toasted, it bonded with butter in a shameless love affair.

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This week, I decided it was time to use up the ageing reconstituted remnants of puff pastry dough in my freezer. Similarly, a jar of the not-very-successful apple jam I made a year ago still sat on a shelf in my pantry. Out of idle curiosity, I’d see if they could make decent apple turnovers.

I can make simple apple turnovers, but I thought a recipe might suggest ways to nudge these sow’s ears in the direction of silk purses. Found a promising one in Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Pastry. Of course, it wanted the puff pastry to be made from scratch (via a separate recipe eight pages long) and the filling to be prepared from fresh apples. Just ignore those steps, Diane!
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Years ago, I used to make my own puff pastry à la Julia Child: repeatedly rolling, folding, and chilling thickly buttered dough to produce 216 layers of butter between 217 layers of dough. It took almost all day, and my pastries never rose as dramatically as they should have, so I eventually stopped trying. But now, local stores are carrying packaged sheets of classic puff pastry, which I’ve used successfully for special-occasion dishes; e.g., here and here.

When you’ve cut fresh puff pastry to the desired shapes, you’re left with scraps of dough that you can’t just ball up to reuse, as you can short-crust dough. You have to align the scraps in their original positions, overlap and paste them together with water or butter, and fold them again several times. My leftovers had been heavily worked that way.

I defrosted the densely folded dough, rolled it out, and – picking up on Clayton’s instructions – persuaded it into three rough five-inch squares.
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The next step was the filling. The recipe wanted apples to be grated and sautéed in butter with sugar, salt, pepper, and vanilla. My apple jam tasted pleasant enough; the problem was its consistency, which was more like dense applesauce than jam. For that very reason, I thought it might do all right here.

I brushed egg wash all over the pastry squares and put a tablespoon of jam in the middle of each. It seemed pretty skimpy, but the recipe insisted on limiting the filling to a level tablespoon per turnover. I obeyed.
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I folded the dough into triangles, sealed the edges with the tines of a fork, set them on a parchment-covered baking pan, brushed the tops again with egg wash, and refrigerated them for half an hour..

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When the oven was preheated, I took the baking pan out of the refrigerator, brushed the turnovers again with egg wash, picked each one up and quickly turned it over onto a plate of granulated sugar. Actually, I wondered about that additional handling: Why not just sprinkle sugar on the tops of the turnovers? But, again, I did as directed.
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The turnovers baked for 45 minutes, half the time at 400°, the rest at 350°. To my amazement, that old, long-worked pastry had risen to glorious heights. The shapes were a little clumsy, but they smelled marvelous.
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They tasted marvelous too, with all the crisp, sweet, buttery richness of puff pastry from a good artisan bakery. The egg-sugar topping had given it a little crunchy glaze. The apple filling was bright and fruity, not overly sweet, and its quantity seemed just right. I was totally surprised, and very pleased. Maybe I should make that apple jam again this year, just for use in tarts and turnovers...
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Fresh Peach Cobbler

Where did the summer go? One of the farm stands at my Greenmarket just announced it was their last week for peaches. The end of local peaches – oh, no! I hadn’t even made my peach jam for the year yet. And hardly any of my usual summer peach desserts. Time to play catch-up before it’s too late.

The first thing I made was a cobbler, using four large ripe peaches.
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Cobblers have almost all the virtues of pies and are easier to make. You can:

  • Simply put prepared fruit in a baking dish and top it with dollops of sweet biscuit dough (so the baked dish looks paved in cobblestones – possibly hence the name).
  • Or lay an extra-large sheet of rolled out pastry dough on a large baking pan, put the fruit in the center, and fold the dough roughly over the filling, for a casual, rustic look. (Here’s one I’ve done that way. )
  • Or put the fruit in a buttered dish, lay on a sheet of pastry rolled and cut to fit it, and bake it like a pot pie.
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That last is the version I just made, working with a recipe from the Fruits volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. The recipe is attributed to The Old-Fashioned Cookbook, an unknown-to-me 1975 anthology of popular American folk dishes. I’d been meaning to try the recipe for some time because of its unusual approach to slightly sweetened short-crust pastry.

As pie makers all “know,” the butter that’s cut into flour when making a pastry dough has to be hard and cold. This recipe wants its butter to be soft. Moreover, it wants you to mush the butter together with a beaten egg, using your fingers, before combining it with the dry ingredients. The gooeyness of that didn’t appeal to me, so I gave my Kitchen-Aid mixer the task.
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Which it did very neatly, producing an even, crumbly texture . . .
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. . . that needed only the tiniest bit of water to gather itself into a smooth dough, ready to be wrapped and rested in the refrigerator.

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While the dough chilled, I peeled, halved, pitted, and sliced the peaches.
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I gently mixed the slices in a bowl with lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. The peaches were so sweet, I cut the recipe’s full cup of sugar to ¾ cup. And they were already juicing up so much, I slightly increased the recipe’s 3 tablespoons of flour, to encourage thickening when baked.
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Into a baking dish went the fruit, to be dotted with a tablespoon of butter bits.
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My dish was deep rather than broad, with relatively little surface on which to lay the sheet of dough. Very curious about the unusual crust, I’d cut the piece quite large, so there’d be a generous amount to taste, and tucked up the edges all around. As directed, I brushed the surface with cream. Not as directed, I forgot to cut steam vents in it. Tsk!
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The recipe expected the dish to need 25 minutes of baking at 425° to firm and lightly brown the crust. Mine took all of 45 minutes. Perhaps I hadn’t rolled the dough thin enough. Again, tsk!
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The peaches didn’t mind, though. And aside from being a little lopsided, the cobbler looked all right. Very folksy. When we tasted it, the pastry was fine: the texture was a bit like soft shortbread.
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The peaches were meltingly sweet and luscious. So much so that I could have reduced the sugar even more – but that’s hard to judge with a first-time recipe, and it also depends on the particular fruits’ natural sweetness. Still, it was a nice, simple, down-home summer treat, a creditable late celebration of the season’s fruit.

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The favorite everyday desserts in our house are cakes with baked-in toppings or additions of fruit. The batter is usually quick and easy to put together – not even any separating of egg yolks and whites. The gentle contrasts of moisture, texture, and flavor are comforting and pleasing without being overly rich or sweet. I’ve written about several desserts of this kind in previous posts, such as these:
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Clockwise from top left: plum cake Cockayne, from Joy of Cooking; peach cake from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen; blueberry grunt, with a sweet biscuit dough; cherry clafoutis, with a sweet pancake dough; 1917 cake, with raisins and applesauce; polenta cake with raspberries and blueberries

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Now I have another one to add to my repertoire: Torta di Bernardone, an apple and pear cake from The Tuscan Cookbook by Wilma Pezzini. This is the third of three excellent recipes from that book that I’ve made recently. (You can find my posts on the first two here and here.)

The recipe is credited to a trattoria run by three sisters in a country town near Pezzini’s home in 1977. Today, according to Google, there’s still a restaurant and inn called Bernardone in that town. I’d love to visit it one day, when transatlantic travel is possible again!

But back to the cake. The recipe expects you to be making the batter by hand, with a wooden spoon. I chose the lazy route – my heavy-duty mixer. It quickly beat together ¾ cup of sugar and a jumbo egg, then incorporated a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, a heavy ¼ cup of kirsch, and just a drop of vanilla extract.
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The batter waited while I peeled, cored, quartered, and cut into fairly thick slices an apple and a pear.
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With the batter spread into a buttered 9-inch cake pan, I arranged apple and pear slices alternately in a pinwheel pattern over the surface – entirely covering it with fruit, as the recipe instructed.
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The cake baked in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, until the batter had risen around the fruit and the center of the cake tested done. It surprised me a bit to see that, while the apple slices stayed pale, the pear slices had browned. In retrospect, I think it was because the pear was very ripe. They made a nice color contrast, though, giving the recipe a bit more visual appeal than I had expected.
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Really, this little cake is a classic of its kind: a simple, old-fashioned, light, homey dessert. Like similar fruity cakes, it’s good warm or cold, and also lovely for breakfast for the next few days – if it lasts that long!
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According to Pezzini, the apples and pears make this the Bernardone sisters’ winter version of the cake. In summer they do it with peaches or cherries. I look forward to trying it with those fruits too, when they come into season.

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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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Autumn is here, and it’s apple season again. The stands in my Greenmarket are spilling over with the abundant new crop. I counted two dozen varieties in a recent visit: from old standards like Cortland, Empire, Greening, Macintosh, Northern Spy, Rome, and Winesap, to some I’d never seen before, like Spartan, Snapdragon, Opalescent, and Zester. The Johnny Appleseeds of the world have been busy indeed.

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Just walking past the fragrant heaps gave me visions of apple pies and tarts, apple crisps and crumbles, apples baked and sautéed, apple fritters . . . all things I’ll be making in the fullness of time. But sometimes my apple craving can be satisfied with something much more modest than those treats: a simple apple compote.

The compote recipe I use is from my mother’s 1937 copy of America’s Cook Book. The recipe isn’t in a desserts chapter: It’s from “Fruits,” the very first recipe section in the book – which also includes recipes for avocados, kumquats, mangoes, papayas, persimmons, and quinces. At 1,000 pages, it’s an amazing book for its time.

For a little dessert for two, one recent evening, I made a compote with two crisp Braeburn apples.

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I peeled, quartered, and cored them, and dropped them into a bowl of cold water to wait while I prepared their syrup.
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In a medium pot I boiled a cup of water with half a cup of sugar for three minutes. The drained apple quarters went into the pot along with a small cinnamon stick.
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The next instruction was to cover the pot and simmer until the apples were transparent, which always takes longer than I expect it to. These particular apples weren’t very willing to cooperate at all, so when they began thinking about turning into applesauce I had to stop while they were only mildly translucent.
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Drained, they were very tender and not too messy looking. But next time I’ll try a different kind of apple, to see if the pieces will hold their shape better.
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To provide a bit of luxury, I topped our portions of compote with modest scoops of gelato. That’s stracciatella on the left, pistachio on the right. A sweet, light finish for a weekday dinner.

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It’s high peach season, and my Greenmarket is bursting with the fruits. Though I already have several easy recipes for peach desserts that Tom is always happy to eat on summer evenings (and often for the next day’s breakfast too), I enjoy looking for new ones to try. The recipe I found this week was somewhat misleading and didn’t come out at all the way I expected.

It’s called Peach Crumble Cake, and it’s from Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts. The name was intriguing to me, because a crumble and a cake are normally quite different things. A cake, of course, is baked from a sweetened batter, and even if fruit is added, it comes out firm and sliceable. For a crumble, the fruit goes into a pan and is topped with a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar, and butter. When baked it’s spooned out for serving.

This particular recipe has a base of cake batter, with peach halves set on top. Okay, I thought, that seems like an easy enough kind of cake; I’ll just have to see how the “crumble factor” enters the picture here.

A glitch appeared as I noted the number of peaches the recipe required. For an 8-inch square pan, it wanted 10 large peaches, cut in halves. That was absurd: Even if each peach were only 2 inches wide, that size pan would hold only 16 halves – and most peaches are much larger than that. In any event, I didn’t have an 8-inch square pan, so I’d be using a 9-inch round one (the same capacity, per the πr2 formula). So I bought six peaches, each easily three inches across. I already had all the other ingredients.
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The preparations went smoothly enough. I creamed butter with brown and white sugar; beat in flour, baking powder, and eggs; and transferred the batter to my buttered cake pan.
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I dropped the peaches briefly into boiling water, drained and peeled them, and cut each one in half.
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From the amount of room they took up on my 11-inch prep board, it was clear that not all those halves were going to fit in my pan. And they didn’t. It took only seven halves, plus tucked-in bits of an eighth. I sprinkled them all with lemon juice and a mix of cinnamon and sugar.
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I expected that the cake batter would rise up and cushion the fruit, though I still couldn’t think how anything would become crumbly. However, the pan was already looking pretty full, so as I put it in a 350° oven, I made sure to set a baking sheet on a shelf just below it, in case the rising batter overflowed the pan. Which it did, in a few places.
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Baking time was a little problematic. The recipe said to bake one hour or until golden. My cake was golden after only 45 minutes, but the cakey part still tested very wet inside. At 10 minutes after the hour, when the crust was starting to darken to brown, my testing skewer finally came out clean. I pulled the cake out of the oven and set it on a rack to cool.
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Obviously, this was not the kind of cake that could be turned out of its pan onto a plate for serving. The recipe had no further handling instructions, so I thought I’d treat it like a pie and take slices straight from the pan.

Nooo, not that either. The missing “crumble factor” kicked in, but not in any way I’d expected: My attempted slices crumbled and fell apart at first touch. Also, the whole interior of the dish was extremely juicy – not to say soggy.

Well, all right: Since the cake had become this very moist crumble, I spooned it into bowls and served it with scoops of ice cream, as the recipe suggested. Texture aside, it tasted fine. It’s hard to hurt ripe peaches and sweet dough.
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But if I’d wanted a simple peach crumble, there are easier ways than this to make one. It was the crumble-cake combo that mainly interested me.  And, aside from the misnomer of calling this a cake, I think something was wrong in the recipe’s proportions: Though I used less than half as many peaches called for, the dish was far too wet. The sugar seems to have drawn so much liquid out of the fruit that the batter couldn’t firm up enough. And the crust would have blackened if I’d baked it longer.

So, for my next peach dessert this summer, I’ll go back to one of my tried and true recipes. The same book has a very good one for a peach cobbler that I’ve written about here before. And I have a recipe of my own for a “proper” peach cake, which I’ve also written about here.

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Back in May, when I wrote about dinners I’d had in Lyon, I mentioned a sweet-sharp condiment that was served alongside foie gras at Brasserie Le Nord. It was an odd, nubbly relish, with a flavor like nothing I’d ever had before, and made an interesting foil for the luscious, silky foie gras. Here’s what it looked like:
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When I asked our server what was in it, she had to go into the kitchen to find out. Returning, she said that, today, it was red onion, apple, pineapple, and celery. I’d never have guessed those! (Hmm: only today? Possibly different yesterday and tomorrow? Interesting.)

Back home, culinary curiosity demanded that I try recreating it for myself. I started with an internet search for “fruit condiments for foie gras.” Very instructive: There seem to be many such recipes, often quite complex, that I haven’t known about. However, none of them seemed as if they’d produce the texture I wanted.

Next I looked in my cookbooks for chutney recipes. That was more encouraging, because the basic approach to chutney is simply to chop the main ingredients, put them all in a pot, and cook them with some liquid and the desired seasonings until the mixture is as thick as you want it. So I assembled my four ingredients:
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Now, what proportion of each should I use? One onion gave me 2/3 cup, minced. Two stalks of celery, also 2/3 cup. One apple (quickly turning brown) gave me 1½ cups. And I took a whole cup of pureed pineapple, so there’d be plenty of juice in the mix.
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Wondering if it would be wise to cook the two vegetables by themselves at first to soften them a little, I divided each ingredient into halves and briefly sauteed half the onion and celery in butter. Then in two separate pots I combined the ingredients, the cooked vegetables and half the fruits in one, the raw vegetables and the remaining fruits in another.

What else should go in? I knew that Le Nord’s version didn’t have any Indian spices, but I had no idea what others there might have been. I decided to add only a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of apple vinegar to each pot – no other sweetener.
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Then I cooked both mixtures, covered, stirring occasionally, until they thickened enough to hold their shape, which took about 45 minutes. They came out looking very similar: the one with uncooked vegetables a little darker. (I do wonder what Le Nord used to make its version so red.) Both tasted fairly interesting, with almost no difference between them.
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Then came the fun part. We had a block of foie gras in the refrigerator (a gastronomical souvenir of the Lyon trip) just waiting for a chance to try the new condiment with. And we did.
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You can hardly see any difference in the two little heaps of – I still don’t know what to call it: relish, chutney, preserve, conserve, confiture? – but the slightly darker one is on the right. Both made a nice enough flavor and texture contrast with the foie gras, sweet and the merest touch piquant, soft and nubbly. I can’t say they provided any major enhancement, though. Foie gras is gorgeous enough on its own.

We tried some again another day with some good cheeses: same mixed result. The simple fact is, this little condiment is a lot of work, especially for the small quantity I could use while it was fresh enough: a restaurant’s dish rather than one to make at home. Still, it was an interesting experiment.

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