It’s high citrus season, people! I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! (Name that movie).
Okay, so maybe not everyone is as enthralled with the abundance of adorable little clementines, fragrant Meyer lemons and vibrant blood oranges as I am, but guys, it’s getting towards the end of January. The winter blues could take any of us down at any time.
Even in San Francisco, where all four seasons just sort of smear into each other without a whole lot of meterological drama, it’s all kinds of dreary in January. So let’s focus on the positive. Citrus galore! And a zippy, big mama Clementine Chiffon Cake is just the thing to bring a little sunshine into your life during this time of year.
I lurve chiffon cakes. They’re the sort of thing that make you feel incredibly accomplished in the kitchen. They emerge from the oven tall and proud and commanding, a great candidate for getting all gussied up with a whole myriad of flavorings, syrups and sauces. Unlike her more elegant, prettier and popular sister the angel food cake (which can be so delicate that you have to tread lightly when trying to jazz her up) the chiffon cake scoffs at her frilly name, and with her richer texture courtesy of added egg yolks and vegetable oil offers a fabulous canvas for all sorts of bells and whistles, like a zingy orange glaze that soaks just enough into the epidermis of the cake to make things interesting.
And this cake couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d just done that thing where I’d bought the huge box of clementines from the market for, like, five bucks or something crazy, with the noble intention of snacking on them in lieu of, say, cake. But really, how many clementines can you snack on before you just need a slice of flippin’ cake?! Oh, the irony. Luckily it took an almost comical number of clementines to yield enough juice for this recipe, which got that pesky healthy snacking monkey off my back right quick.
Some people spaz out about recipes like chiffon cakes and their egg foam cake counterparts, like angel food cakes and sponge cakes. All that egg white whipping and folding just seems too precious and risky. But really, if you have a reliable electric mixer, you’re well on your way to chiffon cake success. And even though you do want to take care to whip the egg whites to the proper stage (firm peaks, but not at all dry) and whisk them in gently as to not knock out all the air, the beauty of a chiffon cake is that it can be roughed up a bit while getting the batter together and all won’t be lost.
And even if your chiffon cake doesn’t rise quite as much as you’d hoped, or falls a bit while cooling or if you louse it up at the eleventh hour by, say, inverting the cake onto a plate that suctions itself to the beautiful golden crust, stripping off whole sections of it when you turn it back onto the cake stand, well, don’t worry about it for a second. Because the so-lovely-its-practically-drinkable clementine glaze that douses this cake has such fabulous flavor and adds so much moisture that none of that will matter in the end. This cake perserveres. Just like winter-weary folks.
Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake
Adapted from The All-American Dessert Book
If you don’t have clementines, fret not. Any kind of sweet, orange-y citrus will do: navel oranges, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos, what have you. Whenever a recipe calls for zest, like this one, I like to seek out organic fruit just so I don’t have to worry about scraping a whole lot of pesticides into the mix.
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups unsifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated clementine zest
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one large bowl and 5 of the yolks in another (use the remaining yolk for another purpose). Whisk together the yolks, oil, clementine zest, lemon zest, clementine juice and vanilla until well-blended. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture just until it’s smoothly incorporated. Set aside.
Add the lemon juice to the egg whites. With an electric mixer, begin beating the egg whites on low speed, them raise the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until soft peaks begin to form. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar to the whites as they are whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, raise the speed to high and whip for 1 to 3 minutes more, until the whites hold firm peaks that still have a moist appearance–do not overbeat or they will be very difficult to incorporate. Whisk about a third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites, stopping at soon as there are no streaks of white left in the batter.
Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake until a cake tester in the thickest part comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Immediately invert the cake onto a wire rack, or a countertop if the pan has feet, and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run a thin knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake. Cover a large plate with a sheet of plastic wrap and spray it lightly with cooking spray to prevent the top of the cake from sticking, and invert the cake onto the plate before turning the cake back onto a final serving platter or cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper under the cake to protect the platter from wayward glaze.
To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, clementine juice and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Let the glaze stand until it cools and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. This cake keeps well at room temperature in a covered cake dome for up to 3 days.
So are you a fudgy brownie person or a cakey brownie person? Because I fall into the former category, and these brownies fall into the latter. And to be honest, I am so on Team Fudgy that I considered not even mentioning them to you. But upon further mulling of the whole thing, I decided you really do need to know about this recipe. Because even though they are not my ultimate brownies, they are still very good and if you are on Team Cakey, well, they may end up being yours. And I can’t in good conscience deny any cakey brownie-loving POC readers that pleasure. I’m here for you, people.
For the rest of us, I will not call these brownies, rather I will dub this recipe Rich Chocolate Snack Cake and share its many virtues. Not the least of which is a deep, satisfying chocolate flavor that isn’t shrouded by a cloying sweetness. The chocolate flavor really does shine here.
Another bonus of this recipe is that it’s easy, easy, easy. Which, really, all brownie recipes should be, but who doesn’t love easy? Communists, that’s who. All it takes is a little bit of flour, some melted some butter and chocolate, dark brown sugar, eggs and sour cream.
Back it up now, sister–what? Oh, yes, I said sour cream. That’s what drew me to this recipe in the first place. And it’s the magical ingredient that keeps these cakey brownies from being dry and boring. The sour cream adds moisture and an edgy flavor element that keeps the chocolate from tasting flat. If ever there was a cakey brownie that might seduce the die-hard Fudgies, this would be it.
I should also mention something about this recipe that has become an obsession of sorts for me lately: the texture and flavor of these brownies actually improves the day after baking them. Even more moist, maybe even a little denser, more chocolatey. I flippin’ love that. In fact, on the second day, I got to thinking about other things that could be done with this recipe because of their transformation after a rest on the counter.
Vanilla ice cream and hot fudge on top, well, yes, yes, of course, but I’m feeling like pouring this batter into two round cake pans and frosting it with a thin layer of Vanilla Bean Buttercream or more generous swirls of Seven-Minute Frosting might just make for the most orgasmic, do-ahead layer cake in the history of the universe. If anyone tries this and you can still speak or type, could you report back with your findings? Awesome, thanks.
I’ve made several changes to this recipe–most notably, I left out the generous amount of walnuts that the original recipe calls for because I don’t like my brownies walnutted (2 cups toasted and chopped; if you love nutty brownies, add them). I also added a bit of cocoa powder, which gives a much-needed punch of chocolate flavor, but really only works if you use a premium, rich, dark cocoa powder like Valrhona. Make these brownies a day before you want to serve them and wrap them well–the flavor and texture improve the next day.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons premium cocoa powder (I love Valrhona)
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces (chocolate chips work fine, I like Ghiradelli)
1 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Set an oven rack to the center position and preheat the to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 pan with foil, and spray with cooking spray.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder and set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Allow it to bubble for about 10 seconds, then remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two, and then whisk until smooth. Let cool for a minute while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the sour cream, salt and vanilla until well-blended. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, then fold in the flour and cocoa mixture just until it dissappears into the batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes.
Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack before cutting into squares.
With roughly 10 years of apartment dwelling in my personal history, I’ve come out of that stage of life with two things: an unshakeable urge to cringe every time I drop something heavy on the floor, and an arsenal of character profiles of delightfully wacky neighbors.
For instance, there was Maxine, the Squirrel Whisperer. With wiry salt-and-pepper hair, she’d rigged up the windows and doors to her apartment as to allow the local squirrels to let themselves into her kitchen. She had introduced herself to me by letting me know that her husband had left her “after 32 years marriage! Psshh. A doctor. You know how that is.” Of course I do, Maxine.
And Oliver, the handsome African-American fellow who lived next door and listened to maddening amounts of mambo at all hours while smoking cigars and drinking Cognac. When he wasn’t draped in stunning off-white linen separates, he could be found in a silk kimono and matching slippers. A smooth operator, that Oliver. He had a tempestuous relationship with Celeste, a friendly Earth Mother type about whom I always complained to my husband for being such a loud talker until I overheard her telling someone that she was deaf in one ear. Oops.
Sharon, the 60-ish overgrown hippie was really something. In short, when she wasn’t doing yardwork with absolutely nothing on from the waist down, she was an S&M enthusiast who would throw monthly parties with a very, very strange guest list. Like middle-aged, combed-over, tucked-in polo shirt, gym teacher-looking men strange. She was always courteous enough to let us know when a party date was approaching, lest we not be able to figure it out during the week prior, when all of her dingy plastic patio furniture, suggestive candles and skull ashtrays began appearing in some very questionable tablescapes on the front lawn. Once we were invited to one of her parties and in response I mumbled something about maybe being out of town that weekend and tried not to cry when she instructed me to “dress sexy” if I were to attend. No, thank you. No thank you at all.
But on the bright side, there was Joan. I loved Joan. I still miss Joan. She was of those jazzy, older single ladies who was probably in her 60s but looked a decade younger and drove a little red convertible that was nearly a match for her neat little bob haircut. She was super fit and stylish and had been working the Program for 12 years. It was always fun running into her at the Pottery Barn where she worked and having a chat with her in her apartment, decked out beautifully, most likely with her employee discount.
When Joan’s adorable grandkids would come to visit, she would take them swimming in the building’s outdoor pool looking like Esther Williams in a vintage one-piece with huge sunglasses and a polka-dotted headscarf. I called her Kicky Joan. And oh, was she ever kicky! Warm and fun and complex with a little extra spice, that Joan. Just like these Cheddar-Jalapeno Corn Biscuits. Which is the point I’ve been trying to get to for the last four paragraphs.
If you are still with me here let me ask you this: are you as obsessed with soups and chilis and stews of all sorts as I am around here lately? It’s January, people. Big warm bowls of savory are simply the right thing to do. But if I read one more recipe instructing me to round out a one-pot meal with a boring loaf of country bread and a green salad, I am going to cry. Enter these biscuits.
So much more exciting and substantial than your standard corn bread, these biscuits (muffins, whatever) are loaded with flavor–good, sharp aged cheddar, a pile of scallions and a smattering of jalapeno to make it all kicky. And easy, easy, easy, guys. Absolutely a weeknight thing while your soup pot is bubbling away. This recipe is one that you’ll willingly make part of your life. Unlike most apartment neighbors.
Cheddar-Jalapeno Corn Biscuits
Seek out a good, aged, extra-sharp cheddar here–it makes a huge difference in flavor. Lesser cheeses will just sort of disappear into the mix. I found a 3-year aged one in my supermarket for nearly the same price as the commercial stuff. These biscuits are best served warm from the oven, but a zap in the microwave will revive any leftovers the next day.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 ounces grated aged, extra-sharp cheddar, divided
1/3 cup finely sliced scallions (about 3 large)
2 tablespoons seeded and minced jalapeno (about 1 large)
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter until well-blended.
Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry, folding gently with a rubber spatula just until no dry pockers remain–don’t overmix. Fold in half the grated cheddar, the scallions and the jalapeno. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Using a standard ice cream scoop, portion the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle the remaining half the the grated cheddar over the tops. Bake until the biscuits are lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing them. Serve warm.
You know what’s less fun than taking care of a sick baby? Oh, wait, that’s right. THERE IS NOTHING LESS FUN THAN TAKING CARE OF A SICK BABY. I-yi-yi. Little C got a case of something nasty a while back (just a bad cold, thank God, a small bright spot of the whole ordeal in our H1N1-fearing times), and the frustration and exhaustion was akin to the early weeks of motherhood. And by that I mean the time period during which half of my waking moments were spent devising a plan to crawl unnoticed into a dark closet with a bottle of Wild Turkey so I could sob and question why I decided to become a parent in peace.
Yeah, taking care of a sick kid is no fun, indeed. Night wakings. Crying, whining, crying, whining (from mother and child). Child vibrating with overtired energy, screaming and struggling violently with pudgy limbs against a mother wielding the thermometer/Tylenol/Kleenex/nose suction thing–roughly one hundred times per day. Child sobbing and desperately wanting something she can’t express, mother frantically trying to guess what that thing might be just to make something better for at least five flipping minutes so I don’t lose my ever-loving mind. Repeat.
And on top of all of that drama comes the not eating. Naturally, when we’re sick, we don’t feel much like eating, but to a worried mother of a sick baby, this logic goes out the window. I was convinced my daughter was going to wither away and die from starvation if this vicious, exotic illness didn’t take her first. So I inanely pushed food in my child’s poor, snuffly, puffy face every chance I got, driving my own stress levels higher as the child refused all of my lame attempts. So much untouched food went into the trash in our home during those few days, I started looking over my shoulder for Sally Struthers to come read me the riot act.
In the interest of getting some calories in my poor babe, any at all, really, I gave up on forcing the “right foods” and just went for what I hoped would be a Sure Thing: a silky, homemade vanilla pudding with lots of comforting milk and eggs and an all-ages-palate-pleasing dose of brown sugar.
Like peace and quiet and the general wellness of my family, I’m kind of obsessed with homemade puddings of all sorts. They’re just so delightfully real–the most basic ingredients, so simple, everything coming together with little fanfare, right on the stovetop with a wooden spoon. It just feels right. If there’s a chicken soup of desserts, a sweet tooth’s tonic to cure all ailments, homemade vanilla pudding has to be it. I would bet my Mommy Card on this claim.
So sure was I of the magical powers of this pudding, I was going to send this child back from whence she came if this tactic didn’t work. But lo, it did. In fact, it was all she ate for two days straight. And if we’re being honest here, it made up the bulk of my diet, too. Not a bad way to ease the suffering, for all parties involved. And even if you find yourself in gloriously good health this winter, there’s really nothing like hunkering down with a cozy bowl of homemade pudding, maybe slightly warmed, or just straight from the fridge with a serving spoon.
Brown Sugar Vanilla Pudding
Using brown sugar in this recipe gives a really lovely caramel note and a great depth of flavor to the dish. But if you prefer a more straightforward vanilla pudding, just use all regular granulated sugar. You can also jazz up this recipe even more by scraping half a vanilla bean into the pot, and dropping the scraped pod into the mix as well.
Makes about 2 cups
3 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisking constantly, add about a third of the milk to the pan until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks, and then whisk in the rest of the milk.
Set the pan over medium heat and cook the pudding, whisking often, until is is thickened and just begins to bubble, about 6 to 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and switch to a rubber or silicone spatula to stir the pudding constantly for another 5 minutes or so, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan as you go. When you can run a track through the pudding on the back of the spatula with your fingertip and the track remains, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter and the vanilla.
Set a sieve over a large bowl and strain the pudding to catch any wayward lumps of cooked egg yolk or cornstarch, using the spatula to encourage the pudding through the sieve. Lightly press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until the pudding is completely chilled and set, at least 2 hours.
I went to high school in Barrington, Illinois, a picturesque Chicago suburb about 45 minutes northwest of the city. It was a wonderful place to live–safe, lots of trees and friendly people, most of whom had crazy amounts of money and did things like take family ski trips to fancy mountain resorts over Christmas and jet off to beach homes for Spring break. In case you’re wondering if I enjoyed such school break splendor, well, we went to visit my uncle in New Mexico one year. So close to Aspen, yet so far. Anyway.
Most of the kids who got to experience all of these fantastical, faraway outdoorsy places like Colorado is that they had (to me, then) the coo-hoo-lest sense of style. North Face catalog models, all of them. Spendy high-tech hiking boots, even though we were in flatter-than-flat Illinois. It actually made no sense. But then, oh, that was the look, people. And the girls who really rocked it did the hiking boots with perfectly worn jeans, fitted flannel shirts with lacy camisoles underneath, and glossy hair tied up in fabulously messy buns, sometimes held in place with only a pencil, a magical hairdo I just couldn’t work with my endless, thick, heavy mane. But the best part about these girls was the irony–the clothing said Effortless Mountain Sex Kitten, but the face said Seventeen magazine–foundation, powder, eye liner, loads of mascara and lip gloss.
They were called the Maybelline Granolas. True story.
But this actual granola is the real deal, and could give the Maybelline Granolas a run for their eye liner money. For one, it is everything granola should be–earthy, wholesome, satisfying, the perfect balance of salty and sweet, and completely addictive. And ooh, it is ever pretty. Golden brown oats, creamy almonds, jade-colored pepitas and ruby-red dried cherries tucked into the mix like little jewels. This stuff is allll natural, baby. No cosmetic retouching required.
Piece of Cake Granola
This granola is my personal formula, my idea of granola perfection. But as long as you keep all the oats and maintain the proportions, you can swap out the seeds, nuts and fruits with whatever you have on hand. Pepitas (here I’m referring to raw, hulled pumpkin seeds) can be found in natural foods stores and most supermarkets if you ask for them. Keep an eye on the granola during the end of baking—it can burn quickly!
Makes about 5 cups
3 cups rolled oats (look for old-fashioned, not quick cooking)
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup dry roasted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup dried cherries
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12×17-inch baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, pepitas and sunflower seeds.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and almond extract until homogenous and well-blended. Pour over the oat mixture and toss well to evenly moisten (clean hands are the most efficient tool here). Spread the mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven, stirring the granola about every five minutes and rotating the baking pan occasionally. Stir in the sliced almonds 10 minutes into the baking time. The granola will be done when it is just beginning to turn golden brown and has lost most, but not all, of it’s moist appearance, about 20 minutes. If you wait until it looks completely dry, you’re on your way to burning it.
Let the granola cool on the baking sheet set on a wire rack. When the granola is completely cooled, stir in the dried cherries and store in an airtight container.
At 16 months, my sweet Baby C has officially been upgraded to Little C. Although with the way this girl is trucking through pant lengths (I cringe on the playground–I swear I’m not trying to make my kid look like a hapless geek with highwaters on purpose, people! They fit fine yesterday!) we may have to come up with another nickname. Anyway, she’s already developing her own particular brand of logic like all little kids do, funny ways of getting from point A to point B that leave us highly intelligent, efficient grown-up types chuckling and shaking our heads, because, you know, we’re so smart and all that we don’t need to invent gimmicks to complete a task.
Like how I got all seven years old with myself other day, pretending I had been recruited to an Olympic Tiny Dough Ball-Rolling Team in order to get through the incredibly arduous, albeit delicious result-yielding, task of making the topping for this really great crumb cake. I hope you’re happy with it. I did it for you.
So as I’ve said before, I am totally obsessed with PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen. It appeals to my detail-loving, Type A side. Recipes from this show and its cookbooks rarely fail, if ever, and if they do, you can be pretty sure that it’s you that sucks, never the recipe. I like that. I can appreciate the authority of an ATK recipe, even if I know that it will probably never involve the easiest way of getting to a finished product. So I went into this crumb cake with the knowledge that one of the steps would take some time. The kind of time that allows you to contemplate big, Oprah-esque Life Questions while rolling tiny dough balls, like, Hmmm, whatever happened to that turquoise v-neck sweater? I really liked that sweater! I need to figure out where that thing went. The sleeves were the perfect length.
But happily, the rest of this cake is actually really easy–basic, even–and the end result is certainly worth the trouble.
That cranky, needy, relentless bowl of hand-formed pebble-sized crumbs bakes up into a fantastically thick layer of crunchy-yet-tender edible cobblestones, like a blanket of little brown sugar shortbread cookies. And underneath is a dense, moist, buttery cake, rich with vanilla. It’s reminiscent of the mile-high crumb cakes you’ll find in old world, family-owned bakeries, the kind of thing that just feels so nice with a cup of coffee.
You really can’t go wrong with this cake. It’s the perfect kind of All-Day Cake to keep on the counter–a piece with breakfast, a bit with afternoon tea, a little extra sliver after dinner, etc. And if you have kids around that aren’t of the age where everything, regardless of origin, is deemed fit for eating, then their curious little hands will be perfect candidates for forming the crumb topping for you. Just tell them they could be an Olympic medalist if they do it fast enough! It worked on me, anyway.
For the crumb topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour
For the cake:
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
Set an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and line it with a strip of parchment paper or aluminum foil that is just shy of the width of the dish and long enough to overhang the sides of the dish. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray as well.
In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients for the crumb topping until they form a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the cake.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the cake flour, sugar, baking soda and salt at low speed. With the mixer running on low, add the butter chunks one at a time, letting each one incorporate into the dry ingredients before adding another. When the mixture resembles even, moist crumbs, add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and buttermilk, and increase the speed to medium. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Break apart the crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces, rolling them slightly in between your fingertips to get them to hold their shape. Spread the crumbs in even layer over the batter. Bake until the crumbs are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment handles. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
Happy New Year, darling readers! I hope you had a fabulous time celebrating with family and friends. I told you my big plans involved couching it in my stretchy yoga pants with a glass (or three) of Prosecco. Well, the couch and attire was a go, but unfortunately the bubbly was traded for a steaming cup of Theraflu and my poor husband rang in the New Year alone as I was knocked out cold by 9:30. Rock. Star.
But! One of the bonuses of forcing myself to sloooow dooown earlier in the day was that I got to leaf through cookbooks and long-bookmarked recipes and found one for a delightfully ambrosial and surprisingly virtuous strawberry mousse, just perfect for resetting after the holiday feast-fest and starting off the New Year right. Which is to say that I will be getting all up in your face with a buttery crumb cake before you can say “low fat”. So don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Susan Powter on you in 2010. But this mousse came out so dreamy and lovely that I just had to share it with you, virtue be damned.
This recipe is adapted from Nick Malgieri, he of phenomenal dessert cookbooks and recipes of all sorts. My love for his work comes very close to my near restraining-order-sized love for Lynne Rossetto Kasper and my coveting of all things Ina Garten. I celebrate his Entire. Catalogue. (name that movie!).
So I knew this recipe would at least be good, and that Malgieri wouldn’t let a silly thing like lightening up a dessert get in the way of great flavor and texture, even a mousse, which is classically based on lots of egg yolks and whipped cream. And that definitely was true. This mousse is cloud-like, creamy and has huge strawberry flavor with just a few grams of fat and a wee bit of sugar. And, if you’re counting, a good amount of protein and fiber as well. With some fresh strawberry slices added before serving, the whole thing feels like a simply delicious, edible spa treatment. Everyone together now: spoon, inhale, exhale, ahhhhh…
Virtuous Strawberry Mousse
Adapted from Perfect Light Desserts
Fresh or frozen berries can be used for this recipe. Experiment with other fruits with this formula and switch out the liqueurs accordingly raspberries (framboise), peaches (peach Schnapps) and cherries would be especially good. Be sure to use a small bowl for whipping the egg whites–it can be nearly impossible to get enough air into them if they’re spread out in too large of a bowl. This recipe doubles easily.
2 cups (1 pint) whole strawberries, rinsed and hulled, fresh or thawed and drained frozen
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Kirsch (a clear cherry Brandy, optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup egg whites (from about 2 large eggs)
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries, for serving
In a blender, finely puree the 2 cups of whole strawberries. Pour the puree into a small saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat until the puree is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Stir in the lemon juice and Kirsch and cool to room temperature (pouring it into a chilled bowl will move the cooling along quickly).
Place the water in a small, microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let it soak for about 5 minutes.
When the strawberry puree has cooled, pour it back into the blender, along with the ricotta. Heat the bloomed gelatin in the microwave on high for about 15 seconds or until the gelatin is melted and clear when stirred. Add the melted gelatin to the blender and blend on the highest speed for 1 full minute, stopping to scrape down the pitcher if necessary. Pour the strawberry mixture into a large bowl.
Half-fill a small saucepan with water and set it to simmer over medium heat. In a small, heatproof metal bowl, whisk together the egg whites, salt and sugar. When the water is simmering, place the bowl over the pan and gently whisk until the egg whites are hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved.
Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until the egg whites form a stiff, glossy meringue and the bowl had cooled completely–it should not be warm at all. Gently whisk the meringue into the strawberry mixture until no traces of white remain (a whisk can help with blending). Spoon the mousse into 4 dessert dishes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least one hour. Top the mousse with the strawberry slices just before serving. The mousse can be made up to one day ahead.
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