cross this off my list; x cookies, a tuesdays with dorie post

a glimpse at my week; a full time job, classes three nights a week, a house to keep, a garden to tend to at home and another for the master gardeners and a list of things to do as long as my arm.  can you tell i am a little stressed?  needless to say, this probably was not the best recipe for me to work on today, my only real day off.

to sum it all up in one word; tedious.  irritating is another word that comes to mind.  while the end results were reasonably good (more on that in a moment), this is one recipe that i probably will not make again.

the dough is easy to make.  it is definitely a recipe to keep in mind when you are making tarts and bars with a crust.

the filling was the tricky part.  now, it wasn’t all the recipe; some of it was my pantry or perhaps i should say my poorly stocked pantry.  i only had half the figs needed so i substituted the only other fruit i had, a bag of prunes.  now wait-prunes get a bad rap.  i have always liked prunes and this sounded like a reasonable solution.  to make sure all was soft, i plumped it all in hot water; figs, prunes and currants-i didn’t have raisins.  i also did not have candied orange peel-it isn’t quite fruit cake season so it is hard to find.  did i mention that i am not an orange fan?  i added lemon zest instead.  there wasn’t any apricot jam in the pantry either, i used fig jam in the hope of punching up the fig flavor.  my filling just ended up being a sticky mess that was a pain the *** to work with.

because the filling was so sticky, i could only shape one log at a time and it required that i wash my hands twice in the process.  this irritated me quickly.

after shaping 4 logs, i quit!  the rest of the dough was divided in two.  one half was pressed into a pan, the filling was spread over it and i rolled out the rest of the dough to cover the filling.  i made holes with a fork, egg washed it and gave it a sprinkle of sanding sugar.  forty minutes later, voila!

now, this i might make again-but first, i will go to the grocery store for the figs and the apricot jam.  and if i do make these, i think i will also add a little sugar to the filling.  oh, remind me to hoard some candied lemon rind or citron, they would be nice in this too!  to see what the rest of the bakers came up with, visit the tuesdays with dorie page.

the little fig tree that could; fresh fig jam

we planted two fig trees in our yard.  the older of the two is a brown turkey fig.  this year was a good year for figs-we picked 10 pounds!

did you know that figs are not actually a fruit?  they are a scion or an infructescence and almost all of the trees need a tiny wasp to pollinate the flowers.  that wasp does not live in tennessee and for that reason, only two varieties of figs can be grown here; the brown turkey and the celeste varieties do not need pollination.

so, what does one do with 10 pounds of fresh figs?  having made one tart and stuff myself silly with them, i made jam.  now i can have figs for the winter while i dream of summer, and the next harvest.

simmering the figs with cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans.  a little lemon juice and zest helped round out the flavors.

canned and cooling

until next year, this will have to do!  to make some fig jam, just use the basic jam recipe of 2 to 1 fruit to sugar  and add flavors as you like(citrus zest, spices, alcohol and so on) or try this recipe.  happy canning!

raspberry-fig crostata: a tuesdays with dorie recipe

it’s fig season and our tree is loaded with ripening fruit.  we have two trees actually, a brown turkey and a celeste.  the figs above are from the brown turkey tree; the celeste tree is not producing much fruit yet.  we have been picking the little fruits by the dozen and when i learned this weeks challenge was a choice between a johnny cake cobbler and a raspberry-fig crostata, i had to make the crostata since i had plenty of figs.

we are currently posting without a host but there is a website with some of the recipes on it and the crostata is one of them, see it here.  luckily, there is another link in the recipe to the dough.  but if i may climb on my soapbox for a moment, please consider buying a copy of the book.  as a published author, i cannot tell you how much it means to have the book you worked on sell.  if you cannot buy it, at least try to borrow it from a library or a friend.

i have a collection of tart pans.  for this recipe, i chose the smaller, deep pan which is about 8 inches in diameter.  my thinking was that it would have a nicer ratio of fruit to crust in the deeper pan.

a few notes about the dough, it is a bit sticky and crumbly.  it does not hold itself together well when moving it so be prepared to do some patchwork.  since it was so rich with sugar and eggs, i skipped the egg washing step.  and since i used the smaller pan, i needed a lot less dough-i have about a third of it left.  do not worry, i plan to make some linzer cookies with it.

when it came out of the oven, it was nice and sparkly despite the lack of a wash on top.


it was late when i finally pulled the tart out of the oven so we waited until the next day to dig in.  it help up nicely but honestly, the fruit filling could have used more flour.  if i make this again, i will definitely double the flour.

love the color of the filling!  come bake with us sometime.  to see the other participants results, visit the tuesdays with dorie page.

fresh apple cake with dried figs

you have to love a cake that mixes up quickly and easily.  especially nice is a recipe that can be manipulated to include many different flavors.  don’t like apples? use pears.  not a fig fan, fine, use dried cranberries.  not sure what to use that can of roasted hazelnut oil for? bake this cake with it.  just use what you’ve got.  think outside the box; carrots or zucchini could also stand in for the apples.  the only caution, stay away from something that will add a lot of liquid or acid.  that means fresh strawberries and pineapple chunks may not give desirable results.

fresh apple cake with dried figs
makes one bundt cake serving about 12
2 medium granny smith apples, peeled and chopped 
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup oil-any kind suitable for a cake
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla (because it blends well with figs, can be omitted)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3/4 cup diced, dried figs-i used mission
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan and set aside.  place the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  set them aside to cool.  in a large mixing bowl, whisk the oil with the sugar and the eggs.  add the vanilla and lemon zest and whisk to combine.  add the apples, walnuts and figs and stir to combine.  place the flour, baking soda and cardamom in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift over the batter in the bowl.  fold the batter together and scraped it into the prepared pan.  bake until firm on top and a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes.  carefully invert onto a rack or serving plate to cool.  this is a tender cake so try not to handle it while it is hot.  due to the moisture of the apples, it is best if served within a day or two; any longer and it becomes a bit sticky and soggy at room temperature.  

fig and peach galette; tuesdays with dorie

ordinarily, i have my act together; i don’t miss appointments, i am usually early so that i am not late, i remember things.  not this week.  instead of being on the ball, i have been hit by it.  somehow, i managed to miss, and i mean completely miss, this weeks challenge for tuesdays with dorie.  i read the post, i knew it was coming.  i just assumed it was next week.  time to get my head out of my (insert the noun of your choice here) and get to work.
the challenge this week is the berry galette and it is hosted by lisa of tomato thymes in the kitchen and andrea of the kitchen lioness.  to read the full recipes, visit either of their sites and to see the entries from the other members, visit tuesdays with dorie.
i love to make galettes.  they are easy to assemble and they aren’t supposed to look picture perfect.  how can you not love that?  the dough is quickly mixed up in the food processor.  the recipe called for 1/4 cup of cornmeal and i immediately went to the freezer and pulled out the bag of blue cornmeal that i keep stashed in there.  blue cornmeal gives doughs and odd shade of grey but the nutty flavor and slight crunch it adds make it a wonderful addition to any recipe calling for cornmeal.
blue cornmeal

 the instructions for using a food processor tell you to pulse it to a consistency of moist curds and that is just what it looks like when it is properly mixed.  according to those instructions, you can use it without a resting period but are cautioned to use ample flour to prevent sticking.  that sounded like work and a set up for failure to me.  needless to say, i chilled the dough by setting it in the freezer while i made the filling.

 our fig tree was producing figs like crazy two weeks ago but it has slowed down considerably.  i found  a flat in the fridge that had been forgotten and decided to use them.  since it was only about 3/4 cups, i threw in some chopped up peaches too.  a little lemon zest, vanilla bean and cardamom finished it off.

 the chilled dough rolled out easily with absolutely not sticking.  to eliminate the flour, brush off the top of the dough.  turn it over onto the baking pan and then brush the flour off the other side-this can be done easily if the dough is chilled since it will not tear and stretch as much.
 look at the blue cornmeal flecks in the dough

 once the filling is on the dough round, you are instructed to sprinkle sugar and honey over it.  well, i skipped the sugar and used a double dip of the honey from our bees.

 ready to go into the oven…
a special thanks to our hostesses with the mostesses-truly a job well done!

mr. kenmore’s last stand; fresh fig upside down cake

my husband robbed the bees of some honey.  we have had bees in our front yard for 3 years now and this is the first time that we were able to harvest honey.  my mother never kept much in the house when i was growing up so most of my experiences with honey were the stuff from the supermarket-you know, the little bear shaped squeeze bottles.  ask a bee keeper about that stuff and they will scoff at the idea of using it.  first of all, it most likely isn’t pure honey-quite possibly it is flavored syrup mixed with honey. another concern is that the honey is processed to remove the pollen and bee parts-yes, bees can die during the harvest.  lastly, most of mass marketed honey is made from blends from all over the world and much of the flavor is lost in the process.  
several years ago, while writing my second cookbook, i had a honey epiphany.  i had the chance to taste pure wild flower honey that was produced by bees being kept by a group of menonite farmers.  knowing that these folks didn’t use many of the practices of the big commercial producers, it was an eye opening experience.  i didn’t know honey could taste that good; better than good, more like uh-may-zing!!!  that was it, no more little bears for me, just local wild flower honey from a reputable bee keeper.  
about that time, my husband and i became master gardeners and he caught the bee buzz.  we took classes, we studied, we asked questions and then we dove in feet first…honestly, the girls(what we call the bees) do the work, we just barge in on them every now and then to make sure all is well.  

 after borrowing an extractor-a hand cranked centrifuge, my husband got to work.  it didn’t go smoothly and the comb was destroyed in the process, but he learned all about the process and will do it again soon.  his efforts yielded nearly 2 quarts of honey.

 i love the way it glows when the sunlight shines through it.  knowing that i needed to make a cake for my trip to the garden, i chose to make an upside down cake just so i could include some of that honey.

 in my favorite cast iron skillet, i melted butter, sugar, brown sugar and honey.

 it is allowed to melt and then boiled a bit to thicken.  

 since this would be the last cake i could bake in my old faithful oven, mr. kenmore, i decided to go all out.  not only did i use honey from our bees, i picked figs from our tree.  for mr. kenmore’s last stand, he would bake a fig upside down cake.  the figs are cut in half and laid cut side down in the syrup.

 after baking, the cake is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it is turned out onto a serving dish.

fresh fig upside down cake
1 (10″) skillet cake that serves 8-10
adapted from my own book!
fresh figs-amount needed will depend on size, the ones from our tree are small and it took about two dozen to decorate the top and have the amount needed for the cake batter-1/3 cup, cut into chunks.  
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar as in the photo above-i ran out of light…)
1/4 cup pure wildflower honey
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch drips and preheat the oven to 350.  place a cast iron skillet over low heat and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and honey.  stir to combine and when it is melted, raise the heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil.  allow it to boil, stirring continuously, until it thickens a little-about 2 minutes.  remove from the heat.
place the halved figs, cut side down, in the syrup in a random pattern that covers as much as the top as possible.  make sure there aren’t many large spaces between the figs or there will be large gaps in the design when the cake is unmolded.
to mix the cake batter, cream the remaining butter with the granulated sugar, vanilla and salt.  when it is light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time and be sure to scrape the bowl well.  sift the cake flour and baking powder over the batter, sprinkle the buttermilk on top and fold a few times.  add the chopped figs and fold completely.  dollop the batter over the prepared pan gently so that you do not disturb the pattern.  carefully smooth out the batter and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  allow the cake to stand for 5-10 minutes and carefully turn it out onto a serving dish.  
note that if you do not have a cast iron skillet, you can use any oven proof dish or pan, including standard cake pans, to make this cake.  just be sure to use one that is at least 9″ in diameter and no larger than 10″.  my cast iron skillet is 8″ in diameter on the bottom and flairs out to 10″ at the top.  if you use anything other than cast iron, be sure to keep a close eye on the cake, thinner and lighter metal pans, as well as glass and ceramic,  may bake faster.
and now, everybody join me in a moment of silence to mark poor mr. kenmore’s passing.  may he rest in pieces…

the little fig tree that could

gardening; love it or hate it, you choose.  personally, i love it no matter how frustrating and unsuccessful it is for me at times.  why?  because sometimes, it all falls into place, the stars align and magic happens in the garden.  in my case, the little fig tree on the sunny side of the house has decided that this is the year to really produce fruit and we have been enjoying the bounty.

about 5 years ago, we went on a typical beach trip down to the gulf of mexico.  while we were there, we stopped in at one of the sketchiest flea markets we have ever encountered-scary, almost.  when we spotted a vendor selling plants, we stopped to see what was available and took a chance on a tiny fig tree.  the first few years, the little tree hung on as we moved it from spot to spot hoping to find a happy home for it.  we diligently wrapped it up in cardboard and blankets and covered it in plastic each winter.  it wasn’t until we put it in it’s current spot that it decided to grow and grow it has-about 9 feet tall now.  better still is the fact that it is producing fruit at a rate that has me picking figs by the dozen.

brown turkey figs fresh from the tree

on a couple of days, i picked full flats of figs
while i had lots of fruit to work with, it just wasn’t enough to make a batch of jam-my first choice.  so, what to do???  sorbet, that’s what!!!  after a quick search on the internet, i had a recipe to start with.
 i cooked the figs with a little vanilla paste

 the recipe called for only 1/3 cup sugar so i added a couple tablespoons of pure honey

 after cooking, the mixture is pureed and water, wine and lemon juice is added.  the recipe called for port but we were out of port so i subbed cabernet sauvignon.

 beautiful puree with little flecks of vanilla bean and fig seeds.

 after processing, it went into the freezer to set.  perfect for a hot summer day

looking forward to next year, there are visions of fig jam in my future…

lavender-vanilla panna cotta tart, pie # 35 of 52

my life has been such a blur lately.  days pass by in what feels like minutes.  we watched both of our daughters cross the stage this summer, one from high school and the other from college.  we hosted celebrations with family members.  the carport never looked so festive.  there was a trash can turkey at one party and a barbecue at the other.  the girls beat a pinata to death and we all ate way too much!  somewhere in there, i went off to new york city and phili for media training and suddenly, my book has landed in nashville.  so, knowing very well that i am going to only get busier, i am even more determined to finish this 52 week challenge.  to prove the point, the 4 pies that needed to be made, are all done and have been for some time, all i need to do is get them posted here.  damn, blinked and lost another hour…

panna cotta has never been something that i just had to try.  but in an effort to keep this challenge interesting and varied, i decided to try it in a tart.  then i needed to make it different from every recipe i saw out there-that was the challenge.  a walk through my garden fixed that-with a hand full of lavender blooms and a fig tree full of ripe fruit, i had my inspiration; infuse the panna cotta with lavender and vanilla bean and serve it with fresh figs…

i decided to use buttermilk in the filling as well.  since it isn’t a good idea to heat buttermilk for long periods of time, i infused some heavy cream with lavender blossoms and vanilla beans.

 to make the crust, i toasted some almonds and chopped them finely and added them to a buttery crust dough.

 my absolute favorite trick for prebaking crusts-use large coffee filters.  if you can get them from a coffee shop or restaurant, you will not have to buy a huge quantity of them.  however, you can used several smaller ones to do the same job.  the filters are so strong that you can actually lift them out with your weights in them and not have to worry about it tearing.  but if you use marbles like i do, spoon them out just to be safe.

lavender-vanilla panna cotta tart
1 (6″) tart serving 4-6
tart dough
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons almonds, sliced or slivered
2 tablespoons water
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the almonds until lightly golden, about 5 minutes, cool them completely before proceeding with the recipe.  place all the ingredients except the water into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine and cut in the butter.  when it resembles a coarse meal with bits of almonds in it, add the water and pulse it until it comes together.  press the dough into a greased 6″ cake pan so that it is 3/4 of the way up the sides.  make sure the dough is distributed evenly around the pan.  line with a coffee filter, add pie weights and bake it until it is completely baked and lightly golden, about 30 minutes.  cool completely before making the filling.
panna cotta filling
1/4 of a vanilla bean
1 tablespoon lavender blooms-dried
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
fresh fruit for garnish
place the vanilla bean, lavender and cream in a very small sauce pan and heat until it almost simmers.  remove from heat and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes (can also be done in the microwave but be careful since it is quick to boil).  soften the gelatin in the water while the cream steeps.  strain the cream into a bowl and add the gelatin, stir to melt it-if needed, gently heat the mixture in the microwave to melt it.  with a whisk, gently whisk in the buttermilk and the sugar and then pour the filling into the prepared crust.  refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.  serve with your favorite fresh fruit, berries work best with the flavors in this recipe but you can also use figs or peaches.  if a sauce is desired, sweeten an extra cup of fruit and puree in a blender for a quick coulis.