windfall tarte tatin

Urban gardens and community orchards are never quite how I envision they should be–something like an orchard out of a juice commercial on television, laden with ripe fruit. The reality is that most ripe apples are out of reach, the remainder are green, mainly nibbled and even more loll at the foot of the trunk, hidden in the grass or nearby bushes.

What make these orchards different is the closeness. The fruit, though sometimes it may be difficult to nice, is quite abruptly there. It is a closeness that extends not only to hidden strawberries and dry saskatoon berries, but to the  hail-pockmarked and bruised apples littering the ground. It’s probably only something I started appreciating recently when a lady who works at a community orchard passed us a bag full of windfall apples she had collected from the ground this past fall.I decided on a tarte tatin, where a deep golden brown caramel will camouflage even the most thoroughly bruised apple. Besides, the apples had retained sufficient structural integrity to destine them for more than apple sauce.

Beyond the practical aspects, I also wanted to make something very very much about the apples. While I intended to, in some manner or another, transform the apples (or at the very least, well trim the apples), these were not trivial apples. Apples are never trivial, but these ones in particular, after being collected and given to us, deserved to be heard. Or, at the very least, tasted.This is tarte tatin the way my (Chinese) grandpa taught me to make it (except with a lot less butter). It is simple and intuitive, because there is little that can go terribly wrong with butter and sugar and apples. For a while it was always the dessert of choice either of us would make. A few slices would be traded back and forth, accompanied by some comments on the crust, the caramelization, the crispness, and form.

The comments we made were never with the strict intention and purpose of improvement. The method was always so vague and lacked the systematic nature of a protocol that would have allowed for rigour and evaluation. These days I notice that I’ve probably developed sufficient common sense that this tarte tatin, completely out of the blue and with little reference beyond my vague memories of previous days, turned out just fine.

The key, I believe, is attaining proper caramelization. I wouldn’t worry about burning; the addition of the apples provides sufficient moisture to prevent the bottom from scorching, so the caramel can be as deep as you like. In the past I also used to partially cook the apples on the stovetop. I decided that wasn’t necessary, and this time just layered the apples in, threw the pastry overtop, and set it immediately in the oven. Perhaps it took longer, but by the time the pastry was browned, the apples were tender but not overcooked.

Do enjoy, particularly if a sudden windfall (of apples) comes your way.windfall tarte tatin

apples

~3 tbsp butter

~3/4 c sugar

pastry, of any sort; I made a batch like what I made here, scaled to 1 stick of butter

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Melt the butter in a cast iron pan, sprinkle the sugar overtop, and cook until it forms a deep caramel. Arrange the apple slices overtop.

Roll out the pastry and tuck over the apples. Bake the tarte tatin for around half an hour or until the pastry is browned and the apples below are cooked through.

apricot and cardamom scones

apricot cardamom spelt scone with butterdried apricots soaked in teadried apricots soaked in earl grey teabutter rubbed into flourcutting out a sconeunbaked scones

I’m very indecisive when it comes to scones.

Should they be finely textured and tender? Or biscuity, the fluffy and flaky sort? Maybe they should they be flaky and crisp? Or more solid, reminiscent of a soda bread?

These are all acceptable scones to me. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to achieve each particular type specifically–instead I make a scone and decide, post-baking, how they turned out. I’m conveniently open-minded to most of the results.apricot cardamom spelt sconesapricot cardamom spelt scones piled in bowlThese scones are midway between the finely textured and tender, with a bit of biscuity crispness without much flake. They are also the first decent scone to star on the blog. It’s a heartening development for the future of scones, though on the biscuit-side, things are still quite dismal.

Exercise caution with the quanitities in this recipe. I’ve made the original recipe these scones are based on a couple times and found the dough too wet. This adaptation was an exception, and the issue was exacerbated by the tea-soaked apricots. As a result, the final flour quantities are an estimated approximation of how much flour I ended up using–so use some of that scone common sense (the sort of common sense I lack) and adjust as necessary.

And so yes, some more scones. apricot cardamom spelt scone broken in halfapricot and cardamom spelt scones

Adapted from this scone recipe (which is really good, by the way). Makes 8 large scones. 

1 c dried apricots, sliced

very strong and hot earl grey tea

180 g all purpose flour

105 g spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 c heavy cream

3 eggs

120 g cold butter, cut into small pieces

a bit of egg and sugar for the top of the scones

Pour the hot tea over the apricots and allow to sit for 20 minutes to allow the apricots to plump. Drain and let the apricots cool to room temperature. (The leftover apricot-infused earl grey tea tastes very nice!)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Whisk together the flours, spices, salt, sugar and baking powder. Separately, whisk together the egg and cream. Toss the butter in the flour mixture and rub into the flour until it forms a variety of pea-sized crumbs. Add the apricots and mix until the apricots are just coated with flour. Then add the cream and egg mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

Turn out onto a flour surface, knead a couple of times, and then pat out until around 3/4″ tall. Cut out scones with a round cutter or glass. Set on a parchment lined baking tray, and reroll the scraps as necessary to produce additional scones.

Brush with egg and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through (if you have a scraggly scone made from the last scraps of dough pressed together, this one can be cut in half to confirm the scones are cooked through). Let cool on a wire rack, and eat still a bit warm with butter.

orange cardamom eccles cakes

I was so happy when Lina of Lin’s Recipes, and commenced her return to blogging with a recipe challenge. Her previous challenges have been plenty of fun, a chance to learn, and an exciting way to bring other food bloggers together. This challenge is being hosted by Freda of Aromatic Essence!

For this challenge I made Eccles cakes, little pastries stuffed with currants, excitingly something I had wanted to try making for a while.The history of Eccles cakes, as was spelled out from a couple of sources (the Salford government, Salford tourism, and a purveyor of Eccles cakes) goes that it picked up its name in the town of Eccles, though the exact origin of the original recipe is more debatable. At one point it was apparently banned (during Cromwell’s time), but now happily retains the charm of an old classic pastry.For this version I supplemented the currants (obviously soaked in rum) with candied orange peel and plenty of ground cardamom. I think the pastries would be delicious with any sort of dried fruit–maybe apricots–and even nuts–apricot and walnut?–and various spices, such as nutmeg and allspice I saw in another variation. The filling on its own was quite glorious, a sludge of squidgy dried fruit and candied peel held together by buttery and sugary mass.Then what was especially charming about these cakes was the leaky filling, which created a mass of dark sugary shards on the pan and caramel-glossed bottoms. Do try to seal a bit better than me to keep some of that buttery and sugary mixture inside the pastries, but a bit of leakage does seem to have its benefits!

I just made the usual semi-rough puff pastry, but any sort of pie crust or puff pastry would do the trick.Thanks to Lina for the challenge…and sorry for such a late submission as well! There are other exciting recipes that have been linked up, which can be checked out hereorange cardamom eccles cakes

Makes 12 Eccles cakes. Adapted from Delia Smith and BBC Good Food

candied orange

1 navel orange

10 green cardamom pods

sugar

Cut the peel from the orange, including the rind and pith. Slice and then cut crosswise into small pieces. Place in a small saucepan and add enough water to generously cover. Add the cardamom pods, cracking them open, and a scoop of sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until pith is translucent and tender. Drain, remove cardamom pods, and set aside.

 

spelt pastry

190 g cold butter

100 g spelt flour

175 g a.p. flour

1/2 tsp salt

50-100 mL cold water

Cut the butter into slices. Mix together the flours and salt on the counter. Place the butter on top and turn to coat. Press into the flour in thinner flakes. Fold the flour mixture over onto itself and continue to flatten the butter into thinner flakes. Make a well in the centre and add water, mixing until a cohesive dough is formed. Wrap and chill completely.

 

filling & assembly

150 g dried currants

4 capfuls dark rum, divided

33 g butter

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch salt

100 g brown sugar

Place the dried currants in a bowl with 2 capfuls of rum and enough boiling water to barely cover. Allow to sit and soak until plumped–as mine were quite dried out, I became impatient and then simmered them a bit on the stovetop. Drain.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the spices and cook briefly until fragrant, then add the remaining two caps of dark rum and simmer to boil off the alcohol. Mix in the salt, brown sugar, currants, and 3/4 of the orange peel. Set aside and let cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Thinly roll out the pastry, working with one half at a time. Cut out 12-cm diametre circles. Gather up the scraps and re-roll. In total, I ended up with 12 rounds, but probably could have ended up with 14 had I rolled the pastry a bit thinner.

Place 1 generously heaping tbsp on top of each round. Bring up the edges and pinch together, then flip over so the seam is on the bottom. Patting the cake in one’s hands, shape into a fairly flat circle. Place on a baking pan. Cut 2-3 slits into the top of each cake.

Cover and chill briefly to ensure the pastry is cold before baking. Brush each with a bit of egg white and bake for 20-30 minutes or until browned on top.

chestnut éclairs with speculoos craquelin: a collab with the writographer

The Cousin, impeccable speller (she is particularly precise with the accent aigu) and avid writer, has been one of the few recurring characters on tentimestea, having witnessed and aided in all sorts of strange baking experiences from disaster cake to vaguely okay cake. Over the winter break we once again tried our hand at baking something and these éclairs were the result.

That’s not all though. The Cousin and I both also share some involvement, in some capacity or another, with various forms of social media. In fact, The Cousin recently began her own blog, and thus as a more formal introduction, please meet The Writographer. She kindly complied with my request for her to write a guest post. Quite flatteringly, as I said that she could write about anything she pleased, The Cousin seemed to have found our baking session itself worthy of the blog post–sufficiently such that we have a play-by-play capture. As a writer and photographer, partial photo credit also belongs to her for this post! 

Do take it from here cousin. Greetings readers of tentimestea.

This is The Cousin and today I will be doing a blog entry for my cousin since she is feeling so tired and barely has enough energy to do the actually baking.

While visiting my cousin over the holidays, I was reminding her that she hasn’t been baking much recently. So we agreed that we could bake something together and that I would be allowed to write something for her blog.

To decide what to make we headed to our good friend Google Images and started looking at photographs of amazing desserts, all of which my cousin either called ‘too complicated’, ‘too long’ or just replied by saying ‘no’. After a few minutes of searching, my cousin finally decides to bring up the fact that she’s been thinking of making éclairs. I searched for some images of éclairs, and as expected because of the complexity, they were all shut down and we settled on making bubble éclairs. After a lengthy debate about flavours, my cousin decided we’d do a chestnut pastry cream and perhaps a matcha one, depending on our laziness (although I prefer matcha over nuts). (tentimestea note: It was a one-sided debate. I can be a bit authoritarian when it comes to this sort of thing.)After agreeing on what to bake, we decided to play some games with each other. The first game was the board game called Codenames. A brief summary of this game is that someone gives their teammates hints so the others can guess the codename of the undercover agent before the other team finds their agents. We played on the same team and my cousin is definitely better than I am because all of my hints sucked. After a few rounds of that game, we decided to play Monopoly. Summary is that this game is the longest game ever which encourages people to make money. We only played for an hour and my cousin had the most money but half of her properties had been mortgaged (and I owned Boardwalk, so I’m happy). (tentimestea note: 1. The Cousin could have nothing but the Boardwalk and still be happy. And she did very well at Codenames too!)The next day during our baking session, our first goal was to try and complete a culinary crossword in a magazine. Once we failed at getting anywhere near the end of the puzzle, we decided that we’d actually try and get some baking done. My cousin, who is a super organized person (except when it comes to her room), made a list of everything that we have to do for the éclairs:

  1. Cream puff cookies (really, she’s just adding extra work for us)
  2. Pastry creams (originally chestnut and possibly matcha if we get the chance)
  3. Choux pastry (I do not have any interesting side notes for this one)

To start off on the cream puffs, my cousin started making a list of the ingredients that we’d need. When she listed white pepper and I admitted that I had absolutely no idea what that was, my cousin got me to try white pepper vs. black pepper. In the end, my mouth tasted like pepper, I had coughing fits and I still could not tell the difference between the two different types peppers. (tentimestea note: Curiously enough, I distinctly recall that the Cousin coughed only once.) After we had finished the cream puffs, we started on the pastry cream. My cousin had to get the chestnut purée out of the fridge and all of a sudden, she gasped, and dropped it onto the  floor. She informed me that it was moldy and she couldn’t look at it, as she went to the other side of the room to hide from it. When I looked at the tin of purée, it was indeed covered in mold. I told my cousin that I didn’t want to look or touch that tin and that she was going to have to throw it away. My cousin heroically grabbed a towel, picked up the tin and threw it in the garbage, warning me to not look inside the garbage if I had something to throw away. I tried to convince my cousin after that the moldy chestnut purée was some sort of sign that we should just use a matcha pastry cream. However, she told me that because of the spices in the rest of the recipe, we had to make a chestnut pastry cream, despite my complaints that I dislike nuts of any kind. As my cousin opened a new tin of purée I looked up online wether chestnuts are nuts or fruits (they are nuts and fun fact, coconuts are fruits). (tentimestea note: I’m still deciding whether or not to feel embarrassed that the majority of this post details the moldy puree.) 

As nothing interesting has happened in the kitchen since the moldy purée, as entertainment, my cousin and I decided to listen to Spotify while she baked and I worked on this blog post for her.Oh, The Cousin. Tell me, what did the éclairs taste like? I suppose I will tell you instead: they were quite good! The whole wheat choux was once again lovely in flavour and warmly coloured. The cookie crust on top, flavoured to be a speculoos craquelin, was sugary and crisp, thicker than I expected, but so perfectly reminiscent of melon pan. The chestnut pastry cream had a smooth, silky texture, and the little bit of rum and caramel made it quite nice. It was, however, very runny! It was quite unpipeable, so any piping detail had to come from the generous amounts of whipped cream.

The éclairs are generously sized, though the bubble shape means that each can be divided into three portions quite easily. Next time I would make smaller bubbles or just make cream puffs (which would be delightful with the craquelin). Something to watch out for: the rounds should be touching when they are piped, but if they are too close, they may turn out a bit more oblong. So long as they touch edges, that should be sufficient. The craquelin can also be cut smaller than expected–the craquelin should not overlap between each mound of choux, especially as too much in the joint between the bubbles can make them more prone to coming apart (though into cream puffs!).

I think the cousin enjoyed them even though they were chestnut, not matcha.

chestnut éclairs with speculoos craquelin

Makes 6 very generously sized éclairs. Alternatively, would make around 18 rather nice cream puffs. The bubble éclair shape is inspired by Dorie Greenspan and her book Baking with Dorie.

whole wheat choux

A riff on the whole wheat and brown butter choux that I adored from last time. I made 6 oversized éclairs. I would suggest piping mounds that are smaller–maybe 2-3 cm in diameter instead of 3-4 cm for more reasonably sized éclairs. 

65 g butter

150 g water

1 tbsp sugar

pinch salt

80 g whole wheat flour

around 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Place the butter in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until the butter solids and browned and fragrant. Add the water, sugar and salt (add carefully to avoid any splashing or spitting of the butter). Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a cohesive ball. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs, a bit at a time, until the consistency is one such that the batter drops from the spoon.

Transfer into a piping bag.

Pipe 4-3 cm mounds. Top each with a round of frozen craquelin (see below).

Bake around 25 minutes or until well browned. Cut a small slit in the bottom and allow the steam to escape, and let cool on a wire rack.

 

speculoos craquelin

Adapted from the cream puff cookie topping from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.

85 g brown sugar

75 g whole wheat flour

a pinch or sprinkle each of ground cinnamon, cardamom, clove white pepper & nutmeg

50 g butter

Mix all ingredients together until it forms a cohesive dough. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a quarter sheet pan, place the dough on top, and cover with a second sheet of parchment. Roll out very thinly until the dough roughly fills the parchment paper in some sort of oval-type shape (1/16″). Slide onto the pan and then freeze until firm.

Cut out rounds around 3-4 cm in diameter (match to the size of the choux mounds).

 

chestnut and caramel pastry cream

Makes an excessive quantity of pastry cream. The pastry cream itself was too loose. I’ve been making very eggy pastry creams lately so this one has less egg. 

140 g chestnut puree

270 g milk

50 g heavy cream

4-cm length of vanilla bean

2 eggs

25 g sugar

27 g cornstarch

pinch salt

15 g rum caramel (something made previously and lying around…recipe to be linked in future)

Press the chestnut puree through a fine sieve. Set aside.

Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk. Heat the milk mixture until steaming.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly whisk in the steaming milk, then return to the saucepan. Cook, whisking constantly, over a medium heat until well-thickened and the starch tastes cooked.

Add one large spoonful of the pastry cream at a time to the chestnut puree and mix until smoothly incorporated. Lastly, mix in the caramel to sweeten to taste.

 

assembly

heavy cream

Whip the cream until stiff and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star tip.

Slice each éclair in half. Dollop a generous spoonful of chestnut pastry cream into the bottom of the éclair. Pipe a generous amount of whipped cream over top, then cover with the top half of the éclair.

2016 blog year in review

There is so much disheartening to say about 2016. It was a tough year for the world, and in ways I’m having trouble feeling optimistic for the next one.

On the other hand, I guess it was a decent year for the blog, though the past few months have certainly been pretty spotty with the posting. As with last year, here’s a roundup of some of my favourite posts in which I’ve highlighted a few successes.

spinach and egg breads

These were just great fun. The flavours were irrefutably decent: spinach, cheese and eggs (frankly, it would be hard to make an offensive combination of the three). Though, what really made these stand out to me were the shapes, inspired by a bread from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. They were simple to form and made a perfect container for the egg, a convenient all-in-one hearty baked good.

pomelo mint and rose tart

This is perhaps my favourite tart on the blog thus far. Where it shone was the use of pomelo, a winter fruit, and the balance between dry and moist components. The flavours were quite fun too!

spiced apple and marzipan semlor

I am completely sold on semlor and the classic filling. The use of spiced apple and marzipan however made for a slighty melty and warm filling. Beyond that though, I loved being able to try a classic and traditional baked good, one that is unique and iconic.

lemon and anise easter bread

It is so rare that I actually manage to make sweet enriched breads that possess the desired texture–you know, the soft, tender, fluffy and rich sort of crumb characteristic of bakery milk breads. This one somehow or another did. While the smaller egg breads eventually dried out, the large bread retained its light and pull-apart wispy texture for days. Curiously enough, later sourdough adaptations of this recipe retained some fluffiness as well!

radish and coconut tarts

The tarts themselves tasted quite nice, but my favourite part was the rough puff pastry. While not to the flakiness level of puff pastry, and certainly improvable, the pastry revealed distinct layers that rose and separated in the heat of the oven. Later experiments with rough puff pastry were less successful in terms of flake, but confirmed that this pastry is a viable simpler and much, much quicker alternative.spiced bran muffins with rum-soaked raisins

This list would not be complete without the bran muffin–and not any bran muffin, but this one, which was just so exciting. It is a bran muffin that you (I) eat not for dietary fibre, but because you (I) seem to think that it tastes good. The spices and the excessive use of rum-soaked raisins ensure that. speculoos and peach éclairs

There were two things to adore about these éclairs. While I bemoaned the fact that one overwhelmed the other, it remains that this had 1. a delicious choux with browned butter and whole wheat flour and 2. a smooth and un-gluey pastry cream. I cheerfully wax further on both in the post, but as far as éclairs go, I found these quite solid.

flowery strawberry and rhubarb victoria sponge

As the tentimestea birthday cake, this had to make it onto the list. It also deserves its place by virtue of the simple and ubiquitous glory of the victoria sponge. It’s straightforwards and simple, and can be subject to sufficient variation for infinite renditions, each different from the other.  

black sesame and kinako cookies

This riff off the icing sugar-coated snowball cookie used kinako, a deeply nutty roasted soybean flour instead. Out of some various kinako experiments, this was by far the most successful application of the flavour and powdered format.

black forest cake

I think the triumph of this cake was the tempered sweetness level, through a mildly sweet cake layered with tart fruit and plenty of unsweetened cream. It’s a reminder that some things, like deep red cherries and heavy cream and bitter cocoa, need only a bit of (if any) sweetness to complement, not to overwhelm.

rosemary and tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Often I find that combinations of certain flavours are just fine together. They don’t particularly enhance each other, but it’s not as though they are terrible antagonists either. It’s so easy to make an inoffensive yet underwhelming pairing, such that it can begin to get quite dull. However, occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised. This was one example of a novel and purposeful combination, purposeful as in there is actually a good reason for rosemary and tarragon to spend a bit of time together. I also discovered how quick and convenient (yet intimidatingly creamy) panna cotta is as well!

guest post: prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

Finally, I’m ending off with the last post of year–a prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake that was also featured in a guest post for Suzanne of A Pug in the Kitchen. It’s significant to me because this finally prompted me to put up a post, and beyond that, it was a rather very good cake. I’ve mused about vanilla before, but this is a clear demonstration of what wonderful things can happen when vanilla moves from the background to the very assertive foreground.

I noticed that this year I tended towards simpler bakes and more standard flavours. I still love experimentation, but it’s really quite palatable in varying degrees. I’ve felt less desire to try to make things radically different. The Victoria sponge cake, the prune, chestnut, and vanilla loaf, and the black forest cake are examples of this. At the same time, I also enjoy the liberties I’ve taken with the blog–disasters are certainly an ode to that–as a log there’s a certain latitude for disasters which have plenty of lessons to learn and quips to say, and for the partial successes which sit in stasis for now, but are perhaps to be revisited in the future.

In the future, such as this coming year. Maybe.

Happy 2017!

a guest post for a pug in the kitchen: prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

I had the wonderful opportunity to put together a guest post for Suzanne of A Pug in the Kitchen. You can take a look over at Suzanne’s blog for the full post, but here’s a bit of an excerpt (I get to quote myself!) about the cake and the recipe follows below.

The cake is unabashedly rich, the crumb possessing a buttery sheen, and is incredibly fragrant due to an incredible quantity of vanilla extract and browned butter. I’ve made merely superficial changes, but I highly advocate them. The prunes and chestnuts, which are two of my favourite things, are homely and warm […] They simply fit perfectly into the backdrop of a dense and vanilla-heady cake, such that even a friend who does not at all subscribe to my obsession with prunes admitted that really, they did seem to work quite well.

I really emphasized the glamourous nature of this cake with a of couple binders and an old stapler.

prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

Based on Dorie Greenspan’s brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake in Baking Chez Moi. Instead of part vanilla bean and part vanilla extract, you can use either: 1 whole vanilla bean or 4 tsp vanilla extract as detailed by the original recipe. I would also consider increasing the quantity of prunes and chestnuts to 150 g each.

1 stick butter

100 g whole spelt flour

138 g all-purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

175 g granulated sugar

3-cm length of vanilla bean

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 c (80 mL) heavy cream

1 capful dark rum

100 g dried prunes

100 g roasted and peeled chestnuts, whole and broken into rough pieces

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a loaf pan and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

Brown the butter in a small saucepan and set aside.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.

Place the sugar in a large bowl. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out into the sugar and rub in. Add the split vanilla bean and rub as well to remove any excess seeds (this can then be placed in the sugar bowl for vanilla sugar). Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly combined, follow with vanilla extract, the heavy cream and rum, whisking until combined.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions, folding in with a rubber spatula. Fold in the butter next in three additions. Lastly, mix in the chestnuts and prunes. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean.

Let cool on a wire rack.

pear, fennel and rosemary cake: a learning experience

So it’s been a few months. What has happened in between is summarized quite well by this cake: not much, and not much super delicious either. Though, while an underwhelming cake, this was a fairly productive learning experience.

There is a tendency for me to lean towards the richer and heavier cakes. I’ve internalized a caricature of genoise and biscuits as dry and tough, and consequently have also developed a slight prejudice against all butter-less cakes (though with a notable exception).And so when wanting to making a dense, fruit-laden cake, I automatically turned to the hegemonically-endorsed basic butter cake (and the easily recalled 1:1:1:1 ratio of the Victoria sponge). And here is what happened: the cake eventually baked, but remained fairly stodgy. The batter around the fruit was a bit underbaked and overly moist. The fruit itself was heavy and wet and did little to complement the cake. It was not terrible nor inedible, but it also wasn’t particularly good.

I compared this result to what I’ve witnessed previously with unenriched cakes, such as this sharlotka. Here, moist fruit makes sense. It provides moisture to an otherwise dry cake. There is a textural contrast between the spongy cake and the dense fruit. And the cake around the fruit may remain a little underbaked as well, but somehow it is not nearly as distressing as the underbaked regions of the butter cake.

Somehow it took this cake and a bit of reflection to realize that perhaps the butter cake is not always the go-to.

The fennel is very inconsequential. I did not use too much and it is unnoticeably subtle, overshadowed completely by everything else. I’ve been thinking an upside down caramelized fennel and lemon cake would be the next step in order to make better use of the taste.This cake was very much intended to be an adventure cake (adventure, used loosely, to also encompass some leisurely reading). The few requirements were 1. warm sorts of flavour and 2. a degree of practicality and sufficient structure to be cut into pieces and wrapped in paper, in half-nostalgia and half-pandering to a certain quaint and picnic-y aesthetic.

Narnia was one of the first longer novels and series that I read as a child, and it formed the blueprint for the type of stories I continued to enjoy and seek out: adventures, not mysteries or romances or school dramas, but the sort of adventures that involve magic and hopefully chatty anthropomorphized animals.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favourite, likely due to the heavy roles of Lucy and Edmund, whom I found so much more engaging and relatable than the distant and only mildly-fleshed out Peter and Susan, and then there was Eustace who becomes rather loveable after undergoing his own character development arc. After that, I found the novels to be lonelier, threaded together by a gradual darkness and decline, culminating in The Last Battle. This may have been as vaguely optimistic and satisfying an end as one could find, but at the time I only found it distressing and sombre. I wanted an Oz-type continuity, which let Dorothy live with her aunt and uncle in Oz forever, but importantly was devoid of supposed endings, conclusions and finality.Now I’ve come to appreciate a good ending here or there. I realized this as series continue to get longer (L Frank Baum was only the beginning). Series, or sets of series, I began reading in school are still ongoing now–things like the character-packed monstrosity that is Warriors (Erin Hunter) and the slightly insipid but funny Cassandra Clare novels. I think I continue seeing mythology-inspired new Rick Riordan works when I pass by the teen sections of bookstores as well.

An ending allows you to glance back and appreciate the series as a whole, rather than always catching up with the next instalment. Perhaps most importantly you can then discover something else. And so when I chanced upon Wildwood by Colin Meloy–of the Decemberists–in a bookstore, at that point unfortunately already well into my teens, I read it thinking how it was exactly what I would have loved when I was younger. An adventure, replete with well-dressed animals and mysterious forests, gender parity of the main characters who are quirky and likeable, and! an ending. It’s a trilogy that stops right there.pear, fennel and rosemary cake

Based on the ratios of a Victoria sponge cake. 

60 g fennel

olive oil

114 g softened butter (1/4 lb)

50 g granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 small sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely minced

50 g dark rye flour

70 g whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

60 mL (1/4 cup) milk

2 pears

Preheat oven to 375F. Thinly slice the fennel into small pieces, toss with a bit of olive oil, and place in the oven for around 20-30 minutes while it warms up until the fennel is softened. Set aside to cool.

Line a 8″ square pan with a parchment paper sling. Lightly butter the exposed surfaces of the pan.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract and rosemary.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking powder.

Slice one of the pears into 4 sagittal slices, reserving the inner two slices (the slices of pear on the cake as pictured above) for topping the cake. Chop the remaining pear and the remainder of the sliced pear into large chunks.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter, mixing until just combined with a wooden spoon. Beat in the milk, then the remaining flour. Lastly, fold in the chunks of pear and slices of roasted fennel. Spread into the prepared pan and place the two reserved pear slices on top.

Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack and serve with tea.