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Franckie’s Turmeric Tonic Ice Cubes

We’re never really about moderation around here…we love what we do, we love to eat, it all goes hand in hand.  The results can be euphoric or destructive…it’s a mixed bag and often both at once.  For cooks, it’s really hard to find a balance between not standing too much, not lifting too much, not eating too much.  Now we find ourselves looking at maybe a bit more weight than we’d like to be carrying around, a bit of back pain here and shoulder pain there.  One remedy that caught our eye was Turmeric Tonic, a refreshing beverage based on the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric.  Why not give it a try? we thought.  And, going along with our tendancy towards a lack of moderation, why don’t we make the stuff in massive quantities so that we can drink it every day??  And why don’t we make it super-concentrated and freeze it in the ice cube trays we used to make baby food in way back when??  And then all we have to do is just dilute it in hot or cold water, depending on season/preference/mood??I assure you, this stuff is actually delicious.  And extremely handy to have around.  Making a smoothie?  Throw a couple of cubes in.  Feel like you’re coming down with a cold?  Boil water and add cubes and a touch of honey.  Why not try it in a cocktail?  Looking to make your sparkling water into a tasty spritzer…voila!  It’s a great way to get some healthy fresh tumeric into your diet on a regular basis.  We love it so much we wanted to share it with you.  Now that the garden is blooming we’re thinking about whirring some fresh mint into the next batch.  Feel free to multiply the recipe…

Franck’s Turmeric Tonic

-makes 4 ice-cube trays worth of concentrated tumeric cubes

1 large ‘hand’ fresh ginger

1/2 lb fresh tumeric

1 lemons, zest & juice

2 oranges, zest and juice

1 t black pepper

pinch salt

optional: honey

Bring 2 qt water to boil in a large saucepan.  Wash the tumeric and ginger thoroughly, then puree in food processor.  When water boils, off heat add the tumeric & ginger puree, the zest and juice, pepper and salt and optional honey.  Allow mix to steep at least 1 hr or overnight in the fridge.  Press through a seive to remove the solids, then pour into ice cube molds and freeze.

Anson Mills Cornmeal, Einkorn & Cranberry Cakes

This recipe has very good origins:  Pierre Herme & Dorie Greenspan, two of the world’s greatest bakers.  Dorie says it’s “hip” to use olive oil & cornmeal in a cake; I say it’s even “hipper” to use Einkorn flour instead of all-purpose flour, too.  I’m even taking it a step further these days, and milling the Einkorn in my new, beautiful grain mill.  Then I went beyond and called Anson Mills in North Carolina to get their beautiful, milled-to-order cornflour.  Our photographer, Greg Nesbit, is luckily just as wacky as I am, because I made him take a picture of the flours, I think that they’re so beautiful.  What do you think?

Cormeal, Einkorn & Cranberry Cakes

You don’t have to go and buy a mill or order your cornmeal online (unless you’re crazy, like me).  These cakes are luscious, melt-in-your-mouth fabulous any which way you choose to make them.  Of course, we live for great ingredients, but a great recipe will take you far.  I love Cranberry with orange, but I can’t wait for summer to make these with Blueberry and Lime or Raspberry & Lemon.

1 1/4 c fine cornmeal

2/3 c flour (I used Einkorn flour, but all-purpose is fine)

1/4 c cornstarch

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1 c sugar

zest & juice 1 orange

4 eggs

1 t vanilla

7 T butter, melted

1/3 c olive oil

1 c cranberries, chopped

Glaze:

1/2 c confections sugar mixed with juice & zest 1 orange

Prepare pans:  this recipe makes either 4 5X3 inchi mini loaf pans or two 8 inch rounds, or 10 individual cakes.  All should be greased and lined with parchment on the bottom.  Heat oven to 350F (325 convection)

In a stand mixer with the whisk, or a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and zest until tripled in volume.  The mix will be pale and thick.  Whisk together all dry ingredients. Slow down the mixing and add vanilla and juice, then the dry ingredients.  Add butter and oil in a steady stream while mixing.  Finally, fold in the fruit. Transfer batter to the baking pans and bake until golden and a tester comes out clean (loaves, about 30 mins, small cakes, about 14, and large cakes about 24).  While warm, prick cakes with a toothpick and brush over with the glaze.  Allow to cool slightly, then unmold onto cooling racks and cool completely.

 

Really Excellent Rugelach

From a baker whose first words were “cookie good,” here is a recipe for one of my first favorite cookies.  A beautiful one for the holidays, a must, actually.  If you’ve never made Rugelach before this is the recipe to start with.  My “jelly roll” technique is much quicker and easier than the way many Nana’s (mine included) used to roll them, croissant-style.  I actually prefer (sorry, Nana) them this way because I thought that the ends of the little croissants tended to brown too much and get bitter.  If you prefer them as croissants, then roll out your band of dough and cut it into long triangles after spreading with the filling.  Or if you’re like me, and love to make these tender, sweet cookies faster and easier, roll the band into a jelly roll and cut with a sharp knife.  This recipe is also a bit unusual for having a small amount of powdered sugar in the dough.  Many Rugelach dough recipes are sugar-free, all of the sweetness coming from the filling.  Of course, I don’t mind things a little sweeter and I do think that the dough is a little more tender this way, too.

Rugelach

1 c soft butter

8 oz soft cream cheese

1 t lemon zest

2 c all-[urpose flour

¼ c powdered sugar

½ t salt

-In mixing bowl, cream the soft butter & cream cheese until fluffy.  Add lemon zest.  Sift dry ingredients together and add all at once to the creamed mixture.  Gently incorporate until a soft dough forms.  Place dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Let chill for at least 2 hours or overnight (dough can be made ahead and frozen at this point).

When you’re ready to make the cookies, prepare your choice of fillings.  Can use jam, cinnamon sugar & nuts, chocolate chips, any combination thereof.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter and have some cinnamon sugar handy to sprinkle on the cookies before they go in the oven.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or butter well.  Roll out the cookies as shown:



Brush each cookie with melted butter and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar.  Bake in preheated oven about 15 mins until golden.

 

Not Your Average Crackers

Houseguests last summer arrived laden with gifts:  home-made jams (they’re jam junkies), books, fresh-picked fruit from a farm close to their Vermont home, and huge tins of home-made…um…crackers…

I have to admit, the last part left me a little less excited.  Never really been a particularly keen cracker-eater.  Always preferred my carbs in bread or cookie form, it must be said.  Good scones, too.

But then we politely tasted the crackers.  And of course, we should have known (not just because we love these friends and they are amazing cooks), but also because isn’t home-made just always going to be BETTER??  Isn’t that just the rule?? These crackers were so delicious, and so packed with good-for-you stuff, it really was a revelation.

And of course, I wanted to make them myself now.  And I wanted mine to be better than theirs.  Of course.

Just before summer hit, I had collected a copy of a new cookbook, hoping to have some time to play with it before I got too busy, which of course I didn’t.  But I remembered seeing pictures of crackers in this book.  And I remembered how uninterested in them I had been compared with all of the other delicious things.  And I realized that this book was probably going to be the perfect place to start my mission to out-cracker my friend.  And it was. 20160226_140032

I have recounted my journey to gluten-free baking here and will only say that the first reason why I love this cookbook so much is that it doesn’t claim to be a gluten-free baking book, even though that’s exactly what it is.  But, unlike many of the books and blogs and magazines which have lots of not-very-good stuff in them, “Flavor Flours” is by Alice Medrich, an acclaimed and experienced baker and cookbook author.  She’s absolutely fabulous.  And she’s written the book that we’ve been waiting for:  a gluten-free baking book which focuses on FLAVOR!  Alice Medrich is a skilled technician, and all of the recipes in this book work beautifully, but they’re also delicious in a way that gluten-free goods made with blends of rice flours and starches aren’t: the flours impart distinctive and yummy flavors that take everything to the next level.

Now, onto the crackers.  Alice Medrich has a few recipes for crackers in the book, since each chapter focuses on a different flour, and I started with her “Seed Crackers” since they were the most similar to the crackers that my friend had made.  The list of ingredients may be a little bit daunting, so I apologize for that.  If you’re into gluten-free baking, then you may already have a few of them around.  All of these ingredients are now readily-available, if that’s some comfort, and also if you would allow me to take this moment to once again recount the benefits of baking with a gram-scale (trust-me, it makes baking quicker, cleaner, more accurrate and more fun!  for $25!), that will make it less annoying to handle all of these ingredients, trust me.  I just bring the gram scale and the Kitchen Aid bowl right over to the counter in front of where I store all of the stuff and start throwing things into it.  Doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes, I swear!

And did I mention that this copious list of ingredients happens to be comprised of tons of nutritious things?  And that they’re dairy-free?  And that they’re absolutely addictive?  And finally, it really makes a lot, so at least you’ll be rewarded for your efforts for a longer-than-usual time after baking something delicious. Give them a try and let me know if they make you into a cracker-convert, too.

Garlic & Paprika Seed Crackers

Preheat oven to 400F

Measure into a mixing bowl:

1/2 c  (80 g) brown rice flour

1/2 c (80 g) white rice flour

1/3 c (40 g) oat flour

2/3 c (80 g) cornmeal

1/2 c (65 g) sunflower seeds

1/4 c (35 g) sesame seeds

1/3 c (40 g) flaxseed meal

2 T (25 g) brown sugar

1 1/2 t (8g) salt

3/4 c water

2 t rice vinegar

1 t (5g) baking powder

1/4 c plain oil

4 cloves crushed garlic

2 t sweet paprika

Mix everything together for about 3 minutes with a flat beater or spatula until thoroughly combined.  The dough is soft, but not particularly sticky.  The best way to work with it is to roll it between two pieces of baking parchment.  That way you can get them fairly thin and even.  I use an ice-cream scoop to portion out similar-sized lumps of the mix onto the parchment.  Cover with another piece of parchment and then roll out with a rolling pin, until you have long ovals (you do need to flip over and peel away the parchment from time to time, so that it doesn’t impede the rolling out of the crackers). You can always dust them with a bit of rice flour, too, to help, if you’re not comfortable with the softness of the dough.  Just play with it a bit and you’ll see, it’s very forgiving and you can patch it back together if it does tear.  Then I like to just peel away the top piece of parchment and flip the parchment and cracker-dough together onto a baking sheet so that the dough is touching the metal (they toast better this way, rather than baking them on the parchment).  Bake for about 5 to 6 minutes, then check on them and remove the parchment.  You can flip the crackers over to toast the other side, and bake for another 3-4 minutes, until well-browned.  Let cook completely and enjoy!

 

For the Love of Couscous

couscousEveryone has their “guilty pleasures” when it comes to food…and for many chefs it can be something really out there, think steamed cheeseburgers, Hostess Cakes, greasy poutine.  I guess it’s something that usually hearkens back to childhood and a time before any culinary careers and regular contact with luxury ingredients took off.  In any case, I was surprised when I first met Franck and we were living together in London to find that his passionate craving, his deep-seated desire on his night off wasn’t to eat buffalo wings or Taco Bell, but to enjoy a nice couscous from a can: couscouspouletmerguezgarbitUnfortunately, this isn’t really easy to find in the UK (guess we can’t stay here), and we don’t really have this product in the US (he was despondent).  As pre-made foods go, it’s not as bad as Twinkies or some such, but it’s really really salty and really really cooked.  I was concerned…he really missed the stuff…but I love a challenge.  How would I recreate this beloved couscous and win his heart at the same time?

Now I love a good Moroccan dinner as much as the next person, and for vegetarians it’s always a real treat.   In France, they sell the boxes (pictured above) with pre-made couscous “stew” or “tagine” in them, and the dried grains in a separate box on top to steam as you heat up the stew.  The stew comes with chicken, merguez, vegetarian, whatever you fancy.  For the more adventurous, those who want to work with fresh ingredients and make their own “tagine,” most French grocery stores sell a pre-mix “Epices Couscous” “Couscous Spices,” which are usually delicious and perfectly balanced when you want to make your couscous from scratch.

Since I also love to cook Indian food, I have up my sleeve a proportion for “the trinity” of Indian spices: dried Coriander, Cumin, and Turmeric, which is a never-fail (passed to me by an Indian gentleman who was briefly my landlord in England).  I started here when I wanted to create my own “epices couscous” to make my delicious “tastes-just-like-you-got-it-out-of-a-box” couscous for my beloved. The balance between the spices is perfect, and with the addition of a pinch of cinnamon and a good dash of paprika, I actually started to approach the desired flavor, miraculously.

Enjoy this recipe as a base, and add whatever protein you like.  At our house, we cook the stew in a saucepan and brown any meat in another pan on the side.  A few ladles of the vegetable & chickpea stew go into the pan to finish cooking with the meat/chicken/merguez sausages for the last 15 mins or so, and the rest can stay on the side for the vegetarians.  We also now prepare millet on the side, as tastes and nutrition have evolved since when we first met.  It might not be quite as salty or overcooked as the one in the can, but on a cold winter night, with a pot of spicy harissa on the table, this dish is satisfying and delicious.

Vegetable & Chickpea Couscous

serves4-6

3 T olive oil

2 onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

3 celery branches, cut into 1 inch chunks

1 purple-topped turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

1/2 rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

1 small eggplant, cut into 1 inch chunks

1 zucchini, cut into 2 inch chunks

1/2 green cabbage, cut into 1 inch dice

1 small can whole peeled tomatoes

2 c cooked chickpeas

salt, pepper

1 T ground coriander

1 1/2 t ground cumin

1/2 t turmeric

1 T sweet paprika

1/2 t cinnamon

1 bunch cilantro

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat and add the onions.  When they are golden, add the rest of the vegetables and saute until beginning to soften.  Add all of the dried spices and let cook together, stirring, for 1 minute, to cook out the spices.  Add the can of tomatoes, broken up, and the chickpeas, salt and pepper.  Add enough water (or stock, if you prefer), to cover all of the vegetables, bring up to simmer, then cover and lower heat.  Let cook slowly for about 30 mins, until all of the vegetables are cooked through.  Meanwhile, prepare the couscous (or millet, or cracked wheat, rice or whatever grain you like to soak up the juices) and brown the meat that you would like to use, if desired.  We love to serve this with plain yogurt and harissa on the side, and we always finish it with a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped and added at the last minute. (Keep in mind that the list of vegetables can be adapted based on season or availability!  Why not put butternut squash or sweet potato in the winter and eliminate the eggplant and zucchini? Add some frozen peas?  Use this as your guide and enjoy.)

Braised Chicken with Olives and Peppers

What’s with the recent backlash against the word “foodie”?? A recent issue of one of our favorite cooking magazines recently went on a minor diatribe about this “catchall word for people who appreciate a great meal and what goes into it” and it’s not the first we’ve seen…The editor claims that the word is “goofy” and “infantilizing” and he prefers the term “culinary enthusiasts.”

Where’s the problem?  We love this word precisely for it’s fun and silly overtones:  one thing that we have never done in our careers as food professionals or culinary enthusiasts or whatever you want to call us is take ourselves too seriously.  While our compulsion to cook lots of food for lots of people in a very short amount of time — known as a normal dinner service in a restaurant — comes from a complete place of masochism, our belief in food as delicious, important and fun is elemental.  That’s why you’ll never see us micro-oxygenating your dinner; or adding chemicals to make it appear like somethings it’s not (though this, in the right hands, sounds like fun, it’s something completely different, like spray-painting graffiti vs. oil painting on canvas).

We love it when people come into our restaurant and self-identify as “foodies.”  Of course, we’re happy and grateful when anyone comes into our place just to sit down and fuel up, too.  When someone describes themselves as a foodie it’s a signal to us that they want to have some fun — they want to enjoy being surprised by the unusual and delicious results of poaching fish in red wine and serving it with a buttery and zing-y port sauce.  They like to be blown away by the real taste of local summer zucchini in a soup… a taste that winters of spongy-mass produced zucchini had erased.  They want to dig down to the bottom of their blondie sundae, right to where the rum, the salty caramel, the ice cream and the warm blondie have merged together to create their own ultimate sweet euphoria.  And these foodie guests want to talk to us about food: about what they’re cooking, and what they’re tasting, and usually, what’s going on in food politics, too. It’s evident to everyone why they want to support an independent, chef-owned restaurant and not pull into a drive-through.

These foodies get why we’re here, they validate our work, and they’re fun.  We hope that this term lives on with pride for all of us who appreciate real food cooked right and with pleasure.  If you don’t want to be called a foodie, no problem, we’ll still love serving you a great meal and perhaps having a little “food-inspired” chat over a simple, delicious and nourishing dish, as well!

 

Braised Chicken Hero

Braised Chicken with Olives and Peppers

Foodies and non-foodies alike all know that a great dish doesn’t need to be complicated.  This simple chicken dish brings together a few easy French techniques with some everyday ingredients and will bring all of the warmth and good smells and satisfaction into your kitchen that you could want, without a tremendous amount of effort or time.  We also love how raiding the olive counter at the supermarket can bring a taste of sunshine to a wintery dinner.  Make this dish ahead of time if you’re one of those organized, cook-for-the-week-ahead- people.  It’ll reheat perfectly when you’re ready for it.

4 portions – can serve with rice or couscous

1 3-4 lb. organic chicken, cut into 4 pieces: 2 breast, 2 leg/thigh; save carcass for stock
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
½ c green olives, pitted and sliced in half
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 roma tomatoes, diced ( or 1/2 c diced canned tomato)
1 qt chicken stock
1 c white wine
1 branch thyme
1 branch rosemary
Salt, pepper
2 T plain oil
2 T olive oil

Heat in a wide sauté pan (preferably one with a cover) 2 T plain oil over high heat. Season chicken pieces liberally with salt and pepper and place in pan to brown. Turn over and brown the other side. Remove chicken pieces with tongs to a plate. Pour out the old oil and replace pan on the burner without washing it. Add olive oil and the onion and peppers. Cook over high heat, stirring, to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Deglaze pan with the wine, stirring to scrape the pan. Add the chicken, stock, olives, thyme, rosemary and tomato and bring to simmer. Cover and let cook through over low heat, about 20-30 minutes. Check for seasoning.

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Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme

I have written before about how much I need and love my pastry gurus, and Joanne Chang of Flour bakery is certainly one of them. Right now I’m getting inspired by her newest book, Baking with Less Sugar, but her first cookbook, Flour, is one that I have used for so many delicious desserts here at the restaurant.  For Franck and I, working on our own in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, it’s like having a fellow friend/pastry geek to talk shop with when I open up such a smart and useful book.

One of the most popular desserts which it inspired, and somehow one of the most requested desserts in Chez Nous history, is the Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme.  This decadent and unassuming little dessert is truly sublime on every level:  incredibly rich flavor and smooth, luscious texture.  Not only is it a winner, but it’s also incredibly easy to prepare.  No baking in the oven in a bain-marie necessary:  Joanne ramped up the amount of chocolate so that the dessert sets on it’s own like a dream in it’s little cup in the fridge.  A perfect make-ahead, never fail dessert!

Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme, adapted from Flour, by Joanne Changbest pot de creme

Makes 5 desserts

180 ml  ½ and ½

220 ml  heavy cream

4 oz bittersweet chocolate

4 yolks

75 g  sugar

½ t vanilla

¼ t salt

2 T Kahlua, or other chocolate-friendly alcohol of your choosing

-Boil cream and milk in a heavy-based saucepan, whisk together yolks, sugar and salt, then slowly temper in (pour over gradually) the hot milk/cream, whisking contantly to avoid curdling the eggs.  Pour everything back into the pot and slowly bring up to barely simmer.  Off of the heat, add the chocolate and whisk in to melt, as well as the vanilla and the Kahlua.  Strain through a fine seive and pour into jars.  Allow to set in the fridge before serving.

 

The Menu Changes Every Day!

Check out the menu displayed here online to give you as idea of what’s cooking at Chez Nous these days.  The menu changes every day to show off what’s freshest and most delicious.  Merci!

Dark Chocolate Espresso Mousse Torte

Photos by Greg Nesbit Photography

I have what I like to refer to as my “pastry gurus. ”  These are the recipe-writers who not only care enough to only publish recipes for things that are yummy, but also to write their recipes and edit them so that they WORK. Many people tell me that they don’t like to bake, that it’s hard.  It’s true that there are a few tricks and things that are helpful to know when you go to bake, and it’s also true that if you forget something, you usually can’t correct it later (not like throwing the carrots in once the stew’s boiling).  But generally, my theory is that people think that baking is hard because so many recipes are badly written, or badly edited, and will NEVER work, no matter who you are and how good you are at baking.  Wrong proportions, left out steps, never mind just recipes that I believe no one’s even tested (seriously, sorry folks).

Certain magazines are wonderful, and they have test kitchens who make sure that none of us has to go through a melt-down of our own, or throw expensive ingredients in the garbage, or look silly in front of guests when our hard efforts in the kitchen look like crud or taste like it.  And certain bakers are gifted at writing up beautiful, delicious recipes reliably and consistently.  These are my gurus.  Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz are two of these special and wonderful people.  Since Franck and I are on our own here for the most part, working in the kitchen and developing menus and ideas, we really need these gurus to keep us inspired, give us fresh new recipes, and not waste our time with things that won’t be good.  Check out any books by these two that you can get your hands on, they are all fabulous.  And my latest favorite dessert, the Chocolate-Espresso Mousse Torte, is actually a marriage between two recipes, one from each of them.Choc-Torte000

After making approximately 2,000 Flourless Chocolate Devastation Cakes, I was beginning to get a little bored.  Never mind that I could continue to make & sell Flourless Chocolate Devastation Cake into eternity and no one would complain, I just wanted something different, more interesting, and equally wonderful to bake.  Since my goal these days is to keep everything gluten-free, that had to figure into my search.  Dorie and David, I believe, travel in similar circles and both spend all or much of their time in France, so I wasn’t surprised to find a couple of great-looking flourless chocolate desserts that had quite a few similarities between them on their websites.  It only took a couple of tries to work together the two recipes into what I believe is the ultimate Chocolate Espresso Mousse Torte.  Served with a squeeze of Salty Caramel Sauce, all of the flavors explode in your mouth, but the dessert itself has a lightness to it, it literally disappears on your tongue.  It’s remarkable that something so richly flavored can have such a lovely, light texture.  The Flourless Devastation will remain beloved by many, but for me, this cake’s depth of flavor and unique texture make it something special.  I hope you agree!

Chocolate Espresso Mousse Torte

The only other thing that this beautiful dessert needed was some crunch.  I looked around for something in my repertoire that was crunchy and gluten-free and came up empty-handed.  The crunch in the photo, and what we serve at the restaurant, is a simple and delicious mix of our wonderful 65% bittersweet chocolate, and a gluten-free cereal that we buy at the supermarket.  Spread thin on a piece of parchment paper and let set in the fridge and voila!  crunch!

 

-makes 1  8” cake

 

10 oz dark chocolate, chopped finely

1/3 c heavy cream

1 large espresso/1 T espresso powder

5 eggs, separated

Pinch salt

1/2 t vanilla

1/3 c sugar

1 stick soft butter

 

Line an 8″ cake pan with parchment.  Heat oven to 325F.  Bring cream to a boil and pour over to melt the chocolate  with the salt,  vanilla & espresso in a large mixing bowl.  In the bowl of a mixer with a whip attachment, whip whites to meringue, adding the sugar gradually as the whites develop volume.  Stop whipping when the meringue holds soft peaks.  Stir the yolks in to the chocolate mixture, followed by the soft butter and mix until smooth, then fold in the egg whites very gently.  Pour into prepared cake pan and place pan in a larger pan with warm water coming up about half way to make a bain marie.  Bake about 20 minutes until the edges look dry and the middle is still a bit shiny, but set.  Cool thoroughly then chill overnight before running a knife around the edge to release the cake.

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Tuscan Lemon Almond Torte

Photos by Greg Nesbit Photography

Everyone knows how I feel about secret recipes: they’re against my religion!  Enjoying a dish and then requesting the recipe is just the highest compliment you can give.  And some things are just so wonderful, they have to be shared.  I received this incredible recipe from an extremely talented pastry chef with whom I worked in DC at Lespinasse in Torte111996-97, Caroline.  She and I worked the pastry “line” together every night, plating elaborate desserts and enjoying the rush of service together.  I was totally green in the industry, and couldn’t have been placed next to a more perfect person to train me.  She taught me how to use a squeeze bottle of sauce and put it right back where it was, so we wouldn’t waste time looking up to grab it the next time.  Together we perfected spooning identital egg-shaped quenelles of ice cream and sorbet onto a beautiful silver platter quickly enough so that the 7th flavor was plated before the 1st ones started to melt (an order of 4 ice cream & sorbet samplers for one table was a particularly riotous challenge for us).  She, together with our boss Jill Rose, taught me that attention to detail is what changes something good into something great.  These lessons have stayed with me, and I teach them to every student who comes through our kitchen.  These women were talented, and I was so lucky to be in their hands so early in my career.

But the recipes…oh my goodness…the recipes!  We made some amazing stuff in that kitchen:  Lemon-lavender chiboust (the inspiration behind my popular Lemon-Lavender Posset), Ginger Souffles, Coffee macarons.  I gained skills and confidence with every new recipe.  So much of what I learned still peeks its head into something new that I might try today: a variation on a theme, a new twist.  There are some recipes that are so perfect, however, you just don’t want to mess with them at all.  This cake, for me, is perfect.  Caroline actually used to make it at home and bring it in for me; it wasn’t on the menu.  It was just the most divine, sublime, meltingly delicious cake I’d ever had and she would provide me with occasional fixes, taunting me that someday she would share the actual recipe.  It actually came from a fantastic San Francisco restaurant where she had previously worked, called Oliveto.  I don’t know where it was before that, or who exactly had the genius idea to schmear a load of tart and creamy lemon curd on top of a delicious almond cake batter, scatter it with sliced almonds, and then bake everything together into a bubbling, browned, rustic pan of deliciousness.  I just don’t know.  But I thank them with all my heart.  Please enjoy my most favorite cake:

 

Lemon Curd

You can buy a jar of lemon curd to put on the cake, or you can make a batch yourself.  The only change that I made to the original cake recipe (ah ha!  there’s always something, no??) was to use my own lemon curd recipe, given to me by some very proud and capable English farm women with whom I worked at the Sussex University farm shop when I was a student there.  Betty was so generous to share this gorgeous lemon curd with me:   the winner of the local Women’s Institute award, no less.  Enjoy the rest of the batch on toast, in tartlettes, or just keep making Tuscan Lemon-Almond Tortes, like I do…it keeps well in the fridge or the freezer for many weeks (if it lasts!).

6 oz lemon  juice

zest 3 lemons

2 1/4 c sugar

pinch salt

1/2  lb  butter

4 eggs

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the butter, sugar, salt, lemon juice and zest.  Over medium heat, let butter melt and gently bring contents of the pan to a simmer.  Whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl.  When mix is boiling, take off of the heat and drizzle a bit onto the eggs, whisking quickly to avoid scrambling the eggs (a helper can be useful at this point).  Once the eggs are warmed quite well, whisk them back into the pan and return the pan to medium heat.  Whisk constantly until entire mix comes to simmer to sterilize the eggs and thicken the curd.  Take off the heat and strain into a heat-proof container.  Allow to cool and then refrigerate until you’re ready to make the cake.

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Tuscan Lemon-Almond Torte 

The rustic look of this cake pleases me just as much as the cake itself.  It’s so unusual, I had to feature it when I first opened my bakery, Cakewalk,  in Lee, MA in 2002.  I just loved the contrast with the highly decorated and precisely-cut and designed things that were typically in a bakery case.  You just schmear the curd on with a spatula, scatter the almonds over, let it bubble and brown in the oven every which way:  each one looks different and irresistible with no fussing over it.  I wasn’t sure if it would hold mass appeal, but I just wanted to see it in the case next to all of the traditional cookies and tartlettes.  And I shouldn’t have doubted:  this cake was a huge seller every day at the bakery from day one. I have made this recipe with good results with Jeanne Sauvage’s gluten free flour blend, as well as with Einkorn flour.  Use the same amount as the cake flour indicated.

Oven 325, makes One 9 inch cake

Line spring form pan:  butter, parchment, butter

1/2  cup almond fl.

1 cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 oz soft butter

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla ex.

2 eggs

2/3 cup lemon curd

1/3 cup sliced almonds

-Prepare the pan with the parchment liner to prevent sticking.  Preheat the oven and start creaming the butter in the mixer with the flat beater, then add the sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. The mixture will get very fluffy, double the volume.   Sift the dry ingredients together.  Add the vanilla to the mixer and then fold in the sifted dry ingredients.  Scrape into the prepared pan and spoon 2/3 cup of lemon curd onto the mix.  Spread out the curd over the top of the batter, leaving about 1/2 in border.  Scatter 1/3 cup sliced almonds over the mix and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until a tester is clean (it’s hard to test!  I usually put the tester in at a sharp angle to go underneath the curd as best as I can to see that the batter under the curd is cooked).  The cake will be set in the middle, bubbly and brown.  Take out of the oven and allow to cool thoroughly before slicing into it.  It is actually one of those rare cakes that tastes even better after a day or two.

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