Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lemon Pudding Cake

This Christmas season was a pretty quiet one for my family, very different from how things have been recently.  The past few years it's been jam packed with German Christmas markets, Swiss mountains, sledding, gluwein, fireworks and cozy winter nights with friends.  I loved every minute of it and lately have found myself feeling very nostalgic for the days of Christmases past in Germany.  It truly was a special and precious time in our lives.  But of course, we had a big move between then and now and are still adjusting to the new reality of things here in Athens.  I think we're all feeling a bit constrained living in the city and uninspired by the drab winter here.  Moods have definitely been effected.  If I had to choose a color to describe us these days it would be grey.

Serious procrastination, indecision and last minute decisions this year led us to spending a few days on one of the nearby islands for Christmas because we couldn't think of something else to do.  It's the off season for Greek islands and there are more goats than people climbing the rocky hills.  It was a huge departure from the crowds and lively places we visited wile in Germany.  Not my first choice, but I decided to look at the trip as a quiet getaway and a chance to spend some really good family time and to be near my beloved seashore.  A trip that was good for the spirit and soul.  Well, that was sort of how it worked out and it sort of wasn't.  The hubs ended up sick in bed all day long Christmas day.  So the kids and I spent a windy and chilly day on the beach by ourselves.  It was actually pretty nice.  The boys got along without arguing, we combed the sand for sea glass and interesting shells, skipped stones on the water and Lorelei played in the sand without a care in the world.  It was nice.  Uncomplicated.  But again, I noticed the quiet that has been plaguing us recently.

Mostly I noticed the quiet in my oldest.  He just turned 12 and for maybe a year now I've been noticing a change in him.  Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it glaringly obvious.  Mood swings that come out of the blue have become frequent (complete with tears!), my once dependable early riser has started sleeping until late morning, his bedroom door has been closed more often than open when he's inside.  More subtly, I've noticed him pulling away from the family some.  It became more noticeable on our Christmas trip.  After a whole day of easy togetherness Christmas day, the following one saw my sweet boy wanting to sit by himself on the beach.  No playing, no skipping stones.  Instead, he wanted space.  I my head I realize why he wants to have some time to himself, but my heart is saddened by the understanding that my little boy is becoming his own man.  He's no longer just mine.

Of course, I am still his mom.  And whether he wants to be or not (this changes daily if not hourly), he's still my son.  It's just that the relationship is shifting.  My goal is to find ways to relate to him as the new young man he wants to be.  We've always had reading in common- he's almost as voracious as I am in that regard and I love that about him.  We have the same taste, for better or for worse, in music and it has been fun over the past few years to introduce him to favorites like U2 and the Eagles.  He's begun asking to cook with me, which I should love, right?.  Sometimes I get exasperated with the requests- I'm making dinner and just want to get finished without the slow down of explaining things to him or his excruciatingly slow chopping and slicing.  But I'm trying to let that go.  It's almost the same as slowing down to let my toddler daughter struggle with putting on her own pants when I'm trying to rush out the door in the morning.  They're both trying to be independent in their own way.  I just have to slow down and let it happen.

One day while cooking with my son I had the Great British Bake Off playing on my laptop.  The challenge was for the bakers to make "self-saucing puddings", something like a molten chocolate cake.  He was totally enthralled by the idea of little cakes that makes their own sauce and for days went around in a silly British voice saying "Self-saucing puddings!".  He cracked me up.  So these little cakes are for my oldest.  My way of connecting with him and finding something for us to talk about.  I'll take whatever I can get.  And if it comes with a silly accent, all the better in my opinion.

Lemon Pudding Cake
Makes 6 individual cakes or 1 2-quart cake
For the recipe, click here

These little cakes are one of my favorite desserts for company.  They're so surprising- the light, almost souffle like cake rests atop a silky smooth sauce at the bottom like a layer of pudding or curd.  They are bright and tart, a perfect use for the winter citrus and just the right sort of pick me up on grey days.  The cakes can be made in ramekins for individual servings or in a single baking dish to serve family style.  One tip: don't skip the step where you rub the lemon zest into the sugar.  It really is the key to getting as much lemon flavor as possible into the cake.

3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs lemon zest
3 eggs, separated
2 tbs butter, room temperature
1 cup milk
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Also needed: several cups of hot water and a roasting pan.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 6 6-ounce ramekins or a 2 quart baking dish.

Mix together the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl.  With the tips of your fingers gently rub the zest into the sugar to release all of the oils in the zest.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (this can also be done by hand) whisk together the egg yolks and butter until the butter is well blended.  Add the sugar mixture to the bowl and continue whisking until the mixture lightens in color and  becomes thick.  Mix in the milk and lemon juice just until incorporated and then stir in the flour.

In a clean, separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter being careful not to deflate the air in the egg whites.  Pour the batter into the ramekins or baking dish.

Set the ramekins or baking dish into the roasting pan and pour the hot water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of your baking dish/ramekins.  Carefully so as not to get water in the batter, place the roasting pan in the oven.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  The tops will be golden and puffed and feel just firm to the touch.  Remove from the oven and cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack.  Serve warm.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lemon Cardamom Palmiers

2016 has been a rough year for this little ol' blog.  With all of the moving, displacement and life happening, postings have been a bit sparse.  And the tone has been a bit darker than usual.  Posts that I worked on for weeks got set aside because I just wasn't happy with how the recipes or photos worked out.  I've even considered just taking a break altogether.  It just hasn't been clicking for me.

But I can't seem to stop myself from pulling out my recipe testing journal and my camera and plugging along.  I keep trying.  So I figure there must be something left here that I love.  I think it's using my voice in a way that I don't get to in my everyday life.  My goal is to recommit to posting and sharing my stories and my recipes.  Because I do miss it.  I do love it. Without coming here every once in a while I find myself drifting a bit.

I had planned on starting with a recipe for palmiers with a bit of a twist.  My book club had met at a French cafe the week before and at one point we discussed how easy the palmier a friend ordered is to make at home.  The idea stuck in my head but, ever the food blogger, my mind immediately started thinking of ways to shake the traditional recipe up a bit.  I settled on cocoa and orange zest- a classic pairing of flavors and not one I had been able to find in any recipe.  A challenge!

2 year old settled in bed for an afternoon nap, I set out to make my first batch of palmiers.  Notes made, camera at the ready.  Things were going swimmingly at first.  The smell of the cocoa and orange was wonderful, the light was perfect and photos tuning out just as I had imagined.  I made one batch to start as cocoa is a precious commodity here in Greece.  The second sheet of puff pastry from the package was set aside to make a plain batch of palmiers to nibble on.  Long story short, by the time I was finished I had inedible puddles of puff pastry and cocoa that hardened into the least appetizing cookies that I had ever made.  Total disaster. 

Gosh, aren't those before shots pretty?  Couldn't have asked for better.  But then there was this.

Once I got over the disappointment, I could only laugh.  It just seemed a fitting way to end this less than stellar blogging year.  These sad cookies were perfect in their imperfection.  Of course, there is no way that I can share the recipe for these palmiers (can I call them that?).  But the "before" pictures were so nice, I couldn't help myself.  And then there was that second sheet of puff pastry that didn't get the cocoa-orange treatment.  Honestly, the quick, thoughtless and unplanned way that I threw those palmiers together worked out perfectly.  So I do have a recipe, just not the one that I had intended.  It's quick, easy and no-stress.  Just the way I hope 2017 goes for me.

Lemon Cardamom Palmiers
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
For the printable recipe, click here

This is a simple recipe that can be a starting point for a host of flavors.  I really like the subtle lemon and spice but if you're not a fan of cardamom you could omit it or swap it out with ginger for an equally lovely cookie.  You could also use orange zest in place of the lemon and change the spice to cinnamon.  Or leave out the zest altogether.  It's one of those back pocket recipes that you can use in so many ways and still impress with a delicate and delicious cookie.

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (preferably all butter), thawed
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp ground cardamon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Measure the sugar into a small bowl.  Stir in the lemon zest and then give the sugar and zest a bit of a massage with your fingertips, releasing the oils of the zest into the sugar.  Stir in the cardamom.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture on a clean work surface.  Lay the puff pastry over the sugar and give it a bit of a roll with a rolling pin to adhere the sugar to the bottom of the pastry.  Sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixture over the surface of the puff pastry so that it covers evenly and completely.  Roll each of the long sides tightly towards the middle so that they meet in the center.  Slice the roll into 1/2 inch slices and lay the slices at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, then flip them over and continue to bake for another 4-5 minutes until the sugar has caramelized.  Remove from the oven and cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Apple Pie Quick Cinnamon Rolls

Piles of orange and red leaves.  Beautiful, moody light.  Scarves, jackets and boots.  Sipping hot, mulled wine on a German sidewalk.  The scent of wood-burning fireplaces in the air. 


I'm totally missing the change of the seasons.  Not that I don't appreciate the warmth that comes with living in a Mediterranean country, I'm SO not complaining about that.  But after spending the past three years where the fall was practically perfect I find myself longing for quiet Sunday afternoons kicking my way through the red and orange leaves around the lake in town.  There's not much visible change marking the seasons here except the ripening of the oranges and lemons in my yard.  Beautiful and tasty in it's own right, but not quite what I picture fall to look like.

But I'm making up for the lack of fall in my life by baking up all of the apples.  Like all of them in all of Athens.  Every single time I pass the fruit and veggie stand I stop and pick up a half dozen.  It's helping a little.  This particular recipe definitely makes things feel a bit more autumnal.  It's apple pie without all of the fuss of making a pie crust.  Oh, and no yeast!  This is not a two day, overnight sort of cinnamon roll.  But don't let that fool you into thinking that these are inferior in any way.  because they're so totally not.  They're soft and tender, with a sweet buttery center full of all things fall.  The scent will make all your troubles float away on warm spiced cloud.  It's really the best.

Apple Pie Quick Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 16 rolls.  Recipe only slightly adapted from In Jennie's Kitchen.
For the printable recipe, click here

 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs butter, melted
2 medium apples, cut into eighths and sliced thinly

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
7 tbs butter, melted and cooled, divided

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Mix the filling ingredients, except the apples, in a small bowl and set aside.

Make the dough by whisking together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, stir the buttermilk and 4 tablespoons of the butter together.  Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy dough.  Knead the dough with your hands a few times and then divide the dough into two equal portions.

On a lightly floured surface roll or gently press each ball of dough into a rectangle measuring rough 12 x 8 inches.  Spread the filling mixture evenly over the two rectangles leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edges.  Gently press the filling mixture into the dough.  Spread the apple slices over the filling mixture.  Roll up each rectangle of dough into a log starting from the 12 inch sides.  Pinch the ends closed.  Cut each log into 8 equal pieces.

Brush 1 tablespoon of the remaining melted butter on the insides of an 11 x 8 inch baking dish.  Place the cinnamon rolls cut side up into the baking dish.  Brush the rest of the butter over the rolls and then bake for 20 minutes.  The tops will be golden and the filling bubbling up from the insides.  Let the cinnamon rolls cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, stir together the icing ingredients in a small bowl.

Drizzle the tops of the cinnamon rolls with the icing.  Serve the rolls warm.  They will keep for up to three days covered with foil on the counter.