Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three Desserts to Enliven Winter Evenings

I know, I know, I know, it’s January and we’re all trying to take off the few extra pounds we took on over the holidays. So why in heaven’s name would I want to give you recipes for three absolutely delicious desserts? Well here is my reasoning. People are still having birthdays and need a nice cake. Friends who adore desserts are still coming over for dinner and asking as they walk in the door “What’s for dessert?” You still might have some apples in the fridge from your tree in the backyard or cranberries in your freezer. And Lavender Shortcake, who can resist these little squares of lavender goodness to remind us that better weather lies ahead? If none of these things convinces you to try one of the three, set this blog aside and pull it out again in April, but by then your apples will most likely be gone.

Jamaican Rum Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dark or light rum
6 tablespoons crushed walnuts, optional
Rum Syrup, see recipe below

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease and flour a 9- or 10-inch spring-form pan.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until they are fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, blending until smooth.
3. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, rum and nuts, mixing until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the cake bounces back when pressed gently in the center. A 9-inch pan may take a little longer.
5. Prepare the syrup. See recipe below.
6. When the cake comes out of the oven, poke it with toothpicks. Pour the hot rum syrup over the hot cake.
7. Let the cake cool before removing from pan.
8. You might want to microwave each piece before serving. You can serve it with rum raisin ice cream which is yummy but not necessary.

Rum Syrup

½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup dark or light rum

1. Put the butter and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir to combine as the butter melts.
2. Add the rum and bring to a boil for a few minutes.

10 servings
Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The New American Cooking

Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with Hot Cream
I have had The French Laundry Cookbook on my shelf since November 2003—a long time. In these seven years, I have made exactly one recipe from it. This one, in October 2004. I swear it is the only recipe in the whole book that I felt competent to tackle. But it quickly joined my list of “keepers” and has become a fall staple. Sally Schmitt was one of the original owners of The French Laundry Restaurant. She and her husband passed the restaurant and this recipe along to Thomas Keller when they were ready to devote themselves to their apple orchards some distance to the north.

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup milk or half and half
3 apples
1 cup fresh cranberries, at room temperature, defrosted if previously frozen
Cinnamon sugar: 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Hot Cream Sauce, see recipe below

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch cake pan or spring-form pan. Put a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.
2. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Slice them into ¼-inch wedges.
3. Beat together the butter, sugar, and egg in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients until the mixture is fluffy and light in texture.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Do not overbeat; mix just until the ingredients are combined.
5. Spoon the batter into the pan. Press the apple slices into the batter, about ¼ inch apart and core side down. Work in a circular pattern like the spokes of a wheel. Put most of the cranberries in the middle of the cake and the remaining around the edges. Poke some into the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
6. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the cake bounces back when softly pushed in the middle. Set on rack to cool briefly or let cool to room temperature.
7. Serve the kuchen in a good-sized puddle of the hot sauce. Pass the remainder in a pitcher.

Hot Cream Sauce

2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1. Combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer for 5-8 minutes to reduce and thicken slightly.

8 servings
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
12 drops lavender essential oil
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
2 1/3 cups cake flour or unbleached regular flour
1 large egg white
1½ tablespoons dried lavender flowers
1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling

1. In a food processor, blend the sugar and essential oil for 15 seconds, until well combined. Add the salt and the butter and pulse until the butter is well incorporated. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated. Add the flour and carefully pulse, until the dough forms small pebble-like shapes. Remove the dough from the processor and gently combine by hand until smooth. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. Roll out the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch.
Note: You may need to let it soften slightly before attempting to roll it out. Rolling it out between two sheets of plastic wrap may be helpful.
3. Line your rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
4. Cut the dough into rectangles and transfer to the baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between each shortbread. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes. If you have bits of leftover dough, mush them together, chill slightly, roll them out to ¼-inch thickness, and add to the baking sheet.
5. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
6. Whisk the egg white in a mixing bowl for about 10 seconds, until it is frothy. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator, brush with the egg white and sprinkle with sugar and lavender flowers, pressing them slightly into the dough.
7. Bake until the edges are just starting to turn golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool before serving. The flavor and texture are much better at room temperature.

Makes about 27 2x2 inch cookies
Adapted from Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson’s Aroma

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