Monthly Archives: January 2011

Some sunshine for my plate

I love snow. I wished for snow. I was elated this past Tuesday as I sat in cozy restaurant watching it fall in a fluffy torrent that would rival even the most plotted and staged feather pillow fight on TV. I relished in the cold flakes that whipped at my face and clung to my hatless head on the walk home. But now, as I slosh around in the dirty slush that inevitably follows a New York City snowfall, I feel a little cheated. What was once pristine and wondrous has melted into salty pools of sludge that stain my boots and seep through to my socks (I should really invest in a good pair of rainboots; these just aren’t cutting it anymore).

In an effort to dodge my post-blizzard blues, I trudged through said slush to the market and did what any cabin-fevered city soul would do when faced with cloudy skies and the dire remnants of a wintry produce aisle: I bought citrus. A whole heck of a lot of it. In the absence of pretty berries and delicate beans, asparagus, and baby lettuces, flanked on all sides by the pathetic taupes and beiges of root vegetables and onions, citrus is the saving grace. I bought massive grapefruits–whites and ruby reds–blood oranges, meyer lemons and some special variety of naval orange that boasted pink flesh and raspberry overtones.

I ate warm brûléed grapefruit (slice in half, sprinkle with dark brown sugar, and throw under the broiler for a few) and drank fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast three days in a row. I ate an entire meyer lemon straight from the rind. It’s been lovely to see those sunny colors and taste the fresh promise of warmer days, regardless of how far off they may be. Today I decided I should probably cook something with those colorful orbs, both to share the wealth and to make a dent in this citrus stockpile. I ate the last grapefruit yesterday, and am still cleaning up blood orange stains from my counter, so lemon it is!

I’ve never actually cooked with Meyer lemons before, though they are a long-standing culinary buzzword and I find recipes often that require their sweet, less-tart lemony goodness. With their smooth supple rinds accurately described as the color of egg yolks, and their sweet, fragrant juice, it should not come as a shocker that Meyer lemons are actually a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. That bumpy thick skin and sour pucker of a regular lemon? Non-existent. How else would I have been able to eat one straight, no chasers? I was amazed at the amount of juice one lemon yielded without much coaxing from me. And the fragrance was overwhelming–almost floral, or perhaps herbal, a little like thyme–and lingered in the kitchen all the while I prepped lemon curd for a delicious lemony tart courtesy of the famed David Leibovitz.

This tart was a cinch to come together, especially after reading about David’s quickie tart dough discovery which required no pastry blender, messy fingers, or freezing. You simply combine butter, sugar, water and oil in an ovenproof dish, place it in a piping hot oven until it’s brown and bubbly–oh the heavenly aroma of browned butter–then whisk in a healthy cup of flour, watching with satisfaction as a perfect ball of dough springs to life from the foamy slurry. It’s much like the beginning process for making pâte à chou, come to think of it, the dough used for cream puffs and eclairs and such. And that’s it! When it’s cool enough to handle, mold it to your tart pan and pop it back in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden.

And what about the lemon curd? Not so bad either, my friends. As I mentioned before, juicing the Meyer lemons is a breeze—I needed only about four to yield ½ cup of juice. It is combined with sugar, butter and zest from one of those beautiful lemons over a low flame just until the butter melts. In the meantime, you whisk together a couple of eggs and yolks, temper them by adding some of the hot lemon butter mixture so you don’t end up with lemony scrambled eggs, and that’s pretty much it. A sieve, a spatula and five minutes in the oven finishes it off.

This sunny yellow tart is a simple thing of beauty and will certainly stave off the wintry blues. Hang in there, fellow east coasters. The sun will shine again (and melt that yucky snow).

Meyer Lemon tart from the kitchen of David Leibovitz

Find his tarte crust recipe here.

*I’m sorry, but not surprised to say that my finished tart did not turn out with the same glorious perfection that David’s did, but I blame that mostly on the fact that I mistook my 10 ¼ in tart pan for a 9 incher, not the fact that I am not, as David is, a celebrated pastry chef, and an award-winning cookbook writer and blogger who now resides in the culinary capital of the world. Subtle differences, really. Just be sure to use a 9 inch pan OR make a double batch of dough. The remainder will freeze nicely.

½ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar (If you choose to use regular lemons, up the sugar to ½ cup)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Tart shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter over a low flame. Keep a close eye on this mixture, it should not bubble or boil.

In a small bowl, beat together eggs and yolks. As soon as the butter has melted, slowly whisk a small amount of this mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly, to warm them. Be careful: Adding too much too fast will result in scrambled eggs! Scrape the whole mix back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens; it should nicely coat the back of a spoon. Again, do not let the mixture bubble.

Remove from heat and immediately pour the lemon curd through a fine mesh strainer directly into the pre-baked tart shell, using a spatula to push the mixture through.

Spread the mixture evenly with your spatula and place in the oven for about 5 minutes, just long enough to let it set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, place in the refrigerator to chill. Serve plain or with fresh whipped cream or raspberries, etc.



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Ginger and Spice: That’s what memories are made of

I realize with the holiday season coming to a screeching halt and the healthier eating pledges being instated for the beginning of 2011, writing about cookies may be a bit taboo on day four of the new year. But I am going to talk about them anyway, specifically the gingerbread cookies I baked for Christmas (served up alongside my holiday cookie mainstay, cranberry noels*). The ones whose appearance in my kitchen was urged by a twinge of nostalgia.

When you think of gingerbread, you probably have visions of confectionary cut outs with chocolate buttons and plump marachino pouts dancing in your head. Or perhaps you see dark, spicy planks of it glued together with frosting and gumdrops. In any case, I’m sure your think of Christmas–the time of year when sugar and spice is glorified in cookie tins and on holiday tables. One whif of that ginger and molasses, however, and I see something a little different: I see a white-haired man with sparkling green eyes, and no, I’m not speaking of the jolly old man in a big red suit. I’m talking about my Dada and his ever-present box of gingernsnaps.

He was something of a gingersnap hoarder, my grandfather, along with Little Debbie brownies and those crimson pistachios that brought new meaning to the term “red-handed.” He never seemed to be without them. It could have been the middle of an August heat wave, popsicles melting, feet scorching on hot sand, and he would still be extending a full box of those spicy wafers in my direction. And although I love the way that little cookie sounds–gingersnap–so sassy–I never did like them very much. They were too hard, seemingly unbreakable, too biting and aggressive for my childish taste. I wanted chocolate and sugar, thank you, not some inedible wafer that smelled of musty old spice cabinets. But I always managed to choke one down, for him, at least.

We did that a lot. Humored each other, I mean. He was a good sport when I wanted to sit behind him on the couch and twist and spike and pony-tail his typically flawless 60s-style waves and I accepted copious amounts of Juicy Fruit on long road trips, even if it meant hiding the unwanted foils in the back of the his seat. He didn’t get too grumpy when I filled in his lotto tickets to create arbitrary numbers and letters or asked him to eat my sorry attempts at “food” I cooked up as a child; the least I could do was accept a musty cookie once in awhile and pretend I liked it.

Fueled mostly by the fact that I miss my grandfather terribly, I’ve found myself softening to gingersnaps in recent years. I’ve found that dunked in hot tea or a cold glass of milk, they actually become something I kind of enjoy eating. I even bought a box of my very own before Thanksgiving and they worked out nicely as both a crumb bottom for pumpkin cheesecakes and a special crust for my holiday pumpkin pie. The reincarnation of that cookie intrigued me enough to want to make my own, perhaps a bit easier on the teeth and with a little less fire.

I decided on this recipe which I found tucked inside my 2009 Food and Wine holiday issue. Spiced Ginger cookies didn’t sound quite as fun or catchy as gingersnaps, but I thought they still deserved a chance what with their sparkling holiday coat of sugar crystals. My first batch came out thicker and more crumbly than you would expect from a gingersnap. Their color was softer, like raw honey, and the flavor was muted, though still spiked with white peppery heat. Instead of an explosion of spice and tingle, these sparklers create a slow burn that rises from the back of the throat onto your tongue. A heat that sort of lingers for a moment before being doused with sweeter flavors of sugar and cinnamon. The demerra sugar coating offered the crunch or “snap” that would otherwise be missed in this version, as the inside was deliciously buttery and buckled easily beneath my teeth.

I did attempt a second batch, leaving them in the oven longer until the snow-white discs turnedf a deep burnished gold and they fanned out into thinner crunchier versions of the previous batch. They did look and crunch more like gingersnaps which is probably why I didn’t enjoy them as much. You can make them as you like: plump and crumbly or compact and crunchy. I know you might be cookied-out from the holiday, but why don’t you humor me and my grandfather, and make your own batch of these little gems.

*I sub pistachios for walnuts in the cranberry noels–very Christmas-sy! And, I am after all, my grandfather’s granddaughter.

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