Saturday, December 31, 2011

Always a good time

I love to make Christmas cookies. Let me clarify that statement: I love making cookies at Christmastime. I don't like cookies that are decorated with pink frosting and sprinkles and taste like pure sugar and cardboard (but maybe I would if I had a kid). I like the ones that are good-tasting as well as good-looking (yes, I'm a snob). I also like to put them in cellophane bags tied with a brightly colored ribbon, and give them away to friends, keeping any leftovers to nibble on at home. Amid the craziness of shopping, wrapping and menu-planning, it's a big project, but one that makes me very happy.

This year, my friend Anya and I teamed up to do a day of holiday baking together. After some careful deliberation, we decided on four different kinds to make -- an ambitious undertaking which took us the better part of a day and evening to complete. We went through a lot of butter. There was a lot of dishes (thank you, Jacob, for your help). Still, it was worth it. We nearly covered her entire kitchen table with the treats ready to be packed up and divvied up. As you may imagine, it smelled pretty amazing in her house that day.
First we made Orange Sablés, then Mexican Wedding Cookies (with pecans), then Linzer Hearts (sandwiched with raspberry jam) and, finally, Rugelach, one batch with orange marmalade and chocolate, the other with apricot preserves and no chocolate. I often make Dorie Greenspan's rugelach for the holidays, at least I have for the past few years. As they are in fact a Yiddish invention, I feel as though I'm somehow honoring my Jewish heritage during Hanukkah (the one quarter in me, anyway). Plus, they're delicious, each one stuffed with currants and jam and a scattering of nuts. The cream cheese dough is rolled up like little crescents, which puff up and brown ever so slightly in the oven. They almost melt in your mouth, they're so astoundingly tender.
Anya's Linzer Hearts with hazelnuts were also particularly lovely and delicate. And really, why save heart-shaped things for Valentine's Day? The recipe comes from her Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, and had a quite a number of steps involved -- including repeatedly rolling out a fat slab of dough and cutting out of heart shapes -- but I just loved how they turned out. Stacked up one on top of the other, they certainly made a fine gift. 
Sablés, or French-style shortbread, are another of my favorites, a recipe I've already written about here before, but one I've never made with orange zest until now. Though I'm a lemon fiend in both sweet and savory modes, I have to admit the orange version gives the lemon version a run for its money. The Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe came from my this great book, and was the most basic of the four, but their simplicity makes them great, it seems.  They have a nuttiness and crumbly texture that pairs so well with their gentle sweetness. When they were lined up on the baking sheets cooling, they looked like little snowballs, dusted in powdered sugar. They're a winner, for sure.

Perhaps I'm a week or two late to be telling you about all of this, but I figure it's always a good time to be dreaming about cookies. If you're already fantasizing about kale chips and coconut water, well, you're not alone. Anyway. Thanks, Anya, for baking with me, it was fun. I needed some cheering up, as the holiday season can be a sad time for some of us. 

I'm looking forward to 2012. There's so much I want to do. The culinary adventures await.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I do remember

When I was studying abroad in Paris, the French couple I was staying with went away to their 'country house' nearly every weekend. This meant I was on my own from Friday afternoon onwards, till they returned home Sunday evening. Admittedly, I had mixed feelings about this routine - on the one hand, I rather liked having the apartment to myself, free to come and go and as I please, and eat what I wanted. On the other hand, I sort of wished they would hang out with me more. It was a little lonely. So I was pretty excited when they somehow decided one day I would go with them one of those weekends. I couldn't wait to see why they were so eager to leave Paris on such a regular basis. 

When we arrived at the house (near the town of Sens, if I remember correctly), I saw the appeal. It was a charming old house with tile and wood flooring, spacious and inviting, if a bit on the cold side. Madame set to work right away making a Nicoise-esque green salad, and it truly one of the best meals she ever made for me. Maybe it was because she was more relaxed there than she ever was in Paris, but everything she made a that country house tasted so much better. 

What I remember most about the food we had there was a lunch we had on Sunday at one of their friend's houses, just before heading back to Paris. It was another beautiful house just outside the village, with great big windows and a garden in front where we later had tea. The best part of it was they were so nice, this couple, with their adorable children. And so relaxed. I wasn't used to it, having been living with Madame and Monsieur. I wanted them to be my French family, though I felt guilty for thinking that.

It was a gorgeous Fall day, crisp and bright, and I was very hungry. I don't recall exactly what we ate (chicken, perhaps? - it was perfect, whatever it was), but I do remember that we had fresh walnut ice cream for dessert, with walnuts I helped shell myself. I remember being at their round wooden kitchen table cracking open the shells and digging out the precious nut meats, with the kids and some of the other adults helping too. They were local nuts for sure, and they were so fresh that some of them were still a little green. When we were done they folded them into a vanilla-y base, and voila. It was simple, but incredibly delicious. And very autumnal.

Ever since I started making ice cream at home, I've been fantasizing about that walnut ice cream. So when I saw I recipe maple walnut ice cream with wet walnuts in my copy of The Perfect Scoop, I knew I had to try it. Sure, it was a bit fancier than the one I had in France, but it sounded irresistable. The walnut is one of my all-time favorite nuts, and I go weak in the knees with the mere mention of maple syrup, so the two of them together pretty much sealed the deal. Furthermore, my mom had recently come home with a paper sack of in-the-shell walnuts from our local health food store.

Not long after the bag was set on the counter, I got out our nutcracker out and set to work. I have gotten used the process now, of separating the eggs and whisking in the warm milk. It came together in an hour or so, after which I put the bowl of the maple mixture into the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I churned the mixture till it was like very soft-soft serve. My mom, also a maple and walnut fanatic, fell in love with this ice cream, as did I. The 'grade B' syrup adds a complexity to the custard base that is really special, and the nuts studded throughout are an added bonus. We were licking the dasher fiendishly after I made this -- it is truly addictive. It is the color of pale gold, and to me it is just as precious. It's soft like the one I had in France, and melts quickly. Anyhow, it's a real treat at the end of a sunny day, a scoop (or two) in a small bowl. I think my dad would have liked this ice cream with pecans, as he loved pecan pie. I also imagine it would be even better some shortbread squares alongside, but really, it's just fine on its own, in its original form.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes about 1 quart

- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup dark amber (grade B) maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Wet Walnuts (recipe follows)

Warm the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir into the cream to cool. Add the maple syrup, salt, vanilla, and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the wet walnuts.

Wet Walnuts

- 1/2 cup dark amber maple syrup
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
- Big pinch of salt

Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil. Stir in the walnuts, then cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once again. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled.

If needed, chop the wet walnuts coarsely before adding them to ice cream.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Provençal treatment

Cooking with eggplant can be tricky business. If not given the proper care it can go from being a beautiful purple globe to a soggy, stringy mess, all in a matter of minutes. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, if what you want is baba ganoush or eggplant caviar, but a lot times you're looking for something different. To be fair, a certain amount of sogginess is inevitable with this particular vegetable. You have to let go of the eggplant you lovingly picked at the market, and rest assured that the end result will silky soft morsels of deliciousness, coaxed into submission with high heat and a good dose of olive oil. In my opinion, the light spongy flesh begs for the Provençal treatment, all the way: infused with oil and garlic and mingling, naturally, with tomato, that brilliant crown jewel of late summer. Yes, my friends, I give you Ratatouille.

I'd never eaten nor made Ratatouille until last night, when I went over to my friend Felicia's house to make Molly's version together. But as you can probably tell, this is a dish I've been wanting to make for a long time, really ever since seeing that wonderful Pixar movie of the same name. I may have even mentioned this film here before, it's one of my favorites for sure. I still giggle inside every time I think about Remy and his adventures, and I melt a little bit when I think of Anton Ego and his epiphany that immediately takes him back to his childhood. Why it took so long to try this recipe, I have no idea. For me, anything that screams 'French home cooking' eventually makes its way onto my to-make-soon list, and Ratatouille certainly belongs in that genre. 
Anyway, Felicia and I have been weekly dinners together for a few weeks now, where we shop at the farmer's market and then plan a meal to make together (but usually in the reverse order). We've been alternating houses, but this time around we were cooking at her house. It's not so easy sometimes cooking in someone else's kitchen, but I'm starting to get used to it. It takes awhile to learn where things are and how to work the stove, and sometimes I'm not so good talking and, say, chopping at the same time, but again it takes a little practice. Anyway, I suppose we've been on a bit of an eggplant kick lately because last time we made a pasta with japanese eggplant and mozzarella, from this recipe I got from Martha Stewart Living. It was nice meal, but it pales in comparison to what we made last night. Bite after bite, it was flavorful yet comforting -- summery and fresh, but still extremely satisfying from its warmth and depth. 
Contrary to what I thought, I had no qualms with the texture of the vegetables, which I worried would become a little too soft. It just sort of worked, in the end, and I think this is partly due to Molly's method. Like Julia Child, she cooks the vegetables in stages, beginning with the zucchini, and then followed by the onion, bell pepper, and tomato. Also what is unique about this recipe is that she roasts the eggplant first, which I believe is key in terms of flavor and texture. Although it breaks down a bit when the cubed pieces are added to the pan later on, each piece maintains its integrity, so to speak. It's not simply sauced veggies, collapsed onto each other - you can tell what you eating, and it's wonderful. Particularly with an egg on top, as I had. Also, we admittedly shaved a few minutes off the suggested cooking time, and I'm glad we did that, too. 

I can't believe summer is almost over, but it's time to face the facts, I'm afraid. I do apologize for my long absence; I've had a rough couple of months, but I think I'm ready to get back to writing. After posting here I always have a little spring in my step, and that's what I think I need going into September. Even though I'm not in school anymore, I still get that feeling that the new year really begins right about now, right around Labor Day. Yet this year I'm thinking about where I was about this time last year, when we all of us were together, my dad, mom, my sister and her boyfriend, and me -- when we spent a week in a house on the Russian River. That was our last vacation together. But we had no idea that would be our last, at the time. 
In first year or since I moved back home I remember countless summer nights when my dad would be out manning the grill, chatting away on the telephone, and my mom and I would be inside furiously getting the rest of the meal ready. Sometimes my dad would pop for a second to catch the 'top of the news,' as he called it, and for an half an hour or so the house to be a chaotic mix of sounds from the kitchen, all the clanging and whirring and sizzling, and the steady voice of Brian Williams on the TV, methodically reading America the evening broadcast. Then somehow all the food would magically make it the table at approximately the same time, and we'd sit down and eat. And everything tasted better knowing that we each had a part in what we saw before us. 

I know I've probably said this before, maybe many times over, but cooking is so much about being together, appreciating life as it is in that moment, whoever you are with. So go out make something delicious with an eggplant, and enjoy every bite. 

Note: No recipe today, as I so want you to get A Homemade Life. Get it at the library, if you must. It's even in paperback! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Go for it

Last night, my mom and I sat down to our first salad-as-a-meal that we've had in a long time. For dinner, that is. In truth, as soon as we get our first days of summer heat, it's the only kind of meal that feels right - the sort that requires just a little chopping and tossing and eating. (Now, to be clear, I am not counting our Caesar salads, which we have often, or egg salad, which I've grown to like, a lot). The first few weeks of June just sort of flew by, but now that the wind died down some and the temperature has risen a few degrees, the days are slowing down a bit. By dinnertime it's just hot enough still that you have to keep the backdoor open for a breeze. A cold washcloth on the back of your neck is a nice way to stay cool.

So my mom often makes something she calls her "crunch salad," usually a mix of thinly sliced red cabbage, fennel and cilantro, plus maybe one or two other crunchy vegetables, like carrots or radishes. A while back I tried making a salad from Molly's book with radicchio and endive and it both reminded us a lot of something my mom would have come up herself. Of course, we loved it. So last night I did a sort of cross between Molly's version and my mom's, with the cabbage, fennel and cilantro, but also avocado and a bit of cheese, for both the creamy and salty elements. It's a slaw of sorts but one that I like to eat as a main course, with some crusty bread on the side. After all, when you are standing on the cusp of summer, you want something vibrant and bold and not dependent on the stove. A plate with color and liveliness. My only disclaimer is this: because the salad is so crunchy and somewhat unruly, it's difficult to eat it gracefully, but it's so satisfying you won't care. Perhaps it's not first-date food, but if the man (or lady) in your life likes red cabbage, I say, go for it.
Want to know what else you should go for? Dessert. I was feeling so virtuous after my salad-making venture, I got a craving for cookies. I kept going back to a recipe for oat shortbread from Not Without Salt. I'd been itching to try it ever since getting hooked on "Effie's Oatcakes," a store-bought version we gotten addicted to. I figured they probably wouldn't come out quite like Effie's, but I had to start somewhere, so I whipped up a batch on Monday afternoon and put the dough into the refrigerator to chill overnight. Then on Tuesday I baked them up right after lunch, when the house was already a hotbox, but I wanted my cookies, so that was that. The house smelled amazing for an hour or two, and I got to take some pretty pictures of the cooling beauties.
I have to admit, I was pleased with how they turned out. They are crisp and crumbly, with a good dose of oat-y sweetness, and a hint of butterscotch -- shortbread with character, you might say. In my opinion, you need a good dose of something sweet somewhere in the middle of long, hot day. I imagine these would be even better alongside a scoop of some sort of berry ice cream, like raspberry. The blog that I got the recipe from suggested rhubarb, but raspberries go well with oats.

Still, even though they were good, it's the salad I keep thinking about, in all its variations. It's what I came to here today to share with you, until I got all distracted with all that business with flour and sugar. People have told me, by the way (and since we're on the subject) that I'm an enthusiastic cruncher. My sister can't help but giggle when we're munching on chips together, because my crunching is apparently so pronounced. Then I get self-conscious and I try to tone it down, which doesn't really work. I guess I just get a little excited sometimes. I don't know, maybe I'm a little crazy. Just sometimes it feels good to do something, anything, with a little gusto. Including, of course, eating.

Happy summer solstice, everyone.

Red Cabbage ‘Crunch’ Salad

       For the salad:

-   ¼ head red cabbage
-   ½ fennel bulb
-   10-15 sprigs cilantro
-   2 radishes
-   ½ avocado
-   ¼ cup crumbled cheese, such goat, ricotta salata, or feta

optional additions/substitutions: carrots, endive, and/or radicchio

       For the dressing:

-   1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
-   2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,
-   5 tablespoons olive oil
-   salt and pepper to taste

First, put mustard into small bowl and whisk in the vinegar. Add a pinch or two of salt and a few turns of pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil; dressing should be emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Next, thinly slice the red cabbage and fennel and toss into your salad bowl, followed by the radishes. Sprinkle over cilantro. Slice the avocado lengthwise into slivers and once crosswise to make large chunks. Toss with a large spoonful or two of dressing, and then sprinkle over cheese. Taste again and adjust accordingly.

Serves 2, as a main course, or 4, as a side.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small joys

When I was little, there was a party on Easter Sunday held every year at our friend Kristin's house, a few minutes away from ours. My mom would bring her strawberry-rhubarb pie, and there would be an egg hunt after we ate lunch. A few of the adults would hide all the hand-decorated eggs in the yard, contributed by the families, and then we’d begin the low-awaited search. I’d brag to my friend Kara about the big (but hollow) chocolate bunny my mom had given me, and she’d show me, in turn, her collection of various other candies. Afterwards, my sister and I would cart home our Easter basket filled with eggs, both the real ones and plastic ones, and try not to eat the chocolate all at once.

It’s been a while since there’s been one of these parties, to be sure. And sadly, I don’t remember what happened on Easter the last few years, or if I even came home for the holiday while in school. Missing someone who is not ever coming back can make life seem rather bleak, to say the least. It can make you bitter and depressed on even the sunniest and most beautiful of days, and make you forget that it’s your favorite time of year.

But it seems there are always small joys to be found; the tasting of the first strawberries, for instance, or the sweet earthiness of roasted asparagus. Or seeing the wild irises blooming on the headlands at the end of the day, creating a landscape dotted with deep purple, and delighting in the pink tulips blooming in the garden, and the way our cat, Turtle, spontaneously plops herself down on the deck, begging for affection. Or, perhaps, just sitting down to a supper of minted pea soup. A soup that defines the season, in so many ways.

Now that we’re all grown up, Kristin doesn't have her party anymore, but that’s okay.* After all, there still can be fruit pie, and freshly-cut grass, and a celebration of Spring near the end of April. This year, our friend Sal invited us to an Easter party at her house – a potluck. We decided it be fitting to bring a strawberry-rhubarb pie (what else!), and although we couldn’t find the original recipe, we found one in Bon Appétit that turned out just fine. More than fine, in fact.

We got the strawberries at the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where they were juicy and perfectly ripe. The rhubarb we found at Whole Foods, though, since they didn’t have any at the market. I briefly considered making a crisp, but my mom convinced me a pie would be better, and she was right. Sometimes, it's worth the extra effort. I modified the recipe slightly by adding orange zest, using vanilla-infused sugar, putting less cinnamon in the filling and making an all-butter crust, but otherwise followed it pretty closely. We brought both whipped cream and ice cream so that people could choose whichever they preferred, and the pie was gone within an hour. The fruit created a lot of juice, which bubbled up and over the rim of the pie plate, but luckily it set up quite a bit once it cooled, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to section off slices. And the crust, well, I have to give credit to Martha Stewart, for her pâte brisée recipe is spot-on. It goes perfectly with the sweet-tart fruit, all ruby-hued and soft. 

What a pretty looking dessert, too, don’t you think? Such vibrant colors! Bring it to your next Spring fête, and you’re sure to be complimented, like I was, by many a kind potlucker.

*Especially since now, we get to have tea! Kristin invited us over on Sunday for teatime, complete with a lemon cake and berries, and it was just lovely. And it certainly seems to have brought back some memories.

Lattice-Topped Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Adaped from Bon Appétit

-       1 recipe pâte brisée

-       3 ½ cups ½ -inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed)
-       1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)
-       ½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
-       ½  cup sugar
-       ¼ (heaping) cup cornstarch
-       1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-       1/4 teaspoon salt

-       1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Prepare pie dough and allow to chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring dough disks out of the refridgerator while you prepare the fruit. Put fruit and the next five ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently to blend; set aside. (can prepare one hour ahead).

Meanwhile, roll out the one of the disks to a 13-inch round and carefully transfer to pie plate. Trim excess dough to a ¾ -inch overhang. Roll out the second disk and, using a fluted pastry wheel, cut into about fourteen ½-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Place seven of the strips over the fruit and form a lattice by weaving the remaining strips over and under the bottom strips (or simply place strips perpindicular to the bottom strips on top). Trim ends of dough even with the bottom crust, fold strips ends and overhang under, and press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

Brush glaze over crust, and transfer pie to a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake pie for until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Serves 8.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More than ever

Spring has arrived in California, but what a cold and rainy arrival it’s been. As I write this the sun is trying to peek out from behind the clouds, but according to the paper more rain is expected to come soon. It even snowed in Mendocino last month, for a few hours one night. Winter wasn't quite ready to leave, it seems. I don’t know about you, but the disaster in Japan hit us pretty hard, not to mention all the turmoil in the Middle East. As others have noted elsewhere, it’s difficult to figure out how to talk about food and other pleasures when there is such suffering in the world. And yet, we have our own suffering here at home, too, from our own loss. I know now that grief is an ache that lingers, and heavily in the heart. 

Anyway, there is a lot I could share with you today, but I think I'm going to keep it relatively brief. I’ve made a number of soups these past few months – butternut squash, fresh pea, ‘green soup’ with chorizo, cauliflower and potato-leek all come to mind. I was particularly happy with a curried lentil soup I made from Molly’s column in Bon Appétit. Besides soups we’ve been having a lot of roasted vegetables – put a bunch of asparagus in a hot oven and I might be tempted eat every last spear – but we’ve also been loving roasted cauliflower and broccoli, as well as parsnips and carrots.
I have had some failures recently too, most memorably an attempt to make Seville orange marmalade; it came out way too bitter, and I still don’t know if it was the oranges or something I did wrong in the recipe. It was pretty sad having to throw it all away, considering the fact that it took me two days to complete and way longer to even find Seville oranges in the first place. Of course, not every soup I’ve made has been stellar, either. But we’ve been eating well, for the most part. 

Last night, for example, I made a roast chicken with baby fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach with pine nuts and raisins, a dinner that made my maman very happy. She’s been working a lot lately and hasn’t been feeling well, so it was just she needed on a Friday night. The chicken I made Ina Garten style, stuffed with lemon halves, garlic and thyme - it’s hard to mess up. The spinach, though, was especially lovely, with a nice balance of sweet and savory, pairing well with creamy, crispy potatoes. A cold Spring makes me crave greens more than ever, and I can't think of a better way to breathe life into a common preparation than this recipe. As a bonus, these bright leaves happen to be packed all the green nutrition that makes you feel extra healthy. 

I have to admit that left to my devices I might just subsist on avocado toast and peanut butter out of the jar, but having someone to cook for, as I'm sure you know, makes all the difference.

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

-       ¼ cup raisins
-       ¼ cup pine nuts
-       2 tablespoons olive oil
-       1 shallot, chopped
-       12 ounces spinach, tough stems removed, rinsed
-       salt and freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, combine raisins with enough hot water to cover and let stand 20 minutes, or until plumped.

In a small, dry saucepan over medium heat, toast pine nuts until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes, shaking the pan often. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until leaves are wilted, about another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain raisins and add to the pan along with the pine nuts. Stir well, transfer to a dish, and serve immediately.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A cake for the new year

One of my Dad's favorite desserts was gingerbread with lemon sauce. I made it for him once or twice over the years, and of course he loved it, each time. I distinctly remember the first time looking for a recipe for a warm lemon sauce, which wasn't easy, but I did find one. I still have the handwritten recipe on a index card tucked away in my files somewhere, the paper decorated with drawings of tiny lemons.

So I decided fairly last-minute to make a gingerbread cake for New Year's Eve, supplemented with a rich lemon cream. I was proud of how it turned out. Afterwards, I tried to think of what my Dad would've said when he took a bite. I think he would've looked up at me and smiled with his eyes, then uttered a singular complement like "divine." Anyway, it was, my mom confirmed later, a particularly good ginger cake. And despite my history of making cakes that sink down in the center or don't rise enough, this one poofed quite nicely and didn't fall one bit (or overflow out of the pan, as I had gingerbread do once). After a dinner of steamed crab and caesar salad, it made for a tasty ending to our holiday meal.
I got the recipe from my newish cookbook, Ready for DessertIt caught my eye because it called for a copious amount of fresh ginger, which not all recipes have. Sometimes ginger cakes have two or even three kinds of ginger, including dried and crystallized, but this one just called fresh. Ginger root takes some work to prep, with all the peeling and chopping, but its zingy sharp bite is what elevates this rather humble dessert to greatness, I believe. Like I often say, it's worth the effort. It comes with a nice dose of heat from cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper, but without any bracing spiciness, and its pure, sweet warmth is showcased brilliantly without a drop of dairy. The molasses, the final key ingredient, rounds of the flavors of this moist, dark cake.

For the lemon 'cream,' I simply folded some lemon curd I had made previously into some whipped cream until the color resembled a pale yellow frosting (but with a much lighter texture than buttercream). What I recommend you do is this: you take a bite of cake, then add a small bit of cream on top, eat, and then proceed in a similar fashion until there are only fat little crumbs strewn on the plate. Then you take the tines of your fork and press them into the crumbs, polishing off your piece with much satisfaction. 

Apparently, this is David L's most renowned gateaux, and I can see why. This is a cake for the new year, and for my Dad.

Here's hoping that 2011 will bring healing and peace, and a lot more fresh ginger.

Fresh Ginger Cake
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz

- 4-ounce piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (weigh on a scale)
- 1 cup mild-flavored molasses (such as Grandma's)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil (such as canola)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, chop the ginger until very fine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the molasses, sugar and oil (this may take some time). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the baking soda. Whisk the hot water into the molasses mixture, then add the chopped ginger. 

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the molasses mixture (in several additions), whisking to combine. Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly blended. 
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, or when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake, and invert onto a plate. Peel off the parchment paper, then re-invert it onto a serving plate.

Serve with whipped cream-lightened lemon curd (a.k.a "lemon cream"). 

Makes one 9-inch cake, about 10 to 12 servings.

*If you forget to bring your eggs to room temperature, simply place them into a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes or so while you get together the rest of your ingredients.

Lemon Cream

- 1 cup prepared lemon curd (preferably homemade)
- 1 cup whipping cream

Whip cream in a large bowl until almost-stiff peaks form (be careful not to over-beat). Gently fold the lemon curd into the cream until incorporated. Serve with cake.