What do you do when one of your favorite foodies comes to town, and specifically mentions wanting to stroll through The Mission? Why, you plan an itinerary that takes you past some of the neighborhood’s favorite places to buy delicious treats!
After shopping our way through the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market together, we left Laura to explore on her own for a few hours. (We hit Rainbow Grocery for a few staples, then headed home to put our perishables in the fridge.) We met up at high noon at 16th Street BART. Seeing as how it had been ages since we stuffed ourselves with Mexican breakfast at Primavera, we decided a traditional San Francisco burrito was in order. We stopped at Taqueria El Castillito — an old favorite, but definitely not local, sustainable, or organic in any way — and fortified ourselves with burritos and a torta, and a few bottles of Mexican cane-sugar sodas.
Back out into the bright sunshine — it’s always sunny in The Mission, but Saturday was unseasonably hot — we trekked down Mission to 18th. Trying to keep to the shady side of the street, we pointed out the retaurant row that is 18th and Guerrero (Farina, Tartine Bakery, Delfina, and Pizzeria Delfina) but did not stop to join the monster queues. We’d really just planned to peek into Bi-Rite Creamery, but the short line — full of surprisingly happy ‘No on 8‘ protesters — and list of fabulous flavors tempted us. We couldn’t let Laura leave San Francisco without a taste of the famous Salted Caramel ice cream, could we? (Cameron also sampled the malted vanilla with peanut brittle, just to make sure we’d covered all the bases.)
Across the street, Bi-Rite Market was sampling their Thanksgiving offerings from a catering station on the sidewalk. We smelled the heavenly aromas, but couldn’t even consider a nibble. We pressed inside the store along with everyone else in the entire neightborhood, taking a peek at all the fabulous local produce and the justifiably famous deli case. (I still don’t understand how Sean and DPaul lived around the corner for years without weighing 300 pounds. I’d never cook!)
Backtracking to Valencia Street, we strolled past Range — where we’d enjoyed a fabulous dinner the previous night — and popped into Lucca, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Mission’s Italian heritage. We browsed the aisles, admiring the terrific assortment of goodies, then headed back out into the street. I think I always knew that Lucca makes their ravioli on the premises, even noted the minuscule factory visible through the picture window along Valencia, but I’d never timed it right to see the process in action until this week. We stood with our noses pressed to the glass for what must have been half an hour, watching as a pair of flour-dusted pasta makers heaved giant wads of dough through an industrial sheeter, then picked them up like so much dirty laundry and magically unfolded them along a table the size of most San Francisco living rooms. (I could descibe the whole process, but Laura’s slideshow does a much better job.)
We picked up the pace and continued down Valencia to 23rd, then down Mission to 24th. After a quick stroll through the Mexican produce stalls and flower shops, we stopped into Philz to let Cameron caffeinate himself with a fine Turkish-style fiter-drip blend, while Laura and I rested our eyes and feet in the cool, dim surroundings.
Our last stop took us to a rendezvous with some of our fellow bloggers at Mission Pie. We were nearly stuffed, but somehow made room to share a slice of double-crust apple pie and another of pear-raspberry galette. When Jen arrived, she showed us the error of our ways, generously offering nibbles of the godly walnut pie (with a gooey center like pecan pie); I now understand why people drive across town to buy a slice. We sat at a big table together in the now-waning afternoon sun, marveling at all the shop’s gorgeous, quirky details — a map of the farms that sell their produce to the pie-makers, a collection of antique egg scales, and some of the coolest light fixtures in the city — chatting about everything from Yves St. Laurent to antique tractors to …well, food, of course.
If we’d only had an extra stomach, we could have kept walking all day.
Taqueria El Castillito
2092 Mission Street (x17th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3692 18th Street (x Dolores)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3639 18th Street (x Dolores/Guerrero)
San Francisco CA 94110
Lucca Ravioli Company
1100 Valencia Street (x 22nd)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3101 24th Street (x Folsom)
San Francisco, CA 94110
2901 Mission Street (x 25th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sweet spirits of niter, did we get plums this year or what? Last year, our little whip of a tree served up a double dozen of the sweetest, tartest, juiciest globes that we could have ever hoped for. This year, that little whip filled out and buried us under an avalanche of purple fruit.
We saw Plumapalooza coming when we had to prop up one of the tree’s lower branches. The load of ripening plums bent it into a wicked arch, forcing the tip down so far that it touched the ground. However, it’s one thing to gaze admiringly at branchloads of red and purple glory. The reality of harvest is another thing entirely.
Toward the end of June, the very first volunteers hit the ground. Every day, we would gather the fallen and tug gently at likely followers still hanging on the branch. Five a day turned into ten and in a week’s time, we were gathering up between fifteen and twenty plums every morning and every night. By the time it was all over, we figured that we reaped 30-40 pounds of fruit.
Which naturally begged the question of precisely what the hell we were going to do with 40 pounds of plums. Finding a solution seemed especially pressing in the early stages of the deluge as we carefully picked yard bark out of drops and sorted the fruit into piles of Perfect, Not-so-perfect and We-love-you-anyway on the countertop. Ultimately, we knew that we would have to turn to preserves or some other solution that involved canning, but we weren’t ready to go there just yet.
As I stood in the kitchen one weekend, chain-eating plums and staring at the latest load, Anita reminded me that I had talked about making pâte de fruits before the plums started thumping down. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? I checked around and found a few recipes, most of which called for pectin, but Anita sussed out a recipe in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook that was nothing but plums, a little lemon juice, and a *lot* of sugar.
My first go at being a candy maker turned out pretty well, but there were some bumps along the road, mostly related to the fact that the recipe instructions about how long to cook the plum/sugar mixture before pouring it into a pan to set didn’t match up with my real-world experience: “Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the fruit reduces and thickens and begins to hold together as a mass, 20 to 30 minutes.”
Obvious, right? Easy? Not for this knucklehead. I stood in front of the stove stirring that pot nonstop for THREE FREAKING HOURS while the contents went from a thin purple soup to a bubbling syrup that I — exhausted and convinced that I had made a fatal error somewhere — finally abandoned to the tender mercies of the candy pan.
On behalf of my fellow kitchen idjits, let’s diagnose the sentence that was my nemesis. Cook over a low heat? My friends, it’s probably possible to boil a pot of coffee with a Bic lighter, but it’s going to take a long damn time, and when you’re trying to evaporate a quart or so of liquid, you need something a bit more brisk than low heat. Next time, I’ll be less tender with the flame during the early proceedings.
Second lesson: use a comfortable spoon. For reasons that are now unclear to me, I chose a metal spoon for my stirring utensil (Something to do with not staining the wooden spoons? Maybe? I don’t know. Leave me alone.). All I know is that after several hours of making like the witches in Macbeth, the unforgiving handle had given me a blister.
Last point: I don’t know about you, but when I think of something “holding together as a mass,” I expect to be able to haul out a serious hunk of glop when I raise up the spoon. Au contraire, mon frere. My pot full of plum sweetitude thickened to a syrupy consistency and then stopped. I kept at it, though, stirring away like Jamie Oliver on Quaaludes until I smelled the sugar caramelizing and thought to myself, “Self, if you keep going, you’re going to end up with plum-flavored Jolly Ranchers. If it ain’t done now, it ain’t gonna be done.”
It was done. After setting, cooling, cutting, and dusting with sugar, the final product was chewy, tart, and had the unmistakable twang of sugar that’s had a comfortable and extended acquaintance with the flame. It was good, and the piles of plum candy disappeared more quickly than I would have believed possible, especially when paired in gift bags with Anita’s homemade marshmallows.
- adapted from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook
4 pounds plums, pitted and chopped
2 T water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
About 4 cups sugar
In a large, heavy enameled cast-iron or other nonreactive pot, combine the plums, water, and lemon juice. Place over low heat and cook until the fruit is very soft, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Puree the plum mixture by forcing it through a fine-mesh sieve or food mill fitted with a fine screen held over a bowl. Measure the puree, return it to the pan, and stir in an equal amount of sugar. Cook over low heat (ha!), stirring constantly (ow!), until the fruit reduces and thickens and begins to hold together as a mass, 20 to 30 minutes (bullshit. see above.).
Line a 9-by-12 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment (the original recipe says plastic wrap, but I was afraid that it would melt) overlapping the edges. Pour the plum paste onto the lined pan and spread into an even sheet with a rubber spatula. Let cool, cover, and allow to stand at room temperature for 48 hours. The paste will become firm.
Invert the pan onto a cutting board, peel off the parchment, and cut the paste into about 36 small squares. Arrange in layers on waxed paper and store in an airtight plastic container at room temperature.
When I read that Shuna Lydon was teaching her legendary pastry tutorial — a class that, by her own admission, she’s taught so many times she’s lost count — I leapt at the chance to sign up. The last time I had the pleasure to learn at her elbow, I picked up countless little tricks for making outrageously tasty seasonal fruit desserts.
This time out, I finally learned why my usual pie-dough recipe is fine for savory applications like quiche, but not so hot for desserts. I got to see and feel where I’d been going wrong in my previous pie-making expeditions. As a side benefit, I got to hole up inside a breezy commercial kitchen on one of the hottest days of the year, relaxing into the busy charm of a kitchen full of women. Perhaps best of all, though, I got to come home with one seriously gorgeous pie crust for my troubles.
As I carefully ferried my flaky cargo across the bay in an insulated bag, visions of oozy pastry goodness danced before my eyes. But as bountiful as our spring produce is here already, we’re in that awkward in-between stage, fruit wise. It’s too late for apples, way too early for blackberries. Strawberries are coming into season, but I don’t really like them cooked. I’d hoped to have enough lemons off of our tree by now to attempt a lemon meringue, but you can’t rush Mother Nature. So I dusted off the cookbooks and went looking for options.
There it was, smack in the middle of my 1961 edition of The Joy of Cooking. A long-forgotten childhood favorite, that humble all-American dessert known as black-bottom pie. Line a simple pastry crust with chocolate custard (or ganache, if you’re feeling modern and fancy), cover with a rum-kissed custard, and top with whipped cream. Even with the cheapest ingredients, it’s indisputably delicious, even if a bit homely. When made with top-drawer bittersweet chocolate, pastured eggs, and the best dairy you can find, this simple combination turns into a dessert worthy of a pastry chef’s crust.
I separated four Marin Sun Farms eggs, and right away I could tell I was in for a treat. These eggs are always delicious, but some weeks — especially in the winter — they’re not especially gorgeous. These were a sure sign of spring: Yolks so yellow they were almost-orange standing proudly atop solid whites. Separating them felt almost cruel, as each half clung tenaciously to the other.
Cooking the custard until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon took mere moments — not the 20 minutes that Mrs. Rombauer instructed. Whipping the whites (to fold back into the custard) was equally swift: Even using a wimpy hand-held mixer, they flew right past soft peaks and into firmness in a matter of seconds. When yolks and whites were reunited, the resulting rum chiffon stood high in the bowl without the usual gelatin stiffener.
And the taste? Oh, my… so decadent. I can’t give away all of Shuna’s pie-crust secrets — though they’re there for the taking if you know where to look.
1 pie shell, blind baked and cooled to room temperature
1/2 T (approx. 1/2 packet) gelatin*
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
4 eggs, separated, with 1 white discarded
1-1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated or shaved
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T white rum
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 T confectioners sugar
1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, for shaving
If using gelatin, soak in 1/4 cup cold water and set aside. Scald the milk. In a small bowl, add the sugar and cornstarch, and whisk gently to combine; set aside. In a medium metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light in color. Slowly stir the hot milk into the eggs with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, then add the sugar mixture.
Bring a cup or two of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. When you’ve reached a stable, steady simmer, place the metal bowl over the steam to cook the custard. Make sure that the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl; you’re cooking with the steam, not by direct water contact. Stir constantly with the spoon or spatula, making sure no hot spots develop. The custard is ready when it thickly coats the back of the spoon; this can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the freshness of your eggs, the thickness of the bowl, and the speed of your simmer.
Place the grated unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl. When the custard is done, immediately measure out 1 cup of the cooked custard into the bowl of chocolate, and stir until the chocolate melts and combines with the custard. Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt, and stir to combine. Pour the chocolate into the prepared pie shell, spreading evenly around the bottom.
If using gelatin, add it to the remaining custard while still warm, then add the rum; stir all until combined and the gelatin completely dissolves.
Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Continue to mix while gradually adding the granulated sugar, a teaspoon at a time to keep from deflating your eggs.
Fold the whipped egg whites into the custard. Add the rum custard to the pie shell atop the chocolate layer, and chill the entire pie until set (about an hour).
When ready to serve, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then add the confectioners sugar. Cover the custard layer with whipped cream, and garnish with chocolate shavings or chocolate curls.
Pie will keep, in the fridge, for a couple of days.
* Note: Most recipes call for a full packet of gelatin, which I find makes for a very firm, almost artificial-feeling chiffon. You can reduce it to half that amount, as noted here, to keep the texture less spongy. If you want the pie to be strictly vegetarian, the gelatin is optional providing that you’re using very fresh eggs, that you don’t stint on fully whipping them to stiff peaks, and that you don’t mind your custard layer being a little loose. (I actually prefer it this way myself.)
Also, the egg whites are essentially raw here, so the usual food-safety caveats apply.
This little slice of yolk-yellow love also happens to be our entry for A Taste of Yellow, a blog event now entering its second year. Hosted by Barbara of Winos and Foodies, A Taste of Yellow features entries from food bloggers around the world — last year’s inaugural edition boasted 149 entries! — in support of LiveSTRONG Day, the Lance Armstrong Foundation‘s initiative to raise awareness and funds for the cancer fight.
We dedicate our Taste of Yellow post both to our hostess Barbara, in her ongoing efforts to remain cancer-free, and to our friend Briana. Many of you know her blog, Figs with Bri, where she posted Wednesday about her recent setback: breast cancer has metastasized to her lungs. Since then, her site’s gone dark and her email account is offline. We’re keeping Bri and her husband Marc in our thoughts and prayers, and hoping for the very best.
Come on, people, say it with me:
“Ugh, not turkey again!”
I know, I know — you’re probably as sick of reading about turkey as I am of eating it right about now. But, alas, that’s one of the perils of being the hostess: A house full of family and a fridge full of food seriously cuts into your blogging time. But now they’re all on their way — the relatives to the airport, the leftovers to the freezer or compost bin — and I’ve got a moment to get caught up.
(And I promise if you stick with me to the end, there’s a treat.)
I’d been noticing the steady disappearance of some of our autumn staples from the farmers market — bye-bye avocados, so long green beans — but at least when it came to our Thanksgiving feast, nearly everything came from within a 100-mile radius of home. As I wrote out my shopping list, I realized that I didn’t have to eliminate many favorites, and it occurred to me that Thanksgiving may be one of the few times of the year that most Americans are eating seasonally. With the exception of the cranberries in the relish, the bowl of buttered corn niblets (which I zipped and froze a few months ago), and a bit of commercial flour, everything on our plates came fresh from the farm, ranch, or dairy just a few days before they were eaten.
Rather than list a page-long litany of producers and distances here, I decided to create a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. (Geek is the new black, they tell me.) I was so pleased that we inadvertently managed to do even better than usual for this one meal — our turkey was the only significant item that came from more than 100 miles away, although still very much inside our 200-mile protein foodshed. We also managed three other 99%-local meals this week: Lasagne served with beet and bleu cheese salad, pork chops with risotto and roasted cauliflower, and the ever-popular family tradition of a “(Not)-Spam and Eggs” holiday brunch.
But enough about that; let’s skip ahead to dessert.
Longtime readers may recall my earlier confession that neither Cameron nor I enjoy eating squash. Amusingly enough, this even extends to pumpkin pie… or at least it did until a few years ago. In deference to holidays guests — for whom Thanksgiving would not be complete without a slice of crusted Curcubita custard — I grabbed a handy recipe and whipped it up.
The recipe’s unique twist was the use of pumpkin puree, rather than solid-pack squash, a tricky thing to find outside of health food stores in those days. (It’s since become ubiquitous at Whole Foods and the like, so you shouldn’t have to hunt.) My guests raved about the pie with such genuine eye-rolling pleasure that I reluctantly tried a small sliver. And wouldn’t you know it: This pie, for some reason, had no trace of the abhorred squashiness, just a luscious, pumpkin-y goodness.
I suspect that there’s something about the solid-pack processing that makes pumpkin especially gag-worthy, and that choosing puree keeps the texture light and the flavor fresh. This year, we steamed our own Sugar Pie pumpkins from Mariquita Farm, pureed the flesh, and used it in place of the canned variety. If anything, the result was even better than usual — a pumpkin pie that even squash-haters can love.
Classic Pumpkin Pie
single-crust pie dough, chilled 1 hour
(I use Martha’s pate brisee, replacing half of the butter with home-rendered leaf lard)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 large eggs
4 large egg whites
1 pound pumpkin puree, or a 15 oz can (not solid pack)
1 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Position rack in lower third of oven, and preheat to 425° F.
In a large bowl, whisk sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add eggs and egg whites, and whisk until well blended. Add pumpkin, whisking until smooth, then cream and vanilla; continue whisking until well combined.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into an 12-inch circle. Drape dough over rolling pin and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Fold edges under and crimp. Place crust on a baking sheet.
Pour filling into crust, and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F, and continue to bake 55 to 75 minutes more, until center barely jiggles when the pan is tapped. If needed, cover the crust with foil strips or a shield to prevent over-browning.
Transfer pie to a wire rack, and cool. If not serving within the hour, loosely cover and refrigerate. (The crust suffers slightly, but the filling is even better when chilled.)
When my mom was growing up, homemade dessert was a regular occurrence around the dinner table. By the time I was a kid, the family tradition had lapsed; cakes and pies showed up mostly around the holidays or on someone’s birthday. Not that I felt deprived: To this day, my idea of dessert is scraping the bowl for the last spoonful of mashed potatoes, or sneaking an extra meatball from the lunch-bound leftovers.
Despite my defective sweet tooth, I love to bake for friends and family. At my office in Seattle, I belonged to a crew of hard-core amateur pâtissières dubbed the Spare Change Bakery. We all kept jars on our desks for our coworkers’ contributions, and as soon as we scraped together enough nickels and dimes, one of us would whip up a double- or triple-batch of something sweet and scrumptious for the next staff meeting. By the time we disbanded, we were collecting enough cash to bake every week — a gratifying but rather exhausting sign of our popularity.
But since we moved back to San Francisco, I haven’t had many excuses to bake. Sure, our dinner parties often need a sweet ending, but I miss those crowd-pleasing desserts: Brownies, bars, and other decidedly lowbrow sweets. So when I saw the photo of the Spice Cake with Coffee Toffee Crunch on the cover of the new issue of Sunset, I knew my path was clear. The theme for this month’s “Waiter, There’s Something in My…” event is layer cakes, after all, and there’s just something about a sky-high cake with cream-cheese frosting that sends me running for my sifter and whisk.
Working my way through the recipe, I found it refreshingly well documented. The writer details a number of steps — creating a crumb coat, and using strips of parchment to keep the serving plate clean — that help give the final cake a centerpiece-worthy appearance. With the exception of the recipe’s lack of measurements by weight (the serious baker’s preferred method for dry ingredients like flour and sugar, especially), it was one of the best-written magazine recipes I’ve used in months.
Aside from substituting Alfieri Farms’ almond brittle for homemade coffee toffee, I followed the recipe to the letter, so click over to Sunset’s site if you want the full rundown. Although I doubt the magazine’s suggestion that this cake will replace pumpkin or pecan pie on your holiday dessert buffet, it’s got a spicy, deep flavor that would make a perfect finish for an autumn feast. While the icing’s got enough sugar to satisfy even the most intense sugar junkie, the cake itself — sweetened with molasses — keeps things moist and spicy without too much sweetness… just the ticket for a baker without a sweet tooth.
Sure, sure… we’ve all heard the swooning coming from the assembled masses lining up outside Bi-Rite Creamery. (And yes, we’re in awe of their salt-caramel ice cream, just like everyone else.) But waaayyyy down at the other end of The Mission, there’s another ice-cream shop that’s packing them in every night, just like they have since the kids in line sported white bobby socks and greased hair.
Although the days when Mitchell’s used milk from its own dairy farm are long gone, each flavor is still made on the premises in small-batch freezers. More than 50 state-fair ribbons and medals on the wall tell the story of the family’s commitment to quality.
You won’t find any honey-lavender or soy-chai scoops here, but that doesn’t mean that Mitchell’s doesn’t get its gourmet groove on. The shop’s biggest claim to fame may be its roster of tropical flavors, sporting tongue-twister names like langka, macapuno, and lucuma, alongside a longer list of ‘standard’ (but still interesting) tastes. Reading the menu’s like a trip around the globe: Thai tea, Mexican chocolate, and New York Cherry are just three options. Feeling cocktailian? Rum raisin, Kahlua, and mojito might do the trick. A set of flavors rotates seasonally; peach holds court today, but pumpkin can’t be far off.
Go ahead, take a number. You’ve got plenty of time to decide…
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
688 San Jose Avenue (at 29th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Summertime is finally upon us! Even here in San Francisco — where our summer months are notoriously cold and foggy — the sun is shining high and bright, the skies are a precise shade of coastal blue, and everyone’s outside enjoying the weather. We know it’s merely a respite from the gray gloom that will descend again, without fail; Three days of sun are all San Franciscans ever expect.
Another sure sign of the season: Ice cream and sorbet stories are everywhere. Today’s food section turned up as crammed full of ice cream as an apartment freezer: Make it, buy it, stand in line for it… the Chron‘s got us covered in the frozen-confection department.
As if that’s not enough, not one but two blog events this month are dedicated to scoopable sweets: Laura picked sorbet as this month’s “Hay Hay, It’s Donna Day” theme, and Meeta’s Monthly Mingle 12 focuses on ice cream. So I was already flipping through the recipe file when I got an email from the library, telling me that my copy of David Lebovitz‘s new ice-cream book — the darling of the blogosphere — is ready to be picked up, at long last.
OK, wow. Really, I can take a hint: Time to get churning.
I won’t bore you with another gushing post describing what a treat it is to read The Perfect Scoop — I’m too late to the ice-cream social for that, and I couldn’t possibly come up with any more synonyms for “mmmmm!” than you’ve already read elsewhere. Suffice to say that I was bowled over (har har) by all the delectable-sounding options — hello, chartreuse ice cream? — and picking just one recipe proved impossible. I compromised: One ice cream, one sorbet.
Sultry summer weather at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market seduced us into buying more stone fruit than two people could possibly eat, so we opted to sacrifice a few pounds’ worth for the apricot variation on David’s peach sorbet. Not wanting to overwhelm their perfect ripe essence, we substituted St-Germain liqueur for the recipe’s standard kirsch. The color was vibrant and the flavor sublime, but the texture turned a tad bit grainy for my taste. A beautiful scoop, nonetheless, but nothing to make me abandon my old standby ice-cream book.
Our second trial, though, helped me understand what all the swooning reviews were about. A perfect coconut ice cream doesn’t just toss a cup of shreds into a vanilla custard and freeze them up. Instead, it starts by infusing warm dairy with freshly-roasted coconut, steeping to extract subtle flavors. Then we strain the solids out of the coconut-scented cream, which is used to finish a rich, not-too-sweet custard base (and which I could barely restrain myself from eating with a spoon).
After churning and freezing, the mixture emerged as a beautiful, smooth off-white velvet, redolent with coconut but minus the “pencil shavings” texture that some (including Cameron) find unappealing. We loved it equally on its own and topped with toasted almonds for added crunch. But our favorite treat of all — sure to be the hit of the summer — paired the luscious toasted coconut ice cream with the icy apricot sorbet to make a Creamsicle-style treat to brighten even the cloudiest day.
Bring it on, summer. We’re ready for you.
Toasted Coconut Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon dark rum
Toast the coconut on a baking sheet in a moderate (350°) oven for 5 minutes or until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally to toast evenly.
Warm the milk, half of the cream, and the salt and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the toasted coconut and the vanilla seeds and pod. Cover the pan and remove from the heat to steep.
After an hour, rewarm the infused mixture. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into another saucepan, pressing down on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids, reserving the vanilla-bean pieces for another use, if desired.
Combine the remaining cream with the rum in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. While whisking constantly, slowly add the coconut cream to the egg yolks.
Return the custard to the pan and place over medium heat, scraping the mixture to avoid scorching. Cook until the custard coats the back of the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream-rum mixture, and cool over an ice bath.
Cover the bowl of cooled custard, and place in the refrigerator until well chilled, preferably overnight. Freeze according to your ice-cream machine’s directions for custard-based recipes.
I have to brag: I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon learning the tricks of seasonal fruit desserts at the elbow of Shuna Fish Lydon, the Edible San Francisco regular who sings songs in the key of sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) over at the award-winning eggbeater. But don’t be jealous: You can play, too.
Shuna’s enthusiasm for this subject matter is infectious, and the class style is so intimate and inclusive that — even if you choose a topic that’s all demonstration, as I did — Shuna shows you all the tricks and gives everyone enough hands-on time with the ingredients along the way that you’re ready to fly solo in your own kitchen. The classes are liberally peppered with tales from Shuna’s restaurant career at The French Laundry, Citizen Cake, and Gramercy Tavern, among other places you’ve certainly also heard of.
Even if you think you know it all, you’re sure to find some hidden gems. One example: I make fruit crumbles almost weekly once summer strikes, but I learned a great trick for keeping the oven clean from bubble-over messes and discovered a new secret ingredient to add to my topping.
And as someone who thought she hated rhubarb, I’m here to tell you that if you learn to make it Shuna’s way, you may become a convert, too. (No stringy nursery sludge here, nope.) And, talk about eating locally: The flavorings for the Meyer lemon and lemon verbena ice cream — which we ate with our vanilla-bean roasted strawberries — were sourced right in Shuna’s neighborhood!
The new Eggbeater class schedule‘s just been posted. Check it out:
Sunday May 6, 2007: Pie & Galette Dough
Sunday May 20, 2007: Ice Cream & Sorbet
Sunday June 3, 2007: TBA
Sunday June 10, 2007: TBA
End of June: A Knife Skills Class and a Baking Class in NYC!
Mid July: A Knife Skills Class and possibly a Baking Class in Portland, Oregon!
Yep, you East Coast and Pac Northwest kids can get in on the fun, too.
Still on the fence? Take a peek at the sort of gorgeous desserts you’ll learn to make (and get to eat!) and see if your willpower holds out.
Last Saturday, we enjoyed a pre-Easter dinner with our friends DPaul and Sean and Anita’s mom, Toni. Anita has already described the first course; my contribution was Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Lemon Glaze from one of our two Tom Douglas cookbooks, Tom’s Big Dinners.
I’m not sure exactly why I ended up making it, as I’m not much of a baker. Anita is usually the head chef in our kitchen, but she was called away to help with the transportation of Sean and DPaul’s new (and absolutely adorable, but indisposed) family member. We needed to get cracking on dinner, but when Toni–who is an accomplished baker–asked to be put to work, I pointed her at the soup, not the cake. Go figure.
The batter assembly went smoothly. Or at least I thought it did until I realized that I had used rough, coarsely ground cornmeal instead of the medium-grind called for by the recipe. I pinched the bridge of my nose and rehearsed stand-up material to explain the…er…crunchy cake. “So rustic, isn’t it?” I imagined myself saying through my best Joy of Cooking smile. “Here, have another large glass of whiskey to wash that down. It’s a family tradition.”
Then, after fifteen minutes of baking, I noticed that while I had set the oven to 350 degrees, the thermometer inside read 325. Great. I turned up the heat.
The baking time recommended by the recipe came and went and I hovered at the oven window. The top started to brown and the cake tester came out clean, but when the cake was lying unmolded and upside down, it was obviously still mushy in the middle. Rummaging through our generous assortment of nonstick cake pans, I said a silent little prayer of thanks for my lovely, brainy wife and her talent for collecting cookware.
I re-panned the cake and shoveled it back in the oven, setting the timer in five-minute increments and wondering how the hell I would know when the damn thing was done. Out of desperation, I fell back on my grill-fu and started poking the cake with my (scrupulously clean) fingers, comparing the center with the edges, which I figured were sufficiently cooked.
Eureka! The top was much browner than I would have dared let it go otherwise, but eventually the cake stopped feeling like a waterbed. Cooled and unmolded, it actually looked edible–after Anita helped re-assemble the chunks that had stuck to the non-stick pan.
But I had the baker’s ace up my sleeve, the magical stuff that hides an epic poem’s worth of sins. I generously brushed on a Meyer lemon syrup (fruits from our tree!) and then took great comfort in watching my missteps and misgivings disappear beneath a dense white robe of sugary glaze speckled with rosemary leaves and lemon zest.
Didn’t taste bad, either. No whiskey necessary.
Whew! I made it to the end of April Fools’ Day without falling for any crazy practical jokes. Considering how easily I usually walk into pranks, it’s a minor miracle. (It probably helps that the only person I saw all day was my sweet guy, whose own brand of humor is more clever than cruel.)
We spent the day getting the downstairs rooms back in shape — no mean feat considering that they were inhabited by the two of us and two dogs for three months, with very limited storage to begin with. We also swapped the spaces that we use for our offices, which required a trip to Home Depot and Best Buy.
Big-box stores make me itch, so after visiting two in a single afternoon, I really felt like we deserved a treat. We were both so exhausted, there wasn’t a spare drop of energy for elaborate desserts. But we had a pint of strawberries, and a carton of cream… and a quick perusal of Joy of Cooking turned up an all-too-appropriately named dessert that even a fool could master.
1 pint strawberries
1T superfine (baker’s) sugar
1/2 pint heavy cream
3T ruby port
Rinsed, dry, top, and quarter the berries. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the sugar; set aside. Meanwhile, whip the cream with the port until soft peaks form. Stir the sugared berries into the whipped cream, and refrigerate well before serving.