Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chocolate beet cake with kale chips and almonds, or the otherwise known as the "Eat Your Salad and Have Cake, Too" Cake.

Every now and then, I come across a post sitting in my Drafts folder that I never got around to publishing. There are a few usual reasons for this languishing of posts: either I'm dissatisfied with the photos, or I want to save the recipe for the right moment (which never seems to appear), or I'm being too lazy to finish the post. This recipe has sat in my Draft Posts folder for a few months now, and yes, I was never 100% happy with the photos, and yes, I wanted to save the recipe for the right moment, and yes, I was being just darned lazy, but the real reason I haven't shared this one until now is because I haven't gotten the guts to do so. Because after today's post, in which I try to convince you to eat your salad and have your cake, too, with this kale chip and beet root chocolate cake, all y'alls might declare me criminally insane and ostracize me from the food blogosphere for the rest of eternity. But what the heck, right? Life isn't worth blogging without the risks, so here goes....

Kale chips! Okay, yeah, I'm a little late to the game, but finally DfB is jumping on the kale chip bandwagon. A few months ago, I discovered that such thing as baby kale existed, and publicly declared on twitter and facebook (you know, because that makes things, like, official) that it was my new favorite salad green. This comment prompted Irvin Lin (of Eat the Love) to dare me to follow the food bloggery fad and post a recipe for kale chips on this website. To which I answered, "Not unless I can put them into a dessert!"

.... of course, this got me thinking. I actually really appreciate sneaking an unexpected touch of traditional savoury-ness into my desserts (e.g., apricot-thyme brûlée tart? or rosemary peanut butter cookies?), and I always say that having chocolate cookies without salt is a crime and travesty. So why not kale chips? Flavor-wise, they are nice and salty with just a hint of earthy bite, and kale chips are also texturally fascinating, all crunchy and curly, but almost lighter than air. These two properties alone immediately made me think that they'd go perfectly with a soft, extra moist, dense, and rich dark chocolate cake. Naturally!

So here it is. My "Eat your salad and have your cake, too" Cake. Or my "Eat your cake and have your salad, too" Cake. Whatever. The point is: we can have it all, dark green kale AND dark red beets AND dark, dark chocolate. And a handful of toasted almonds for good measure. (You know, protein. Part of a balanced diet.)

But really, joking aside. I'm here to tell you that this cake seriously is dessert-worthy. The beets add a level of rich moisture to the chocolate cake, which is then enveloped in a deep layer of smooth dark chocolate ganache. The kale chips add a much needed crunch to the cake as well as that hit of salt that is so necessary with anything chocolate. And the almonds bring all the oddities together with a bit of familiar nuttiness.

...Or, maybe you might think that I'm now a bit nutty, too.

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Strawberry gin and tonic cake

I made these little tea-gin-cakes a few weeks ago and had this post queued up for the longest time to hit "publish"... except for the one small sticking point that I've been at a complete loss of words about what to say in the post.

Sometimes, I wish it were acceptable practice in blogging to just post pretty pictures for your enjoyment. Mostly, I just find myself currently tapped out of worthy words. Everything even remotely eloquent (and plenty that's not) has been going into the thesis-writing process, and I find that almost nothing is left at the end of the day when I have a little time to think about other things, like cake.

Let's see... but what can I tell you about these little cakelettes? I discovered the incredible fragrance of gin only recently. I don't really drink much--most of my liquor cabinet is used for baking purposes--, and so up until a few months ago, I'd only ever written gin off as another clear-colored liquor that, like vodka, must be flavorless. Was I ever wrong! Between its almost-floral fragrance and the woodsy kick of juniper, I'm now quite fascinated by the unique flavor combinations of this liquor. So naturally, I had to put it into cake form, making a play on the classic gin and tonic combination: tonic and lime cakes with gin-soaked strawberries.

For desserts like this, I like to look for the tiniest strawberries available at the market. These are usually the ones that turn out deep red, with very little white on the inside, and their sweetness plays perfectly with the spiciness of the gin. The cakes are a variation on a simple pound cake theme, except with a bit of bitterness from the tonic water and a hit of brightness from the lime zest. The bitterness in the cake is offset by eating it with mounds of boozy, sweetened, juicy strawberries.... the perfect excuse for combining afternoon tea time with gin-and-tonic-o'clock.

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Apricot brûlée tart, with thyme and vanilla bean

When my parents came to visit me this past weekend for my birthday, my mom handed me a small paper bag as she walked through the door. Peeking inside, the dim light revealed jewels of glowing, blushing orange at the bottom of the bag: a few, small delicate gems, slightly fuzzy, and nestled amongst large, verdant tree leaves. Apricots! from my parents' tree that stands right outside the kitchen window of my childhood home. Birthday apricots!

You see, these apricots are particularly special because our tree rarely produces much fruit. Most years, what little fruit there is is quickly claimed by squirrels and birds before we humans can get to it. But when we do hit upon a year in which the tree decides to produce more fruit, the apricots are sweeter, juicier, and more delicious than any I've ever tasted in a store. (I have no idea what variety these are....)

While I was growing up, my grandmother would split her time between living in Taiwan and living with us in California, helping take care of her grandchildren on both sides of the Pacific. For some reason, our apricot tree would only produce bountiful amounts of fruit during the years my grandmother was with us--we used to theorize that our tree didn't like us but that it really loved my grandma because she would tend to it much more carefully and diligently than we would. Then, when it bore fruit, my grandmother ingeniously fashioned her own fruit picker stick, out of old fabric and chicken wire, to reach the topmost limbs of the tree. I have memories of looking out our kitchen window and seeing her standing on the patio, reaching for those impossible apricots way out on the edges.

My grandmother

Nowadays, my grandmother can't travel anymore and lives permanently in Taiwan. Every year around June, I always think about our apricot tree, and wonder if it misses my grandma's visits as much as I do. Maybe the tree does (if trees can), because it fruits even less frequently now than it used to, or maybe I'm just too good at projecting emotions onto inanimate objects. (A skill I've acquired no doubt by being an only child who had to grow up with imaginary friends.... I've been told I have an uncanny ability to vocalize for teddy bears.) So whenever the apricot tree does decide to bear fruit, it's always seem to me like a sigh of relief--like, yes, this world is still a happy enough place that magical apricots can appear in bountiful amounts!

[click on photo for larger image]

Even though I'm supposed to be on a self-imposed Dissertation Vacation, in which nothing happens during vacation except the writing of the thesis (also, I've been listening to too much Sarah Vowell), I couldn't resist heading into the kitchen to make something of these rare apricots: an apricot brûlée tart. Since they were already so perfect on their own, I wanted to make something that highlighted the au natural taste of the apricots without doing too much to them, so instead of baking them down in the oven, I put them fresh on top of a cream tart, and lightly brûlée-ed the tops, adding a crunchy, dark caramelization to the apricots. The result is this  fascinating blend of hot and cold, with the crispy caramelized sugar lining a juicy burst of fresh apricot underneath.  As a backdrop, the pastry crust is flaked with thyme, to add an earthy and almost savory counterpart to the sweetness of the apricots. And the tart is filled with vanilla bean pastry cream--vanilla bean instead of extract because of its clean, almost nutty taste that I really adore with apricots. I think my grandmother and our apricot tree would approve!

On another note, how is it July already?!

Read on for recipe....