Monday, September 26, 2011

LAVENDER-PUMPKIN CUPCAKES



This past weekend I had a wonderful time contributing to a seminar on harvesting herbs from the garden and what to do with them. Of course being an enthusiast of just about every culinary herb known to man, I had countless ideas for recipes. My class in particular focused on lavender. I absolutely adore lavender. The captivating, romantic fragrance, the beautiful gathered bouquets synonymous with English and Provencal country décor, but above all--the delicate yet deep flavor of this magnificent herb.

Although lavender is revered the world over for its’ oh-so-famous fragrance and oil, I feel it is terribly underrated as a flavor. This is because people don’t know quite enough about it. In my opinion, lavender flavor is best when it is the essence of the herb without the sometimes overwhelming taste of biting into a highly antiseptic, or as some say: soapy-tasting, bud. I achieve this by steeping lavender in other ingredients and removing the bud. This leaves behind all of the good and none of the bad. That being said, if you feel so inclined, by all means leave the buds for an even more intense flavor.

These pumpkin-lavender cupcakes were not on my original plan to serve for the class. Actually I had planned to serve lemon-lavender cupcakes. On Friday when I was to prepare all my dishes for the class on Saturday, I was so struck by the deep grey sky, the wind causing the first leaves of the season to fall and dance, and the air crisp with a light chill I just felt there was no way I could serve summery cupcakes on the first weekend after the Autumnal Equinox. I quickly dismissed the combination of pumpkin and lavender…thinking such a floral flavor like lavender and such an earthy flavor like pumpkin would simply not work. I hadn’t ever seen them combined before--I then thought it through again; pumpkin is always best paired with herbs and spices that cut through the deep, saturated flavor and texture. I then thought lavender would be able to do just that. Infusing the earthy, quintessentially icon of the autumn with the lovely, light essence of late summer seemed to be the absolutely perfect treat for the Equinox and for my class. The wonderful people in my class were very intrigued (and somewhat skeptical) of this combination, and I guarantee they were very pleasantly surprised. The combination worked beautifully! And I’m thrilled to have yet another outlet for my very favorite herb. After all that is the beauty of growing your own herbs, learning to infuse them into your creations that are uniquely yours.


PUMPKIN-LAVENDER CUPCAKES

Makes 18 cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks)
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
15 ounces canned pumpkin puree, usually ½ can
3 Tablespoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Over a double boiler on low, melt the butter. Once melted, add the dried lavender. Let steep about 20 minutes. Pour butter through a sieve. Discard lavender buds (unless you’d like to bake them in the cupcakes). Let cool to at least room temperature. I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.

2. Combine flour. spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in bowl.

3. In separate bowl or mixer, add butter, pumpkin, sugar, oil., and vanilla extract. If using a stand mixer, use paddle attachment. Once combined, add eggs one at a time.

4. Begin slowly adding dry ingredients, with the mixer on a low setting. Stop mixer every so often to scrape down. The important key to remember during this step is the less you mix the flour, the better. When flour and sugar mix they begin to form gluten. This is exactly what you want while making bread, and exactly what you do not want while baking cakes. Over mixing the flour will result in a tough cake.

5. Once combined, using an ice cream scoop (for consistency), scoop into lined muffin pans.

6. Bake for 15-20minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Let cool completely and frost.

LAVENDER BASIC FROSTING

Makes about 3 cups

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tablespoons cream or milk
1 Tablespoon lavender
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For lavender color, optional:
1 drop red food coloring
1 drop blue food coloring

1. Over a double boiler, heat cream and lavender for about 20 minutes. Pass through fine sieve and discard lavender buds. Refrigerate until cold.

2. Mix butter

3. Begin adding powdered sugar. Add until mixture is very thick and fluffy. The exact texture will be determined by your preference.

4. Begin adding cooled lavender cream until mixture is light and fluffy, but thick enough to spread or pipe.

5. Add food coloring to achieve desired shade of lavender.
I achieved my shade of lavender by first adding red, to color the mixture a light pink. Then added very conservatively the blue.

 
 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

BELLINI ROSA


While picking up a few things at the grocery the other day, quite out of character and palette, I found myself admiring a bottle of rosé ! I absolutely love prosecco and other dry sparkling wines; but for some reason felt overwhelmingly compelled to bring home a bottle of quintessentially feminine rosé …I think the fact that I had decided to watch Sex and the City all night must have had something to do with it.

A little side note about rosé , it is a misconception that rosé and “blush” are the same thing. A blush wine is the mixing of a small amount of red wine into a larger amount of white. Leaving the white wine still primarily white, just with a “blush” of color. True rosé is produced by allowing the crushed black skins of the grape to remain in contact with the juice only about three days. This leaves the majority of the tannins, which are found in the skin, out of the final product. Leaving the wine much more similar to a white than to a red. The longer the skins sit in the juice, the deeper the color and more bodied the flavor. Another misconception is that there is ANY similarity between white zinfandel and rosé ! Other than both being pink (no offense to you white-zin fanatics, some of my favorite people love that stuff!).

So, with two or three bottles of rosé in inventory (what? I have the entire series on DVD) and several pounds of peaches I decided to put a spin on one of my very favorite cocktails: the Bellini. Because it is Italian history I simply cannot post this without sharing a brief history of the classic Bellini: The Bellini was conceived sometime in the late 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani at his restaurant Harry’s Bar in Venice. Made with prosecco and peach purée, its pink color reminded him of a toga in a painting of a saint by Giovanni Bellini. What could be more Italian--combining art, saints, and wine??!

I thought it might be fun to amp up the pink in a classic Bellini and use rosé instead of prosecco. I happened to have a huge bundle of lemon verbena a friend had given me so I added a little bit of that as well. While optional the lemon verbena really plays on the zest of the rosé and cuts through the sweetness of the peach. A slight bitter note that brings the cocktail a more earthly flavor. Served with blackberry-peach and courvoisier pie it is the perfect way to bid arrivederci to summer!

INGREDIENTS
makes 4 Bellinis
2 peaches, peeled and cored
1 bottle of rosé , I used Martini and Rossi
2 leaves lemon verbena (optional)

1. purée the peaches with the lemon verbena leaves. Either in a blender or food processor.

2. divide the purée among four champagne flutes

3. pour rosé to top, garnish with two lemon verbena leaves, and enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

BLACKBERRY-PEACH COURVOISIER PIE


Being Labor Day weekend, I doubt I am the only one trying desperately to enjoy what’s left of summer. So at the farmer’s market on Wednesday I might have gone a little overboard. I bought about 15 pounds of peaches. I’ve already made a few peach pies this season and wanted to make something a little bit more exciting. Luckily I had also bought a few quarts of the most beautiful fresh blackberries. It’s not a combination I’ve seen before; but I imagined it working quite well. The tartness of the blackberries cutting through the almost sticky-sweet nectar of the perfectly ripe peaches. But I still felt the pie needed a little more back bone. Cognac.

I am a huge believer in the addition of liquor to cooking. First and foremost I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or two while in the kitchen. Secondly, alcohol is considered to be a conductor of flavor. It carries and amplifies flavors to a whole other level. Think vodka sauce. Vodka has no real flavor of its’ own, yet vodka sauce has a much more intense flavor than a basic marinara. The difference is the way in which the vodka intensifies all the other flavors in the sauce. This is exactly the same case when adding cognac to the pie. The cognac carries and blends the flavors, while also intensifying them. The difference between cognac and vodka is that cognac has spectacular flavor by itself..

There really is no other flavor quite like cognac. It is deep and almost smoky, yet has a pungent, light zest to it. It is the perfect compliment to the peach and blackberry. By adding it to the pie it brings out an entirely new flavor to the peach. Served with blackberry whipped cream and a verbena bellini, it’s the perfect last hoorah!

Preheat oven to 415

INGREDIENTS

1 recipe double crust pastry
12-15 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
½ cup blackberries
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cognac, I used Courvoisier
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl. Fold with a rubber spatula. It is best to use a rubber spatula because you are less likely to break the fruit

2. Once incorporated, fill pie crust shell, cover, and set in refrigerator for 20 minutes to rest. Letting a pie rest before it bakes helps the butter in the pastry crust to cool again, making a flakier pastry once baked.

3. Bake in a 415 degree oven for15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 45 minutes-hour
For a shiny crust, brush with egg wash (1 egg + 1 teaspoon milk) and dust with sugar. The best way I have to dust, and not end up with big spots of sugar is to take a small amount and rub it between your hands like sand.


4. Serve with blackberry whipped cream and a verbena bellini (recipe will be posted tomorrow