Brown Sugar Pavlova with Strawberries

We have had a dribble of strawberries already, but being a seasoned Tunisian resident, I’ve lived here over a whole year now, I didn’t bite on the first buzz-bomb strawberry that caught my eye.  No, I know we will still have some strawberries in May and I remember making strawberry jam in March last year, so I was waiting.  I come from a strawberry-fulfilled county in Washington State.  I know, however, that the first strawberries you see in June are from California and taste like sheetrock.  You have to wait until the local berries are almost spoiled before you can get the really good ones.  Don’t get me started on the year my county was practically dumping strawberries into dumpsters they had such a bumper crop and our local Trader Joe’s had a pyramid of California strawberries in their store.  I didn’t go in that store for about two years after that.
            We live by local harvests here.  Can you imagine something so pure and wonderful?  When you see strawberries in the market, you can buy them and they will be sweet and full of the tastes of earth and sunshine.  I still can’t believe it.
            I am a big-time strawberry shortcake devotee, but only if every ingredient is homemade and real.  For these gentle, hand-raised strawberries, I made a special, but wholesome, pavlova, bearing the warm flavor of brown sugar.  The pavlova layers were a little crisp and chewy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside.  Piled with layers of whipped crème fraiche, and strawberries, it was a winter delight, especially as it was pouring rain outside.
 Brown Sugar Pavlova with Strawberries
adapted from Gourmet Grilling, 2011
For Meringue
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup egg whites (5-6 large eggs) at room temperature for 30 minutes

For Berries
2 1/2 lb strawberries, trimmed and quartered
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

For Cream
1 1/3 cup creme fraiche
Make Meringue
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F, rack in middle.  Lightly butter 3 (8-inch) round cake pans and line with rounds of parchment paper.  Dust sides of pans with confectioners’ sugar, knocking out excess.
Pulse superfine sugar, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a food processor until well combined.
Stir together vanilla and vinegar in a small bowl.
Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt , using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks.  Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time.  After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more.  Add vinegar mixture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.  Spoon meringue into pans (about 2 1/2 cups per pan) and smooth tops.
Bake until meringues have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch, about 1 hour (insides will still be moist and marshmallow-like).
Turn oven off and prop door open slightly, using a wooden spoon if necessary.  Cool meringues in oven 1 hour.
Run knife along sides of cake pans and carefully turn meringues out of pans.  Carefully peel off parchment (meringues will be fragile and may crack further).  Carefully turn right side up.
Toss berries with sugar and let stand at room temperature until ready to use (up to 1 hour).
Assemble Dessert
Beat creme fraiche using an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks.  Put 1 meringue on a serving plate and spread 1/3 of whipped cream over it.  Spoon 1/3 of fruit (with juice) over top.  Repeat layering with remaining meringues, cream, and fruit.

Sticky Date Pudding

            Me dates ‘ave gone soft.  If that isn’t a constant concern for cooks.  We buy dates by the hank here.  They’re still on the stem and bundled together, almost like a skein of yarn, and they taste like caramels.

But they are dusty when you bring them home and need a rinsing.  Usually they dry right out and have an ongoing shelf life, but this particular batch isn’t drying so well and they have gotten a bit sticky.  So naturally, I thought of making another (also see Whole Orange Cake) Australian housewives’ staple dessert:  sticky date pudding.  You do know that a pudding is nothing more than a cake in British/Australian speak, so don’t let it intimidate you.

I first fell in love with this cake at a little Australian café in KATHMANDU, of all places.  The restaurant was opened by an Australian couple who were trying to adopt a Nepali child.  This turned out to be one complete genre of expat we frequently met in Nepal.  Others were Buddhist students, missionaries, ancient hippies, mountaineers, and entrepreneurs, along with diplomats and aid workers.   As the adoption process lingered on, this family decided to save the wear and tear on their family and just move to Kathmandu and open a restaurant, what they knew how to do.  The name of the restaurant was The Red Dingo.  I remembered this by association as it was right around the corner from another expat favorite, a Mex-Nepali restaurant called Lazy Gringo.  What made that restaurant Mex-Nepali you ask?  I guess it was mostly because all of the cheese they used was yak cheese, but there were other indicators, too.   The Red Dingo, however,  was quite un-Nepali which made it fun to visit now and then.  Inside the ceiling to floor glass windows were black and white tiles, a blackboard with the daily menu, and lipstick red leather sofas and chairs where you could sit with several friends and pretend that you were being very urban and First World.
 They always had sticky date pudding on the dessert menu.  I know myself well enough by this time in life to understand how completely I am lured in by caramel sauce.  Is anyone else defenseless against a sauce of butter, sugar, and cream?  I thought so.  The caramel sauce poured all over the date-studded cake causes the whole thing to just melt together.
Sticky Date Pudding
Serves 8
Description: lose

Ingredients 

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Sticky date pudding
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1 1/2 c.  pitted dates, chopped 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 1/2 cups boiling water 
1/2 c.  butter, softened 
1 cup brown sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 eggs 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt


Caramel sauce 
1 cup brown sugar 
3/4 c.  thickened cream  or creme fraiche
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 c. butter
Method 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the base of an 8-inch springform cake pan. 
Place dates and baking soda into a bowl. Pour over boiling water. Allow to stand for 20 minutes. 
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well
after each addition. Using a large metal spoon, fold through date mixture and flour until well combined. 
Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center 
comes out clean. When cool enough to handle, place plate under cake. Open springform pan side and remove it
. 
Make sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until sauce comes to 
the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 minutes. 
Pierce pudding all over with a skewer or large-tined fork. Pour 1/2 cup of warm sauce over warm pudding. Let 
stand for at least 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.
Serve with remaining warm sauce.

Finished cake swimming in caramel sauce.  I love the air hole indicating the sauce is soaking way inside.

Next time your dates go soft (not an idiom) you know just what you can do with them.

Between the Pear and Cheese

I love putting French phrases into Google translator to see what I get.  The super literal translation, messing around with the syntax, sometimes puts words in a slightly more poignant order and makes me take them more poetically.  Take for instance this French starter recipe I found this week.  Obviously, it is a lovely stack of pear/cheese/pear etc, but isn’t that title just begging for an ellipses?  Are you already filling in the blank for what comes between the pear and the cheese?  Literally?  Metaphorically?

I’ve been playing around with a magazine this week that is the French equivalence of Bon Appetit.  It is called a table.  I’ve learned so much translating recipes, making predictions about what I think is called for and then sometimes getting surprised.  For example, many recipes call for 1 c. a café de ________ or 1 c. a soupe ____________.  Even though it didn’t exactly make sense for the recipe I was fairly assured that I was going to be using a coffee infusion and some other sort of liquid solution.  It turns out that the first one is a teaspoon and the second is a tablespoon.  That’s all.  Now, isn’t that surprising and nonintuitive?
            This recipe says almost everything with the photo.  It is simply a strata of pear and cheese that has been sprinkled with lemon juice and dusted with a cracked pepper mixture.  It comes together more deliciously than the short list of ingredients suggests.  If you want to make it more substantial, place it on a bed of greens that have been tossed with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper.  For the full winter detox meal, follow the salad with a bowl of my favorite lentil soup. 
6 small pears
200 grams of any delicious cheese
½ lemon, juiced
Mixed peppercorns, cracked
1.     Peel pears, leaving stem. Core them from below.  Sprinkle all sides of pears with a few drops of lemon juice.  Cut into 4 pieces each (see photo).  If bottom doesn’t sit flat, trim it straight across.
2.     Thinly slice the cheese, preparing about 5 slices per serving.  Encourage some rough edges.
3.     Arrange on a plate.
4.     Sprinkle with cracked pepper.
6 s

Dried Fruit Cookies

         I already know before I make this that it will be the last one left on the cookie tray.  It sounds suspiciously like fruitcake and implies more character development than celebration.  Why persist?  Well, I like dried fruit when it’s real (not that candied cherry stuff) and we have a great selection of dried fruit in Tunis year-around.  But it was the markets in Nice (France) that really inspired me.  There, I saw authentically dried and candied fruit of every variety and stall after stall had them arrayed in their jewel-like glory.  It made me really want to work with them in some way.  So can we please consider these cookies to be French and “oh so Provence” and not just another attempt by me to slip 70s hippie food into unsuspecting lives?

I also really liked that this is a log cookie that you cut and bake.  This way, you can bake them up hot and fresh for the moment and who can resist warm cookies?
            Joking aside, these cookies have none of the disjointed texture and flavors, not to mention the unfoods, of annoying fruitcakes.  These cookies are buttery and the fruits each have delicious flavors which are enhanced by the dough.  These might actually get snatched off the tray first thing.
Dried Fruit Cookies, adapted fromIna Garten
Ingredients 1/2 pound dried pears  
1/4 pound raisins  
2 ounces dried Montmorency cherries, coarsely chopped  
2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped  
1 tablespoon honey  
2 tablespoons dry sherry  
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice  
6 ounces chopped pecans  
Kosher salt  
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature  
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves  
1/2 cup superfine sugar  
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed  
1 extra-large egg  
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Directions
Snip off the hard stems of the figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop the figs. In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, superfine sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Don’t overmix! Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl. Divide the dough in half and place each half on the long edge of a 12 by 18-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch thick, making an 18-inch-long roll. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart on ungreased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden. 
          Brown paper packages tied up with string.  A favorite thing, indeed.

Chewy Chocolate, Oatmeal, Coconut Cookies

          Cookies are cool because they are absolutely ingredient driven.  Whether it’s the pure simplicity of a butter or sugar cookie  or the lumpy texture of a chocolate chunk, you know what you are going to be tasting.  This is unless the cookie has a silly name, like a Lu Lu or something, but I don’t think I eat any of those cookies.  Well, I do eat Tam Tams from Australia when I can so that’s not true.  My insight into Islamic cookies so far is that they are exquisitely beautiful and also delicious (ingredient driven, too), but have unsettling body part references like Fatimah’s Fingers.  Mmm.
          Go back to Cookies Till They Come to catch the storyline and understand where we are.  If you’ve read along, you will recall that one of the ingredients I bought in bulk this week was coconut.  For this cookie, I certainly did consider an upfront coconut feature, like macaroons, but I feared that basing all of the cookies on a nut or dried fruit might make them all seem like Middle Eastern treats, which is nice, but doesn’t necessarily say Merry Christmas.  Chocolate and oatmeal are what we need to make everyone feel at home.  The coconut just snuggles right along side.
Chewy Chocolate, Oatmeal, Coconut Cookies
Ingredients 
1 cup butter, softened 
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup white sugar 
2 eggs 
2 tablespoons milk 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
3 cups rolled oats 
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips 
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional) 
1 cup shredded coconut
Directions 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). 
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the milk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture until well blended. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips. walnuts and coconut until evenly distributed. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. 
Bake 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven for a chewy cookie or 14 minutes for a firmer cookie. 
Cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheet and then remove to wire rack. Cool completely and then store in tightly sealed container.

Cookies Till They Come

My boys are coming.  My boys are coming.  It’s Saturday morning and we were up late at our staff Christmas party last night, but I sprang out of bed with the call to prayer at sunrise.  We have that auditory time regulator here in Tunisia.  I love it.
I’m Tabitha Tittlemouse today.   Oh gosh, I love The Tale of Mrs.  Tittlemouse and her fastidiousness over every tiny detail, every tittle.  How about this line from the Wikipedia synopsis:  Mrs. Tittlemouse fears she “shall go distracted” as a result of the turmoil and takes refuge in the nut-cellar.  You know where to look for me if I need a little time out this week, though all that’s in our cellar is wine, no nuts.
There’s so much I want to do:  make up heavenly beds for jet-lagged boys to sink into, prep the basics of some midweek feasts so we can have friends over to enjoy the season and visit with the guys, and make cookies.   I think that this is going to be my nervous distraction for the next 24 hours, minus sleep, while I’m picturing them at every stage of their journey.
I can’t just pick any cookie recipe and pull it off, here.  I looked at Bon Appetit’s  31 days of cookies and  I can get many of those ingredients here, but often there is just one missing ingredient, like corn syrup, that makes me think they won’t come out right without it.  As with all things in Tunisia, it’s best to begin with what we’ve got.  There is actually a treasure trove of special ingredients available at the moment.  A local store had bulk-packaged quantities of the following this week:  hulled pistachios, shredded (unsweetened) coconut, dried apricots and hulled, toasted sesame seeds.  Added to that are some plump golden raisins and dried pears I bought in Nice and finally, some dried Montmorency cherries gifted to me by Shelly.  And I have ginger.  My friends and I are always so concerned  that we can’t get ginger here that we buy it in large amounts every time we see it.  It turns out that ginger has been available recently, both fresh and dried, like the stuff you see in the Chinese apothecary shops in China towns, and I now have all of the forms required to make a triple- ginger cookie, one of my very favorites.
Because I knew it would occupy the most oven time, I began with biscotti.  Cranberry/pistachio biscotti must be ubiquitous.  Recipes kept popping up all over.  My one unavailable ingredient in this recipe was almond extract and I do think it would have been a fine addition.

I dried the cranberries in my food dehydrator on Lummi Island when I was home in October.  They took an extremely long time to dry.  For about 24 hours, they were just hot, plump, berries not looking like they were getting any more shriveled.  So I started poking them and squeezing air out and finally some of them dried out and some didn’t so much.  I tossed them in a Ziploc anyway and brought them back here, keeping them in the freezer.  These are the end of them.
Once baked, sliced, and then oven dried, the pistachios in the cookies become deliciously nutty and the little bit of tart cranberry creates a bright accent.  I’m not even going to dip them in chocolate because I really like the vanilla/nut balance as it is.

 

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Ingredients 
1/4 cup light olive oil 
3/4 cup white sugar 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon almond extract 
2 eggs 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts
Directions 
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). 
In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in 
the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by
hand. 
Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12×2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily. 
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool 
for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). 
Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake 
approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
So that’s the first cookie and I am planning on a line up of five in the next 24 hours.   I just gave the boys a wake up Skype call and they are officially underway.
I’ll keep posting as I bake (is this fun?).   You can bake along with me if you’re inclined.

Whole Orange Cake

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, but we won’t be at home for Thanksgiving Day.  Having Thursday and the connecting Friday off from work creates an irresistible draw to do some regional traveling.  I’ll tell you later in the week where we will be.  Never-the-less, I feel like doing some festive cooking.
We are just on the cusp of orange season.  I won’t add them to the What’s in Season list yet because they’re still a tinge green and a tiny bit sour, comparatively, but the scent of oranges does conjure the holidays, in my mind.
I’ve been waiting a few weeks to try this whole orange cake.  It seems to be an Australian country wives’ recipe, but I had to do so much converting that this recipe is mine now.  If you want to check the original or if you prefer metric measurements, here is the link.  Otherwise, you should just trust me.  I am very much in the mood for a cake with the marmalade-like brightness this cake implies.  Ground almonds will temper that mood enough.  Then, it will be soaked in an orange rind and dessert wine syrup.
We stock our wine cellar at a winery not far from Hammamet called Domaine Atlas.  Pictured below is the actual Bredy wheelbarrow of wine cases we bought the last time we were there.  Mind you, we entertain a lot.  Each time we are there, we stick in a few bottles of their dessert wine which comes in clear,  unlabeled bottles. The Australian recipe calls for botrytis-style dessert wine.  Botrytisis really a controlled decomposition process which is why it is fondly referred to as “noble rot”.  I don’t know how noble our local product is, but it is suitable for sipping and cooking.

When I took this photograph, I had in mind one of those magazine set ups like oranges + almonds + dessert wine using actual plus signs, but I don’t know how to do all that so the key ingredients are  just all there mingling in a group.

Whole Orange & Almond Cake with Dessert Wine Syrup


Ingredients (serves 8)
3 large oranges 
Melted butter (to grease  pan)
5 eggs 
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 cups almond meal 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder 
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups dessert wine
1 tsp. thyme, lavender buds, or Herbes de Provence (optional)
Double cream, to serve
Method
1. Place 2 oranges in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Drain. Return oranges to the pan and repeat process (this will reduce the bitterness of the peel). Return oranges to the pan once again and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, adding more water when necessary to keep oranges covered, for 1 hour or until oranges are very tender. Drain. Set aside for 2 hours or until cooled to room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 325′ F. Brush a round 8 inch cake pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base with parchment paper. Cut oranges into quarters. Remove the white cores and any seeds. Place in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
3. Use an electric beater to whisk the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale. Stir in the orange puree. Add the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to smooth the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 1 1/4 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, use a zester to remove the rind from the remaining orange.  Juice the orange and place in a medium saucepan along with the rind, wine, remaining sugar and herbs. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until syrup thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
5. Turn cake onto a wire rack over a baking tray. Spoon the hot syrup over the warm cake. Set aside for 30 minutes to cool. Cut cake into wedges and place on serving plates. Drizzle with any remaining syrup and serve with double cream, if desired.