Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The perfect peach-to-cake ratio

     It's summer in the South...the abundance of fruits and vegetables is a beautiful and delicious gift...and nothing says summertime in Georgia like the glorious peach!  So, when selecting my cake for July, I of course selected our fuzzy friend the peach to be the star of this month's cake.

     I know, I know - you thought I had forgotten about The Year of the Cake - didn't you?  You didn't really want to say anything - but, gosh, I've been so busy with all of this travel, life-change and culinary internship stuff that it seems like my monthly homage to The Cake may have fallen by the wayside...not so!! I am still committed to making a different cake each month - and, when at all possible, baking with friends...and July is no exception.

     My dear friend Kim sent me a LOVELY cookbook for my birthday this month - America's Test Kitchen's Best Summer Desserts - what a great gift!  If you don't know, America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated is one of my absolute favorite cooking resources - their detailed, exacting and thoroughly tested recipes are just perfect for this engineer-aspiring-to-be-a-baker.  So,when I got this book in the mail, I immediately started flipping through it to find a recipe for this month's cake...and it didn't take me long to settle on their Summer Peach Cake, which promised to deliver all sorts of lovely peach taste without any of the dreaded sogginess that often accompanies this type of recipe.

A fabulous birthday gift..and the source for this month's Summer Peach Cake recipe. 
     I share my July birthday with my-best-friend-from-junior-high Susan.  As we have for many years, we spent some time this year just hanging out with our husbands and celebrating our joint birthday-month.  In addition to being one of the people who knows me better than almost anyone, Susan is a great cook and entertainer, so it seemed fitting that I bake my July cake with her.

     The Summer Peach Cake has a moist, rich texture with a layer of peaches in the middle of it as well as a layer of peaches on the's a little bit like a cross between a cobbler and a poundcake.  As promised in the cookbook, this cake is a relatively simple recipe that relies on a few tricks to make it something special.  The first trick is that you actually toss half of the peaches in peach schnapps and then roast them in the oven - this concentrates the flavors and ensures that the cake isn't soggy from incorporating the fresh fruit.  The cake is made in a springform pan - part of the batter is layered in the pan, next comes the layer of roasted peaches, than another layer of batter, and finally a layer of peach slices fanned out on top of the cake.  This final layer of peaches is topped with some almond-extract-infused sugar - just to give the top of the cake a slight crunch. 
     Well, I must admit - those folks at ATK do know what they are doing...this was a very yummy cake.  According to our husbands, the official taste-testers, all of this layering resulted in a very satisfying cake-to-peach-ratio in the final product - just the right mix of moist cake and juicy peaches.  And, as promised, the peach flavor was deep and intense - roasting the peaches definitely ensured that we captured all of the sunny goodness of our peaches (and, of course, adding Schnapps to any recipe can only be a good idea!) 

The Summer Peach cake - layers of batter, alternating with layers of peaches,
topped with a heavy sprinkling of sugar -- all in one pan.  A relatively easy
recipe that highlights the beauty of THE PEACH.

The perfect peach-to-cake-ratio
     So - if you want to savor some of summer's bounty, head out to your local farmstand or farmer's market and get some a few straight from the basket and use the rest to make this simple Summer Peach's a simple and tasty treat.

PS - Susan - Happy Birthday to us!!

Summer Peach Cake

Serves 8 to 10
  • 2 1/2pounds peaches , pitted and cut into 1/2 inch-thick wedges
  • 5 tablespoons peach schnapps
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs , finely crushed
1.   Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray. Gently toss 24 peach wedges with 2 tablespoons schnapps, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in bowl; set aside.
2.   Cut remaining peach wedges crosswise into thirds. Gently toss chunks with remaining 3 tablespoons schnapps, remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in bowl. Spread peach chunks in single layer on prepared sheet and bake until exuded juices begin to thicken and caramelize at edges of sheet, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer sheet to wire rack and let peaches cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
3.   Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl. Whisk brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and eggs together in second bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter until combined. Add sour cream, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract; whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
4.   Transfer half of batter to prepared pan; using offset spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Sprinkle crushed bread crumbs evenly over cooled peach chunks and gently toss to coat. Arrange peach chunks on batter in even layer, gently pressing peaches into batter. Gently spread remaining batter over peach chunks and smooth top. Arrange reserved peach wedges, slightly overlapped, in ring over surface of cake, placing smaller wedges in center. Stir together remaining 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and remaining 1/8 teaspoon almond extract in small bowl until sugar is moistened. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over top of cake.
5.   Bake until center of cake is set and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool 5 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely, 2 to 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tartlets for 8,000

     So, I've had a couple big parties in my time - I've made over 200 cookies and 100 biscuits for a Christmas party before - but that pales in comparison to the large-scale food preparation I witnessed last week.  I worked two days in the pastry kitchen at the Georgia Aquarium as extra help they brought on to help with prepping and serving 8,000 Microsoft employees for dinner.  Yes - you read that right - dinner, drinks and dessert for 8,000 people - now that's alot of food!  It was an amazing feat to witness - thousands of pounds, pieces and portions of food being washed, prepped, peeled, cooked, mixed, plated and garnished by over 50 people.  The planning, organization, and execution was very detailed, complicated and intense - this was not a task for the faint of heart  - but it was fascinating to watch and great experience to be a part of such large scale food preparation in such a well-run kitchen that was committed to turning out excellent tasting food.  Needless to say, my contribution was fairly limited to mixing, plating, and prepping - but, still - it was fun and I learned alot. 

     On the pastry side of the house (in most professional kitchens, restaurant or catering, the pastry staff is a different group of folks who work in a separate space from the rest of the food prep) we spent the day Thursday prepping most of the different elements of the 10,000 individual desserts so the final prep and assembly could take place on Friday.  Tartlet shells were baked, cream was whipped, chocolate was melted, nuts were chopped, melon was sliced, cookies were rolled out on sheetpans - and all of it was counted, wrapped, organized and stored in coolers so it could quickly be put together the next day.  Friday morning was spent putting the final pieces together so that by afternoon we could begin plating hundreds of individual trays with desserts, then decorate and garnish them for serving at 5:45 pm.  The aquarium was closed to the public by late afternoon and the thousands of Microsoft employees from around the globe took over the place.  Of course, there was no one room in the Aquarium that could accommodate all 8,000 of these hungry folks, so food was served in multiple rooms throughout the place - requiring that we prep trays in such a way that they could be  transported by carts to the various serving stations without disrupting a single crust, marshmellow, pecan or raspberry - it all needed to arrive at its destination looking as beautiful as it tasted.  The final few hours before service were fast and furious - and pretty high-stress - trust me, I just kept my head down and kept on placing blueberries on fruit tarts - but, when all was said and done, an amazing amount of food was delivered warm, delicious and beautiful to thousands of guests.  By 6 pm, it was all over but the eating - our job was to simply make sure that the many servers had their trays replenished and that all of the edible orchids and garnishes were properly placed as the trays went out.

     So - even though it was a fascinating day, make no mistake, it was a long one...12 hours on my feet in a hot kitchen, lifting heavy I said above, not for the faint of heart.  It was a great day, though - like I said, an amazing learning experience that was topped off with a crazy, fun, treat.  Even though I was feeling pretty beat as we finished cleaning up the trays after service, I quickly perked up when my boss asked if I wanted to "check out the entertainment".  You better believe I did - after all, it was Jon Bon kidding.  Didn't take me long to perk up and untie my apron so I could slip out of the kitchen and join her at the outdoor concert....seriously, what 49-year-old female intern wouldn't love that?  Tartlets and Jon Bon Jovi - my idea of a perfect nite! (on a side note, I need to consider applying to Microsoft - they had both BonJovi and Maroon 5 as the entertainment for a private concert for this employee event - no wonder we pay so much for software!).  

One of several batches of dough I made for biscuits...mixer came up to my chin 
and recipe called for 17 pounds of flour, 3 pounds of sugar
and 4.5 pounds of butter.

That's a lot of key lime!

Thousands of tartlets lined up in cool is that?

Fruit salad - each bowl weighed almost 20 pounds...

...and we made 20 bowls!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Summer Intern at 48!

Hey everyone....Happy 4th of July!! It's hard to believe it's 4th of July's truly been a whirlwind since I got back from France 10 days ago.  While a month in France was truly a luxury and we did have a glorious time - I have to admit I was actually getting a little antsy by the end of the trip...most likely due to the fact that I didn't have a specific plan for what I was going to do with myself starting June 25.  I know, I know - that seems a little crazy, given the fact that I just left my job of 18 years - so, now you know why I was feeling a little antsy! catch you up...

     While my original post-vacation plan had been to immediately start a 1-year baking and pastry program at the Art Institute here in Atlanta, I had actually been rethinking this recently based on some discussions/advice I had gotten from some of my friends/acquaintances in the industry.  Several very seasoned, successful and wise culinarians had actually challenged me to consider a different approach - rather than a 1 year academic program, why not put together a series of experiences and smaller, more targeted educational programs that would really set me apart, help me understand what I wanted to do and better prepare me for a job.  Well, gosh - that sounded like a pretty good idea - except for the fact that it blew my nice, neat plan for starting school in July right out of the water, required alot more thinking/planning on my part and therefore scared the crap out of me!  So, I took a deep, cleansing breath and headed to France - hoping that sunshine, baguettes, wine and cheese would help me sort out my options.

     Well, as usual, things have a way of working themselves out.  As luck would have it, at the very end of my trip, just about the time I was starting to get antsy, I got an email from Gena Berry, the owner of Culinary Works and a very important player in the Atlanta culinary world. (you may remember that I mentioned Gena in a previous post - "Do I Smell Something Burning").  I had chatted with Gena before leaving for France and she knew I was interested in working with her - and, lucky for me, she had a couple of projects come up - so she was contacting me to see if I would be available to "intern" with her through the end of September.  Like - are you kidding me - of course!  What an amazing opportunity to learn about this side of the business - Gena does "all things culinary" - from culinary event planning to teaching classes to food styling to recipe development - and I will get to work directly with her on two major projects and several smaller ones. 

     So - I got back from France on Sunday June 24 and started with Gena on Tuesday June 26  - and it's been full-on since then.  The two major projects we're working on are 1) recipe writing and testing for a new cookbook for major chef here in Atlanta and 2) planning a 3-day food and spirits festival on Saint Simons Island.  In just a week I've had the chance to spend the day on a movie set helping with food styling, help develop a proposal for a major sponsor for the food festival and work in the kitchen with one of Atlanta's Top Chefs - whew!  I know the next 3 months will be filled with great experiences - it will also give me time to think more about exactly what sort of school experience I will take on.  It's hard to believe I'm a summer intern again at age 48 - but, to be honest, I'm pretty excited about it and feel incredibly lucky to be getting such a great opportunity - how wild is that?

     So, it's July 4th and I have enjoyed the day off - this intern thing is pretty hard work.  Spent the day at home with my sweet husband, did a little baking and also enjoyed barbecue with some friends.  I have much to be thankful for and it's been a great day - God Bless America!

Lots of blueberries buried in a moist, rich cake.

Blueberry Crumb Cake for 4th of July Breakfast - God Bless America!!
It's that time of year - when the berries are plentiful and delicious.  Made the Barefoot Contessa's Blueberry Crumb Cake for a holiday breakfast treat - a very tasty way to start my day off!


For the streusel:
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
For the cake:
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (3/4 stick)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh  blueberries
  • Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round baking pan.

For the streusel: Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and then the flour. Mix well and set aside.

For the cake:
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until light.
Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Fold in the blueberries and stir with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out with a knife. With your fingers,
crumble the topping evenly over the batter.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely and serve sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.