What Angels Eat

April 4, 2015

 

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Had a dozen egg whites saved – been making a lot of lemon tarts lately – so last night I decided to make an angel food cake.

I'd forgotten how satisfyingly beautiful they are – all high and white – and what a pleasure the texture is.  Pure sponge.

When my friend Marion Cunningham was working on the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, she sent a recipe for the classic cake to thirty-five bakers, asking them each to bake the cake, exactly as written, and bring it to a meeting. She called me afterward in great excitement; “You would not believe how different they were,” she marveled. “They all had holes in the middle, but other than that, each cake was unique.”

Appalled by this, she and the other bakers decided to perfect the recipe. This cake, created by Flo Braker, is angel food perfection. Follow these instructions and you will have a high, white cloud-like confection that truly does seem food fit for angels.

Five Steps to a Better Angel Food Cake

  1. Cold eggs are easier to separate, so do it when the eggs are right out of the refrigerator. 
  2. If even the tiniest amount of fat gets into the eggs they will refuse to whip.  So separate each egg white into its own bowl before adding it to the others, in case one of the yolks breaks. 
  3. Leave your egg whites out of the refrigerator, for about an hour. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the optimum temperature is 60 degrees. The whites are more viscous at this temperature, and the air bubbles more stable.  (Room temperature is about 70 degrees; they will whip more quickly, but at this temperature they are easy to over-beat.) 
  4. To insure there's no grease on the bowl or beater, wipe them with white vinegar and rinse in very hot water.  Dry well. 
  5. Make sure your oven is 350 degrees. If the oven’s too low, the sugar will absorb the liquid from the egg whites and turn syrupy.  If it’s too hot, the outside will set before the interior. 
  6. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.

Angel Food Cake (From Baker’s Dozen Cookbook) 

12 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla.

 

Allow the egg whites to sit in the bowl of a stand mixer for about an hour, to come to just above room temperature (70 degrees).

Sift the confectioner’s sugar, cake flour and salt together. 

Whip egg whites at low speed until they are foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium.  Keep whipping, gradually adding the cup of granulated sugar, until the whites thicken and form soft, droopy peaks.  Add vanilla.

Sprinkle a quarter cup of the flour mixture over the whites and fold it in, by hand, with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the next quarter, and the next, until all the flour has all been gently folded in. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.

Bake at 350 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden, the top springs back when you touch it, and a toothpick comes out clean. Invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle.  Leave for 2 hours so that the cake is completely cool. 

Run a knife around the sides of pan until you feel it release. Then push up the bottom of the pan. Loosen the cake bottom by tapping on a counter until it’s free and invert onto a plate, and then back onto a cake platter.

Slice with a serrated knife.

 

Lagniappe

Waiting for the cake to cool – there's something wonderful about the way you hang these upside down- I realized it might want some sort of embellishment. Ice cream?  Looked in the freezer, and found we had none.

But I did find a package of frozen cranberries still lingering from Thanksgiving, that gave me an idea. What if I made a quick frozen cream with that?  Would it work?  

Basically I poured half a package of the frozen berries into a blender, added a few tablespoons of sugar and about a cup of heavy cream, and kept blending and tasting til the balance seemed right. Tart and creamy, it was the perfect accompaniment to this cake. 

  Cran

 

 

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Only Elizabeth David…..

April 3, 2015

Been reading Elizabeth David's wonderful An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, as I prepare for a workshop at the Iceland Writer's Retreat next week. So much great stuff here.  This particular sentence stopped me cold: 

“I can only say that there are times when one positively craves for something totally unsensational; the meals in which every dish is an attempted or even a successful tour de force are always a bit of a trial.”

A little bit later I came upon this recipe for an extremely unsensational chick pea salad.  Intriguing: it's basically hummus without the tahini, and without being pureed. (And I'm curious about that tablespoon of flour.  What's that doing there?) 

Elizabeth David’s Salade de Pois Chiches

Soak 1/2 lb. of chick peas overninght in plenty of cold water into which you stir a tablespoon of flour.  Next day put them in a suacepan with the same water, plus a half teaspoon of baking soda.  Simmer them for an hour. Skim and strain.

Rinse out the saucepan, fill it with 3 pints fresh water, bring to the boil, add a tablespoon of salt, put in the chick peas and simmer another 1 to 2 hours until the peas are perfectly tender and the skins beginning to break.

Strain them (keep the liquid – it will make a good basis for a vegetable soup), put them in a bowl and while still hot stir in plenty of olive oil, sliced onion, garlic, parsley and a little vinegar.

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Wake Up Crunch

April 2, 2015

Millet muffins

Millet's Moment

Texture matters to me. I'm intrigued when foods are so soft and smooth they seem to melt in your mouth.  I'm enchanted with foods that vaporize when you take a bite.  And I love it when a crunch resonates inside your head.  

Seeds are especially appealing to me. I like the snap of  pepitas in salad and the crackle of poppy seeds scattered on a bagel. Little wonder that the first time I went to Cafe Fanny in Berkeley and found their millet muffins, I was hooked.

Millet, star of these muffins, isn't a seed of course, but in this country it's used mostly for birdseed. Much of the rest of the world, however, considers it a staple; historically it's been eaten longer than rice.  It is also, apparently, a good crop for arid regions. And given the state of water in California, it might be time we got to know it better.

These muffins use millet to add a spirited crunch to what are essentially straightforward buttermilk muffins. Serve them hot out of the oven, with plenty of the best butter you can find. 

(This recipe is slightly modified from former Chez Panisse Chef Joanne Wier’s recipe, found on her blog.) 

 

MILLET MUFFINS

1 egg

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

12 tablespoons millet, broken up a bit – but not pulverized – in a food processor. 

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

 

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  

Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer.

Add the melted butter and 1/2 cup of buttermilk.

Stir in the millet. (If you’re making your batter ahead of time, be sure to wait until right before baking to add the millet. Let it sit, and it'll get soggy and you’ll lose the lovely crunch.) Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and add to the other ingredients.

Add the other 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Don’t overmix! Place in greased muffin tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and a tester comes out clean. 

Makes 12 muffins.

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