For Rich’s birthday (not to be confused with Father’s Day or our anniversary, all which happen within a week of each other) I made strawberry-peach-basil shortcakes and shared the recipe for it in this week’s There is a Season column.
Rings a Bell
It was a Baker’s Dozen at our house for first night seder. I recently eliminated fish from my diet, making this year’s seder completely vegetarian. For those curious, I served quinoa stuffed mushrooms; this mushroom and spinach egg bake; beet, orange and pickled fennel salad; roasted asparagus; roasted Japanese yams with an herby yogurt sauce; and matzo pizza for the kids. My parents brought a broccoli kugel and roasted potatoes to round out the meal.
But I’m not here to talk about dinner. Nope, we’re going to focus on the gluten-free dairy dessert that was a big hit at dinner, and on the Internet, this weekend.
Sometime last month I decided on doing a pavlova: a bed of airy meringue, topped with fresh whipped cream with fresh berries piled on top. This gave me ample time to find a good recipe. I cruised the Internet to find a reliable kosher-for-Passover pavlova recipe. I settled on one from Jamie Geller’s The Joy of Kosher. I made her tahini halvah brownies back in January, and they were superb.
As a lucky bonus to my quest for the perfect pavlova, this week I caught an episode of Simply Ming on PBS Create, in which he made pavlovas with Joanne Chang of flour bakery fame. I watched it carefully, taking notes as to how, why, and when Joanne added her sugar to the egg whites a spoonful at a time, and how long she cooled her meringue after it baked in a very low oven.
The big changes for a kosher-for-Passover pavlova were using potato starch instead of cornstarch and adding a smidge of vinegar; this helps with drying the meringue out. Although this recipe isn’t such a big deal to put together, you do need time. I did this at night so I could let the meringue dry out overnight in the oven as it cooled. I’d suggest you do the same.
The hardest part of this recipe is separating five egg whites, but then your machine does the rest of the work. Although I have hand-held egg beaters for Passover, it took me until this year to realize my Kitchen-Aid Mixer’s attachments are metal and could easily be kashered with some boiling water. If you can chill your bowl and whisk ahead of time, so much the better. The eggs are supposed to be cold, as well, so they can come right out of the fridge.
I made this Thursday night and whipped up the cream Friday midday, stuck that in the fridge, and put the dessert together during the seder. The whole process was simple and fuss-free. The results were no less than spectacular.
Mixed Berry Pavlova, adapted from Jamie Geller
For the Pavlova
5 cold egg whites
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons potato starch
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Garnish: Mixed Berries (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
Preheat oven to 250°F. Using a dinner plate, trace a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper so ink does not get on the meringue and set aside.
Whip whites, salt, and vanilla on high in a mixer until firm. With the motor running, add sugar, a spoonful at a time, until whites are glossy and very stiff.
Gently fold potato starch and vinegar into meringue with a spatula.
Transfer meringue to prepared parchment paper. Form meringue into a rustic bowl. It’s not necessary to make it perfect. Just be sure to make the center thick enough to support the filling.
Bake pavlova at 250°F for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven and do not open the door for at least 6 hours or, better yet, overnight. The residual heat will crisp up the meringue and keep humidity out.
Place pavlova on a serving platter. Pile whipped cream on pavlova. Add berries.
With a mixer, or by hand, whip cream and sugar in a chilled bowl will chilled beater until soft folds form.
Whip until soft peaks form.
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is assigned a numeric value. Aleph is one, bet is two, and so on. All words have values too, based on the sum of their letters. One of the big words is chai, which means life, as in “L’chaim!” My Hebrew name is Chaya, which is derived from it. The two letters that spell that spell chai add up to 18, and so it’s traditional for Jews to give charity and gifts in increments of 18: 36, 54, 72 etc.
I’m telling you all this because today I turned 36. Now, for some that might mean I’m on the back end of my 30’s, only a few years from 40. But I am viewing my birthday as double chai, and I feel pretty good about that.
It’s not that uncommon for my birthday to fall during Passover, which meant growing up I often didn’t have a proper birthday cake. I have many childhood memories of my mom sticking candles in a watermelon and telling me to make a wish. I honestly don’t know if I ever wished for real cake, because I’m actually a huge watermelon fan. But for a few years, a bakery that only opened during Passover (I guess we’d call it a “pop-up” these days) sold these incredible flourless chocolate brownies and an outstanding flourless chocolate cake. It was so extraordinary and beautiful the shop called it “the Robert Redford cake.” Oh, Hubbell.
I have no watermelon in the house right now, but I did have all the ingredients to make myself a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday. So I did.
As you know, I take Passover pretty seriously, so every year my beleaguered Catholic husband lugs an entire set of pots, pans, utensils and dishes up from the cellar. My Passover kitchen is a work in progress, and every year the same thing happens: I go to cook or bake something and realize that I’m missing a certain piece of kitchen equipment. This year I learned I need to buy a whisk and an offset spatula for next year.
It turns out, though, that I don’t need to buy a cake pan. I just used my go-to, glass-lidded non-stick Passover pan, which has been with me as long as I’ve been cooking on my own. It’s deep enough to cook 2 cups of quinoa, and has a metal handle that can go in the oven (ideal for fritatta making). It’s not quite the Jews wandering in the desert, but making do with only a few kitchen tools does evoke the spirit of the holiday for me.
So, whisk-less, I mixed this simple batter with a fork, poured it into my trusty pan and stuck that into the oven. Because the pan is a little larger than the 8-inch pan the recipe called for, I reduced the baking time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. Instead of fancy chocolate, I used kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips. There was a half an orange in the fridge leftover from Lilli’s breakfast, so I had Rich zest it. (For some reason, I have a Passover zester but not a whisk. Go figure.) I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover sifter, so I just stirred the cocoa powder with a fork and carried on.
We ate this tonight with dollops of fresh whipped cream, or schlag as my German mother would call it. It now occurs to me that I could have used the hand mixer I used to whip the cream for the batter, but no matter. There’s always next year. L’chaim!
Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted, ever so slightly, from Gourmet, November 1997
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (which I did not do)
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
Preheat oven to 375F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of buttered wax paper (I used parchment paper).
Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift ½ cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir in the orange zest.
Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.
Not necessary step: Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet or whipped cream if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container.)
Easy Does It
We’ve been enjoying the sunny weather, which means there are some days – and even some weeks during the summer – when the stove and oven go untouched. Rich is in his element in the heat, enjoying the Weber Grill my parents and I gave him a few years back.
Sure, I’m always happy to bring a salad to these meals — and trust me, there are dozens to talk about — but given the chance, Rich will snatch the vegetables off the counter and cook them over the coals. I can’t complain too loudly about someone being helpful and taking responsibilities off my plate. And this weekend, when I was feeling a bit under the weather, it was nice and reassuring that I didn’t have to worry about our next meal.
I did bring dessert, though, and it couldn’t have been simpler. It’s this time of year that fool recipes – a simple British summer dessert consisting of stiffed whipped cream and berries – start to crop up. And why not? There’re always berries on sale at the market, and the oven stays off, keeping the kitchen cool.
I made our version in an extremely lazy way, mashing berries I had macerated for about an hour. If you have the gumption, I’d say turn on the stove and cook down the berries even more, or get out your step stool and get down the blender and give the berries a whirl. It’s up to you, of course.
The recipe I used for the berries comes from a strawberry shortcake recipe from a Bon Appetit from last summer. If memory serves, it was a dead simple biscuit recipe and the results were superb. But skip the biscuit and just make this. It’s so easy and so so delicious.
2 pounds fresh strawberries (about 8 cups), hulled, quartered if small, sliced if large
6 Tablespoons sugar, divided
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 large pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix strawberries, 5 tablespoons sugar, vinegar, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Let macerate an hour, stirring occasionally. At the end of an hour, use a potato masher to break down the berries even more. Alternatively, puree the macerated berries in a blender for 30 seconds.
Using an electric mixer, beat cream, vanilla, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another medium bowl until peaks form.
Assemble the fool: Fold berries, its juices, and the cream together. Serve in a tall glass, if you have one. In fact, you can assemble the fool and serve it from the same glass.
We once had a roommate who went on food jags. One month, he ate a thick bowl of oatmeal every day for dinner. Another month, there were endless waffles drizzled with syrup. He was very full after the month of Hungry Man dinners, and he swore to never eat another bite of buffalo chicken anything after his month of binging on the spicy wings.
I am in the throes of my own food spree right now: I am full-on in a cardamom jag. Today I’m offering up two recipes with cardamom, next week there will be a third. I hope by then the urge to sniff and savor this woody, floral spice will be out of my system.
My affair with the green pods started innocently enough; in fact, it caught me by surprise. (Isn’t that always the way with life’s great romances, though?) Last week we went to a ginger party, where guests were invited to bring a ginger-spiced dish to share with the group. There was ginger tea, maki rolls made with pear and candied ginger, cucumbers quick-pickled with rice vinegar and ginger, and sundry ginger-flecked baked goods. I used a Ming Tsai recipe I had bookmarked a few months earlier. It was his version of a fruit cake, East/West-style, with molasses, candied ginger and an array of spices. It was decent enough. I mean, it was cake, and, as a general rule, cake is good. But it was really the whipped cream that was served atop the cake that was the best part. Freshly whipped with cardamom and brown sugar, I may have licked the entire Kitchen Aid Mixer bowl and whisk before even letting Rich know what we were bringing to the party. (I actually just walked into the kitchen in time to see Rich flat out dipping his entire hand into the mixer to scoop up a fist full of cream. For reals.)
The next morning I gchatted with my sister-in-law, who informed me that they were drinking the world’s best hot chocolate. The secret? Cardamom. Oh no, I argued, the world’s best hot chocolate could only be the world’s best if it was topped with the fresh cardamom whipped cream from last night. A perfect drink was born.
Some might argue that cardamom is not a cheap spice, but I beg to differ. You can pick up a hefty bag for a couple bucks at the Armenian stores in Watertown. What you want are the black seeds inside the fibrous pods. For this dish, I slit open the pods, shook out the black seeds, and ground them up until I had the right amount.
(Today I used my spice grinder — a coffee grinder I picked up at Ocean State Job Lot for $15 last year. Ordinarily, I might have used my mortar and pestle that rests on the counter, but Rich borrowed it last week and lost the pestle. Not to worry, he finally found the pestle on Friday morning. It was in the garbage disposal. Rich owes me a new mortar and pestle.)
You can always buy cardamom already ground, but it will not last quite as long as using the seeds from the pod. It’s a good idea to have the pods on-hand if you’re interested in exploring Indian dishes. It’s cardamom you’re tasting in an Indian restaurant’s rice; a few pods tossed in while the rice is simmering is what beckons a Bombay banquet.
Cardamom Hot Chocolate
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (I used Ghiradelli because that’s what I have in my cupboard. I am sure any brand will be great.)
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
A sprinkle of cinnamon
Mix cocoa, sugar and spices in a small dish. Pour milk into a small pan, add the cocoa mixture and stir. Heat, while stirring, until steaming.
Cardamom Whipped Cream with help from Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
In a chilled bowl (I put the bowl of my mixer in the freezer for about a half hour the first time I did this recipe, the second time, I didn’t bother), combine the cream, brown sugar and cardamom until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, find the biggest mug in your kitchen — trust me, you’ll want as much of this as possible — and fill it about 3/4 of the way full with the hot chocolate. Then, fill the rest of the mug with the whipped cream.
There’s enough whipped cream for several servings. I’m not sure how many. My guess would be four or five. But the amount will correspond directly with the will-power of those assembled. I make no promises.