Salted Spicy Chocolate Ice Cream

One of my favorite things to sip on when it’s cold and rainy out is Mexican Hot Chocolate. The sweet, spicy and salty flavors compliment each other perfectly. But what about when it’s warm and sunny out? Turn it into an ice cream of course! Of course it doesn’t completely transfer over so I had to tweak the recipe and I threw in a bit more spice as well. Because salt added directly to the ice cream will melt it and not allow it to freeze correctly I wait to add it when serving it.

Sift together:

  • 1 Cup Cocoa powder
  • 2/3 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbs Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Cayenne powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Mix in:

  • 1-1/2 cup cream

This should create a thick creamy mixture which helps get the cocoa powder mixed into the liquid. If you add too much liquid the cocoa powder acts hydrophobic and can be really difficult to get incorporated.

Once the dry ingredients are incorporated in with the cream stir in:

  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 4 cups whole milk

Once everything is incorporated add it to your ice cream maker and turn on until you have ice cream. When you are ready to serve sprinkle with finishing salt. The finishing salt hold it’s texture better than kosher, sea or iodized salt. I used a French Grey salt for this recipe. It actually came out better than I had expected. The spicy isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t show up until the end but doesn’t last long. The salt really brings out all the flavors perfectly and adds a bit of texture as well.

Lemon Souffle Revisited – with Limes

Awhile ago I posted a Lemon Souffle recipe that I thought at the time was pretty good. But everything around here is constantly evolving, even my go-to recipes.

When I was a kid my mom used to make lemon souffle as a very special treat. We didn’t get it very often, but I always remember it being one of my favorite dishes. It was sweet and extra tangy. She used to make it in one big casserole dish rather than in ramekins, but that was OK with me! This recipe can work for either but you’ll have to adjust the time for large dishes.

I’m famous in my family for my lemon meringue pie. I’m pretty secretive about my recipe (even my recipe card just has the ingredients on it and none of the instructions) but I’ll tell you that some of my secrets to it are super fresh, backyard eggs and Lisbon or Eureka lemons. Meyer lemons just don’t work because they are too sweet. I started with my lemon meringue pie recipe and adapted it to become a lemon souffle since I never did get my mom’s recipe for her souffle.

For this recipe you can use either lemons or limes. Since I don’t have any lemons on hand yet this year, I made it with limes instead. Of course, you can also do oranges or other citrus, you’ll just need to adjust the water and sugar to your taste.

Lemon/Lime Souffle
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar plus extra
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon and/or lime juice
2 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs whole milk (we use goat’s milk)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg F.
2. Using the butter, grease 4 ramekins and then coat with sugar.
3. Begin beating egg whites and add cream of tartar. Beat until stiff.
4. Mix remaining ingredients together, beating until smooth.
5. Fold in egg whites and pour into ramekins.
6. Bake for 15 min. or until the tops are puffy and golden brown.
7. Serve immediately.

Ice Cream

Yeah, I know. If you’re here in the Bay Area, you might think I’m a madwoman for posting about ice cream. But hey – it’s JULY. It’s SUMMER. And even if there is water falling from the sky and a chill in the wind that I can feel INSIDE MY BONES, I am going to make ice cream, and I’m gonna eat it.

…I’ll just be eating it over a hearty rhubarb cobbler or a steaming hot slice of olallieberry pie, is all.

I was always afraid of making ice cream. So afraid, for a time, that I didn’t even attempt to make it, and stuck to warm desserts. The oven was a machine I understood. Those hand-crank things with all the salt and ice and achey muscles? Yeah, I remembered doing that in girl scout camp. But who would want to go to all that trouble when SF has some amazing local organic ice cream already made?

But then about a year ago Rick bought me an ice cream maker (with freezer bowls and a motor – no hand-crankin’ for me) after I’d spent a solid week watching Iron Chef and drooling over all their strange ice creams and sorbets. Because what I needed more than anything is another kitchen gadget, obviously.

So, I tried it out.

Much to my dismay, my general laissez faire attitude when it comes to recipes DOESN’T WORK with ice cream. Cutting out the fat, or the sugar, or adding in something strange (like subbing yogurt for cream) makes the structure go all wonky and the resulting texture is unpleasant. Ice cream has rules, and I’m not so good at rules.

SO I went to the expert: Alanna of Bojon Gourmet. She’s been making desserts for like, ever and I don’t know if I’ve ever had an ice cream of hers that wasn’t stellar. So I asked for help. I brought over fresh eggs from the chickens, and we picked up some cream, and got to work.

That day we made Earl Grey ice cream with honey. The base has to sit in the fridge overnight to chill before it’s run through the machine, so I didn’t get to try it right away, but the ice cream that came out of the machine the next day was perfect: thick, creamy, just the right amount of sweet, just the right amount of bitterness from the tea…I was hooked.

Over the course of the next month, I made Alanna’s mint chip ice cream recipe with fresh mint from the garden, as well as a chai ice cream with diced candied ginger, a caramelized fennel seed ice cream (which was AMAZING and I can’t wait until the fennel seeds are in season again), some rockin’ fresh vanilla, some spicy ginger root ice cream…and two more batches of Earl Grey. What can I say? It was a winner.

This week I had some extra sour cream and experimented with a sour cream and honey ice cream. Turns out ice cream has rules, but within those rules are a million successful variations. I guess once you know the formula, ice cream’s not so hard after all!

Basic Ice Cream
1.5 c half and half
(3 Tbsp loose tea leaves, or 1 vanilla bean, halved/scraped, or one bunch of fresh herbs)
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c honey (or sugar)
4 egg yolks

Heat 1 c half and half in a saucepan until steaming (but not simmering). If you are steeping a flavor into the ice cream (like tea, or vanilla, or mint, or lavender), mix it into this cup of warmed dairy, put a lid on it, and let it sit for about an hour. Then bring the half and half back up to “steamy”. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the honey (or sugar) until fully incorporated.

In ANOTHER bowl, whisk the cup of heavy cream with the remaining 1/2 cup of half and half, and store this in the fridge (you’ll want it as cool as possible to stop the cooking of the other ingredients later).

Temper the hot half and half into the eggs/honey and then put it all back in the pan and bring it to 170 degrees stirring constantly (or until it thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. Alanna says to test it by tilting the pan…if it coats the bottom of the pan a little, it’s good enough).

Pour this through a strainer to remove the unwanted bits of tea, etc (it will also weed out any lumpy/grainy parts at all from cooking the eggs – it happens sometimes) into the cold dairy, and stir to combine. Store this in the fridge overnight until it’s fully chilled, and then run it through an ice cream machine like you would any other basic ice cream. Mine takes about 20 minutes to be thick enough to handle. If I am adding nuts or crushed toffee (or caramelized fennel seeds – ahem), I add them at the very end of the cycle, once the ice cream is already thick enough for the bits to stay suspended in the base.

Once the ice cream is thick and aerated, put it into a couple of mason jars (or a big pyrex – something freezer-safe) and let it sit for a couple hours to harden completely before serving.

ALSO: I should also mention that my roommate (of Eco-SF) has been making ice cream base and churning it in a crank-style ice cream maker powered by a stationary bike when they have work days at the school farm. I have yet to take a turn, but I hope to soon!

Baby’s First Brownies (no, really)

Until about a week and a half ago, I had never made brownies from scratch. Sure, I’d made layered ricotta cakes and light-as-air macarons and fresh sourdough bread and all SORTS of complicated sauces and things, but somehow I must have missed the day where I was supposed to learn the recipe for good old-fashioned brownies.

But then, on a magical day when it wasn’t omgIamgoingtodieofbusy at work, I was scrolling through one of my favorite recipe/food blogs looking for a good recipe for goat cheese ice cream (which, of course, she had), and I found a picture of little individual brownies, served with a scoop of ice cream, and a salted caramel sauce. The brownies looked so amazing.

And all of a sudden the ice cream wasn’t top priority anymore. I needed brownies. NEEDED them.

But sadly, I also needed to do another 6 hours of work, and then I had promised that I was going to be home to take care of some home-things…so there were going to be complications. Namely, I wasn’t going to make it to the store, and I didn’t have any cocoa powder. Or a bunch of other stuff, including coffee, that the brownie recipe I’d found called for.

So I hit the interwebs, looking for a recipe that WOULD work with what I had. Who else would I trust to make brownies well? David Lebovitz, obviously!

Would he pull through? Could I make brownies with just what I had at the house (and a few creative tweaks)? Yes, yes I could. Adapting from this amazing recipe, which he had taken from a cookbook appropriately titled Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, I could melt down the dark chocolate chips I had, add a RIDICULOUS amount of butter and sugar, and make myself some pretty stellar (according to Mr. Liebovitz, who knows from stellar, lemme tell you) brownies.

And oh, they did not disappoint. They were fudgy and messy and chewy and outrageously rich. They stuck horrendously to the foil with which D.L. insisted the pan be lined (smart man), and only gave up the fight after a stern talking to (and the threat of a hot, damp knife).

They were everything I had hoped for. They were so tasty. They were…gone so fast! I had to make another batch within the week.

Oh well, I’ll actually try ‘em with cocoa powder this time.

Chewy Dark Chocolate Brownies

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao in chip-form),
2 sticks salted butter
1 1/4 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
*2 Tbsp dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (I didn’t have any the first time I made them, and I didn’t miss it too much, but it was awesome *with* it, too)
1 1/2 cups raw sugar (evaporated cane juice)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 c coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the inside of a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with foil, and rub the foil with butter to “grease” the inside. Make sure you leave enough foil on the edges to use as a handle to pull the brownies out after cooling. Melt the chocolate and butter together (Liebovitz says to use a double-boiler, and he’s probably right. My lazy self used the microwave). Once the chocolate/butter are melted and smooth, whisk in both sugars and the eggs. It’s easier if they’re beaten a bit before mixing, or if you add them one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and stir to incorporate fully.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder (if you’re using it). Get all the lumps out of the flour if you can (I actually put mine through a sieve because it was a little old and VERY lumpy). Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients being careful not to over-mix. At this time, also add the walnuts if you want them (I’d recommend it – they break up some of the doughy texture in a lovely way).

Pour/scrape the batter into the pan (DO NOT SKIP THE FOIL), and bake for 30-40 min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Like most brownie recipes, it’s best to underbake than to overbake.
**not pictured because camera ran out of juice: adding nuts, putting batter into pan, licking batter off all utensils, having to clean most of kitchen from resulting chocolatesplosion**
D.L. says to wrap these brownies well when storing. Me, I think they get BETTER after being cut and left out to dry a bit on the edges. It’s a texture thing, but I swear by it. Believe me – they are moist enough that they will not dry out if you leave them for a while.

Another neat thing I learned is that they freeze well…which, if you can stop yourself from eating all of them (or feeding them all to your boss because he’s just so darned HAPPY when you bring brownies to the office, and who doesn’t like a happy boss?), is a cool thing to have frozen. Brownies. Whenever. Think about it.
Next time I’m making two pans.

Lemon Curd (or, why I should ALWAYS listen to my gut)

When life gives you lemons, make lemon curd. Then ask life if you can come over to pick more lemons. Tell life you’ll trade for jars of curd. Life would be stupid not to comply.

I had never made lemon curd before last week.

Crazy, I know. I can make custard, jams, jellies, and roux all the live-long day, but for some reason making lemon curd always seemed like something better left to the professionals.
Then some friends of ours (whose house I had never been to before) invited us over to play music, and I finally saw the lemon tree they’re always telling me to come raid…it was COVERED with beautiful Meyer lemons!
I went home with two big shopping bags full, and many lofty ideas.
Then, as it often does, life happened, and days passed without my having any time to make ANYTHING with them. Sure, I used one or two in tea, and I made a pretty great spiced ginger lemonade, but 5 days later, I had hardly made a dent in the stockpile. I knew I had to do something.
So I turned to my old faithful: the internet. Lo and behold, there was a recipe by Alton Brown for a fairly simple lemon curd. One of the things I love best about Good Eats (and Alton Brown’s recipes in general) is that I have always been able to follow them exactly and come up with something that I liked. Sure, I could sub out ingredients I didn’t have at the house, or make minor adjustments. But they were always optional, as his original recipe was unfailingly solid.
I decided to give it a shot, and gathered up my ingredients.
Unsalted butter, huh? I wonder why he didn’t use any salt in this recipe? I love salt in recipes with lemon and sugar – it brings out the sweetness and harmonizes perfectly with the bitterness from the zest. But if Alton says so, then I guess I’ll trust him.
Hmmm, that seems like an awful lot of sugar for that much lemon juice. Was there a typo? Only 1/3 c of lemon juice (and who has ever juiced 4 lemons and come up with less than 1/3 c juice, anyway? What sort of lemon is HE using, I wonder)? Well, I’ll add more lemon juice to be on the safe side. Maybe the sugar is necessary to stabilize the curd; who am I to judge? In it goes.
A whole cup of butter? REALLY, Alton? Are you taking hints from Paula Deen? Well, I’m no expert. I’ll give it a try.
…I am sad to say that the resulting curd was, though tasty, too sweet, too buttery, and missing that little kick that I wanted it to have. It was more like a lemon custard than a curd, and was too mild to use in the way I’d intended (served on almond/poppyseed scones).
Checking back with the recipe, I saw that there were a lot of comments, and decided to see what the folks out there in Food Network Land had to say. Turns out it was about an even split between glowing compliments and complaints, but a good number of people had altered the recipe to cut down on sugar and butter.
So I wasn’t crazy after all. It’s strange; I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook at this point, and I have quite a bit of faith in my intuition when it comes to writing recipes. But somehow this time I second guessed myself, and wound up with a substandard product at the end.
Well, lesson learned. Back to the kitchen!
The second batch of curd I made was heavenly: light and thick with a beautiful golden color and just the right amount of tang from the lemons. It was not cloyingly sweet or noticeably salty, and was the perfect consistency (after refrigeration) to spread on scones.
I brought a jar of the curd to the Dog Island Farm potluck at Tom and Rachel’s house that weekend, where it was met with many very nice compliments (and requests that I blog the recipe).
I’ve doubled the amount of curd Alton originally said to make, as I feel like it’s enough work (and results in enough dirty dishes) to warrant making enough to keep around for a while (or share with friends). Besides, at the rate we’re going through it, I should have made twice that AGAIN.
Good thing there’s always more lemons!

Meyer Lemon Curd
(adapted from Alton Brown’s Recipe on
8 large (ripe) Meyer Lemons
1 1/2 c evaporated cane juice or organic sugar
10 egg yolks (our girls lay very large eggs. If you have smaller eggs, use a few more yolks, maybe a dozen, to make sure your curd thickens appropriately)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp pats and chilled
(you could use 1 stick of unsalted and 1/2 stick of salted butter and skip adding extra salt, if you like)
Wash the lemons thoroughly, and grate off all of the zest into a medium-to-large metal bowl (I wound up with about 1 cup of finely grated zest). Juice the lemons and strain the juice into the bowl as well. I’d say these lemons came to about 2 1/2 cups of juice – take THAT, Alton! .
In another bowl, separate the egg yolks from the whites, and set the whites aside for a different recipe (I’m gonna learn to make angel food cake). Beat the sugar into the yolks until they become lighter in color and are thoroughly combined. Stir in the salt, if you’re using it.
If you have an actual double-boiler pan, you can use it for this next step. Otherwise, start a medium-sized pot on the stove with about an inch of water simmering in it, and place your metal bowl of lemon juice/zest on top of it (the bowl should sit comfortably on the pan without falling in or tipping over). Add in the egg mixture, and stir to combine. Whisk or stir the curd constantly while it’s on the heat.
Alton’s 4-lemon recipe said it takes about 8 minutes for the curd to thicken. If at any time the curd starts to boil or bubble, turn down the heat under your simmering pot. The point here is to heat this mixture very slowly so that the eggs thicken without congealing. With this double batch and MUCH more lemon juice than what was originally called for, the process takes more like 20-30 minutes of constant stirring. I know, it’s a pain and it makes your arm hurt. I promise the curd is worth it.
The curd will start to thicken gradually, and will get to the point where it thickly coats the back of a spoon. At this point it is done cooking, and you can take it off the heat.
But no, you’re not done stirring yet. To get that beautiful sheen and rich flavor, the curd needs butter. Melt/stir the chilled pats of butter into the hot curd one at a time, letting each one completely incorporate before adding the next.
When all of the butter is mixed in, allow the curd to cool. You can do this in the bowl, or transfer the curd directly into sanitized jars for storage. I like to put it in jars when it’s hot so that it sets up and doesn’t get weird air bubbles in the jar.
This curd will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month, and can apparently be frozen and thawed successfully (I’ll let you know when I thaw the jar I’m testing). It is delicious served on scones, especially if you make them with poppyseeds or almonds. It is wonderful melted on hot sourdough pancakes, or toasted rounds of baguette.
Me, I am often caught in the act of eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Basic Egg Custard

When I was in 7th grade, my parents signed a form giving permission for me to participate in a raffle put on by my science class. The prize? Tiny baby chicks from our egg-incubation study. I am sure my folks were skeptical. Chickens? We lived in suburban Santa Cruz. People didn’t have chickens in our neighborhood.
But for some reason (perhaps owing to some spectacularly melodramatic pleading on my part?) they signed it.
It is possible that they’d done the math and figured the likelihood of my winning (8 chicks in a class of 35 kids) was slim. Maybe they thought saying yes would save them from having to break my heart and statistics would win out. Boy were they wrong. Only a few parents signed the forms, and I came home with not one but TWO tiny balls of fluff that afternoon.
Like any good 7th grader, I immediately informed my parents about the various duties we would all be expected to perform as new chicken-parents. Namely, I would be in charge of their socialization and upbringing (read: cuddling, playing with) while my parents would make sure the darling little things stayed alive (read: building coop/run, feeding, mucking coop, etc).
These two (named Rikki and Lucy) were the first of many chickens I would raise through my teenage years. I can’t say that I was a very good homesteader (wait, am I still allowed to use that word?), nor was I particularly interested in having chickens once they got past the fluffy-and-cute phase. I’m sure that most of the hard work was actually done by my folks, who tolerated my flights of fancy and let me go on pretending I was Laura Ingalls. Until, of course, they informed me that Laura “wouldn’t have gotten to eat sugar cereal, living out on the prairie and all”.

Still, though, I look back on that first day as a chicken-owner as the beginning of something pretty big. We now have chickens and ducks and a yard that provides a good amount of the fresh produce we consume. Would I be the person I am today if I hadn’t won that raffle in 7th grade? Who knows…maybe my parents DID know what they were getting me into when they signed that form, after all.
note: until I started raising chickens, I did not know eggs were seasonal. When the days get shorter, egg production slows and even stops in most birds, and we have made the choice to let our girls rest instead of installing artificial lights to keep them laying.
I can make do without a lot of things. I like to think of myself as pretty handy in the kitchen, and it generally takes a lot to really trip me up. However, when the chickens stop laying for the winter, it really throws a wrench into my plans. I LOVE fresh eggs.
Knowing what I know about the poultry and egg production industries, however, I will no longer support “farms” that de-beak or otherwise mis-treat their birds. So when free-range eggs come off the shelves, well, we make do. It’s not fun. I do not like it. But we go without.
This basic no-frills custard is the first thing I make when I have too many eggs. Think of it as a celebration: the ladies are back in business!

Basic Egg Custard
3 c milk (I use 1% or 2% for this recipe. Some people really like the silkier, richer flavor of whole milk or cream in a baked custard, but I have always liked this recipe a little lighter)
4 fresh eggs, cracked and scrambled lightly
3/4 c evaporated cane juice (or other light-colored granulated sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (use powdered if you can’t get the fresh stuff)

Find a baking dish (a casserole dish, ramekin, glass bowl, or pyrex cake pan would be fine, here) that will fit completely inside a larger high-sided pan. Place the smaller pan inside the larger pan: there should be space on all 4 sides. You’ll be filling this space with water once the pans are in the oven (making a water bath for the custard ensures that it comes up to temperature more slowly and the heat is distributed evenly, preventing the eggs from seizing and becoming grainy or rubbery).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl (sometimes I do this directly into the baking dish), combine the milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Do not add the nutmeg yet. Whisk until the eggs are completely combined and the sugar does not settle to the bottom of the bowl. Pour the mixture into the smaller pan. Sprinkle the nutmeg over the top of the mixture (it will float) and carefully place both pans in the oven. Using a pitcher or container with a pour-spout (I use my tea kettle for this), add warm water into the bigger pan until it is more than half-way up to the level of the custard mixture.

Bake this for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean (it will seem wet, but there will be no egg on it).

This custard is delicious hot, but is probably my favorite breakfast of all time when it’s served cold the next morning. Ma Ingalls would approve.

Spiced Persimmon Bread

I wrote last week about the farmer’s market, and about how I am trying to be more responsible about using the produce I bring home before it goes bad. I am happy to announce that we have made some very good changes to our kitchen paradigm, and have significantly reduced our produce waste. I am still struggling with a bit of hoarder’s complex (I HATE running out of things, so I don’t use them “just in case” I need them later. Then they go bad, and I wonder why it keeps happening), but I’m getting better about respecting/appreciating the freshness and being more intentional about meal planning.

I also wrote last week about my delight and surprise that someone still had crisp fuyu persimmons available in February (they are generally a fall/early winter fruit). When we went back again this weekend, they were still there, in all their beautiful orange glory!
There are two types of persimmons that we see at the markets:
Fuyu: squat, tomato-shaped fruits with edible skin. They are to be consumed when they are hard (like an apple). Their flavor is mild and sweet, but not cloying or syrupy. Their flesh is crunchy and great for eating raw, slicing into salads, drying into persimmon chips, or baking into tarts.
Hachiya: these heart-shaped fruits are larger than their cousins, with a more elongated shape. They are very bitter and tannic when they’re firm, but become pudding-like and VERY sweet when allowed to fully ripen. Many people like to eat these fresh (cut in half and scooped out with a spoon), or frozen like a sorbet. The skin of the hachiya is not generally edible – it gets very papery as the fruit ripens.

I’m all for using hachiyas in this recipe, but I generally shy away from them in favor of the fuyu when I’m shopping (especially since Rick HATES the squishy ones). It’s a texture thing. I do, however, sometimes enjoy the “over-ripe” fuyus that get soft and sweet, becoming much more like a hachiya. Someone get me a spoon!
These late-season fuyu persimmons are starting to get a little thick-skinned, and they are smaller than the ones I saw this year during peak-season, but they are sweet and crisp and delicious nonetheless. I grabbed about 5 lbs of them, planning to prep and freeze them, as I’m sure they won’t be around much longer.
Getting them home, I halved them and removed the stems/caps. I then peeled the skin off (I am much more efficient with a good paring knife than I am with a peeler, but you could go with whatever way is comfortable). I then diced the fruit into roughly 1cm cubes, placing them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. An hour in the freezer got them nice and solid, and then I put them into freezer-safe gallon bags for storage.

(Why the baking sheet step? I find that flash-freezing fruits and vegetables on sheets and THEN storing them keeps them from all sticking together. This way when I want to use them, I don’t have to thaw out the whole bag; I can just measure out the amount I need and thaw that.)
Of course, I saved 1 cup of the diced fruit fresh for making persimmon bread!
I love that this recipe uses yogurt (a quick sweep of banana bread recipes online suggested that this was a low-fat alternative to the more common oil or butter). Personally, I don’t care about the fat content (my banana bread recipe uses both butter AND cream cheese), but I thought the acidity and tang of the yogurt would bring out some of the sweetness of the persimmons and add a depth of flavor. Additionally, the spices are noticeable but not overwhelming: fuyu persimmons have a rather delicate flavor that I wanted to make sure I highlighted, and didn’t overpower.

This bread is dense and moist with chunks of soft persimmon (which almost seems candied) flecked throughout. It is guaranteed to please even the staunchest of “EEEW PERSIMMONS ARE SLIMY” critics. Try it. It’s fabulous.

Spiced Persimmon Bread

(makes one 9 x 5 loaf)
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c organic brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 c plain yogurt
1 c mashed or diced persimmons (about 3 or 4, depending on size)
1 egg
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease (butter) a 1.5 qt /5 x 9 pan. I like to use my pyrex loaf pan for this so I can see the sides of the loaf as it bakes.

Pick out a few ripe persimmons. Peel and dice them into 1 cm cubes (if they are very soft, just spoon them out of the halved skins and mash up the pulp so there are no overly-large chunks). Put these into a mixing bowl with the egg, yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, and the spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir until they are fully incorporated.
Pour this batter (it should be fairly thick) into the greased loaf pan and put it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (keep in mind that if you get baked persimmon on the toothpick, it might not look totally clean. This is OK – you’re checking for batter, not persimmon goop).
When the loaf is finished cooking, allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then turn it out of the pan and allow it to cool further on a wire rack. If you like your breads moist, place a dish towel over the top while it’s cooling to keep the steam inside the loaf.

Serve warm with whipped cream, or slice and serve cold. This bread is also a spectacular breakfast/tea snack when it’s sliced, toasted, and buttered.
note: I haven’t tried it, but I’d bet this recipe would make a killer pumpkin bread (maybe with some sunflower seeds or walnuts?) or carrot bread (with golden raisins). I’ll let y’all know if I get around to trying it. I mean – after all, I have GALLONS of persimmons to go through first!

Fleur de Sel (Salted) Caramels

Last year I ill-advisedly picked up on one of those “the first 5 people to comment on this will get a hand-made gift from me” kind of memes floating around facebook. The caveat, as is often the case with these things, was re-posting it on YOUR page, thus continuing the cycle of gift-making.
So I posted it. Because I somehow thought I’d actually follow through and make something “before the end of the year” and send it out to those lucky 5 people, and wouldn’t they be SO PLEASED!? I mean – come on – this isn’t just a hand-made thing by anyone. I’m an ARTIST.
So, bursting to the gills with ego and self-proclaimed benevolence, I immediately signed up for all sorts of other folks’ stuff and then promptly forgot all about the project.

That is, until I got a call from a friend of mine, asking if I was home, because he owed me something and wanted to drop it off. I couldn’t for the life of me think of what he could possibly owe me, but agreed that yes, I would be home in 20 minutes, and he was welcome to come by. I wondered what it could be? Was it my birthday?

And then I panicked. I remembered that stupid meme. Oh boy, I was a bad friend. I didn’t even remember which 5 people I’d promised gifts to, and though I know that facebook saves everything posted on it FOREVER, the odds of finding that post again seemed slim (let it never be said that I am unapologetically flaky. In fact, I will beat myself up and tilt into ever-widening guilt-spirals if given half the chance. Especially about art projects).

I paced. I made tea. Maybe he wouldn’t ask about MY gifts if I kept him busy. “I know – I’ll show him the garden! The chickens! YAY chickens!” I said to myself.
The doorbell rang. Leigh and his daughter Genna came in, hung out with the chickens, and then handed me a tiny box. A box full of THE BEST SALTED CARAMELS I HAVE EVER TASTED.

I don’t remember if they asked me about my gifts. I probably told them I was a horrible flake and hadn’t done anything. I was beyond caring. I was lost in a world of delicious caramel-y goodness the likes of which I had previously believed were unachievable. Unless they were magic.

It’s possible I actually asked if the caramels were magic. The rest of the visit was kind of a blur.
This year, when I was thinking about what I would like to make to give to my friends and loved ones during the (insert special winter celebration here) holidays, these were the first things I thought of. I called up Leigh and Genna and asked them if they would prettyprettyplease with fleur de sel on top teach me to make salted caramels, and they gladly agreed.

Turns out there’s not much to them, once you get the proportions and the science down. Yes, they take some time to make. Yes, they make a bit of a mess, and YES, hot sugar is equal only to MOLTEN LAVA in it’s powers of burning and making things (fingers, ahem) hurt. Yes, this process takes LOTS OF HOURS. But they are so oh-my-god-I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven-and-not-even-the-normal-heaven-but-a-special-heaven-just-for-foodies good that it’s worth any amount of work.

Heck, I might even send some to those 5 folks on my list. If I can ever remember who they were.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

(aside from the food ingredients, you will need several pans: one sauce pan for heating the cream and butter, one big high-sided pot for boiling the caramel, and a double-boiler for tempering the chocolate. A saucepan with a heat-proof bowl on top can be a fakey double-boiler in a pinch.

You’ll need a large pyrex (or other non-stick) casserole or cake pan, roughly 11″ x 15″, buttered completely on all inside surfaces.

You will also need a candy thermometer, a heat-resistant rubber spatula/whisk, a roll of wax paper, a roll of parchment paper, and a long chef’s knife with a sharp edge.)

2c heavy whipping cream
10 Tbsp butter (plus more for buttering the pan)
2 tsp sea salt (plus more for sprinkling on top)
3c granulated sugar (I used organic evaporated cane juice)
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/2 c water (a little more or less depending on the humidity where you’re making them)
dark chocolate (we went through a little over one large bar, which was maybe 2 or 3 cups when chopped)
In a large, high-sided pan (I used a large stock pot), mix the sugar, corn syrup, and water…keeping in mind that higher-humidities will need slightly less water than called for in the recipe. Once the ingredients are incorporated, place them over medium heat to start melting together.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt the cream, butter, and salt together and bring to a boil (remember that the cream will increase in volume dramatically when boiling – consider this when choosing your pans). Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside until needed.
The butter and cream will separate somewhat as this mixture cools, but that’s OK – the violent bubbling in the next step will assure that everything incorporates fully.
**Make sure at this time that you have prepped your pans for the caramel to set. You want something with a wide, flat base that is heat-proof (no plastics) and sturdy (will not warp). Large pyrex/heavy glass casserole dishes or cake pans are ideal for this. Coat all inside surfaces with butter and make sure you do not miss any spots – the caramel can get pretty sticky.**
Once the sugar mixture comes to a boil, keep an eye on the color: you want a deep amber, but there’s a fine line between golden-brown and BURNT. Do not cross that line. You’ll notice that at a certain point, the bubbles will change size and consistency somewhat (bubbles will be bigger and seem thicker-walled). This is a good sign that you’re getting close.
Once you have reached a good golden-brown color, it is time to add the cream. Be careful here – the mixture will easily triple in volume as it boils away the water in the cream, and is molten-hot. NO TOUCHY.
Now’s the time for your candy thermometer. You want this mixture to boil until it comes to 248 degrees (if it is very cold or wet outside, you can take it up a few degrees higher. On the night we made ours it was raining and very cold, so we took it to about 253).
Pour the mixture into the buttered pans and allow them to cool. If you are in a rush, you can cool them to where they are cool enough to handle on a counter, and then pop them in the fridge or freezer to speed up the cooling process.

Ours took about 2 hours to completely set.
Once the caramel is set, you can turn the whole slab out onto wax paper. You’ll generally need to pry it up with a butter knife or an icing-knife, but it’s not too hard to extract once you get it going. Smooth out any gashes from errant knife-slippage, and then cut the caramel into 3/4″ squares.

**Note: we discovered that having two long chef’s knives in a vase of hot water is KEY here, because you can use one until it starts to stick to the caramels, then trade out for the other heated one. Lather, rinse, repeat. **

If you do not know how to temper chocolate for dipping, there are many good methods online. We followed these instructions and were very happy with the results (because David Lebovitz is a genius and everything he does is wonderful). Basically, you have to heat the chocolate, then cool it, and then keep it within a temperature range where the crystals set in the proper way to get a hard coating that is shiny and solid at room temperature.

Once you have tempered your chocolate, you can start dipping your caramels. Leigh brought over some chocolate tools he got for cheap at the craft store, and they were fabulous…but I think a spoon and some chopsticks would do fairly well.

Once the caramels are coated in chocolate, set them out on parchment paper and sprinkle with just a bit of fleur de sel (Leigh spoiled us and brought some he’d bought in France!), and set them to dry for at least a half hour before eating.

TRY to leave some to dry all the way?
This recipe makes several dozen caramels, which is enough to keep some and share some. We made a double-batch and they covered the whole kitchen table!

Now the trick is how to stop EATING them.
*Making caramels is hard on the back, the hands, and the waistline.
*it takes for-freakin’-EVER if you want to make enough of them to have around for a bit.
*there IS such a thing as too much salt. Some of the pictured caramels had to be brushed off to be fit for consumption. A light touch is good, here.
*I do not, despite being told that I would, get tired of eating these.
Help. Please.

Pear-Ginger Buttermilk Scones

I love kitchen gadgets. LoveloveloveloveLOVE. The weirder and more obscure, the better. I have cabinets full of ricers, garlic slicers, mallets, weird whisks with funny bits for extra fluffy foams. I love my hand-crank pasta machine. I want an extruder.
My stand mixer? We have an understanding that makes room for the boyfriend, but otherwise are unwaveringly devoted to one-another.
(Yes, I am anthropomorphizing my appliances. Deal with it.)
So when the opportunity came up to make massive use of my roommate’s seemingly discarded apple peeler/corer/slicer, I jumped at it. I made SO MUCH FOOD. Apple butter. Pear butter. Dehydrated pear chips. Faux-membrillo (using apples and pears instead of the more traditional quince). All the peels and cores went into vats for home-made cider vinegars. But then I happened upon a few small, perfect pears I had plucked from a tiny tree at my boss’ house while we were gathering apples (which mostly went to a friend for cider-making…the rest got incorporated into the recipes above).
These pears needed a more delicate approach than just cooking them into oblivion or drying them into crispy snacks.

They were just so pretty and small and sweet – I wanted to show them off a little more. Unfortunately, my original plan (for pear-ricotta-rosemary galettes with a sourdough pate brisee crust) fell through (no sourdough starter prepped, no ricotta at the house, only 1 hour before work), and these scones happened instead.
But there are still many more pears. Galettes will have to wait for my next day off (and I will, of course, post the recipe once I have some pictures to go with it).
The scones came out fabulously – the perfect size to have one or two with tea. They were moist, with the sweet aroma of pears, but not so sweet that they wouldn’t stand up to a toasting and a slather of salted butter. Hearty and nutty from the whole wheat flour, and just a little bit tart from the buttermilk in the dough.

Pear-Ginger Buttermilk Scones
(makes 16 small squares or 8 one-serving wedges)
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c unbleached white bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger (or 1/2 tsp powdered, if you don’t have fresh)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
5 Tbsp butter, cold, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
roughly 3/4 c buttermilk (plus more for brushing on top)
1/2-1 c raw pears, cut in 1/2″ cubes
Note: the secret to making delicious light, fluffy scones is to handle them as little as possible while still fully incorporating the ingredients. That said, I tend to like my scones a little more on the bready, dense, hearty side. If you like a lighter scone, cut down on the whole wheat flour and use white pastry or all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and DON’T MOLEST YOUR DOUGH. Really. The more you manhandle it, the less delicate the resulting scones will be.

Peel and core the pears, and dice the fruit into small chunks. If you are not using the pears right away, leave them soaking in a nice bath of citrus juice and water so they do not oxidize and become unsightly. I used my handy-dandy apple peeler-corer-slicer for this bunch of pears, and then just cut the rings into bits – easy as pie. Mmmmm, pie.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, and dry spices. Add the sugar and ginger, then the butter, using your hands (or a pastry cutter if you are squeamish) to rub the flour into the butter until the whole mass is consistently crumbly.
Toss in the pears and the vanilla, and then (gently) work in the buttermilk just until a shaggy dough forms. Depending on the moisture of the pears and what kind of flour you use, you may need a little more or less than 3/4 c to accomplish this. You can let the dough sit for a few minutes to soak up the buttermilk’s moisture for easier scone-formation in the next step, if it seems a little dry.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into either a rectangle, square, or circle (I like a square, as it is easy to divide into 16 pieces without too much math or planning). As you are shaping, press the dough into a solid form, but refrain from over-working. Cut the dough into individual pieces, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet with enough space in-between that they will not touch when puffing up in the oven.
Brush your scones with more buttermilk, and sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for about about 20 minutes, or until they are springy to the touch and just beginning to brown on top. Serve warm with a small dollop of whipped cream, a thin spreading of lemon curd or pear butter, or just eat them with no accoutrement at all.

Pears Pears Pears!!!

It’s definitely fall here (after all of what, like 17 days of summer? What gives, San Francisco?) and the pears on the tree in the backyard are filling out beautifully and starting to ripen.
Yesterday as I was out feeding the ducks and tending to the garden, I noticed a few pears starting to fall (one barely missing Mr. Dottie, who was mirroring me around the yard to make sure I didn’t do anything crazy like try and take their food, or, you know, breathe – he’s very protective). When the pears start to fall, it’s time to harvest. Well, actually, it’s PAST time, but it’s an excellent indication of the immediacy of the situation.
Knowing there was not time to lose, I dropped everything and went to work harvesting the first bucket of pears before I lost any more to the wind, rain, and inevitable decomposition of fresh fruit. When this process begins, it all happens VERY quickly and if I want to have pears to eat (and not just worm-riddled snacks for the chickens to peck at), I have to strike while the iron is hot. Or, that is, while the pears are still on the tree. And there are still plenty on the tree – but at least I’ve started the process.

One of the most well-received food items I have ever given away is just straight-up dehydrated pears. I cut them into thin slices, give them a dip in water (that has some lemon juice or citric acid in it to prevent browning), and line them up in my dehydrator trays. In about a day (depending, of course, on the weather, the thickness of the pear slices, and how ripe they are), I have delicious chewy pear chips that are the perfect hiking/trail snack, excellent for julienning and adding to granola or morning oatmeal, and make a lovely addition to a gift basket of canned and baked goods.

For dehydrating pears, I like to use them a bit under-ripe (this is also good because I can avoid most of the bird/bug problems by picking them off the tree when they are still hard). The pears yesterday were perfect – almost no holes or bruises, very large sweet fruit, and perfectly firm. I pulled out the 4 or 5 largest and ripest from the pile, and proceeded to slice and prep them for dehydration.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I prepped too many pears…having forgotten that I had shattered one of my dehydrator trays in a frenzied fit of cleaning about a month ago. What to do with a few cups of semi-ripe sliced pears? They wouldn’t keep long enough to wait for free space on the dehydrator, and besides, there MUST be a recipe I’d wanted to try back when pears were nothing but a lovely dream and the world was filled with cherries and apricots…
And then it came to me – a skillet cake. A spicy, dense cake cooked over a layer of sauteed fruit, butter, brown sugar, and rum and turned out like a flan onto a serving plate. Everything from start to finish cooked in one pan. Yes, this is what pears were MADE for.
I immediately went to work, looking up several recipes to get basic proportions for the cake batter, and then basically made it up. I knew it would be OK – after all, how do you go wrong with pears in rum?
…but oh, I didn’t know how right I’d go.
(In fact, I was so unsure of this recipe that I didn’t even take pictures of the cooking process. Mea culpa. Hopefully the pears-in-dehydrator images and a couple of mouthwatering pictures of the finished cake will tide you over!)
The resulting cake was moist and dense and spicy, with delightful texture from the corn meal and oats, and a sweet (but not too-sweet) layer of pear and blueberry over the top. A perfect homage to fall (and a great cuddle-up-and-drink-tea kind of snack, too)!
Spiced Pear Skillet Cake
**note: to make this cake, you will need a skillet or other dish that is safe to use on the cook-top AND in the oven. This means no plastic or rubber grips, handles, etc. If you do not have a pan of this kind, you can make the WHOLE thing in the oven in a cake pan – just melt down the fruit mixture in the oven and stir frequently until the sugar syrup starts to bubble and caramelize. Then add the batter and put it back in the oven to cook. All that said, get yourself a good dual-purpose skillet. They are mighty handy.**
for the fruit topping:
2-3 medium pears, ripe but firm
1/2 c berries (I like blueberries or huckleberries here, but I bet cranberries would be good too)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c brown sugar
2 Tbsp dark rum
for the cake batter:
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c coarse-ground cornmeal
1/2 c rolled oats (use the old fashioned kind, not the “quick” ones)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp salt (more, if you use unsalted butter)
1/2 c brown sugar
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 – 3/4 c milk (enough to make a thick-but-spreadable batter)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the pears and cut them into manageable pieces (about 1/2″ to 1/4″ thick, either in wedges or flat slices), removing any seeds, dark spots, and core-bits.
In a large (14″ or so) oven-safe skillet, combine 1/2 c brown sugar with 2 Tbsp of butter and 2 Tbsp of dark rum. Allow this to melt and combine until it begins to bubble wildly and caramelize a bit. Toss in the pears and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the pears are just starting to soften slightly. Sprinkle in the berries, and remove the pan from the heat.
Combine the flour, oats, corn meal, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl (you can do this one by hand. As much as I love my stand mixer, sometimes it seems silly to bring it out for a simple batter, and this is one of those times). In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 c milk, 3 Tbsp butter, vanilla extract, and 1/2 c brown sugar. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until just barely homogeneous. You can add a bit more milk if it seems crumbly or hard to spread out.
Pour this batter over the fruit (still in the skillet), and spread it over the top until the fruit is completely coated with the batter. Depending on the size of your skillet, this might be a fairly thin layer of batter, but don’t worry – it puffs up considerably in the oven.
Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until a toothpick/knife inserted in the center comes out clean (remember if you poke too far down, you’ll get fruit goo on it – don’t mistakenly think this is batter and over-cook your cake – it should be firm, but moist).
Remove the pan to a cooling rack (remember that any skillet handles you are used to using on a stove top will be VERY HOT from being in the oven. Use protection!) – allow the cake to rest for 10 minutes before inverting onto a large serving plate.

Serve this cake warm or cold – it would be lovely with a bit of whipped cream or sweetened creme fraiche, or a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of honey, but is amazingly flavorful and rich all on its own.