Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A new zest.

Ever since we moved offices nearly a year ago, a world of eating options was opened up to my office mates and me. Now I'm a pretty religious brown-bagger, but having a selection of midday snacks available to me instead of solely the Fred Segal cafe (no joke), is a welcome luxury. We have one of the better gas station mini-marts as a neighbor, solid breads and viennoiserie across the street, and chocolate covered raisins by weight around the way. Our favorite mid-afternoon snack, however, is the controversial fruit cart, and there are quite a few to be found within a two block radius. I looked at their rainbow umbrella shaded carts with suspicion for some time, but after awhile, the chili powder, salt, and lime juice laced fruit was something that piqued my interest. My coworkers were already major converts, so by the time I had tried my first sliver of coconut, a little sour, a little spicy, I was very late to the party. I normally eschew the customary melons and cucumber, so my preferred fruit vendor, Eduardo, fills the bag up with mango, pineapple, and my beloved coconut. When he opens up a fresh coconut for me, he usually offers me the coconut water in a little baggie for later too. We've even started an informal baked goods for fruit exchange between the two of us -- a swap I'm more than happy to take part in despite the cautionary tales of pesticide use (I give him far more cookies and slices of cake than I take fruit).

So, it was with great pleasure that I participated in this week's Tuesday's with Dorie selection by Carmen of Carmen Cooks -- Coconut Tea Cake. The lime was an addition that I didn't think twice about. The two flavors just go together perfectly and reminded me that I still need to try my hand at the coconut-lime cookies that my cousin hauled across the country from CookieBar.

I normally rub lemon zest in my sugar, but it was a nice change to see the brilliant green of Persian limes dotting the white landscape of the sugar bowl, and embedded in the golden crumbs. The flavor of the finished cake was reminiscent of all things summer, naturally, but was smooth and subtle. It was unmistakably a coconut-lime cake, but nothing about it was cloying or tart. And, appropriately enough, it paired beautifully with tea. Though the recipe only called for half a stick of butter for the entire Bundt cake, the cup of coconut milk (and I used light coconut milk) added some fat so, although the cake wasn't nearly as moist as other Bundt cakes, it was just moist enough and held a tight crumb.

The foundation of this cake really is so versatile and it may become a new canvas for me to play with. Lime has proven itself to be fantastic -- so chili powder and salt, anyone??

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A (slightly) tart tart.

I was never a Mathlete. I don't work out algorithms in my spare time. I did just fine in geometry sophomore year of high school, but it was not at all a favorite class of mine. And yet, I look forward to Pi Day every year. That isn't to say that I have a history of celebrating 3.14. In fact, with St. Patrick's Day so close to Pi Day and my love for Irish Soda Bread running deep (the American style -- sweet, raisin studded, and caraway seed flecked), I feel like the date always sneaks up on me, but I always at least think about it. Luckily, Rachelle from Mommy? I'm Hungry! chose the Soft Chocolate and Raspberry Tart for this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection. Now, I know a tart isn't exactly a pie, but a smooth filling, sometimes with embedded fruit, cradled in a buttery crust -- sounds like kin to me!

I find rolling out pie dough to be therapeutic. Using just enough elbow grease to coax a solid mass into a delicate round is deeply satisfying, and when it eases right into the pie plate, I feel like it's draping a child in a warm blanket.

This tart dough is not at all like that.

It comes together so easily, though, and was absolutely perfect for my schedule this week. The Cuisinart brought it together so quickly, and then pressing the curds into the tart pan was a breeze. Off it went into the freezer, and when it came time to bake the crust, I didn't even have to get out the pie weights to keep it from shrinking. The flaky crust is the highlight of pie for me, but combined with almond meal, this particular tart crust was something to look forward to as well.

The chocolate ganache filling was actually the most frustrating part of the assembling, at no fault of the recipe. It calls for bittersweet chocolate as well as milk chocolate, and as I almost always bake with bittersweet and semi-sweet, I only had Guittard milk chocolate chips on hand. No matter that it's in chip form, right? No. So, so wrong.

There are melting directions right on the packaging of the chips, but after heating the chocolates over a double boiler on the stove, the bittersweet chocolate melted into ribbons, but there were still clumps of chips that refused to ooze into submission. It was the strangest thing. And then I just gave up and stuck the chocolate into the microwave for 35 seconds. Nope. Still the same clumpage. I added another 20 seconds and then it was burnt. Whoops. On the second attempt I decided to forego the milk chocolate and went back to my trusty semi-sweet Callebaut. The ganache came together so easily this time, of course, and off into the oven it went. I did have to add about 10 minutes to the recommended baking time, however.

Once slightly cooled, the tart sliced up beautifully. I was afraid that as a "soft" tart, once sliced the filling would just seep out into the pan, but it held its shape and exposed lovely nubs of mildly tart fresh raspberries (it is only March, even if this is Los Angeles). The tart is really like a flourless chocolate cake sitting in a slightly nutty crust, and who can deny the luxuriousness of smooth chocolate and cream against the tongue??

Raspberry and chocolate isn't my favorite flavor combination, but plenty of people seem to love it and that's just wonderful. Pi Day was a success, and what good is baking, if not for the enjoyment of others?