Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Butter love.

My family grew up with margarine. Imperial margarine to be specific. No -- there was one memory I have of Australian butter from a round, yellow, vintage-looking tin, but that was a very rare instance and more often than not it was a large, plastic tub with the crown emblem in the fridge. My parents were convinced that butter was devil spread (like so many other families in the 80s), so I adopted the same belief and was none the wiser probably until I started baking. Sure, there were pats of real butter wrapped in metallic foil when we went out to dinner, or at the continental breakfasts during our family trip to Europe in 4th grade, but still used sparingly lest we drop dead.

When I started this baking hobby, so many cookbooks and recipes would emphasize the importance of using real butter instead of margarine, and being such a new hand at baking, I had to get it right and pressured my parents into springing for the forbidden nectar of dairy cows. Having it around the house now, I would steal a swipe of butter for my toast instead of Imperial (and even Brummel & Brown for awhile) -- that was the beginning of the end.

Butter enthusiasm grew exponentially and arrived at its current level during my last trip to Paris. Of course, Paris, right?? There are few populations that take their butter more seriously than the French, and if we had Pascal Beillevaire or Bordier stateside, I'm sure we'd be fanatical too.

Shortbread has always been a favorite of mine because of the gloriously pronounced flavor of butter. There may be no better way to showcase a butter than with shortbread, in fact, and this recipe that Valerie of Une Gamine dans la Cuisine chose for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, did just that. Along with the zest of a lemon and especially with the addition of cornmeal, these cookies had an amazing texture and very addictive quality. I had included rosemary polenta cookies from Frances (one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco) in my holiday assortment so I was already familiar with the magic that ground corn can work and knew that though such a simple recipe, it had amazing possibilities. Incorporating just a handful of ingredients, make sure you use a good quality butter (I used Plugra) and it will effortlessly render the shortbread astounding -- you won't be disappointed

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Double my pleasure.

Strawberry and Rhubarb. A common pairing, seemingly age-old even, but not for me. Like so many other treats steeped in Americana, those of the strawberry-rhubarb variety never made it inside my home growing up. Our sandwiches were made with Oroweat Masters' Best seeded and nutty breads and always made a bee-line for the soda fountain when we stopped in to the family restaurant because we weren't allowed to keep it in the home. Instead, my mother encouraged the consumption of a new-fangled just-add-water-to-powder concoction at the time - Barleygreen, or a fermenting, yeasty drink whose curds would be recycled for the week until I don't even know when. On very rare occasions, Thrity Butter Pecan ice cream, Sara Lee cheesecake, or a Twinkie would appear, but as far as goods from an actual bakery went, unless it was a mango mousse cake from Sheng Kee (just sweet enough), I knew nothing of it.

Along comes my friend, or, rather, along goes my friend. My dear friend Liz decided a couple years ago to leave the sunny skies and congested streets of Los Angeles for green pastures (greener pastures being Sacramento), and as a farewell gesture, made her one of her favorites -- strawberry rhubarb pie. It was my first attempt with this flavor combination, not quite sure what it should taste like, and I never got to know it any better as off she went with the lattice-topped thing of beauty. Digging in to desserts before gifting them just isn't my thing, though time and time again, I wish it was.

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie pick by Sarah of teapots and cake stands could be considered my first official foray into strawberry-rhubarb desserts (because we all wonder, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?), and having tasted it, I can vouch that it really did happen. And I loved it.

Crisps are magical things to begin with, and that this was a double crisp?? I'm going to have to change all my crisp recipes into double crisps now, because as much as I love naturally sweet, seasonal fruit, the oat-flour-butter-nut-spice amalgamation is my favorite part of a crisp, and I know I'm not alone. A top and bottom layer of crisp?! This may just be better than pie!! The crystallized ginger also added an unexpected perk that would go well with plums, pears, peach -- it has to be my new favorite dessert addition (and Dorie's trick of steaming aged, hardened ginger over simmering water is genius)!!

I'll see my incomparably hilarious, wonderfully self-deprecating, and now, amazingly happy friend soon, and when I do, this is the winner I'll be toting.