Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Current Currants

St Patrick's day got me thinking about Irish cooking, and while I didn't prepare anything special for the occasion, I did pull out my Irish Food and Cooking cook book. As I was flipping through it I noticed, as I had often before, the beautiful black currant fool. The step by step pictures show a beautiful deep purple pink puree being folded into satin white whipped cream, the effect a beautiful striking swirl of color and cream. I look to the ingredients ready to buy a little batch of beauty for my self and am then deeply puzzled. Black currants... huh. Never seen those before.
Or had I? Looking through my seed catalog, passed the yesterdays news novelty plants, after the blueberries and raspberries and just before the fruit trees I find them. Sort of. Red currants. That wont create the heavenly swirl. It would be like pink sauce. Cant have that. Gooseberries, just under them, are almost translucent, so those wont work. either. Then I look to the curious variety 'Jostaberry'. Its darker, but not a black currant. Its a mix between black currants and gooseberries, but where, pray tell, is the other parent?

I then proceed to comb the net. None of my usual nurseries have them. I find some in the UK. Big breakthrough. I'm then combing the US importation website and lists of banned plants. Maybe its illegal to import it, who knows.

Now the real breakthrough is when I come across the Currant Company's website. They have a history of the Black Currant in the United States. The title of the article? "Forbidden" U.S. History of the Black Currant. Turns out its been banned for somewhere around 100 years due to its connection to white pine rust disease. Black currants pass along the disease, along with red currants, native currants and several varieties of gooseberries. The list goes on, but only Black Currants were banned.

Well, no longer. In New York then ban was recently appealed, and so started the Currant Company. They've been selling both currant juice and whole currants for a while, but their goods are not widely available, usually shipped, and they tend to be expensive as well. The lucky part? They've started selling plants too. Mail order. In this one site I hit the mother load.

A long and boring story made shorter, I ordered two for about $40 with shipping (the two day shipping is over half of that). Now I must wait for them to come. They dont ship for a while yet bare root. After that, I must find a place to plant them, prune them, and wait for berries that might not come till next year.
Till then... there should at least be some good tomatoes to eat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Unicorn of Trial

I baked a cake. That is not the important part however. The cake was just a mix. Two cake mixes, to be quite exact. The important thing here was the goo that went on top. Now don't jump to conclusions. I took the lazier still rout, and used store bought frosting too. It was specifically the goo on top of that that is of note. Yes, I made fondant.

It isn't a true fondant, being made primarily of marshmallows and powdered sugar. The marshmallow fondant, or MMF, is much easier to make than regular fondant and more user friendly. It requires 3 cheap and easy to find ingredients likely in the pantry already. I got the recipe, and tons of helpful hints from Peggy Weaver, at .

So what did I accomplish? Just about the coolest unicorn cake the world has ever seen.

Happy birthday Alex!

The assembly of the two cake mixes. I used my ample winging-it skills, an 8" cake, a 9" cake, and a 9" by 13" cake. I realized sometime after I had removed all the cakes from the pan that I had nothing large enough to encompass them all. Except my marble work slab!
Thanks Grandma!

The most worrisome aspect of working with cake mixes would be their texture. They are so incredibly fragile and fluffy. All of my experiences frosting cakes from a box have been less than pleasant. I'm applying a crumb coat, which rolls up into a crumb lump which then snowballs into the entire cake, picking up frosting crumbs and denting the whole shebang. This time it worked. Don't ask me how. I believe in miracles.

I was unsuccesful in commanding the fondant. I couldn't get a big enough solid piece to cover without seems. So after crumpling my failed attempt into a ball slamming on the table and shouting and hopping around in fit of incandescent rage and frustration, I reassessed. I had been working on wax paper. That went away. That alone I now believe might have made it work, but I also decided to work in sections. It was actually really fun to work with. The way it sat almost perfectly, and its pretty plasticine surface as I tucked it under the edge really pleased me. Ignore the fit. It was fun... seriously. After I tossed the wax paper.

And then it got REALLY fun. Sure my hands are now a grayish blue tie-dye from making all those colors of fondant. That hardly matters. The hair is what made the unicorn... other than the horn. That too made the unicorn... but look at that hair!

Over all... once maybe twice a year will I do this. Started at noon today and worked till right about 6. My feet hate me, it tasted like cake mix cake and sugar, and I definitely liked the Pecan Pie birthday better... but darn it, I made a pretty cake!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

I'll Pecan YOUR Pie!

Your average pecan pie uses about two cups of pecans. Your average pecan pie usually has a sort of gelatinous corn syrup infused filling with a touch of bourbon. Most have only a bottom pie crust, and an open top.

This edition. from Martha Stewart, is not the average pecan pie.
  • It contains a whopping 4 cups pecans. I wince every time I measure them out. SO many of my precious pecans going into one food...
  • It is filled with a rich caramel, no corn syrup.
  • Its baked in a skillet. Starting on the stove while make the caramel, the pie is topped with the pie crust and sent to the oven. One dish preparation.
  • To present, you invert it.

I think next time I make it I'll cut back on the pecans a half cup to a whole cup. Not only is my pan a bit smaller than the recommended, but after the first couple slices, I'm sorry to say it, but I almost start picking through the pecans to get to the crust. Its pretty intense anyway, and I think it could carry itself with a reduction on the filling. Besides, if you have good butter, the crust is just about the best part!

And on that last picture, of the whole pie, I don't think its supposed to be that dark. Whoops...

All together, its about 1 1/4 cups of butter, almost two cups of sugar, and thats ignoring the 4 cups of nuts and cream. Pretty rich. Worth it.

Upside-down Pecan Pie

  • 1 unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cups pecan halves, (about 1 pound)
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • one pie crust
  1. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, combine butter, honey, and sugars. Bring to a boil; let boil for 4 minutes. Add pecans and heavy cream, and boil 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and set aside. Let stand about 30 minutes to cool. Using a wooden spoon, gently mound pecans and caramel slightly in center of skillet, leaving a gap between pecans and edge of skillet.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.with rack in the top third. On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out one disk of prepared chilled pastry to approximately a 7/8-inch-thick, 13-inch-diameter circle. Place the pastry over the skillet, carefully tucking the dough down against the edge of the skillet and around the edges of the mound of pecans. Trim the excess dough.
  3. Place two rimmed baking sheets, one on top of the other, underneath the skillet to catch any drips while the pie bakes and to provide insulation for the caramel. Place skillet in the oven, and bake pie until the dough is just turning golden brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until the pastry is cooked through and the caramel is bubbling up around the edges of the skillet, about 30 minutes more.
  4. Remove the pie from the oven, and let cool about 20 minutes. Carefully invert the pie onto a parchment-lined tray or baking sheet (the pie is easy to transfer to serving plate once it has been inverted). Be careful inverting pie; the caramel is very hot. If the pie does not release easily from skillet, heat the skillet over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Serve warm.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Best Butter Ever

This stuff is fabulous. I first found out about it at a pie baking class at down town Portland's Sur La Table. The butter they used was fantastic. It gave the crusts a incredible, almost cream cheese like, zing to it. Suddenly I found myself drudging through the pecans and caramel so I could get to the sweet sweet buttery crust. The biggest problem, it's not widely available as it comes from a small dairy in Clackamas. I have found it sold at two stores in Portland. Now that I'm back kicking it up in Baker, I've been managing my small hoard with a miserly iron fist. Stached triple bagged in my freezer, I'm cracking some out for my mother's birthday pie tomorrow. The best part about this butter? A nice high fat European style butter, it tastes as good as the $8lb imported danish butter or the $5 something-ish a half pound Kerrygold, and its only about $4 a pound.