Monday, April 27, 2009

An Easter Miracle! (A Few Days Off!)

I made it back to New York State from Tucson just before midnight, so by the time I drove home from Albany, it was pushing 3am...on a school night! UGH! So as you can imagine, I was dragging that week! But mercifully, I had a three-day weekend at the end of it--Easter Break, as our school seems to pay no nevermind to the separation of church and state schools. ;-) But I bless them for it, because I desperately needed the time off! But as I had been out of town and so busy for several weeks, I was quite keen to get back in the kitchen and do some proper cooking. As it turns out, I had several opportunities to do so.

First, one of my close colleague's elderly father passed away, so I wanted to drop off some food as her family members began to gather. I made the simple but simply scrumptious ham, orzo, and goat cheese casserole of beloved memory, and also a new carrot cake recipe that I made as sheet cake, rather than in fussy layers. I didn't try the cake, of course, but it baked up very nicely and smelled great! Here's that recipe:

Carrot-Pineapple Buttermilk Cake
(Source: adapted from
Serves 10 -12

2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely grated carrots
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Set oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

In a bowl beat eggs with sugar, oil, buttermilk and vanilla for five minutes (no less!). In another bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; add to the egg mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrots, drained pineapple, and walnuts; mix until combined.

Transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover the pan loosley with foil to prevent excess browning. Return to oven and bake for another 12-13 minutes more, or until the cake tests done.

Cool completely in the pan then frost with cream cheese icing (recipe follows).

Extra Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Recipezaar
Makes 3 cups

1/2 cup butter, room temperature (no substitutions!)
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla (if possible, use clear vanilla)
2 tablespoons whipping cream, unwhipped (for the best texture, use only whipping cream)
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted (more if needed, must be sifted)
food coloring (optional)
1 to 2 cups Cool Whip frozen whipped topping, thawed (optional)

Cream the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and the whipping cream until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add in the sifted confectioners sugar; beat until frosting consistency, (adding more icing sugar or whipping cream if needed until the right consistency is achieved). Add in food coloring if using.

Optional: Add in one cup of Cool Whip frozen topping and beat on low speed with an electric mixer until just blended (add in more Cool Whip until desired texture is achieved).

After cooking all evening on Good Friday, I had to get up early the next morning and take the old basset hound to the vet. $200's worth of tests later and the diagnosis? She's old. (Thanks--I could have told you that for free! She's 14, for crying out loud!!) After the vet, I ran into town to drop off the casserole and cake at my colleague's house, then it was back home to start preparing more food to take to my friend Lee Ann's house for Easter, as she had invited me to celebrate with her family. My charge was to make a lemony dessert, but when I stopped by Wal-Mart a couple of days earlier, I found the cutest little egg trays, so I felt compelled to take some devilled eggs as well--made extra-devilish with minced jalapeno escabeche thrown in to add some color and zing.

At Lee Ann's on Easter Sunday, we had quite the feast with ham and all the trimmings. But I'd say the highlights included Lee Ann's husband Steve's creative and spicy Buffalo cheese grits, a terribly cute Easter Bunny cake that the girls, K and E, made with grandma's help, and dare I say, the lemon cream tart that I brought! Oh, it was DIVINE (as well it should be with the OBSCENE amount of butter that it called for)! The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan via Pierre Herme, and it is the most luscious thing I've ever made or tasted. AMAZING! Seriously, friends, if you love lemon, MAKE THIS AT ONCE!

The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart
(Source: Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)

1 9-inch tart shell, fully baked and cooled

1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10-1/2 ounces)
unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready: Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F*. As you whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in one-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Serving: It's a particular pleasure to have this tart when the cream is cold and the crust is at room temperature. A raspberry or other fruit coulis is nice, but not necessary; so is a little crème fraîche. I know it sounds odd to offer something as rich as crème fraîche with a tart like this, but it works because the lemon cream is so light and so intensely citric, it doesn't taste or feel rich. (I served mine with a sidecar of whipped faux crème fraîche--half a cup of sour cream lightened with a cup of lightly sweetened whipped cream.)

Storing: While you can make the lemon cream ahead, once the tart is constructed, it's best to eat it the day it is made.

*Note: I whisked and whisked and whisked, and my cream never did get up to 180 degrees! I consulted
Dorie's website, and many others seemed to have the same problem. But Dorie says 170 is sufficient.

I hope you all had a peaceful and satisfying Easter!

1 comment:

Holly said...

Hello Prof. Lindsey! It's Holly COM101-02C Summer 2009. I love the pic you posted of the Easter eggs. I have some pretty cool easter egg pics from this year to. I haven't had a chance to post many things yet though. I'm new to Blogger. See you in class tomorrow. Midterm! Yay!:)