I’ve been waiting for the temperatures to drop so I can turn the oven on again and bake. Give me a free afternoon and I’m off to the grocery store and loading up my cart with flour, butter and eggs, and soon back in the kitchen, imagining what I can do with it all.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been like this. Baking has always been my reward for a story turned in, a deadline met. The whirring of my mixer and the magic that happens next in the oven. Cookies puff and rise, then, if you’re lucky, settle back down into something chewy in the middle and crisp on the edges. Cakes expand and grow and fill up the pan. Pies and tarts bubble and lightly brown, while retaining their lightness and flakiness if you’ve done everything right.
But this isn’t always the case. There are the inevitable disasters. You forget a detail, or like I did when I started testing the French pear polenta cake recipe below, an idea I found in French Elle and modified, you add too much leavening and end up with a poofy, burned mess.
Then I made it again. I adjusted a few ingredients and love what I ended up with.
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The mini tatins were better than I imagined them to be, and right on the first attempt — but when I first tried making tarte tatin years ago, it took several afternoons of making tatins to get it right. The apples were too mushy. The tatin fell apart on the flip.
You never know what you’ll end up with — a success or a complete failure. But you don’t give up.
You go to the grocery store again, fill up the basket, go home and make another pot of coffee — coffee seems to always put me back on track. So does trying again. Because eventually it’s going to work out just as it should.
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.
French pear polenta cake
Makes 1 (5-by-9-inch) cake
- 2 sticks (16 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons for the top
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1/3 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups finely diced pears (recommended: Comice pears)
- 1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped, plus 2 tablespoons for the top
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with parchment.
2. Beat butter until it’s light and fluffy. Mix in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes each. Mix in vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, polenta, baking powder and salt. Add to the mixer bowl and mix just until incorporated.
4. Peel, core and chop the pears into 1/4 -inch pieces. (I do this last because I don’t want the pears to turn brown, and it only takes a few minutes.) You should have about 2 1/2 cups of chopped pears. Fold into the batter along with walnuts and pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle additional walnuts and sugar on top and bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a rack before serving, or, better yet, make this the day before you want to serve it — it’s even better the next day.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 354 calories, 20 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 94 milligrams cholesterol, 106 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.
Chocolate cake facile
Makes 10 servings
- 1 stick (8 ounces) unsalted butter
- 8 ounces chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% bars)
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Vanilla ice cream, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment.
2. Melt butter and chocolate over very low heat. Put sugar in the saucepan and stir to incorporate. Add eggs, flour and salt, mixing as little as possible. Pour into the cake pan.
3. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are somewhat firm to the touch. You don’t want to overcook this — it’s best when it’s brownielike, so err on the side of under, not overcooking. Let cool completely. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar and ice cream on the side.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 298 calories, 17 grams fat, 36 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 88 milligrams cholesterol, 72 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 50 percent of calories from fat.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the muffin tin
- 3 firm baking apples (I used organic Jonagold)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup brown sugar, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 recipe pie dough (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.Butter a muffin tin.
2. Peel and core apples and cut them into eighths. You may need to trim the ends of the wedges to fit into the muffin tin, but they’ll shrink a little bit when you cook them in the caramel, so allow for that.
3. Toss the apples in a bowl with lemon juice, half of the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
4. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and remaining brown sugar and cook until it begins to thicken a little, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add apples. Cook 10 minutes more or until the apples slightly begin to soften and the caramel has thickened. Put apples into the muffin tins, round side down, and spoon some of the caramel on top, filling no more than halfway.
5. Roll out the dough and cut out rounds to fit the top of the tatins. Gently place on top of the apples. Bake 35 minutes or until the crusts are firm and light brown. Let cool for 5 minutes only and turn out on a baking sheet, making sure to rap the bottoms well with a wooden spoon before lifting the pan away. If some of the apples stick to the pan, spoon them out and place them on the crusts.
These are great warm or at room temperature, as is, with a spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream, or with a small scoop of ice cream.
Note: Keep the other half of the pie dough in a plastic bag in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge 1 day before you want to roll it out.
Cowgirl tip: When you buy apples, look for the smallest ones — they’ll more easily fit into a muffin tin.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 290 calories, 16 grams fat, 38 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 41 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.
Dough for pies, tarts and croustades
Makes enough dough for 12 mini tatins and 1 croustade
- 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into tiny pieces
- 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
1. Put flour, sugar and salt in food processor and pulse a time or two to combine. Add cold butter cubes and pulse quickly 4 or 5 times, until the mixture looks like it has pebbles scattered throughout. You don’t want to overprocess this and have too-small pebble pieces, nor do you want them too large — they should be a good mix of medium and small pebbles.
2. Add about half of the water. Pulse a few times to combine. If you need to add more water, add a little at a time, and only as much as you need. It will look crumbly yet will be moist. The dough is ready when you can pinch it together with your fingers.
3. Dump dough onto a floured board and gently press together. Divide in half and flatten into 2 discs. Wrap both with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour or so. If you’re not going to use them right away, put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. (If you freeze half, thaw the dough in the refrigerator the day before you’d like to roll it out.)
Nutritional analysis per serving: 121 calories, 8 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 40 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 6 servings
- 1/2 recipe dough for pies, tarts and croustades (above)
- 1/2 cup canned organic pumpkin
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch salt
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll it out between 2 pieces of parchment paper to a circle-ish shape — we’re not going for perfection here and the edges are fine as they are.
3. Whisk together pumpkin, ricotta, 2 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and spoon onto the dough, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border. Fold the edges over.
4. Make an egg wash: Whisk 1 yolk with about 1 teaspoon of water and brush it onto the crust. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bake 25 minutes or until nicely browned. Let cool completely before serving.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 339 calories, 20 grams fat, 34 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 123 milligrams cholesterol, 124 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 53 percent of calories from fat.