Pear and Bourbon Croustade

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That plate will mean something to readers of a certain age…

Working with phyllo dough is like working with horses, musicians, or people of whichever gender(s) you find sexually attractive; it’s kind of a pain in the ass, but if you are patient and let them (mostly) have their way, you can achieve magnificent results.

Full disclosure: This recipe is derived from “Apple and Calvados Croustade” by Leslie Brenner, originally published in the Los Angeles Times on 12 December 2007. Fuller disclosure: it, in turn, was inspired by a recipe for Apple and Armagnac Croustade in the Cafe Boulud Cookbook by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan. “Okay, enough with the disclosures already” even fuller disclosure: I have interviewed Boulud and Greenspan on multiple occasions, and their recipes and aesthetic are beyond reproach. So why didn’t I just make their croustade? I’m glad I asked me that. Basically, I wasn’t feeling like apples the night I decided to make it, and pears were in season (and cheaper). It seems that the basic croustade shell could be a happy edifice for all sorts of fruit compotes (peaches, mangoes, and papayas would all likely perform well, so long as they weren’t overripe). I might even have a go at carambolastar fruit — some day, so feel free to play.

Feelin’ hot hot hot.

A note on alcohol, fire safety, and children. When I was a kid, helping out one or another of my grandmothers in the kitchen, I would have just adored being part of a flambé. Well, perhaps not the flambé itself, but part of the process. You are the best judge as to whether your children should be permitted in the kitchen — or the county — when you do this. So long as they stand back at least three feet, everything should be hunky dory, and perhaps even better if you say “Don’t tell [other parent or siblings] I let you help me, okay?” That’s the kind of secret kids love to keep, although they may not be successful in so doing. When it comes to fire safety, I had a sheet pan sitting out that I could employ to cover the flambé pan post-haste, breaking the “oxygen” side of the “oxygen-heat-fuel” fire triangle. Lastly, if alcohol is an issue for you, feel free to leave it out. After all, we’re basically putting a fruit compote into a phyllo dough crust, and there are no fewer than 17,583 ways to do that.

Save some for the baker.

Making your own phyllo dough: Don’t. Life is too short.

The apple version of this croustade seems to have originated in the southwest of France (the name derives from the Occitan crostada, literally “crusted”), and this style of dessert is mainly found in Midi-Pyrénées, now part of Occitanie. It may be known also by pastis (which it is called in the Quercy and the Perigord) or tourtière (in the Tarn and the Landes). In the Gers, the croustade is called Pastis Gascon (not to be confused with the aperitif!).

A bowl of Bartletts.

GEAR

Small fine mesh strainer or sifter for applying powdered sugar
Pastry brush
Silicone mat or parchment paper
Baking sheet
9″ / 225mm tart ring (size may vary some; see below)
Canola oil spray for lubricating tart ring and parchment paper (optional)
Thin, lint-free towel (approx. 18″ x 24″ / 455mm x 600mm)

Mise en place after pears are cooked.

INGREDIENTS

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (113g + 30g) butter, divided
6-8 Bartlett (or other, except Asian) pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices
1 moist, plump vanilla bean
1/4 cup / 50g light brown sugar (you can substitute white sugar; i preferred the brown for an extra “bass note”)
1/3 cup / 75ml vanilla-infused bourbon or pear brandy or pear eau de vie or rum (should be 70 proof / 35% alcohol or higher)
1/2 package of frozen phyllo dough (.5 lb. / 225g, containing about 20 sheets or so), thawed
[NOTE: The phyllo take 2 hours to thaw at room temp or overnight in the fridge]
1/2 cup / 60g powdered sugar (or more, as needed)
1/3 cup / 35g sliced almonds, divided

DIRECTIONS

Peel and cut pears into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices. Set in bowl and set aside. [Normally, I would have the bowl filled with acidulated water to prevent the pears from going brown, but since you’re going to caramelize them, that’s not an issue.] Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and, using the tip of a small knife, scrape the seeds over the pears and drop the pod on top. Add the 1/4 cup / 50g brown sugar to the pears in the bowl and stir gently.

Melt 4 tablespoons / 55g / one-half stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the pears with the vanilla and the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the pears are lightly caramelized and soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add your alcohol of choice and, standing well back while using a long match or grill-style lighter, set it aflame. When the flames subside, turn the pears over in the sauce; when the the alcohol has reduced to a glaze, transfer the pears to a bowl and allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove vanilla bean. [If you started late at night and want to finish up the next morning, as I did, or need to take a break, you can do so here. Just cover the lot with cling film, pop it all in the fridge, and come back when you’re ready to pick up again.]

Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 350°F / 175°C. Grease a 9″ / 225mm tart ring (I used the side of a springform pan) and place it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment. Melt the remaining butter and set it aside. Unfold the phyllo dough on your work surface and cover it with a damp towel.

Working quickly, remove the top sheet of phyllo (re-covering the remaining sheets), brush it lightly with butter, and dust it with powdered sugar. Gently and loosely crumple the dough into a circle and lay it into the pastry ring. Sprinkle it with a few of the almonds. Repeat this procedure five more times, until you have six buttered, sugared, and almond-sprinkled sheets of phyllo layered in the ring. Do not press them together — let them keep some height.

Spoon the pears into the center of the croustade, leaving a 1-inch / 25mm border bare. Working as you did before, butter, sugar, and crumple two sheets of phyllo, fitting them loosely over the pears. Sprinkle this layer with the remaining almonds, and cover this with another pair of crumpled, buttered, and sugared sheets of phyllo. Drape the phyllo artfully, so it looks good. Don’t feel bad if a phyllo sheet tears; just pick up the remaining part and arrange it adjacent to its sibling. And if it goes completely sideways, as, say, cling film sometimes will, you can make a command decision to ditch the dough or just tuck its shards someplace toward the middle for “texture.”

Slide the croustade into the oven and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, watching the top of the tart carefully to make certain it doesn’t brown too much (depending on your oven, you may want to rotate it at the halfway mark). When the top is just lightly browned, remove the croustade from the oven.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F / 200°C. Butter and sugar another pair of phyllo sheets, loosely crumple them and place them side by side on the previous layer to make a light, airy crown. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, then remove it from the oven again.

Butter the last sheets of phyllo and, once again, crumple them to make a crown. Place them on top of the croustade and dust it heavily with some of the remaining powdered sugar. Return it to the oven and bake until the top layer caramelizes evenly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Check the progress of the sugar frequently, because — like toast — it can go from brown to burned in a flash. Pull the croustade from the oven as soon as the top is a golden caramel color and allow it to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Dust it one last time with a little powdered sugar.

To serve, lift off the tart ring and, using two wide spatulas, transfer the croustade to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature the day it is made, with crème fraîche, very lightly sweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

[CODA: I used a silicone basting brush for the butter, and while it was okay, it wasn’t brilliant. A paintbrush-style brush would have worked better. It is apparently customary in France to cut these with a pair of long, sharp scissors. However you decide to do it, the croustade is going to shed some of its golden phyllo. If you’re cutting it up in the kitchen, you can gather the crumbs and arrange them as artfully as possible, or just hide them under the whipped cream. Finally, this is plenty sweet without any help, so feel free to serve it plain.]

Back to the Present — A Birthday Carrot Cake

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A million years ago, when I was in high school, I used to make carrot cakes and zucchini bread all the time. It was the Seventies, and one simple way to gain hippie cred as a baker (not to mention impress the opposite sex) was to reproduce these down-to-earth desserts whose defining ingredients are, somewhat counterintuitively, vegetables. Most of the carrot cakes I’ve ever consumed have been pretty decent, so I’ve long inferred that it’s not exactly rocket surgery to make one. It seems, though, that the cake can veer off a fairly forgiving path at one of two main forks: 1) it can be too dry; and 2) the frosting can be too sweet.

Overcoming the dry part is easy. Make sure you have enough liquid, and don’t overbake the cake. Duh. The frosting is a bit trickier, but not much, really. Have a care when adding sugar, and taste it along the way. A little lemon juice can ameliorate a heavy hand with the sweetener, but it’s better to get it right on the first go.

This past weekend, one of my high school pals was celebrating her 60th birthday, and I volunteered to make her a pair of birthday desserts. One was the internationally famous Tarta de Santiago (although I chose not to adorn it with the St. James cross stencil). The other was the old standby carrot cake, the likes of which I had pumped out with some regularity when I was far more hirsute and far less corpulent. Back in the Internets-free day, I relied upon a recipe from Joy of Cooking, or maybe the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mom gave me when I moved out. While Betty Crocker’s tome has long since disappeared, some edition of Joy of Cooking is usually close to hand, and I suppose I could have gone back to that, but I wondered if, in the last 40-ish years, there might have been another, more captivating recipe turned loose on the public.

Dorie Greenspan is a brilliant writer, an excellent cook, and a lovely person, so when I saw her recipe, I knew I had a foundation from which I could work. To be sure, the muscle memory of having made dozens and dozens of carrot cakes had not been entirely lost, but I wanted a starting point. The roadmap I ultimately followed deviated from hers but slightly; I used gluten-free flour because one of the dinner guests expressed a preference. To my delight, the flour didn’t diminish the cake’s moist finish. And while Dorie’s recipe (and, in fact, many other recipes) called for 1.5 cups of oil, I used a combination of olive oil and buttermilk to give the finished product a bit more tang. Olea Farm’s Lemon Blush olive oil is a house favourite; it’s a blend of EVOO and oil from lemon zest. [You should check out all their infused oils.]

Also, Dorie’s cake is a multi-tiered affair, but I opted for the simpler single-layer cake of my youth. You have to cook it a fair amount longer, but it’s pretty forgiving. Don’t stress.

Because my friend is a big fan of peacock feathers, I topped the cake with a sheet of printed icing in addition to the cream cheese frosting. It seemed to be a hit, and it didn’t detract from the flavour of the cream cheese frosting, so rock on. It’s a bit on the pricey side, so you can feel free to omit this step, but it looked really cool.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
2 cups/240g Bob’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
2 teaspoons/10g baking powder
2 teaspoons/14g baking soda
2 teaspoons/12g ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon/4.25g salt
3 cups/150g grated carrots (you can grate the carrots with a box grater, in a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, or just be lazy and buy them pre-shredded, as I did this time)
1 cup/125g coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
½ cup/75g moist, plump golden raisins (or dark)
12 oz./340g/1.5 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
1 cup/250ml Olea Farm Lemon Blush olive oil
½ cup/125ml buttermilk
4 large eggs

Frosting:
8 oz./225g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick/8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ pound/350g (2¾ cups) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon/15ml lemon juice
1½ tablespoon/25ml vanilla extract
1 or 2 peacock feather frosting sheets, optional

PREPARATION

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 10-inch by 14-inch by 2-inch cake pan; flour the insides and tap out the excess if you plan on serving the cake on a platter rather than from the pan.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

In a third bowl, combine and beat the sugar and oil until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. If you are working with a mixer, reduce the speed to low; if you’re working by hand, switch to a large rubber spatula, and gently stir in the flour mixture — mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Then gently mix in the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

Slide the pan into the oven. Bake the cake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pan front to back at the midway point. The cake is ready when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean; the cake should just have started to pull away from the edges of the pan. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, cool for 10-15 minutes. If serving on a platter, turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature. (At this point, the cake can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; thaw before frosting.)

For the frosting: Working with an electric hand mixer, beat the room-temperature cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.

Frost the cake. Should you decide to use the peacock frosting sheets, follow the instructions in their packaging. [Basically, you lift the printed frosting sheet(s) off a non-stick page and place it/them on the cake.] Pop it all into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so to give the icing a chance to set.

Serve to your delighted guests. Or hog it all to yourself, no matter to me. But be aware: due to the oil, buttermilk, cream cheese, butter, sugar, et al, it’s got a fairly robust caloric count, so this should be an occasional treat, not a standby for the weekly dinner menu.

Elvis Bread Lives!

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done-baking

It all started when I bought a few too many overripe bananas. At 99 cents for six, how can one not buy a dozen?

For years, I’d read about Elvis Presley’s love for a grilled sandwich containing bananas, peanut butter, and bacon. While actually making and consuming same seemed a bridge too far (I hadn’t yet lost all respect for my oft-abused arteries), I reasoned that the essence of The King’s bestest sammie could well be condensed into a single, less punishing, loaf.

Riffing off a basic banana bread recipe, I set out on the road to culinary Graceland. The first pass yielded a version that, while tasty, didn’t quite hit the sweet spot of a bread fit for a you-know-what (too peanut butter-y). A friend suggested that I could micro-manage the outcome by having bacon, peanut butter, and mashed bananas on hand to course-correct on a slice-by-slice basis, but that seemed to me like cheating. By the second go, I was TCB; peanut butter ratcheted back, bacon pumped up, and for good measure, I slipped in some bacon drippings for shortening.

I think the latter was my -ahem- good luck charm. Nailed it.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound (1/2 kg) bacon, cooked crispy
2 cups (250 gm) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 gm) baking soda
½ teaspoon (3 gm) salt
4 overripe bananas
½ cup + 2 tbsp. (145 gm) crunchy peanut butter (I used Kroger Crunchy Peanut Butter with Honey)
1 cup (250 gm) turbinado sugar
⅓ cup (80 ml) buttermilk
⅓ cup (80 ml) bacon drippings
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp. (15 ml) vanilla extract

chop-the-bacon

DIRECTIONS

1. Fry bacon until crispy; crumble or chop and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F/ 175°C. Grease and flour an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside.
4. In a separate large bowl, combine the banana, chopped bacon, peanut butter, sugar, buttermilk, bacon drippings, eggs, and vanilla extract with electric mixer until completely mixed.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and fold together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until completely combined; be sure to moisten all the flour, but don’t overmix — or overthink.
6. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top into an even layer. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center comes out almost perfectly clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
7. Let the bread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Wrap the cooled loaf tightly in plastic wrap; it can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days. [Good luck keeping it around that long.]

elvis-bread-at-thanksgiving

Should you require a soundtrack in the background while you bake your Elvis bread, I might modestly advance an odd little ditty that a record label I once worked for released nearly thirty years ago.

 

Torta or Tarta de Santiago (or maybe not)

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On the road to Santiago... specifically, Triacastela.

On the road to Santiago… specifically, Triacastela.

In May of 2015, my bride and I took a journey along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Catholic pilgrim route (more specifically, we traveled along a portion of the so-called Camino Francés, which is one of a number of Camino routes that all end up in Santiago de Compostela, Spain). It’s an excellent thing to do, as evidenced by the motion picture The Way, and by the still-incomplete blog chronicling our trip, Two Roads to Santiago.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Complexo Xacobeo. Food, lodging, taxi, you name it, you got it.

Triacastela is a small (pop. 721) town in the province of Lugo, in the Galician region of Spain; it’s about 135 km east of Santiago de Compostela. It got its name from three castles that once stood there (though none of them do now). We stayed there the evening of 24 May, Bob Dylan’s birthday, apropos of nothing. After disgorging our luggage, we wandered into the center of town for dinner, and had an excellent meal at the Complexo Xacobeo.

We didn't have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

We didn’t have just wine and water, but it was a good start.

At dinner’s close, the bride and I had a minor disagreement that would change my life — our lives — for the better. I wanted a cool, refreshing ice cream for dessert, and she preferred to try a local delicacy called tarta de Santiago (in Spanish, anyway; in the local Gallego, it was torta de Santiago). It’s an almond cake whose recipe will follow later in this post.

I like almonds and I like sugar, but most almond confections have generally left me unimpressed; marzipan actually engages my gag reflex. But the bride had walked 20-odd kilometres that day over steep terrain, so she won. Wow, am I glad she did. It was so delicious that I dedicated the balance of our time in Spain to sampling as many versions of it as I could reasonably consume, and no fewer than eight bakers’ interpretations of the ancient recipe passed my lips.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

1835? 1838? Galicia? Elsewhere? You decide.

How ancient is the recipe? It certainly goes back as far as the Cuaderno de confitería, which was compiled by Luis Bartolomé de Leyba circa 1838. It’s actually based upon this publication that the tarta/torta obtained its Indicación Geográfica Protegida, which protects its status and authenticity the same way that Champagne does for certain French sparkling wines and Parmigiano Reggiano does for certain Italian regional cheeses. That’s all good as far as it goes, but Spanish culinary historian Jorge Guitián discovered that the Cuaderno de confiteria was largely a rehash of recipes that had previously been published elsewhere, including one cookbook, Art Cozinha, that was published in Lisbon in 1752, not to mention Juan de la Mata’s Arte de Repostería, published in 1747. One source sets its first publication date at 1577, as “torta real,” claiming it was brought to Spain by the Moors. And on top of that, some culinary historians have suggested that the recipe came originally from Sephardic Jews settled in the area, and its original use was as a Passover cake, as it’s unleavened.

Because of their generous and welcoming nature, I’m inclined to give the Gallegos a mulligan on this one. Whether or not the tarta de Santiago actually originated in Galicia, it flourished there, and they have embraced it as part of their cultural and culinary heritage. One thing is for certain: the habit of dusting the top of the cake with powdered sugar, save for a stencil of a cruz Xacobeo (Saint James’ cross) dates to 1924, when José Mora Soto, a baker in Santiago de Compostela, decorated his cakes with the mark to distinguish his from competitors’. In the intervening 90+ years, the tradition has been almost universally embraced.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

The ancestral home of the modern tarta.

His bakery, rechristened Pastelería Mercedes Mora (for his granddaughter, pictured below), still makes the cakes today.

The real deal.

The real deal.

Good as they may be, it’s inconvenient to travel to Santiago de Compostela every time you care to have one of these cakes. So here’s a step-by-step version of the shockingly simple recipe.

The finished item.

The finished item.

TARTA DE SANTIAGO

Ingredients

• 250 grams / 2.5 cups of almond flour (I use ½ blanched and ½ unblanched)
• 250 grams / 1.25 cups of sugar, preferably superfine/baker’s sugar
• 6 eggs
• Zest of two citrus fruits (lemon is traditional)
• Powdered sugar to sprinkle on the top
• 1 chunk of unsalted butter to spread on the springform pan
• You can use a variety of essences to give the cake a nice aroma, such as brandy, cinnamon, etc.
• 1 round detachable mold/springform pan / 22 to 25 cm or 9 to 10 in. diameter
• Lemon juice or other liquid for moistening top of cake
• a paper (or plastic) St. James cross for stencil

Two different almond flours are optional.

Two different almond flours are optional.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don't worry.

Batter will be fairly loose when you pour it into the pan; don’t worry.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling.  I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Out of the oven and ready for stenciling. I use a spray bottle to apply the liquid, but a dish and pastry brush works fine too.

Preparation

• Preheat the oven to 175º C (350º F)
• In a large bowl, combine the sugar, almond flour, and lemon zest or other essence. Mix ingredients well with a fork.
• In separate bowl, mix eggs with fork until blended.
• Add the eggs and mix well with a spoon or rubber spatula, but do not whisk, only make sure all the ingredients are moistened.
• Spread the butter on the mold (or spray with PAM) and pour the mix in it.
• Bake at 175º C (350º F) for 40-45 minutes until the surface is toasted and golden; when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done.
• When the cake is done, remove from the oven and let it cool before unmolding. You may want to run a knife or spatula around the edge to make sure the tarta hasn’t stuck to the pan, but do be careful not to scratch the pan when you do it.
• When the cake has cooled, place the paper/plastic cross on top of the surface, moisten the entire top of the cake (including the stencil) with citrus juice or other liquid (brandy, etc.), then sprinkle powdered sugar evenly over the entire surface, using a mesh strainer.
• Remove the stencil carefully, as to avoid dropping sugar from the stencil onto the cake.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

Maybe not quite Mora, but pretty darn close and a whole lot easier.

A Close — And Sweet — Shave

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A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

[Full disclosure: I have been acquainted with the owner’s family for something approaching a decade, so make of that what you will. As a for-example, I adore my mom, but she made some of the Worst. Tacos. Ever. Taste and truth trump ties. And if I’m willing to dis my own mother (who also, incidentally, was capable of crafting a world-class roast of beef), you can bet I’m not going to be shy about pulling punches here. Apart from mentioning that the CEO is a 17 year old entrepreneur named Jack Kaplan, I’m going to leave the history of the enterprise for him to tell as it unfolds.]

Kakigori, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is the Japanese version of shave ice (in the “shaved” vs. “shave” ice argument, I come down on the latter for no particular reason except that’s how I learned it). But before you turn your thoughts to sno-cones filled with something that looks like anti-freeze and tastes vaguely of an alleged “blueberry” lollipop, please jettison every childhood image of sno-cones, Icees, Slurpees, or other frozen concoctions. Kakigori is to sno-cones as an éclair is to a Twinkie. Conceptually similar, but light years apart in terms of taste.

Its origins date back to Japan’s Heian period (AD 794 to 1185), where it is mentioned in The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi), a collection of observations and musings written by Sei Shōnagon, a lady in the court of Empress Consort Teishi. [The book was completed in 1002.] At the time, the delicacy was confined strictly to the upper classes, due in part to the scarcity of ice, especially in the summertime. During the Meiji period, in the late 1800s, so-called “Boston ice” arrived by ship from America, and kakigori was made available to the masses. Yay.

Generally speaking, kakigori is not merely a flavouring poured over ice, though it can be. Often times, the ice itself is infused with some sort of flavouring agent (as you will see below). In addition, many recipes may include elements such as sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, fresh fruit, syrups featuring caramel or chocolate, and other sundry goodies, such as sweetened mochi, a confection made from rice paste that takes on a chewy/sticky texture not altogether unlike a soft gummi bear.

It’s not available widely in America at present, but that may be about to change with the debut of Kakigori Kreamery’s mobile unit (seen pictured at top) in Venice, CA, on 25 July 2015. That’s an auspicious launch day, as the Japan Kakigori Association designates that date as the “day of kakigori” because its pronunciation sounds like “summer ice” in Japanese.

Green Kara-Tea

Green Kara-Tea.

At press time, there are nine flavours:
Strawberry Samurai
Green Kara-Tea
Kookie Kabuki
Mt. Fuji
Ginja Ninja
Blueberry Banzai
Mokamania
Konichiwa Kitty
WATA-WATAmelon

Okay, the names are a little goofy, though not to the level of IHOP’s popular “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®” pancake entrées, which I would absolutely refuse to order by name just because. But underlying the frivolous nomenclature lies some serious taste delight. If I might direct your attention to the photo above, do note that the ice is shaved, rather than cracked or crushed, which gives it a texture far more delicate than the traditional sno-cone (and even much of the “Hawaiian-style” shave ice, which frequently is no more shaved than Duck Dynasty‘s cast members). This is the Green Kara-Tea kakigori, which is made from green tea ice, rainbow mochi, and matcha-infused condensed milk. [Matcha, of course, is green tea powder, with its stems and veins removed before processing.] It’s sweet enough for kids to enjoy (and they’ll adore the rainbow mochi), but not an adult-repelling sugar bomb.

I should have taken a shot of the Ginja Ninja, because it was may fave of the bunch (I tried five of the nine flavours, and I’m going back next weekend to complete the date card). With its ginger ice, snappy gingersnap crumble, Maldon salt, and caramel sauce, it’s a bracing and energizing blast of spray from a rousing sail on the Ginger Sea.

WATA-WATAmelon!

WATA-WATAmelon!

Tastewise, the WATA-WATAmelon totally nails it; mint, lime, and basil meld with watermelon the way Kardashians meld with camera lenses. They were made for one another. Its one slight drawback is that the delicate watermelon ice shavings, like Blanche DuBois, tend to wilt in the heat. You have to plow through your portion at speed, or risk the possibility of having a cup of refreshing watermelon drink, rather than an icy delight. That said, it’s something of a small quibble, because it’s pretty great in either state (mine wound up half and half).

But Kakigori Kreamery’s secret weapon in its quest for world domination may well be their Kookie Kabuki: cookies ‘n’ cream ice, crushed Oreos, and condensed milk. This. Is. Irresistible. While the Ginja Ninja is still my favourite, it (much like me) is a little idiosyncratic. The Kookie Kabuki, on the other hand, has its sights locked on a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it target that wants a summertime comfort sweet that hits every familiar note. With a little luck, this might just supplant Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream as the heavyweight champ in the chocolate-meets-vanilla arena. But this is the case only if, of course, you happen to be in southern California. Otherwise… well, Japan is nice this time of year, but a SoCal sojourn might well be both less expensive and less complicated.

You can follow the exploits of Kakigori Kreamery here and here.

If you want to be around for their official debut, come check them out at the grand opening:
7/25 from 8:30am – 2:05pm
Venice Arts & Collectibles Market
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

And should you care to try a home version of kakigori, you can pick up a Japanese-style ice shaver here, and a recipe for Peach Yogurt Kakigori with Mint Syrup here.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Blood Orange Olive Oil Honey Cake

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At $20 USD, how could I resist?

At $20 USD, how could I resist?

All right. I admit it. I’m a sucker for odd Bundt pans and other cake pans with funny shapes. And when I saw this one on Amazon for twenty bucks, I just had to have it. Had to. It’s like certain women (like the one to whom I’m married) and shoes. The sooner you learn to stop resisting — I’m speaking from personal experience here — the happier your life will be. That said, I’m not interested in becoming the Imelda Marcos of goofy baking tins, so my rule is that if I buy it, I have to use it. After I make 20 cakes in this pan, the price of the bakeware will have added a mere eight bits to the cake’s cost.

As luck would have it, the Internets this evening (24 September in lovely California) yielded a plethora of honey cake recipes, given that sundown marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, and some version of honey cake is a staple of the holiday in many households. While I myself cannot number myself a member of the tribe, many of my dearest friends are, and their cuisine has been a mitzvah in my life.

The main recipe I improvised from can be found at epicurious.com, though I made a couple of modifications that I believe enhanced it significantly. First, instead of using any old vegetable oil, I used Stonehouse extra-virgin blood orange olive oil. Oranges and honey take to one another like Marilyn Monroe’s arm and an elbow-length satin glove. I wasn’t keen on adding a coffee flavour to the mix, but I needed the additional moisture, so I substituted some French vanilla coconut milk “creamer” instead (think orange + vanilla = creamsicle). And I used some stupidly expensive (and largely unavailable) ingredients, such as Manuka honey that a friend hand-carried over from New Zealand (and which sells in America for about $20 USD for a 12 oz. / 350 ml jar), and Green Spot single pot still Irish whiskey, of which only about 500 cases are made per year, making it the Pappy van Winkle of Irish whiskey. I’m sure some of my friends would happly clout me upside the head with a 4×4 for using such an extraordinary spirit in baking, and they might be right. But the batter was excellent, and it was only two tablespoons / 30 ml of the whiskey.

19 little mini-cakes of goodness.

19 little mini-cakes of goodness.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Blood Orange Olive Oil Honey Cake

Ingredients
• 1 3/4 cups / 225 g. Cup4Cup gluten-free flour (or all-purpose flour, if you’re OK with gluten)
• 1 teaspoon / 2.6 g. ground cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon / 4 mg. baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon / 6 g. salt
• 1/2 teaspoon / 2 g. baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon / 1 g. ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon / .75 g. ground cloves
• 1 cup / 237 ml honey (I used Manuka honey that a friend had brought from New Zealand)
• 2/3 cup / 158 ml blood orange olive oil (available from Stonehouse Olive Oil Company)
• 1/2 cup / 125 ml So Delicious French Vanilla coconut milk “creamer” (or freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled)
• 2 large eggs (I used duck eggs, because I had some)
• 1/4 cup / 60 g. packed brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons / 30 ml whiskey or bourbon (I used Green Spot Irish Whiskey)

Preparation
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350˚F / 175˚C. Spray pan with Baker’s Joy, PAM cooking spray with flour, or oil pan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl. Whisk together honey, oil, and coconut milk in another bowl until well combined.
Beat together eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add honey mixture and whiskey and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Finish mixing batter with a rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl.
Pour batter into Nordic Ware honeycomb pan or loaf pan (batter will be thin) and bake 30 minutes. Cover top loosely with foil or parchment and continue to bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes more. Cool on a rack 1 hour.
Invert rack over pan and invert cake onto rack. Turn cake right side up and cool completely.
Baker’s note: • Cake keeps, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or in an airtight container, at room temperature 1 week. As if you’ll be able to keep from devouring it for that long. Seriously.

NOTE: When I first posted this, I had some truly wacky cup-to-gram (or -ml) conversions, which I have since revised. [Some of them were computational errors, some mere typos.] I presume my astute audience would have correctly divined that 225 mg. of flour wouldn’t have made a very large cake in the best of scenarios, and given the amounts of the other ingredients, it would have been overwhelmed by, um, just about everything else. Because I am in America, I foolishly tend to continue to use cup/tablespoon/etc. measurements, and while the metric equivalent is printed on my measuring spoons, it’s not printed on my measuring cups. I should probably just measure the stuff on my fabulous kitchen scale, which is bilingual both in metric and the ridiculous and outdated Olde English measurements. Sorry about that.