Saffron – Orange Semolina Cake with Blood Oranges

A friend and colleague brought a variation of this cake to work one morning. It didn’t take long to devour it.  I then immediately started pondering  how I could improve not only the taste but write a method that is easier to follow. (Let me know if I accomplished either.) This version is a compilation of a myriad of recipes that I researched both from print and the inter-webs.

It’s delicious with just the soaking syrup, but if you want to gild the lily add the whipped mascarpone and/or the lemon curd. Or, you could just whip some cream and serve with fresh berries. As you know berry season will soon be upon us.


Serves 12

For soaking syrup and oranges:
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz / 67 g) granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 – 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided

For the cake:
butter for pan
3/4 cup (6 oz) whole milk, divided
Large pinch saffron threads, crushed
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
zest from 3 medium blood or navel oranges (preferably organic)
1½ cups (9 oz / 255 g) coarse-grind semolina flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
2 teaspoons (1/4 oz / 5 g) baking powder
1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

For the filling:
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) mascarpone
1/4 cup (2 oz / 56 ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz / 230 g) lemon curd
Powdered sugar for decoration

Make the syrup:
In a small saucepan add bay leaves, sugar, salt, and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally to dissolve sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9″- diameter cake pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter paper. Set aside.

Make the Cake:
In a small saucepan warm 1/4 cup milk, add crushed saffron threads and stir until dissolved.  Add butter to milk mixture and heat until butter is melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl measure out sugar, add the orange zest and using your fingers evenly incorporate the zest into the sugar. Whisk the semolina, baking powder, cardamom, and salt into the sugar mixture.

In a large bowl whisk together yogurt and remaining milk. Using a spatula or wooden spoon mix the dry ingredients into the yogurt mixture. Stir in the cooled (still liquid) butter mixture and then scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 50–60 minutes. It is done when a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer pan to a wire rack and allow cake cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn a 10″ rimmed plate or platter over top of pan and invert cake. Using a cake tester or toothpick, poke holes all over cake.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the bay leaf syrup in a medium bowl.  Gradually pour remaining syrup over cake allowing it to soak in. Let sit at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the remaining peel and white pith from oranges. Slice into ¼”-thick rounds; remove seeds and add to reserved bay leaf syrup. Gently toss the oranges on occasion and allow to macerate at least 30 minutes. Taste and add lemon juice as needed.

Make the Filling:
Whisk the mascarpone and heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Whisk in vanilla extract.

Assemble the Cake:
Split cake horizontally. Using the bottom of a removable tart pan as a spatula carefully lift off the top half of the cake and set aside. Spread the mascarpone evenly over the bottom cake layer to within about an inch from the outside rim of the cake. Top with a layer of lemon curd again leaving about an inch from the edge. Set the reserved layer on top of the filling. (When placed, the top layer will press the filling to the edge of the cake.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Do Ahead: Cake can be baked 2 days ahead and stored tightly wrapped at room temperature before filling with the mascarpone and/or lemon curd.

Serve cake with oranges in syrup.


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Chestnut Crème Brûlée

IMG_0022 (1)When the chill in the air arrives in Paris, street vendors seem to pop up on every corner roasting chestnuts. Sitting on a park bench is the perfect place to peel off their warm outer shell and enjoy their earthy, smoky flavor while watching the world go by.

I was pondering what flavors invoke the holidays when my friend Pierre suggested that I make a version of this “burnt cream” with chestnut purée. The idea immediately took to me the aromas of these nuts roasting around Paris this time of year.

Many recipes suggest “burning” the cream under a broiler. However, I find that using a blow torch gives you more control and greater efficiency. I also discovered that the crème can be brûléed several hours prior to serving.  After you have brunt the sugar simply place them back in the refrigerator (uncovered) until ready to serve.

Makes 8 – six ounce ramekins

24 ounces (3 cups) heavy whipping cream
8 ounces (1 cup) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds scrapped
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch kosher salt
3 1/2 ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
4 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup  + 1 tablespoon or 120 g) chestnut purée, room temperature
8 tablespoons Turbinado sugar (divided)

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a saucepan set over medium heat, combine cream, milk, vanilla bean, plus the scraped seeds, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to a simmer Remove from heat, cover and let stand at least 1/2 hour. Whisk in chestnut purée.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Temper the eggs with the hot cream mixture. Pour mixture through a sieve into a pitcher pushing any chestnut purée through with a rubber spatula.  Discard vanilla bean and cinnamon stick.

Divide chestnut mixture evenly between 8 (6-ounce) ramekins. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet pan, and fill pan with hot water about halfway up the ramekins.

Bake until the parameter of each custard is set but the center still jiggles a little, about 45 – 50 minutes. Carefully remove from oven, let them cool to room temperature in the water bath; then remove from the water bath, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the custards overnight.

To brulée the custards position an oven rack 6 inches from broiler. Preheat oven to broil. Top each custard evenly with 1 tablespoon sugar. Broil in groups of 4 until sugar is melted and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Or as I have suggested in the head-notes, use a blowtorch to individually brulée each of them.


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Fig and Sour Cherry Tart with Hazelnut Crust

This recipe was inspired by one that started with a pistachio crust. However, I didn’t have pistachios but did have hazelnuts in the freezer. And this time, as luck would have it, the hazelnuts were already blanched.  All of a sudden this tart became reminiscent of a Linzer Torte.

When I tasted the fig filling, as it was cooking, it seemed a little too sweet even for my taste. I thought, what could I add that would cut some of the sweetness? Then I remembered moving a bag of dried sour cherries when I was hunting for the hazelnuts.

Adding about a half a cup of the cherries to the filling, as it was cooking, did the trick. The tartness of the cherries balanced the sweetness of the figs.  With or without a dollop of vanilla bean crème fraîche, this is a perfect dessert to end an autumn dinner.

2 cups (10 oz) blanched hazelnut flour*
2 tablespoons (1 oz) granulated sugar
2 cups (9 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 oz) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 lemon, preferably organic, finely zested without pith
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup vanilla bean crème fraîche*, optional

1 pound dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (2 oz) dried sour cherries

FOR THE DOUGH:  In a food processor using the metal “S” blade, pulse hazelnuts with granulated sugar just until finely ground. (Be careful not to process for too long otherwise you will end up with sweetened hazelnut butter.) Add the flours, powdered sugar, baking powder and lemon zest and pulse to combine.

Scatter the butter on top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture is the size of peas. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, beat the whole egg, egg yolks and vanilla. Pour of the flour mixture around the insider parameter of the bowl and pulse until almost combined.

Pour out onto a smooth counter-top and with the heal of your hand, smear the dough away from you and fold it back over on top of itself with a bench knife. Continue until the dough comes together.

Separate the dough into two disks, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap both pieces in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least two hours or preferably overnight.

FOR THE FILLING:  In a medium saucepan, combine the figs with the water, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer the figs over moderately low heat for about 20 minutes. Add the cherries and continue cooking until the figs and cherries are tender and the liquid has reduced and become syrupy; about another 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and again using the metal “S” blade pulse until the fruit has become evenly small pieces. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with vegetable oil cooking spray. Press the larger disk of dough into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan to form an even 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick crust. Trim off any excess. Spread the fig filling over the crust. Roll out the smaller disk between 2 sheets of parchment paper to a 11 1/2-inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Remove 1 sheet of the parchment paper and invert the top crust over the filling. Press the edges together to seal and trim off any excess. Using a end of a small knife add a few steam vents to the top crust. Chill the tart for 15 minutes.

Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden, covering the top with foil if the edge becomes too brown. Let the tart cool for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the fluted ring. Let the tart cool completely before serving.

*To make the vanilla bean crème fraîche, add about 1 tablespoon (or to taste) of vanilla sugar to a cup of crème fraîche.  Stir to combine and then refrigerate until firm. Add a dollop just before serving — plain crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be delicious too!

The tart can kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

*MAKING HAZELNUT FLOUR: It is possible to find blanched hazelnut flour, but if you can’t you can make it yourself. For many years I followed the conventional wisdom of roasting the nuts, allowing them to cool and then rubbing them in a lint-free towel. I generally used a brown towel as that would be that color anyway after I was through.

Then, while assisting at a cooking class the chef blanched the nuts in boiling water to which baking soda was added. That day conventional wisdom was thrown out the winder and I have been boiling hazelnuts ever since That is, if I can’t find them already blanched.

4 cups water
10 ounces skin-on hazelnuts
4 tablespoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F. Have ready a half sheet baking pan or similar pan and a large colander placed in the sink.

In a large saucepan, bring water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling add the baking soda and quickly add the hazelnuts. Note that the water will bubble up profusely.

Cook the hazelnuts for 3 to 4 minutes. Check at 3 1/2 minutes to see if the nuts can be de-skinned. Do this by removing one with a slotted spoon, run it under cold water and try slipping off the skin using two fingers.  If it doesn’t easily come off, boil the remaining for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Once the skin easily slips off remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the nuts in the colander. Rinse nuts well under cold running water then slip off the skins using your fingers. After the skins are removed, dry completely with a kitchen towel or paper towels and transfer to a baking sheet.

Toast blanched hazelnuts in preheated oven, stirring often, until light golden brown and fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to another pan to stop the cooking and cool before using.


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Spicy Cukes

A friend of mine introduced me a Japanese restaurant last week on Eat Street (Minneapolis) called KungFu Noodle.  They served a pile of these cucumbers as a starter on a lovely black lacquered tray.

Lucky for me, my dinner companion knew exactly how they were made. It doesn’t get much easier to recreate them. These spicy green spears were followed by a delicious ramen bowl in which mine included two strips of crispy chicken.

It seems overkill to list the ingredients in a “traditional” format as it’s so easy.  So here goes. Cut some cucumbers (about 4″ in length) in quarters  lengthwise and then in half across. Cut some radishes in half (an addition I made). I got both the cukes and the radishes at the farmer’s market.


Drizzle in some toasted sesame oil, Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese spice blend) along with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss to blend. Add more of whatever is needed to suit your taste buds.

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Ice Cream with the Flavors of Provence

I enjoyed a black olive ice cream with a black olive caramel recently at HeyDay in Minneapolis. Of course, this got me to thinking about olives, which then led to my day dreaming about Provence. I then remembered the saying, “what grows together, goes together.”

Given that adage, and the fact that olives, lemons, rosemary, and thyme all grow in abundance throughout the Côte d’Azur and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, it was further inspiration for this delicious ice cream.

I served it with poached peaches and a Bretonne biscuit.   The Bretonne biscuit recipe will be coming a little later as I still have to test it again. In the meantime, bake the Scottish Shortbread recipe that’s on my blog.

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
1 cup (175 g) granulated sugar
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems saved
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems saved
6 large (1/2 cup/108 g) egg yolks
1 tablespoon karo syrup
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) chopped dried black olives*

In a medium saucepan mix together the zest, sugar, and leaves of the rosemary and thyme using your fingers to massage the ingredients into the sugar. Set aside for about an hour to allow the essential oils to infuse the sugar.

When ready to make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water. Set a strainer on top of the smaller bowl.

Remove the large herb stems and reserve. Whisk the egg yolks into the sugar mixture. Stir the Karo syrup, milk, heavy cream, and salt into the sugar/egg mixture. Toss in the rosemary and thyme stems.

With a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon, cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of the stirring utensil.

Strain the custard into the bowl that is set over the ice bath. Discard the solids. Stir the custard until cool and then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.

Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. At the end of the churning process add the chopped olives and allow the dasher to incorporate the fruit. Transfer the ice cream to a container, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.

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Champagne poached peaches

Every recipe that I have come across reads to blanch the peaches in boiling water until the skin begins to pull away. Then plunge into ice water, peel and then add to the poaching liquid. I thought, why not just skip the blanching part and cook the peaches in the poaching liquid until you are able to peel them.  That’s exactly what I have done and it works just fine for me.

Makes 8 half peach servings

4 large ripe peaches, washed
750 ml champagne, sec or demi-sec, or more or less as needed
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
1 vanilla pod, split

Using a paring knife, cut about a 1/2-inch “X” in the bottom of each peach (end opposite the stem). Place the peaches in a saucepan that is just big enough to hold them. Pour enough champagne to cover. Add sugar and vanilla pod. If you’re short on champagne pour in cold water to just cover (or open another bottle and you’re have some to enjoy).

Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes or until the skin just begins to pull away at the “X”. Turn off heat, remove peaches from the liquid and allow them to cool until they can be handled. Peel the peaches and return them to the poaching liquid. Return the pan to medium heat and gently simmer, turning 3 or 4 times until they can be pierced with the point of a paring knife; about 10 – 15 minutes depending on the ripeness of the fruit.

Remove the peaches to a large bowl. Boil the syrup until it has reduced to a syrup (this will take about 10 minutes). Allow to cool and then pour over the peaches. When ready to serve cut the peaches in half, remove the pit and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The peaches will keep for up to 2 days, covered and in the fridge. Bring the peaches to room temperature, warm the syrup separately if desired and serve.

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Squid Ink Pasta with Uni (Sea Urchin) Butter

The inspiration for this dish was a fantastic dinner that I enjoyed at Bar La Grassa more than a year ago. Since that amazing evening I have made squid ink pasta many times, but pinned for the opportunity to toss it with an uni butter.

Oftentimes, maki sushi is topped with uni. Let’s just say that served in this manner is an acquired taste for some; me included. However, when mixed with butter and tossed with pasta and a sprinkling of minced chives it becomes an delightful combination of flavors.

Serves 6 as main or 8 as first course

1 pound squid ink pasta*
1 pound, about 4 per person (14 – 16 count) shrimp, shell-on
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 peppercorns
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
10 tablespoons (5 oz/ g) softened unsalted butter, divided
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup uni (sea urchin)
1 cup dry champagne, optional (I enjoyed one from Gratiot-Pillière)
1 -2 cups seafood stock, freeze any remaining for another use.
Red pepper flakes or Piment d’espelette to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Chives, minced for garnish

Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, place the shrimp shells, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover with water by about an inch (start with at least 3 cups of water) and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and allow to barely simmer for about an hour. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Reserve the stock and discard the shells, etc. If making the day before, cool in an ice bath. Refrigerate what is needed and freeze any remaining for another use.

Place a small sauté pan over medium heat, add bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon butter. Cook stirring often until the bread crumbs become toasty brown. Remove from heat and transfer to a small plate to stop the cooking.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, whip together the remaining butter and uni. Set aside. When ready to proceed, set a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil. Add the shrimp and sauté just until they are cooked through. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the champagne, if using, and stock and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a simmer and reduce to about 1/4 cup. Set aside. When pasta is cooked, drain and reserve about a cup of the pasta liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauté pan, stir in the uni butter, the cup of pasta liquid and the reserved shrimp.  Toss everything together until heated through. Divide pasta and shrimp among heated plates.  Top with toasted bread crumbs, cheese and chives and serve immediately.

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Squid Ink Pasta

I used to mix pasta dough on the countertop. Then one day I asked myself, why not make it in a bowl? It would contain all of the ingredients – you know so that there wouldn’t be flour everywhere! I’ve been making this dough in a stainless steel bowl ever since. This recipe is inspired by one from Thomas Keller as well as a recipe that I learned while leading one of my culinary tours to Provence. When we were in Provence we served it with seared scallops on rosemary skewers.

1 ¾ cups (8 oz) all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting countertop
6 large egg yolks, room temperature (freeze egg whites for another use)
1 large egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon squid ink*

Mound the flour in a large bowl. Create a well in the center that is large enough to hold the other ingredients without spilling over the sides.

Pour the remaining ingredients into the well. Using two fingers break up the eggs and begin stirring in a circular motion, keeping everything within the well. This circular motion allows the eggs to gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well. It is important that the flour not be incorporated too fast, otherwise the dough may have lumps.

Keep stirring the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour. The dough will begin to hold together. At that time add any remaining flour with a flexible pastry scraper by lifting the flour up and over the dough that’s beginning to form into a ball. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. Note: If the time of year is very dry all of the flour may not be incorporated.

Clean your fingers of dough and wash your hands. (It’s surprising how much easier it is to knead the dough with clean hands.) Turn the dough onto a clean, smooth countertop dusted with a bit of flour. Knead the dough by pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand. Form the dough into a ball and knead it again.  If the dough becomes too sticky add a bit more flour to the countertop.

Keep kneading the dough by pushing it away from you until the dough becomes silky-smooth.  The dough is ready when you can push your finger into the dough and it snaps back into place. The kneading process can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for another 10 minutes. You cannot over-knead this dough! It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the poke test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, well wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Cut the dough into quarters setting 3 of the 4 pieces under the plastic wrap. Flatten the piece of dough so that it will fit through the first setting of the pasta machine. Fold the dough into thirds and roll again on the first setting. Do this 3 or 4 times before moving to the second setting. The dough gains strength, as it were, by re-rolling it through the first setting.

Next roll it once through the second setting and then move to the third setting. Proceed in this manner until you have reached the eighth setting. (Note – my machine has nine settings with the last one rolling the dough too thin.) After the final rolling out of the dough set it on a well floured surface and cover with plastic wrap. Do the same for the other 3 pieces of dough.

After all the dough been rolled out move to the linguini or fettuccine setting and cut each of the four pieces on this setting.  Hang the dough over a wooden dowel to dry for up to a couple of hours.

When ready to cook bring water to a boil in a large stock or pasta pot. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt to the water. Cook the pasta for about 3 minutes or until al-dente. Top with a light sauce and serve.

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