Rhubarb Butter Cake or Gâteau Breton à la Rhubarbe

Brittany is known for its butter so it’s no wonder that there’s a cake which includes a lot of it. The original recipe had an apricot filling, but since I have an abundance of rhubarb, I used it for the filling instead.

Rhubarb Filling:

1 lb rhubarb, washed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3/4 cup (6 oz / 170 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar, optional
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water

6 large egg yolks, divided
2 cups (9 oz / 255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 oz / 25 g) almond flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons (8 oz / g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 1/4 oz /180 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
Sliced almonds for garnish

This cake is traditionally served plain with coffee or tea but can be dressed up with fresh berries and maybe a dollop of crème fraîche if desired.

Cook rhubarb, granulated sugar, vanilla sugar (if using), lemon juice, and water in a large heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring pretty much constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until rhubarb exudes juices. Reduce heat and simmer while continuing to stir. Press the pieces of rhubarb to make a sauce and reduce to about 1 cup. This will take about 15 minutes. Remove to a shallow bowl or plate and cool to room temperature.

Grease 9-inch round cake pan. Line with a round of parchment paper. Beat one egg yolk with a teaspoon of water and set aside.

Set a sieve over a medium bowl and sift together flours and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer using paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and lightened in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sugar and continue beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes longer.

Add 5 egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until each are incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape down bowl, add orange liqueur and mix until combined, about another 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, add sifted flours and mix until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Give batter final stir by hand.

Spoon half (about 13.5 oz / 390 g) of batter into bottom of prepared pan. Using small offset spatula, spread batter into even layer. Freeze for 10 minutes.

Spread cooled filling in even layer over chilled batter, leaving 3/4-inch border around edge. Freeze for 10 minutes. While the cake is freezing move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and set to fan-assisted 350 degree F.

Using offset spatula, carefully (but quickly) smooth the remaining batter over the entire surface. Brush with egg yolk wash. Using tines of fork, make light scores in surface of cake, spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart, in diamond pattern.

Bake until top is golden brown and edges of cake start to pull away from sides of pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes.

Run paring knife between cake and sides of pan, remove cake from pan, and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour. Cut into wedges and serve.

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Apricot Frangipane Tart

Frangipane is a versatile almond/butter filling that can be used as the base for any number of fruit tarts. In this recipe I’ve poached apricots and nestled them in the filling prior baking off. Plums, peaches, strawberries, or rhubarb could also be switched out for the apricots.

The tartness of the apricots paired with the sweet almond filling makes for a sublime combination especially when served with a dollop of crème fraîche.  Enjoying a glass of Moscato d’Asti will put this dessert over the top.

Makes One 9 or 10-inch Tart
Serves 8 -12

7 tablespoons (3.5 oz / 198 g)  cold unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (5 ¾ oz 165 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 oz / 30 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz / 15 g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 firm but ripe apricots
1/2 cup (4 oz / 113 g) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3.5 oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract
2 tablespoons (20 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups ( oz / 125 g) ground almonds
3 tablespoons apricot jam
Splash of water

To make tarte dough or Pâte Sucrée: Cut the butter into 1/4-inch pieces, transfer to a bowl or plate and pop in the freezer. Whisk together 1 tablespoon cream and egg yolk and place in the refrigerator.

In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade, combine the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Scatter the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal (about 15 quick pulses). 

Pour the cream/egg yolk mixture around the perimeter of the bowl. Pulse 5 or 6 times or until the dough just begins to hold together. If the dough seems dry add a bit more cream and pulse again.

Tip the dough out onto a counter-top. Using the palm of your hand, smear the dough away from you a little at a time using a pastry scraper gather it back up. Repeat until the dough comes together. This technique is called to fraisage. After it comes together pat it into a 6-inch disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour or better yet overnight.

When ready to proceed set a rack at the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F fan assisted oven. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 10 – 15 minutes or until malleable.

Roll out dough between two pieces of parchment paper taking the time to ensure that the paper is not sticking to the dough. The diameter should end up being about 11-inches. Form the dough into a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan with it slightly higher than the rim of the tart pan. Using a fork prick the bottom of the dough and pop it in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until firm.

Set the frozen tart shell on a sheet pan. Blind bake the tart dough by lining it with parchment paper. Add uncooked rice or dry beans to weigh down the dough. Place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the edges begin the brown. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the weights and parchment paper. Return to the oven and continue baking until the edges and bottom are golden brown, another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

Blanch the fruit: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Cut a small “x” in the bottom of each apricot and (carefully) drop into the boiling water. Blanch for 3 – 4 minutes, or even five minutes depending on the ripeness of the fruit. (The less ripe the longer they take to blanch.) Once blanched remove each to an ice bath. When cool enough to handle peel each, cut in half, remove the pit and set on a plate.

Prepare the frangipane filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment mix butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and mix to incorporate. Mix in orange blossom water and almond extract. Add the flours and mix to combine. Set aside.

When the tart dough has cooled using a small off-set spatula spread frangipane evenly over the blind baked tart crust. Arrange the apricot halves (cut side down) on top pressing them slightly into the frangipane.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 50 – 55 minutes or until frangipane is until  golden.  Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. While the tart is cooling in a small saucepan heat the jam and a splash of water and cook until jam has melted.

Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. Using a small pastry brush, brush the cooled tart with the apricot glaze. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche or whipped cream.

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Poached Salmon Ballotine

Raw, oven roasted or grilled are not the only ways to enjoy salmon. There’s yet another way to cook it and that would be — poached.  This recipe comes from Chef Raymond Blanc’s show, How to Cook Well.

I was happy to enjoy it as part of a “salade niçoise” inspired lunch along with a glass of rosé from Provence.

5 oz fresh salmon fillet, preferably wild caught
Pinch of cayanne pepper
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
Pinch of white pepper
teaspoon or so of fresh dill

Bring a pot of water to a boil. if the fillet is a bit thick, butterfly and open it up as if it were a book.  Choose the best looking side and sprinkle with cayanne pepper, salt, white pepper and fresh dill.

Flip the fillet over on a piece of heat-proof plastic wrap and tightly roll up into a cylinder. Wrap the cylinder tightly with plastic wrap tying off the ends. 

Remove the pot of boiling water from the heat and place the wrapped cylinder of salmon.  Allow to poach off the heat for 6 minutes (depending on the thickness). Using tongs place to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Allow to cool and then slice into disks with a searated knife.

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Loup Avec Croute d’olive or Seabass with Black Olive Crust

For a number of years I was a cooking assistant for my friend Kathy, who happened to own La Pitchoune, the same home that Paul and Julia Child owned. And, the home was next door to the Becks as in Simone (Simca) Beck who co-wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Julia and Louisette Bertholle.

One of the many delights of this piece of paradise are olives. Consequently, so is olive oil and it is treasured in Provence. The seafood is also abundant which makes this dish a regional favorite and one I learned how to cook at La Pitchoune.

Fortunately, I still travel to Provence and lead culinary tours to this region as often as I can.
Serves 8.

1 cup black olives, pitted and finely diced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8-6 ounce sea bass fillets or (halibut, red snapper)
1 recipe black olive oil
1 recipe garlic mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 425°F. Oil a baking sheet large enough to hold fish in one layer.  Place diced olives in a mixing bowl.  Warm the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat.

Add the shallots and sauté until soft, but not brown. Raise the heat to high and add the bread crumbs, stirring until the crumbs are slightly crisp.  Add the crumbs to the diced olives, mix well and stir in the thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Coat the fillets with the crumb mixture, dividing evenly and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until the fish is opaque throughout.  Serve with the garlic mashed potatoes and drizzle with black olive oil around each piece of fish.

Huille de Tapenade  (Black Olive Oil)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon tapenade

Combine olive oil and tapenade. Let stand 1 to 2 hours

Tapenade (Olive Spread)
1 pound Niçoise olives, pitted (or Kalamata)
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoon capers, drained
3 tablespons olive oil
Freshly ground Pepper to taste

Place the olives, anchoives, garlic, and capers in food processor and process until puréed.  While processing, add the olive oil and black pepper to taste.

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Spiced Rhubarb-Sour Cherry Chutney

This chutney would be delicious as part of a cheese board or on top of crostini that has been smeared with fresh homemade ricotta.  I’d also add it to a ham and cheese sandwich, dollop a spoonful on a hamburger or across a grilled hot dog or brat. Makes 2 1/2 pints

4 1/2 cups 1/4-inch cubes fresh rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
½ cup (3 oz) chopped red onion
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3/4 tart apple, peeled and diced (eat the remaining quarter)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 oz) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup dried tart cherries or golden raisins (about 3 ounces)
Zest of one orange, preferably organic

Preheat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Melt butter; add cinnamon stick and bay leaves and stir. Add onion and ginger and sweat until just tender but not browned; about a minute.

Add garlic, salt, coriander and mustard seeds and cook until garlic is just tender. Add the cumin, cloves, and red pepper flakes; cook for another 30 seconds or until the spices have bloomed and are fragrant. Add the sugar, vinegar and orange juice; bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Add dried cherries (or raisins) and rhubarb; increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender, and mixture thickens slightly, about 5 – 6 minutes. Stir in diced apple and orange zest and cook for another minute.

Cool completely, then remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. The chutney will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 2 weeks. Serve cool or at room temperature.

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Rhubarb Salsa

4 plum tomatoes
1/2 red onion, root left intact
1/2 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño
1 poblano pepper
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup finely diced fresh rhubarb
1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup pepper jelly or peach preserves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Place a heavy bottom skillet such as cast iron over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, poblano, and garlic. Roast the vegetables until black spot are evident. All to cool. Chop the vegetables into 1/4 inch dice but mince the garlic.

In a large bowl stir together the diced vegetables, fruit, lime zest and juice, jalapeño, salt and jelly.

Cover and refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, add the cilantro, stir well and check the seasoning.

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Rhubarb Pickles

1 pound rhubarb stems
1 cup apple cider or white distilled vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
½ – 1 cup granulated sugar, depending on sweetness desired

Optional ingredients:

1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled & sliced
4 small dried chile peppers
4 or 5 black, red or green peppercorns per jar
1/2 or 1 star anise per jar
1 bay leaf per jar

Sterilized glass jars with lids

Wash, trim, de-string and cut rhubarb into lengths that will fit into your jar(s); then pack rhubarb into them.

In a medium non-reactive saucepan combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt and place on medium heat, stir until sugar & salt are dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium-high and boil 1 minute.

Pour vinegar mixture over rhubarb to cover completely. Let cool, cover and refrigerate for 48 hours before eating. Serve cold.

Disclaimer: These pickles are not processed in a water bath using a canning method. They need to be kept in the refrigerator and enjoyed within a couple of weeks.

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Pork Bolognese

Here’s a tomato sauce that I’ve taken up a notch or three. I’ve included a couple of optional ingredients in the recipe. They were in the fridge I didn’t want to just discard them. Plus, they added an amazing depth of umami flavor. How can you go wrong adding homemade duck stock, right?

2 – 28 oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes
1  pound ground pork or sweet pork sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
2 medium carrots, 1/4-inch dice
1 large or 2 small celery stalks, 1/4-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette or red pepper flakes or to taste
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 anchovies minced or 1 teaspoon anchovy oil (optional)
1 cup regular or pepper vodka or dry red or white wine
1 cup (8 oz) pork or chicken stock, preferably home-made
 1 cup (8 oz) crème fraîche (optional)

Strain tomatoes, reserving the juice and roughly chop the fruit. Set aside.

Set a large Dutch oven on medium-low heat, when just hot add pork and crumble as necessary with a wooden spoon; cooking until browned. With a slotted spoon remove the crumbled pork to a bowl and reserve.

Add the olive oil and butter to the Dutch oven. Again, when hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Sauté until translucent. Add carrots and celery and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. Add the minced garlic, Piment or red pepper flakes, Herbes do Provence, crushed fennel seeds, black pepper, and (if using add the anchovies or anchovy oil) and continue sautéing for another 30 seconds.

Add vodka and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits (known as fond) and cook until the mixture has reduced by half. Add the stock or water and again reduce by half. Stir in the reserved cooked pork, chopped tomatoes and juice.

Simmer on low for about 30 minutes or until the carrots are just tender.  Stir in the creme fraiche and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Serve with Ricotta Dumplings or penne pasta cooked al denté.

Wine Pairing: A light red such as the Marchesini Marcello Bardolino Classico 2018. This wine has notes of red fruit like sour cherry with the spices of black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. It has enough tannin and acidity to hold its own the this tomato sauce.

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