Tag : lemon
Tag : lemon
previous summer muffins
I know blackberries aren’t technically in season yet, but think of this recipe as a preview: by the time blackberries are perfect for the picking, you’ll already have a recipe for them!
And, spoiler alert, another one on the way.
I don’t remember when I started realizing how much I love blackberries, but when I fell for them, I fell hard. They are, by far, my favorite berry. Don’t get me wrong, I love all berries and everything related to berries (except strawberry milk and strawberry ice cream: major blegh.) But blackberries are a league of their own.
One day, I’m going to write a cookbook dedicated to blackberries. But actually, I just came up with that idea and it’s a damn good idea, so I’m totally serious.
My goal with this recipe was to get another good summer recipe using fruit, but because I already have blackberry almond muffins, I wanted to go in a different direction. I believe you can’t go wrong with a good whole wheat muffin, and the honey came to me when I was working on my lemon-honey sponge cake. At first, I added a bunch of spices to the muffins, but it was too much, so I omitted them entirely. The honey itself is at once sweet and acidic, but I add lemon zest for a bright balance to the sweetness of the honey.
I’m discovering that blackberries play well with a lot of other ingredients, and that’s exciting.
blackberry honey whole wheat muffins
adapted from my blackberry almond muffins
makes 1 dozen
4 oz all-purpose flour
8 oz whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz honey
zest of 1 baby lemon or 1/2 of one large lemon
6 oz milk
4 oz unsalted butter, melted, or canola oil
9 oz blackberries
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C, and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, lemon zest, and milk, until homogeneous. If using vegetable oil, whisk it in with these ingredients. If using butter, mix everything else first.
Whisk in the melted butter.
Quickly dump the dry ingredients into the wet and mix together. Fold in the blackberries.
Scoop the batter into the muffin pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. The muffins will feel springy when you push gently in the center with a finger. You can also test with a wooden toothpick: insert the toothpick into the center of the muffin and it should come out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes in the pan. Transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
You can keep the muffins up to 48 hours wrapped individually in plastic. Let them cool down completely before wrapping.
Smell ya later, honeys,
Sometime between last April, when I published the earl grey layer cake with turmeric frosting, and last month, I fell in love with cakes again. Just like I publish a new pie recipe every November, I decided I wanted to publish a new cake recipe every spring, and I’ve been filling up pages of my cooking notebook with spring (and non-spring) cake ideas for weeks. Matcha chiffon cake is at the top of the list, y’all, so keep an eye out for that.
For months, I’d been wanting to do something with lemon, honey, and/or other flavors. I played around with Italian almond ricotta cake (still in progress but will definitely be showing up sooner or later), and contemplated buying mini bundt pans to make mini honey bundt cakes (still hasn’t happened, but we’ll see.) I googled “lemon cake,” “honey cake,” “best spring cakes,” and even “white cake” and “yellow cake” for inspiration, and in March I tried out a few recipes. There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the way of lemon-honey cake online, and all the “honey cakes” I found were spiced and dense, and not really what I had in mind. The recipes I tried the first two times were Frankenstein monsters of other recipes (mostly of my earl grey cake recipe), and they were not working. No matter how I adjusted the amount of fat, liquid, lemon, and flavor, the batter always broke and the texture just wasn’t right.
As always when I get stuck on a pastry thing, I asked one of the pastry chefs at work for advice: How does she recommend incorporating both honey and lemon into a cake that’s light, fluffy, and spring-themed?
Sponge cake. She recommended sponge cake, and I tried to think through everything else she’s taught me about cake, and I realized, I honestly had no idea what a sponge cake was. At the same time as I was working on this, I was hooked on the show, “Zumbo’s Just Desserts,” and in the first season, one of the contestants talks about her mother’s sponge cake recipe.
What is this sponge cake people talking about?
Clearly sponge cakes aren’t the most popular cake in the States.
I changed course and researched different types of sponge cake, the difference between sponges and other cakes, types of cakes in general, and best sponges for layering.
Turns out cake is pretty complex, y’all.
But, I’m a fan of making things super simple, and just like with my lemon curd (which features in this cake recipe), I’m about to make cakes super frickin’ simple and blow some minds.
In general, cakes can be categorized as one of two types (with some cakes straddling the line): Sponge and Butter.
A sponge cake is made with an egg sponge base: eggs, whole or separated, are whipped up with sugar and the other ingredients. The eggs foam up like meringue (in some recipes, it actually is meringue.) There is usually very little starch added, and in some cases, very little fat. Angel food cake, for example, has zero fat, and dacquoise has no starch. Genoise, on the other hand, has a small amount of flour and butter, and uses whole eggs, so there’s fat from the yolks.
A butter cake is what most of us in the States are used to: softened butter is beaten with sugar (“creamed“), and then the other ingredients are beaten in, slowly and one at a time to keep the batter emulsified. The base of the cake batter is the sugar-butter mixture, which increases in volume just like an egg sponge. However, most butter cake recipes involve adding the eggs directly to the batter without foaming them up. This is where we find birthday cakes and yellow cakes.
In the sponge family, we have such cakes as: swiss roll, ladyfingers/savoy sponge, flourless chocolate cakes, tortes, financiers, madeleines, sacher tortes, and of course genoise, dacquoise, and angel food.
On the other, fattier side: pound cake, common chocolate cakes, white cake, yellow cake, carrot cake, red velvet cake, and devil’s food cake.
And straddling the divide: chiffon (a sponge with vegetable oil.)
At first, I was overwhelmed trying to understand what exactly a sponge is, what the types of cakes were, and the differences from one cake to another, but when I started reading about sponges versus butter cakes, the information all felt more accessible.
From there, I decided on a genoise/genoese sponge flavored with lemon zest, doused with honey simple syrup, and layered up with mascarpone and lemon curd.
Genoise, an Italian sponge cake (from Genoa), uses whole eggs, unseparated, for the sponge, and contains some flour and butter. The fat makes the finished cake just sturdy enough that you can slice and layer it, but the air in the sponge allows for dousing with whatever flavored syrup you want (hashtag, booze.) As the name implies, the cake is a sponge, meaning it sucks up whatever liquid you add to it. The cake itself is light and lean (not fatty), so a lot of the flavor comes from the dousing liquid and the other components of the layer cake.
My trouble with the earliest attempts was that I wanted to add lemon zest and juice for that flavor, but the juice was too much liquid, and I couldn’t add enough honey for the honey flavor without breaking the batter. Butter is temperamental like that. By separating the flavors out into a variety of different components, I could get both the lemon and the honey, play with different textures, and keep my cake light and fluffy.
So here it is, the 2018 Spring Cake: lemon-honey genoise, layered with lemon curd and honey mascarpone.
For some extra fanciness, top the cake with candied lemon peel, honeycomb candy, or real honeycomb* (but maybe add the honeycomb candy and lemon peel right before serving because they can’t be refrigerated and the cake needs to be chilled.)
Maybe I’ll need to do a summer cake, an autumn cake, and a winter cake, as well.
*I did extensive research (Googling and asking everyone I know), and yes, honeycomb is both edible and digestible (though most people treat it like gum and spit it out after getting the honey.)
lemon honey sponge cake with lemon curd and honey mascarpone frosting
adapted from The Art of French Baking, by Ginette Mathiot
makes one 6″ cake, 3 layers (double the recipe to make an 8″ – 9″ cake)
The written recipe itself looks long, but I promise you that the process is not long or cumbersome. There’s just a lot to know about each component.
First, watch this video to gain some idea of how to go about making and assembling this cake. This is Mary Berry making a “fraisier cake” (a strawberry genoise layer cake), and I follow almost this exact process. You can assemble your cake more roughly/casually and with fewer tools, if you want.
Note: Finding ways to prepare recipes in advance will save you a lot of stress, and fortunately, advanced preparation is not only easy for cakes, but recommended. “Never bake a cake the same day you’re going to serve it,” a pastry chef at work told me when I mentioned this cake idea to her. Make the sponge in advance, slice it into layers when it cools, wrap each layer individually in plastic, and freeze or chill at least 1 day before you plan to assemble the cake. You should also make the lemon curd in advance, and you could even have the honey simple syrup prepared ahead of time. Of course, the garnishes can be made ahead of time. The candied lemon peel should be kept at room temperature and the honeycomb candy stays best in the freezer, but if you have silica gel, you can keep it at room temperature.
For baking the cake: a small saucepan, a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer, a handheld electric mixer (if not using a stand mixer), a whisk, a rubber spatula, a fine mesh sieve, one 6″ cake pan, parchment or a 6″ parchment round
For making the mascarpone frosting: two mixing bowls, one handheld electric mixer (or you can use a stand mixer, but you’ll want to use the electric mixer in both bowls, so if you use a stand mixer, you’ll need to transfer the whipped cream to another container after whipping it), a silicone spatula
For assembling the cake: a 6″ cake ring (not required but highly recommended), parchment paper or an acetate sheet (if using the cake ring, otherwise neither are necessary), a pastry brush (bristles or silicone), a serrated bread knife, two small-ish (12″ or less) piping bags and tips for the lemon curd and mascarpone, a small offset spatula
lemon genoise sponge
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2.6 oz granulated sugar
zest of 1 large lemon or 2 baby lemons
2.1 oz all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (0.5 oz) unsalted butter, melted
honey simple syrup
2 oz honey
0.4 oz water
honey mascarpone frosting
3 oz whipping cream
3 oz mascarpone cheese*
2 oz honey
1 oz powdered sugar
*Some regular grocery stores carry mascarpone cheese, occasionally, or you can find it at Whole Foods. It’s like a cross between cream cheese and heavy cream: lighter than cream cheese, but thicker than whipped cream. You can substitute cream cheese for mascarpone, but it will be thicker and have a stronger flavor. A closer cousin of mascarpone is crème fraîche, which is easier to find in the grocery store.
Make the lemon curd in advance. You can make it up to a week in advance and refrigerate or up to 6 months in advance and freeze the curd. Thaw the curd in the refrigerator overnight before assembling the cake.
1-2 days before serving the cake, make the sponge. On the day that you’re serving the cake, make the simple syrup, then make the mascarpone, infuse the sponge with the syrup, and assemble the cake from there.
make the sponge cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Butter a 6″ cake pan and line the bottom with a 6″ parchment paper round.
Fill a small saucepan about an inch deep with water and set on the stove over medium heat. This is your double-boiler.
In a large, heat-proof bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and lemon zest. Set the bowl on top of the sauce pan, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water or the bottom of the sauce pan. The water should be simmering, not boiling (despite the term “double-boiler”). If you see steam escaping from the sides or hear boiling, lower the temperature a little bit.
Gently cook the mixture, whisking occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. At first, the mixture will look grainy, like sugar combined with eggs, but once the sugar dissolves, you’ll see a thin foam on top and the mixture will turn darker yellow. It will look smooth, like eggs whisked up by themselves. This will only take about 5 minutes, and if you want to use a thermometer, then the mixture is ready when it reaches 110 – 120 F/43 – 49 C. The bowl and the mixture will feel warm to the touch.
Remove the bowl from the double-boiler and, using either a handheld electric mixer or the stand mixer, and the wire whip/whisk attachment, whip the foam on high until it increases drastically in volume and the bowl cools down completely. The foam will become significantly paler in color and will look a bit like lotion or meringue (but because of the yolks, it won’t act quite like meringue.) Your goal here is to get the foam to the ribboning stage: when you lift the whip/whisk out of the foam, it slowly falls back down and forms a ribbon on the surface of the mixture before disappearing back into the mixture.
You’ll also eventually see the foam stop increasing in volume. As you’re whipping, you’ll see little splatters around the sides of the bowl, above the surface of the foam, and when the whole mixture reaches that far up the side of the bowl, it’s done.
It’s important to whip the foam enough but it’s possible to overwhip. The ribboning will be the best indicator that you’re done.
Once the foam is done, measure out your flour into a small bowl. Using a fine-mesh sieve or a flour sifter (hand-crank is easier than squeeze), sift the flour onto the surface of the foam in 3-4 additions, folding it into the foam with a rubber spatula after each.
After all the flour is sifted and mostly folded into the batter, fold in the butter. The butter can be completely melted or just really, really soft. If it’s completely melted (the way I prefer to do), it’s more likely to pool at the bottom, but it’s easier to mix into the batter. If it’s solid but really soft, it’s less likely to fall to the bottom, but harder to fold into the batter.
You’ll notice pockets of flour throughout the batter and at the bottom of the bowl, and some of the butter may have pooled at the bottom, as well. Keep folding until all of the butter and most of the flour is well-incorporated.
If you’re using a stand mixer with the bowls that have a bump on the bottom, I find it easier to tilt the bowl sideways and fold the batter over itself horizontally, rather than trying to fold up from the bottom around the bump.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. As you pour the batter into the pan, if you see any lumps of flour, just gently mix them back into the batter with your spatula (as Mary Berry does in the video.)
Bake the sponge for 25 – 35 minutes*, until tanned and foam-y to the touch. It should feel almost like a muffin: the center will spring back when lightly pressed down, and the sides of the cake will be pulling away from the sides of the pan.
*It’s very important, like with any other sponge (or anything with meringue), that you don’t open the oven too early! I learned this the hard way. Don’t start opening the oven to test the cake until at least 25 minutes into baking, when the cake starts getting some tan on the surface and pulling away from the sides of the pan. If you open the oven door before the cake sets, it’ll deflate in the center.
Remove the cake from the oven and let cool in its pan for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
When the cake has cooled completely, slice it horizontally into 2 – 3 layers with a serrated knife. The cake should be tall enough to get 3 thin layers, each about 2/3 of an inch. Wrap each layer separately in plastic and keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to assemble.
make the syrup and infuse the cake
Honey simple syrup is just honey with some water. Because the honey itself is already a syrup, there’s no sugar to dissolve, so there’s no need for cooking. The goal is to make a syrup thin enough that it will soak into the sponge, but thick enough that it won’t run out of the sponge. I found that 5 parts honey to 1 part water was a good ratio for the consistency and flavor.
Whisk together the honey and water in a medium bowl.
Don’t pour the syrup onto the cake because it’ll soak in immediately and you won’t be able to brush it around. Use a pastry brush to gently brush the syrup onto one side of each layer (one of the cut sides; the syrup won’t soak through the top or bottom crust).
You can brush each layer as you assemble the cake or you can brush them all before assembling.
prepare the mascarpone
You’ll need to beat both the mascarpone and the whipping cream, but you’ll need to do it separately. You can use the same mixer attachment for both, or even the same bowl, but do the whipping cream first. If using one bowl for both components, transfer the whipped cream to a different container before doing the mascarpone. You don’t need to clean the beaters between whipping the cream and the mascarpone.
First, whip the cream. Cold cream whips up better than warm cream (this is the opposite of eggs: warm eggs whip up better than cold.) Whip the cream until it’s stiff and holds its shape. You should be able to tilt the bowl upside down and the whipped cream will stay. Like with eggs, it is possible to whip the cream too much: eventually, it turns into butter. The cream is done when it starts to look like it isn’t running anymore.
Next, combine the mascarpone, honey, and powdered sugar in another bowl, and beat the mixture until homogeneous and creamy.
Fold in the whipped cream the same way you folded together the cake batter. The mascarpone will be slightly off-white because of the honey and the whipped cream will be relatively pale, so you should be able to see two different colors at first, and you’ll see the colors mix together. Fold until there are no streaks of whipped cream left. This frosting should still be pretty stiff, like the whipped cream but unlike the cake batter.
Taste the frosting and adjust with more honey or sugar as needed. It should have a pretty noticeable honey flavor.
You’ll pipe about 1/3 of the frosting in between the layers and the rest will go on top of the cake.
assemble the cake
When you aren’t using the lemon curd or the mascarpone, keep them in the refrigerator. Additionally, keep the cake chilled when you aren’t in the process of assembling. Cakes and their components are easier to work with when they stay chilled.
You can assemble the cake using cake rings and acetate/parchment, or you can layer it without the extra support. If using a cake ring and parchment or acetate, make a strip wider than the depth of the cake ring (or taller than the cake will be), and set the parchment/acetate inside the cake ring, pressed up around the edges of the ring.
First, place your bottom layer. You won’t need to be spinning the cake around as you would a frosted butter cake, and the finished cake is light enough to pick up and transfer to a cake stand. The bottom cake layer will help hold the parchment/acetate vertically against the sides of the cake ring.
Infuse the bottom layer with the simple syrup.
Using a small piping bag and any tip that has a medium-wide opening, pipe about half of 1/3 of the mascarpone around the edge of the cake layer to form a ring of frosting. Spoon or pipe half of the lemon curd onto the cake inside the mascarpone ring. The frosting helps contain the lemon curd.
Chill the first filled layer (and all of the components except the simple syrup) for at least 15 minutes to let them rest before continuing.
Infuse the second layer of the cake, place it on top of the mascarpone and lemon curd, and repeat the filling process by piping the rest of the first 1/3 of the frosting and the rest of the curd on top of the second layer. At this point, you’re done piping the fillings, unless you want to pipe the frosting on top instead of spreading it*.
*If you do decide to pipe all of the frosting, instead of spreading the other 2/3 on top, I’d still recommend not filling the piping bag all at once. Fill the bag with about 1/3 of the frosting at a time, or else the filling and squeezing will overwork the frosting and it will start to run or break.
If you’re only using two layers, make sure you brush the honey syrup onto the cut side of each layer, not the crust side. You can place the top layer with the crust side up or down.
Chill the partially-assembled cake after finishing and filling the second layer, for at least 15 minutes to let everything rest.
Infuse and place the top layer of the cake onto the filled second layer. Spread the remaining 2/3 of the mascarpone frosting on top so that it covers almost the entire top surface. It should be thick enough that it won’t run down the sides.
Chill the entire cake until ready to serve, and right before serving, you can top the cake with extra honey, candied lemon peel, honeycomb candy, and/or real honeycomb.
I am going to make this soooooo super easy for y’all:
You can make lemon curd with equal parts sugar, butter, eggs, and lemon juice. If you convert any lemon curd recipe into grams or ounces, you’ll see that, on average, they all use equal parts of the four main ingredients, and then some salt, lemon zest, and maybe vanilla (definitely vanilla.) I did not know this until about a month ago, after I’d been making lemon curd for well over two years.
The most eye-opening thing I’ve learned about baking in the past few years is that many recipes have a Golden Ratio. In fact, I have my pie crust recipe memorized specifically because of the Golden Ratio for Pie Crusts (I’m officially calling it that now.) There’s a golden ratio for French tart dough, cookie dough, genoise sponge cakes, and even yeasted breads.
Now we can all sleep easy knowing the Golden Ratio for Lemon Curd: 1:1:1:1, 1 part sugar: 1 part egg (white, yolk, or whole): 1 part lemon juice: 1 part butter. The most important thing about knowing these ratios is that you can use them to manipulate your recipes: do you want a sweeter lemon curd? Maybe you do 3 parts sugar to 2 parts everything else (3:2:2:2.) Do you want your lemon curd to set and thicken more? Follow the ratio, then add in one more egg yolk, or do 3 parts butter to 2 parts everything else (2:2:2:3.) If you want more lemon-y tartness, add more lemon juice and an extra egg yolk: 2:3:3:2. If you want a thinner lemon curd, add more lemon juice or reduce the amount of butter: 1:1:2:1 (more lemon juice), or 2:2:2:1 (less butter.)
And now I’m going to blow your mind again: to make approximately 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of lemon curd, you use 4 ounces (by weight) of each ingredient. To make approximately 1.5 cups (12 fluid ounces), you use 6 ounces by weight of each ingredient: the input of each ingredient ends up being about 1/2 of the total output. I know, super technical, but we are talking about ratios here, so it’s totally appropriate. If you can’t remember your recipe, or want a certain amount of finished curd but can’t conceptualize how much of each ingredient to use, multiply your desired amount of lemon curd by 1/2. The actual ratio varies depending on how much you cook the curd.
You might want to make 1 cup but end up with 1 1/3 cups. Let’s call that a Baker’s Cup: the baker gets to eat the extra 1/3 for their time and effort.
Y’all know I loooooove lemon and when I choose a flavor, I go hard on that flavor (cardamom and aniseed, heyyyyy!) Since making lemon curd the first time (btw, the first time I ever made lemon curd, there was absolutely no egg scrambling and I didn’t have to strain the curd at all, so there), I’ve fallen head over lemon stem for it. It seems like the perfect marriage: lemon and sugar. But there is one very helpful wedding guest: vanilla. I use the 1-quart vanilla bean paste bottle that I bought 2.5 years ago (which has more than doubled in price since I bought it so buy yours now while vanilla still exists), but you can use any form of vanilla you want. I do strongly recommend that it be real vanilla beans and not synthetic vanillin (nothing against vanillin but it’s not quite the same as real Madagascar vanilla beans.)
And the ringbearer: lemon zest. Overkill? Nahhhhhh. The lemon juice is the main flavor but lemon juice and lemon zest are slightly different flavor experiences, and adding the zest from fresh lemons on top of the full amount of lemon juice really gets that flavor. Aaaaand, here’s another kicker: 1 large lemon produces about 2 ounces of juice on average (1.75 – 2.25 ounces), and the perfect amount of lemon zest for this recipe is the zest of 2 large lemons. Therefore, all of the lemon juice you need (plus extra or minus just a bit) and the lemon zest come from 2 large lemons or 4 small baby lemons.
That was pretty long but in summary: 2 large lemons (or 4 baby lemons), 1 stick of butter (4 oz), 4 oz sugar, and 2 large eggs (which coincidentally contain as much egg as a lemon contains lemon juice), a pinch of salt and a hit of vanilla and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
She’s rich. She’s vividly lemony. She’s got just a hint of Madagascar vanilla. She’s Covergirl.
No, she’s vanilla bean lemon curd.
Another great thing about lemon curd: You can use the recipe to make other curds, as well. Think lime or orange curd, pineapple curd, mango curd, or even pumpkin curd and ginger curd (macaron filling ideas for the win, y’all.)
luscious vanilla bean lemon curd
makes about 1 cup
4 oz granulated sugar
4 oz freshly-squeezed lemon juice
zest of 2 large lemons (or 4 baby lemons)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
4 oz unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (about 8 pieces)
In a small non-stick saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, salt, and vanilla.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling.
You don’t need to boil the mixture because the eggs cook at a lower heat than water boils or simmers. You should see the sugar dissolve and then a very thin layer of white froth cover the surface of the curd. It’ll look like the white foam you get when you cook pasta.
Make sure you stir pretty frequently, because the curd will cook around the edges and on the bottom before it cooks in the middle. You don’t have to whisk or stir continuously, but fairly often to prevent scrambling.
At first, it will seem like the curd is cooking slowly and steadily, and then all of a sudden, it will be thick. Once the curd is the consistency of lava (and bubbles and pops like lava in a volcano), then it’s almost done and you won’t need to stir it as often. Test the curd for doneness before adding the butter.
You can test the curd a couple ways. The first is useful for any sauce: dip a wooden or metal spoon (or spatula) in the curd to coat the spoon/spatula. Run your finger through the coating and if the curd doesn’t run along the surface of the spoon/spatula (to fill in where you scraped it off with your finger), then it’s done. You can continue cooking if you want it to be a little thicker.
The second way is the same as testing jam: the freezer test. Freeze a metal spoon, then place a small amount of the curd on the spoon and put the spoon back in the freezer. The spoon will heat up and then cool down. After about 2-3 minutes, check the spoon: if the bottom of the spoon is room temperature and the lemon curd is thick (does not move), it’s done.
The curd will thicken and set more as it cools but you can also keep cooking for about 5 – 10 minutes to get a little more of the water out.
Once the curd is done, add the butter and whisk constantly to melt it. You can place the saucepan back on medium or low heat if you need to. Once the butter is fully melted and incorporated, strain the curd to remove any scrambled bits and the lemon zest. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or a measuring cup and pour the curd through, using a rubber spatula to push the curd through the strainer until all that’s left is solid (the zest or any scrambled eggs.) You might not need to strain the curd at all but it doesn’t hurt to do it anyway.
The curd will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about a week, and in the freezer for a couple months.
Y’all come back now, okerrrr-d?
Categories: side dishes
I occasionally work at a cooking school. By “occasionally,” I mean I used to work in a cooking school, but with a recent promotion (heyyyyy) I work almost exclusively on the retail floor (as a manager) at a store that contains the cooking school.
But this is a story about the cooking school.
There are tons of different classes taught in this kitchen, but the most common themes are French and Italian. It was during my first year at this store that I encountered…nay, heard of chicken piccata for the first time. Less popular this year for some reason, chicken piccata used to be the recipe du jour of the Italian-themed summer classes. I was working in the kitchen during one such class and there was an excess of the entree after the students were done, so I was able to sample a little bit.
Just one bite and I was in love. (Sorry, cardamom, but I’m a capers dude now.)
Such a simple recipe, and yet so intriguingly delicious. No wonder it was all the rage. In fact, until I attempted chicken piccata months later, following Giada’s recipe first, I had never made anything like it. The only meat I had ever seared up until that point was steak, which I always, always followed with garlic, rosemary, butter, and red wine. Never before had I dredged a piece of protein, let alone braised it in its own fat.
My first time making chicken piccata, and admittedly my second, third, and fourth times, I was not quite satisfied, but I was obsessed with figuring out how to make what I had tasted in that cooking class kitchen over the summer. I bothered chefs for advice, read every recipe on the Internet, and watched videos until I fell asleep, and I just kept making chicken piccata.
My mom’s family is from the Midwest, and if we’re talking bloodlines and ethnicity, they’re Portuguese (kind of.) They’re seven-layer-salad Midwest, Swedish meatballs Midwest (hint: I’ve finally perfected my take on Magnus Nilsson’s Swedish meatballs and you can expect a post about that in the new year.) Despite the mix of Scandinavian and Portuguese-ish heritage, it came about that when my mom’s family visits, I make Italian food. Why? The first time they visited after I moved home, I desperately wanted to perfect and show off my focaccia recipe. Subsequent visits involved attempts at chicken piccata, homemade ravioli, and recently, even chicken cacciatore. Basically, timing. Also, they always visit in the summer, which means basil and tomatoes, and thus, all things caprese.
Also also, my aunt owns a farm and an organic bed and breakfast in Spain, where she not only raises her own animals and provides her own ingredients for her B&B kitchen, but she also picks and presses her own olives. About a year and a half ago, she came to us with easily a gallon of first-press Spanish olive oil from her farm, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to make sourdough focaccia, caprese salads (with our own basil and farmer’s market tomatoes), handmade pasta, and my two new favorite chicken dishes with my aunt’s own olive oil.
Thus, in a family with only one Italian person through marriage on my dad’s side, I make Italian food for my mom’s relatives.
And if you ever visit, I’ll make some for you. But for now, here’s a simple, Italian-esque chicken recipe: chicken piccata.
If you peek around on the internet, you’ll find a few different definitions of piccata and even a few different rules about what a real chicken piccata contains, but generally, the word refers to a meat breaded and cooked in a butter sauce. With chicken, the common flavor is lemon, and the favored addition are capers. More commonly, you see veal piccata (and veal marsala, but that’s a post for another year.) With dishes made in the same way as chicken piccata, you don’t need to dredge the meat, but traditionally, piccata is made with breaded cutlets, and the flour from the meat helps indirectly thicken the sauce (like a dissembled roux.)
The most important things I’ve discovered over the past year and some months of making this recipe are:
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3~4 Tbsp canola oil or light, refined olive oil
1/4 c all-purpose flour
extra-virgin olive oil or more light olive oil, as needed
1/3 c (~3 oz) lemon juice
1/4 c (2 oz) dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot, or even white cooking wine
1/2 c (4 oz) unsalted chicken stock
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp capers, drained (NOT rinsed)
Fresh parsley, chopped coarsely, to garnish
An hour or more before you’re ready to start, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Rest the chicken on a plate or cookie sheet between paper towels to dry.
If you’re using chicken breasts, I recommend butterflying them: lay the breast flat on a cutting board, and holding a long, sharp knife with the flat side parallel to the board, slice through the meat and open it flat like a book.
It’s also worth tenderizing the chicken breasts. Chicken thighs are already thin and tender, so you can skip ahead if you’re only using thighs. Wrap the chicken breasts, butterflied or not, in plastic or parchment paper, lay on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, empty wine bottle, meat stamp, or rolling pin, roll or pound the chicken out until it becomes thinner and wider. Let the breasts rest on the paper towels to dry and warm up.
If you’re using chicken thighs, unravel them and lay them flat on the paper towels.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high. For 1 pound of meat, a skillet measuring 10 inches or wider is ideal, but you can cook the chicken in batches, so a smaller skillet or a larger recipe will work just as well.
In a shallow serving dish or plate, combine salt, pepper, and all-purpose flour and whisk with a fork.
Once the skillet has been heating for about 10-15 minutes, add a few tablespoons of canola or light olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. There are a few ways to determine when your oil is hot: if you tilt the pan and the oil runs like water (the viscosity is thin); if you tilt the pan so the oil pools on one side, and then stick the end of a wooden utensil in the pool and see bubbles like you’re deep-frying the utensil; or if the oil is starting to smoke. Additionally, you can flick a little bit of the all-purpose flour into the pan and see if it bubbles and fries.
Dredge each piece of chicken, covering it in a light coating of seasoned flour on every side, edge, and in the nooks and crannies, then gently lay the chicken in the smoking oil. If you don’t immediately hear a sizzle, turn up the heat a bit and wait a few minutes before proceeding. You can do the chicken in multiple batches: keep the raw chicken between the paper towels until you’re ready to dredge and fry it.
Sear each piece of chicken on both sides*, until nicely bronzed. Once seared on both sides, remove each piece of chicken and set aside on a clean plate or in a clean bowl. Repeat with all of the chicken.
*When searing, I use the mantra, “set it and forget it…for a few minutes.” Don’t mess with the protein! Set it gently into the hot oil, let it sizzle, and let it brown for a few minutes. The meat will stick to the pan at first, and then gradually release as it sears up. Additionally, “golden brown” is the common phrase, but darker than gold is ideal, hence “nicely bronzed.” A bronze/copper color is the way to go.
You can do both thighs and breasts simultaneously.
Once all the chicken is seared off, lower the heat on the pan to medium-low and add the extra virgin olive oil (or light olive oil.) Let the oil heat for a few minutes, then pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits along the bottom. Simmer and reduce the wine a little bit, cooking for about 10-15 minutes.
Whisk in the lemon juice and chicken stock, and let simmer and thicken for about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, wine, lemon juice, or stock. The sauce should be tart and flavorful but not purely lemon-y.
Add the chicken back to the pan, then add the butter and capers. Cover and let the chicken simmer in the sauce for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through and ready to serve. Taste occasionally for seasoning. The sauce should end up lemon-y and buttery but not painfully acidic.
Serve the chicken and sauce over pasta or on its own.
other fruit-y muffins
What if I told you it’s taken me almost a year to work up this recipe?
They say the best axiom in baking is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but I’ve always been a “so I’ll break it and then learn to fix it” kind of person. You all know this. I can’t claim a recipe without trying every possible flavor substitution or adjustment.
I had wanted a lemon poppyseed muffin recipe for the blog last summer, as part of my “oh my god lemons in everything” kick (which became my I’m Stuck in a Restaurant Trying to Escape gig and thus my I Have Nothing Useful to Blog About rut.)
I printed off a few different recipes and started working. I bought lemons (big tracts…I mean bags…of lemons), lemon extract, and lemon oil, and stocked up on milk, lemon juice (for those times when the lemons just ain’t givin’ you enough), buttermilk, greek yogurt, other yogurts, and sour cream. My goal was to take my two favorite recipes and then try every flavor combination I could think of: zest + juice + buttermilk, oil + buttermilk, zest + buttermilk + no juice, extract + buttermilk, and more.
It’s been so long since I’ve done math I can’t even begin to fathom how many combinations I would have had to try. Needless to say, none of them quite worked out. Muffins were too dry, or too small, or not lemon-y enough, and I gave up.
I should add here that it also only took me one attempt at a recipe this time around to find something that worked, and it was far simpler than having to use extracts or oils or other mumbo-jumbo kitchen magic. I took a recipe from my favorite book (linked below) and swapped out the flavors for lemon, and added poppyseed.
Made it once. Loved it.
Made it again, with some small adjustments for muffin size, and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.
After all this, I’ve discovered that the keys to good lemon poppyseed muffins are freshly and liberally zested and juiced lemons (supplemented with store-bought lemon juice if needed), and plenty of poppyseeds. More zest means more flavor without compromising texture.
Another, more philosophical, lesson to take away is that sometimes you need to examine every single angle to make something your own. Sometimes a simple tweak to suit your own style is enough. Sometimes it’s only a little bit broken and only needs a tiny fix.
glazed lemon poppyseed muffins
adapted from ginger lemon muffins, Mom’s Big Book of Baking
makes 1 dozen muffins
360 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
4 tsp poppy seeds
2 large eggs
160 g granulated sugar
grate zest of one large lemon or 2 baby lemons
40 g lemon juice
200 g milk or buttermilk
1/2 c (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
30 g whole milk
100 g powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon zest (from half a small lemon or about 1/4 of a large lemon)
make the muffins
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ C, and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and poppyseeds.
In a large bowl, quickly beat eggs, sugar, milk/buttermilk, lemon zest and juice, and butter.
Mix dry ingredients into the wet batter and scoop into the muffin pan so each cup is just about full.
Bake 20 – 25 minutes until the muffins are springy when pressed lightly in the middle.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Let them cool completely before glazing.
glaze the muffins
Whisk together milk, powdered sugar, and lemon zest until smooth and no lumps remain. For thinner glaze, add more milk, and for thicker glaze, add more sugar. The consistency should be like maple syrup: pourable and drizzle-able but not soup-y or too thick like frosting.
Using a spoon, drizzle the glaze over the muffins and let it set up/dry out before eating.
previous monthly muffins
Many people claim that North Carolina summers last until October, but the mornings and evenings are already feeling less like that place where my upper arm meets my ribcage and more like autumn. And the sun is sleeping much longer. Gone are the days of bright, sunny six o’clock in the morning, and here has come the season of seven o’clock sunsets.
Soon I’ll be able to step outside without my glasses fogging up. Huzzay.
We don’t normally think of blueberries as autumn fruits, but it is yet early autumn/late summer, and as long as the farmers are selling them, I’m sure as hell buying them. I’ve had blueberries in my freezer all season and am only just beginning to finish them up (I just really like blueberries muffins and pancakes, okay?)
Blueberry muffins, with lemon zest and/or buttermilk, are a classic, but I was curious to see if I could make them gluten-free. It took a lot of flour combinations and binder substitutions (I don’t buy xanthan gum; I’ve heard some people say they don’t like it when doing gluten-free baking), but now at the end of the hot and stormy season, I have found a few combinations that work for me, and I’m hoping they’ll work for you, too.
There’s no xanthan gum or anything super crazy in these muffins (though the agar-agar batch did turn out pretty well), and the flours are pretty common: white rice is always my base for gluten-free pastries, plus brown rice, chickpea, or soy flour (choose one or any combination thereof), or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, buckwheat, and bound together with any starch (corn, tapioca, potato), baking soda, and baking powder. The first few batches tasted metallic, and most of the middle batches were gummy or crumbly, but the last few held together like their glutinous brethren and actually tasted like they were meant to taste.
These muffins will be more tender than glutinous muffins, naturally, and they pack an intense lemon flavor. I use about 2 cups or 200 grams of blueberries for a dozen muffins, but by all means, add more.
Muffins aren’t meant to last more than a day, and certainly no more than 48 hours. If you want to keep them overnight, wait until they’ve cooled off and wrap each muffin individually in plastic wrap. They can be left out at room temperature once they’re wrapped up. I usually microwave the muffins the next day, to bring back a little vitality and make them soft again.
gluten-free blueberry buttermilk muffins
adapted from blueberry buttermilk muffins, from Mom’s Big Book of Baking
makes 1 dozen
100 g white rice flour
100 g other gluten-free flour (bean flours recommended, but you can also use brown rice or buckwheat)
100 g starch (corn, tapioca, potato, etc.)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
2 large eggs (2-ounce/52-gram eggs), at room temperature
150 g granulated sugar
200 g buttermilk, at room temperature
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 c unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 c fresh or frozen blueberries (~200 g)
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C, and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a small bowl, combine flours, starch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a larger bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, buttermilk, and lemon zest. Whisk in melted and cooled butter until combined.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, then stir in the blueberries. It doesn’t have to be perfectly mixed, as ingredients will continue to combine when they bake, and you want to work as quickly as possible.
Divide the batter out among the muffin cups (I use a large cookie scoop), and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until muffins are springy to the touch. If they seem to be browning quickly, turn the oven down to 325 F/160 C.
Leggo my PSL, yo,
High on sugar cookies from my last baking endeavor, and surrounded by spring, spring everywhere, I wanted to make more sugar cookies, but I wanted to do something exciting…and fresh.
I love lemons almost as much as I love cheese or orange juice. Lemonade brings back childhood memories of cul-de-sac parties and dangerous neighborhood fireworks displays on July 4th. It also brings back memories of a failed lemon meringue pie that tasted like feet.
Lemons are an all-year-round fruit but lemon things are best in the summer. I made these cookies for the first time a few years ago, my last year in college, during my last semester. I only made them once but they were unbelievable the first time. The original recipe called for lemon frosting, an orgasmic addition to an already orgasmic cookie, but I wanted to make them my own this time…and I just didn’t have the energy to make any frosting. I played with the recipe a few times (approximately five times), and once I had settled on something…a few more times (approximately a hundred more times.) I don’t remember them being this addictive three years ago.
Unlike the previous recipe (basic sugar cookies), these are simple and forgiving. The dough doesn’t have a lot of flour and it’s very light. You don’t have to fight to make it cooperate, and because you roll and bake (rather than rolling, cutting, and baking), you can use up all the dough immediately (or save some for a midnight snack.) But be careful you don’t go crazy with the lemon. They are pretty intense cookies, and I love all the lemon, but one batch collapsed before I added the flour because I was little…overzealous…with the lemon juice.
And if you intend to share them with friends, make two batches: one for you, one for everyone else to deal with. Or hide the first batch from yourself, because they’re seriously addictive like the cheese and olives at my grandma’s house. Make sure, though, that you can find them again when it’s time to share.
There’s something special about lemon, I discovered while making these cookies. It tingles all over your mouth but especially along the sides and the back, making you salivate. It’s addictive. I tried making these without the sugar coating and, while they’re still amazing and addictive, the extra sugar on top makes the difference. It’s a clean, refreshing contrast to the texture of the cookie, and adds a sweet balance to the tart lemon. It’s like salt on the rim of a margarita glass, a precursor to something sensational.
lemon sugar cookies
makes 30 ~ 36 cookies
226 g unsalted butter, softened
240 g granulated sugar, plus a few tablespoons for coating
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 T lemon zest (zest of 1 lemon)
480 g all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
milk and lemon juice, if needed
If using a conventional oven, preheat to 350 F/175 C. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 1-3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until consistent and fully mixed in, 2-3 minutes.
Add the lemon zest a little at a time (~4 additions) and beat.
In a separate smaller bowl, combine salt, flour and baking powder.
Beat the flour mixture into the batter slowly, at least 8 additions and combining fully each time. The dough should be light and fluffy, almost like frosting, but not stick to your hands too much. If it’s too stiff or dry, add a little bit of milk or lemon juice until it’s a good consistency.
Fill a small, shallow bowl with the extra granulated sugar, and another with some flour (a few tablespoons.) Using a spoon or small cookie scoop, scoop the dough and roll between your hands so it forms a ball. Flour your hands if you need to. Then, roll the dough balls in the sugar. Place on the baking sheet a few centimeters apart, and bake for 10 minutes, until they’re dry on top. Don’t let them brown too much except on the bottom, or they’ll burn. They’re best taken out a little early, and they’ll firm up as they cool.
If using a toaster oven, toast at 740 W for the same length of time.
Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and finish cooling, and prepare yourself for Heaven.
Lemon Love Y’all