Today is National Black Forest Cake Day, and I’ve been thinking of my mom, my first trip to Europe, and pistachios.

IMG_20150328_130810909

For most of my summer vacation when I was 15, I was an exchange student in Germany. It was my first time out of the country, and probably my third time on an airplane. My classmates brought all sorts of presents for their host families that were specific to our hometown- snow globes, books on the history of our state, etc. My mom, who was born in Austria, packed two enormous bags of pistachios, still in their shells, into my already stuffed luggage and put me on the plane. She reasoned that when she was a child, pistachios were really expensive and really, really hard to find, and probably that had not changed (it had). One red-eye flight and a six hour train ride later, I finally put my luggage down, determined never to haul that kind of weight again. My host mother looked a little perplexed when I presented the gift. I think she was expecting a snow globe, too.

Pistachios are not hard in these parts, thankfully, and they make a fantastic addition to this slightly rustic update to the Black Forest Cake. In March, fresh cherries are about as hard to find as the pistachios of my mother’s childhood. Instead of using canned (blech) or frozen (meh) cherries, I like to use tart Morello cherry jam, at least until the fresh ones come along.

IMG_20150328_102212185

Black Forest Cake with Pistachios and Mascarpone

the cake:

*this recipe is adapted from one of my very favorite books, Chez Panisse Desserts, which you can find here

1 1/2 c. roasted, unsalted pistachios (about 6 oz)
3/4 c. finely grated dark chocolate (I use a 2 oz bar of Dagoba dark chocolate 54% cacao)
1/4 c. cake flour
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
grated zest and juice of 1/2 and orange

In a food processor, pulse the nuts and flour until they are the texture of coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
Whip the egg yolks and half of the sugar on high speed until very thick and light, and forms a ribbon when the whisk attachment is pulled away from the bowl. In another bowl, whip the egg whites. Once they become frothy, add the sugar a little at a time, until fully incorporated and stiff but moist peaks are achieved. Add about a third of the egg whites to the egg yolks and gently fold together until they are nearly combined. Add the rest of the whites and fold until again nearly combined. Sprinkle the nut mixture onto the egg mixture in three stages, folding gently until fully combined.

IMG_20150328_104248932

Pour into two 6″ cake pans, or one 9″ cake pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from the cake pan(s) and allow to cool completely before assembling.

Mascarpone Filling

8 oz mascarpone cheese
3/4 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and whip on high speed until firm peaks form.

Assembly

Split the cake(s) into layers- 3 for a 9″ cake, up to 6 for the 6″ cakes.
Spread a thin layer of cherry jam onto the first layer, then top with a bit of the mascarpone filling. Continue to stack the following layers of cake with mascarpone filling, reserving a 1/2 c. for the top of the cake. Spoon the remaining filling onto the top, forming decorative peaks. Sprinkle a little shaved chocolate or cocoa onto the filling. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving.

I can never decide which day is more lovely to me- the first day of Autumn, or the first day of Spring. Today, Spring is winning out big time. Not that winter has made much of a showing over here this year.To be honest, we’ve kind of cut it out altogether this time. We did have one pretty major sounding rain event. We called it HellaStorm, and it was, uh all we got really. And it was not “hella” anything.

Still, today makes it official. It’s Spring. If you are digging your way out of the remnants of actual wintry precipitation, your light at the end of the tunnel has arrived. And if that tunnel happens to be made of snow, please send some this way, because this drought is awful, and getting effing scary.

Spring, though! Bright, tart, light, lean flavors- I am so ready!

I am putting a bunch of my favorite Spring-y foods all on one plate for this one- green garlic, leeks, English peas, and rabbit.

IMG_20150316_124333184_HDR

If you cannot find rabbit loin in your neighborhood you can use another lean white meat, but rabbit is where it’s at.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Rabbit Loin with Spring Vegetables in Brodo

1 c. yellow eye or cranberry beans (dry)**
1 Tbsp olive oil

2 rabbit loins, trimmed
4 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto
1 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced (about 1/2 c.)
1 large leek, green part trimmed off, thinly sliced (about 2 c.)
1-2 young carrots, sliced thin on a bias (about 1/2 c.)
1 cup fresh English peas, shucked
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp white wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Cook those beans until they are tender and creamy. Season with a little salt. Once they are well cooked, drain them and toss gently with the olive oil.

Line the prosciutto slices up on a cutting board, overlapping them a little. Place the loins together on top of the prosciutto, season with salt and pepper, and tightly roll the prosciutto around the rabbit. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Sear the rabbit in a lightly oiled pan on all sides, about a minute per side. (Searing prosciutto can produce a bit of smoke, so make sure the fan is on!) Put the loin in the oven and cook until the internal temperature is 165F. Remove from heat and allow to rest 10 minutes. Slice into 1/2″ slices.

In a tall-sided pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and leek and saute until they start to become translucent. Add the carrot, peas, salt and pepper, and white wine. Continue to cook over medium heat until the wine cooks almost all the way down. Add the stock and simmer for one minute.

On a deep plate or in a bowl, ladle some beans in. Top it with the veggies and rabbit, then pour a bit of the broth on top.

** Yellow eye beans look like a larger, lighter-colored version of black eyed peas. They are delicious, and well worth seeking out. I get mine from ranchogordo.com, a most fantastic little company bringing all the heirloom varieties of beans back.
These cook up plump and luscious, and as creamy as can be. If you cannot find them, cranberry beans work really well, too.IMG_20150320_101953461

I am just not mathletic. I use “kitchen math” daily, but the higher shelf stuff is something I appreciate as a beautiful science of things that effect me (and everything else) but that I don’t quite get. So when Pi Day comes along, I am definitely excited, and not just because we celebrate it with one of my favorite foods. I actually do understand pi a wee bit, about as much as the average person does. It’s an irrational number, and there are no repeats. As a baker I understand this.
Baking is full of little irrational things that are but shouldn’t be- no cake, pastry, loaf of bread, etc.,is ever exactly the same as the one before, no matter how exact your methods are. It’s a rough truth to embrace. No repeats.
Watched pots really don’t boil. The more frustrated one gets when putting crumb coating on a cake, the more the cake rebels. And no matter how many baguettes you make, they will each be just a teeny bit different. Irrational, but true.

Loving Shaker lemon pie is completely rational, though. It is tart and bright, a little bitter, a bit creamy, and altogether delicious. Use Meyer lemons if you have some around, and your pie will be a little sweeter.

IMG_20150314_113653585
Not for nothin’, but it’s Albert Einstein’s birthday, too! Throw a candle in, and have a second piece!

Shaker Meyer Lemon Pie with Pistachio Crust

Filling:

3 medium Meyers lemons
1 c. sugar
5 eggs

Cut the lemons into thin slices, removing the seeds as you go. In a food processor, chop the lemons together with the sugar until very finely chopped. Add the and process briefly to combine.
Let the mixture rest overnight before baking.

Topping:

1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
pinch salt
2 Tbsp roasted, unsalted pistachios
3 oz cold butter, cubed

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and pistachios in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process to the texture of coarse cornmeal. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pistachio Crust:

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. pistachios
4 oz. cold butter, cubed
1 Tbsp. cold water

Combine the first four ingredients in a food processor, chopping until the nut pieces are very small. Add the butter and chop to a course cornmeal texture.
With the machine running, add the water in one shot and process just until the dough begins to come together. Shape into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

Assembly:

Roll out the pistachio crust to 1/4″ thick. Place in a 9″ tart mold and press into place. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Place a clean coffee filter on top of the chilled dough and fill with pie weights. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until the dough begins to turn light brown around the edge and only half baked at the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour the filling into the pie shell.Evenly sprinkle the topping onto the filling. Return the pie to the oven (being careful not to spill the filling). Bake another 25-35 minutes, or until the filling is set and golden.

Cool to room temperature before serving.