Category Archives: baking

at summer’s end

Hello. My name is Andrea. I write this food blog, Bella Eats. You may remember me, or due to my long absence you may not. I’m sorry about that, truly I am. I miss this space! Life has been busy. So so so busy. I started teaching architectural design at the University of Virginia. Teaching. At a University. !!! And before that teaching officially began there was training for teaching. And in the middle of all of that I photographed the wedding of a dear friend I’ve known since the fifth grade. Fifth grade! She was such a beautiful bride, and if you’re interested in seeing some of those images please check out the AHPhoto blog.

Oh, and I started a photography business. Because I love taking pictures of people. And buildings. And food. So if you know anybody who needs somebody to take pictures of people, or buildings, or food…feel free to send them my way. I’d appreciate it so so much. And thank you, all of you, who have commented and tweeted and emailed your support. You’re the best, truly.

And yes, I am still working for an architecture firm here in Charlottesville. So…yeah. Busy.

It feels as though summer has completely passed by Bella Eats. Since June I’ve posted about cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. There have been no luscious heirloom tomatoes, no juice-laden peaches, no golden ears of corn. I even have a new trick for releasing kernels from their cob without making a complete mess of the kitchen counter and floor, and I haven’t had the opportunity to share it with you. That is sad my friends, because this trick is a good one. It will change the way you view corn entirely. Soon, I hope.

Way back in the middle of July our dear friend Kristin celebrated her birthday. She celebrated with us, and with this lime tart topped with blackberries from our garden. Blackberry season is just about over, a sign that summer is drawing to a quick close. Our bush has shed it’s bounty completely, leaving only the tiny shriveled berries that didn’t ever come to full ripeness. Our freezer is packed full of quart-size bags of the frozen fruit, our pantry shelf stocked with various forms of blackberry jam. This tart was one of the last recipes made this summer using berries fresh from the garden, and looking at these pictures already has me feeling nostalgic.

What is it about food that stirs memories stronger than those evoked by any other sense? While blackberries don’t take me back to any point of my childhood, they do plop me down solidly in our backyard here in Charlottesville. For the past 4 years we’ve spent countless July and August evenings standing in our garden, bowls in hand, fingers stained purple, arms eaten by mosquitos, quietly and contently plucking berries one-by-one from a bush WE planted. I know that forever, no matter where we are, when I pop a freshly picked blackberry into my mouth I will be transported back to this place. I love that.

If you’re lucky you can still find pints of deep purple blackberries at your local farmers’ market, and if you do, I recommend you make this dessert before summer’s end. The crust is quite perfect, nearly the consistency and flavor of a shortbread cookie. It doesn’t flake and melt in your mouth like many pastry shells, but instead offers a firm vessel on which to carry a scoop of zippy lime curd. And scoop you will, because this tart never really sets up to a solid, sliceable state. Which is fine by me. The delightful combination of sweet shortbread, tart curd, and fresh blackberries had us all going back for seconds, despite our use of a spoon rather than a fork.

For the record, I am so unhappy with the spacing that this new WordPress theme defaults too, but I just haven’t had the time/energy to dig into the CSS code to fix it. And, we’re working on a redesign of Bella Eats to be launched right around the two year (two years!) anniversary of this site at the end of October.  So, please bear with me and the awkward/awful spacing of the text in my recipes… Thank you.

Lime Tart with Blackberries

from bon appetit, June 2010

Ingredients

for the lime curd:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

for the topping:

  • (3) 6-ounce containers fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp blackberry jam

for the crust:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Method

for the lime curd:

  1. Set a fine metal strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in another medium metal bowl to blend.  Whisk in lime juice.
  2. Set bowl over large saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until curd thickens and an instant-read thermometer inserted into curd registers 178ºF to 180ºF, about 6 minutes.  Immediately pour curd through prepared strainer set over bowl.
  3. Add butter to warm strained curd; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until blended and smooth.  Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd, covering completely.  Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours.*

*Lime curd can be made up to 2 days ahead.  Keep chilled.

for the crust:

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg yolk; beat to blend. Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until mixture resembles large peas. Using hands, knead in bowl just until dough comes together.
  2. Transfer dough to a 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Break dough into pieces, then press dough evenly up sides and onto bottom of pan. Cover and chill 1 hour.**
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Uncover crust and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

**Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

assembly:

  1. Remove sides from tart pan and place crust on plate. Spread lime curd evenly in baked crust. Arrange blackberries in concentric circles on top of tart.
  2. Place am in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until jam is melted, about 15 seconds. Whisk to loosen and blend, adding water by teaspoonfuls if thick. Brush jam over berries.*** (I only brushed jam over the outer ring, because I liked how they looked without the glaze.)

***Tart can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Chill uncovered.

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celebrate with citrus cupcakes

Last weekend we gathered with friends to celebrate the forthcoming birth of a new family. The party [yes, party. this was not a baby shower. and yes, boys were invited.] was co-hosted by myself and two lovely ladies, all of us brought together by our shared bond to Joe and Erin, the parents-to-be. The event was in the works for two months.  Dozens of emails were passed between the three hostesses as we planned. The only request from Erin was that there be no diaper decorations and no silly shower games. No problem.

We decided to throw a simple summer party and to decorate using colors inspired by the nursery; shades of blue, yellow, and green.  There was fruit-laden sangria and homemade lemonade, pulled-pork sandwiches and corn straight from Erin’s family’s farm. The weather was kind, overcast and cool with only the slightest spattering of rain. We sat outside sharing stories and laughter as candlelight flickered across happy faces long into the night.

Also, we ate cupcakes.

[To see more images of the evening, visit the AHPhoto blog.]

I love an opportunity to make cupcakes, and an outdoor summer party seemed to be the perfect occasion. A quick email to Erin verified that she had no preference for cake flavor, which was lucky because I had already decided that chocolate wasn’t an option. It just didn’t fit in with the party decor, which is a perfectly valid excuse I assure you.

And so I was left thinking about vanilla and lemon. It is no secret that I am a fanatic for citrus-flavored sweets, with four lemon cakescitrus sconeskey lime butter cookies, and coconut lime bars all listed on the Bella Eats recipe page. I should probably apologize for giving you yet another citrus dessert…but I won’t. You just can’t go wrong with citrus, and that requires no apology.

The cake itself is actually a modification of an old favorite, borrowed from the Lemon Mousse Cake I made for my own birthday a few months ago. It is a chiffon cake, made light and spongy by the egg whites folded into the batter just before baking. The addition of lemon and orange zest brightens the flavor, but it is the swirl atop the golden domes that truly stands out. The meringue buttercream seemed to be a hit, although it is the most unusual frosting I have ever tasted. A finger swiped across the side of the mixing bowl produces a dollop of ultra-creamy spread that melts as soon as it hits the tongue. At first the taste buds are overwhelmed with the flavor of butter, which then melts away to become a bright pop of lemon, that then fades to the slow warmth of Grand Marnier. It is a three-step process using each third of the tongue – front, middle, back – in succession, with each flavor forming its own distinct statement. And it isn’t too sweet, so you could easily eat several cupcakes without causing your teeth to ache.

Not that I would know that…

The frosting shapes beautifully, and despite my fears did not melt in the warm and humid evening air. A summer winner, for sure.

Sunshine Citrus Cupcakes

cake modified from the greyston bakery cookbook, pg. 46,  frosting from gourmet

makes 18 standard cupcakes

Cake Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, seeds discarded

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cake Method:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350º. Line 1 standard muffin tin with 12 liners, and another with 6 liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt to blend.  Add the lemon and orange zest and blend with your fingers to separate clumps. Add the egg yolk mixture and stir until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a clean dry bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks.  Lower the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating the whites until they hold stiff peaks.  Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten.  Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter, in two batches, to blend thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, filling each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Set the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool.  Remove the cupcakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely on wire racks.

Frosting Method:

  1. Heat whites and sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and a thermometer registers 160°F. Remove bowl from heat and beat mixture in standing electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick, glossy peaks form. If mixture is still warm, continue beating until cool. (this takes about 10 minutes)
  2. With mixer running, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add liqueur and lemon juice, beating on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 10 minutes. If buttercream begins to separate, beat on high speed until smooth.

Assemble:

  1. Use a pastry bag to pipe frosting over cupcakes once they are completely cool. Keep refrigerated until ready to consume.

Congratulations Joe and Erin, we are so excited to meet your baby boy!

blueberry hill cupcakes, and a happy 4th to you!

The 4th of July is upon us already!  I’m not sure why 2010 is in such a hurry to rush on by, but I do wish that she would slow down just a bit.  I had big plans for this week, some favorite salads and cocktails and desserts to share with you before the holiday weekend ahead of us.  But, well, time flew.

I did manage to share one dessert with you, and here is a second.  The first was somewhat healthy, this one is not. Both are delicious, and either would make a nice addition to your picnic, bar-be-que, or party.  How to choose…

I am keeping things short and sweet today, because I have family in town!  That means wandering shops on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, stopping for gelato, lunch on a patio, pampering with my Momma, vinho verde on the back deck, sausages on the grill.  And that’s just today!  Oh, the weekend we’ll have.

I hope that yours is just as lovely.  What are your plans?  (I really do want to know!)

Perhaps you could make these cupcakes?  Lemony and chock-full of bright bursts of blueberry, they absolutely scream summer.  You’ll love them, I’m sure.

Blueberry Hill Cupcakes with Blueberry Glaze

cupcakes from bon appetit, glaze from bella eats

I’ve heard good things about the frosting that accompanies this recipe on bon appetit, but wanted something lighter and with a bit of color.  I bet a lemon buttercream or a lemon glaze would also be really delicious.

Also, my “glaze” originally started out as a full-blown buttercream frosting.  I frosted one cupcake, but found the very sweet topping to be very overpowering.  The cake itself is so delicious that you really want to let it shine.

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or low-fat yogurt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries, frozen for 4 hours

Glaze Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons blueberry puree (about 1/2 cup blueberries, pureed and strained if desired…I did not strain)
  • 4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350* F.  Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.  Sift flour and next 4 ingredients into a large bowl.  Whisk the melted butter and oil in a separate, medium bowl.  Add eggs; whisk to blend.  Whisk in buttermilk, milk, vanilla extract, and zest.  Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; whisk just to blend.  Stir in frozen blueberries.
  2. Divide batter among liners.  Bake cupcakes until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 23-27 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to racks; cool.
  3. Beat butter in electric mixer with whisk attachment until creamy.  Add about 1/2 the sugar slowly.  Add 2 tbsp of the blueberry puree and continue whisking to blend.  Add the last of the sugar and whisk to blend. Taste, and add more blueberry puree if desired.  You want the consistency to be like a loose buttercream; easy to spread but also easy to control (you don’t want it running down the sides of your cupcakes).
  4. When the cupcakes are nearly cool, brush them lightly with the glaze.  You will find that the glaze will harden nicely in about an hour.
  5. Keep stored at room temperature in an air-tight container.

happy, happy day

Last year at this time I was posting regularly about our backyard vegetable patch. I’d shared potato salad with our sugar snap peas, an earthy, herby frittata, and a rosy beet risotto. The garden was, while a bit overgrown, orderly and walkable. I visited it every day, scurrying through the gate in the morning after my runs to pick raspberries for breakfast, losing myself to daydreams as I stood with a hose each afternoon and soaked the soil under the tomatoes and peppers. I was oh-so-proud of our little plot, and oh-so-excited to share its progress with you all.

In December, after harvesting the last of the carrots for our Christmas dinner, Brian and I mourned the fact that those were probably the last vegetables we’d see come from our current backyard. We were planning to move this Summer, and didn’t think it would be very smart to put a lot of time, money, or energy into a piece of land that would no longer be ours in just six months’ time. It made me sad. Very, very, sad.

March came and went without us ordering organic compost to till into soil already rich from three years of amendment and gardening. There was no sprinkling of lettuce, kale, carrot, or beet seeds; no elaborate map drawn to show the exact location of each plant to come. May 15th, the last frost date for our part of Virginia, rolled by without us spending a Saturday planting tiny tomato, cucumber and pepper plants. The weeds grew, and grew, and grew…and I just let them.

Multiple friends who don’t know our plans to move, but do know the joy we get from growing our own food, have asked “how’s that garden of yours?”. This single question, innocent as it is, elicits a panicked look from Brian, who tries to change the subject before I can launch into our sorrowful (to me) tale. About how, no, we didn’t plant any vegetables in our backyard this year. And no, we don’t think we’ll be moving into a new house in time to establish a new garden. And yes, I am devastated that we’re not spending a portion of our weekends weeding and watering and planting and harvesting. Harumph.

In hindsight, we should have planted summer veggies. Things never move as quickly as anticipated, and our putting the house on the market was no exception. By now we could have been eating our own lettuce, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and beets. Instead we’re buying them at the farmer’s market, which is the next best thing, but still not quite as satisfying. I’m getting over it. Really.

However…our berries have been AMAZING this year. Strawberries, red and golden raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries. Thank goodness for hardy perennial fruit that grows no matter the neglect it’s received! Those shots at the top of the page are from my visit to the garden last Friday morning, when I first noticed that the blackberries are starting to ripen. I did a little dance, hurried back inside for my camera and a bowl, and proceeded to pick every single fully-black berry on the vine. Happy, happy day.

This cake was actually made with blackberries that we grew last summer and froze. We had 8 quarts in our own freezer, and many more were given to friends. I’m betting that our harvest will be doubled this year, and we’re not moving until I am proven right.  Stubborn?  Not me.

Even if you have fresh blackberries on hand, you should still freeze them for at least 4 hours before adding them to the batter. The frozen berries, with the help of the syrup, will stay firmly rooted to the bottom of the pan without rising to the top (which will become the bottom) of the cake.

The whole wheat flour provides the cake with a dense crumb, perfect for picking up between two fingers.  I made it for dessert, but I think it is even better for breakfast.  Not too sweet, hearty with whole grains, a nice compliment to a cup of coffee.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

from Sweet and Natural Baking, by Mani Niall

serves 10

Ingredients

fruit

  • 1/3 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3 cups frozen blackberries

cake

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2/3 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Method

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch ovenproof skillet or springform pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. For the fruit:  In a small saucepan, bring the fruit juice concentrate and oil to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan. Immediately arrange the blackberries in the pan in a single layer. Work quickly, as the syrup will harden rapidly. Place in the freezer while preparing the batter. (This will keep the fruit from floating to the top of the batter while baking.)
  3. For the cake:  In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer at high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the fruit juice concentrate, beating until stiff peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and add the milk, oil and vanilla, mixing until well combined.
  4. In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add to the liquid ingredients and whisk until smooth. Remove the pan from the freezer and pour the batter over the fruit.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a cake rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the skillet or springform to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate. Let stand for 5 minutes so that the cake can absorb the juices. Remove the skillet of release the sides of the spring form and carefully lift off the bottom. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

perfect as they are

Last month, at the very beginning of May (where did you go, sweet May?) Brian and I went strawberry picking. I’d received the email days before that shouted against a bright green backdrop “strawberries are here!”.   I anxiously await this announcement each year.  Not only does it mark Spring’s firm hold on this time in Charlottesville, it also foreshadows the other emails to come reporting the arrival of cherries(!) and peaches(!!) throughout the summer. (I’ll add that, since it has taken me so very long to share this post and recipe with you, I’ve already received both the “cherries are ready!” and “peaches are early, and ready!” emails.  I’ll try to do better this month with timely posting…)

And so Brian and I hopped in the car that Friday and drove out to the country to fill a flat with ten pounds of bright and beautiful berries. Never mind the fact that we have a garden on the side of our house that is absolutely FULL of strawberry plants. Plants that have well exceeded their raised bed boundary and tumbled into the aisles of what was once a very organized patch. Plants that, during the time we were heading towards the orchard with windows down and music blaring, were completely covered with star-shaped flowers and tiny green fruit.  But those country strawberries, they were ready RIGHT THEN, and I just couldn’t wait another week for ours to ripen.

There is something very special about moving slowly between those neat rows of plants, bending down to push emerald leaves aside, revealing the ripe and ready gems hiding in their shade.  The berries come off their stems with the most satisfying “snap!”, and if popped in your mouth at that exact moment are one of the most delicious treats to ever touch your tongue.  Warmed by the sun, the fruit seems to explode in the mouth as vibrant juice seeps into every nook and cranny. It is so overwhelmingly good that you must close your eyes, tilt your face up towards the sky and slip into a little food dance of happiness.  Yes, I do that.

Once home, I set to work finding recipes for our bounty.  I thought about pie and jam and cobbler, but in the end decided that the berries were perfect just as they were.  And so I rinsed them all and placed most in a large colander in the fridge, ready for breakfast yogurt and cereal, afternoon snacks and ice cream topping.  The pint that I set aside was slated for tiny tarts, the raw berries sliced thinly and laid across a filling of cooked rhubarb within a crisp, buttery shell.

The marriage of rhubarb and strawberry is timeless, like that of chocolate and peanut butter, or coconut and lime.  One will never tire of the other, and folks will undoubtably continue to enjoy their combined company for years to come.  In these tarts, the rhubarb is cooked down in a process that resembles the making of jam, and the end result is quite similar to the classic jarred spread.  The tartness of the rhubarb is gently subdued by the sugar it is reduced with, but still punchy enough to provide nice balance to the sweet berries.

The best part of these tarts is the strawberries themselves, kept raw and firm and perfectly sweet on their own.  Find the freshest fruit possible and you can’t go wrong.

Rhubarb Strawberry Tarts

from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook

makes one 9-inch tart or six 4-inch tarts

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-1/4 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/4″-thick pieces (about 5-6 cups)
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 fully baked 9″ Tart Pastry (see recipe below), cooled

Method

  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water.  Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just beginning to soften.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender.
  2. Set a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and drain the rhubarb, reserving the liquid.  Allow the rhubarb to cool completely.  In a small saucepan, simmer the reserved liquid over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until it is reduced to a thick syrup.  Set the syrup aside and allow it to cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and hull the strawberries.  Thinly slice the strawberries lengthwise.
  4. Spread the cooled rhubarb evenly over the bottom of the tart shell.  Arrange the strawberry slices in concentric circles over the rhubarb filling, covering it completely.  Brush or spoon the cooled syrup over the top of the strawberries.  Chill before serving.

Tart Pastry

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces and chilled
  • 1-3 tbsp ice water, as needed

Method

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt to blend thoroughly.  Using a pastry blender, metal pastry scraper, two knives or your fingers, cut or rub the butter in the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
  2. Using a fork, stir in the water, 1 tbsp at a time, adding just enough for the dough to hold together without becoming wet.  Gather the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk.  Wrap the disk of dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured board, roll the dough to form a rough circle about 1/4″ thick.  Carefully transfer the dough to a 9″ fluted tart pan (or six 4″ pans) with a removable bottom.  Press the dough lightly but firmly into the edges of the pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges of the pan.  Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim the excess dough from the pan rim.  Pierce the bottom of the dough several times with the tines of a fork.  Chill for at least 30 minutes before baking.
  4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400*F.  Line the chilled shell with foil or parchment and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice.
  5. Bake the shell for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden.  Carefully remove the foil or parchment and weights and continue to bake the shell another 10 to 15 minutes (a little less if you use the smaller pans), or until the pastry is golden brown.  If the edges start to brown too much, cover them with strips of foil or piecrust shields.  Cool on a rack.

the fallen plate

Hello friends. Things have been a little bare around here lately, haven’t they? I am having a hard time believing that April slipped by with only two posts on Bella Eats. Two posts? How did that happen? We’ve been cooking and eating, I assure you, and I have a long list of recipes that I was planning to share last month. The photographs are all edited, and most are even loaded into drafts in my WordPress dashboard. So what, you ask, is the deal?

I’ll spare you the list of excuses because really, what it comes down to, is that life is just plain busy. I’ve tried my best to become a very good juggler, to keep all of the plates soaring high above my head with a flick of my wrist and the occasional impressive behind-the-back catch but, alas, one of those plates fell.

The Bella Eats plate is a tough one to keep in the air when time is running short at the end of the day, mostly because of the words that accompany each meal that I share here. My time for writing comes after work, after running and yoga, after dinner and dishes, after free-lance photography edits and marketing projects. Lately when that time is upon me, the time to sit behind my computer and let the words seep from the well in my brain, down my arms and out through my finger tips…I find myself with an empty well.

And so I go to bed. I cuddle in next to Brian with the sheets wrapped around my shoulders and two dogs crowding my feet. The ceiling fan whirs overhead and I attempt to match my breath to its subtle rhythm, incorporating techniques from my yoga practice in an effort to fall asleep as quickly as possible. But my mind, the mind that failed me for an entire hour prior to my giving in and coming to bed is now racing. There are ‘to do’ lists and emails to write and recipes and workout plans swirling around on their own paths, making a terrible knot of jumbled thoughts that only the clarity of morning will untangle.

When sleep finally overtakes my body it is not without its own side effects. Suddenly my mind, not deterred by slumber, has all kinds of ideas about writing and work and life, weaving intricate stories through my dreams that are exciting and fascinating and inspiring.  The scenes are so vivid that I find myself waking up multiple times in the night, tossing and turning as characters new and familiar wind their way in and out of predicaments that oh-so-loosely resemble my waking hours. I find myself hitting ‘snooze’ on the alarm multiple times each morning, trying to catch the tail-end of these thoughts before they fizzle out and leave me with only a hazy shadow of something that I think, maybe, if I could just remember, might have been good. It seems that this is the only time I have for creative wandering, the only time not bogged down by obligations and responsibility. I relish in it, until I realize the time and jump from bed in a panic, beginning the daily process all over again.

These extended ‘snooze’ sessions have caused me to rely heavily on grab-and-go breakfasts. The kind that, after hastily rising from bed and jumping in the shower, darting around the house looking for this shirt or that shoe, feeding dogs and packing a lunch allow me to simply reach into the freezer or pantry for a single item to stash in my bag and eat at the office. Gone are the mornings of leisurely breakfasts that involve turning on the oven and dirtying a pot, bowl and spoon. These days I am simply happy that I thought to freeze the leftover Carrot and Pineapple muffins I made weeks ago, and hopeful that soon, very very soon, my schedule will slow down to its normal pace. I am ready for that Bella Eats plate to soar again, to form high arcs above my head as words flow from my fingertips into this little space on the ‘net.

Until then, thanks for being here.  I am so happy you’re reading.

These muffins are incredibly moist, even after a 3-week stay in the freezer. They have a hearty crumb fortified by the whole wheat flour, and a subtle sweetness provided by the pineapple and the agave nectar. I find them quite filling when paired with a piece of fruit or a cup of yogurt for breakfast.

Carrot Pineapple Muffins

makes 12 whole grain, no added fat, naturally-sweetened muffins

adapted from Sweet and Natural Baking, by Mani Niall

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tbsp oat bran
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (I will bump this up to 1/2 tsp next time)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup light agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1-1/3 cups grated carrots (I peeled the carrots into long ribbons first, then chopped them finely)
  • 3/4 cup diced pineapple (I used canned, but will definitely use fresh next time)
  • 12 chunks of fresh or canned pineapple, about 1 x 1 x 1/2 inch in size

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Lightly spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Sift together the flour, bran, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt into a medium bowl and make a well in the center.
  3. In another medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer set at high speed, beat the egg whites with all the agave nectar until soft peaks form.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the milk.  Pour into the flour well and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined.  Stir in the carrots and the diced pineapple.
  4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling about 3/4 of the way full.  Top each muffin with a pineapple chunk.  Bake the muffins until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean and the tops spring back when pressed with a finger, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool for 2 minutes, run a knife around the inside of the cups to release the muffins, and remove from the cups. Serve the muffins warm or at room temperature.

To freeze, wrap each muffin individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.  Place the muffins in a Ziplock bag in the freezer. They should keep for up to 3 months.

a lovely ending

Last week, while sharing lunch with a friend, standing in line at the post office, answering phones at work, passing a stranger on the sidewalk, Charlottesville folks were discussing snow. Big snow…at least for our little city. The forecasters were predicting another huge storm, rumored to rival the December 19th event that pushed its way into the #4 slot on Charlottesville’s list of historic snowfall totals. It was all very exciting, and a tad bit scary. We were warned of the heaviness of this snow, expected to be so much wetter than the last accumulation. We were told to prepare for power outages and potential roof collapse, to be ready to spend days in our homes and to have the supplies required to get us through that time.

The city was a flurry of activity (ahem…pun intended) as residents scrambled to buy stores out of their supply of milk, eggs, and toilet paper. Snow shovels were a hot commodity, with those shops that managed to receive shipments putting a one-shovel-per-customer limit on purchases. We bought ice melt and candles, bread and cans of tuna, charcoal for our grill and meat and potatoes to place over the flame should we lose power and the use of our oven. We settled in, prepared for the worst, ready to weather the storm.

In the end we wound up with nearly 15 inches of snow, 10 inches less than predicted after sleet clinked against our windows and prevented substantial accumulation for most of Friday night. We were lucky enough to lose power only once, and then for only an hour. Although the city did a fine job of clearing primary roads during and after the storm, we still chose to remain at home, warm and cozy, for the entire weekend.

Brian and I have become quite adept at preparing for long periods of isolation in our house. We stock up on the necessities already mentioned, along with certain items that help to keep us entertained and pass the time – wine, multiple disks of Entourage, magazines and books, baking supplies. The last is the most important for me, as I take comfort in the fact that even if the sky were to dump 48 inches of snow across our lawn and we were to lose power for 7 full days, I could still make bread and cookies in our Big Green Egg. Also, I really like to bake, and the thought of three, uninterrupted days to do so makes me very, very happy.

And so, along with the necessary non-perishables and paper goods, my grocery bags contained milk and eggs, flour and yeast as I left the market Thursday afternoon. I browsed through my cookbooks that evening, imagining each one of my mixing bowls tucked into various corners of the kitchen, plastic wrap stretched tight across their tops, plump balls of dough slowly rising within. Brian requested something sweet, a dessert-ish bread to smear soft butter across as an after-dinner snack. Not one to ever pass on the suggestion of something sweet, I dove right into thoughts of a bread swirled with cinnamon and sugar, laced with figs and walnuts, the crumb sweetened by a touch of honey.

The loaf I was hoping for emerged from the oven just as the snow started to lighten Saturday evening. The intoxicating mélange of fresh-baked bread, sultry cinnamon, earthy walnuts and syrupy figs will forever bring to mind the vision of a silver-cloaked sun setting behind frosty trees, their limbs glimmering with a mask of tiny diamonds. A lovely ending, indeed.

Cinnamon Fig Walnut Bread

adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, with inspiration from Tara of Seven Spoons

makes two 1-1/2 pound loaves

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or whole milk), at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, plus extra
  • 1-1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup water, at room temperature
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar (for cinnamon sugar swirl)
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon (for cinnamon sugar swirl)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted

Method

  1. Dissolve the honey in the buttermilk by heating both over low heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, yeast and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  Add the egg, shortening, buttermilk mixture and water. Stir together with a large spoon (or mix on low speed in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients come together and form a ball.  Adjust with flour and water if the dough seems too sticky or too dry and stiff.
  3. Sprinkle flour on a counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook).  The dough should be soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.  Add flour as you knead (or mix), if necessary to achieve this texture. Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes (or by machine for 6 to 8 minutes). Sprinkle in the figs and walnuts during the final 2 minutes of kneading (or mixing) to distribute them evenly. If you are kneading with a mixer, you’ll want to finish kneading by hand to avoid crushing the figs and walnuts, and to be sure to distribute them evenly.
  4. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
  5. Mix together the 1/2 cup turbinado sugar and 2 tbsp ground cinnamon.  Set aside.
  6. Butter two 4×8 loaf pans.
  7. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece into a 5×8 rectangle. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon sugar mixture over the dough, leaving a small border around the edge of the dough.
  8. Starting at the short end, carefully roll the dough into a tight log*, sealing the seam as best you can. Tuck the ends up towards the seam, sealing as best you can. Place the log in a buttered loaf pan, seam-side down. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Spray the tops of the loaves with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Place in a warm, draft-free location to proof for 60 to 90 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350* with the rack in the middle of the oven. Uncover the loaves and brush the tops with melted butter.  Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar.
  10. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf pans 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown on top and lightly golden on the sides and bottom. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
  11. Immediately remove the loaves from their pans and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

*I’m guessing that my loaf pulled apart along the swirl because it wasn’t rolled tightly enough. It is still perfectly textured and delicious, the slices just don’t hold together well as you bite into them.

The landscape during and after a winter storm is an amazing sight, always changing, different from one minute to the next. Every few hours I piled on layers of warmth, tucked my jeans into my boots, forced a hat over unruly hair, and trudged outside in the swirling snow to capture some of the magic.