Coffee and Cardamom Pavlova

At the risk of being macabre, I've been having these uneasy passing thoughts about what happens to a person after s/he dies. About ghosts and goosebumps and at what specific moment does someone go from being a person to being just a cold body. Of course I'll never really know for sure until I get there but that seems to egg the pondering on.  It is endlessly crazy-making to not be able to put my finger on something; not to have an answer; not to be able to grasp something tangible.  Despite the frustration, I'm drawn to these in-between moments and contradictions and things that hover neither here nor there.  

I was put in charge of dessert for a (low-gluten) dinner party and so decided to make a pavlova. Quite honestly, to continue with metaphors, I wanted to make something that required me to "beat until it stands".  Twice.  And I wanted make something that tastes distinctly like two opposing things while tasting like limbo....

Meringue is one of my favorite desserts and one that I feel is served too rarely.  Fortunately I live in a relatively dry climate which helps with meringue--except, as the fates would have it, every time I decide to make meringue the weather turns muggy.  Today was no exception.  100° and damp.  Anyway, pavlovas are meringue shells that are delicate and crunchy on the outside but retain a marshmallowy core, topped with whipped cream (or the like) and fresh (usually tart) fruit.   

For my pavlova, I wanted to preserve the fluffy, seraphic nature of the combination of whipped cream and meringue--both of which consist of a little protein or fat forced
 into buoyancy by whipping in as much air as they can hold.  Instead of sticking to the dainty-sweet flavors that often go into meringue, I wanted a contrast--mysterious and deep.   Maybe even smoky.  I thought of the dark gritty sludge at the end of a Turkish coffee as the possible antithesis to the white clouds of meringue that vanish on a tongue.  Of course, a dessert of used coffee grounds is unappetizing so I went with the flavors of Turkish coffee--strong coffee and spicy, exotic, aromatic cardamom.  After I long debate with myself, I decided that the coffee would go in the meringue shell and the cardamom would flavor the cream, rather than vice versa. I also considered forgoing fruit and just topping the whole thing off with bitter chocolate...but it is summer.  And peaches are very good sprinkled with a little cardamom.  So here is my Turkish Coffee Pavlova:  Neither/both dark and/or light, strong and/or fragile, bitter and/or  sweet, and a total mess to eat. 

* I have to save the explanation of why you add vinegar for another, more chemistry-oriented time.

  • 4 egg whites (room temperature)
  • 3/4 + 1/4 C fine white sugar
  • 2-3 T instant coffee
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 C heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 T sugar

  • 1 large peach, sliced
  • cardamom, powdered sugar and shaved chocolate for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 250°F.  Trace a 9 " circle on a piece of parchment and place on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle sliced peaches with powdered sugar and a pinch of cardamom and let rest in the fridge until you're ready for them.

For the meringue: Mix 3/4 C sugar and instant coffee together in a small bowl.  Mix 1/4 C sugar, 1/4 tsp cardamom  and cornstarch together in another small bowl.  In a large metal or glass bowl beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks.  Gradually beat in the coffee/sugar mixture until the eggs hold semi-firm peaks.  Slowly beat in the sugar/cornstarch mixture until the eggs are very firm.  Beat in the vanilla and vinegar, being careful not to over-beat.  They should look glossy and stand in stiff peaks. 
Using either a spoon or a pastry bag, fill the circle with the egg white mixture, building up the edges more than the middle.  Bake for about 45 minutes until the outside is dry.  Turn off the oven, prop the door open a little and let the meringue cool in the oven for at least an hour.  It should be totally cool before filling.

For the cream: If you can, chill the beaters and bowl in the freezer.  Add 1 C cream, 1 T sugar, 1 tsp cardamom, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to the bowl and beat until light and stiff.  

Remove the meringue from parchment (carefully!! I didn't do a good job of this part) and place on a serving platter. Spoon the cream into the meringue shell, arrange the sliced peaches around the cream and top with shaved chocolate.

Sauerkraut with Apple and Caraway

The other night, I was reminded how lives can change in the blink of an eye. One seemingly simple action from one person can reverberate through a community, reaching far wider than this one person would ever know. I was reminded that too often we think of our actions as only affecting ourselves, though they ricochet around the network we live in, touching family, friends, and even people we may have never laid eyes on before. I have been feeling angry for being forced into involvement in a stranger's action--for having my life altered simply for being at a certain place at a certain time.
Yet there is something
powerful about being reminded that none of us are islands, that we are woven together--and in a way that even though pulling one string out will tug some others down, there are many many many more strings keeping
us together. It is intense. When I woke up this morning, I really felt the wrinkles of the sheets pressed into my skin. I opened my eyes and really could see the light bouncing off the leaves and skittering over my desk. I walked through the
grocery and really smelled the canteloupes as I passed. So, alive things....
So, sauerkraut. It seemed fitting to make something to counter losing something; to create to erase helplessness. And it seemed fitting to make something alive and transcendent. I never would have thought of the words "transcendent" and "sauerkraut" in the same paragraph until I had made my own (I might have used "hotdog" and "sauerkraut," though). I haven't written about sourdough or yogurt here yet, but they are transcendent too.
I was nervous the first time but now I find that making ferments, like sauerkraut, takes me to a higher creative place than my average cooking adventure. Perhaps it is because I know I am not alone in the effort. It is part my work and part the work of my little friends bacteria and yeast that can transform one thing into another. My part is mostly guiding something to be alive. The alchemy is unpredictable--no two batches taste exactly the same. And it requires patience. I have to (literally) put the cabbage in the closet and forget about it (well, sort of forget) until the time comes for it to emerge an entirely new creature. So if cooking can be a healer...or at least a metaphor, this is a festive-colored sauerkraut with apples and caraway:

  • 5 lbs of cabbage, shredded, a few large leaves reserved (I use red and green because I like pink. a lot. But use whatever you like)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 tart apple, grated
  • 1-2 T caraway seeds
  • 3 T kosher salt
  • 1 gallon crock or food safe plastic bucket with a plate or lid that fits inside
  • water bottle or other weight

Layer the shredded cabbage, carrot and apple in the crock, sprinkling with the salt and caraway seed as you go. Pack it down with your (clean) fist really really good and keep on layering until you're done. Keep on packing it down and then lay the reserved full leaves on top to keep everything in, then the plate, then the weight. Cover the whole thing loosely with a cloth to keep out flies and put it in a cool, dark place. Check it daily by removing and rinsing the plate, skimming off any scum (I've never had any, but it's normal. Mold is not), and packing it down some more. You should see that the cabbage will start to compress and will be covered in liquid as it ferments. Basically, keeping the vegetable submerged keeps them from growing bad mold. The (good) bacteria creates a safe, acidic environment as it ferments the cabbage. Give it a taste after a few days and see how you like it. When it tastes like the sauerkraut you want it to taste like (4-7 days), stick it in the fridge to slow its fermentation.
* Of course, don't eat anything that smells or looks scary to you. It should look, taste, and smell like sauerkraut.

Lazy Bread

Since Mark Bittman started the "no-knead bread" craze in 2006, I've joined the masses in experimenting with the recipe.  As a chronic over-kneader, the no-knead bread was a perfect match.  I love how flexible I can be with the rising times--I don't have to worry about ruining the loaf if my schedule gets erratic(as it inevitably does).  In fact, I got so used to forgetting about the rising dough, that I let one loaf proof for an extra day (instead of 2-3 hours).  The happy accident result was a flat but very flavorful loaf.  Since then, I've been toying with how to keep the "bready" flavor without having it taste "beery" and while still retaining its rise.  
I've also been making a version of the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  using my sourdough starter, which suggests that you proof the dough in the fridge for up to a week, the flavor improving the longer it sits.  It occurred to me that I could proof my no-knead bread in the fridge as well, which a) improves the flavor and b) suits my habit of negligence.
My take on the no-knead loaf has evolved over the years---I like to make up the 3 cups of flour with about 1/2 a C of rye (which adds a nice flavor), a couple spoons of cornmeal, and the rest bread flour.  I also do a little more salt than the NYT article suggests, and a hair more yeast.  Sometimes I  add a little honey, too.  I've baked it in pots and pyrex, but have found that my enamel dutch oven really gives a superior crust. One positive thing about the overly-zealous city planners of Irvine, is that they've put rosemary EVERYWHERE--meaning it's easy to grab a handful of fresh rosemary to spike the loaf.

  • 2.5 C bread flour
  • 1/2 C rye flour (a T or two can be cornmeal)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp yeast
  • drizzle of honey
  • scant T kosher salt
  • generous 1 1/2 C lukewarm water
  • sprig of fresh rosemary or other herb
  • cornmeal for dusting

Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl.  Then add the water and honey and stir until combined.  The dough will be wet, and as they say, "shaggy".  Cover and let sit in a warm, draft free place for 12-18 hours (18 is better).  Then, put the bowl in the fridge at least overnight and up to one week.  When you are ready to bake, turn the dough out onto a floured surface,cover loosely and let rest for 15 minutes.  Then put some cornmeal on a cloth, add the rosemary to the dough and shape it into a ball the best you can.  Don't knead and don't obsess.  Put the ball on the cornmealed cloth, sprinkle some more cornmeal on top, and fold the cloth over the dough-ball.  Let it rise for 2-3 hours.  It should about double in size and not resist a finger poke.  About half an hour before you bake, preheat the oven to 450°F with the dutch oven or lidded pot inside.  When ready, take out the pot USING POTHOLDERS, turn the dough into the hot pot, give it shake, cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Then remove the lid and let bake an additional 10-30 minutes until golden brown and crusty.  Turn it onto a rack to cool and then eat with butter!

Lavender Ice Cream

In my first few miserable months of grad school, a professor I was working with tried to reassure me by saying that even though I was feeling lost and discouraged about the art I was making, when it is all over, I'd have survived and be making what I had before I started.  I've been thinking about his words recently.  At the end of this three year journey of grad school, I feel like I've been making circles--coming back to exactly where I started, but with a fresh perspective....discovering what I already knew, but with doubt erased.  For some reason I feel like I'm coming back around to a place in the circle from way before I moved here.  Somewhere more open-ended and free...

When I was in high school, I bought an ice-cream maker to make lavender ice cream.  I don't know how the idea of lavender ice cream had entered my brain.  I had never had it before, though I did like rose ice cream.  The idea seemed like a fragrant fantasy--I imagined it akin to pillowy clouds, drifting memories, lying in a sunny field thinking you are in love.... ethereal and earthy, dreamy and frozen, floral and rich.
So for turning and returning, for optimism and wishes---here is lavender ice cream again. I think like any dish using flowers or flower-water, the amazing part is recognizing a smell on your tongue.   I've tried a few variations on a lavender ice cream recipe and this is the latest.  It is custard based though it is less eggy than ones I've made in the past (but still plenty creamy) and has a little honey.  I like the flavor of lavender to be pretty strong, but some find it soap-like---taste-test it often and see what works for you. Be aware that the freshness of the flowers affects their strength.

  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1/2 C half&half
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/3 C mild honey
  • 1/4 -1/3 C sugar
  • 2 T dried lavender flowers
  • 1/2 vanilla bean OR 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks (save the whites for something else)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

In a heavy saucepan, heat the cream, milk, half & half, sugar, honey, bean (if using) and lavender flowers until just under boiling.  Cover and let steep 30 minutes to 2 hours (taste and see when it is the right strength for you).  If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and discard the pod, strain the mixture through a fine sieve.  Then return to a clean saucepan and heat over moderate heat.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and salt. Whisk in one cup of the milk mixture to the eggs, then pour the egg mixture into the milk in the saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Heat until the mixture coats the back of the spoon, 170°-175° on a thermometer, about 5 minutes. Do NOT let boil. Strain again into a bowl, add vanilla extract (if using) and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Pour mixture into an ice-cream maker and process accordingly.  I drizzled honey into the ice cream maker in the last couple minutes to make a honey ribbon through the ice cream.  Transfer to a container and freeze to harden.