We had a bit of a heat wave in the Bay Area this past weekend. Saturday, in particular. There’s nothing like coming off of a long flight from China and having your typically foggy city greet you with blazes. I mean really, there was no easing into summer. But it’s no problem. I’ve gotten my cotton skirts out of storage and plan on wearing them all summer long. That and flip-flops and high ponytails. There will be iced coffee in the mornings and lots of leg-dangling in my mom’s pool.
What is a problem, however, is even thinking about turning on the oven to bake during the summer. But I’ve found a solution. Its name is slump. Do you know slumps? If not, you should. I’ll introduce you.
A slump (also referred to as a grunt) is an old-fashioned dessert made with whatever fruit you have on hand. On the spectrum of old-school fruit desserts, a slump is somewhere between a cobbler and a steamed pudding. This is not necessarily the most beautiful, visually stunning dessert you’ve ever seen. I probably wouldn’t make it for royalty or even for, say, a bachelorette lunch. Stick with petite fours for that one. Or maybe a pavlova. But I love slumps for their simplicity: you slice up a bowl of fruit, heat the fruit in a pan on the stove top, cover it with a simple dumpling dough, put the lid on, and steam away for about 20 minutes. Done. Now you’re acquainted.
The best part about slumps and summer? Because you cook them on the stove top, you never need to actually preheat the oven. It’s not a baking-while-sweating endeavor. Now that you’ve met slump and perhaps started to really let him grow on you, I have to tell you about slump’s bad side: he doesn’t keep well. In fact, you really have to take down the whole pan the same day (although I think having it for breakfast the next morning would be perfectly acceptable) because it will get quite soggy. For me and the company I keep, that doesn’t ever seem to be an issue. But you may want to plan accordingly.
O.k, my work here is done for now.
You + Slump = fast new friends.
Me= Going for a pool-side leg dangle.
To peel peaches quickly, dunk them in boiling water for thirty seconds or so and the skin should peel off quite easily. For this recipe, it is important that you use a pan with a tight-fitting lid so the slump steams adequately. And while I don’t always love using cornstarch in fruit recipes, stone fruit does have a high water content, so it’s necessary here. Don’t leave it out.
Adapted from: Rustic Fruit Desserts
Slice fruit into thin wedges over a bowl, collecting all of the juice. Drop slices in bowl. Separately, stir the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a small bowl, then add to the fruit and quickly toss to coat. Gently stir in the lemon juice, then slide the fruit and juices into a 10-12 inch non-reactive, deep skillet or a wide 5-quart saucepan or Dutch Oven. Let stand for 15 minutes as the fruit releases its juices and the sugar dissolves. Bring the fruit mixture to a low simmer over medium-low heat and stir occasionally to prevent juice from sticking to the bottom. Simmer for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
To make the dumpling dough, whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it’s the size of peas. Add the cold buttermilk and stir until just combined. Don’t worry: the dough will be pretty wet.
Scoop 8 dollops of dough atop the fruit, distributing each dumpling evenly over the surface. Return to the stove top and bring to a gently simmer over low heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and continue simmering for 18-22 minutes, or until dumplings are puffy and cooked through. Remove the cover and let cool 15 minutes before serving.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.