Most of the recipes I feature on the site are things I’ve bookmarked and planned out — I don’t often just whip something up on a whim, take a photo, and blog about it. Until this week. Don’t get me wrong. I had a recipe planned for you (and it’ll appear next week instead. And it’s quite wonderful). But this week has brought about some bumps in the road and unexpected surprises. If you could call them that.Here in California, most of our dried cranberries have been recalled due to some situation in the processing factory. And I use dried cranberries in the granola I make for Marge. So this week my delivery guy decided to drop off seven pounds of fresh cranberries instead of dried, figuring, I’m guessing, What the heck? She can dry them out! Well the delivery man resides in San Francisco and my bakery’s in Oakland and the two are far enough away that driving back over the bridge to return seven pounds of cranberries just doesn’t make logical sense. So I stared at them for awhile. And put them in the refrigerator. And drove home.
I was so looking forward to a gym class that night, and knew I could figure out what to do with the cranberries in the morning. This particular class is a very un-Megan class in a way because a) I usually hate gym classes and b) there’s weight-lifting involved. But we do lots of sit-ups and weird squats and it wipes me out in a way that running and yoga just don’t. The teacher plays loud, sometimes-raunchy rap and it’s a darn fine escape from the world of baking, farmers markets, and writing. I arrived a second or two late that night to find a middle-aged woman in a very 1988 leotard explaining how she’d be filling in for our regular teacher and would be doing a conditioning class for the body, spirit, and soul. She also explained that she didn’t have any music so perhaps it could be meditative.
No raunchy rap! No groan-inducing sit-ups! It was frankly too late to tip-toe out of class and I just couldn’t bring myself to do so anyway. I gathered my foam mat along with the rest of the class and followed the substitute’s lead doing numerous sets of leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills. And about twenty minutes into the class something funny happened. My mind just went to a completely different place. A place where I had time to think about what to buy/make people for Christmas, what to do for health insurance for 2012, and when I might make it up to Eureka next.
I actually forgot about the odd leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills and noticeable lack of raunchy rap and had a very real hour of head-clearing. An hour without books or the newspaper or email or Instagram or the phone. Just with my own thoughts. At the end of the class I thanked the teacher for one of the best classes I’ve had in months. She looked confused, probably thinking I was being sarcastic as a few people in the class had actually left half-way through. No really, this was just what I needed, I assured her.
When you’re delivered the wrong product one week, you figure out a way to make do. When you realize the gym class you looked forward to all day is going to be taught by an ex-Jazzercise enthusiast and will likely be the worst exercise class you’ve ever attended, you go with it. Because what else are you going to do? There are unanticipated surprises in those kinks. Initially reluctant surprises, but inevitably wonderful ones, too.
In an essay/book review she wrote for the New York Times on happiness, writer Amy Bloom notes, “To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.” And that’s why we have to drink it all in during the holiday season. Go with the flow. Go with the planned parties and grocery lists but also all of the meandering surprises. There are tarts to make, cookies to plan for, plane tickets to buy, snowflakes to make, loved ones to kiss, lights to string, sisters to snuggle. We only get it for these next few weeks — so let the savoring begin.
Now I think you’d agree: I’m generally not very demanding of you. We usually chat about what’s going on in my life and and then write about a recipe I baked or cooked recently. But there are a few recipes that I really feel I must say to you: Make This Now. This is one of them. I felt that way with with Kim Boyce’s cookies and with the Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galettes. And with a good handful of recipes on this site, actually. Things that I make over and over again in my own kitchen. And I genuinely feel that way about this tart.
The filling isn’t as light as a custard but is a very close cousin. It’s flecked with vanilla and lightly scented with meyer lemon zest and nestled right into a toasty hazelnut crust. After cooling, the whole thing is topped with softened and lightly sweetened cranberries. While I made this for myself on a normal old Wednesday, this is dinner party- worthy, for sure. Yes, even holiday dinner party-worthy. So I hope you’ll let yourself follow a few unexpected paths this holiday season. If for no other reason than to make a cranberry tart that arrives in your in-box unexpectedly on a Thursday morning in early-ish December.
There are perfect marriages in food as in life, and I’ve always found cranberries and hazelnuts to be such a marriage. For this tart, I used a hazelnut crust I’ve been experimenting with in the bakery and a simple old-fashioned filling that’s reminiscent of an early-American pie recipe I do in the spring with citrus. To revamp it for the holiday season, I used a vanilla bean and fresh cranberries instead. I think you’ll find it’s wonderful served with a dollop of whipped cream, but it’s perfect as is, too.
For the Crust:
For the Filling:
Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch square tart pan with removable bottom. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts by pulsing on/off for about 30 seconds until they’re a smooth medium-grind. They shouldn’t be too chunky but don’t go so far as to turn them into a paste either. Add the flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and give them a quick pulse so they’re all blended together.
Add the butter and cut into the dry ingredients with an on/off pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and blend until moist clumps form (don’t allow dough to form ball). If your mixture is still too dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of prepared pan. The crust should be about 1/4-inch thick. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. After crust has chilled, bake until barely golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Make the filling:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the vanilla bean and scraped-out seeds. Cook over medium- heat until the butter starts to turn golden brown and smells toasty or nutty, about 4-5 minutes. You just successfully made brown butter! Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon zest. Slowly pour the brown butter into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time so as to not allow your eggs to cook. Whisk in the flour and salt. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden and set (not jiggly in the center). Transfer to a rack to cool, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with the cranberries and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-heat and cook until the cranberries just begin to pop and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Pour the cranberries into a bowl and refrigerate until cool, roughly 1 hour.
Drain the cranberries using a slotted spoon or a fine sieve and arrange them on top of the tart (the cranberry liquid will be discarded). Cut the tart into wedges and serve.
Note: This tart can be kept room temperature overnight and refrigerated up to two days.
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.