For many years, I’ve always made a summer to-do list. I usually set to work on it right at the beginning of June when the days feel long and ripe with possibility. The list often involves things like learning to bake sourdough bread or making homemade ricotta, doing an epic hike I’d read about in a local magazine, training for a marathon, or reading specific novels. It is always a pretty aspirational list, and I generally don’t make much of a dent in it — resulting in the guilty feeling come late August that I’d wasted too many lazy afternoons when I could’ve been baking sourdough or making ricotta or doing memorable, epic hikes. But this summer is going to be a bit different: there will be no list. We wait so long in Seattle for long stretches of sunny days, and now that it stays late until 9:30 (or later?), I want to see more of our friends and find stretches of time to do not much of anything except catch up, tan our legs and eat farmers market berries. That’s my list.
Thankfully this crazy delicious recipe from Cheryl Sternman Rule’s beautiful new book, Yogurt Culture does not at all interfere with this summer’s non-list. It’s so simple we actually had these on a weekday, but I understand for those of you who have busier (read: bigger) households, you may want to reserve this one for the weekend. Either way, it’s summer breakfasting at its best (or desserting as these would be great in the evening, too).
I received a copy of Cheryl’s book right before we moved, so I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to cook or bake from it until we’d fully settled in. A few nights ago, it was a treat to sit on the couch as Sam was painting our window frames — trying to decide where to begin (and cheering Sam on). From sweet baking recipes to savory chicken or beef dishes, the breadth and variety of recipes in Yogurt Culture is inspiring as is Cheryl’s deep knowledge about yogurt in different cultures and applications. I find sometimes with single subject cookbooks, the star ingredient can sometimes seem forced in a particular dish, as if it doesn’t really fit but the author tries to make a case for it anyway. This is not the case with Cheryl’s book: yogurt truly takes center stage. And if you’re familiar with her witty, brilliantly written blog Five Second Rule, you know that Cheryl’s recipes always work.
If you’ve made traditional crepes in the past, you may remember pulling out your blender to ensure the batter is super smooth, and you likely recall the nice, short ingredient list. This recipe relies on yogurt instead of milk and you can use a whisk instead of your blender. It’s one of those ‘tough to mess up’ recipes as everything just goes in one bowl and you fry them up to order. I will say that much like most pancake or crepe recipes, the first one almost always turns out to be a dud, so consider that one a good taste-test candidate and don’t be discouraged right off the bat.
As for fillings or toppings, you don’t have to go the strawberry route here — we just have so many local, sweet berries in the markets right now I couldn’t help it. But really you can fill these crepes with anything you’d like — sweet or savory. Cheryl recommends ideas like bananas and nutella, fried eggs and ham, or butter and maple syrup. I think lemon curd and a little cream would be really nice, too. Or any sliced, fresh fruit (or, dare I say, ice cream for dessert!) I chose to make Cheryl’s yogurt whipped cream to go with the berries and I can already tell it’s going to be a staple around here. It has a nice tanginess that regular whipped cream doesn’t have (think cheesecake whipped cream, perhaps?) and thanks to the stability of the yogurt, you can whip it in advance and it lasts for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
If you live in the Seattle area: I’ll be leading a discussion and Q & A with Cheryl at Booklarder next Thursday, June 25 from 6:30-8. Come with all your yogurt questions, and expect a great talk covering a variety of ways to cook and bake with this increasingly trendy (!) ingredient. I hope to see you there.
I ended up using a bit of buckwheat flour in my crepes because I love the color and flavor, but if you’d rather use all all-purpose flour, go right ahead. The batter holds up beautifully in the fridge for a few days, so if you don’t want to cook them all off at one time, you can look forward to leftovers.
Only Slightly Adapted From: Yogurt Culture
For the Crepes:
For the Yogurt Whipped Cream
Make the whipped cream:
Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the yogurt and vanilla, then continue to whip, slowly streaming 2 tablespoons sugar down the sides of the bowl. Continue whipping until the peaks hold when the whisk is lifted. Taste, whipping in up to 1 tablespoons more sugar, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the Crepes:
In a large bowl, whisk the butter, flour, yogurt, eggs, whey or water, and salt until smooth. Let rest for 10 minutes. The batter should have some body but should drip easily from the whisk.
Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water on the skillet sizzle and evaporates. Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of the skillet generous with melted butter. Tilt the skillet forward, then pour 1/3 cup batter close to the lip of the skillet. Quickly swirl so the batter coats the bottom. (If the batter is too thick to swirl and coat easily, whisk 1-2 tablespoons water into the remaining batter).
Cook until the underside of the crepe is lacy and nicely browned and the edges look dry, about 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Invert onto a plate. Brush a bit more butter onto the skillet and repeat with the remaining batter, brushing the skillet with more melted butter between batches. Stack the crepes on the plate.
To serve: top each crepe with a generous spoonful of berries and yogurt whipped cream. Enjoy immediately.
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.