Saturday, June 23, 2012

Now THAT'S a strange thing...


I got this terribly poorly edited Indian cookbook, which had a picture of this gorgeous looking dessert in it. Probably the picture had something to do with my buying the damn book, I've had mixed experiences with it so far. I finally made this recipe, and it is even more bizarre than I had hoped.

There's a fairly normal layer of whipped cream on top, but the red stuff underneath is mighty strange. It's made with basil seeds. They aren't naturaly that color, that's just food coloring, which looks better than their natural cloudy brownish gray.

Put 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add 1 teaspoon of basil seeds, a drop of food coloring, and 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract. Remove from heat and admire the swelling of the seeds. Chill, and top with a bit of whipped cream.

Basil seed are really neat, because they have a large amount of water soluble fiber in their husks. That's the stuff that food nutrition labels call 'dietary fiber', I think. In any case, when you put them in water, they instantly start to expand by an order of magnitude. You can actually see them swelling up. The seeds start out black and shiny, and as soon as they hit the water they develop a pearly gray coating that expands and becomes more gelatinous and transparent over the next half hour or so. If you've ever seen chia seeds in the natural foods section of the grocery store, those will do exactly the same thing. You can buy Kombucha with chia floating around in it, it looks polkadotted. Or like a bottle of tiny frog eggs.

But what on earth do they taste like?!?

Not much, to tell the truth. If you chew the seeds, they have a very faintly grassy flavor. It's more about texture. If you like those tapioca things in bubble tea you might enjoy this, but you might not. If you bite tapioca, it's all jelly. These seeds have a little crunchy middle. It's quite distinctive. You notice this is a very small recipe- I don't think anybody will want to eat more than a few spoonfuls of it. It would make some really badass Halloween shots with a kick of tequila, but that's about the only reason I can think of to do it again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Skunk Works


I said I'd bring an experimental cake to family dinner. Pete said "skunk works dessert is fine by me." It had a familiar sound to it, but I still had to look it up, and then I was all tickled by the idea of Skunk Works Cake. No advanced physics knowledge is required, but the original recipe did ask for a pound of quark.

Skunk Works Lemon Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest, minced
2 T sugar
7 T butter
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like aquarium gravel. Beat the egg well, and gently toss it in with the dry mix, then fold it all together until it forms a cohesive mass. Flatten it into a pancake about an inch thick, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate it until you do the other parts.

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 T butter (yes! again!), softened
6 oz heavy cream
17 oz (500g) greek style yogurt
1 tsp lemon zest, 
1 1/2 T cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 egg whites

You need a springform pan for this.

Pre-heat the oven to 325

Whisk the yolks, vanilla, and sugar together until they become light colored and creamy looking. Whisk in the butter, then the cream. Mix in the yogurt, salt, cornstarch and lemon zest.

Roll out the crust, and lay it in the pan. Try to make sure the pastry goes all the way down into the corner where the sides meet the bottom.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold them into the batter. Fill the shell and bake for around an hour and a half.

Serve cool. Eat with strawberries, and your favorite people.


1. I don't have an electric mixer. I do have an excellent wire whisk, which does a good job on all that fluffing that is necessary for good cake. I also now have a sore triceps. And a sore thing-that-attaches-your-scapula-to-your-ribs-in-the-back.
2. When rolling out that crust, don't worry if it splits into crazy shapes. Just get it evenly flat, then piece it back together in the pan.
3. My oven. Oh my stupid oven. I have no idea if the cooking time I've stated will be correct for you. Start by baking it for an hour, and if the batter still looks quite pale and has not poofed up at all in the middle of the pan, check back in 15 minute intervals. It's done when it has fully inflated and is looking just slightly darkened.
4. When you put it in the crust, the batter will only fill about about 2/3 of the pan. This is fine, the egg whites make it like a souffle; it will expand a lot.
5. Which means that you should make sure that the crust comes up all the way to the top of the pan.

So, it's basically just a cheesecake, right? Yup. I guess in Germany they make a very thick, over-condensed version of yogurt and call it quark. After reading about quark, I figured that I could use that batch of yogurt that I let get too strong in this recipe. 'Quarkkuchen' sounds like a pretty cool thing to eat, huh? But other than as a means of using up unsatisfactory yogurt, is it worth doing again? Yes indeedy.

I love the texture of baked cheesecake, but they are awfully rich. I like the relative lightness of no-bake cheesecake, but the texture is a bit gloppy and the high concentration of lemon juice usually used to set them makes the flavor pretty unsubtle. I wanted something in between, and I think this fits the bill. It seems to be related to the fallen souffle cake I made a long time ago, in that the inflation during cooking is not a feature to be desired in itself so much as it is a way to know if the thing is done or not- this cake deflates rapidly when it's out of the oven. The texture is very light, almost delicate, even when it has gotten completely cold. The lemony flavor is brought out by the tartness of the yogurt, but unlike in a no-bake cake, the lemon doesn't overpower everything else.

This recipe is the perfect size for dessert at family dinner, with a small slice leftover for me to eat for breakfast.