quarta-feira, 21 de outubro de 2009

Autumn colors and pistachio raspberry financiers

Well, I will make things clear, I detest autumn and its changes but at the same time I can show appreciation for the different shades of yellow, red and brown of the leaves, while hanging the trees before they sadly fall on the ground. Naked trees are terribly sad, almost depressing, half dead, a waste of productive time. Ok, hate me, I just can't get over my tropical senses and appreciate the beauty of season changes. Hate me, no I can't. On a sunny day it all looks reasonable and the shades of yellow so totally won me over. It is deep blue and deep yellow that I am talking about.

Meanwhile, I have a question for you. Among all the nuts you love which on you hate the most? I hate pistachios because I always cut my skin trying to break their shell, how dangerous pistachios shells are? I just can't find reasonably priced peeled pistachios, without salt of course. Around here they just cost too much and come in very small portions, not for cooking, it is designed as a snack. If you want a lot of pistachios because you are going to ground them and bake cakes with them, you have to peel them yourself, that's what they think around here...

We are planning a party around here, I can't give much details as someone might sneak around here to learn all the details of our surprise plans. However, trying to prepare myself to all the work involved I started preparing some tart doughs and baked some batches of pistachio and raspberries financiers. After the little cakes cooled down they went straight to the freezer where they will stay until party day, some 10 days away. Financiers are just the perfect cake to be frozen, they keep the texture and the flavor pretty much the same.

Pistachio and Raspberry Financiers

100 grams unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely grounded pistachios
3/4 cup flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
4 egg whites
Scraps of half vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries


Butter twelve muffin cups or small financier molds and set aside. In a small pan melt butter with vanilla scraps and let them cook until golden brown (beurre-noisette), keep you eye on the butter until it is cooked as it can burn very easily and you will have to start again. Once it smell nutty and delicious remove it from heat and set aside.

In a food processor ground the pistachios with, flour and sugar. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. In a large bowl whisk egg whites with pinch of salt using a whisk (fouet) until foamy. Add the flour mixture, in batches, until well incorporated. If using vanilla extract add the vanilla extract and mix. Finally add the butter while it is still warm and mix to incorporate it into the batter completely. Divide the batter in the prepared pans and add two raspberries to each one of them. Bake the cake in a hot oven, at 180C/300F, for 15 minutes or until golden on the edge of the financiers. Sprinkle some confectioners sugar on top of cakes before serving.

Makes 12 cakes.

sexta-feira, 9 de outubro de 2009

Homemade Dried Plums

In our garden we have two big plum trees, a small tree growing besides and some new trees are expected to join these group soon as many seeds were thrown around the area these last couple of years. The two producing trees have provided us with buckets and more buckets of plums and I almost freaked out trying to find different and interesting uses for all the plums we picked this year. Besides the obligatory distribution of fruits to family members and friends I made some fantastic dishes with our little cherry plums. We also picked some delicious yellow plums in our neighbors garden which were also included in the recipes.

In case some of you can read Portuguese, I have links to all the recipes of my plum adventure.

Oat and plum crumble pie
Two colors plums jam
Plum yogurt cake
Sweet sour plum sauce
Plum Liquor
Plum yogurt ice cream

It was a great fun to learn how to dry plums at home since I don't own a dehydrator and I used my conventional oven to do the job. All the instructions I found referred to the use of dehydrators so I had to invent and experiment with the oven. I learned that with a proper machine it would take 12 hours to dry big plums and it took more than 24 hours to dry my little plums. Besides the energy costs, which were seriously considered, there weren't any other inconvenient in the job, on the contrary, it was amazing to eat my homemade plums which looked a lot more like big sized raisins than prunes.

My prunes were small, because my plums were small pink ones, but they taste like the best prunes I have ever tried. They are sweet, tasty, soft and juicy ans I selected the best plums to be dried. It is fundamental that the plums to be dried are ripe but not over riped, washed and dried so the natural wax of the fruits is slightly removed. Our trees are totally organic, never received any chemical additive or fertilizers and we happily share our yearly harvest with birds, snails and insets in general who mostly prefer our strawberries and for that reason we had a huge production this year. The dried prunes can be caned in sterilized jars and they can last, unfortunately not as long as jam but they can resist pretty well protected from humidity and heat.

Drying plums

3 to 4 cups of perfectly ripe plums
1 dry and clean big sheet pan


Transfer plums to pan let them dry in a previously heated oven at 80C for 12 hours. Check the fruits and if they are inflated with air make some holes on theirs skins with a tooth pick or a fork. Let them dry for another 12 hours and they will be dry but juicy and soft. If your plums are bigger and still didn't reach the perfect staged after 24 hours let them cook another 6 hours checking every two hours to certify that they did not over dry. Transfer to sterilized jars and keep the jars in cool dry places.

Drying plums at home is an act of love and patience but you will be reward with the most sweet and tasty prunes you ever tried. Good prunes require extremely good, sweet and ripe plums. Try eating your home made prunes with natural yogurt and a drizzly of honey, it is my favorite way to enjoy prunes.

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