Sunday, April 22, 2018

Early Spring Pasta with Asparagus, Peas & Mushrooms

It isn’t really “early” spring anymore.  We are a full third of the way in.  Usually I would call that mid-spring.  But this year, here in the mid-western United States, it still looks and feels like the very early days of spring—chilly and wet, with new bright green grass….and the very beginnings of green visible in the trees.  In most years we have had a full display of the glories of the spring blooming trees and bulbs by now.  So far this year I’ve only seen daffodils and the cold-hardy hellebores in my garden.

I have been grateful to have had the luxury of leaving the detritus of fall and winter on my flower beds longer than usual.  But as I have begun to work in the garden during the last few days, I am aware that spring is going to pop the minute we get warm.  And when it does, it’s going to happen at hyper-speed.  Other things that need attention will, for a short while, receive quite a bit less.  Which brings me to today’s post.

I don’t know when this quick little pasta appeared in my repertoire, but I can find pictures of it…and variations thereof…dating back several years.  I’m not sure why I never shared it before.  I always begin to make it sometime in March—right about the time the asparagus from California starts showing up in the grocery store…and the little bags of fresh peas start showing up at Trader Joe’s.  During the very early days of spring, when I’m super tired of winter’s vegetables, these two items are great to have on hand…and I use them regularly for our evening meals.  They are wonderful with mushrooms, and the three in combination are perfect in pilafs, salads, frittatas…and quick pastas.

This pasta should be seen as a template for a basic, spring vegetable, pantry pasta.  You can replace the thyme with tarragon…or even rosemary.  The dish is nice with a little parsley thrown in at the end too.  Dill would also be delicious added at the end—it just isn’t something I usually have in my pantry.  I happened to have pancetta when I made it this time, but if you have prosciutto, you can use that.   Just start the scallions/spring onions in a bit more oil or butter and add the julienne (or minced) prosciutto with the asparagus and peas.  If you have fava beans, they would be delicious in place of the peas.  If you need a bit more protein (because you’ve spent the whole day digging, mulching and hauling in the garden….or straining your brain and your patience over your taxes…), this pasta would make a great bed for a nice piece of salmon…or a boneless chicken breast. 

Besides being delicious, versatile and an early harbinger of the delicacies of the spring market to come, this pasta is very quick to make—from raw ingredients to table in about 30 minutes.  I guess you could say it’s an all around perfect dinner for even the busiest of spring days. 

Orecchiette with Mushrooms, Asparagus & Peas

1 T. olive oil, divided
1 oz. minced pancetta
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 T. butter, divided
2 to 3 spring onions or scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1/3 to 1/2 c.—use equal quantity of white and green portion)
1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 c. peas
2 oz. (trimmed weight) asparagus, cut on a short diagonal 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick (to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 c. chicken stock or water
1/2 lb. orecchiette
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Parmesan

Render the pancetta in 1/2 T. of the olive oil in a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer and also accommodate the cooked pasta) set over medium low heat.  When then pancetta is crisp (after about five minutes) remove to a plate.  Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium high.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and tender (about five minutes).  Season with salt & pepper and reduce the heat to medium. 

Add a half tablespoon of the butter to the pan.  Add the spring onions, along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until wilted and tender—about 2 to 3 minutes.  

Add the thyme, peas, asparagus and the cooked pancetta, stirring to coat the vegetables in the onions and fat.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar and continue to simmer gently—checking occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated—until the vegetables are just tender…about 6 to 8 minutes.  Set aside until the pastas is ready.

About the time you add the stock to the vegetables, drop the pasta in a large pot of boiling well-salted water.  Cook until the noodles are al dente.  Drain the pasta, saving a half cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the vegetables and toss to combine.  Cut the remaining butter into 3 or 4 pieces and add.  Toss and stir the pasta until the butter has emulsified into the sauce and the noodles and vegetables are coated in a light, buttery film of sauce.  If the pasta seems dry, add enough pasta water to obtain a fluid sauce.   You may add some of the cheese to the pasta, tossing/stirring to combine—or save it all to pass at the table.

Pasta serves 2 to 3.  Recipe is easily doubled—simply choose a pan wide enough to accommodate the vegetables and pasta as described above. 

Printable Version

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Simple Mushroom & Green Vegetable Frittata for Spring

As we were enjoying a mushroom and asparagus frittata for dinner the other night, I found myself thinking:  “this is so delicious…I should put it on my blog.”  This thought was immediately followed by the thought that I had probably posted way too many frittatas over the years and so I probably didn’t need to post this one too.  But then I looked at the recipe index and discovered that on balance, I really hadn’t posted that many frittatas.  It just happens that we eat them a lot (I love them)…so I figured that I must have posted a bunch.   And since I haven’t…   And since this one is just perfect for spring…  I decided to share it after all…along with a few thoughts on my basic frittata method.

The method for this one is the same that I always employ.  I cook my filling ingredients—in this case sautéed mushrooms and blanched asparagus—fold them into some beaten eggs, pour the whole thing into an oiled and very hot non-stick sauté pan, cook over moderately high heat while simultaneously shaking and stirring the contents of the pan, let it sit for a minute or two over low heat to sort of solidify and firm up…and then finish it under the broiler (to give it a bit of puff and a nice golden brown surface).  The whole operation from the time the eggs hit the pan to the time you pull it out from under the broiler takes less than five minutes.

I wouldn’t be surprised though to learn that this is not how you make frittatas.   It seems to be an unusual method.  I have only seen it described in two cookbooks:  Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking and The Union Square Café Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. 

I have been thinking about all of this because I will be teaching this frittata in a class this week.  I always teach this rather fast and furious method, but it has occurred to me that the other, more usual, method (pouring the eggs over the filling ingredients in a moderately hot non-stick pan and then transferring it to the oven where it cooks for 10 minutes or longer) might be a better place for the frittata novice to begin.  You have to be confident and move with speed and purpose if you are going to make it with the method I  describe above.  The slower, baked method seems a little less intimidating.

So in preparation for this class, I made this frittata both ways (and have included instructions for both in the recipe).  The good news is that it is delicious using either method.  But I have to say that in my opinion the fast method produces a lighter and more tender final result.  This may be just me.  I have a chef friend who uses the baked method—and her frittatas are always tender and delicious.  You should of course use the method you prefer…but if you have never tried the quick method, you should give it a try at least once.  Maybe even do your own test—making the same one using both different methods so you can compare and contrast.

If you are new to frittatas this one would be a great one with which to begin.  It is simple…with not too many ingredients.  If you know how to sauté mushrooms and blanch green vegetables, you are most of the way there.    I happen to love the combination of eggs with asparagus and mushrooms, but this frittata will work with pretty much any cooked green vegetable.  It is in fact a great way to celebrate and enjoy all of the lovely spring vegetables that will be appearing soon at your farmers’ markets…not to mention the new spring onions and beautiful local eggs that will be right there with them. Since the parade of spring vegetables is just getting started, there will be many opportunities to hone your frittata making skills…and choose the method you prefer…during the weeks to come. 

Asparagus & Mushroom Frittata

This frittata is a template for any mushroom and spring, green vegetable frittata.  Feel free to  substitute blanched peas and fava beans, diced/sliced cooked zucchini, or turned, cooked (poached, braised or roasted) and sliced or diced artichoke bottoms for the asparagus…or use a mixture of two or more.  Aim for 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked green vegetables.

3/4 lb. medium asparagus, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths on   a short diagonal (about 1 3/4 c.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 T. good olive oil, divided
4 to 5 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 2 cups)
1/2 T. butter
1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
6 to 7 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 oz. Fontina, cut in a 1/4-inch dice (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup)
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan or a mix of the two

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the asparagus and cook until tender—about 2 to 4 minutes.  (It is better for a frittata to slightly over cook the vegetables rather than to undercook them.)  Scoop out the asparagus and spread on paper or kitchen towels to cool. 

Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium high to high heat.  Add a tablespoon or so of the oil.  When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and caramelized.  Reduce the heat slightly and add the butter.  When the butter has melted, add the green onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and cook until wilted and tender.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside until ready to make the frittata.    

When ready to prepare the frittata, return the pan of mushrooms to moderately high heat and add the asparagus.  Heat the vegetables through while you preheat the broiler and heat the frittata pan.  Place a 10-inch non-stick sauté pan (I prefer French steel pans) over moderately high heat.  Break the eggs into a bowl and beat just to break them up.  Season with salt (I find that about a half teaspoon of kosher salt is about right…but you should adjust to suit your taste) and pepper.  Drizzle a small amount of oil over the hot vegetables and toss to combine.  Fold the hot vegetables and the cubed cheese into the eggs.   Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the skillet. When the skillet is hot (the oil should be almost smoking), carefully swirl the pan to make sure the oil is coating the bottom and part way up the sides of the pan.  Add the egg mixture.  The eggs should begin to set immediately.  Shake the pan back and forth with one hand, while with the other you alternately stir in the center and lift at the edges (in order to let the uncooked egg run underneath those that have coagulated) using a heat-proof rubber spatula.  Continue cooking—stirring, shaking and lifting—until the eggs are mostly cooked but still a bit liquid-y (there will be large curds of coagulated egg and some liquid eggs). This should only take a minute or two.  

Reduce the heat to very low and allow the frittata to sit without stirring for a minute or so.  During this time, use your spatula to even up and sort of pat the eggs and vegetables into a nice even cake, running the spatula around the edge occasionally—dribbling in some more oil around the edges if the eggs appear to be dry and sliding the pan back and forth a couple of times to make sure the frittata isn't sticking.  This final couple of minutes of stove top cooking will give the frittata the opportunity to set up into a solid cake. 

When the frittata is mostly set, place the skillet under the broiler and broil just until the surface is no longer moist—about 30 seconds.  Sprinkle the cheese over the surface and broil until the cheese melts—another 30 seconds.  Slide the finished frittata onto a platter or cutting board and let sit for a minute or two.  Cut into wedges and serve.  The frittata may also be served at room temperature.  Serves 4 as an entrée, or 8 as part of a buffet.

Notes & Variations:
  • This frittata is delicious with the addition of fresh herbs: minced parsley, picked thyme, chopped tarragon or finely sliced basil. Add the thyme with the scallions. Add the other herbs to the eggs with the vegetables. 
  • You may use any green spring vegetable along with—or instead of—the asparagus: blanched peas or fava beans, sautéed/roasted zucchini and poached/braised artichoke bottoms are all particularly nice. Aim for 1 1/2 to 2 cups total volume of cooked vegetable. 
  • If you like, add a 2 or 3 thin slices of prosciutto, cut in 1/4-inch strips. Add with the asparagus to the mushrooms when you are heating the vegetables through. 
  • Alternate, baked method: Heat the frittata pan over moderate heat, add the oil and then the cooked vegetables. Heat the vegetables through (on the stove top…or in the preheated oven). Pour in the beaten, seasoned eggs. Make sure the vegetables are evenly distributed. Scatter the cubed Fontina over all, giving the pan a small jiggle to help the cheese settle in. Transfer to a 400° oven and bake until the eggs are almost set…about 10 minutes. Scatter the parmesan or pecorino over the surface and run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Let the frittata set for a few minutes before slicing and serving.
  • The asparagus in this recipe are peeled so they will cook more evenly and so the diner can easily cut through the frittata without running into the tougher bits of skin. If you have never peeled asparagus, check out my basics post.  
Printable Version

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Special Springtime Dessert…Danish Almond Cake with Fresh Strawberry Buttercream and Mixed Berry Compote

If someone were to take a look at my last few posts, they might think this was a blog devoted just to desserts.  In the last five posts I have shared a recipe for chocolate mousse, two cookie recipes and a cake.  And today I’m posting another cake.  I promise to get back into savory mode as we head into spring…but I just couldn’t resist sharing the simple, delicious and oh-so-perfect-for-spring cake that I served to my family for Easter this year.

I have actually shared the recipe for this cake before (in the Holiday Almond Cake Squares that I posted several Christmases ago).  But I wanted to share it again to demonstrate how versatile it can be….and also to emphasize how much I love it.  I don’t think it is a secret that I really like cake… all kinds of cake.  I eat cake almost every day…and I have shared many different kinds of recipes for cake over the years.  But when it comes to cakes for dessert, this almond cake is the cake.  If I could only have one cake to make for birthdays and special occasions for the rest of my life, this is the cake I would choose.  It is perfect in every way.  It bakes into beautiful, level, fine-grained layers that slice cleanly and neatly.  It can be baked in just about any kind of shape (square and round…small and large…).  It can be eaten plainly—with nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar…or a scattering of toasted almonds.  It is wonderful accompanied by a little fruit…fresh, poached or roasted And it can be covered with almost any favorite buttercream or glaze.  And it is of course delicious!  If you love almond flavor, this will probably become your favorite cake too.
I have been making this cake for more than twenty years.  And up until about four years ago my love for this cake was marred (only slightly, I admit) by the persnickety mixing method.  As originally published in Madeleine Kamman’s The New Making of a Cook, the recipe directed you to finely grate the almond paste before creaming it with the butter and sugar.  If you have every worked with almond paste, grating small amounts is a wonderful trick for getting this moderately stiff and sticky substance evenly distributed throughout a batter…or over a pastry or bar cookie.  But grating ten and half ounces of it is a sticky mess.  The fact that I continued to make this cake despite how I felt about grating the almond paste says a lot about how much I love it.  But just in case it was out there, I was always on the lookout for another way to blend the almond paste perfectly and smoothly into the batter.

Then, a few years ago I ran across Thomas Keller’s version of this cake in his book Bouchon.   (There are many, many versions of this cake…it is so lovely that most pastry chefs have it in their repertoire in some form.)  His method for incorporating the almond paste is fantastic.  Instead of softening the butter before creaming it with the almond paste and sugar, the butter is added while it is still cold.  Because the butter is still hard when the creaming process begins, it smoothly absorbs the almond paste bit by bit.  By the time the action of the paddle has softened the butter, it has absorbed all of the almond paste and sugar into a stiff, thick, uniform mass.  

Continued creaming warms and softens the butter while simultaneously incorporating air and eventually produces a perfectly light and fluffy mass of creamed butter, sugar and almond paste.

Brilliant.  And easy. 

Because the proportions of the recipe I use differ slightly from Keller’s recipe, I have adapted his method to work with my recipe.  I leave two thirds of the butter cold and bring the other third to room temperature.  After creaming the cold butter with the almond paste and sugar until everything is completely smooth, I beat in the remaining softened butter and continue to cream until the whole mass is light and fluffy.  Basically Keller’s method seems to work well if the weight of the cold butter is about half the weight of the almond paste.  I have gotten lumps of almond paste that didn’t want to smooth out when I have tried to use all cold butter in my version of the recipe. 

For Easter this year I frosted the cake with a fresh strawberry buttercream.  The recipe is the one my friend Chef Nancy uses in her bake shop and it is basically a Swiss Meringue style buttercream with puréed strawberries beaten into it.  It is light, fresh and delicious—and sets the almond cake off beautifully.

If you have never made Swiss Meringue buttercream, it is a fairly straightforward operation.  Classic recipes are based on a formula where egg whites, along with about twice their weight in sugar are placed in a mixing bowl and heated over a bath of simmering water until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch.  The temperature of the mixture should be in the 150°F to 160°F range. Once you have made it a few times, you will not need a thermometer—you will know by touch if it is ready.  While this mixture is heating, it must be stirred constantly.  You may use a rubber spatula for this, but I find it easiest just to grab the whisk attachment of my mixer at the top and use this to keep the mixture moving over the heat. 

When the mixture is hot, attach the bowl to the mixer and whisk at high speed until it has cooled to room temperature.  Beat in room temperature butter (in an amount roughly equal to the weight of the sugar and whites combined).  At this point flavorings (extracts, fruit purees, etc) are added.  If the mixture looks curdled, 

or is too stiff, warm it briefly (you don’t want to melt the butter—just get the bowl warm to the touch) over the simmering water you used to warm the egg whites and then return it to the mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until smooth. 

You will find all kinds of recipes for Swiss Meringue buttercream—all with slight variations in quantities of whites, sugar and butter.  As long as the ratios of the ingredients are in the ball park of what I have described, the recipe should work just fine.  If you already have a favorite recipe, by all means use it as the base for your strawberry buttercream.

I garnished my Easter cake with my favorite fresh berry compote.  I make this particular compote all the time during the spring and early summer months.  It is wonderful with ice cream, angel food or pound cake, lemon tart…fritters, pancakes and waffles…just about anything that would be set off to advantage by a few berries and a little sauce. Because none of the components are cooked, the compote is bright and fresh—perfect for spring and summer.

Easter is of course over for the year, but there are many spring and early summer celebrations yet to come—graduations, bridal showers, Mother’s day…  This cake would be just the thing for any one of them.  But even if you don’t make the compote….or the buttercream…I hope today’s post inspires you to try this amazing cake.  Once you make it, I think you will find yourself wanting to make it often…for any (and possibly every) occasion.

Danish Almond Cake

200 g. (1 c.) granulated sugar
300 g./10 1/2 oz. almond paste, (not marzipan)
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, divided—1/3 at room temperature and 2/3 kept cold and cut into 6 to 8 chunks
1 t. vanilla
5 large eggs (250 g.)
100 g. (1 c.) sifted cake flour
1/4 t. fine salt
1/2 t. baking powder

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Butter a 10- by 2-inch round cake pan.  Line the pan with a round of parchment, butter the parchment.  Flour the pan, knocking out the excess flour. 

Place the sugar and almond paste in the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix on medium low to begin breaking up the almond paste.  Add the cold butter and increase the speed to medium high (you may need to put some plastic wrap around the mixer to prevent the almond paste, sugar and butter from being flung out of the bowl).  Beat until the mixture is smooth.  When no lumps of almond paste or butter remain, increase the speed to high and add the soft butter.  Cream until light and fluffy—about 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl add the vanilla and mix in.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly on medium-high speed after each addition to return the batter to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.  

Finally, sift the dry ingredients directly over the batter and fold in.  Turn into the prepared pan

and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  The cake is done when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Unmold immediately onto a plate.  Invert onto a rack to let the cake cool right side up.  Cool completely. 

The cake may be frosted or simply dusted with powdered sugar and served plain or with whipped cream and berries.  Serves 12 to 16. 

(Recipe adapted from The New Making of a Cook by Madeleine Kamman)

Fresh Strawberry Buttercream

4 egg whites (120 g.)
1 1/4 c. sugar (250 g.)
3/4 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz. fresh strawberry purée (see note)

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over a pan of simmering water.  Stir constantly—with a whisk or rubber spatula—until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch.  An instant read thermometer will read between 150°F and 160°F.

Using the whisk attachment, whip the mixture on high speed until the mixture has formed a thick, glossy, billowy meringue.  Continue beating until the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch.  Reduce the speed to medium-high and add the butter two or three tablespoons at a time, beating until it is completely absorbed.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides.  Whisk in the strawberry purée.  If the mixture appears curdled, place the bowl back over the pan of simmering water just until the bowl is warm.  You don’t want the butter to melt you just want the bowl to be warm.  Return the bowl to the mixer and beat until the mixture no longer appears separated.  Switch to the paddle attachment and continue to beat on medium or medium low speed until the mixture is very silky and smooth and has lightened to a lovely pale pink color. 

Makes about 5 cups of buttercream.  (You will only need about half of this for the Almond Cake.)  The buttercream may be refrigerated for a week or frozen for six months.  Allow the buttercream to come to room temperature before rebeating to restore its silken texture. 

Note:  To make strawberry purée, wash and hull 9 oz. of strawberries.  Purée the hulled strawberries in the food processor until completely smooth.  If made ahead, bring to room temperature before adding to the buttercream. 


Fresh Berry Compote

1 6 oz. box raspberries (or use an equal weight of frozen—thaw before using)
3 T. sugar
2 to 3 t. lemon juice—or to taste

1 lb. strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and cut into wedges or sliced
1 to 2 T. sugar
1 1/2 c. mixed berries—raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries

Make a raspberry sauce:  Purée the raspberries and pass through a fine-meshed strainer, pressing hard with a ladle or spatula in order to extract all of the purée.  Stir in the sugar.  Add lemon juice to taste.

About an hour or two before you plan to serve the compote, place the strawberries in a bowl and sugar lightly and toss to combine.  When you are ready to serve the compote, add the other berries to the strawberries along with the raspberry sauce, folding carefully to distribute the berries and until all of the berries are coasted with the sauce.   

Monday, March 26, 2018

Winter Citrus in a Pretty Pink Poppy Seed Cake

Today’s post is about a recipe fail....  But this is not a bad thing.  In a small way it is somewhat akin to the way a “foster fail” in animal rescue circles isn’t a bad thing.  Even though the result wasn’t the goal, ultimately the way things ended was very good.  Today’s cake is everything a cake should be.  It’s tender, beautiful to look at, pleasantly sweet… has a lovely, even grain…and is super delicious.  One might wonder what could possibly be wrong with it.  Well, the truth is, it isn’t the cake I intended to make.

 A few weeks ago a friend shared a slice of a delicious grapefruit cake with me.  Around the same time I saw a grapefruit poppy seed cake on Instagram.   These grapefruit cakes made me want to make my own grapefruit cake.  So I decided to make one…with poppy seeds.  As delicious as the first cake I tasted was, I wanted more of a pound cake texture (dense and finely grained).  The image I saw on Instagram was more in the style of a pound cake, but it seemed to get its flavor boost from slices of grilled grapefruit shingled on top of the loaf —which didn’t bode well for storage purposes (and one of the things I like about pound cake is how well it stores).  As I was thinking about the possibilities, I looked at a lot of recipes for pound cake-like poppy seed cakes.  But ultimately I ended up drawing mostly from Ina Garten’s lemon cake, Rose Levy Beranbaum's lemon poppy seed pound cake and Helen Goh’s lemon poppy seed cake.  With such fine recipes as my starting point, switching to grapefruit from lemon seemed like a fairly easy transition.

 And as I took my first run at the cake out of the oven, my hopes were high.  The cake looked perfect: golden brown, gently domed, etc.  It drank up the grapefruit syrup without any resistance.  Sometimes cakes act like “I’m full…no more.…”  And as you try to coax just a little more syrup in, it just runs off.  But not this cake—all the syrup was easily absorbed.  I made a beautiful pale, peachy pink (just the color of a pink grapefruit) glaze that fell in nice, thick random drips down the sides of the cake.

It sliced beautifully—without tearing or producing a mess of crumbs—displaying a fine even crumb on the interior.  Then.  I tasted a slice.  It was tender, sweet, moist and delicious. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t taste at all like grapefruit!  It had juice, loads of zest, grapefruit syrup and a grapefruit frosting—but it only had a vague kind of general citrus flavor.  I was mystified.  I gave out slices to friends—all of whom loved the cake (I had requests for the recipe) and all of whom agreed it didn’t taste of grapefruit. 

 I tried three more versions of the cake.  In the first I reduced a full cup of grapefruit juice down to two tablespoons before adding it to the batter.  (A nice bonus of having to squeeze so much juice was extra zest that I candied and used as a garnish…)  In the second I replaced all of the other liquid in the cake with straight grapefruit juice.  Neither of these produced a more discernible grapefruit flavor.  At this point, I decided to abandon grapefruit altogether and go with the blood orange that had been suggested by one of my first taste testers.  

The blood orange cake was also beautiful…and the frosting didn’t require any food color (in fact, I had to use part milk in the frosting to keep it from being a dark pink).  Again…I had high hopes.  Once again only a general citrus flavor…

You might wonder why I didn’t try varying some of the other ingredients—altering the amount of sugar…or the type of leavener…etc.  I could have.  And all of these things might have helped create the grapefruit taste I was looking for.  But any of these changes would also necessarily change the texture and character of the cake.  And since the texture and character of this cake was just about perfect, I wasn’t interested in pursuing any of those alterations.

Instead, I have decided to rename the cake.  I no longer have a failed Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cake, I have a wonderfully successful Pink Citrus Poppy Seed Cake.  It is delicious when made with grapefruit…  Or blood orange.  I imagine it would be excellent with Cara Cara oranges…or any juicy tangerine you might have on hand (there is a lovely new one out called a Ruby Tango that has great flavor and a beautiful rosy flesh).  Lemons would be delicious too.  Just think, if you made it with lemons and tinted the frosting pink, you would have a Pink Lemonade Poppy Seed cake. 

Pink Citrus & Poppy Seed Cake

1 1/2 c. All-purpose Flour (170g)
1 1/4 t. Baking Powder (5g)
3/8 t. salt
14 T. Unsalted Butter, room temperature (200g)
1 c. Sugar (200g)
1 T. grapefruit zest (or other citrus zest to match your chosen citrus fruit)--see note
2 eggs plus 1 yolk, room temperature (120g)
6 T. yogurt (90g)
2 T. grapefruit juice (28g)…or orange juice…or tangerine juice….etc.
2 T. plus 1 t. poppy seeds (20g)

3 T. sugar (38g)
3 T. citrus juice (45g)—match juice in cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F (see note).  Butter and flour a 6-cup loaf pans.

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream the butter, sugar and zest until light and very fluffy (about 5 minutes...possibly longer if the room is cool).  Beat in the eggs and yolk, one at a time.  Combine the yogurt and juice.  Fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the yogurt mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Add the poppy seeds with the last addition of flour. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.  

Bake until golden and a cake tester comes out clean—about an 60 to 70 minutes. 

Combine 3 T. sugar with 3 T. juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. 

When the cake is done, cool in the pan for 5 minutes; invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been lightly greased (pan spray works well for this).  Brush the bottom of the cake with syrup. Set the cake upright and brush more syrup over the top and sides.  Let cool completely.  

While the cake cools make the powdered sugar glaze (recipe below).  Scrape the glaze onto the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to smooth the top and force the glaze to the edges where it should slip slowly and randomly down the sides of the cake. Garnish with a sprinkled “stripe” of poppy seeds down the center.  When the frosting is "set", wrap the cake airtight. 

  • My 6-cup loaf pan is pyrex/glass, so I lower the oven temperature to 325° F when I make the cake. 
  • You can add 2 to 3 times this amount of zest.  There is a lot more flavor in the zest than the juice and increasing the amount of zest is the best way to boost the citrus flavor. 
  • If you have time, combine the zest with the sugar ahead of time.  The zest will infuse the sugar with citrus flavor and amplify the citrus taste of the cake.

Pink Citrus Glaze

1 c. powdered sugar (120 g.)
1 T. melted butter (15 g,)
1 1/2 T. freshly squeezed (and strained) citrus (match cake) juice
1/4 t. freshly squeezed (and strained) lemon juice
1/4 t. vanilla
Food color to get pale peachy pink color (see note)

Combine the powdered sugar, melted butter, citrus juices and vanilla in a bowl and beat until smooth. The glaze should be fairly thick…but will flow a bit too.  If it is too thick, add a bit more juice.  Use immediately since the melted butter will begin to firm up right away.  (If the glaze sets up too quickly, a few seconds in the microwave will soften it nicely.)

Note:  If making a blood orange cake you will not need food color.  Instead, cut juice to 1 or 2 t. and make up the remaining amount with milk.  If you don’t cut the liquid with milk the frosting will be a dark pink instead of a pale pastel shade.