Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chickpea & Butternut Squash Stew with a Poached Egg

In my house—because there are only two of us....and because one butternut squash (even a small one) is typically too large for two people—one dinner featuring butternut squash is almost always followed in a day or two by another dinner featuring butternut squash. And I don't mind this at all. I love butternut squash. Besides being delicious, it is quite versatile. It can be roasted (whole or in pieces), braised, sautéed, or steamed. It's wonderful in soups or stews...on pasta or a salad...or as a side dish. Furthermore, it goes well with a long list of winter vegetables—greens like kale and chard, Brussels sprouts, onions (all kinds), root vegetables, mushrooms, and dried beans. I could probably eat it for several night's running and not get bored.

In my last post I shared what I made with the first half of a butternut squash. Today's post is about the second half—in a Moroccan-inspired vegetable stew. This stew has been in my regular winter rotation since last January when I found it in Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I have tweaked the recipe a bit to accommodate my personal tastes (smaller chunks of vegetables) and my pantry (instead of finishing the stew with Harissa I have incorporated a suitable mix of spices in the aromatic onion base and then finished the stew with some preserved lemon). I also thought this stew was begging for the added richness of a freshly poached egg

...but you could forgo this addition and still have a delicious dinner.

The contrast between this bright and spicy stew and the rich and savory pasta where my butternut squash made its first appearance could hardly be more "same old-same old" here. And both of these dishes are seasonal eating at its best: Each—in their own way—are a perfect antidote for a dark and cold January night.

Chickpea & Butternut Squash Stew with a Poached Egg

2 1/2 to 3 cups diced (3/4-inch) butternut squash
olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion (about 8 oz.), finely diced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 t. caraway seed (toasted and ground)
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. coriander
1/8 t. cayenne
2 medium carrots (about 5 oz.), topped, tailed, peeled and thinly sliced (scant 1/4-inch)
1 14 oz. can plum tomatoes,—passed through a food mill, pulsed in the food processor or crushed with your hands
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 c. chicken stock (or water)—plus more as needed
1 or 2 pieces preserved lemon (pulp removed), finely julienned (optional)
3 eggs
2 to 3 T. thinly sliced fresh cilantro

Toss the squash with a scant tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 400° to 425° oven until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a wide, deep sided pan set over medium heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until very soft and beginning to turn golden. Add the carrot, garlic and spices and toss to coat in the fat. Cook until fragrant—about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until thick (10 to 15 minutes). Add the chickpeas and stock and simmer, covered until the carrots are tender—about 30 minutes. Add the roasted squash and preserved lemon, if using and cook another 5 minutes or so to heat the squash through and allow the flavors to blend. Add more stock or water if the stew is too thick. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Set the stew aside and keep hot while you poach the eggs.

Ladle the stew into warmed soup bowls, sprinkle with cilantro and top each with a poached egg. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately with some warm, crusty bread. Serves 3.

Note: The original recipe was twice this size...obviously you should feel free to make as large or as small a batch as you need. If you double it, you will be able to use the whole butternut squash.

Leftovers for lunch...with crumbled Feta instead of a poached egg.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Penne with Mushrooms, Butternut Squash & Pancetta

One evening during the rush of the holidays I made a delicious pasta that featured one of my favorite flavor combinations—winter squash and mushrooms. At the time it was a dish of necessity—it was time for dinner and a chunk of butternut squash and the remains of a package of crimini mushrooms were all that my produce drawer had to offer. But I liked the pasta I made so much that I made a few notes and stuck them in my recipe file, hoping I would remember to make this dish on another occasion. The recipe came to mind a few nights ago as I was considering what to make for dinner with the butternut squash that was sitting on my counter.

I don't have too much to say about the details of this recipe. I have already posted other recipes that cover the basic techniques used. If you are new to sautéing mushrooms or braising winter squash you should definitely check out those two posts (both pastas, as it happens). I also wanted to point out that even though I have written this recipe for two portions, it is easily multiplied to feed four or more. For larger quantities, simply choose a larger sauté pan—one that will hold the diced squash in a loose single layer.

This will facilitate proper sautéing of the mushrooms...and proper braising of the squash.

I think that's all I need to say. When it comes down to it, not only is deliciousness enough of a reason to post a's the best reason. Enjoy.

Penne with Mushrooms, Butternut Squash & Pancetta

1 1/2 oz. pancetta, minced
olive oil
1 T. unsalted butter
6 oz. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 cups diced (1/2-inch) butternut squash (about 7 oz. net weight)
1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 T. chiffonade fresh sage
pinch red pepper flakes
2/3 c. chicken stock or low-salt canned broth
salt & freshly ground pepper
180 g./6.5 oz. Penne pasta (see note)
finely grated Pecorino

Cook the pancetta until crisp in a small amount of olive oil in a 9-inch sauté pan set over medium-low heat.

Stir and scrape occasionally to make sure it cooks evenly. When crisp, transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon. Return the pan to the stove and increase the heat to medium high. If the pancetta was very lean, add enough olive oil so that the surface of the pan is coated with fat. Add the mushrooms and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off during cooking has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and season lightly with salt.

Let the pan cool for about a minute before returning to the heat. Return the pan to the heat and add the butter. When the foam subsides add the squash and toss to coat in the fat. Sauté (tossing occasionally) until the squash begins to caramelize in spots—about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium if the squash threatens to burn. Add the herbs and pepper flakes to the pan along with a sprinkling of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Toss to combine and cook briefly until fragrant—about a minute.

Add the reserved mushrooms and the stock to the pan. The stock should come up almost to the top of the vegetables—add more if the vegetables aren't almost covered. Gently simmer (uncovered and stirring every now and then) until the squash is just tender—about 30 minutes. As the liquid reduces, add a little water and continue to cook—there should be enough liquid in the pan to about half cover the vegetables when the "sauce" is finished.

Set the sauce aside and keep warm while you cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt well (it should taste salty) Add the penne and cook at a rolling boil until al dente. Drain. Add the pasta to the squash along with the reserved pancetta and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a splash of the pasta water and toss again. Taste and correct the seasoning. Divide the pasta between 2 plates or shallow pasta bowls and sprinkle with the pecorino.   Serves 2.

Note: Most pasta sauce recipes are written for one pound of pasta. Since at home I am almost always cooking for two, I usually only make half of a recipe. But even this is a bit much for us. As it turns out, a fifth of a pound is about the right amount of pasta for a dinner portion for one at our table. Consequently when I am improvising a pasta recipe for dinner, I almost always just prepare enough sauce for two-fifths of a pound...or 180 grams. This is the reason for the "odd" amount of pasta in the recipe. You can of course make it with a half pound of pasta—but I would increase all of the other ingredients slightly if I did this. If you want to make a full (one pound of pasta) recipe, simply multiply all the other ingredients by about 2 1/2. And as mentioned above, be sure to choose a size pan that will accommodate all of the squash in a loose single layer.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Caramel Corn (in honor of National Popcorn Day)

Apparently today is National Popcorn Day.

I would not have known but for the email that arrived this morning from Chef's Catalog announcing the fact. As usual with such emails, there were links to several recipes. Since I love popcorn (I mentioned a few posts back that I have been known to eat it for dinner), I clicked on a few of the links. One of the recipes was for Caramel Corn. I was surprised to see that the recipe was almost identical to a recipe that I have been making since my freshman year in college. It is a decidedly un-chef-y recipe. Not really "caramel" corn (since the sugar in never technically caramelized), it is nonetheless delicious and dangerously addictive. If you like caramel corn, this simple recipe should be part of your permanent repertoire.

I have no idea where my version of this recipe originated other than that it was given to me by the mother of a dorm-mate. I have a feeling it is a "back of the box" recipe...possibly from Karo ...or C&H....but this is just a guess. I have altered it a bit over the years. The original called for butter extract. Long ago I replaced this with vanilla. And since for years now I have only used unsalted butter, I have increased the salt a bit. But if you use salted butter, just reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to a teaspoon.

The biggest change I have made is in the amount of popcorn. The original recipe called for 6 quarts of plain popped popcorn. My air-popper when run at full capacity makes just over 3 quarts of popped corn. I have always just made two full batches and used it all without thinking too much about it. Recently I measured it and found that I was actually using 7 quarts of popcorn. I have always like the way the recipe turns out with this increased amount of popcorn. If you stir carefully and thoroughly to make sure the popcorn is evenly coated when you first add the butter-brown sugar mixture, you will find that this larger ratio of popcorn to goop gives a lighter, crispier result.

A smaller amount of popcorn for the same amount of goop results in pockets of the butter-brown sugar mixture that have a somewhat unfortunate texture....not exactly hard...and not really soft....but just the right texture for sticking to your teeth. I find this unpleasant...but I concede that there are many who feel that this is what caramel corn is all about.  I noticed the Chef's catalog recipe only called for 5 quarts of popcorn. It seems that any amount of popcorn in the 5 to 7 quart range will do...depending on whether you like your caramel corn to be a bit chewy and tacky or crunchy and light.

After receiving the email announcement from Chef's this morning, I decided to look up National Popcorn Day on line. I discovered that there is some disagreement over whether today is in fact National Popcorn Day. Evidently there are those who feel the day actually coincides with Super Bowl Sunday. Since I don't watch football, today works just fine for me. But for those of you who do watch football, I believe the Super Bowl is approaching. This caramel corn would make an easy and fun addition to your game party spread.

Oven Caramel Corn

2 sticks unsalted butter (225 g)
2 c. packed golden brown sugar (400 g)
1/2 c. light corn syrup (165 g)
1 1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla extract
7 quarts popped popcorn

Place the butter in a medium sauce pan along with the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a full boil (medium to medium-high heat) 

and boil for 5 minutes—stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda and vanilla extract. Stir well—the mixture will foam and increase in volume. 

Immediately pour the mixture over the popcorn (in a large roaster) and stir well until the popcorn is evenly coated. Place in a 200° oven for 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes (see note), stirring at 15 minutes intervals. Remove from the oven and cool, stirring once or twice as it cools if you don't want big clumps. Store in an airtight container.

Note: The original recipe called for one hour in the oven. Sometimes after an hour the popcorn still seems a bit too sticky to me. When this happens, I give it another fifteen minutes.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baked Chicken with Garlic, Leeks & Thyme—"Pot Roasted" Chicken

If you mention the words "pot roast", most Americans will immediately think of a rustic and hearty dish of beef and vegetables—beef so tender it is practically falling apart and vegetables that are soft and infused with the rich flavor of the beef. But beef isn't the only meat that can be "pot roasted". Pot roasting is simply the procedure. It can be used to cook any tough, fatty, sinewy cut of meat. Today I thought I would share a favorite recipe for pot roasted chicken thighs.

One of the best things about pot roasted chicken is that it is a relatively fast procedure. Whereas a beef pot roast will take 3 hours or more, pot roasted chicken thighs can be on the table in as little as an hour and fifteen minutes (including the time it takes to brown the chicken and prep the vegetables).

The technique is simple. Brown the chicken, remove the chicken to a plate and toss the vegetables in the hot fat until they begin to soften. Return the chicken to the pan, cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to a low oven. Bake until the chicken is meltingly tender. While the chicken bakes, prepare some kind of plain starch—buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, steamed rice—and, if you like, a green salad. This meal is quick enough for a simple weeknight family dinner...but nice enough to serve on a weekend for a gathering of friends.

The original version of this recipe (published by Parade Magazine and developed by Sheila Lukins) calls for a whole chicken (cut into eight pieces). Frankly, I would never prepare the chicken breasts this way. Like braising (another slow, moist-heat cooking procedure), pot roasting is best suited to tough, sinewy cuts of meat. In general, lean, tender cuts (like the chicken breast) are better served by quick, dry-heat procedures like pan-frying or grilling or fast, high heat roasting. You can make this recipe with thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer to make it with all thighs. Thighs are nice and meaty and are also easier to eat than drumsticks.

As with braising, the first step in pot roasting is browning the meat. Don't shortcut this step. Not only is this step meant to brown the skin, it is also serves to render the fat from the skin. If the skin is only superficially browned, the chicken skin will remain unappetizingly flabby and the fat will render into the pot as the chicken cooks, resulting in a greasy final dish.

Well-browned and crisped chicken skin.  The excess rendered fat will be poured off before the vegetables are added to the pan

Unlike a braise, there is no added liquid in this recipe. None is needed. As long as you use a pan with a tight fitting lid, there is plenty of moisture in the vegetables and the chicken to facilitate the cooking process. If your lid is not tight, this moisture will escape from the pan and the vegetables might stick and burn. If you are at all concerned, check the pan occasionally. If it ever seems dry, add a small splash of water. Even with no added liquid, the chicken and vegetables will naturally produce a small amount of very flavorful broth during the cooking process—perfect for moistening some noodles, rice or potatoes.

If you don't have a pan with a tight fitting lid that will go from the stove top to the oven, the recipe can be prepared using a sauté pan and a lidded casserole. Brown the chicken and vegetables as described in the recipe. When the vegetables have just begun to soften (after 3 or 4 minutes) transfer them to a shallow casserole that will hold the chicken in a single layer. Deglaze the sauté pan with a splash of water, stock or white wine and reduce until there is only a very small amount of liquid in the pan (1 or 2 tablespoons). Add the chicken to the casserole and drizzle the deglazings over all. Cover and place in the oven. Bake and serve as directed (increasing the cooking time a bit since the casserole will not be hot from cooking on the stove top and will take a few minutes to come up to temperature once in the oven). This method works particularly well if you are multiplying the recipe to serve a crowd.

Finally, don't feel that you must stick to using just carrots and leeks as the vegetables. While I love leeks, the original recipe called for a large, thinly sliced onion instead. I have made it this way, and it is very good. As far as the other vegetables are concerned, I always include carrots in the mix, but any root vegetable will work well. All of the vegetables should be cut into similarly-sized, largish chunks. This week when I was shopping for the ingredients for my pot roasted chicken, I found some beautiful parsnips at the store. The resulting dish, made with half carrots and half parsnips, was particularly delicious.

Ingredients for a half recipe--using a mix of parsnips and carrots for the vegetables

Baked Chicken with Garlic, Leeks & Thyme

8 chicken thighs (or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)—about 2 1/3 to 3 lbs total weight
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices
3 to 4 leeks, white & pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-inch thick and rinsed in several changes of water in order to remove all grit
5 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T. picked fresh thyme

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat butter and olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof deep heavy sauté pan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add the chicken, skin side down and brown all over, in batches if necessary to keep from crowding the pan. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off all but a tablespoon or two of fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat slightly and add the carrots, leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. 

Return the chicken to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, skin side up. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and transfer to a 325° oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour—until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

Serve with buttered noodles, plain rice, couscous or mashed potatoes. Serves 4 to 6

(Recipe adapted from Parade Magazine)

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego & Almond Sauce

One of the things I loved best about my time in London when I was studying at Le Cordon Bleu was the way my horizons were expanded in so many different areas. One of these was the wide and varied world of cheese. I had always liked cheese...and for the most part grew up eating natural cheeses (as opposed to processed)—but the cheeses of my childhood were of a very limited scope. Run-of-the-mill American Cheddar, Colby, "Swiss", or the occasional Jack or Muenster were about all I had ever had. Once I discovered the "cheese hall" (within the "food hall") at Selfridges department store, it became one of my regular haunts. Unfortunately there wasn't time enough to taste all of the amazing cheeses that were available there, but I did try to bring home one different cheese each week to sample.

In addition to the astonishing array at Selfridges, I was introduced to new cheeses in my classes and at the homes of friends. Manchego—a Spanish sheep's milk cheese—was one of the first "new" cheeses I tasted. Served to me by a friend, it is probably the reason I entered the Selfridges cheese hall in the first place (to purchase some of this delicious cheese for myself). I have been in love with it ever since. Several years ago, when Food & Wine published an issue featuring the foods of Spain, I immediately noticed this recipe for a rich Manchego and cauliflower gratin.

As far as style is concerned, this gratin is a cousin to the Sweet Potato and Mushroom Gratin that I posted back in November. Both gratins begin by arranging a snug layer of cooked vegetables in a wide, shallow baking dish.

Cauliflower florets and caramelized onions arranged in the gratin

But instead of drizzling the vegetables with heavy cream and topping with breadcrumbs and cheese (as for the sweet potato gratin), the cooked cauliflower is napped with a flavorful Manchego-laced béchamel.

Vegetables topped with Manchego sauce and more grated Manchego
mixed with smoked paprika and chopped toasted almonds.

Many different kinds of vegetables can be treated in a similar manner. Simply cook your vegetable of choice to the desired tenderness, spread in a gratin and top with the sauce (and breadcrumbs...or cheese...or a combination...). Or, the vegetables can be combined with the béchamel before they are put into the baking dish. The scratch version of the green bean casserole that I posted a couple of years ago is nothing more than this style of gratin.

Besides the Manchego, there is one other thing that makes this particular gratin a stand out.  The milk that is used to make the béchamel is infused with the flavor of toasted almonds.  After toasting, the warm almonds are placed in the food processor with steaming hot half and half.  This mixture is then processed until the almonds are as finely ground as possible and the hot liquid is left to steep for a few minutes.  The almonds are then strained out—leaving behind a delicious liquid that is fragrant with almond. 

I teach this recipe in a Spanish Tapas class that is in my regular rotation of classes.  Besides Manchego and almonds, it contains Smoked Paprika—making it a great showcase for traditional Spanish ingredients.

Often I am asked if the ground almonds can just be left in the half and half (I guess to some it seems wasteful to strain them out).  I have never done this, and would not be inclined to.  I think the resulting sauce would have an unpleasant, mealy texture.  The appearance too, would leave something to be desired.  I suppose that you could simply omit this step and use plain half and half.  If you do this, you will not need as much half and half because some of it is absorbed by the almonds during the steeping process—use 1/2 cup of plain half and half instead, adding a bit more if the béchamel seems a too thick.

I love this gratin but for some reason haven't made it at home for a while. Recently, when I found myself with the remains of a very large head of cauliflower, I remembered this dish. We enjoyed it as a vegetarian entrée for dinner. Paired with a green salad filled with apples and raisins, it was just the thing for a cold winter evening.

But if dinner isn't dinner for you without animal protein, you can serve it as a true side dish—it would be excellent with a grilled or pan-seared steak. And if you have never tasted Manchego cheese, making this gratin is a great excuse to go out and buy some. Although, once you taste it, you may suddenly find that you don't have enough cheese left to make the gratin....

Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego & Almond Sauce

3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup plus 2 T. whole roasted almonds with skin (3 ounces)
2 T. shredded Manchego (1/2 ounce)
1/4 t. smoked Spanish paprika

1 2-lb. Head of cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2-inch florets
2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced

2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup shredded Manchego (3 ounces)Pinch of nutmeg
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°. Generously butter a shallow 2-quart gratin dish.

In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half until steaming. Transfer to the food processor and add 1/2 cup of the almonds. Process until the almonds are finely ground. Let stand for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing hard on the almonds to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the ground almonds.

While the almond milk steeps, coarsely chop the remaining 2 T. of almonds and combine with 2 T. of the Manchego and the paprika. Set aside.

In a large skillet, bring 1/2 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover and cook over high heat until crisp-tender—about 4 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander and set aside. Wipe out the skillet and melt 2 T. of butter in the skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium to medium-high, stirring occasionally, until tender and beginning to caramelize—about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and continue to cook, stirring, until the cauliflower begins to caramelize in spots—2 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to the buttered gratin dish.

While the vegetables cook, prepare the béchamel. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer; keep hot. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 T. of butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour. Cook stirring constantly for a few minutes—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow. Remove from the heat and pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately. Add the reserved almond milk. Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the nutmeg. Stir in 3/4 cup of Manchego, mixing just to distribute the cheese—it doesn't need to melt. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Spread the Manchego sauce over the vegetables in the gratin dish. Sprinkle with the reserved almond/cheese/paprika mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, or 4 as a vegetarian entrée (serve with a green salad and some crusty bread).

(Recipe from Food & Wine, February 2005)

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Pear & Walnut Coffee Cake

I thought I would begin the year with cake. The annual January onslaught of diet foods, diet advice, diet that... makes me tired. Cake almost always lifts my mood. You don't have to eat the whole cake...a small slice really is sufficient.

The recipe I'm posting today is for a favorite coffee cake. It is a classic sour cream coffee cake. Anyone who bakes from scratch regularly probably has a pet recipe for a moist and tender sour cream coffee cake. This one is mine. At its heart it is nothing more than a slight variation on the classic 1-2-3-4 cake. A standard "creaming method" cake, the secret to a good result (fine-grained, light and moist) is sufficient creaming (the butter and sugar should be very light and fluffy) and room temperature ingredients (place the eggs in their shells in a bowl of warm tap water for a few minutes if you forgot to pull them out of the fridge in time).

I found this recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia. She uses it in a delicious rhubarb upside down cake. But it can be made into many different kinds of cakes—round, square, rectangle, loaf, thin or thick.  It can be plain, spicy, filled with delicious bits (chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, etc), or layered/topped with streusel or streusel and fruit. It is an excellent basic cake. I teach this Pear & Walnut version as the example of the "creaming method" in my Breakfast Breads class. I posted a round Peach variation a couple of years ago. Whenever I am thinking about developing a new coffee cake, this sour cream cake is typically where I begin.

You can never have too many recipes for coffee cake. What would breakfast be without it? I think people have a hard time believing that I really do eat homemade cake—or a muffin...or a scone—for breakfast every day.  But it's true. I also eat plain yogurt and fresh fruit—but my day just wouldn't feel the same without a little something sweet to start out. If for some reason I am trying to shed a few pounds, I just eat a smaller piece. In the long run, moderation will always be more successful than deprivation. So instead of a diet resolution, maybe the better New Year's resolution would be to learn how to make a really good cake. This one is a fine place to start.

Pear & Walnut Coffeecake

1/2 c. all-purpose flour (2 oz.)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter
1 c. walnut pieces, lightly toasted

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (7 oz.)
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar (200 grams)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 c. sour cream (242 grams)

2 medium pears, peeled, cored & cut lengthwise into 16 slices and tossed with the juice of half a lemon (alternatively, cut the pears in a 1/2-inch dice)

To make the topping, combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl, rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the walnuts and chill until ready to build the coffee cake.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (about 5 minutes using a stand mixer). 

Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. 

Beat in the vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream in two additions.

Spread the batter in a greased and floured 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Lay the sliced pears attractively over the batter in a single layer (or scatter the diced pears evenly over the batter). Scatter the topping evenly over all.

Bake in a 350° oven until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—35 to 45 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 12.

Note: This cake freezes beautifully. If you want to have a slice for breakfast every morning, portion the whole cake and freeze the individual portions in an airtight container or in a single layer in a Ziplock freezer bag. A piece can be thawed in the microwave (medium power) or you can let it thaw overnight. To do this, before you go to bed, take out a slice, set it on a plate and cover it tightly with plastic to conserve the moisture as the cake thaws.

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