Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

I know I've called cold weather the perfect weather for risotto, but when it comes to January—cold dreary January, with its icy rainy, slushy grey snow, and frozen sidewalks—I think the thing everyone needs in their repertoire is a good soup.

A good soup should be complex in flavor. It should have layers. It can't just taste like soup or just taste like peas, and it can't just be spicy. It needs to have a little something extra so that the tongue doesn't tire of its taste after five or six spoonfuls. A good soup should be filling and most of all, I think a good soup needs to be something that can be shared.

So I share with you this: a spicy butternut squash soup that is rich, but not heavy; slightly sweet, but also spicy enough to warm a person on a January night.

This soup is vaguely related to a recipe I saw here, but really I think they are so different now, they are more like in-laws than blood relatives. This recipe, like all the recipes I post here, is easily adapted to your taste. You can use pumpkin just as easily as butternut squash, but keep in mind that pumpkins are much larger than your average squashes, and so you may need more coconut milk and broth (or water), and perhaps more spices. Also, if you can't find these specific curry powders, feel free to use what you have on hand; curry paste works just fine. I'd recommend starting with no more than 1 teaspoon, and then increasing from there depending on your own preferences.

As for serving the soup, you might have noticed by now that I have a thing for serving my soups in teacups. This is generally because when I make soup, it is part of a larger meal, and I think a teacup serving is the perfect size for an appetizer. But in a bowl or a teacup, it doesn't matter. This soup is elegant and delicious, and can be served with toasted pumpkin seeds, croutons, or caramelized pear slices. I chose to serve it with some Forelle pear slices which I lightly caramelized in a skillet with some salted butter. This soup can also stand alone. Maybe warm up some good bread though, to wipe your bowl clean when you're done, if you're that sort of person. And yes, I do confess, I am that sort of person.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium butternut squash
1-2 tablespoons butter
about 1 can chicken stock
about 1 can of coconut milk
1 ½ tsp Madras Curry Powder (yellow)
¾ tsp curry powder mix (Vietnamese “bôt ca ri” made from turmeric, annatto, chili, coriander seed, cloves, fennel, and bay leaf)
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
2-3 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice the butternut squash into 3 or 4 sections (leave the skin on!), place on the baking sheet, and butter each slice. Broil on low for about 10-15 minutes before flipping the slices. Butter this side, and then broil for another 10-15 minutes until soft. Alternatively, bake the squash at 375 F for about 35-40 minutes.
Allow the squash to cool for a bit before scooping the flesh into a large pot on medium heat. Add 1 can (about 14 ounces) of coconut milk and 1 can of chicken stock (or alternatively, water or vegetable stock... no worries, I have made this with water and the flavor profile was not at all diminished). Bring to a simmer.
Add the curry powders/paste, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, and salt.
Remove the soup from the heat and either puree with an immersion blender or transfer in batches into a blender. If using a blender, allow the soup to cool a bit, and then cover the top of the blender with a clean kitchen towel, and blend in small batches. Remember to use care when blending hot soups!
Transfer the now smooth soup back to the pot (if you used a blender), turn the heat to medium, and add water or stock a little bit at a time until the soup is your desired consistency. Add additional seasoning to taste.
Serves 6-8 people.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lunch at Kinkead's

We wait for it excitedly and it comes twice a year. That's right; it's DC Winter Restaurant Week, the only time when a three course lunch at a well-reviewed restaurant is only $20.11.

This year, we decided to eat at Kinkead's. Kinkead's is described, on its website, as an "upscale brasserie-style restaurant specializing in fresh seafood." It's located in the Foggy Bottom area, close to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.

Our reservation at Kinkead's was for 12:15pm, and we got there on time. After we told the hostess about our reservation, we were told to go upstairs, where another hostess was present to seat us. We walked past the open kitchen (which is right by the stairs) and then were seated in a large booth.

We ordered fairly quickly, and then while we waited for our food, we examined the bread basket. There were three different types of bread. First, we tried the corn bread. It was a little spicy and a little sweet, perfectly moist while retaining that perfect crumbly texture one associates with cornbread. Then we tried the Irish soda bread, which was studded with raisins and fennel. It was cake-y and lightly sweet. The country bread had a thick crust and was pleasantly warm. There was also whipped unsalted butter on the table to accompany the bread. My favorite was the cornbread, by far.

It wasn't long before our appetizers arrived.

My mom ordered the roasted Bosc pear filled with Gorgonzola cheese, with endive and radicchio salad. It was an elegant dish, and, as my dad said, cannot be judged against meat. The roasted pear was sweet and delicate and provided a nice contrast to the rich and bold cheese. The endive and radicchio had a nice sharpness to them, and the toasted walnuts added texture and an earthiness to the already beautiful dish. We deemed it a solid 9 out of 10.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Grilled Squid with Creamy Polenta and Tomato Fondue. This appetizer was the first time that I've ever been surprised by the small size of a dish at a restaurant. The portion was significantly smaller than either of my parents' dishes, but once I tasted it, I could see why. The grilled squid was just perfectly cooked so that it was tender and moist, not at all chewy. It didn't have any of the smokiness that I associated with grilled foods, but I loved the way the squid just melted in my mouth. The polenta was indeed very creamy and smooth, and felt like the perfect comfort food for a cold winter day, without being too rich. The broiled basil and pinenuts atop the squid provided a crunchy texture, and the tomato fondue added some brightness and acidity. I found myself amazed that the natural sweetness and flavor of the squid was still able to stand up to the bold cooking. I liked that the kitchen was not afraid to make a complex dish, and trusted that their star product, in this case the squid, would shine. A very solid 9.5 out of 10.

For his appetizer, my dad ordered the Housemade Bratwurst with Apple Celery Salad and Sauerkraut Strudel. The bratwurst was spicy, meaty, and smooth. I really enjoyed the full taste of the perfectly seasoned meat. The sauerkraut pastry was a little salty, but made up for it by being flaky, smooth, and rich; a very creative use of sauerkraut, which really did not taste sour at all. My dad really liked the pickled zucchini that accompanied the dish, but I was unimpressed. The cooking was bold, and the flavors were strong, but for some reason I just didn't find this dish that amazing. I thought it was an 8 out of 10, but my parents loved it, and deemed it a 9 out of 10.

For my entree, I ordered the Grilled Mahi Mahi on a Chick Pea Cake with a Blood Orange, Currant and Pine Nut Relish. I actually am not a huge fan of mahi mahi as a fish--I find it often to be too meaty and dry for me--but I liked the sound of the dish, so I put my faith in the kitchen. The Mahi Mahi was, as it generally is, meaty, but it was also flaky and moist. The chick pea cake was very interesting and perfectly seasoned. I loved the texture and the starchiness of it. The taste was original and the idea of making a chick pea cake was fairly creative. The relish was sour and refreshing, as were the orange segments. The dish was very complex in terms of flavor, and the tastes were elegantly layered, but not in a chaotic way. Everything melded together very well, and we felt it was a very solid 9.5 out of 10.

My mom ordered the Brioche Crusted Cod with Bouillabaisse Style Sauce, Croutons and Pickled Fennel. The cod was perfectly cooked, and was moist and delicate. The sauce delicious, truly a discovery. The fennel was slightly sour, providing a nice balance to the richness of the sauce, and the spinach was fresh, lightly blanched, and full of flavor. All in all, it was a perfectly executed dish. 9.5 out of 10.

My dad ordered the Sesame Crusted Skate with Peanut Noodles and Fermented Black Bean Sauce. The sesame crust was crunchy and fragrant, and the skate was perfectly cooked. The dish was clearly an Asian fusion type of dish, and while it was very bold, it was beautifully done and despite the strong flavors of the sesame, peanut, and black bean, the skate still managed to be the star. This dish proved that Kinkead's strength is seafood; few kitchens could be so bold and not overwhelm their fish. A 9 out of 10.

For dessert, my mom ordered the Pistachio Creme Brulee with Pistachio biscotti. To our great disappointment, the dessert was tepid and shy. The flavors were not at all the bold flavors that we had been exposed that entire meal; the creme brulee lacked the intense flavor of pistachio that we were looking for. Additionally, the creme brulee should have been served cold. Instead, it was served at room temperature, and honestly, the only word I want to use to describe this is "okay." I wouldn't order it again and I wouldn't recommend it.

For my dessert, I ordered the Warm Molten Chocolate Cake with Caramel Ice Cream. While this sounded good, I was prepared for a disappointment. Chocolate cake desserts never tend to be as good as they sound; they are often too sweet or too heavy and their taste becomes altogether tiring after a few bites. But this dessert was not like that. It was intense and rich, yes, but it was made with dark chocolate, and thus the sweetness was perfectly balanced by the full flavor of the chocolate itself. The slightly crispy exterior (like the edges of a good cookie) gave way to a molted and melt-y interior. I loved it. I did not taste "underdone" as some [poorly made] molted chocolate cakes can taste, and it was not overwhelmingly "fudge-y." As for the ice cream, my expectations were also exceeded. It truly was caramel in ice cream form; it had a very strong "burnt sugar" (aka caramel) flavor to the ice cream and was just enough sweet, without being cloyingly so. I knew there was a healthy amount of salt in the ice cream to round out the flavors, because it all tasted perfectly balanced. Simple sounding desserts are often the most difficult to execute, but this one was a success. 9 out of 10.

For his dessert, my dad ordered the Local Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream (we started to dig in before I took the picture above). There isn't much to say about this dessert. The apple cobbler was served slightly warm, had a nice top crust, a healthy amount of apples, and wasn't too sweet. It was a classic, done well, but nothing to write home about. 8.5 out of 10 (only because I have to penalize the lack of creativity a little bit).

Throughout the meal, our service was very polite, but also rather distant. The servers never lingered, never reached out, never did more than exactly what they were supposed to do. They were cordial and they did their job, and that was it. I felt like our waiter never truly smiled at us and that he honestly did not care that we were there. It was shockingly impersonal. I haven't been to a restaurant like that in a while. There was nothing wrong with our service, it was just I almost felt like we were unwanted and a bother somehow. It put a slightly blight upon the dining experience, but it was nothing huge.

Overall, it was a lovely meal for about twenty dollars per person, with a surprisingly large selection for each course. Kinkead's would be a place to return to for a nice lunch, and is certainly in a great location for planning a day of exploring the city.

2000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Tel. 202.296.7700
Overall rating for the price: 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Georgetown Cupcake

I have eaten at Georgetown Cupcake many times. It's a small cupcake shop in Georgetown, run by a pair of sisters who then went on to open a shop in Bethesda (also called Georgetown Cupcake). They have aired on TLC and their shop has been visited by many celebrities.

Every day Georgetown Cupcake does this special thing for patrons who subscribe to their Facebook newsfeed or follow their Twitter. In the morning, they post a special flavor, and if customers come in and ask for the cupcake by name, they can get it for free. Georgetown Cupcake only bakes 100 of these special cupcakes, so you have to come in relatively early. It's a fun way for them to drum up business and a way for them to try out new flavors, some of which go on to become part of their rotating monthly flavors.

Earlier this week, I went with my friend. We got to Georgetown a little late, around 1pm (they open at 10am), but we decided to stop by Georgetown Cupcake anyhow to see if there were anymore free cupcakes left. We went in and asked for the peanut butter fudge (which was the special free flavor of the day) and they gave us our free cupcakes. We also decided to buy a chocolate salted caramel cupcake and a strawberry champagne cupcake.

We ate the peanut butter fudge cupcake there. It was surprisingly delicious. The cupcake itself was Valrhona chocolate with a fudge core. The peanut butter frosting was intensely flavored, and topped with a drizzle of fudge. The entire thing was moist, fragrant, and, to our delight, not too sweet. Even my mother, who does not like cupcakes, frosting, or Georgetown Cupcake in general, was impressed.

We waited to try the strawberry champagne cupcake and the salted caramel cupcake when we got home.

The strawberry champagne cupcake was a play on their classic Madagascar bourbon vanilla cupcake, baked with fresh strawberries and champagne. There was a chocolate ganache core, and then the whole thing was topped with a champagne-infused buttercream frosting and a drizzle of chocolate ganache. Honestly, I couldn't taste the champagne in this at all. The strawberry flavor was also very light, and barely present. I was disappointed by this cupcake, and I did find it to be a little too sweet.

The salted caramel cupcake was a play on their Valrhona chocolate cupcake, which had a caramel core, and was topped with salted caramel-infused buttercream frosting and a drizzle of caramel. The bakery could have been more generous with their salt. I couldn't really taste it. I, again, found this cupcake to be a little too tame and a little too sweet. I was disappointed. I have had it before, and found it to be better last time. Oh well.

At $2.75 a cupcake, Georgetown Cupcake is not a cheap place to get dessert, but it is a cute place to stop, and if you're there early enough and can get their free flavor of the day (check Facebook or Twitter), it's a great deal.

Georgetown Cupcake
3301 M Street NW (corner of 33rd & M)
Washington, DC 20007
Tel. 202-333-8448

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Quick Dinner at Jaleo & A Visit to Co Co. Sala

I had a friend visiting me for the past few days, and so we got a chance to do some visiting in DC and some wonderful food tourism. After a day exploring the exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, my friend and I decided to get dinner at Jaleo.

Jaleo is a Spanish tapas restaurant with vibrant small dishes perfect for sharing and sampling. They only take reservations for half their restaurant (leaving the rest of the space for walk-ins) and so when we arrived at around 7:45pm on a Saturday night, we were told we would have to wait for a table. We took our little buzzer and went to the bar to wait. The bar was crowded, but we did manage to find two open seats, and we sat and both got water. We thought about ordering a small tapas dish at the bar, but then decided to wait for our table.

Our wait was about 20-25 minutes. Once we were seated, we ordered immediately (we had decided on our dishes during our wait time at the bar). We ordered sopa de calabaza, berenjenas a la miel, and arroz de pato ‘Jean-Louis Palladin’. Three tapas, we felt, would be sufficient, since we knew we were heading out to another place for dessert later.

We were then brought fresh bread, with a crackly crust and an airy interior, along with a bowl of rosemary and garlic olive oil. We didn't have to wait long before our tapas arrived.

The sopa de calabaza, or butternut squash soup ($8.50), was delicious. It was served with toasted pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and small pieces of cooked diced butternut squash. I loved the play on textures. There was the crunchy texture of pumpkin seeds, the creamy goat cheese, the slightly chewy and soft butternut squash pieces, and three crisps. The soup itself was creamy and slightly sweet. The goat cheese was very mild, a little tangy, but not at all overwhelming. The flavors and textures worked together very well, and after we finished sharing the soup, we happily wiped the bowl down with our bread. It was a solid 8.5 out of 10.

The berenjenas a la miel, or lightly battered eggplant with honey ($8), was delicious. The eggplant was sweet and savory and the honey perfectly complimented that natural sugars in the vegetable. The dish was simple, but well executed and we both loved how the crispy fried exterior gave way to a soft and slightly chewy interior. A solid 8 out of 10.

My friend is vegetarian, but I have an ongoing love affair with duck and foie gras and so I had to order the arroz de pato ‘Jean-Louis Palladin’ ($11) on the menu. This dish had rice with duck confit, duck breast and foie gras cream. It sounded perfect. But to my great disappointment, the dish was extremely salty. While the duck was flavorful and moist and I enjoy the texture of the rice, the salt was so overwhelming that I could neither enjoy nor finish the dish. I suppose that's what I get for ordering a dish with meat while dining with a vegetarian friend. I would not order it again nor would I recommend it.

After we finished our meal, we lingered only a bit after paying before heading out for dessert. Jaleo does have some excellent desserts (which I have reviewed before), but I wanted my friend to try Co Co. Sala while she was in DC.

Co Co. Sala is a chocolate lounge/restaurant in D.C. which is known for its drinks and desserts. We were headed there specifically for some hot chocolate and sweets. Also, their website mentioned that on the weekends, they have a DJ starting at 9:30pm.

Co Co. Sala was already crowded and pretty noisy when we got there, at around 9pm. Although they had some two person tables open, the host (who was rather aloof and impersonal) informed us that there would be a 40 minute wait if we didn't have a reservation. The lounge, he informed us, was also full, but we could find space if we liked at the bar. Thus, my friend and I went to find ourselves a spot at the bar.

Co Co. Sala is arranged so that there is a bar on both sides of the restaurant, but on the right side of the restaurant (if you orient yourself from the entrance), where the lounge was, was very full, and so we decided to stay on the left side. After waiting patiently for a bit, we managed to grab one seat for the two of us when a couple got up (the woman had been sitting on the man's lap). We ordered our hot chocolate, and then while we were waiting, managed to ask the bartender for a dessert menu.

When our Hot Co Co. Trio Flights arrived before us, we were very excited. We had just placed the order for our dessert, and we decided to start on the hot chocolates while waiting. The trio flights is an option on the menu for trying three of Co Co. Sala's signature hot chocolate. We opted to try to the dark chocolate, the salted caramel, and the chipotle hot chocolate.
The dark chocolate was not as strong as I hoped. It was sweet and mild, and didn't have the bitterness of the strong cocoa flavor that I associated with "dark" chocolate. Nevertheless, it was pleasant.
The salted caramel hot chocolate was delicious, and we exclaimed over the wonderful flavor of it. The salt brought out the full flavor of the chocolate, and the sweetness of the caramel was just right--not too cloying and not too mild. I would definitely order again. In fact, we considered ordering a full sized salted caramel hot chocolate on the spot. While the chocolate scent was more subdued, we didn't mind how the caramel stood at the forefront in terms of the flavors in the mouth. The drink had a lot of character and was very sophisticated.
The chipotle hot chocolate was very spicy. The spiciness, however, hit at the back of the throat, not in the mouth, so it was an odd sensation, since the chocolate scent not very strong. The drink tasted almost a bit watery before you swallowed.
All in all, while the trio flights was fun to taste, none of the drinks had the intense chocolate flavor that I was looking for. The dark chocolate was surprisingly mild and the chipotle hot chocolate tasted almost watered down. While the salted hot chocolate was delicious, it tasted much more of caramel than of chocolate. For a place that claims chocolate as its name sake, I felt a little let down.

When we looked over the dessert menu, we had a hard time deciding what to get, but then I remembered from reading reviews that the Chocolate Onyx had been praised. The description sounded amazing, so we settled on that.
On the left, you can see the best part of the dessert. It was a chocolate brownie covered with crispy "chocolate pearls" (like chocolate puffed rice). Covering this was a rich dark chocolate mousse, which was topped with a vanilla crème brulee. The whole thing was topped with a little salted caramel. The entire thing was rich, intensely chocolate without being overwhelming, and perfectly balanced between sweet, salty, and bitter. The play on textures was also amazing. The crunchy vanilla brulee broke under our spoons to give way to a creamy mousse, and then the crispy "pearls" and cake-y brownie. We both couldn't get enough of it.
The chocolate sorbet, pictured in the middle, actually really put me off. It was bitter in a bland kind of way that after one spoonful, I didn't want to try anymore. My friend didn't find it as unpleasant as I did and she finished it, so it might be a personal taste type of thing.
As for the chocolate cinnamon toffee "bon bon," I found this equally unappealing. It had a tasteless sweetness to it that was somewhat unpleasant.

Co Co. Sala was very crowded the entire time we were there. The tables were full, the lounge was full, the bar had people standing and waiting for seats. Despite the crowd, the servers were fairly attentive. They were obviously very busy, but made an effort to be friendly, answering any questions that we asked, and serving patrons quickly. The biggest issue was the music. The DJ did not come on (there was a little "stage") until 9:45pm, and then when he did, the music was extremely loud and not at all conducive to having a conversation (which, clearly, was what people had come to do, since there was no room for dancing, and no one seemed interested in dancing). The music was also pretty terrible. It was not familiar music or popular music, but just loud rhythmic noise. After we finished our dessert we left.
Also, for a place with such high traffic and so many patrons, you would think the bathroom would be more spacious. Instead, it was only a little better than an airplane bathroom. That's right, it was small, and there was only one men's bathroom and one women's bathroom. The sinks for the men's and women's bathrooms were outside, right next to each other, so that you could talk while washing your hands, perhaps. I found it all very odd, and slightly off-putting.
Perhaps I will come back, perhaps not. If I return, however, it will most definitely be at a less crowded time, like perhaps 3-4pm on a weekday, when I know it will be less crowded and I know there will most assuredly not be a DJ present.

480 7th Street NW
Washington DC
Tel: 202.628.7949
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10

929 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
Tel: 202.347.4265
Overall rating for the price: 6 out of 10

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Brown Butter Pear Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate

I’ve heard and read about people who rave of the flavors of brown butter. People describe it as nutty and intense and fragrant. And yet I didn’t get around to experimenting with it until now. I know. I hang my head in shame as I write this.

But it was so worth the wait. Brown butter is everything people promise it to be and more. It is sophisticated and full of character, it amazes me to think that it is the product of just a little heat, love, and stirring. It has a deep nutty fragrance to it and it tastes vaguely sweet, with a hint of something that I just can’t put my finger on, but it reminds me of childhood. If foods could taste like feelings, brown butter tastes like being five years old again and being allowed to have a cookie before dinner. Yes. It is that good.

And this recipe uses it beautifully.

This Brown Butter Pear Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate is the perfect thing for winter. It is airy and light, but also warm, with all the flavors of the season. It smells like heaven, and it the perfect thing for eating slowly, bite by bite, with your eyes half-closed. No need for background music or conversation. Just a plate, a fork, and maybe, if you're feeling decadent, some lightly sweetened whipped cream (perhaps with a drop or two of almond extract).

Because I was feeling particularly fancy the day I made this, I also sliced some Forelle pears, caramelized them in butter and topped the cake with these slices. It was the definition of lovely.

Brown Butter Pear Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ to 1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
8 tbsp salted butter
¾ cup sugar
2-3 tsp vanilla sugar
¼ tsp salt + a dash more
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I would recommend a softer variety, like Barlett or Forelle)
½ to ¾ cup good quality dark chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sift together flour and baking powder.

Brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and cook until the butter browns and smells nutty (7 to 8 minutes). Be sure to stir frequently to allow for even browning. It’s okay if the butter foams up a lot and appears to “separate”—this is normal.
The butter should be a deep nutty brown color. If not sufficiently browned, the butter won't impart the same flavor profile. (At the same time, make sure you aren’t burning your butter)
After the butter is done browning, removing from heat and allow to cool a bit.

While the butter is browning, whip the eggs on high speed for at least seven minutes, until very thick. For sufficient volume, nine minutes is even better.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more (about 3 minutes).

Stop the mixer and add the flour mixture and brown butter, altering so that some flour is layered with some butter (i.e. one third of the flour mixture, half of the butter, one third of the flour, remaining butter, and the rest of flour). Whisk until barely combined and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. Do not over-whisk or fold the batter, or it will lose volume!

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 45 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.

Note: I used Noir de Noir Cote D'Or Chocolate, which is this amazing dark chocolate that isn't very sweet and has a lower percent cocoa butter than most chocolates, and it worked out beautifully. If you have something similar, go for that. You really want to use quality chocolate here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cinnamon-Scented Plum and Almond Tart for the New Year

Happy New Year! I hope this year brings you plenty of wonderful new food experiences and good recipes. And in keeping with that wish, I shall be giving you a beautiful recipe which I recently made for my family: a Cinnamon-Scent Plum Almond Tart.

Being home for the winter holidays always means providing my family with a constant supply of baked goods. My mom bakes, but when I am home, the baking duty always falls on me. This is, no doubt, partially my own doing because I always talk about what new recipes I’d like to try. But this Christmas, when my presents including mixing bowls (with lids!), silicon spatulas, a special mini tartlette tray, and a hand mixer (sometimes more useful than a stand mixer) I knew that my role as family baker was official.

The thing is, my dad often tries my new desserts and then immediately and mournfully declares that “this” (whatever it is) will never top my apple tart cake, which has been a family favorite since the day I first made it. But I persist in trying new things. I just don’t know how to leave well enough alone. And sometimes, like in the case of this lovely Cinnamon-Scented Plum and Almond Tart, it works out beautifully.

This recipe was something I stumbled upon a long time ago, but just never got around to trying. Then when I saw that we had plums conveniently in the house, I decided to play around with this recipe, because—as I’ve said before—I just don’t know how to leave well enough alone. But it was good that I meddled, and my dad did end up relenting and accepting this dessert and did not seem to mourn too much the fact that I did not make his beloved apple tart.

Just one note: watch your crust. Be sure to check about halfway through the baking time to be sure that your crust isn’t over-browning. Happy baking!

Cinnamon-Scented Plum and Almond Tart
adapted from Bon Appetit, October 1998

2/3 cup whole almonds
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
6 tbsp butter
3 tbsp rum
3-4 ripe red-skinned plums, pitted, cut in half
1 pre-baked pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Toast almonds lightly in pre-heating oven.
Finely grind almonds with sugar and salt in processor. Add eggs, butter and rum. Process until smooth.
Pour filling into pre-baked crust. Arrange plums halves on top filling.
Bake until plums are tender and filling is set and golden, about 45-50 minutes.
Cool tart. Serve at room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

Note: you may want to cover your pie crust edges so that they don’t over-brown as mine did.