For the sake of full disclosure, you need to know that this recipe for sour cherry upside down cake is recycled with only a little modification from last year’s model: a peach cake in the same style. In the previous edition, I claimed that the point of the recipe was to rehabilitate the upside down cake genre, which has been saddled with all manner of unfortunate business like canned pineapple rings, cheapy maraschino cherries, and an aesthetic that screams at the top of its little pastry lungs: I’ve just come from the 1950s, and I’m here to help!
In that post, I said that this cake calls for two key modifications that make it a delight, rather than a chore, to eat: 1) I use real fruit and only real fruit in this recipe, eschewing the canned stuff in favor of whatever is local and in season; and 2) I’ve turned this into a yogurt-based cake, which leads to a texture that is moist but not soggy, and that adds just the tiny bit of creamy tang you need to complement the acidity of the fruit.
At this point, dear readers, you must surely already be aware of my deep and abiding love of Star Trek. But what you probably don’t know about me is that Star Trek is hardly the only shipborne drama that catches my imagination. I’m a sucker for all things nautical, too.
Wherever I travel, if my companions show even the slightest tinge of amenability, one of the first items on my touristy to-do list is to find the local maritime museum. In Reykjavik, it was a dockside exhibition showcasing the importance of fishing and whaling to the Icelandic economy. In Tallinn, it was a museum of nautical mines (the explody kind), followed by the Estonian Maritime Museum, nestled inside of a medieval stone turret named Fat Margaret. Blocks and lines, sextants, scrimshaw, or any other oceanic artifact instantly catches my interest. And especially if there’s a robust and well-sourced explanatory card attached, it’s difficult to drag me away.
Grilling time is here again, and I’ve been thinking a lot about something. I don’t know about you all, but when I’m getting ready to cook burgers outside, especially for friends, I put a lot of thought and effort into finding the right kind of pastured, sustainable, local meat. I am careful to gather and slice only the snootiest organic tomatoes and cucumbers to use as a topping. I go shopping at the fancy cheese store for the most complementary dairy accompaniments. And I’m even pretty careful about which lump charcoal I use.
But when it comes to the buns, it’s kind of a different thing. Though in other circumstances I am a total bread snob, often as not I end up using those horrible, squishy packaged jobs from the cut-rate grocery down the street. And it’s not just a matter of convenience. When I think about those buns at all, it’s with a little shot of pleasure.
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic combination. They’re sweet and sour, bright and luxurious, irresistible as dessert, or as jam, or in just about any other context that I can rattle off. David Lebovitz recently extolled their virtue, cooked together with sweet wine and honey, as a compote.* And in the rhubarb entry of The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg place strawberries in bold caps with an asterisk, signifying that this is one of those “Holy Grail” pairings that are the most highly recommended by the greatest number of experts.
But then, you don’t need some fancy book to tell you that. One needs only look at the critical mass of strawberry-rhubarb pie recipes out there (a quick Google search yields more than four million results) to figure out that this is one of the most beloved flavor combinations in world cuisine.
It has begun, dear friends, to seem a bit absurd to me that every time I make a pie, tart, or pasty for the blog, I provide instructions for making shortcrust pastry all anew. As I browse back through the last few months’ entries, this habit, it seems to me, is responsible for taking up quite a lot of space.
And so I thought to myself this morning — I thought: why not write a shortcrust primer, instead? Why not work up a master recipe that will recount my shortcrust technique, its major variations, and maybe offer just a couple of tips for making it work?
It feels like it’s been forever since I made a post, here. Forever. And many, many miles. When I last put fingers to keyboard, the saurian hulks of gourmet food trucks dotted my neighborhood’s landscape. There was music in the air. And from underfoot, children and darting drunkards threatened to lurch and leap out into traffic.
Since then, I’ve had a birthday, a concert, a road trip, and a stay in a hotel. I’ve had a protracted bout of the flu (complete with fever, chills, and a full set of aches).
I’ve been sitting on this recipe for almost a week, now, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to make it work for this space.
Here’s the problem: last week, with Easter close at hand, with Elizabeth’s post about carrot soup newly live, and with my recent enthusiasm for savory pastry, I made the decision that my next post here at Twice Cooked was going to have to be a rabbit pie. It appealed to my sense of impropriety — a rabbit for Easter! — and it appealed to my sense of propriety, too — a classic early-spring meal, timed just right for the early spring.
I’d like to begin by assuring you all that this post in no way promotes cannibalism. Nor cattibalism, neither. It seems as though, as with my quiche lorraine, a great deal rides on a name. And while an empanada might be perfectly innocent, and while a Cornish pasty might pass with little more than a blush and a raised eyebrow, a meat pie is a horse of a different feather.
There’s something that’s brilliantly, deceptively pedestrian about a quiche Lorraine. We tend to think of it as elegant, perhaps because its name is French, or perhaps because Julia Child famously made one, or perhaps because so many people — so much to my confusion — seem to find shortcrust pastry to be a challenge. But in the immortal words of The Simpsons: would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?
Not, conclude Bart and Homer, if you called it Stench Blossom. Or Crap Weed.
Fresh baked bread: hot, straight from the oven, crust crackling as it cools on its wire rack in the chill air of winter. You wait, mouth watering. And then — like some Maenad with a sacrificial goat — you tear it apart with your bare hands and share it out, letting its steaming insides warm you all over.
Romantic? Yes. Gruesome? A bit. Rife with all manner of problems? Most definitely.