In a moment of serendipitous timing, I heard on Tuesday — with only minutes to spare and scrambling for my headphones — that Dorie Greenspan was about to appear on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” to chat about Tuesdays with Dorie (the original Dorie-centric baking group that preceded French Fridays with Dorie, to which I belong).
She’s just so delightful. I mean, she just really is.
Dorie is the aunt I wish I had growing up. Witty, kind, and French-hip with a back-pocket-full of crazy-wonderful adventures, I can imagine my young self, elbows on the table, chin propped in both palms, hanging on her every word, googly-eyed with adoration. Delightful.
(Listen to the NPR interview here.)
My involvement with FFwD waxes and wanes, depending on the recipe selection for the week, but whenever dessert appears on the docket, I’m likely to dive right in (even if I don’t make it in time for the weekly Friday unveilings). Dorie is a fabulous, adventurous cook, but her talent really shines in baking.
Honestly, it’s not terribly difficult to become a functional, creative, recipe-disregarding home cook with some patient and persistent practice. Baking, however, requires the discipline of mathematics and science. It’s all about proportion and chemistry. No one “wings” a cake. There are formulas to be followed and mastered. From genoise to pound cake to focaccia and crusty French baguettes: it’s all in the formula.
The decision to replace white chocolate with dark chocolate in a recipe must come with a preponderance of the balance of fats in the ingredients, not just a casual measure-pour-shrug. A flopped souffle is a sign that math and science is punishing you for your disrespect of the formula. Start over, no soup for you!
[Side note: In editing this post, I'm kind of giggling over my use of "preponderance" in the previous paragraph. How serious I was typing that sentence, brow furrowed, fingers pounding, "Preponderance! Formula! PREPONDERANCE!" I really need to lay off the morning espresso.]
So I say this with profound respect: Dorie is, first and foremost, a baker’s baker.
And my long lost aunt.
This week’s FFwD recipe for French pound cake was another serendipitous moment: when January rolls around, I eyeball every recipe from the perspective of its ability to accommodate the addition of citrus. Blood oranges are my favorite (the sliced orange above) but any will do, including mandarins with the greenery still attached.
Fruit, in fact, is the one thing that prevents me from labeling myself a locavore. Avocados, oranges, limes and lemons … methinks I could not live without these things. And they’re not exactly found in abundance here in the mid-est of the Midwest.
Someday, though, I’m going to go out and buy myself a Meyer Lemon tree. I hear they do just fine indoors in the winter.
Mini French pound cakes infused with orange juice and rum was just the thing to ward off winter blues. And baking a Dorie recipe is a complete joy because you know — if you follow her formula — it will always turn out right.
Quatre Quarts Minis with Blood Orange Rum Sauce
(cake recipe adapted from this recipe)
In keeping with the rules of FFwD, we don’t print the recipes, so this is not Dorie’s recipe. The cake recipe, however, is very similar, since all quatre quarts recipes are derived from the same 4-equal-parts formula: flour, eggs, sugar, butter — there’s not a lot of room for variation. The orange-rum sauce is my addition, and I made mini cakes rather than one whole cake.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
Yield: 12 mini cakes
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice (1 medium blood orange)*
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray 12 mini brioche tins or 12 3″ cake rings with non-stick spray. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until glossy and form stiff peaks.
3. In a large bowl whisk together sugar and egg yolks until they are thick and pale. Add butter, vanilla and rum and whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the flour mixture.
4. Using a rubber spatula fold in one-quarter of the egg whites. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, until mixed (it’s okay to have a few streaks of egg whites). Spoon the batter into the prepared tins or rings three-fourths full.
6. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Cakes are ready when lightly golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of one cake comes out clean.
7. While the cakes are baking, make the sauce. Bring the blood orange juice, sugar and rum to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.
8. When the cakes have cooled for 5 minutes, use a thin toothpick (or other clean, narrow stick) to poke 10 holes into each cake. Gently, slowly pour the rum sauce over the cakes. The cakes should be somewhat saturated, and the tops of the cakes should be pink (the pink will fade as the sauce dries). Let sit for a few minutes, then move to a clean surface (clean off the bottoms of the tins, if necessary). Let cool.
9. Gently remove the cakes from the tins or rings (if using rings, you can run a small knife around the edge to loosen cake). Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
*To simplify things, rather than worrying about an exact measure of 1/4 cup, just squeeze the orange juice into a container and then measure it. Use the same amount of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of rum.