Little orbs of good fortune

Lunar new year celebrations are full of traditions that have their origins in wishes for happiness, prosperity, and health in the coming year.  My mother even tells the story that my grandfather knew my father was ‘the one’ for her when he came by to send her family New Year’s greetings and the hoa mai tree bloomed on that very day.

Growing up, my parents liked to decorate the house with freshly cut flowers to symbolize spring.  They also always had a pretty pile of oranges and/or pomelos on display, a nod to their association with prosperity.  “Cau vua du xai,” which  translates to “wishes for prosperity that meets and exceeds your needs,” is often used as a play on words to determine the fruits displayed: cau (mang cauor soursop), vua (dua, or coconut), du (du du, or papaya), and xai (xoai, or mango).  Families will often have those specific fruits or other fruits depending on their geographic origins.

Needless to say, I have loved all the citrus that is currently in season, and now aptly available for the holiday: blood oranges, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, and…kumquats!  They are different from other citrus because the sweetness lies in the peel, while the pulp and juice are actually quite tart.  Eaten whole, these delightful little orbs are an eye-popping burst of sweet-tart flavor.  People often gift kumquat trees during the new year, with the thought that the more abundant the kumquats, the more luck and prosperity will come to your family.

Fortune aside, I have been having fun experimenting with them in my kitchen.  It’s been a busy weekend of traveling to see friends, but just before I left, I made a spiced kumquat compote and spiced kumquat and almond tea cakes.  Enjoy!

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Spiced Kumquat Compote (makes about 1 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced kumquats, seeds removed (about 8 oz)
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger

Instructions:

  1. Thinly slice kumquats transversely into rings and remove seeds.
  2. Put water and honey in heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
  3. Add kumquats, cinnamon stick, ginger, and star anise to the water and honey.  IMG_3256
  4. Simmer uncovered (think gentle bubbling) for about 30-35 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
  5. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon and anise, and store in sterilized jam/marmalade jar.

Enjoy the warmly spiced, citrusy compote on bread, muffins, with cheese and crackers, or in the following tea cakes!

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Spiced Kumquat and Almond Tea Cakes (makes ~12, inspired by Tartelette)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup (150 grams) powdered sugar, unsifted
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup spiced kumquat compote (recipe above)

Instructions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  2. Butter 12-sized muffin pan or baking tins (your preference).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer.
  5. Add vanilla and then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add flour and ground almonds, mixing another 30 seconds.
  7. Fold in the spiced kumquat compote.
  8. Divide the batter into prepared tins, top with either fresh or poached kumquat slices and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown (baking time may vary depending on cake tin size).

An easy puff of bliss

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I decided to surprise J with this quick and easy (but delightfully indulgent!) dutch apple pancake this morning.  It’s based on David Eyre‘s pancake from The Essential New York Times Cookbook and is cross between a pancake and crepe, sweet and tart with crispy edges and a moist center.  Similar recipes have referred to this delicious baked pancake as Dutch baby pancakes, German pancakes, or Dutch puffs.  Regardless of what they are named, they make for an easy and impressive breakfast or brunch treat!

They are traditionally served with lemon juice and powdered sugar.  I added thinly  sliced Honey Crisp apples to mine.

Apple Dutch Baby (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 tsp cinnamon

4 tbl unsalted butter

1/2 small apple, thinly sliced (about 1/4-inch slices or thinner)

2 tbl powdered (confectioners’) sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flour, milk, eggs, and cinnamon in a bowl. Beat lightly. Leave the batter a little lumpy.
  2. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet with a heatproof handle (cast iron would work very well for this) over medium heat.  Add apple slices and cook for 3-5 minutes, until slightly softened.
  3. Pour in the batter and carefully place in heated oven.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden brown.
  4. Sprinkle with the sugar and return briefly to the oven for about 1-2 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve warm, with additional fruit as desired.

When without, improvise…

Looking back at the Boxcar Children series, I’m surprised at how naively I enjoyed reading the adventures of four kids solving mysteries in a bygone era, ignoring the improbable circumstances.  While the stories seem much more dated and naive now, perhaps what appealed to me was reading about how the oldest sister was always somehow cooking something that sounded both foreign and yet appetizing to me, as a first-generation kid.

Today, I thought of Jessie rolling out apple pie crust with an old green bottle as I improvised in my own kitchen to roll out the crust for these lovely “rose apple tarts.”  Lacking a rolling pin in my temporary kitchen, I put a nearly empty bottle of lackluster French wine to better use…

Voila!  “Rose apple tarts!”  I’ve been enchanted with this idea since seeing the recipes posted earlier in the fall.  I used honey crisp apples thinly sliced with a mandolin to form the roses, and encased the “apple roses” in an almond tart crust. IMG_3061

Rose Apple Tarts (recipe adapted from here and here):

Ingredients
for the pastry dough
  • 1  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole white wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds (about 2 ounces) OR almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons (about) ice water

for the filling

  • 2-3 apples (Pink Lady, Braeburn, Honeycrisp etc)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tbl) – I used a Meyer lemon
  • 1/4 cup strawberry preserves

Instructions:

for the pastry dough

  1. Blend flour, almonds, sugar and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. (If using almond meal, pulse together dry ingredients).
  2. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal.* Mix in almond extract and enough water to form moist clumps
  3. Knead dough briefly on work surface to combine; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm before rolling, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
  4. On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick. Use a biscuit cutter, a cup, or a bowl about 3 1/2-4″ in diameter to cut out rounds of dough.
  5. Fit each round into the cup of a buttered muffin tin, pushing the dough up the sides. Prick bottom of the dough with a fork.  Chill dough while the filling is prepped.

for the filling

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. To cut the apples and remove the core, place the apple upright and make straight cuts around the core to divide the apple into four pieces: 2 large pieces and 2 smaller pieces in addition to the square core.
  3. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the apples very thinly into half moons. Toss the apples with the lemon juice. Melt 2 tbsp of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Pour mixture over the apples along with lemon juice and toss to combine. Microwave apples for about 1 minute, until soft and pliable enough to roll.
  4. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and combine with remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Brush the bottom of each dough cup with the mixture.
  5. To form the roses, place about 10 slices of apples on a flat surface, laying them out horizontally and consistently with the skin side facing you. Place each slice so it overlaps the previous slice by half. Begin tightly rolling the apples from one end to the other. Once you’ve got the basic rose shape, pick up the apples and add any additional apple “petals” around the outside, depending on how large you want the rose to be.
  6. Put an apple rose in each cup of the muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F until crust is golden and apples are cooked through.
  7. Warm the strawberry preserves in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Brush preserves over each apple rose to glaze.

* Alternatively, you can whisk together the dry ingredients and then work the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingertips until the mixture looks like a coarse meal and there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pea.