Making Sweet Cherries Sour

White Chocolate–Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Pickled Cherries

dessert tray

Petite and perfectly round, ranging in color from stop-sign red to Burgundy wine, the sour cherries of the Hudson River Valley are tart but fruity. When you pit them, they’re shirt-stainingly juicy—but not too juicy or fleshy. These sour cherries are grown to be baked, their sharpness the perfect foil for buttery pastry and melting vanilla ice cream.

I first experienced sour cherries in a slice of lattice-crusted diner-style cherry pie. Thick, syrupy, and (paradoxically) saccharine, it didn’t set the bar too high for sour cherries or for cherry pie, but it still piqued my interest. It was later in my youth that I learned that sour cherries hold great importance for Iranians. Their growing season in Iran is as fleeting as it is here so folks preserve them in sugar syrup.

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Golden Yolks

Warm Asparagus Salad with Brûléed Egg Yolk, Two Ways

miso sesame dressing
Though I tend to live by a relatively bland color palate, I’ve always had a thing for yellow. Not necessarily on my body (though I try to wear it and usually fail), but on other folks’ bodies. Not necessarily in or on my home (it doesn’t match my design aesthetic), but in or on other folks’ homes. I’ve never bought sunflowers, but I’ve stared at their faces for far too long at the farmers’ market. I don’t have yellow, but I search for it.

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By (kind of) Popular Demand

Rhubarb Poptarts with Rye Pastry and Cardamom Glaze

cardamom glaze

I had no intention of posting this recipe here—one that I quite literally just threw together little-by-little over the course of a couple of evenings (I am so not a weekday baker), hoping that it would work for a breakfast potluck we were having at work. I baked them off the morning of and piled the surprisingly substantial tarts, which were not even done cooling, in a Tupperware container that I left uncovered so they wouldn’t steam and turn from crisp to mushy. I ran to work in half the time it usually takes me, darting through the streets of my town with an open box of warm pastries. It couldn’t have looked as strange as that time I stuffed the remnants of a certain 3-layer cream cake into a bright blue cold-keeper bag and ran it around town in 90-degree weather. But it was still ridiculous. When I arrived, I threw spoonfuls of glaze messily onto just cooled-tarts and set them down.

These are simple tarts, elevated perhaps because they’re encased in my very favorite pastry, whose nuttiness is a warm counterpoint to the clarifying tang of the simple rhubarb filling. But they were very well-loved (in fact there are still shards of their flaky, flaky layers gracing corners of our office), so I thought I’d share them with you, just in case you haven’t had your fill of the stalks yet (or they’re the only thing in your garden). And I’ll take any excuse to get more rhubarb on the blog. I just love the stuff.

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A Hard Year

Caramelized Milk Chocolate Magic Shell (plus ice cream with duck eggs)

pouring chocolate
I’m having a bit of a hard time letting go of chocolate this year. Every year, around this time (well, actually a bit sooner), I post a recipe with chocolate to get it out of my system as, with the change in seasons, my days turn from brown to color.

I’ve described myself as a chocolate lover but not a chocoholic; the ingredient doesn’t fuel my creativity as much as dough, spices, herbs, and produce do. But this winter—the harshest I’ve experienced—may have turned a friend into a lover. I didn’t post more recipes that included chocolate than normal, just three: Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Aleppo Pepper, Individual Sesame-Chocolate Ice Cream Cakes, and Miso S’more Bars. But the ones I did post may have been some of my best and boldest.

I really turned into a lush. I found myself craving warm, fudgy-crumbed brownies, irresponsibly sliced into while they’re just baked and still gooey; the darkest and densest of flourless chocolate cakes, so overwhelming that it needs to be sliced into pencil-thin slivers; and rich ganaches coating just about everything.

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Obsession

Yeast-Raised Donut Twofer: Coffee-Cardamom Cream-Filled Donuts + Browned Butter–Almond Glazed Donuts

short stack
My first donut (no, not doughnut) was not ring-shaped, nor was it round and filled. My first donut, like me at the time, I guess, was a Munchkin from Dunkin’ Donuts. On weekday holidays off from school, my mom would pick up a box from the Dunkin’ down the road from our home while I was still sleeping. Along with it, she’d buy a chocolate milk—a balanced breakfast, indeed. There was always chocolate milk with donuts but never chocolate milk without donuts. Come to think of it, I was really deprived of chocolate milk as a kid…

Dunkin’ Donuts are probably the first donuts that come to mind for folks who live in New England, unless they’re lucky enough to have a small mom-and-pop donut shop in their town. I was not growing up. For those of you who do not live near a Dunkin’ but perhaps near a Krispy Kreme or a Shipley (I’ve had donuts from the former but not from the latter), Munchkins—donut holes, really (they’ve got to do something with them)—come in a cute cardboard box with a handle. They’re staple classroom party, bake sale, and office kitchenette fare. I’m not sure if this is still true, but when I was a kid, they came in plain cake, powdered cake, cinnamon powdered cake, glazed chocolate cake, glazed yeasted, and yeasted jelly.

I have fond memories of those Munchkin’ mornings, but I didn’t realize until recently how deeply connected I feel to the donut, because I just don’t eat them that often; I avoid sugar in the morning, and most establishments have either sold out of their donuts or merely have shelves speckled with a few stale specimens by the time I’d like to eat them. But over the past five weeks, my latent devotion has become quite clear.

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Earth

Roasted Carrots with Lemon Pistachio Butter, Pumpernickel, and Dill

roasted carrots
I’m getting used to the color brown. Dark brown. There’s no green in these parts yet, but mud has never felt more encouraging considering that all has been so white for so long. Well, more like grey in my urban environment, but regardless the surrounding color palate has been pale and dead. Mud is downright vibrant in comparison. Mud can be stepped on without trepidation: I can run on, jump on, and fall on mud without injury. Mud has reminded me that I have legs.

There’s a small patch of grey, maybe 12 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, that has lingered, gracing the tiny front yard of a neighbor’s house for the past couple of weeks. A few weeks before that, that ice patch was more like a frozen lake that overtook the yard—you’d never know that there was once life underneath. A good 3 or 4 inches thick at that time, the lake spilled onto the sidewalk and hastened my quick pace every morning this winter. When that patch is gone, I thought, it will be spring. Real spring.

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Will Trade Cookies for Spring

Persian Chickpea Cookies (Nan-e Nokhodchi)

nokhodchi
Today, at 12:57 pm, the sun will do something too earth science-y for me to explain eloquently, and it will be spring.

This is my fourth post that mentions the Persian new year, Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring. A fourth post is probably excessive considering that only a few people (if any) who read this blog, besides my father (Hi, dad!), probably celebrate the holiday.

But this year, I need this holiday. I need the feeling and the brightness and the newness that it represents, at least, as my soul, body, and mind—mostly my mind—struggle to feel signs of life and to see green instead of grey.

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Dreamless

Crispy Grain, Seed, and Oat Granola

roasted pears
Like most who write a blog, I like to read. I love stories, and flipping pages, and bookmarking, and returning. But I’ll admit to always having been more partial to spoken word than to written word. The stories told by others, out loud, have an inflection, an emotion, a lack of censorship that only a select few writers can achieve (I certainly can’t, though I’m not a “writer”). I find the tangents, and the meandering, and the ineloquence endearing—more authentic than carefully planned sentences, punctuation marks, and astute usage of language and grammar.

I like being enveloped in others’ truth. It is likely for that reason that I am (or was) a vivid dreamer. I revel in those tales told by my unconscious—tales reflective of my life, and my secret desires, and my emotions that my waking self doesn’t have the capacity to know I hold. As The Stepkids sing in “Memoirs of Grey,” “Dreams make the waking life bearable.”

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Sweet, Salty, Spicy

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Aleppo Pepper

spicy peanut2
I don’t love to post recipes that are Valentine’s Day–themed. So I didn’t. Intentionally, anyway. But then I made these chewy, intensely flavorful cookies and thought, “Oh. God. Yes.”

Instead of lacing this post with innuendo, I’m just going to put it out there: These are sex cookies. A little sweet, a little salty, a little heat, and some chocolate—that’s all you need out of Valentine’s Day, right?

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Ice On Ice

Individual Sesame-Chocolate Ice Cream Cakes

ice cream sandwich2

(Tahini Ice Cream, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Ganache, Honey Sesame Clusters)

When I was about 8 months old, my mom innocently gave me a lick off her spoon of vanilla soft-serve. That was my first taste of ice cream. My then-blue eyes widened, my dimples poked through very chubby cheeks, and my little tongue, reportedly, flapped furiously for more—that was my way of communicating that “Hey, I like that. Can I have some more, Mommy?” With that lick of swirled, most likely artificially flavored confection, my mom had created the monster that I am today: a fine ice cream seeker, maker, junkie.

I’m not sure why so many pastry people seem to love—and I mean love ice cream. While I get lots of pleasure out of making my own ice cream, the process isn’t as beautifully tangible as working a dough is. Pastry works my mind, pastry is my crutch when I’m feeling off but, more often than not, what I crave is ice cream. I’d take a good scoop over cake, and if only allowed to eat one sweet for the rest of my life, I might even choose ice cream over my beloved pie. I crush on ice cream so hard, that I’ll eat it in abundance deep into a second “polar vortex.” In fact, while I may go out for ice cream more often in the summer, I make more of it in the winter when berries and stone fruit, which sometimes take on an unpleasant texture in frozen desserts, are off my radar. Ice on ice. There’s just as much warmness to ice cream as there is coldness: Sometimes you patiently infuse warm milk and cream with fragrant flavors and a burst of steam kisses your face when you open the pot’s lid. You dip a spoon into it and taste to see if it’s on point. You reheat and pour this steamy mixture, carefully and slowly, into egg yolks while whisking like mad. Then you pour all of this back into the pot, and you stand, whisking still, over this gradually thickening, hot pot of custard. Dribbles of custard inevitably trail down the side of the pot or the bowl to which you’re transferring this liquid gold and you wipe them up with your finger and lick off the warm mixture—that tiny drop contains so much flavor. No, ice cream isn’t just cold.

I love how chocolate swirls find their way to the corners of your mouth, how the lips become coated by an opalescent milky film, how a dot of cream adorns the tip of your nose if you’re licking off a double-scoop cone. I love how something can at once be childlike and sophisticated, no matter what herbs or alcohols your ice cream is infused with.

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