Thursday, July 23, 2009

At the tail end

My last night in Paris was spent with my old host family at their gorgeous home in the bottom of the 15th. And by home, I meant house, a beautiful one wrapped around a stone-lined courtyard with one tall leafy tree, perfect for outdoor picnics and dinner parties. Since I stayed with the family during the fall semester, I didn't get to experience many of those, but my host mom had the outdoor table and flowering potted plants set out when I arrived at 8h for dinner.

After a lovely meal, where she gently corrected my table setting technique and encouraged me to have seconds and thirds, we all sat around outside chatting, while the boys (3 of them) slowly disappeared one by one--there were girls waiting for them somewhere outside the dark green front gate.

After the last had disappeared, I realized I'd better head out too, if I was going to catch the last bus back to the apartment where I was staying. I felt out of sorts on the bus ride home, a cocktail of contemplation and reflection. So I did the only thing that I could think of.

I went straight back to the apartment, turned on my computer and went pretend shopping on Amazon...except I actually ordered a couple of things. Two cookbooks to be exact: Farmhouse Cookbook and French Farmhouse Cookbook, both by my former chef Susan Herrmann Loomis. I know, I know, I am SO predictable.

I figured that I needed a way to help make the transition back to the States, and besides, these are really good cookbooks. Okay, I'll stop justifying my purchases now. Instead, let me pass along a recipe from one of them. It's a luscious, moist, lightly spiced cake flecked with tart squares of rhubarb. We're at the tail end of the season now, so hurry up and get to the farmer's market so you won't have to wait a whole year to enjoy it!

Rhubarb Cake
Adapted from Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis

2 cups diced fresh rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 7 x 12-inch glass baking dish (or other non-reactive baking dish, as the rhubarb can react with some metals).

Combine the diced rhubarb and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside.

Mix the butter with the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and almost fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.

Sift the flour, baking soda and spices together into a medium-sized bowl or piece of parchment paper.

Combine the yogurt and buttermilk in a small bowl.

Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk/yogurt mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the rhubarb and sugar mixture. The batter will be fairly thick at this point.

Spoon the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until the cake is golden and puffy and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Yields about 16 small pieces.

Note: Because of the yogurt in this cake, the top will get progressively softer the longer you keep it. Not a bad thing, believe me, but something to keep in mind.

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