Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leftovers, again. And an experiment in the kitchen.

This morning I woke up with the determination to do something about those Meyer lemons in the fridge, those lemons with that mysterious scent that was almost floral, not with the citrusy sharpness that ordinary supermarket lemons have. They have been taunting me all week, nestled in their paper sack with a handful of strawberry guavas. Just in time, a new cookbook had arrived, with an enticing recipe for Lemon Lemon Loaf*, a cake (actually, the recipe makes two loaves) made with lemon juice and zest, brushed with a lemon syrup, and drizzled with a lemon glaze. Miracle of miracles, I had all the ingredients on hand, plenty of eggs, flour, sugar, even sour cream and powdered sugar and a few back-up lemons in case the Meyers didn't yield enough juice. It seemed the perfect Saturday project.

Eggs and sugar went into the bowl of the food processor before I zested the lemons, so every microscopic drop, every little scrap, of oil and zest would be captured into the batter instead of scattered all over the counter. In went sour cream and melted butter and vanilla; flour and salt and leavening agents got sifted into another bowl. It all got gently mixed together and scraped into two buttered-and-parchment-papered pans, and then into the oven. As the two loaves baked the smell of lemons and brown butter filled the air; I made a syrup of lemon juice and sugar and set it aside, then made a glaze of more lemon juice and powdered sugar. The kitchen was a mess. Then the cakes were done, ready to be dumped out onto a rack and brushed with the warm glaze; once they were cool I poured the white glaze over their tops, and then, impatient, quickly sliced the end of one (the loaf with a crack across the top) for a taste.

Each bite of cake was a pure shock of lemon, followed by the richness of butter and eggs, more intense where the syrup had soaked in, more sweet where the glaze ran along the deep golden crust. I cut another slice. I could have eaten more, but there was dinner to think about. I had one portion of pappardelle with chanterelles to finish, and I wanted to do something different. I thought of a pasta cake we had at Palace Kitchen some months back; soft egg noodles that had been bound together with goat cheese and tomatoes and other tasty things, and fried crisp on the outside, soft and molten inside. I would do something a little different, dip the square cake of pappardelle into beaten egg, and then into grated cheese, Grana Padano, the whole thing slipped into a small frying pan shimmering with olive oil. Once it had browned on one side, I flipped it over, ground some fresh black pepper over the whole thing.

It turned out to be terrific, the cheese turning into a crisp brown crust, the noodles soft and the eggs custardy inside. Even the chanterelles had caramelized around their edges in the hot oil. It was immensely satisfying, simple - it only took about ten minutes to throw it together - and somehow luxurious - those wild mushrooms, all that cheese and olive oil - at the same time. Like last night's experiment, it was an improvement on the original, which seemed bland and uninteresting by comparison. I would do it all over again, another time.

*Lewis, Matt, and Poliafito, Renato. Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. New York, 2008. pp. 41-42.


Juanita said...

Oh Kairu! I can't believe it's been so long and I've missed so many posts! I'm going to catch up, I promise. The last time I checked on you you were in Taiwan.

kairu said...

You're back! I was starting to miss you...