A while ago I was browsing cookbook suggestions in amazon.com and spotted one called “French Desserts“, by Hillary Davis. I simply had to investigate it further. C’mon, French Desserts, how could I possibly let that slide? The book was published just last month, so not very many readers posted reviews yet. However, whereas all gave it 5 stars, one person ranked it with 2 stars only. Her criticism was the use of store-bought items like puff pastry to make some of the recipes. Hillary herself replied to that reviewer and she did so with such class and gentleness, it really impressed me. I browsed through the index, and ordered the Kindle version, which always makes me feel a bit less guilty. Very glad I did not let that review mess with me. The book is a delight, great photography, just the right amount of prose with the recipes. I bookmarked many to try, but the first one I made to share with you today was part of her chapter called Homey Cakes.
ZUCCHINI, LEMON & WALNUT CAKE
(ever so slightly modified from French Desserts)
printed with permission from Hillary Davis
1-1/ 2 cups (192 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/ 4 teaspoon baking soda
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
1-1/ 2 cups (220 g) coarsely grated zucchini, squeezed very dry
(about 170 g after squeezing dry)
1 cup (135 g) chopped walnuts
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/ 2 cup (110 g) olive oil
3 large eggs
1/ 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract (I omitted)
1/ 4 cup (60 g) lemon juice
1 + 1/2 cup (188 g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
a little over 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inches loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the zucchini and walnuts and stir to coat. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, eggs, vanilla, lemon extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined. Do not overwork the batter. Scoop batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. If desired, make an icing with the powdered sugar and lemon juice, drizzle all over the cake. Cut in slices and serve.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: This was one delicious cake! The picture doesn’t do it justice, not even slightly. There is no obvious zucchini taste, it simply gives it moisture and a lovely texture even after sitting at room temperature overnight. It is very lemony and the flavor and crunch of the walnuts a perfect match for the citric tone. I did not have enough walnuts, so I added just a little bit of diced pecans to reach the required amount. I think the combination of nuts worked well too. I made the loaf on a Sunday afternoon and took to our department next morning. I had tried a very small piece when the cake cooled (quality control), and hoped to get a slice mid-morning. That did not work, because around 10am, I found the platter clean. Oh, well. The best laid plans…
Not too sweet, just right!
Love the walnuts!
It made my Monday so much better!
(some comments from our colleagues that made this baker very happy)
Now, let’s have a little tour of Hillary’s book. I will go straight to the recipes, although she does include a comprehensive section on Essentials of Baking. You can look at the full index in amazon.com, I will simply list the recipes from each chapter that made my heart miss a beat. Or two…
Homey Cakes: Great collection of cakes that are simple to prepare in a loaf type pan or as a single layer round cake. The one I featured comes from this chapter, but I was tempted by many others, like Plenty of Pears Salted Caramel Loaf Cake, described as invisible cake. Invisible cakes indicate that very little batter is used to hold the fruit together. I love this type of cake, very much like Doris Greenspan’s Apple Cake which happens to be the most popular recipe in my blog. From this chapter I quickly bookmarked her Whole Wheat Nutella Loaf Cake (need I say anything more?), a Hazelnut Cake with Nutella Drizzle (O.M.G.), a Walnut Cake with Warm Honey Glaze, and a Fabulous Butter Cake from Brittany.
Cookies: Perfect for the season are Pumpkin Seed Tuiles, I must save some pumpkin seeds to try them, because tuiles have been on my list of culinary projects forever! Sablés au Chocolat are her take on a classic, buttery cookie from Normandy. Another very tempting choice for me would be Orange Madeleines with Orange Glaze. Together with tuiles, madeleines are part of my list of projects (I even own a madeleine pan, feel guilty every time I look at it).
Baked: I cannot stop thinking of her Roasted Peaches in a Pool of Crème Anglaise… I will give you a moment to think about it. Wonderful, right? But how about Individual Berry Gratin with Yogurt Whipped Cream? Or maybe you would rather have Puffs with Warm Chocolate Sauce? I must also include a very exotic concoction (unknown to me) called Far Breton Prune Custard Cake, a specialty from Brittany. Made me think of the many things I could have tried while I lived in France, but had no idea existed. Such is life.
Verrines: I simply adore verrines. Stunning presentation, in small portions. Perfect. I can tell you one thing, there are 10 recipes in this chapter and I would love to make and enjoy each and every one of them. Just to give you some examples, the first one is called quite simply A Cloud of Lemon Vermouth Mousse. I am officially in love. Chocolate Ginger Pots de Crème.. Grand Marnier Mousse… Lemon Rice Pudding with Blackberry Caramel Sauce… One tempting sweet after another….
Frozen or Refrigerated Desserts: Very interesting recipes in this chapter, starting with a child-friendly Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes. You cook the alcohol out, but the idea is to have the flavors of vin chaud, often served in Alsace during cold months. And in a nice parallel, back home in Brazil we have “vinho quente” traditionally served in the month of June, welcoming the first chill of the year. I would love to make her Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Or her Peach Melba with Muddled Vanilla Ice Cream. She closes the chapter with a stunning retro dessert: Vanilla, Raspberry and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe. Imagine that to awe your guests at the end of a dinner party?
Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes
Waffles, Crêpes and Pancakes: Tempting chapter. The recipe that impressed me the most: Farz Buen Broken Crêpes. The name indicates exactly what it is. You start with a traditional crepe batter, then break them as they cook, as if making scrambled eggs. Her description of this delicacy from Brittany made my mouth water. Must. Make. It. Crêpes Suzette is in there too, how could it not be? Such a classic!
Puff Pastry: Her recipes call for store-bought pastry. Now, I realize she was criticized for it, and I find it very unfair. I’ve lived in France several years and have never ever met a French woman who made her own puff pastry. Maybe they are out there, but in a very rare minority. Why would they make them when you can find excellent products at the store, many brands of pure butter puff pastry waiting for you? Sure, if you’d like to make it, go for it, but don’t twist your nose at the boxed product. I use it all the time, puff pastry and phyllo dough, thank you very much. Anyway, my favorite recipes in this group are Niflettes, a specialty from Provins, not only because they are impossibly cute but for the story behind them. Folklore says they were created to console orphans crying over the loss of their parents. Nowadays they are served in All Saints Day in that region of France. Alsatian Marzipan Apple Strudel would be amazing to try too. as well as – ready for this? – Sweet Vol-au-Vent with a Strawberry Tarragon Coulis. Just wow.
Tarts: I rarely make them but find them quite fascinating. Many options tempted me, starting with her Rustic Plum Tart in a Sweet Fennel Crust. She follows with a very interesting Medieval Custard Tart in a Clove-Scented Crust. I adore spices and find their addition to pie crusts a strike of genius. I also have my heart set on her Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Cheesecake Tart.
Candies and Mignardises: Mignardise might be one of the cutest words in the French language. Fun to say, fun to enjoy… I would make every one of these recipes, starting with White Chocolate White Truffles with Dried Cherries, moving to Mini Pain d’Épices (I was basically addicted to those while living in Paris), and Nonnettes, a concoction made by nuns in the Middle Ages, little cakes with orange marmalade in the center. From the Middle Ages, can you wrap your mind around it? Too cool!
Special Occasion Desserts: Chocolate Soufflé, a must-make! White Chocolate Crème Brûlées with Salty Pistachios… A Precious Pear Charlotte, Baba au Rhum closes the chapter.
Hillary, thank you for allowing me to publish the recipe from your beautiful cookbook!
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