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Last weekend was the strangest drive home from Ohio, ever. For the first time in decades, I had the peace of mind that I was not leaving any crises behind. With nothing to worry us, Leslie and I crossed Pennsylvania in a dream state. We stopped to collect mushrooms and gone-wild apples, and to shop at Woolrich. It was One Big Float, a journey on a cloud.
Then we reached New Jersey and it hit me: there was no one to call and say, “I’m home. I’m safe.”
Many of you have experienced a death in the family, so I won’t belabor you with my emotions. For you who are inexperienced, suffice it to say that when the tears have dried and the pain moves to some background place, the immediate blowback is profound exhaustion. Which is what hit me that night at the doorstep of Home, and what haunted me for the next week.
|Broken ground for Luce's Gluten-Free Artisan Bread|
factory and distribution center
But a man can only sleep so much, especially when that man is trying to launch a business. On the second day home I headed back into the test kitchen, and on the third day went to the building that will be my small factory and distribution center. There, my plumbers broke ground - quite literally - for equipment installation. By the end of the week I had a shiny new three-part sink, a mop sink and a handwashing sink, all installed and waiting for plumbing inspection. Whoopee!
My short-lived retirement is rapidly reaching an end - a fact I alternatively celebrate and dread. What exactly will happen the day I tell the world my artisan gluten-free bread mix is available, I cannot predict. The best-case scenario has me working hard without stressing. I don’t dwell on worst cases.
One thing is certain: Once the business launches, I won’t be able to spend every single winter day skiing in the woods and every single summer day foraging mushrooms. But until the doors open, well, it rained A LOT while I was in Ohio, and the woods of New Jersey beckoned .....
|A "troop" of black trumpets|
On Day One Home From Ohio I went to a favorite site. When I came out of the forest three hours later, I had one sore back, a dulled collection knife and a wondrous haul: two shopping bags filled with black trumpet mushrooms (Cantherelles fallax), a 6-quart fruit basket loaded with smooth chanterelles (Cantherelles lateritius) and an 8-quart fruit basket stuffed with corrugated milky mushrooms (Lacteri corrugis).
And then, since I was hungry after all that work, I stopped at my local Trader Joe’s. Where, to my delight, amazement, and expectation, a huge stack of fresh black figs was on display. Expectation? Yes. Late-summer mushrooms and black figs are go-togethers.
Now I realize that to most people figs and mushrooms are companions in the same sense as chihuahuas and oak shelving, but in fact these fruits and fungi DO actually belong. Both ripen at this time of year - August, or late summer in the Northern temperate zone. And, while I’ve not yet thought up a dish that combines them, they’re similar taste-treats: intensely flavorful, decadently rich, and aromatic beyond belief.
Figs, by the way, are not my favorite fruit - that honor falls upon white nectarines (not the rock-hard ones you find in grocery stores in February, but dead-ripe, sweet-fron-the-tree and grown in south Jersey). Still there is nothing like the aroma of figs, and fig trees too. When I was in my 20’s I spent the good part of a summer in Dubrovnik Yugoslavia, hanging out on that city’s famous pebble beaches and marble sidewalks. There was a huge sprawling fig tree shadowing the steps down to the town beach, casting wonderful perfume over the Danish girls I so ardently pursued. I don’t recall them so well, but the scent of figs has stayed with me forever.
|Figs in melted butter, waiting for space in the oven|
Driving home from Trader Joe’s I managed to restrain myself from eating more than 5 from the a single quart of figs I’d bought. A problem with figs is, they stale much faster than mushrooms, probably because they’re picked in Arizona and California then refrigerated before being shipped East. If you want moldy fruit, chill it. Mold loves cold, sugar and moisture. Anyway, my drive home was filled with dessert fantasies. By the time I arrived at the door I’d come up with a concept: caramelized figs over salty, sourdough-rosemary shortcake. With creme fraiche, which Trader Joe’s also had.
I’m not going to call what follows a recipe - it’s more of a rip-off and a tease - the former because the cake is adapted with little alteration from a Melissa Clark recipe in the NY Times, and the latter because you can’t make the sourdough version until you can buy some of my bread flour. (Which you will be able to very soon, I hope). However you can adapt my adaptation (I’ve given notes), and (even better) if you are lucky enough to have access to black trumpet mushrooms, you can forgo dessert and make a black pizza topping by doing this: Clean 2 quarts of black trumpet mushrooms. Finely chop 1/2 a small shallot. Sauté the shallot about 1 minute in +/- 2 TBLS butter. Add trumpets. Sauté a minute or two then reduce heat to low. Continue to cook, turning every now and then, @ 10 minutes. Add a sprig of fresh thyme and a teaspoon of paprika. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream. Add 1 cup high-quality shredded parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir to blend, remove from heat, spread over pizza crust and bake. Oh, yes!
And now for dessert!
Salty GF Rosemary Shortcake
With balsamic caramelized figs
(adapted and halved from a recipe in the New York Times)
Yield: 4 modest servings
115 grams or about 1 cup GF flour blend (Or Luce’s Gluten-Free Artisan Bread “Classic Sourdough” flour, when it becomes available)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum (eliminate if using Luce’s Classic Sourdough flour)
28 grams or about 2 TBLS packed, dark brown sugar
8 grams cornstarch (about 1 TBLS)
6 grams baking powder (about 1 tsp)
10 grams salt (about 2 tsp) (5 grams/ 1 tsp if using Luce’s Classic Sourdough flour)
Two, 4” sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves pulled from stems and stems discarded
3.5 TBLS unsalted butter, cubed cold
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 medium egg, beaten
White rice flour for dusting
12 fresh figs, either black or green, halved
About 1 TBLS good balsamic vinegar
1 TBLS unsalted butter
4 - 8 TBLS créme fraîche
Insert a pizza stone or cookie sheet into the oven and heat oven to 375. Set out a half sheet of parchment and dust with white rice flour.
In a small bowl, mix cream and medium egg and blend well. In a separate large bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and rosemary leaves, and blend well with a fork or hand mixer. Toss butter cubes into bowl and pinch into flat thin sheets. Distribute through the flour. Add egg and cream mixture and gently stir, trying to retain as many “sheets” of butter as possible. When you have a shaggy dough, turn it out onto the parchment. (Note: Luce’s Classic Sourdough flour will not bake into flaky cakes. If using Classic Sourdough flour, cut in the butter until it forms pea-sized lumps.)
|Smoothed dough on parchment|
With floured hands or a floured bench scraper, divide dough into quarters. A rough-topped, rustic result is perfectly acceptable, or you can be neat and pat down the dough into roundish mounds. (If you do, you’ll need to sprinkle flour on the dough first). Using a peel or flat cookie sheet, slide parchment with shortcakes directly onto hot stone/sheet. Bake 20 - 30 minutes, until the cake is the color of dark Kraft paper.
Remove cakes from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Turn oven off and brush figs on their cut side with balsamic vinegar. If your pizza stone is sealed - like an Emile Henry broiler stone - or if you are using a cookie sheet, drop a TBLS of butter directly onto the stone. Otherwise use a small piece of parchment paper and place the butter on it. Once the butter melts, lie the figs cut-side-down on the butter, return stone/cookie sheet to oven, and allow the figs to bake in the oven’s residual heat - at least 30 minutes. (Alternatively you can caramelize the figs in a skillet on the stove top.)
Split cakes in half. Divide figs among the cakes, placing them inside the two halves sandwich-style. Drop a dollop of créme fraîche onto the figs, close the cakes and serve warm.
|Some would call this "food porn"|