Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Tea Cake

Tartine is a warm, inviting and busy San Francisco bakery. It sells outstanding bread, pastries and café fare, such as quiche and croque-monsieurs. In my mind, it is the perfect neighborhood bakery. I would go to Tartine everyday if only I didn’t live twenty-two long miles away across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Fortunately, Tartine’s owner/bakers have written two solid cookbooks: Tartine [2006] by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and Tartine Bread [2010] by Chad Robertson. An excellent recipe from Tartine is its Pumpkin Tea Cake. This cake is now a family staple enjoyed not only with tea, but also at breakfast, as a dessert and, of course, for elevenses.

Prueitt and Robertson present their bakery’s philosophy in Tartine; they are purists when it comes to ingredients and presentations: “we believe in keeping it simple. We want our cakes to look as natural as the flowers we use to decorate them, our pies and tarts and fruit desserts to change with the season, and our cookies to look like they’re made with loving hands. But most of all, we want everything we make to taste of what was used to make it.”

Tartine’s Pumpkin Tea Cake embodies the bakery’s philosophy of simplicity; it is a straightforward and delicious cake. Its crumb, as advertised in the recipe, is soft, even and moist. You can assemble this cake in less than 30 minutes.

A quick note on measurements. Prueitt and Robertson present three measuring systems: volume, avoirdupois and metric. Ounces and grams are rounded off. With care and consistency, each of these systems will yield fine results.
  • All-purpose flour         12/3 cups / 8 oz / 225 g
  • Baking powder         1½ tsp / 7 ml
  • Baking soda         ½ tsp / 2 ml
  • Ground cinnamon         1 tbsp + 2 tsp / 25 ml
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated         2 tsp / 10 ml
  • Ground cloves         ¼ tsp / 1 ml
  • Pumpkin purée         1 cup + 2 tbsp / 9 oz / 255 g
  • Vegetable oil such as safflower or sunflower         1 cup / 8 oz / 250 ml
  • Sugar         11/3 cups / 9½ oz / 270 g
  • Salt         ¾ tsp / 4 ml
  • Large eggs         3
  • Sugar for topping         2 tbsp / 30 ml

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

This recipe is easily mixed by a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or by hand with a whisk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed or by hand until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. The batter should have the consistency of a thick purée.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then invert onto the rack, turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve the cake at room temperature. It will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Some final notes. Prueitt and Robertson warn not to overmix the batter or you risk a coarse, tough crumb. If you decide to make your own pumpkin purée, cut your culinary pumpkin in half and scoop out its seeds. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 hour. (Roasting times will vary based upon the size and variety of your pumpkin.) Purée the cooked pumpkin in a food processer. You can freeze the unused purée for future use.

Freshly puréed pumpkin (depending upon the variety) can be watery. In their recipe for Pumpkin Pie, Prueitt and Robertson advise either cooking down the purée or draining it in a cheesecloth bag overnight. Your pumpkin variety will dictate if this step is necessary or not.

I enjoy the shape created with a rectangular loaf pan. When using this pan, I reduce the cooking time to 55 minutes. Finally, I prefer this cake after it has been refrigerated. But try it both ways and see what you enjoy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This is the second post in a series on making fresh pasta. Using Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009] as our guide, we began our survey of shapes and dough by making pappardelle with an all-purpose flour and whole-egg dough. We now turn to toppe, a Northern Italian pasta made with whole-eggs and two different types of wheat flour: durum and tipo 00. Making toppe allows us to expand our understanding of the different wheat flours available to make fresh pasta.

Toppe is a thick noodle that is 1½- to 2-inches wide and about 6-inches long. It is found in Tuscany, especially in the Casentino. Toppe literally means “patches”; its shape resembles the cloth patches the poor used to mend their clothes. What distinguishes toppe from pappardelle (in addition to the former’s added width) is that traditionally toppe is made with a blend of two wheat flours: durum and tipo 00.

Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta chronicles an incredibly diverse range of pastas. Just as remarkable as the spectrum of shapes are the different types of flour used to make pasta in Italy. The culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique defines flour as a finely ground cereal. Zanini De Vita documents pastas made with barley, buckwheat, carob, chestnut, chickpea, corn, farro, fava bean, rye and a range of wheat flours. (One of these wheat flours is made of burnt wheat or grano arso. The very poor collected bits of burnt wheat after a farmer had threshed, gleaned and, finally, burned a field to fertilize the land. The poor milled this burnt wheat and added it to extend flour used to make pasta.)


There are thousands of different wheat varieties. In the United States, wheat is divided into six classes: hard red winter; hard red spring; hard white; soft red winter; soft white; and durum. Hard wheat contains more gluten-producing proteins than soft wheat. This makes hard wheat well suited to breads and pasta where the additional protein allows greater elasticity. Soft wheat is used in cakes, biscuits and pastries where the lack of protein results in tender baked goods. Durum is the hardest wheat. Durum’s high protein allows an elasticity that aids the production of extruded, shaped pastas. Fine dried pastas are made with durum wheat.

The words durum and semolina are often used interchangeably. Semolina is made from durum wheat. Semolina flour often is fairly course, but finer grinds of semolina are available. Course semolina creates a gritty texture in pasta that I do not enjoy. I use a finely ground durum (designated as Extra Fancy) produced by Giusto's.

One of the lovely qualities of durum flour is its amber color. Sometimes this color is vibrant, other times it is subtle. When durum is combined with high-quality eggs, the resulting pasta can be a vivid yellow.

Tipo 00

Tipo means “type” in Italian and 00 signifies the level of refinement. The more refined the flour (i.e., the more of the bran and germ removed during production) the lower the rating. Tipo 00 is the most highly refined Italian grade of flour. Tipo 00 flour is snow white in color. As the grades increase from tipo 00 to tipo 0, 1, 2 and, finally, farina integrate, the flour becomes darker and courser. (Farina integrate is made from the entire wheat grain.) Because Italy’s flours are graded by their refinement, the protein levels of tipo 00 flour can vary. (Some mills sell different tipo 00 flours with varying protein levels.) In general, if flour is designated as grano tenero it will be softer than flour designated as grano duro, which will be harder.

The Encyclopedia of Pasta is full of examples where different flours are blended together to make dough. These traditional pastas (as well as their sauces) are born of local products, created by what was on-hand in the larder, the garden, the local field and trees. In her preface, Zanini De Vita writes that the Encyclopedia of Pasta is a record of “what ordinary people did and do and have always done with available recourses.” With repetition the seeds of a tradition sprout, are nurtured and, frequently, further refined as dishes are handed down from one generation to the next. Zanini De Vita observes: “In reality, dishes are almost always the fruit of slow transformations over time and space, dictated by the need to perfect drying techniques or cooking systems, or even simply to obtain a tastier or more visually appealing result.”
  • 150 grams Extra Fancy durum flour
  • 150 grams tipo 00 flour
  • 3 large eggs

The steps to make toppe are similar to those set out in our examination of pappardelle. The only differences are: (1) mix the durum and tipo 00 flour together before sifting the flour; and (2) after rolling the dough through setting No. 6 (or your pasta machine’s penultimate setting), cut the sheet with a knife into pieces that are 1½- to 2-inches wide and about 6-inches long.

Traditionally toppe is served with Tuscan olive oil, pepper and local pecorino cheese. Zanini De Vita reports that it is also accompanied with various tomato sauces. If you make toppe, you see that combining durum with a soft flour prevents an extra wide noodle from tearing when it is cooked and eaten. Even though the pasta is tender, it still retains a nice bite. Durum flour also adds a beautiful color to this unique, regional pasta.