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Donna Deane's Pecan Brown-Butter Bread


Are you ever gripped with the urge to suddenly clean out your freezer, your cupboards, your crisping drawers? To use up those last nuts knocking around in an empty plastic bag, finally finish off that half-portion of arborio rice driving you batty since 2007, and at last get around to cooking the untouched box of chow mein noodles you'd completely forgotten about since it went and hid behind the Creole mustard, the organic millet and the half-eaten bar of dark chocolate in the bottom cupboard?

I'm on that kick right now and I've got it bad. I made Brandon's citrus-soy noodles the other night (and lo, they were delicious - more on that next time), deftly using up some old Chinese noodles and the last dregs of a jar of chile-garlic paste. I've had a stockpile of French sardines for host(ess) gifts cluttering the kitchen and I've been making good on giving them away. (Do you know a sardine lover? Buy them Connétable sardines the next time you're in Paris or if you were at Balducci's during its final days when they were practically giving away food. This is a good present, I promise.) I've thrown those final aforementioned rice grains in soups, am scheming for ways to get rid of some frozen pork neck bones from Connecticut, and cannot wait for a week's worth of morning blueberry-buttermilk smoothies, so I can finally throw out the darn Wyman's bag mocking me every time I open the freezer.

Luckily for you, the nicest thing about this weird mania is the recipe I made using up the last two cups of pecans I'd been hoarding for what was probably far too much time. It comes from Donna Deane when she was still at the LA Times, and is the loveliest, subtlest tea cake I've had in a while. Elegant and demure and delicious to boot, it features browned butter and toasted pecans suspended in a tender, sour cream-enriched cake.

I brought it to a Memorial Day picnic yesterday where it was eaten with gusto (at one point, two attendees were actually simply forking pieces of it out of the tin), praised by a chef, and then taken home by a friend who wanted to serve the leftovers as dessert at the end of a business meal last night. Great success! I'd say.


The most complicated thing about the recipe is making brown butter. And that's really not too hard. That is, cooking it isn't hard, it's knowing when to stop that's tricky. Kind of like caramel, only it moves faster. What you do is put a stick of butter in a small, heavy pan and set it over medium heat. When the butter melts, start whisking it and keep it over that same steady heat. Don't move away from the stove. After a few minutes, the molten butter will start to change color. It will foam and you might have a hard time seeing the liquid beneath. Just keep whisking. Pretty quickly thereafter, the butter will go from foamy and bright yellow to tan and then brown. You'll see little spots, which are the milk solids that have browned, and your kitchen will smell rather rich and toasty. Turn the heat off and try to get a good look at the butter. What you want is for it to be nicely browned and smelling delicious. You don't want blackened butter. And it's kind of a fine line between the two. So, if you feel like your browned butter is still cooking in that hot, heavy pot, even with the heat turned off, simply pour it into a heat-proof mixing bowl. That'll pretty much stop the cooking process.

The recipe has you chill that molten brown butter and then whip it with brown sugar until "light and fluffy". But that didn't happen at all for me. The brown butter and sugar just kept going around and around in the bowl, dark and granular. The minute I added the eggs, however, things got gorgeously light and fluffy. So keep that in mind when you make this. Oh, another thing: my compulsion to use things up apparently also means that I'm loathe to replace a thing when I'm done with it. Which would be fine if we were talking about something exotic, like black quinoa, but is sort of silly when it comes to a kitchen staple like vanilla extract. So, since I didn't have any vanilla extract in the house, I substituted almond extract and though I worried that mixing the nut flavors would be rather strange, I loved it. It's very subtle - there's only 1/2 teaspoon in the recipe.

What you end up with is this gorgeous, fluffy batter and a knobby pile of pecan-brown sugar streusel, which you basically layer in a loaf pan. The bread rises nicely in the oven, though it doesn't ever dome and crack. After it's been taken out and cooled and sliced up, what you have is a finely-crumbed cake shot through with nubby pecans and delicate brown-butter flavor. It really is rather refined, this loaf, and is the kind of thing you could easily serve to your future mother-in-law at your first tea together, or at a rowdy Brooklyn picnic with 11-month-olds doing their best to grab ahold of it while you shriek rather ineffectually that they should keep away from the tree nuts, for crying out loud.

Pecan Brown-Butter Bread
Makes 1 9-inch loaf

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups shelled pecans, divided
2 cups flour plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, divided
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Melt one-half cup butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. After it melts, continue to cook, whisking until it turns nut brown, about 8 minutes. Remove the browned butter from the heat and cool, then refrigerate until it solidifies, about 30 to 40 minutes.

2. While the browned butter is chilling, put the pecans on a jellyroll pan in a single layer and toast them in the oven 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven and cool in the pan, then roughly chop them so the pieces are no larger than one-fourth inch.

3. For the pecan streusel filling, combine one-half cup chopped toasted pecans, 1 1/2 teaspoons flour, and one-third cup brown sugar. Work the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into the sugar mixture until it is crumbly; do not over mix.

4. Cream together the chilled browned butter and the remaining 1 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the almond or vanilla extract.

5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the brown butter mixture alternately with the sour cream, folding each addition in gently by hand. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups chopped toasted pecans, just until ingredients are mixed.

6. Spoon half the batter into the bottom of a well-buttered 9-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle the streusel filling evenly over the batter. Spoon the remaining batter over the filling and spread evenly. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until the bread tests done in the center; note that the streusel filling will remain moist throughout the baking process. Remove to a wire rack and let cool to warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Florence Fabricant's Orange Pork Ragout with Beans


It is 80 degrees in New York City today (that's 26 degrees Celsius - one degree warmer than would be required to close school in Berlin!) and I'm spooning up pork ragout like it's the first day of winter and I've just settled in for the long haul. Strange? Perhaps. But awfully tasty.

I'll blame the fact that I have this wintry stew in my house in the first place on the fact that spring has taken its sweet old time getting here this year. You know the global weather's out of whack when Berliners are in shorts in April and we're still pulling out our wool coats well into May.

Last week, when this recipe flitted across my radar (from an old Pairings column from, you guessed it, the ever-reliable Florence Fabricant), it was just the right time for pork-and-beans - cold, windy, rather gray. Though I'm realizing that apparently warm, sunny and rather bright is also a good time for pork-and-beans. In fact, shall we just put it this way? When is it ever not a good time for pork-and-beans? Okay, maybe a July weekend at the beach. Maybe then.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe - using half the amount of pork and orange, and a little less smoked paprika than called for. Instead of cannellini beans, I used Rancho Gordo's Yellow Indian Woman beans because I am in love and you cannot mess with a woman in love. With beans. What resulted was a warm, smoky, fragrant stew that got better and better and better with each passing day. The pork became fork-tender and delicious, the beans held their shape beautifully, the wine and the orange juice and the rosemary and spices melded into a rich, sticky stew that goes very well over rice or mopped up with crusty bread, or simply spooned up out of the plate, too.

And with that, I'm closing down the department of stews, ragouts and braises for the season. Bring on the salads, the cold soups, and the fresh fruit of summer!

Orange Pork Ragout with Beans
Yields 4 servings

1 cup Yellow Indian Woman beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, in 2-inch chunks
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 branches fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch red chili flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Place beans in a saucepan, cover with water by 2 inches, bring to a boil, cook 2 minutes, cover and set aside to soak 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 4-quart casserole and brown pork without crowding over medium-high heat. Remove. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper. Sauté over low heat until soft. Stir in paprika, cloves and zest. Stir in orange juice and wine, scraping bottom of pan. Return pork to pan. Set aside until beans have finished soaking, then drain beans and add. Add rosemary, black pepper and chili. Bring to a simmer.

3. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 hours, until beans are tender. Add water occasionally, if needed. Season with salt. Leave in casserole for serving or transfer to a serving dish. Scatter parsley on top before serving.

Florence Fabricant's Moroccan Carrot Soup with Mussels


I know, I know, I just got back from Paris. The traveling itch should be scratched. But I can't help it. I'm already thinking about the next thing I'd like to do, which is go to Morocco. Morocco! Land of couscous and camels and souks and deserts. I have sand in my shoes, I guess. But it's not my fault. I'm blaming it all on this soup.

This soup! So unassuming. So simple. And yet. With just one spoonful, something steals over you. A strange and piercing Wanderlust, almost impossible to battle with. You close your eyes and as you eat, you feel yourself transported to a cool, tiled courtyard, with a tiny fountain babbling quietly and the scent of rose petals in the air. It was all I could do, once my spoon scraped the bottom of my bowl, to keep myself from booking a flight, right then and there, to Morocco.

I don't know about you, but I find this happens often with Moroccan food. Good Moroccan food, I guess I should say. There's something transporting about it. It's familiar, in a way: the ingredients seem regular enough. But there's always something a little exotic about the combination of spices or flavorings that makes me feel like I'm having the most special meal. I can't really explain it any better than that. Call me bewitched.

The recipe comes from Florence Fabricant's Pairings column (which I'm having success after success with, deliciously) and is as close to fast food as fine home cooking gets. Cheap? Check. Speedy? Check. Delicious? Oh, ho ho ho. Check.

All you have to is whip up a simple soup (fry an onion and cumin in olive oil, add a bunch of peeled, chunked carrots, boil, puree, done). Then you purée that into a smooth soup, and add fresh lemon juice. The lemon juice truly is an Oscar-winning supporting actor here. Without its bright acidity, the soup would meander off into rather boring territory. If you wanted to stop cooking here, you could. All you'd need to do is fold in the chopped cilantro, drizzle over a bit of olive oil and you'd be done. Served hot or cold, the soup is a minimalist triumph.


If you find you need a little something something in your soups in order to be happy, quickly steam some mussels. Strain their fragrant juice into the soup, and mix the shucked mussels - plump and sweet and only $5.99 for 2 whole pounds at Whole Foods right now - with the cilantro and olive oil. A spoonful of these at the bottom of each soup plate, surrounded then by the carrot soup, is quite something.

I can already tell that the carrot soup (without the mussels) is going to be a regular in my kitchen. Which makes me wonder at how far I've come. Just a few years ago this post would have been filled with whinging about how the cilantro was a nightmare and how I simply had to replace it with flat-leaf parsley. Not anymore. Florence is right: you can make this soup without the mussels, but you cannot make it without the cilantro. The alchemy of the sweet carrots, bright lemon juice, cumin and cilantro is truly magical: as you eat, you taste all these things and more: flowers, earth, cross my heart.

Cilantro-haters, don't fear. If I could become a convert, I who used to compare that green stuff to rat poison, so can you. All it took for me was one trip to Mexico. Maybe all you need is a trip to Morocco. If so, can you let me know? I want to come, too.

Moroccan Carrot Soup with Mussels
Serves 6 as a first course

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bunches carrots, peeled, in 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pound mussels, scrubbed
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

1. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add onion. Cook over low heat until starting to soften. Stir in cumin, cook briefly, stirring. Add carrots and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool briefly. Purée in a blender in two batches. Return soup to saucepan, season with salt and pepper and add lemon juice. Set aside until shortly before serving.

2. Place mussels in a shallow 2-quart saucepan or sauté pan. Add 1/2 tablespoon oil, toss over high heat about a minute, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until mussels open, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove mussels, draining well so juices stay in pan. Discard any that do not open. When mussels are cool enough to handle, shuck them into a bowl, discard shells and toss mussels with remaining oil and the cilantro. Strain mussel broth and add to soup.

3. Reheat soup. To serve, place a few mussels in each of 6 warm soup plates. Serve plates to guests. Ladle soup over mussels at the table. If not using mussels, fold cilantro into soup, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle each portion with remaining oil.