Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
by Suzanne Goin
with wine notes by Caroline Styne
Photographs by Shimon and Tammar Rothstein
She “opened two more restaurants, had three children, moved homes” and more! There’s no question about her ability to multitask. I always felt I liked this woman but the thought was solidified when she said that before having children, she never had anything in the freezer but ice cream and gin (my preference would have been vodka but hey, it’s the thought).
As her first book was named after Lucques, her first restaurant, A.O.C. is the name of her second restaurant. A.O.C. stands for Appellation d'Origine Controlee, the French government's system for regulating and designating wine, cheese, and other artisanal products. The definition embodied what she wanted from the new restaurant i.e. “celebration of unique products and the joy of tasting and drinking them.”
The book: After the first two chapters, Cheese and Charcuterie, each chapter, from Salads through Dessert, has its recipes categorized by season (as she did in Sunday Supper). This book also introduces Goin’s business partner and wine director, Caroline Styne, who has written insightful wine notes for each recipe.
Goin doesn’t disappoint my thirst for headnotes. Whether she’s defining soubise, explaining how she developed a recipe, why she swapped ingredients at the last minute, or telling the story of her six-year-old daughter’s salad dressing recipe, she’s bringing us closer to knowing her.
Here is a sampling of recipes included in the book: Young Goat Cheese with Dried Figs and Saba, Duck Sausage with Candied Kumquats, Roasted Kabocha Squash with Dates, Parmesan, and Pepitas, Grilled Orata with Cauliflower, Fregola, and Persimmon-Pomegranate Salsa, and Pork Cheeks with Polenta, Mustard Cream, and Horseradish Gremolata. There’s also a smattering of recipes from the wood-burning oven and sixteen desserts including S’mores with Caramel Popcorn and Chocolate Sorbet.
Following the recipes is a 50-plus page compendium of A.O.C. cheese which she describes as "a marathon opus collection of cheese information" and she's not wrong. The list and descriptions are wonderfully informative. If you're interested, go to this Amazon link and "Look Inside" - type in Page 355 to see some examples.
Photo by Shimon and Tammar Rothstein
Crisp, crunchy varieties of persimmons, like Fuyus, are great eaten out hand, sliced into salads, and diced into salsas, but this cake is the perfect way to show off the softer Hachiya types, which need to be completely soft before they are eaten. My palate has strange textural issues—mostly that I like some oddball ones that other people generally don't appreciate. Bring on the chewy, the stringy, the slimy, and even snotty textures! The strange gelatinous interior of a super-ripe persimmon reminds me of an aloe plant in a way, and I think it's that very dense and wet texture that makes this cake so ethereal. This recipe was inspired by farmer James Birch of Flora Bella Farm, who is, shall we say, a little spacey, in the most charming and lovely way— meaning that sometimes he forgets to let anyone know what he's growing and what he would like to sell. When he comes for lunch, for example, I'll ask him, "Hey, James, how's it going?" Then he'll just happen to mention, "Well, I do have four cases of very ripe chocolate persimmons on my truck." Thank goodness, Christina and the gang are used to this type of kooky farmer behavior, so she responded, "Great! Let's bake a cake or two." I love that these persimmons actually taste of fall and winter—as if they have been grown in fields of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. It's very strange but so magical to have those flavors reinforced by the fruit itself. This is a great one for the Thanksgiving or Christmas buffet.
Makes One 10-Inch Cake
1 3/4 cups (approximately 3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a little for the pan
About 3 ripe Hachiya persimmons (to yield 1 cup pureed flesh)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup crème fraîche
For the maple pecans
1 1/2 cups pecans
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Note: Maple sugar can be found at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, specialty stores, and, of course, online. Although you can substitute turbinado or even brown sugar, the maple sugar makes it extra maple-y and special.
Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. Prepare a 10-inch round cake pan by lightly buttering the inside surfaces, lining the bottom with parchment paper, and buttering the parchment.
3. Cook 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) in a small saucepan over high for a few minutes, swirling the pan, until the butter browns and smells nutty. Set aside to cool.
4. Scoop the ripe flesh from the persimmons, and puree in a blender until smooth. Measure out 1 cup puree.
5. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, the spices, and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.
6. In another bowl, combine the puree, 1/4 cup cream, vanilla, and cooled browned butter.
7. Paddle the remaining 1 1/2 cups butter and the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium-high for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg.
8. Decrease the paddle speed to low. Alternately add the flour mixture and persimmon-puree mixture to the bowl, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
9. Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until cake feels springy to the touch.
10. Whip the remaining 3/4 cup cream and the crème fraîche to soft peaks.
Make the maple nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread evenly across the prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring every few minutes, for about 10 minutes, or until nuts are toasted.
Cut six slices from the cake (the cake will yield ten to twelve servings), and place on six dessert plates. Dollop with whipped crème fraîche, and scatter the candied pecans over the cake and around the plate.
This cake epitomizes winter with its weighty texture and dense fruitiness. I love how the crème fraîche brings a lightness of body and brightening flavor to the composition, and look for a wine to continue in that mode. Madeira is perfect for this, because, along with its overall nut-laden flavor, it brings a degree of texture and tart acidity to the palate. In this pairing, I opt for one that is in the mid-range of sweetness, made from the Bual or Verdelho grape varieties, which possesses back notes of stone fruits and caramel that will marry with the sweetness of the persimmons and pecans, while its tart acidity works in sync with the crème fraîche.