Monday, February 17, 2014

A Winter Brunch

I would love to share this brunch with you. But first, a love story.


Our friend Mike is a renaissance man. He knows how to do pretty much everything, and if he doesn't, it still comes across that he does. He met a girl online. Andrea. She is Mexican, and was about to move to Baltimore for school. They started dating and we quickly realized how lovely and genuine she is. So, on April Fools Day last year, they eloped. We were shocked! They marched themselves down to City Hall and got married. Turns out their lawyer advised them to just get hitched so that Andrea's green card process would be sped up. April Fools Day was the perfect day to do it.

This was the first of three weddings for them. Last fall they had a beautiful wedding near Mike's parents house. Blue skies, warm sunshine, and autumn leaves. (Their third wedding will happen in Mexico in the spring). They requested no gifts. They had no registry, and said that if we really wanted to be creative, we could draw a picture or write a poem. Something from the heart. We decided to make them brunch, but not just any brunch. I believe the invitation went something like this:

1 Winter Brunch
2 Questions you have about marriage
3 Ingredients of your choosing
4 Friends eating together

We scheduled a Saturday morning in February, and I eagerly awaited to hear what their three ingredients were so that I could start planning the brunch. They were chestnut, kiwi, and nutmeg. Whaaaat? I shared them with Justin, and he looked perplexed. "So, no eggs?" he asked. Furthermore, they requested no bacon.


The challenge was on. How to pull together a delicious brunch that highlighted three surprising ingredients? The answer lay in three courses. Allow me to share the menu with you. I had such fun pulling it together:


I had really hoped to find actual chestnuts, but chestnut flour would have to do. It worked so nicely in the crepes. I was skeptical when I first smelled the earthy aroma of the nut flour. It was smoky, almost bacon-like. But it paired wonderfully well with the thyme-y mushroom crepes. Likewise in the chestnut pound cake with walnuts. The pound cake turned out just a bit crumbly, but it was all the better for cutting extra thick slices.


Nutmeg is difficult to highlight. It is traditionally used as a spice that supports ginger or cinnamon, but few recipes focus just on nutmeg. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the nutmeg granola turned out. It paired beautifully with the tropical fruit and avocado. I also highlighted it in the bourbon nutmeg pound cake, and grated it on top of maple nutmeg steamers.


Kiwi was the oddball. Nutmeg and chestnut are warm and wintry. Kiwi screams summer. No matter. It shone in the first course with the other tropical fruit. And who doesn't like sangria? The boozy kiwi at the bottom of the pitcher was delicious.

We had a lovely time and ate heartily. It was wonderful to catch up with good friends. Below is the recipe for Chestnut Pound Cake. You can order chestnut flour online, or find it in specialty stores.


Chestnut Pound Cake
From Pure Dessert, by Alice Medrich
Serves 16

You can cut this recipe in half if you want to make just one loaf cake, or you can do a full recipe in a Bundt pan or tube pan.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chestnut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but not melted
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/3 cup dark rum
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Grease a 12-cup fancy tube or Bundt pan, or two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans. Position rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. 

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar in a steady stream and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Dribble the eggs into the butter mixture a little at a time, taking 2-3 minutes to add them all.

Add a third of the flour mixture, beat just until combined, then add half of the buttermilk and half of the rum. Repeat with half of remaining flour, then all of the remaining buttermilk and rum. Finish with the rest of the flour and the walnuts. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes for a tube pan and 50 minutes for the loaf pans. Cool in rack for about 10 minutes before unmolding.

Cake keeps at room temperature, wrapped tightly, for up to three days. 

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