Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Celebrating the Goldilocks Season
What’s cooking? Sunny Plumcot Sorbet and Lemon-Basil Butter Cookies

The Kitchen Goddess has been in Texas for a week, grappling with AT&T for a new modem because the house is too far away from the signal source to get U-verse. No internet, no blog. Grrr... I’m making up for that absence with TWO fine recipes that go together like, well,... cookies and fruit.

Now is the sweet spot of summer, when it’s not too hot and not too cold. So before we begin the great kitchen migration to soups and stews, lentils and lasagna, let us pause a moment for a final summer sorbet. And perhaps some cookies.

Not long ago, one of the stalls at my farmers’ market showed up with the loveliest little plums. Shiro plums, they said. Small, pale yellow orbs that turned out to be as juicy and delicious as they were beautiful. I bought a couple of boxes and made sorbet. It was so good, I wouldn’t let anyone else have it. Well, almost anyone else.

The next week, I went back to the same stall to get more so I could tell you all about them.

“They’re gone?!!” I said. “How can they be all gone? They just appeared last week!”

“I know,” said my friend manning the cash register. (I’ve become very chummy with many of these folks.) “But the crop this year was small. That’s the way it is with these trees – big crop one year, small crop the next. We’ll have lots next year.”

So now I’m waiting already for next year’s crop. Late July, early August – watch out for them.

Then by a stroke of luck, just this past week, I happened upon some greenish-gold plumcots at the grocery store. Larger and more heart-shaped than the Shiro plums, plumcots are a 50-50 cross between plums and apricots. (Okay, so it’s obvious.) But I’ll bet you didn’t know they were originally developed – and named – by Luther Burbank in the late 19th century. With the current fascination surrounding all things oddball from the food world, hybrids like plumcots are finally gaining some traction. Luther would be so pleased. Also apriplums, which are similarly 50-50 but developed through a different process. And pluots, which are a cross between a plumcot and an apricot and come closer to a 75-25 ratio of plum to apricot. Confusing? You bet. They all have a higher sugar content than plums, which means they’re slightly less tart. But I digress.

My research reveals an astonishing number of varieties of plumcots, with names like Harvest Gold, Emerald Beaut, Tropical Sunrise, Flavor Grenade, and Flavor Queen. The yellow, yellow-green, and green varieties appear to be the mildest and sweetest, so whatever you find at your grocery will likely do. And the really good news is that the flavor of my plumcot sorbet was almost identical to the Shiro plum sorbet.

Sorbet is soooo easy. I probably could have peeled the plumcots and just pureed the flesh, but I wanted the tiny extra tartness that comes from the skin, so I stewed them for 15-20 minutes. And instead of simple syrup, I added a mild version of minted simple syrup – the mint isn’t really noticeable, but it brings out the flavor of the plumcots in a way that is just magical. Sun on the tongue.

Sunny Plumcot Sorbet

Makes 1 quart.

1-1¼ pounds yellow or yellow-green or green plumcots
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)**
1 cup sugar
1 cup mint, chopped

Seed the plumcots and cut them into eighths. Put them into a large saucepan with the lemon juice and bring to a low boil. Cook 15-20 minutes on low boil, stirring occasionally to keep the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When all the fruit is soft, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the fruit is stewing, make the minted simple syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with 1 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the chopped mint and let the syrup simmer undisturbed for 2 minutes. Remove the mint by pouring the syrup through a strainer into a heat-proof container, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Put the stewed plumcots into a blender with 6 tablespoons of the minted simple syrup. (Save the rest for tea or your next batch of plumcot sorbet.) Purée 1 minute or until smooth. Process in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.

**Serendipity is aimlessly wandering the produce aisle and finding these completely adorable pink variegated lemons. The equivalent taste in the wine world is that of a really good rosé – not actually sweet, but without the tang of a regular lemon. How can I say this? It tastes a little pink.

* * *

Don’t forget the cookies...

Having no garden in New Jersey, I was easily seduced by a giant bunch of basil at the market. I could make pesto, but desperately wanted some new idea. Basil sugar? I found a recipe for minted sugar, which is wonderful in iced tea or on fruit, then decided to try the technique with basil. Whoo-ee – a treat for the tongue and the nose. But what to do with a jar full of basil sugar? How about basil sugar cookies? Yes, sirree, they are mighty fine, if I do say so myself. Save some of the basil sugar for dusting on top of the little darlings, and serve them with ice cream, sorbet, pudding, or fruit. If you’re serving fruit, sprinkle a bit of basil sugar on it, too.

Lemon-Basil Butter Cookies

Makes 3 dozen.

1 cup + ¼ cup sugar
½ cup basil leaves, packed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Crisco
zest of one lemon
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Make the basil sugar by combining 1 cup sugar with the basil in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined and no large pieces of basil remain. Store in a jar in a cool, dark place for 30 minutes to an hour, to allow the flavors to mix.

Cream the butter and Crisco together until well mixed, then add  ¾ cup basil sugar (packed) and the remaining ¼ cup plain sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add the lemon zest, the lemon juice, the vanilla, and the egg, beating well after each.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the wet ingredients at low speed until blended, scraping down the bowl once or twice with a spatula. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.

Scoop dough to form balls 1½-2 inches in diameter, and place at least 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with baker’s parchment. Bake at 375º for 10-11 minutes, depending on how soft you like the insides. When cookies come out of the oven, dust with remaining basil sugar while they’re hot, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

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