A while ago during one of my monthly visits to the bookstore to browse the cookbooks that I was told not to buy, I came across Savory Baking. This 168 page book from one of America’s top pastry chefs, Mary Cech is filled with recipes that focus entirely on savory baking.
The book has a clean, crisp layout and while you do need to have some knowledge of “baking/Cooking” Cech takes the time to explain how to bake successfully and her writing is easy and friendly giving you the necessary push to try her recipes even if they seem a bit complicated.
What really made me buy this book was the unique way she pairs the usual baking recipes like eclairs, tarts even shortbread with the savory ingredients. Enticing a baker/cook like me to dive in and try them out. And let me tell you I have already done 3 of the 75 mouth-watering recipes and so far, all of them have been a major hit around these parts.
One of the ones that truly blew everyone away was the Onion, Fennel and Orange Upside-Down Shortcake. This shortcake topped with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers cooked in an amazing reduction of dry sherry and balsamic vinegar is a delight. And the shortcake infused with orange zest is a combination that may sound a bit odd at first – until you take the first bite and realized that being daring and bold in the kitchen is what cooking is all about.
I served it warm, during one of those raining/gloomy Sunday that just screams “let’s stay at home and watch movies after movies” and we did just that, I baked, and put together a quick brunch style lunch with this as the center piece.
Onion, Fennel, and Orange Upside-Down Shortcake
Adapted from: Savory Baking
- 2 Tablespoon Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Medium onions, thinly sliced
- ½ cup dry sherry
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup water
- 1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and roughly chopped*
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- zest of 1 medium orange
- 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 cup whole milk
To prepare onion filling
Put the olive oil, onions, sherry, brown sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds (if using), salt and pepper in large saute pan or wide-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking. Stir in the water. Add the roasted red peppers* to the onions. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat. Cut a piece of aluminum foil to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Place it in the bottom of the pan and generously oil spray the foil and the sides of the pan. Spread the cooked onions evenly in the pan, reserving some to spoon over the finished cake.
To prepare the shortcake
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Put the flour, baking powder, salt and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Add the butter and pulse for 10 seconds or until the butter is pea-size. Add the milk and pulse until the mixture starts to form into a dough. Carefully spread the dough over the onions, leave no gaps and making sure the edges of the pan are covered with dough. Put the pan in the oven and bake just until the top fo the cake feels firm in the center when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes (the top will not look brown). Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes.
Run a sharp knife around the inside of the pan. Place and hold a large serving plate over the top of the pan and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Carefully remove the cake pan and foil. Spoon the reserved onions over the cake. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
Things that I did a bit differently:
- I did not use the fennel seeds, mainly because I don't like the flavor - but, I did not miss them and the final product did not suffer by leaving them out.
- I did not have Sherry in my liquor cabinet, but I did have Dry Marsala wine and again it work perfectly.
- While I had red pepper at hand, I just did not want to go thru the trouble of roasting and then pealing them so I use a jar of roasted red pepper to save on time.
What I would do a bit differently the next time:
- I will probably also add some chopped basil or oregano along with the orange zest into the shortcake, just to give it a bit of additional punch.
- More roasted pepper with the onions
- Mix in some golden raisins into the onion mixture, to give a bit of a sweet component.