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The Cutting Edge
By now, almost everyone on the planet knows about the miracle woodworking tool that became indispensable in professional and home kitchens alike. To briefly recap, Microplane, a small company in Arkansas, developed unique shaping tools used in woodworking, car designs and aeronautics. That in itself was a transisition from their original venture, which was producing parts for the emerging high-tech printer industry. Their photo-etching processs created holes in almost paper thin metal sheets with a chemical, leaving edges that finely slice instead of tearing or shredding. In 1990, Richard and Jeff Grace first developed shaving tools with unique razor sharp teeth which were sold to large industrial design companies and hardware stores. Pictured here is my original Microplane shaving tool when we first sold them at La Cuisine in the mid 1990s. You can see how it was designed to be attached to a hacksaw handle.
In 1994 a Canadian cook Lorraine Lee in exasperaton “borrowed” her husband’s wood working tool to grate zest for her Armenian orange cake recipe. Recovering from their Eureka Moment, the Lees who own Lee Valley Tools, renamed the wood shaver as a kitchen zester. And thus was born the tool that not only made citrus zest into velvet but made grated Parmigiano truly the food of gods. I remember taking a handle version of the Microplane grater to my daughter in Bologna, thinking her Italian friends would be amazed and pleased. I was wrong. On, no it does not grate it properly, I was told. But then, her Microplane grater disappeared and she asked me for another. And then it happened several times more. Now you see them all over Europe, so much so that Microplane has a European division. And like Kleenex, Xerox and iPhone, Microplane is a commonly used noun. Currently the Grace brothers’ company designs and produces over 40 tools (and gadgets) solely for kitchen tasks.
So, About That Box Grater
Even if you have dedicated precious cupboard or counter space to a food processor, I still think you need a box grater. Using one not only works your triceps a bit, but they are efficient to use, and a heck of lot easier to clean and store. I first graduated to Microplane box graters years ago, and after my first one gave in from much abuse, I love the improvements made with this one. It has five blade styles with a fine and coarse blade on one panel, which I use for zesting, grating chocolate and hard cheeses; a double edged ribbon blade, which makes it a lot easier to make shavings, And then there is a a larger coarse blade panel for apples, cabbage and potatoes as well as large shaver which is perfect for truffles (which I get once every two years), or ginger slices. The handle is easy to hold and if you tilt it like I do when I grate a lot of cheese, the grater stays in the tilted position.I particularly like the sliding plate which holds the grated food until you pull it out over a bowl. The measurement guide on that corner side is helpful, but you have to tap the grater on the counter to get a rough measurement.
The Cake That Changed Our Lives
As a coda to this discursive history, you should make Lorraine Lee’s recipe for the Armenian Orange Cake It is quite an unusual cake with its sandy base and thick batter spread on top. I don’t tamp down the shortbread style base layer, merely tap it into place. Use a hand mixer to blend the batter from the remaining crumb mixture. The thick top batter is better spread out by a fork rather than a rubber spatula, as the latter pulls the batter away from the crumb base. And do make the whiopped cream topping that accompanies the cake in the recipe. I always use a Thermapen to test cake doneness, and this one perfect between 195 and 200F It is this cake recipe that created the Eureka Moment in Lorraine’s kitchen and why we all have a microplane tool in our kitchen drawer.
Microplane has offered a 20% discount on this model of box grater to KD readers from now until May 17, 2019. Use the code KD20 when you check out.
- 2 cups (396gr) Light Muscovado Sugar
- 2 cups(284gr) white all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (113gr) unsalted butter
- 2 tbs freshly grated orange zest - around two oranges worth
- 1/2tsp ground allspice
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup(240gr) sour cream
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup (50gr) chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds are suggested)
- Orange Whipped Cream Topping
- 1 cup heavy cream(240ml) (not ultra pasteuriised)
- 2 tbs (16gr) confectioner's sugar
- 1 tsp grated orange peel- half an orange
- 2 tbs (30ml) Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- Butter a 9 inch square (23cm) cake pan. and preheat oven to 350F
- Combine sugar, flour, butter, salt, orange zest, and allspice in a medium size bowl.
- Blend with a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips until mixture is crumbly, but completely incorporated.
- You should have about 5 cups of crumbled mixture.
- Take 1/2 of this mixture and spread it over the prepared cake pan.
- Stir the baking soda into the sour cream and mix into the remaining crumb mixture.
- Add beaten egg and combine thoroughly - use a hand mixer as it is easier.
- Pour batter into the pan and sprinkle with chopped nuts.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes
- Cake is done when an an instant read thermometer reads 195-200F.
- Serve warm with the following topping:.
- Whip the heavy cream until stiff,
- Fold in sugar, orange zest and liqueur.
- Allow to rest for an hour in the referigerator to combine flavors.
- I make the whipped cream topping first and then the cake.
- You can make this in an 8 inch (20cm) pan as well, and the cake will be higher, but will still fit.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.