Archive for July, 2006

Plum Sorbet Sandwiches with Mary Jones from Cleveland’s Molasses Cookies

Monday, July 31st, 2006
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This dessert from Sunday Suppers at Lucques intrigued me for a couple reasons.

First of all, I’ve traditionally been a sorbet purist — texturally. I’ve found it unappealing to match sorbet with accompaniments because of its essentially icy nature. Why would you want to eat, say, cake and ice? I’ve recently come around to appreciate that the creaminess of certain sorbets allow for some additional maneuvering, such as cookies on the side and even some cakes, so why not a sorbet sandwich? It would probably be even more refreshing than an ice cream sandwich because you wouldn’t feel so awfully full of cream and egg yolks at the end. I think sorbet bases made from pureed fruit would work best for sandwiches because they’re more likely to have that creamier, fuller body — such as apple, mango, plum, and many others; I’d probably pass on a lemon sorbet sandwich, though.

The cookbook also has a recipe for a plum tarte tatin, so the thought of pairing plums with a caramel-y flavor became deeply rooted in my mind as I read the cookbook while I was in France. Also, I regularly had passion fruit and fig caramels, and plum seemed like a great addition to the pantheon of fruity caramels. Since I especially wanted to eat the molasses cookies straightaway, I went for the sandwich recipe.

And it’s fantastic. The sweet and sour plum sorbet is enveloped by the sweet and spicy cookies in a startlingly delicious way, even bringing out that certain spiciness of the plums. They live to be inhaled on a hot summer day.

As for the recipe…

Sorbet recipes are extremely boring for people without ice cream machines… and pretty boring for those with an ice cream machine (I love mine) and a refractometer (Thank you, Mom!). That’s because the key to a successful sorbet isn’t following the recipe to the letter, it’s about heeding the refractometer. It may be useful to see that a certain sorbet is made of a certain combination of pureed fruit/juice, sugar/simple syrup/honey/corn syrup, lemon juice, flavorings, and/or water, but what you really want to pay attention to are the consistency and the sweetness. It should be a saucy consistency or a little thinner, and the sorbet base should read between 26-28 Brix on the refractometer. The refractometer measures how much the light that passes through the sample of solution placed on it is refracted — the more sugar in the water, the greater the refraction will be, and the higher degrees Brix it’ll be. Between 26-28, the sorbet base will have the correct percentage of sucrose so that the sorbet will freeze without being icy or gummy/slushy. If it’s too icy, it doesn’t have enough sugar; if it’s too gummy/slushy, it has too much sugar and just can’t freeze. Since each piece of fruit is different, it’s best to take your own readings when making sorbet because there’s little guarantee that your fruit is the same as that of the recipe writer. It’s also pretty rewarding to truly make your own sorbet based on your readings. If there’s an auxiliary flavoring or honey involved, I think a good rule of thumb is to add enough so that you can just taste it in the base, and fill in the rest with the form of sugar you’re using… tasting for flavor, but leaving the sweetness to the refractometer.

So, my plum sorbet contained 1 pound of Santa Rosa plums (from the St. Helena Farmer’s Market), 4 tsp honey, a rounded 1/3 cup of sugar, and juice from half a lemon. This was slightly different from the recipe from the book, but was 28 on my refractometer. The unpeeled plums were cut into eighths, macerated, pureed, chilled, spun, and frozen.

I still want to play around with the cookie recipe. Although they have an amazing spicy molasses flavor and a wafer-y yet sturdy lightnessy, they end up a bit more thin and crispy than I’d like, so I want to work on making them a just little chewier and cakier. As is, I had to bake them in half the time specified for a cookie that had a chewy center — just.

EDIT: I’ve changed my mind about the cookies — they’re just perfect.  They freeze really well as sandwiches, and are just irresistible.  They even moistened a little by the second day, which is good for sandwiches out of hand and snacking.  Even though I know I can make more whenever I want, I feel the need to hoard them.  They called for melted down shortening, but I used about 80% clarified butter and 20% vegetable oil instead… because I’ll make a sorbet sandwich, but I still can’t allow myself to buy shortening. 🙂 So, I should especially look into how the fat should be made up. And I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top of them, just because I could… and for texture.

Anyway, this sandwich is a wonderful summertime snack, and it has the added benefit of making brown food and fuchsia food look good.

Thoumieux – Paris

Friday, July 28th, 2006
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Thoumieux serves classic Southwestern French cuisine. It gets my vote for the restaurant that we went to which Bouchon aspires to most — right down to having its name on every plate. Classic, simple, delicious. We went here for lunch on our second day, and it made me feel like I was really in Paris.

And I servers were very nice at this visit, with touches of dry humor.  When one saw me taking pictures of the food, he responded with “L’espionage.”  Other members of my family went here again, though, and their server was very rude.  Too bad.

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The brilliance of this warm goat cheese salad lies in the crottins of goat cheese that have been heated so that their insides ooze out once sliced open. I like this better than the simply warmed coins of goat cheese that I was expecting.

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Chad got a plate of ham. With melon underneath. Very good.

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My Duck Confit. This was a bit drier than I would have looked, but tasty enough. The thick “potato chips” were crispy, herby, and great.

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The Cassoulet was magnificent. I’d order this if I went again. So hot and rich, and the sausage was especially excellent.

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I believe that this was some form of Lamb.

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Steak.

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Fish.

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This chocolate cake was fantastic, like a rich yet light mousse.

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I loved their sorbets and ice creams: chestnut with pieces of chestnut; pear; lime with lime peel; chocolate…

Roquefort-Honey Ice Cream & Walnut Sugar Cookies: A Sandwich

Friday, July 28th, 2006
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I guess that sounds weird… but would you rather eat Roquefort-Honey Ice Cream by itself? I’ve been wanting to make this recipe since the day it was published, but something always held me back… Probably, something about a bowl of frozen, sweet blue cheese. But maybe my recent plated desserts class got me into the mindset of balancing multiple elements for one dessert, and my recent interest in ice cream sandwiches definitely provided the final structure for it.

I think that it’s especially important to let this ice cream base age overnight, so that the flavors can get used to each other and settle into a harmony. And when you spin it in your ice cream maker, keep a close eye on it; cheese-based ice creams/sorbets are very easy to over-freeze. The Roquefort that I used was rather ripe, and the ice cream is an earthy light green with flecks of dark green. The texture is quite smooth, with a pleasant melting quality from the cheese. The flavor of sweet/salty Roquefort hits you right away, until a creaminess mellows it a little. It’s potent, to be sure, but not so much for blue cheese eaters, and the honey and pepper temper it a bit.

As an ice cream sandwich, it works in a similar way. The Roquefort hits you straight off, but the walnut sugar cookies step in to mellow it out and graft on a nutty, butter-y sweetness before the roquefort flavor bounces back at the end of the bite. Not everyone would like this, but it’s an interesting little snack… like a compact cheese course on a hot day.

The cookies should be not larger than 2″ in diameter, and the scoop of ice cream should be rather small to keep things in proportion; I think of one sandwich as a substantial cheese-on-crackers serving. I used this Chewy Sugar Cookie recipe (they turned out rather crispy on the edges and chewy in the center for me) and folded in how many chopped toasted walnuts I wanted at the end. I like the idea of adapting cookies for unique ice creams, so I saved half the plain cookie dough to use for future mix-ins.

Pierre Herme – Paris

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
I feel like this should be the French Laundry-style post of my Paris trip — a visit to Pierre Herme inspires so many thoughts it seems only natural to want to talk about it in every detail. Pierre Herme was my favorite pastry shop in Paris. I went there twice, and in my more greedy moments, I wonder why we didn’t make a pilgrimage everyday… so perfect was Pierre Herme. Here’s a short bio of the man himself.

I’m a bit bemused by the Pierre Herme way. Once you enter the shop, you find yourself in a world created by a pastry genius who has fashioned his own lexicon and continues to add and play around with it in a way that’s tongue-in-cheek to an extent… but there’s very serious pastry work going on. We witnessed his 2006 summer collection, and I took a copy of the summer collection catalogue. The theme is Fetish. This article explains the method to his offerings: “The themed Collection features his latest inspirations; the Classics are finely reworked versions of traditional French pastries and the Signatures highlight the favorites from past Collections.” I suppose it’s more like haute couture than culinary. Everything is given a unique name, and the combinations of flavors might be offered under that name in different forms, such as cakes, tarts, ice creams, etc. For instance, “Ispahan” is usually a combination of rose, raspberry, and lychee. “Plenitude” is dark chocolate, fleur de sel, and caramel. “Mosaic” is pistachio and griotte cherry (morello). “Satine” is passionfruit, orange, and fromage blanc (this macaron was unavailable both times we were there, and we were bummed). “Celeste” is passionfruit, strawberry, and rhubarb. The variety of flavors and attention to detail concerning how well certain flavors and textures go together is what makes the store so special for me.

I also got a cute, square-fold-out brochure of their macarons in color, and a kind of advertising postcard for the “Macarons d’Ete.” On the front are macarons standing on their sides, and on the back, there’s a significant amount of space allowed for you to answer, “And you, what is your fetish?”, space for your info, and two check-boxes: 1) Yes, I am a fan of Pierre Herme, and I wish to receive information about his new creations before everyone else, or 2) No, I only like spaghetti.

Everything was fantastic, unless I say otherwise.

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This was the first pastry that I saw of Pierre Herme’s — in one of the outside display windows — and my biggest regret from Paris is not trying a “Miss Gla Gla.” They were displayed so beautifully, but once I entered, I was so in awe of all the pastries and chocolates that I forget them… I’m just going to have to figure out how to make them. Sigh… an ice cream sandwich made with rectangular macarons and swirled ice cream… Brilliant.

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In another window, Celeste ice cream, for about $32.

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When I asked the counterperson if I could take pictures in the store, her answer, in French, was, “Two maximum.” So much was sacrificed. I really wanted those lollipop-like pastries recorded, so that explains this picture (we actually ended up getting those two desserts in the middle, but whatever). Their name is Mr H Ispahan, and they’re none other than cakes on sticks (or “gateau individuel presente sur un batonnet,” if you prefer). They are composed of almond cake, framboise gelee, and rose cream. I didn’t order them b/c I wasn’t in the mood for white chocolate, as the coating appears to be, but they look so cool.

What I sacrificed for this picture was a photo of his cakes, one of which was the shape of a rather tall wedge, with tick marks going up the pointy edge, and I believe something red on top. It also looked so cool. And I wonder how it was arranged inside.

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My second picture. I was so tempted to walk a few feet more and snap another shot, but 1) I thought about the Seinfeld routine about trying to play off taking better seats at a ball game as sheer embarrassed ignorance and 2) I’d already had the security guards sic-ed on me at Le Bon Marche for taking pic’s in the shop. So, deux photos, c’est tout.

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I even love the packaging. This was for the “Emotions” — “les combinations de saveurs fetiches de la Maison Pierre Herme Paris interpretees sous forme de desserts ou de gelees et servies dans un verre transparent.” Basically, they’re layered desserts served in glasses, like high-class parfaits.

And I didn’t take a picture of the shopping bag that this was in, but it was paper, with cutouts of small leaf shapes on both larger white sides and solid light green on the sides.

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On the one hand, the packaging is a bit wasteful for one pastry (we got two of kinds of these, each in their own box); on the other hand, gorgeous. And it kept them pristine in transit.

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Chad got the Emotion Ispahan, with gelee of lychee and raspberries, fresh raspberries, strawberry compote and rose cream.

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Attention to detail defined. I touched the bead, and it was very sticky — perhaps glucose syrup?

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Mine was the Emotion Celeste, with compote of rhubarb, fresh strawberries, passionfruit-mascarpone cream, and passionfruit marshmallows. I think the combination of flavors speaks for itself, but the textures here are have more to do with experiencing it — and with structure. So, you start off with a couple marshmallows, and they’re fantastic… then you have a little passionfriut-mascarpone cream with, and maybe a lil’ bit of cake, and that’s all great… then the marshmallows are gone, and you’re so happy with it that you want to taste the rest of it at once, so you push your spoon all the way to the bottom, and experience all the wonderful flavors together. And then you’re really happy, so you work your way down until it’s all gone, mixing layers at will. I think that if any of the layers were moved around or mixed together within the glass, it would have been average at best. But the layout here is perfect.

And I saved both glasses, and transported them to Provence and back to California, for when I’m in the mood for an Emotion of my own making.

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This was the “Surprise Mosaic,” with crispy meringue, griotte cherry compote “acidulee,” pistachio mousseline creme, and cardamom crumble. Let’s just say, I ate the whole thing (I usually only eat a couple bites of anything I get for pastry tastings… Thank goodness for Chad). But, cardamom! Brilliant here. And it’s a surprise two times over, with the cellophane and meringue covering its true nature.

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My brother got this Plaisirs Sucres — dacquoise biscuit with croquant nuts, praline feuillete, fine chocolate leaves, chocolate chantilly cream.

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Macarons and I go way back, to when I was in Paris in 1998. I was a freshman in college for film and imagined that my whole life would be screenwriting (my backup plan was a PhD in Film Theory), and I just happened to wander into a place called Laduree (I took a photo of the bag so that I wouldn’t forget the name and scoured what existed of the web for references when I got home). I was intrigued by these little pastel hamburger-shaped cookies, so I bought a pistachio, a chocolate, and a raspberry. Of course, they were ethereal almond-based cookies with either jelly, buttercream, or ganache inside, and I was amazed by their existence. Whenever I saw them in the US, I was so excited, but often let down (though I’ve discovered Miette at the Ferry Building as my current fix; try the grapefruit).

Now, as a pastry student, I see a bit of background. Pierre Herme has worked at Laduree and Fauchon (which I’ll blog about later), and I’d finally come full circle at his shop.

The macarons I tried were:

  • Americano Pamplemousse – Campari and Grapefruit. I have no idea why this is called “Americano,” since not many Americans that I know like Campari and/or grapefruit. I found it way too bitter, even though the confit of grapefruit was a nice touch.
  • Abricot Pistache “Arabesque” – Excellent. Even cooler was that there was pistachio “paste” in the middle of the apricot buttercream inside; I liked the contrast of color and texture… It was the first time that I encountered this in a macaron, until I got to the next one.
  • Olive Oil and Vanilla – This was bland until I got to what I believe was a candied piece of olive in the middle… then the flavors rode on its coattails, as it were, and it finished fabulously.
  • Fleur de Sel Caramel – Ugh. I love salt and I love caramel, and I love them together, but I never encountered a caramel (or chocolate) combination with salt in France that wasn’t waaaaay too salty. This was no exception.
  • Passionfruit and Milk Chocolate – I was intrigued by this, but the flavor combination just didn’t work for me. I could taste both of them, but they never came together in a meaningful way.
  • Rose – SO good.
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These pastries were from our second visit — our last visit. It was tough. I was still full and hungover from dinner the night before, so I felt I could only reasonably get one thing… I considered the “Tango” – sesame short dough, Parmigiano-Reggiano cream, raspberry and red pepper cream, fresh raspberries, and sweet tuile of parmesan, — but a voice in my head — that’s often quite asleep — said “Nina. C’mon. Get something that you know is fantastic. A classic that works.”

So, I got the “2000 Feuilles,” with caramelized puff pastry, praline feuillete, and praline mousseline. The creativity with language that Pierre Herme has became awkward for this, though, because after I ordered “un deux Milles Feuilles,” the counterperson started packing up two slices. So, “Non… Seulement, un… deux… milles… feuilles. Yeah… Merci beaucoup.”

But I kind of cheated about ordering a classic. I usually avoid hazelnuts like the plague because I don’t like their flavor (or texture, somehow), but something about having it in a napoleon seemed good… Maybe the hazelnut could be resurrected for me? And it was, for this at least. I can still envision the perfectly caramelized individual layers of puff pastry in the tart, and that caramelized flavor and texture enveloped the hazelnuts in the best way… the hazelnuts became the apotheosis of the puff pastry by deepening the caramelization and heightening it with a nutty flavor.

And Chad got the “Carrement Chocolat,” with soft chocolate biscuit, chocolate cream, chocolate mousse, and fine layers of chocolate croquant. It was awesome, and I like the subtly off-kilter design.

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The only thing that I didn’t like was this Kouign-Amann with Compote of Red Fruits. The berries tasted steamy, as if they’d been improperly cooked, and the pastry part was oddly boring. I once made a kouign-amann somewhere without access to a rolling pin, and even that was better than this.

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The pain au chocolat was traditional and perfect.

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I like the modernized sporks that we were given to eat with. The second time we went, I believe that they were red with a white stripe.

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The exterior, for the most part. There’s a curtain to enter through, and then a sliding glass door.

Boulangerie de Monge – Paris

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Pastry tasting in Paris may sound like a glamorous occupation for a week, but in reality, it’s more about eating on sidewalks than on fine linens decked out with plates of pastries. If a bakery doesn’t have seating, the search is immediately on for an even partially comfortable place to eat in public.

After making a few purchases the Boulangerie de Monge, a beautiful and casual sort of neighborhood bake shop that is supposed to make one of the best baguettes in Paris, we once again found ourselves on our on the streets, laden with baked goods. We eventually found a triangle of grass on a side street, with a two-foot high fence and a sign indicating that dogs are not allowed. We decided that it was good enough for us, and stepped over the fence.

So, that’s my explanation for this rather awkward, bucolic baguette shot…

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This was the Baguette de Boulangerie de Monge, which differed from their traditional baguette because it was without additives. It was just slightly doughy enough inside to be downright creamy. Paired with the quintessential crusty crust, it was great. I like the tapered ends, too.

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This Red Currant Tart had a layer of a kind of pistachio paste between the dough and the currants, which I loved. It not only added another dimension of flavor and texture to the tart, but it also helped seal the dough off from the moisture of the currants. I want to play around with this tart structure; in fact, I already have once, but I’ll post about that later.

On top of that, the red currants were so tart and juicy, and although I am eminently weary of overloading fruits with chunky gel, the glaze on this seemed to be flavored with red currant and was so smooth and soft that it only heightened the juiciness of the currants (I’m going to assume that it’s like this by design, but it’s possible that the heat melted the glaze a bit). Every bite was like a big kiss.

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The Pain au Chocolat was nicely flaky, and it was so hot outside outside that the chocolate was melted inside, which was lovely; I generally dislike chomping through two brittle sticks of chocolate in pains au chocolat.

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The Chouquettes were good, but I liked them smaller and a little more crisp, like at Le Bon Marche.

Here are a few more random pictures…

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