Archive for December, 2006

Bacon Baklava, You’re a Gift to Myself

Thursday, December 28th, 2006
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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If someone had the singular genius to publish a cookbook entitled Bacon Desserts, I’d be all over it. I’ve yet to have a bacon dessert that I didn’t love. Bacon can go sweet/salty, chewy/crispy, smoky/simply savory, and star or supporting player.

This baklava recipe plays with bacon’s infinite variety. It is mixed into a filling of almonds and dates — the almonds bring out its crisp savoriness while the dates bring out its sweet chewiness. The syrup poured over the baklava is made of maple syrup, orange peel, and bourbon. All contribute generally to the depth of flavor and the requisite stickiness, but the maple syrup and orange peel also remind me how much I like to eat the bacon that falls into pools of maple syrup on my breakfast plates, and the bourbon goes so well with smokiness.

I looked at other baklava recipes before making this recipe, and I’m happy that this recipe uses dates instead of brown sugar and maple syrup instead of honey.

Bacon is such an iconic part of breakfast that it’s easy to rhyme it with dessert foods that resemble breakfast food… to the point that it seems like bacon can go with anything. Scrambled eggs translates to egg-based desserts that would be good with bacon, such as custards (ice cream, bread pudding, creme brulee, creme anglaise). Orange juice and apple juice translate to fruit desserts, such as tarts and pies. Toast translates to breads, such as stollen and croissants. Chocolate chip pancakes translate to cake and chocolate. Mmmmm… bacon and chocolate. I also have it on good authority that bacon can go well with raisins. And if only I’d had the courage to sprinkle bacon on my Nutter Butter Banana Cake back in the day, especially since it was based on the Elvis sandwich.

This recipe also reminds me of those broiled bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and either parmesan or blue cheese. I know I’ve stepped over some line to want to try bacon baklava with the addition of parmesan or blue cheese…. but I can’t help it. And I don’t mind how much that dish would seriously blur the line between sweet and savory.

Of course, bacon has two main challenges in desserts: its grease and the fact that it’s meat… but I’m willing to work to overcome them.

In terms of this recipe as written, I will make it a little differently next time. It says to bake it at 400F for 10 minutes before finishing it at 325 for 1 hr. The phyllo browned very quickly at 400F and then didn’t take the full time to finishing cooling; and it was hard to tell doneness because it was so dark on top. Next time, I’ll try keeping it at 325 the whole time.

Also, this recipe calls for 1.5# bacon for a 13×9 pan. That’s a lot of bacon. It can probably be decreased by at least a 1/3, and supplemented with more nuts and dates. I love bacon and all, but a little can go a long way, too.

A Passion Fruit Coconut Candy Bar

Monday, December 18th, 2006
NOTE: This bar is being revamped.
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Or technically, a Passion Fruit Coconut Macadamia Dulce de Leche Candy Bar… Striding in at a stately 19 syllables.

This is not really a complicated candy bar filling. It’s just toasted unsweetened coconut mixed with dulce de leche and passion fruit puree, and studded with untoasted macadamia nuts.

The trick with this bar was coming up with how to bind the coconut mixture together… Caramel? Sweetened condensed milk? Invert sugar? I thought about the filling of Almond Joys, and how it’s almost like German Chocolate Cake filling. I came upon this recipe for German Chocolate Cake, which has a filling made of coconut and sweetened condensed milk (and pecans and vanilla, which I left out). The SCM is baked in a water bath until thick and brown, and that seemed like a great way to add a caramel-like complexity to the bar; and I love passionfruit caramels. And um… I have to admit that it wasn’t until I researched more about this cooking of SCM until I realized that everyone knows it as dulce de leche. I was tempted to try the method in which you simmer a can of SCM in a pot of water until it darkens, but I wanted to be able to judge the color of its progress, so I baked it as instructed instead.

This bar still needs some work. It packs a coconut-passion fruit-macadamia-caramelized milk punch, but I think that the milk brings out the sourness of the passion fruit a little too much. I want tart, not sour. Next time, I’m going to try mixing the straightforward caramel base from the Spicy Caramel Nut Bar w/ the passion fruit puree and coconut. I like the flavor that the macadamia has to offer, but the bar is a tad crunchy. I need to work on balancing the “snappy” coating of chocolate w/ both soft and crunchy fillings — the shards of chocolate risk overwhelming the texture of the bar as a whole. I’ll try cutting the nuts a tad smaller next time

Filling: I mixed the passion fruit puree and toasted coconut into the dulce de leche until I liked the flavor and consistency, and thought that it could stand up to the chocolate. For dulce de leche made from a 14 oz can, I used 1.8oz puree, and 4 oz coconut. It was a little thick at room temp, so I heated it in a double boiler to 85F so that I could pipe it into the candy bar molds comfortably.

I made a few molded chocolates w/ just regular SCM mixed w/ passion fruit and coconut, but it was a little too one note for me — although the tartness was considerably cleaner. I also wanted a thicker bottom to the bonbon for this, just so the chocolate could balance the strength of the filling.

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Other: I didn’t paint the molds this time w/ a thin layer of chocolate, so there were quite a few air bubbles on the sharper corners of the molds.

Tartine – San Francisco

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Lemon Meringue Cake

First off, isn’t that cake gorgeous? I think it’s emblematic of Tartine. Stylish, but ultimately simple and somehow bountiful. The Lemon Meringue Cake has a chiffon cake, lemon cream, caramel, lemon syrup, and Italian meringue. I’m willing to call the inclusion of caramel a stroke of genius.

The day before we visited Tartine, I happened to read through the entire Tartine cookbook. I have to admit that while many of the techniques described in the book seemed clever and useful, I didn’t mark any recipes to make soon because they seemed pretty traditional — either French or American. Croissants, Chocolate Pudding, Pumpkin Pie, Shortbread, Fresh Fruit Tart, Frangipane Tart, Lemon-Buttermilk Pudding Cake, etc.

But I’ve been converted. Once you go to Tartine, you get it. They’ve made the classics their own, and then some. Their food sparkles, culinarily speaking. Now, I want to make just about every recipe in the book.

I think of Tartine as the Chez Panisse of bakeries. Indeed, Alice Waters wrote the foreword to the cookbook. The emphasis is on fresh, seasonal, often local ingredients prepared with a loving attention to detail.

Tartine is in the Mission District. For a Saturday lunch, we spent a long time looking for parking, a reasonable time in the line that went out the door, a while standing up and eating our cake as we waited for our sandwiches, and a while sitting down and eating in two chairs we snagged at the communal table. Traffic there and back in the rain was a bit rough. As I finished off what I could eat of my cake, I took a long look around at the beautiful food and lively people… and wondered if I’d ever have the time and energy to make the trek there again before I move back to Los Angeles in February. Sadly, probably not. But at least its cookbook will allow Tartine to pop up again on my blog someday. And if you’re in SF, I hope that you can make it there and enjoy it as much as I did.

I believe that I’m still full from this meal…

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Passion Fruit and Lime Bavarian. Chiffon Cake, Lime Syrup, Passion Fruit Bavarian Cream, Coconut, Whipped Cream (to adhere coconut to cake). Loved the tartness of this, with just the right sweetness. The bavarian was somehow fluffy — very different from the ones I’m familiar with. Liked all the textures, esp coconut w/ the chiffon and a little bavarian. The chiffon cake seemed a little moister than the one in the lemon meringue cake.

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Three Cheese Pressed Sandwich. Bellwether Farms Jersey Carmody, Straus Cheddar, Cowgirl Fromage Blanc. Every bite of this was a little different, due to the configuration of the cheese. Pickled Carrots great, sour & spicy. Three sandwich pieces too much for an average person — and too tempting b/c so good. Perfectly butter-y toasted bread.

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Jambon Royale & Gruyere Pressed Sandwich. Niman Ranch cured and smoked ham with Dijon on country bread. A lot of mustard on this, but I was happy with that, and the whole thing. Just the smell of it brought me back to France.

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Gruyere Gougere with Fresh Herbs. This was a bit too soggy inside to completely enjoy, but the flavor was good.

Spicy Caramel Nut Candy Bar… With Cocoa Nibs

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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This is a candy bar by way of Caramello, spicy candied nuts, and a caramel nut tart.

I like it a lot. The flavors of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and cayenne pop out from the nut, caramel, and chocolate background in an addictive way. Every bite is a little different, b/c the nuts and cocoa nibs are randomly arranged. The nuts and molded tempered chocolate also give it a satisfying crunch. With its spices, it’s also perfect for the holidays.

Candy bar engineering has proven to be quite the challenge — I’ve been reading much more about confections than actually making them recently. Why? Sugar and chocolate. Both of those encompass huge worlds of finicky formulations and exquisite possibilities. Factor in the effects (and prices) of fats/dairy like cream and butter, and you’d also be running for the books and classes before blithely throwing them together. I’ll post my developing treatise when I get some more free time.

Spicy Caramel with Nuts and Cocoa Nibs – This has quite a genealogy. For my Restaurant Project in culinary school, I made the Caramel Nut Tart from the Lucques cookbook, but it re-crystallized if made as written (with 2.5c sugar and 2/3c cream). Although it was delicious that way, I experimented a bit, and found that a caramel made of 2.5c sugar and 1c cream comes out quite gooey, but not runny. That seemed perfect for a candy bar filling… So, I made this bar with my adapted way, and in addition to the 2 tsp of honey also originally called for, I added 2 tsp of corn syrup in hopes of bolstering its chew.

For the spicy nuts, I adapted the proportions for Spiced Candied Nuts in David Lebovitz‘s Room For Dessert. I knew I wanted to use 3/4c nuts b/c of the tart filling recipe, so I adjusted the amounts of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cayenne pepper to fit. There were 2 5/8 tsp total of spices, which looked like a lot, but I was feeling lucky. In the finished bar, they blend into the caramel without a powdery finish, which is a relief. I might decrease the cinnamon and increase the cayenne next time, to see what happens.

For the question of when to add the spices to the caramel, I turned to Gale Gand’s recipe for Cinnamon Peanut Brittle, which I’d adapted to make for my culinary school graduation. She adds the spice after the sugar is caramelized, but before she adds butter. So, I added the spices after the sugar was caramelized, but before I added cream.

And for the actual nuts to use, I turned to my fridge: peanuts, walnuts, and Marcona almonds. I toasted the former two, and coarsely chopped them all up, knowing that I wanted neither a paste nor big chunks of nuts that would stick out of the chocolate mold and prevent me from sealing the bars correctly. I also added Scharffen Berger cocoa nibs, b/c I had them and they’re good. I didn’t measure any amounts of anything, except the 3/4 c total. Next time, I’m going to be sure to add a higher proportion of cocoa nibs. They add such complexity when you get one in a bite.

I waited for the caramel mixture to cool to 85F before I filled my molds; any higher, and the chocolate could melt. I then began the painstaking process of using the ends of two butter knives to deposit the caramel mixture bit by bit into the molds b/c it wasn’t pourable. In the future, I could add more cream to make it more runny, but I do like it the way it is so maybe I’ll try to think of a better method. In any case, since it’s only one filling, it’s much easier to engineer than a ganache and cookie combination, like with the Malted Caramel Ganache and Vanilla Shortbread Candy Bar…. which reminds me — I need to start thinking of snazzy names for these things.

I thought about adding a few crystals of fleur de sel or the like in the mold before filling it, but it’s probably not necessary. The bar already has a good, balanced flavor, though the spices strike everyone slightly differently, according to their palates.

Chocolate: Cacao Barry, Mi-Amere, 58%. I like this as my dark chocolate b/c it has a pleasant chocolate backbone flavor; it’s not too fruity or overpowering. And it melts nicely on the tongue. And it comes in pistoles, so I can tempering with pistoles instead of blocks of chocolate.

When I’m filling the molds, I have to remember to keep the chocolate at the higher side of its tempering range so that it’s a little thinner. My walls were a bit thick this time.