Archive for June, 2007

Catching Up on Summery Fruit Desserts

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
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Red Currant Gelee with Diced Saturn Peaches, Whipped Cream, and Ollalieberries.

I’ve made a few casual fruit desserts in the past month that I haven’t written about, so I thought I’d just run through them and take stock of the madness. All of the fruit was bought at Los Angeles farmer’s markets — either the Saturday or Wednesday Santa Monica market or the Sunday Hollywood market; the majority is either organic or spray-free.

The dessert above was made this past weekend, based on Lindsey Shere’s recipe here. I’m always so excited to see rare fruits for sale that I invariably rush to buy them (unless they look bad, and then sadly there’s just no use trying to resuscitate them). The red currants sold by Pudwill Farms this past Saturday looked fresh and sparkly (as opposed to some scraggly wild blueberries that I didn’t think could be coaxed into goodness), but I knew that red currants can be a little unpleasant to eat plain b/c of their large seeds and tartness. Shere’s recipe ameliorates these traits by cooking them with water and a little sugar before straining them and adding gelatin in order to make a gelee (which I fanatically wish I could just call jello).

The gelee lasts for a few days (though the gelatin will progressively firm up a little), so when you want to eat it, you can just whip up some cream and cut some fruit, if you want. The Saturn peaches, with white flesh and thin skins, have been juicy and tasty at the market so far (and their pits are a dream to remove).

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I have to thank Suzy at la.foodblogging for mentioning the availability of ollalieberries in her market report last week. They were sold at a stand that has an extensive potato selection, and I never would have guessed that they would have them (and boysenberries, as well, which I found sweeter).

The gelee above was chilled in a glass that I saved from a pudding I bought from Miette in SF (makers of the cupcake in my profile pic), and I also put some in an emotion glass that I saved from Pierre Herme. For this one, I crushed some berries with a fork and strained it to get juice that I mixed into the whipped cream w/ a little sugar. It gave a nice lavender color that didn’t really show up in the pic. If I were to do it again, I’d maybe try to put a lot more juice into the cream to get a stronger flavor to make it worth it and mix it less beforehand (it had been at soft, droopy peaks to begin) and afterwards b/c it was on the brink of graininess by the time I finished. But really, I think it’s perfect to just plop the berries on top instead.

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I also made a White Nectarine, Saturn Peach, and Ollalieberry Cobbler this past weekend.

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Noyau not used, the pit just happened to halve.

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The fruit was great and I was surprised by how well the ollalieberries colored the juices and the Saturn peaches, but I used a cobbler topping from a CIA recipe that didn’t rise all that much and was too fatty for me. Many cobbler recipes are similar, and I think it’s a matter of personal preference to adjust the butter and/or cream to your liking. In all honesty, though, I think I prefer crisps — b/c of their livelier flavor and texture — and maybe b/c I grew up with mighty fine apple crisp memories. Here, I generally uprooted the biscuits and ate the compote part plain, or spooned it over my morning oatmeal.

The filling thickener was tapioca, based on Claudia Fleming‘s ratios, but I didn’t like the texture too much — silken in an uncomfortable way. It bubbled up to nearly the sides of the pie dish while baking, but settled down considerably when cool.

I also discovered a love for nectarines through all of this. They’re like easygoing peaches, and I can’t wait to experiment with them a lot this summer. I was concerned that mine felt a bit firm in my hand, but they had a respectable juice and were very flavorful.

More after the jump…

(more…)

Fine, I’ll Make the Hamburger Buns Myself

Sunday, June 24th, 2007
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There’s something very sad about going to supermarkets whose shelves are groaning under the weight of multiple choices for almost every single possible thing you can buy, and thinking: “Is this all they have?”

Chad and I planned on having burgers last night, and when I went to the supermarket at 5pm, I was amazed that every single package of hamburger buns listed a boatload of ingredients that I didn’t want in my hamburger buns — including high-fructose corn syrup. True, there were buns in the bulk bakery section, but those had no ingredient lists and given my defeat in the bread aisle, I figured that my chances of approving of the ingredients wouldn’t be high.

It’s not that I’m fanatical about ultra-righteous ingredients. I just want to eat as decently as I can, and I draw the line at certain things. So, I came home and prepared hamburger buns myself, using the Variation 1 for White Bread in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You can make loaves, rolls, or hamburger or hot dog buns with the dough.

Incidentally, I can see why the market’s buns were so laden with ingredients. The recipe in the book called for bread flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar, instant dry yeast, egg, butter, and water. If you don’t use real egg, butter, or sugar in your industrial buns, you have to do some fancy footwork to approximate their effects with whatever presumably cheaper, long-lasting things you want to use. Heck, I was surprised that the recipe in the book called for powdered milk, but in the intro, he says you could use almost any kind of milk instead.

I used AP flour instead of bread flour b/c I wanted to encourage the lightness that the lower percentage of protein would give; plus, I don’t want to have to buy and store bread flour. I also used slightly less butter and sugar than he recommended, b/c I don’t need the extra fat or calories, and knew I wouldn’t miss them. For them to proof, I put them in the warmest place in my apartment, which was near Chad’s computers. I also placed them near each other for their final proof so that they would kiss, and would have soft spots on the sides; that’s my favorite part of hamburger buns. As you can see in the pic above, they browned a little unevenly b/c of this, but it didn’t make a difference when we ate them. I also doubted how soft the crust would be before I baked them, so I scored them (with a none-too-sharp knife, as it happened) just to ensure at least a streak of softness; it turned out to be unnecessary. I also sprinkled them with a little salt before they went into the oven, so that a whisper of salt would grace our upper lip as we bit into them.

We were able to eat around 9pm, and I don’t want to be immodest, but the buns were pretty fantastic. They shared many of the textural qualities of store-bought buns, but the flavor was so fresh and clean; I realized that they lacked that peculiar aftertaste of regular buns. It totally changed the home burger experience. I abide by the rule that buns should be as soft as the meat, and these fit perfectly into that ideal. They had a nice spongy crumb…

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So, a hamburger bun is categorized as an enriched bread (as opposed to lean), b/c of the added dairy and sugar, which have a tenderizing effect. It makes them softer and lighter — squishier– with a soft caramelized crust. I much prefer to buy breads made from lean doughs (such as baguettes) from bakeries b/c they have special ovens that will give it the proper hard crust, but enriched breads (such as brioche and challah) are quite nice to bake at home. They don’t require much of a crust, and are baked at a much lower temperature. The dough is more forgiving to work with, too, because of all the fat, which coats the gluten.

Breads made without preservatives do tend to dry out quickly, so whenever I make or buy such bread, I cut them into 1-2 sized portions and freeze them as soon as I’m done eating them for the day. I wrap them first in plastic wrap, and then in aluminum foil. When I want one asap, I unwrap them completely, rest it on the alum foil, put them in the oven, and set it to about 375F. By the time the temperature is ready, the bread usually is, too. If I plan ahead better, I just put them on the counter — still wrapped so that condensation doesn’t form on the bread itself — until it’s thawed; and it doesn’t take all that long.

Socialverse is Here!

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Please enjoy this shameless plug for my boyfriend’s new website, Socialverse!

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You may already know that Chad’s good at thinking up dreamy birthday cake ideas, but you should also know that his true area of expertise is software engineering. With Socialverse, I like to think that his company has developed a way for people to walk the world from the comfort of their computers.**

When you sign up, you get your own little doppelganger who can stroll around a map of the US. While you can explore cities and states that you dream of visiting, the site is mostly geared towards local search and social networking. So, you can chat up locals and friends near and far as well as browse businesses. Of course, people like us would probably first think to check out and add our thoughts to the restaurants and markets, but even I sometimes need to go to the hardware store or see a dentist. Socialverse lets you put your favorites on the map and find new places to go.

I suppose that it’s like citysearch and yelp, but Socialverse is cooler because it’s in real time (using Web 2.0 in clever ways) and you can actually see where these places in the country are b/c “you” are there, too.

In a typical move, Chad has thoughtfully provided lots of goodies that go above and beyond basics. So, here’s a cheat sheet to my favorite things that you can do that might not be obvious right away:

  • Click on the “online” line on the upper right of the screen to see who else is online. Click on someone’s name to move closer to them.
  • Place your blog (as an object) in an area where people will find it useful. You’ll find Sweet Napa already on the map somewhere in LA.
  • Find the nearest ATM.
  • If a location isn’t on the map yet, add it and talk about it.
  • Use additional motions — such as sleeping, meditating, dancing, and acting scared.
  • Adjust your appearance — clothing, size, hairstyle.
  • If you are a business owner, you can promote your business online.
  • Check the weather.
  • You can’t zoom in or out on the main map, but if you click on “Self” then “Mini Map” in the “Navigate” menu, you can see where you on a zoomable mini map.
  • Share photos.
  • Search local classifieds and post your own.

Please keep in mind that this is, as Chad says, “the early public beta.” There are still bugs, but he’ll happily be the victim of anyone’s criticism… or suggestions… or insouciant banter. When the basics are ironed out, the long-term goals are to make it a nexus of local search for any type of person, business, or organization you may be interested in, and in turn, a way to build relationships and become closer with your community. More features will be added — such as perhaps coupons and ads for shops around the corner being implemented, trees being planted, menus being posted, icons being customizable, and whatever people want that the world can support.

So, feel free to sign up, check it out, and tell everyone you know about it. The world is wide open.**

**Right now, the map only functions in the US, but there are plans to make it international down the line. Also, the faster your internet connection is, the faster you’ll be able to do things. Broadband is recommended. It is also only compatible with Firefox and IE for now.

The Cake’s Bath

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
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Toasted Pastel Vasco with Warm Blackberry Compote and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

This dessert is almost straight out of the Suzanne Goin’s Lucques cookbook, except that they recommend poured cream instead of lemon verbena ice cream. As far as I can tell, pastel vasco is the Spanish counterpart of gateau basque; “Basque” and “Vasco” are believed to be etymologically linked. Both cakes are usually dense and buttery; laced with rum and/or orange flavor; and baked with fruit compote or pastry cream inside. I’ve only seen gateaux basques as discs, but Lucques calls for its pastel vasco to baked in a loaf pan, which allows you to toast slices at will.

The toasting is a touch of genius. It deepens the flavor of the butter, and of course, it crisps the outside of the slice while lightening the inside. I think that any pound cake would benefit from such treatment. Goin suggests buttering each slice before toasting it in a pan, but the cake already has more than enough butter so I didn’t do that that. I only wish that I could have toasted it in a wood-burning oven, as they do at the restaurant.

And blackberries paired with lemon verbena? YUM.

I like the way that Lucques’ compotes are made. They caramelize sugar with a vanilla bean before adding brandy and the fruit (or half the fruit). The fruit is strained out once it releases its juices, and the syrup is cooked with a little cornstarch before reuniting with the fruit in a bowl. The caramelized sugar gives a boost to the flavor and body, and the minimal cooking time retains the freshness of the fruit. A couple weeks ago, I made the sweet cherry compote with rainier cherries for the roman cherry tart, but ending up eating it plain because it was so good. Btw, I can’t quite get myself to use a precious new vanilla bean for a compote, so instead, I use old vanilla beans that I’ve rinsed and dried. I don’t like the cloying aspect of vanilla sugar, so I keep them in an airtight container for uses like this.

This dessert delivered the “deliciousness” promised by Goin, but frankly, the cake itself was a little disappointing. The cake photographed in the cookbook looks a little dry, and mine baked up a little dry. I think it’s a tricky cake to bake because the heat has to get through a lot of cake and compote in order to fully bake on top. The dryness might be intentional so that it toasts well, but the next time I make this, I’m going to use a different recipe for the cake component. I just can’t abide by dry cake.

I also sprinkled the top of the cake with Organic Turbinado Sugar from Trader Joe’s instead of the recommended granulated sugar. It added more flavor and texture, and I’d do that again.

Anyway, the title of this post has nothing to do with this cake, per se, except that the word “pastel” always reminds me a Spanish class that I took in Belize in 2002. Although we were cheerfully coaxed through declensions and lists of vocabulary words for weeks by a teacher who didn’t speak any English, I only remember the words that were taught when we were given leftover slices of pink-frosted cake from a volunteer’s birthday party. I learned that cake could be called “pastel” or “queque” (pronounced “kay-kay,” which I preferred). But even better, I was told that “el bano de pastel” meant frosting — which I translate as “the bath of the cake.” I’m still amused by the image of a cake relaxing into a bath full of comforting frosting after, say, a stressful day… and by the thought that frosting a cake is the equivalent of giving it a bath.

For my part, I introduced the topic of s’mores that afternoon, and our class enthusiastically set about describing them to the teacher in broken Spanish. I believe that the graham cracker was the hardest to construe accurately.

I find myself thinking about our patient and inquisitive teacher, Gabriela, sometimes. Despite my obviously loose grip on Spanish, I was able to understand that she had taught engineering at a university in Nicaragua. She had fled to Belize with her daughter, and that evening, would bring home a slice of pink-frosted cake for her.

The Whiskey Bar

Friday, June 8th, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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The Whiskey Bar: Jack Daniels Ganache and Pecan-Laced Salted Caramel semi-enrobed in 58% Dark Chocolate and sprinkled with Coconut.

So, yes, this bar is something like a tricked out pecan pie.

What I like about it is that halfway through a bite, you want to stop and smile. It’s because of the flavor and jumble of textures – the tang of the caramel and the bite of the Jack Daniels, with the added spark of toasted pecans and rich coconut. Half of the coconut is toasted and half isn’t, because it adds another layer of flavor and more color. I’d like to give thanks to my reader, Jessica, whose comment that Jack Daniels has “a sweet vanilla, coconut flavor with a nice smokiness” catalyzed the inclusion of coconut in this bar. I never would have thought of that on my own, and now I couldn’t imagine the bar without it.

These are similar in shape and size to the Scotch Bar, but it has the additions to distinguish itself. Whereas I feel that Scotch should be unencumbered by much else, Jack Daniels calls for a little bit of playing around.

In fact, you would think that this bar could have been constructed within a day of the Scotch Bar, but I took a long, long route to come to this version. I tried a milk chocolate ganache. I tried fully enrobing it in milk chocolate. I tried Lyle’s golden syrup in the caramel instead of glucose. I tried different methods of getting the caramel to just the right height. I tried each of these variations one or two or three or four times in various configurations, and monitored them over time to see how they held up. In the end, the Scotch Bar was just the right model for it, and I couldn’t justify making it more different just for the sake of it. I think it works.