Archive for the 'Recipes – Dessert' Category

The Rosy Strawberry-Rhubarb Pavlova

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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Chandler Strawberries, Rhubarb Compote, Tahitian Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream, Rose Meringue.

I remember the first time that I ever heard of a pavlova — in 1999, at the now-gone Montrachet in New York. I ordered it as something like a dare to myself, and the kitchen. I vaguely expected some kind of hearty Russian dessert to come out of that refined French kitchen that had already given us two absolutely amazing courses. The pavlova turned out to be a plate of pure lightness and flavor. Looking back, it was the first dessert that really left an impression on me (even though I’d have no clue about how to make it for the roughly 7 years afterwards). It was a passion fruit and blackberry pavlova, and part of its genius was that the glazed blackberries on the side of the plate were warm — making the otherwise cool, creamy dish even dreamier. And now that I think of it, that dish had two tart fruits, but the warmth in the berries imbued the dish with just the right earthy note. Brilliant.

So, I love pavlovas, and they’re really pretty easy to make. Unlike some meringue recipes that can go for hours or overnight in a low oven, the pavlova meringue can only take about an hour in the oven, so that it’s crunchy on the outside and marshmallow-y on the inside. Some pavlova-ists insist on a perfectly white meringue (which indeed looks gorgeous and satin-y in the oven while baking in the early stages), but I prefer a bit of a final brown complexion to mine. As all of my sugar-cooking as proven to me, color on sugar equals flavor… so that slight caramelization on the exterior is pure gold.

When I started on this dessert, I knew that I wanted to make some kind of a strawberry-rhubarb concoction… It actually started out as a napoleon, since I was making a big batch of puff pastry anyway that day to put in the freezer for alsatian tarts during the summer and I figure I should make pastry cream once a year whether I need it or not, but as I thought about it more and more, paring it down the essence of the flavors that I wanted to experience, the extra butter, flour, and eggs went away, as usual… and left me with the idea of making a sugary, creamy pavlova, topped with fresh strawberries on top of a rhubarb compote and unsweetened vanilla whipped cream, and spiked with the slight essence of rosewater in the meringue, inspired by Claudia’s Fleming’s ideas in The Last Course.

Strawberries – Wonderfully ripe and juicy Chandlers from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, quartered a la minute. No need to do/add anything else to them.

Rhubarb Compote – based on Dana’s recipe – I looked around for rhubarb prep ideas, and went with this one because I didn’t want it too runny so that it wouldn’t dissolve the meringue or whipped cream. This was one perfectly slightly jammy, with the help of a touch of butter to give it body and silkiness. I omitted the orange peel b/c I didn’t want too much orange flavor, but I did include some homemade orange liqueur made with valencias and Mount Gay rum. Rhubarb is way more rare in LA than it is in Seattle (I know of two farmers market stands that carry it, occasionally), but I felt that this is a good recipe to use to show off rhubarb whether it is sparse or plentiful.

Rose Meringuethis recipe, with rosewater added to taste at the end instead of vanilla – I followed Fleming’s advice to make the rose flavor slightly stronger than I wanted before baked b/c it would weaken a bit after baking. The exterior of the meringue seemed a little… umm…. rubbery for a while in the oven (maybe from the cornstarch), but I upped the temp to 275F after 50 minutes, and it got caramelized and crunchy on the outside while leaving the inside marshmallowy. And some people make meringues to get rid of extra egg whites… but I’m the type who never finds ways to get rid of extra yolks… egg-based custards just aren’t my thing.

I have some leftover meringues and rhubarb compote and cream… and some fresh brooks cherries! So, tonight, as I watch the Lost finale, it’ll be a pavlova version of last year’s cherry-rhubarb cobbler…. as look forward to remaking my Fresh Apple Pavlova in the fall from almost two years ago!

Kaiserschmarren… Shkaiserschmarren

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

There are so many recipes that I want to make out of Sherry Yard’s latest book, Desserts by the Yard, but the picture of the tower of torn Kaiserschmarren atop an almost unbearable riches of strawberries won me over first. It also helped that strawberries are coming into their own at the markets these days (and stone fruit — cherries, apriums, peaches, and nectarines are already popping up at the farmers markets!), and I’ve been dying to do a little dessert project. Here’s the recipe.

As Yard tells us, “Kaiserschmarren is a large souffled pancake. The name means, literally, ‘the Emperor’s little nothing.'” Yard flavors hers with creme fraiche, fromage blanc, rum, and poached raisins; creme fraiche, btw, seems to be one of her go-to ingredients, it’s all throughout the book. When I found a store that carried both creme fraiche and fromage blanc, I was shocked to find them at a combined price of $12.58. I vaguely remembered a class in the early days of culinary school when we made a variety of fresh soft cheeses using ingredients like buttermilk and lemons, so instead I bought a little of both, for about $1.49. I already had leftover cream and milk from caramel experiments at home, so I felt pretty covered.

And I have to say, as much fun as it was to make the pancake, making the creme fraiche and fromage blanc were just absolutely thrilling… Really, they’re like magic! Even the most jaded kitchen hand couldn’t help but feel the giddy pleasure of having them come together (and with such slight effort… they practically form by power of suggestion). And the timing was perfect — since it was Tuesday, I had a day for them to come together before I bought strawberries at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market.

For the creme fraiche, I turned to page 5 of Chez Panisse Desserts. It’s the third recipe in the book, and all you do is heat cream, add a touch of buttermilk, and put it in a warm place for 12-24 hrs before refrigerating. And it sets up firm, just like what you buy! It lasts for a week, and you can keep it going ad infinitum by adding some to fresh cream and repeating the process.

The fromage blanc is only slightly more labor intensive — it involves straining — and is really fun to see come together. I used this recipe (x.25), from Emeril of all people. Again, just gently heat up the ingredients, this time to 175F while following the wonderfully exact instruction to “stir only twice, making 2 strokes each time” and appreciating the casual references to curds and whey, as if you encounter them everyday. As it heats, you see it separate…

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And when you strain it, it begins to firm up.

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I figured that it would firm up even more in the fridge (since it’s so fatty and it was already this thick when slightly warm), so I didn’t strain it to death. I think it turned out just right.

Both were very good, with an edge of buttermilk flavor that mellows out with a little time. I especially liked the fromage blanc, just pure freshness.

I have to admit that not everyone was so taken with it was I was. When I showed them to Chad, it was all he could do to avert his eyes while chanting quickly, “that’s great, that’s great, ok, great, really, that’s great.” Something about their live cultures and my ability to harness them so easily freaked him out. Oh, well, better view for me.

So, I went to the Market this morning, and got my strawberries. I generally like Camarosas, b/c I get the best strawberry flavor from them; other varieties have been too blandly sweet, watery, or sour for me.

Capturing the flavor of strawberries can be a bit difficult; there’s something elusive about their flavor, especially when you try to work with them. So, Yard’s strawberry sauce recipe was very interesting — she infuses the strawberries into a syrup of fresh orange juice, water, sugar, star anise and grand marnier; you can actually see the color leave the strawberries as the sauce becomes more and more vibrant. You then strain it and add in quartered berries over heat. The result is a flavorful, yet nicely balanced sauce. A touch sweet (and I decreased the sugar a little), but matches well with less sweet components.

I also poached some raisins, but didn’t use her recipe b/c I didn’t have all the ingredients or desire to make a lot… so just warmed in rum, wine, and water, to plump them.

And finally, I whipped together the souffled pancake. I kind of miss using the technique of folding egg whites into a base; for some reason, I just enjoy folding. Maybe because there’s a slight challenge to it — to be quick but gentle and thorough — and because it’s more active than turning the knob of a mixer. It’s like a race you can’t lose once you know how to do it right.

Mine baked up a little differently than specified. Yard says that it should be pudding-like in the center when you take it out, but mine seemed slightly firm in the center, so I took it out… and it was drier than pudding, but moister than a finished cake for most of the center of the cake.

Anyway, it deflated after a couple seconds (like most egg-rich batters), and it tasted very nice as a finished dessert — tangy from the creme fraiche and fromage blanc, and a hint of rum, with the dreamy hit of the strawberry sauce. Yard says to finish with confectioners sugar, but I put a dollop of whipped cream on top instead, which I can’t recommend enough — the cool cream on top of the hot pancake and warm strawberry sauce makes this an idealized version of a late night breakfast dish at a diner with friends. I’m afraid that my pic isn’t as glorious as the pic in the book (darn that raggedy piece on the side and my rush to eat it warm), but this is what it looked like…

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Vanilla Orange Juice

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’m feeling just a touch clever right now. Instead of going through the process of making Vanilla Orange Sorbet by juicing oranges, making a simple syrup infused with a vanilla bean, chilling it, spinning it, and freezing it, I realized that simply dropping a split vanilla bean into orange juice and letting it infuse for a little while is quite amazing and luxurious in its own right (and without any added sugar). I used a combination of juices from navel and cara cara oranges that I got at the Farmer’s Market whose peel are destined to be candied, but doing the same thing with even a carton of OJ could just be the highlight of a brunch party.

Vanilla beans are resilient things — it could be done with a scraped out bean and probably be reused again even, as long as it stays submerged. Of course, not everyone has vanilla beans lying around and waiting for some action, but if you do, make sure you have some citrus juice around, too.

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Lemon Posset is the New Bacon Baklava, and Other New Year’s Eve Discoveries

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

I couldn’t wait to make this New Year’s Eve Dinner. As much as I enjoy playing with sugar and chocolate, the prospect of working with meats and vegetables and all sorts of non-chocolate-oriented food was irresistible. It seemed like a vacation, notwithstanding all the standing and cooking… I hadn’t cooked even a semi-real meal in a long time.

I made dishes that I’d tucked into the back of my mind and had been wanting to make for a while… and luckily, since I have freakish knack for consistency, they all fit into each other to make for a nicely coherent menu — even the dessert, with its 4 components, just worked out that way.

I made a few things each day starting on Saturday, and by the time of the dinner party, everything but the risotto was practically ready and just needed to heated and plated. Such prep and organization reminded me of my restaurant stint in Napa, not to mention culinary school. The experience was like speaking a language that I learned a long time ago and was pleasantly surprised that I can still get by with — even if only in the most casual of settings. I cleared away everything from the counter that wasn’t needed for service, laid out my plates, and cleaned up after every course. There was barely any clean up at the end, and I mostly just checked in on food… until I ate it. It was the most stress-free dinner party I’ve ever had.

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Spiced Quince Cake with Lemon Posset, Warm Walnut Sauce, Cranberry Sorbet, and Toasted Walnuts

Lemon Posset is my new culinary cause. It’s only lemon juice, sugar, and cream, but it sets up! Like a light-as-air lemon curd, or even a mousse! It’s so easy and brightly delicious, and it contains only ingredients whose flavor I thoroughly like! No eggs or cornstarch or powdered sugar to get in the way. I issue a warning to the next person who mentions lemon curd to me — for I shall sit them down and lecture on the wonders of lemon posset. So, yes, last year, I was amazed by Bacon Baklava, and this year, it’s all about the posset, which — bonus — is also just as much fun to say.

From what I can tell, the reaction between the acid in the lemon juice and the casein (protein) in the cream causes it to set. Like curd, some combination of lime, orange, or passion fruit can be used, too (and some possets are warm, alcoholic drinks… also worth a try; egg nog is related, I believe).

I used this recipe from Claire Clark’s new book, Indulge, which is especially useful as a go-to book for British desserts, though it is not exclusively anglo-oriented as she is currently the pastry chef at The French Laundry. Clark boils the lemon juice and sugar together and adds boiled cream, but most recipes cook the sugar and cream together and add lemon juice at the end. I’m not sure what difference it makes, except for the amount of moisture lost through the boilings.

I have been taking spoonfuls of leftover lemon posset here and there (that is, whenever I can find an excuse to be in the kitchen), but like a mousse, some liquid separated out on the bottom by the second day. I guess magic can’t last forever.

As it happens, this dessert is partially a French Laundry Then-And-Now concoction — the Walnut Sauce is the Cream of Walnut Soup recipe from The French Laundry cookbook. Walnut-infused cream, poaching liquid, and a poached pear are blended together to make a sauce that’s stunning enough to be eaten alone as a soup. French Laundry at Home declares her love for it here, and the date on that post shows me that I’ve been meaning to make this since roughly last February. I think my juicy Bartlett pear may have been a bit too big, as the pear flavor was a little stronger than I wanted, but by putting it under the cake, the pear flavor nicely blended into the quince and still left the walnut flavor strong. Ah, the safety net of plated desserts combinations.

The Spiced Quince Cake is from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course. It called for a 10″ springform pan and the batter was very wet, but I used a 9″ and baked it a little longer and it was fine, if a bit spongy-looking. I poached the quinces on Saturday, left them in the syrup until Monday, when they were drained and baked in the cake; the star anise left the most noticeable impression on them. The batter for the cake was like that of a financier — (homemade) almond flour, a little flour, and egg whites with powdered sugar, spices, and browned butter. Rich flavor with a sugary crust and toothsome crumb, but a little heavy on the powdered sugar to me, esp in the aftertaste — but I am sensitive to that flavor.

The Cranberry Sorbet is based on the Chocolate Gourmand’s recipe from a high school friend. I decreased the alcohol by half, and not having limoncello and welcoming a combination of flavors, I substituted half Damiana and Tuaca. I also measured the sugar on my refractometer and it was off the chart, so I added water until it was about 27Brix. I love the smooth texture and rich cranberry flavor, bolstered by subtle spice and orange from the alcohol.

And there was even savory food, too… after the jump…

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Pomegranate Pumpkin Pie

Monday, October 8th, 2007

The genesis of this pie went like this:

Me: “I wonder what I should make with my pomegranates.”

Chad: “I want pumpkin pie.”

Silence, as an illustrated timeline materializes in my mind — on the far left, under “Now,” a few gleaming arils of pomegranate swirl about. A long red line connects them to a slice of pumpkin pie on the far right, under “Late November.”

Chad: “I want pomkin pie!”

Silence, as I arch an eyebrow in his direction.

Chad: “I bet it shows up on Google!”

Silence, except for my typing.

Chad: “No, not pompkin — pomkin.”

And there it was, this pumpkin pie recipe from POM that calls for pomegranate juice.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’ve always expected more from pumpkin pie than I’ve gotten out of it. Despite the variety of spices, sugars, and crusts that can used with the pumpkin, the pie usually comes off as a bit stodgy. The bright tartness of pomegranate could be just the thing to make it pop.

Then again, I had two bright red organic pomegranates from the Saturday Santa Monica Farmers Market that were possibly the best pomegranates that I’ve ever brought into my kitchen. Maybe they were too good to bury in an arguably stodgy pie. Or maybe I should give the pie its best chance. And snack during preparation. And hope that the pie only required one of my two pomegranates.

So, I made pie dough, chilled it, rolled it out, lined my shallow pie pan, chilled it, baked it, and then got on with my pomegranate work. I put on gloves, inserted my knife into the open end and twisted it to open it without slicing through the arils, and turned each half upside down and freed the arils with my fingers; I’ve heard about the underwater trick, but for some reason, I just never feel like trying it out.

Fresh pomegranate juice is easily marred by astringency from the membrane, seeds, and pith, so I tried to make it as easy as possible for the juice to run free from danger. I picked out any extraneous matter from the bowl of arils, and then briefly ran them in my food mill so that the juice slipped off without breaking their large seeds.

One pomegranate yielded the necessary half cup of juice, and the rest of the recipe involved simple mixing manuevers. Pumpkin pie is essentially a custard with a crust, so similar to a creme brulee, it comes together quickly and cooks in the oven for a while.

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I can’t completely recommend this recipe, b/c our debate over whether the pomegranate is noticeable and what flavor it contributes exactly has reached an impasse of uncertainty. Chad is unequivocal about being able to taste it, but can’t describe what it contributes exactly. I think that there is a sour tinge that makes the pumpkin more interesting and points up the spices, but it’s elusive. I’m sure that you could eat this pie in ignorance of the pomegranate presence.

But it’s a tasty pie nonetheless, and if you have some leftover POM, you should give it a try. It has a pleasant creamy texture that’s also all the more interesting given the complex flavors behind it, and negates the need for whipped cream. It makes me think that grated lemon or orange peel may also be welcome in pumpkin pie… and that a few pomegranate arils as garnish on top of a regular pumpkin would be very good, and would require less work and pomegranate, to boot.

So, I still have one more gorgeous pomegranate… which I hope to pair with walnuts to make the fesenjan-inspired dessert that I’ve been kicking around since last year.