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.
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…