Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lemon-Fennel Gelato and Spring Cleaning

Not sure why, but I’m one of the few who loves the tongue-numbing, licorice-y flavor of fennel. Especially when it’s paired with citrus. It’s great with orange, grapefruit, and yuzu, but I like it best with lemon, in everything from soup to a marinade for grilled vegetables to an infusion for a flavorful gelato. Since summer’s almost here, I decided to make the gelato. To make it, I used fennel seeds (as opposed to fresh fennel), and first toasted them in a skillet to bring out their flavor. 

Then I simply infused the ice cream base with the seeds and lots of lemon zest, and strained out the solids before processing. What to serve it with? I couldn’t seem to make up my mind whether to make the world’s best polenta cake or almond madeleines, so I made them both. The polenta cake recipe is courtesy of my friend Meredith Kurtzman, the talented pastry chef at Mario Batali’s Otto restaurant in NYC. Aside from this cake, Meredith also makes unbelievably great gelato—she is downright famous for her olive oil gelato, and rightly so. It’s incredible. You can find many of her recipes, including both the polenta cake and the olive oil gelato, in Mario’s new book, Molto Gusto. Mario’s recipes are pretty good, too.

P.S. I've decided it's time to do a little spring cleaning and thin out my bloated cookbook collection. So here it is: The Great Cookbook Giveaway. Comment on my post and I’ll send the person who leaves the cleverest one copies of The Cake Book, by moi, and The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts, from The French Culinary Institute (winner of the IACP award in the Food and Beverage Reference category).  To avoid the complexities of international shipping, this offer is limited to U.S. residents.

P.P.S. Note to members of my immediate family and work colleagues: please, please have some pride and don’t enter. You have enough books already.

P.P.P.S. I've decided that the comments don't have to be so clever. Life is stressful enough. Just leave any old comment...

Lemon-Fennel Gelato

Makes about 1 quart

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 4 lemons
6 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt

1. Place the fennel seeds in a non-stick skillet and toast over medium-high heat, shaking the skillet constantly, until they are lightly toasted and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2. Grind the seeds coarsely using a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, ¾ cup of the sugar, fennel seeds and lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand to infuse for 45 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and remaining ¼ cup sugar until blended. Reheat the milk mixture until just beginning to boil. Whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Place the bowl over an ice bath and stir until cool. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the base for at least 6 hours or overnight.
5. Process in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Polenta Cake

Makes one 8-inch round cake

Adapted from Meredith Kurtzman’s recipe in Mario Batali’s book Molto Gusto.

9 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 tablespoons almond flour
1 cup plus 2 ½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup cake flour
¼ cup coarse cornmeal
3 ½ egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest of ½ lemon

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
2. Melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat and continue to cook until the butter is amber brown; do not stir—you want the milk solids in the butter to fall to the bottom of the pan and brown, flavoring the butter as it cooks. Strain the butter through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl; discard the solids. Set aside to cool.
3. Sift the almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, cake flour and cornmeal together and blend.
4. Beat the egg whites and salt in an electric mixer using the whisk attachment until the whites hold stiff peaks. Gradually fold in the dry ingredients. Fold in the cooled brown butter and the lemon zest.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, until the cake is golden brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack and cool completely.

Almond Madeleines

Makes about 24

Adapted from a recipe in The Good Cookie.

½ cup almond flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract

1. Combine the almond flour, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl and stir well. Slowly whisk in the egg whites until blended.
2. Place the butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until light brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk the hot butter into the almond mixture until combined. Whisk in the vanilla and almond extracts. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours (or up to 24 hours), until cold.
3. Place two racks near the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Spray two 12-cavity madeleine pans thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pans in the freezer for 10 minutes to set the spray. Place a dollop of batter in each mold, filling them 2/3-full. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the madeleines are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Remove the madeleines from the molds immediately and place them on a wire rack to cool.

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