Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pot of Gold

I fell in love with that classic French dessert, Pot de Creme, the first time I made it as a culinary student in Paris many years ago, and have been making it ever since. Pot de Creme is rich, really rich, and, when made properly, it is also silky smooth and ultra creamy. I’ve been known to use it as a filling for cakes, cookies and choux pastry (I use half-and-half instead of cream when I’m doing that) but it also stands on its own as an excellent dessert that can be flavored an infinite number of ways. Here I’ve made a Brown Sugar Bourbon version, which will benefit from nothing more than a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. This can be made up to a day ahead and stored, well covered, in the fridge. It's delish, I promise.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Pots de Creme
Makes 6 servings

2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon (I use Maker’s Mark)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Arrange 6 ramekins in a baking or roasting pan and set aside.

2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until just beginning to boil. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar. Gradually whisk in the hot cream. Whisk in the bourbon and vanilla. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a glass measure with a pouring spout. Divide among prepared ramekins. Cover each ramekin tightly with a piece of foil. Pour hot tap water into the pan (not boiling water) so that it reaches about an inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until just set (this will depend on the temperature of water in the bath). Cool completely, then chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream, if you like.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sour Cherry Yogurt Parfait

I love Greek food, particularly simple dishes that are perfectly prepared using top ingredients. My favorite Greek restaurant is nothing flashy--it's a small, intimate place in lower Manhattan called Pylos. The word 'pylos' translates as 'things of clay', like the clay jugs that were an integral part of ancient Hellenic life, and the ceiling at Pylos is made up of hundreds of clay pots (of a more recent vintage). The desserts at Pylos are nothing fancy, and therein lies their charm. One of my favorites is a simple parfait composed of Greek yogurt, sour cherry preserves, honey and walnuts. I've adapted their version of this dessert by adding some whipped cream to the yogurt, making it a little lighter on the palate. This makes a great summer dessert and comes together in a flash. It can also be made several hours ahead.

Sour Cherry Yogurt Parfait

Makes 4 servings

2/3 cup walnuts
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (I use Fage 2 percent)
3/4 cup sour cherry preserves
3 tablespoons honey

1. Put the walnuts in a skillet over medium-high heat, tossing them frequently, until they are toasted and fragrant. Let cool completely.
2. Whip the cream to medium peaks. Gently fold in the yogurt.
3. Spoon about 6 tablespoons (a little more than 1/3 cup) of the yogurt mixture into a serving glass. Top with about 1 1/2 tablespoons cherry preserves and drizzle with about 1 teaspoon honey. Sprinkle a few walnuts on top. Repeat layering once again to finish parfait. Repeat to make 3 more parfaits. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Swedish Sweet

Yesterday I tasted most (ok, all) of the chocolates at Fika, a stylish little espresso bar on Central Park South in Manhattan, right next to The Plaza. “Fika,” in case you’re wondering, is a Swedish verb that translates to “take a coffee break,” and at Fika you can have your coffee with an impressive assortment of pastries. But it’s their line of truffles and bonbons that really grabbed my attention.

They’re made by Fika’s newly appointed resident chocolatier, Hakan Martensson, a twenty-something Swede with a lot of talent and an impressive culinary pedigree. As a member of the Swedish Culinary Team, Martensson placed gold during the Culinary Olympics in October 2008. He hand-tempers the chocolate for his confections, and makes them in small batches using milk and dark chocolate from Callebaut and Valrhona. His standout pieces include a Whiskey Truffle (made with Laphroaig Single Malt), a Gianduja Truffle (with a salty end-note) and a pure Dark Truffle (made with Valrhona Pur Caribe chocolate). Martensson is a classic perfectionist, a trait that’s reflected in each piece of chocolate he lovingly crafts. And it’s for this reason that he won’t ship his chocolates by mail. As he puts it, “When someone takes them out of the store, I know they’re perfect. But when they’re shipped, you have no idea what’s going to happen.” So you’ll have to hoof-it to one of Fika’s two locations to try these incredible chocolates: 41 W. 58th Street (bet. 5th and 6th); 212-832-0022; and 407 Park Ave. South (bet. 28th and 29th St.); 646-649-5133.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sweet on Bacon

Every year, as a birthday present for my husband Dicky, I sign up for the Bacon-of-the-Month Club, which provides us with a pound of bacon from a different producer each month. Since I'm in charge of cooking that bacon, and there are only so many bacon and egg breakfasts a person can fry up without starting to think this whole gift idea may not be such a healthy one, I'm always on the lookout for new recipe ideas. This month's bacon selection is a Hickory Smoked Country Bacon from Newsom's Old Mill Store, a third generation family-owned business in Princeton, Kentucky. The package insert's over-the-top description reads, "Sweet, salty, lovely, delicately powerful like an iron fist in a velvet glove, the kind of bacon to write odes and sonnets about. Silk, silk, silk. Like a virgin bacon eater, touched for the very first time. Life begins with Newsom's bacon." Ok, perhaps Dan Philips, aka Capt. Bacon, got a little carried away with hyperbolic sentiment (I mean, really, "touched for the very first time..."?), but I must admit that it really made me want to try this stuff and see if I could at the very least tell it apart from, say, Oscar Meyer's best.

So I fried up a batch, and here's my critique: Salty, smokey and, yes, even silky--meat and fat become one, and it melts in your mouth with no danger of cutting any soft tissue. Not sure I'm ready to break into song or write a poem, but, hey, this stuff definitely beats out the kind they serve at Denny's with the breakfast special. Since pecans are frequently smoked, I thought they'd make a nice pairing with this smokey bacon in a sweet, yet complex, brittle. Warning: you probably shouldn't make a steady diet of this confection.

Bacon Pecan Brittle
Makes about 1 pound

1/2 pound uncooked bacon
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Butter a rimmed baking sheet or line it with a silicone baking mat. Cook the bacon in a large skillet until brown and crisp. Place it on a paper-towel-lined plate and blot off the excess grease. Cut into small bits.
2. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup and cook over medium-high heat, without stirring, until it registers 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (You may have to brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush a few times to wash away any sugar crystals).
3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, baking soda, vanilla, pecans and bacon bits. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet, letting it spread out as thinly as possible. Let cool completely, then break into pieces. (The brittle will keep for about a week, stored in an airtight container.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cappuccino Shake-Up

I work at home, which is a great thing, but it definitely requires some discipline. I start off each morning with a homemade cappuccino, made from my stovetop Bialetti Mukka Express maker (which I love, love, love). This gets my creative juices flowing, and lets me slide into the day gradually by first answering a little email, and then moving onto more taxing activities, like writing product reviews and editing articles. I generally chug along nicely like this for most of the day, but sometimes, usually in the afternoon, I hit a wall. I find myself staring blankly off into space, blinking now and then, trying to remember what I'm supposed to be writing about. This is when I need a little afternoon pick-me-up. In the summer, hot espresso just won't do the trick. I need something chilled and caffeinated. Yes, I could go across the street and order a pseudo-Bohemian cup of syrupy slosh (aka Frappuccino) from Starbuck's, but I prefer to whip up a more wholesome concoction in the comfort of my own home. You'll need some freshly brewed espresso for this recipe, and I make mine using another stovetop appliance, the low-tech Bialetti Moka Express (cousin of the cappuccino-making Mukka Express).

Let the espresso cool off in the freezer so that it's either at room temperature or slightly chilled before combining it with the ice cream. This drink whips up in mere minutes (you'll probably wait on line longer at Starbuck's), and gives me that shot of chilled inspiration to keep me working a few more hours. In theory, at least.

Frozen Cappuccino
Makes 1 serving

1/4 cup freshly brewed espresso, at room temperature or slightly chilled
1/2 pint vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon milk
Ground cinnamon for dusting top

Combine the espresso, ice cream and milk in the jar of a blender and blend until smooth. (You may need to pulse the blender a few times to break up the ice cream and get it going.) Occasionally stop the blender and use a spatula to mash down the ice cream onto the blades. Pour into a chilled glass and top with a shake of ground cinnamon. Serve with a straw.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons...

The great thing about the pastry world is that basic components (think pastry cream, lemon curd, creme anglaise) can be used in so many different ways. I had some leftover lemon curd in the fridge (from making the Pucker Up Lemon Cupcakes), so I decided to use it to make Lemon Raspberry Tartlets. The lemon curd is simply folded into an almost equal amount of whipped cream and used to fill a baked flaky tart crust. Then I topped the filling with fresh raspberries and dusted it off with some confectioners’ sugar. It’s a really quick recipe—assuming you’ve got the lemon curd—and a delightful combination of refreshing flavors. Buy your raspberries from a farmers’ market if possible—they’ll have better flavor.
The lemon curd can be made up to 3 weeks in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

Raspberry Lemon Tartlets
Makes 6 tartlets

Flaky Tart Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 10 minutes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons ice-cold water

Lemon Filling:
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup lemon curd (for recipe, see Pucker Up Lemon Cupcakes post)

Raspberry Topping:
Two 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Make the crust:
1. In a food processor, combine all-purpose flour, cake flour and salt and pulse until well blended. Scatter the butter cubes on top and pulse 6-10 times, until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the lemon juice and ice water and process just until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape it into a 4-inch disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).
2. Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll it out to a thickness of 1/16th of an inch, flouring lightly as necessary. Cut out rough 5-inch cirlces, and line six 4-inch tartlet rings or pans with the dough. Roll the pin over the top of the rings to remove excess dough. Prick the bottom of the shells with a fork and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut out six 5-inch squares of foil and line each shell with one piece. Fill with pie weights and place on a silicone baking mat-lined baking sheet. Bake the lined shells for 11 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights from each shell and return to the oven for 6-9 minutes, until the tart shells just begin to turn golden brown in spots. Cool the shells on a wire rack.

Make the filling:
4. Whip the cream to medium peaks. Gently fold in the lemon curd. Fill each tart shell with about 1/4 cup of the filling.

Finish the tartlets:
5. Top the filling with fresh raspberries, arranging them snugly. Lightly dust the tartlets with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

One Chocolate I've Really Fallen For: Tumbador

On a cocoa plantation, a tumbador (from the Spanish word meaning “to fall”) is the worker who picks the cacao pods. It’s also the name of an exceptional chocolate company started by Michael Altman, a former computer consulting entrepreneur (and all-around nice guy) who sold his company and decided to take a plunge into the world of wholesale chocolate in 2005. The chocolates are crafted by Tumbador’s Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Bonnet (formerly of New York’s renowned restaurant Daniel), using only the finest ingredients. I bumped into Jean-Francois this week at Dessert Professional's Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America event at the Institute of Culinary Education, and he gave me an assortment of Tumbador chocolates.
(By the way, as you can probably tell from his name, JF is French, but he acts more like an American than any American I know.) Anyhow, the chocolates were like little, shiny jewels, decorated with flashes of luster dust, transfer sheet designs or textured patterns, all very tastefully done (unlike other chocolatiers who like to show off their chocolates by hitting them with every technique they can conjure up). The flavors are also tasteful, as well as innovative: Pear Black Tea, Coffee Cardamom, Dulce de Leche, Honey, Green Tea and Chestnut, are some examples. The line also features single-origin, organic and fair trade chocolate, exotic fruits, spices, fresh herbs and regional flavors such as Provencal Pastis, Canadian whiskey and Vermont maple syrup. Jean-Francois's culinary philosophy is “analyze, understand, enjoy,” and it is reflected in his fine work. Tumbador creates chocolates to sell under their own brand name and are seen at luxury hotels and high-end boutiques all over the country. For more info, call 718-788-0200 or visit www.tumbadorchocolate.com.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America 2009

Dessert Professional, the magazine that I edit, recently named the Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America, 2009. Who are the most talented pros in the pastry kitchen this year? Here they are:
  1. Dominique Ansel, Restaurant Daniel, New York, NY
  2. Richard Capizzi, Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, New York, NY
  3. Lincoln Carson, Mina Group restaurants, Las Vegas, NV
  4. Jemal Edwards, Demel Bakery, New York, NY
  5. Robert Ellinger, Baked to Perfection, Port Washington, NY
  6. Jenifer Fournier, ALEX and STRATTA, Las Vegas, NV
  7. Raymond Lammers, Stein-Eriksen Lodge, Park City, UT
  8. Deborah Racicot, Gotham Bar & Grill, New York, NY
  9. Alfred Stephens, Olives NY at the W Hotel Union Square, New York, NY
  10. Alex Stupak, WD-50, New York, NY
Dessert Professional honored these pastry chefs at an event held at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York on June 8. Each chef served a tasting portion of a signature dessert in the spacious kitchens at ICE, where guests roamed from kitchen to kitchen, savoring some of the best desserts in the world. They were all incredible, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Richard Capizzi of Per Se's candy shop smorgorsbord, which included assorted sweets such as Wild Strawberry Sugar Pillows, Dragee Raisins, Florentines, Blueberry Push-pops and an unbelievably good toffee.

It was great to see the NY pastry community all together--there are so few events where this happens, and it's an ideal opportunity to catch up on what everyone's been doing lately. Guests included Nick Malgieri, Wayne Brachman, Judy Prince (of JB Prince), Sebasten Rouxel (of The French Laundry), Jean-Francois Bonnet (Tumbadour Chocolate), Eric Bertoia (DB), and many more pastry luminaries.

This year's Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America are not only incredibly talented, they are all also unbelievably nice people. Kudos to them all.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pucker Up!

Lemon is one of my top flavors (second only to chocolate, of course), but if I'm going to have a lemon dessert, I want it to pack a real punch. No feeble, namby-pamby, lightly-lemon-kissed cake for me, thanks. I want a cake with some zest. So, here's my version of a proper lemon cupcake. The cupcakes are made with lemon zest and juice, then filled with lemon curd, and topped off with a zingy lemon buttercream, which is flavored with the curd. So go ahead, pucker up...

Pucker Up Lemon Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

Lemon Curd:
8 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

Lemon Cupcakes:
3 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed strained lemon juice
2/3 cup whole milk

Lemon Buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large egg whites
3 tablespoons water
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup lemon curd

Make the Lemon Curd:
1. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium, heavy, non-reactive saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until blended. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, salt, and butter and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 7 to 10 minutes (do not let the mixture boil, or it will curdle). The mixture should leave a path on the back of a wooden spoon when you draw your finger across it. Immediately strain the mixture through the sieve, pressing it through with a rubber spatula.
2. Set the bowl containing the lemon mixture in a large mixing bowl filled one-third of the way with ice water (be careful that the water doesn’t splash into the lemon mixture). Stir the lemon mixture frequently until it is slightly chilled, about 15 minutes. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 days).

Make the cupcakes:
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.
4. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed for 3 minutes, until well blended and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, reduce the speed to medium, and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and mixing until blended. Beat in the lemon zest and lemon juice until blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the milk in two additions. Mix just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared cups and smooth the tops.
6. Bake the cakes for 20 to 22 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the pans, set on wire racks, for 15 minutes.
7. Transfer the cupcakes to wire racks and cool completely.

Make the buttercream:
8. Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
9.. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
10. Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
11. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute.
12. Add the lemon curd and beat until well blended.

Fill and frost the cupcakes:
13. Using a paring knife, cut a cone-shaped wedge out of the center of each cupcake (the diameter of the cone should be about 1/2 inch).
14. Fill the center of each cupcake with lemon curd.
15. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip (Ateco #5) with the buttercream. Pipe a generous swirl of buttercream on top of each filled cupcake. Serve the cupcakes immediately, or refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Fruit Compote

Recently I've been doing some work for a gelatin company, and learning a lot about the nuances of gelatin in the process. It's really pretty cool stuff, and, despite its regrettable history as the star ingredient of many a low-brow molded salad, tomato aspic and dirty-peach-colored-salmon-mold circa 1963, when used properly, it can create a texture and mouthfeel in desserts that's unlike anything else. One dessert that requires the addition of gelatin is panna cotta, the famous Italian spoon dessert. I've had plenty of bad panna cottas (or is it 'panne cotte'??) in my day, and this is generally caused by the addition of too much gelatin, which gives it a rubbery texture. The secret to gelatin is to add just enough to get the dessert to set, and no more. The dessert should melt on your tongue and certainly should not require any excessive mouth action (chewing, for example, would be a bad sign). Here's a silky coconut panna cotta that's made with organic unsweetened coconut (find it at health food stores), which is infused in the cream and milk mixture and then strained out. I've paired it with a tropical fruit compote, which has diced fresh pineapple, mango, crystallized ginger and chopped mint in it. Together it makes a very refreshing, easy to prepare dessert that's ideal for warm weather. It can also be prepared up to a day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. I just ate two bowls of it, God help me.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Fruit Compote
Makes 8 servings

Coconut Panna Cotta:
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Demerara or granulated sugar
3/4 cup (about 2 ounces) unsweetened dessicated coconut (available from health food stores)
2 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp dark rum

Tropical Fruit Compote:
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup diced fresh mango
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped mint

Make the panna cotta:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, milk, sugar and coconut over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to disswolve the sugar, until just beginning to bubble around the edge of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow to infuse for about 20 minutes.
2. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the coconut to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the strained cream mixture to the saucepan (discard the coconut).
3. Place 1/4 cup water in a small cup and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Let it stand for 5 minutes to soften.
4. Heat the cream mixture until just beginning to boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the softened gelatin, stirring until it is completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla and rum.
5. Strain the mixture again through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass measure with a pouring spout. Divide the mixture among 6 or 8 martini, wine or serving glasses. Chill until set, about 3 hours. Make the compote:
6. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let macerate, refrigerated, for 30 minutes, or until ready to serve dessert.

7. Top each panna cotta with some of the Tropical Fruit Compote and serve.