Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meyer Lemon Mousse Cake

The other day I spotted some Meyer lemons at my over-priced, not-so-fabulous, local ‘gourmet’ food shop, and I succumbed. Wasn’t exactly sure what I’d make with them, but they were just too pretty to resist. A cross between a lemon and an orange, the Meyer lemon was named after F.N. Meyer, who originally imported it from China in 1908. Meyer lemons are yellow-orange in color, with a slightly rounder shape and smoother skin than common lemons. Their juice is sweeter and less acidic than that of common lemons. I ultimately decided to use them in a variation of a cake I created for The Cake Book, a genoise cake brushed with sweet ginger syrup and enveloped in a soft lemon-orange mousse. The cake turned out to be delicious, not too tart and not too sweet, with just a hint of spice from the ginger syrup. Note: If you decide to use regular lemons instead of Meyer lemons, you’ll need to increase the sugar in the mousse by ¼ cup or so.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Easter Treats

Recently I came across an adorable and delicious product that is perfect for Easter and, for that matter, any special occasion. Whenever I see a really cute confection, my expectations are generally low as to how they will taste. Browniepops, however, surprised me. They are fudgy brownies covered in chocolate (white, milk or dark), hand-decorated, and on a handy little stick. The brainchild of Kansas City native Marsha Pener Johnston, Browniepops are available in 11 flavors, including Caramel, Chocolate Malted, Missouri Mud, Toffee, and Cream Cheese Swirl, among others. They can be customed-decorated to your specs for weddings or corporate events and gifts, and are available in personalized holiday designs. The Easter-inspired Browniepops are decorated as chicks, bunnies and pastel-colored egg shapes, and are as delicious as they are adorable. Trust me, I ate three. To learn more, visit www.browniepops.com or www.mackenzieltd.com.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marvelous Mendiants

Mendiants, little disks of tempered chocolate topped with nuts and dried or candied fruit pieces, are one of my favorite confections. I first fell in love with them at Payard Patisserie when I was working on Francois' book Simply Sensational Desserts years ago.  To fine-tune the recipes and interview Francois, I would show up at the restaurant early in the morning, around 7 or so, bleary-eyed and not quite awake. But a little of Francois' excellent espresso and a mendiant or two, and I was ready for action. The double dose of caffeine in the espresso and dark chocolate really did the trick. Aside from their stimulating properties, what's so special about mendiants? Well, not only are they crunchy, chocolatey and delicicous, but they are also really easy to make. Mendiant means ‘begger’ in French, and the name originally had a religious connotation. Upon entering the order, monks were required to turn over all their worldly possessions, thus becoming poor as church mice.  The fruit and nuts on top of a classic mendiant represent the four monastic orders of the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans and Carmelites. The traditional topping includes raisins (for the Dominicans), hazelnuts (Augustins), dried figs (Franciscans) and almonds (Carmelite). Nowadays, chocolatiers use all sorts of toppings for their mendiants, including seeds, fruit peels and caramelized nuts. I like to use pistachios, toasted almonds, toasted unsweetened coconut, dried cranberries, dates, macadamia nuts and candied ginger. Though I prefer dark chocolate, you can also make these little gems with milk and white chocolate.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Macaroons, American-Style

I was very excited to receive a copy of my friend Lori Longbotham’s latest book, Luscious Coconut Desserts (Chronicle Books, 2009) in the mail last week. I had recently been out to dinner with Lori, and she told me about this tribute to coconut. I’m a coconut fanatic, so I naturally wanted to make every recipe in the book immediately. Since this didn’t seem like a practical idea, I painstakingly narrowed my choice to the chocolate-dipped Big Coconut Macaroons. These cookies are really, really easy to make (almost disarmingly so), and practically foolproof. I used a ½-ounce scoop to form the cookies, which turned out perfectly-shaped little domes of batter. After baking and cooling the cookies, I dipped them in chocolate. Though they are delicious undipped, a little chocolate turns these macaroons into something exceptional. For dipping, I used TCHO Proline conventional-blend 68% block couverture. Though Lori’s recipe doesn’t instruct you to temper the chocolate, I did so, because I wanted the chocolate to be shiny and streak-free. TCHO tempers easily and has become one of my favorite chocolates because of its workability and complex, full flavor. The finished macaroons were big, beautiful and utterly delicious, as billed. Luscious Coconut Desserts is full of my kind of flavorful, accessible recipes, with beautiful photos that will inspire you to crack a coconut or two. You’re the best, Lori. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Caramelized Pina Coladas

I’m a mixologist at heart, which is really just a fancy name for a bartender. I love playing around with fruits, spirits and liqueurs to make exotic cocktails. One thing I’ve learned in this process: when making a fruit-based cocktail, for maximum flavor you must use ripe, fresh fruit that is in season. The only alternative is to use high-quality frozen fruit or a fruit puree. An exception to this rule is coconut. Cream of coconut adds just the right balance of sweetness and flavor to the classic pina colada. Just because it comes in a can doesn’t mean it’s bad. Homogenized cream of coconut was developed in Puerto Rico in the 1950’s by Don Ramón Lopez-Irizarry, and it became the star ingredient of the pina colada, which was conjured up by a bartender at the Caribe Hilton a few years later. When making your own pina coladas, seek out Coco Lopez brand, it’s the best. And if caramelizing fresh pineapple is too taxing, consider using the same amount of Perfect Puree’s excellent Caramelized Pineapple puree. You can buy it directly from www.perfectpuree.com.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What Real Men Don't Eat

It was sometime in the early 1980’s that quiche got its bad rap. That’s when the seminal book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein stormed onto the culture scene, selling over 1.6 million copies and remaining on The New York Times Bestseller List for 53 weeks. The status of the poor little quiche didn’t stand a chance against all that bad press. To this day, my husband won’t touch it with a 10-foot fork. (He also still frequently quotes lines from Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. He refers to Fanta orange soda, for example, as ‘real man’s orange juice’.) I happen to love quiche. It reminds me of my days living in Paris and of other good times (i.e., stopping for lunch at Lord & Taylor’s with my Mom during marathon shopping sprees as a child), but I also love it because its base of eggs and cream is such a great conduit for flavor. It's really like a very creamy omelet with a crust. Real men like omelets, don’t they? I try to solve the issue in my household by referring to a ‘quiche’ as a ‘savory tart’. Yesterday, I baked up this wonderfully aromatic Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart, and was feeling pretty confident of my ability to sell it, along with a salad, for dinner. One major flaw in my plan: Real men, evidently, don’t eat goat cheese. Who knew? I need to track down that dog-eared book and get those rules straight. Rats!