Sunday, May 30, 2010

Farmers' Market Strawberry Almond Parfaits

Time flies--this is my 100th post! Happy birthday to my blog. I thought about making a birthday cake to celebrate, but I was mesmerized by some ruby-red strawberries at the farmers' market and decided that I couldn't live without them, or whatever dessert I decided to make with them. It's amazing how much more flavorful strawberries from the farmers' market are than their pumped-up supermarket cousins. Fresh from the field, they are smaller and more rustic in appearance with 

a sweet, intense flavor. They don't need much embellishment, and are wonderful served with some cream, plain or whipped, or vanilla ice cream.  But I like to pair them with anything almond, as in this Strawberry Toasted Almond Parfait. This desserts consists of layers of almond genoise cake cubes, which I imbibe with an almond syrup and top with almond crunch, syrupy strawberries and vanilla whipped cream. The whipped cream is sweetened and flavored with ground-up vanilla 

beans, a product I recently discovered made by Tahitian Gold. It's powerful stuff, so you only need half as much extract as you'd normally use to flavor things. As for the genoise, feel free to substitute almond or plain pound cake for it in the parfait. A course cornmeal-almond cake would also work very nicely. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whipped Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Kumquats and Blueberry Sauce

The other day I bought some vanilla beans from Amadeus Vanilla Beans—1/4 pound of beautiful, extra-long Madagascar bourbon beans. Amadeus has excellent quality vanilla beans at great prices. The first thing I decided to do with my gorgeous new beans was to make some homemade vanilla extract. I took about eight of the beans, split them lengthwise with a paring knife, and scraped out 

the seeds. Then I cut the pods into 1-inch pieces, and added the seeds and pod pieces to about 12 ounces of vodka in a Mason jar. I put the lid on the jar, shook it really well, and stored it in the cupboard. I’ll give it a good shake every day, and, after about 4 months or so, it should be ready. I’ll just strain out the pod pieces before using it. I stored the remaining beans in a bottle of Mount Gay 

dark rum, making sure they were completely covered by rum. This will keep them plump and moist, and will perfume the rum with vanilla flavor (I learned this trick from Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s Kitchen). To satisfy my immediate need to make something vanilla flavored with the beans, I settled on a Whipped Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, topped with Candied Kumquats and served 

with a fragrant Blueberry Rosemary Sauce. It’s a no-bake cheesecake with a very light texture, ideal for late spring and summer, and it pairs perfectly with the sweet-tart flavor of kumquats and blueberries.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Butterscotch Pudding and Miss Flo's Diner

In 1999 I wrote my first cookbook, Diner Desserts. The subject was near to my heart, as I‘ve always loved the comforting food and friendly environment of the classic American diner. I went to college in Massachusetts, where it seemed like there was a diner on every

corner, and I visited them often. My friends and I hung out at Miss Flo’s, a real old-style New England diner in Florence with friendly waitresses and jukeboxes at every booth. Miss Flo’s is known for its outstanding corned beef hash, potato fritters and homemade pies-- simple food, made with real ingredients. Aside from the homemade pies and tall

layer cakes, my favorite diner dessert has always been a good creamy pudding, either chocolate or butterscotch. The secret to a great chocolate pudding is obvious—use high quality bittersweet chocolate. The secret to a great butterscotch pudding may be more

elusive, but for me it comes down to the combination of light and dark brown sugars with butter and a healthy amount of salt. The salt balances the sweetness of the pudding, and brings out the deep flavor of the brown sugars. And the bourbon? Well, it just works with butterscotch, though they never served it that way at Miss Flo’s.

P.S. The winner of the Great Cookbook Giveaway from my last post is.....[drumroll, please....]....Lauren! Lauren wrote an adorable rhyming poem about me, so I'd say she deserves to win just for all that effort. Lauren, congratulations and please email me your address when you get a chance and I will send off your books right away ( to all who took the time to enter!

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...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lemongrass-Lime Crème Brûlée

Recently I had a lovely lunch at Le Caprice, the restaurant in the newly renovated Pierre Hotel in New York. It’s part of a group of London restaurants, and the chef, Michael Hartnell, is a 28-year-old Brit, who was formerly the Chef at The Ivy in London and was brought over to open Le Caprice. Though they call it a bistro, it’s certainly the swankiest one I’ve ever set foot in. The interior is Art Deco, with black and pearl-white tones and a polished white floor. There was even a celebrity in the house—Diane Sawyer was sitting in the next booth with a man who looked like he might have been her agent. The waitress brought me a Bellini, without even asking me if I wanted 

one (of course I did!). All was right with the world. After a delicious Crispy Duck Salad, a signature dish, I tasted a few desserts, including a silky-smooth Lemongrass-Lime Crème Brûlée, a Chocolate Souffle, and a Rhubarb Tart. I loved them all, but it was the crème brûlée that had me at first spoonful. I loved the subtle fragrance of the limey custard combined with the sweet, crackly caramel shell topping. It reminded me of scent by Jo Malone, the London perfumer. Here’s my 

version of it, which, I must say, tastes pretty darned close to the original. Serve it after a nice Thai meal, or, for that matter, just about any meal. If you want to serve more dainty portions, you can bake it in six 4-ounce dishes instead. It’s pretty rich.