Friday, February 25, 2011

Lemon Pound Cake with Wild Blueberry Sauce

Winter is a dark time, and this winter, with its numerous snowstorms and cold, damp weather, has been particularly gloomy. Random thoughts about moving to the Caribbean and opening up an exotic fruit-focused popsicle stand frequently found their way 

into my head.  So did thoughts of investing in an industrial snow plough company. But winter, I reminded myself, is also the time when citrus fruit is plentiful, and nothing says sunshine like a brightly flavored lemon dessert. And lemons are far cheaper than 

flights to exotic locations, nor does their purchase necessitate an invasive security pat-down. Today I decided to make a simple lemon pound cake, which gets a boost from a tangy lemon syrup that’s brushed over its surface while warm. I topped the cake with a 

few candied lemon slices—an optional garnish— and served the cake with a blueberry sauce made from frozen wild blueberries, which can now be easily found in supermarkets (at least I think they can). A little whipped cream is a nice finish, though vanilla ice cream would be my preference (I was fresh out). The other nice thing about eating lemon pound cake in winter is that it’s not bathing suit season, so no worries on that front.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Walnut Layer Cake with Apple-Caramel Filling and Calvados Cream Cheese Icing

Ever wonder who’s making the desserts at The White House these days? The Executive Pastry Chef of the Executive branch is Bill Yosses, a talented guy who has been in the pastry biz for over 30 years. He apprenticed in France, and then worked under chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller and was Pastry Chef at the 4-

star Bouley Restaurant and Bakery. I’ve known Bill for many years, and have always liked him very much. He is a down-to-earth, no b.s. kind of guy, and lets the flavor in his desserts really shine through, without gimmicks. Recently Bill released his first cookbook, The Perfect Finish (Norton, 2010; $35). It’s my kind of 

cookbook—the kind that when I flip through it I want to make just about everything in it. Bill’s desserts are simple, intriguing and beautifully executed. There are 80 recipes in The Perfect Finish, which Bill chose from a repertoire of over 5000. How did he decide what to include? “I’m always on the lookout for the 

extraordinary, whether it’s a simple or a complex dessert. And I chose recipes that deliver a flavor beyond what you are used to and what you normally have.” Out of the 80 recipes that Bill chose, I chose his Walnut Layer Cake with Apple-Caramel Filling and Calvados Cream Cheese Icing, which features some of my favorite flavors. Though the results were mixed (see my recipe notes below), I am ready to try another recipe from The Perfect Finish, and very soon.

Recipe Notes: though it looked great, I found the cake itself to be a little tough and dry. Perhaps I overfolded the batter; I freely admit that that is a distinct possibility. I also found the apple filling to be too lemony, which detracted from the caramel notes. I would cut down the amount of lemon juice to 1 teaspoon next time. And the frosting was not sweet enough for my taste. I would double the amount of confectioners’ sugar next time, and leave out the Calvados, which I didn’t think worked. One final note: the recipe in the book calls for 3 small apples, cubed, or 680 grams. The 680 grams is just plain wrong--that would be more like 6 apples. Sorry to say it, but cookbooks are very poorly edited these days, and it is not always the author’s fault…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ginger Panna Cotta Hearts with Blood Orange Campari Sauce

Chocolate, which says indulgence and luxury, is the clear flavor of choice for Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day celebrates romance, and this sentiment is usually exhibited by the exchange of small luxuries between couples, a tradition that has been around since the 

eighteenth century. Since this “exchange” usually means men giving women presents (and rightly so!), and since women are known for their love of chocolate, chocolate sales virtually explode in the early weeks of February, and pastry chefs and chocolatiers 

are at their busiest. I generally succumb to the chocolate-centric pre-Valentine hysteria myself and make some kind of rich chocolate cake or confection. But this year I opted for a lighter, more refreshing Valentine’s dessert: a heart-shaped Ginger Panna 

Cotta paired with a perfectly balanced Blood Orange Campari Sauce. The sauce is bright red, the color of passion, and the panna cotta is sweet and spicy, just like love should be. In theory, at least. If you don't want to deal with unmolding the panna cotta, you can opt to serve it in a martini or wine glass and pour some sauce on top. Here’s hoping your Valentine’s Day is the sweetest and spiciest ever.