Entries from January 30th, 2006

Burnt Honey and Cinnamon Ice Cream

January 30th, 2006 · 3 Comments · Ice Cream, Recipes

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I was in the Crate and Barrel outlet store in Berkeley the other weekend and found this book(although as you can see it’s much cheaper at Crate and Barrel).  $4.95 for a book on ice cream – why not?

I had not heard of Shona Poole’s book before but it’s a pretty little creation with some interesting, offbeat recipes. (Gooseberry and elderflower sorbet? It’s next on my list to try – as soon as I can find gooseberries and elderflowers!)  I chose to make an ice cream with some more readily available ingredients when the mood struck on a warm weekend afternoon.

I realized that I could have submitted Burnt Honey and Cinnamon ice cream as an entry for Sam’s Sugar Low Friday when I saw the recipe.  Simplicity itself: honey, cinnamon, and yogurt! The result does taste very strongly of honey, so I imagine that would be the most critical ingredient choice.  All I had in my pantry at time was a basic clover honey, so not much deliberation for me! The recipe involves heating the honey until it boils and just begins to burn (not too long or the honey will turn bitter) and then add a bit of water to stop the burning process; I ended up with a caramely, intense honey flavor. In the future I might try a lighter, more subtle honey, remembering that burning anything just strengthens the flavor!

The recipe uses yogurt as a base, so you don’t even need to make a custard.  You pour the cooled honey syrup and cinnamon into the yogurt, put it in the ice cream machine, and away you go!  About half an hour later I found smooth rich ice cream in my machine! 

The flavor is surprisingly intense, given the pale, unprepossessing appearance of the result. The honey and cinnamon really complement each other well – I sprinkled a bit more cinnamon on top for the photo but it really isn’t necessary.

As a footnote, I took the photo in a rush this morning before work – I think it turned out all right but if you look closely you’ll notice my reflection accidentally captured in the spoon!

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Sugar High (Low) Friday #15/Happy Chinese New Year: Almond Orange Panna Cotta

January 27th, 2006 · 8 Comments · Custards, Recipes

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I found it ironic that I started this blog with a focus on desserts, and then the next Sugar High Friday to come along had the theme of Sugar Low! Usually the only concessions I make in baking are to use low or nonfat milk, perhaps a smidge less butter or sugar, and then cheerfully espouse the philosophy that it’s better to have a small bit of perfection than a lot of mediocrity.  (Case in point: the only time I’ve ever felt ill from eating too much sweet stuff was when I consumed too many Hershey’s Nuggets in a Valentine’s frenzy).

However, I happily got inspiration from Chinese New Year, which is just two days away.  Chinese desserts are typically fruit and nut based, and are low in sugars and fats – one of the reasons why I can never get my mom to eat more than a tiny slice of my ultra-rich chocolate cakes.  There is a traditional dessert for Chinese New Year called nian gao, which is a cake made with glutinous rice flour, fruit, and nuts, and then steamed.  The result is dense, sweet, and sticky – honestly, I’m not too fond of it!

There is, however, another Chinese dessert, not associated with New Year’s per se, but in the repertoire of every Chinese mother I knew when growing up – almond tofu.  This confection is really nothing more than almond flavored jello – when set it turns milky white, and bears a striking resemblance to tofu when cut into squares, hence the name.  There is actually "almond tofu dessert" mix sold in most Asian groceries – you simply dissolve the powder in hot water a la jello, add milk, let it set overnight, cut into squares, and serve with canned fruit cocktail. I remember seeing this many a time at potlucks when I was a child.

While almond jello is certainly low fat, I wanted to see if I could make it a bit more sophisticated and combine it with the lovely creamy texture of panna cotta.  I also wanted to add in some orange to tie it to New Year’s – in Chinese tradition, we give oranges and tangerines to friends and relatives at New Year’s because they symbolize wealth and good luck.

In the end, I used a combination of mostly milk and a bit of cream, flavored with almond extract and orange peel. I tried reducing the cream and using water, but the results were too bland and rubbery. So the cream stayed – you can get about six servings out of this so I don’t think there’s too much fat.  I thought it came out pretty well – soft, pillowy, almond-and orange-scented comfort food.

Gung Hay Fat Choy, and best wishes for a happy (and healthy) New Year!

Almond Orange Panna Cotta

Serves 6

4 oz sugar

1 1/2 cups cream

zest from 1/2 orange

1 Tbsp almond extract

2 1/2 cups milk

1 Tbl gelatin powder

Combine the cream, orange zest, almond extract, and 4 oz sugar in a saucepan.  Heat to scalding, then remove from the heat and let infuse for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let it soften for a few minutes, then stir into the cream mixture. Heat the mixture to scalding.  Remove from heat and let cool until it begins to thicken.

Pour the mixture into individual ramekins. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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Succés Meringue Cake

January 25th, 2006 · 2 Comments · Pastry

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Since I had some coffee buttercream left over from the opera cake, I decided to make another one of my favorites from pastry class, the succés meringue cake.  This is another very traditional French dessert that is quite outrageously scrumptious!  It is really a variation of the dacquoise, which is several layers of crisp baked meringue disks sandwiching a buttercream filling, usually hazelnut-flavored.  The succés uses coffee buttercream instead of hazelnut, giving it a bit more of a sophisticated bite.  I decided to make my cake individual-sized, so each one has three little meringue disks, two layers of buttercream, and is covered with almonds.

I like this dessert a lot.  The contrast between the thin, crispy meringue disks and the smooth, rich buttercream makes it seem very light and refreshing, not heavy at all.  It’s also fun to pipe out the meringue batter into circles and make funny shapes with the remainders – I did some decorations for the cake.

There is another well-known version of the dacquoise called the Concorde, which was created by the famous French pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre in honor of the Place de la Concorde in Paris (the plaza with the obelisk in the center).  This is a visually intriging dessert: it is made of chocolate meringue disks alternated with chocolate buttercream, and then entirely covered with little chocolate meringue rods and cylinders.  They look like little hedgehogs to me!

Concorde

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Chocolates for Christmas

January 19th, 2006 · 5 Comments · Chocolate

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These are some chocolates I made for gift-giving at Christmas – I finally got to document them!  I was inspired by Michael Recchiuti’s Chocolate Obsession, a beautiful tome that has recipes for many of his exotic creations, like his Key lime pears and star anise-pink peppercorn chocolates.

Candymaking has always made me nervous – the idea of tempering incorrectly and ruining several pounds of expensive Valrhona chocolate gives me fits.  I finally used a Callebaut with a 65% cocoa content – dark, but not too bitter.  I figured it was a good overall choice for the different flavors I was making, as I didn’t have the time or space for multiple pots of tempered chocolate!

Another note about tempering chocolate – I find I am much more successful with dark chocolate.  Whenever I try to temper milk chocolate, I will sometimes get the desired glossy streak-free result, and other times I will get a clumpy mess (hence the other reason the chose dark chocolate for this project!) I’ve sometimes been tempted by those fancy tempering machines in the cooks’ catalogs, but the high prices always put me off.  Besides, there is something exciting about successfully tempering by hand – taking chunks of chocolate and turning them into a velvety smooth liquid, slowly stirring and checking until you feel the right resistance against your spoon, then dipping your fillings in (or pouring over your waiting cake), and waiting for the lovely shiny finish to appear.

Making chocolates is surprisingly easy – you make the filling (ganache) of your choice and spread it evenly in a pan to set overnight, then cut it into little bite-sized pieces.  Then temper the chocolate, dip your pieces in, let them set up, and voila! Chocolates!

I chose a variety of flavors that intrigued me: earl grey infusion (not shown), vanilla and chocolate, jasmine tea infusion, and burnt caramel.  The burnt caramel was probably my favorite: the ganache was particularly smooth and creamy, with smoky undertones of caramel. Dark, not too sweet, and quite addictive.

I still have quite a lot of the Callebaut in my kitchen, so perhaps I’ll try some of the other flavors in the future.  After I make sure that all the traces from the last time have been cleaned off. I try to be clean, but when it comes to chocolate, the saying is true: it gets everywhere.

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Opera Cake

January 19th, 2006 · 4 Comments · Cakes

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One of my favorite things I learned to make in pastry class was the Opera cake.  This classic French dessert was created by Louis Clichy, who called it – quite naturally – the Clichy. However, it was popularized by the Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau as the Opera cake and is now mostly known by that name.  It is a wonderfully rich and dreamy combination of delicate almond biscuit or joconde, chocolate ganache, coffee buttercream, and chocolate glaze. It’s like a very refined and decadent layer cake. 

I used a version of the recipe which called for four layers of the joconde, three layers of buttercream, a layer of ganache, and the glaze.  While the combination of flavors and textures was just as luscious as I remember,I think I prefer the slimmed-down seven layer version I’ve made before.  The balance of buttercream and chocolate seemed to work better.  (I’m not the biggest fan of buttercream, but its espresso-laced incarnation in the opera helps make it the out of the world experience it is for me).

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There is a very good recipe for Opera cake in Doris Greenspan’s Paris Sweets – she adapted Dalloyau’s own version of it! I actually had the fortune of trying Dalloyau’s version in Paris last fall.  I have to say that even though I was a tourist buying just a 5 euro slice of cake, I was treated with the same friendly, smiling service that all the other customers picking up their orders of foie gras and truffles!

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Hello!

January 17th, 2006 · 32 Comments · Personal

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Who am I: My name is Anita and I am a Bay Area native, living and working around San Francisco, whose lifelong addiction to all things sweet has developed into a happy baking and photography hobby.

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Where I’ve been: In 2005 I took a six-month professional pastry course at Tante Marie’s Cooking School, which focused on classic French patisserie.  I braved the perils of burning sugar, overwhipped egg whites, and melting fondant to make croissants, croquembouche, and tarte tatin.  A record of my travails can be found at my Flickr page.

Strawberry_creme_damande_tart

Where I’m going: I haven’t made the jump to full-time pastry; instead, I got hooked on documenting my and my classmates’ creations during pastry class.  Right now I enjoying baking what suits my fancy (I am working my way through several of Pierre Hermé‘s books) and taking pictures of them. I hope you enjoy them!

I am also available for freelance work as a food writer, stylist, and photographer. Please contact me at pastrygirl.dessertfirst(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

Mentions in the Press

Baking911 – Feature recipe in November 2007 newsletter.

Edible East Bay – Charles and the Chocolate Factory, feature article, Fall 2007

Photo shoot for private client, July 2007.

C&H SweetTalkProfiled in summer 2007 newsletter.

Schmap Travel GuidesFood photos selected for Schmap Paris Guide.

Second place in Edibility, Third place Overall, Does My Blog Look Good in This, June 2007

Edible East Bay – A Day in a Life Full of Chocolate, feature article and cover photo, Winter 2007

Food and WineHonorable Mention in Food Photography Contest, October 7, 2006

First place in originality, Does My Blog Look Good in This, October 2006

First place, Does My Blog Look Good in This, September 2006

Chow Food Media BlogHow to Make a Pastry Chef Happy September 26, 2006

KQED Bay Area Bites – Featured Post September 19, 2006

Slashfood – Featured Post July 3, 2006, August 28, 2006, September 12, 2006, October 10, 2006, October 27, 2006, December 27, 2006

Food and Wine – Top Five Posts in the Food and Wine Blogosphere, Week of July 31, 2006

Typepad Featured Blog, July 29, 2006

Taste TV Featured Blog

GothamistArticle on strawberries, June 21, 2006

SFist – Food Blog Round-Up July 10, 2006; May 29, 2006; May 22, 2006; May 15, 2006; September 11, 2006; September 25, 2006; October 2, 2006; October 16, 2006

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