Entries from August 28th, 2006

Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets

August 28th, 2006 · 32 Comments · Chocolate, Recipes, Tarts

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What do you make when you’re invited to a bloggers’ picnic, to be attended by foodies and gourmands from all over the Bay Area? To make things more complicated, I would actually be at work all that day before going to the event, meaning I needed to make something that would have to be finished the night before and could last several hours before serving. For dessert (what? did you think I would actually bring anything else?) that cut out many options and choices. In the face of so many sophisticated palates, I couldn’t stomach making any overly fragile or complicated creation that might melt, crumble, curdle, or collapse before I made it there.

What did I end up making? A recipe adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, which consists of a melted-butter shortbread crust surrounding a soft, creamy chocolate center. Because the tart crust is whipped up in a bowl and pressed into the tin, there’s no need for chilling and rolling out a dough, yet the crust is as buttery-rich and crumbly as any I’ve tried. While Medrich calls for making a single tart or smaller 4" tarts, I took a miniature muffin tin and pressed in the dough as thinly as possible – from the amount of dough meant for a 9" tart I was able to get over 24 little tartlets. The tartlet shells baked up delicately thin and crumbled under a gentle bite, yielding to a rich mouthful of chocolate mousse.

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The simplicity and reliability of this recipe makes it ideal for experimentation. Because the main impact of the tart comes from the chocolate, Medrich encourages trying different chocolates to find your favorite. I used Callebaut’s Refined 835NV, which has a 55% cocoa solid content and a pleasantly rounded bittersweet flavor. The tartlets also act as the perfect base for various toppings familiar or exotic. I found a sprinkling of cocoa nibs added crunch and subtle contrast, while chopped hazelnuts and anise seed or dried cherries and chili powder made for interesting combinations (see first photo).

The picnic, at Tomatilla’s beautiful house in Lafayette, was a wonderful spread of food and drink, and not least of all, the chance to see some of my favorite bloggers in person. I have to thank Brett, who, upon learning that I had just come from work, kindly sympathized that I must be exhausted. I have to admit that after a few hours of sun, wine, and conversation, I promptly fell asleep when I got home. Until next year, then…

Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets

adapted from Alice Medrich’s BIttersweet

makes (8) 4-in tartlets or about (24) 2-in mini tartlets

Crust

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

Filling

1 cup cream

2 tablespoons sugar

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (between 50% to 60%), chopped

1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Mix until just blended. The dough will be very soft and moist.

Gently press the dough into tartlet pans. Medrich calls for (8) 4-in wide by 3/4-in deep fluted tarlet pans. I used a mini muffin tin with (24) 2-in wide by 3/4-in deep cups. Press in the dough as thinly as possible.

Place pans in the oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the crusts are golden brown (they should be fully baked).

While the tartlet shells are baking, heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan to boiling. Pour over the chopped chocolate and whisk together until combined.

Whisk the egg into the chocolate mixture right before the shells are finished baking.

Remove shells from the oven and turn off the oven. Pour the filling into the shells. Return the tartlets to the oven and leave them there for about 5 to 10 minutes, or when the filling is just beginning to set about the edges.

Place tartlets on a wire rack to cool. If you used individual tartlet pans with removable bottoms the tartlets should be fairly easy to unmold. If you used a muffin tin like me you may have a more difficult time unmolding them, especially if the shells are very thin. If the filling has completely set, you can try placing a sheet pan across the top of tin and flipping it over to unmold them.

Just before serving, sprinkle toppings of your choice on the tartlets, such as: cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, dried cherries, anise seed, chili powder.

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A Passion for Ice Cream

August 22nd, 2006 · 14 Comments · Cookbooks, Ice Cream, Recipes

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I finally got my hands on this book that I’ve been coveting all summer, Emily Luchetti’s gorgeous paean to all things frozen, A Passion for Ice Cream.  I’d been a huge fan of her ever since I got her equally delectable A Passion for Desserts – you’ll notice quite a few recipes from that book on this site:). As another bonus for this Bay Area native, Luchetti is the pastry chef at Farallon, a fixture of the San Francisco restaurant scene and mere blocks from where I live. Luchetti’s desserts live in an underwater fantasyland of a restaurant with jellyfish chandeliers and kelp-patterned walls – appropriate, I suppose, as her creations are as unexpected and marvelous as treasure from the bottom of the sea.

A Passion for Ice Cream is so much more than a collection of ice cream recipes – Luchetti is a pastry chef, and she creates complete desserts with every recipe. In her book, ice cream shows up in sundaes, in cakes, in drinks, in forms and flavors you never imagined. The beginning chapters provide an excellent overview on ingredients, techniques and equipment (fortunately, she doesn’t look down on the frozen-insert-style KitchenAid or Cuisinart models, although for those of you with deep pockets and an insatiable need for ice cream, she recommends the unabashedly luxurious and counter space-hogging Lussino machine. Be still my heart.) After that, a parade of ice creams, sorbets, parfaits, shakes, semifreddos and other frozen temptations, using a wonderful variety of fruits, nuts, and of course, chocolate, dance before your eyes. I settled down with the book, eager to mark recipes to try, and found myself fighting not to mark every page. In the end, good sense and limited freezer space narrowly prevailed, and I limited myself to a mere trio, a sampling of the delights to be found within the pages of this cookbook.

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Chocolate-Coated Cocoa Nib Florentines and Orange Ice Cream Sandwiches

When I turned to this recipe I knew it would be the first one I would make. Actually, the entire chapter on ice cream sandwich-style desserts is tantalizing – Luchetti takes the concept far beyond just a scoop of ice cream between two biscuits. In this recipe, two delicate florentines flecked with bits of pistachio and cocoa nibs and spread with a layer of bittersweet chocolate cradle a layer of orange ice cream. As you can imagine, it’s a melange of crisp and creamy, fruity and chocolatey, nutty and sweet – dessert heaven. I found the pistachios and cocoa nibs added wonderful crunchy interest to the florentines, and the orange ice cream, made in the rich custard style, was a clean, pure hit of the fruit. I might add some orange flower water next time, which might go nicely with the exotic feel of this dessert. Definitely this is a winner!

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Very Berry Sodas

This one I had to make because strawberry ice cream has been a childhood favorite and is still on my list of top flavors. The book includes charming profiles of famous ice cream parlors around the US, including two in the Bay Area: the wonderful Sketch in Berkeley, and Swensen’s in San Francisco. I have many fond memories of getting strawberry ice cream at Swensen’s; it still has the best strawberry in my opinion today.

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This comes from the chapter entitled, quite appropriately, "Through a Straw", and was a perfect ode to the end of summer. Yes, I understand in other parts of the world it’s still hot and sunny, but in San Francisco the fog’s already returned and jackets are being pulled from their all-too-brief stint in the closet. Scoops of strawberry ice cream float in a fizzy raspberry soda, accompanied by sweet berries. Luchetti’s version of strawberry ice cream is an eggless, Philadelphia-style recipe; it’s less rich but still has a soft, creamy texture and an appealingly full taste of the berry. These sodas are very berry indeed, a lighthearted sunbeam of a dessert. As a side note, this was a frustratingly annoying shot to take: the leaf-tipped stirrers tended to keep turning the wrong way, making it almost impossible to capture them all lined up properly! You can see the ice cream’s pretty much sunk by the time I succeeded…

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Cho Cho Cho

How could you not love a name like that? The recipe refers to the triple-chocolate punch in this dessert: White chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks over a chocolate brownie, drizzled with chocolate sauce – the quintessential dessert a la mode.  However, since I am not a huge fan of white chocolate, and there is a vanilla ice cream fan in the house, I substituted Luchetti’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, and the result was still bliss-inducing. The brownie was marvelous chocolatey and fudgy, but thin enough to not overpower the rest of the dessert. There are four recipes for chocolate sauce in the book; this one is a bittersweet cocoa version that added the right notes to balance out the richness of the brownie and ice cream.

As a final note, the last chapter is worth a lengthy perusal as well – filled with all manners of sauces and toppings to satisfy the most inveterate of lily-gilders who need their sweet endings with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry on top.

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A Taste of Sadaharu Aoki

August 14th, 2006 · 35 Comments · Cakes, Tarts, Travel

edited on 1/24/07: I regret to say that as of today I will no longer be giving out the recipe to the matcha opera cake. Thank you to everyone who has expressed such interest in this creation and written me. I have to say that this is a deeply personal recipe for me, as I learned the original recipe in pastry school and later adapted it myself to include matcha. When I got the first couple of requests for the recipe, I decided to make a couple of exceptions because the e-mails were so sincere, but since then the e-mails have become a flood. Unfortunately, I just do not feel comfortable making this recipe so public – I hope you all understand about treasured family or "secret" recipes. If you would still like to try making this, I suggest you find a recipe for opera cake (they are easily found on the internet) and experiment with adding matcha powder to the components. Thanks so much for understanding, and I hope you take advantage of the other recipes on this site!

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My visit to Paris last September was my introduction to Sadaharu Aoki and his gorgeous interpretation of French pastry. While the Japanese have been almost frighteningly adept in their ability to replicate classic French pâtisserie, I am more intrigued when they find ways to impart their cultural sensibilities into their pastry making – after all, creativity and innovation is what keeps the culinary world from staying fresh and interesting! At Sadaharu Aoki’s sleek little boutique on rue de Vaugirard, I found, alongside such classics as opera cake and lemon tarts, black sesame fondant – covered eclairs and green tea chocolate bars. Every single pastry was delicately made and, of course, picture perfect. Naturally, I wanted to buy everything, but, as I recall, we had already been to three other pastry shops that day, my boyfriend manfully eating his share of pastries so that I could try as many creations as I could, and with dinner reservations but an hour away, we settled on *just two* to carry away with us and eat with lip-smacking pleasure in one of Paris’ ubiquitous little squares, pigeons at our feet, pedestrians strolling by, streetlights coming on in falling twilight, conversations in French all around us, Paris above us, around us, in us.

Sadly, this trip occurred before this blog was up to document it, but my Paris photoset is on Flickr, and there is Bea’s rhapsodic entry about her encounter with Sadaharu-san.

I was inspired last week to replicate the two pastries we took away with us from the boutique: one, the famous Matcha Opera Cake, with layers of green tea genoise, chocolate ganache, and green tea buttercream. I believe Sadaharu Aoki’s version also has coffee buttercream, but I preferred an emphasis on the clean, sharp taste of green tea with the rich, bittersweet chocolate to round it out. Making opera cake is both therapeutic and nervewracking for me: the components are not particularly difficult to make, but it’s the skill in assembling the layers that determine whether you’ll have nice parallel stripes of color or wavy layers. When it comes out well, it’s always a heady rush of pleasure.

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The other item, a Yuzu Tart in a pâte sucrée crust with a sprinkling of praline on top. I first fell in love with this Japanese citrus at, appropriately, a Japanese spa where they used a yuzu-scented lotion. Assertively tangy, it is reminiscent of grapefruit with hints of mandarin orange, and can be used similarly to lemons in cooking. Yuzu fruit is fairly difficult to find in the U.S., but yuzu juice, fortunately, can be found in Japanese markets, and was used to make this smooth, delectable yuzu cream in the style of Pierre Herme‘s famous lemon cream.

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Alas, making these has only increased my appetite for Paris. I’m feeling the need for a return trip…

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Photographing Vanilla Bean Lemon Cake with Raspberries

August 7th, 2006 · 23 Comments · Cakes, Photography, Recipes

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Although I have not succeeded in reducing my pile of recipes to try – on the contrary, it seems to grow longer all the time – sometimes it’s nice to revisit an old recipe and remember what you loved so much about it (Not to mention all the times my friends and family get fixated on one of my desserts and insist on it over and over again, despite all attempts to entice them with new creations). This vanilla bean lemon cake is from a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa and is one of my favorites – I’ve made and devoured it happily many a time. It is a gorgeous example of pound cake: a moist, velvety crumb under a soft golden crust, with a rich, tangy-sweet lemon flavor (it smells so fabulous straight out of the oven). I added some raspberries this time to celebrate summer – not only do they add some pretty color, they make the cake even moister, and the raspberries pair quite well with the lemon. A perfect bite for tea-time.

In trying to shoot pictures of the cake, I was inspired by a talk I attended the night before at the Apple Store – a very fortuitous last-minute discovery of a presentation on food photography! As the Apple Store is but a short walk from where I live, and I had no plans for that hour, it was perfect timing all around.

The store was packed – although I should not be surprised that San Francisco would have an abundance of photography enthusiasts, foodies, and/or both! I was lucky enough to sit near the front and watch a food photography session with food photography Caren Alpert and food stylist Basil Friedman. They had a basic setup with a Canon EOS 30D, a backdrop and a light with diffuser, and proceeded to take a picture of a bowl of pasta. Of course the camera was hooked up to an Apple laptop so all the shots could be instantly projected onto a screen for the audience to see:)

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A shot of the setup. You can tell from the poor quality that the lighting really wasn’t that good in that part of the store! Unfortunately, I could not get a copy of the final shot, but go to Alpert’s and Friedman’s websites for some beautiful, mouthwatering examples of their work.

It was fascinating to watch the progress of the shoot, as Alpert and Friedman discussed props, angle, and placement. While Alpert has the photographer’s background and Friedman the chef’s training, the shoot was clearly a collaborative effort as they discussed whether the colors of the napkins went with the food or how the pasta should be arranged.

It was also interesting to hear their insights into professional food photography – for example, how Alpert will often shoot photos for with deliberate blank areas, so that text can be placed there. She stated how she always shoots "full-page", because if she shoots a picture that can be shrunken and put on a corner of the page, that’s what will happen many times! Alpert also said that many magazines have not gone to digital photos yet, which was a surprise to me. Responding to a question from the audience about depth of field, Alpert indicated that many magazines are moving away from the shallower DOF that is so popular now and towards shots with more of the background/surroundings in focus. She did note that she still prefers the shallower DOF, but will shoot both ways for clients for them to choose.

Friedman shared some funny stories and tricks about how to make food look good – when asked about the dilemma of shooting steam, he replied that a classic trick was to have someone smoking a cigarette on set who would blow smoke into the shot! He also remembered a shoot involving coffee where they made the room as cold as possible and brought in a very hot cup of coffee- which created visible steam for about 30 seconds. Perhaps not the most comfortable of shoots!

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In attending the talk, I actually came away impressed with the quality of photography to be found on blogs these days. Professional food photography shoots have oodles of technical equipment and gadgets, a warehouse worth of props, and team of artists – the photographer, the food stylist, the prop stylist, and all the assistants – to create those gorgeous pictures you see on magazine covers. But I look at what Bea, Nicky, J, and so many others I don’t have room to list have done all on their own and I think those shots are just as wonderful. In the end, if you have a passion for what you do, it will show through!

Vanilla Bean Lemon Cake with Raspberries

adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

1 3/4 sticks butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

Zest from 4 lemons

4 large eggs, room temperature

3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1-2 cups raspberries, depending on how many you want

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the butter and sugar together in a mixer until light colored and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add in the lemon zest.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Combine the lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Add the dry and liquid mixtures to the mixing bowl alternately, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Mix just until everything is combined.

Pour batter into pans.  This batter with fill two 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 loaf pans, or about (24) 3 1/2 x 2 x 1/2 mini loaves, or about (16) 3 1/2 diameter mini bundt pans as pictured – it’s a lot of batter!

Place raspberries on top of the batter, and using a spoon or spatula, gently swirl them into the batter. I’ve found that if I fold them into the batter sooner, they tend to sink to the bottom of the cake. This method allows for a more even distribution.

Bake until a tester comes out clean -about 45 minutes for a large loaf, 25-30 minutes for minis. Let cool on wire rack.

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Mangos and Macadamias

August 1st, 2006 · 15 Comments · Fruit, Ice Cream, Recipes, Tarts

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My current obsession with tropical fruit continues with some gorgeous mangoes I found at market last week. The tropical theme seemed fitting given the scorching weather we’ve been enduring in the Bay Area: days when everything seemed positively drenched in heat, the nights offering little respite. Things came to a crescendo when, one evening at my family home, the power abruptly cut out, leaving us with no fans to create the illusion of breezes, no entertainment to distract from the omnipresent heat.

Fortunately, my mother keeps a tidy and well-stocked household. Armed with candles and flashlights, we trooped outside to see the extent of the blackout and find if the air was possibly, infinitesimally cooler. From our driveway, darkness spread as far as we could see, not a glowing streetlight or window to be found. With the gentle background hum of suburbia brought to a hush, we were wrapped in rare calm, the stars showering on us from above, finally visible without city lights to dim them, crickets chirping their nighttime lullabies. Into that dreamy silence we felt the faintest brush of cool air against our faces, and we laughed in joy and relief.

The weather did finally took a turn for the cooler the next day, returning to normal within the week, and I could turn my attention back to the kitchen and these by now quite ripe mangoes and how to use them.

Unlike the prickly-skinned lychees, I can’t imagine anyone not being enticed by mangoes, with their sweet-tart fragrance and rainbow-hued skins peeling back to reveal gleaming smooth flesh the vibrant, golden hue of summer. Mangoes are considered a symbol of love in India, and in ancient Hindu texts, they have been referred to as "food of the gods". I eat fresh mangoes straight, pulp running down my fingers; dried mango strips are one of best snacks I know. In short, I love mangoes in just about any form: it makes turning them into dessert quite the exercise in forbearance! (The bowl of sliced mangoes to be pureed did seem to take a suspiciously long time to fill up…)

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Mango Mousse Tart in a Macadamia Nut Crust

Mangoes translate well into creamy, smooth fillings for cakes, tarts, and other desserts – some of my favorite cakes from childhood memory were the whipped-cream-covered ones from Chinese bakeries with layers of genoise-like sponge cake sandwiching mango cream. This is a basic mango mousse: mango puree folded into whipped cream with a bit of gelatin. It sets up overnight in the refrigerator and has a lovely, fluffy texture that melts in your mouth like clouds in sunshine.

The crust is from Regan Daley’s excellent In the Sweet Kitchen, and it is a marvel of nutty flavor and toothsome bite. Ground macadamia nuts are added to a sucreé-like pastry, and the result, fresh from the oven, is so redolent of macadamia and so delicately flaky that I could eat up like a cookie. Filled with mango mousse, it becomes a luxe little dessert.  And because the tart crust is the only thing that needs to be baked, it means oven time is minimal!

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Mango Ripple Ice Cream with Macadamia Nut Biscotti

Another pair of recipes from In the Sweet Kitchen, this ice cream has bright swirls of mango puree twining through a luscious, custardy vanilla base. A crisp wedge of macadamia nut biscotti provides a delicately nutty contrast to the richly decadent ice cream. Per Daley’s recommendation, the biscotti had a shorter second baking time to keep them on the tender side, instead of going for more brittle specimens for dipping in coffee.  I found the combination of mango and macadamia in these desserts to be quite enticing and satisfying.  As a bonus, the scents of roasting macadamia nuts and fresh-cut mango make for a most fragrant kitchen!

The best thing? Mangoes are going to be available for a while, so I’ve got plenty of time to enjoy them!

Macadamia Nut Tart Pastry

from Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen

3/4 cup raw unsalted macadamia nuts

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk, cold

Combine nuts and sugar in a food processor and grind until nuts are finely ground, but do not overgrind and turn them into butter! Add flour and combine just until blended. Add the butter and combine in pulses until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine for a few seconds, just until the mixture begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a working surface and work it gently with your fingers until it forms a cohesive dough. Do not overwork it – you will not get that wonderful flaky texture.

Press the dough into tart tins. This is enough dough for about 6  4 1/2-in tartlette tins, or one 10 to 11-in tart tin. Cover the shells and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prick the bottoms of the tart shells all over. Fill the tart shells with pie weights and bake in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the tart shells are just starting to color. Remove the pie weights and return to the over for about 7-10 minutes until the shells are completely baked and are golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Mango Mousse

2-3 mangoes

Sugar to taste

2 1/4 teaspoons gelatin

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Peel skin from mangoes and remove as much flesh as possible. You should get about 1 1/4 lbs of flesh. Puree the mango flesh with sugar to taste in a blender or food processor. Strain the puree to get rid of any pulp.

Pour about 1/3 of the mango puree into a pot and stir in the gelatin. Heat the puree over low heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat and pour into another bowl. Stir in the rest of the mango puree and stir to combine.

Whip the cream in a mixer bowl until it holds soft peaks. At this point, if the mango puree is still warm, dip the bottom of the bowl into another bowl of ice water and stir until it begins to thicken. Continue whipping the cream until it reaches stiff peaks, then add the mango puree and finish whipping to combine.

At this point you can fill the cooled tart shells with the mousse. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula. Place the tarts in the refrigerator to let the mousse set overnight. Garnish with whipped cream and toasted macadamia nuts.

Mango Ripple Ice Cream

from Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen

2 cups half and half

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1-2 mangoes

1/4 cup corn syrup

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

For the custard: heat the half and half with the vanilla extract in a saucepan until boiling. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl. When the half and half comes to a boil, pour it slowly into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove. Stir constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes.

Strain the mixture into another bowl. Add the cream and combine. Lay a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the mixture and cut a few slits in the plastic to let steam escape. Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator.

For the mango ripple: Peel the mangoes and remove as much flesh as possible. Puree the flesh in a food processor with the corn syrup and lemon juice. Strain the puree to remove any pulp. Stir the egg white into the puree. (The egg white helps to keep the mango from crystallizing in the freezer and becoming icy). Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Process the chilled custard in an ice cream maker per the manufacturer’s instructions. As it becomes ice cream, prepare 1 cup of the mango puree, and add to the machine about a minute or two before the end of the process, so it gets swirled in but not completely combined. You will probably need to scoop out the ice cream and finish it in the freezer. Any leftover mango puree can be drizzled over the ice cream!

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