Entries from June 28th, 2007

HHDD #13: Nectarines + Ice Cream Maker = Summer

June 28th, 2007 · 25 Comments · Ice Cream, Recipes

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Hay Hay It’s Donna Day again – this time hosted by the lovely Laura of Eat Drink Live. I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow, suitcases still half-packed and the apartment a clothes-strewn disaster, but when the theme is sorbet and I’ve been rhapsodizing over the pleasures of summer, priorities give way before the seductive purr of the ice cream machine.

I’ll admit to toeing the guidelines just a bit: while the theme is sorbet, Laura graciously allowed the inclusion of sherbet, which typically uses dairy but not eggs. For some reason when my eye fell on the ruddy-gold nectarines at the market, I pictured them in a creamier, softer base. This recipe, adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream, uses less milk and cream than the typical ice cream recipes to allow the flavor of the fruit to really shine through.  The result is a sweet, honey-toned sherbet bursting with pieces of succulent ripe fruit. It was difficult not to eat it all straight from the ice cream maker!

Making nectarine sherbet also allowed me to make my very first ice cream cones with my newly-acquired pizzelle press – yes, the Kitchen Gadget Acquisition Syndrome does not abate! Crisp, vanilla-scented, satisfyingly ridged from the decorative pattern on the press – the cones are by far the most delightful  – and delicious – containers for ice cream I’ve encountered, and the most fun to make. The possibilities for the pizzelles as edible vessels for chocolate, fruit, or other sweet fillings seem boundless and enticingly explorable.

Basking in the late afternoon sun with ice cream cone in hand, oh-so-carefully rotating and licking the cone to catch all the melting sorbet dribbles, slowly making your way down the cone to the last, crunchy, sorbet-soaked bite – what could be more quintessentially summer?

If you’d like some other sorbet ideas, may I suggest some White Peach Sorbet or Pomegranate Sorbet – two of my absolute favorites for summer.

I will gone for the next week on vacation – for my American readers, have a wonderful Fourth of July, and for the rest of you, enjoy the beginning of summer!

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Nectarine Sherbet

makes about 1 1/2 quarts

adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream

2 1/2 pounds nectarines

9 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

Peel, halve, and pit, and chop up the nectarines – you can chop them finer if you want a smoother sherbet or leave them coarser if you’d like to have chunks of fruit in the sherbet – my preference.

Put the nectarines in a medium saucepan with 6 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt, and the lemon juice. Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nectarines turn soft and jammy and the mixture is liquidy and bubbling. Remove from heat and let the nectarines cool to room temperature.

In another medium saucepan combine the cream, milk, and remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is almost simmering.

Remove from heat, pour mixture into a bowl, and chill over an ice bath until it is room temperature.

Stir in the nectarines. At this point you can chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight, which will give it a better texture when you churn it. Or, if the mixture is cool enough and you just can’t wait, you can churn it in an ice cream maker. This is a very soft sherbet so it will probably still need additional chilling in the freezer after you churn it.

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The Slow Drip of Coffee on a Languorous Summer's Day

June 19th, 2007 · 31 Comments · Chocolate, Cookbooks, Recipes, Tarts

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Where I grew up in the Bay Area, there was an abundance of Vietnamese noodle shops to be found amidst the Asian supermarkets and Chinese dim sum houses. One of my family’s favorite weekend lunches was to go to one of these noodle shops, where each family member would get a steaming hot bowl of pho – delicate clear noodles and paper-thin slices of beef in the most seductively aromatic broth. To this day, pho remains a steadfast comfort food to me, one of those tonics that has no adequate substitute when you’ve got a longing to it.

I would always get a soda chanh, or Vietnamese lemonade, to go with my pho, but sometimes my parents would get ca phe sua da, or Vietnamese coffee, which would provide an extra jolt of excitement to the meal as we would try to time our pho consumption to end right at the time the coffee finished dripping down from the cute little hat-shaped filter into the tall glass, down and around the ice cubes, and onto the condensed milk at the bottom. There was something wonderfully simple and self-contained about the entire setup: it was like a little magical delicious drink-producing UFO landing on top of your glass and creating, in front of your eyes, a mysteriously tasty elixir. Intense, bitter coffee melding with gooey sweet milk – of course, also a recipe for hyperactive children, so it’s a mystery our parents ever let us try some at all.

Small wonder that this drink would find its way into Pichet Ong’s Asian-inspired desserts, and in fact become the basis for one of his signature creations: the Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart, featured in his book The Sweet Spot. In looks and ingredients it would appear to resemble many of those mocha custard tarts out there that have a barely-baked chocolate filling in a tart shell, but Ong’s tart has about as much resemblance to those as a latte does to ca phe sua da.

The tart is composed of a thin, chocolatey, barely-sweet shell cradling a velvety smooth, impossibly unctuous ganache. The cream and condensed milk combine with bittersweet chocolate and Vietnamese coffee to make a rich and creamy filling that unfurls luxuriously over the tongue. The coffee (if you cannot find Vietnamese coffee, Ong suggests a good French Roast or chicory) adds a subtle smokiness to the deep chocolate taste that really comes out if you serve the tart at room temperature. This dessert is a match for any "death by chocolate" contender out there in its own sophisticated, intimitable way – the richness and intensity of the dessert doesn’t bludgeon you with excess, but envelops you in a sensual cocoon.

Topped with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk chantilly, this little piece of bliss can be enjoyed much as a Vietnamese coffee should be: slowly, languidly, in a rattan armchair on a shady porch, underneath a lazily turning ceiling fan, with palm trees waving gently through the shuttered windows, and birdsong far off in the dreamy summer distance.

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Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart

Makes about (8) 4" tarts or (1) 8" tart

from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot

Cocoa Tart Shell

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (113 grams) confectioners’ sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (23 grams) cocoa powder

1/4 cup (23 grams) almond meal

1 1 /3 cups (203 grams) all-purpose flour

1 large egg

Chocolate-Coffee Ganache

12 ounces (340 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces

1 3/4 cups (392 grams) heavy cream

1/2 cup (113 grams) evaporated milk

1/3 cup (28 grams) Vietnamese or French roast coffee powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup (65 grams) sweetened condensed milk

Sweetened Condensed Milk Chantilly

1/2 cup (114 grams) heavy cream

1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

For the tart shells: Place the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, cocoa powder, almond meal, and flour into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

Add the egg and process just until the dough comes together.

Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator until firm, about 4 hours.

When you are ready to bake the tart shells, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Take the dough out the refrigerator (if it is very firm, you might need to let it warm up a little so you can work with it) and roll out on a floured surface to 1/8" thickness.

Place your tart pan or tart rings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Trim the dough into a circular shape(s) to make it easier to fit into the tart pan(s). Place the dough into the tart pan and press to fit to the sides. Trim off any excess dough from the edges, and place baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes to let the dough firm up.

Line the tart pan(s) with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the tart shells for about 15 minutes, remove pie weights and parchment paper, and bake about 5 minutes more until the tart shells are dry to the touch.

Let tart shells cool completely on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 275 degrees F for the ganache.

For the ganache: Place the chocolate into a large bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream, evaporated milk, coffee powder, and salt and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Pour the hot mixture through a sieve over the chocolate and whisk to combine.

Add the eggs one at the time to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.

Add in the condensed milk and whisk until the mixture is very smooth and shiny.

Pour the mixture into the cooled tart shells and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, rotating halfway through. The tarts are done when the mixture appears set and does not jiggle independently in the middle.

Let tarts cool on a rack and unmold to serve.

To make the chantilly, whisk the cream in a mixer until soft peaks form. Add in the condensed milk and salt and whisk just until medium peaks form – do not overwhip. Spoon some of the chantilly onto slices of the tart before serving.

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Cerise, Je t'aime

June 12th, 2007 · 32 Comments · Custards, Fruit, Recipes

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"Cerise, je t’aime", I am told, is a French term of endearment – a marvelous moment of serendipity for me as I had just come up with the phrase on my own in an attempt to capture both my love for this summer fruit and allude to “Paris, Je T’aime”, that ode to the city of love currently playing at my local theater.

Nods to France entirely appropriate, of course, as I made a very French dessert to showcase the season’s crop of cherries (at least, the ones I haven’t devoured out of hand) – the classic clafouti.

Black cherries are the traditional fruit of choice for a clafouti, and unpitted as well – the pits actually add a more intense flavor to the batter as it is baked. But whether you use black or red cherries, or even plums or peaches or berries, the clafouti is rustic French baking at its very best: surprisingly simple in preparation, utterly unpretentious in presentation, and comfortingly easy to devour.

You can make a clafouti in a traditional deep baking dish or in individual ramekins. You can eat clafouti warm out of the oven or cooled to room temperature – anyway you make it, it will be delicious. With the simplicity of the ingredients – sugar, eggs, cream, vanilla, ripe cherries – success is all but assured.

Comparing clafouti recipes will uncover slight variations on the ingredient amounts – I interpret this charming imprecision as another indicator that clafouti is meant to be made perfect to your taste. Whether you prefer it a little firmer and more cakey or custardy and puddinglike, is all up to you. I used a version from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets - Gérard Mulot’s delightful interpretation of the clafouti with griottes and a crème fraîche custard in a sweet crust. I eliminated the tart crust and used fresh cherries instead, but I found the lack of flour or other starch made for a fantastically creamy, rich custard, and the vanilla bean a fragrant complement to the cherries. In fact, we found this concoction so good we made it again the next night – with the few cherries we had remaining!

Here’s to cherries, and France, and clafoutis, and sweet, sweet, summer.

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Cherry Clafouti

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets

makes one 9-in clafouti or (8) 2 1/2-in ramekins

3 large eggs

6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar

1 cup (240 g) crème fraîche

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

11 ounces (330 g) cherries, pitted (you may need fewer cherries if you make individual clafoutis depending on how many you can fit in the ramekins)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9-in baking dish or pie plate, or individual ramekins, and place on a baking sheet.

Whisk the eggs together in a mixing bowl.

Add in the sugar and whisk to combine.

Add in the crème fraîche and whisk just until incorporated.

Whisk in the vanilla bean paste.

Stir in the cherries gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, making sure the cherries are distributed evenly.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes (if you are making individual ramekins, be sure to check halfway through to see if they are baking faster) until the batter looks puffed and golden and is set in the center.

Let clafouti cool for about 15 minutes out of the oven before serving. You can also serve at room temperature – it will keep for about 12 hours.

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{Cookbook Review} Asia: The Sweetest Spot

June 6th, 2007 · 27 Comments · Cakes, Cookbooks, Recipes, Reviews

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When it comes to Asian desserts in the Western world, most people don’t think of them beyond the plastic-wrapped fortune cookies that come with your Chinese takeout or the fried bananas at the Thai restaurant. But there really is a huge world of Asian sweets beyond those familiar stereotypes. Step into any bakery in Chinatown and you are greeted by an array of custard-filled buns and fruit-covered layer cakes to rival any French patisserie. When I was young, I remember my mother giving us bowls of sweet soup made from almonds or black sesame as dessert.

Especially exciting to see is the commingling of Asian flavors and desserts with European and Western pastry tradition. Not that this is a new thing, of course – visit any East-West fusion style restaurant (does anyone use the word “fusion” anymore? Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly, the moniker “California” cuisine appears to encompass, umbrella-like, everything from local and organic to vaguely Pacific Rim-influenced) and you’re certain to find a green tea-infused crème brulée or coconut-ginger-saffron pudding on the dessert menu.

But a cookbook on Asian-inspired desserts is a rare breed indeed and cause for much KitchenAid-fiddling anticipation. And when it’s written by Pichet Ong, well, it pretty much guarantees a purchase at the first moment of availability. So I am the very happy owner of Ong’s new cookbook The Sweet Spot, a veritable treatise on all things sweet and Asian.

Ong has made a career out of bridging culinary cultures – growing up in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, he put his background to good use in the pastry kitchen. His stints included Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s 66 and Spice Market, where his desserts featured Ovaltine kulfi and durian ice cream (for those of you who know what durian is, you know what a daring move that was!)

The Sweet Spot is an absorbing read, from the detailed “Asian Pantry” section at the beginning that enumerates the various unique ingredients used in Asian baking, to the illuminating headnotes preceding each recipe, filled with either fond anecdotes or helpful tips. The recipes themselves are definitely not ones to be found in your run-of-the-mill baking tome. There are recipes that are exotic twists on familiar dessert forms like banana cream pie or coffee ice cream, and there are recipes that seem imported directly from Asia, such as steamed pandan layer cake and mango sticky rice.

The focus of the book seems to skew towards China and Southeast Asia, with a sprinkling of India and Japan thrown in. Coconut features prominently, as well as matcha, almond, and tropical fruits like mango and pineapple. I was pleased to see sophisticated versions of my childhood favorites like almond tofu and egg custard tarts, as well as discussions on Asian dessert techniques such as steamed cakes or Indian cheesemaking – Ong even has a recipe for what he calls Asian puff pastry.

Overall, the Sweet Spot fills a much-needed gap in the baking bookshelf as a reference on Asian baking ingredients and a stellar collection of innovative recipes. One recipe that caught my eye while I was leafing through was a riff on those cakes in the Chinese bakeries made of layers of light sponge and whipped cream, adorned with fresh fruit. They are the Chinese equivalent of the buttercream-frosted layer cakes you find in American bakeries – I’ve had my share of them for my birthdays while growing up.

Ong’s version alternates a fluffy genoise-style cake with matcha-infused whipped cream. He calls for persimmons in the cream, but I used some beautiful mangoes I found at market instead. The result is, I think, as delectable as the inspiration and strikingly original as well.

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