Entries from September 30th, 2007

Daring Bakers Challenge: Cinnamon Rolls and Sticky Buns

September 30th, 2007 · 65 Comments · Events, Pastry, Recipes


The Daring Bakers got a two-for-one challenge this month, courtesy of our lovely hostess Marce: a recipe for cinnamon rolls that could also be turned into sticky buns! Although yeast is not really my forte, I do have a terrible weakness for morning pastries: the sweeter and gooey-er, the better. Bear claws and almond croissants were made for me. So I rejoiced at the chance to make my own sweet morning treats – surely they would be so much better than those horrid mass-produced things you see in the coffee shops.

The recipe is from Peter Reinhardt’s excellent The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, so I knew the Daring Bakers would be in good hands. The instructions were straightforward and clear, and the accompanying photos cleared up and potential confusion (I wish more cookbooks showed how-to process during the baking process; I myself am not talented to do this, although I’m sure many of my more accomplished fellow bakers will have some in their posts!)

The number one about working with yeast, I’m sure, is the terror that it won’t work. You stare at your little baby blob of dough, nestled under its plastic wrap blanket in the bowl, and you wonder if it really will double in size in the next few hours like the recipe says, or will you find the same little blob, sad and inert, when you check? You sniff the kitchen air in anticipation of that rich yeasty scent to let you know the dough is working, you pat the top of the dough reassuringly while covertly trying to determine if it feels any bigger, you pace the kitchen wondering just how long can a couple of hours take to pass?


As luck would have it, the day I planned on doing the rolls was cold and rainy; absolutely terrible weather to be hoping your yeasted dough would poof up in a jiffy. The dough itself takes almost no time to put together, but waiting for it to proof that day was an entirely different matter. I was quite afraid it would take literally all day for these cinnamon rolls to happen! Fortunately, there are a couple of things the impatient baker can do to speed up the process. Yeast need heat to develop, so anything that raises the ambient temperature will help. If you oven is below your stovetop, you can place the dough on the stove and turn the oven on (low temperature, please – you don’t want to overheat and kill the yeast!). Or you can turn on one of the stovetop burners and place your dough near it to catch the heat. You can also place the dough inside the oven with a bowl of steaming hot water and close the door; it will get nice and humid inside and help the dough proof faster.

Waiting for the dough to rise the first time and again after shaping the rolls was surely the most onerous part of this recipe; the rest of it was, I’m happy to report, trouble-free. I split my batch into half cinnamon rolls and half sticky buns; I would also recommend slicing them into the smaller portions given in the recipe as they grew plenty large for me – slicing them larger would have resulted in buns that were Cinnabon size! (Of course, if that’s your preference, please go ahead!)

The cinnamon rolls were wonderful: be generous with the cinnamon sugar so you get as much melty-sweet goodness as possible. My dough baked plump and puffy, slightly chewy but with a lovely fluffy texture inside. It’s not strongly flavored though, so definitely be sure you spread the cinnamon sugar thoroughly over the dough; the fondant glaze is lovely as well.

The sticky buns have the added benefit of baking in a buttery caramel glaze, almost like a tarte tatin, so they get an extra boost of moistness and flavor. I neglected to add nuts and raisin to mine, but they were still fabulous nuggets of sticky-fingered happiness, dripping with oozy caramel, warm from the pan.


Sometimes I think to myself that I just don’t work with yeast enough; thanks to Marce for giving me this opportunity to play with it again and spice up my breakfast for a few days! Be sure to check the Daring Bakers blogroll to see everyone else’s lovely rolls – there must have surely been many happy mornings out there after this challenge!

CInnamon and Sticky Buns

from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 – 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) – twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) – sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough


·         6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar

·         1 teaspoon salt

·         5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine

·         1 large egg, slightly beaten

·         1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon

·         3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour

·         2 teaspoons instant yeast*

·         1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water

·         1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)

·         White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)

·         Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)

·         Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)

*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 – Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 – Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 – Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo below for shaping the buns.

(Transcription in case photo did not print: (A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. (B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

Step 4 – Prepare the Buns for Proofing:

·         For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

·         For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 – Proof the Buns: Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 – Bake the Buns:

·         Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.

·         Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 8 – Cool the buns:

·         For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.

·         For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns:

White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns

Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.
NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.

2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

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SHF#35: A Feast of Figs

September 23rd, 2007 · 29 Comments · Custards, Events, Pastry, Recipes, Tarts


Trust Ivonne of the wonderful Cream Puffs in Venice to come up with the perfect theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday: figs. I will admit that figs were never my favorite fruit; I liked them well enough but I always preferred eating, and baking, with other more familiar fruits. This might partly be because whenever I thought of figs I thought of Fig Newtons, that bar-like cookie filled with what was supposed to be fig jam, but which tasted awful to me. I took Ivonne’s theme as a challenge to renew my acquaintance with the fig and discover how I could use it in my kitchen.

Well, thank you, Ivonne, because now I have yet another ingredient to incorporate into my pastry daydreams. After much deliberation, I ended up making two desserts, because I really wanted to try both of them, and I had just bought over two pounds of black Mission figs at the market. Below, the very happy results of trying something new:


Honey Panna Cotta with Grilled Figs

The Honey Panna Cotta is from Alice Medrich’s excellent new Pure Dessert, from which I can’t stop baking; I saw the recipe and I thought it would be perfect paired with some figs. Indeed, the subtle, elusive sweetness of the figs, along with the slight crunch of their seeds, is a perfect foil for a silken panna cotta infused with the bright, rich flavor of honey. I had a bevy of honeys to choose from at the farmers’ market; the delicately floral lavender honey was a nice match for the figs, but feel free to use your favorite.

Medrich’s panna cotta is a wonder of simplicity: with cream, milk, and just a bit of gelatin, she creates an ethereal wisp of a dessert that just barely quivers under the touch of a spoon and dissolves in your mouth into pure flavor. This is about as far from Jell-O as you can get. Because Medrich is so particular about the amounts of gelatin used in order to achieve that barely-solid, on-the-verge-of-collapsing state, she prefers that this panna cotta is served in its ramekin rather than being unmolded, since it will lose its shape when it is turned out. A small price to pay for such exquisite delicacy. The warm figs, drizzled with a little more honey, taste mellow and earthy next to the panna cotta. A dreamy fall dessert.


Fig and Huckleberry Tart

This tart is one I was very excited to make, because fresh huckleberries are hard to come by in the Bay Area. I finally found some last weekend, so that triumph combined with getting the figs meant that this little number was a must. From Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life, this tart is a bit of a project but the rewards are immensely satisfying: a sweet crust filled with huckleberries and figs rendered gloriously gooey and jammy in the oven, topped with a lattice of puff pastry. Yes, this recipe calls for making both tart dough and puff pastry, and, of course, forming the shells and making the latticework. If you make the doughs the night before, the tart will probably take you a morning to do and you’ll have a fabulously fragrant kitchen and some very delectable dessert by afternoon!

With berries in the filling and a top crust, this tart is almost like a kissing cousin of a pie. I liked having the tart dough for the shell, though; it had a buttery sweetness and the delicate crispness of the best pâte sucrée. Instead of using my old standby Pierre Hermé for the tart dough I tried Zuckerman’s recipe since her other ones have turned out so well for me. Her recipe yields a dough that is remarkably soft and supple (I did have to work quickly with it before it started melting) but that bakes into a flavorful and tender crust. It’s worth trying out to see how you enjoy the results. The huckleberries and figs married wonderfully together, the softly sweet figs mixing with the tart berries (my boyfriend describes huckleberries as extra-tart blueberries, and I’m inclined to agree). Tossed with a bit of sugar and butter, they turn into a filling both homey and sophisticated. Zuckerman suggests omitting the puff pastry lattice if you are short of time, but I urge you to make it if you can; the airy, sweet crunch of buttery puff on top really pushes the tart into the realm of extraordinary.

There you have it! I will never underestimate or neglect the noble fig again. Thanks again to Ivonne for showing me what I was missing out on!

Honey Panna Cotta with Grilled Figs

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes (6) 6-oz ramekins

1 1/2 cups (290 g) milk

2 1/2 teaspoons (5 g) powdered unflavored gelatin

3 cups (700 g) heavy cream

1/3 cup (108 g) honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/8 teaspoon salt

12 figs

confectioner’s sugar

Pour milk into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for a few minutes to let the gelatin dissolve; the milk will turn spongy.

Combine the cream, honey, and salt in a small saucepan and heat on stove over medium heat until it begins to steam.

Take cream mixture off the heat and add in the milk and gelatin, stirring well to make sure all the gelatin dissolves and there are no hard bits.

Pour mixture into a clean bowl and set into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water. Let mixture cool to room temperature, stirring often.

Divide mixture among ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and store in refrigerator to chill and set overnight.

When you are ready to serve the panna cotta, slice the figs in half lengthwise, sprinkle with a bit of confectioner’s sugar, and place on a toaster oven tray or baking sheet if you using the oven broiler unit.

Grill for a few minutes until they are lightly colored on the edges; don’t let them burn!

Serve immediately with the panna cotta.

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It's Cookbook Time!

September 21st, 2007 · 13 Comments · Cookbooks, Reviews

I know fall has technically not arrived yet (just a few days away!), but already thoughts of the holiday season are popping up in my head. You know where baking is concerned, one can never start thinking about the holidays soon enough.  All the pies and tarts and crumbles filled with pumpkin and apples and pecans and cranberries, gingerbread houses, Yule logs, Christmas cookie packages …it’s almost enough to make me squint into the sunny sky and wish for the end of the year to come sooner. Almost.

Of course, holiday season also heralds major book release time, another reason I’m so excited. There are quite a few noteworthy baking books coming out to cap off a pretty stellar year for pastry in publication. I was going to do up this wishlist closer to November or December, but I’ve found out that many of the tomes on it are coming out in the next month or two – getting an early jump on the pocketbook, perhaps? Or think of it as more time to test-drive new recipes in your kitchen and picking your favorites for parties and presents to come.

Without further ado, my guide to the best of what’s coming out in the world of baking cookbooks. Salivate, dream, put on your own gift-giving list or better yet, your list for Santa. It’s going to be a very sweet holiday season indeed!

Marcel Desaulniers’ I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas – who doesn’t remember seeing the gorgeous, oversized Death by Chocolate and Desserts to Die for on bookstore shelves? Desaulniers has returned with another decadent ode to chocolate, this time with a holiday theme – how very timely. If you are looking for a new showstopper dessert to serve at the season’s parties, this book is certainly the one to consult.

Dominique and Cindy Duby’s Wild Sweets Chocolate: Sweet, Savory, Bites, DrinksWild Sweets is still one of the most exotic and intriguing dessert books I own. In their half kitchen, half laboratory, the Dubys take pastry to the cutting edge, and their fascinating concoctions were presented like modern art in their first book. Now in their sequel, they have dedicated their efforts to exploring chocolate. It’s not wholly composed of sweet recipes, as the title suggests; following their highly visionary bent, the Dubys have experimented with chocolate in savory dishes and cocktails as well. I’m very eager to see what has sprung out of their marvelously creative imaginations this time.

Claire Clark’s Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts – Pastry chef at The French Laundry. Do you need to hear anything else? While this does not appear to be a collection of dessert recipes from the French Laundry (you can find some in The French Laundry Cookbook), it is a reflection of Clark’s 23+ years working in pastry around the world. I’m eager to learn from the person Thomas Keller chose to head up the pastry department in his most famous restaurant.

Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen – Mario Batali’s famous NYC restaurant has brought Italian cuisine to a new level; not surprising that his pastry chef would do the same. Besides recreating traditional Italian desserts, DePalma also includes Italian-American recipes, as well as what she calls American-Italian creations, or modern desserts inspired in some way by the flavors and baking techniques of Italy. Dolce indeed!

Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts: Recipes from Citizen Cake – One from my hometown. Mention desserts in San Francisco and invariably Citizen Cake will come up. I think this book is long overdue; I’ve always been enchanted by Falkner’s creatively composed and cleverly named desserts, and she promises to share many of her secrets in her first, and hopefully not last, book.

Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the YardThe Secrets of Baking holds a prized spot on my cooking bookshelf; the scientist in me loved her methodical, logical breakdown of basic pastry techniques and her clear explanations on how to use and combine them to make any dessert you could imagine. I’m so pleased to see she’s coming out with another book, this time a collection of her favorite recipes from all the renowned restaurants she’s worked at over the years. Veronica is already in love with it!

Be assured that reviews of these books will go up on Dessert First as soon as I can get my hands on them. In the meantime, if you need even more books to hanker after, here is a partial list of some other 2007 releases.

Have a wonderful weekend – when I post next, it will be fall, and perhaps I’ll have something figgy for you all to enjoy:)

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Tales of the Elephant Heart Plum

September 17th, 2007 · 23 Comments · Cakes, Fruit, Ice Cream, Recipes

Check it out: this post is featured on Yumsugar and Serious Eats!


How fabulous is the bounty of fruit at the farmers’ markets right now?

I wanted to make something with plums before they disappeared, and this week when I went to market I saw a variety that I hadn’t baked with before: the oh-so-intriguingly named elephant heart plums.

If the slightly macabre name does not give you pause, the fruit’s appearance might: a rather mottled and dusty variegation of greens and purples, making one wonder if they’ve been pulled, half-ripened, out of a kitchen drawer, or, perhaps, if they are something rich and strange from the depths of some sun-dappled forest.

Cut one open, and they indeed resemble something from a fairy tale: a jewellike, blood red interior that is softly, sweetly fragrant and begs to be bitten into, Snow-White style. Don’t resist; the flesh is firm and burstingly juicy, the flavor sublimely sweet and tangy at once, redolent of honey and vanilla with tart berry undertones.


I adore this plum, with its perfect heart shape and rich ruby color, the subtle complexities of its flavor such a contrast to its bolder, more straightforward cousins. Incidentally, the dustlike bloom you may see on them at the market is actually a good sign; elephant heart plums are quite delicate and bruise easily, so seeing bloom means that have not been overhandled. Pick plums that are tender but not squishy soft or too firm either. Even a not-perfectly-ripened elephant heart plum is a thing of joy, but a perfect one is like the end of summer distilled into ambrosia.


After eating a couple of these little beauties, I actually had to make sure I didn’t get carried away and eat them all before I could bake anything with them (addictive, as in all the best fairy tales! or was that Persephone and her pomegranate seeds?) These plums are of course delightful out of hand, but also spectacular in many late summer or early autumn standards like galettes, tarts, or coffee cakes. The plums hold up well in baking and develop an even richer, more robust flavor.

I went with a recipe I had been waiting all year to try from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream: a plum cornmeal cake paired with a plum sorbet. She calls for Santa Rosa plums in her recipe, a similar plum that’s already had its season here in the Bay Area, but any red-fleshed plum like the Elephant Heart would work, or any plum or pluot that is not overly sweet (those that are both sweet and tart work best).


The recipe is a simple and fun one to make; the batter is thick and puddinglike and does not seem to be enough to yield a full cake, but don’t worry, it rises prodigiously in the oven to a glorious puffy golden cloud. Be generous in sprinkling the plum pieces over the batter; even if it seems like a lot once the cake bakes up to its full height it will be quite thick and you will want it to be liberally studded with fruit. Not too sweet, pleasingly light and fluffy in texture with the slightest crunch from the cornmeal, this cake is lovely warm from the oven for breakfast or teatime.

The cake would be wonderful all on its own, but I had to make the accompanying plum sorbet, if only to show off that gorgeous wine-red color of the plums just a little more. It’s also perfect for emphasizing the fruit in the cake; the chilly sorbet’s intense sweetness and tanginess makes me think of plums in the snow. However you choose to devour these plums, they are surely one of the sweetest sendoffs to summer.


Plum Cornmeal Cake

adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream

Makes one 9 1/2-in cake

4-6 ripe red fleshed plums

1 1/2 cups (212 g) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (64 g) cornmeal

6 oz (172 g) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (200 g) sugar

3 large eggs

1/3 cup (60 g) milk

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cut up the plums into small even pieces (eighths are a good size).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 1/2-in springform pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into a bowl. Add in the salt and 1/2 cup cornmeal and stir together to combine.

Put the butter and sugar into a mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until light-colored and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure one is incorporated before adding the other.

Combine the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the mixer bowl in additions, starting and ending with the dry flour mixture. Beat just until all the ingredients are combined.

Spread about half of the mixture into the springform pan, spreading evenly. Place about half of the plum pieces over the batter.

Spread the rest of the batter into the springform pan and top with the remaining plums. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of cornmeal over the top of the batter.

Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Plum Sorbet

adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream

Makes one 9 1/2-in cake

2 pounds red fleshed plums

1/2 cup (100g) sugar

1/4 cup (45 g) water

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cut the plums into small pieces (about 1/2-in)and discard the pits. Place plums in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Strain the puree into a bowl – there should be about 2 3/4 cups.

Add in the sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice and combine. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.

Refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours to thoroughly chill.

Freeze in an ice cream machine per manufacturer’s instructions. You will get a very soft sorbet that will require further freezing (about 4 hours) in the freezer before you can scoop and serve it.

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{Cookbook Review} Pure Dessert, Pure Inspiration

September 11th, 2007 · 28 Comments · Chocolate, Cookbooks, Ice Cream, Recipes, Tarts


When I met up with Veronica of Veronica’s Test Kitchen a few weeks ago, not only did I get the pleasure of a fun night out with a fellow baker, but I was also clued in to an early release of Alice Medrich’s newest book, Pure Dessert – one I’d been eagerly awaiting. Veronica had just taken a class earlier in the day from Medrich at my alma mater, and what surprise did Medrich have in store for her students but several copies of her latest tome, fresh from the printer! Of course my immediate question was, “Are there any copies left?” Veronica, who shares my ardor (and impatience) for new cookbooks, very sweetly had a copy set aside for me when she returned to class the following day, for which I’m happily indebted to her. Thanks so much, sweetie!

In a sea of lookalike cookbook releases, many of them tired riffs on dusty old themes, Medrich’s book is an elegant, assertive breath of fresh air. Moving far beyond her familiar domain of chocolate, she re-examines the very concept of dessert from ingredient up, espousing her new philosophy of simplicity and purity. There are no elaborate, multi-component desserts or fancy, cutting-edge techniques in this book; instead, Medrich returns to the basics and turns them inside out, reinventing them into something new and exciting.

Medrich does what I would love to do all day long (alas, until I find someone to pay me for it, I must fit kitchen time in with the rest of real life): experiment in her kitchen. She takes apart recipes, examines methods and ingredients, and hones everything down to reach the most perfect, purest expression of flavor. Her boundless curiosity and rigorous methods are illuminating and inspiring; like the very best standard-bearers of any field, she makes possibilities seem endless and exploration an exhilaration. I’ve had people ask me, “well, how many desserts could there be? After you’re done a chocolate cake and a vanilla cake and a strawberry tart and a blueberry pie, haven’t you pretty much made everything?” Medrich’s book is a resounding no to that sentiment and an exuberant yes to experimentation, creativity, and imagination.

In her book, Medrich plays with the variety of ingredients, new and old, available to bakers: buckwheat and kamut flours in her scones, kafir cheese in her tarts, sesame oil and muscovado sugar in her cakes. She reconsiders baking techniques and recipes with the mind of a scientist: cakes are made with both cold and room temperature butter; spices are incorporated into batter or sprinkled directly over just-baked cookies; tea infusions are made with both hot and cold cream. Her thoughtful reasoning, and her dissection of her experiments, leads to some fascinating discoveries and a greater understanding of how baking works and how to best use various ingredients in this process.

The result is a wonderfully eclectic, marvelously original, and deeply personal collection of recipes. Like some of my other favorite recent cookbooks (Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life, Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot, and of course Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours), Medrich’s book moves beyond a mere compilation of desserts to a glimpse inside the author’s mind and her thoughts and feelings – you share in her ideas writ tantalizingly in sugar, chocolate, fruit, and honey. I found what Medrich had to say enormously captivating. She wants one to see baking the same way cooking is being viewed today, as the search to best express the qualities and flavor of an ingredient. Baking doesn’t have to mean tons of white sugar and whipped cream everywhere; it also doesn’t have to mean following the same rigid rules to get the exact same result every time. It can mean using unrefined sugar or honey to give new nuances of sweetness to custards, or using whole grains to add nutty dimension to shortbread, or cooking fruit to enhance its flavor before turning it into ice cream.

Inspired is the perfect word for how you will feel after reading this book. You will be inspired to run to the grocery store and pick up ingredients you had never used before in baking. You will be inspired to look at the ingredients you have in your pantry with a new eye. You will be inspired to look at a basket of berries, or a jar of honey, and think about how to best capture and showcase it in a cake, or ice cream, or cookie. You will be inspired to know that you don’t need to make a multi-layer cake or an elaborate composed dessert or use ten different pastry techniques to make something sweet and satisfying.

One of the many desserts that caught my eye as I was leafing through the book was Medrich’s Bittersweet Citrus Tart with Jasmine Cream. You may remember that she had a similar recipe in her Bittersweet cookbook, the tempting Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets. Here, they are reimagined in a more elegant incarnation, with a deliciously grown-up combination of flavors. One thing I like about Medrich is that she is unafraid to reexamine and redo her own recipes. There is no resting on her laurels, only a constant drive to update and improve. The new version of her tart has a ganache-like layer of citrus-hinted chocolate in a crisp buttery tart shell. Infused with the zest of pink grapefruit and blood oranges, enriched with butter and egg, the chocolate is as luxuriously smooth as a truffle center and pleasantly tangy to the taste. Medrich places a dollop of jasmine scented cream on top, but I took it a step further and turned it into a delicate ice cream. A scoop of this ethereal, floral ice cream make s refreshing and intriguing foil to the robust richness of the tart.

Pure Dessert should be available in most bookstores by now, so you can see for yourself what Veronica and I have been raving about. As an inveterate bedtime reader of cookbooks, I can vouch that this book has not left my nightstand since I’ve gotten it!


Bittersweet Citrus Tart

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes one 9 1/2 in tart or (6) 3 1/2 in tarts


8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup (4 1/2 oz) flour


8 oz semisweet chocolate (62% preferred, I used Guittard 61%)

5 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon grated blood (or regular) orange zest

1/2 teaspoon grated pink grapefruit zest

1 large egg yolk, room temperature

1/4 cup boiling water

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon.

Add in the flour and mix until combined. You can let the dough sit for a few minutes to firm up if it seems too soft to manipulate.

Grease the bottom and sides of your tart pan(s)  – I suggest ones with removable bottoms to make it easier to remove the tarts after baking. Press the tart dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pans, taking care to spread the dough as evenly and thinly as possible (this is not difficult but may take some time and patience.)

Bake the tart shells in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the shells appear golden brown and firm. Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the filling: Combine the chocolate, butter, and citrus zest in a bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water to create a bain-marie. Stir frequently to ensure the chocolate and butter melt together evenly. When the mixture is completely melted, take off the heat and set aside.

Place the egg yolk in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the boiling water, taking care not to cook the egg. Place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk the egg mixture continually until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees F.

Pour the egg through a strainer into the chocolate mixture and stir gently to combine – try to avoid creating air bubbles in the mixture.

Pour the filling into the tart shells and spread evenly. Place the tarts in a covered container and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 hours to set the filling.

When you ready to serve the tarts, take them out of the refrigerator about half an hour beforehand to let it soften and regain the shine on its surface.

Jasmine Ice Cream

makes about 1 quart

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons loose jasmine tea (leaves or pearls will work)

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and place on stove over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, heat until the mixture just comes to a boil.

Take mixture off heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour into a container, cover, and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. You may want to check the mixture while it is chilling to make sure it has not become too strongly flavored from the tea.

Strain the mixture to remove all the loose tea. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

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