Saffron Pumpkin Macarons

103

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pumpkin Saffron Macarons

All summer long upon entering the grocery store I would grab a basket, stop at the sushi counter, pass by the salad bar, turn the corner and with my eyes closed reach in the plum and nectarine display to my left. The most visible display as you enter the store. All summer long, I would pick three of each and make a beeline for the cherries and the figs before resuming with the rest of the items on my list. Summer reached an end. Pears replaced cherries and figs turned into dates. Expected.

I still went to the store and turned the same corners, walked down the same aisles even when Autumn pointed its lovely little chilly mornings (well, for about 3 days). Last week, as I walked by the main display and reached for the plums and nectarines, I found myself holding three decorative mini gourds instead. "C'est quoi cette histoire?" What is going on? Well I really said "quesaco", Provencal for the same expression which attracted a different set of puzzled looks. After the courgettes and aubergines, the kid working at the produce section thought I was asking about a specific gourd and was already running to the back room. I feel that if I am still around at 80-90 years old, I will become that "odd lady", the ghost of the grocery store. Seriously...let's hope I am not that "creepy odd lady".

With the summer produce moved to the back of the store, it was time I gave those little pumpkins a whirl and let Fall sit at the kitchen table while I bake and write. There are days it is difficult to wax poetic about a cherry dessert for the book when the aromas of mulled wine and apple cider are coming from next door. We still do not have anything that resembles Fall here but we like to practice. We gather wood, we make pretty piles, we shop for scarves and try to knit. We get in the spirit even if we can't wear our coats. We get excited with the first whisper of Northern wind.

Pumpkin & Macarons

I am doing just that. I bought a few mini pumpkins and gourds and turned them into votives, set them on the dining room table to set the mood. I cooked the flesh down and was left with about half a cup, which was a little too little for pumpkin pie. I thought about mixing it with some cream cheese to make a couple of small cheesecakes. While rummaging through the fridge, I spotted a container of egg whites, and the package of saffron, next to the almonds. The fridge was making the recipe up for me, signs of macarons everywhere!! I needed a little snack to take next door to our weekly neighbors' gathering and was not sure how the concoction forming in my head would be received. I settled on lightly infused saffron shells with a simple cream cheese and pumpkin filling with just a touch of cloves.

In the past year, a lot of people have started to make macarons on a more regular basis and the first remark I read for first timers is how surprisingly very sweet they are. Ah, yes...I guess we forgot to tell you...they are! That's why they are small, sold individually or in small box and are best shared with a group of friends. Back home, we eat one with coffee or tea, not like a handfull animal crackers in the middle of the afternoon, not that there is anything wrong with that. Hence, I like to use a slightly less sweet filling and cream cheese is fantastic in that regard and works great with all sorts of flavors.

The second most frequently asked question is what is the best way to pipe even shells all the time. When you do macarons regularly, it becomes difficult not to. Your hands repeat the motions. Over the years, your wrists have registered the nuances and your hands repeat the motion. I always write back the same thing "Hold your tip at a 45 degree angle. Press the filling through your pastry bag from the top down . Practice, practice, practice". Some people are ingenious and smart thinkers and tediously trace circles on parchment paper, invert the sheet, pipe and bake. That takes time and patience. Maybe it is a reason why people make macarons once and never again? On top of the required nut grinding, meringue folding just so...there is piping even circles so they can be paired up aesthetically and not look like distant cousins.

Guess what? Somebody has come up with the solution for you. No...not me. Her. When Helena first posted about macarons, I noticed a sheet full of macaron shell imprints and told her that many macarons novices would probably love to use such a tool to make even shells on their first tries. She graciously replicated her template and came up with two shell sizes available to download and print. Ok, so even if I don't "need" a template, I love crafty people and things, so you know I had to give these a try!! She also added a set of diagonal patterns for trained sticklers (no offense, I am there). I printed out both templates on card stock paper, sneaked one sheet under my parchment paper and piped, slid the template away and baked the shells. Easy peasy! Thank you Helena! One more difficulty out of the way for those tempted to try macarons....

Pumpkin Saffron Macarons

Saffron Pumpkin Macarons:

Makes 12-18 macarons, depending size

Note: I did whip the egg whites with the saffron together without a problem, but if you fear that your whites might not foam up properly because the saffron has taken on moisture or oiliness, ground the almonds with the saffron instead and proceed with the recipe as written.

Saffron shells:
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
1/2 tsp saffron
40 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam with the saffron, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work.
Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve.
Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down.
The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.
If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Filling:
2 oz (60gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz (60gr) freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp ground cloves

In a medium bol, mix the cream cheese, pumpkin and cloves until completely incorporated.
Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe onto half the shells and top with another shell.

This is my submission to Root Source Challenge #35: Saffron.

Note: the first picture is me in an apron made by Holly of PheMomenon.

Gluten Free And Vegan Daring Bakers' Challenge

131

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gluten Free Crackers and Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

It is indeed a first in the history of the Daring Bakers, a gluten free and vegan challenge! Since being a Daring Baker in December 2006, I have seen the group grow by leaps and bounds, with members from all walks of life partaking in our monthly bake-offs. I know it is daunting at times for some Daring Bakers to adapt recipes to fit their dietary lifestyles and I always marvel at how creative and resourceful gluten free and vegan members are. I was really excited to see that our hostesses this month, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shelly, of Musings From the Fishbowl, chose Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread.

Natalie being a gluten free baker asked us to challenge ourselves and make the crackers gluten free while Shel asked us to come up with vegan dips and spreads to go along. Being a ubber cool group, we still had the choice to make them with regular flour if gluten free baking did not appeal to us. I welcomed both challenges with open arms! Indeed, there are quite a few gluten free eaters among our friends and family members and I can always stretch my gf baking repertoire. Coming up with vegan dips and spreads was a good opportunity to try a couple of different ingredients, but furthermore really understand and appreciate many people put behind being vegan.

Lavash Crackers and Toppings

The past month has been quite busy and full of twists and turns and I did not get to make the dough until Wednesday afternoon. I used a gluten free baking mix by Bob.....and realised after the first rise that had forgotten to add xanthan gum to the dough which acts like gluten in baked goods and helps stretch and relax the dough. I did not even bother rolling that one out, waited until Thursday to go buy some xanthan gum and started again. The quantities are so small here that I mixed the dough by hand and left it to rise, rolled it paper thin, baked and then broke it to shards. I rolled the dough into one large baking sheet and topped 1/4 with sesame seeds, 1/4 with grated Tonka Beans, 1/4 with cinnamon sugar and the last quarter was brushed with agave syrup and half a vanilla bean, seeded. The smells that were invading the house made it hard to resist not breaking into it as soon as it came out of the oven!!

For the toppings, our hostesses gave us complete freedom with only one rule: it had to be vegan. I was really interested to see how some of my favorites would turn if made vegan and with the tremendous array of choices and progress made in vegan foods, I was able to serve the crackers with a vegan salted butter caramel sauce, a vegan caramel cheesecake in a jar spread and my now favorite lemon balm infused berry salad. I love salted butter caramel anything, not being a fashion victim but I grew up on that stuff!

The salted butter caramel sauce is an adaptation of my favorite sauce and the only problem encountered was that it took a longer time for the butter and sugar to come to a caramel color and consistency but the rest was the same. I used Earth Balance butter and soy creamer instead of their regular counterparts and added some Fleur de Sel for the salty factor. I could taste a difference from the original, sure can't say it's the "real thing" but it came out pretty darn close and what mattered is that I was able to make one of my vegan neighbors very very happy!!

The vegan caramel cheesecake is also an adaptation and was easy to make using Ener-G Egg Replacer and vegan cream cheese (Tofutti brand). I divided the batter between four jam/jelly jars and added some salted butter caramel sauce at the bottom. I have to say that B. thought it was "different but worth eating" and I loved it.

The berry salad is nothing new but since I made this lemon balm berry salad, it has been on rotation at the house and for dinner parties with the neighbors. It works just like a savory salsa with the crackers and is great for a little 4 o'clock pick me up with a cup of tea.

Thank you Natalie an Shelly for this opportunity to bake gluten free and vegan! It was a blast! Check out the others' creations here.


Gluten Free Lavash Crackers:

Makes one sheet pan:

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).
For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.
For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Vegan Salted Butter Caramel Sauce:
240 gr. sugar (1 1/4 cups)
80 ml water
115 gr vegan butter (1 stick)
150 ml vegan creamer
1 1/2 tsp Fleur de sel

In a heavy saucepan set over low heat, combine the sugar and water and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Add the butter. Let it come to a boil and cook until it reaches a golden caramel color (takes between 25-35 minutes), stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the creamer ( it will splatter and get crazy, but do not fear and trust the recipe). Whisk to combine and put back on the stove. Let it come to a boil again over low heat and cook 10-15 minutes until you reach a nice creamy consistency. Remove from the heat, add the salt and stir until melted. Keeps for about 2 weeks.

Vegan Caramel Cheesecake In a Jar:
1/2 cup salted butter caramel sauce
8 oz vegan cream cheese, at room temperature
1 Tb. vegan butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tb. Egg-Replacer mixed with 1/4 cup water

Divide the caramel sauce between 4 small jam jars. Set aside.
In a large bowl, with the electric mixer or by hand , mix the cream cheese, butter and sugar. Add the egg replacer mixture and beat until well incorporated.
Divide the batter among the 4 jars. Set them in a roasting pan and fill with water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the jars. Bake at 300F for 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely before refrigerating or serving.

Lemon Balm Infused Berry Salad:
Click here for the recipe.

Gluten Free Lavash Crackers And Vegan Spreads

Breakfast Thoughts: Lavender Oatmeal Squares

110

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Breakfast Thoughts: Lavender Oatmeal Squares

Let's interrupt our usual programming of decadent and creamy treats to talk about breakfast, shall we? You know, that "most important meal" of the day, the one that also defines our lifestyle, mood, habits. Even the last edition of Saveur, almost entirely devoted to breakfast made it to my mailbox right when I had breakfast oatmeal squares in the oven...sign.

Over the past years, I have been catching myself saying I love breakfast but what I should really say is "I'd love to have breakfast". I hardly have time or appetite in the morning for more than a cup of coffee and a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Everyday I tell clients about the benefits of a balanced breakfast and yet this is a classic case of "do as I say and not as I do". Bad me.

It has not always been the case. As a typical French child, my mom would fix hot chocolate, toast and jam, maybe a yogurt, before heading to school. Sometimes toast was a croissant or a slice of brioche (toasted with some honey, please!). More or less of the above combination made its way onto my plate as I grew up. Before I stopped running as much as I used to due to knee issues (my fault: run 5 miles each morning then go work at the restaurant for 10-12 hours, 6 days a week...6 years later, you can imagine the x-rays!!), I would fix myself a good breakfast. Then I started going to bed later and later each day and waking up earlier and earlier and my appetite, time or desire for breakfast went down the drain.

I started to look into other cultures for inspiration and different fares and still nothing. I wanted to be a breakfast eater!! I finally realized that I can't eat a lot in the morning so breakfast would have to comprise a lot of essential vitamins and nutrients in a two to three bite something. Breakfast squares became an obvious and manageable choice for me. I can prepare them in 10 minutes the night before and grab a couple on my way out the door in the morning.

Breakfast Thoughts: Lavender Oatmeal Squares

The dough is so forgiving and basic that you can change, substitute and replace at will. Today they were oatmeal, tomorrow they will be quinoa flakes. Almonds sometimes turn into pistachios, honey turns into agave syrup. I sometimes add a pinch of cinnamon or a spoonful of flax seeds. Today it was a pinch of edible lavender buds. If I know the morning is going to drag into a late lunch, I'll have some with dried fruits for extra energy. You get the idea....the possibilities are quite endless and though it may not be the perfect breakfast, it is still better than what I would usually have: one big cup of coffee. Baby steps....

I have a curious mind and like you, I love to read about food so please tell me: "What do you eat for breakfast?"


Breakfast Oatmeal Squares:

Makes 9, 3-inch squares

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1 tsp edible lavender buds
1 egg
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, almonds and lavender and set aside. In a smaller bowl whisk together the egg, yogurt, honey and vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir together with a large spoon or your hands until the dough comes together.
Pat the dough into a squares directly on the parchment paper, cut through with a sharp knife into 9 pieces and bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake or you will end up with rocks under your teeth. Let cool and break the squares apart. Feel free to use a scoop and make drop cookies instead.

Breakfast Thoughts: Lavender Oatmeal Squares


Note: Attention fellow bloggers! Martha Stewart is having a blog contest. For more info, please visit her blog "The Martha Blog".

Toasted Coconut And Berries Charlottes

97

Monday, September 22, 2008

Toasted Coconut And Berries Charlottes

"I want a bouquet of berries!"
That's what my friend Laura exclaimed when we met at the florist to talk bouquets for her upcoming wedding.
"You mean...for real..or on your cake, as a separate flavors, as favors? What? What?"...

Can't you just sense the panic in my voice? Lord knows I love Laura, I laugh with her, cry with her, call her crazy and yet, I never know when she is joking when she is in charge of making decisions. See, Laura has already changed her mind 3 times for her dress...after it was bought. The ceremony has been changed just about everytime the wind changed direction, the vows?...typed, backspaced, saved, erased, and started over countless times. A couple of things have remained: the groom is still "The Original One" as we have nicknamed Jason, her husband to be, and as always her group of friends has vowed to throw her into the pool after the big event.

I met her while at the restaurant, she was waiting tables and quickly volunteered to be my dessert guinea pig. Laura loves to organize big parties, Halloween bashes, fundraising dinners, etc...and she is good at it. She knows to bring people together, her diplomacy is impeccable and she never loses her cool...but she ended up in the pool more times than she remembers. Over the years we have learned to let her talk and scribble away and wait a couple of days for the finalized plan.

So when she said she wanted a bouquet of berries, I, on the other hand saw a big blue pool... I should have trusted her and let her finish her sentence instead. Had I paid attention, I would have noticed that she was on the phone with Old Chef telling him she did not want a wedding cake but a couple of plated desserts. There will be a mini version of Jason's favorite, Carrot Cake, made by our friend C., the other pastry chef in the group, and I would make Laura a dessert that represents her. Except nothing really "represents" Laura given her ever changing nature. I threw some ideas to her and finally drew sketches of charlottes made of thin toasted coconut ladyfingers, filled with a raspberry mousse and topped with whipped cream to evoke the white of her wedding dress and topped with berries....a bouquet of berries. One decision made, 85 of these to make for her wedding this coming Saturday.

When I make charlottes at home for the family, I like to use savoiardi cookies, not that I am lazy to make my own but they remind me of my grandparents who always kept a box in their pantry. My grandma would give us some to dunk in our tea or hot chocolate and we had a contest to see who could dip the longest without the cookie disintegrate on them. My grandfather would give us some whenever the adults had Champagne so we could get a little taste. I have to admit though that eating freshly made ladyfingers ranks as high as eating freshly cooked sables or shortbreads...very high. Before you run away when you look at the recipe: once again I am a big advocate of spreading plated desserts preparationover a couple of days if you need. Make the ladyfingers one day and store them in the fridge in a tight container and tackle the mousse the next.

For Laura's dessert, it was easier to make them and pipe the batter thin to mimic flower stems. The mousse base is a quick Chiboust cream where instead of the traditional Italian Meringue, whipped cream is added to a creme anglaise base and held with some gelatin. There are also two kinds of Chiboust, one with creme anglaise, one with pastry cream, I went for the former. We went for raspberries but strawberries or other would work quite well. For work production purposes I purchased frozen organic raspberries, let them thawed and mashed them before adding them to the mousse base. I like to fold the fruit base into the whipped cream and not the other way around. I find it more consistent, faster and more reliable, but you will read different directions on the subject so experience to find the one you like best.


Toasted Coconut And Berries Charlottes

Toasted Coconut And Raspberry Charlottes:

Makes 6, 3 inch wide charlottes

For the ladyfingers:
1/2 cup (65 grams) cake flour
3 large eggs yolks
1/2 cup (1oo grams) sugar, divided
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
pinch of salt
1/2 cup to 3/4 grated coconut (both unsweet or sweet are fine)

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of the sugar until thick and pale yellow at high speed for about 5 minutes. Add the orange blossom water and give the mixer another quick whirl to combine.
- Transfer the batter to a bowl, and sift the cake flour over it but do not fold it in yet.Wash your mixer's bowl thoroughly before proceeding with the egg whites.
- Fit your mixer with the whisk attachment and whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt and increase the speed and whip until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and whip until stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture in three additions, mixing just until incorporated. Do not over fold or you will loose air and the cookies will turn flat.
- Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitting with narrow tip (I used Ateco #807) and pipe the batter into 6 3 inch circles first, then continue with the remaining batter to make 4 inch long ladyfingers.keeping one inch space in between them. Feel free to draw circles and lines on the parchment paper and to invert it prior to baking (so you don't get ink or pencil lines on your cookies) as a guide.
- Sprinkle as little as 1/2 cup to as much as 3/4 cup of grated coconut, depending on your taste.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but only slightly browned and are spongy when pressed with a finger.
- Remove them from the oven and let the baking sheets cool on wire rack for a few minutes. It will be easier to remove the cookies from the parchment paper if you do so when they are still a little warm. Once lifted from the paper, let the cookies cool completely on wire racks before using them.



For the raspberry mousse:
250 ml (1 cup) milk
1/4 cup (55 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tsp Chambord
2 tsp powdered gelatin + 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and mashed with a fork
3/4 cup heavy cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside to bloom.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks until pale yellow. In the meantime time, in a medium saucepan, heat the milk to boiling point. Slowly pour some of the hot milk over the egg yolks to temper them. Add the remaining milk in one steady stream, whisking well. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan, and cook over medium low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, add the Chambord, raspberries and gelatin and stir until the latter is completely dissolved.
Let cool to room temperature. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream to soft peaks. Incorporate the raspberry base in 2 additions into the cream. Use immediately.

To assemble the charlottes:
Place 6 rings onto a parchment line baking sheet. Line 6 rings with parchment paper, place a disk of ladyfinger cookie at the bottom and line the inside with as many fingers as will fit in them. Divide the mousse evenly in between the rings. Refrigerate until completely set.
When ready to serve, unmold the charlottes and top with whipped cream and fresh berries.

Toasted Coconut And Berries Charlottes

Saffron And Vanilla Poached Pears

104

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Saffron & Vanilla Poached Pears

It has been really hot and muggy in the last week or so, nothing unusual in our area but we all took it as the usual sign of upcoming rain and thunderstorms. I don't mind hot and I don't mind rain, I actually don't mind hot rain...I dislike the few hours before the sky falls open. The dogs seem to pair up and want out every thirty minutes although they just stand there noses up to the air.

Three days a week I work almost completely from home so they "know" that they will be taken out, played with, petted and loved all this in between cracking a few many eggs and rolling out pastry dough. I get up early and start baking or writing depending on what has not been done the day before and they lie around, right outside the kitchen. When the smell of the coffee brewing reaches their snouts, they suddenly jolt up and want out. Out of the five households in our little custer around the curve, 3 of us work from home while looking over kids or animals. It is not unusual for us to be in our yards, still in our jammies sipping coffee and making sleepy small talk.

Except this morning. This morning was one of those morning you want your entire body to feel, your entire soul to take in. You want mornings like this to enter your pores and breathe inside you for as long as you can take it. This morning, I felt the dew under my bare feet. Not the one you want to capture when you know the day is going to be blistering hot, no, it was harsh and delightfully unsettling. This morning, I felt goosebumps along my arms and legs, and a whiff of cold air brought the feeling of a season trying to change. The dogs started bumping around the yard, excited by all these new scents and sensations. I started taping my feet in the dewy grass, knowing full well it would be another couple of months before we'd get another morning like this, all chilly and wet, all grassy and autumnal. If only I could be a painter of scents....

We all went back upstairs and resumed our activities, baking for me, and you guessed it, sleeping for them. While I was going down my baking to do list, I could not shake away that feeling I had earlier in the yard. It was inspiring and humbling at the same time. Nature does its thing and we just happen to be in the middle of it. So after I was done with half the "to-dos", I tried to recapture the flavors I sensed earlier.

Vanilla Bean Pods & Saffron

Pears seemed perfect by in their femininity and yet firm and assertive natural scent. Vanilla, the smell of a lazy embrace. Saffron, the dewy grass under my feet. Poached....well because we were about to get soaked!! This is a most easy dessert yet rich in flavors, leaving you with nothing with goosebumps. I realize that vanilla beans and saffron are not cheap ingredients. I was very lucky that my mom sent a care package with a bag of vanilla beans and that Veronica shared some of her saffron with me for my birthday back in May. Like most people, we are on a budget but I like to save a little and invest in the "real" thing once in a while. It might seem trivial during our strange economic times to spend extras on more expensive food items, but that is really between you and....you! I am bumm....people send me care package... :) On a serious note, if you want to try this without the vanilla beans and saffron, use 2 Tb pure vanilla extract and the juice of one orange (blood orange if you can) in the poaching liquid and you will still have an excellent dessert.

Saffron And Vanilla Poached Pears:

Serves 4

4 cups water
1 vanilla bean
1 to 2 teaspoons saffron
3/4 cup (170 gr) sugar
juice of one lemon
4 pears

- Peel the pears and sprinkle them with the lemon juice and set them aside while you prepare the poaching liquid.
Note: I don't core the pears in this dessert, I would do it if they were filled, I like eating around the core but feel free to do so.
- In a large pot or deep saucepan, combine the water, saffron and sugar. Split open the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out of the pod with a paring knife. Add the seeds and pods to the water and sugar mixture. Bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring a couple of times to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Bring down to a simmer and add the pears with the lemon juice.
- Cover the pot and cook the pears 10-12 minutes, turning them halfway through to make sure they cook evenly and all the way through (insert a toothpick to check).
- Remove the pears from the liquid and set them aside in deep serving plates or small ramequins.
- Simmer the poaching liquid until it reduces by half, about 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and pour the syrup over the pears and serve either hot or room temperature.
I like mine plain but fee free to add some ice cream or whipped cream.

Saffron & Vanilla Poached Pears

Pine Nut Tartelettes - A Taste Of Two South

104

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pine Nut Tartelettes


Being a Southerner in one continent is often nothing like being a Southerner in another and I am sure many other expats can relate to this. I never thought that things I'd find here in SC would be the same as back home but I never imagined what a wonderful bounty was awaiting me. I know I often reminisce about good times and childhood moments I had in Haute-Provence but I found that they are very similar to the ones B. experienced as a child and young adult. A lot of outdoor times, campfires with his cousins, we had barbecue pits dug right in the ground, they had oyster roasts, we would sleep on the lawn watching meteor showers and they would build a tree house and divert phone lines (yeah...that's a story for the phone company never to find out!).

When I moved here, I starred amused at yellow mustard potato salad and fried chicken but fell in love with gumbo, okra, yellow squash, cornbread, spoonbread, and pecan pies...I quickly understood that very few people other than B's mom would make them the "right" way. You know what I am talking about, the way that makes your memories tickle so bad you instantly close your eyes and go "mmm,mmm,mmm..." Instead of trying to duplicate the impossible taste associated with memories, I decided early on in our relationship to bring my South to his and create new flavors, new tastes, new memories. It's not uncommon for yellow squash to find its way into my ratatouille, my "petit sale aux lentilles" (cured pork slowly cooked with lentils) to spot a couple of pieces of ham hocks, or have lima beans replace broad white beans when I make a lamb roast.

I also carry this "your South meets my South" attitude in a lot of the desserts I make. Most of the time it is because I miss using something and B. bugs me to make one of his favorites and I end up incorporating the two together. This is what happened with these pine nut tarts. I was browsing the aisles at the store and I spotted B. looking at the pastry display, particularly focused on tarts filled with pine nuts, freshly pulled out of the oven. We started talking about doughs and fillings wit the baker and she mentioned being totally in love with these "new" tartlets molds and offered to let me use a set for a while (we know each other so it was not like "eh stranger! Come use my equipment!"). The tarts made me think of pecan pies gone Italian or Provencal. B. wanted to buy one but at $3.99 a pop....I gave him the look...you know if you cook or bake a lot, the one that reads "I can make it cheaper, better, nicer...so keep moving".


Pine Nuts

B. loves pecans, I love pine nuts. He loves pecan pies, I like honey and nut pies. He wanted "the same [he] saw at the store" and I wanted peace and quiet after a long day spent separating old crazy dog and young crazy dog....I apparently failed because the old one lost a tooth while they were trying to prove their virility....Oops! But the tarts turned out exactly like I wanted, the perfect mix of both our cultures and upbringing. The pine nut tartelettes are filled with a similar filling as you would use in pecan pies, replacing the corn syrup with acacia honey, and adding half a vanilla bean, seeded just to give the whole thing a boost. Feel free to use any other honey you like, acacia and lavender happen to be among my favorites. Funny thing is that while making these, I came up with yet another variation but I have to keep it a secret for a little while longer, ehehehe... but if you volunteered to test some recipes for the book, you might find it in your email box pretty soon (makes me nervous already!!)

I am sending these to one of my favorite Italians, Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy for her Blog Anniversary Bash!
I know, I know...the recipe....

Pine Nut Tartelettes

Makes 6, 4-inch tartelettes.

For the tart shells:
1 1/2 cups (185 -190g) flour
1/2 cup (65g) powdered sugar
1 stick (113-115g) butter, cut in small pieces
1 egg yolk

In a food processor, combine the flour and sugar, add the butter and pulse a few times. Add the egg yolk and pulse a couple more times until the dough barely comes together. Dump it into a lightly floured work surface and knead until it just comes together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. Roll between sheets of plastic wrap and cut out circles larger than your tart shells, fit the dough into the molds and cut out the excess. Set them on a sheet pan, line them with parchment paper rounds and fill them with pie weights or dried beans. Bake at 350F for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool before adding the filling.

For the pine nut and honey filling:
150g (1 cup) pine nuts
2 eggs
75g (5 Tb) butter, melted and slightly cooled
100g (1/2 cup) packed light brown sugar
100g (1/3 cup) acacia honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split open in the middle and seeds scooped out with a pairing knife
or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

In large bowl, whisk the eggs with the brown sugar, honey and vanilla seeds. Add the melted butter and whisk until incorporated. Divide the pine nuts among the tart shells. Slowly pour the filling over the nuts, trying not to move them around too much. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.


Pine Nut Tartelettes

Roasted Caramel Figs, Berry and Apple Compote Verrines

61

Friday, September 12, 2008

Roasted Figs, Berries and Apple Verrines

When I visited Lisa last year in October, I kept marveling at the coming of Fall, the changing nature of the landscape and the foliage. Those deep reds, perfect greens and deliciously rich golds...they were making me happy and dreamy. She got quite amused by my attitude toward something so natural as Fall and asked what on earth was going on deep in the South for me to act as if I had not seen Fall in ages? Didn't leaves change colors down there? She was stumped when I told her that they turned from green to brown. No luscious displays of colors, just brown...and if we were lucky a little beige-orange. Nothing like the landscape that was unfolding in front of my eyes as we were driving along.

It becomes difficult to start cooking with pumpkins, pears and apples when you are still wearing shorts and tee-shirts in the middle of November. Granted the evenings are chilly but nothing that a light cardigan can't fix. Stores and floral shops do their best to put us in the mood by displaying the right colors and adding sweaters and buckled shoes into their window displays but food...I have to close my eyes and pretend I am experiencing Fall in my kitchen. As much as I dislike the heat and humidity of our summer I do realize how lucky we are to be grilling out late in the year without a coat on and not shoveling snow in February. So, yes I am torn...I relinquish saying goodbye to the bounty of summer fruits but I am also eager to cook with more seasonal ones when we can't quite experience Fall like others up north.

To celebrate the arrival of mellower days, I decided to make a "transition dessert" including berries, figs and apples. When I was a little girl growing in Apt, Provence, we used to have a small fig tree next to the driveway and I remember coming home from school in late September, early October and picking up the fruits as soon as I would hop out of the car. Summer was picking up cherries from our giant tree and as soon as school would start it was figs and juicy apples from the next door neighbor. The seasons were milder there too but you could clearly feel the changes in the air. Although I grew up eating figs, we rarely cooked with them, that came later when I truly appreciated the virtues of a good fig puree, enhanced by a little caramel.

The other day I was on the phone with my mother and we started to reminisce about grandma and her cooked fruits, her compotes rather. She made the best apple one and her cooked berries were always one of our requests for breakfast. I hung up with mom and told myself that it was exactly what I was going to do and layer them in a "verrine" and serve them with some cookies. The weather was clement, there was even a light chill that morning so the cookies turned into a crumble and the figs got mixed with the berries....What is Fall without a little crumble on top?!! A few spoonful of it the other night and we almost wanted to build up a fire!!


Roasted Figs, Berries and Apple Verrines

The verrine did not start that way actually. I had a small basket of figs that I needed to use rather fast and decided to dip them into caramel before roasting them briefly in the oven. We enjoyed some hot or warm on a few scoops of vanilla ice cream and I was left with just enough to add them to something else. I put that thought away and moved on to other things....not for long though! It is preferable to serve this warm or room temperature, thus it is better to start by making the crumble part, so once you have all the other elements ready, all you have to do is layer them in glasses. Before you think there are too many elements to make this an easy desserts, let me tell you that you can prepare everything over a couple of days. Make the compotes ahead of time (freeze them if you want), then reheat them just before serving. The crumble can be kept in an airtight container for up to 4 days (can be frozen also), and just pop it in the microwave or the oven before serving.

Roasted Caramel Figs, Berries and Apple Compotes Verrines:

Serves 6

For the crumble:
1 cup (140 gr) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 gr) light packed brown sugar
1 stick (113 gr) butter, softened

In a medium bowl, combine with your fingertips or a pastry blender the flour, sugar and butter and form large clumps of dough. Lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350F until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before breaking the clumps into smaller crumbs.

For the caramel figs:
3 Tb ( 42 gr) butter
1/4 cup (50gr) packed light brown sugar
6 fresh figs, halved.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the half figs on it, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook them over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted (2-3 minutes). Remove from the heat.
With a spoon, divide the caramel over the figs and roast them in the oven for about 3 to 5 mintues or tunil they become tender and wrinkly. Set aside to cool and puree them in a food processor, set aside.

For the berry compote:
1/2 cup (120gr) raspberries
1/2 cup (120gr) strawberries
1/4 cup sugar (62 gr) sugar
zest and juice of one lemon

Combine all the ingredients in a heave saucepan over medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until the fruits start to release their juice and become soft. Let cool.
Add this compote to the caramel fig puree. Set aside.

For the apple compote:
4 large apples (your preference) peeled, cored and diced
1/4 cup (50gr) packed light brown sugar
2 Tb water
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the apples become soft and almost mushy. Remove from the heat and let cool.


To assemble: layer the berry-fig compote at the bottom of 6 glasses, top with a layer of apple compote and top with the crumble. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Figs, Berries and Apple Verrines

Jasmine Tea Ice Cream In Roasted Plum Cups With Sables Cookies

81

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Jasmine Tea Ice Cream In Roasted Plum Cup

Eat me quick....I am melting....

Thank you all for your concern with the storm. We did get a good bit of rain, enough to make the water come up the hill from the river during the night at high tide but it was all gone by 9am with blue skies, bright sun and scorching heat once more. I woke up at 3am to check the river and the backyard and took Bailey out so he'd let us sleep a little in the morning. Bad mistake...he loves adores water and started doing a little "Dancing In The Rain" number... lovely. Good thing he loves rolling in a towel too, makes our job easier!! Anyway, Hanna turned out to be windy and rainy but nothing compared to the threat that Ike seems to be. Anybody in Ike's path, be safe.

Didn't I say a couple of weeks ago with the redcurrant sorbet dessert that it was the last time I was trying to shoot ice cream during summer? Yes, well...either I am a sucker for punishment or I am a sucker for ice cream. Hmm...yes, apparently my love for anything ice cream-ish made me churn a batch of ice cream and sing aloud "que sera sera" when I attempted to take a few decent shots in 5 minutes in the heat and humidity (yes, even with the AC cranked up...I swear it seeps through the windows!). It did not help that cutie-patootie Bailey was pulling on the tablecloth every 10 seconds...that nose could smell that jasmine tea ice cream, or maybe the sables breton. There are days we call him "The Nose" but today he was "Mr. Pull-it-all"...anything hanging came down, all day long.

I loaded up on fresh red plums at the store the other day as I could not resist their beautiful color and perfect roundness, not to mention they were a great bargain. I wasn't quite sure what to do with them yet but the more I was looking at them in the fruit bowl the more I thought they would be a great vessel for something. During the afternoon I made myself a large mug of jasmine tea, sat down at the computer with a fresh cut plum and started writing, sipping my tea and munching on the plum. That's when it hit me, a soft vanilla ice cream flavored with jasmine tea and paired with roasted plums. I like some crunch with my ice creams and when my father in law called to ask if I could make some sables bretons for him, I thought I'd keep some for us to get that little crunch while eating the ice cream. I made some cut out cookies and sandwich them with some leftover quick berry jam from the other day and its tartness provided the perfect contrast to the smooth taste of the ice cream. I use one of those Linzer cookie cutters but plain ones will be fine too to sandwich the jam.

Fresh Red Plums

For a take on the roasted plums, I sliced them rather thin, sprinkled them with sugar and popped them in a 300F oven for a few minutes. After they were cooled, I line cups with plastic wrap and laid the slices in, overlapping each other, filled the cup with ice cream and froze them until completely set. I did some in glass cups and some in half sphere silicone molds and both came out fine, so feel free to use either options. You can prepare the ice cream the day before, as well as the plums, assemble the cups the next morning, take care of the cookies while the plum cups set in the freezer and have everything ready for dinner. You can even do the ice cream part a week before if you want to spread your baking time ever more. That's the beauty of ice cream....it keeps!! I did try to take step by step pictures but I only have one small window in the kitchen and the sun coming through French doors behind me. Some people like my buddy Jen are experts at step by step, I obviously don't have the proper set up for quality pics and I will keep practicing for the time being.

Jasmine Tea Ice Cream In Roasted Plum Cups With Sable Bretons Cookies:

Serves 6

For the jasmine tea ice cream

4 egg yolks
2 cups (500ml) half and half
4 oz (120gr) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag jasmine white tea, broke open to get the leaves

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick, add the vanilla. In a saucepan, on medium heat, bring the half and half and jasmine tea to boiling point but do not let it boil. Slowly pour the hot cream onto the egg yolks mixture and stir to combine (tempering). Pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the cream coats the back of spoon. At this point you have made a custard sauce, also known as "creme anglaise". Let cool completely, strain the tea leaves and refrigerate until cold. Process the custard according to your ice cream maker manufacturer's instructions.

For the roasted plums:
6 plums
1/4 cup (50gr) sugar

Preheat your oven to 300F.
Cut the plums in half and thinly slice each half, skin on. Lay then down on a silicone mat or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle them evenly with the sugar and bake for 20 minutes or until the plums become to take color. Watch carefully so that you don't burn the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

For the plum cups:
If you use glass cups: line them with a sheet of plastic wrap and lay the plum slices slightly overlapping each other.
If using silicone molds: skip the plastic sheet step and overlap the plum slices directly in the molds.
In both cases, fill each cup with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup ice cream, depending on your mold capacity.

For the Sables Bretons:

Makes about 2 1/2 dozens

1 stick (115 gr) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 3/4 cups (245 gr) all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup to 1/2 cup raspberry jam

In the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract (or paste) and beat until blended. Add the flour and salt and beat until just incorporated.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead the dough just to bring it together. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a well floured surface so it won't stick as you roll. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. If you have a Linzer cookie cutter (3 inch diameter) with little cut out inserts, use it without the insert to get full circles and start cutting out. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. In the meantime roll out the other half of the dough the same way but place the cut out insert in the cutter and cut away the cookies. I keep the little cut out scraps to munch on...my little bakers treat!!
Once cooled filled one cookie with jam and sandwich with another cookie.

Sables Bretons Cookies

A little news flash before my brain melts too:
The 3rd issue of Desserts Magazine is online!! All vegan, all the way! I am pyched to have contributed once more to the magazine (cover picture and pages 4 and 5). Thank you Chris for the lovely polka dots napkins and the pitcher !

Red Berry Macarons

91

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Red Berry Macarons

More berries! It's not that I won't find stone fruits and other summer fruits living in a Southern state, it's just that they will probably taste bland and by the time Fall hits, I know my baking mind will be ready for apples and pears. I have been freezing and preserving a ton these past few days so if I get a craving for juicy roasted peaches and creme anglaise in the middle of November, one trip to the freezer and I am set!

Friday afternoon when B. went to put bottles of water in the freezer as part of our preparations for Tropical Storm Hanna, he was amazed to find the bottom drawer full of halved peaches, halved plums, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon for quick sorbet, not to mention doughs of various kinds, etc... Tucked in a corner he noticed a small box with a few red berry macarons that I had saved "just" for him. He exclaimed "It almost makes me wish we lost power with that storm!" to which I replied "take a peak out the window and tell me that with a straight face!". We live on a tidal creek, our house is 12 feet off the ground so if the water keeps getting up into the yard with the midnight tide, we might get up to see a natural pool in the garage. I took hour by hour pictures this afternoon as I was cooped inside baking and making soup. A tropical storm calls for chocolate cake don't you think?

Why keep macarons in the freezer? Well, last weekend our friend D. came over and helped me out of a little situation and as a thank you I made her and her husband some macarons for their get together on Labor Day. I tell you what, there are many special moments in life but getting together with close friends, grilling, chilling, playing croquet and eating macarons is definitely one of them! Hard to think that this beautiful sunny day would lead to such a downfall of rain by friday, but such is Mother Nature. It is a very humbling feeling to know that one only can surrender to its plan and go with the flow. It's kind of appeasing to me, in a weird sort of way. I saw people giving in that collective movement of stress all day long, at the store, the gas station and I just wanted to go up to them and offer them a macaron to help them relax! I think I'll need a truckload of macarons if we get a hurricane this season (knock on wood real quick, thank you!).

Red Berry Macarons

Since I had a lot of egg whites left from making ice cream and other custards, I made a double batch of macarons, filled them and tucked the away in the freezer, well wrapped for when a little cravings hits us these stormy days. I did do my little rituals of turning the fridge and freezer to the lowest settings and hopefully we won't lose power for long if at all. Our hosts this past Labor Day love chesecakes and that was the inspiration for the filling, a cream cheese buttercream with a center of quick raspberry and redcurrant jelly. I call it "quick jelly" because it is not a jelly in the traditional sense of the term, it does not cook for long and contains gelatin to help it set, as well as the whole berries and not just their juice. I needed a small quantity for the macarons, hence the rapid method instead of the whole jelly making and ensuing canning. Feel free to subsitute with your favorite berry jam, homemade or not.

I get quite a few emails about macarons and I do not consider myself an authority in the matter, there are indeed quite a few bloggers sharing the same passion, and a quick Google search can quickly lend to macaron heaven as far as choices. I do recommend reading the tutorial in Desserts Magazine: not because I wrote it but because I tried to gather a lot of tips, ideas and methods from other chefs, home cooks and bloggers. It is by no means a comprehensive guide to macaron making but I think it is a great place to start demystifying as well as understanding some key points in the method (regardless of the type of meringue you use). I mostly use the French meringue method with great results but if you want to try your hand at the Italian meringue method, my friend Mercotte in France has written (in English) a great tutorial on the subject.

Red Berries and Jelly

Red Berry Macarons:
Makes about 15-18 depending on size

For the shells:
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
2 Tb powdered red food coloring

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work. Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve. Add them to the meringue,with the coloring and give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

For the cream cheese buttercream:
1 1/2 sticks (170 gr) butter at room temperature
4 oz (120gr) cream cheese, softened
3 egg whites
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 Tb water
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste or 1/2 vanilla bean split open and seeded.

In the bowl of stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine 2 Tb water with the sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan and bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curdle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the cream cheese, the same way, a little at a time until everything is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, or paste or bean. Keep it to spreadable consistency for the macarons and refrigerate the leftover for cupcakes or mini toast in the fridge up to 3 days or in the freezer.

For the quick red berry jelly:
1 cup raspberries (250ml)
1 cup redcurrant (250ml)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tb lemon juice
1 Tb lemon zest
2 tsp powdered gelatin
3 Tb cold water

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it bloom.
In a heavy saucepan,combine the berries, sugar, lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer 10 minutes to let the fruits release their juices. Remove from the heat, add the gelatin and stir until completely melted into the fruits. Pour into a small plastic container line with plastic wrap, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate until set. Can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer.

To assemble: pipe or spoon a small amount of macarons on one shell, position some jelly right in the center and top with another shell.

Red Berry Macarons

Lemon Balm Infused Berries And Almond Tuiles

74

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fresh Berrries With Lemon Balm Syrup and Tuiles Cookies

I seem to have a hard time letting go of summer....stone fruits, berries, herbs are always sneaking in into my shopping basket. It is easy to get inspired or to focus on writing certain chapters of a book when you have a big bowl of juicy and plump fruit in front of you! It is a little less fun when our new puppy set his mind to chew our lemongrass plant, mix it up with a little rosemary, adds a little spice with a touch of Thai basil and finally decides that the game can't be complete until he ends with a few springs of lemon balm! Why do we let him? We don't!! I did not realize that he had grown so much that he was not able to pull on the leaves, take the pots down and have a feast! Just right when I was starting to think I finally grew a green thumb, no kidding people, I can even kill a silk plant (ask my mother in law!).

I consolidated my schedule to be able to work more from home and for longer stretches of times which is perfect to bake and write but I guess I don't see him grow as much as he actually is. When C. tells me every week "Oh...he's grown again!", I smile and say "Hmm, really? Maybe"...when really I am thinking "He's still my little baby" go to pick him up and think "how did you get heavier overnight?"... When I let him out on the porch and heard a big and bang of things falling and tumbling I knew we had passed a stage. When I saw him feasting on the plant, I was somewhat reassured of his good taste...well maybe not right then but his fascination with lemon balm inspired me to use again.

These days, when B. opens up the fridge, he is faced with plates and many posts-its bearing dessert names, dates, preparation stages. Sometimes one reads "don't you even think", or "not ready yet", sometimes "please finish it, I can't eat anymore!!" There are days when I make his head spin naming things he can have for dessert. There are days after pictures, testing and distribution among friends and neighbors, when the fridge is empty again, waiting for another wave. It is then that I resort to my long standby of fresh fruit marinated in some infused syrup and served with a plate of cookies. Although I tried this dessert with ice cream before, I have come to want to leave it out of the equation over the years. The syrup is so delicious on its own that all you need is a tuile cookie to sponge the little bit of syrup left at the bottom of your cup after you are done with the fruit.

Feel free to use any combinations of fruits and berries that you like. For this I used a mix of cherries, blueberries, redcurrant, raspberries and strawberries. I started cutting up a plum to add it to the mix but somebody found it more interesting to snatch if from the cutting board and I completely forgot to add it back after that. Same goes for the syrup, I had planned on using mint but the puppy convinced me to lemon balm! Lemon verbena, lemon thyme, even rosemary or a mild basil work great in this. For the cookie, I used the same batter I used to make the decorations here and here. I spooned some into rounds about 3 inches in diameter, sprinkled sliced almonds and baked them for 8-10 minutes at 350F. Once removed from the oven, lay them over a rolling pin or bottle to take the shape of a tile. I can't get enough of these, they were my favorites as a child, and they remain my favorite as an adult! How many do you think I need to bake in prevision of all the storms that are about to pound us?!!

Tuiles and Dessert Mise En Place


Lemon Balm Infused Berries With Almond Tuiles:

Serves 4

2 cups fresh berries or fruit of your choice
1/3 cup sugar
4 springs lemon balm, slightly bruise the leaves between your fingers to release the oils
3/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

In a medium saucepan set over medium high heat, bring the sugar, lemon balm, water and lemon juice to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Place the fruit in a large bowl, pour the cooled syrup through a strainer over the fruit. Discard the lemon balm leaves and let the fruit macerate for 30 minutes to one hour. Divide amomg 4 soup plates, bowls, etc...

For the tuiles:
see recipe here and spread into rounds, sprinkle with almonds and bake as dirested. Shape into a tuile if desired by laying the cookie on top of a curved surface like a rolling pin until cooled.

Fresh Berrries With Lemon Balm Syrup and Tuiles Cookies

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