Panna cotta is one of those chilled, wobbly, creamy desserts that a lot of people seem to love. Okay, I am not one of those people…cooked cream sounds like it should be right up my alley, but the secret to this eggless Italian pudding is usually gelatin, something that I avoid whenever possible. I want to love it though, and I am continuing my quest for a vegetarian gelatin substitute anyway, so I decided to try out powdered agar-agar in this week’s layered Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta recipe. The only other time I’ve experimented with agar-agar at home was with this mirror thing several years back, and it did not go so well. I still didn’t really know what I was doing here, but I did a little more research and decided to use 1 tsp of agar powder in place of the 2 1/4 tsp gelatin in the recipe.
I first blended my frozen mango with lime juice and honey and spooned that puree into glasses. I then cooked my vanilla sweetened cream and milk with my agar powder for a few minutes to activate the agar-agar and poured that on top of the puree. Then I put the everything into the fridge to set and crossed my fingers. And when I opened the fridge an hour later, it was really firm…like, nothing delicate about it…not what I was hoping for.
Besides the mirror thing, my only other agar-agar experience is an entry-level molecular gastromy technique that we used at the fancy-pants restaurant I worked for in Sydney called a “fluid gel.” We’d boil fruit juice with enough agar powder to make it set hard (practically so hard it could bounce) when cooled. Then we’d blitz it in a high-speed blender until it turned into a gel the consistency of toothpaste (remember Close-Up?) that we could use to make dots and squiggles for plate decoration.
I thought about my fluid gel days with a hint of nostalgia and decided to scrape my not-panna cotta (notta-cotta?), mango puree and all, into the blender and I whizzed it up into a very creamy and luxurious soft pudding. I had a bit of extra mango puree that was meant to go with my morning yogurt, but plans change, so I divided it up into my glasses and topped it with my vanilla-mango pudding and some blueberries. I couldn’t call it panna cotta in the end, but it was cold, creamy and tasty anyway.
Tags: crackers, snacks
I admit that is was pretty hard to turn on the oven to make crackers in this sticky summer heat. My main motivation for doing so was really to have cheese and crackers with a cold glass of white wine at the end of the process. At least Beatrice Ojakangas’s Swedish Oatmeal Hardtack recipe doesn’t use yeast, or I’m sure I would have had an overproofed dough-blob situation going on in my kitchen.
This was actually an easy, make-by-hand dough to knead together. It has oatmeal in it to give it a rustic texture. Technically, it calls for quick oats, which I didn’t have. I approximated them by plusing my regular rolled oats in the food processor a couple of times to break them up a little, and then hydrated them in the buttermilk for a few minutes while I gathered everything else together. Since the dough uses oatmeal, I thought a little whole wheat would be good, too, and swapped 1/2 cup of AP flour for WW. With some chilling time and good amount of flour, I was able to roll and cut the dough right on the sheet tray. I had a hard time getting my first tray to color and crisp in the oven (especially in the center) so I upped the temperature to 350ºand increased the baking time by several minutes.
I’ve never had hardtack before and, based on the name, anticipated a trip to the dentist with a cracked tooth! The texture, however, is not rock hard but a bit sandy. There’s a little sugar creamed into the fat in the dough, so they are slightly sweet, slightly salty. I bumped up the salt factor a bit by sprinkling a pinch of fleur de sel on top before baking. They were good with cheese, and also with peanut butter. As separate snacks, I mean…not too sure about a cheese and PB combo.
Tags: baking, fruit, tarts
A full-on fruit tart is never one of my go-to desserts. I don’t know why, since I’m big on the combo of fruit and crust…I can certainly get behind a good slice of pie or a big scoop of crisp. But I just don’t really think of fruit tarts. It takes the peer pressure of organized group baking to get me to make one, like this Apricot-Raspberry Tart, and remember how spectacular they can be.
This tart is really all about the apricots. Luckily, they’re in season now where I live, and at the farmers’ market I found baskets of the tiniest blushing apricots. Even though I made a small tart using a half batch of sweet dough, I was able to stuff it full of the little guys. At the bottom of the tart shell. a layer of cake or brioche crumbs (or even ladyfingers) acts as a sponge to absorb any juices from the baked fruit. At the restaurant where I work, cakes for specials orders are usually baked off as sheets that are then punched out and assembled in ring molds. That means there’s always some cake off-cut or trim in the walk-in that’s up for grabs. I took home an square of hazelnut cake last week with this this tart in mind. My apricots and raspberries held shape pretty well and didn’t release too much juice, but I liked the added flavor that the hazelnut cake crumbs gave. Having used it, I garnished my tart with some candied hazelnuts instead of the pistachios Dorie suggests.
Really, this tart was so pretty I hesitated to cut it! It’s a fine treat to celebrate Bastille Day today. Even though it may be best eaten up the day of baking, we had a couple of slices left over and I don’t think they suffered too much from a night in the fridge. For the recipe, see Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the TWD Blogroll!
Tags: baking, cake, dessert
Over the years, I must have seen the Baking with Julia TV episode where Marcel Desaulniers makes his White Chocolate Patty Cake a dozen times. Normally, white chocolate doesn’t really float my boat, but for some reason, I could tell by watching the episode that this cake would be fabulous. I’m so glad that we’ve finally gotten to this recipe– and that my decade-long cake daydreams came true!
The white chocolate here is melted into the cake batter– a whole 12 ounces of it. Two layers of cake are dressed up with raspberry sauce (made from pureed frozen berries) and fresh raspberries. I made this with the Fourth of July in mind, so I used a combo of blueberries and raspberries in the sauce and on top. You know, for that whole red, white and blue effect. I think blackberries would shine in this cake as well. In addition to all that white chocolate, the cake also has lots of eggs, so the texture is luxe and velvety. Snappy berry sauce keeps it from being to sweet.
The cake rises in the oven and then shrinks a bit as it cools. If you make the recipe (which you should!), you might be concerned that the layers look a little schlumpy. Don’t worry because once it’s stacked and decorated with the sauce and berries, it looks like a million bucks. The cake will slice neater after it’s been refrigerated for a bit and the sauce has time to firm up.
Tags: baking, fruit, tart
Okay, so this recipe isn’t from BWJ, BCM or even BFMHTY, but it is from another Dorie book, Around my French Table, so I’m trying to pass it off as a rewind this week and hope no one calls me out on it. Also, I’ve made it before, but I liked it enough to play around with it again.
I don’t have a lot of new insight or commentary to add here. It’s still so tasty! I just wanted to show that, even though cherries (which I used last time) are the traditional Gâteau Basque fruit filling, you don’t have to be bound by tradition. Here, along with pastry cream, I used roasted strawberries that I had leftover from last week’s shortcake. The delicious cookie-like double crust would be great sandwiching so many different fruits. Using fruit that’s cooked in some way, whether that be candied, roasted, jammed or sauced, is most ideal, since the fruit is concentrated and you’ll have less liquid seeping into the crust. I plan to try jammy plums next time.
Tags: baking, shortcake
I grew up in Virginia, where strawberry shortcakes are definitely made with biscuits. My husband grew up on Long Island, where he’s said he’d only ever had them with spongecake. Should strawberry shortcake be a biscuit or spongecake? To each her own, I guess…the star of this show is really the fruit more than the vehicle anyway. With Bastille Day coming up, we TWDers put a Franco-American twist on the spongecake version and gave homemade ladyfingers a try. It’s a softer concoction than the biscuit version I’m used to but it’s delicious, as anything with strawberries and cream really should be.
Hubs and I had a little u-pick fun (at least I thought it was fun!) on a recent trip to the farmlands and beaches on the North Fork. The fresh strawberries we brought home were beauties, each one carefully chosen before going into the box. But– my love of roasted strawberries has been documented here already. If you are looking for a saucy berry, they are more intense and delicious when roasted than any stove-cooked strawberry sauce I’ve ever made. I used a combo of the fresh and the roasted for my shorties.
You can fancy up the presentation and pipe on your whipped cream with a star tip. I just scooped it on and let the berries run down the sides. I used a golden spoon though, just so you don’t think I’m not classy! For the recipe, see Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the TWD Blogroll!
Tags: baking, choux, savory
If you are looking for a little nibble for early evening rosé hour on the deck, might I suggest Norman Love’s Savory Puffs? I love making pâte à choux— sweet or savory, I think it’s one of the most fun classics. This particular recipe is actually a little unusual…instead of just plain old water as the liquid ingredient in the dough, it uses cucumber and onion juice, along with a bit of milk. I made a reduced-size batch (I skipped the éclair version) so rather than actually juice the cuke and onion, I just grated some of each on a box grater, salted the mix lightly and left it to drain for a while over a sieve. Then I gave it a final squeeze, measured out the juice that drained off and used it in my choux paste.
I set aside those shreds of veg in the sieve (now relieved of excess moisture) and used them in my puff filling. Waste not, want not– am I right? First I chopped them up a bit finer and then stirred them, along with some herbs and seasoning into a mild, soft cheese curd that I like called Cloumage. The smoked salmon version of the filling sounds delicious, but will have to wait for another rosé hour…perhaps next week, as I still have a few empty puffs in the freezer (and another bottle of rosé in the fridge). Want to come over?
Tags: baking, cake
I look forward to rhubarb in the spring just as much as I look forward to all the berries and stone fruit that will come our way in the summer. It is one of my favorite things to bake with, so a Rhubarb Upside-Down Brown Sugar Cake? Yes, please!
This is, my opinion, better (and prettier) than the last rhubarb upside-down cake I made here. The brown sugar in this BCM recipe is in the cake rather than in the fruit topping, which uses regular sugar that I guess you can caramelize to your desired shade of darkness. I left mine pretty light, so it more or less just glazed the fruit and kept it from getting too brown. My rhubarb stalks were more green than red, and I didn’t want to make my cake topping look too murky…I didn’t bother to string the stalks during prep either so I could keep whatever bits of red they did have.
The brown sugar cake is really soft and not to sweet. The whole thing together hits the perfect sweet-tart balance…sometimes rhubarb desserts can be too sweet, and I like to be reminded of its snappiness! Before making the rhubarb topping for the cake, Dorie has you macerate the cut pieces in some sugar for a bit. This draws out some liquid from the rhubarb, which I suppose keeps the topping from being too wet when the cake bakes up. Dorie says you can save that sugary rhubarb juice for homemade sodas, but I reduced it until it thickened a bit and then used it as my glaze (rather than jelly) to give the topping extra shine.
Upside-down cake makes a great dessert with vanilla ice cream, and also a fabulous morning coffee cake with yogurt and some berries. For the recipe, see Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the TWD Blogroll!
Tags: baking, cake, dessert
Markus Farbinger’s take on Cardinal Slice is the first I’d heard of this cake. Where have I been? On the wrong side of the Atlantic, I guess. It’s called kardinalschnitte in Austria, where it’s a classic (and apparently ubiquitous— ha!) Viennese pastry. Well, I didn’t need first-hand experience to know that I’d like to sink a fork into a cake made of ladyfingers and meringues sandwiched with coffee whipped cream. If I could successfully pull it off, that is.
When was poking around the interwebs for info on the Cardinal Slice, I came across Joe Pastry’s detailed posts on the subject. Seems that in order to recreate a classic version, he started off with the BWJ one and then scrapped it for another because he couldn’t make it work. Oh no– not promising! The cake layers are alternating strips of meringue and ladyfinger batters baked side-by-side…two things that require very different baking times and temperatures. The BWJ recipe bakes for a long time at a low temp, which cooks the meringue, but makes getting a puffed up ladyfinger tricky (I can only assume that Chef Markus has made this so many times in life that he just has the touch). I didn’t want to abandon the BWJ recipe entirely here, so I decided to follow the BWJ ingredients and mixing techniques with the baking temperatures Joe Pastry recommends (essentially to start out in a hotter oven and then reduce the temperature halfway through). I don’t think that my cake layers came out as poofy as either Markus’s or Joe’s, but my mixed up method seemed to work out OK.
The whipped cream filling is flavored with an intense syrup made from caramelized sugar and espresso called a couleur. This syrup reminds me a lot of a French coffee extract called Trablit that we use to flavor buttercream at the restaurant. It tastes so much better than instant espresso, but it’s pretty pricey and not so readily available for home use…I’m pleased to know I can make a very similar thing for the price of two shots of espresso from the coffee shop down the block. I have plenty extra for my future coffee buttercream or whipped cream needs…or perhaps my coffee milk or milk shake needs…
The Cardinal Slice has a bit of a tiramsu thing going on with the flavors, but since the filling’s all cream with no yolks or mascarpone, it feels a lot lighter. Like any other type of icebox cake, the cake layers soften further as the cream absorbs into them, and this needs about an hour’s rest before cutting into it. I’d say the recipe instructions to eat the cake within four hours of assembly are probably ideal, although we did have a hunk left over that we ate the next day. It was very smooshy at that point, but still tasty.