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: dessert, giveaway, icebox
Now that the days are getting warm– maybe even borderline hot– wouldn’t it be nice to just reach in the fridge and pull out a cool, creamy dessert that practically made itself? That exists…it’s called an icebox cake! At its most simple and familiar, an icebox cake is just store-bought wafer cookies and sweet whipped cream, stacked in alternating layers and left to meld in the refrigerator (or icebox– my dad actually calls it that, by the way) for several hours. The cookies absorb moisture from the cream and soften during the rest, and what you get afterward is a rich, creamy dessert that falls somewhere between pudding and cake.
You can imagine that you can take this basic, yet brilliant, idea in a lot of interesting and delicious directions…like my friend and former co-worker Jessie Sheehan, who, along with her co-author Jean Sagendorph, just published a super-fun (and super pretty) new cookbook called Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town. They have the basic “old school” covered, of course, and recipes for 24 other awesome-sounding icebox cakes. Espresso-chip– hello! Chai-ginger– whaat? And OMG– a black-and-white malted. That’s the first one I decided to try.
You need four main components for this malt shop-inspired treat: whipped cream flavored with malt powder (super easy), milk chocolate ganache (super easy), vanilla wafer cookies (not hard to make yourself, but super easy if you choose to buy them instead) and time (the hardest part!). Oh, and some chopped malt balls scattered over top will make it extra pretty– let’s not forget that! You just alternate layers of the cream, cookies and ganache in a springform pan and you’re ready to refrigerate. If you’ve used store-bought cookies, you can get away with just 5-8 hour chill, but if you’ve made your own cookies, you’ll need a full 24 hours in the fridge for them to properly soften. You can see I took a little artistic liberty and divided the components into individual-sized mini icebox cakes instead of a full 9″ springform.
Go find the full recipe for the Black-and-White Malted Icebox Cake on Jessie’s blog…and know that you can use shop-bought vanilla wafers (like Nabisco or Keebler) if you don’t have the desire or time to make your own. It’s rich, creamy, malty, sticky and delicious, and when you see this black-and-white zebra striped beauty waiting for you on the icebox shelf, you’ll be very happy you put it together the night before. Jessie says it’s a crowd-pleaser, and I can’t argue with that.
I’m so excited about Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town that I want to send a copy to one of you! A signed copy at that! Just leave me a comment (one per person, please) on this post before 5:00 pm EST on Friday, May 15 and I’ll randomly choose a winner from the list. Be sure your e-mail address is correct so I can contact you.
***Giveaway Winner Update: I have two copies to giveaway, actually! I used random.org to generate two random comment numbers to find the winners. Congratulations to Maureen and franklyentertaining! I’ll be in touch soon.***
This week’s recipe will probably evoke some strong feelings…feelings of dislike, that is. Tapicoa is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea (or pudding). I don’t really even know why I like it, since it’s certainly not something I grew up eating, and I’ve never make it at home until now. But I think the gummy little bubbles are fun to eat and I was looking forward to making this Coconut Tapioca recipe.
This is a simple recipe but it wasn’t problem-free for me. First, I mistakenly bought small pearl tapioca, rather than the large pearl called for in the instructions…this is because often I shop first and then read directions. I used Dorie’s ingredients and method, but tried to cover my goof by following the soaking and cooking time instructions on my package (which are waaay less for small pearl than for large). The first day the tapioca was a nice creamy consistency, but after a night in the fridge, it was pretty much a solid glob. I didn’t want to toss it so I folded through some softly whipped cream to lighten it up. It was much better that way, but If I make this again with small pearl tapioca (and I probably will since I have a ton left in the bag), I’ll either cook it with some extra liquid added or I’ll incorporate egg yolk like other “true” custard recipes I’ve seen.
Despite the snags, I had a good time playing around with toppings for my tapioca. In the picture above, I sprinkled on a little brown coconut sugar and added mandarin slices. The next day, I used chocolate sauce, toasted almonds and coconut flakes. Berries or tropical fruit would also be natural combos with this.
Tags: baking, bundt, cake, chocolate, dessert
This Crème Bruléed Chocolate Bundt is the first, no second, no make that third Mary Bergin chiffon cake we’ve made. I’ve liked them all…I think I just really like the spongy, fluffy softness of chiffon cakes. And it also helps here that I love chocolate and Bundts. And crème brulée, too…who am I kidding? I knew this would be good.
If you watch the video of the BWJ episode, you’ll see that this chocolate chiffon Bundt gets its center stuffed with raspberries and then a big glug of vanilla crème brulée custard is poured over top of the whole shebang and torched. I figured that as soon as the brulée was poured on, the cake pretty much needed to be eaten up…This would be very dramatic and impressive for a crowd, but since I was just making it for two of us, I had to both reduce the recipe and settle for adding the custard to order. I made a half recipe of the cake (in my 6-cup Bundt pan) and a half recipe of the brulée cream, too. I was convinced, even though I’d sprayed the heck out of my Bundt pan and coated it well in cocoa (which I prefer to use instead of flour for a dark chocolate cake), that the cake would stick like crazy and rip when I tried to unmold it. It didn’t! I made sure to kind of gently nudge it from the sides with a little offset as it started to cool and shrink in a bit, and it released perfectly– phew!
I used my darkest cocoa powder (Valrhona) and my Bundt had great flavor. The chiffon was easy to make, too…in fact, I did the whole thing in my bathrobe (TMI??). I’d happily make it again on its own, just to have with ice cream or whipped cream. I liked the stovetop water bath method for thickening the crème brulée…that was new to me, and it came out nicely. After the better part of a day in the fridge, the brulée had thickened up well and I was able to pour it over a single slice without it looking a mess. All in all a winning dessert for Valentine’s Day weekend.
For the recipe, see Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan (it’s also here, along with a video). Don’t forget to check out the rest of the TWD Blogroll! (Update: I see from the blogroll that some folks wound up with a thinner custard, in which case I’d just serve it as an anglaise sauce on the plate.)
Tags: baking, dessert, fruit
The promise of a blueberry pie made my husband finally agree to drive me out to the country for some berry picking last Saturday. It’s good to know that bribes do work, although I still haven’t made good on my end…this is obviously not blueberry pie. We came with a quart of U-pick raspberries, too, so using those delicate jewels became my first priority. Not turning on the oven became my second priority.
You may see the words “raspberry brûlée” and think immediately of Prince, or you may see them and think of crème brûlée…I assure you this is far less fancy than either, even though it looks and tastes like a million bucks. In fact, apart from straight-up fresh fruit, this might be one of the easiest summer desserts out there. It’s simply whipped cream folded with fresh raspberries and given a torched sugar top. It’s fresh and light as air, but with but with a sweet crunch.
A lot of times the broiler works as a reasonable alternative to a kitchen torch. I’m not sure how it would do in this case though, since whipped cream is not as sturdy as a custard. You want a bit of runny, melted cream just under the crispy brûléed top, but I suspect the boiler may take melting the cream a step further than a torch would.
Raspberry Brûlée- serves 6-8
adapted from Saveur Magazine, Issue 94
Steph’s Notes: The dish can also be made with tayberries (which I have never seen here before) or blackberries, and I’m sure diced peaches or nectarines would be tasty, too.
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
¼-½ cup powdered or superfine sugar (depending on how sweet you like it and how sweet your berries are)
splash of cassis or frambiose (optional)
2 pints raspberries
⅓ cup demerara sugar
– Put the heavy cream into a large bowl and beat until medium peaks form. Add the powdered or superfine sugar and the booze (if using) and continue beat to stiff peaks.
-Add the raspberries to the whipped cream and fold gently to coat. Carefully transfer raspberries to a wide serving dish or divide them between 6-8 individual gratin dishes and liberally strew the top with demerara sugar. Using a kitchen torch, evenly caramelize the sugar until it gets bubbly and darkened in some spots. A bit of the top layer of cream will start to “run” in this process, but if you don’t hold the torch too long in one place, what’s underneath will stay whipped.
-Refrigerate brûlée for about 15 minutes to let the sugar harden. If you’ve used one large serving dish, scoop servings into bowls, making sure that each scoop includes some of the crunchy sugar topping. If you used individual gratin dishes, just grab spoons. Serve immediately.
Tags: dessert, holiday
I’ve never gotten super excited (or super upset, either) about Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of a non-event, but I do like to use it as an excuse to make my sweetie something luxe and a little girly for dessert….coeur à la crème seems quite appropriate, non?
If you’ve never had coeur à la crème, it’s kind of a cross between a mousse and a cheesecake filling. It’s a soft cheese and cream mixture that’s not cooked, so it’s very fresh…it’s also a little tangy and barley sweet. It belongs to that group of traditional French desserts that is so elegant yet so unfussy. Several years back, I found some individual coeur à la crème molds on the post-Valentine’s Day clearance shelf at a local kitchenware shop, and even though (or maybe especially becasue) they’re kind of uni-taskers, I’ve made it a point to use them many times since. Although they are cute, you don’t even need the molds to make this dessert…a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl will work fine (but you will give up the traditional heart-shape). Cheesecloth is important here, though, since the excess liquid needs to drain from the mixture so it’s as thick and creamy as it should be. That also means that resting time is necessary…you’ll need to chill and drain your cream hearts for several hours…I do it overnight.
I like to make my base with a soft, fresh cheese called fromage blanc. Vermont Butter & Cheese makes a nice (non-fat!) one that I can find at several shops, but if you don’t have access to fromage blanc, I think a combo of cream cheese and sour cream could approximate it. The creaminess and gentle tang of this dessert calls out for fresh fruit. Fresh berries or even a berry coulis would be great in summer, but here I used blood oranges, both becasue they are in season and becasue a heart with blood seemed fitting in a twisted sort of way.
Happy Valentine’s Day! xoxo
Coeur à la Crème— makes four servings
Steph’s Note: If you don’t have individual coeur à la crème molds, you can use a larger mold or a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. You may, however, need to make a 1.5x or 2x batch of the coeur mixture, depending on the size. If you can’t find fromage blanc, try substituing with 6 oz of soft cream cheese plus 2 oz of sour cream.
8 oz fromage blanc
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
squeeze fresh lemon juice
seeds of a quarter of a vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 oz heavy cream
fresh fruit or fruit coulis to serve
-Cut four squares of cheesecloth (about 8-inch squares). Rinse each square of cheesecloth under water and squeeze until just damp. Line each of four 4-inch coeur à la crème molds with one square of cheesecloth.
-In a food processor (or with a whisk or hand-held mixer) process the fromage blanc, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla until very smooth. In another bowl, whisk the cream until medium-soft peaks form. Gently fold the cream into the fromage blanc mixture until evenly combined.
-Place molds on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow baking dish. Spoon the mixture into the prepared molds and fold the corners of cheesecloth up and over the top.
-Chill for several hours or overnight to allow the mixture to drain.
-To serve, unwrap the molds and invert onto plates. Garnish with fruit.
Tags: baking, cake, dessert
It’s hard to believe, but TWD is coming close to the end of the book! There are two recipes a week from now till the end of the year, but I think I’ll only be able to choose one because I can’t do much baking at home during the work week. This week, I’m making the Far Breton, chosen by Nicole of Cookies on Friday (Jeannette of The Whimsical Cupcake chose Honey Nut Scones as the other recipe). I’ve been intrigued by this one for a long time…just the name sounds so classy. And there are Armagnac-soaked prunes–yum! Falling somewhere between custard and cake, it’s made from a no-brainer batter that gets whizzed up in the blender, crêpe-style. The finished dessert actually reminded me a lot of an unmolded clafoutis. I like eggy desserts, so this was just the ticket. I also like easy desserts that are totally dinner party worthy, and this one fits that bill, too. Next time I’ll add a splash more booze.
Tags: baking, custard, dessert
Remember those ultra-luxe little custards called “Pots de Crème“? Lucky for my taste buds, we are making them again, but instead of chocolate, this time I have Caramel Pots de Crème. I like to take my caramel fairly dark, so it’s not too sweet and has a just a hint of a bitter edge.
It was only after I baked these that I realized the recipe doesn’t include any salt. I solved that by sprinkling a little of my precious Aussie pink salt over the whipped cream I heaped on top (as though there wasn’t enough cream in the custards!). I fired up the oven to bake these off a few weeks ago, when it was still relatively cool out…but if I were making them in the mid-80s humidity-a-thon we in the middle of now, I think pots de ice cream à la Mike would be the ticket.
Pots de Crème are baked custards…like pudding, but with the richness dialed up. Lots of cream and yolks means a little portion can go a long way (although I’m confident I could consume a couple of these babies if I really wanted to). First you make a tempered egg custard… Dorie didn’t mention straining it, but I did because the thought of those little white egg squigglies gives me shivers…and then you stir in ganache. After you portion the mix into your little “pots” you bake them in a covered water bath (Dorie says you can bake it covered with plastic wrap, but I used foil instead because I’m suspicious of hot plastics). Let them chill, and you have quite a luxurious treat. I don’t see why you couldn’t mess around by adding some flavors that play well with chocolate, like a dash vanilla extract, a sprinkle of espresso powder or a wee bit of booze.
Tags: baking, dessert, pudding
My husband has been out of town for the last few days at a work conference. This was the first time in many years that I have not had to endure the Super Bowl (although apparently I missed a good rendition of the anthem). I spent Sunday night with four hours of “Emma” on Masterpiece Theater instead (dorky, but so good!) and this big fat slice of Bourbon Bread Pudding. Hellooooo alone time!
Dorie has taught me how to make bread pudding at home. You need lots of the good stuff (cream and egg yolks) for it to come out lush and soft. Now, here’s where I admit to you that I did cut back on the cream by a third (and upped the milk by a third in its place)…but not to worry, there was still plenty of cream and yolks in there. And I used challah bread, which is pretty rich in itself. You can see that I added almonds and dried cherries to mine. You can’t see that I quadrupled the bourbon, but trust me on that. My custard base tasted like eggnog! This was a mighty fine bread pudding, not to mention a most amiable television companion.