Thursday, February 18, 2010

...But First

So I know you all logged on expecting to find another delectable tale about making Apple and Poppy Seed Cake, and I was all set to make it, had all the ingredients, when I realized...I don't have the whisk attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer. 


So, since I'm not exactly up to the task of whipping egg whites into submission (or firm peaks) by hand, I'll have to pick something else to make while I go about getting a whisk attachment. 

In the meantime though, look what I got in the mail today!!!

sorry about the ugly blue sticker, I was too excited to take it off before taking the picture 

Thomas Keller's newest cookbook! But since this will only keep me occupied for the next few hours, I invite you (if you want) to check out the links I posted on the side of the page. These are Carol Blymire's blogs, the person who really inspired me to write mine. Read and enjoy (but not more than you enjoy mine). I'll be back with another recipe soon, I promise!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lemon Posset and Shortbread

Growing up, we had our fair share of junk food in the house: chips, soda, chocolate chip cookies, pretty much the basics, and we were never at a loss for something good to snack on. The few things my mom wasn't a big fan of were things like Little Debbie, Entenmann's, Kool Aid, products that were packed with sugar and mass produced. And because I didn't have them in my house, I was always eager to trade at the lunch table for one of those soft and delicious oatmeal cookie pies or a chocolatey swiss cake roll that I would delicately unroll as I ate it. But the one thing I always wanted to like but could never choke down was Sunny D. It masquerades as orange juice when in reality it contains only about 2% of real fruit juice. At birthday parties or friend's houses, I would always thirst after the bright orange drink that I never got to enjoy at home, but as soon as I took a swig, the citric acid combined with all the sugar would begin to burn my throat and I would have to guzzle water to dull the pain.

What's my point? You may ask, and why am I rambling on about this disgusting beverage? Because when I tried this Lemon Posset, that familiar burning sensation began to tickle the back of my throat. Given that a burning sensation isn't typically the response that I want my body to have from a dessert, you can probably guess how I felt about this one. But the preparation is really simple so here it is.

I juiced four lemons into a shallow pan and added the caster sugar. Caster sugar here in the states is known by its other identity, superfine sugar, which can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores. Clark almost exclusively uses caster sugar in her recipes unless she is making an icing or otherwise decorating a dessert, so I knew it was something I was going to have to eventually locate, even if that meant ordering it online. I did some research and determined that Fresh Market (love of my life) carries it, but I was prepared to make this dish using regular granulated sugar since I didn't think I would make it out to Fresh Market this weekend. As luck would have it though, as I was getting the rest of the ingredients for these dishes at Ukrops, there was caster sugar, staring me in the face. And yes, it was even called caster sugar. I considered buying out their whole stock (about 10 1lb bags) because knowing my luck, the next time I go to get it, it will miraculously be gone, but I restrained myself and only got one.

I put the lemon-sugar mixture over a medium-low heat and stirred to incorporate the sugar and lemon juice.

I continued stirring until all the sugar dissolved, and then stirred occasionally as I brought the mixture to a boil. This basically resulted in a beautiful, thick lemon syrup that I kind of wanted to lick off the spoon.

Once all the sugar had dissolved

after the syrup had come to a boil
Meanwhile, I began warming heavy cream in a separate pot. 

I did this very slowly as I didn't want the cream on the bottom of the pot to heat too quickly and burn. Once the lemon syrup boiled, I poured it into a bowl, but kept it close to the stove to keep warm. When the cream finally boiled, (after at least 40 minutes. Ok, so maybe I was a bit paranoid about the burning thing. But really, have you ever tasted burnt cream? It's disgusting and there's no CPR to be done to save it.) I whisked it into the lemon syrup mixture. I then poured this through a sieve that I had lined with cheesecloth. 

Using a ladle, I divided the mixture between four ramekins and put them in the fridge to set 

which supposedly takes about 2 hours. After about 2 1/2 hours, we took one out to try it. It was still very creamy, and hadn't set like I thought it would. It had the consistency of a thin pudding rather than a thick custard, but the recipe doesn't indicate what the correct texture should be. It had an intense lemon flavor but was also incredibly sugary, hence the burning sensation in the back of my throat. A few hours later, I tried another ramekin to see if it had set a little more fully, and also to give it a second chance. The texture was a little firmer, but the taste was the same, super tangy and intensely sugary. I could only eat about half of it.

Meanwhile, I had started on the Shortbread. The Lemon Posset and Shortbread are not technically to be served together, but I thought the posset would need a little texture to accompany it and decided Shortbread would be a good match. 

First, I combined the flour and caster sugar in a mixing bowl. 

Then, using my fingers, I mixed in room temperature butter. 

Once this was partially combined, I added about 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The recipe calls for vanilla seeds from a vanilla pod, but when I wrote "vanilla" on my grocery list, I dumbly crossed it out once I got to the store since I knew I had vanilla extract at home....not smart. Anyway, I substituted with vanilla extract, which I think worked pretty well. I continued to work the mixture with my hands until it formed a dough, and then formed it into a ball. 

I transferred this to a piece of parchment, dusted with flour, and flattened the dough slightly. 

Using a rolling pin, I rolled it out until it was about 1cm thick.

Using a sharp knife, I cut "oblong" shapes out of the dough and transferred them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. To me, oblong meant rectangle, but I really should have used a ruler, because I ended up with some rectangles and some squares. 

This recipe makes 15 cookies, but I ended up with about 20 plus a few scraps of extra dough, so I don't know if I cut my oblongs too small or perhaps rolled the dough a little too thinly. In the long run, it didn't really seem to matter. I put the dough in the oven for 15 minutes, then turned the pan and baked for another 10 minutes. The cookies weren't quite as brown as I wanted them, so I left them in for another 2 minutes, and then took them out of the oven. While still warm, I dusted them evenly with some granulated sugar and left them on the tray to cool, which didn't take long. 

If the Lemon Posset was a disappointment, the Shortbread exceeded my expectations. It was flaky and buttery, a little dense and pleasantly chewy, just like Shortbread should be. The sugar on top added just the right touch of sweetness.

Next Indulgence: Apple and Poppy Seed Cake

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vanilla Ice Cream with Chantilly Cream and Hot Chocolate Sauce

Often when I try to fall asleep at night, I find myself thinking about this blog, about upcoming recipes or little phrases or statements that I want to remember so I can use them in my writing. Luckily, I have a handy dandy iPhone which has a voice recorder so I can just reach over on my nightstand, pick it up and record the things I want to remember without having to turn on a harsh, jarring light.

What's that I hear? Oh, it's all of laughing at me for being such so obsessive and ridiculous. Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

But here's what came to mind when I began thinking about my choice to start the next leg of this project with vanilla ice cream. It's simple, classic, and sort of a staple item in a pastry chef's reportoire, much like veal or chicken stock. It's just one of those things you should always have in your freezer to serve on the side of pretty much anything. Or, if it's this recipe, to eat all on its own. By yourself. So you can lick the bowl. But while I thought this was a good place to start, I wasn't all that excited about it. I mean, vanilla ice cream...BOOORRRING. It can only be so good; it's not like it's chocolate or anything.

Boy was I wrong.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the ingredients for the ice cream:

vanilla pods, whole milk, heavy cream, eggs, sugar

To start, I slit the vanilla pods open lengthwise with a sharp knife and scraped out the tiny vanilla seeds.

This is where all the vanilla flavor comes from

I put the vanilla pods, seeds, milk, and cream in a pot and put it on the stove to bring to a boil.

While this was heating, I put a dozen egg yolks (that's right, A DOZEN. Can you feel your cholesterol rising?) and sugar in a mixing bowl

and creamed them together, just so they were well combined. Once the milk and cream had boiled, I used a ladle to slowly add it to the egg/sugar mixture, with the mixer running on low.

Once this was completely combined, I returned the mixture to the pot and cooked it over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. I continued to cook it until the mixture thickened to the point where it could coat the back of the spoon.

Once it had reached this point, I poured it through a fine sieve into a bowl and then put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice.

Once the custard had cooled to room temperature, I covered it and put it in the fridge to cool completely. Once it was cool, I churned it in the ice cream maker until it was creamy and semi-solid.

It was at this point that I first tasted the ice cream and immediately thought I'd died and gone to heaven because it was THAT GOOD

I put the ice cream in a tupperware and put it in the freezer to harden completely.

Later that afternoon, I made the Chantilly cream, which is just a fancy British name for whipped cream. Those Brits, always trying to be so classy. This was simple. I just whisked the cream with the sifted powdered sugar and vanilla extract until it formed stiff peaks.


and voila!

This went into the fridge until it was time to serve.

Right before serving I made the hot chocolate sauce. This was also really easy. I simply boiled heavy cream and then poured it over dark chocolate pieces.



The recipe calls for chocolate that is 70% cocoa, but we only had 60% and since it looked like this outside:

we thought we would just make due.

Finally after a delicious dinner of homemade baked ziti (meaning we made both the noodles and tomato sauce from scratch. What else were we going to do on such a snowy day?), I scooped out the vanilla ice cream, topped it with some of the chocolate sauce and added the whipped, excuse me, Chantilly cream. Ideally I should have piped on the whipped cream, and I did use a plastic bag to sort of kind of maybe pipe it on, but it still ended up looking like this:

The recipe also calls for toasted slivered almonds, which would have added a nice crunchy texture, but we didn't have any. And, well:

We did without. And you know what? This was ammmaaazzzing!!! I would bathe in this if it wasn't so cold. And sticky.

It was by far, the best vanilla ice cream I've ever had. It was so creamy and rich and sweet, and just had the perfect proportion and texture. I mean, this really made vanilla ice cream into an event. Up until the point when I tasted it, I was worried that choosing this as the first recipe to make was a bad idea, because the preparation was just too simple and easy. I mean, I promised you guys more excitement and all you were getting was vanilla ice cream!? Ugh.

But really, this was soooo good. SO GOOD. It has validated not only my decision to switch gears but also to use this cookbook as a guide. Because if Clark can convince me to cheat on my all time favorite lovah, chocolate, she obviously knows her shit.

The slight bitterness from the chocolate sauce balanced out the sweetness of the ice cream, but as I ate, I started to feel that the chocolate and whipped cream were really just a distraction from the perfect vanilla ice cream, which was truly the star. My recommendation, (and how I ate this after that first night): omit the chocolate (gasp!!) and whipped cream.

Sadly, I finished off the very last remnants of the ice cream last night.

And yes, I licked the bowl.

Next Indulgence: Lemon Posset and Shortbread

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Palette Cleanser

This afternoon, I opened my desk drawer and reached into my stash of Dove chocolates for a little chocolate square wrapped up in a neat little package of tinfoil. (I know Dove isn't the best quality chocolate, but for a chocoholic like myself, it's a cheap way for me to get my fix.)

That's right, I said it. My name is Morgan, and I'm a chocoholic. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to indulgence.

When I was a first year at UVa, (that's "freshman" for all you non-pretentious readers who didn't attend Mr. Jefferson's University), I kept a big bag of hershey kisses in my nightstand. Every day, I would take one, unfirl it from its silver wrapper and pop it into my mouth. I would sit at my desk, typing away on one of my numerous English Lit papers, and press the smooth, flat side of the kiss against the roof of my mouth. I would sit there quietly and savor the moment as it melted slowly into creamy chocolatey goodness.

You see, I don't need a whole piece of chocolate cake or a dozen cookies to satisfy my sweet tooth (usually). I just need a little shot of sweetness to get me through the day.

Boy, do I sound like an addict in denial or what?

But I do firmly believe that a meal hasn't fully come to completion until you've had dessert, a trait I get from both my parents, although my dad, who often wants to order dessert after brunch, indulges more often than my mom. I actually used to measure the quality of a first date by whether or not my dinner companion would have the chutzpah to suggest dessert, since first date dining etiquette dictates that women appear to sustain on the small salad that we coyly push around with our fork. Thus, I could not order the giant piece of carrot cake that I really wanted, and ask my date to leave the two of us (that's me and the cake) alone so I could lick the icing off the plate in private. No; instead, he had to be the one to suggest sharing the creme brulee so that we could commit the ultimate couple act of sharing it, making eyes at one another across the table, licking the sugar off our lips seductively, knocking my spoon "accidentally" into his, and ugh now I'm nauseous from all the lovey doveyness. Or maybe it's the 5 pieces of chocolate I just ate.

Ok, so now that I've shared with you way too much information about my dating life, back to my Dove chocolate. If you've eaten one of these little nuggets, you'll know that each one comes with a little piece of "wisdom," sort of like a fortune cookie. Usually they're pretty pedantic and silly, but today when I opened mine up, it read "Believe in and act on your dreams." I smiled to myself and began to unfold the tinfoil wrapper further, smoothing it out as best I could. I was somewhat caught up in my reverie, thinking, how fortuitous that I would pick this fortune on today of all days, and that it was just so funny and perfect and-

then I ripped the corner off. Whoops. *Will not take this as a bad omen, will not take this as a bad omen...*

You see, it was just today that I was looking at the two pastry arts programs I'm most interested in attending. I even emailed one of the schools about setting up a private tour next month. So getting a fortune about believing in and acting on my dreams was pretty ironic. Thanks, Dove for validating my life choices!

In honor of this dream of mine to become a pastry chef, I've decided to make some changes to the blog. Yes, finally, I'm getting to my point and will stop rambling on and on about all this chocolate nonsense since don't lie, now you kind of want some m&ms. And if you didn't before, you do now.

I recently became the proud owner of Indulge, 100 Perfect Desserts by Claire Clark, pastry chef at The French Laundry. I was so excited to dive into Indulge and after suffering a minor panic attack when I thought my precious package had been stolen (since it WAS NOT delivered at 6:30 pm on Monday, like the online tracking said, but rather, was delivered the NEXT DAY sometime in the afternoon. GET A WATCH UPS MAN! AND A CALENDAR! STOP LYING TO ME), I finally settled in to read my new cookbook, cover to cover.

Ok, so that was the plan. In reality, I didn't read the book in its entirety the first night I had it, since it's rather long and I wanted to take my time and savor all the recipes. But it was the type of cookbook I couldn't wait to get home from work and read through. I would sit at my desk at work and dream about the delectable creations awaiting me on those glossy pages.

You see, when I first started this blog, I was just sort of looking for something to occupy my time and get me in the kitchen more, so I chose a chef and book that I thought I would like. But thinking more about this project, I wanted to feel more connected to the food I was making, and more challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone. I do like to cook, but pastry and desserts is where my real passion lies. They're what I really love to create, so when I came across this cookbook, I really got inspired and knew that I would need to make a change. Not only is Claire Clark the pastry chef at one of the best restaurants in the country, she is also a former instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, so who better to use as my personal tutor into the world of pastry arts?

I was a bit concerned, given that I'd already made my way through about 20 recipes in Back to Basics, and switching gears would mean getting some equipment and supplies I don't already have. Plus, considering how precise baking is, I was a little worried about my new kitchen space which can sometimes be a bit of a disaster. And of course, there is always the concern that with so many delicious sweets at my disposal, I will gain 100 pounds and look like a water buffalo. Friends and family, don't be shy. If necessary, I give you permission to yank the chocolate-covered beater from my hand and force me in front of a mirror to show me the consequences of this project. I will thank you later.

After weighing all of these risks and talking it over with some of my confidants, I just knew that cooking my way through Indulge would be such a pleasure and a challenge that I couldn't say no. Plus, I think it will make for some more interesting reading for all of you. I'll cook some dishes from Ina's cookbook every once in a while, and I'll keep you updated about how those turn out. But, for now...

First Indulgence: Vanilla Ice Cream with Chantilly Cream and Hot Chocolate Sauce
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