Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

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Candy Canes in Julyh

August 10, 2011

Recipe development for national magazines and large companies can be tricky. You have the obvious challenge to make something new and delicious, but the harder part can be getting ingredients out of season. The lead time is up to six months, from creating the recipe to print and the Internet.

Scoring rhubarb in early February I thought was a no-go, but I miraculously found a few overpriced forlorn stalks in a local grocery store. The check out woman gave me a weird look as I spent $20 for pretty sad looking fruit, but I didn’t care. I bought it all.

Berries can be easier to locate as South American fruit is available in winter. Frozen peaches work as long as they aren’t packed in sugar, and you have to dry them off to get rid of excess moisture. Neither of these fruits tastes the same as the local in season counterparts so you have to channel the summer fruit and adjust accordingly.

Recipes for winter publication pose problems even though they don’t rely on delicate summer fruit. Need cranberries in July? You won’t find them at Safeway. Luckily I found a half a bag in the back of my freezer. Here’s a tip I learned later on: Whole Foods has them in their freezer section all year.

Candy canes and fruit cake were last week’s search. I looked all over and asked a couple of stores if they had any stashed in the back leftover from last year. Thank goodness for Amazon. In a day they were on my door step.

Now that I am provisioned I have to get my head wrapped around the idea that even though I am cooking in shorts and flip flops I have to think Christmas. The good news is gingerbread men and women are as good in August as they are in December.

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Cream Dream

March 24, 2011

It’s true baking requires recipes. When you make a cake you can’t haphazardly throw a bunch of ingredients into a KitchenAid mixer, combine everything and bake it in the oven. Flour, eggs and sugar have to be measured. You don’t simply add things until it looks “right.”

That being said, there is one dessert I make without much precision. It’s a favorite for Waterbar and Farallon staff meals. I call it Cream Dream. Technically it’s a trifle but it’s so much more. I don’t want to completely mislead you and give the impression it is completely a random kitchen sink dessert, but it’s close. You need to have dessert leftovers and heavy cream.  Creating the desserts to get those leftovers does require a recipe.

To make Cream Dream you need any combination of cake, cookie, brownie pieces or scraps, plus caramel and/or chocolate sauces.

Whip the cream with a little sugar until soft peaks. Layer the cut or broken up cake/cookie pieces, your sauces and the cream in a bowl. (Keep the sauces cold or at room temperature) Sprinkle in a few chocolate chips, nuts and coconut if you have them. You want enough cream so it holds together and isn’t dry, but not so much that all you taste is cream.  Layering everything rather than folding it together keeps the texture of the cakes and cookies intact. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

No Cream Dream ever tastes the same. They all depend on the flavor of your cakes and cookies. Our version usually has chocolate as invariably some of our leftovers are chocolate.

When I go out of my way to bake a special dessert for staff meal it never seems to be as popular as Cream Dream. Eyes light up when the staff sees it on the table with the savory food. The pastry cooks and I laugh, wishing all our baking was that easy.

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Vanilla

February 23, 2011

Vanilla is used so frequently in desserts it is easy to take them for granted. But there is a great deal behind this common flavoring.

Growing them takes patience and care. A member of the orchid family, the vine blooms once a year in the spring and must be hand pollinated within 12 hours of opening. When the beans are picked they look more like a green bean than the vanilla bean we would recognize in the store. After harvesting the beans are cured and dried, a labor intensive process that includes wrapping them in cloth to sweat, laying them in the sun to dry and placing them in air tight boxes. The time between harvesting and selling takes months.

Vanilla became a part of the American palate by a rather circuitous route. Cortez took vanilla to Spain from Mexico where it became popular throughout Europe. Thomas Jefferson brought it to the United States after one of his visits to France.

Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla beans. They are called Madagascar Bourbon beans as they grow on the Bourbon Islands off the east coast of Africa. The name comes from the French who ruled that area and has nothing to do with bourbon from Kentucky. Bourbon beans are smooth, sweet and mellow.  The other vanilla bean I like is Tahitian. Their production is smaller and comes from a different variety of orchid. The flavor is floral and perfumy.  Mexico also produces good beans and extract. Be careful when you travel there and see bargain vanilla. Mexico does not have the same quality restrictions on vanilla and if you don’t pay attention you can buy something that tastes pretty bad.

At work I buy Nielsen- Massey vanilla extract by the half gallon and use it in cookies and cakes but there are recipes where I prefer to use a vanilla bean. I like to infuse it in other ingredients or scrape out the seeds from the pod for their intense flavor and the speckled appearance they offer. 

I use Madagascar beans when I want the vanilla to be a background flavor and help draw out other flavors like chocolate or coffee. I also like to use them with citrus for it pairs nicely with the acidity of the fruit.

All vanilla beans are expensive but Tahitian beans even more so. I reserve them for recipes where vanilla is the main flavor such as an ice cream or a crème brulee.

A bean should be plump and supple. When you rub it between your fingers you should be able to feel the seeds inside.  Since vanilla beans aren’t cheap you want them to be the best possible quality when you open your wallet. Fortunately for me restaurant suppliers have good ones but that doesn’t help the retail buyer.

Too often beans in the spice rack in the grocery store are dry and brittle.  To spend almost $10 on one bean and be able to snap it in two like a twig is frustrating. Sealed inside a glass jar, it’s hard to tell the quality by just looking. Experience has taught me to purchase my beans other places.

Surprisingly I have found good beans at Costco. They came in a glass tube. You can also find beans on line. The Vanilla Queen at www.vanilla.com sells good beans as does www.beanilla.com.

Here’s a recipe for vanilla ice cream. All you need is the chocolate and caramel sauces.

Vanilla Ice Cream 

6 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup whole milk

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise with the insides scraped out

To make the vanilla ice cream: In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a bowl. Combine the milk, cream, vanilla bean and the remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepot. Over medium heat, heat the milk and cream until hot. Slowly pour the liquid into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking it together as you pour. (To keep the bowl with the eggs and sugar from spinning while you pour in the cream and whisk, place it on a towel.)

Return the cream and milk mixture back to the saucepot. Over medium low heat, cook, stirring continually with a heat resistant rubber or wooden spatula, until the custard reaches 175 degrees.

Strain the custard into a clean bowl and cool over an ice bath until at least room temperature. (Rinse off the vanilla bean and air dry it. Put it in your sugar container to flavor your sugar.) Refrigerate the custard for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. Freeze according to ice cream manufacturer’s instructions. Place in the freezer until scoopable, at least one hour.

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Christmas Eve Dessert- Tiramisu

December 22, 2010

Pastry chefs like December because people eat a lot of desserts. They are in the mood to celebrate the holidays and dessert adds to the festivities.

This rainy weather is perfect for baking. It’s comforting to be in the kitchen scooping cooking dough, sifting flouring and weighing out chocolate. By the time Christmas Eve Dinner comes around I am in full baking mode. It’s my favorite holiday for desserts; the high point of a month of nonstop baking.

There will be 23 people around the table for Christmas Eve at my house. Actually it will be two tables with some sitting on stools at the counter. It will be served family style. I will make two desserts – one chocolate and one fruit, so chocoholics and those who prefer something lighter are both happy. At least one of these I want to make a day ahead to spread out the work. I don’t want to have to be in fifth gear all day in the kitchen on the 24th. I want to enjoy putzing in the kitchen, baking, cooking and wrapping the last of the stocking stuffers. I don’t want to be exhausted at 6:00 when the first bottle of Champagne is uncorked.

I always pick classic desserts to make on Christmas Eve. It’s a traditional holiday and I want a dessert that is really good but matches the spirit of the holiday. This year I am making tiramisu and Meyer lemon pudding soufflés.

I haven’t made tiramisu for at least 10 years. It’s great for a crowd and is better made the day before. The last time I made it I had a house full of over eager eaters. With the tiramisu made the day before I knew they would start nibbling at it before the party and who knows how much would be left by the time I planned to serve it. To circumvent these human mice, I made it when they weren’t around then wrapped it completely in foil and labeled it “beef stock”.

Later they kept asking me where the tiramisu was and I said I was too busy and hadn’t gotten to it yet. The look on their faces when I unwrapped it to put on the table was priceless. Needless to say, I will never get away with that trick again but it was so good the first time I don’t need to.

Here’s my tiramisu recipe. Some people use lady fingers but I prefer to make a sponge cake. Lady fingers get too soggy and disintegrate. Sponge cake soaks up the espresso but still retains some texture. The cake cuts best when it is a day old.

You can use a turkey baster to soak the cake with the espresso. I will make the cake Wednesday and assemble the tiramisu on Thursday. Wrapped carefully and put in the fridge it will be ready for Christmas Eve.

Tiramisu

Serves 8 to 10

Mascarpone Cream

6 large eggs*, separated

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

2 cups (one pound) mascarpone cheese

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 recipe Sponge Cake (see below)

To assemble the tiramisu

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, ground up in the food processor, very finely chopped or grated

1 3/4 cups brewed espresso or coffee (regular or decaffeinated), at room temperature

To make the mascarpone cream: Combine the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high speed until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, add the mascarpone, and whip until smooth and thick, about 30 seconds

Put the egg whites in a clean mixer bowl and whip on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone cream in 2 additions.

To assemble the tiramisu: With a serrated knife, cut the sponge cake into quarters. Slice each piece in half horizontally like you were slicing a roll to make a sandwich. Spread a layer of mascarpone cream about 1/2 inch thick in the bottom of a 2 1/2-quart glass bowl. Sprinkle some of the chocolate on top. Place the cake pieces, cutting or tearing to fit as needed, in a single layer over the mascarpone cream. Brush the cake with some of the espresso and top with more mascarpone cream and chocolate shavings. Repeat the layers—cake, espresso, mascarpone cream, chocolate—until the bowl is full or you run out of cream or cake.  Your top layer should be chocolate.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Overnight is great. Spoon into individual bowls to serve.

*If you are uncomfortable eating raw eggs use pasteurized eggs.

Sponge Cake

Makes one 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch cake

1 1/4 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

5 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cups sugar

5 tablespoons boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 °. Grease and then line the bottom of an 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch baking pan with 1-inch sides with parchment paper. (If you don’t have a sheet pan this size uses both a 9 by 13 inch pan and a 9-inch pan. Put a little less than 3/4 of the batter in the larger pan. The cakes will take a few minutes less to bake.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment whip the egg yolks and sugar on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Reduce to medium low speed; add the boiling water and vanilla extract and mix until combined, scrapping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Increase to high speed and again whip until thick, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients.

In a clean bowl of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment whip the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. They should be smooth and not clumpy. Fold half of the whipped whites into the batter and then fold in the remaining whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown and springs back when lightly touched, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting. If you have made the cake the day before, store it at room temperature uncovered.

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Persimmons

November 23, 2010

With winter almost upon us there aren’t many local seasonal fruits you can use on your Thanksgiving  menu, or for that matter the days after. Fortunately persimmons are now at their peak and the markets are full of them.

Although they are not quite as popular as Meyer lemons you occasionally see trees in backyards around the Bay Area.  A persimmon tree with full grown persimmons is a strange site. A big storm can remove all the leaves and the orange fruit hang like ornaments among the bare branches. It looks as if someone hung each individual fruit by hand to make the tree look less barren.

The name persimmon comes from the Algonquin Indians who lived on the East Coast of the United States and Canada.  California has a good growing climate for persimmons but top world producers are China, Korea, and Japan.

The two most common varieties you see at farmers markets and in grocery stores are Fuyus and Hachiyas. Fuyus are squat and look like a slightly flattened tomato. The acorn shaped ones are Hachiyas.

Fuyus can be eaten firm or soft. On menus you often see them thinly sliced in salads.  I like to combine them with Little Gems, pecans and either a hard cheese like Manchego or a soft blue cheese. This combination is delicious.

Persimmons are eaten dried too. The Japanese have a traditional method for drying persimmons that dates back hundreds of years. For an interesting article about a family in the Gold Country who makes hoshigaki, Japanese for dried persimmons, go to: http://californiacountry.org/features/article.aspx?arID=282.

You have to ripen Hachiya persimmons before you can use them, which can take several days on the counter top. My trick is to put them in the freezer overnight and then defrost them on the counter. Freezing them helps break down the fruit and you have almost instant ripe persimmons. Once they come to room temperature they are soft and ready to use.

Some people like to eat ripe Hachiyas like an apple. Narsai David once told me they were one of his favorite fruits. Since they are full of Vitamin A and C, I tried to eat them straight but just couldn’t do it. Even when soft the tannins make them too astringent and bitter for my taste buds.

But for baking Hachiyas are great. My favorite dessert with persimmons is persimmon pudding. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce it’s a crowd pleaser.

Here’s my recipe.

Persimmon Pudding

Serves 8

About 5 ripe Hachiya persimmons

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups of half and half (or 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Remove the stems from the persimmons and cut the flesh into pieces. Purée the persimmon flesh in a food processor until smooth. Strain the purée through a medium-mesh sieve to eliminate any bits of skin and seed. You should have 2 cups purée.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until blended. Whisk in the melted butter.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add the salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, stirring until combined. Stir in the persimmon purée.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The pudding will sink as it cools.

Serve the pudding warm, scooped into bowls with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

It can be reheat it in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes.

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Beyond Pumpkin Pie

November 18, 2010

If you ask most pastry chefs what desserts they are making for Thanksgiving dinner they will include the obligatory pumpkin pie.  We make it because it is what certain family members and friends expect. We know they will be disappointed if they don’t have it. It isn’t on the top of our list and we would leave it off if we could get away with it. It’s not that pastry people don’t like pumpkin pie it’s just kind of boring, even a good one.

Native Americans grew pumpkin so it was probably on the first Thanksgiving menu but not in the pie form that we know today. The Pilgrims didn’t have flour so they couldn’t have made a crust. If their pumpkin dish was sweetened they would have had to use honey as white sugar wasn’t around either.

I know many will disagree with my ambivalent feelings about this humble pie but there are better pumpkin desserts. You can carry on the tradition of pumpkin but go outside the box. Make pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin ice cream cake, or cranberry pecan pumpkin upside down cake. All can be made a day ahead leaving more time to stuff the bird, go for a hike or watch football on TV.

If you are cooking the whole Thanksgiving dinner and are pressed for time, don’t worry about making your own pumpkin puree. Canned will work just fine. You can even find organic puree. Make sure to get plain puree and not one with added spices. In the latter the spice balance is way off.

To help you get started branching out; here’s a recipe for cranberry pecan pumpkin upside down cake. It will be on my table this year. What are you making for Thanksgiving dessert?

 Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Upside Down Cake

Emily Luchetti

Serves 8-10

8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 cups cranberries

4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

 Chantilly Cream (see recipe below)

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan. In a medium bowl combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cake for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together. Remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Cool completely before serving. Serve with Chantilly Cream.

Chantilly Cream                                 

Makes 2 cups

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.

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Strawberry Fields-Almost

April 15, 2010

The winter rains have just about stopped and the sun has allowed us to shed a layer of outerware. This change in weather puts me in the mood for fruit and fruit desserts. Customers at Waterbar and Farallon want them too as there is a definite swing away from chocolate desserts ordered to those with fruit.  I am chomping at the bit to put something colorful and seasonal on the menu besides citrus and pineapple. Strawberries have started to appear in both farmers’ markets and grocery stores and while it is tempting to quickly put some in your cart-pay close attention. Their quality is hit or miss. Some are sweet and juicy (everything you want in a strawberry) while others are bland and mostly white inside with big woody hulls. Strawberries need a little more attention from mother nature before they are at their best. (Beware of long stemmed strawberries seen in quantity around Mother’s Day. They seem to be grown for their stem rather than the flavor of the berry. Ironic when you consider you don’t even eat the stem. Also the price of these goes up around that weekend.)

To get the berry flavor I want and to satisfy my strawberry cravings early in the season I either cook the berries in a crumble or roast the berries. Here’s a recipe for roasting strawberries. You can serve them with anything you would serve fresh sliced strawberries. They come out jam like but are whole so you can use them in desserts. There is quite a bit of sauce left over after you finish making the berries. Reduce it as the recipe states or you can use it to make another batch of roasted berries (I mix it 50-50 with fresh sauce ingredients). It is delicious served over ice cream without any berries. Hopefully this will tide you over until the really beautiful berries are in the market. As an added bonus the kitchen smells wonderful when they are in the oven.

Roasted Strawberries

3 pints (6 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled

3/4 cup Pinot Noir or other dry red wine

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Put the strawberries in a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish. In a bowl, whisk together the wine, balsamic vinegar, and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the corn syrup. Pour the liquid over the berries. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the strawberries shrink and are jammy in texture, about 5 hours.

Strain the strawberry liquid into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook to reduce the liquid slightly. Let cool to room temperature and stir it back into the berries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.