Archive for the ‘sweet things’ Category


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.


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.


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.


Dulce De Leche

September 9, 2010

I just got back from the source of dulce de leche: Argentina. They serve it everywhere and in everything. On breakfast buffets in the hotels it is translated as “milk candy.” A little much for me in the morning, but if a little spread on your toast gets your day going-why not? 

If a country had a national cookie it would be the alfajor. LAN Airlines offers alfajores on their flights, and they sure beat  peanuts. The alfajor consists of two light shortbread like cookies (but a bit lighter and made with cornstarch) sandwiched together with a dulce de leche filling. There are different flavors of cookies. Some alfajores are rolled in coconut, others dipped in chocolate. You can also find them with a lemon filling instead of dulce de leche. 

At candy kiosks you’ll find at least 12 different brands of alfajores. Oreo even has one but I couldn’t bring myself to try it. Brands vary in taste and quality. Havana has alfajore stores throughout the country, more than 10 in Buenos Aires, and they are the ones you find at the Duty Free Shops when you are trying to spend your last pesos. My favorites are made by the company Cachafaz. 

Dulce de Leche also finds its way into layered cakes (see picture above). The one I tried is actually not really a cake as we know it. It had the flavor of a thin cake and the appearance of a tortilla. The cake is made with egg yolks and flour, no sugar. At bakeries and restaurants I saw anywhere from 5 to 12 layers, each spread with a thin swipe of dulce de leche, and then topped with meringue. When I first saw it I thought it would be too sweet, but it was delicious. 

Even thought dulce de leche is a part of South America’s heritage, my Argentinean friend told me that it didn’t take off in the United States until recently because during World War II  there was a shortage of fresh milk so many Americans had to drink sweetened condensed milk with their coffee. It didn’t catch on until the next generation grew up and  lost the negative association with that flavor. 

Other countries make their own versions of dulce de leche. In Mexico, it is primarily made with goat’s milk and called Cajeta. The French make confiture de lait (milk jam) to spread on  day old baguettes. 

In the United States imported dulce de leche is expensive. It is made by combining and slowly reducing,either in the oven or on top of the stove, sweetened condensed milk or by putting an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for several hours.  Food scientists frown upon this latter method since the can may explode it if it is not covered properly with water. 

But now that I have tasted the real stuff I won’t be making it much anymore. It isn’t worth my efforts because what I get there is so much better. The flavor is less sweet and more intense with  a beautiful golden brown caramel color. On my next trip I will take an extra suitcase.


Breakfast Food?

August 5, 2010

I was getting off a plane last week and I could smell the Cinnabons before I got off the gateway and into the terminal. (No, it wasn’t SFO.) Maybe it was the jet fumes wrecking havoc with my brain but they smelled good. It was kind of scary but I had to try one. I knew I would be disappointed but it’s been a couple of decades since I had one and my curiosity got the better of me.  Could that warm cinnamon sugar aroma taste that bad?

My excitement ended quickly. It did taste pretty awful. It was way too sweet and at the same time bland. I got a sugar rush and my teeth hurt after the first bite. It was so big I almost offered to share it with the man and woman in line behind me.

When I got home I looked up the calorie count online and it weighs in at 730 calories. Thank goodness I didn’t finish it. It got me to thinking about what many Americans eat for breakfast. Lots of white flour.

Yes, my world is made of sugar and fat and my desserts are not for the calorie shy. I am not a fat free gal. But my portion sizes aren’t as big and I don’t serve the stuff for breakfast. With a normal amount of daily calories if you eat a Cinnabon for breakfast your fat allotment for the rest of the day is miniscule. 

Perhaps it is not fair of me to pick on the Cinnabon but it is the quintessential example of what is bad about breakfast food. Many people think they are eating healthy if they have a fresh baked pastry or a bowl of low fat but high sugar cereal.  Even if it is made with good organic ingredients and no preservatives a muffin or a scone is still up there calorically. You might as well have a piece of cake for breakfast but that would seem crazy and indulgent.

I am not saying we should never eat blueberry muffins or buttery scones but like all desserts they should be in moderation. Several times a week have whole wheat toast or a multigrain cereal with yogurt.  I am much more apt to stick to better eating habits if I start the day without having too much flour and sugar. Also if breakfast is going to sustain me until lunch I need to add some protein to those carbs. Other cultures eat smoked or pickled fish. As long as you don’t try to pair it with coffee it’s good.

Anything is better than a cinnamon roll that’s practically the size of your head.


My Love-Hate Relationship with Creme Brulee

July 29, 2010

There are some desserts pastry chefs simultaneously love and hate. Crème Brûlée is one of them.

When we eat out a perfect crème brûlée is an ideal way to end a meal. The combination of creamy custard and brittle topping are quintessential dessert textures that help make a great dessert. It also hits the spot because after being around sugar all day we want straightforward and clean flavors.

Too often it is executed poorly and we go away disappointed. The custard is overcooked or eggy and the brûlée layer is too thick or so caramelized it is dark brown, almost black, in color and tastes burnt. Ideally the custard should be creamy and the burnt sugar crust a thin layer of golden caramel.

Which tool to use to make the caramelized top is key. Traditional branding irons, used by French chefs before gas and broilers, are hard to control. The circular metal piece is heated up in the flame and then placed on top of the custard. Just like a cattle branding iron. It is impossible to see the color of the caramel and know when it is just right. If you take it off too soon the whole caramel layer sticks to the iron. Too late and it is burnt. You have to be really good to work with these. Sometimes the custard is put under a broiler but the problem here is that broilers/salamanders don’t get hot enough to make a crunchy top or the custard gets too warm before the sugar caramelizes. The best implement to use is a construction blow torch. A bit daunting to new dessert platers but they quickly get the hang of it and love it for its accuracy. (Home versions of the torch with a smaller flame are less intimidating but they have to be filled with butane which is much more of a pain than learning how to use a big torch.)

 As sellers of crème brûlées we love them because when it is on the menu we sell a lot of them regardless of the custard flavor. If we make them correctly our guests leave happy. On the flip side, we grumble because when brûlées are on the menu it seems as though that is all we sell. All the other desserts we love and have labored over get trumped by crème brûlée every time. From a production stand point they are tedious to make. When you bake a hotel pan full of about 18 ramekins they will be finished at varying times. You have to be patient to take them out just when they are done. Its many trips back and forth to the oven. It is a real labor of love.

 I know some pastry chefs who refuse to put brûlées on their dessert menus because they are burnt out making them and they are discouraged that is all they sell. I think that’s a bit extreme. We are in the people pleasing business. I run crème brûlées often but will take them off when we have another custard-type dessert on the menu.

Pastry chefs agree a really made crème brûlée is a work of art.  We just don’t want them to take over our lives.