Posts Tagged ‘Dessert’

Rosy Thoughts

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Rose's Heavenly Cakes - Ready for Duty!

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a Baker’s Dozen luncheon featuring cake maker and cookbook author extraordinaire, Rose Levy Beranbaum. This was Rose’s third visit with Baker’s Dozen, and it was really enjoyable. She is promoting her new book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I have two of her previous books – she’s written nine of them! – that are rather dog-eared and well-used, as they should be. The Cake Bible was the first one I acquired many years ago, followed by The Pie and Pastry Bible. And now, of course, a copy of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is sitting on my counter waiting to be transformed from its pristine condition into another lovingly well-used resource in its own good time.

Rose talked about the “behind the scenes” of working with publishers and bringing a book like hers to the shelves – it sounded like this most recent one was about 6 years in the making. Her work is meticulous, and she takes her responsibilities as a recipe writer very seriously. She would never want to leave a fellow baker stranded in the kitchen because one of her recipes was not perfect. She told how she felt when she was about to publish one of her earlier books, only to see another book that covered similar material published first. She was reminded at the time that everyone has a voice, and she reminded each of us of that very same thing last week. It’s a good reminder.

What I most appreciated was the love Rose has for baking and for fellow bakers. It comes through like a beacon in every recipe she writes and in every way she shares her knowledge and carefully developed recipes.

She reminds me why I am a baker – for the love of it!

Happy Baking,
Cathy

Caramel Kick #2

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Homemade Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream (covered with leftover English toffee bits!)

After my last post about English toffee, I thought that caramel sauce should be next. Both English toffee and caramel sauce (and caramels too, for that matter) involve cooking sugar to a certain degree of caramelization. Plus, caramel sauce is yet another (!) simple treat where the homemade result is so much better than what we can buy in the store. The same caution about working with hot sugar applies here, too…

Caramel sauce is made in two simple steps:
1) cook sugar and water to a light to medium amber color; and
2) whisk in 1 cup heavy cream and a little butter

Yes, that’s it! And, unlike the English Toffee, you don’t even have to stir! So, details…

Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Water and Sugar in the Pan; Sugar Completely Moistened; Cooked to Clear Syrup

1) Put 1/2 cup of water in a large saucepan and add 2 cups of sugar. Pour the sugar on top of the water carefully so stray sugar crystals don’t land on the sides of the pan. With a spoon, gently mix the sugar and water together until all of the sugar is moistened – and continue to keep the sugar off the sides of the pan. This attention to the sides of the pan will minimize the chance of the sugar crystallizing, i.e. turning chunky and grainy. And what if sugar lands on the sides of the pan? Just wash it down with a little fresh water on your (clean) fingertips.
Steps to Making Caramel Sauce

Sugar Syrup Just Starting to Caramelize; Medium Amber Color; Cream Added

Steps for Making Caramel Sauce

Whisking in the Cream; Finished Caramel Sauce; Really Finished Caramel Sauce!

2) Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is clear and simmering (about 10 minutes – but you’ll have to watch it to know for sure). Remove the lid and continue to cook until the mixture is a light to medium amber color. Don’t stir the mixture at all! When it starts to color a little, you can slowly and carefully swirl the pan to help it color evenly, just don’t stir it – and be careful if you swirl it so you don’t splash yourself.

Once the mixture has cooked to a light to medium amber color, remove the pan from the heat and quickly pour in about ¼ of the cream. The sugar syrup will steam and boil fiercely when the cream is added, so don’t stand over the pan – stand back, continuing to pour the cream in ¼ increments until the cream is all in. Then, carefully whisk the sauce together, continuing to be careful because it will still be steaming. Finally, whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter (salted or unsalted is ok) and pour into a heat proof container. Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.

The caramel sauce will thicken when it cools – just reheat it a little in the microwave to make it pourable. Serve over your favorite ice cream, on your favorite cake or with whatever else you like!

Let me know what you think!

Cathy

Oh, Sugar, Sugar…

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Finished English Toffee

English Toffee - Yum!


Oh, honey, honey… do you remember that song from decades ago by The Archies? Well, today I’m your candy girl and I’m serving up buttery English toffee with toasted almonds and chocolate. Making toffee is another recipe that is pretty easy with spectacular rewards for the effort – fresh, buttery toffee from your own kitchen and yet another way to impress your friends (how many of them are making toffee from scratch?!)

First, a cautionary note about toffee making: hot sugar can be very dangerous and must be handled carefully at all times, so this is not a recipe to make with little kids or even with little kids underfoot. They can eat it later though!

Making the toffee itself takes about 15 minutes then, once it’s cooled, about another 10 minutes to slather it with chocolate and more nuts. The basic steps are 1) melt butter and sugar together, add almonds or whatever nut you like; 2) cook to “hard crack” stage; 3) pour into a pan and cool; and 4) cover with chocolate and nuts. Without further delay… let’s make some toffee.

Steps for making English Toffee

Butter and Sugar in Saucepan; Stirring the Butter and Sugar Together as the Butter Melts; Puffy, Cream-colored, Cohesive mix


Steps for making English Toffee

Adding the Nuts; Cooking to Hard Crack Stage; Cooling in the Pan

1.) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 heat proof pan (I actually use Pam) and set aside.  Put 2 sticks of salted butter (that’s ½ pound) and 2 cups of sugar into a large saucepan. Cook on the stove-top on medium heat, stirring to blend the sugar and butter together, making sure to moisten all of the sugar with the butter. Continue to stir, also scraping the sides of the pan to remove sugar crystals there. The mixture will change from a loose blend of sugar and melted butter into a somewhat puffy, cream-colored cohesive mix. Keep stirring, and when the sides start to turn a little brown, add 1 cup of nuts. Keep stirring.

2.) Cook to “hard crack” stage – this is somewhat fussy to describe, but it’s really critical to the outcome. Continue to stir the toffee. Although there’s no need to constantly stir, don’t walk away – keep watching what’s happening in the pan. Hard crack stage is technically about 300 – 305 degrees and there a few ways to tell when the toffee is there. Two of the best ways are 1) use a candy thermometer; or 2) carefully watch the mixture for the magic few seconds when it changes from a somewhat grainy, puffy looking “coffee with cream” color to a smooth, glossy, medium brown toffee color. If the toffee continues to cook much beyond 305 degrees, it won’t look too different at first but it will start to take on a burned flavor – so, the toffee will look great, but it might taste slightly burned. If it really cooks beyond this stage, it will start to smoke and turn black – and this can happen in about 1 minute.

But, it’s also really important to not cook it less than 300 – 305 degrees. If it’s not cooked to hard crack stage, the toffee will be grainy and soft – very un-toffee-like! Like I said, it’s fussy to describe “hard crack”, but the concept is pretty easy!

So, once the toffee is at 300 – 305 degrees or has just arrived at the smooth-glossy-medium-brown-toffee-colored stage, immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the toffee into the prepared 9×13 pan. Cool on the counter or in the refrigerator. If it’s going in the refrigerator to cool, don’t put it in there right away – the toffee and the pan are very hot at this stage, so let it cool down a little on the counter at first. Once it goes in the refrigerator, it takes about 30 minutes to completely cool down.

3.) While the toffee is cooling, put about ½ – ¾ cups of nuts on a sheet pan and put them in the oven to toast. The nuts are done when they just start to become fragrant – this will take 10 minutes or less, depending on the oven. When the nuts have cooled, chop them and set aside for sprinkling on the toffee later.

4.) When it’s time to finish the toffee, melt your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave – milk or dark chocolate, whatever you like. For the best way to melt chocolate in the microwave, check out our instructions for chocolate ganache.

Spread a layer of chocolate on one side of the toffee and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Return the toffee to the refrigerator for a few minutes to set the chocolate, then invert the toffee onto a sheet of wax paper or parchment and coat the other side with chocolate and more nuts. The toffee may start to break at this point, but it’s going to be broken into pieces anyway.

Break into pieces – I use the handle end of a heavy knife – and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Some nuts and chocolate bits will fall off when the toffee is broken into pieces – save those for ice cream topping or eat them just as they are.

Bowl of Finished English Toffee

Buttery, Crunchy, Chocolatey, Toasted Nutty

The toffee will be crunchy, but it shouldn’t be breaking any teeth – another benefit of cooking it to proper hard crack stage. It will definitely be buttery and sweet. And chocolatey. And toasted nutty.

Maybe next, we’ll do caramel sauce…

Enjoy!

Cathy

Strawberries Romanoff… mmmm

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Strawberries Romanoff

Strawberries Romanoff - Ready for Strawberry Season


Happy belated Valentine’s Day! While this recipe is a little too late for Valentine’s Day – I decided to write this post as I was making Strawberries Romanoff for our Valentine’s Day dessert last night – it’s in plenty of time for strawberry season. Strawberries Romanoff is a simple dessert, quick and easy, with big results. It’s made with fresh strawberries, orange juice, orange liqueur, sugar and cream, and its origins are uncertain – maybe it was created by French chef extraordinaire Marie Antoine Careme (1784 – 1833), or perhaps it was French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935). I’m just glad one of them thought of it, and that I learned about it during my Australia cheffing days. I don’t have exact measurements for this “recipe” – it’s really up to you and your tastebuds, and how many people you are serving. There are three simple steps – first, marinate the strawberries; second, whip the cream; and finally, assemble – oh, then take the credit!

1. Marinate the Strawberries: quarter some strawberries into a bowl and add a little sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries. Add a few splashes of orange liqueur (I use Grand Marnier), and then enough orange juice to almost cover the berries. Taste the mixture and make adjustments – if there is too much liqueur, add more orange juice, etc. Let the berries marinate for an hour or two.

2. Whip the cream: when it’s time to serve, add a little sugar and vanilla to heavy cream and whip to very soft peaks – in fact, they’re not even really peaks, they’re sort of pillowy, rolling hills. This step can be done at the same time the berries are cut to marinate – just keep the cream in the refrigerator until service and, if necessary, give it a few whisks right before using it.

3. Assemble: add a little of the cream to the bottom of a serving dish, top with strawberries and a little of the marinating liquid, then top with more of the cream and finish with strawberries and a little more marinating liquid.

This is a delicate, light (in taste and texture!) dessert that finishes off a meal with elegance.

I think all of February is the month of love, so make Strawberries Romanoff even if it’s not Valentine’s Day, and enjoy!

Cathy

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake and Lemon Meringue Pie – Oh My!

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Chocolate Caramel Tart, Cheesecake, Lemon Meringue Pie - good enough to eat!

Every year, our parish school at Christ the King (www.ctkph.org) has an auction and festival to raise funds to offset the cost of school tuition. The auction is a major event, with dinner, dancing and silent and live bidding. One of the bid items is dessert for your table that night; a donator makes a dessert, writes a description and provides a photo to be displayed on the bid table – then, at dessert time, the winning bid takes the cake (or pie, or tart . . . ) for their table.

This year I donated a dessert for auction – actually three kinds of dessert, but all for one table. I applied my menu planning skills learned at pastry school and on the job, and covered all my bases. Knowing that some of us are “chocolate people”, some are “lemon/fruit people” and some are “custard” people, I did a little something for everyone. I figured if you can entice everyone at the table with something for each of them, then the WHOLE table REALLY wants your dessert and will bid accordingly. Plus, if you have a little bit of all of those “types” in you (like me), you’re especially happy because you get a little of everything! I made a lemon meringue pie, cheesecake with graham cracker crust (what other kind is there for cheesecake?) and a chocolate caramel tart.

For the lemon meringue pie, I used the Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust (the half butter, half shortening variation) from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Pie and Pastry Bible; the lemon pie filling from the Kingsford’s Cornstarch box – the one my mother and probably grandmother used, and I see no reason to change – the texture is great and it’s lemony perfect; and an Italian meringue recipe, also from The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I use 5 egg whites instead of 4 because the Kingsford’s lemon filling calls for 5 yolks!

There are 3 styles of meringue – Swiss meringue, Italian meringue and French meringue. I use Italian meringue because it’s very stable – sugar syrup is cooked to 236F degrees and then slowly poured onto whipping egg whites. This also heats the egg whites enough to pasteurize them, so I don’t worry about serving or eating raw eggs.

The filling for the chocolate caramel tart is a recipe from Good Housekeeping, with the modification of almonds instead of walnuts – plus, I’m careful to not make the caramel too dark. The crust for this recipe is another from – you guessed it – The Pie and Pastry Bible! This time, the Sweet Cookie Tart Crust, because I like my tart crusts to have a little sweetness to them.

And finally – the cheesecake. Both the crust and filling are from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax, which I’ve written about before. Okay, so I admit to a few little modifications on the cheesecake recipe: I use 1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and vanilla extract, and no zest – I don’t like the texture that the lemon zest adds to the otherwise super smooth cheesecake filling.

When I’m planning a party and dreaming about the dessert menu, I go through the same process of considering different desserts in the lemon/fruit, custard and chocolate categories. If I pick from each category, I’m sure to have a little something that every guest will enjoy.

So . . . back to the dessert auction . . . this is the way I described the selection:

Gourmet Dessert Trio – something for everyone, all made from scratch using the best of everything . . .
- Lemon Meringue Pie: flaky, buttery pie crust filled with perfectly tart lemon curd and topped with toasted sweet meringue
- Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart: sweet tart crust filled with a chocolate caramel ganache and roasted almonds
- Classic New York Style Cheesecake: graham cracker crust filled with creamy cheesecake made with a little sour cream

There were competing bids with some last minute back and forth, and the winners walked away happy. The losers? Well, let’s just say they walked away. There’s always next year!

What dessert “type” are you??

Sweet dreams,
Cathy

Peach Crisp and the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ Market

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

It’s peak summer season at the farmers’ markets right now, and since I’ve written about the outdoor market in Paris I thought I should give my local farmers’ market in Pleasant Hill, CA a little love, too.
Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

This market has been around for 27 years, and runs every Saturday from May until November. It’s found a real home in the city hall parking lot, surrounded by a pond, trees, grass and city hall itself. The beautiful produce, specialty products and live music all make for a warm, casual and comfortable atmosphere – definitely worth checking out. Even onions look amazing at the farmers’ market! I try to find things that I may not see in the local supermarket, along with the standards I can’t resist – like strawberries, stone fruits and tomatoes. Typically, the person you are buying from did the growing, and they are very knowledgeable about their produce and ways to enjoy it. If you have a farmers’ market near you, consider stopping by and taking advantage of a great opportunity.
Farmers' Market Bounty: Yellow and white peaches, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

Farmers' Market Bounty: yellow and white peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

The peach crisp shown at the top of this post is an easy, quick, satisfying summer dessert – one of my husband’s favorites, and definitely one you can make with your farmers’ market haul. It comes together so quickly – I cut the peaches, sprinkled them with sugar to taste, mixed my crisp topping from The Crumble Top Kit – and still had to wait for the oven to heat up. I used to peel the peaches (the recipe that I wrote for The Crumble Top Kit box calls for the peaches to be peeled), but not anymore. I find that the peach skin softens as it cooks and does not compromise the texture in any way. Not peeling the peaches saves time and trouble, so I’m all for it. Give it a try and see what you think.
And that, as they say, is that . . .

And that, as they say, is that . . .

Best,
Cathy

Pavlova

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

A couple nights a week, I cook dinner at our church’s parish house. Last Saturday night, I made Chicken Paillard with fresh peaches from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate. This is a pretty simple dish to make, and it gives big flavor and presentation; with pancetta, blue cheese, honey and peaches, you get the salty/sweet combination that’s so satisfying. Plus, a platter filled with sauteed chicken breasts topped with crispy pancetta, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette is an eye-popper at the table. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it!

For dessert, I made Pavlova from one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. I first learned to make Pavlova in Australia, when I worked as a pastry cook at a hotel in Sydney. Wikipedia says there is debate about whether Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand; it is agreed, though, that the dessert was named for a Russian ballerina who was performing in those countries in the 1920s, and the dessert was created in her honor. I saw (and made) lots of Pavlova in Australia, but I don’t think I ever saw it in New Zealand when we lived there for several months after our year and half in Australia. We made Pavlova year round, and I don’t recall it being specific to any holiday period.

Pavlova is a meringue cake topped with sweetened whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit. It’s light, soft, sweet and satisfying. A great summertime treat . . . the fruit for this Pavlova came from the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ market. It’s not a fussy cake – I didn’t have my cake spatula when I put the whipped cream on the cake pictured above, so the finish is pretty “relaxed”; I just used a rubber spatula to spread the cream, and I don’t think the cake presentation suffered one bit. This cake would be very cute to do as little individual Pavlovas – one cake per person. I’ll have to try that some time!

The basic steps to make Pavlova are shown below. Enjoy!

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Put the meringue on a baking sheet

Transfer the meringue to a baking sheet . . .

Form the meringue into a cake shape

. . . and form into a cake shape

Bake the Pavlova

Bake the Pavlova

Pavlova with Fruit from Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Cover the Pavlova with plenty of sweetened whipped cream and top with your favorite fruits