Category Archives: Food

Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

Chicken Liver Parfait-Wine

The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

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Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

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I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.

Bread: 100% Rye Starter, Tartine and No-Knead Brioche

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It’s time for a proper bread baking post. It’s been a long time since I’ve dedicated an entry to bread and the last one was not that informative. It’s truly fascinating as to how much we can do to stretch the capabilities of what flour and water with a bit of bacteria (yeast) can do. The first loaf I ever baked I credit to Jamie Oliver more than 14 years ago. He made it sound like a no-brainer to bake a loaf of bread. Ditto with the first ever naturally leavened loaf (sourdough). I made my starter using his method and have been maintaining it for 12 years or so. Since then I’d like to think I’ve come a long way and the credit for this post really goes to Chad Richardson of Tartine bakery/books, to a blog called Girl Meets Rye and to the couple from Ideas in Food.

Rye Starter-Levain

100% Rye Starter on the left and the Levain on the right

Tartine bakery is now a very popular and duly lauded place in San Francisco. I’ve never been there but  have heard about the place and seen the books. I did not think that I needed yet another bread book until I saw Tartine Book No.3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole at Powell’s Book Shop in Portland. It focuses on whole grain baking and highlights ancient grains and flours like Kamut and Einkorn. Chad Robertson’s recipes only use natural leaven and no commercial yeast at all. The book really pushes what you can do with flour and water using long fermentation times, fermented grains, porridges, sprouted grains. There is one master recipe or more like process and almost all formulations in the book follow that process to make mostly round rustic loaves.

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A loaf made with 20% rye flour, whole wheat and white flour

While doing some research about Tartine methods of baking I stumbled on the Girl Meets Rye blog. My key takeaway from that blog is to switch to using a 100% rye starter for my bread – all my naturally leavened bread. So, I took a portion of my old white flour starter and converted it into a rye starter. It’s made a huge difference in the flavor and fermentation activity due to the high levels of enzymes in rye. Another simple trick I learned from Girl Meets Rye is to store my starter in small jar and refresh it in there using 50 gr starter, 50 gr rye flour, 50 gr flour. How do I know easily how much starter is in the jar? Well weigh the empty jar first and record the weight right on it (stupid obvious, but I had not thought of doing that!). My jar weighs 260 gr, so I ensure I have a total weight of 310 gr with the starter and then add the flour and water. She also streamlines the baking process by using parchment paper to move the bread from bowl to pot. A very helpful tip when dealing with a crazy hot cast iron pot.

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I typically refresh the starter about three times before proceeding to the next step per Robertson, making a leaven. The recipes in Tartine No. 3 all use this leaven made from a tablespoon of active starter and equal amounts of flour and water (200 gr each). That makes a lot of leaven and is enough to make more bread than I need. It actually makes more than you need to make any of the recipes in the book (typically each recipe makes 2 loaves). So I usually make half of that for my leaven and it works great.  Robertson uses “High-extraction flour” a lot but this is not something easily found in my local grocery store. This flour is basically similar to white flour but has more of the wheat bran still in it, almost like a halfway flour between whole wheat and white. That explains why Robertson advises homebakers to use a mix of 50-50 of whole and white flour to mimic the high extraction stuff. This has worked perfectly for me using King Arthur All-Purpose and Whole Wheat flours.

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Leaven and the 20% rye bread mix

The fermentation of these loaves is long but pretty simple. The leaven, various flours/seeds/other and water are stirred together in a bowl. Over the next couple of hours the dough is turned and quickly folded every 30 minutes to develop the gluten. The dough then ferments and rises for another couple of hours. The bread can be formed into boules at this point, allowed to rise for two hour and baked. Usually it works much better for my schedule and -more importantly- for superior flavor to form the dough, place it in a cloth lined bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight (a process called retardation). I bake it straight from the fridge with great results.

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Baking in a dutch oven – a Le Creuset pot in my case- is not new to the Tartine process. I first heard about it and have been using it since Jim Lahey via Mark Bittman re-popularized the No Knead Bread. Here is the streamlined process I follow now:

  1. Put the pot in the oven and heat it up as high as it goes (550 F)
  2. Use a parchment paper covered peel to gently drop the loaf from it’s fermentation bowl onto the parchment and brush off any residual flour on the surface
  3. Remove the hot pot from the oven and uncover it
  4. Lift the loaf with the parchment and gently put it in the -now very hot- pot. slash the loaf or not, depending on nothing but my mood really. Not slashing makes it look craggy and very rustic.
  5. Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for 20 mins
  6. We do not want the bottom of the loaf to burn so after the first 20 minutes I put the pot on a baking sheet and slide it back in the oven. Reduce the temp to 425 F and bake for another 10 mins.
  7. Uncover the pot, put it on another cool baking sheet and put the whole thing on the first sheet (so now the pot sits on two baking sheets) and put it back in the oven. Again the goal is to insulate the bottom of the loaf so that it would not burn.
  8. Bake it for another 18-20 mins until it is deeply dark brown on the outside. Remove it from the pot and let is cool on a rack.
  9. Through out the whole process enjoy the amazing smells that will be coming out of the oven. Really heavenly stuff.

Barley Loaf3

This is a loaf that has a good percentage of cooked barley mixed in. Rolled in oat flakes while proofing.

All I’ve talked about so far is lean bread with no oil, butter, dairy or eggs. That’s the bread I make on a regular basis and use for everything. I was curious how my rye starter would work with very rich breads. In their book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work Aki and Alex have a fantastic no-knead brioche recipe. I love it because it is easy to make, not very fussy and produces superb rich brioche. The recipe like the ones from Tartine relies on long fermentation times and refrigerator rest as well as a boatload of eggs and butter. I followed their recipe as usual but used leaven instead of using any commercial yeast.

Brioche-Rye

My concern with the brioche is the large amount of fat in the dough would somehow interfere with the natural leaven’s work. I should not have worried. The brioche loaves exceeded my expectations. They rose beautifully and had an spectacular flavor. In addition to the usual sweet buttery taste these guys had a deep nutty taste with a slightly sour background that can only be achieved from natural leavening.

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The brioche is a favorite in our house for French toast topped with maple apples or toasted and topped with jam. It also goes perfectly with savory toppings like a rich chicken liver parfait or a slice of sharp cheddar. This rye starter really is one of the best bread improvements I’ve made since I started baking.

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Steak and Guinness Pie

Beef and Guinness Pie-VegBritish food is good. It could be great. To me, it is comforting, historic, classic and kind of cool in a way. Thankfully over the last few years chefs like Fergus Henderson, Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver and many others are making it a point to celebrate the classic food of Britain. In some cases chefs like Blumenthal are digging very deep (I have a post about that coming up soon) into the roots of historic English foods and modernizing them. That’s exactly what Chef Blumenthal is doing at his restaurant Dinner in London.

This post is not about modernist takes on British food though. When I think of British food something like this delicious comforting beef and Guinness pie come to mind. There’s a whole slew of meat-in-pastry type pies in this cuisine that range anywhere from crayfish to steak and kidney. This particular recipe is from Jaime Oliver’s Great British Food. Oliver actually calls it “Will and Kate’s Steak and Guinness Pie” in honor of the royal wedding a few years back. He puts a few twists on the recipe like including barley and cheddar cheese in the filling. That was part of the reason why chose to give his version a shot.

Beef Shanks2 Beef Stew

The beef shanks from Yonder Way Farms are one fantastic cut of beef. I use them for everything from beef stew to beans and even Osso Buco. They are rich with a lot of flavor and lots of collagen that makes great braising liquids. More often than not, as I did here, I slip the marrow out of the bones and save it for another use. The filling of the pie is a stew with the beef, lots of red onions and some barley cooked in Guinness and beef stock.

Beef and Red Onions

When the stew is done I added in shredded sharp cheddar cheese. This touch is very nice. It makes a savory stew even more so, adds creaminess and substance. While the stew cooked and cooled I made the pastry.

The pastry is made very much like a pie or tart dough but instead of butter it uses suet. Suet is beef fat from around the kidneys. It is very firm and can actually be grated like butter or cheese. No one really sells suet in Houston and I did not want to pay for it online from some source (I might give that a shot at some point to see how different it is). What I do have is plenty of pork lard. So, the suet pastry became a rich pork lard short pastry. It was easy to work with and had a great flaky texture with a deep savory taste.

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To serve it, what better and more British side to go with this pie than steamed veg? The key here is to put the vegetables in the steamer based on how fast or slow they cook. I steamed carrots with some peas and some Romain lettuce at the end. These got tossed with a bit of butter, a drizzle of vinegar and salt. They were perfectly cooked with great texture and flavor, a perfect accompaniment to the rich beef and ale pie.

Cheers!

Beef and Guinness Pie-Veg2

 

 

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

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Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

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I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree and Quinoa

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Scallops and sweet winter squash are a perfect combo and this quick dish brings them together in a delicious and beautiful plate of food. It was not a planned fancy dinner or anything. I bought the large scallops because Diana loves them and had the butternut squash on hand at home.

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Initially I had thought of just sauteing the pumpkin and serving it with the seared scallops, but then figured that with a little more effort I can make something new, more impressive and at the same time incorporate more flavors and textures. The squash became a loose puree – almost a soup. To make that I baked the halved the squash lengthwise and baked it on an oiled sheet -seeds included- until it is soft. Then I flipped the halves over and baked for an additional 10 minutes or so to get more caramelized flavors and to dry out the squash a bit. The seeds and pulpy bits from the squash get thrown away usually at this point. I decided to toss them in a small pan and gently cook them with butter with the idea to flavor the butter and use later on.

Scallops-Panfried

To finish the pumpkin soup/puree I sauteed onions and a little chopped golden potatoes in butter and added some stock to the mixture. When the potatoes where sufficiently cooked I put in the squash meat and pureed the mixture.

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I brine most of the seafood I cook for a several reasons. It enhances the texture by firming it up a bit, it also removes any impurities on the surface and helps the seafood get a better color when seared. Last but not least it of course seasons the seafood. I first started doing that after reading about it in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book and getting great results from it. Since then many other sources recommended brining the fish such as the folks from Ideas in Food and ChefSteps. The key here is to make a high salt solution, 10% salt to be exact and to brine the fish or shellfish for no more than 15-30 minutes depending on the size or else you end up with very salty fish. Scallops only get about a 15 minute dunk in there and then they get patted dry really well.

Scallops

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To cook the scallops I seared half of them “naked” and the other half got a quick roll in a mixture of Wondra flour and finely chopped parsley. I then sliced the scallops into quarters and plated them up. The quinoa was really a late addition. I wanted to make the dish more substantial since it was our dinner but I did not want something too heavy like pasta, rice or potatoes. Quinoa fit the bill nicely. It cooks quick, is light and has a great nutty grassy flavor that paired well with the pumpkin and scallops.

That pumpkin butter I prepared using the seeds and pulp of the squash was a great flavor boost for the garnish. I used it to saute some pumpkin seeds and crisp up a few leaves of fresh sage. I tossed these with a touch of salt and pepper and used them as a topping for the finished dish. A final touch of creme fraiche rounded everything out very nicely and gave the plates a welcome touch of clean white streaks.

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A Terrine of Teal

Teal Terrine5We shot a limit of teal (small ducks) this year on one of our trips. It was two of us and my buddy did not want to take his share and deal with the clean-up. I was happy to take his share of the hunt (even if I am never happy about the cleanup of about 12 ducks). In any case I had a good mess of birds in my freezer, mostly plucked clean but with several skinned and portioned out into small legs and breasts. It’s also been a while since I made a terrine of any sort and it really is the season for that kind of stuff. So a terrine of teal (and one bigger bird from last season) it was.

wild duck

I have tons of recipes for terrines and pates, but for this one I looked to a little book that I love reading and cooking from, Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. The late Olney is also the author of the many of the Good Cook series of books including one I’ve mentioned before and own called Terrines, Pates and Galantines. His writing in Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook is clear and passionate. These are really classics with no frills, no pictures, great opinionated essays and recipes that teach and work. Either one is a great addition to any foodie’s bookshelf.

Olney does not have a recipe for teal terrine in his book but he does have one that caught my eye for Terrine de Lapin, rabbit terrine. I could have used one of several other recipes from other books including Terrines, Pates and Galantines, but as I mentioned before I just love reading and cooking from Simple French Food. It’s that kind of book that makes you want to get in the kitchen and make something. I basically used the duck in place of the rabbit. Some other changes I made was to make the seasoning a bit more aggressive since duck, especially wild duck, is more gamy than rabbit. Instead of marinating and grinding all the duck, I followed Olney’s instruction to marinate the meat in a mixture of white wine and herbs but I reserved the breasts after marinating and seared them to use them an inlay in the center of the terrine. The remaining duck meat was ground up with some pork shoulder to start making the forcemeat.

Marinating duck

Terrine Meats

The terrine usually needs a small amount of a liquid-ish component. This can be composed of milk, cream, stock or even water mixed in with seasoning and bread to make a paste (known as panade). For this recipe I used the duck carcasses to make a stock in my pressure cooker. I first roasted them and then deglazed with Madeira and a bit of Sherry vinegar before cooking with mirepoix and thyme on high pressure for about an hour. This made about 4 cups of stock. I then reduced it to about half a cup of concentrated meaty goodness. This got mixed with a mashed a garlic clove and chopped up bread to make the panade.

Forcemeat

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I ground up the mixture into both fine and coarse portions that got mixed together along with pork fat, pate spices, panade and pistachios. I used the KitchenAid mixer to get the forcemeat really emulsified and bound together well. Half of that went in a plastic wrap-lined terrine pan and then in went the seared duck breasts and then the remaining forcemeat mixture.

Teal Terrine4

Traditionally a terrine is cooked in a bain marie (basically a water bath in the oven). The idea, just like cooking a flan or custard, is to gently heat the mixture and not allow it to break with all the fat and juices running all over the place. Well that is really sous vide cooking old-style. So for the past couple of years I’ve been using my immersion circulator for that. I wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap and then vacuum packed the whole thing using a FoodSaver. The package cooked at 63.5 degrees C for about 3.5 hours. The other plus with this method is that the finished terrine is already wrapped and pasteurized. It can be cooled in an ice bath and go into the fridge. It also needs no pressing with a weight to compress the meat and remove any air bubbles.

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We ate this over a period of a week or so with good bread and various accompaniments like mustard, ale chutney and cornichons. I also loved it served up with pickled prunes, homemade coarse mustard and fermented pickled okra. The strong pickle flavors worked very well with the mildly gamy meat. I do want to add some curing salt (Sodium Nitrite, Cure 1,…) next time around to give it a more attractive pinkish hue and cured flavor. I forgot to do that this time around.

 

Buckwheat Cake, Honey-Almond Semifreddo and Red Wine Poached Apples

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Buckwheat is such an assertive flavor with a unique earthy and somewhat grassy flavor. It is not a flavor that you can use as a background in dishes. Some people like that while others really cannot stand it. I fall in the first camp firmly and have enjoyed it in desserts ever since I first tried it as an ice cream flavor in this Alinea dessert. We eat buckwheat flour regularly in pancakes as well mixed in with grated apples and white flour. It is such a fall-ish flavor and I wanted to use it in a dessert again.

Honey Semfreddo

I had already had the honey-almond semifreddo prepared and in the freezer when I thought of the rest of this dish’s components. The semifreddo is a classic combination of three different foams – a custard, a meringue and whipped cream. Here it is flavored with honey in the custard and it has some roasted almonds stirred into the mix before pouring it into a loaf pan and freezing it.

Honey Semifreddo

David Lebovitz in  Ready for Dessert has a recipe for a buckwheat cake served with cider poached apples. As soon as I saw the recipe I knew I had the remaining parts of this dish. The apples in  my case got shaped into spheres with a melon baller and poached in a mixture of spiced red wine and sugar (lemon zest, cinnamon, clove). When the apples where cooked I let them sit in the syrup in the fridge until I was ready to finish the dish.

To finish the apples I took them out of the syrup and cooked that down to thick sauce consistency then tossed the apples in to coat them. This warmed up the fruit and gave me an intense rich sauce that is drizzled around the plate.

Red Wine Apples

The cake contains no wheat flour and gets all its texture and structure from buckwheat flour, ground almonds and eggs – both yolks and whipped whites. It ends up tender and fluffy with an assertive buckwheat flavor.

Buckwheat Cake

To serve it I sliced the semifreddo loaf and then used a cookie cutter to cut it into rounds. It melts very quickly and it is very airy so I had to work pretty fast here. This went right next to a slice of cake and the poached warm apples. I needed some more texture in the dish so I made a streusel from almonds, butter, sugar and flour and baked it in a thin layer. When  it was cooled I  broke it into small pieces around the cake. The flavors and textures were very nice. The dessert really worked for me mostly. The semifreddo was maybe too light in here and an ice cream with a denser texture set in a loaf pan and cut the same way could’ve been a better alternative.

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