Category Archives: Baking

Alinea: PERSIMMON, Aroma Strip, Carrot, Red Curry

Persimmon-Aroma Strip

Persimmons are one of my favorite fruit. I bet one does not hear that too often, but these orange fruits really are one of my favorites. To be specific I am talking about the acorn shaped Hachiya persimmon not the squat round Fuyu one. The Hachiya persimmon is very astringent and really inedible unless very soft and ripe. The flesh turns to a sort of honey flavored fruity jelly when that happens. That’s when they are perfect and sublime. I remember eating dozens of them in Lebanon during their season, usually autumn through winter.

Hachiya on the left and a Fuyu on the right

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That was my excuse to make this recipe, even though Hachiya persimmons are a bit tough to find. Another reason to make this was the various techniques in there that I’ve not tried before from the complex (making carrot curry raisins using reverse spherification) to the simple (“steaming” a cake in a bag in a heat controlled water bath).

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What we have here is a crumbly mix (pistachio brittle, dehydrated carrot foam, tapioca maltodextrin, pistachio shortbread) that covers a very interesting caramelized milk ice cream and a cake/pudding of persimmon. Around those main components we have glazed carrot, ginger sphere, carrot curry “raisin”, date puree, braised pistachios and two types of “films” (a spiced strip and a fennel-mint film).

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I first got to making the ice cream. Most ice creams in the Alinea book are not traditional in that they use less sugar than normal, little or no eggs and are designed to be used with a PacoJet machine that finely “shaves” the frozen ice cream cylinder into perfectly smooth servings. Lacking a PacoJet, I usually adapt the ice cream recipes into something more appropriate for my ice cream maker and freezer like the buckwheat ice cream that I prepared a couple of times. This time though I decided to try the recipe as proscribed to see what I come up with. I figured I had a couple of weeks before I need to serve this and if the ice cream comes out too crappy, I’ll scrap it and make another batch.

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The ice cream is based on caramelized milk. A combination of milk, some half and half, dried milk, very little sugar and honey go in a Foodsaver bag and are cooked for several hours. The idea is to caramelize the natural sugars in the milk turning the mixture a tan color. I was very curious how this would come up and indeed the mixture turned a light tan color but a bit lighter than I would’ve expected. After cooling, the ice cream gets churned and frozen till service time. Now, as expected from such a low sugar and relatively low fat ice cream, the texture right out of the freezer was not great. It was frozen solid and a little bit grainy. After a few minutes on the counter though the texture improved a lot. The flavor was very interesting. It is not an ice cream I would ever serve by itself. It is not sweet, very milky and has a flavor that reminded me of evaporated milk.

Persimmon Puree Persimmon Cake

Making The persimmon cake is pretty simple. Just puree the persimmon flesh with flour, pistachio flour, sugar, eggs, butter, spices and citrus zest. The mixture then goes in a Foodsaver bag and is cooked for a few hours in hot water. The cake is then cooled and re-warmed before serving. The taste is delicious, sweet and rich with spice and butter.The texture is a lovely mix of pudding and cake. I will certainly be borrowing this technique possibly with other flavors to make tender cakes or puddings.


There are several pistachio preparations in this dish. The braised pistachios are the simplest. Just cook some pistachios with water, sugar and pistachio oil. Reserve them in some of the cooled cooking liquid.

Braised Pistachios

Pistachio Shortbread1

The pistachio shortbread is part of the “crumble” mixture and uses pulverized pistachios, butter, vanilla and eggs. It is then cooled in the fridge to make it manageable (it has lots of butter) and then rolled into a block and baked. The shortbread is delicious on its own and leftovers made for great coffee accompaniments for a week or two. It had a lovely pistachio flavor and a tender texture.

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Pistachio Brittle

Another pistachio crumble component is the brittle. Again this makes for an addictive and tasty stand-alone recipe. To make it, I brought sugar to the caramel brown stage and tossed in toasted pistachios and baking soda. The soda reacts with the acidic environment causing the caramel to bubble vigorously creating lots of bubbles. The mixture – like pistachio lava- gets dumped on a Silpat to set and harden.

Carrot Mousse Crumble Mixture

Those orange specs in the crumble mixture are pieces of carrot foam – dehydrated carrot foam. Carrot juice is mixed with sugar and Methocel F50 and cooled. The mixture is then whipped to form a fluffy mixture very similar to a light mousse but has the pure flavor of carrots. Very tasty stuff. The mousse is spread on an acetate sheet and dehydrated for much longer than the recipe specifies until I got a cracker-crispy sheet of carrot mousse.


To bring the crumble mixture together I mixed pistachio oil with N-Zorbit Tapioca Maltodextrin (I’ve mentioned this product that makes powders out of oils a few times before like here and here). Then I added coarsely crumbled portions of the pistachio shortbread, pistachio brittle and the crispy carrot mousse. I reserved that in an airtight container until ready to serve.


Speaking of reserving these various components for service I’ve always thought the book should do a better job informing us of the shelf-life or fridge stability of these various components. This is especially critical for someone like me who is making recipes like these over a period of weeks! I did find out that most of these items do last at least a few days if properly stored. The crumble mixture in an airtight container was still perfectly fine a week or more after I originally served the dessert.

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A hydrocolloid that I have never worked with before and yet another reason I wanted to check out this recipe is Pure-Cote B790. The space-age name aside this is basically a modified corn starch that is used in small quantities to help in making really cool paper thin film. Think of those Listerine strips that melt on the tongue. Yeap, using Pure-Cote one could make these films flavored with anything. In this recipe it is used to make a spice aroma strip as well as a green tinted “glass” flavored with an herb called anise hyssop.

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The process for both glass and spice strip is similar. Steep the flavor in a sugar water syrup and mix in the hydrocolloid. Allow that to dry out on acetate sheets overnight and peel off. In the case of the green glass a dehydration step follows making those films into amazingly brittle and fragile “glass”. The spice aroma strip is flavored with cloves, mace, nutmeg and allspice. The green glass is supposed to be flavored with anise hyssop but that is nowhere to be found. It is supposed to taste like a mixture of mint and anise, so what I did was use half mint and half fennel fronds. I think that worked great, had a lovely green tint and a nice burst of flavor. There has to be a typo in both of these components’ instructions in the book though. After mixing the Pure-Cote into the liquid base we are simply instructed to pour it in a thin layer on sheets. This does not work because the Pure-Cote is not hydrated or gelled! and what you end up with is a mixture that separates into starch and liquid like the mixture towards the front of this picture.


After doing some research and looking through my Modernist Cuisine books I confirmed my suspicion that indeed the Pure-Cote mixture needs to be heated up in order to gelatinize the starch. That worked much better (see the mixture towards the back in the above picture). Another reasoning for the book’s instructions might be that at Alinea they use a VitaMix blender and they whip the mixture for a long time at a very high speed which indeed heats it up and hydrates the starch. I do not have one of those yet so I will be gently warming my Pure-Cote mixtures to hydrate them.


To emphasize the warm autumnal flavors and add punches of sweet and sour we have two sauces based on dried fruit. The first is a date puree made from softened dates and ruby Port. It is very sweet as expected and used very sparingly as a dollop to top with the braised pistachios. The other sauce is made from golden raisins and verjus, the mildly tart juice of the sour unripened grapes that works great as a gentle substitute to vinegar in dressings and sauces. Verjus has a fancy French name and is mostly associated with western cuisine but actually -in addition to pomegranate molasses (Dibs Ruman)- it is a traditional sour ingredient in Lebanese cuisine. Many families would make Houssrom, as it is known there, during the summer months when the vines are full of unripened grapes that needed to be culled.


Spherification is something I’ve played with before here and a technique that produces an aesthetically pleasing product as well as a flavor burst. This recipe has two such preparations. The first is the straight-forward ginger sphere. This is a ginger infused sugar syrup that is blended with Calcium Lactate and frozen in small cubes. It is then dropped into an Alginate water bath to form perfect liquid orbs of sugary ginger encased with a thin  film of itself. I reserved these guys in more of the ginger-sugar liquid in the fridge and they lasted perfectly for several days.

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The second sphere is where the Alinea team take this preparation past the “cool trick” stage and transform it into something unique. Since the spheres are orbs of liquid (think grape) why not make raisins out of them? That’s what they do. So, I got carrot juice and blended in some sugar, a small amount of red Thai curry and Xanthan into it. Then I mixed the Calcium Lactate and froze the mixture in hemisphere ice cubes. After dropping those just like the ginger ones into an Alginate bath they went into a small pan covered with a layer of white sugar. More sugar went on top and the spheres were allowed to cure for an hour. During that time the sugar draws a lot of the moisture out of them and firms them up a bit. Lastly, the cured orbs were dehydrated in a very low oven until shriveled and wrinkly, just like raisins. They were delicious with a spice flavor and sweetness that worked great in this fall dish. Their interior was moist and jam-like.



A few more items garnish the plate. One is cubes of Fuyu persimmon that are supposed to be marinated in a type of fortified wine called Pineau des Charentes. I had none and did not really want to seek it out. I decided to pick a liqueur that I think would work in the dish. The crumble mixture is supposed to include a small proportion of honey granIules – another item I did not have. So, I decided to include the honey flavor in the marinated fruit. I vaccum marinated the cubed Fuyu in a Foodsaver canister with homemade honey liqueur instead of the Pineau des Charentes. That turned out well and the fruit gave a burst of sweet honey flavor to the plated dish. Another item was glazed baby carrots. These were thin small sweet carrots, peeled and cooked sous vide with a pinch of sugar. The carrots are warmed right before serving.

ComponentsThe dessert was a perfect fall-winter plate of sweetness with perfect textures and amazing flavors. I loved how the ice cream, very subtle and muted on it’s own, worked perfectly as a cool milky canvas for the strong flavors and textures in the composed dish. It really amazes me how the Alinea team pulls off multitudes of dishes like this during service night after night. Hopefully one day I’ll get to snag a table there and try it out for myself.

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Plums, Rice Pudding and Almond

Plum-Rice Pudding-AlmondThis is another example of dishes I came up with that I was hoping would be more successful on the plate. I debated if I should post about it or not at first. However, I try to make this blog an accurate “diary” of food and movies  so of course I should post about it. Also, this plate as a whole needs work and refinement but its several components are good and some (the sorbet) are excellent. If I do revisit this dish at some point this post should be a lot of help in making it better.

The basic idea here is rice pudding and fruit. Rice pudding is one of those desserts that I think every culture makes. Versions differ in flavoring but the base of rice, milk and sugar are universal. In Mexico and across Latin America, it is usually flavored with cinnamon and maybe rum. In Lebanon we flavor it with rose water. In Europe you might find it served with a dollop of jam or fruit preserves. In this recipe I went with a combination of both European (rice pudding + cooked fruit) and middle eastern by including the flavors of roses in the plums.

Roasted Plums Roasted Plums2

To prepare the plums I used an idea from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book River Cottage Everyday and baked the fruit with a mixture of sugar, a couple of vanilla beans and plenty of dried rosebuds. These fragrant buds are ones I bought from a spice vendor in Beirut and are from the same species of flower that rose water is distilled from. They have an amazing heady perfume that works really well with the ripe plums. I basted the plums with the sugary juices a few times while roasting them until soft and a bit blistered. The plums where used for two preparations. First I made that aforementioned nice sorbet. I used an identical process to the one I used for the citrus blossom sorbet a while back. I used another portion of the plums to make a plum-rose sauce. I made a rose syrup by soaking some more of the buds in hot water and then mixed it with a little sugar to make a syrup. The syrup got blended with roasted plums for the sauce.

Dried Rosebuds

Instead of rice pudding that will just puddle on the plate I wanted something more…geometrical. I had in mind a preparation from Migoya’s Frozen Desserts where rice pudding is prepared traditionally and then set with gelatin in a sheet pan. The pudding then can be sliced into rectangles or squares for serving. Migoya also uses a torch to brown the surface of the cubes right before serving. I managed to make the pudding rectangles perfectly well, but the torching step went a bit wrong and I ended up half melting them!

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I have the rice pudding in place and the nice fruit to go with it. I just needed some texture in the dish. Almonds seemed like a natural for both the plums and the pudding. I decided to make almond tuiles to highlight the nuts’ flavor and bring in some caramel notes to the plate. The idea of having wavy thin cookies also really appealed to me. I made the tuiles using butter, sugar and ground almonds. I baked them in one sheet, spread thin on a Silpat. When they were still warm, I cut them into rectangles and laid those on metal tubes. These then went in the oven again to soften and then cool and set in a wavy shape. They worked out well but in proportion to everything else on the plate they seemed too big.

Almond Tuile Almond Tuile2 Almond Tuile3

To serve the dessert, I laid three squares of the pudding and bruleed (and, in the process, melted) them. I topped these with the sorbet and added some of the sauce. The tuiles stood on their side next to the pudding squares. The flavors really worked well here but again, the plating, those ragged sorbet scoops and the bulky tuiles made this dish less than stellar.

Citrus Blossom, Pistachio, Meyer Lemon

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It’s not often that I get to capture a season, a moment in time or a childhood memory in a dish that I created. This here is one of those though. It might not look like it, but for me, this dessert is pure Lebanese. It captures the beautiful fragrance of citrus blossoms from many a citrus (usually orange) orchard I had the pleasure of playing in or picking fruit from as a kid. What really started and inspired this dessert are the Meyer lemon blossoms from my backyard. The tree is ridiculously prolific and a few weeks ago it was full of very fragrant blossoms and the bees that come with them. Since I’ve made this dish we actually moved (that’s partially why I have not been updating this blog as much as I’d like) from our home of 10 years , the home that both of our boys came to as babies and grew up in. More than just a beautiful and delicious dessert that I am proud of, this now will always be a reminder of that Meyer lemon tree and all the amazing times we had in that house.

Meyer Lemon Blossoms2

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Sorbet was the best choice for the blossoms but I’ve never made that before and was not sure what the best way to capture the flavor would be. I also wanted to make a sorbet with a perfect smooth texture not just a beautiful flavor. After some research using Modernist Cuisine and Migoya’s Frozen Desserts I came up with a recipe that gave me exactly what I wanted. I steeped a couple of large handfuls of the Meyer lemon blossoms in warm not boiling-hot water for about 30 minutes or so. After straining the blossoms out,  the resulting water was intensely fragrant of citrus blossoms and tasted very nice as well. I formulated a nice sorbet recipe (specifically based on Migoya’s “Method #3: Modern Sorbet Method”) using this water, Cara Cara orange juice and a bit of white wine. The actual recipe is at the end of this post.

Citrus Blossom-Cara Cara Sorbet

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I wanted a pistachio component for this dessert. In the Lebanese kitchen a huge number of recipes use pistachios in fillings. They are usually mixed with sugar, orange blossom water and rosewater. So it seemed like a natural for the aesthetic of this dish and for the taste and emotion I was trying to invoke. The Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) I made a while back was delicious and had a great sturdy, but not dry texture. Why not try and make a pistachio version? I used Migoya’s recipe from Elements of Dessert  as a base and prepared the recipe with half almond paste and half pistachio paste. This came out wonderful as well and I am including the recipe at the end of the post. In hindsight, I could probably use up to 3/4 pistachio paste or even 100% pistachio paste. As it is though, it was both a lovely green color and a lot of pistachio flavor.

Pistachio Genoa Bread

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The Genoa bread is very easy to make. However, finding pistachio paste is not as simple as finding the Almond version. Almond paste is readily available in my local grocery store. I could order pistachio paste online, pay a good bit for it and have it delivered. Making my own though is cheaper and more interesting. So, I did a quick search and settled on using this recipe. I used all pistachio and none of the almond meal though. The recipe works great even if the end result is not as perfectly smooth as the store-bought version would be. Below is a picture of both the almond and pistachio pastes and you could clearly see the texture difference. The key to making nut pastes as far as I could tell is to blend the nuts thoroughly in a food processor with a liquid hot syrup (around 115 degrees C). Just blending the nuts alone or with sugar produces a nut butter. Delicious, but not what I was after. So, the only change I made to the recipe is to use a food processor to puree the ground up pistachios while drizzling in the hot syrup. Then I finished it by kneading well. The paste looked great and had a delicious flavor. I still have about half a recipe leftover in my freezer. I might use it to make some Madeleins soon.

Pistachio-Almond Pastes

Pistachio Paste

In the Alinea book there is a recipe for flexible chocolate ganache where a mixture of sugar, cream and a few other ingredients is formed into a ganache that can be twisted like a ribbon of sorts. I wanted to go for the same effect but instead of chocolate, I wanted to use lemon curd. The problem is these types of preparations are finicky and ingredients are not easily substituted for others while maintaining the texture. I was ready to formulate my own recipe based on the Alinea version when a quick internet search lead me to a recipe by Johnny Iuzzini for exactly what I was looking for, a Meyer lemon “flexi-curd”. The preparation eliminates the eggs from the curd and uses a combination of Iota Carageenan, High Acyl Gellan, Agar and Pectin to get the desired flexible texture. The process is straightforward even without the Thermomix that the recipe specifies. I mixed the dry gums mixture into some heavy cream and then melted butter is added while the mixture gets heated to 185F and stirred all the time. Then I added fresh Meyer lemon juice from the backyard tree and the mixture is taken up to 212F before it gets poured into a plastic wrap lined square pan and allowed to set in the fridge. When ready to serve, the “flexi-curd” can be turned out on a cutting board and cut into strips. These are flexible enough to tie into a knot and the flavor is pure rich lemon curd.

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The dish definitely needed some crunch. So, I added both crunch, a contrasting color and a different pistachio flavor by making a pistachio brittle. The recipe for this simple confection is straight from the Alinea cookbook. Sugar is heated till it caramelizes and then chopped roasted pistachios and baking soda are added in. The brittle is then poured on a Silpat to cool. I used a ruler to trace some lines on the partially cooled brittle. This made it easier to cut some of the brittle into even rectangles and the rest I just broke into random irregular pieces.

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I plated the dish in a couple of different ways. I think my favorite was cutting the Genoa bread into neat rectangles and topping with a knot of the lemon curd and topping that with a few shards of the brittle. For garnish I had prepared a jar of candied kumquats (they taste great on their own as well or on top of ice cream or thick yogurt), so I used a few halves of those. They just seemed like a another natural citrus element that goes well with everything else. Other garnishes included more citrus; segments of peeled Cara Cara and blood oranges. I just wish I had the forethought to order some Pectinex enzyme. That would have perfectly peeled those segments and given them an even more elegant shape. I also used some pulverized pistachios and a few fresh Meyer lemon blossoms to finish the dish.

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Citrus Blossom-Meyer Lemon-Pistachio

The Recipes

Meyer Lemon Flexible Curd

Adapted from Johnny Iuzzini

  • 75 gr. Sugar
  • 2.5 gr. Salt
  • 1.5 gr. Iota Carageenan
  • 1.5 gr. High Acyl Gellan
  • 1.5 gr. Agar Agar
  • 4.8 gr. LM Pectin
  • 200 gr. Heavy Cream
  • 50 gr. Butter, melted
  • 150 gr. Meyer lemon juice

Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with plastic wrap or use a flexible silicone pan with no lining. Combine the sugar, salt, Carageenan, Gellan, Agar and Pectin together and mix very well. Start heating the cream in a sauce pot stirring constantly. Slowly pour in the dry ingredients into the cream and keep whisking gently. When all the dry ingredients are incorporated completely, pour in the melted butter. Keep stirring and heat the mixture to 185 F, then slowly pour in the lemon juice. Heat the mixture to 212 F and immediately pour into the lined pan.

Allow the curd to set at room temperature. Once cooled, gently press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd an refrigerate till service time. When ready to serve, flip the curd out on a cutting board and with a very sharp knife (or pizza wheel) cut into shapes or strips.

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Citrus Blossom-Citrus Sorbet

Based on Modern Sorbet Method #3 from Francisco Migoya’s Frozen Desserts

Yield: 1000 gr.

  • Large handful of Citrus blossoms
  • 500 gr. Water (enough to barely cover the blossoms in a narrow container)
  • 222 gr. Sugar
  • 50 gr. Atomized Glucose
  • 3.6 gr. Sorbet Stabilizer
  • 275 gr. Citrus juice (Orange, Madarin, Tangerine,…or a combination)
  • 75 gr. Boiled white wine (Basically boil some white wine for a few minutes to burn off some of the alcohol BEFORE weighing it)

Put the cleaned and picked over (for bugs and such) blossoms in a small narrow bowl or pot. Warm the water to about 110 F and pour it on the blossoms. You want the water to barely cover the blossoms. Cover the bowl and let the water steep for 30 minutes. Stir the blossoms gently halfway through the steeping time. Strain the blossoms out and measure 376 gr of the fragrant water.

Whisk the stabilizer in with the sugar and glucose. In a pot, start heating the juice and white wine till it reaches 104 F. Whisk in the sugar mixture carefully and steadily and keep whisking. Let the mixture come to a 185 F while whisking and hold it there for 2 minutes. Cool the mixture down to about 40 F and stir in the fragrant blossom water. Let the mixture mature in the fridge for at least four hours before churning.

Pistachio Genoa Bread

Adapted from Francisco Migoya’s The Elements of Dessert

Yield: One 8 inch cake

  • 90 gr. Almond Paste
  • 90 gr. Pistachio Paste
  • 116 gr. Eggs
  • 16 gr. Trimoline
  • 1.5 gr. Salt
  • 28 gr. All purpose Flour
  • 51 gr. Butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch square pan with baking spray (Pam for Baking is what I like to use).

Combine the the almond and pistachio pastes in a bowl and mix with a handheld mixer to get a homogenous mixture. Add the eggs a bit at a time and mix well. Add the Trimoline and and salt and mix to incorporate completely. Add the flour and mix slowly until just combined. Add the butter and also mix until just combined.

Put the mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly. Bake until the cake springs back when gently pressed, about 15 minutes. Cool the cake to room temperature and then refrigerate. It cuts much cleaner once cold.

French Laundry: ‘Coffee and Donuts’

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Yeah, foam is a crazy new fad. Afterall, no chef was making any food with “foam” ten or 50 years ago. Right? Well, no. Wrong. Foam in cooking, baking and beverages is everywhere. Sometimes it is obvious like a nice froth on a cappuccino. Other times, like in this dessert, it’s a bit less recognizable. This dessert (part 2 of my French Laundry meal) is composed of several foams. Five types to be precise. As the name suggest and the picture shows this is a sort of coffee with a nice froth on it served alongside some perfect donuts. This is a classic French Laundry dessert that is much more than it seems.


The coffee part is actually a coffee semifreddo topped with steamed frothy milk to give it a traditional cappuccino look. Semifreddo literally means semi-frozen or half frozen and it is a very traditional Italian dessert made by mixing three foams. A custard foam made from egg yolks, sugar and flavored with instant espresso powder is mixed with stiff-whipped sweetened cream and a simple meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar). The three are gently folded together and portioned out into small coffee cups and then frozen. The frozen product has a wonderful smooth rich texture similar to frozen mousse. It is allowed to warm up for a few minutes and then it is topped with hot frothy milk. The effect is both lovely to look at and just delicious with the fantastic juxtaposition of hot and cold.


Bread and cakes are filled with air bubbles. They are also a type of foam that we bake, steam or fry to trap those air bubbles. As the air in those bubbles heats up it expands  producing airy products that are at the same time light and sturdy. These donuts belong to the category of yeast-risen doughs as opposed to cake donuts which are a quick bread leavened chemically with baking soda and baking powder. Chef Keller’s donuts are rich and almost like a brioche dough. they are made with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. After I made the dough I put it in the fridge to allow it to rise slowly and develop flavor. A couple of hours before frying, I rolled the dough and cut it into 2-inch rounds and then used a much smaller round cutter and punched holes in those rounds to get both donuts and donut holes.

Coffee and Donuts-Horz

When ready to serve, I fried the donuts and holes. It’s really neat seeing them go in the oil then bob up when they puff with the heat. While they are still hot, I rolled them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and plated a donut and a donut hole alongside the “coffee”. The combination, just like the braised pork cheek dish that preceded it, is comforting, familiar and refined. The semifreddo gets soft enough to even dunk the donuts in it. I highly recommend you do that if you decide to try making this. The recipe makes a good bit of donuts and that’s a good thing because one is not enough.

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Pear, Caramelized Genoa Bread, Chocolate Veil

Pear-Genoa Bread-Chocolate Veil

Francisco Migoya from the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA) is a superb pastry chef and judging from his books, an excellent teacher. He has 3 books and I got a hold of two of them so far, Elements of Desserts and Frozen Desserts. While I have many high end, modern and professional cookbooks, until I got Migoya’s books, I really did not have any pastry and dessert books that target the professional cook. If you want to go beyond desserts tailored for the home cook and learn the way modern pastry chefs compose and create desserts, these are the books for you. They are geared towards the professional chefs and deal with everything from the basics of desserts, the professional tools of the trades, running a pastry kitchen and of course many beautiful modern desserts. I love reading through those books, looking at all the gorgeous pictures and learn a few things about the creative process, especially for plated desserts like this one here.

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The flavors are not strange or foreign , just a few primary flavors that work very well together and a modern unique plating. Migoya instructs that no more than three primary flavors should be included in a dessert or else the palate would be overwhelmed. This plate combined pear in the form of ice cream and poached fruit, almond Genoa bread accented with caramel and chocolate in the form of a cool “veil”.

This was my first time trying Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) even though I’ve read about it from many sources. It is a cake of sorts made with a lot of almond paste that gives it a wonderful flavor and a dense almost fudgy texture. This makes it ideal as a refined “cake” or building block for plated desserts. It can be flavored with anything from pistachio to black sesame or chocolate. This particular one is flavored with almond praline. I made the praline by cooking almonds with caramelized sugar and pulverizing the mixture. After baking the cake in a sheet pan I cut it into rectangles. Right before serving the bread gets a nice layer of caramel. The process sounds easy but is a bit tricky. It involves melting sugar till it is a dark amber caramel and then rolling the bread rectangles in it to get a thin coating of caramel on all sides. Well, rolling pieces of cake in a liquid lava is no easy feat. I managed to do it but the caramel was a bit thicker than it should be. Still it was a delicious crunchy counterpoint to the sweet soft cake it enveloped.

Almond Genoa Bread

The recipe also includes a pear ice cream (in my book almost any dessert recipe should include a frozen concoction of some sort!). It’s a straightforward ice cream made using pear puree, cream, yolks,…I had no pear puree and decided to make my own. I just cooked some peeled Bosc pears sous vide with about 10% of their weight sugar until fully tender. Then I pureed them, weighed what I needed and froze the rest for another batch later on. The other pear element is caramel-poached Seckel pears. These are those cute small pears about the size of a large chicken egg. To caramel-poach them I made a caramel using sugar and pear cider. I peeled and cored the small pears then cooked them in the caramel until soft and took on a lovely deep color. These were cut into quarters and reserved until serving time.

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Chocolate Veil

It’s really fascinating to me how a final small touch could elevate a dessert of poached fruit, cake and ice cream. I’m referring to what Migoya calls a “veil” here made of chocolate. He uses this techniques in a few recipes in the book incorporating a variety of flavors. It’s basically a solid sauce that covers the dessert components and adds it’s own texture and taste. To make the veil a cocoa nib stock (cocoa nibs steeped in hot water) is mixed with cocoa powder, sugar and low-acyl gellan gum (a gelling agent). This is then poured in a sheet pan until set and then cut into large squares that get draped over the plated components. I was really worried about this step and figured it might get to be very tricky but overall it was pretty straightforward and worked well. The cut chocolate veil squares keep very well for a few days between squares of acetate in a tightly closed container in the fridge.

Pear Ice Cream-Genoa Bread

To plate, I put a pile of crumbled caramelized genoa bread and almonds next to a piece of the cake and used that as an anchor for the ice cream. The whole thing gets covered in a chocolate veil and topped with a piece of the fruit. A small cut with a paring knife on the veil reveals the ice cream underneath it. The finished plate is as delicious as it is beautiful. It has a perfect combination of textures and flavors from the bitter to the nutty and sweet.

Pear-Genoa Bread-Chocolate Veil3

Bouchon Bakery: Pain de Campagne

pain de campagneIt’s been a couple of years or so since I posted a gratuitous bread post and picture on my little corner of the web. This particular one is just so beautiful that I had to post it up here and use it as a desktop wallpaper as well. This also gives me the opportunity to praise this inspiring and freaking gorgeous book from the Keller/Ruhlman team, Bouchon Bakery. The credit here also goes to the pastry chef and master baker for Bouchon Bakery, Sebastien Rouxel and Matt McDonald respectively. reading through it I literally want to make and consume every cookie, tart, cake, pastry, confection and bread recipe! It’s one of those inspiring books that makes one want to jump in and start baking. That should be no surprise though since the previous installments in this series were all fantastic from the classic The French Laundry Cookbook to the approachable Ad Hoc at Home. I know I will be making puff pastry soon and certainly trying out Bouchon’s croissant recipe to see how it stacks up to my latest favorite.

pain de campagne2

This first recipe I tried is this simple Pain de Campagne (country bread). It’s made with levain (liquid sourdough starter), all purpose flour, rye flour and whole wheat flour. Master baker McDonald instructs us to mix in the mixer on low for 20 minutes, longer than I’ve ever mixed a dough I think and then allow for a long 4 hour or so rise with periodic folds of the dough. I deviated from the recipe in the manner of baking though. I baked the loaf, like most loaves I prepare now, in a Le Creuset pot as opposed to on a baking stone. Really, if the loaf fits in my oval pot I bake it in there. It traps the moisture and gives the loaf a brilliant crust that is glossy, crackly and has just the right thickness.

French Laundry: Chocolate Cakes and Gelato with Toasted Hazelnuts and Syrup

I love it when a book never disappoints, whether I am doing a complete verbatim recipe or in this case using it for a template and making parts of a recipe. The book I am talking about is of course the French Laundry Cookbook. This lovely plate of confections is based on the recipe for Chocolate Cakes with Red Beet Ice Cream and Toasted Walnut Sauce from Keller’s book. Like most of my desserts this actually started off with ice cream or gelato. One of my absolute favorite things both to make and eat, ice cream comes first most of the time and then the rest of the dessert follows…or not. Afterall, a bowl of homemade ice cream and a good movie is just perfect sometimes. This was for a nice dinner party though for a few good friends so I wanted to make something elegant.

I prepared two gelato recipes, a salted caramel one and a caramelized cocoa nib one. The first is straight out of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. The second one uses Jeni’s ice cream base where I steeped a bunch of Theo’s cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are basically small pieces of the shell of the cocoa pod. They taste of slightly bitter and intense cocoa with a bit of an edge. During churning I mixed in some more of the same nibs but these ones were caramelized giving them a great bitter-sweet taste and very crunchy texture. Making caramelized cocoa nibs is no different than making caramelized almonds or peanuts. You start of with the nibs and sugar in a pot and you keep stirring and heating until the sugar melts and caramelized around the nibs.

The cake in this recipe is a flourless chocolate cake where most of the structure and the leavening comes from whipped egg whites. All the flavor is from the dark chocolate and cocoa in the mix. I baked the individual cakes until set but still a bit soft. These are delicious cakes that can be used in many recipes where a nice elegant cake is required that is both light and satisfying.

The French Laundry recipe makes a couple of components based on walnuts. Instead of walnuts I went with hazelnuts. First I toasted the nuts, then I candied them. To candy the roasted nuts, I simmered them in a mixture of sugar and white wine. The nuts are then sprinkled with salt and allowed to dry while the cooking liquid is reduced until we have a hazelnut syrup ready for serving.

To serve I plated a cake on a small puddle of the syrup and topped it with two candied hazelnuts. A scoop of gelato goes between the two hazelnuts (some plates got salted caramel there, others the cocoa nib). On the side goes another scoop of gelato on top of caramelized nibs. The whole thing then gets drizzled with a bit more of the hazelnut syrup. This was a big hit and rightly so. It’s complex, beautiful and delicious.

Oh, here is what preceded the dessert too; beef tenderloin in red wine sauce, kale and rich potato puree