Just Bread

This is basically a gratuitous picture post. I bake bread a couple of times a week and it is normally excellent, but every so often it is something spectacular. This is especially true when I bake a sublime batch of sourdough from my own starter. It’s also pretty cool that the starter is older than my kids.

Cherry Pit Ice Cream (Noyaux)

I’ve made a lot of ice cream and this one is one of the most memorable and delicious. It’s flavor is very much close to Amaretto but much better. Cherry pits are what is supposedly used to make almond extract and is used to flavor marzipan. It’s nutty and has a complex bitter edge that I love. Cherry pits are supposedly toxic and could be harmful if  consumed in huge quantities. There are a few discussions on the subject at eggbeater’s blog where I got the recipe . Toxic or not, cherry pits make a wonderful frozen treat that is highly addictive. It’s not just the taste, but even the texture of the ice cream is very nice, smooth and a touch elastic. To make the ice cream I collected cherry pits in the freezer for a good while until I had enough. Turns out I needed about 15 pounds of cherries to get 1.5 cups of pits!

To serve it, other than eating it on it’s own, it makes sense to serve it with stone fruit like cherries of course. I made a batch of David Lebovitz’s  Cherries in Red Wine Syrup and used them with plenty of their flavorful syrup and almonds as a topping for the Noyaux (pronounced Nwhy-O).

 

Another seasonal fruit, peach, goes in the other dessert. This one is a simple peach crisp. The streusel topping is loaded with almonds to make it even more cherry pit friendly. I used a few of the wine poached cherries to garnish the dessert.

 

A Cake for Mom: Strawberry Ricotta Cake

The decision was made a while back by my 6-year-old that the cake for Mother’s Day will have lots of strawberries. So that was that. Diana had to choose if she wanted it chocolate mousse based or “something white and lighter”. She went for the latter choice. This delicious cake is a perfect spring time cake and a very good showcase for ripe strawberries. The recipe is from “The Pastry Queen” the book by Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas. That’s about an hour from Austin, in the Texas hill country. Her Tuxedo Cake, Mahogany Cake, Orange Muffins and Chocolate Chip Scones are all-time  favorites in my house. 

The base here is an angel food cake (egg whites+sugar+flour and NO fat) that incorporates orange and lemon zest and lemon juice in the mix for a good kick of flavor. I’ve baked this by itself before to eat with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of coffee. The cake is sliced horizontally and built in a plastic-lined bowl with a filling of sweetened ricotta flavored with vanilla. I let it sit in the fridge overnight to give it a chance to “meld”, the cake gets a bit softer as it absorbs a little of the ricotta’s water and the whole thing holds together very well in a dome shape.

To finish the cake, I flipped it out of the bowl and frosted it with sweetened whipped cream. To make sure any whipped cream frosting stays put on a cake, especially if the cake is not going to be served right away, I always add a little bit of gelatin (about 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups). It’s enough to make sure the frosting is stable but certainly not high enough to be noticable or to make the frosting rubbery. The last step is to cover the cake with rows of sliced ripe strawberries to resemble shingles on a roof. I served it with a bittersweet chocolate sauce. The cake was fantastic and mom was pleased.

Quiche Florentine

I’ve posted in length about quiche, specifically about the fantastic Bouchon quiche from Thomas Keller. So this is a bit of a gratuitous post, but what the heck, it’s my blog and I love it everytime this quiche turns out so well. besides, these pictures are way better than those from the older post. This one is a classic Florentine…mostly. I figured adding some smoked ham to the filling will not hurt. I also threw in some aged cheddar I needed to use in addition to the traditional Gruyère.

French Laundry: “Banana Split” – Poached Banana Ice Cream, White Chocolate-Banana Crepes and Chocolate Sauce

A classic flavor presented in a very untraditional and delicious way, classic Thomas Keller. Here we have sweet crepes, filled with a mixture of white chocolate and poached pureed bananas. I poached the bananas in a mixture of cream and milk until soft. The poaching liquid is then used to make a custard base for a vanilla bean ice cream that has a good banana flavor.

For the crepes, I filled them and formed them into cylinders with plastic wrap and then froze them till service time. They are then sliced and allowed to warm up a bit. I could be wrong but the goal here is to get a texture not unlike that of a ripe banana. By mixing the melted white chocolate with the banana puree and allow it to freeze and thaw, we get exactly that. A texture and taste that is familiar but at the same time not quiet so.

Garnishes, again, are very traditional. We have -or supposed to have- Maraschino cherries, sweetened whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Real Maraschino cherries are very different than that bright red crappy things you get in your frozen daiquiri. They are cherries soaked/candied in a Maraschino liquor such as the fantastic Luxardo. If we are going to be real traditional, the cherries are also supposed to be Marasca cherries. You can buy these delicious Maraschino cherries in gourmet shops or online, but they are not easy to find in your typical grocery store. Bottom line is: I had none, had no time to shop for them, so I made something to sub for them. What I did is bring sugar, brandy and port to a boil and turned off the heat. Then used that mixture to plump-up a bunch of dried Bing cherries. The result is not the same as the real deal, but still delicious and 100 times better than the fake orbs that garnish Shirley Temples everywhere.

Super bowl XLIV: Gumbo and Sweet Potato Pie

I was pretty happy that the Saints made it to the Super Bowl this year, but I honestly did not think they would actually win! That was a fantastic game. Either way I knew I’d be making some good food to match the Saint’s home state. The main course was gumbo. This one is shrimp, sausage and chicken. I used a recipe from “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of  New Orleans” for the gumbo and changed it up a bit. I used a bit less oil and added half a pound of okra in there. For the roux I used Alton Brown’s method of making it in the oven. Sure it takes more time but is very convenient and almost guarantees a perfect, dark but not burned roux.

For dessert I wanted to make a sweet potato pie, also based on a recipe from the same book. I made the dough with the standard 3-2-1 pastry dough recipe, the perfect ratio of flour-butter-water for a flaky and delicious pie dough. The filling recipe only made enough to fill half the pie, so I quickly decided that the sweet potato pie is now a sweet potato-pecan pie. Good and very tasty decision that was.

Gingerbread, Pumpkin and Walnut-Pear-Bourbon Ice Cream

Just like the venison dish I posted about earlier, this dessert happened because of Diana. More specifically, it was because of her dislike of gingerbread cookies. Earlier in December I had made some gingerbread cookie dough in hopes of making gingerbread men with my son, however Diana was sure that he will not like those spicy cookies and that I should’ve made sugar cookies instead. So, into the freezer the dough went. I certainly did not want to throw it out but I figured that most of it will go to waste if I simply bake gingerbread cookies. Diana did say that she would not mind a dessert that would use gingerbread cookies. Pumpkin pie or tart was the first idea that came to mind using the dough for the crust. That was the theme, with a few more “twists”, that brought this dessert together and this is a dessert I am very proud of, it was delicious and looked stunning.

My original plan for plating this, and the one I actually sketched, involved making “cannoli” shells from the gingerbread dough and filling that with the pumpkin mousse. I did doubt that this would work though, considering the high percentage of butter in the dough, and I was right. They simply fell apart when fried and got bent out of shape when baked. So, I just cut the thin dough into squares, baked them and broke some of them in half to get smaller rectangles.

For the ice cream, I cooked pears sous vide with butter, vanilla seeds and a little sugar. That, by the way, made the most amazing poached pear slices. I had to keep myself from eating them all. I pureed the pears with ice cream base made from  walnut flavored cream/milk (toast walnuts, and steep them in the dairy mixture for 24 hours, then strain them out), eggs, sugar and bourbon. This is also another recipe I was very happy with and will make again. All the flavors worked great together and were distinct.

I candied a few butternut squash rings and reduced the now squash (plus clove and cinnamon) flavored candying liquid into a thick syrup to serve as a sauce for the finished dessert. The pumpkin mousse is basically pumpkin pie filling. So, I roasted a a small pumpkin (or that might’ve been a butternut squash as well) and pureed the flesh. Then I followed a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Kitchen to Yours” and made a pumpkin pie filling with eggs, cream, sugar and a little spice. I baked this in a brownie pan till set, then pureed it to a smooth mousse when it cooled.

For garnishes, I used more walnut. I caramelized roasted walnuts and salted them lightly and made dry walnut butter. To make the butter I followed a similar process to making my regular peanut butter. I processed roasted walnuts, a pinch of salt and sugar and a couple of table spoons walnut oil until I got a fairly smooth and spreadable walnut butter. To dry it up, I processed it with Tapioca Maltodextrin unitl it got dry and crumbly. At plating time, I broke it into irregular shapes, almost like rocks and sand, and scattered it around the plate.

Here is a slightly different plating I served the day after