Plum Tart with an Almond Crumble

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Summer is winding down supposedly, even though it is still close to 100 F out there. I do not much like summer in Houston. It’s too hot, too humid too…sunny. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I look forward to its -hopefully- lower temperatures and cooking. Summer does have some things going for it though, like the awesome fruit and sweet corn.

Fruit is what we are talking about when I bring up one of my all-time favorite desserts; the fruit tart (or pie, or gallette,…). This version, created by David Lebovitz is right up there in the Pantheon of amazing tarts. The original recipe, from his book My Paris Kitchen (great book by the way, buy yourself a copy), can also be found on Leite’s Culinaria. The original uses apricots and it is fantastic. The crumble works so well with the tart juicy fruit to add much needed texture and also helps support the fruit and all its juices. It also looks great giving the tart a rustic elegance that is a bit American and a bit French.

Plum

I love the original apricot version but when I wanted to make this recently, no apricots could be found. So, I picked up some really delicious juicy pink plums instead (Plumcots or Pluots specifically). That is really all you need, some delicious fruit and this tart can be made with them.

The dough is pretty classic pate sucrè made with flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and mahlab. Well, wait a minute. What the hell is mahlab?? That is not traditional French. It is my addition to this dough and to many other things to give them a unique flavor and fragrance. Mahlab is the ground up seed of a specific cherry and is used in tons of Middle Eastern and Turkish pastries and breads. I buy the stuff whole because it keeps better from a local Lebanese grocery and grind it with sugar before adding to the dough. About a half teaspoon went into this dough. You can read a bit more about it here. Since it is made from a stone fruit I like to include it in some breads and desserts that have stone fruits, but really it works in all kinds of stuff. Try it as an alternative to nutmeg in some things and it will give your dish an exotic can’t-quiet-put-my-finger-on-it flavor.

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Mahlab

When the dough is cooled, I pat it down into a spring-form pan. No rolling or anything, just evenly pat it into the pan with the sides of the dough about halfway up the side of the pan. I have tried rolling it and laying it in there. That works too but I’ve come around to using the hand patting method more. I like the process and speed by which I can get it done. It does not have to be perfect, just as even as possible and the sides close to 2 inches tall or so. This gets blind baked with a piece of aluminum and a bunch of beans for weight and then it is ready to fill and bake.

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This filling is fruit, starch, sugar and some vanilla and almond extracts. After the filling goes in the blind baked shell, it gets topped with a generous helping of crumble made from butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The pie bakes for a good 45 minutes or so and the edges of the crust get a lovely dark color. It seems too dark almost but it is not, it tastes great and the texture is excellent.

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After it cools a bit, it is ready to go. It is delicious with ice cream or whipped cream of course but it is also delicious on its own at room temperature. The only downside to this lovely dessert are those juicy fruits. It does not keep very well. So, try and polish it off with some friends with in 12 – 24 hours of baking which really should not be much of a problem.

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Ivan Ramen: Toasted Rye Noodles

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Noodles are just awesome. Italian spaghetti, Vietnamese bowl of Pho, a bowl of spicy Thai curried noodles…they are all awesome. A bowl of Japanese ramen is right up there in the culinary Pantheon of noodles. I’ve had a lot of the stuff and I’ve cooked it at home a few times. I have never made the ramen noodles from scratch though. I’ve always bought them.  This time I made the labor intensive and long recipe from Ivan Ramen, the book by Ivan Orkin (well, I did have to make a few concessions when some ingredients where pretty much impossible to find). The noodles are a major component of course and I decided to make them at home this time around.

Ivan uses an interesting and non-traditional mix of flours to make the noodles including rye and some cake flour. Rye is there for flavor and the cake flour for a more supple and tender texture. Before adding the rye I toasted it for about 4 minutes to add an extra layer of flavor. The traditional ramen noodle texture is kind of firm, springy and slippery. It also has a yellow tint (NOT from food coloring). We get that by adding a substance to tilt the mix to be more alkaline. Traditionally a product called Kansui is used. According to this site it’s a mixture of Sodium and Potassium Carbonate.

Toasted Rye Noodles

I did not use Kansui. Years ago, Harold McGee published an article in the NY Times about baking some baking soda to make it perform the same job as Kansui. From the article some cool scienc-y talk (I love Mr. McGee and everyone should have his book On Food and Cooking)

“Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which already includes one proton and so has a limited ability to take up more. But if you heat baking soda, its molecules react with one another to give off water and carbon dioxide and form solid sodium carbonate, which is proton-free.”

 In his book, Ivan also recommends using this technique. So, I baked some baking soda and added that to the mix.

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The rest was pretty easy. The flours and liquid plus baked baking soda are mixed for a good bit, about 10 minutes, in the Kitchenaid mixer. Then the dough is allowed to rest and hydrate and soften for 30 minutes. I was concerned that the cake flour will make the noodles too difficult to handle. Indeed, I needed to pass the dough a few more times through the pasta machine’s thickest setting than normal. In the end it came together well and made nice, rye-speckled, alkaline-smelling (in a good way) sheets.

I cut them on the thinnest setting and spread them in a baking pan after tossing them well with corn starch. After our first dinner a few hours later, I stored the remaining noodles in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, to see how they keep. Again, worked out pretty well. We ate ramen for a few days to follow and the noodles did not stick or turn too brittle. The noodles are delicious. They are slippery but maintained a nice toothsome texture and had a lovely flavor that stood out to all the savory richness of a bowl of ramen. I will be making them again but I might try the Momofuku version next to see how they compare.

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Manresa: Assorted Potatoes, Curds and Whey, Norinade

Potatoes-Curds-Norinade4The Manresa cookbook from the three- star restaurant of the same name in California is a beautiful, inspiring and thoughtfully written book. I read it cover to cover and frequently flip through it to read various parts every so often. Chef David Kinch got my attention when he was featured on a season of The Mind of A Chef on PBS especially the episode about how he builds a menu. It’s fascinating stuff to me. I had not cooked anything from the book until now though.

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It immediately captured my attention when I saw the picture and read the name. Norinade? What the hell is that. This is basically a dish of potatoes and cheese, but Norinade just had a nice ring to it. It’s a play on the traditional tapenade, the Provencal dip made of mashed up olives, capers and anchovies. Instead of olives though, chef Kinch makes it with seaweed, specifically nori sheets like the ones used in sushi rolls. It is deep black in color, looks like tapenade but tastes very different with brightness and sea flavor. It perfectly accentuates the freshly made curds and dense potatoes.

To make it I simmered shallots, garlic and onions in plenty of olive oil before adding minced toasted nori sheets and allowed the mixture to cool and infuse. I drained the solids and minced them very well to a chunky paste before loosening with the reserved oil and seasoning with soy sauce and Champagne vinegar. The idea is to get a sharp and pungent mixture so that only a few drizzles are enough to add a kick of umami flavor.

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Potatoes-Norinade

The potatoes are cooked in two ways. First we have the soft ones. I used a mixture of colors of small specimens. These are simmered in salted water with aromatics (garlic, thyme, rosemary…) until tender. I then peeled them and tossed in a little oil. The other batch is cooked in very little water but plenty of salt in a pressure cooker for only a few minutes. This makes them very soft, seasons them and does not allow them to absorb a lot of water. I then tore them to rough 1-inch pieces and let them dry on a plate in the fridge uncovered. When ready to serve the potato chunks are fried in oil to get lovely crispy nuggets.

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It is so easy to make a simple fresh cheese at home that I always wonder why I do not make more of it. Just mix in some whole milk and a little cream along with a tablet of rennet (or liquid rennet drops) and gently warm to about 180 F or so. Do not boil it or the enzyme will deactivate and not work properly. When the curds form a solid mass, let the mixture sit for another hour, then strain into a cheesecloth. The longer it sits in the cheesecloth to drain the drier it gets. This one sat for about 20 hours and was the texture of firm ricotta. I also reserved the whey that was produced since it is effectively the sauce for the dish. Whey is a great medium to cook in as well, like braising some pork in it for example.

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The whey goes in a small pan with lemon juice and some salt. Using my stick blender I frothed it up very nicely as it warmed up and added in a couple of tablespoons of butter. For the larger sized potatoes I cut them in half and the others remained whole. These got warmed up gently in the microwave and were the first items to go on the plates. I divided up the crispy potatoes next and 5 or 6 nuggets of cheese in each bowl. Then I sauced with some of the Norinade and the frothed whey mixture. A final garnish of thyme leaves finished the dish up.

Whey Foam

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Citrus-Cured Salmon, Parsley-Chive Coulis

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Seafood gently poached in fat is a great way to cook. Lobster poached in butter and tuna in olive oil are both such examples. The fat slowly cooks the meat and is kept at a relatively low temperature, about 44 C to 52 C (110 to 125 F) depending how you like it cooked, leaving the seafood juicy and reducing the risk of overcooking. On top of that the fish usually looks great and has a good flavor from the fat without coming out oily or greasy. What’s not to love!

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In this recipe, adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook I started with a nice piece of fresh salmon and removed the skin. I employed my 14 year old to grate the zest of lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit. The zests get mixed with salt, sugar and pepper and sprinkled all over the fish. This is basically the first step to making gravlax or smoked salmon. In this case though the fish only marinates for about an hour while we prepare the rest of the dinner.

Citrus Cure

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Making citrus confit is pretty simple. It’s not cooked in fat like what a duck confit would be. In this case it is referring to cooking the orange segments in a sugary syrup. In the good old days fruits would be cooked in a whole lot of sugar to confit them and preserve them. Here, the syrup is relatively on the light side made with sugar, water and white wine vinegar. While the syrup cooks to a simmer I supremed a couple of oranges. This means cutting a citrus fruit into segments with none of the white pith. This has some good instructions on how to do that and of course you can find a bunch of YouTube videos about the process. I poured the hot syrup over the orange segments and let them marinate and infuse.

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Chef Keller uses a pea shoot puree to go with this dish (and a scoop of caviar, but I guess…I was fresh out of that this week). This was a regular weekday dinner for the family and I did not go shopping for pea shoots. I did like the idea of a green sauce with the citrus salmon though. So, I blanched a bunch of parsley and chives in salted boiling water and cooled them quickly in ice water. I blended until smooth with a bit of water . I really should’ve passed the green coulis through a sieve at this point like the recipe recommends but I skipped that and my end result was less smooth than it should be. Right before serving I warmed the sauce in a small pot, whisked in a few knobs of butter and seasoned it.

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I rinsed the fish fillet before cooking it and cut off the thin edges and tail end. These pieces became a nice little treat in the form of salmon tartar. I cut them up and mixed them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, chives and pepper. I snacked on the tartar on top of toasted sourdough with a spoon of creme fraiche.

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To cook the fish, I cut it into even portions and bagged it with a good dose of olive oil. I dropped it in water set to 51C for 20 minutes. That was it. To plate I arranged a few orange confit segments and topped with a piece of salmon then drizzle (or smeared) green parsley coulis around it. It’s a wonderful way to cook salmon and a good basic preparation to keep in mind. Below is the recipe for salmon.

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Citrus Marinated Salmon Poached in Olive Oil

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook

  • Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
  • Zest of 1/4 grapefruit, finely grated
  • 75 gr kosher salt, about 1/4 cup Morton’s Kosher salt
  • 20 gr Sugar, about 1 Tbsp
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • A large Salmon fillet, about 1.5 – 2 lbs
  • 1/3 Cup olive oil, or enough to cover fillet if not using sous vide equipment

Mix the citrus zests, salt, sugar and pepper together. Sprinkle all over the salmon and cover with plastic wrap. Let the fish marinate in the fridge for at least one hour but no more than 3.

When ready to cook, heat a water container to anywhere from 45 to 52 C using an immersion circulator (I use the Anova precision cooker) depending how you like the fish. The higher end will give a fish that is obviously cooked but very juice and tender. On the lower spectrum the fish is semi-cooked and closer to raw. Both are great but different. Divide the fish into portions and seal in freezer Ziploc bags with the olive oil. I used two bags for this amount of fish with 2 or 3 portions in each. Drop the bags in the water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the fish, pat dry gently and serve.

Cooking in olive oil option: This will need a good bit more oil but if you do not want to use sous vide this is the traditional option. Warm olive oil in a pot to the desired temperature (again, no more than 52 C or so). You need enough oil to cover the fish. Gently slide the fish in the oil and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove the fish, pat dry gently and serve.

Pierre Herme’s Awesome Rich Chocolate Cake

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Pierre Hermè makes desserts with flavors that really pop. If it is a fruit dessert then it sure tastes like that fruit. If it’s a rose litchi macaron then it is the essence of the flower and the tropical fruit.  His book on chocolate desserts with Dorie Greenspan is a classic and I’ve been cooking from it for years. This one is pure chocolate, deep rich cocoa flavored moist cake for real chocolate lovers.

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The original recipe is for what is called a Pavè. This literally means a paving stone or large brick. It refers to the shape of the smallish cakes. Instead of making two cakes I went with one round cake. It’s more convenient and less labor intensive and it was to be taken to a friend’s house for a dinner. So it made more sense and it worked out great.

The cake layers are made with whipped egg whites, egg yolks, all purpose flour, cocoa powder and potato starch. The potato starch is not essential but it is that extra layer of precision I mention with Hermes recipes. It has no gluten and no real flavor. So it helps make the cocoa flavor pop and contributes to a lighter more tender cakes. I think it also helps the cakes suck up more of the caramel syrup.

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Seems odd to have caramel syrup in the cake. Wha??? Well, again, it’s a building block. The cake does not taste of caramel. The sugar in the syrup is cooked to almost burnt and then loosened with water and enriched with a bit of butter. When brushed over the cakes and allowed to soak they add bitterness and richness that makes the chocolate more “chocolate-y”.

Apricots are not the first fruit that I think would go with chocolate, black pepper though makes sense. Turns out combined together they both work with chocolate. I simmered dried apricots in water for a few minutes then diced them up. Then I tossed them with ground black pepper and lemon juice.

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Last component to make is the rich chocolate ganache. This one is made with a mix of bittersweet and milk chocolates and whipped with a good bit of softened salted butter. Now the cake is ready to assemble.

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I sliced the two round cakes in half to get four layers and brushed them generously with caramel, then a layer of soft ganache. I sprinkled some of the apricots over the frosting topped it with a layer of cake and kept going.

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The frosting is very rich and gets trickier to apply if it warms up. So before frosting the outside I put the cake in the fridge to let the ganache set very well then I spread the remainder on the outside. After another rest in the fridge I used a fork to “decorate” the edges of the cake with some neat striations. One apricot that I saved after poaching got glazed with a touch of syrup and sat on top of the cake. The cake is best served at room temperature when the ganache is at the perfect creamy texture.  So, we let it rest for a bit and dug in.

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The French Laundry: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

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Back to that endless well of inspiration and technique, The French Laundry Cookbook. It’s like a small mini cooking course for every…course. I refine, learn and always end up with an awesome dish or two. This dessert was from a couple months back when pears were at their most abundant. I had some of the fruit and wanted to make some kind of pastry with them. A quick search against my cookbook database using -the very useful- Eatyourbooks.com resulted in several recipes using pears in a pastry including this lovely and refined version of a strudel.

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The first component I prepared was the fruit. I cut the neck from the pears and peeled the remaining rounded part. I used two different round cutters to make even cylinders and to hollow them out. These got poached in a syrup of white wine, vanilla, sugar and water. Once cool they went in the fridge until baking time.

Poached Pears

With another large pear I made the crystallized pear chips. Using a mandolin, I sliced it into paper thin slices. I poached these in a syrup of sugar and water, heavy on the sugar, until translucent. I laid them carefully on a Silpat and dried them in a 275 F oven until perfectly crispy. I reserved these in a container with a pack of silica to keep them crispy.

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This is by and large a classic recipe with classic components like the crème anglaise. It is really one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s just egg yolks, sugar, vanilla seeds made into a velvety custard with hot milk. I have made this using my sous vide precision cooker many times but this time i went old school and made it in an old fashioned pot and whisk. It is so delicious that I can eat it by the spoonful.

Chestnuts are not as beloved in the US as they are elsewhere and that’s a shame. They have a rich nutty and sweet flavor with a great buttery texture. Here roasted chestnuts get cooked with heavy cream and vanilla for an hour or so. Then they get pureed along with a bit of the pear poaching liquid and strained to make a luscious smooth puree.

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To complete the strudel I brushed 4 layers of filo with clarified butter and sprinkled each with sugar. I stacked them and cut them into strips a bit wider than the pear cylinders. I laid the cylinders on the filo and rolled them up to make neat packages. I baked these at 350 F until golden brown and let them cool slightly before serving.

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I plated the pear strudel and dusted it with a bit of powdered sugar. I poured some dollops of the custard next to it and each got a bit of reduced pear poaching liquid in the center. Then a scoop or thick smear of the chestnut puree went next to the strudel. This is a delicious dessert with contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors. I was a bit skeptical about how the chestnut puree would work with the rest of the dish other than that it has the perfect texture to hold the pear chips. However, it was delicious and added a great almost-savory accent to the dish along with a rich creamy texture.

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Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings with Black Bean Sauce

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Superbowl and wings are perfect party companions. I made wings this Superbowl Sunday but I did not just fry some wings and toss them in hot sauce (as delicious as that is). These are boneless wings stuffed with zippy pork dumpling filling and tossed in a fermented black bean sauce. Boneless chicken “wings” have been a  popular item at various fats food restaurants in the U.S. over the past few years. The problem is they are not wings! They are just boneless chicken chunks, fried and tossed with the same sauce as regular wings. I know my kids love them and could not care one bit when i complain that “These.Are.NOT.Wings!” Ah, the power of marketing.

Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings-Marinade

I had been thinking of making true boneless wings for a while but only got the motivation i needed when I saw this recipe in the modern Chinese book, A. Wong The Cookbook by Andrew Wong. The combination just sounded delicious. As expected, getting those two pesky bones out of the wing is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but after a couple of them the rest get a bit easier.

I briefly marinated the wings in a mixture of maltose, sugar, rice wine and vinegar. The marinade is poured hot over the wings to tighten them. They are then removed, dried and set on a rack in the fridge uncovered. This will thoroughly dry the skin and aid in crisping them in the hot oil.

Chicken Wings-Stuffing

Stuffed Chicken Wings

Removing the bones from the wings will obviously make them lose their structure and they will be…well..floppy. So, stuffing them becomes obvious. It adds a ton of flavor, additional texture and helps them retain their shape. The filling is a classic dumpling filling made from ground pork, ginger, potato starch, chives, soy and sesame oil. I used a small piping bag to fill the boneless wings.

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce

In the meantime I prepared the sauce from sauteed red peppers, fermented black soy beans, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice wine and chicken stock. I reduced the mixture by half and adjusted the seasoning. To serve, I fried the wings in plenty of oil till crispy and the filling is cooked through (I used a thermometer to make sure of that). We made a meal of these delicious, crispy juice delicacies with a bit of steamed rice and topped them with plenty of the sauce.

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