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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the second installment of the Plums/Pistachio pairing and this one has a much better gelato. This one is an easier plate to pull together and delivers excellent flavor and texture. We have a fragrant Italian olive oil rosemary cake, excellent pistachio gelato, plums poached in a juniper syrup and a yogurt vanilla sauce. I took all the pictures using natural light for this post too and..well…I think I can use some improvement (and maybe a new camera!).
I prepared the gelato following my usual method based on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream template. Jeni Bauer’s formula of milk, cream tapioca (or corn) starch, sugar and corn syrup rarely fails and is very simple to make. I allowed pistachios to infuse the cream mixture and then blended it all together. The final gelato had the right flavor and creamy texture I was after.
The cake is a classic Italian pastry. It’s one of those dry (in a good way) cakes that I love. This one is based on a recipe from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook. The cake is made from flour, chopped rosemary, eggs, sugar and a fruity olive oil. It’s a very forgiving and flexible recipe that can be flavored in any number of ways (great with orange/lemon zest and ground almonds). I baked it in a small loaf pan and sliced it into neat rectangles.
The plums I prepared with the previous plum/pistachio post were awesome. Not sure why I wanted to try a different method, but I did. Maybe I wanted to prove that my sous vide method is much better? Anyways, this time I poached the plums in a pot with blueberries and some juniper berries. I figured the juniper flavor would play off nicely against the rosemary in the cake. The flavor was pretty good and the juniper was a nice touch. However, I did not get nearly the nice ruby red color, the barely tender texture or the blueberry flavor that infused the plums that were cooked sous vide.
The dish needed a bit of freshness some sharp notes. So, I made a quick sauce from whole milk yogurt and vanilla sugar. I added a dollop of the sauce in a bowl and topped it with a slice of cake. On that went a few slices of the plums and right next to it a scoop of the gelato. I gently poured some of the poaching syrup to finish off the dish.
Soaking a fruit or a vegetable in pickling lime or Calcium Hydroxide is a theme in the Mugaritz book. Soaking any vegetable in a mixture of water and pickling lime binds the cellulose and makes the fruit firm. The longer it is soaked the harder a shell it forms. The reason pickling lime is sold is -as the name suggest- keep those bread and butter pickles from getting mushy in the pickling liquid. Vegetables soaked in lime can withstand a good bit of cooking while remaining firm and never turning mushy. Chef Aduriz uses it in many recipes from making “calcified” branches of salsify to the traditional candied pumpkin cubes. The flavors here are very familiar. We have tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and herbs but the texture and look are certainly not what your typical tomato salad is like.
I blanched the tomatoes and peeled them first. I then soaked them in a mixture of water and pickling lime for several hours. The lime has a tendency to settle, so I needed to stir it every so often. By the end of the soaking time you could feel how firm and rough the tomatoes are on the outside. Next step is to cook them in a mixture of sugar and water.
After the tomatoes are cooked they get hollowed out from and all the soft pulp is removed. It’s pretty cool to see how the inside is still all soft and pulpy but the entire outside is basically a tomato shell with the texture of a soft-ish apple. It really could be battered and fried at this point and it would not fall apart. We do not fry it though. Instead the tomato shells go in a very low oven to dry for several hours. By the end of the drying time the tomatoes are like giant hollow deep red raisins!
While the tomatoes were dehydrating I worked on the filling and the garlic. The filling is made from large beefsteak tomatoes. The recipe had some slightly vague instructions to roast the tomatoes over fresh coals. I decided to broil them and roast them instead to get some char on them and also get them very soft. When fully cooked I got rid of the seeds and mixed the tomato pulp with olive oil, salt, minced garlic to form a good emulsion.
To go with the tomato salad we have a whole boatload of slow roasted garlic cloves. This is just like it sounds. Gently roast garlic heads wrapped in foil in the oven until soft and deliciously sweet. I peeled them and tossed them with a good amount of olive oil.
To plate, I stuffed the tomato shells with the tomato emulsion mixture and “closed” each one with a reserved tomato stem. a bunch of garlic cloves go on the side along with a few small herbs. I whipped the dressing from olive oil, cider vinegar, white miso and parsley and drizzled it all over the salad. It goes without saying that the flavors are excellent together. The texture was terrific and new. The tomatoes were not like sun-dried tomatoes but had a nice soft chew to them that was very nice. I was worried that the syrup the tomatoes are cooked in would make them too sweet but that was not the case. The flavors were perfectly balanced with mild sweetness, acidity, very deep tomato flavor (from all the roasting, drying and concentrating) and fragrant garlic and herbs.
Historic Heston is chef Heston Blumenthal’s tome to historic British recipes. It is really a gorgeous book, hefty and lushly bound, illustrated and photographed. Chef has been fascinated by old recipes dating as far back as the 14th century that he finds in old British cookery (cookery, love that word for some reason!) books. He then extensively researches them, updates them and most end up on his menu at his restaurant Dinner in London.
Meat Fruit is probably one of the most famous of such dishes. Curious about other recipes with fascinating names? How about Powdered Goose or Sambocade or Taffety Tart? Well, back to the Meat Fruit, a name that Diana hates even if she loved the actual dish. The idea here is to make mandarin that when sliced into appears to be not a fruit at all. It’s an orb of rich chicken liver mousse with a “skin” made of orange. This is the only such recipe that Blumenthal provides for Meat Fruit but he does mention other variations like a sausage mixture made to look like grapes or apples.
It’s a relatively easy process to make the mandarins once the chicken liver parfait is prepared and piped into hemisphere molds. The molds are frozen solid and each two hemispheres are then combined to form a neat sphere. Each sphere is wrapped tight and put back in the freezer waiting for the next step.
To make the “skin” of the mandarin I combined a mixture of mandarin puree, gelatin (a whole lot of gelatin sheets), glucose and a touch of paprika for color. I made my own mandarin puree by cooking several of the quartered fruit (peel and all) Sous Vide until they were soft. I blitzed them in the blender to make a smooth puree. I put the frozen parfait spheres on skewers and used that to dip them into the mandarin jelly two times.
After every dip in the mix the spheres went into the fridge to set for a few minutes. I do think maybe my jelly was a bit thicker than Blumenthal intended. My mandarins’ skin came out a bit thicker than it should be. At this point the chicken liver mandarins need to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the parfait can thaw and soften for service. The final touch, right before serving is to put a small twig into each “fruit” to give it a nice realistic look.
The finished meat fruit look very convincing and just damn cool. These are not just gimmicks though. I’ve already talked about how delicious the chicken liver parfait is and now with the sharp citrusy mandarin skin it is a complete package. I toasted some good bread (sourdough and brioche), rubbed the slices with herb oil and cut into the Meat Fruit. I cannot think of too many appetizers as impressive as this. It’s a dish that has a rich history, it looks stunning, it’s whimsical and simply delicious.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The process to make a Coppa is very easy with the biggest challenge being actually locating a Coppa. The way meat is cut and butchered in the US pretty much ensures that this cut is never left whole. It gets sliced through with the rest of the shoulder-Boston butt of the pig. This means that your best best is to procure a large whole chunk of bone-in pork shoulder and then do the butchering yourself to harvest the Coppa. The last couple of times I’ve done this the pork shoulders from the butcher counter at the Whole Foods store had been perfect. There are several online videos and pictorials showing the location and method of removing the Coppa like this clear video or check out Jason Molinari’s pictures here. It’s a thick cylindrical muscle that is relatively easy to see when you have a whole shoulder piece from the butt end (i:e the end closer to the loin not the end closer to the leg) of the shoulder.
To remove the muscle in one piece just follow the seam, that’s why this style of butchering meat is called seam butchery and trim it a bit to get a semi even shape. I used the process and recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to salt and cure the meat. They recommend the “salt box” method. I put a generous amount of kosher salt in a dish and rolled the meat thoroughly in the salt. Then the meat went into a FoodSaver bag along with thyme, bay, peppercorns and juniper. I vacuum sealed it and let it cure for a couple of days in the fridge. I then removed the meat, rinsed it off and dried it well before rolling it in a bit of spice (fennel and black pepper coarsely ground). Now the waiting starts. I tied the meat and hung it in my little wine cooler (That’s my makeshift curing “chamber”) until it lost 30% of it’s weight. That took exactly two months.
By then it was firm throughout and covered with a thin layer of good powdery white mold. The mold is something I sprayed the meat with when I hung it to dry. It is not strictly required but I like to use it when I have it. It is very similar to the stuff you see on the outside of a Brie cheese. The mold helps keep any undesirable bacteria away (just in case) and helps keep the meat from losing too much humidity.
I could’ve sliced the meat right then, but since controlling the humidity in the wine cooler is a bit tricky the meat had a little bit of surface dryness. Meaning the outside is a bit too hard and would be drier than the interior. To balance the moisture in the meat, I vacuum sealed it and allowed it to sit in the fridge for about 9 days. This helps the humidity to equalize in the meat and softens the surface. Now it was perfectly ready.
How to serve it? That is not a problem. We’ve been enjoying it mostly as is, thinly sliced with good bread and little else. It does go good with a few shards of medium sharp cheese like Manchego. Sometimes I do like something a bit more…composed like these two examples.
Coppa with Warm Potato Salad and Olives
This one is straight from the Zuni Cookbook. Warm potato salad with plenty of olive oil, parsley and olives. It matters a lot that the potato be warm here since just slightly softens the Coppa giving it a lovely texture.
Coppa with a salad of Nectarines, Mozzarella and Tomatoes
The salad of mozzarella, nectarines, tomatoes and basil from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite was the kids favorite salad this summer. It’s just a rif on a Caprese salad of course but the addition of juice nectarines just elevates it. Adding salty savory Coppa was a natural fit here.
This dish has a lot going for it even if the “cream” was not as successful as I would’ve liked. The flavors are spot on perfect and the textures work really well. It is a dish that I’d like to revisit and refine some more. I served this after a dinner of seafood paella to a couple of friends visiting from Florida. I wanted it to be a simple comforting summer dessert with familiar flavors and some refinement.
The blue print here is a buttery cookie base, a Sablè Breton to be more specific, topped with poached peaches and served with airy crème anglaise (custard sauce) and garnished with pistachios. I prepared the sauce using the modern sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine at Home instead of the traditional stove top method. It’s simpler and requires little attention while at the same time pretty much eliminates the room for error that could result in a curdled sauce. To prepare it, a mixture of yolks, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla goes in a Ziploc bag. This is then cooked in 82 ºC water for 45 minutes. I chilled the mixture and whisked it for a few seconds and it is done. In addition to the vanilla I added bourbon to the sauce after chilling. Bourbon and peaches go great together so that made perfect sense. I purposefully did not cook the bourbon to evaporate the alcohol because I wanted to keep all the flavor in as well as a bit of kick.
I wanted the sauce to have some substance and texture on the plate so that it can take on some form instead of just drizzling it on. I added gelatin to the cooled sauce and poured it into an iSi cannister that I charged with N2O. The gelatin is there to give it the needed structure and using the iSi is to aerate and lighten the sauce on the plate. Ultimately I do not think I used enough gelatin in there (that seems to always be the case with me) and the sauce had some structure but not enough to maintain a cleanly defined form on the plate for more than a minute or so. What I really need to do is research a bit more how much of a certain gelling agent is needed to give me a set foam. I have all the resources I need to find this information, I was just lazy here.
For the cookie portion, I used a recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Gordon Ramsay: Three Star Chef book for Sablè Breton. This is a slightly sweet buttery pastry that is used to make tarts and cookie sandwiches. Due to the high butter ratio in the dough the cookies tend to spread if not baked in a ring mold. I wanted them to be nice and round. so I rolled the dough into a thick log and sliced it. Then I gently squashed the dough circles to flatten them between the bases of two small (about 3 in. diameter) tart pans. I baked the cookies in the tart pans and then used a cookie cutter to trim them into neat 2 inch circles while they are warm out of the oven.
The peaches are the easiest part. I quickly blanched them, peeled them and cut them into wedges. These got poached gently in a sugar syrup flavored with vanilla. To plate I dispensed some of the well-chilled custard into a bowl and topped the Sablè Breton with a spoon of it. I added more custard to the plate and topped the dessert with poached peaches and toasted crumbled pistachios. The flavors and textures were fantastic.