Plums and Pistachio: Olive Oil Cake, Pistachio Gelato, Poached Plums, Yogurt

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Plums and Pistachio: Dacquoise, Blueberry Poached Plums, Ice Cream, Chantilly Cream

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This is a very good combination of flavors that I tried out in two separate desserts, both are delicious, both imperfect and need some tweaking. The first one is another lift from Daniel Bouloud that features a disk of crunchy chewy pistachio dacquoise with whipped cream and poached plums with a scoop of pistachio gelato. The original recipe uses cherries instead of plums.

Making a pistachio dacquoise is pretty much the same as the dacquoise for one of our favorite cakes. A mixture of pistachio powder, pistachio paste and sugar is combined with whipped egg whites. This mixture is baked until browned and mostly crispy but not brittle. When done I cut it into roughly 2 inch circles and a few smaller ones for  the ice cream.

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Bouloud actually does not cook the cherries in his recipe. He just marinates them in a hot syrup. That would be fine for cherries but I had other plans for the plums. I cooked them sous vide with blueberry syrup.  The syrup is just blueberries, water and sugar simmered, mashed and strained. I bagged the sliced plums with the purple syrup and cooked it at 82 C for about 30 minutes.

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I liked how this worked out very much. The plums took on the amazing color from the syrup, they cooked perfectly without being mushy and had nice hints of the blueberry. It is obvious from the pictures that the plum took on a much deeper ruby color after cooking. I strained the cooking liquid and reduced it as well to make a simple sauce for the dessert.

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Now where the recipe failed is the pistachio ice cream. Bouloud’s recipe makes for a very thick ice cream base with lots of pureed pistachios. The end result had a good flavor but was closer to frozen pistachio butter than creamy smooth ice cream. To plate it I put a disc of the cookie and layered the poached plums in top. I whipped some cream with cherry liqueur and vanilla sugar then piped a nice rosette on top of the plums. A scoop of the mediocre ice cream goes along the side and a few drizzles of the reduced plum sauce.

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Apple Mille Feuille with Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle

The fourth and final course of our Valentine’s Day dinner is one I am very proud of. It worked so well and was a delight to make, look at and eat that I could not have been happier with how it turned out. Well, like everything, it can be improved upon and perfected some more, but really it was a lovely ending to a delicious meal. It’s a take on the traditional French dessert known as Mille Feuille meaning a thousand sheets, a reference to the many layers of flaky puff pastry. Another name for this type of dessert is a Napoleon.

The inspiration of this recipe is from both Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal. Heston has recipes for a dessert with candied apple and puff pastry in at least two of his books and they look spectacular with layers of caramelized apples, cream, apple confits, ice cream and such. Auldo prepared the version from The Fat Duck Cookbook, simply called Cox’s Apple, on his blog a while ago. More recently I saw a simpler but also very refined version in Daniel Boulud’s  latest book Daniel: My French Cuisine. Boulud’s version is a layer of candied apple confit sandwiched between puff pastry and a layer of whipped calvados cream topped with caramelized puff pastry (aka an arlette).

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The apple confit layer is simple to make following Boulud’s instructions. Thinly sliced apples are layered with raw sugar to almost fill a small loaf pan. This is then covered in foil and baked until the apples are deep mahogany caramel color. The confit is then cooled and frozen to make slicing it easier. This process works very well, but next time around I’d rather put a layer of parchment in the bottom of the pan or at least butter the pan. This would’ve made removing the block of apple confit much easier.

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I was hoping to make my own puff pastry but really got tight on time with the other dishes I needed to prepare. So, I opted to buy some good quality all-butter puff pastry. The key here is to buy the puff pastry made with only butter, not the Pepperidge Farm crap. I cut the pastry into large portions and baked some on a baking sheet weighed down with another baking sheet to control how much the pastry rises. These were then cut into even rectangles and formed the first two layers of the plated dessert. The third (top) layer was the arlette, the caramelized thin puff pastry. I used Blumenthal’s instructions to help with this one. The pastry is rolled thin while constantly being dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Then it is baked with additional weights on top to keep it on the thin side as it cooks and caramelizes.

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The ice cream that went with the mille feuille is my own recipe. I wanted something with a tart flavor and almost a bit savory. I knew it would include homemade buttermilk and was thinking of maybe using some yeasted cream as well similar to what I used with this waffle dessert. That’s what brought waffles to mind, specifically yeast waffles, not the quick baking powder ones. I love a recipe for yeast risen waffles from Shirley Corriher’s classic book CookWise that she aptly labels “Crisp-crusted, feather-light raised waffle”. So I made some of that and as usual I used oat flour for about a quarter of the flour in there and used buttermilk instead of milk. I then allowed the waffles to completely dry and crisp in a warm oven eventually ending up with about 100 gr of waffles, crumbled. I soaked these in a mixture of cream and whole milk overnight and then strained them out. Then I proceeded to make the ice cream using my go to method per Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream book. When the ice cream base was cool I stirred in a 100 gr of buttermilk, allowed the mixture to cool in the fridge and then churned it into the most amazing buttermilk waffle ice cream.

Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

The cream under the top caramelized puff pastry layer is simple sweetened whipped cream flavored with Laird’s apple brandy. That goes on the plate in a few dots first to anchor the first layer of pastry, then goes a rectangle of apple confit, then more pastry, the Laird’s cream and the caramelized pastry. The green-ish sauce around the dessert is just Granny Smith apple juice thickened lightly with Xanthan gum and it gives the dish a nice fresh apple flavor.

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Pear, Caramelized Genoa Bread, Chocolate Veil

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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.

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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

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Rum Ice Cream, Caramel

Sticky Toffee Pudding, a classic British dessert, has quickly become one of our favorite sweet dishes. The first time we tried it was at Feast restaurant in Houston where they make an outstanding version. It’s gooey, rich and sweet with deep mildly bitter toffee flavor. Feast’s version has become our gold standard and none we’ve tried have come close.

The recipe for the cakes is one I had seen in an old Food and Wine issue years ago. For some reason that recipe stuck with me and I finally got around to giving it a try. Basically Sticky Toffee Pudding consists of a cake made with lots of dates then the cake gets soaked in a rich toffee (caramel) sauce. I also like that the recipe from F&W uses no spices in the batter mix that could overpower the flavor of the dates and caramel. Options to how the cake is baked, in what pan and how the toffee is incorporated vary a bit. You could bake the cake in a baking dish and top it with toffee while warm. Another option is to introduce the sauce in the bowls only when serving the warm cake. The pudding can also be baked, un-molded and then somehow dipped in toffee, covered with it and returned to the pan.

My favorite option is the one where the puddings are individual cakes. This way you get a very nice serving that looks neat and more importantly it has a nice ratio of cake to toffee sauce. I used my dome shaped stainless steel molds to bake the cakes and I unfortunately filled them a bit too much it seems. So, the batter overflowed on most of them while baking. That’s mostly a shame since it wasted what could’ve been one more delicious dome-shaped cake. As far as aesthetics, the cakes needed to be trimmed anyways and those trimmings sure did not go to waste.

I made the toffee sauce while the cakes baked by simmering a load of butter, cream and sugar together  until the mixture caramelized. Then more cream is added in until you get a deep dark and insanely delicious caramel sauce. I made half the amount of sauce in the recipe and still ended up with an extra jar of toffee sauce that I saved and am using for ice cream topping, brownies or just to eat with a spoon.

This pudding is typically served with clotted cream, lightly sweetened cream or maybe even custard. I wanted to serve it with ice cream that would complement it perfectly. Something that is a bit sharp but that would work well with the flavors of caramel and dates. I’ve been using the recipes from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home book almost exclusively for a while now. Her flavors are great but more importantly her base recipe is simple, uses few ingredients and results in ice cream with a perfect texture right out of the freezer. I opened the book for ideas and found her recipe for Cognac Ice Cream. Bingo! Alcohol sounds great with this dessert, but instead of cognac I went with dark rum.

At service time, I cut the cakes in half horizontally and put a tablespoon of toffee sauce in each of the metal molds that I used to bake them in. I then layered the cakes back in the molds with toffee in between the layers and on top. These went back in the oven for a short while until they got bubbly and soaked up the toffee. I served them with a nice oval of ice cream, some more toffee sauce on the plate and a smear of store-bought Dulce de Leche (the lighter colored sauce). How did it compare to our favorite pudding from Feast? It is pretty much a perfect match. The taste and texture were just about perfect and the rum ice cream worked just as well as I imagined.