Friday, September 26, 2008

Russian Cream with Plum Compote

I’ve come to discover that plums are one of my favorite fruits. I love their tartness, texture and amazing color. A jammy plum compote is an irresistible treat over ice cream or yogurt, a stupor-inducing accompaniment to anything ginger, an incredibly soothing comfort slathered over toast or fresh-from-the-oven scones.

Since I found myself with a bowl of perfectly ripe plums, I wanted to make something creamy and comforting to go along with a beautiful plum compote. I decided to make a Russian Cream.

Creams are one of the basic building blocks of pastry. Pastry Cream is an egg custard thickened with starch and sometimes lightened with a bit of whipped cream or Italian meringue, which makes it a chiboust. Bavarian Cream is typically a crème anglaise custard lightened with whipped cream and set with gelatin so it can be sliced. Mousse is a base of cream, chocolate or fruit that is lightened with whipped cream or egg whites and sometimes set with gelatin. Panna Cotta is a cooked eggless cream also set with gelatin. Russian Cream happens to be a riff on panna cotta. It differs only slightly because it has sour cream as a basic ingredient. However these days we are seeing lots of panna cotta mixed with varying quantities of buttermilk, sour cream or crème fraiche.

The delicious plum compote comes together very quickly and will keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator. The color of it looks stunning over the snow white cream.

As we drift into fall, we still have some lovely end of season fruit to linger over before we go into a long spell of holiday pastries and desserts and all that entails. Spices, nuts, chocolate will soon fill our kitchens along with pears and apples and a host of dried fruits. But for now, there’s still time to enjoy the last of the peaches, nectarines, plums and other gorgeous fresh fruit. Time for a run to market.

Bench notes:

- Make sure your plums are nice and ripe. Cook them gently over low heat to preserve the flavor. Taste for sugar and adjust if necessary. Add enough lemon juice to brighten and balance the fruit.

Russian Cream

1/4 C cold water
1 1/4 t gelatin
1 1/2 C heavy cream
2/3 C sugar
8 oz sour cream
3/4 t vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 lemon, to taste

Plum Compote

6 – 8 large plums
1/4 C sugar, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon, to taste

gingersnap cookie crumbs

Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling over the cold water and let sit for 5 minutes.

Combine cream and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.

Heat the gelatin over a bain marie until it dissolves. Whisk the gelatin into the whipping cream mixture and combine with sour cream, vanilla and lemon juice until smooth. Pour into a bowl or parfait dessert glasses. Cover and chill for about an hour or until it sets up.

Slice each of the plums into 6 pieces. Cook the plums and sugar over low heat until soft and juicy. Remove from heat and add lemon juice to taste. Cool.

Top the Russian Cream with plum compote and garnish with gingersnap cookie crumbs.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sage Ice Cream

End of summer always brings out the experimental ice cream maker in me. Although all the season’s bright flavors are each wonderful in their own way, I’m always game to try something out of the ordinary when the fresh fruit starts to fade.

Several years ago when we started seeing the application of traditionally savory components in pastry and desserts, there were those who just couldn’t get behind it. Thankfully, times have definitely changed and we now find so many of these desserts on menus all over the world that it’s hard to resist experimentation. And every now and then you find an unusual combination that just seems like a brilliant stroke of innovation. For me, herb ice creams qualify in this way and Sage Ice Cream is definitely one such treasure. You’ve likely heard of or tasted sage honey, so it’s not too far a stretch.

I’ve had this recipe clipped for a long time and just never got around to it. When I saw some really beautiful fresh sage at the market, the memory of wanting to try this ice cream recipe came back to me like a bolt. So here we are.

This is a rich, lovely dessert with a beautiful pastel color. It’s a bit difficult to describe, much as a lot of novel ice cream flavors are. You just have to try it. It’s not too sweet and the herbal note grabs you right away and lingers on your palate as you soon realize how gorgeous the purity of sage really is. I thought long and hard about what I would pair it with, but came up short. I think it really does stand on its own. It’s a terrific and true indulgence.

Bench notes:

- As you’re cooking the base, taste it for the depth of sage flavor and make it strong. Although its appearance and fragrance might strike you as strange at first, once it gets churned, it becomes this amazing experience of soft, pure flavor.
- Never walk away from cream that is heating on the stove. As it reaches the boiling point, it will bubble up and over and make a huge mess.

Sage Ice Cream

adapted from Gourmet, October 2001
Makes 1 quart

2 C heavy cream
2 C half-and-half
1/3 C coarsely chopped fresh sage
4 2" x 1/2" strips lemon zest
9 egg yolks
3/4 C granulated sugar
1/4 t salt

Slowly and gently heat cream, half-and-half, sage, lemon zest and salt to a full simmer over moderate heat. Do not boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for about an hour, tasting for strength along the way. When the flavor is good and strong, strain into another clean saucepan and warm it up a bit.

Whisk together yolks and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in some of the warm cream mixture to temper, then whisk egg mixture into remaining cream in saucepan. Cook custard over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until it coats back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Be very careful not to not let the mixture heat too quickly or boil.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally until it cools down completely. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker. Pour into an airtight container, cover the surface with plastic wrap and place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lemon Curd Cake

I really love anything with lemon. I always seem to be searching for recipes that will be more lemony than the last. I’m often tempted to try and find ways to punch up the lemon flavor in just about any lemon pastry. The lemonier, the better. Well, I think I may have found the real deal. This Lemon Curd Cake from Emily Luchetti is the mother lode of lemony lemon at its lemoniest.

Emily Luchetti is a famous pastry chef in this region, with good reason. Her recipes are terrific, fairly simple to execute and never fail to please. If you’ve tried her Goat Cheese Cake, you know what I mean.

This cake has ingredients in unusual ratios and a very different method for mixing. It starts with a lemon curd, so that’s where the egg yolks go and where you get the richness. There’s very little butter, plenty of lemon juice and zest. The result is a very tart cake with a dense crumb that stays moist and delicious for days. It’s great all on its own, but especially wonderful with fresh raspberries and a dollop of soft whipped cream. Be prepared for a very tart zing.

Bench notes:

- Use only fresh lemon juice! The Lemon Curd can be made a day ahead, chilled overnight and brought to room temperature before mixing the cake.
- You do need a cake pan with 3” sides to hold all the batter.
- Sift the cake flour before measuring.
- Egg whites will whip to greater volume at room temperature.
- This cake will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
- I actually prefer the cake on the second day after it’s had a chance to mellow a bit.

Lemon Curd Cake

adapted from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti
Serves 8

4 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C fresh lemon juice

2 C sifted cake flour
3/4 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 oz (4 T) butter @ room temperature
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 t lemon zest
6 egg whites @ room temperature
1 1/2 C sugar

In a heatproof bowl whisk together 4 egg yolks and 2 eggs with a 1/2 cup sugar. Whisk in 1/2 cup lemon juice. Place over a double boiler or bain marie of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Cook until the curd thickens, stirring constantly.

Pour the curd into a clean bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 325F. Prepare a 9” x 3” cake pan with butter, flour and parchment.

Sift cake flour and measure out 2 cups. Then sift cake flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt together.

Beat together butter, lemon juice and lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Mix in lemon curd. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Increase speed and when the egg whites begin to look opaque, slowly sprinkle in the sugar. Whip until the egg whites are shiny and form soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into cake batter.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth evenly. Bake until a toothpick comes out fairly clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool completely and turn out onto a cake platter.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Roasted Peaches with Almond Filling

A very simple and quick way to enjoy the glory of summertime peaches is to bake them with a luscious filling. It takes very little time to put together and smells and tastes wonderful.

The filling for this dessert is a simple combination of butter, nuts, cookie crumbs and some spice. Italian Amaretti cookie crumbs are perfect for a nice almond flavor, but you can use your favorite almond cookie if you aren’t able to find those. Pain d’Amande are perfect. I’ve also used gingersnaps and those are really delicious. Pick your favorite nut or spice cookie and get going. Just adjust the sugar level according to the sweetness of your cookie.

Peaches are with us for just a little while longer. Enjoy every last minute of them!

Bench notes:
- Pick the best, plumpest, ripe peaches.
- If you have any Muscat wine left over from the Beaume de Venise Cake, sprinkle some over the peaches before placing in the oven.
- This is a great dessert served with Vanilla or Noyau Ice Cream.
- This filling would also be great with nectarines or pears.

Roasted Peaches with Almond Filling

6 servings

6 ripe peaches

Almond Filling

3 oz butter
1 1/2 T sugar
1 1/2 t flour
1/4 C + 2 T toasted almonds
1/4 C + 2 T cookie crumbs, such as Amaretti, Pain d’Amande or gingersnaps
1/4 t cinnamon

optional: Muscat for sprinkling over the peaches

Place the ingredients for the filling in a food processor and pulse until mixture comes together.

Slice peaches in half and remove pit. If the pit indentation is small, scoop out a bit of peach. Stuff each peach half with the Almond Filling and place in a baking dish. Splash with Muscat and bake @ 350 for 15-20 minutes or until peaches are tender.