Friday, November 28, 2008

Orange Cardamom Cake

The most reassuring and reliable ray of sunshine to visit us during the winter months is an abundance of fresh citrus fruit. The season of citrus includes the well known navel oranges and Valencias, so terrific for juicing. But there is an entire family of splendid citrus, such as blood oranges, mandarins, clementines (seedless mandarins), tangerines (a type of mandarin), pixies (a type of tangerine), tangelos (a hybrid of tangerine, grapefruit and orange), Minneolas (tangerine and grapefruit) and kumquats. So very many wonderful varieties to explore and enjoy.

When it comes to the pastry kitchen, orange desserts can range from the sublime, like the elegant Crêpes Suzette, to the very rustic and simple, such as the decidedly delicious Oranges with Rosemary Sabayon. But no matter which citrus pastries you choose to create, they are invariably full of bright satisfying flavor.

I’ve been meaning to make this cake for quite a while and when I got my email newsletter from David Lebovitz talking about this as one of his season’s favorite desserts, I looked at the oranges on my table and decided to get to it now. The result is a supremely tender cake with a very distinct fragrance of cardamom. This is a really great way to experience those juicy oranges so plentiful now in our markets. As your cake sits cooling, your kitchen will hold the aroma until the last guest arrives.

Bench notes:
- I wish I’d had a fourth orange on hand. I would have liked a few more slices.
- Use a very sharp knife when peeling and slicing the oranges to avoid tearing the flesh. Be sure to remove all the pith when slicing off the peel.
- I think this cake would be incredible with blood oranges.
- The cake is nicely garnished with vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream scented with a splash of vanilla or orange liqueur.
- David recommends a 10” skillet for baking. I used a 10” springform pan. It was done in about 32 minutes.

Orange and Cardamom Upside Down Cake

adapted from David Lebovitz
Serves 10 - 12

The topping:
3 T butter
3/4 C firmly packed light brown sugar
3 medium-sized navel oranges, peeled and cut into 1/4" slices
1/2 t ground cardamom

The cake batter:
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t ground cardamom
3 oz (6 T) butter @ room temperature
2/3 C sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/2 C whole milk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and stir in the brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom until smooth. Remove from the heat and press the mixture evenly on the base of the pan. Allow to set.

Overlap the orange slices in concentric circles over the topping in the bottom of the cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom. Combine the milk, vanilla and orange zest.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Stir in half of the dry ingredients until nearly combined, then add the milk and mix. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat just until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Gently spread the batter over the oranges and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cake at least 15 minutes. Invert onto a serving platter.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Leche Merengada

Light, airy, cool, refreshing – a bit like a stroll down the broad La Rambla. Leche Merengada is part ice milk, part granita and part slushy meringue drink. Originally coming from the shores of Valencia, it's enjoyed in many other locales. It’s one of the easiest glaces you can make, ready in time for a super light end to a delicious Spanish table of your favorite tapas.

Marrying the magical flavors of vanilla, lemon and cinnamon takes just a few moments on the stove and then an overnight in the refrigerator. Then you freeze it until it starts to get slushy and fold in some meringue. Freeze a bit longer and listo! Simple and delicious.

Bench notes:
- This dessert is sometimes taken as a drink and sometimes as a slushy granita. You can freeze the mixture according to your own whim.
- These ingredient ratios are intended to balance flavors in an optimum way for a simple and subtle combination.
- You can also churn the base in your ice-cream freezer after the base has been chilled and the meringue has been folded in but it will take longer - about a half hour or so until it sets up like a sherbet.
- This is a great way to use up those leftover egg whites!

Helado de Leche Merengada

Serves 4 to 6

1 quart whole milk
3/4 C sugar
pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons
4 egg whites @ room temperature
2 T sugar

Combine the milk, 3/4 cup of sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean portion and lemon zest into a saucepan. Bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring to blend the ingredients. Lower heat and simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat, discard the cinnamon stick and cool. Pour the mixture into a shallow container with a cover and chill overnight.

A couple of hours before you plan to serve the dessert, remove the vanilla bean and place the container in the freezer. When it has just begin to set up, take it out and stir it with a fork to smooth it out. Return it to the freezer for another half hour or so. When it looks like it’s become slightly firm but still mushy, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they are opaque. Slowly add 2 tablespoon of sugar and whip until the meringue holds shiny firm peaks.

Remove the milk from the freezer and stir it again with a fork to break it up and smooth it out. Gently fold in the meringue and put it back in the freezer for another half hour or so until it firms up a bit.

Serve with a dash of cinnamon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chaussons aux Pommes

I have to confess I discovered Chaussons aux Pommes not along the romantic boulevards of Paris, but in the steamy production kitchen of a French boulangerie-patisserie in northern California.

In the inner sanctum of a French bakery, there are the three departments of patisserie (pastry), viennoiserie (laminated doughs) and boulangerie (bread). I always marveled at the work of all three – the ballet of the master bread baker and his loyal crew flying through the air in clouds of flour; the pastry kitchen humming at 150 mph with the efficiency of a European bullet train - but the Viennoisier always seemed the most zen. Every human move in a bakery or fine dining restaurant is excruciatingly efficient. Everyone has their well orchestrated rhythms but there is also the daily dealing with the unexpected. Maybe the deliveries are late, maybe the oven is cranky, maybe there is an overnight special order from a prominent client. The Viennoisier worked fast but not furiously and the fruits of his labor were astonishing. He was the best. The products of the quiet universe of viennoiserie are croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins and the prayer that is brioche. These are always the most delicate and yet the most reliable of pastries in the distinctly French tradition.

I love the way pastries from all cultural traditions have such curious names. Chausson means "slipper." Chausson aux Pommes, or apple slipper, is a buttery flaky pastry enveloping an only slightly sweet and smoothly soft compote of apple. The contrast between crunchy rich goodness and the simple velvety pureness of fruit is part of what makes this pastry so sublime.

The version I fell in love with was filled with a thick apple puree full of robust flavor and only a whisper of sugar. It was supremely delicious and my memory of it is the stuff of dreams. The pastry is of course puff pastry, the specialty of the Viennoisier. Hard to argue with an occasional bite of buttery shards of flakiness that fill your mouth with an unending sensation of pleasure. But incredibly rich and laborious to produce, I rarely have fresh puff pastry on hand. Since I was in need of a quick but still luxurious substitute, I turned to Dorie Greenspan’s flaky Turnover dough. In a rare fit of irreverence, I decided to see if I could still produce even a mild memory to bring to the table. So these are actually Faux Chaussons Aux Pommes. Not exactly as buttery or flaky, but delicious in their own right on a California afternoon.

Bench notes:

- The apple compote can be made in varying textures. Here I kept some of it a bit chunky, although I think I still favor a smoother puree.
- Each of these components can be made and refrigerated overnight.
- I decided to try out Dorie Greenspan’s Turnover dough instead of my usual Sour Cream Pastry dough, which has an additional 2 oz butter, 2 egg yolks and half as much sugar. Dorie's dough is very delicious - light and crisp and slightly sweet. I’ll also have to try my version to see if it approximates puff in this application.
- When rolling out the dough, pick it up after each roll to be sure it is not getting stuck to the work surface. If it's sticking, rather than trying to pull it up, use a bench scraper to gently pry it loose. Rotate the dough 90 degrees after each roll to ensure that it is getting rolled out evenly.
- I admit that I am obsessive about chilling dough. Initially it is to give the gluten a chance to relax. As I begin to form the dough I chill it so it is easier to handle. Before baking I chill the pastries so they hold their form when baking. It's definitely an obsession (most likely rooted in the fact that I have warm hands) and you are most welcome to work at your own comfort level.
- To allow for varying oven efficiencies, check the pastries at 20 minutes.
- As with any flaky pastry, these are best eaten the same day.

Chaussons aux Pommes
Makes 8 turnovers

Flaky Dough (half recipe)
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 C flour
1/2 t salt
6 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C sugar

1 egg for egg wash

Combine the sour cream and sugar.
Whisk together flour and salt.
Add the butter pieces to the flour and salt with a pastry cutter or your fingertips and work it in until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.
Add the sour cream/sugar mixture and gently mix with a fork or your hands.
The dough should come together into a ball. Do not overmix or overwork the dough.
Divide the dough in half, flatten each half into a disk, wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

After it has chilled, remove one package of the dough and let it sit for a couple of minutes at room temperature. Flour a piece of parchment and roll the dough out on the parchment into a rectangle shape about 1/4” thick. Brush off excess flour with a clean pastry brush. Fold the dough in thirds (like a letter), again brushing off excess flour. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Repeat with the other package of dough.

When the dough has been chilled, roll out each piece of dough on a piece of lightly floured parchment to an 1/8” thickness. Brush off excess flour. Cut out 8 equal pieces of dough in the desired shape of your pastries and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, layering them with parchment as needed. Chill for about an hour.

Apple Compote

zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of one lemon
5 - 6 apples
2 T butter
1/2 vanilla bean
4 T sugar, to taste

Place the lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl big enough to hold the apples.
Peel, core and slice the apples and toss them in the lemon juice and zest.

Melt the butter is a large skillet and add the apples. Scrape the half vanilla bean into the apples, cover and cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and add the sugar. Cook, stirring continuously until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and mash or puree as desired. Set aside to cool completely.

When ready to assemble, make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg with about a tablespoon of water to thin it out. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Place a heaping tablespoon of apple compote on half of a piece of pastry. Brush the edges with the egg wash, fold the dough over the compote and seal. Place each completed pastry on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. When all 8 pastries have been formed, refrigerate for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place an oven rack in the top third of the oven and a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Remove pastries and brush each surface with egg wash. Take a very sharp knife and create a few slashes to form vents.

Bake the turnovers on the top rack for 10 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet from front to back and move to the bottom rack. Continue baking for another 10 – 15 minutes until they are nicely browned and crisp.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Roasted Pears with Bay Leaf Sabayon

One of autumn’s perfect treats is roasted pears. Delicious on their own, you can also fancify pears with a dessert sauce. Beautiful pears of every variety are coming into the markets and it’s time to enjoy their juicy goodness.

This time out I’ve paired some roasted bosc pears with a sabayon that has a tinge of herbal flavor. Fresh bay leaves have a smell and a taste that lend a mysterious spiciness to desserts. They add just a breath of autumn, enough to place this dish squarely in the realm of earthly simplicity.

Bench notes:

- Baking time for the pears will vary depending on how ripe the fruit is. The pears are done when they are easily pierced with a knife.
- Bosc pears are best for roasting. They hold their shape and roasting concentrates their flavor perfectly. I also tried Comice, widely considered to be the queen of pears, but they were not as flavorful. I think they're best enjoyed eaten fresh and unadorned.
- Use a wine that isn't too assertive, such as a mild Sauvignon Blanc or an aromatic Viognier.

Roasted Pears with Bay Leaf Sabayon
Serves 4

4 bosc pears
juice of 1 lemon
2 T sugar
3 T butter

4 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C Sauvignon Blanc
3 T bay leaf syrup (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and core the pears. Cut into 1/4” slices and gently toss in lemon juice. Place in a baking dish and sprinkle with sugar and dot with butter. Put a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of the dish.

Bake pears for 25 to 30 minutes, basting and turning every 10 minutes to brown evenly. Add a bit of water to the baking dish as necessary. Cool roasted pears.

Whisk egg yolks, sugar, wine and bay leaf syrup in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bowl is not touching the water. Check periodically to see that the water is not boiling. Whisk constantly for 4 to 5 minutes, including the bottom and sides of the bowl. Cook until the mixture is thickened and expanded in volume. If you have a thermometer, you’re shooting for about 160 degrees. Remove from heat and continue whisking for a bit. Set aside to cool.

Bay Leaf Syrup

1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar
8 fresh bay leaves

Chop bay leaves into 1/2” pieces.

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Turn down the heat and add chopped bay leaves. Simmer about a minute or so. Cover and remove from heat and let steep for 3 hours. Strain and store in the refrigerator in a clean, airtight container.