Friday, June 26, 2009

Cornmeal Shortcake with Peaches

The transition to summer is in full swing and peaches couldn’t be more plentiful, juicy and fragrant. They are in such great abundance at every market, so let’s make the best of the moment while we have these gorgeous gems in our sights.

Nothing says summer like shortcake! And since peaches and cornmeal are such a natural pairing, I couldn’t resist adding a bit of cornmeal to the traditional shortcake dessert. These are spectacular: light, tender, slightly sweet with just enough cornmeal to create a slight crunch and really wonderful flavor. The cream adds the requisite indulgent lusciousness and the peaches bring that fresh spark of natural seasonal beauty and color, reminding us so profoundly how very fortunate we are to be in the company of Mother Nature.

Bench notes:
- Make sure the butter and buttermilk are cold. When blending with the flour mixture, work quickly so they don’t warm up.
- Take care not to overmix the shortcake dough to keep the final product light and delicate. Be gentle to avoid toughening, treating the dough much like you would a scone. They bake quickly, so check them at 10 minutes.
- This is the kind of dessert that is perfect for a trip to the farmer’s market to find the best peaches of the season. Give them a taste to determine how much sugar they’ll need.
- This shortcake would also be fantastic with apricots, blackberries, raspberries and cherries. It's also really delicious to use a light caramel syrup with the peaches or add a bit of mascarpone or crème fraîche to the whipped cream.

Cornmeal Shortcake with Peaches
Serves 6

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C cornmeal
1 T + 1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 T + 1 t sugar
2 oz (4 T) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 C cold buttermilk
zest of 1 small orange
zest of 1 lemon

5 – 6 fresh ripe peaches
splash of lemon juice
1 T sugar, to taste

1 C cold heavy cream
2 - 3 t sugar, to taste
1/2 t vanilla

Preheat the oven to 425°. Prepare a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment.

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar and citrus zest in a bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry blender or your fingers to blend until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Work quickly so the butter stays firm. Add the buttermilk all at once and stir gently with a fork just until it starts to come together. Do not overmix.

Gather the dough and place it on a clean work surface or a piece of parchment and gently pat it together with your hands. Shape it into an 8” round and either cut into 6 wedges or use a round cutter. Place the shortcakes on the baking sheet. Brush them with some cream or milk and sprinkle the tops generously with coarse sugar. Bake about 10 - 13 minutes, until the shortcakes are lightly golden.

For the peaches, gently blanch for just a few seconds in simmering water. You should see some give when you tug at the skins. Remove immediately to a bowl of cold water. Dry the peaches and peel off the skins. Slice and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with a splash of lemon juice and toss with the sugar. Let the peaches sit for about 15 minutes to bring out the juices, gently tossing once or twice.

Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla to a very soft peak.

Cut the shortcakes in half horizontally. Place the bottom halves on 6 plates. Dollop with whipped cream and layer some juicy peaches. Top with remaining shortcake half.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cherry Crisp with Buttermilk Ice Cream

Time for a simple American dessert. Fresh cherries baked with an oatmeal almond streusel is one of those pleasures that represents total comfort. But rather than the standard vanilla ice cream, I’ve decided to serve a tangy Buttermilk Ice Cream alongside. Although it might seem strange to use buttermilk as a central ingredient for ice cream, the end product winds up tasting a bit like the flavor of cheesecake. In other words, it’s delicious.

It takes a few minutes to pit the cherries, but otherwise the crisp comes together rather quickly. The same thing goes for the Buttermilk Ice Cream once the base is chilled overnight. The combination of tart, bright red cherries with the crunch of almonds, the chewiness of oatmeal and the deep caramel flavor of brown sugar can’t be beat. Really simple, really spring, really delicious.

Bench notes:
- Buttermilk is made from the tangy liquid that remains from churning cream for butter. Commercial buttermilk doesn’t have the true flavor of the old-fashioned product, so the addition of sour cream helps to add back in some of that complexity. I also prefer less sugar for a more tart flavor, but be sure to taste to see if you’d like it sweeter, especially if you’re adding the sour cream.
- I’ve also served the Cherry Crisp with Saffron Buttermilk Ice Cream for a very striking combination. Just bring the cream to a simmer and add a scant 1/4 teaspoon of loosely packed saffron threads to the cream to bloom the flavor. Cool the saffron cream and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Cherry Crisp
Serves 4

2 pounds fresh cherries, pitted
1/4 C sugar
1 T tapioca
1/2 t lemon zest
1/2 t kirsch (optional)

1/2 C sliced almonds
1/3 C flour
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C oatmeal
pinch salt
1/2 t orange or lemon zest
2 oz (4 T) cold butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the pitted cherries in a bowl. Process the sugar and tapioca together until powdery. Toss with the cherries along with the lemon zest (and kirsch, if using). Let stand while you prepare the streusel.

Toss together the almonds, flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, salt and zest. Add the butter and blend until the mixture is coarse.

Pour the cherries into a small baking dish or four 4” ramekins. Sprinkle with the streusel and bake for about 25 - 30 minutes or until the topping is browned and the fruit juices are bubbling up.

Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C buttermilk
2 T sour cream (optional)
1/4 C + 2 T to 1/2 C sugar, to taste
pinch of salt
1 T lemon juice, to taste

Whisk the cream, buttermilk (and sour cream if using) together. Add the sugar, pinch of salt and the lemon juice, to taste. Chill thoroughly.

Freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Pour into a clean airtight container. Put a piece of plastic wrap on the surface, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yogurt Mousse with Apricot Compote

Apricots! Sweet precious apricots have arrived! It’s been a long year, but we now have these gems with us for a short time.

I’ve made a very simple Apricot Compote with some honey and vanilla. Pure, sweet and tart. I’ve paired it with a Yogurt Mousse to keep the flavors fresh and sublime. The mousse is so light, it literally melts in your mouth. The yogurt flavor is luscious and the whipped cream elevates it to a super delicious dessert base for any fruit. A sprinkle of pistachio streusel brings a slight and sweet crunch. A wonderful combo and a perfect way to welcome the season.

Bench notes:
- The pistachio streusel bakes off like a tuile, so don't be alarmed if you see it puddle as it bakes. It will firm up and become crunchy as it cools. Just stir it and break up any clumps so it browns lightly and fairly uniformly.
- The gelatin in this mousse is kept at a minimum. Just enough to give it a little body but not enough to interfere with the wonderful texture of both the yogurt and the cream.
- To bloom gelatin, always sprinkle it slowly into cold water rather then pouring cold water on the powder or it will clump.
- If you want to layer the mousse and the compote, just pour half the mousse into your parfait glasses and let it set up in the refrigerator for about half an hour. Add a layer of fruit and finish with remaining mousse. Chill to set up and top with remaining fruit.
- Save the apricot pits for Noyau Ice Cream.
- Now is also the time to enjoy Cornmeal Cake with Apricots.

Yogurt Mousse with Apricot Compote
Serves 4

1/4 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C pistachios
1/4 C cold butter

12 ripe apricots
1/2 C honey
2 T sugar
2/3 C water
1/2 vanilla bean
lemon juice, to taste

2 C (16 oz) plain Greek yogurt
1/2 C sugar
1 t lemon juice, to taste
1 1/2 t gelatin
1 C heavy cream

To make the pistachio streusel, whisk the flour and sugar together. Coarsely chop the pistachios and combine with the flour and sugar. Cut the butter into small pieces and add. Using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers, blend together until you have a crumbly mixture. Chill for about an hour or place in the freezer for about 1/2 hour. To bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread an even layer onto a silpat lined baking sheet pan and bake for about ten minutes. Remove from oven, break up the clumps and stir so that the mixture is browning evenly. Return to the oven and bake for about another 5 minutes or so until you see most of it is lightly browned. It will look a bit soft but will firm up as it cools. Once it cools, break up into small pieces and store in an airtight container.

Slice each apricots into 6 wedges.
Combine the honey, sugar, water and vanilla bean and bring to a boil. Add the apricots and simmer on low heat until the fruit is soft. Remove from heat and add lemon juice to taste. Strain out the juice and return it to the saucepan over medium low heat. Reduce until the sauce is thickened and syrupy, about 15 - 20 minutes. Pour over the apricots. Set aside to cool.

Combine the yogurt and sugar. Add the lemon juice.
Bloom the gelatin in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of cold water.
Whip the heavy cream just to a very soft peak.
Liquefy the gelatin by placing the bowl in a pan of simmering water or placing in the microwave for a few seconds.
Add the gelatin to the yogurt mixture and blend thoroughly.
Fold in the whipped cream.
Pour into serving dish or four individual parfait glasses.
Chill for about 2 hours. Serve with Apricot Compote.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Spiced Cherry Compote

Cherry season is here! Cherries are now everywhere and their bright red color beckons. They’re so beautiful, juicy and delicious, it’s impossible to resist them. Time to make all those incredible cherry desserts we’ve been waiting so patiently to create and consume.

I love this cherry compote. It’s got lots of cherry richness, just enough red wine and just enough spice to make it an incomparably superb accompaniment to ice cream, panna cotta, cheesecake or chocolate cake. Since I had some Devil’s Food Cake left over from another experiment, I decided to use it to dress up the cherries along with some gooey dark chocolate sauce.

This is an incredible dessert with a great combination of complementary flavors. The Devil’s Food Cake comes from Flo Braker and is one of the most delicious and tender cakes you’ll ever bake. All of the ingredients are in perfect balance so the flavor and moisture are supreme. Once you bake this cake it will become part of your permanent repertoire. The deep dark Chocolate Sauce delivers an interesting sensory contrast to the light delicate cake and the rich fruit of the Cherry Compote. I hope you have the chance to make this soon while cherries are dancing across our shelves.

Bench notes:
- I used a cabernet sauvignon for the Cherry Compote. You can also go with a fruity zinfandel.
- If you don’t have crème de cassis for the compote, you can substitute your favorite tawny or ruby port.
- The high ratio of sugar to butter in the cake recipe requires you to cream the mixture for about 6 to 7 minutes until it is light in color and fluffy in texture. At first you’ll wonder how it’s going to come together but it will. Honest!
- Double the recipe for the Devil’s Food Cake, add your favorite frosting and you have a fabulous layer cake.
- The Chocolate Sauce will keep refrigerated for several days.

Chocolate Cake with Spiced Cherry Compote

Makes 8 servings

Devils’s Food Cake
adapted from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker
Makes 1 8” cake

1 C cake flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/8 t salt
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/4 C lukewarm water
2 oz (4 T) butter @ room temperature
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 egg @ room temperature
1/4 C buttermilk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla
1/4 C water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8” x 3" cake pan with butter, parchment and a light dusting of flour.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.
Whisk cocoa and water together until thoroughly blended.
Combine buttermilk, vanilla and water.

Cream butter and slowly add sugars. Cream mixture until light and fluffy, about 6 to 7 minutes on a stand mixer. Stop and scrape down the bowl at regular intervals.
Add egg and blend well. Scrape down the bowl.
Add cocoa mixture and combine thoroughly.
Gently add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stop mixing just before it is fully blended and finish by folding gently with a rubber spatula until there are no streaks. Be careful not to overmix. Pour into prepared pan and smooth batter evenly.

Bake @ 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick tests with a few moist crumbs adhering. Cool 10 minutes. Run a thin bladed knife around the edges to loosen and turn out the cake. Cool completely.

Spiced Cherry Compote

3 C red wine
3 T crème de cassis
1 C + 3 T sugar
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 star anise
6 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 lbs fresh cherries, pitted

Combine all the ingredients except for the cherries in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add the cherries and simmer on low heat until the liquid is syrupy and has reduced, about 30 minutes. Remove star anise, vanilla bean, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cool.

Chocolate Sauce

1 C water
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C cocoa
1/4 t salt, to taste
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 C heavy cream

Bring water and sugar to a boil to dissolve. Add cocoa and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. Once it has thickened, remove from heat and add vanilla and cream. Add salt to taste. Cool.

Serve the cake with a glaze of Chocolate Sauce and garnish with Cherry Compote.