Friday, August 31, 2007

Peaches Royale

Just when I thought I would never get over the end of apricot season, I seem to have found instant resuscitation in the bountiful glories of peaches and berries. Fresh, sweet, tart, colorful, these are some of the best tools in my pastry toolbox.

In one of my recent pastry reveries, I was thinking about Peach Melba. Created in 1892 at the Savoy Hotel by Auguste Escoffier for the famed Australian opera star Dame Nellie Melba, Peach Melba is simply composed of a dish of vanilla ice cream with fresh peaches and raspberry sauce. But I wanted something slightly saucier - a dish of peaches layered with raspberries and sabayon, an easy, quick, elegant and utterly delicious expression of the natural world.

Sabayon, or zabaglione in Italy, is a light dessert cream made by gently whisking egg yolks, sugar and wine over a water bath. It is easy to prepare, takes just a few minutes and is a perfect complement for just about any fruit.

Legend has it that zabaglione originated in 16th century Florence in the court of the Medici. The classical Italian flavoring for zabaglione is Marsala, but you can easily vary the type of wine used. Try it with your favorite fruity wine, Muscat, port, Madeira, cognac or champagne. Since zabaglione takes its primary flavor from the wine, use only the best and adjust the sugar in the recipe according to the sweetness of the liquor you choose. The texture of the sauce can also be loosened with whipped egg whites or whipped cream. Let your imagination work according to the fruit you are pairing.

So let’s console ourselves with a pillow of Peaches Royale. Only nine months until apricot season.

Bench notes:
- For the sabayon, choose a wine that will go well with peaches and raspberries. I recommend a good quality fruity white wine, such as Beaume de Venise, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco or champagne. I used a Monbazillac, a wine with aromas of honey, apricot, orange and a taste similar to Sauternes.
- Another variation on this theme is fruit gratin, which is fruit layered on top of a bit of pastry cream, topped with sabayon and lightly broiled. It’s a truly incredible thing of sheer beauty and complete speechless surrender.

Peaches Royale
6 servings

3 fresh ripe peaches
1 pint raspberries
sugar to taste

4 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C fruity white wine
1/2 C heavy cream, chilled

Peel the peaches if you prefer and slice into thin wedges. Toss peaches and raspberries with about 1 1/2 T of sugar, to taste.

Whisk egg yolks, sugar and wine 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.

Whip the heavy cream just until soft peaks form. Fold gently into cooled sabayon. Divide into each serving dish. Top with fruit and their juices.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Double Life of Figs

Figs have two growing seasons, one in late spring and another in late summer that lasts through early fall. Magic. Maybe it was an early fixation with Fig Newtons, but I really do love figs in all forms. Figs grilled with prosciutto, figs with Bleu de Basque and sourwood honey, figs sprinkled with saba and shaved chocolate, figs cloaked in anise sabayon, figs and coffee ice cream, fig-filled cuccidati, figs just being figs.

I am also especially deeply in love with the simple life of the galette, or crostata as it is known in Italy. Who could resist a fig and raspberry galette? A match made in heaven. If you haven’t tasted this blazing combo, seize the day.

So many figs. So little time.

Bench notes:

-When handling dough, be gentle. I like to mix without tools because I know of nothing more meditative than having my hands in flour. Just make sure your hands are thoroughly coated with flour and work the butter in gingerly to avoid softening it. Using a pastry blender also works very well. In any case, one of the most important things I learned in pastry school is what it means to have a “light touch.” It can take a while to really understand what this means in practice.
-If you have a bench scraper, now is the time to use it. As you roll out the galette, use a light smattering of flour and keep moving the dough after each roll to prevent sticking. If you feel the slightest resistance, use your scraper to gently release it and apply more flour. Rotate the dough to ensure evenness. Try to work fairly quickly to avoid warming the butter. When the dough is rolled out to the desired shape and size, I always take my 3” wide brush and remove excess flour from both sides.
-The beauty of galettes is you can shape them however you’d like. It gets easier with practice.
-Chilling the dough before and after rolling, and again after the galette has been shaped if it feels too soft, is the key to flaky success.
-This dough recipe makes enough for two galettes. You can freeze half the dough for later use if you’d like.

Fresh Fig Raspberry Galette
2 C AP flour
1 T sugar
1/4 t salt
6 oz butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 C chilled water

1 1/2 lb fresh mission figs, sliced in quarters
1 pint raspberries
1/4 C + 2 T sugar, to taste
melted butter and sugar for finishing

Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until you have some small pieces and some a bit larger. Be sure to coat each piece with flour. Add the cold water and mix gently, using a pastry scraper to fold the dough onto itself two or three times. Gather the dough without mixing too much or applying a lot of pressure or squishing it too much. It will look a bit of a mess and you will wonder how it will ever transform into anything useful, but resist the temptation to overwork it. Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap. Gather tightly and chill thoroughly.

When the dough is ready to roll, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Let the chilled dough rest on a lightly floured board for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Then roll the dough out to a 14” circle about 1/8”thick, moving the dough and keeping the board lightly floured as needed. When you have the desired shape, lift the pastry onto a parchment covered pizza sheet pan. Chill for about a half hour.

Place the figs in a bowl and toss with sugar. Gently incorporate the raspberries and place the fruit onto the surface of the pastry, leaving about a 2” border all the way around. Neaten up your pile so the fruit is evenly distributed. (Alternatively, you can carefully arrange a pattern of figs and add the raspberries last.) Now start to lift and gather the dough up and on top of the fruit, being careful not to create any cracks. Work with both hands, one keeping the folded dough in place and the other doing the pleating. Brush the border of dough with butter and dust the dough and the fruit with a last sprinkle of sugar. Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes, until the dough is crisp and browned. Cool on a wire rack to keep the bottom crunchy.

galette photography courtesy of Jennifer Kanter/Semaphore Fine Preserves & Films

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Praise of the Peach

Is there anything more spellbinding than the warm glow of a freshly blushed peach, brimming with intoxicating fragrance and a taste reminiscent of being a crazy kid, juices to the elbow? One of my most enduring food memories is of seeing a bowl of peak Sun Crest peaches in the pastry kitchen at Chez Panisse. So it is within this stupor that I reach for the peach in pastry. This time I want to take it on a summer fling with the subtle scent of corn, the sweetness of both co-mingling in a perfect vow of earthly splendor. A little bit of State Fair on a plate.

The cornmeal cake recipe comes from a long ago scrap of newspaper featuring the work of the renowned Flo Braker, who knows about all things pastry. And if you haven’t read the works of Mas Masumoto, you really should. He is a third generation organic farmer, grower of the mighty Sun Crest peach, author, poet, community builder. Praise to the peach!

Bench notes:
-Be sure all ingredients are at room temperature for proper mixing and emulsification.
-Peel the peaches or they may impart a blue tinge to the cake. Easiest way to do this is to gently lower the peaches into simmering water for just a few seconds until the skin breaks easily when tugged. Remove immediately and place in an ice bath. Skins release beautifully without damaging the flesh.
-I decided to use a caramel simple syrup rather than the usual butter and brown sugar on the bottom of the ramekins to avoid the fat masking the clean flavor of the fruit.

Cornmeal Peach Upside Down Cake
Caramel simple syrup (recipe below)
4 fresh ripe peaches, peeled and halved

2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C yellow cornmeal + more for dusting ramekins
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
6 oz unsalted butter @ room temperature
3/4 C sugar
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 yolk @ room temperature
1 t vanilla

Prepare a caramel simple syrup by placing 3/4 C of sugar into a clean pan. Add just enough water to wet the sugar and bring it to a boil. Have 1/2 C water sitting nearby. Continue to boil but watch it carefully. If you see a lot of sputtering collecting on the sides of the pan, wash it down with a quick stroke of a wet brush to prevent crystallization. When the sugar begins to color, stay close. Just as it begins to turn the color of Anchor Steam beer, pull it off quickly and pour in the 1/2 C water you have at your fingertips. This will stop the cooking and prevent it from burning. Be sure to pull it off the heat just before it becomes the color you want because it will continue to darken very quickly. Set the syrup aside and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 8 4” ramekins and dust with a bit of cornmeal, tapping out excess. Pour about a heaping teaspoon of caramel simple syrup into the bottom of each ramekin or enough to nicely coat the bottom. Reserve any remaining syrup. Place a peach half cut side down on top of the syrup.

Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
Beat butter until smooth and creamy.
Add sugar and beat until the mixture is creamy and light. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time. Be sure to beat well after each addition so the batter properly incorporates each egg. Add vanilla.
Add in dry ingredients and mix until blended.
Spread cake batter evenly into each ramekin, smoothing the tops.
Bake for 20 minutes or just until the cake tests for doneness.
Take in that aroma. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Invert onto plate. Brush with additional syrup.

cake photography courtesy of Jennifer Kanter/Semaphore Fine Preserves & Films

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

About pastry studio

A place to study. To experiment. To perfect. To play. A laboratory of sensation, a place of natural light, paintings, flowers and books, rulers, paper, fabric and music. The highest form of Table worship. Inspiration all day.

I have a reverence for classical pastry technique as well as endless curiosity for international traditions and modern juxtapositions. I’ve had the great privilege of working in the pastry kitchens of some of the region’s best restaurants and patisseries where I found a wealth of mentors, chief among them Mother Nature.

Pastry chefs are part child, part sculptor, soul soother, detail beast, pleasure-seeking nomad in search of the perfect little black dress. I favor outlaw pastry – simple, fresh, custom, minimally sweet handmade objects of desire formed in an open space where nothing comes between the art and the practice.

I am a beauty commando. This is my pastry altar.

pastry studio
San Francisco
contact: pastrystudio - at - sbcglobal - dot - net

Original writing and photography are the property of pastry studio, 2007-2013. All rights reserved.