Friday, February 27, 2009

Sour Cream Pineapple Swirl Ice Cream

This is one of those projects that resulted from just trying to use up some odd bits and pieces of leftover dairy products and fruit. Never wanting to waste good ingredients, I took a few small quantities of sour cream, heavy cream, buttermilk and milk and blended them with a little bit of sugar and lemon juice and turned the mixture into an ice cream. The base tasted super delicious on its own, but since I also had a fresh pineapple that was thoroughly ripened, I thought I’d try swirling a bit of pineapple sorbet through it.

The outcome is a fantastic combination of flavors and textures. The pineapple sorbet benefits from the creamy tartness of the ice cream, which also contrasts nicely with the acidic sweetness of the fruit. It’s got a great depth of flavor yet is refreshingly light on the palate. The next time you don’t know what to do with an odd lot of half empty dairy containers, try this terrific sunny blend. It's definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Bench notes:
- I usually let ice cream bases chill overnight. This allows the flavors to co-mingle and ensures that it’s very cold when it comes time to freeze it in the ice cream machine.
- I made the Pineapple Sorbet first, placed it in the freezer and quickly rinsed out the still frozen bowl of my ice cream machine. Then I spun the Sour Cream Ice Cream mixture. You can also spread this process out over a couple of days.
- If you don’t own an ice cream machine, you can still make ice cream. David Lebovitz has a good explanation. Or even if you do have a machine, you can make the Pineapple Sorbet without a machine so it’s ready to fold into the Sour Cream Ice Cream right away.
- Use full fat sour cream. Non-fat products will result in ice cream that is too grainy or icy. Likewise, a certain ratio of sugar is required to keep sorbet from becoming too icy, so the lemon juice helps to balance the sweetness and brighten the flavor.

Sour Cream Pineapple Swirl Ice Cream

Makes about 1 1/2 pints

1 C sour cream
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C cream
1/4 C milk
1/2 C sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 t lemon juice

Whisk all the dairy ingredients together until blended. Add the sugar, pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Chill thoroughly.

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

Pineapple Sorbet

1 1/4 C fresh ripe pineapple chunks (to equal 1 C puree)
1/4 C sugar, to taste
2 t lemon juice, to taste

Cut the skin off the pineapple and slice about 1 1/4 C of it into chunks, making sure to remove the core. Place in a food processor and puree with the sugar until smooth. Add lemon juice to taste. Chill thoroughly.

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

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hazelnut Espresso Chocolate Cookies

There are lots of happy marriages in the world of pastry, but few are more luscious, more harmonious and more enduring than the union of hazelnuts and chocolate. In Italy, this especially delicious liaison is called gianduia and is itself an art form. Gianduia gelato, for instance, can leave you hopelessly in love, but more about that another day.

This cookie showcases hazelnuts, chocolate, and to keep things exciting, an extra pinch of espresso, a tickle of spice and a splash of brandy. It’s crisp and buttery but not too sweet or rich - just one more reason to celebrate this indisputably magnificent relationship.

Bench notes:
- I usually chill the rolled-out dough overnight so when the cookies are cut out they maintain their shape when baking.
- Rather than roll out the cookie dough, you can also form into 2 12” x 2” logs, wrap and chill thoroughly. Cut into 1/4” slices and bake.
- If you don’t want to fuss with making a sandwich cookie or dipping in chocolate, simply add 1/2 C chopped semi-sweet chocolate to the dough toward the very end of the mixing. This makes about 40 2" cookies.
- Espresso powder can sometimes be hard to locate. Medalia d’Oro is the best. Check for options at Italian shops and delicatessens.
- Toast hazelnuts in a single layer @ 350° for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the skins look cracked. Watch them carefully as hazelnuts can turn bitter if toasted too long. Remove from the oven and wrap the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel to let steam for 1 minute. Then rub them together to loosen and remove as much of the skins as possible. Cool completely. Keep nuts that aren’t going to be used soon in an airtight container in the freezer.

Hazelnut Espresso Chocolate Cookies
based on a recipe from Cookies and Brownies by Alice Medrich
Makes about 14 sandwich cookies

2 1/2 t espresso powder
1 T & 1 t brandy
1 1/2 t vanilla
8 oz (2 sticks) butter
2 C flour
1 C hazelnuts, toasted
3/4 C sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

6 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 oz butter
2 T toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Combine the espresso powder, brandy, and vanilla.
Cut each stick of butter into small pieces.

Process flour, hazelnuts, sugar, salt and spices to a fine powder.
Add butter and process until mixture just starts to clump. Add espresso liquid and pulse just until mixed.

Divide dough in half and place each on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten the dough, cover each portion with another piece of plastic and roll to 1/4” thick round. Place each circle encased in plastic on top of each other on a baking sheet or pizza pan. Chill thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 350°.
Cut out cookies with a 2 1/2” cookie cutter and place on baking sheets lined with parchment or silpats.
Bake @ 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes.
Cool completely.

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Melt butter and chocolate over a bain marie. Whisk to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes or so.

Turn over cookies and dollop half of them with a teaspoon of melted chocolate. Take the other half of the cookies and dip a portion of them in the remaining chocolate. Sandwich each cookie and garnish with chopped hazelnuts. Place the cookies on a rack to dry.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lemon Semolina Jam Cake

I’ve definitely made a lot of cakes over the years – sponge cakes, butter cakes, tea cakes, flourless cakes, tortes. Cakes for all occasions, from the simple and sublime to elaborate celebration cakes. There are lots of books dedicated to cake baking and so many great recipes to choose from, but once in awhile you find one that really does take the cake. For me, this semolina cake really stands out above most.

A little bit of semolina is combined with the flour to change things up ever so slightly. There's also some lemon juice and zest to brighten the flavor. And much like Emily Luchetti’s Lemon Curd Cake, this one starts with a pastry cream into which a small amount of butter and dry ingredients are added. Then a Swiss meringue is folded in to lighten the whole mixture.

All I can say is – wow. This is a cake with a great texture. It has the super lightness of a sponge cake but it is tender and moist like a butter cake, airy yet substantial all at the same time. The flavor is subtle and soft yet rich and delicious. It just melts in your mouth.

The next time you are in the mood for a supremely delicate and delicious cake, I highly recommend this beauty.

Bench notes:
- The recipe calls for baking the cake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. I baked the cake at 350 degrees for about 32 minutes.
- Despite its name, I don’t consider this cake to be lemony. But no matter. It’s got terrific flavor as is.
- Semolina can be found in bulk grocery stores.
- Fill this cake with your favorite jam. I used mixed berry-currant homemade preserves. Or simply serve with a fresh fruit compote in the spring or summertime. I can definitely see this cake with fresh apricots or peaches and a nice floral Muscat, Sauternes or champagne. Or a lemon curd lightened with whipped cream and strawberries.
- I served this with sweetened crème fraîche, but it really doesn't need any adornment.
- The cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Lemony Semolina-Jam Cake

adapted from December 2006 Food & Wine

Pastry Cream

2/3 C half-and-half
2 egg yolks
2 T sugar
1 t flour
1 T + 1 t cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 t butter @ room temperature
1/2 t pure vanilla extract


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

confectioner's sugar for dusting

For the pastry cream, bring the half-and-half to a simmer. Whisk together the yolks, sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Add the simmering half-and-half and whisk together to fully combine. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Scrape the pastry cream into a bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8” x 2” cake pan and dust lightly with flour.

Sift together the cake flour, semolina, baking powder and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pastry cream with the 3 ounces of butter until smooth. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Once blended, add the flour mixture and stir gently until smooth.

Beat the egg whites at medium speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/2 cup of sugar at medium high speed and beat until the whites are stiff and glossy. Stir one-fourth of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest of the meringue in three batches with a rubber spatula until no streaks of white remain.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge of the cake and invert. Cool completely on a rack.

Use a serrated knife to split the cake in half. Spread the fruit preserves on the bottom layer and replace the top. Dust with confectioner's sugar.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hungarian Kuglof

I sometimes buy issues of Australian Vogue Entertaining and Travel for inspiration. The editors seem to be as enamored of pastry as much as the rest of us. In one particular issue a few years back, their photos captured an amazingly gorgeous array of pastries from so many different worldly traditions, all found in some of Sydney’s best pastry shops. It is there that I spied a Hungarian Chocolate Kuglof from Wellington Cake Shop in Sydney. The photo was enough to pique my interest in creating one.

The Kuglof appears to be of the same family as the Gugelhupf or Kugelhupf and the Babka or even Baba, all of which come from a rich tradition of Eastern European cakes that have graciously found their way into our international repertoire. Some are yeasted, some are not. Some are filled with currants or raisins and others with chocolate or cinnamon sugar, candied orange or almonds. All of them are to be savored at every opportunity.

Sometimes these style magazine recipes work out, sometimes they don’t. This one surely did. With just a couple of minor tweaks in method and ingredients, I mixed this together in no time. The finished product is a light yeast cake reminiscent of brioche with just enough sweetness, chocolate and spice to trigger all your Eastern European pastry café fantasies. It’s easy to see why Kuglof has survived the ages and sits proudly in a pastry display in Sydney. Serve with a cup of your favorite tea or strong coffee and you’ll be lost in a very long history of quiet and blissful enjoyment.

Bench notes:
- I increased the flour in the dough from 2 3/4 C to about 3 C as it was very, very sticky. As you mix the dough together, if it feels too sticky, keep adding flour just a bit at a time until it isn’t sticking to your fingers and you’re able to knead without any resistance.
- The recipe called for simply dusting the dough with cocoa powder and sugar and dotting with butter. I decided to bloom the flavor of the cocoa in the butter and add a splash of Grand Marnier to make a thin paste. I added cinnamon to the sugar used in the filling and some vanilla to the dough. You could also try it with 1/4 t quality almond extract in the dough.
- My Kuglof had a rounded bottom so I didn’t bother turning it right side up.

Hungarian Chocolate Kuglof
adapted from Vogue Entertaining & Travel 2002
Serves 8 to 10

3/4 C milk
1 pkg active dry yeast
2 3/4 C flour [ I increased to about 3 C ]
1/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) butter
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 t vanilla


2 oz (4 T) butter
1/4 C cocoa powder
2 t Grand Marnier

1/2 C sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Generously slather an 8” Kugelhopf mold or tube pan with soft butter.

Gently warm the 3/4 C milk. Place 1/4 C of the milk in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it along with a pinch of sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in about 2 – 3 T of the measured flour to make a sticky dough, then cover and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Gently re-warm the remaining 1/2 C milk with the 4 oz butter until melted. Cool to lukewarm.

Beat the eggs together with the vanilla.

Whisk together the remaining flour, sugar and salt in a large wide bowl and make a well in the center. Place the lukewarm milk/butter mixture, beaten eggs/vanilla and the bit of risen yeast dough to the center of the bowl in the well. Work all of it together with your hand, first mixing the ingredients in the center and then working in the flour around the edges bit by bit. The dough should take just a couple of minutes of mixing to form a smooth dough. If it’s too sticky, keep adding flour a tablespoon at a time until it forms a soft and pliable dough.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface or piece of parchment and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a large wide bowl that has been generously oiled, turning the dough over so the top surface is oiled. Cover the top of the bowl with a light cloth or piece of plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 30-40 minutes.

For the filling, melt the 2 oz butter and take off the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and Grand Marnier to make a thin paste. Whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside. In another bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.

When the dough is ready, divide it into two pieces and roll out one at a time on a lightly floured surface or piece of parchment to about 13” x 8”, the length depending on the circumference of the base of your pan. Spread half the cocoa butter paste on the dough and sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar. Roll up the dough into a log starting at the longer side. Lift it gently and place into the buttered kugelhopf or tube pan and pinch the ends together to seal. Repeat with the second piece of dough and stack it on top of the other piece, forming two rings inside the mold. Overlap the ends of the log and tuck under. Set aside in a warm place until the dough has risen to about an inch from the top of the mold, about 30 to 45 minutes or so.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the mold on a baking sheet and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s risen and browned. If the top browns too quickly, cover with foil and continue baking.

Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn the Kuglof out on the rack to cool completely before slicing.