Friday, May 27, 2011

Pine Nut Rosemary Ice Cream

This ice cream was inspired by a visit to Humphry Slocombe, a deliciously wild ice cream shop here in San Francisco known for a fun repertoire of off-the-beaten track ice cream flavors. Although it may sound like an odd idea, I do happen to love the unusual and earthy quality that herbs add to ice cream. And as it turns out, this Pine Nut Rosemary Ice Cream is a really satisfying and delicious combination of flavors and textures.

Humphry Slocombe debuted a couple of years ago, tucked away in an historic neighborhood that boasts Dynamo Donuts, a very popular donut scene with a similar innovative attitude, and a great Mexican delicatessen and market that's been in the neighborhood for years, a place where you can watch women making homemade corn tortillas the old fashioned way. It's always fun to search out local shops that use the best ingredients and methods. The sights and smells in these places are amazing.

Since its inception, Humphry Slocombe has been drawing the infinite curiosity of ice cream lovers far and wide. And now we learn that they have a book of their recipes due out from Chronicle Books in Spring 2012. Oh my! Until that recipe book comes out, I won’t know for sure how they constructed their Rosemary’s Baby ice cream, but I’ve put together a version that incorporates some very basic ingredients. I start with rosemary steeped in a basic custard to which I’ve added some honey. I also thought it would be fun to add a little dab of delicious extra virgin olive oil. Toss in some toasted pine nuts and it’s over. I don't know if my version is close but it's pretty intriguing and delicious.

I love the pure and gorgeous beauty of plain vanilla and chocolate ice cream as much as anyone. But I also love that ice cream is such a fantastic medium to experiment with a whole range of flavors and textures. So I encourage you to fire up your ice cream maker and try something new. Think about your very favorite flavors and see if you can transform them into a delicious ice cream. The sky really is the limit.

Bench notes:
- When I refer to "rosemary sprigs" in the recipe, I mean sprigs that are about 4” long. So the recommended amount would be about 8” to 10" of rosemary sprigs. This doesn’t need to be absolutely precise since you’ll be tasting for strength during the steeping period. The sprigs are steeped whole; no need to remove the leaves from the stem or chop them.
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan to keep the nuts from scorching.
- Use a good quality brand of extra virgin olive oil. I used California Olive Ranch Arbequina, which I love using for pastry and desserts.
- The sensation of richness in ice cream is a result of the ratio of cream to milk and the amount of egg yolks. I tend to like my ice cream moderately rich, so I prefer to use less cream and fewer yolks, but it all depends on the flavor of the ice cream and whether there are other elements to consider. You can adjust the proportions to suit your own level of desired richness and mouthfeel.

Pine Nut Rosemary Ice Cream

1 1/2 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C whole milk
1/2 C sugar
2 T honey
pinch of salt
2 - 2 1/2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 egg yolks
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C pine nuts (1 oz)

Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan and add the sugar, honey and salt. Simmer over medium low heat until the sugar and honey are fully dissolved, stirring to distribute. Remove from heat and add the rosemary sprigs. Cover and steep for about 20 minutes to a half hour, tasting after 20 minutes for strength. When you have the right flavor, strain out the rosemary and return the mixture to low heat until barely simmering.

Whisk the yolks and slowly add the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly to prevent any curdling. Pour the mixture back into the pan and return to medium low heat. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, cook gently until the mixture thickens slightly. This takes just a few minutes. It should coat the back of the spatula and when you run your finger through it, it leaves a trace. Take off the heat immediately and pour through a strainer into a clean container. Whisk slowly to cool. Stir in the olive oil. Add salt to taste. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker. Fold in the toasted pine nuts. Pour into a clean airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and cover. Place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rhubarb Raspberry Tart

When I first started this blog in August of 2007, it was a way for me to keep my hands in the flour. I'd left the pastry profession and I missed it. I missed the discipline and the meditation of it, the smells and the sights of it, the way I feel when I open the oven door. So this venue became an indispensable outlet for me. I'd never taken a photo before in my life and I'd never published anything about pastry. I worked quietly for my own growth and inspiration.

As time went on, I also realized that I really enjoyed imparting my love of ingredients and technique to others in a way that challenges the idea that pastry is a difficult or tedious craft. It became a kind of love tonic against fear of caramel or proofing yeast. So it's been an interesting journey for me, to say the least. But wow, was I ever surprised and honored beyond belief last week when I learned I was mentioned in a piece at the ever beautiful Saveur website entitled, "50 More Food Blogs You Should Be Reading." OMG, I'm so, so incredibly delighted. THANK YOU, Saveur. And thank you to all the other amazing blogs out there who keep all of us inspired and hungry for more, week after week, including those of the very generous people who comment here. You are all so unique and you are what makes this crazy thing we do so much fun.

So, on to the pastry!

Rhubarb in just about any form always draws my attention. I love the gorgeous bright hue and the tart explosion of flavor that never lets up. For me, rhubarb pies, jams and compotes are all endlessly tantalizing.

Pastry tarts start to spring up here and there now that it's the season for a grand parade of fresh fruit. In this rendition, I pair rhubarb with raspberries for another level of tartness and add a delicious hit of aromatic fresh ginger to give the whole thing a little energetic lift. Cradled by a fresh and flaky pastry, this flavor combination is really wonderful.

If you’re like me, you have your favorite go-to pastries and must-haves in each season, pastries that must be made when the market spills over with the perfect bounty of spring. Try adding this iteration to your rhubarb favorites and see how quickly it disappears. And to have this bright burst of color on our tables at this point is a complete celebration. Cheers!

Bench notes:
- For the pastry dough, the butter and water should be very cold. I cut the butter into pieces and return it to the refrigerator to keep it cold. I put the water in the freezer just before I’m ready to start organizing my ingredients.
- To finish mixing the dough, the method I use is called fraisage, which is simply pressing the heel of your hand into the barely mixed dough and pushing it against the work surface to smear it. Use a bench scraper or metal spatula to scrape up the smeared dough and fold it back on itself. This is a great technique that essentially creates sheets of butter coated in flour, producing flaky layers of buttery dough. As with all pastry doughs, handle gently and be careful not to overmix.
- Chilling the tart dough is important to relax the gluten and allow the moisture to be absorbed by the flour. Also, be sure to chill the tart shell once it's formed. This helps maintain its shape during baking.
- Make a free form galette if you don’t want to fuss with a tart pan. Just be sure there aren’t any cracks in the dough so all the juices don’t run out.
- This pastry should be eaten the same day.

Rhubarb Raspberry Tart

Pastry dough

1 1/2 C flour
2 t sugar
1/8 t salt
4 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 C + 2 T cold water

Fruit Filling

1 1/4 lbs rhubarb (about 4 large stalks)
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
1 1/2 t flour
1/2 vanilla bean
1 t freshly grated ginger
zest of 1 lemon
6 oz fresh raspberries

melted butter and sugar for finishing

For the dough, place the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and toss thoroughly with your hands to combine. Cut the cold butter into about 28 small diced pieces and add to the flour mixture, tossing to coat each piece. Working quickly to keep the butter cold, take each piece of butter and pinch it to flatten. Keep working and tossing the mixture until all the butter is flattened and each piece is well coated with flour. Some of the larger pieces will break into smaller pieces, which is fine. You want a good mixture of small and large flat pieces of butter.

Add the cold water and mix gently with a fork or your fingers until the dough just starts to come together, tossing until it begins to loosely cohere. Gather the shaggy pieces of dough on a clean work surface. Finish the dough using a motion called fraisage, which is smearing parts of the dough across the work surface with the heel of your hand. Smear the dough, then use a bench scraper or metal spatula to get under the smeared dough, gathering it and folding it back onto itself after each motion. Repeat this process again just about 4 or 5 times until the dough looks like it’s coming together and it feels soft, supple and not sticky. Don't handle it too much. There should be small pieces of butter visible in the dough. Gently pat into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove from the refrigerator and rest on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper for a few minutes so it can soften a bit to prevent cracking.

Roll the dough out to about an 1/8” thickness, gently lifting and moving it after each roll and keeping the parchment lightly floured as needed. Form the dough to fit a 14” x 4 1/2” tart pan, cutting away the extra dough that can sliced into strips and used to lattice the top of the tart. When you have the desired shape for the tart pan, brush off any excess flour and lift the dough into the pan, easing it into the corners and trimming any excess. Chill the tart shell and the remaining dough for at least 30 minutes.

Wash and stem the rhubarb, making sure to remove all the leafy green parts. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2” pieces and place in a saucepan. Combine the sugar and flour and toss into the rhubarb. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add along with the grated ginger. Cook over medium low heat until fruit is softened but not mushy and the juices are simmering, about 5 - 8 minutes. Stir to keep from scorching. Remove from heat and add lemon zest. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the rhubarb mixture with fresh raspberries. Pour the fruit into the cold tart shell and spread evenly. Cut strips from the remaining dough and form a lattice across the top of the tart, pinching the edges to secure. Brush the pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake the tart for about 45 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the pastry is lightly browned.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Strawberry Citrus and Champagne Granita

As the weather warms up and strawberries appear in greater abundance, I’ve dug up a recipe for a dessert from an old issue of Bon Appetit that is both fruity and cool.

It all starts with a granita made from strawberries that are puréed and then supremely perked up with grapefruit and lemon juice, simple syrup and champagne. Simple and not too sweet, this is a very refreshing blast of bright citrus. The granita is served over strawberries that are macerated in sugar and Grand Marnier, a combination found in the old classic, Strawberries Romanoff, a simple concoction of strawberries steeped in orange liqueur and topped with whipped cream. That idea was first put together by the late 18th – early 19th century French pastry chef Marie Antoine Carême, who prepared desserts for the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, a member of the Romanoff dynasty.

But, for now, let's keep it simple. This lush orange-blessed fruit and slushy ice that soon melts on your plate create a saucy and refreshing dessert, light and bright, easy and fresh.

Bench notes:
- For the absolute best flavor, use fresh grapefruit and lemon juice for the granita. Although there is no salt in this recipe, I added a few grains to taste because citrus craves salt to really heighten it's full flavor.
- Although not in the recipe, I strained the granita to eliminate the seeds and any fruit that didn't fully purée.
- When macerating the strawberries, use all the sugar, which is there to balance the tartness of the granita.
- I topped the dessert with a little bit of sweetened whipped cream just to add a little gooeyness to the whole thing. Totally optional.
- For another lovely granita fruit dessert, try Raspberries with Sabayon and Hibiscus Granita or Peaches with Honey Sabayon and Chamomile Granita.

Strawberry Citrus and Champagne Granita
adapted from Bon Appétit
yield: Make 6 servings

1 C sugar, divided
3/4 C water
1 1/2 lbs large ripe strawberries
1 1/2 C fresh grapefruit juice
1 1/2 C dry champagne
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Combine 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cool.

Puree enough strawberries to produce 1/2 cup of puree. Pour the puree into a bowl and whisk in the grapefruit juice, champagne, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Strain the mixture into a shallow pan or container. Freeze until mixture begins to form ice crystals and the texture is slushy. Take a fork and scrape to form clumps of granita. Freeze again until the mixture is a bit more solidified, about 3 – 4 hours, scraping with a fork every now and then to break it up and form ice flakes. The granita can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time and kept in the freezer.

Up to 30 minutes before serving, slice remaining strawberries into a bowl and toss with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Grand Marnier.

To serve, distribute the sliced strawberries among 6 dishes or glasses. Scrape granita again to reform fresh slushy ice flakes. Top the berries with granita and serve immediately.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chocolate Soufflé Cookies

After a run of ice cream making and then some escapades with flan, I seem to have arrived at a moment where I’m up to my elbows in egg whites. While it may seem odd to plan a baking session wholly based on this sort of excess, I happened to remember a cookie recipe I’d been wanting to try from cookie goddess, Alice Medrich. To be sure, the designation of cookie goddess is well deserved. Alice Medrich has some of the best compilations of cookie recipes on the planet.

This recipe belongs to Alice Medrich and of course it’s about chocolate, her singular obsession. These are small, 2 or 3 bite cookies that are made with just a few basic ingredients. Chocolate that has been melted and cooled is gently folded into a light meringue along with finely chopped walnuts. It's exactly like preparing a soufflé or a mousse. The result is a light little cloud of a cookie that is crispy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside with lots of chocolate intensity. Pass around a platter of these and they will take flight in no time.

Bench notes:
- This is the time to use your favorite good quality chocolate.
- The best method for making meringue is to start with egg whites that are at room temperature, so don't forget to set out your egg whites. Once the chill is off, place them in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium speed. Add a pinch of cream of tartar or some other acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, which stabilizes the meringue by preventing the bubbles from bursting once you stop beating. When they are foamy, increase to medium high speed and continue whisking until they are opaque and form a soft peak. Slowly add sugar a bit at a time and continue whipping until the meringue forms stiff shiny peaks that hold their shape. Egg whites will lose their shine, look dry and start to separate into clumps when they are over beaten. Be sure to bake as soon as possible because meringue will start to deflate fairly quickly when handled.
- I used a truffle scoop to portion my cookies.
- I don’t recommend trying to double this recipe. The cookie batter needs to be scooped and baked right away.
- I’d be very tempted to add some cinnamon to this cookie next time around. I would also lightly toast the walnuts.
- These cookies are best eaten on the same day but will keep 2 - 3 days when stored in an airtight container.

Chocolate Soufflé Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich at Fine Cooking
Makes about 40 1 1/2" cookies

6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 large egg whites @ room temperature
1/8 t cream of tartar
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 C sugar
3/4 C finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Take off the heat and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they are opaque and soft peaks form. Continue whipping and gradually add the vanilla and sugar until the egg whites hold stiff peaks but are not dry.

Gently sprinkle the nuts and pour the cooled chocolate over the whipped whites. Fold the mixture together until the color is just about uniform, doing your best not to deflate the egg whites.

Immediately drop level teaspoons of batter onto the baking sheets, leaving at least 1” spacing between the cookies. Bake until cookies are shiny and cracked, about 10 to 12 minutes. They should be firm on the outside but still gooey inside when you nudge them.

Transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely.