Friday, September 30, 2011

Café Beaujolais Coffee Cake

Many years ago, if you found yourself wandering the mesmerizing landscape along the Mendocino Coast high among the cliffs and gorgeous waves, you’d probably run into a cozy little restaurant called Café Beaujolais. With a stunningly expansive coastline that seems to go on forever, Mendocino is most certainly a place to go to rest and be comforted. That version of Café Beaujolais is gone now but some of its recipes are still with us.

One of the things that made Café Beaujolais a destination was their coffee cake. As coffee cakes go, this one is as soothing as Mendocino itself. It's got a great texture with moist and spicy crumbs, lots of crumbs. It’s the kind of coffee cake that has you pressing your fingers against your plate until every last morsel is gone, chased down with your final sip of very strong piping hot coffee.

As you can see from the very brief instructions, this is a very easy pastry to prepare. File it away in case you have a spontaneous need or desire for a quick surprise for brunch or a meeting where you’d like to lend a touch of warmth and friendship.

Bench notes:

- The finished cake is only about 1” tall, so the servings are fairly modest. I haven’t tried baking it in a smaller pan for a taller cake.
- The recipe calls for corn oil, which I think is an artifact of the times. I used canola oil.
- This is a delicious cake. My personal preference is another recipe from Margaret Fox, which I posted as the Mendocino Coffee Cake. I love that streusel with its combination of espresso powder, cinnamon, cocoa and walnuts.

Cafe Beaujolais' Buttermilk-Cinnamon Coffeecake
adapted from Margaret Fox in the Los Angeles Times
Makes about 10 - 12 servings

2 1/4 C flour
1 C brown sugar, packed
3/4 C sugar
2 t cinnamon, divided
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground ginger
3/4 C oil
1 C sliced almonds
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 egg
1 C buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9" x 13" baking pan with butter.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, salt and ginger. Add oil and gently mix in. Remove 3/4 cup of the mixture to another bowl and combine with almonds and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon to form a streusel. Set aside.

To remaining flour mixture, add baking powder, baking soda, egg and buttermilk. Blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle reserved nut streusel evenly over surface of batter, pressing gently into the surface just a bit. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until cake tests done. Place pan on wire rack to cool.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream

One of my first encounters with the world of cinnamon was making cinnamon toast as a kid. I would toast a slice of bread, swipe a bit of butter and then sprinkle with sugar heavily dosed with cinnamon. I think it’s where I first learned to appreciate the unmistakable allure of this spice. Even so, when I first saw this recipe for Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream from Gourmet magazine, I thought it sounded kind of strange. Cinnamon toast cubes in ice cream? How would that work? To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to make a batch.

To begin this adventure, the recipe calls for steeping a cinnamon stick in some hot milk. The next step is to douse some bread cubes in a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and then toast them in the oven. The smell of that alone is enough to keep you going. Some of that toasted bread is then infused in the cinnamon milk for a few minutes. From there, you strain the milk and make a custard, chill the base, then freeze in your ice cream maker and fold in the toasted cinnamon bread cubes. Done!

Somehow the toasted bread oddly maintains its crunch despite being submerged in a luxurious cinnamon ice cream. Strange, I know, but the result is this very fascinating ice cream that really does replicate the flavor sensation of cinnamon toast. It’s a wonderful dose of cinnamon and totally reminiscent of my infatuation with this spice that began early in my life. So if you’re a cinnamon toast fan and would like to enjoy some ice cream that is off the beaten track, give it a go!!

Bench notes:
- The original recipe recommends white sandwich bread but I think even using your favorite bread, such as pain de mie, whole wheat or levain, would be just as delicious, perhaps more so. I used a baguette, including the crust.
- When soaking the bread crumbs in the milk mixture, keep your eye on the clock. Ten minutes is plenty or you risk having very soggy bread that can be pressed out but you are likely to wind up with less liquid.
- I use Vietnamese cinnamon. I love its sweet aromatic intensity. I buy it at my local bulk grocery but you can also find it online.
- Salt is an important element in most pastries and desserts. It enhances the flavor considerably, especially in dairy and chocolate.
- I took a few of the toasted bread cubes and made them into crumbles for extra garnish.
- The ice cream is very rich. I might reduce to 4 eggs next time. And perhaps reduce the granulated sugar by 2 T since the 2 T brown sugar used for the bread cubes is plenty sweet.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream
adapted from Gourmet magazine
Makes about 1 quart

2 C whole milk
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
5 slices firm white sandwich bread (or your favorite substitute)
2 oz (1/2 stick) butter
2 T packed light brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
6 egg yolks
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 t molasses
pinch of salt
1 C heavy cream

Bring milk and cinnamon sticks to a slow boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Cut 3 slices bread into 1/4" cubes and place in a bowl. Chop remaining 2 slices and pulse in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Place those in another bowl.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Melt the butter and whisk in the brown sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle 3 tablespoons butter mixture over bread cubes and toss quickly to coat. Spread in 1 layer on a cookie sheet. Add remaining butter mixture to the bread crumbs and stir to evenly coat. Spread crumbs evenly on another cookie sheet.

Place the bread cubes and crumbs in the oven to toast, stirring occasionally and turning pans halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, then transfer bread crumbs to a bowl.

Return milk to a boil, then pour over breadcrumbs and let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, pressing hard on solids. Discard bread crumbs.

Whisk together yolks, sugar, molasses, and a pinch of salt. Return milk mixture to a low boil and pour into yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Return to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened, coats the back of the spoon and leaves a clean track when you run your finger across it. Do not let the mixture boil.

Remove from heat, immediately stir in cream and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Taste and adjust for salt, if needed. Let the mixture cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to instructions. Then fold bread cubes into ice cream and transfer to an airtight container. Press a piece of plastic into the surface, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

The ice cream will keep but the toast is crunchiest the first 2 days after it's made.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Peaches 'n Cream Puffs

Peach season is rapidly heading for a finish, so it’s definitely the time to enjoy every last bite. This is a simple cream puff recipe made more fun by layering in some luscious peaches and drizzling with a thin caramel syrup that’s been nicely spiked with a pinch of cinnamon. Just a little dressing up of the cream puffs you may have coveted as you passed by the windows of your local bakery.

Cream puffs are made from a classic pastry dough, pâte à choux. This is the same dough that forms the base for profiteroles, which are filled with ice cream rather than whipped cream, and éclair, oblong shapes filled with pastry cream. Once these are piped and in the oven, I always anticipate the experience of opening the oven door and finding the thick dense dough transformed into all these light beautiful billowy puffs. In some cultures the dough is fried to create churros and one type of beignets.

For this dessert, I bathe the peaches in a light mixture of honey and lemon to flavor and keep them from browning. The cream is whipped with either a dash of vanilla or a nip of brandy or rum. Once the puffs are baked, this dessert is very quick to assemble and even quicker to devour.

Enjoy these last waning days of summer while you can. Celebrate the end of another gorgeous season with a platter of these elegant little gems.

Bench notes:
- Pâte à choux is not difficult to make. It just requires that you try not to hurry the process. What makes it all work are a few simple techniques: 1) Once you add the flour to the simmering water and butter, make sure you stir constantly and cook the dough for a couple of minutes so there is a steam rising and a film appears on the bottom of the pan. This cooks out the taste of the flour. 2) Take the dough off the heat and beat it in a mixer on medium speed or with a wooden spoon until there is no longer any trace of steam rising. This helps to dry out the dough in preparation for incorporating the eggs. 3) Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix thoroughly before adding the next. The dough will look lumpy at first but will smooth out beautifully. Scrape down the bowl after each addition. 4) The pâte à choux is ready when it is smooth and shiny and falls from a spoon in gloppy sheets. 5) Always use an egg wash to ensure even, pretty browning. 6) The test for baked pâte à choux is when the pastry feels very light and sounds hollow when tapped.
- I use a serrated knife to slice the cream puffs.
- Baked pâte à choux are best eaten the same day but you can also freeze them in an airtight container. Thaw and crisp in a 350 degree oven for about 8 – 10 minutes.
- As always with caramel, give it your undivided attention. It will turn on you in a second! Try to take it to a medium dark amber color to avoid it being too sweet. Take it off the heat the moment it just begins to reach the right color, swirl the pan very gently until it darkens a bit more from the residual heat. Then quickly set the pan down and add the hot water to stop the cooking. And remember, whenever you add an ingredient to hot caramel, it’s going to bubble and splatter viciously. Just stand back and let it unwind. Adding a hot liquid helps to cut down on the reaction. Adding cold ingredients to hot caramel will likely cause it to seize on you. To fix a seized caramel, place it on low heat and whisk gently until dissolved, being careful not to splash any on your hands.
- You will probably have leftover caramel syrup, which will keep stored in a glass container at room temperature for a couple of weeks. Spoon it over your favorite ice cream.

Peaches 'n Cream Puffs
Makes about 1 dozen small profiteroles; serves 6

Cream Puffs
1/2 C water
2 oz (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
1/8 t salt
1/2 C flour
2 eggs

egg wash:
1 egg
2 t water
tiny pinch of salt

Cinnamon Caramel Syrup
1 C sugar
1/4 C water + 1/2 C very hot water
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t vanilla
1 t fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste

4 medium or 3 large ripe peaches
2 T mild honey
1 T water
1/2 t fresh lemon juice, to taste

Whipped Cream
3/4 C heavy cream
2 t sugar
1/2 t vanilla (or brandy or rum)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and add flour all at once. Cook and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth, pulls away from the sides of pan and leaves a noticeable film on the bottom of the pan. This will take a couple of minutes.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with a paddle for a few minutes until there is no longer any steam rising from the dough. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl. The dough will go from looking lumpy to very smooth. Continue to add the second egg and beat until you have the same results. While the dough is mixing, prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg, water and just a few grains of salt.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment. Place the pâte à choux into a pastry bag fitted with 1/2" plain tip. Pipe a dozen 1 1/2" mounds. Wet your index finger with cold water and smooth the tops of each piece of piped dough. Brush each piece lightly with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown and puffed, about 22 to 24 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

For the caramel, place 1/4 C water and 1 C sugar in a saucepan on medium high heat. Cook the sugar mixture just until it begins to turn a medium dark amber color. Watch it closely. Once the sugar starts to color it accelerates very quickly and will darken to a burnt and bitter stage very fast. If it's not coloring evenly, gently swirl the pan just a bit to circulate the darker areas. As it begins to approach the right color, take it off the heat and swirl the pan gently. Keep it off the heat and let it continue to darken a bit more. It will have a slight reddish cast. Once it looks like the right color, set the pan down, stand back and add the 1/2 C of hot water. It will bubble up vigorously and splatter, so be careful. When it settles down, return it to the medium heat and let it come to a boil to dissolve any seized bits of caramel, stir carefully without splashing. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and lemon juice. Let it cool several minutes and then add salt to taste. Set aside to cool completely.

For the peaches, place the honey and water in a saucepan and warm over low heat until dissolved and blended. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice to taste. Cool. Slice about half the peaches and cut the remaining into a small dice. Toss all the peaches with the syrup to coat each piece. Set aside.

When ready to assemble, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla (or the brandy or rum) until it holds a very soft peak.

Slice the puffs in half. Dollop some whipped cream on the bottom half. Top with diced peaches. Place the other half of the puff on top and drizzle with Cinnamon Caramel. Add some sliced peaches to garnish the plate. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yeasted Apricot Almond Tart

As we begin our shift into fall, I somehow managed to score some end-of-the-season apricots last week and have baked them into this yeasted tart. It makes for a great brunch offering or afternoon cake with exactly the right amount of yeast, butter, vanilla, sugar, salt and of course blessed fruit. As the weeks go by, you can substitute the last of the peaches, plums or pears.

If you fear working with yeast, this may be the recipe for you. The dough comes together very quickly and without any scary temperature testing or guessing. Just combine all the ingredients and about 3 minutes later you’re done. Give it two hours to rise, layer some fruit, garnish and give it another 30 minutes rest. Bake it and there you have it: a deliciously fresh little tart that will leave you ever so grateful for the wonders of yeast.

Bench notes:
- This dough is very wet and sticky. If you have a pastry scraper, use it to scrape the dough into the prepared pan. Or a rubber spatula will work just fine.
- Adjust the sugar you sprinkle on top of the tart according to the fruit you use. Tart fruit like plums will require more, about 1/4 cup.
- When yeast dough is set aside to rise, set a timer. One sign of over-proofing is when you press the dough down after the first rising, the gases discharged will have a strong smell of alcohol.

Yeasted Apricot Almond Tart
adapted with some modification from Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Serves 8

3 T whole milk
2 t dry yeast (not instant)
1/4 C sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 C flour
3/4 t salt
3 oz butter @ room temperature and cut into 1/2” pieces
8 to 10 apricots, pitted and cut into quarters
3 – 4 T sugar
1/4 C sliced almonds

Generously butter a 9 1/2” springform pan.

Stir together the milk and the yeast in a mixer bowl and then combine with 1/4 cup sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour and salt and mix with the paddle for one minute. Add the room temperature butter and continue beating for another minute. Gather the dough and place in the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm space to rise for 2 hours.

Dampen your hands a bit and gently press down on the dough. Spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. Arrange the fruit slices in a decorative way over the dough, leaving a 1/2” border all around the edges. Press the fruit down firmly. Sprinkle sugar over the entire surface and let the tart stand for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake the tart for about 35 minutes or until the tart is lightly browned the center feels slightly firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack and remove from pan.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roasted Grapes with Yogurt Cream

It’s hard to ignore the stunning bright beauty of grapes. They beam like clusters of jewels on market tables everywhere, their effortless beauty urging us to make the investment. There are so many wonderful varieties to pair with artisan cheese for a little something different and wonderful.

In this recipe, I roast the grapes with a loving splash of olive oil, a bit of sugar secured with a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt. As they roast, their skins split and they become juicy and sumptuous. The olive oil doesn’t overwhelm the taste at all but rather gives the grapes a luscious mouth feel.

I serve these roasted grapes with a dollop of Greek yogurt that has been mixed with a little honey and vanilla and expanded with a little bit of cream. The result is simple and beautiful and tastes like something you’d sample on the shores of the Mediterranean as you stare out into the deep blue sea. These are clean and robust flavors that come together in about 15 minutes. Pull up a chair and nibble at this light plateful of summer.

Bench notes:
- Choose grapes that are seedless and full of flavor. I like red flames but I’m sure there are other varieties that would also be delicious.
- It might be fun to add a splash of orange flower water to the yogurt cream instead of vanilla.
- These grapes would also be delicious with a bite of your favorite cheese: blue, goat, triple cream.
- The salt is a nice contrast to the essential sweetness of the grapes.
- This would be a good dessert to serve with a nice Beaumes de Venise or Muscat, Monbazillac, Semillon or Viognier wine.

Roasted Grapes with Yogurt Cream
Makes 4 servings

Yogurt Honey Cream

1 C (8 oz) plain Greek yogurt
3 T honey, to taste
1/2 t lemon juice, to taste
1/4 t vanilla
1/2 C heavy cream

Roasted Grapes

1 lb 4 oz seedless red grapes, such as red flame
generous 1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch sea salt

For the Yogurt Cream, whisk together the yogurt and honey.
Add the lemon juice and vanilla.
Whip the heavy cream just to a very soft peak.
Fold in the whipped cream. Chill.

For the Roasted Grapes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the grapes into small clusters and place them in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with your hands to coat evenly.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the grapes. Sprinkle with sea salt. Place the grapes in a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish and roast in the oven for about 15 – 18 minutes, until the grape skins show signs of cracking. Plate the grapes, drizzle with their juices and serve with a dollop of Yogurt Cream.