Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup

10 July 2014

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I’m completely in love with this dessert.

For years I have in vain chased the apricots of my childhood; just picked, intensely ripe, every juicy bite cooked by the Provençal sun to a sweet compote. Nothing comes close, and so, for years, I have spurned apricots; sighed in resignation.

I don’t expect to resuscitate these childhood memories here in London, but I have found a recipe to rekindle my interest in the forsaken fruit.

Cooking less-than-perfect apricots in a sugar syrup is the obvious solution, you say. I agree, of course, but this method takes it a step further. Roasting concentrates and intensifies aroma while the lemon verbena elevates a potentially stodgy dessert of stewed fruit to a surprising burst of flavor.

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Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup, adapted from a recipe by Allison Parker
The original is a recipe for apricots with vanilla and chamomile, which I received, from my friend, through the unlikely channel of an email recipe exchange. I’ve transformed it in honor of the vibrant verbena plant in my garden.

12 apricots

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 cup water

3 small twigs fresh lemon verbena

3 Tbsps fragrant liquid honey (borage honey worked beautifully)

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

Wash the apricots, slice them in half, remove the pits.

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to the heat, add the verbena and honey, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Pick out the verbena sprigs and reduce syrup for another 5 to 7 minutes, swirling the pot occasionally making sure the sugar doesn’t start to burn.

Pour the syrup into a pan which will fit all the apricots in one layer. Place the apricots in the syrup, cut side down, and spoon a little syrup over each hump of fruit.

Roast in the oven (rack in the upper third, so the apricots get slightly bushed from the heat) for about 10 minutes. Turn over the apricots, baste with syrup, and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until soft.

Let cool and serve at room temperature, with a big dollop of clotted cream, crème fraîche, or thick yogurt.

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Clafoutis de Lily

1 July 2014

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There are two schools when it comes to cherry clafoutis. Those who pit the cherries, and those who don’t. I like not to, because it allows the clafoutis to be ready for the oven in just a few minutes; because the pits reputedly impart flavor; and because I don’t mind gently removing the pits with each mouthful. It prolongs the enjoyment.

Thomas, on the other hand, is adamantly against pits. Indignant. What had I done? Never mind that a clafoutis had miraculously materialized within the 15-minute half-time break of Brazil vs Chile. Still, he insisted, had he known, he himself would have pitted the cherries.

Pits are polarizing. The good news is, at the end of the day, no one complains. Certainly not the one who surreptitiously finished the last remaining piece of clafoutis to which I had been looking forward throughout all of Colombia vs Uruguay.

Practically any fruit can go into a clafoutis but for me the craving springs with the seasons’ first cherries. Sour cherries even better. But no matter the fruit.

Pulling up in her ageless navy blue Renault 4L, my father’s fairy godmother Lily never arrived with fewer than one or two cakes, crates of homemade jams, and, always, little boxes of cotignac. But ask anyone in the family, Lily is practically synonymous with clafoutis. And, many years ago, she gave me the recipe!

Fruit
2 spoonfuls flour
5 spoonfuls sugar
3 eggs
2 glasses milk
Salt
Whiskey

Beat the ingredients together and pour over the fruit in an ovenproof dish.
(Some fruit – apples, pears, apricots – should first be allowed to brown in butter and sugar)

As far as I remember Lily always left the pits. Perhaps that is why, to me, clafoutis if foremost cherry, with pits.

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Clafoutis de Lily
Though I have translated into more precise measurements and added my two cents in parentheses, I leave the recipe, in its masterful simplicity, intact.

About 1 kg fruit

2 Tbsps flour (or 1 Tbsp flour and 2 Tbsps ground almonds) plus one for dusting the fruit

3 eggs

5 Tbsps sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis

250 ml (1 cup) milk

Pinch salt

1 Tbsp whiskey (or kirsch if using cherries)

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

If using apples, pears, apricots, plums, or peaches: brown the washed or pealed, cored, and quartered fruit in a large skillet with a generous pad of butter and sprinkling of sugar until golden brown. Set aside. If using cherries, pit them. Or not.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour, salt, and whiskey (or kirsch).

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool.

(I much prefer clafoutis to be completely cool, though some like it lukewarm. Like the the question of pits or no pits, it is entirely up to you.)

Galette des rois (king’s cake)

8 January 2014

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‘For whom is this piece?’

The cake has been cut, one piece already slid under the cake knife. The youngest child is giggling under the table, the family above huddled auspiciously around the redolent cake. The crown is ready. The ritual has begun.

Monday 6 January was Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day, which in the Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the three wise men (‘kings’) Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, bearing gifts for Jesus. In a typical amalgamation of customs, it is also — or foremost? — the day of the king’s cake, a traditional confection in which is hidden a coin, bean, or small figurine. Meaning is attached to finding the token. Depending on the tradition, it may bring luck, assign you to be the organizer of the next party, or make you king for the day, a custom that apparently derives from the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival rife with role playing during which the king of festivities was chosen by lot, with a bean.

In France we play like this: Everyone gathers around the galette as the youngest person hides under the table. The host cuts the cake and distributes the pieces according to the injunction of the hidden guest, who, in no specific order, calls out the name of each person present. This ensures that the piece with the token is given out at random. The cake is eaten circumspectly, with furtive poking and prodding, until someone finds the fève, and everyone can go about their business of just enjoying the pastry. The king is crowned and chooses his queen.

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For many years I didn’t make galette, I loved trying out bakeries to compare and contrast and find the best one. (Have I mentioned that we French eat galettes throughout January?) Then one day, I baked one. Or at least partially. I bought good puff pastry and made the almond cream. It was so ridiculously easy I was practically embarrassed. It also made for a better galette than most store-bought kinds. So I started making galettes. Kind of. Then, unexpectedly, this year, after decades of shying away from puff pastry (is it really worth the effort?), on a whim, I dove into the deep end — and I am not looking back.

Dan Lepard’s all-butter English puff pastry is, in his words, really not that hard to make. I agree!

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Recipe

Making galette can be anywhere from super easy to quite time-consuming, depending on how much is self-made. The ultra-quick version uses good store-bought puff pastry and ready ground almonds. The most hands on take makes puff pastry from scratch and grinds almonds on the spot. Depending on the mood.

Puff pastry, 2 sheets per galette (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)

Filling for 2 galettes about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

180 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter

180 g (1 cup) sugar

200 g (2 cups) almonds (or ready-ground almond flour)

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

Zest from 1 small lemon

1 tsp almond extract

1 Tbsp Armagnac (or, more traditionally, rum)

1 egg yolk and 2 Tbsps milk for the eggwash

1 fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

To prepare the almond flour, first blanch the almonds: Bring a couple of cups of water to boil, pour over the almonds to just cover, let steep for 1 minute, then strain the water and immediately remove the skins from the almonds. Once all the skins are removed, place the almonds in a food processor and pulse chop until very fine. Alternatively, use store-bought ground almonds (= almond flour).

In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy.

In another bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the eggs, one at a time, combining each thoroughly into the batter. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and Armagnac. Refrigerate. [The almond cream can be refrigerated for a few hours until ready to use.]

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a tarte dish or other to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread a good layer of almond cream on the dough, leaving an edge of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly onto the cream.

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the dough. Carefully place the second round of dough on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal.

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F (180°C) and remove the galette from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, etch a design onto the galette, then brush generously with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary).

Christmas cookies | Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

22 December 2013

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Maybe I wasn’t being completely truthful last year when I exclaimed that the almond and currant cookies of my youth are my favorite. In reality I’ve always loved Zimtsterne most of all.

As a little girl cinnamon stars represented the very promise of Christmas. The sweet tinge of icing an irresistible finish to the chewy bite. Nutty. Not too cinnamony. For some years I may have snubbed them a little, perhaps in a flaccid effort at emancipation from too obvious a childhood treat. But why resist the irresistible?

This is another recipe my mother has kept alive all these years. She received it initially, many years ago, from Marcelle, a close family friend and my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland.

*

Marcelle’s Zimtsterne
The cookies must rest for a few hours or overnight before baking, so plan accordingly. They are best made a few weeks ahead. (Ahem.
)
Store in an airtight tin box, separating the layers with parchment paper.

450 g (3 cups) almonds

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

300 g (1 1/2 cups) unrefined sugar

2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

Kirsch (1 Tbsp for cookies and 1 Tbsp for the icing)

Star-shaped cookie cutter

100 g (3/4 cup) powdered (icing) sugar

Pulse chop the almonds in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sugar. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very firm.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon kirsch to the almonds. Fold in the egg whites with a wooden spoon, then knead by hand until the dough holds together (kneading will help extract the almond oil).

Take the dough and flatten it evenly on a slightly moistened wooden board (working in batches if necessary). The height should be approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch), but the most important is that it be even so it also cooks evenly.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with sugar. Cut out stars from the dough with a wet cookie cutter and place them on the baking sheet. (Wet the cutter repeatedly throughout the process to avoid sticking.)

Let the stars rest, uncovered (they must dry a little), at room temperature, for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Slide the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes. They will harden when they cool but must remain moist.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 1 tablespoon Kirsch and 1 tablespoon water. The icing should be quite liquid, add water drop by drop if necessary.

Using the back of a small spoon, coat each star, while still warm, with a light layer of icing. Let dry.

Store in a tin box, layers separated by parchment paper, for up to a month.

Merry Christmas!

Quince fruit pastes (pâtes de fruit)

27 November 2013

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The truth of the matter is, rather than preparing for a blasphemously belated Thanksgiving on Saturday, for which most of my family is crossing the channel, I have been roasting quinces and simmering chutney.

Last week, friends unexpectedly brought me a big bag of quinces from their garden in the Cotswolds (I hear it is more of an orchard). I was quite excited and may possibly have briefly jumped up and down at the sight. It was a very busy week, and I was away this weekend — the quinces were becoming impatient. Quinces do hold out for a while but I wasn’t willing to tempt fate for too long, so last night I made chutney. As a first test improvised from a few recipes it is quite good, but I am not entirely happy enough to report the results here — yet. In any event, Thomas managed to save the last of the quinces from their chutney fate, begging that I make quince paste, too.

What he doesn’t know is that in the course of the morning, half of the membrillo has been transmogrified into my absolute favorite sweet: pâtes de fruit.

The preparation is the same up to the point of cutting the paste into dice or rectangles and coating them with sugar.

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Quince cheese recipe dapted from the River Café Cookbook (Blue)

Quinces

Sugar

Lemon

Preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

Rub the fuzz from the quinces and wash well under cold water. Cut the quinces in half and place them face down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the quinces feel quite soft when poked with a knife (probably 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

While the quinces are still warm, pass them through the fine mesh of a vegetable mill. (To insure a very pure paste, first remove the quinces’ core).

(The quince purée can at this point be refrigerated overnight.)

Weigh the purée, place in a saucepan, and add an equal amount of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per 100g of quince.

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the paste has darkened and begins to fall off the sides. This will take a good long while, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so take a book, newspaper, or magazine close to the stove but DO NOT leave. (I happen to know that left unattended, the paste will burn very quickly. In which case transfer quickly to another saucepan and continue cooking.)

Once the paste has reached a dark, heavy consistency, spread on a plate to cool. Once cool, cut into the desired shapes and roll in some sugar. The pastes should keep for a few weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


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