Sunday, August 21, 2016

Recipe: Toasted Hazelnut Crème Brûlée

Toasted Hazelnut Crème Brûlée with Raspberries

Recipe: Toasted Hazelnut Crème Brûlée

I'll take Classic Desserts for $200, Alex!

This dessert is a sweet and rich baked Custard with a glass-like, caramelized Sugar top. The question?

What is a Crème Brûlée?

A well-executed Crème Brûlée is the ultimate illustration of perfection in simplicity. Cream, Egg Yolks and Sugar come together in a silky smooth Custard. A crunchy, brûléed (i.e. caramelized) Sugar top creates the ideal textural contrast.

Any pastry chef worth his Salt (or more appropriately, his Sugar) should be able to make a Crème Brûlée in his sleep (although I would advise against using a culinary torch while semi-conscious). As you might imagine, it featured prominently in culinary school. So, too, was a Crème Brûlée an appropriate test for the fourth episode of The Great British Bake Off, which focused on plated desserts.

A basic Crème Brûlée is delicious, but a simple Custard is also an amazing blank canvas for some culinary creativity. Forever swayed by the Italian influences of my first restaurant job at Osteria Morini, my mind immediately went to a Toasted Hazelnut incarnation. That's not an inexpensive choice (oh, Whole Foods pricing!) But, my god, is it delicious!  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Recipe: Cheddar Broccoli Quick Bread

Slice of Cheddar Broccoli Quick Bread with Melting Butter

Recipe: Cheddar Broccoli Quick Bread

This is not your Grandma Eileen's Irish Soda Bread...

To head off any criticisms, let me start by saying that this Cheddar Broccoli Quick Bread really isn't Irish Soda Bread at all... yet there are similarities.  More on those particulars later.

This is the third recipe in my run of The Great British Bake Off inspired posts. Episode three was dedicated to Breads. But seeing as I've already covered a number of basic, and not-so-basic, Breads on the Blog, I didn't want to be repetitive. And after multiple seasons of "Bake Off", it would seem that the producers were facing a similar conundrum. Another Yeast Bread? ... snore! And so the Quick Bread challenge was born.

What is a Quick Bread? 

A Quick Bread is simply a Bread that is made using a chemical leavening agent, such as Baking Soda, rather than a biological leavening agent, namely Yeast. Whereas Yeast is a biological organism that produces gas as it converts simple Sugars into Alcohol (which provides flavor), Baking Soda relies on the gas-producing chemical reaction between an acid and an alkali. The other distinct advantage of a Quick Bread is that no kneading or careful temperature control is required. As a result, it's a faster process from mixing to munching.

When it comes to Quick Breads versus Yeast Breads, the end products are distinctly different. Quick Breads have a denser crumb and a more cake-like texture. Chemical leavening simply cannot produce the large, open crumb of a crunchy Baguette or the complex flavor of a Sourdough. That's not to say a Quick Breads are an inferior product. They are simply different. 

For those interested in other Bread recipes, look no further, as links abound. And as for my Irish Grandmother Eileen, she was more of a Pie woman with a distinct preference for Strawberry Rhubarb and Lemon Meringue. So much for cultural heritage!

Other Bread Recipes to Try:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Recipe: Orange Almond Biscotti

Chocolate Covered Orange Almond Biscotti

Recipe: Orange Almond Biscotti

A Cookie so nice, they baked it twice...

This is the second in a series of The Great British Bake Off themed recipes. Episode one was dedicated to Cakes, and that inspired a recipe for Madeira Cake (psst... I'll let you in on a secret... it's basically a Pound Cake). Episode two moved on to Cookies (okay... "Biscuits", in local parlance). But the world doesn't need another Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. It's time for something different... Biscotti!

Biscotti (plural of Biscotto) are oblong-shaped Almond Cookies from the Italian city of Prato. Literally translated as "twice baked", in Italy, the term Biscotti has come to refer more generally to any Cookie, similar to how the label "Biscuit" is used in the United Kingdom. But in the U.S., "Biscotti" clearly identifies those hard and crunchy Italian Cookies, ideal for dipping in Coffee or Tea.

The world of Italian desserts is admittedly not my favorite (ironic, having worked in pastry at Osteria Morini, a proudly traditional, Italian restaurant in New York City). The Italian dessert flavor profile relies heavily on Nuts and Citrus - delicious in certain circumstances, but not nearly as satisfying as the Custard-filled, Chocolate-drenched, Puff Pastry province of the French tradition! And Italian baked goods, notoriously dry by any honest account, are particularly disappointing.

If Italian Cookies are so loathsome, then why write a recipe for Biscotti, the driest of the dry?

First, Biscotti are interesting from a technical perspective because they require two rounds of baking in the oven. Anything out of the ordinary like that always catches my attention. Second, I feel obligated to at least appreciate Biscotti, if only as a professional courtesy. Rather than sit in my kitchen and whine, I'd prefer to create a recipe that I like.

So here it is! This is not some also-ran morsel served with an after-dinner Espresso... a Cookie that is consumed with resentment, mind wandering to thoughts of the Chocolate Truffles that could have been served in its place. This is Biscotti for the Biscuit beleaguered.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Recipe: Glazed Lemon Poppy Madeira Cake

Slices of Glazed Lemon Poppy Madeira Cake

Recipe: Glazed Lemon Poppy Madeira Cake

On Your Marks... Get Set... Bake!

Anyone with even a passing interest in baking should be more than familiar with The Great British Bake Off. If not, stop reading and go have a watch. As of this post, there have been six seasons (or series, and the Brits so delightfully call them), so it should only take a week or so to catch up if you're willing to commit to some intense binge watching. 

Bring snacks. You'll get hungry.

For anyone who has endured the onslaught of overly-produced, "reality" cooking competitions manufactured in the U.S., this show's decidedly British sensibility is extremely refreshing. When judged, an unsuccessful dish is met with a look of concern... at worst, disappointment. Bombastic tirades have no place under the show's signature country-side tent, where the pastry proceedings transpire.

As endearing as the judges, commentators and competitors may be, what makes the show infinitely watchable is its unflagging commitment to the established pastry canon. Bakers are called upon to produce well-known classics and custom bakes of their own creation, where proper technique is critical. There are no relay races. There are no pyrotechnics. There's just Cake... and Tarts, Pies, Breads, Custards, Biscuits...

Using the show as a source of inspiration, I thought it would be fun to develop a series of recipes based on some of the treats that have been baked on the show. 

This season commenced with Cakes - the very first challenge being a Madeira Cake. Not well known in the U.S., a Madeira Cake is a 300-year-old creation so named not for the Madeira Islands (a common misconception) but rather for the Madeira wine with which it was/is commonly served. It's a simple Cake, most similar to what we know in the States as a Pound Cake.

But unlike a Pound Cake, which is made from equal parts Flour, Sugar, Butter and Eggs, a Madeira Cake skews heavier on the Flour, making for a slightly less rich and less sweet product with a denser crumb. British baking guru and Bake Off judge, Mary Berry, has some strong views on other defining characteristic (e.g. a light flavor, a cracked top and glass-like Candied Lemon Peel garnish). These are to be debated. But this recipe, served trenched in a Lemon Glaze, would certainly receive high marks from any judge!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis Baked in Cast Iron Pan

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

It's a Custard! It's a Pancake...

No, it's a Clafoutis (kla-FOO-tee)... a traditional French dessert that lives at the intersection of Custard, Bread Pudding, Soufflé and Pancakes. If you love any of those items, then you're sure to enjoy this!

Typically made with Black Cherries, a Clafoutis is a rustic dish, which is culinary code for "flavor over form"... "substance over style". It also means that there are no strict rules for execution. Escoffier isn't keeping score. This is a country farm dish. Cows need milking. There's no time to be fussy!

While a baked Custard, such as a Crème Brûlée, is made with just Eggs, Milk, Cream and Sugar, a Clafoutis also includes Flour. The addition of Flour makes for a slightly bready consistency rather than a silky smooth Custard. But if you do some comparing, you will quickly notice that the amount of Flour varies wildly across recipes. 

Back in culinary school, our recipe called for virtually no Flour, and the end product was effectively a Fruit-filled, baked Custard. Julia Child's recipe, which seems to have brought Clafoutis into the American pastry consciousness (although just barely), calls for a more substantive amount of Flour. The result is something more akin to a giant, inflated Crêpe

I've found that my preference lies somewhere in between the Flour-barren and Flour-laden extremes. I'm not looking for a Custard. And I don't want a Cake. Fortunately, simple recipes like this are easily customized, and small adjustments to the ratios of ingredients can be made to suit personal tastes.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Recipe: Mocha Cocoa Pebbles Brownies

Tray of Mocha Cocoa Pebbles Brownies with Toasted Marshmallows

Recipe: Mocha Cocoa Pebbles Brownies

All good things must come to an end (if only temporarily!)

It began with the Cheddar Goldfish Cookies, a recipe that answered the question nobody was asking: what would happen if you mixed sweet, savory and a little heat (in the form of an optional-but-highly-recommended dash of Cayenne Pepper) in a Cookie? The answer was delicious. Not long after the Cheddar Goldfish Cookies had been consumed, I had to keep playing with other ideas.

Next up were the Cap'n Crunch Corn Meal Cookies, which saw fit to make Cookies out of breakfast (and when no one was looking, to make breakfast out of Cookies).

But seeing as I like round sets of three, there needed to be one more recipe. Enter, the Mocha Cocoa Pebbles Brownies! As the only Chocolate entrant in this breakfast Cereal and snack food series, the Mocha Cocoa Pebbles Brownies are a rich, chewy, Dark Chocolate indulgence that uses extra-crispy, Coffee-enhanced Cocoa Pebbles to add depth of flavor and a lot of textural crunch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recipe: Cap'n Crunch Corn Meal Cookies

Stack of Cap'n Crunch Corn Meal Cookies

Recipe: Cap'n Crunch Corn Meal Cookies

And for my next trick...

Last week I started some Cookie experiments, playing with a Cookie & Cracker mash-up that resulted in Cheddar Goldfish Cookies. The results were dangerously delicious. As an act of self-defense, they were quickly shared until the cooling racks were free of any lingering temptations. But I wanted more.

This would just be the beginning. That Cookie & Cracker combination set my mind spinning as I realized the technique had boundless potential. There are just so many salty junk foods begging to be mixed into delicious Cookies! Can you hear the call of the Doritos?

And what about Cereal? Oh, the potential!

As any Cereal connoisseur will tell you, Cap'n Crunch™ lives up to its name. These guys can hold their own in a bowl of Milk. No soggy breakfasts here (I'm talking to you, Rice Crispies!) And if that were not sufficient proof, just look at the damage they can inflict on the roof of your mouth!

As a result, Cap'n Crunch is the perfect candidate for being turned into a Cookie. Combined with a base Cookie Dough that also includes Corn Meal to bring some extra Corn flavor and textural crunch, this is the perfect breakfast Cookie. I bet you didn't realize that such a thing existed, but it does now!