Hot and Cold… and Caramel

22 11 2010

A few weeks ago, Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques posed an interesting challenge.  She wanted to play with hot and cold, temperatures and flavors.  I love this sort of game.  Let’s see, cold custard… crème caramel is one of the easiest and tastiest ones I know.  Now how can we warm it up?  This being Fall, warm spices like cinnamon and ginger immediately spring to mind.  (I considered star anise, but upon sticking my nose in the jar, I decided that anise/licorice is a distinctly cool flavor.)  So we have a warm-tasting cold thing, how about a cool-tasting warm thing to go with it?  I think pears are on the cool end of the flavor spectrum, so to speak, but if we cooked them with butter and sugar until they were caramelized and a little sticky?  Then they would be hot, and awesome on top of a creamy dessert.

An autumnal caramel palette

And are they ever!  The spiced crème caramel has an almost pumpkin pie-like flavor, the caramel makes it decadent, and the pears keep it from going overboard.  Personally, I think these would make a great Thanksgiving dessert, as long as you don’t have any die-hard traditionalists at your table.  And maybe even if you do – it’s good enough to change some minds.

I’m very interested to see what other people have come up with in response to Jenni’s challenge, so it’s fortunate that she’ll be posting a roundup of hot-and-cold inspired desserts on December 1st.  Which means you still have time to play along, if you’re so inclined.

Spiced Crème Caramel with Hot Caramel Pears

Warm spices, cold, creamy custard, hot pears and a double dose of caramel make this darn near my ideal Fall dessert. It would be right at home at the end of an elegant holiday meal. As a bonus, it’s completely do-ahead: the custard needs time to chill, and the pears can be reheated in a snap.

For the Crème Caramel:

9 oz. / 265 ml milk (whole is best, 2% is ok, but please not skim)
3 oz. / 89 ml cream
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
A few flakes of whole mace, if you can get it, or a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 piece of crystallized ginger, sliced
A pinch of salt (I used vanilla salt, which is salt with a vanilla bean scraped into it)
3 eggs
½ cup sugar, or thereabouts, plus some water.

  1. Preheat the oven to 330 F / 165 C.
  2. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, spices, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and add just enough water to moisten it. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it begins to brown. Swirl it gently until it is a deep amber color (or even darker – I like mine when it just starts to smoke). Quickly pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of five ramekins. Set aside.
  4. Strain the spiced milk into a blending-appropriate container, add the eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour this custard into the prepared ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins into a large oven-proof dish. Put the dish in the oven, then fill it with hot tap water until the water level is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is just set (it should wobble a bit in the middle when jostled), about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely. These can be made up to four days in advance, but keep them covered and chilled.

For the pears:

3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 Tbsp. / 30 g unsalted butter
½ cup / 100 g sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt.  Place the pear halves in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized. Serve immediately or chill and reheat.

For the dessert:

To unmold the chilled custards, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake a bit to loosen. It should come out in a splash of caramel sauce. Top the custards with a warm pear half and a little extra caramel sauce from the pears.

Makes 5 desserts, plus one extra pear half.

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The Maiden Voyage of La Sorbetière

26 02 2010

Caramel Apple Ice Cream with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel Sauce

Today’s gray, rainy, and windy morning somehow managed to turn into a still windy but wonderfully sunny, blue-skied afternoon.  Since it was Friday, and I already had the pictures edited and recipe typed for today’s post, I thought I’d take a walk up in Montmartre after work.  I mean, what’s the point of living in Paris if you can’t take some time to get out and enjoy it every now and then?  Besides, I’M ON VACATION!  (WHOO-HOO!  Excuse me.)  It just seemed like an appropriate celebration of a sunny, almost-Spring day to take a walk in one of Paris’ hilliest, most convoluted neighborhoods.  Oh, I had a reason, and a purpose to my visit, which you’ll learn about soon enough, but I resolved not to just head-down, look-at-the-Google-map-on-my-phone my way to where I was going.  No, I wanted to get a little turned around (which I definitely did), look at some beautiful architecture (I think my favorites are the elaborate apartment buildings built in the first decade of the 20th century), and maybe even get some exercise (thank you, rues Lamarck and Caulaincourt and your intervening staircases).

Custard, left; caramelized apples, right.

Sorry, none of this really has anything to do with ice cream.  I made ice cream.  I’ve done it before.  But not in my own ice cream maker in Paris.  I wanted to try something new to christen the new appliance, and I wanted to use apples, because that’s the only fruit we get in the CSA this time of year, and they tend to pile up.  So I caramelized a whole bunch of them, and pureed them with a standard, less-sweet vanilla custard, to which I’d added a soupçon of bourbon.  The sorbetière worked its magic, and now I have a big container of original ice cream in my freezer.  I wanted a sauce to go with it, so I whipped up a quick caramel sauce with toasted pecans.  I didn’t write the recipe, because it’s too simple: caramelize sugar, add cream, stir in toasted pecan pieces and salt.  Spoon over ice cream and eat.

Digging in

Click on through for the ice cream recipe, if you want it.

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Hot, Sticky, Sweet

10 12 2008

Dates have always been a special occasion treat for me.  (I’m talking about food, not my social life, just to clarify.)  When I was a kid, I used to go crazy for the Betty Crocker Date Bar mix, which we could only seem to find around Christmastime.  They were kind of a pain to make, with the crumbly bottom crust always getting stuck in the sticky date puree as you tried to spread it out, but the payoff was well worth it.  Crispy, chewy, and redolent with brown sugar, I could easily have polished off an entire pan of these at one sitting, though I don’t think I ever actually did.  I first tasted a fresh date when I was 25, working in the kitchen of a soon-to-be 5 star restaurant.  (We were using it on a cheese plate with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.)  I was blown away.  It was everything I loved about the date bar – sweet, caramelly, and luscious – without the hassle (or the shame) of the boxed mix.  Fresh dates, however, are difficult to find and can be expensive.  Luckily, I soon realized that dried dates were nearly as good.

Stirring cream into hot caramel for toffee sauce

Given my love of dates, and caramel, it is shocking that I took so long to attempt a sticky toffee pudding.  Traditionally it is a dense pudding-cake loaded with dates and drenched in toffee sauce.  What’s not to love?  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I wanted a seasonal variation, something that would sate my annual hunger for pumpkin pie, and that was maybe a tad less sweet (all those dates can make for a toothache-inducing dessert, if you’re not careful).  Since I was pretty sure I’d have more than enough Butternut squash to accompany the scallops, I set aside a little to use in my pudding.

Pour some toffee on me!

When the time came, I whisked the Butternut purée with some brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter.  I combined flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl, then mixed the two together.  Chopped dates and a bit of minced crystallized ginger were folded in, and I scooped the batter into my spiffy new silicone dome molds.  In a makeshift water bath consisting of a round ceramic tart dish and a piece of tinfoil, I baked the puddings until they puffed up a bit.  Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce (see photo above), finishing it off with a wallop of scotch.  “This is a pajama dessert,” I told Nick, so we got ourselves ready for bed while waiting for the puddings to cool.  I served them as soon as they were cool enough to handle, with a full coat of toffee sauce poured over the top.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding

Delectably sweet, and oh-so-comforting with the homey flavors of the squash and spices mimicking pumpkin pie even better than I expected.  This is definitely dessert you eat in your pajamas.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Winter Squash Saga, Part II: Dessert

28 10 2008

As I promised yesterday, I’m back today with the winter squash, orange, and sage dessert.  I initially liked the idea of using these ingredients in a dessert because it seemed like more of a challenge.  Sage, in particular, is not usually used in sweets and I thought I could do something interesting with it.

Warm, fragrant, and fuzzy, sage is the freshly laundered blanket of the herb family.

The squash part was easy.  Winter squash-based sweets abound: pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, muffins, and even pancakes feature on menus everywhere this time of year (well, not in the southern Hemisphere, I guess).  In my first restaurant job I was given a recipe for butternut squash flan.  I thought it was a great idea, but the stupid thing never worked right.  My theory was that if we had just put a thin layer of caramel in the bottom of the molds, like you’re suppposed to when you’re making flan aka crème caramel, they would have come out beautifully every time.

The correct way to make crème caramel

So I did just that.  I also reduced the amount of cream in favor of milk (not something you’ll hear me say very often), because traditionally, crème caramel is the lightest of the baked custards and made using only milk and whole eggs.  Plus, I wanted that lighter texture.  I think it balances the richness of the caramel and helps to make more of that delicious sauce you get when you finally unmold the dessert.  I snuck some of the orange butter into the caramel to play up the orange flavor in the squash (I reserved some from the lasagna and puréed it using my beloved immersion blender).

Water baths are not a big deal.

After a short spell in the oven, their custards were ready.  I prefer mine just-set, by which I mean barely holding together.  Feeling pleased with my success so far, I left the custards in the fridge to chill overnight.

“But what about the sage?”  You must be wondering.  In one of those flashes of inspiration, it came to me.

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Gérard Mulot

24 04 2008

Last weekend, as we were making our way home from a trip to the Carnavalet Museum (we just had to find out how the revolution turned out for Louis XVI) we stumbled upon Gérard Mulot’s shop just off the Place des Vosges.  I had heard about Mulot from a number of reliable sources, so when Nick suggested we go in and try it, I wasn’t about to say no.

Mulot\'s case - left

Mulot\'s case - right

Luckily, there was a line inside, which gave me time to peruse the offerings at my leisure.  I immediately noticed that the chocolate éclair was made with chocolate pâte à choux.  Brilliant!  Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?  Obviously, we had to get one of those.  But what else to choose?  At first I was attracted by the individual St. Honoré (top photo, left), then tempted by the promise of chocolate and raspberry in the Sortilège (bottom photo, second from right), then drawn in by the Saint Gilles (bottom photo, third from right).  I told Nick I was going to ask what was in it, and if it was caramel, that’s what we were getting.  Well, it was, and we did.

We stepped outside and opened the box to get a closer look at our purchases.

Saint Gilles and Chocolate Eclair from Gérard Mulot

We gazed at the storefront as we devoured the éclair.

Pâtisserie Gérard Mulot

Yeah, we got all the way across the street before tearing into it.  It was a good éclair, with real chocolate glaze on top and plenty of creamy chocolate filling.  I’m not sure if the chocolate pâte à choux actually made that much of a flavor difference, but eating an entirely chocolate éclair just feels so decadent!

We managed to wait until after dinner to try the Saint Gilles.  The chocolate garnish looked cool, but was unnecessary in terms of flavor.  The dessert was composed of a cone of caramel mousse which surrounded a filling of spiced peaches on a pecan toffee base.  The toffee had a nice crunch to it, and the peaches added a welcome flavor contrast to the creamy caramel mousse.

I like the way Mulot has taken some liberties with traditional pastries while retaining their integrity and palatability.  (By which I mean, there wasn’t anything that was weird for the sake of being weird.)  It all made sense, but none of it was boring.  I’m going to have to go back and see what he’s done with the St. Honoré.





Baking Extravaganza, Act IV

31 03 2008

A week or two ago, I was browsing Doughmonkey’s website to see what I was missing.  The Goat Butter Caramelized Apple Strudel struck a chord, and I knew I would be attempting my own version in the near future.  Because I like to play around with flavors, I wondered how a caramelized apple and goat cheese strudel would be, and decided it was worth a shot.

The first step, obviously, is caramelizing the apples.  I thought that nice thick slices, à la tarte tatin, would be best, so I peeled two apples (they were Braeburns, I believe) and cut each into eight wedges, removing the core as I went.  Meanwhile, I was melting butter and cassonade in a pan, so when the apples were prepped, they went straight into the hot butter/sugar mixture.

Apples before

I cooked them over medium-low heat, turning them occasionally, until they were evenly browned on all sides.

Apples after

At this point I threw in another tablespoon or so of butter, to slow down the cooking and bump up the buttery flavor (let’s not forget the title of the dessert that inspired this one).  I let them continue browning until they were deep golden brown in color, then removed the pan from the heat and let them cool.

I wasn’t about to try to make strudel dough on my own, but I know from experience that it is similar enough to phyllo dough that the latter can easily substitute.  At the store I found phyllo without a problem, and next to it were packages of brick paper (feuilles de brick), a thin pastry dough which I believe is North African in origin.  It is quite similar to phyllo dough, but slightly easier to work with and perhaps even closer in texture to the strudel dough I was trying to emulate.  since brick paper is sold in round sheets, I had to figure out what shape I wanted the final dessert to be.  I decided that triangles would be easy and less likely to involve a huge mess than a roll- or beggar’s purse- shaped pastry was.  So I cut the circle of dough in half, brushed it with butter (and when I say “brushed,” I mean “smeared with my fingers,” since I don’t have a pastry brush yet), and folded it in half lengthwise.  I placed two pieces of caramelized apple at one end of the resulting strip and topped them with a dollop of fresh goat cheese.

Step 1

Then I folded it up, spanakopita-style, into a neat little triangle.  Note: this was just the right amount of filling – any more, and I would have had real trouble getting the dough to fold all the way around it.

Apple triangle, unbaked

I debated frying them in butter on the stove, but ended up opting for the less greasy (and cleaner) baking method for cooking my apple-goat cheese triangles.

Apple triangle - baked

They came out smashingly.  The crisp pastry surrounding the buttery-soft caramelized apples and the gently tangy goat cheese worked really well together.  We ate them unadorned, and enjoyed them quite a bit, but an apple gastrique sauce and a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream would have pushed these babies over the top.





Baking Extravaganza, Act II

11 03 2008

On the heels of the peanut butter cookie success, and because I had a delectable-smelling pineapple languishing on the counter, I decided to try making a pineapple upside-down cake.  Theoretically, this is the sort of quintessentially American dessert that translates reasonably well into French cuisine.  I mean, it’s not all that far removed from a tarte tatin, if you think about it.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, step 1

It starts with pineapple and brown sugar (cassonade in my case).  Cook over medium heat until the pineapple is translucent.

Cooking the Pinapple

You don’t want the pineapple topping to be too juicy, or the cake will come out soggy.  So I poured the pineapple into a colander set over a bowl, then returned the juices to the pan to continue cooking.  When the liquid began to darken and thicken, I added a little butter and vanilla and poured the caramel into my cake pan (a lovely ceramic Emile Henry dish I bought ridiculously cheap at Carrefour – France’s answer to Target).

As the caramel topping cooled, I made the cake batter.  A straightforward butter cake, I creamed the butter and sugar, added eggs and vanilla, then alternated my dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking powder) with milk.  I was a little apprehensive as to how the levure chimique, with its added flour, would behave in this recipe, but how else am I going to find out?

With the batter ready and the oven preheating, I arranged the cooked pineapple slices on top of the caramel in the baking dish.  I even had some left over for snacking.

Pineapple upside-Down Cake prep

I carefully spread the batter over the pineapple, so as not to disturb my handiwork.  And into the oven it went, with a quick prayer to Saint Honoré

Which appears to have worked:

Hot from the toaster oven

The top was nice and dorée, the cake was just beginning to pull away from the sides of the baking dish, and a tester came out clean.  So far, so good.  Now for the upside-down part.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, ready to be eaten

Voilà!  Pineapple upside-down cake – good for dessert, better for breakfast!





Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

27 02 2008

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been to Fauchon a few times this week.  It’s nice to get out and see a different part of the city, and the 8th is a far cry from the 19th.  Fauchon is situated on the gourmet food end of the Place de la Madeleine, the other end mostly being occupied by major fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren.  Ladurée is positioned among these heavy hitters and has a line out the door (I assume mostly tourists).  I for one, when I cannot hold out any longer and must try some of those famous cream puffs, will be shopping at the Ladurée inside the Printemps department store – fewer tourists and more affordable shopping – everyone wins!  But back to Fauchon, situated near Hédiard and La Maison de la Truffe.  They sell all kinds of gourmet products, from jam and coffee to caviar and foie gras, not to mention their extensive wine selection.  But the real draw for me is, of course, the pastry.

Chocolate Cake    Tarte Carré Citron (Square Lemon Tart)

Chocolate-Praliné Cake and Megève

These are some of the full-size desserts gracing the display window.  I love the golden chocolate shards on the chocolate cake – so elegant!  And that lemon tart is so streamlined and modern!  Anyway, one of the things Fauchon is most famous for is the éclair.  I have never seen less than five different types in their retail case, and this week was no different.

Fauchon’s Eclairs

I don’t know how well you can see from this picture, but the second row from the left is labeled “Eclair Smoking.”  There is no explanation as to what goes into an “éclair smoking,” but it sure doesn’t sound appetizing.  And at 8 euro a pop, I may leave that one a mystery for now.

One of my visits happened to coincide with lunchtime, so I thought I’d check out Fauchon’s variety of salads and sandwiches, packaged to eat there or to go.  I chose a lentil and sausage salad to go (if I’m going to have a salad for lunch, it had better be hearty, you know?) and stopped by the newly inaugurated (in 2007) boulangerie department for a baguette.  Naturally, I had to tear into it on the Métro ride home, and discovered some of the best bread I’ve had in Paris, a town where good bread is ubiquitous to the point of being cliché.

Fauchon’s Baguette, torn to show awesome interior texture

Dorée to perfection, with a crisp crust and chewy (in the best way)  open crumb.  Fantastic.  It was hard not to devour the whole thing with butter, but I didn’t want to spoil my lunch.

Lentil Salad    Tiny Roll

Which thoughtfully included a little roll – these French and their bread!  Lentil salad is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes.  The earthiness and caviar-like texture of the lentils, the richness of the charcuterie (be it lardons, sausage, or some other delicious pork product), the freshness of the onions and parsley (and in this case apples and pears as well), and the creaminess of the vinaigrette combine to form something greater than the sum of its parts.  Restaurants often serve it warm, mixed tableside, which is a real treat.  Fauchon’s lentil salad did not disappoint, and the whole wheat roll was a nice complement with its slight sweetness.  However, I was almost as enamored with the size of the roll as with the flavor.  Check it out:

See? It’s tiny!

Such a perfectly formed little bread, and so tiny!

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for…

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