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Tag: sweet (page 2 of 3)

Dessert In the Pink: Red Currant Semifreddo

Last weekend at the Farmers’ Market Mr. T espied some lovely red currants and insisted that we get some. This is pretty much par for the course, as he is utterly mad for the magical “soft fruits” like currants and gooseberries that we almost never see in this country. Of course, there may be a few reasons for this lack of weird berries here in the U.S….

Red currants, for example, are delightful, but they’re also incredibly delicate, grow on hard-to-harvest racemes, and very close to too tart to eat out of hand. In England, they’re used to make jams, sauces for meat, and sweets like summer puddings and fools. Mr. T suggested pie, but 2 pints of berries does not a pie make, nor did I want to futz with pastry, or baking for that matter, when it was 97°F outside.

I did, though, want the currants to be the main event, not merely a garnish on the side, so I needed something that would carry the berries’ flavor without much interference. Summer pudding would have been lovely, but I had no suitable bread for the case. And then I remembered Mr. T telling me about the summer he and his Auntie had made red currant ice cream, an ice cream so delicious that they both made themselves slightly ill eating it. Now, in a family where the preferred dessert comes in a tumbler on the rocks, this was a big deal.

So, I decided to move in the frozen direction; a semifreddo would be a lovely and refreshing vehicle for the currants’ red, sprightly tartness. While there are various methods for making this frozen (or, technically, “half frozen”) dessert, they all involve softly whipped cream and stiffly beaten egg in some form or other. The air, fat, and sugars conspire to create a soft, toothsome frozen treat that–miracle of miracles–doesn’t even require an ice cream maker.

The below recipe is basically a fruit curd made with egg yolks and beaten till fluffy and cooled, then folded into some whipped cream and frozen. Lots of bowls and whisking involved, but really quite easy. And the result is very special too.

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Don’t be Triflin’ with My Strawberry-Rhubarb Trifle

At once blowsily moreish and decadently raffiné–like a freshly unmade bed at Claridge’s–trifle is the quintessenstial English dessert of summer. While summer pudding and Eton mess may come close, they don’t quite hold a candle to the trifle’s layers of boozy cake, soft fruit, rich custard, and whipped cream.

And when it’s presented in the traditional tall glass serving bowl, few desserts can command the attention of a trifle. Perfect for special summery parties closer to home… with all the cream and custardy goodness, trifle doesn’t travel all that well, so keep it it mind for those celebrations that don’t involve much movement from the grill or patio.

Of course, being me, I’ve made several fairly sacrilegious alterations to the basic English original. As with most American adaptations, I used pound cake, which is richer than the fairly lean sponge cake or savoiardi (ladyfingers) Mr. T says are de rigeur in the UK. I generally don’t have sherry on hand, so I sneak in a bit of port instead. And, while I was at it, I took advantage of the seasonally harmonious harvest of strawberries and rhubarb to get a bit more fruit in there as well.

As is usual, Mr. T just shook his head when I started arranging the strawberries with crazed precision around the sides of the bowl. But frankly, if I am going to make custard from scratch (which also merited an eye roll, but I am NOT going to use something from a tin, even if it is authentic), it’s going to be pretty too, dammit. Of course, it’s delicious too, and that’s really what matters.

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Ecumenical Party Dept.: Vietnamese Passover Macaroons

Mr. T. and I went to a “Seder” last-last weekend. While a lovely event, it wasn’t QUITE the real thing though, and not just because it was a week behind schedule. There were pork and shrimp spring rolls next to the kugel and gefilte fish, and the only bitter thing there might have been me (I kept missing the latkes). Given that our host and hostess were Vietnamese- and Jewish-American, the menu makes a bit more sense–even if it was an evening of tasty syncretism that would make the more Orthodox blanch in horror.

That’d be a shame, though, as everything was really tasty. Ok, almost everything was really tasty. The gefilte fish was… edible. And, given it’s peerless provenance, I can only shudder at the thought of rank and gefilte fish. Ech. Nevertheless, the guests demolished 10lbs of toothsome brisket, stacks of matzo schmeared with chopped liver and charoset, and fastest to dissapear were the fleets of spring and garden rolls handmade by the host’s mom and aunties. And, in an impressive feat of group adventuresomeness, even the gefilte fish got eaten.

In talking to the hostess in the week before the party, I’d offered to bring sweets–after convincing her that a) there was going to be enough food and b) kugel was going to be waaaay easier to serve at a cocktail Seder than tiny shots of matzo ball soup. The obvious choice, even for a shiksa goddess such as myself, was coconut macaroons. I also included tiny bite-sized versions of my favorite flourless chocolate torte, but more on them later.

For the macaroons, I turned of course to Rose, whose christmas cookie book (ironically) has a lovely recipe for coconut macaroons… that started out with baking a whole coconut and then shredding it by hand. *sigh* Rose, Rose, I love you, but I am NOT dealing with a whole coconut. Speaking from experience, the blood and broken crockery just isn’t worth it.

So, stepping back from that whole Robinson Crusoe ordeal, I elected to mix sweetened and unsweetened coconut and add a judicious tot of rum to the traditional sweetened condensed milk that binds it all together. Still sweet, but not throat-closingly so, they were met with serious acclaim at the party, with far better Jews than I calling them the best macaroons ever. I’ll take it.

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California Dreaming: Chocolate Avocado Mousse

When I travel for work, I’m usually headed to a state capital. Unfortunately, seats of government are rarely located in the parts of a state that one’d actually want to visit–the view is particularly bleak when one invariably seems to end up at the Holiday Inn Express on the Airport Bypass Road. But since I’m there to, you know, WORK, this isn’t that a big deal except for on the dining out front. Of my colleagues, I have the highest restaurant standards. I do not consider frozen Sysco hotwings food, and woe betide anyone who suggests otherwise.

I’m also generally the bossiest person, and the youngest, which makes me comparably adept at using the Internets on my phone (amazing!) to locate good restaurants and then chivvy everyone along for the ride. I’ve found that cross-checking Zagat, Yelp, and Chowhound recommendations gets a good list that doesn’t skew too old, too hipster, or too foodie. Even then, though, sometimes the road away from the T.G.I. Chilibees is a rough one, and I’ve had my moments of… compromise. (Graceful, naturally.)

Fortunately, my most recent trip was to Sacramento. And, while not as exciting as nearby San Francisco, California’s congenial climate and foodie culture meant that I had no problem mapping out the gustatory aspects of the itinerary. We had excellent ramen, Mexican food, and swanky Cali cuisine, but the most strinking meal was our lunch at the Magpie Café. After a smoke trout baguette, the most beautiful BLT ever, and a lushly lemony chicken salad, we felt we HAD to get the dessert specials. So, fennel blood orange ice cream sandwich it was, along with an avocado chocolate mousse.

Now, I generally turn up my nose at such hippie-dippie palaver, but everything else had been so good I figured the kitchen wouldn’t serve something that didn’t work. And lo, it was good. Dense and flavorful with no detectable avocado-y-ness, it’s more like a pudding or a pot de creme than a mousse, but very tasty regardless. And, as something of a lactard myself, it’s gratifying to have something so rich and delicious that doesn’t involve a bucketload of cream.

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New Paths to Old Puddings: Lemon Honeycomb

I came across this tantalizing English pudding recipe ages ago whilst perusing The Kitchn, and immediately put it on my to-do list… where it promptly langished for nearly a year.

Embarassing, since I actually own a copy of Jane Grigson‘s “Good Things”, in which the recipe first appeared, as well as a shame, really, since anything with such an august pedigree is bound to be good.

Moreover it involves lemon and gelatin, two of Mr. T’s absolute favorite things. I’d like to think that my tendency to be slightly sneer-y when it comes to Jell-O type things did not contribute to the lag time, but it probably did.

Although, having made it, I can say with complete confidence that no one could think for a second that this deliciously lemony whimsy came from a packet.

It does, however, bear more than a passing resemblance to the Jell-O 1-2-3 desserts of my childhood. Well, not MY childhood, but you get the idea. A thin layer of tart lemony jelly is topped by a foamy, chiffon-y, lemon mousse that crackles pleasantly in the mouth–a perfect textural compliment to its sprightly tartness.

And, since this is do-ahead and pretties up well in individual glasses, it’s a perfect ending to any big holiday meal–bright in flavor, light in texture, but still indulgently festive.

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Topical, Tropical Pandan Meringue Cookies

Ok, Happy to report that the baby shower went rawther well. Everyone had, I think, a nice time; Baby Momma and Baby Daddy were suitably fete’d and got lots of weird BABY thingies; the diaper cake was gorgeous; and the food was very well recieved indeed. Go team!

Promises were made that several of the recipes would make it onto the blog, and since I need to extract the curry puff recipe from J and I kind of have to reverse engineer the peanut sauce and the banh mi bites, we’re kicking off with these lovely little meringue cookies flavored with tropical pandan.

Pandan, or screwpine, is a palm tree-ish plant whose leaves are used in SE Asian, particularly Filipino, cooking. It imparts a really lovely kind of toasty, nutty flavor and a pretty green color. (The latter may or may not be chemically enhanced, but who isn’t these days?)

I’d decided to make meringue cookies for the shower because they were light and pretty but hadn’t gotten much further than that. I wanted them to taste like SOMETHING, though, and they needed to go with the pan-Asian, tropical, purple and green color scheme because I am OCD like that.

So, I was super chuffed when I was rummaging around in the back of my baking cupboard for something to flavor the meringues and I found a bottle of dark green, deeply fragrant pandan concentrate that I’d bought a while ago and promptly forgotten about. (It was between the unopenend yuzu essence and pineapple extract, FYI.)

Hooray for my compulsion to hoard bizarre flavorings, then, because these were perfectly tasty–the pandan concentrate lent a gorgeous on-theme color and richly scented complexity to what is otherwise just sugar and egg white.
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Grabbing Dessert by the Nuts: Hazelnut Praline Paste

Pardon the slightly off-color title. I’m just super excited by my little pot of liquid gold, not the least because it was SUCH a palaver to produce. But, then, you know I do love a good palaver… particularly when it results in fabulously rich–dare I say ambrosial–caramel-hazelnut paste suitable for flavoring buttercreams, filling chocolates, and perhaps anointing the worthy. It’s just. that. good.

It is also a bit of work. Blanching, peeling, toasting, caramel-making. Ugh. And Rose, being Rose, says not to even bother trying to make it at home and just have it shipped over from Europe since the homemade version is gritty. She is, naturally, right, but I harbor suspicions that a jacked-up blender like a Vita-mix or something could probably do the job to her exacting specifications. In any case, I don’t really mind the slight texture to the stuff I managed to produce in the food processor (which tends to do less well than even regular, non jacked-up blenders for such tasks). And there’s no denying it’s deliciosity or my very glowy sense of accomplishment, which is pretty good in and of itself.

So, at this point, I’ve made a mind-blowing buttercream with it and I’ve got about half a cup left. What should I do with it?

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Operation Birthday Cake: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

chocbdaycake2There’s little more in life that I enjoy more than planning a PARTY, for lord’s sake. Fortunately, the best aspect of being known to know how to cook is getting tapped early for party plans. Not to say that my winning charms aren’t sufficient on their own mind you, but let’s be real here, the cake helps. It’s been a while, though, since I’ve had the chance to make a birthday cake so I was particularly pumped to receive my marching orders for a cake as chocolate as possible for a good friend’s 1/3 centennial celebration.

Given that I didn’t really have much more than that to go on, though, it took a bit of thinking to get my plan of action together. Since I wasn’t sure how many people would be there, or how many of them would actually EAT CAKE (queens and their carb counts, I swear…), I elected to do a sheet cake. They’re easier to cut and portion than a round, feed more people, and supply a broader canvas on which to write… “Happy Birthday Whomever” is a lot of letters, people!

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