Archive for April, 2009

coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
April’s Daring Bakers challenge was a cheesecake recipe, the challenge of which involved taking a basic recipe and being creative with it. While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I took this as an opportunity to try out some techniques I’ve learned or read about recently (though they’re hardly novel and have been used for some years). Ultimately, I created a Coconut Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Cashew Ginger Crust, and Mango-Blood Orange pearls. The white “sauce” is coconut foam.

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When I visited Thailand several years ago, I became enamored with kaffir lime leaves. It’s often used in curries and the delightful Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut lemongrass chicken soup). I finally received a baby kaffir lime tree last year as a birthday gift, which I’ve been nursing since. After the dormancy of winter, I’m quite thrilled with how much it’s been growing. Generally, the leaves are not eaten, but rather torn and used in soups or curries, similar to the function of bay leaves. However, it is more easily ingested when finely chiffonaded.

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Instead of a traditional fruit sauce topping or glaze, I tried my hand at making fruit pearls or spheres, which originated several years ago in El Bulli restaurant in Spain. The spheres are often made with sodium alginate or calcium chloride, but not wanting to use such ingredients (not did I have access to them), I used a recipe using agar agar (seaweed-based gelling ingredient) from a recent class with Michael Laiskonis as a basis, omitting the locust bean gum. I basically cooked the juice of one mango and and one blood orange with some sugar (I read that certain fruits such as mangoes, due to their high acidity level will not set with agar agar, but coooking them might change their enzymes and alter their ability to gel). I thought the juice needed a little more kick so I also added some from half a lemon. I had to experiment with the amount of agar agar I used, but I ended up using just over a teaspoon of powder, which needs to be dissolved by boiling in water for several minutes. This juice-agar  mixture was poured into a squeeze bottle and “dropped” into a container of very cold canola oil. In class, we used a large square bucket-like container and the type of container you use will be a determining factor in the success. This part is somewhat trickier than it would sound, because the spheres can fall to the bottom and puddle, or flatten when they reach the bottom of the container, (which happened to some of my pearls). Then you strain the pearls and rinse under cold water.

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The cheesecake itself is flavored with coconut extract and coconut flakes and infused the whipping cream with kaffir lime leaves. I also decided upon a cashew ginger crust using ground cashews and crystallized ginger from the book In the Sweet Kitchen. I also tried foaming, a technique made infamous (and not necessarily in a good way) by the contestant Marcel from Top Chef. It is easy to make foam (depending on the liquid-some will not foam) using an immersion blender. You just need to ensure the blade is not entirely immersed in the liquid, but rather at an angle.

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Thank you to this month’s host, Jenny.

A Lighter Note…

Monday, April 13th, 2009

My last two posts were perhaps a bit heady, admittedly. And speaking of heady, my head has been spinning from all this talk about the psychology and science of food. So I thought I’d lighten things up with a cake to celebrate Spring: green tea sponge cake, yuzu mousse, lavender creme brulee, white chocolate caramel ganache, pistachio white chocolate crisp, white chocolate glaze with green tea and “lavender” macarons.

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While this cake was intended for an Easter gathering, I wanted to avoid using any symbols specifically associated with the holiday. It was also for a family gathering, for which I tend to be more experimental – to their benefit or not – because they’ve tried it all, because I know they will still love me and because they will be brutally honest in their critique.

The main  flavor combination of green tea and yuzu was inspired by my recent class with Michael Laiskonis. I used his flavorful green tea biscuit recipe as a base (though in his blog, he doesn’t recommend this cake for an entremet). His recipe calls for the use of trimoline, an invert sugar used for stability and also to retain moistness. Honey is an invert sugar, so I used that instead, also to see what effect it would have. There did seem to be some disparity in the structure and stability of the cake between my cake and the one made in class. Not that the cake I made didn’t hold together well; it also seemed lighter.

Yuzu is an East Asian fruit that’s not commonly found in the US. It’s more commonly found in bottled form as a juice in some Japanese grocery stores. To me it smells sweetly of clementines, yet has the sharp tang of lemons. Little did I realize that I actually grew up on this stuff in yuzu tea form called Yujacha (a Korean marmalade that is mixed with hot water, mainly used to nurse a cold – I could go for some now as I feel a bit under this ‘glorious’ April weather). At any rate, I made a yuzu mousse filling by modifying a lemon mousse recipe found here on Jen Yu’s blog. I also flavored a creme brulee insert with lavender, which also served as an excuse to introduce the lavender color in the final presentation. For a crispy texture, I made a pistachio white chocolate feuillette.  There’s also a caramel white chocolate ganache insert. In the end, the cake was covered with a white chocolate glaze, and decorated with green tea and “lavender” macarons, and dried lavender.

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Due to time constraints, I wasn’t going to include the caramel white chocolate ganache. I wasn’t sure about the yield of the yuzu mousse, and quickly realized after layering the creme brulee insert that I wouldn’t have enough, so I decided to make the ganache after all (I would have preferred more mousse between the pistachio white chocolate feuillette and the biscuit – it really bothers me as I look at the cross-section!). I was wary of the use of the white chocolate ganache recipe, but in the end I thought the caramely flavor didn’t compete with the flavors. I was concerned there was too much going on, but ultimately, I think the components worked together and the cake was really enjoyed by all, including an unexpected visitor – a precocious 8 year old who I wasn’t sure would appreciate the cake, but was able identify various flavors and even requested a second serving.

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Green Tea Biscuit

Yuzu Mousse (I substituted powdered gelatin with gelatin sheets and lemon juice with yuzu juice.)

Pistachio White Chocolate Feuillete
50g white chocolate, chopped
13g butter
15g pistachio paste
30g rice krispies, crushed

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Add the pistachio paste and crushed rice krispies, mixing quickly and thoroughly. Spread in a thin layer onto wax paper to a size appropriate for your mold. Refrigerate until hard. Cut to desired shape (slightly smaller than your mold).

The following components were from December’s Daring Baker’s challenge, original recipes available on Saffron & Blueberry:
White Chocolate Ganache Insert
25g granulated sugar
68g white chocolate, finely chopped
68g heavy cream (35% fat content)
Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small sauce pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.
While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling.  Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

Lavender Crème Brulée
Replace vanilla with dried lavender

White Chocolate Icing (not posted on Saffron & Blueberry’s site, but available as an option in the original challenge)
1.5 gelatin sheets
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
2 Tbsp (30g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (90 g) whole milk
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together. Bring the milk and glucose syrup to a boil. Add the gelatin. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Apologies if this recipe is confusing to follow. I just want to give proper credit to those whose recipes I’ve borrowed from!

Asian Flavors, American Paradox

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Pardon the pause since my last post. I am re-designing my site (a work in progress), re-arranging my home (a work in progress), all the while still undergoing something of a blog identity crisis. Some words of advice: do not develop an interest in the writings of Michael Pollan (who suggests you stick to eating foods your great grandmother would recognize) and molecular gastronomy simultaneously, lest you end up in an existential pastry quandary like me.

I also have an occasionally conflicting relationship between pastry and its effect on my personal health and others’, even attempting vegan alternatives on occasion. I admit that such anxieties would seem to epitomize what Pollan refers to as America’s “national eating disorder”. We are an unhealthy nation ironically obsessed with health and the latest nutritional breakthroughs. Our ever-changing scientific knowledge of food, diet and nutrition is imperfect at best. This epistemological crisis has the potentially harmful effect of wrongfully praising the merits of one food while vilifying another (for example, pastry). In defense of pastry, I find the following revelation interesting, taken from a NY Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (and also mentioned in his book In Defense of Food):

Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase ”chocolate cake,” Americans were more apt to say ”guilt,” while the French said ”celebration”…

The French, for example, take pleasure in food, eat smaller portions, eat socially, and don’t overly obsess about food’s nutritional value (which can lead to guilt when we do not eat foods deemed nutritious). The paradox of the thin pastry-popping Parisian exists as a paradox to us because of our flawed perspectives and systems of thought about food.

But maybe I digress.

Ultimately, this particular post isn’t about American or French pastry, per se, though the techniques are undeniably Western. The subject is Asian flavors.

So let us eat green tea biscuit (pronounced bis-cue-EE).

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Left: Coconut-Lemongrass Ice Cream, Green Tea Biscuit, Caramelized Rice; Right: Yuzu Cream and “Meringue”, Green Tea Biscuit and Ice Cream, Ginger Caramel

I took a second class at the ICE with Michael Laiskonis, the cerebral award-winning Executive Pastry Chef from Le Bernardin, and blogger too. A few weeks ago, we learned about incorporating herbs such as thyme, tarragon, and rosemary into desserts; this time, we learned about incorporating Asian flavors, most notably flavors from Japan, India and Thailand, in contemporary desserts.

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Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Apricot Sorbet, Soy Caramel, with Cherry Gelée, and Black Sesame Powder, Shiso Leaf. The photo on the bottom right is black sesame powder made through a combination of black sesame paste, sesame oil and tapioca maltodextrin, a curiously feather-light powder that enabled the pulverization of the paste/oil into the black sesame powder, using a food processor.

Chef Laiskonis clarified that the often contested and misunderstood buzzword “molecular gastronomy” is about developing a basic understanding of how food works. This knowledge can, in turn, liberate us and open up new possibilities.

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Frozen Ginger Parfait, Rhubarb-Citrus Compote, Mandarin Coulis, garnished wih Rhubarb Chips, and Tuile Croquant. The rhubarb was sliced into paper thin strips with a mandoline slicer and baked in the oven. The tuile craquant was melted in the oven until pliable, and stretched into delicate decorations.

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Rose Sorbet, Chickpea Sablée, Mango Coulis, Pistachios. Inspired by Indian flavors.

This was another stimulating class taught by a gifted and generous instructor. There was much to learn from each of the numerous, detailed components of the desserts above, from the rhubarb slivers, to pulled tuiles, to the use of unconventional foods such as chickpeas in desserts, all accomplished in the span of one class. I registered for these classes hoping to be inspired by new techniques and flavors, and I have been. But I also ended up with a bit more than I bargained for–not quite intending to struggle with my thoughts as much as I have–but sometimes it is necessary to question, to take the path of greater resistance.