I tried making creme caramel for the first time, from Tom Douglas’ recipe in Seattle Kitchen (if you’ve ever been to one of his restaurants, this is almost always on the menu, along with coconut creme pie). Ten egg yolks, four cups of heavy cream, with sugar and vanilla. Serves 8. Yes, it was every bit as rich as it sounds.
I have no pictures of the final product. We were able to unmold the custards, with some difficulty, but they all got eaten, practically within seconds. Then people took the emptied ramekins, poured Cardamaro inside, and scraped them out with spoons. There was no remaining evidence.
You may have noticed by now that I don’t make a lot of sweets – I honestly don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I do crave dessert it’s usually chocolate chip cookies. One type of dessert I do go for, however, is custard. Whether it’s an old fashioned cup custard, a fancy crème brûlée, or a pear custard pie, I love the creamy tartness of it.
I had had a piece of plain custard pie – no fruit – a few years ago when we happened across the Pie Lady’s shop in Blackwater, a tiny town in central Missouri. It was incredible, and I always said I was going to make it at home – then, of course, never did. But I recently became aware of the existence of something called chess pie. A plain, very sweet custard pie, it’s a classic Southern dessert often made with cornmeal and lemon, but sometimes buttermilk. I had buttermilk in the fridge this week, and decided to see what I could do with it.
How about something sweet ? This confection, which I’ve known about as long as I’ve known my husband (that would be…19 years or so, yikes), is no longer something I can eat, as it has almonds – but I remember it fondly from our college days (when he made it recently for a work potluck he got roundly scolded for making something his wife couldn’t eat). It’s been handwritten in the back of our old Moosewood Cookbook forever, along with the Sour Cream Coffeecake and the Red Bell Pepper Pesto. I hadn’t realized the story behind the recipe’s name until recently, so I asked him to write a little about it:
It’s amazing how one rarely questions the things with which one has grown up. Take this dessert. Chocolatey and creamy, it’s almost a mousse, but then there are the ground almonds, giving it a firmer texture and a little bit of gritty crunch before it dissolves. That’s not a mousse; it’s caribou. Or at least that’s what we called it in my family.
Only when I got into cooking and baking in college and begged the recipe from my mother did I discover that it had another name – La Reine de Saba (the Queen of Sheba). Once again, I didn’t question the name. I had suspected that caribou was not the actual name, and La Reine de Saba sounded reasonable.
Except that this dessert isn’t like any of the other versions of La Reine de Saba that I have found. Those versions all have eggs, and most have at least a little bit of flour, yielding a dense, fudgy cakelike product. My family’s version is definitely not fudgy or cakelike. But it is mighty tasty.
We made this cake for my grandfather’s 97th birthday. I’m not going to write down the recipe for it, because you really should just go buy Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking: From My Home to Yours, and make it out of that (it’s the one on the cover, with cake crumbs patted all over the outside). I do recommend our one embellishment, which was to stuff the frosting layers with fresh raspberries, and have lots of additional raspberries available to scatter over the top. Raspberries + chocolate cake + marshmallow creme frosting. Oh, yes.
It was a bit of a messy dessert, as the marshmallow frosting got soft and melty in the sun, and the raspberries were so ripe they turned people’s hands crimson. But it’s not like that was a real problem.
Here’s something a little different. I wanted to make a pie, but couldn’t decide what kind (pear? apple? brown butter cheesecake?), so I started flipping through a few baking books. What caught my eye was a recipe for “Warm Cranberry Crumble Tart” in The Art and Soul of Baking, one of the books I brought home from the International Food Blogger’s Conference last spring. Festive, seasonal and something I’d never thought of trying – perfect.
In some ways, this tart is kind of odd. The cranberry-orange flavor is so strongly associated in my mind with turkey that I find it hard to remember I’m eating dessert. But it goes great with vanilla ice cream (especially homemade), which makes up for the fact that the tart isn’t very sweet on its own. The more I ate, the more I liked it.
When I first brought home a library copy of David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (shortly before we bought our own copy – it didn’t take long), one of the very first recipes we opened it to was this one: a custard-based ice cream with orange zest and crushed Sichuan peppercorns, wow! Jon’s been wanting to make it ever since, and we finally got our chance. We had friends over (fresh ice cream wants an audience) and made Chinese pork ribs and scallion breads, followed by this ice cream for dessert.
We were well and truly snowed in last weekend (still are, pretty much), and we did what most people do when stuck at home with a full refrigerator – we threw a dinner party and baked a cake. To be more accurate, my husband baked, and I took pictures and fussed around on the computer and made milk-braised pork and buttermilk mashed potatoes. The pork was good, but it was the tiramisu cake that really got the eye-rolling and moaning reactions from our dinner guests.
I used to really hate figs, but I thought I was overcoming the problem: I’ve had several restaurant salads with fresh figs and goat cheese that I really liked, so I figured my tastes were finally maturing. However, it does not appear to be a complete cure as yet. This is one of the only things we’ve made from The Perfect Scoop that hasn’t been a complete success – ah, well. I don’t know if it was just us or if the figs weren’t quite ripe yet – the ice cream just tasted like a cold fig newton, kind of vegetal and strange.
The fresh Brown Turkey figs were awful pretty, though.
Having a certain hankering for chocolate cupcakes, combined with a need to take dessert in to work, resulted in a flurry of baking at our house. I had fully intended to do the baking myself, but due to bad planning and needing to go to work (drat it), J ended up doing it all himself. Fortunately, he’s a better baker than I am (that attention to detail thing, you know).
I lifted two recipes off the internet: one for black bottom cupcakes (possibly my favorite type of cupcake EVER), that turned out to be from a David Lebovitz cookbook, and one for vegan coconut cupcakes, courtesy of Everybody Likes Sandwiches. Both were, I thought, wildly successful. The black bottoms were just as they should be, with a light chocolatey crumb below and a dense, sweet-tart, chocolate-flecked top. The coconut cakes were very light and moist with a delightfully delicate crust on top – they would be fantastic with fresh berries or a chocolate icing, but are lovely eaten plain, with a cup of coffee.
I’m going to print both recipes below, mostly so I can get to them when I need them. You never know when the need for a cupcake will strike. Continue reading
I used to be a fanatical cake baker. If we went to a party, I made a cake – the bigger and fancier or more chocolatey, the better. My college friends and I stayed up late, baking things that would then disappear within seconds. It was my cooking signature.
Somehow, though, once I started cooking all my own meals, and discovering the huge world of savory flavors, I sort of lost interest in cake. These days when I bake it needs to be relatively simple, preferably producing something that isn’t too sweet. French yogurt cake (gâteau au yaourt) fits the bill. Continue reading