custom cakes/cookies

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Orange Tian, Nostalgia

It may take a good long meandering to get where you're going, but there are some things in life that are fairly, intrinsically evident from the very beginning. Let me explain...

When I was a kid, growing up in Florida, our yard was pretty fantastically prolific with a lemon tree, 2 grapefruit trees (one pink and one white), 3 orange trees (of various types), 2 tangerine trees, and an avocado tree. Playing outside meant climbing the trees and picking the fruit to snack on at whim. When the little neighbor boys came over, my sister and I would set up "house" under the branches of a particular orange tree. Interestingly, now that I think back on our pretend roles, I was never the "wife" or the "mother" or the "child". Instead, I was the "cook". (That's me in the picture below.) And, oh boy, (with all that citrus at my little finger tips) did I come up with some creative "meals"! The thing I remember making the most, my specialty if you will, was tangerine pie.

The recipe was simple really: take one frisbee, fill with dirt, then level off the surface; next peel several tangerines, separating the segments and arrange each segment with care atop the dirt; serve immediately to hungry playmates. Every time I made it, I would arrange the tangerine pieces in a different pattern. I bet in one play session alone I must have consumed 4-5 tangerines on my own, clinging dirt included. Tangerines tasted so much better back then... Although, I'm doubting the extra "minerals" had anything to do with their incredibly sweet juiciness.

When this month's baking challenge popped on my horizon, I was instantly taken back to my days of tangerine pie making. We were challenged to make an orange tian. The dessert is made of different layers: a pâte sablée (a shortbread crust) with orange marmalade, a flavored whipped cream topped with fresh orange segments, and served with a caramel and orange sauce.

You build the dessert upside down and then unmold it so that the bottom layer (the orange segments) becomes the top layer. Admittedly, the tian is much fancier of an approach than my frisbee method, but the fanned-out orange segments look so amusingly similar. As a tribute to my childhood, I substituted a chocolate pâte sablée crust to approximate the dirt layer, and I posed the finished tian in a frisbee I borrowed from a friend. Doesn't quite taste the same as I remember when I was a kid, but that's alright by me. This "new" method has a grown-up appeal all its own.

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.


Chocolate Pâte Sablée

2 medium-sized egg yolks at room temperature
6 TBS + 1 tsp granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
7 TBS unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
⅓ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup + 2 TBS cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

Put the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, ice cold cubed butter and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse briefly to combine.
In a separate bowl, add the eggs yolks, vanilla extract and sugar and beat with a whisk until the mixture is pale. Pour the egg mixture in the food processor.
Process until the dough just comes together. If you find that the dough is still a little too crumbly to come together, add a couple drops of water and process again to form a homogenous ball of dough. Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until you obtain a ¼-inch thick circle. Using your cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough and place on a parchment (or silicone) lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

Citrus Melange Marmalade
makes 1½ pints

Juice and flesh from 2 oranges

10 thinly sliced kumquats (discard ends)

Juice and flesh from 1 large grapefruit

Juice and flesh from 2 Meyer lemons

2¾ cups sugar

½ cup water

Remove rind from all fruit with a vegetable peeler. (Set aside small piece of rind from all fruits to add in later)
 Remove all of the white pith from the fruit. If left on this will make your marmalade very bitter! 
Very thinly slice reserved rind into matchsticks.
 Supreme the oranges, gratefruit and lemons and add all ingredients including juice to a non-reactive saucepan.
 Bring to a boil and simmer until mixture begins to thicken about 45 minutes.
 Once mixture has become thick and reduced, registering 221° F on a candy thermometer, transfer to jars and process in a hot water bath canner.

Orange Segments

Supreme about 8 oranges into segments over a shallow bowl, collecting the juice as you slice. Add the segments to the bowl with the juice. For a variegated effect, I used both cara cara (a pinkish, navel orange) and regular navel oranges.

Orange Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups + 2 TBS fresh-squeezed orange juice

Place the sugar in a wide pan on medium heat and begin to heat it. The sugar will start to melt and turn a caramel color. Holding the handle of the pan, gently swirl the pan occasionally to evenly distribute the heat. Do not stir with a utensil. The sugar will begin to turn a caramel color and smell like cotton candy.

Once the sugar starts to bubble and foam, slowly add the orange juice. As soon as the mixture starts boiling, remove from the heat and pour half of the mixture over the orange segments.

Reserve the other half of the caramel mixture in a small bowl — you will use this later to spoon over the finished dessert. When the dessert is assembled and setting in the freezer, heat the kept caramel sauce in a small saucepan over low heat until it thickens and just coats the back of a spoon (~10 minutes). You can then spoon it over the orange tians.

Stabilized Whipped Cream

3 TBS hot water
1 tsp gelatine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 TBS confectioner's sugar
1 TBS marmalade (see recipe above)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the surface of the hot water, wait one minute and then stir well until the gelatine dissolves. Let the gelatine cool to room temperature while you make the whipped cream. Combine the cream in a chilled mixing bowl. Whip the cream using a hand mixer on low speed until the cream starts to thicken for about one minute. Add the confectioner sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high. Whip the cream until the beaters leave visible (but not lasting) trails in the cream, then add the cooled gelatine slowly while beating continuously. Continue whipping until the cream is light and fluffy and forms soft peaks. Transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and fold in the orange marmalade.

Putting it all together:

Make sure you have some room in your freezer. Ideally, you should be able to fit a small baking sheet or tray of desserts to set in the freezer.

Lay out tian molds (i.e., cookie cutters set on a removable base like parchment or small springform pans) on a baking tray.

Drain the orange segments on a kitchen towel.

Have the marmalade, whipped cream and baked circles of chocolate pâte sablée ready to use.

Arrange the orange segments at the bottom of each ring mold. Make sure the segments all touch each other and that there are no gaps arranging them in a fanned out pattern. Make sure they fit snuggly and look pretty as they will end up being the top of the dessert.

Once you have neatly arranged one layer of orange segments at the bottom of each mold, add a couple spoonfuls of whipped cream and gently spread it so that it covers the orange segments entirely in an even layer. Leave about ¼-inch at the top so there is room for the pâte sablée cookies.

Using a butter knife or small spoon, spread a small even layer of orange marmalade on each cookie.

Carefully place the cookie over each ring (the side of dough covered in marmalade should be the side touching the whipping cream). Gently press on the cookie to make sure the dessert is compact.

Place the desserts to set in the freezer to set for 10 minutes.

To unmold, use a small knife to gently go around the edges of the cookie cutter to make sure the dessert will be easy to release. Gently place your serving plate on top of each tian mold and turn the plate over. Slowly remove the ring, add a spoonful of caramel sauce and serve immediately.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tea-Infused, Cultured Yogurt

I often contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here is the latest recipe I developed using one of their teas.

Commercially available yogurts are usually heavily sweetened, sometimes artificially colored, and often excessively priced. Making your own is economical and a good way to avoid highly processed sugar, while providing boundless options to be creative with flavors. Lately, I’ve been perusing Arbor Teas' line of organic loose leaf herbal and rooibos teas for inspiration in my yogurt making. Flavors I’ve made so far include Crimson Berry Fruit Tisane (my hands-down absolute favorite), Orange Spice Herbal Infusion (with notes of lemongrass, cinnamon and ginger), and Vanilla Almond Rooibos (pictured to the left). Albeit tart, yogurt provides an impeccably blank canvas for the flavor of even the most delicate tea to stand out resoundingly.

Using a yogurt maker* undeniably streamlines the entire process, making things easier by automatically maintaining the proper incubation temperature. However, if you are like me and don’t own an automatic yogurt machine, then follow the steps I’ve outlined below. As with most things, your first batch is always the hardest, but once you get the method down, it feels like such an accomplishment to be able to create this healthy staple in your own kitchen. Tea-flavored yogurt has yet hit the supermarket shelves. Why not impress your friends with something completely unique and entirely wholesome?

DIY Tea-Flavored Yogurt
(makes 1 quart)

1 quart (4 cups) milk (any kind will work including whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim, soy, etc)
2 TBS existing yogurt with live “active” cultures or powdered yogurt starter (freeze-dried bacteria cultures)
3-4 TBS organic loose leaf tea

* If you are using a yogurt maker, follow the instructions from the manufacturer. Incorporate the sachet of tea as described below during the heating and cooling of the milk. Remove the sachet before adding your starter/culture.

Warm the starter. Let the starter yogurt sit at room temperature while you are waiting for the milk to heat and then cool. This will prevent it from being too cold when ready to add it in.

Pack loose tea in sachet. Add 3-4 tablespoons of loose leaf tea to a disposable filter and tie off with kitchen twine. Allow this sachet to float in the milk during the next two steps of heating and cooling.

Heat milk to 185° F. Using two pots that fit inside one another, create a double boiler or water jacket effect by filling the outer pot with water up to the level surface of the milk in the inner pot. This will prevent your milk from burning, and you should only have to stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. If you cannot do this, and must heat the milk directly on the burner, be sure to monitor it constantly, stirring all the while. If you do not have a thermometer, 185° F is the temperature at which milk starts to froth. This should take 25-30 minutes.

Cool the milk to 110° F. The best way to achieve this is with a cold water bath, such as a kitchen sink filled with ice water. This will quickly (~4-minutes), and evenly, lower the temperature, and requires only occasional stirring. If cooling at room temperature or in the refrigerator, you must stir more frequently. Don't proceed until the milk is below 120° F, and don't allow it to go below 90° F. 110° F is optimal.

Add the starter. Remove the tea sachet and add 2 tablespoons of the existing yogurt, such as store-bought plain yogurt. Be certain it says "active cultures" on the label. Alternatively, instead of existing yogurt you can use freeze-dried bacteria cultures, which are often more reliable.

Put the mixture in containers. Pour your milk into a clean container and cover tightly with a lid.

Allow the yogurt bacteria to incubate. Keep the yogurt warm and still to encourage bacteria growth, while keeping the temperature as close to 100° F as possible. The best way to do this is to carefully pour the steaming water from the double boiler into an insulated cooler. Allow the water temperature to cool down to around 100° F before adding the container of yogurt. I use a mason jar lying on its side to prop the yogurt container above the water level.

Keep the cooler tightly shut and refrain from disturbing during the entire incubation process. Keeping the yogurt still is important to allow the culture to develop properly. Other options include placing atop a heating pad or in an oven with a pilot light. If your oven doesn't have a pilot light but does have an oven light, preheating the oven to the desired temperature, turning it off, and then leaving the oven light on to maintain the temperature may work for you. Another method is to turn your oven on and then off again periodically, being vigilant that it doesn't get too hot. To check the oven temperature, you can set a candy thermometer in a bowl of water inside the oven. Other methods for keeping the yogurt warm include: hot water in a sink, a stove burner, a crock-pot, or a warming tray.

Just use your thermometer, trial and error, and best judgment. Maintaining the proper incubation temperature is key to successful yogurt culturing. Admittedly, in a chilly winter home, I’ve had little success with most of the above techniques, except for the cooler method.

After eight or more hours incubation, you will have a custard-like, curdled texture, a sour, fermented odor, and a separation of whey (a thin yellow liquid) on top. This is exactly what you want. The longer you let it incubate, the thicker and tangier the yogurt will become.

Refrigerate the yogurt. Place the yogurt in the fridge for several hours before serving. I prefer a thicker texture akin to greek or skyr-style yogurt, so will strain the whey from a fresh batch. This can be achieved by using a specific canister designed to make yogurt cheese or by using a sieve, lined with several layers of cheesecloth, set over a bowl. Fresh yogurt will keep for 1-2 weeks. If you plan to use some of it as starter for your next yogurt making session, use it within 5-7 days, while the bacteria is most potent. If not strained, whey will rise to the surface. You can pour this off or stir it in before eating. Whey contains healthful nutrients. A decision to discard it completely should not be taken lightly.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Preserved Lemon Risotto and Arancini

Well, it’s been 30 days. This is the official, first use of the lemons I preserved last month. To be honest, having never had a preserved lemon, I really wasn’t sure what would come of allowing Meyer lemons to soak unrefrigerated, in a salty brine for a month. I think I anticipated something akin to a pickle. Instead what I got was exactly what the name implies: lemons still fresh as the day I preserved them. Certainly, the flesh is quite salty (and as such, often discarded), but if you peel this away and give the skin a quick rinse, you are left with the same brightly flavored rind from the outset. From a historical perspective, I can understand how this might be invaluable to your cooking repertoire if fresh lemons were not available year-round. I also see the value if you are one (such as me) who prefers to obtain your food according to what’s apropos of the seasons.

Now the fun comes with thinking of ways to incorporate lemon rind in my cooking. Risotto seemed a natural fit. In the recipe I present below, the bright flavor of the lemon pairs really nicely with some unusual additions (cinnamon and allspice) to a standard, homemade chicken stock. What may seem like an odd combination of mulled flavors for a rice dish, results in a classic Moor-inspired savoriness. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I highly recommend making a chicken stock from scratch! The fundamental flavor is incomparable to anything you’ll ever pour from a can or reconstitute from a cube. Yes, it involves a bit more of a time commitment, but the tasks are simple, and the payoff is beyond.
In the spirit of full disclosure, a dear, kind friend made the stock for this recipe. I’m still seeking courage to handle meat for undertakings such as these. Although, currently I'm reading a book that just may entice me to get over this hurdle.

Inspired by a blog post from Not So Humble Pie, with the leftover risotto I made arancini. This was accomplished by stuffing a cube of smoked mozzarella into a clump of cold risotto, rolling it into a ball, then dredging it in egg followed by panko bread crumbs, and deep frying to a golden crisp. The full recipe can be found here. Apparently, I seem to have no fear of deep frying. Isn’t that peculiar?!

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

Chicken Stock
Makes about 2 quarts

1 large chicken, 2-3 pounds
2 onions, roughly diced
1 medium leek - white part only, roughly diced
2 stalks celery, roughly diced
2 cloves garlic, halved
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 bay leaves
peel of ½ lemon
¼ tsp allspice

Wash the chicken and bones and places in a large stock pot, cover completely with water and bring to a boil. Skim away any scum as it comes to the surface. Add the vegetables and bring back to a boil. Add the rest remaining ingredients and simmer very gently, uncovered for 1½ hours.

Carefully lift out the chicken, set aside. The chicken meat can be removed from the chicken, shredded off and used for other things like soup! Simmer the stock gently for another hour to concentrate the flavor. You will end up with about 2 quarts of stock. Carefully ladle the liquid into a fine sieve, the less the bones and vegetables are disturbed in this process the clearer the stock will be. The stock is now ready for use. Freeze what you don't need for later use.

Preserved Lemon Risotto
Serves 4

4 TBS olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1¾ cups arborio rice
4 TBS white wine
5 cups or more chicken stock, simmering
the peel from 1 preserved lemon, rinsed, patted dry and finely diced.
1 TBS parsley leaves, finely chopped
4 TBS unsalted butter,chilled and cut into small cubes
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Simmer the stock in a large sauce pan. In a dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. When shimmering, add shallots and sautee for several minutes until lightly golden. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes to coat each grain of rice with oil and toast slightly. Add the wine to the rice mixture, cooking until wine is nearly absorbed.

Add a ladle or two of stock, enough to cover the rice. Cook at a steady simmer, stirring from time to time, until most of the stock has been absorbed. Gradually repeat the process of adding stock, a ladle full at a time, until the rice is creamy and firm. This will take at least 20 minutes depending on your desired level of al dente.

Stir in the preserved lemon. Add an additional ladle full of stock and the butter, and stir until both are completely absorbed. Stir in the Parmesan, cover with a lid and let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

When life gives you limoncello...make sherbet

Thank goodness March is here! February was a particularly hard month for a lot of people I know. Hearing so much woeful news, it seemed like the darkest month all winter. But for the last several days in a row (at least where I live), the sun has been shining, and the snow has been melting. Spring is definitely on its way, and it's bringing with it the promise of new beginnings and in my kitchen, a spate of lemon recipes.

Recently, I came into possession of one too many bottles of limoncello. For my comfort level, I couldn't let them sit idle for too long. Something creative had to be done to consume it. I'm not so much a drink-it-neat or over-the-rocks type of person. Recipe searches and suggestions turned up tiramisu (which I made), or sorbet, or (for the least effort involved) poured directly over ice cream. That's about all I found. I wanted to combine these last two ideas to make something not too icy (like sorbet) and not too creamy (like ice cream). Sherbet to me seemed like a good compromise, refreshing and comforting. This sherbet has a grown-up, yet nostalgic flavor and a consistency akin to lemon push-pops. Believe what you will about whether or not all the alcohol is cooked off when making the syrup. Moderation is always key and ample enough a portion to bring comfort and cheer.

Limoncello Sherbet
makes 1 quart

1 cup limoncello
1 cup water
¾ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (from about 4-5 lemons)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups whole milk, chilled

Combine limoncello, water, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring all the while to dissolve sugar. Continue to boil for 5 minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and somewhat concentrating the liquid into a loose syrup. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and cool completely. Chill limoncello syrup in the refrigerator at least four hours or preferably overnight. It should be at 40° F before proceeding to next step.

In a large glass measure, stir 2 cups limoncello syrup into 1½ cups whole milk. (Some curdling may occur so work quickly.) Pour the combined mixture directly into the canister of your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.