Friday, May 26, 2006

Butterscotch Pudding

We all have our weaknesses. Those singular foods that break our will, reducing us to acts of unsightly behavior; licking bowls, scraping restaurant plates with fingers for every last drop of flavor, or out right gluttony. Being a pastry chef, you might think I am often brought to my knees by all that surrounds me. On the contrary, rarely does a dessert break me.

Rarely, remember, is not never, and once in a while I too am reduced to eyebrow-raising behavior by a dessert. Currently, a butterscotch pudding has me on my knees. It's not surprising to find me with a pot, coated with the remains of pudding cooked minutes before in one hand, a spatula in the other working every bit of the warm heaven into my mouth.

Because the pudding is on my menu, I find myself in this compromising position at least 3 times a week. Due to it's ease in preparation, I find myself preparing and falling prey to this pudding nearly every weekend. I have carried it to friends houses, picnic's, and dinners parties. Sometimes I bring banana's to caramelize and nest on top, sometimes just clouds of billowy whipping cream. Adorned or not, I find this pudding manages to break a few others who are caught searching for the serving bowl in hopes licking it clean.

Note that the use of dark brown sugar is important for achieving a truly rich flavor. Light brown sugar will make a butterscotch pudding, and if you are in a pinch, use it. But do seek out the dark brown sugar, the flavor will reward you.

Butterscotch Pudding

4 tbsp butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup cream
2 cups milk
2 tbsp scotch, brandy, or whisky
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3 tbsp corn starch

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over the lowest heat. Do not let the butter sizzle and separate. If this happens, discard it and get new butter.

2. Add the brown sugar and salt, and stir into the butter. Turn the heat up to medium and cook the sugar until it begins to bubble, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. When the bubbling begins, stir and let it bubble for about 30 seconds.

3. Add the cream in small additions, stirring between each. When all the cream is incorporated, add the milk, scotch, and vanilla all at once. Stir to combine and set aside.

4. Whisk the eggs and cornstarch until even. I find that the cornstarch will be lumpy at first, but if you whisk it a first time while the brown sugar is caramelizing, then come back and re-whisk it after the milk is incorporated, the liquid in the eggs will soften the lumps and they distribute evenly.

5. Whisk 1 cup of the warm butterscotch cream into the starchy eggs until evenly combined. Return this to the sauce pan of butterscotch cream, whisking to combine.

6. Begin cooking the pudding over medium to medium high heat, stirring all the while with a whisk. The mixture will begin to thicken after 3 to 5 minutes. Continue whisking constantly, watching for the first signs of bubbling. When the mixture just begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and set a timer for 2 minutes. (if you are using an electric range, have a second burner preheated to a low setting) Stir the pudding over the low heat for 2 minutes.

7. Remove from heat, and immediately pour into a bowl to stop the hot pan from further cooking the pudding. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface to avoid a skin forming and let cool at room temp for an hour, then place in the fridge. Alternately, divide the hot pudding up between individual cups and let a skin form. I have to admit, I like a little skin, as it is a defining characteristic of home cooked pudding to me!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Softer Side of Rhubarb

When cooking with fruit and vegetables, I work with kid gloves so to speak. It's a great task, to take these gifts of the earth, alive with their own spirit, and create desserts with them. One must take into consideration who these fruits are, what their inherent qualities are, and how to best manipulate them into a dessert while preserving their personalities. I like to let things be what they are, manipulating them very little, and pairing them with complimentary items rather than changing them into something else.

My last recipe for rhubarb did just that. By steeping thin shavings of the crisp, tart vegetable in a simple syrup, every quality of the fibrous stalk was preserved. Rhubarb in the buff you could say. The recipe results in a sweet-tart dessert component with a crisp texture, exemplifying what Rhubarb is at it's core.

This said, I am sharing with you today a recipe that contradicts this statement. I am taking rhubarb, exposing it to heat, and breaking the fibrous bonds that hold this bright stalk together. It's not that I am changing who rhubarb is. I am releasing a hidden part of it's personality. Within those thin fibrous strands, strong enough to hold the stalk high and support umbrella like leaves, is a luscious, thick compote waiting to be liberated. With the coaxing of a mild heat, we are introduced to the softer side of rhubarb.

While the original stalk may no longer be recognizable, this compote is rhubarb, through and through. This recipe sets the amazing flavor of rhubarb on a pedestal, elevating it with a complimentary dose of orange liquor, heightening it with the sweetness of the sugar. Because heat is used to break the structure down, there is no need to peel the fibrous skin away. Thus, the red skin imparts a beautiful rosy hue to the compote.

I am serving the compote simply, aside a stack of very rich Breton Shortbread and a billowy cloud of caramelized cinnamon cream. The possibilities are truly endless with this beautiful compote. I day dream about serving it with buttermilk biscuits and vanilla ice cream for an early season twist on strawberry shortcake. I see it chilled inside tart shells, served warm over a simple bowl of ice cream, or layered between crepes. Sometimes, I might even just eat it with a spoon.

Orange Rhubarb Compote

2 tbsp butter
1 lb rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp orange liquor

1. Trim the Rhubarb of the ends, and split it lengthwise down the center. Cut across in 1 cm. intervals, leaving you with rough cubes of rhubarb.

2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar and set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb and the orange liquor. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release juices, gently stir.

3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.


* I set a timer last time I made it, just for you, and it took 13 minutes and 17 seconds until the desired texture and thickness was reached. This time will depend on the size of your rhubarb pieces, the particular heat of "medium" on your stove, etc, etc, etc. So use your intuition.

* Many of the cubes will break down from cooking, but some of the larger ones will remain as little tender lumps, offering bursts of tart rhubarb flavor in the mouth, and a pleasant texture on the tongue. If you like, you can break all the rhubarb apart with aggressive stirring, using the spoon to break the rhubarb up. You might even puree it and pass it through a sieve if you are looking for a smooth compote. But the less you stir, the more chunks you will leave intact.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Trendy Candy

I claim to be no fashionista. One look at my daily uniform of jeans, a hoodie covering a t-shirt, and skeakers would tell you that. But deep inside me is a girl that adores trends. There lies a girl that scours In Style in the doctors waiting rooms, spent half an hour picking out "Laguna Beach" oversized sunglasses, and watches hem lines like a hawk.

Save my '80's revival sparkly ponytail holders, clothing trends don't follow me into the kitchen. (A belted extra long chef's jacket? Corseted in the back?) This doesn't mean, however, that I leave the trend loving girl behind. Trends in cuisine run as deep through our community of cooks as Ugg boots through the crowd at the Bellevue Mall. For every girl carrying a Fendi Baguette bag there is a cook squirting a foam out of thier brand new ISI canister. For every woman who utters "Manolo Blanik" with the hushed whisper of the faithful, there is a cook with "Ferran Adria" resting on their prayerful lips.

Among the faithful who's praise follows sweeter deities like Pierre Herme, this utterance is now "sea salt caramel". To make things even trendier, you can use the french, caramel-beurre-sale,
or as they might say in the O.C., just C.B.S.

The hottest of Haute Caramels belong to Chocolatier-Camarelier Le Roux in France, who's sweets are said to be, "a panopoly of pleasure," and to who we owe thanks for the ultra hip "C.B.S". Here in seattle, those in the know buy, give, and sing praise of Fran's smoked sea salt caramels. DavidLebovitz even has directions on the proper way to eat these trendy treats! (Salt side down). While at The Fat Duck, a salted caramel was prepared as a component on a dessert, which left a tub for Micheal and I to scrape clean with spoons. A weekly fix that soon became a deep, wanton desire for the sticky, salty, sweet sugar.

Being the good little trend lover that I am, I too have a salted caramel on my menu. The recipe is adapted from The Fat Duck, the most significant change being the addition of creme fraiche rather than cream. The addition of creme fraiche adds an acidity that ballances well with the salty, sweet complexity of the caramel. This caramel has earned praise from the staff, guests, and my toughest critic Russell, and received the best compliment a dessert can get; customers requesting seconds!

The recipe follows, but is not for the faint of heart. Have ALL your utensils at the ready, resting next to you. Have your pan lined with foil and lightly greased very near you. Have your creme fraiche warm, within a short reach. And if all else fails, be ready to try again. This recipe is given in grams, the most accurate way to measure anything, except for the salt, which I have adjusted to my liking with 2 level tablespoons. The salt I use inside the caramel is Kosher salt. If you are using another salt, sea salt perhaps, you will find the saltiness varies. Sea salt tends not to be as salty at Kosher salt, while table salt is much saltier. I finish my caramels by sprinkling with the rough crystals of a grey sea salt, although any nice sea salt will do.

As a saftey precaution, have a bowl of icewater near you also. Burns from caramel can be some of the worst injuries the kitchen can inflict on us.

Salted Creme Fraiche Caramels

250 grams granulated sugar
250 grams light corn syrup
250 grams whole milk
200 grams unsatled butter
2 tbsp (aproxamitely 15 grams) kosher salt
200 grams creme fraiche

Utensils to be ready
A wooden spoon
A candy thermometer
An 8 inch square cake pan, lined with foil and lightly buttered
A oven glove, or a towel to wrap around your hand
A heat proof rubber spatula
A bowl of icewater

1. Put the creme fraiche in a small sauce pan over medium heat, bringing it up to a low simmer, then keeping very warm until needed. Do not boil, simmer, or let any of the creme fraiche reduce in any way, or your caramels will not be soft enough to chew. If this happens, re-weigh the creme fraiche, replacing any of the volume that may have evaporated.

2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, milk, and salt in a bowl. Mix until all the sugar ismoistenedd and the mixture is even.

3. Place the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, and pour the sugar mixture over. Cook this over high heat. Stir occasionally, with the wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 230 degreesFahrenheitt. At this point it will begin to take on color and need constant attention and stirring to ensure the caramel doesn't scorch.

4. Continue stirring, making sure the wooden spoon is scraping the pans surface everywhere, especially behind the candy thermometer, if your attaches to the side. I move the thermometer to a new side of the pan every 30 seconds or so, as needed to avoid any scorching. If you feel the caramel is scorching despite yourdiligentt stirring efforts, turn the heat down a little.

5. When the caramel is at 300 degrees Fahrenheitt exactly, remove the caramel from the heat, pull the candy thermometer from the pan and pour in the very warm creme fraiche. Quickly dress your hand with the oven glove or a towel wrapped around all your fingers and your hand up to the wrist, and secured in your palm. With the wooden spoon, begin to stir the creme fraiche into the molten caramel. Stir slowly at first, making sure none of the creme fraiche bubbling on the surface splashes out. Continue to stir more aggressively as the creme fraiche mixes in, returning to the heat if needed, until the mixture is perfectly emulsified, and not a lump remains.

6. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, using the heat proof spatula to scrape the contents from the pan. Let rest on the counter for 3 to 4 hours, until the caramel sets firm. Unmold and cut into desired pieces.

7. For ease in cutting the caramels, refrigerate for about half an hour. It will become firm and cut into nice sharp edges.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Stranded on a dessert island...

With only 2 days until her maiden voyage, Hard Tack At Sea is hard at work. A thorough lass, she is leaving no seat unfilled with stores, putting the finishing touches on her land-lubbers protective helmet, and creating her last culinary will and testament. By this, I mean her list of 10 food items you'd have if you find yourself stranded on a desert island.

An interesting question that has been posed to chefs and foodies alike, it takes on an entirely different meaning when you are taking your first ocean voyage.

Hard Tack has challenged the rest of us to create our own list.

The rules: You are stranded on a boat beached on a island. You can get whatever fish you want and hand-harvest your own damn sea salt (think of the money you'll save). There is a natural fresh water stream on the island (snow-melt from the very, very, tall mountain-of course, due to global warming, this is a limited resource, so enjoy it!) There is nothing left on the boat and as far as you know nothing on the island save your own unfortunate soul. You get 10 items to select. Huge categories don't count. You can't say "Herbs and spices" or "Meat". Try to be specific, it's more interesting. These food items will be delivered to you in your sorry state by UPS, because it is simply endless what brown can do for you. No, you cannot ask for more items from the UPS person. I know they're cute in their little brown shorts, but you can't have them either.

My list includes....
Coffee with Coffeemate hazelnut coffee creamer
Kettle Chips
Petit Pois
Seared Foie Gras
A nice sweet hot mustard
Humbolt Fog Goat cheese
Red onions
Hard Salami
Gummi Bears from Barentreff- the shop in my sisters town in Germany

No doubt every reader of this blog has at one time or another created such a list. Post your lists here, or on Hard Tack At Sea, or perhaps on your own blog!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This is why I am a pastry chef

In a moment befitting Bridget Jones, I decided that no, no I shouldn't truss my chicken with peppermint dental floss just because I can't find anything else.

The fact that the decision wasn't instantaneous reminds me why I am a pastry chef.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Poached Rhubarb

With the opening day of the farmers market comes the first Market Menu at Eva. A 3 course meal created each weekend, this menu highlights the best the market has to offer. The best part.... it comes with dessert!

This week I set my sights on Rhubarb. This long slender stalk looks a bit like celery, but for the iridescence red sheen to it's skin. While the raw texture has a wonderful crunch to it, the tart flavor dissuades us from eating it that way. A lot of sugar and a little heat turn this sour, fibrous stalk into a tender, fragrant addition to dessert.

For the Market Menu, I shaved pieces of rhubarb and poached them with a vanilla bean syrup. Rather than submerging the vegetable in a simmering liquid, I brought the syrup to a boil, and poured it over the rhubarb. By letting it steep in the sweet liquid, releasing it's own juices while the temperature slowly dropped, the Rhubarb retains some of it's crisp texture which is so often diminished to mush by heat.

These sheets of tender rhubarb sat aside a vanilla crepe cake with a healthy dollop of cinnamon whipped cream. By simply layering crepes with vanilla whipped cream, a stunning 20 layer cake can be made. The vanilla crepe cake is accented with a cinnamon cream on top to compliment the fragrant sweet-tart rhubarb and add richness to the crepes.

Vanilla Poached Rhubarb

4 thick stalks of Rhubarb
1 vanilla bean
3 cups sugar
3 cups water

1. Trim the ends off the rhubarb and cut into 2 inch segments. With a very sharp knife, or a mandolin, carefully slice the pieces into thin sheets. Place the rhubarb pieces in a bowl and set aside.

2. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and carefully scrape the seeds into the sugar. With your fingertips, rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar, using the grains of sugar to break the seeds apart.

3. Combine the vanilla sugar, the vanilla pod, and the water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. When the syrup comes to a rolling boil, pour it over the rhubarb.

4. Cover the surface with a layer of paper towels to ensure the syrup completely envelopes the rhubarb. Let sit for 3 hours. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill. Store overnight, or up to 2 weeks. The flavor improves with time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Cup Cake Upset

My sister Libby is visiting from Freiburg,Germany, where she has lived for nearly 4 years. While she grew up with me just north of the city, and spend her college years at the University of Washington here in Seattle, she has been gone long enough that Seattle has new and exciting experiences waiting for her on each return.

My talk of a new cup-cakerie in Ballard promised to be exciting. I mean, a shop dedicated to cupcakes, how could you go wrong?

When we approached the case full of cupcakes, Libby experienced the same series of thoughts I did on my first visit. Upon seeing the bleak selection, 3 flavors of cup cake, all identically frosted with 5 different color coordinated flavored frostings, she experienced the first let down.

"That's it?" she thought. "Well, they must taste REALLY good then"

So we ordered our 2 dollar treats, she a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, I a chocolate cake with lavender frosting, and 2 lemon cakes with lemon frosting to go for a friend at home with a new baby.

It was a pleasant day, so we sat outside to watch the foot traffic on Market Street and nibble our cupcakes. Upon first taste she experienced the second let down.

"That's it?" she said, with disappointment in her eyes. The same disappointment I experienced on my first visit. "It no better than the cup cakes mom makes at home. From a box!"

It's not that the cupcakes are bad, per se. They are ok. Nothing brilliant. The big let down comes after loosing the hope that a shop dedicated to cup cake fills you with. We both had visions of a vast array of cupcakes in interesting flavors, colors, filled, dunked, or perhaps covered in tasty bits. Much like the cupcakes on the blog Cup Cake Bake Shop. Unfortunately the variety this shop offers is bleak, somewhat bland cake with sugary sweet frosting that only tastes mildly of the flavor each pastel color promises.

Her dissapointment led to anger, and as we left our cupcakes, she made the same promise I did on my first visit, "I would never go back there." And she probably wouldn't. But I have found myself back a few times now, with a place in my heart where I can enjoy this plain cup cake. As I enter the door and take my place in the long line, I am a little wiser, and I know what to expect. I no longer hope for more when I think of this little shop. Instead, I enjoy my cup cake deemed "good enough" and fill my head with lofty dreams of the cupcakes I would put in my own shop.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Baking with lavender

I love lavender in deserts. I love it deeply in a way that makes me place my hands over my heart, pressing my chest as if to aid the sigh emitting from my smiling face. I love the warm fragrant cloud that wafts from the oven as the door opens to reveal lavender shortbread. I love the perfumed flavor that as a child I could only describe as tasting like purple. I love the deep color of the buds, even if it all but disappears during baking.

Lavender possesses a warm musky quality that stands well inside baked goods. This is especially true with simple pastries, like shortbread, scones, and pound cake, all of which carry the rustic heart of the countryside where they have been faithfully made for generations. These plain desserts, often prepared for the familiar companionship of a friend over for tea, or a family dinner, are best paired with a single, familiar companion. An old friend like Lavender.

I have become particularly fond of the lavender-lemon pound cake recipe Claudia Flemming included in her cookbook. So much, in fact, that it has found it's way on to my menu, which is budding with the first flavors of spring. It is served warm, aside a buttermilk pannacotta, fringed with puckery slices of sugar poached lemon.

This cake had a rich buttery flavor and a dense tight crumb, as all good pound cakes must. This weighty quality, not only justifies a name like "pound" cake, but it lends itself so well to soaking. As a child pound cake was "soaked" with chocolate syrup (hersheys, if you must know), which never failed to delight me. This cake, however, is soaked in a more adult syrup, a lemon syrup steeped with lavender.

To encourage a thorough soaking, the cake is poked with a series of small deep holes, and brushed with half a cup of lemon lavender syrup. The bright flavor of the syrup penetrates the buttery cake , adding both moisture and a burst of lemon-lavender flavor.

Humble the pound cake may be, but it will always have a home on my menu's for just that reason. I suspect those of you who share my love for lavender will also make a home for this cake in your own kitchen. For the others, those that think lavender is a scent for soap, not a flavor for food, omit the lavender and you have an incredible lemon pound cake on your hands!

Lavender-Lemon Pound Cake
Claudia Flemming

for the cake
1 cup butter
1 tbsp lavender
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla

for the syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp lavender

Preheat the oven to 350

1. Melt the butter over a medium flame with the lavender. When this is melted completely, remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt together. Prepare the loaf pan. Grease the pan on all the inside surfaces. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, and press it into the bottom. Now dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out any excess. Set it aside in a cool place until you are ready for it.

3. After the butter has steeped 10 minutes, strain it into a large bowl and set aside.

4. Whip the eggs and sugar to full volume. I do this in a kitchen aid with the whip attachment, it takes about 4-5 minutes.

5. When the eggs are at full volume, add the lemon zest, the vanilla, and 1/3 of the flour. Rather than dumping the flour right into the bowl, sift it in to reduce the risk of little clumps of flour in the final product. Fold with a spatula until the flour has been distributed evenly.

6. Fold the remaining flour in the same fashion, in 2 batches.

7. When the flour is evenly incorporated, fold 1 cup of the batter into the strained lavender butter. Use a whisk to incorporate. Add the rest of the batter to the buttery batter and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter is even.

8. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. The cake is done when the top is golden brown, and feels firm to the touch. A knife, skewer, or fork inserted into the center will come out clean, or with a few fully developed crumbs attached, but no goo.

9. Let the cake cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

10. While the cake is baking, prepare the lavender syrup. Bring the sugar, lemon, and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the syrup reaches a boil, remove from heat and stir in lavender. Let this steep for at least an hour, until you are ready to soak your cake. Strain the syrup to remove the fiberous lavender buds.

11. When the cake has rested and cooled for an hour, gently run a knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake. Tip the pan and carefully unpan the cake. Remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake.

12. With a skewer, poke a series of holes into the bottom of the cake. Too many holes and your cake will fall apart, too few and the cake will not soak properly. Brush the perforated bottom of the cake with half the syrup.

13. Turn the cake over and repeat the poking and soaking with the top side, using the remainder of the syrup. Wrap the cake and chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or overnight. If you must, you can serve the cake right away, but the flavor and texture of the cake will benefit greatly from resting overnight.