Gladice is a formidable Frenchwoman who tutored me and my oldest son in French. I met her through a local agency that gave children lessons in cooking, various languages, art and music. Most of the kids were under 6.
Gladice ran her classroom with an iron fist in a velvet glove a la Francaise. Those kids were lined up in neat little rows, all facing her, and were not allowed to speak until spoken to. No bathroom breaks until the designated break time. No arguing, no passing notes, no crying for mom and no mom’s peeking in the door. The mothers were terrified but the kids managed just fine.
At some point Daniel became too old for the class and started tutoring in Gladice’s home and I began lessons as well. It was then that we appreciated her true nature. She was warm, witty and delightful. She treated Daniel like a son and me like a friend. My lesson consisted of sitting on her front porch, drinking iced tea and gossiping in French. My son’s lessons were more structured with grammar and conversation but from time to time she would have some sort of a treat for him. One day she made crepes for him. He raved about them and she kindly gave me the recipe, written in French, naturalment.
Crepes are generally pretty straightforward: flour (all purpose, buckwheat or chestnut) eggs, milk and a bit of sugar for sweet crepes. Gladice put in a secret ingredient that made them delightful: a soupçon of rum.
Daniel is in a cook off with another boy in another fraternity, to raise money for charity. They are allowed a hot plate, a grill and a sous vide, since they both have one. I have to chuckle here as it’s not the customary possession of a college boy and yet, Daniel found possibly the one other boy in this huge University that owned one as well.
The boys were to prepare an entree using pork tenderloin, a side dish and dessert. Daniel is making prosciutto wrapped tenderloin which he will cook to temperature in the sous vide and finish in a hot pan. We discovered this technique at one of Jean-George Vonderrichten’s New York City restaurants, “Nougatine”. We had some unbelievable Berkshire pork chops which were tender with a crisp surface. The sous vide Is perfect for tough cuts of meat, like pork chops, because you can cook them for a long time to tenderize them without overcooking them. In addition to the pork, Daniel will make a butternut squash risotto with rosemary and sage.
I was tasked with finding a desssert that could be made solely on top of the stove, that didn’t require any pre made items or special equipment and could be cooked in 30ish minutes. Hmmm!
This is my go to candied fruit recipe for pieces of fruit. For whole fruits, like small tangerines or small Forelle pears, I use a longer process that does not entail simmering the fruit. The spices in this recipe can be changed or omitted.
Caramelized nuts are a staple, in my opinion. They can be used in pastry applications and also in salads. They’re easy to make either with a dry caramelization method or a syrup. I love the ease of just throwing a bunch of sugar in a pan and caramelizing it but for the nuts, I’ve had more success with using the method below. For some reason, I seem to get a smoother coating over the nuts. The ones in the picture I did with the dry pan method. As you can see they’re a bit gloppy although still delicious.
My family loves Earl Grey tea and begged me to try and tackle an ice cream cake with that flavor. Earl Grey tea is a black tea flavored with Bergamot, a citrus fruit. I love the combination of Earl Grey and chocolate. It also works well with other citrus fruits and with nuts, particularly walnuts. So I thought a moist walnut and chocolate cake would be a nice base for the cakes. If you don’t want to make a cake and prefer something crunchy, you can make a chocolate cookie crust. Or, you can do none of the above and just scoop some in a dish and eat it plain or drizzled with sauce
Finding a chocolate cake recipe proved tricky. I didn’t want something too rich, like a brownie. I thought about using my favorite chocolate butter cake recipe but butter cakes don’t like to be cold. They get hard and dry with refrigeration and I wanted to be able to assemble the ice cream on top of the cake and freeze the whole thing. So I started trying chiffon cakes which use oil instead of butter. Oil doesn’t freeze so I figured the cake wouldn’t freeze hard. One recipe by Rose Levy Barenbaum in “The Cake Bible” caught my eye. Apparently when her mother gave her the recipe she told her the texture was perfect even right out of the freezer. So I gave it a shot but it didn’t have a deep enough chocolate flavor and the texture was too fluffy so I tried again, adding another 25 grams of cocoa powder and that seemed to do the trick. It had a deeper chocolate flavor and the texture improved as well.
This recipe makes about a pint of ice cream. The number of cakes you get depends on the size of your molds. I use molds that hold about 4 oz so I get 8 cakes.
Earl Gray Ice Cream
Chocolate walnut chiffon cake
1/2 cup Caramelized walnuts ( see my post on Caramelized nuts)
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel (see my post on candied fruit)
I love ice cream, almost more than anything. Almost any dessert can be enhanced by a scoop of gorgeously silky cold ice cream. A crisp, a tart, a pie, even a cookie is better with a bit of ice cream especially if the dessert your pairing it with is hot and crunchy. Cold, hot, creamy and crunchy is irresistible.
I recently purchased an ice cream book called ” Hello, My name is Ice cream “, by Chef Dana Cree. Its a wonderful book, laid out in a logical way with clear instructions. She is very thorough in her discussion of the science of ice cream with useful information on stabilizers, emulsifiers and other elements necessary for turning out silky ice cream. She goes over the variety of frozen desserts: sorbets. sherbets, Philadelphia and custard style ice creams. At the beginning of each chapter she gives you what she calls a blank slate recipe. This allows readers to create recipes beyond those that Chef Cree has offered. For me, that’s the best kind of book because it allows me to create.
Chef Cree’s recipe for banana ice cream is amazing and has inspired a few iterations. I have spun it and added a thin stream of melted bittersweet chocolate at the end so I get a banana stratiatella. I have served it with a rum caramel ribbon and a fudge ribbon. But the prettiest plate I’ve done is a rif on a banana split. I love the flavor of bananas in a banan split but not the incorporation of banana slices. This banana split has banana ice cream as the base, scooped up into three little scoops and each served with its own sauce: caramel/rum, bittersweet chocolate and fresh strawberry.
A word about ice cream machines. I use an ancient Simac Gelataio Boy. It churns ice cream in about 15 minutes. The day it dies will. be a sad, sad day for me. It has a built in compressor which keeps the base chilled while you are churning it. Since my Simac was manufactured, they EPA made it illegal to use this particular type of freon in non commercial ice cream machines, or so I was told by Simac. I had purchased another Simac a few years ago with a removable bowl, thinking it would be easier to clean and I did not like it. It didn’t get as cold and took longer to churn the ice cream. Therefore, the ice cream was not as creamy. I can’t recommend another built in compressor machine. Perhaps Lussino or Lello or another Italian company.
I also have a freestanding Cuisinart unit where you need to chill the bowl before you use it. For some ice creams they may be interchangeable but for at least one of my ice creams, the Simac gives it a much better texture. So, I used the Simac for this banana ice cream and I don’t know how it will turn out with the Cuisinart. Let me know if you try it. The advantage of the Cuisinart is that if you freeze multiple bowls you can make several quarts of ice cream. My Simac heats up so I can do two batches and then I have to let it cool down before I can use it again. Yep, I need a commercial ice cream maker. I just don’t happen to have 10k lying around.
I rarely buy grapes in the supermarket. While they are sweet, they have no flavor. Occasionally I find Muscatel grapes at Whole Foods and those are wonderful. For the past few years I’ve found a Michigan variety of a petite, seedless grape with a lovely, delicate flavor. I believe the variety is called Candace. Each grape is the size of a hazelnut: rosy red with touches of pale green. Right now, I am finding these grapes in my Midwest farmers market. Go buy some and try this tart!
These little grapes make great tarts and provide a nice change from berries or stone fruits. You can make all of the components in advance and the assembled tart will hold up in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours.
The first time I ate a Semifreddo was at Vivoli Gelateria in Florence Italy many years ago. While the gelato was wonderful, the Semifreddo had a unique texture that was silky, light and completely captivating. Semifreddo means ” half cold ” and it feels less cold than ice cream or gelato. Personally I feel that I taste the flavors more intensely because there’s no numbing effect of your tastebuds as there is with colder confections.
Semifreddo consists of a flavored base folded together with Italian Meringue and whipped cream. The base can consist of a Crème Anglaise (yolks cooked with milk and sugar), Pâte à Bombe (a base of yolks beaten with cooked sugar syrup) or a base of puréed fruit. However, the key component which needs to be included for the best texture is Italian Meringue.
So, as I often do, I tried to find Semifreddo in my hometown to no avail. Then I began to collect recipes and try them, still without success. Finally I stumbed upon the answer to my failures in an article authored by Marino Marini titled ” More Perfect than a Parfait”. According to the article a semifreddo derives its origin from a French Parfait which is a Pâte à Bombe (egg yolks and sugar syrup beaten to a creamy consistency) into which whipped cream is folded. The Semifreddo can be differentiated from a Parfait because it includes Italian Meringue, the missing ingredient in all the recipes that I had tried. Italian Meringue doesn’t freeze at zero temperature and has a silky mouth feel. Without it, you never get the correct texture. This history feeds nicely into my narrative that the Italians (me and my ancestors) taught the French (my husband and his ancestors) how to cook, which began when Catarina d’ Medici brought her pastry chefs to France when she married Henri II of France. Clearly the Italians continued to school the French into the early 20th century when the Italians transformed a very nice desert, the Parfait, into a spectacular dessert, the Semifreddo. Ha!
This is a dessert that you can definitely play with. An easy modification would be to do a raspberry coulis or a blueberry sauce. Other flavor combinations come to mind: lime Semifreddo with blackberry coulis, passion fruit Semifreddo with mango coulis, orange/Cointreau Semifreddo with candied walnuts or pine nuts and caramel sauce; grapefruit Semifreddo with, well, I leave that up to you. You can also forgo the daquoise and place the semifreddo directly on the plate or use a thin shortbread cookie, a ginger snap or cookie crumbs. Try different combinations and make this recipe yours.
A special thanks to blogger and author Grace Massa Langlois of gracessweetlife.com for inspiring the design of this dessert. Check out her book and her blog. Her recipes are well written and trustworthy.
The first recipe a cook masters holds a very special spot in their hearts. For me this spot is reserved for these lemon-lavender poppy seed scones. It was the first recipe I designed and remembered by heart and remains one of my specialties. A few years ago, I was flipping through Baking Illustrated when I saw a recipe for british cream scones. I became inspired and for the next month I spent any free time I had experimenting with scones. I love how scones are a great vessel for an infinite number of combinations. I must have made more than 15 batches of scones during that month ranging from classic plain to bizarre (but still yummy) strawberry with balsamic vinegar glaze. The lemon-lavender poppy seed stood out among the others, combining a classic flavor profile with a little twist. The top of these scones is crisp with a tangy and sweet glaze that has a tantalizing hint of lavender that keeps you coming back for more. The flaky crust is contrasted by a moist, buttery, cloud-like interior with a little bite from the poppy seeds and bright lemon zest studded into the crumb. These scones are without a doubt one of the best confections I make, and now you can make them too.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
I had been raving about the Dream Bars at Potbelly’s and finally my mom asked me to bring her one so she could try it. As per usual, after a few bites of the sugary oatmeal, caramel and chocolate chip confection she said, ” I think we can do better, or at least as good”. You can decide.
While Potbelly’s Dream Bars are soft, from being wrapped in plastic, ours have several distinct layers: crumbly oatmeal topping, creamy caramel and crunchy shortbread. Mom likes to add toasted walnuts or pecans to hers to cut the sweetness but for me and my friends, the sweeter the better so I don’t add nuts.
Originally we used the wonderful but pricey Knudsen caramels but many sheet pans of cookies later my mom put her foot down and told me if I wanted to keep on baking sheet pans of cookies for my swim team I’d have to make my own caramel and so she taught me. One day we’ll update the recipe to reflect our caramel recipe.
32 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened to cool room temperature ProTip: To soften butter but keep cool, beat it with a rolling pin while in the package before cutting.
½ cup packed light brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (6 ounces)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
26 ounces good quality caramels
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces good quality chocolate chips (Ghirardelli is preferred)