Skillet Lemon Cake

imageDaniel 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!

My immediate thought was poached fruit served with creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, sprinkled with some lightly toasted nuts for crunch.  Too easy!  Serious Eats has a skillet cobbler that sounded good but I wanted something that was more Mediterranean in nature.  I’d been looking at Mark Bittma’s skillet lemon/almond tart and decided to try that.  However, it would have to be adapted as it was cooked for a few minutes in a skillet and spent the rest of the time in the oven to which Daniel would have no access.  I’m going to refer to the Bittman tart as a cake because in my mind it’s closer to a cake than a tart. There was also a discrepancy between Mark Bittman’s video and the recipe published by the New York Times that would have to be addressed.  The article gives you the option of using 1/2-3/4 cup of sugar and the video calls for 1/2 cup.  Since I was going to bake this entirely on the stove top I opted to go with 1/2 cup of sugar in the batter and save the 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top and caramelize. The recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, which I find to be unecesarily imprecise.   I did in fact use the juice of a lemon but it was a huge freakin lemon and I think it was more juice than necessary.  When I looked at the video it looked like there was twice as much cream as lemon juice and the recipe called for 1/2 cup of juice, so, I figure, 1/4 cup of juice is fine.

The next issue was the cooking method.  My Italian grandmother never used her broiler and taught me how to make a frittata using only the stove top and a covered pan. I thought that might work for this dessert which seemed to be essentially a sweet frittata.  They key is to put the batter in  a non stick pan with sizzling fat (butter or olive oil) so it doesn’t stick and so you can slide it out and flip it back into the pan to brown the other side.  Now, if you don’t want to mess around with flipping the cake I don’t think it’s critical.  Just make sure you place the cake in the plate so that the browned side is up.  This can easily be done by placing a plate on top of the pan and flipping the plate and pan as a unit so the pan ends up on top, the plate on the bottom and the cake drops out of the pan in one piece.  If if the cake does’t come out in one nice piece, don’t panic.  Smoosh it together, sprinkle some toasted almond slices on top and dust it with powdered sugar, or place the reserved sugar on top and hit it with a blow torch.

Julie

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  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds plus more for decoration
  • 1/2 cup cold whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar for batter plus 3 tablespoons for the top
  • 1/4 cup cold lemon juice
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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  1.  Mix eggs until well combined, but not fluffy, into a homogeneous yellow mixture.
  2.  Add the cream, salt, and lemon juice to the eggs and mix well.  (Combining lemon juice and cream can curdle the cream. Keeping the ingredients cold reduces the likelihood that will occur. Also, the longer you let the cream and juice sit together the more chance you give the juice to curdle the cream so don’t let the mixture sit around).
  3. Rub the lemon zest into 1/2 cup of sugar and add to the eggs along with the almond meal and sliced almonds. Combine well
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to an 8″ skillet and melt over medium heat foaming subsides
  5. Pour batter into the pan and cover it.
  6. Lower the flame to low.
  7. Cook for about 5 minutes and check it.  You are looking for the liquids to be set.  If you stick a wooden skewer into the mixture it should come out with mois crumbs but not wet.  If it’s not ready, cover the pan for another 5 minutes and check again.
  8. When the tart is completely set, loosen the edges from the side of the pan.  Take a plate and place it on top of the pan.  Take a deep breath, cross your fingers and flip the plate and pan unit upside down so the pan is now on top.  With any luck, the tart will release cleanly.  If it’s doesn’t scrape out the remainder in the pan and pat it on top of the cake.
  9. Now you have two options:  you can scatter some toasted sliced almonds on top and dust it with powdered sugar or you can sprinkle the top with granulated sugar and caramelize it with a blow torch.

Lemon Semifreddo with Strawberry Sauce

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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.

Julie

Lemon/Limoncello Semifreddo Dessert Componants

  • Whipped Cream
  • Italian Meringue
  • Pâte à Bombe
  • Strawberry sauce
  • Limoncello bubble sugar

Whipped Cream

  • 238 grams (1 cup) heavy cream
  1. The cream, beaters and bowl should be pre chilled
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks and place in the refrigerator until needed.

Pâte à Bombe 

  • 108 grams (6 large) egg yolks, room temperature
  • 80 grams (1/4 cup) subtle flavored honey (I like Acacia)
  • 80 grams (1/4 cup) glucose
  • 81 grams (1/3 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) Limoncello {Italian Lemon Liqueur}
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (use microplane)
  1. Beat honey, glucose, lemon juice, egg yolks and rind in a heat proof bowl.  This forms the top of your Bagno Maria aka Bain Marie.
  2. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (this the bottom of your Bagno Maria) and wisk mixture with a balloon wisk until the mixture is 138 degrees Fahrenheit at which point the yolks will be pasteurized and the base will be thick and fluffy.  For my Bagno Maria, I use a large glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. The bowl should be round and fit snugly in the pot.  The walls of the pot should come roughly half way up the sides of the bowl.  Make sure the water does not touch the bowl.  You should be able to simmer about 4″ of water in the pot.
  3. Once off the heat, wisk in Limoncello and strain out the lemon rind.  Let cool in an ice bath (a bowl of ice and cold water in which you put your bowl of flavored base) stirring occasionally.  Cooling it quickly in an ice bath discourages bacteria from developing.

Italian Meringue (use only half of yield)

  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) superfine sugar
  • 100 grams (1/3 cup) glucose
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup) water
  • 90 grams egg whites ( 3 large), room temperature

I suggest you read my page on Italian Meringue and take a look at the videos. The goal is to slowly pour 240 degree syrup onto egg whites which have been beaten to soft peaks and then to beat the mixture until it is cool.

  1. Clean out the bowl of your stand mixer with vinegar to make sure there’s not a trace of fat in it.  The fat can inhibit development of your egg whites. You can turn the bowl upside down to dry or dry it with a lint free towel. Place egg whites in the bowl.
  2.  Place sugar in a small, long handled pot with a lip, not a spout, and pour the water on top.  Place pot on a low flame and swirl the liquid in the pot until the sugar is dissolved.  Stirring can develop the formation of sugar crystals which is why the liquids should be swirled, not stirred. Once the sugar has dissolved (liquid should be clear) add the glucose and stir until dissolved.  I dissolve the sugar first because I find that when I add the glucose and sugar at the same time it takes the sugar longer to dissolve. Raise heat to high and cook until 230 degrees fahrenheit washing down the sides of the pan with a heat proof rubber basting, brush dipped in cold water, to remove any sugar crystals. You don’t have a lot of syrup so it won’t take that long to come to temperature.
  3. While the sugar syrup is cooking turn on your stand mixer to low (2 on a Kitchenaid).
  4.  When the syrup heats to 235 degrees Fahrenheit, crank up the mixer and beat the egg whites to soft peaks.
  5. When the syrup reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly pour a thin stream of syrup over the whites, with the mixer still on high. If the whites are not ready, just pull the sugar syrup off the heat until the whites are ready. Beat until the bowl is cool to the touch.

Make Semifreddo

Using a balloon wisk, fold together the Pâte à Bombe and 1/2 of the Italian meringue that you made (save the other half for something else) Then, fold in whipped cream. Pour in loaf pan or twelve 1/2 cup flex molds.  Chill at least 8 hours before unmolding.

Daquoise

  • 5 egg whites
  • 100 grams superfine sugar (in addition to the tant for tant)
  • 200 grams tant for tant made with blanched, grated almonds.

Tant for tant is 50 per cent nuts and 50 percent granulated sugar. If you can’t find almond flour you can grate your own blanched almonds. I use the medium grating disc on my food processor and then I finish chopping the nuts with the sugar.  This helps keep your mixture from getting oily.  So 200 grams of tant for tant is composed of 100 grams of sugar and 100 grams of almond.

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Line two cookie sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.
  3. Beat egg whites until soft peaks and gradually add the sugar.  Beat until stiff peaks.
  4. Fold in tant pour tant with a large balloon wisk.
  5. With a number 7 tip pipe out 12 circles of Meringue to fit the size of the bottom of your molds.  Alternatively, spread the meringue in a sheet pan to a thickness of about 1/4″.
  6. Bake for about 40 minutes, changing the position of the trays once.  The dacquoise should be an appealing tan color.
  7. Remove from the oven and immediately cut out your shapes if you used a sheet pan.  Let cool until you can easily pull the dacquoise off the parchment paper.

Strawberry Coulis

  • 2 pints fresh strawberries or unsweetened frozen if fresh are not good.
  • 56 g (1/4 cup) superfine sugar
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste
  1. Puree strawberries, sugar and juice in a cuisinart  and purée.
  2. Then push through a fine mesh sieve or tami (flat sieve).
  3. Chill.

Limoncello bubble sugar

  • 183 g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) superfine sugar
  • 95 ml (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) water
  • 2 tablespoons liquid glucose or light corn syrup
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) Limoncello {Italian lemon liqueur}
  • 2 drops yellow liquid food colouring
  1. Heat sugar and water until sugar dissolves then add glucose.
  2. Take parchment paper and crumple. Smooth it out on a sheet pan leaving some wrinkles.
  3. Cook sugar to 310 degrees farenheit.
  4. Sprinkle or mist limoncello on to parchment.
  5. Tip sheet pan and pour sugar syrup across the top, letting it run down the pan.
  6.  Let cool and break into shards

Assembling and Plating

  1. Place some sauce on a plate.
  2. Pop the semifreddo out of the molds, place on the daquoise
  3. Place on the plate with an offset spatula.
  4. Garnish with a slice of strawberries and a shard of bubblesugar.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Scones

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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.

Daniel

Ingredients:

  • For Scones
  • 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
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • For Glaze
  • 1 ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons very soft warm butter
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons dried lavender (optional)

Instructions:

IMG_03051. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Put sugar and lemon zest into a small bowl and rub the zest into the sugar to release the oils.

2. Place flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl and whisk together

3. Use a pastry blender, or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps.

4. Stir in sugar and poppy seeds.

5. Stir in heavy cream with rubber spatula or IMG_0306fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Then with your hands knead the dough a little in the bowl to pick up some of the dry bits. ProTip: The dough should look dry, crumbly and dense.

6. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough ball.

7. Flatten into an even disk 8 inch disk. ProTip: Flatten into a disk in an 8 inch cake pan to make a perfect circle. Using a bench scraper cut into 8 even wedges and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

8. Bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

IMG_03079. While scones are baking, start the glaze. Warm up the lemon juice in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds. Rub the lavender in your hands to release the oil then let it sit in the lemon juice for at least 10 minutes. ProTip: The lemon juice should start looking purple before you use it in the glaze.

10. Put the butter, lemon zest, and powdered sugar in a bowl. Strain out the lavender from the lemon juice.

11. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the purple lemon juice. Add more lemon juice as necessary until the glaze is thick but pours, about the consistency of ketchup. ProTip: If you want big lavender flavor, add back in 1 tablespoon of the strained lavender to the glaze.

12. Glaze the scones while they are still warm and serve.

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