Posts tagged ‘pistachio’

June 15, 2011

Key-nadian Twist On A Father’s Day Favorite

I really thought that I’d tried every Key lime dessert recipe known to man.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my dad’s all-time favorite indulgence is Key lime pie, which I grew tired of making about fifteen Birthdays/Father’s Days ago.  Since then, I’ve found ways to incorporate all of those delicious Key lime pie components into many different dessert shapes and forms.  I truly believed that I’d done it all… every Key lime concoction on the planet.  But there was one region of the Earth that I missed… Canada.  Cana..DUH!

Originating from the Great White North, a Nanaimo bar is a layered dessert traditionally composed of a sometimes nutty, brownie-like layer, a custard or buttercream layer, and a chocolate layer.  There are many different versions of Nanaimo bars, leaving me with lots of options to incorporate all of the flavors of the Key lime pie.  I was sold.  As the Vancouver Canucks have demonstrated this season, Canada knows great hockey, just as my dad, a die-hard Red Wings fan, does.   And, as it turns out, Canada also knows a thing or two about dessert!

Upon grocery shopping for ingredients, I also stumbled upon a couple of products that I’d been previously unfamiliar with, pure Key lime extract and natural crystallized lime.  The extract allowed me to achieve a nice, strong lime flavor without having to add too much actual lime juice and watering down the custard.  And the crystallized lime also added an extra kick without ruining the consistency of the filling.  This is an issue I’ve dealt with in the past, having never wanted to sacrifice any of my dad’s favorite lime flavor but also not wanting to jeopardize the quality of the dessert.  Both of these great new products will be of great use to me for years to come as I continue to make Key lime confections for the world’s greatest dad.  Happy Father’s Day, Papa Lew!

Key-nadian Lime Pie Bars

Inspired by: Key Lime Pie

Adapted from “Nanaimo Bars,” The Daring Kitchen  and Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives

Graham Layer

½ cup unsalted butter              2/3 cup almond flour

3 tablespoons brown sugar     1/3 cup flaked coconut, finely ground in food processor

1 egg, lightly beaten                ¼ cup unsalted pistachios, finely ground in food processor

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Melt the butter and brown sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Pour a small amount of the melted butter-sugar into the dish containing the egg while whisking, bringing the egg slowly up to temperature without cooking and scrambling it.  Once the egg has been slightly warmed, pour it into the glass bowl with the remaining melted butter-sugar, stir, and continue to heat.  After the mixture is homogeneous and slightly thickened, remove the bowl from heat and stir in graham crumbs, almond flour, and ground coconut.

Key Lime Layer

3 egg yolks                                           ¼ cup cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons granulated sugar          2 tablespoons custard powder*

3 tablespoons Key lime extract            1-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

zest and juice of 1 lime                        3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

-optional: crystallized lime, green/yellow gel food coloring

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, granulated sugar, lime extract, juice, zest, and cornstarch.  Place over medium-low heat and continue to stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Allow about 5-7 minutes for the mixture to thicken, and then remove it from heat and transfer it to a small bowl.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of the cold butter, allowing each piece to dissolve before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth and cooled, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the mixture so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Allow mixture to set up in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

When lime mixture has set, remove it from the refrigerator, peel away and discard the plastic wrap.  Set mixture aside, stirring occasionally, and allow it to come to room temperature.  In a large bowl, beat together the room temperature butter and cream cheese until thoroughly creamed.  Beat in the room temperature lime mixture and food coloring (if desired) until homogeneous.  Mix in the custard powder and gradually beat in the powdered sugar.  If an increase in lime flavor is desired, also beat in desired amount of crystallized lime (I used about 1½ teaspoons).  When desired flavor is reached, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until combined and fluffy.

*Vanilla instant pudding mix may be used here.

Chocolate Layer

2 ½  tablespoons unsalted butter

½ tablespoon heavy whipping cream

6 ounces white chocolate

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, bring butter and cream to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent it from scalding.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate and place it over medium heat.  Stir in the hot cream to the melting chocolate and continue to stir until fully melted.  Remove from heat.

Assembly

Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper, allowing the excess to drape over the sides  for easy dessert removal.  Press graham mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the lined pan.  Spoon on the lime layer and spread evenly across the entire surface of the graham layer.  Then, pour the warm, melted chocolate onto the top, evenly coating the dessert and reach all edges of the pan.  Let the dessert rest until chocolate has cooled and set before removing it from pan and slicing into bars.

May 22, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part II: Macaron Success!

It is with great enthusiasm that I share with you today the news of my recent triumph over the anticipated (and dreaded)  French macaron!  You may remember my recent post involving my previously unsuccessful and all-around sad attempts at the temperamental cookie, as well as my promise to keep practicing, researching and attempting to master the art of the macaron.  Luckily, this is one of those instances where my more obsessive-compulsive traits came in handy, and after another week or so of reading up, gathering a few more materials, aging another couple pairs of egg whites, and picking apart the brain of the brilliant blogger/baker/creative mastermind, Heather (aka Ms. Sprinkle Bakes), I was finally able to pop out a couple batches of some pretty successful macarons.  Hooray!

I came to realize that I’d had a pretty good idea of what I was doing during the first few attempts, and with a few little tweaks to my original game plan, I found victory.  Victory, in this case, comes in the form of smooth, crispy, eggshell-like crusts, soft and meringue-y cookie center, and beautifully flourished “feet.”  One of the most crucial (and ridiculously simple)  changes I made had to do with the temperature of the oven.  After describing to her in painful detail every step I took in preparing my macaron batter, Heather’s first suggestion to me was to use an oven thermometer to test the true temperature of my oven.  I immediately bought the tool and came to find out that my oven is an astonishing 20 degrees hotter than its stated temperature says it should be.  This, most definitely, played a part in my failed cookies.

Convinced that I had jinxed myself the first time by previously making the filling before the macarons (incorrectly) baked, this time I focused only on the macaron batter and didn’t think twice about making a filling until they (hopefully) baked up correctly.  My first successful batch was just a simple white macaron.  In the spirit of celebration, I whipped up a rum-infused chocolate-black cherry filling to pipe in between the lovely little cookies.  Having been too nervous to sprinkle anything atop the unbaked batter, I instead brushed the top of the cookies with a little simple syrup and dusted them with some chopped cocoa nibs.

Just in case this batch had been a fluke, I made one more batch using the exact same techniques and adding a touch of green food coloring to the batter.  To my amazement, this batch worked out just as beautifully.  Using the extra pistachio paste I had leftover from my semifreddo, I made a pistachio buttercream for the filling, and used the same simple syrup brushing method to sprinkle some chopped nuts on the top of the assembled cookies.

By no means am I claiming that my macarons turned out perfect or that I’ve mastered the process, but I do feel pretty satisfied with the cookies I’ve been able to crank out so far.   I’m not sure if the oven temperature was the only flaw in my previous attempts, as I made a few other changes in the steps taken to achieve my final product, but I’ve formulated a (rather long) list of all the helpful tips and tricks that I’ve gathered along the way for anyone looking to make their own macarons.  I will continue to practice and possibly add to this list, but for now, I feel confident in saying that if these precautions are taken and the steps are followed meticulously, you’re bound to find the same success that I eventually did!

  • Invest in an oven thermometer.  As stated above, I found out (after a few failed batches) that my oven was much hotter than the temperature set.  While these cookies are too fragile to withstand such high heat, they also won’t bake up properly if the heat is too low.  Get to know your oven and it’s true temperatures before attempting your macarons.
  • Keep your almond flour in the freezer.  I always keep nuts in the freezer in order to keep the oils from going rancid, but for some reason I never thought to apply  this rule to my almond flour.  Not only will it keep the natural oils in the ground almonds from spoiling, but freezing the flour will also keep it from turning into a paste when you further grind it down.  So simple, but makes all the difference.
  • Use super-superfine sugar.  I normally buy Domino brand superfine sugar that comes in a skinny cardboard box.  When my first couple batches of macarons didn’t come out, Ms. Sprinkle Bakes inquired about my SF sugar and suggested that I might have gotten a bad box.  The fact that it comes in a cardboard box makes it susceptible to moisture.  If the box gets set into even the tiniest puddle of water on the counter, the sugar can be ruined.  I found another brand of superfine sugar that’s meant for dissolving into iced tea and is sold in a plastic container.  I double checked that it was pure SF sugar and nothing else and gave it a little zip through the food processor before using it to create my meringue for the macs.  I highly suggest being extra cautious in the quality and condition of your SF sugar!
  • Pulverize, pulverize, pulverize.  Grind up all of your dry ingredients to the finest powder you can possibly achieve.  Even the superfine sugar can benefit from a good run through the food processor.  Combine both the cold almond flour and the powdered sugar together in the food processor before grinding it down in order to keep the almond flour from becoming almond butter.  If the almonds start to separate from the sugar in the food processor, turn it off, fluff the powders together with a fork, and combine again.
  • Sift, sift, sift.  Sift the ground almond-powdered sugar mixture two or three times before sifting it (again) into the meringue.  Discard any and all excess almond bits that don’t make it through the sifter.
  • Beat the perfect meringue. The meringue should reach stiff peaks before the dry ingredients are incorporated, but not so stiff that the eggs start to separate in chunks.  Try beating on medium speed instead of high speed and checking the meringue frequently to make sure the mixture holds its shape and isn’t runny, but doesn’t appear too dry and over-whipped.
  • Fold carefully. When it comes to combining the batter, one fold too few or one fold too many can mean misshapen, cracked, or foot-less finished cookies.  Regardless of what anyone else said about starting with quick folding strokes, I’ve found long, gentle strokes are the best way to slowly but surely incorporate your batter to the perfect consistency, to the point where the batter falls from a spatula in shiny, smooth “ribbons.”
  • Line and prep insulated aluminum cookie sheets.  I read that the best pans to bake macarons on are insulated aluminum sheets (not non-stick), and after testing out this theory for myself, I most definitely agree.  The cookies baked up on these sheets were the most evenly cooked and the all-around best ones.  To line the cookie sheets, I tested both silpat mats and parchment paper and was pleased with the results of both, but would suggest parchment paper.  The reason for this is that I found it very helpful to trace 1-inch circles onto the paper to use as a guide when piping the batter onto the sheets.  This will help to create perfectly round, evenly sized and shaped round cookies every time.  Space the circles about an inch and a half apart.
  • Use a pastry bag and tip.  Using a pastry bag and tip will help the batter to pipe out smoothly into perfect little disks.  Using a pastry bag and tip will also help you to test out the consistency of your batter, as batter that just starts to ooze out of the tip of the filled pastry bag is the correct consistency.  If it does not, it is too stiff and hasn’t been folded enough.  Squeeze the batter back out of the bag, give it another fold, and try again.
  • Dry out your batter.  Once the batter has been piped into round disks on the sheets, tap the sheets on the counter-top to help get rid of any air bubbles and then allow the sheets to sit a room temperature for 15-30 minutes.  This will help the batter to create a shell on the top of the disks, and when the cookies are placed in the oven, the heat will help the bottom of the cookies to rise and form the little feet, while the dried shells will stay round, smooth and intact.
  • Rotate your pans. Being overly-cautious, I was hesitant to open the oven enough to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through baking, but found that it does make a huge difference in helping the macarons to bake evenly and the feet to flourish nicely around each cookie.

    French Macaron Shells

From Martha Stewart’s “French Macaroons”

1 cup confectioners sugar

¾ cup almond flour

¼ cup superfine sugar

2 egg whites, aged & room temperature*

small pinch of cream of tartar

-recipe yield: about 17 filled macarons

Trace 1-inch circles onto parchment paper and line cookie sheets with the paper.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the confectioners sugar and the almond flour until further ground into a fine powder and thoroughly combined.  Sift the powder at least twice through, discarding any clumps, and set aside.  Clean the food processor and blade, and then use it to further grind down the superfine sugar.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add in the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks have just formed.  Gradually add in the ground superfine sugar and continue to beat on medium speed, frequently turning off the mixer and checking for stiff peaks.  Once stiff peaks have been achieved, sift in the almond-confectioners sugar mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together without deflating the meringue.  Batter is properly folded when it falls from the spatula in shiny “ribbons.”

Fill pastry bag with cookie batter.  Pipe circles of batter onto parchment-lined sheets using the traced circles as guides.  Lightly tap trays on kitchen counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.   Gently press down with your finger any little peaks on the surface of the cookies that may have formed from piping.  Allow trays to sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes so that cookie batter can dry out.

When cookies have dried, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and insert one sheet of cookies into the center rack of the oven.  Rotate the pan after 5 minutes of baking and allow cookies to bake for an additional 5 minutes (10 minutes total).  Remove from oven and place onto cooling rack.  Replace oven temperature to 375 degrees, wait about 5 minutes for oven to reheat, and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees when inserting next sheet of cookies into the oven.  Repeat this process for each sheet of cookies.  Let baked cookies cool on trays on cooling racks for 10 minutes before carefully removing them to be assembled with filling.

Optional Ingredients:

gel food coloring

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

topping of choice (chopped cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, kosher salt)

If choosing to dye the macaron batter, the food coloring should be added to the batter just after the dry ingredients have been sifted in but before any folding has taken place.

To add a topping to the top of the baked macarons, a simple syrup is needed to bind the topping to the cookies.  To make a simple syrup, simple combine equal parts sugar and water into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow the liquid to come to a simmer.  Remove from heat when all the sugar has dissolved and liquid has formed a syrup, about 5-10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.

Brush a small amount of cooled simple syrup onto top cookie of the assembled macaron.  Sprinkle on the finely chopped topping of choice and allow to dry completely before handling.

Rum Infused Chocolate-Black Cherry Filling

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips          ¼ cup black cherry preserves

¼ cup cream cheese, softened                 1 teaspoon rum extract

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add in the cherry preserves and rum extract and beat until combined.  Pour in the cooled chocolate and beat until homogeneous.  Transfer filling to a pastry bag and pipe a small amount onto the bottom surface of macarons to sandwich the cookies together.

Pistachio Cream Cheese Buttercream

½ cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup pistachio paste

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a large bowl, cream together the cheese and butter until soft and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add in pistachio paste and salt and beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in the cooled white chocolate.  Gradually mix in the confectioners sugar while continuing to beat, and then drizzle in vanilla and heavy cream and beat until desired consistency has been achieved.

May 9, 2011

Turkish Java & Molten Lava

This past Holiday season, upon opening a Christmas card from a family that I’d gotten to know shortly after moving to the area, I was surprised to discover a gift card to their favorite place to get Middle Eastern food.  When Evan and I visited the little Lebanese restaurant, we were very strategic in placing our appetizer and entree orders and made sure to leave room for a dessert selection as well.  On impulse, I decided on a chocolate molten lava cake, mainly because the menu described it as being served alongside homemade  marshmallow cream.  Little did I know, although the pair was absolutely delicious, it was neither the lava cake, nor my beloved marshmallow fluff that would turn out to be the star of the dessert (as well as the entire dinner experience).  There was another component to this little dessert trio, and that was a dollop of an unbelievable pistachio and orange ice cream.  Sounds strange, a chocolate “Turkish Coffee” cake served alongside marshmallow, pistachio and orange flavors, I know.  But, when gathered onto one spoon, the combination of the different flavors, textures, and temperatures seemed as deliciously obvious as a pairing of spaghetti and meatballs.

This unforgettable dessert has very frequently been the topic of conversation between Evan and I since our visit to that restaurant.  Clearly, I had to recreate this dish, but very delicately.  There was no way I was going to tweak any of the perfect flavors in the slightest degree and risk compromising the divinity of this dessert.  I decided, instead, to deconstruct the assembly of the cake.  The result is what I’m calling a “semifreddo lava cake,” composed of a rich, spiced chocolate sheet cake wrapped around a pistachio-orange semifreddo creme.  The “hot lava” took the form of a hot-fudge sauce and was drizzled atop the dessert, and with the obvious inclusion of my favorite marshmallow frosting, the reconstructed dish was complete and just as euphoric as we’d remembered it the first time.

Semifreddo Lava Cake

Inspired by: “Molten Chocolate ‘Turkish Coffee’ Cake”

-Lebanese Taverna (Arlington, VA)

Mocha-Spice Sheet Cake

Adapted from “Mocha Cake,” Gourmet – August 2009

Rich and chocolate-y with a subtle hint of coffee and spice, this flourless cake stays fluffy, moist and soft when frozen… perfect for a semifreddo dessert.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

3 teaspoons  espresso powder

6 eggs, separated

½ cup granulated sugar, separated

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 13×9 inch pan.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl to melt the chocolate.  Before turning on the heat under the double boiler, dissolve the espresso powder by stirring it into 3 tablespoon of hot water.  Once dissolved, strain the espresso into to bowl of chocolate, turn on the heat, and melt the chocolate together with the espresso.  Once almost completely melted, remove bowl from heat, stir to melt completely, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ¼ cup of the sugar, the salt and the cardamom until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 8 minutes.  Beat in the cooled chocolate.  In a separate bowl, beat the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks, gradually add in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue to beat until the meringue just creates stiff peaks.  Gradually and gently fold the egg whites in small batches into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the batter as evenly as possibly (without deflating it) into the prepared pan and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until it has puffed and is dry and springy to the touch.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cover the cake with two layers of damp paper towel.  Let the covered cake rest for about 3 minutes, remove the towel (allowing the crispy top layer to peel away with it), and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.  Once the cake has completely cooled, loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and invert onto a large cutting board or sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Transfer the cake (still covered with parchment atop the cutting board) to the freezer for 2-3 hours for easy slicing and assembly.

Pistachio-Orange Semifreddo

Adapted from Tim Nugent’s “Pistachio Semifreddo,” Top Chef

This semifreddo is simply divine and can stand alone as a truly delectable dessert.  The flavors are amazing, but it’s the texture that makes this semifreddo so special.  Make sure to whip each layer of ingredients carefully as directed and fold as gently as possible for a beautiful, airy-light finish.

4 eggs, separated                               1 cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup superfine sugar, separated       zest from half an orange

1/3 cup pistachio paste*                      1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl and, over medium-low heat, whip together the egg yolks and ¼ of the caster sugar.  Continue to whip on a high speed until as much volume as possible has been achieved, about 5-8 minutes.  At this point, remove from heat and, while still warm, add the pistachio paste and gently swirl it into the yolk mixture.  Set bowl aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whip the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks.  Gradually add in the remaining superfine sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks have been achieved.  In small batches, gradually fold the stiffened egg white meringue gently into the yolk-pistachio mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the cold whipping cream to soft peaks, add in the orange zest and juice, and continue to whip slightly until they’ve reached medium-stiff peaks (do not over-whip or the cream can turn into butter).  In gradual batches, gently fold the whipped orange cream into the fluffy pistachio mixture.  Once the semifreddo base has been combined and poured into properly lined pan (as directed below), allow to freeze overnight before serving.

*I made my own pistachio paste for this dessert, but it actually ended up being quite a bit of work and not as easy as the recipe makes it seem.  I would suggest just purchasing some pre-made pistachio paste and adjusting the amount of sugar in the semifreddo accordingly, as it may not be quite as sweet as my homemade paste turned out.

Hot Lava Fudge

Adapted from the Old Occidental Hotel’s “Hot Fudge Sauce,”  -Muskegon, Michigan

1 cup superfine sugar          1/3 cup cocoa powder          2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour              1 cup milk                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-recipe yield:  1 ¾ cups sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and unsweetened cocoa powder.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine and stir together the milk, butter and vanilla just until the butter has melted.  Add in the dry ingredients to the milk mixture, constantly whisking.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Remove from stove and transfer to serving cup or gravy-boat to allow to cool.  Refrigerate unused portion.   Leftovers be reheated in a double-boiler or microwave as needed.

For the marshmallow fluff, make a half-batch of my favorite marshmallow frosting recipe.

Assembly:

Once the sheet cake has chilled in the freezer, remove it and peel back the top layer of parchment paper.  Using a large loaf pan as a guide, trace onto the removed parchment paper the shape of the top, bottom, and two longest sides of the loaf pan.  Cut the shapes out of the parchment paper and arrange them on top of the sheet cake.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice the cake in the shapes of each of the parchment paper to (eventually) fit along the inside of the loaf pan.

Line the large loaf pan with two large pieces of parchment paper, allowing the paper to drape outside of the pan, creating “tabs” that can eventually be pulled up to remove the dessert from the pan.  Handling the cake very gingerly, place into the bottom of the lined loaf pan the slice of cake that fits accordingly and gently press it so that it’s lying across the entire bottom of the pan.  Place both long side pieces of cake into the lined loaf pan along the matching sides and gently press.  Pour the semifreddo base into the cake-lined loaf pan and cover the semifreddo with the final slice of cake fitting the very top of the loaf pan.  If the semifreddo doesn’t reach the top of the pan, slice this piece of cake to fit into the pan atop the semifreddo accordingly.  Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and allow assembled dessert to freeze overnight.
To serve, remove the dessert from the freezer and lift the parchment tabs to loosen the dessert from the loaf pan.  Place plate or serving tray on top of loaf pan and flip to invert the dessert onto server.  Peel back the parchment paper.  Cut dessert into slices, drizzle the hot fudge, and spoon a dollop of marshmallow fluff on or next to the dessert or slices.  Serve immediately.