Friday, December 9, 2011
Here's a recipe I put together by combining a few online sources. Great after a skating party, a day on the slopes or the most dangerous sport of the season, competitive holiday shopping.
makes about six, 6-ounce servings
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup golden rum
2/3 cup raw sugar or to taste
1 small cinnamon stick
2 pods cardamom
2-inch piece of vanilla pod, split lengthwise
4 slices orange (preferably organic)
4 slices of lemon (preferably organic)
1 bottle red wine (Beaujolais works well or if you want to be more authentic use something like Blaufrankisch)
Combine brandy and rum with sugar, spices, orange and lemon slices in a small pan. Heat to about 150°F. (Do not allow to boil!) Remove from heat, cover and let stand for several hours. Combine wine and brandy mixture and heat until very hot but not boiling.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
To give a little background here, in Paris, Ladurée is the high temple of the macaron. Perhaps Pierre Herme's macarons are better and more inventive, but it is Ladurée that put these almond meringue cookies filled with buttercream on the map. They claim that the idea of creating the little sandwich cookies came from Pierre Desfontaines, a distant cousin of the Parisian shop’s first owner, some 60 years ago. While the claim is difficult to corroborate I'll take their word for it until something better comes along. Not that the idea of macarons is in any way new–in France it dates back to at least 1643. Even the idea of filling them was around in the 1800s, though the filling was jam in those days.
But today Ladurée is the last word on macarons and they've turned the little cookie into a world-spanning empire with outposts all over Europe, the Middle East and Japan. It's a little surprising that it took them this long to get to America. Needless to say, Ladurée is far from a small artisanal operation, it's more on the order Tiffany's or Louis Vuitton, though admittedly the French confectioner's luxuries are a lot more affordable. But can they keep up the quality while manufacturing macarons by the ton? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes, at least if the cookies at the Madison Avenue branch are any indication. A friend and I split four of them and here's my brief review (the texture on the cookies themselves was perfect, crisp yet barely resisting to the tongue):
Coconut: these were perfect, a delicate distillation of coconuttiness
Lemon: great flavor though I was a little surprised that the lemon buttercream was a little broken, this happens to me all the time, but I expect better than that from the Parisian masters
Raspberry: brilliantly intense flavor though I'm not convinced that leaving in the raspberry seeds does anything to the flavor
Violet-cassis: this was perhaps the one dud, any violet flavor was swamped with the cassis and, while the texture of the cookie itself was exemplary, the filling seemed, well, gummy
That said, they are likely the best macarons in New York. Though if you have the option, get on that plane to Paris.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Nuns' Tits, Abruzzo's wicked dessert celebrates 125 years.
A simple but delicious dessert made with just a few quality ingredients: sugar, flour and eggs to make the sponge cake; fresh milk, eggs, lemon zest and flour for the pastry cream. These were created in Naples between 1884 and 1886 by a native of Abruzzo who had come to Naples to learn the secrets of pastry. As for the rest, such as the quantities of the ingredients, this remains a secret passed down from generation to generation, unknown outside pastry shops. The origin of the name of what is now the sweet symbol of the town of Guardiagrele [a town in Abruzzo] is also a mystery. The first theory is that the original term was "tre monti" [three mountains], which referred to the mountains of the Maiella [now a national park], but was then transformed into nuns' tits by the popular imagination. The second hypothesis originates in the common belief among the laity that nuns, to make their feminine shape less evident, placed a lump of clothes (the third breast) between their breasts. The third theory has it that nuns of the Order of Saint Clare simply invented this sort of sponge cake and thus the association with the sisters. The colloquial name was simply a malicious play on the dessert's shape. Article: Rossano Orlando.
If you're interested in a recipe you could give this one a shot.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
You will need some almond flour. If you can’t buy it, you can make your own, just make sure the almonds are really dry. Separate the eggs at least 1 hour before using or preferably the day before. And if you want to ensure all the macarons are the same size draw circles of the desired size on the back of the parchment. And do use a scale, it makes a huge difference here. And, oh yeah, don’t make them on a rainy day! (The pictures below were taken on a rainy day which is why the macarons didn't rise as evenly as they would otherwise.)
4. Fit a piping bag with a 3/8-inch (1 cm) round tip. Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets in circles about 1 inch in diameter.
Let the macarons dry about 20 minutes (a little longer is OK if you need to cook them in two batches) so a little skin forms on the outside.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The word cookie is undeniably Dutch in origin (from koekje=small cake) and began to be used English-language American cookbooks by at least the 1850s. Still, what it seemed to mean at this point was a small cake, a kind of muffin, rather than what we would think of as a cookie. In those days drop cookies were mostly called drop cakes. These little cakes came here from England. The eighteenth century cookbook author Hannah Glasse has a recipe (she calls them drop-biscuits). These, however, resemble lady fingers in texture rather than what we would think of as a cookie. Closer to the idea of a cookie is something called a “rout cake.” Mary Eaton, a British cookbook writer gives a recipe in The Cook and Housekeeper's Complete and Universal Dictionary (1822):
(For an explanation of the name, see http://www.lynsted.com/html/georgian_-_rout_cakes.html.) Most drop cakes are what would consider a “cake”. And the same is true of early drop cookie recipes. The first real drop cookie recipe that I’ve been able identify (though the rout cakes do seem to be a distant ancestor) is something called “Boston Cookies” which begin to show up in the 1880s. These are essentially the earlier rout cakes but with less liquid and flour but more sugar. The Household: A Cyclopedia for Modern Homes (1881) gives the following recipe.
One cup butter, one and one-half sugar, two and one-half flour, one and one-half raisins chopped fine, one-half teaspoonful soda dissolved in a little warm water, three eggs, a pinch of salt and nutmeg and other flavoring to the taste. Mix well, roll thin, or better still, drop into the pans with a spoon and sprinkle granulated sugar over each.
When you look at the original Toll House cookie recipe, the proportions of butter, sugar and flour are identical (Nestlé later altered the proportions slightly.) This then may the direct ancestor of the drop cookie. Now to figure out whether it really did originate in Boston!
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Having spent the last couple of years delving into the symbolic baggage of desserts (chocolate money, Barbie cakes, bone-shaped cookies, and so on) I couldn’t but stop and rejoice at all the symbolism inherent in bashing apart a symbol of wedding bliss filled with toy-sized bottles of booze and sweet relics of childhood.
Let me very briefly note the symbolism of the more ordinary wedding cake (or bride’s cake as it was sometimes known in the 1800s). In those days there was a kind of parallel between the virginal bride and the white-frosted cake, sometimes made explicit by the orange blossoms placed on both the bride and cake. The fashion for these white cakes originates with multi-story confection created by (mostly likely) Alfonse Gouffé for the wedding of the future King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The idea caught on and white wedding cakes (they used to be pink or even red) became de rigueur.
One anthropologist has noted that the act of the newlywed husband and wife plunging a knife into the cake represents the consummation of the marriage. If that is the case what does the smashing of the piñata represent?
The next step is, of course, to share the cake among the guests. They are, in effect, the witnesses of the marriage act. The cake, quite literally embodies this. You can draw a parallel to the sharing of the host in a Catholic mass. So what does it mean to consume a plastic-wrapped, industrially-produced mélange of chemicals? Moreover one that is associated with childhood? Are we bearing witness to the creation of a new consumer unit with child-like impulses born out smashing apart a traditional symbol of marriage. Then there are the toy-sized bottles of booze. In the nineteenth century, candy manufacturers used to make sweets in the shape of gin bottles, guns and cigars so that kids could play at being adults. Like so many of candy-like cocktails popular today, the little bottles seem to point to the fact the line between child and adult is little more than a blur. But what should we make of the sugar skulls? An ironic reminder that all, including symbols and marriage, are as dust to dust? Or just more spooky candy, no more threatening than Jack-o-lanterns on Halloween. Well I guess kids will be kids…till death do us part.
Monday, September 26, 2011
As a rule, I’m usually not fond of downmarket desserts go upmarket. You know, the fancy restaurant smores, the French pastry chefs making ring dings but while I have some principles they tend to get weak-kneed when it comes to gelato. Which brings me a little hole-in the wall in Greenwich Village called Popbar. The conceit here is that the place makes it’s own popsicles/ice cream bars which you get to dip in one of several chocolate coatings, sort of good humor on an expense account. The gimmick wouldn’t be much more that cute if it weren’t for the quality of popsicles which are either made with gelato or sorbetto (sorbet). On a cool September day, the ones made with fruit sorbet didn’t seem quite as inviting as the gelati, so we went for the chocolate, gianduia and pistachio gelato. All were yummy: the chocolate was terrific, the pistachio only a trace less so. Only the gianduia seemed a little wan. The friendly lady behind the counter dipped them in melted chocolate and rolled them in nuts. Worth a detour if you’re shopping at nearby Murray’s Cheese Shop or the other worthy stores of Bleecker Street nearby.