Of the many cheery little fruits that are all up in our area this time of year, I can’t think of any more adorable than apricots. I mean, they fit right in that little crook of your curled palm like a wee baby chick. And with their sweet fragrance and soft skin the color of a glowing sunset, all shades of orange and blushing pink fading into each other, well, can you blame me for nuzzling a few under my nose and, okay, maybe even cooing a little in the produce section last week? Don’t answer that. Here, have a big slice of this delicious Apricot-Raspberry Marzipan Tart to distract you from that completely rhetorical question.
I am always completely enchanted by the magical marriage of fruits and nuts. It’s sort of mind-blowing how some flavors are just so naturally perfect together, isn’t it? Like plums with walnuts, peaches and pecans, pears and apricots with almonds. The way the acid and sugar of certain fruits play with the oils and earthy crunch of nuts–it’s natural goodness on such an other-worldly level, you can practically hear Mother Nature somewhere in the distance going, “Ha! Awesome, right? I know! I made that up, y’all! Boo ya!”
But this tart is so much more than a delicious piece of fruit and a handful of nuts when you’re feeling snacky (which I hear some virtuous celebrity people indeed consider a snack–I’ve read this more than once in the pages of Us Weekly while clearing an entire bag of Pop Chips). This tart is cute little apricots, sprightly raspberries and almonds plus nutty pastry and a tweedy, crumbly topping with hunks of sweet almond paste woven through it. Now that’s my kind of snack, Angelina.
If you need an extra little push to try this gem of a recipe, consider this: if you’ve been baking along with POC recently, maybe you made that pretty little Apple-Frangipane Galette from a few weeks ago. And maybe you bought a pretty standard seven-ounce tube of almond paste to make it, but only used four ounces in the recipe, so like me, you stored the remaining three ounces in the refrigerator. And maybe this recipe amazingly calls for three ounces of almond paste! And maybe I am an enabler. A wacky, apricot-nuzzling enabler. Enjoy!
When making the filling, be sure to add the raspberries last, as they have a tendency to fall apart when they’re really ripe. If yours seem particularly fragile, just dot them on top of the apricots before sprinkling on the topping.
For the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
For the marzipan topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (3 ounces) almond paste, crumbled
1/4 cup sliced almonds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
For the filling:
12 to 14 medium apricots (about 1 pound), halved, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh raspberries
To make the dough, place the flour, almonds, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg yolk and process until the dough comes together–it may look too dry at first, but keep the processor running and it will come together.
Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pierce 16 times with the tines of a fork. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and chill for at least 1 hour.
When the tart shell is completely chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prebake the tart shell for 18 minutes, or until its a deep golden brown. Large air bubbles will form in the crust as it bakes, so halfway through baking, press the dough down with the back of a spatula. Cool the prebaked shell on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.
To make the almond topping, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, crumbled almond paste and almonds. Add the butter and work it into the mixture with your fingertips until the butter pieces are about the size of corn kernels. Set aside.
For the filling, toss the apricots with the cornstarch and granulated sugar. Gently fold in the raspberries.
To assemble the tart, spread the filling evenly over the crust and sprinkle the topping over it. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the topping is slightly golden and the juices are bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Let’s just get one thing straight right now: I’m a Midwestern person at heart. Born and raised in Illinois and proud of it. It’s a wonderful place to be from, and to me, there’s no better place to be in the summer. But I’ve lived in California for seven years, and although I used to think that someday I’d return to where I’m from to raise my kids, now you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. Or at least grumbling the whole way. Because I’ve been brainwashed in that crazy way that so many Californians are, which is to say that, generally speaking, I totally believe that there’s no better place to live. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. The mild weather, the ability to see the mountains and the ocean in the same day, and all our year-round crazy sexy produce. I never understood the appeal of an avocado until I moved to California, and the strawberries, people. The strawberries!
Now, we have access to decent strawberries pretty much all year, but man, when prime strawberry season really hits here, we’ve got insanely gorgeous ones coming out our ears at criminally cheap prices. Pints at the registers in corner stores, full flats being hocked on street corners, even the organic berries are a steal right now. The fragrance smacks you in the face as soon as you walk into even the largest supermarket, piles of the kind of glistening, plump fruit that reveals a bleeding red interior all the way through when sliced. Like strawberries on Mother Nature’s steroids, I tell you. So awesome. And although I love a sparkling sorbet or a great shortcake recipe to showcase them, I think I’ve found my new favorite way to love on strawberries in their prime. I give you Strawberry Angel Pavlovas.
This recipe was inspired by one from the grande dame of the California culinary scene, she of the famous waffle recipe, Marion Cunningham. Her recipe for Strawberry Angel Pie got an instant bookmark–what’s not to obsess over when you’re dealing with a pie that involves a crisp meringue crust, billows of freshly whipped cream dotted with strawberries and dreamy lemon cream? Huminuh, huminuh.
As I’m wont to do with recipes with which I become obsessed, I thought about making that dang pie pretty much nonstop as soon as I found it, but hesitated because of the high risk of wasted delicious food. See, despite the insatiable sweet teeth that reside in this household, I really doubted we could demolish an entire pie in a day (not that I mentioned this to the husband, for fear he’d take pause, raise an eyebrow and ask if I’d care to make it interesting). And the reason it would all need to go down within one day is that with a base of delicate meringue and temperamental whipped cream, this is the sort of thing that you have to assemble and put in your face before it all starts to break down. But then I got all smart all of a sudden and opted to make pretty-pretty individual Strawberry Angel Pies, Pavlova-style.
Pavlova, for the record, would probably be up there for dessert after my very last meal. Not that I’m anticipating having my last meal anytime soon. That’s a horrible thing to say. How morbid. Sorry. But really, guys–crisp on the outside, marshmallowy-inside meringue shells topped with a bright lemon cream and whipped cream and peak of the season strawberries? Perfection. So perfect, it should be someone’s very first dessert. So let’s say that instead. The first dessert for a brand new, sweet-smelling little baby angel from heaven. There, that’s much better.
Strawberry Angel Pavlovas
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
If you’d like to make this recipe into a pie like the original, then just spread the meringue in a buttered 9-inch pie plate, and bake just like you would for the shells. Fill with the lemon cream, then pile on the strawberry whipped cream.
Whether you make the individual Pavlovas or just one big pie, save your assembly for right before your serve it. The meringue can be baked a day in advance (store airtight), the strawberries sliced, and the lemon custard made the day before, stored in the fridge with a sheet of plastic wrapped pushed right on the surface (rewarm it a bit by placing the bowl in a pan of warm water and stirring well, just too loosen it up a little). This recipe can be halved to make four Pavlovas–just use a handheld mixer for the smaller amounts of eggs and cream.
4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
For the meringues: In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, then slowly rain in 1 cup of the sugar. Beat on high until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Portion the meringue into 8 mounds on the baking sheet, a generous 1/4 cup full each (a standard ice cream scoop works well to keep things even). Using a spoon, shape each mound into a little meringue nest, each about 4 inches in diameter. To create a small well in the center of each meringue shell, first rest the bowl of the spoon in the center of each meringue, horizontal to the baking sheet, then hold the spoon by the very end of the stem and turn it in a circle as you pull it up and off the meringue.
Bake the meringues in the center of the oven until they are firm and lightly golden, about 1 hour. Let them cool completely on the baking sheet in the turned-off oven with the door open.
For the lemon custard: Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until they are thick and pale yellow. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the lemon juice and zest. Scrape the mixture into a small, nonreactive saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the custard cool completely.
For the strawberries: Place the strawberries in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar and toss well to coat. Set aside.
When you’re ready to assemble the Pavlovas, whip the cream until it hold stiff peaks (you should have about 3 cups whipped cream). Fold 1 cup of the whipped cream gently into the lemon custard. Fold the strawberries into the remaining 2 cups of whipped cream.
Place the meringues on individual plates. Divide the lemon cream equally among the 8 meringue shells, and top with the strawberry whipped cream. Garnish with more strawberry slices. Serve immediately.
Quick, guys! Make this galette before all the lovely warm-weather fruits really start parading into the markets, inspiring you and making apples seem a lot like my Mom Wardrobe, which is to say sad, hapless and completely boring. (It’s a problem, people. I don’t know what happened, really. But I can tell you that you will wrestle this pilly old cardigan from my cold, dead torso. I may dress in a manner that is as insipid as apples in May, but I am sort of in denial about the whole thing. I try to think of my clothes as the sort of shiny, happy green apples that still seem relevant, even as strawberries and rhubarb seem to be the order of the day. Lie to me.)
The good news about this Apple Frangipane Galette (because there’s really no good news side to the wardrobe thing, naturally) is that the apples really are just a jumping off point. Any fruity pie filling that you love and would normally put in a pie or tart (except strawberries, too much water) will probably work here. The magic, my friends, is in the frangipane.
I love me some frangipane, always have. It’s the irresistibly dreamy almond pastry cream that’s made with almond paste, the filling of so many decadent pastries and cakes. But until now, I’d never turned one out in my own kitchen. And now that I know I can make it in mass quantities in just minutes in the food processor, I may keep a jar on my bathroom vanity. Eating it will make you feel that pretty, I promise.
The frangipane is the secret weapon that turns something familiar into a next-level thing. When hidden beneath some fanned-out sweet-tart apples, it sort of bakes into the crust and melds with the fruit and adds a stealth layer of flavor that you just don’t expect when you’re faced with something as rustic and familiar as apples enveloped in pastry. I flippin’ love stuff like that. It makes new recipes worth trying, even those that seem like something you’ve had before.
And that brings me to the source of this recipe. It’s from the Great Lebovitz‘s latest recipe collection Ready for Dessert. I was so excited when my copy finally reached my doorstep, and my family was sort of relieved, too–perhaps I would then stop suctioning myself to the front window, practically licking the glass, in hot anticipation of the delivery. I started flipping and bookmarking as soon as I opened the box and this galette was in the oven less than two hours later. I may look a little out of touch in this pilly old cardigan, but I’m sure that’s got to be a new baking record.
Lebovitz’s headnotes indicate that you shouldn’t need to sugar the apples at all unless they are extremely tart; in that case you should sweeten to taste. I used Granny Smiths that definitely weren’t the most tart I’d ever had, so I skipped the sugar, but in the end wished I’d sweetened them just a bit. I might also add just a dash of cinnamon next time too–it was delicious without it, but I missed the flavor combination. Also, I used Demerara sugar for sprinkling and loved the toasty flavor and crunch, so I’m recommending it here, but you can use granulated or other coarse sugar that you like. As always with pastry-making, make sure your ingredients are as cold as possible before using.
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
6 tablespoons ice water
For the frangipane:
4 ounces almond paste, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon rum, kirsch or Calvados (optional)
6 medium apples (3 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons granulated, Demerara or other coarse-crystal sugar
First, make the crust. In the bowl of a food processor (or in a mixing bowl with a pastry blender, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Add the ice water all at once and mix just until the dough begins to come together. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To make the frangipane, place the almond paste, sugar, flour and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor or electric mixer. Mix until the almond paste is in fine, uniform pieces. Add the butter and mix until very well-blended, then add the egg and the liqueur, if using. Mix until the frangipane is smooth (there may be a few tiny unmixed pieces of almond paste, and that’s fine–they’ll disappear during baking).
When you’re ready to bake the galette, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
To assemble the galette, lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the frangipane in an even layer over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the apples over the frangipane, either scattering them in an even layer, or arranging them in concentric circles. Fold the un-frangipaned edge of the dough over the apples. Brush the crust and filling with the melted butter. Scatter half the sugar over the crust and the remainder over the apples. Bake until the apples are tender and the crust has browned, about 1 hour. Slide the galette (still on the parchment) onto a wire rack to cool a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally the day it’s baked.
“Sweet Gingered Biscuits! Now THAT’s what I call a cobbler!”
Ring a bell? Like a catchphrase from days gone by? No? Well, that’s because it’s not. But it could be heard coming from our house recently upon tasting this fabulous twist on a homespun dessert. Now, you might be thinking, cobbler, schmobbler. Had it. Like a million times. Right? And maybe you’ve had a few not-so-stellar specimens that were all gelatinous with soggy bits of dough on top, only made palatable with lots of vanilla ice cream. Snore. Weh-hel-helllll….let the cobbler enlightenment begin, my friends. Oh sure, this incarnation might start with the usual suspects–fresh blueberries tossed with sugar, cinnamon and a sparkle of lemon zest–but the revelation begins thereafter.
See, most cobbler recipes have you just layer sugared fruit into a baking dish, mix up a dough for the topping, blob the dough on top of the raw fruit and bang it into the oven just like that. Simple enough. Boy Scout camp-like cooking (just ask my husband). But that’s where most cobblers become an epic FAIL. I mean, sure, fruit, sugar, dough–what’s not to like? Well, how about mushy, steamed fruit and pale, uncooked, uncrispy dough with very little nom factor? Yeah, I thought so. But in this recipe, you cook the seasoned fruit all naked in the baking dish first before topping it with the dough. I know!
While the berries are baking all on their lonesome, mix up a simple buttermilk dropped biscuit dough with the genius addition of ginger in two forms–a dash of spicy ground and dazzling bits of crystallized.
Now, I should say here that I never was a huge fan of ginger in any form. Except for Geri Halliwell, my favorite Spice Girl by far–she’s just such a cheeky broad!–and only occasionally as a very subtle backdrop in, say, a spice cake or apple somesuch. But my palate has changed considerably in recent years, and boy am I glad I got over that ginger aversion, because it’s such a great highlighter in fresh fruit desserts of all sorts. The gingered cornmeal biscuits that top this cobbler are so fragrant and delicious that they’d make a great dish all on their own, but here the dough gets portioned off into bits and nestled into the warm, bubbling fruit.
With the berries hot underneath, the biscuits immediately begin gently cooking with steam from the bottom, keeping them tender in the center, while the dry heat of the oven from above creates a crisp, beautifully browned crust. When the filling begins to seep into the edges of the golden biscuits and bubbles up the sides of the baking dish like some crazy sexy blueberry lava, you know you’re just moments away from cobbler nirvana.
Though they may be among some of the most trying minutes of your life, please give the cobbler at least 20 minutes to just sort of hang out and cool down a little. If you lose control and spoon it out too soon, you’ll get a gush of thin, runny juice all over the place instead of something more syrupy and spoon-lickably great. Some time to rest will also bolster the flavors of the berries and the topping.
While summer berries are still at their peak, I implore you to give this one a whirl while the gettin’s good. But if you miss the mark a little, frozen berries can absolutely be used here successfully. One thing you should absolutely not miss the mark on is serving this baby with a good vanilla ice cream–it’s simply the right thing to do.
Blueberry Cobbler with Gingered Biscuits
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
To make this cobbler with frozen blueberries, use 6 cups of good quality berries (preferably wild), and thaw them in a colander set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reduce the juice over medium heat until thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Stir the syrup into the filling mixture before baking, and increase the baking time of the fruit to 30 minutes. Also increase the baking time when the biscuits are added to 20 to 22 minutes.
For the filling:
1/3 granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
6 cups fresh blueberries, washed, patted dry and picked over
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the biscuit topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
Coarse sugar for sprinkling (such as sanding sugar, turbinado or demerara)
Set an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Add the blueberries, lemon zest and lemon juice and fold gently to combine. Pour the berries into a 9 or 10-inch glass pie plate (a square baking dish of similar size will also work well). Bake until the fruit is hot and bubbling, about 25 minutes.
While the fruit is baking, prepare the biscuit dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground ginger. Whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, along with the minced crystallized ginger. Stir gently until the dough is just combined with no dry pockets. Softly pat the dough into an even disk in the bottom of the bowl, and score it into 8 equal pieces.
When the fruit is done baking, pull it from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. When the oven is up to temperature, Pull apart the 8 biscuits, and nestle them into the hot filling. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits generously with coarse sugar. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the biscuits are golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes. Allow the cobbler to cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before serving.
Nearly 11 months into parenthood, and I have to say, we are on a roll over here, people. One of the biggest things for me has been balancing being on-call around the clock as a mother with carving out time to do things that keep me feeling like myself–leafing through cookbooks, puttering in the kitchen, writing, running some miles. It makes me feel alive, like seeing in Technicolor after months of sleepily trying to wade through the days and figure out this new life. And somehow it seems I’ve arrived in this new place as a bolder, brighter, sweeter version of myself, like a pile of peak-of-season cherries, sugared and zested with lemon and roasted until they glisten.
I suppose others might celebrate such great strides in personal growth with oh, say, a mini-vacation somewhere with a breezy coastline, a spa day or an extended happy hour somewhere fabulous. But since I already live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, have an awesomely huge bathtub in our new place and much prefer getting drunk at home, I hightailed it to the farmers’ market to snap up some succulent Bing cherries that called–nay, begged–to be tucked into a pillowy cherry clafoutis.
If you like really getting your hands dirty in the kitchen, then you’ll love this recipe. See, traditional clafoutis recipes call for the pits to stay in the cherries, because supposedly the pits lend a distinct almond-like flavor to dish. But since I prefer my desserts without a side of dental work, I opted for a recipe that calls for pitted cherries and a splash of almond extract instead. The pitting took some doing, but I rigged up a pitting station with a fondue fork and a beer bottle in the kitchen sink, and with The Splendid Table on the radio, it was actually kind of hypnotic, enjoyable work, listening to the cheery clink! of the pits hitting the inside of the bottle. Note to self: get out more.
After the cherries are free of their pits, they get all seasoned up with sugar, cinnamon and lemon, and head into the oven for a quick roast that transforms them into a more nectarous version of themselves, giving off intense, ambrosial juices that can be reduced to a syrup for serving with the finished dish.
If you can keep yourself from plucking the hot cherries off the baking sheet and snarfing them all right when they come out of the oven, then they’ll get doused in a simple crepe-like batter, which bakes up into a puffed, golden cloak that gently hugs the fruit.
Clafoutis is a crazy simple dish, and this interpretation is especially flavorful. If you’re feeling particularly lazy as of late or find yourself longing for a taste of summer in the dead of winter, a bag of already pitted, frozen unsweetened cherries would work pretty well in this recipe. But with fresh cherries at their peak around here, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them while they can still be snapped up on the cheap. I think it makes a glorious summer dessert, but since it involves fruit and a pancake-like batter, cherry clafoutis is also a totally legit shoo-in for The Best Breakfast of Your Entire Life. “Enabling” is my middle name.
Roasted Cherry Clafoutis
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
To cut down on prep time or to enjoy this dish when cherry season is oh-so-far away, a bag of frozen, unsweetened cherries (usually labeled “dark, sweet cherries”) can be thawed, drained and used in place of fresh cherries in this recipe. Taste the cherries before seasoning them for roasting–I cut the sugar by a little more than half from the original recipe, but you can add more to taste.
1 pound Bing cherries (or other sweet variety), stemmed and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon greated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange an oven rack to the upper third of the oven. Lightly butter or spray a baking sheet and a large ceramic baking dish (like a pie plate or gratin dish) with cooking spray.
Place the cherries on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Toss the cherries with the seasonings on the baking sheet. Roast until the fruit is juicy, tender and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake about halfway through cooking to keep the cherries from sticking to the pan. Remove the cherries from the baking sheet with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer. Pour any juices into a small saucepan.
Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
For the clafoutis batter, with an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of sugar until well-blended, then beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract and cream until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it first, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter evenly over the cherries. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the batter has puffed and browned. During baking, reduce the reserved cherry juices to a thin syrup over medium heat. Dust the finished clafoutis with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a drizzle of the cherry syrup.
Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren’t logical (some examples: “clock”= peanuts, “quality”= oatmeal, “present”= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating–different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.
What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what “green” tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.
Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you’d agree that David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything “green” should taste like. It’s invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you’re eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.
It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile–two tightly packed cups’ worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.
But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you’ll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then–and then!– there’s the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We’ve got a situation over here.
After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar–I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don’t obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream–a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped
In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat–do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.
Taste the resulting mint-infused cream–if the mint flavor and green color isn’t as intense as you’d like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.
Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.
Happy Fourth of July, dear readers! I hope this summer holiday finds you surrounded by fun people, cold beverages and lots of great food cooked outside somewhere sunny. Around here, we celebrated like true Americans–obscenely large bone-in ribeyes on the grill, a wild arugula salad and an addictive fresh corn casserole with a good dose of grated onion and freshly cracked black pepper from which we literally had to hold back Baby C so she wouldn’t eat the whole darn thing. It was really something. But whatever amazing savory dishes are on your picnic table, it’s really not the Fourth without some sort of red, white and blue dessert, am I right, people?
That sexy lady up there is a lush, dreamy panna cotta, and the result of my absolute favorite recipe for it. It shouldn’t surprise you given my past raves on the greatness that is Lynne Rossetto Kasper that it’s a riff on her Farmhouse Panna Cotta from her genius book How To Eat Supper. Her recipe brilliantly includes sour cream, which gives a much-needed sharpening to a dessert that can often be just a round sea of cream, leaving a funky coating on your tongue that keeps you from really tasting the dish past the first bite. This panna cotta is indeed rich but so lovely and balanced that you will not put down your spoon until you’ve scraped the plate clean.
Panna cotta is so simple to make, it’s absurd, with one of the highest pleasure-to-effort ratios known to man. It comes together in minutes on the stovetop, then you just whisk in the sour cream, pour it into cups and let it set up for a couple hours in the fridge and that’s that. I’ve made a batch of this panna cotta on a weeknight, letting it set up in coffee cups and devouring it straight, but it’s also a perfect canvas for some seasonal berries and a dessert sauce. I decided to dress up this panna cotta with a sort of berry coulis that I’d been brainstorming, using my beloved Lillet as a backdrop.
If you’ve never had it, Lillet is the kind of drink that transports you, in a way. A French aperitif (so maybe not the most American of choices for a Fourth dessert, but whatevs), it’s a fortified wine that has the body of a liqueur, making it a great lower-alcohol alternative for cocktails. If I could spend every day, all summer long drinking Lillet and soda with a twist of lime or orange, oooh…mama would be so happy. I would also be very drunk and an irresponsible parent. So I’ve started thinking about other ways to incorporate the fruity, flowery, slightly herbal quality of Lillet into a few desserts, and it worked like a charm in the strawberry coulis I made to accessorize the panna cotta.
While boiling down the Lillet to a syrup, I pureed a mess of fresh strawberries with a bit of sugar, strained out the pulp and seeds, and whisked the juice into the Lillet syrup. Refrigerated alongside the setting panna cotta, the coulis thickens slightly and tastes of strawberries on steroids. Unmold the set panna cotta onto a plate, bathe it in coulis and dress up the whole thing with some patriotic fruit. I think you’ll agree that this dessert deserves its own parade.
Feel free to experiment somewhat with the dairy in this recipe, making the finished dish as rich or as light as you’d like. I like this combination of heavy cream and milk, but have also had success with half and half, light sour cream and even buttermilk along with the cream. In any case, don’t go lowfat with every element of this recipe, or it will get weird and grainy and just not worth it–always aim for at least half cream in the stovetop part of this equation to get the lush quality that makes panna cotta so, oh, oh…
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk (lowfat is okay, but not skim)
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1/2 cup Lillet Rouge
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
Strawberries and blueberries, for serving
Place the water in a small cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soften for five minutes. Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, gently warm the cream and milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla–do not let it boil. When the cream is very warm to the touch, remove it from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin until dissolved. Let the cream mixture cool for five minutes.
Put the sour cream into a medium bowl or a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. Whisk the warm cream mixture into the sour cream, a little at a time, until the panna cotta is smooth. Pour the panna cotta into four custard cups, ramekins or coffee cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
To make the coulis, pour the Lillet into a small saucepan over high heat. Boil it down until it reduces to about two tablespoons of syrup. Pour into a small bowl, set a sieve over the bowl, and set aside. Puree the strawberries in a food processor with the sugar. Press the puree through the sieve into the Lillet syrup and whisk to blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve–coulis will thicken slightly while chilling.
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