Monday, March 28, 2011

Valrhona Pots de Crème

I have this friend. She is a mom-to-be, a teacher, and an overall wonderful person, oh yes, and she is allergic to gluten. Why should this be important? Well, I suspect like many of you reading this, our get-togethers with friends have a tendency to center around food. We plan all our meetings around what we will be cooking, who's making what, and how many calories we can safely stuff into our bellies during the allotted time frame. It has been this way for years and years, since we all found an appreciation for good food and drink. You know, since we graduated from Funyuns and Mountain Dew to caramelized onion crostini and Sauvignon Blanc.

Maybe because I claim to know my way around the stove, or maybe because I am a total control freak, I have been in charge of the main meal for our bi-annual cabin weekends for the past four years or so. When my friend found out she had celiac disease, we all tried to cater to her special dietary needs throughout the weekend. The first year was a little rough. I found myself squeezed into a tiny five foot by five foot kitchen, preparing two pasta dishes and two gluten-free "pasta" dishes. I ended up with two potfuls of tomato flavored disintegrated gluten-free pasta mush, and about three hours of dish washing ahead of me. The next year I produced a three layer lemon pistachio gluten-free birthday cake, which tasted lovely, but was as dense as a brick.

Over the years, I have learned from these gluten-free disasters, and have changed the way I approach cooking for someone with a dietary restriction. Instead of picking a recipe, then adapting it to suit my needs, I now try to seek out naturally gluten-free foods to feature in my meals. Fresh vegetables, rich cuts of meat, cheese-laden potatoes, savory rices and hard can it be to plan a gourmet meal when you have all this at your disposal? Soon, it became a pinch to plan a completely gluten-free meal that we can all enjoy, with no substitutions, and no sacrificing.

This year, I finally applied this approach to dessert. Rather than making a tart shell or pastry with all kinds of crazy rice and spelt flours and xanthan gum, I sought out a dessert that was already gluten-free. I needed something that would be the crowning touch on a lobster dinner, something rich and decadent, where no one would miss a flaky, buttery pastry dough.

Enter Valrhona Chocolate Pots De Crème. These are really simple chocolate custards, just kicked up a notch or two with the addition of some of the best chocolate in the world. Featuring one single, amazing ingredient can be a great way of simplifying a dish when there are dietary restrictions at play. The taste of the Valrhona custard is so intense and deep, the gluten-free gal and the rest of the party, never even noticed the lack of flour that is usually so noticeable in american desserts. The most important part though was ending the meal with full bellies, happy hearts, and memories of time well spent with wonderful friends.

Dark Valrhona Chocolate Pots De Crèmeadapted from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice
makes 8 individual custards

1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream
2/3 cup (1,56 dl) sugar
6 ounces (170 grams) dark Valrhona (or any other brand high quality) chocolate, chopped
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup (0,6 dl) Dutch-processed dark chocolate, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a medium sized saucepan, over a medium-low flame, heat the milk, cream, sugar, and chopped chocolate, whisking constantly, until chocolate is melted and sugar has dissolved, and comes to a simmer.
While this is heating, combine the egg yolks, cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla and salt in a large bowl.
Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).

Once the cream mixture is at a simmer, it's time to temper it into the egg yolks. Pour a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of the hot chocolate milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Repeat this process two or three more times, whisking constantly, until you have a hot, loose, liquid mixture. While whisking, slowly pour the remainder of the chocolate milk into the yolks, and stir until completely incorporated.

Pass the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl, or a pitcher for easy distribution into the ramekins. Arrange eight ramekins on a baking sheet and fill each one about 3/4 full with the custard mixture.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack on your oven, and carefully pour hot water into the sheet pan, filling it as full as possible, without overflowing. Bake custards for 35-40 minutes, until they are set. They will have a uniform, even jiggle when done, meaning the center should move just as much as the outer rim when jostled.

I have found that the easiest way to remove the custards from the oven is to use tongs to remove each ramekin separately, then turn off the oven, leaving the sheet pan full of water in the oven until it is cool. This way you wont have to try to carry a large sheet pan full of 325 degree water across your kitchen.

Let custards cool for about 20 minutes, and then refrigerate for a few hours, or optimally overnight until completely set and chilled.

For best results, top with fresh raspberries and freshly whipped cream, and serve in good company.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just a Hint of Spring

**This post was originally published on, a brand new online food magazine, for which I am a contributor. The website launched this past monday, and it is a great new resource for recipes, travel, restaurant reviews and foodie opinion pieces. Check it out here!**

When I say a hint of spring, I am talking a very teeny-tiny hint. One day over 50 degrees here in Chicago has made me ready for full-on sunshine, budding flowers, chirping birds, fresh produce, and all those other things that make spring such a wonderful season. Last year about this time, I had practically handcuffed myself to my Dutch oven. I was kicking and screaming and praying for snow, so I could settle in and spend the entire day over a bubbling pot of soup. I was just not ready to let winter go. All the braised meats, stewed vegetables, heavy soups, and thick pasta dishes were taunting me. I was having a little trouble moving on from those wonderful dishes and my winter hibernation.

Oh what a difference a year makes! This year, it is more than just the physical changes in the weather, or the different types of foods cooking on my stove that are making me long for spring. As the middle of March approaches, I am finally ready to make some 'new year's' resolutions. A few months late maybe, but January is such a depressing, bleak, dark month and with so many weeks until the warm weather arrives, it can feel completely futile to make resolutions for the coming year. Maybe this is why so many people don't keep their resolutions, present company included.

Spring is different. Plants are sprouting, produce is plentiful, neighbors are emerging from their hibernation. In the springtime, there is a natural motivation to get outside, exercise, try new things, and meet new people, that just isn't present in the dead of winter. For me, this particular spring is full of hope and exciting opportunities, new jobs and challenging classes, friends getting married and having babies. Life seems to finally be settling into place, and heading in the right direction.

In my kitchen, I am delicately transitioning from winter into spring. I am not quite yet letting go of my winter comfort foods, but am finding small and subtle ways to add a bit of brightness to an otherwise cold weather dish. Some orange zest added to a formerly dense and heavy pound cake turned out to be a gentle way of coaxing spring into my cooking and I find myself welcoming the season with open arms.

Orange Pound Cake
adapted from
makes 6-8 mini loafs, 2 regular loafs, or 1 Bundt

2 3/4 cup (6,5 dl) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2,4 dl) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (3,54 dl) granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (2,4 dl) whole milk, room temperature
zest of 3-4 large oranges

Preheat oven to 350 F, placing a rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter and flour your loaf pans, shaking out all excess flour and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk or sift together, set aside.

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and cream together with butter on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the egg, beating thoroughly and scraping down the sides between each addition. Add the vanilla and beat just until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Add one-third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated, then add half of the milk, beating again until incoporated. Scrape down the sides in between each addtion. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the remainder of the milk, then the remainder of the flour. Gently and quickly mix in the orange zest.

Spoon batter into your prepared pan(s), filling about 3/4 the way full. If you fill them too high, they can overflow and make a big mess. (Rest assured though, they will still be delicious!)

Bake for 20-30 minutes, (can be more depending on what size pans you are using) until golden brown, and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

If you want to add a little something extra to these cakes, mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons orange juice, and 1-2 teaspoons orange zest. Pour over the cakes for a simple, quick, and tasty glaze. This helps moisten the cake, and helps keep it that way for a few days. It also helps it taste like a donut, which in my book, is never a bad thing. They would also be delicious dipped in chocolate, or served with whipped cream.

Welcome to spring, where the possibilities are endless.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A New Kind of Online Food Magazine

This week brought the launch of a new online food magazine, Honest Cooking - The New Flavor In Food. It's a new kind of magazine says the editor, Kalle Bergman:

"Honest Cooking is an international online culinary magazine with the ambition to truly change the face of online food media. We feature over 50 of the world’s most interesting food & beverage writers, bloggers, photographers and Chefs, in a magazine that aims to become the leading and most inspiring place for serious culinary debate, salivating recipes, interesting food news and international food-fun. We want to be smaller, quicker, funnier, smarter and more interesting than all of the current established food websites."

I am lucky enough to be one of those 50-odd contributors, and am looking forward to seeing all the great recipes and columns that will be part of such a fun and exciting new website. Check it out, I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Linzer Torte

Is it bad that it is nearing the middle of March, and I am just now getting around to making something that was on my holiday goodies baking list? Is it also bad that the only reason I got around to making it was because it was part of my pastry school curriculum? No? Not a problem? Okay great, I knew you'd understand.

I had actually wanted to make linzer cookies, but somehow ended up with a linzer torte, which I have since decided is basically one giant cookie, so I am going to cross it off my list anyway. I am really good at talking myself into or out of anything.

This is my kind of tart. Simple to make, with just a few ingredients, but it still manages to pack a huge amount of spicy, nutty, fruity flavor. Top it off with a fancy lattice top, and it is beautiful and tasty enough to impress your friends, and even win hearts.

Raspberry Linzer Torte
from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen
makes one 9 inch torte

8 oz. butter, softened
6 oz. sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 oz almond flour (or finely ground blanched almonds)
1.6 oz. eggs (usually a bit less than a large egg, or one medium size egg) at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 oz. pastry flour
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup raspberry jam

In a stand mixture, combine the butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg on low speed just until smooth. Add the almond flour and mix until combined. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix again just until combined. Add the flour in one addition and mix until evenly blended. Turn out of bowl, and divide into two equal pieces.

Take the first half, smash down gently into a 1/2 in thick disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. The second half, shape into disc again, but this time, place between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll out until 1/8 inch thick. Leave the dough in the plastic wrap, then chill both halves for at least two hours.

When the dough is nice and chilled, take the thicker disc out first, leaving the rolled-out one in the refrigerator until ready to use. Remove plastic wrap, and place disc on lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out until about 1/8 inch thick. Gently move disc to 9" or 10" tart pan with removable bottom, and gently press the dough into all of the corners, lifting up the edges to help fill the spaces. Be careful not to stretch the dough, this will cause shrinkage. Using your thumb, press off any excess dough hanging off the sides to create a crisp edge.

Spread the bottom of the tart shell with a thin 1/8-1/4 thick layer of raspberry jam. Take out the rolled portion of dough, and cut into 3/4 inch strips. Arrange in a lattice pattern (there is a good photo tutorial here) and pinch off any excess dough.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-35 minutes, until crust is a light golden brown. Let cool completely, the sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar prior to serving.

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