Friday, September 25, 2009

Raspberries with Sabayon and Hibiscus Granita

I seem to have a lot of beautiful fresh raspberries on my hands at the moment. They’re bright and juicy, so I thought I would leave them in their natural state and surround them in luxury. Sabayon always adds a level of lusciousness to any fruit and I thought a Hibiscus Granita would contribute another interesting layer of lovely earthy tartness. The mesmerizing textures of fresh raspberries, creamy sabayon and cool granita make this a fun and refreshing adventure. As the granita melts into the sabayon, it makes a delicious sauce that I’m finding irresistible. If you haven't discovered the wonder of hibiscus tea, start brewing!

Bench notes:
- Use your favorite hibiscus tea or Flor de Jamaica, which you can pick up at health food stores or Mexican grocers. Make the tea quite strong.
- For the sabayon, I recommend a good quality Muscat, Semillon, Viognier, Monbazillac or a Sauvignon Blanc. You can make the sabayon and chill overnight. Fold in the whipped cream just before serving.
- This would probably be good with any berry. And if you’d rather not make a sabayon, you might try this with a bit of sweetened whipped cream.
- For another delicious take on fruit and sabayon, try Oranges with Rosemary Sabayon.

Raspberries with Hibiscus Granita and Sabayon
Serves 4

Hibiscus Granita

2 C strong hibiscus tea
1/4 C sugar

Brew the hibiscus tea until it is quite strong. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool and place in the freezer. When the mixture has solidified, take a fork and scrape it across the surface to create slushy ice crystals. Return to freezer.


4 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C Muscat or other fruity white wine
1/2 C heavy cream, chilled

2 C fresh raspberries

Whisk egg yolks, sugar and wine in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bowl is not touching the water. Check periodically to see that the water is not boiling. Whisk constantly for 4 to 5 minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. Cook until the mixture is thickened and expanded in volume. If you have a thermometer, you’re shooting for about 160 degrees. Remove from heat and continue whisking for a bit. Set aside to cool.

Whip the heavy cream just until soft peaks form. Fold gently into cooled sabayon.

To serve, place a small pile of raspberries in a dessert glass or bowl. Top with sabayon and a few more raspberries. Garnish with granita. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Goat Cheese Flan with Poached Quince

I always look forward to quince season. There’s something about the process of watching this oddly shaped and textured fruit transform into the most delectable and uniquely flavored rosy compote that is so interesting and enjoyable. Whether it's poached fruit, jam or membrillo, quince arrives just at the time we need it as a lot of the stone fruit of summer quietly escapes our grasp for another year.

I was just gifted with a bounty of fresh pineapple quince. An old friend introduced me to a new friend who has a tree in his back yard. It seems unusually early in the season but I’m more than thrilled. The aroma is transformative and lingers for days on end.

Cheese flan is somewhere along the spectrum of custard and cheesecake. It’s found in Latin culture but is usually prepared using cream cheese and evaporated milk. For this preparation, I decided to use some goat cheese to add a layer of complexity that I thought would go well with the poached quince. For the liquid I use reduced ratios of wet ingredients and heavy cream and some Muscat wine. The result is a kind of dense but creamy custard that really delivers an incredible pop of flavor. The light caramel complements the quince and presents a nice counterpoint for the goat cheese.

The quince takes some time to peel and poach, but the reward is tremendous. The flan is very easy and quick to prepare and bakes in 25 – 30 minutes. The flavors of both the flan and the fruit ripen overnight. If you do this in two steps, it will seem like no work at all. What you will have is a great celebration of this beautiful autumn.

Bench notes:
- As always, be very careful when working with caramel. Caramel burns really hurt, so always protect your hands and arms. As it reaches the right color, pour it into the ramekins and use a mitt or towel to carefully swirl just for a moment. The caramel does not have to go up the sides of the ramekin more than a little bit.
- Raw quince are quite hard, so be careful when peeling and cutting into quince. Use a very sharp chef’s knife and a non-slip work surface and watch your fingers. I find it easier to core if they are first cut in quarters.
- I keep the poaching liquid for the quince very simple so the true flavor comes forward without competing with the flan and the caramel. The syrup left over from the quince can be used to flavor drinks or drizzle over ice cream. You can also use it as a base to make sorbet or ice cream.
- If you can’t find an inexpensive Sauternes or Muscat, use a Monbazillac or Viognier or other favorite white wine that has a very slight sweet edge.
- Don't be tempted to bake it much longer than the recommended time. They will firm up as they cool. The baked flans rest overnight in the refrigerator to better create the liquid caramel sauce. The sugar has a chance to liquefy and they are easier to unmold. Once they are unmolded, let the flans sit for awhile until they can be served at room temperature. I’ve also eaten them a couple of days later straight out of the refrigerator. They are completely different – very dense with a mellow cheesy flavor. Also really delicious but in a different way!
- I’ve also made this flan base and steeped it overnight with a pinch of rosemary. The next day, I strain it out, bake and serve with quince, fresh fig or pear compote. It would also be delicious with an apple sauté.

Goat Cheese Flan with Poached Quince
Makes 4 servings using 3 1/4” diameter ramekins

3/4 C sugar
1/4 C water

4 oz goat cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1/3 C sugar
pinch salt
1/3 C cream
1/4 C white wine, such as Beaumes de Venise Muscat, Sauternes, Viognier or Monbazillac
2 eggs

Prepare caramel by placing sugar and water over medium high heat. If the sugar spatters up the sides of the pan, brush down the sides of the pot with a brush dipped in water. Cook the caramel until it is a medium amber. Take off the heat and wait a few seconds until it darkens a bit more on its own. Pour enough into the ramekins to coat the bottom and swirl just a bit up the sides.

In a food processor, blend goat cheese, cream cheese, sugar, salt, cream, wine and for just a minute or so. Pulse just until thoroughly blended. Pour into prepared ramekins.

Bake in water bath @ 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and chill overnight.

To unmold, set the ramekins in about an inch of water that has been simmered and taken off the heat. Leave them there for about a minute. Remove them and run a very thin knife blade or small offset spatula around the rim. Invert onto a serving plate and give it a good tap. It should slip right out along with the liquefied caramel sauce. Serve at room temperature with poached quince.

Poached Quince

2 – 3 quince
2 C water
3/4 C sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Take off heat and add the lemon juice. As you peel and core each quince, cut them into quarters and place them in the lemon syrup to keep the oxidation at a minimum. Bring the quince and syrup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quince are tender and have turned a deep pinkish orange. Cool and transfer to a clean airtight container and chill.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Peach Semifreddo

Peaches are so superb right now it’s hard to resist buying them in great quantity. I found some amazing peaches at our local farmer’s market that were brightly blushing, fabulously fragrant and sensationally sweet. Nothing compares to a ripe and juicy peach full of the unmistakable flavor of summer. Let’s jump at the chance to enjoy the last of this season’s goodness before they make their exit for another year.

I set out to make something very simple and light that would showcase their luscious fresh flavor. This is a soft and subtle celebration of peaches, perfectly cool and creamy after a delicious meal, a gentle and sweet reminder of the good grace of this magnificent fruit.

Bench notes:
- The peaches for this dessert must be at peak ripeness or you won’t have the desired flavor. Find the best peaches you can get your hands on! Adjust the sugar in the recipe according to the sweetness of your peaches.
- I like this on its own, but you can serve it with berries, almond cookies or a very light sprinkle of almond praliné.

Peach Semifreddo
Serves 6 to 8

3 large or 4 medium fresh ripe peaches
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup + 2 T sugar, divided
3 egg whites
1 C heavy cream, chilled
1 t kirsch or 1/4 t almond extract

Line an 8” x 4” loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang on each 8” side. You can also place a strip of parchment paper on top of the plastic to help form smoother sides.

Coarsely chop the peaches and place in a food processor with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Process until you have a smooth puree. Press the puree through a sieve to remove bits of skin. Taste for a balance of sugar.

Beat egg whites until they are opaque and hold soft peaks. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar just a little bit at a time, increasing speed to high. Beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Whip chilled cream with kirsch or almond extract just until it holds soft peaks.

Gently fold meringue into whipped cream, then fold into the peach puree. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top until it’s level and fold the ends of the parchment paper and plastic wrap over to cover. Place in your freezer until firm, about 8 hours or overnight.

Run a thin knife or small metal spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the semifreddo. Place a serving plate on top of the pan and invert. Carefully pull off the pan and its lining.

Slice with a sharp knife and serve immediately.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Saffron Ice Cream with Figs and Orange Gastrique

I seem to be making quite a lot of ice cream and sorbets this season. The weather definitely calls for it but I also find it a very fun and delicious medium for so many different flavors and textures and combinations.

We've enjoyed saffron in paella, bouillabaisse and in some desserts. It's such an intriguing and elusive spice, the tiniest pinch goes a long way. Saffron traces back to ancient Mediterranean civilizations where it was used as a perfume, medicine, dye and divine offering. It also flourished throughout Asia and found its way to Pennsylvania in the 1700s by way of Europe. Iran, Spain and India are now the major producers, with Iran producing the most intense variety.

This ice cream is one of my favorites. It’s rich without being heavy, very flavorful without being extreme and incredibly soothing and satisfying. It contains no eggs and does not require the making of custard. The ingredients are simply whisked together and chilled. It’s a cinch to make.

I also happened to have some super ripe figs that were just about ready to blow so I made an orange gastrique and served the ice cream with drizzled figs. Very, very end-of-summer-ish. Get your saffron on!

Bench notes:
- Buy saffron in small quantities, pack it in an airtight container and store in a cool dark place.

Saffron Ice Cream

1 C heavy cream
scant 1/4 t saffron threads, loosely packed
1 1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
pinch of salt
1 T lemon juice, to taste

Bring the cream to a slow simmer, take off the heat and add the saffron threads to bloom the flavor. Cool the saffron cream.

Whisk the saffron cream and buttermilk together. Add the sugar, pinch of salt and the lemon juice, to taste. Adjust the sugar to your taste if you'd like a sweeter ice cream. Chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Pour into a clean airtight container. Put a piece of plastic wrap on the surface, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

Orange Gastrique

1/2 C orange juice
2 T sugar
2 T balsamic vinegar

1 pint fresh figs

Combine orange juice, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil and reduce, turning the heat down to medium-low. Continue cooking until it thickens and is reduced by about half. The mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.