Sugar High Friday: Nectarine-Coconut Surprise
23 September 2006
No, it's not Friday. But here's a light, sweet dessert anyway for Sugar High Friday, a lovely way to end a meal, easy and quick for just one or two. Looks simple, doesn't it? A sweet piece of fruit with a drizzle of creamy, caramel dulce de leche.
Look again. There's a surprise inside!
This month's Sugar High Friday is hosted by Alanna at A Veggie Venture, and I love the theme she came up with - Surprise Inside! The assignment was to tuck a surprise into something sweet, and here's my rather tardy entry!
Nearly as easy as slicing up some fruit, this juicy and creamy dessert hides a coconut panna cotta inside nectarines lightly steamed with rum and lemon juice. There's a hint of nutmeg in the light pudding and the dulce de leche lends a luxurious finish. It's a snap to put it together ahead of time to be pulled out as a cool, delicious surprise at the end of a meal.
2 nectarines, firm and not too ripe
3 tablespoons of rum (optional)
2/3 cup cream
1/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 tsp gelatin
2 tbsp sugar
A pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
Dulce de leche, to serve
Mint, to garnish
1. Cut the nectarines in half and using a small, sharp knife, cut around the pit and remove. Hollow out more of the fruit with a spoon or melon baller.
2. Juice the lemons and put the juice and rum In a large heavy saucepan, along with enough water to come to the bottom of a steamer insert. Put the nectarine halves in the steamer and cover the pot. Steam over medium heat for five minutes. Remove the nectarine halves and cool.
1. Over medium heat in a small saucepan, bring the cream and coconut milk to a simmer.
2. Take out 1/4 cup of the mixture and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it sit and soften for 10 minutes.
3. Add the gelatin, sugar, and nutmeg to the cream mixture and warm, stirring over medium heat until the gelatin and sugar are dissolved. Give it at least five minutes.
4. Pour into the nectarines and refrigerate until firm - about 2 hours.
5. Serve with a drizzle of dulce de leche and mint sprigs.
A Bottomless Box of Morsels & Some News
19 September 2006
This week I began blogging at Apartment Therapy: Kitchen, where three other people and I were hired as new site editors. I'll be editor-at-large, complementing the city-specific articles with coverage of online stores and other perspectives on cooking, food, and the art of hospitality. If you've never been to AT:Kitchen before, check it out! It's a great site with a very, very nice community. I'm thrilled to get to write for them, and I look forward to learning a lot from my fabulous co-editors Grant, Vanessa, and Chris, as well as, of course, founder and senior editor Sara Kate.
In other news, I received my BBM package yesterday and it gave a new meaning to the acronym, making me think BBM should now stand for Bottomless Box of Morsels. OK, maybe that's stretching it a bit, but still... Erika at Tummy Treasure sent me a wonderfully deep and generous box of delicious things. I kept pulling one thing out after another and seeing yet another layer of bubble wrap and colorful paper below! It went on and on and on....
I really enjoyed the variety of all the things that Erika included. It's impossible to choose a favorite, but I have to say that her homemade goodies, cinnamon-scented rice krispie treats and mocha truffle bites, are superb. I need to proactively wrap up and freeze the rest of the truffles or all my workouts will have been for naught.
I am a fiend for lip balm so the pomegranate lip gloss is already well-used. The lemon honey has been opened and enjoyed and I am looking forward to the homemade strawberry jam with black pepper. She even included a local Wisconsin product: cranberry mustard! I'm looking forward to cooking with that.
And so much more - bottomless, I say! There's rooibois tea, and a book all about tea. There's tiny mango-scented candles in glass thimbles. There's darling little ice cube trays and pink salt from the Himalayas, too. All in all, a wonderful package.
I enjoyed this event so much. Like Erika said in an email, I expected receiving the package to be the best part, but I had almost as much fun putting together the box I sent out. And it was such as lovely lift to my day to get this big bottomless box from Erika. Thanks again to Stephanie for hosting the event!
Blogging By Mail: Monster Cookies
14 September 2006
One very cool thing about food blogging with so many very pleasant people - really, are there nicer people out there in the otherwise often misanthropic and self-absorbed internet world? Humanity at its finest. - is the chance to be a part of an event where we actually get to send each other things. Real things - parcels and packages filled with food and other goodies from our own corner of the world.
Blogging By Mail is such an event, and a very popular one too. I was so girlishly excited to see this round announced that I was actually the first person to sign up. What can I say? I like mail. I like surprise parcels even more.
As I flipped through my secret recipient's weblog I mused over what he/she might like to receive and balanced that against what was feasible to send through the mail.
One of the things I put in, then, was a big batch of monster cookies. Monster cookies are a spectacularly lowbrow treat - filled with huge crackly M&Ms and big flakes of oatmeal, made chewy and greasy by heaps of completely non-natural peanut butter. They're heavenly.
The recipe has been floating around for a long time, mostly in a PTA-bake-sale form that calls for three pounds of peanut butter and gives you somewhere around 12 dozen cookies. I was introduced to them, though, by my lovely friend Lauren who brought a plate of them to the office. I demanded the recipe and here we are.
These cookies freeze well, store well, and the dough itself can be frozen and baked up in smaller batches. They are nearly the perfect cookie, in my opinion, because they're chewy and crispy and peanut butter and chocolate and oatmeal all in one. Nearly irresistible, these are. Give them a try.
I put quite a lot of other things in the package as well; here's a couple peeks. The rest will be a surprise! I can hardly wait to see what my own contains...
About 3 dozen cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp corn syrup
2 tsp baking soda
4 1/2 cups old fashioned oatmeal
About 1 cup M&M's - I used 10 oz. big M&Ms
1. Preheat oven to 350° F and prepare a couple large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars.
3. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
4. Beat in corn syrup and baking soda, then oatmeal and M&M's.
5. Drop onto cookie sheets with an ice cream scoop and flatten slightly. Bake at 350° F until done. Do not overbake!
6. Remove from oven when slightly golden. Let cool on the sheets for a few minutes until they have firmed up enough to remove to wire racks.
Alternate technique: Roll dough into balls and freeze on a cookie sheet. When completely frozen, remove dough balls to freezer bags. These will stay good for several months, depending on how sturdy your bags are. Bake straight from the freezer; they will only need an extra few minutes in the oven.
10 September 2006
To the Brits they're Swiss rolls, to the Americans, jelly rolls, and the French have an elegant name that rolls, appropriately, off the tongue: roulade. Whatever your naming pleasure, it's a sponge cake filled with whipped cream and rolled then chilled until the layers soak together for a soft, luscious dessert. They make me think of the 50s, with gracious hostesses leaning from nipped-in waists to offer a coiled slice of sponge cake at their dinner party.
I had never made one before and ended up making three for a party. One was a plain sponge, filled with strawberry whipped cream flavored with the strawberry jam I made last week. Another was the same sponge recipe, but with the addition of a little orange zest and nutmeg, and filled with rum whipped cream and homemade spicy peach butter. The third was chocolate and filled with chocolate whipped cream. They were all delicious, and surprisingly easy.
This was the first time I had ever made a true sponge cake. Sponge cakes are leavened only by eggs and often contain very little flour. You whip the egg yolks and sugar first until they are golden and fluffy. Then the whites are whipped until stiff. (Actually, I whipped the whites first to save washing the beaters in between, since you can't beat egg whites with yolky beaters. I whipped the whites until stiff and then put the beaters right back in the second bowl, and the whites didn't deflate at all in the five minutes it took to beat the yolks. I noticed no ill effects in my sponge and was very glad to put my hands in hot water one less time on this hot summer afternoon.)
This may sound tricky or fussy - separating the eggs, beating things separately, extra bowls, oh my! - and good sponge cake is indeed all about good technique. Good technique in this case, however, mostly consists of owning a stand mixer.
After the eggs are beaten separately all the ingredients are gently folded together and poured into a parchment-lined pan to quickly bake. As soon as they come out of the oven you roll the cake up in a clean towel dusted with powdered sugar and leave it to cool. See below. Yes, my cakes are cooling on my coffee table; my kitchen is real small. Not enough counter space.
When cool you unroll the cakes, slather on as much whipped cream as they can handle, roll back up and stick in the fridge. It was unexpectedly easy and quick to whip these up and since they only bake for 7 minutes my oven was on for a blessedly brief amount of time. Also, once filled the cakes get much better after a night in the fridge, so they are the perfect do-ahead dessert.
I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the final product, but the peach was my favorite. I put dark rum in the whipped cream, and I roasted some figs with honey and sugar and vanilla and heaped them around the cake with slices of fresh nectarine and white peach. A great fall dessert - retro with a twist.
Now all I need is a beehive hairdo and a frilly apron, maybe a cocktail onion on a toothpick with my third martini, and I'll be retrolicious too.
I used the sponge recipes from Joy of Baking without any adaptation, so I won't reprint them here. But here's links, with some commentary.
Plain sponge cake
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup strawberry jam, mashed to make an even consistency
Strawberries and melted chocolate, to garnish
- Powder the towel well, before you roll the cake. My cake stuck a little which gave it a piebald appearance.
Peach Spice Sponge
Plain sponge, flavored with 1 tbsp orange zest and 1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 tbsp dark rum
1 cup spicy peach butter
Sliced peaches and nectarines, to garnish
Roasted figs, to garnish
Caramel, to garnish
Chocolate sponge cake
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Almond extract, to flavor the cream
Strawberry syrup, from the jam, to brush over inside of the cake
Strawberries and melted chocolate, to garnish
- As she says at Joy of Baking, this chocolate cake is almost more of a mousse. Very delicate, yet not difficult to work with, it doesn't use any flour at all. It was light yet rich and delicious. Definitely on my list to make again.
- This cake was even better on the third day. I am glad I didn't bring a lot of leftovers home, soft, spongy cake with creamy filling being not high on my list of resistable foods.