Monday, December 9, 2013

Pear, Cheese and Almond Mini Galettes

The pear is an underappreciated fruit, especially in baking.  Pears are cheap, sweet and abundant in the late fall and early winter.  These desserts would be perfect for a party—they are handheld but more substantial than a cookie.  The crust is slightly sweet and fortified with almond paste, which is a little pricey but completely worth it. 

The crust is brought together similarly to pie crust, then set to chill.   A cream cheese and brown sugar mixture is then plopped on top and then a quarter pear.  20 minutes in the oven, and you have a very special Christmas dessert.

Pear, Cheese and Almond Mini Galettes

Makes 20

For the crust
2 cups all purpose flour
4 oz chilled almond paste (not almond meal)
1 stick very cold butter cut into cubes
pinch salt
3 tbsp sugar
¼ cup plus a few tbsp ice water as needed

Cream cheese mixture
8 oz cream cheese
¼ cup brown sugar
zest of one lemon
½ tsp almond extract

5 small pears or 4 medium pears, peeled, cored.  The pears should be slightly under-ripe but still juicy. 
juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp flour

Finishing sugar

In a mixing bowl combine butter, flour, almond paste, salt and sugar with a pastry cutter until well blended and the butter is in small pea-sized pieces.  Carefully with your fingers, blend the mixture together until it begins to combine.  Add the ice water 1 tbsp at a time and combine by hand until the mixture comes together easily in your hands.  Without working the dough too much, bring the dough into a ball and divide in two and cover in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

Soften the cream cheese and whisk in the brown sugar, lemon zest and almond extract.  Put aside.

Peel and core the pears.  Cut lengthwise and then then again widthwise into  quarters.  If you have larger pears, then slice lengthwise and divide the width into thirds.  You want pear sizes that can fit into each small galette.  Put the sugar, flour, pears and lemon juice in a bowl. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Take the dough out of the freezer.  On a heavily floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick.   I didn’t have a 4” diameter cutter so I used a large wine glass.  Use whatever you have—a small bowl, or just cut them with a knife.  They are free-form so they don’t have to be perfect.  After you have cut out your crust, place ½ tbsp of the cheese mixture and then a pear slice on top.  Crimp the edges to fold around the pear.  Sprinkle a heavy dose of finishing sugar (plain sugar will work just fine) and place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottoms are slightly brown and the crust has set.  Allow to cool and enjoy!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Chocolate Crepe Cake with White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse

I’m pretty proud of myself for this one.  I have loved crepes for many many years and used to subsist on them in medical school.  This dessert would be perfect for Christmas dinner.  It is chocolate crepes wedged between a simple white chocolate peppermint mousse.  After it has chilled, the whole cake is doused in a glossy chocolate ganache and topped with powdered sugar.   The dessert is sweet but not overly sweet. 

Getting the technique down for making the crepes can take a bit of practice.   The beauty is that if you need some freebies you can easily make another half batch of batter to get enough crepes for the cake.   The first few crepes are rarely perfect.  You need about 20 for the beautiful layering effect.

I’m not usually a big fan of nonstick pans, but they are essential for having good results for the crepes.   I have a dedicated 9 inch crepe pan, however you could use any 9 inch non-stick pan with similar results.    Tricks to making good crepes include making sure your pan is not too hot, medium to low medium heat should be plenty.  The batter should be thin enough to easily coat the whole pan before the batter cooks –the excess can be poured off.  If your batter is too thick, then add some extra milk.  The video here is a good visual however I don’t think the butter to coat the pan is necessary and he doesn’t pour off excess batter.

Chocolate Crepe Cake with White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse

For the mousse
2 cups whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
10 oz white chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp peppermint extract
3 oz candy canes

For the crepes
2 cups milk
6 eggs
1 cup flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp espresso powder
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
½ stick melted butter
pinch of salt

For the ganache
6 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream

Extra powdered sugar for the top of the cake. 

For the mousse.  In a mortal and pestle or in a plastic bag with the back of a pan, pulverize the candy canes until it is a fine powder.  A few slightly larger pieces of candy cane are ok.  In an electric mixer, whip the cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  In the microwave on high heat in a glass heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate (if it is a whole block, then chop up the chocolate) for 30 seconds.  Remove and stir.  Again, cook the chocolate in the microwave, this time for 20 seconds.  Stir.  If your chocolate is not completely melted, cook for 10 seconds at a time until melted.  Do not overcook as white chocolate can seize easily.  Fold the white chocolate, peppermint, vanilla and candy canes into cream.  Chill the mousse.

For the crepes—in a blender sift the cocoa and espresso.  Add the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla.  Blend on high for 30 seconds.  Add the flour and blend until well combined and there are no lumps.  Add the melted butter and pulse for a few seconds.   Strain the batter.  Over medium heat with a nonstick pan, pour about 2 tbsp batter into your 9 inch non-stick pan.  Swirl around the batter until it coats the entire pan and pour off any excess batter back into the bowl.  Cook the crepe until small bubbles form and the edges begin to separate from the sides of the pan.  Flip the crepe and cook for another 10-20 seconds.  Place the crepes on a plate and continue until you run out of batter.  When you are done, place the crepes in the fridge and chill. 

To assemble the cake.  Using a 9 inch springform pan with a piece of parchment paper on the bottom, stack the crepes and place a thin coat of mousse between each crepe.  Continue until your run out of mousse.  Chill.  When ready to glaze with ganache, invert the cake onto a cake stand and remove the base of the springform pan.  To make the ganache, mix the chocolate and cream in a heatproof glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, 20 seconds then 10 seconds as above, stirring between each until the chocolate is melted into the cream.  Pour on the cake while it is still cold and spread around the sides to completely frost the cake.  Clean off the excess. 

I made a stencil for the snowflake using the template found here:  I printed the stencil and then using an exacto knife cut out a replica on a piece of cardstock.  Then sift powdered sugar over the stencil on the cake.  To slice, run a very sharp knife under hot water and dry.   Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Barley Salad with Caesar Dressing

Merry Christmas!  I have a few minutes to spare.  I am going to TRY and post some fun recipes for Christmas and I have some good ideas for salads, appetizers and deserts.  Salads seemed like a good place to start—as a good recovery from Thanksgiving (for now) and also as a nice accompaniment to a main course (for Christmas).

This warm salad is substantial enough for lunch or a light dinner, but would also taste great with a roast or fish.  Roasted cauliflower is probably one of the best foods in the world, and something about a smooth coat of egg, garlic and parmesan from the Caesar dressing makes it so luxurious.  Don’t be scared of the sugar, it just helps it become more crispy brown—it doesn’t make it too sweet.  The egg, not unlike carbonara, coats the grain and cooks through, so don't fear the raw egg.

1 head cauliflower

1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp olive oil 
1 tsp pepper

8 ounces barley 

1 egg yolk
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. lemon juice (from 1 to 1/12 lemons)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 anchovy fillet
pinch salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup olive oil 

4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked, finely chopped 

1/2 cup pine nuts 

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cut up the cauliflower into florets and spread them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  Sprinkle the salt, sugar and drizzle the olive oil.  Cook the cauliflower until golden, approximately 25-30 minutes.   On a separate baking sheet, bake the pine nuts for 5 minutes at 400 when the cauliflower is almost done.  

Cook the barley in salted boiling water according to instructions.  (I bought parboiled barley and cooked for 12 minutes).  Drain when tender. 

To make the dressing, combine egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, pepper, pinch of salt and anchovy in a blending.  Add the oil slowly and then the parmesan.  Blend for 1 minute until creamy.  While the barley, pine nuts and cauliflower are still warm, combine all ingredients in a bowl including the thyme.  The warmth of the salad should cook the egg through.