All images ⓒ Pastry Ninja Photography 2009|2010|2011

Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

~Singularly Chocolate~ So dense, no lite can ever escape

This is the first thing I ever learned to make at culinary school!  Once a few years back, I made it for a family birthday party and I've been proud of it ever since.  My family makes a point of being able to consume large amounts of chocolate but this cocoa bomb chocolated out every one of them with only a small piece.  Still one of my favorite "all-out" recipes when you just want it to taste like it should!  Diet recipes be Damned I say! and you'll soon see why:

~Chocolate Decadence with Fresh Red Raspberry Sauce~
Printable Recipe

7 oz Dark Chocolate, Chopped (66% Cocoa)
7 oz Cocoa Block, Chopped (100% Cocoa)
9 oz Butter, Room Temp, Cut Into Small Pieces
5 oz Water
6 Bakers Sugar
5 Eggs + 1 Yolk, Lightly Beaten
3 oz Bakers Sugar

Raspberry Sauce

SPECIAL TOOLS: 9" Round Cake Pan with Parchment Paper Liner
                              Large Tray or Pan for Water Bath
                              Mesh Strainer

Preheat oven to 300f

Start by putting a pot with a large mouth on tho simmer as a double boiler.  You won't always need this but it's good to have ready if you do.  Chop your chocolate and add it along with the butter to a medium metal bowl.

NOTES - You can adjust the dark chocolate to cocoa block ratio without worry if you like a darker or lighter chocolate flavor.  Don't adjust the cane sugar levels too much because it may make your recipe taste like burn sugar or scramble the eggs.

Combine 5oz Sugar and 6oz Water in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved as it can give you a gritty end result...  no fun there.  Bakers sugar works great for this since the grains are smaller and you have less impurities.  Once you have a god boil, remove the pot from heat and let stand 30 seconds to cool slightly.
Pour the hot sugar water SLOWLY over the chocolate and butter in 2 goes to melt.  Stir the entire time as too much heat in one spot may cause your chocolate to separate and become gritty and/or not set properly when baking.  The same thing happens when you get to a candy bar that has been in the sun too long:  mush with white gritty streaks of unstable fatty crystals.  This is very unlikely though if you're paying any attention to it at all so don't worry too much, just don't add all the water still at a boil at once.


When we add the liquid to chocolate, you are adding liquid to a stable emulsion of dry particles (the cocoa itself.)  The physics involved are actually quite similar to adding water to sand or dirt in that you need to add the right amount to reach a stable form.  If you add too little liquid you get clumps or moistened particles that cling together tightly mixed into dry powder.  This is especially true in chocolate where the particles are suspended in a mixture of stable and unstable fatty acids and crystals, making the particles adhere with greater tenacity. If we add too little water, we get wads of seized chocolate clinging to each other creating even bigger wads and so on and so on... the end result is a thick, gloppy and eventually hardening mass of un-useable chocolate.
The simple solution to this is adding enough liquid. Once the right ratio is achieved, you get an evenly distributed solution of dry particles in liquid, allowing the particles to move past each other and not cling and set so readily. This same principle is true in many different recipes like when you add water to flour before adding fat like eggs and butter (for better mixing), or mixing corn starch with water to allow for absorption into sauces. Science can be chocolate coated too it seems! Delicious, Delicious SCIENCE!!


Once all the liquid is absorbed, place the bowl over the simmering pot of water and stir gently until any clumps of chocolate and/or butter melt completely and the mixture becomes uniform and quite shiny.  The shininess is key here as is the temp:  You want to have the mixture at just the edge of hot to the touch or it can cool too quickly when you add the eggs. 
Once you've got the right consistency and temp, whisk together eggs and 3 oz of sugar.  Doing so any earlier can actually cause the sugar to scramble the eggs...  again, no fun at all.  Add the egg to the chocolate and return to the double boiler.  Cook until it becomes very shiny and reaches the same temp to the touch.  Strain through a mesh strainer into a clean bowl to remove any overcooked egg bits.  Pour into your parchment lined cake pan and bake in a water bath for 35-50 minutes or until the edges begin to set and the center is still relatively jiggly.  Remove from the water bath and cool on a wire rack for 1 hour (should be just warm) then cover with aluminum foil and place in the fridge to set at least 8 hrs or overnight.
 Serve with Raspberry Sauce, fresh berries, whipped cream.  I always like to add a tiny bit of fresh mint for color.

Another one of my favorite things EVER!  Definitely one for those occasions where the host of a party card says "bring a chocolate desert."  And how!  Its great as a simple at home thing but works very well as a fancy plated desert!  You can also add many different flavorings to the chocolate when you add the eggs like Grand Mariner or Creme de Menth.  As always:  Experiment and have fun!


~~Recipe Supplement~~ Organic Red Raspberry Sauce

~Organic Red Raspberry Sauce~
Printable Recipe

20 oz Frozen Organic Raspberries
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1.5 Tablespoons Corn Starch
1.5 oz Bakers Sugar

SPECIAL TOOLS:  Food Processor or Blender
                                Medium Sauce Pot
                                Fine Mesh Strainer
                                Large Funnel
Squeeze Bottle

Yield - Approx 1 C Sauce
As this recipe uses fresh frozen berries, you will be safer pasteurizing the fruit first.  In a food processor, pulse berries just to break up the individual druplets (tiny orbs making up the berry.)  Place in your sauce pot with lime juice over medium heat to bring to a simmer.

Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes then remove from heat to cool slightly.  Pour into a clean container and wash out your pot thoroughly.  To prevent clumping, add just enough water to your cornstarch to dissolve then add, along with berries to your pot and bring to a simmer.  Add sugar and simmer for 1 minute. 
Strain through fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and funnel into your squeeze bottle.  Serve over ice cream, brownies, cakes...  Keeps in fridge up to 1 month.


Monday, May 24, 2010

~A Little Poultry Wisdom~ A sagely simple cure for the chicken doldrums

A little while ago, I volunteered to create some basic recipe lists for my parents and a few friends.  The Brown Butter Salmon was one such list-making inspired recipe.  Today's is another one of those "I remember... something involving food" recipe adaptations, this time from Foodnetwork tv.  I took some of the ratios (I think) and what few ingredients I could (almost) remember and began my experimentation.  Just like the pears last week, I think what caught my eye more than anything was the method.  This recipe is what made the list in its final form:

~Sage and Rosemary Chicken Scallopini~
Printable Recipe 

Serves 4 Generously

2 Full Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
1 C C Grated Gruyere Cheese (any mild Swiss cheese will do)
12 Medium Sage Leaves
2 Teaspoons Rosemary Leaves
1-2 Cloves Crushed Garlic
2.5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
3/4 C Marsala Wine
28 oz Whole Peeled or Crushed Tomatoes (canned)
1 Whole Roasted Sweet Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Cayenne Pepper
1 Tablespoon Fine Chopped Basil

                               Kitchen Tongs

Separate your chicken breast halves and pound out to 1/2" thick between two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper.  Trim any irregular bits from the edges.  You'll want to lay these out on a piece of wax paper with the smooth/intact side down so that when you roll. the rough, frayed stays inside and the clean side stays out.  This helps when you cook and try to turn stuck pieces, releasing without pulling off big chunks of pre-burnt meat.  Lay the flattened pieces out length wise to you and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Gruyere.  Lay three sage leaves, width wise, over the cheese and sprinkle with a generous pinch of rosemary leaves.  Roll up tightly and pin closed with 2 or 3 toothpicks.  if one side seems too loose, just crimp and clip shut with a few more picks.

In a medium-large sauce pan, heat olive oil and one or two crushed garlic cloves over medium heat until the garlic oils begin to become fragrant in the oil. While the oil heats, prep your tomato sauce by blending tomatoes, peppers, cayenne, and Basil until just combined, about 15 seconds.  This blend can be altered with as many variations as you can imagine so experiment with it until you find what meets your taste.  I like it a bit spicier so I end up adding a bit more cayenne and a tiny bit of honey to cut the "green" flavors from the peppers.  These little green flavor sappers and the little red caped heroes are the stars in this weeks...


Thinly veiled and clumsily appointed Superman references aside, we're gonna talk about Carotenoids!  Carotenoids, depending directly on bonding structure and shape, are what give us vibrant yellow, orange, red, purple colors and also act as important chemical precursors for many of the flavors and aromas we love.  Most of us have been told to eat more red and orange fruits and vegetables as they contain more vitamins than lighter colored things but I don't think that most of us understand just how far that connection actually goes!

When we as animals consume carotenoids, especially β-carotenoids, our metabolic activity actually converts them from long chain molecules into short liked Vitamin A in the form of Retinol and other animal forms such as Retinal and Retinoic acid.  So when somebody says "Eat your colorful fruits and veggies because they have lots of vitamins" the reason you get vitamin A actually IS the color!  Pretty cool if you ask me.  Vitamine A production based on vegetative carotenoid pigmentation!  Science!!


Once the oil has reached the right temp and smells strongly, you'll want to remove garlics from the hot pan as they can burn and bring out some undesirable crusty flavors...  Add chicken pieces to brown, 2-3 minutes on a side then remove and reduce heat to medium low.  Deglaze your pan with white wine, scraping all the brown bits from the pan surface and simmer 3 minutes, then add your tomato sauce and simmer a further 8 minutes to bring flavors together.

Turn heat up to medium and add chicken to sauce to cook 6-8 minutes on a side.  Remove chicken to a cutting board and season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove toothpicks from chicken and slice into 3/4" slices.  Serve over Pasta, Rice, Bread, or on its own.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

~CCDO~ Cookie-shaped Cake-like Delicious Object

Today I realized I've never posted a basic cookie recipe!  Simple, tasty, easy-to-snack-upon treats!  I looked up my favorite recipe, another altered version from my father's repertoire, and got down to it...  mostly because I wanted something besides expensive grocery store candy to sneak into Iron Man 2 in my kit.  These little guys are a real nostalgia inducer for me.  I can recall living in a little red house, just me and my dad, when I was small making these together.  I asked once where my father got the recipe but he can't remember so the origins are lost I'm afraid. So without further adieu:

~Double Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Spice Cake-Cookies~
~Coco Mini-Cakes~
Printable Recipe 

1 C Non-Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
2 Large Eggs, lightly beaten
1 C Brown Sugar
1/2 C Milk
1 1/2 C Cake Flour
1/4 C Non Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger Root
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder

1 12oz Package Dark Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/2 - 3/4 C C rough chopped walnuts
2-3 C Oats

SPECIAL TOOLS:  #24 (1.75 oz) Ice Cream Scoop
                                     -- A mechanical scoop with a release works best.

Yield - 2 Dozen Cookies

Notes - These can easily be made Gluten-Free by subbing in Gluten-Free oats and flour.  You can also replace the brown sugar with 2/3 C Dark Agave Nectar.

Preheat your oven to 350f (convection 325f)

Since I tried grinding my own spices to great effect the last Banana Bread I made, I though I would do the same here.  The ginger I used pre-ground but the cinnamon and nutmeg I prepped at home.  

There will always be a significant increase in flavor intensity with fresh ground spices but in this case these are spice cookies so you probably wont need to worry too much.  Just keep it in mind if you prefer one spice over another and want to adjust.

In a large bowl, start by creaming together shortening and brown sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs and blend completely.  Add milk and stir.  Twice sift flour, cocoa, spices, baking powder, soda, and salt and and to wet ingredients in two parts to prevent clumping and uneven mixing.  Stir vigorously until you have a homogenized paste like mixture with very few lumps.  Chop walnuts and add along with chocolate chips.  Make sure these are mixed in well before you add the oats.  If you try to add them after, the mixture will be so thick that it can become very difficult to stir without breaking them to bits in the process.  You should now have a very thick mixture about consistent with quite thick, crunchy peanut butter.  

To help baking and release afterwards, place a sheet of parchment paper over your cookie sheets.  Many bakers will claim that you only should use bakers parchment but unless you will be placing it in for more than 40 minutes at temps exceeding 350f, regular store bought parchment will do fine.  Place your ice cream scoop in a glass of warm water between scoops to help with release and scoop out even scoops onto the parchment lined sheets.


When we approach the subject of leavening, the number one golden rule is this:  Leavening, in almost all cases, simply expands tiny air bubbles present in the dough/batter and doesn't actually create them.  Without the different varieties of leavening, we would end up with hard, cracker-like breads and dense or soupy muffins...  All basic info but it will lead in I promise.
This recipe involves three kinds of basic leavening:  Mechanical Leavening (via the creaming of the sugar and butter,) Chemical Leavening (vial the Baking powder and soda,) and Heat/Steam leavening (the baking itself.)  The 4th kind of leavening through yeast is not often 
used in sweet good as it can lend unwanted flavors to the mix...

Baking soda reacts with Citric Acid, producing CO2 gas

Mechanical - When we beat the butter and sugar together, the sharp sugar crystals cut into the fat, creating thousands of tiny tears and pockets forming air bubbles. These are the bubbles we need to expand via chemical and steam/heat leavening.
Chemical - The chemical leavening comes in to play as components in the baking powder begin to react in a liquid filled environment. When the liquid allows the particles to move more freely, these particles interact in an acid/base reaction, releasing CO2 gas expanding the tiny bubbles.  In certain cases where the pH of the mixture is too high or too low, different formulations of baking powder can create unpleasant flavor due to left over acid salts and others.  In these cases we use some baking soda as a sort of pH buffer, consuming the acids and rendering more CO2.
Heat/Steam - In the final step, the heat from the oven accelerates the expansion of the bubbles through the creation of steam and the thermal catalysis of the chemical leavening reactions.

Once again, given the chance, food can surprise with its relative complexity!  Delicious, fluffy breads and pastries all thanks to thermally catalyzed acid/base reactions and and mechanical micro bubble formation in fatty compounds!  *whew*  as always...  it is SCIENCE!  Delicious!


Bake 12-16 minutes until they rise a bit and the edges begin to brown slightly.  Don't over bake in the oven as these cookies' thickness allows them to bake further as they cool.  Serve warm or cover with a towel at room temp for up to 3 days depending on humidity ant temp.

I hope these special cookies can bring you and yours some joy both in the making and the eating!  But don't forget: make every recipe your own in as many ways as you can!  Go experiment!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

~Sweet and Savory Pearings~ a "spicy" romance story of flavor

This one doesn't really have too much of a back story to speak of.  At one point a few years ago I was killing time at the local bookstore, thumbing through some cookbooks and I saw a method for poaching I had never tried: Parchment steaming.  Alas the only part of that I remembered was the method so a couple days ago I decided to try and ad-lib the ingredients list as an experiment.  I think I like what I ended up with!  Might have to try this one out next movie night...

~Spicy Ginger Pears En Pillowette~
Printable Recipe

This recipe is for one packet.  Multiply per person you will serve

1/2 Medium-large Pear
1/2 Tsp Fresh grated Ginger Root
1/4 - 1/2 Tsp Dry Rooibos tea
1/8 Tsp Fresh ground Black Pepper
1/2 Tsp Raw Cane Sugar
1/4 Tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 Tsp Unsalted Butter

~Mascarpone Almond Cream~

8 oz Mascarpone Cheese
1 C Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Tbsp Honey
1/4 Tsp Almond Extract
1 Tbsp Dark Rum (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS - 12" Parchment Paper Rounds 

For the pear packets start by cutting out as many 12" parchment paper rounds as you will need.  Grate ginger then core and slice pears.  

Assemble by stacking pear slices in a small pile in the center of your parchment then sprinkling with tea, pepper, sugar and ginger.  Add lemon juice and dot with butter.  Fold up the edges of the parchment round and twist to seal closed.  Place in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
While the pears bake, there's plenty of time to make the Almond Cream.  In a medium bowl, combine cream, honey, rum (optional,) and almond extract.  Whip by had or on medium speed with an electric mixer until it reaches medium peaks. 

This cream will keep much longer than standard Chantilly cream as it has a much higher fat content and is quite good with a number of things aside from poached pears.  One of those things just so happens to be...  


Short post this week but that cant stop SCIENCE!!! sorry...  on with it then...

When we whip cream the idea is to force air into it but there is much more to it than that.  When we reach the stage of cream "whippedness" sometimes called the frothing stage, 90% of the air we will add is already in there.  Once we start moving toward the "Soft Peak" stage, the bubbles are being broken up, multiplying and being compressed.  These bubbles attract the fat globules in the cream as they are compressed via the whipping action.  Eventually the bubbles become so small that the partially crystallized fat globules come into contact and cling, trapping the air and linking bubble to bubble, stabilizing the cream. 

Fat globules bonding to air bubbles in whipped cream
In this case, the extra butter fat in the mascarpone cheese helps both to accelerate the whipping process and to maintain the structure longer.  However, no cream will keep forever without deflating unless you go all the way to the butter stage a the liquid water that remains will eventually break down the bonds between the fat globules, allowing the air to escape.  But for now we have some delicious almond cream and we can thank fatty acid bonds trapped in microscopic bubble walls.  and what delicious bonds they are!  SCIENCE!!


Serve pear packet right out of the oven, with some almond cream on the side, so they'll be nice and piping hot with lots of great smelling steam when you open them!  

These are great because they are simple and very quick to make as well as being kinda flashy in the method department.  Another thing I love about them is versatility:  you can alter these in a variety of ways like altering the tea and cream flavoring combo.  Maybe using apples, spiced tea, and grand mariner...  So many options.  Go see what you can come up with!

~A Bread by Any Other Name~ Banana recycling in its most delicious form

I love to keep as organic and local as possible with my food, especially my produce.  It tastes better, its better for you, it looks a lot better (without the delicious wax coating... ugh) but, alas, it does tend to go bad quickly without fresh bags or the like.  The local part my be difficult when it comes to Bananas in eastern Washington but organic we have...  and the same holds true for them.  But have no fear!  Bad bananas are the only GOOD banana's sometimes.

~Walnut Banana Bread~
Printable Recipe 

3 Mashed Bananas
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 C Melted Butter
1/3 C Water
1/8 C Canola Oil
1 2/3 C Cake Flour
1 C Bakers Sugar
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Fresh ground Cinnamon (3/4 Tsp pre-ground)
Walnuts, Chopped

SPECIAL TOOLS:  9"x5" Loaf Pan
                               8 Mini-Loaf Pan

Yield - 1 9"x5" Loaf or 8 Mini-Loaves 

~Chocolate Variant~

 Substitute 1/3 C Cake Flour for 1/3 C Non Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder and increase oil to 1/8 C + 2 Tablespoons.

I made this batch for my girlfriend Katie.  She was recovering from a tough work week and I thought "I know I could do with some good banana bread sometimes..."  I made a point of trying a few new tricks for the occasion.

The only problem I found with this and I suppose any other banana bread recipe is that you will need really mushy, over ripened Bananas...  The problem comes up when you think of making banana bread and you have none.  You can't really go to the store for mushy bananas so you might need to make some yourself by roasting!  ...and roasting = thermal chemistry which in turn leads us to...


When you eat a green banana, that dry, gritty "taste" in your mouth is tannic Astringency.  The same goes for Red wine and certain fruits like persimmons.  This sensation is less of a flavor out tongues or noses can perceive than a sensation caused by physical contact.  Ongoing research has suggested that tannin "mouth feel" is at least in some part a product of size and shape of the polymerized tannins interfering with the ability of saliva to lubricate surfaces in the mouth properly.  Whatever the many and quite complicated reasons behind the astringent properties of these chains, there is no question about not we wanting them in our sweet baked goods!  Either by aging normally in at room temperature or by roasting, the goal is to oxidize these long chain macromolecules and thus break them and alter them, rendering them less capable of creating the astringent feel.  

Oxygen Spectra

When we roast, the thermal energy from the hot oven accelerates these reactions, speeding up the process and giving us the same end result as if we waited for them to ripen on their own.  The foil wrap also helps the process along by reflecting thermal energy around inside the bananas, not letting it escape, increasing internal temp and maintaining even heating even as the oven temp may fluctuate.  Delicious roasty sweet bananas ready for banana bread baking thanks to thermally catalyzed oxidation of long-chain tannin macromolecules.  Mmmmm boy!  SCIENCE!


Roasting Instructions:

If you're going to roast bananas instead of using room temp ripened ones, first preheat your oven to 400f.  With a very sharp knife, remove the stem as close to the fruit as possible without breaching the peel completely.  Wrap your bananas tightly in foil and place in the oven in a sheet pan or other shallow vessel to catch any drips and drabs.  Roast for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from heat and slice open, allowing as much excess juice to drain out as possible without squeezing too much.  Now you can simple proceed with the standard recipe.  I like following this method as it tends to result in a more interesting flavor palate in the resulting bread/cake/muffin.

Preheat oven to 350f.  If you roasted bananas just prior, set your temp to 350f.  Sift together Flour, Sugar, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt, Cinnamon in a large bowl.
I went a bit out of the way this time to grate and grind my own Cinnamon as this batch was made for a gift.  I think that in most cases, standard, high quality ground spices work just fine but in situations where a spice is used as a stand out or, as in this case, a subtle stand-alone, it may be worth your time to grind your own.  The Best tools for this I find are a Microplane Zester and a simple mortar and pestle set.  From there it's a simple task of grating the Cinnamon sticks (or nutmegs or any other whole spice) then pestling it into a fine powder.  Remember: any spice ground from whole pods/sticks/seeds will be fairly strong, stronger than what you buy pre-ground and you will need to adjust accordingly.

Mash Bananas in a medium bowl and add eggs, butter, water, and oil.  Make a well in your dry ingredients, pour in the liquid and stir until thoroughly blended.  Add as many walnuts as you like and stir.

Pour into a  9"x5" Loaf pan and top with more walnut halves if you like.  You can also pour into an 8 mini-loaf pan.  Bake single loaf 35-45 minutes or Mini-loaves 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted 1" from the center comes out fairly clean.

These loaves are one of my all time favorites and I suspect they will grace my top 5 no matter how much I learn about pastry.  They smell great, they look great, they keep for a LONG time in the fridge, they make great gifts, they have a subtle sweet flavor, and maybe best of all they can be whipped up in about 45 minutes at minimal ingredient cost.  One of the best things on a bright spring morning is a nice thick slice, toasted with butter and a cup of hot spiced tea!


Monday, May 10, 2010

~Glassy Sweetness~ A fantastic reason to own a blowtorch

I've been staring at a dozen organic eggs in my fridge that I didn't really have a plan for.  Got a great deal on them (2 for 1) at my local organic market so I couldn't pass it up but as I don't use eggs that often I had to scan my recipe books for some way to use up a LOT of them at once.  This time I really had to punch myself for not thinking of it first thing!  Quick trip to the store for some heavy cream and a rummage or two though my pantry for my organic orange blossom extract aaaaand...


~Orange Blossom and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee~
Printable Recipe

12 Organic Egg Yolks
3.5 C Organic, Grass-Fed Heavy Cream  (this tends to form a much creamier custard)
0.5 C O. Light Cream or Half'n'Half
5 oz O. Bakers Sugar
0.75 Teaspoon O. Pure Orange Blossom Extract
0.5 O. Vanilla Bean
0.5 Tsp Pure O. Vanilla Extract 

SPECIAL TOOLS: 8x 5oz Ramekins
                               Large sheetpan or Shallow baking dish
                               Full Sized propane blow torch 

Yield - 8x 5oz custards

Source Wikipedia

This is a recipe adapted from my culinary education work book working under Chef John Mckee.  It has become my fall back recipe for custard bases of all kinds from ice creams to pastry creams.  You can add almost anything as far as flavoring goes to this recipe by steeping spices and teas, adding extracts and sweeteners, or substituting portions of the recipe for others (in the case of chocolate.)  I went with the orange blossom (c.o. Silver Cloud Estates)  oil this time because I hadn't had too many chances to use it despite its subtle awesomeness.  I tried strait orange oil once but it ended tasting a bit much of Froot Loops breakfast cereals.  I suppose that in itself may be an interesting culinary finding but...  No thanks.

Start by washing up thoroughly and separating eggs.  There are all kinds of kitchen gadgets out there for this but the easiest and best tool is one you've got already... two actually.  Crack your eggs on a horizontal surface (rather than a sharp bowl edge as this can burst yolks) and pour into one hand over a bowl, letting the whites pour through your fingers and holding the yolk steady.  This is the gentlest way to do this but by no means the only.  

Now take the sharpest paring knife you have and make a long shallow cut down the length of your half vanilla bean.  Spread out the pod skin ans scrape out the seeds with the sharp of the knife.  Add seeds and the pod to your cream in a large put and scald, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let it steep for 12 minutes.  Stir in your orange blossom extract (or whatever extract you like if you went that flavor rout) and bring back to a near scald.  Preheat your oven to 325f and prepare a teapot with water for the water bath.

Whisk eggs and sugar together.  Slowly temper some of the hot cream into the egg mixture by adding just a tiny bit and stirring slowly.  This is to keep the hot cream from effectively scrambling the eggs and yielding some pretty nasty results.  Slowly add the rest of your hot cream, stirring slowly to avoid forming lots of bubbles.  Strain through a medium fine strainer into a clean vessel just in case you get any small bits of overcooked egg.  Don't worry if you do, this can happen almost every time no mater how careful you are.

Place your clean ramekins in your sheet pan and place on a rack low down in the oven.  Pour hot water into the sheet pan to half way up the sides of your ramekins.  Work as quickly as possible so as to not let too much heat out of the oven.  Bake at 325f for 25-35 minutes until the edges start to set and the center is still jiggly.

Remember back to the whole long bit about the Dulce De Leche in a can recipe.  Just like the boiled can of S.C. Milk, the water is the cook here.  Many baked custards require a water bath too cook evenly and not burn because the chemical reactions inside the custards that form the oh so important creamy internal structure need even even heat.  The moisture from the water also keeps the custard from drying out in the heat.
Inside every oven is a tiny electronic lier.  Well... not so much a lier than an embellisher of truths.  When we see 350f on the readout of or oven control or thermo, that may not be the actual temp save for a few times a minute.  The temperature of a given conventional oven actually forms a sign wave, varying up to 20 degrees in either direction, maintaining the set temp more often than not but varying none the less.  This is where the water comes to the rescue.  Water can be boiled over a Bunsen burner in a paper cup because of its very high Specific Heat.  The water absorbs all the heat from the flame and the cup cant reach its flash point.  Since the energy required to change the temp of water is high, it has the ability to regulate heat flow between mediums, acting like a thermal buffering system.  As the ovens temperature may waver over the cooking time, the waters temp stays more or less the same, distributing its heat to the custard at a slow, even rate, allowing for uniform, stable formation of protein structures in the setting custard.  The same thing is true for using a double boiler to set creme anglaise for ice cream or melt chocolate without burning.  Water baths as functional thermal buffers allowing for uniform protein gelling in baked custards!  it's SCIENCE!




Remove from the water bath and let cool at least one hour before you brulee them.  One they're sufficiently cool, sprinkle the tops of each generously with bakers sugar and let sit 1 minute.  tip the remaining sugar off into a bowl.  Sprinkle just enough sugar onto each to form an thin, even second coat.
To torch,  you'll want to start with the right tools.  Many kitchen stores will hype the smaller butane hand torches but they provide a cooler, smaller flame.  They look better than a full bore propane torch but they tend to cost more and provide less functionality.  Begin torching with the nozzle tip about 4 inches from the surface you are working with, working from the inside to the outside in small concentric circles.  If one spot starts to get too dark, move quickly to the other side of the ramekin and continue.  The color is simply a matter of taste so you may have to experiment. 
These custards will keep, un-bruleed, wrapped, in the fridge for up to a week.  These are a great desert for parties and bbq's with their simplicity and economy of ingredients as well as that "Wow" factor when you torch them.  Summer is coming soon...  Get out there and experiment!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Just making a really quick post here to let everyone know that I've just added links (below every recipe name) to a printable version of each!  I know I like having a sheet of paper rather than my computer get in food's way in the kitchen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

~Orange you glad I didn't say Rhubarb?~ A little spin for some great seasonal canning

So I've never canned anything in my life before but I though this year I would jump on the ol' band waggon (I can't figure out the etymology there though) with one of my favorite variations on marmalade.  In cake based culinary adventures I've made something similar for a cake filling but always just a few ounces, not enough to can.
I have a huge heirloom rhubarb just now coming into its harvestable life and blood oranges coming in to my favorite local market so I though this would be a good a time as any to try making this recipe for some seasonal, local canning!

~Organic Blood Orange/Rhubarb Marmalade~
2 or 3 Large organic Blood Oranges (depending on size)
Zest of 2 Oranges
4 C Sliced organic Rhubarb
2 C organic cane Sugar + 0.5 C Vanilla Sugar
3.25 Teaspoons Calcium Water
3 C Purified Water
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice

Special Tools:  Canning Utensil Kit including:
                             Jar Lifter Tongs
                             Head Room Measuring Stick
                             Lid Magnet Wand
                             Canning Funnel 
                             XL Pot for boiling 

Yield: 8 8oz Jars

After talking to my friends who do a lot of home canning I decided on a universal pectin and activator combo.  The recipe I used is a slightly altered version from the Pomona's Universal Pectin instruction sheet, taking into account the moisture and enzymes in the rhubarb.  What is important in this recipe is the fruit to water ratio.  Most pectin packaging gives a recipe for pectin to fruit ratios so if you use a different brand or type, follow the manufacturers instruction sheet and all will be well!  The Calcium water (as an activator in low sugar or honey based recipes) in this recipe can be made quite simply by following the instructions but I will rewrite them as it may be easily overlooked in the sheet:

Calcium Water:
Dissolve 0.5 teaspoons in 0.5 C of water in a small, sealable jar.  Can be stored in the fridge for some time but toss out if the sediment discolors or gets moldy.  Shake well before using.

Now lets get started!  Start by thoroughly washing your jars and lid disks and placing them in a large pot of just simmering water until you need them.  DO NOT BOIL as boiling can cause the seals on the lids to distort and form poor seals.  Thoroughly wash your rhubarb, slice in into 3/4" slices and place in the fridge.

For the oranges, you'll want to take a Citrus Zester and remove the zest from 2 oranges.  If you don't have a specialized zester tool, this can be done with a very sharp paring knife.  If you do it this way, be sure to scrape all the white pith off with the edge of your knife as it can make your jam too bitter.  Carefully slice the skins then the fruit segments from the oranges via the Supreme method and place them in a large sauce or stock pot with a lid along with water, lime juice, rhubarb, and calcium water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 22 minutes.  Stir sparingly as over mixing can cause all the fruit to become too soft and less "marmalade-y." 

In a separate bowl combine sugars and pectin powder and whisk until thoroughly blended.  This is to keep your pectin powder from clumping and ALSO brings us to...



When we add pectin to the juices to thicken it up, we are counting on a process called Gelatinization.  When we add the pectin (in this Case a specialized, "low ester" pectin) in a low sugar formula like this one, the calcium water involved comes into play as ions and facilitates the creation of weak bonds (calcium ionic bridges) between the molecules of pectin.  This creates a semi cohesive (from the word cohere, and from the Latin cohaerere "stick together") structure like a 3D netting or mesh holding the liquids and semi solids of the juice in place.

*whew*  always found that part heady.  If you can get through it, congrats!

For the second half, I want to talk about why we mix the pectin powder with sugars.  When we add any powdered gelling agent with liquids, we want each tiny particle of the powder to absorb the liquids evenly and equally.  When we add dry powders to hot liquids, if the dry particles are too close together, clumps can form.

Big, fat liquid-filled particles expand so fast due to the excess heat that they begin pressing and squeezing tiny clusters of dry particles together and surrounding them so no liquid can get in.  The wet bits cling to the dry because the dry clumpy cores want to steal water from the surrounding environment.  All this comes together to form gross, lumpy gravy, pudding, ice creams, and jellies and jams and an all around unpleasant result.  When we mix the pectin powder with the sugars, we ensure that the particles are spread out and evenly distributed so that very few are touching and able to bully each other.  Other ways to ensure even absorption and dissolution include mixing dry with icy water or a fat like butter or oil.  Simple and elegant solution to an age old problem!  Nice smooth Jellies and Jams due to dry particle distribution and ionic calcium bridges!  Science!!  Thanks for bearing with me this weeks, folks!


Remove your cooked fruit liquid and let cool 1 minute.  Stir in your sugar/pectin mix and return to heat to simmer an additional 3 - 5 minutes.  Before heating again I added a n extra 1/2 of a thin orange slice per jar just for some extra orangey flavor and color.

Drain your Jars and tins and get them ready to fill.  If you added the extra orange slices, fork them out into the bottom of each jar.  Fill your jars up to 1/4" head space, wipe the rims, and press the lids down snug.  Screw on your rings finger tight and place in your boiling pot to boil 12 minutes.  Remove from the pot, tighten the rings, and cool.


If the seal doesn't form, either toss out or use immediately as bacteria and oxygen and all kinds of things you don't want inside can get in there and ruin your week...  seriously.  Although the relatively high sugar levels in most jams and jellies prove a rather inhospitable environment for many microbes, things can still grow so watch out.

So I ended up with 8 jars of delicious Rhubarb-Orange Marmalade!  Yum!  As I write this I've given 5 of 8 away and have been told it fared well at discerning family taste tests.  This spread will keep for months in a cool, dark place and will keep up to 3 weeks in the fridge once opened.  If you don't plane to give this away, keep in in the back of your pantry away from the stove.  Although light and heat will often do little more that discolor the fruit, you want to keep that pretty color vibrant as long as possible, right?  Happy Canning!