Rhubarb Lime Vanilla Bean Sorbet

DSC_0810aI rediscovered my passion for obsession with making ice cream when I co-hosted a dinner party with my lovely and talented friend Nicola last month. Nicola is the owner and founder of http://www.souschef.co.uk, a specialty food export company that sells hard-to-find cheffy ingredients and equipment to home cooks. (Sorry American friends, Sous Chef only ships to the EU for now.) Nicola had a surfeit of pistachio paste (what a wonderful thing to have too much of!) so we decided to make Orangette’s chocolate tart with salted pistachio ice cream for dessert. I took charge of the ice cream and I did not stint with the pistachio paste. The result was wonderful. (Nicola has since blogged a recipe for salted pistachio ice cream using the very same pistachio paste.) Ice creams and sorbets are a fun challenge for home cooks, involving in equal measure the palate and food science. Flavor is key, of course, and limited only by your imagination, but mouth feel is of equal importance. Continue reading

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Rhubarb and Custard Victoria Sponge

DSC_0476bMany apologies for the long hiatus between blog posts. I have been travelling, eating, playing, and of course cooking. I’ve got fun posts coming up, including my new favorite restaurant in Paris and my foodie adventures in Istanbul. But for now I bring you this lovely cake.

I was unfamiliar with that wonderful British classic, the Victoria sponge, until I moved to London. As with many traditional English sweets, this cake is a keeper. In its simplest form, Victoria sponge is just two vanilla sponge cakes, sandwiched around jam and clotted cream, or whipped cream and fresh berries, and dusted with powdered sugar.  But of course this formula can be tweaked in numerous delicious ways. Continue reading

Apricot Caramel Upside-Down Cake

I’m one of those people who is chronically unable to accept compliments regarding my cooking. I can go further: I am a chronic apologist for my own food. This is such a consistent issue that I made a New Year’s resolution to apologize less and say thank you more.

Resolutions are great in theory but difficult to implement. Last Saturday I baked an apricot caramel upside-down cake for a party. Lovely friend Sophie helped herself to a slice and sat down beside me. “It’s a weird color because I used brown sugar,” I said. Sophie said nothing, and placed a small morsel in her mouth. “It looks dense, but that’s because the caramel soaked into the cake a little. I think I flipped it too early,” I said. With great concentration, Sophie continued to eat her cake. “I was hungover when I baked this cake, so I’m not sure if it’s my best effort,” I said. Sophie said nothing. She delicately took a bit of soft caramelized apricot on her fork and ate it. “Do you think it’s too sweet? I’m worried that it’s too sweet,” I said.

Sophie turned to me. “Let’s start this conversation again. This time, you will only praise your cake,” she said. I thought for a moment. “This is a beautiful cake,” I said. “The apricots are like a sunset over a South Pacific island, turning the water gold. The cake is like a perfumed Spring breeze, like happy memories of childhood,” I said. Sophie looked at me and laughed. She said, “Maybe you should say nothing at all. Then, when someone compliments your cake, you can say, ‘Thank you.’” Continue reading

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake with Rhubarb-Blood Orange Compote and Creme Anglaise

Olive oil cake is a baking miracle. Those of us (like me) who are used to classic French baking techniques reflexively think of olive oil as a savoury ingredient only. But when olive oil is substituted for butter in cakes, it produces a moist cake with a dense crumb and an incredibly light, fluffy texture, almost like an Asian sponge cake. It’s cake perfection. Since I started baking olive oil cakes, I’ve been playing with various combinations of flavours and ratios of olive oil and flour and eggs and sugar, and this cake is unquestionably my favourite: it’s the lightest and most delicate. Continue reading

Orange Blossom-Saffron-Vanilla Macarons

I consider myself to be a fairly proficient baker, but I’ve always been intimidated by macarons. They are so dainty and beautiful, so difficult to get right, and so easy to get horribly wrong. I’ve had dreadful macarons at very posh restaurants.  I don’t care what anybody says, but it IS surprisingly hard to find a good macaron in the United States. On one memorable occasion I even had inferior macarons from Ladurée. And as for achieving perfection at home and hitting every note – the flawless shiny smooth patina on the shell, the well-risen feet, the ever-so-slightly crisp shell and perfectly yielding, tender interior . . . there is just so much to bollocks up. (I’d use a ruder word, but this is a family friendly site.) Literally for months I stalked macaron recipes online. There are hundreds, if not thousands. And SO much advice, much of it conflicting. To Italian meringue, or not to Italian meringue? Should I age my egg whites? What about the almond flour? Should I grind my own and/or air-dry it? Continue reading

Vanilla Cardamom Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is kind of like artisanal ice cream you can make at home without an ice cream maker. You can infuse it with sexy flavours. You can impress your friends, who may not realise quite how easy it is to make. DON’T TELL THEM. Why should you? A well-made panna cotta, in which the balance of sugar and cream and gelatin is struck just right, is gorgeous. Infused with exciting flavours (Turmeric! Rhubarb! Saffron!) it is a seductive bourgeois dessert. Continue reading