Monday, October 20, 2014

Babas au birthday

Each year, as mid-August rolls around, I ask my husband what he would like for his birthday dessert. I don't say "cake" here because the man is from France and their idea of celebratory pastry does not include cake. While most people would be over the moon at a homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, my man would take a look and say, "anything with veggies in it is NOT dessert".

His idea of celebratory sweets is much fancier than cake! And I have been challenged over the years. These things take prep work and planning, scheduling and cookbook-referencing. A few years ago, I winged it with a Paris-Brest and forgot to add the crushed praline to the whipped cream. quelle horreur! It was like forgetting to add the cream cheese to the frosting for the aforementioned carrot cake. Inconceivable!

I felt bad that last year's request for Omelet Norvegienne went unfulfilled (I couldn't find a recipe and later realized it is Baked Alaska!! Norway my ...!) so I substituted a tiramisu. Delicious, yes, but lacking in the spirit of the request and loving fulfillment equation. 

So, when he requested babas au rhum on this very significant birthday, I hit the books and did my research. I dug up a long-filed-away copy of a New York Times magazine article with a rum baba recipe from Helen Darroze. But that was a bit too, well, Helene Darroze, so I consulted Baking with Julia and made an amalgam of the recipes. Julia's babas and pastry cream, Helene's syrup.

It was one of those recipes for baked goods that sounds and looks like it will not work. Not enough flour, too much yeast, very liquid. But the dough rose well and baked up beautifully. 

I used mini-brioche molds and a mini-loaf pan.
Mini Me! Really, who doesn't love a cute baked good?!

The cream was a simple pastry cream flavored with rum. 
Eggs with sugar ready to incorporate with the hot milk.

Tempered eggs added to milk while whisking...

Add vanilla....

and finish by whisking in butter!

Cooling the cream.
 There were lots of steps, but pretty foolproof.
Helene Darroze's syrup used cardamom, cinnamon and cracked white pepper added to a sugar syrup. 

Assembly was fussy (remember, French) and the timing difficult to get right. I was also cooking a birthday dinner...

The babas needed to be soaked in the syrup (one recipe said 10 minutes while the other said 45!) to the point of softening but not disintegrating. I opted for tossing them around in a bowl and spooning the syrup over them again and again. I stopped when I saw crumbs in the syrup.

Then the pastry cream needed to be piped in through a hole in the bottom of the spongy, now syrupy cakes. I never know how to gauge the right amount of cream to pipe in. I erred on the conservative side and topped with more pastry cream and then added some whipped cream.

Stick some candles* on top and you've got a party!
* And don't you know that was the hardest part of this picture? Remembering where the birthday candles were. Every year this happens and I still don't know where they are. These are new candles purchased for the occasion. Big birthday required it, naturally!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mmm....cereal...and cheesecake!

Many years ago, I devised a recipe for cheesecake using a small 6-inch springform pan. Most recipes for cheesecake call for a 9-inch springform pan and use two pounds of cream cheese. The idea of using two POUNDS of anything in a baking recipe sort of makes me queasy; especially since only two of us are usually eating it. Hence, the scaling down...literally and figuratively (really!).

I discovered Corn Flake crumbs in the clearance section of the supermarket awhile back. They are a less-sweet alternative to graham cracker crumbs and are more versatile since they can also be used in savory recipes. My crust recipe substitutes the Corn Flake crumbs for graham cracker crumbs.

The corn flakes actually have a "toothier" crunch and the contrast is nice with the cheesecake. They also hold up to moisture better than graham crackers which can be an issue when baking a springform pan in a water bath. I wrap the pan in foil, but that water always seems to find its way in during baking.

It is very important to remove pan from water bath immediately after baking to lessen seepage of water into crust. Blot excess water with towel.

Cool, then remove the sides of the springform and admire the holding power of corn flake crumbs.

Check out the structural integrity of that crust, even once a slice is cut!!

I serve with a cherry-almond sauce and whipped cream. The sauce is made from frozen dark sweet cherries; the recipe is on the Market Pantry frozen cherry package and I add some almond extract for extra sense-tempting deliciousness.

I promise that the full recipe will follow in a later post...once I figure out where I've put it for safekeeping.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Holiday Traditions: Christmas pudding, guest chef edition

Years ago, we had a recipe competition here at home. It was decided that whoever made the best Christmas pudding would “win” the honor of making it forevermore. My Christmas pudding wasn’t considered traditional enough (maybe the four cups of grated carrots should have been a clue), but no matter, we had a winner and my husband was happy to add this to his dessert repertoire.

Christmas pudding-filled  two molds, one large bundt and one small ceramic mold.

Molds are topped with wax paper before steaming

For many years, he prepared the puddings the day after Thanksgiving and once they were steamed, they were anointed with spirits, tightly wrapped and put in the freezer to mature for at least a year. Depending on the size of the mold used, one recipe could often yield up to four puddings, so for a while there, we had a surplus of aged puddings. I remember one inventory of the chest freezer when I counted 15! A moratorium on new puddings had been in place for the past couple of years, but this year he decided that it was time to break out the pudding molds again. So, just after the new year, the distinct aroma of pudding filled the house as we steamed two puddings in our slow cookers.

Ceramic mold with cherry motif.

Bundt pudding just after unmolding. Steamy!

The funny thing about Christmas pudding is that once aged, you really can’t tell what the component ingredients are. There is grated apple, breadcrumbs, almonds, all manner of raisins, apricots and currants, but they all meld together to create something complex and satisfying. 

This year's cherry mold was enjoyed early, topped with sauce and more on the side!
I serve the pudding with Martha Stewart’s Brandy Sauce from her Martha Stewart Christmas Book. The sauce is made of cream, butter, sugar and egg yolks. It is the perfect complement to the delicious pudding.