Tuesday, 18 December 2007

learning to like Brussels sprouts

Growing up, there was nothing I detested more than Brussels sprouts. Along with every other child in Belgium, it would seem. My dad would occasionally make them (boiled) and the house rules were such that I had to eat whatever was on the table. I usually got away with three sprouts – my brother even managed to get away with eating just the one.

I felt the same about chicory and didn’t like the bitter taste of it at all, but it now is one of my favourite vegetables. Braised, or wrapped in ham with a cheesy béchamel sauce topped with breadcrumbs in the oven – I absolutely love chicory. And so I thought I owed it to myself to give Brussels sprouts another chance as well.

Plus they keep on popping up everywhere: at my local market, in Christmas food magazine articles and on various blogs. All of which was starting to make me feel like I was missing out on something. So I bought myself some sprouts and got a-cooking.

I went with Molly’s recipe, because masses of butter, cream and brown bits are always a good thing in my book. In an ideal world I would have added some bacon as well, but I didn’t have any. And as for the result… I think I can learn to like Brussels sprouts. They probably won’t make it on my all time favourites list, but they certainly are off the yuk list. And for S, who still didn’t like them because ‘they still tasted of sprouts’ (even though he had to admit they didn’t taste as bad as he remembered from his childhood) I mixed them with potatoes into a wonderfully creamy mash the next day, which he did like.

apologies for the awful picture, but the vanille & chocolat household has been extremely busy of late with hardly any time to cook, let alone take decent snaps (and of course I will continue to blame lack of decent daylight for the next few months)

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

lavender crème brulée - almost

SHF#38 the proof is in the pudding - with a Tartelette tutorial

It's been ages since I participated in Sugar High Friday, and this month's theme - the proof is in the pudding - chosen by Zorra of Kochtopf, is just up my street. Also, for my birthday way back in September my auntie gave me a nifty little blowtorch (and she even smuggled a can of gas lighter refill stuff to go with it in her luggage on Eurostar!). Which, shame on me, I hadn't used yet. Although S had a jolly good time playing around with the torch already. What can I say: boys, gadgets, and flames - an irresistible combination.

Crème brulée was on Kochtopf's approved pudding list, so crème brulée it would be. Somehow it's one of those things I've never made before, even though it seems dead simple. Maybe because it's I'm not utterly crazy about it - to me, there seems to be something not quite right about a fridge-cold dessert with a piping hot crust on top - or maybe it's because I had a few bad versions in the past, one of which made me really sick.

Anyways, I decided it was high time to put my little blowtorch to good use, finally use that lavender I still had lying around, and give crème brulée a go. The recipe I used was a Claudia Fleming one and very easy to make: basically a custard, which is then baked in the oven in a water bath covered with pierced aluminium foil. I was a bit nervous about the bain-marie - all the other times I tried similar things were complete disasters; whatever I put in there would completely boil over. And this time was no different. Luckily the cremes were not completely ruined and still salvageable. And they still tasted quite nice, so not all was lost. I was stumped though, and in need of professional advice. And who better to turn to then the one and only Tartelette! Who, very kindly, answered my questions and suddenly things seemed very clear.

Turns out that my crème brulée wasn't exactly crème brulée, more like a set custard with a layer of sugar over the top. See, you're not supposed to thicken the custard on the stove, which I did - you just pour the hot cream over the beaten egg yolks with sugar, let that mixture cool, skim off the foam on top and bake au-bain-marie. The water bath distributes the heat evenly and gently to the custard so that the eggs don't curdle. It is also a bit more forgiving if you let them cook a little bit longer than necessary. Tartelette top tip number one: 'check for that tiny giggle in the middle and remove them before they are completely done'.

Then there was that issue of my custards 'boiling over'. Enter Tartelette top tip number two: 'I am thinking the steam and heat created by the foil makes the cremes boil over. Also if you whisk your eggs too vigourously they will have a tendency to foam up a lot and create a soufflé motion.' and whisk vigourously I sure did. Funny how I almost never succeed in turning out a good soufflé, except when I'm trying to make a crème brulée.

And to finish her tutorial, Helen threw in a basic crème brulée recipe for free! Thanks so much for your advice, Helen. It is much appreciated and I will certainly give it one more try before I throw in the towel. If only because S would like to have another go playing around with that blow torch...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

design dessert

Last weekend I finally got around to doing something with the sweet potatoes I'd had lying around for way too long - I don't use sweet potatoes all that often and all the lovely Thanksgiving posts I've been reading everywhere made me itch to try something new. I browsed through my cookbooks, thought about adapting and combining different recipes and was determined not to get myself into a catch-22 situation, where I end up making nothing at all because I'm unable to choose from all the possible dishes.

Also, I wanted to challenge myself a bit: I have a few cookbooks with complex dessert recipes, consisting of several components and looking oh so beautiful. Which I never get around to making, exactly because they're so complex. Not difficult - just a lot of work. Invariably, you need a gazillion different ingredients for all the parts, so it takes half a day doing the preliminary grocery shopping, another half day to make everything and when you're finished, the kitchen looks like a battlefield. And then, of course, just when you sigh and think 'that was ok', you take a last look at the recipe and you find that, under 'assembly' or 'presentation', a few more components and some complicated garnishes are thrown in for good measure.

So I often end up making just one component, rather than the whole dessert. Which tastes nice and looks fine, but not spectacular. And sometimes, you know, a girl just wants to show off and make something that looks as if it came out of a restaurant kitchen. This girl does anyway.

And so here it is, my first show-off (but no sweat) dessert: sweet potato and white chocolate flan on a gingersnap crust, sweet potato gnocchi and coconut custard, all flavoured with sweet massala spices. Very easy to make, because it doesn't use a million different ingredients, and looks like a million dollars. Just one warning: pretend you don't know how much butter goes into the whole thing.

Also, because the flan squares tasted rather nice all by themselves and because - in my mind anyway - the sweet potato thing has a decidedly American feel to it (plus they are not too showy by themselves and won't upstage a brand new house) I'm taking them to Peabody's housewarming party.

sweet potato flan squares

inspired by D & C Duby's Wild Sweets

100g roasted and mashed sweet potatoes
100g crushed gingersnaps (by all means, make them yourself if you want, but store-bought will do just fine)
195g + 25g butter
130g white chocolate
3 eggs
80 caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
1 tsp sweet massala spices

line a baking tin (I used a 20 cm square one) with baking paper, making sure it the sides of the tin are covered as well. Melt 25g butter, mix with the crushed gingersnaps and spread evenly on the bottom of the tin. Melt butter with chocolate (I used the microwave, in 30 second bursts). Combine sweet potatoes with eggs, sugar, vanilla and massala, then fold in the chocolate mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture over gingersnap base and bake in oven (150˚C) for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

sweet potato gnocchi
inspired by Hidemi Sugino The Dessert Book

125g roasted and mashed sweet potatoes
50g plain flour
1/3 whole egg
1 tbsp coconut milk
caster sugar with pinch of sweet massala spices

combine all ingredients in mixing bowl until incorporated. Cover bowl and leave to rest in fridge for at least one hour. Flour work surface and roll dough into a log, about 1 inch diametre. Cut into half inch cubes and cook in boiling water (they are ready when they float). Coat in massala sugar mix.

coconut custard
adapted from here

1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp sweet massala spices
1/6 cup sugar

Combine 1/4 cup coconut milk and cornstarch in a bowl and blend until smooth. Whisk in yolks, beating until smooth. Combine rest of coconut milk, vanilla, massala and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into jug and cool.

To assemble: dust flan squares with icing sugar, add a few gnocchi and a drizzle of custard.