I had a friend over recently for dinner who travels every year to Spain, so being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to attempt my hand at a Spanish-inspired menu: seafood paella (with chicken chorizo, shrimp, salmon, and tobiko), pan-blackened shishito peppers with smoked salt and shaved Iberico cheese (shishito because I couldn't find padron peppers at the market), and a vanilla panna cotta with saffron-infused strawberry peach sauce. Okay, so to be fair, it wasn't a traditionally Spanish meal, but the inspirations were fun to play around with! I particularly like this saffron-infused strawberry sauce. Strawberries on their own in a sauce tend to be a bit cloying and one-dimensional to me, so the saffron lends an interesting mellow exoticism. It's like that ingredient that you can't really pick out but the dessert would be otherwise empty without. I love those sorts of subtle hints. ;)
Panna cotta is one of those desserts that I just plain refuse to order at restaurants, because they're so easy and delicious to make at home! I like mine with a half-milk/half-cream mix, so that the texture is lighter and doesn't feel reminiscent of sunscreen the way that full-cream panna cottas do. But really, the name makes them sound fancier than they are! It's just milk jello, really!
Life has been cray cray busy lately, so it's nice to have this blog to escape to every once in a while without the pressures of being a regular blogger. Thank you all to those of you who still have me in your blog, email, instagram feeds. I think of you all often, and wonder what magic you're cooking up in your kitchens!
Read on for recipe.... Vanilla panna cotta with saffron strawberry peach sauce makes 8 servings
for panna cotta 460 g (2 cups) whole milk 460 g (2 cups) heavy cream 1 vanilla bean, split in half (I also added a half teaspoon of vanilla paste for good measure) 86 g water 4 1/2 tspn powdered gelatin 100 g sugar
for sauce 1 punnet strawberries, with leaves cut off (best if frozen and then thawed, to release juices) 1 small yellow peach, very ripe and chopped 1 generous pinch of saffron threads 100 to 125 g sugar
1. In a medium saucepan with a lid, combine the milk and heavy cream. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the insides into the milk. Add the bean as well. Over medium heat, bring to a bare simmer, then remove from heat, cover with the lid, and let steep for 5 minutes. 2. Place the water in a medium bowl, and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over the water. Let bloom for 5 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, add the sugar to the milk mixture. Heat and stir just until the sugar has dissolved -- it just needs to be warm, so don't let it get to a simmer/boil. Remove from heat and set aside. 4. Once the gelatin has bloomed, pour the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer over the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved. 5. Divide the milk between 8 ramekins/glasses, leaving room at the top for the strawberry sauce. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours until set.
6. For the strawberry sauce, place the strawberries and their juices and the chopped-up peach in a food processor. Blend until there are no chunks left and the mixture resembles a thick juice. 7. In a saucepan, combine the strawberry-peach mixture, saffron threads, and 100g of sugar. Taste the mixture briefly to make sure you like the sweetness. Add more sugar if needed. 8. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly just until the sugar has dissolved at a bare simmer. Remove from heat and cover the saucepan with a lid. Let steep for at least 10 minutes for the saffron to infuse. Then, strain through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. Chill until needed.
9. Serve the panna cottas with strawberry sauce on top.
People often ask me what my favorite dessert is, and I get stumped. I mean, how does one choose?!? Victoria sponge cakes, though, are often at the tip top of the list. Especially in June, when beautiful summertime fruits start appearing in all of their glory. The cake is like a perfect demonstration of how simplicity is often the key to classic deliciousness: what else does a dessert really need besides cream, buttery and fluffy bites of cake, and the best, very minimally-fussed-with fruit that the season has to offer?
Victoria sponge cakes traditionally are two layers of buttery yellow cake, sandwiching layers of cream and jam. I like to mix it up, maybe putting the fruit on top, or changing the jam to a rhubarb-raspberry-peach-saffron compote, or topping it with fresh berries, or adding in some sourness of creme fraiche in the cream. The cakes are like beautiful slates for painting on--little flourishes go the longest way, and I always have to pull myself back from doing too much except the smallest little tweaks here and there. Also, let's talk butter. Regular butter is fine, but if you want to experience the full glory of this cake, it's European-style, 85%+ butterfat butter all the way, okay? Please do try it that way. It's worth it.
Also, can we have a shout-out to Annelies, of the food poet blog, for finally getting me back in the kitchen and behind a camera to do some food creating and shooting? I have missed this dearly, so thank you, Annelies!
Grab some tea and a slice of cake for June! And stay tuned. Summer travels are coming up, so there will be lots to share! I hope you all have exciting summer plans, too!
P.S. If you have any recommendations for must see/eat/drink/visit places in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Montreal, and Savannah, please, please do leave them in the comments!
Victoria sponge cake makes one 2-layer, 8-inch round cake
200 g all-purpose flour 2 tspn baking powder 1/2 tspn salt 200 g European-style butter, at room temperature 200 g sugar 4 eggs, at room temperature 1 tspn vanilla extract 2 Tbspn creme fraiche whipped cream jam, fruit, or fruit compote
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour the bottoms and insides of two 8-inch round cake pans. Line the pan bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Wrap the pans with moistened bake-even strips, if using. 2. In a bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking power, and salt. Set aside. 3. Place the butter into a mixer bowl. Beat on medium until the butter is light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. 4. Add the eggs to the butter one at a time, beating well between each addition. Then add the vanilla extract and mix well. 5. Add the flour mixture to the butter in 3 parts, alternating with the creme fraiche and beating well between each addition. Make the batter stays fairly light and fluffy. 6. Divide the batter between the two cake pans. 7. Bake in for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out cleanly. Remove the cakes from the oven and place onto a wire rack. When they have cooled sufficiently to handle, remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Serve the cakes with whipped cream and jam, fruit, or fruit compote.
The beauty of a victoria sponge is that you can have them with any topping. Here were my random proportions/experiments with cream and fruit. Note that these aren't exact, because they needn't be! Follow your instincts.
~1 cup heavy whipping cream ~2-3 Tbspn creme fraiche powdered sugar, to taste
Begin whipping the cream. Whisk in the creme fraiche before you reach soft peaks. Once at soft peaks, whisk in tablespoons of powdered sugar until you reach your desired sweetness.
Raspberry, Rhubarb, and Peach Saffron Compote
2 punnets of raspberries 4 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into pieces 2 peaches, peeled 4 cups sugar 2 big pinches of saffron threads
Combine the ingredients in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2-3 minutes. Then lower the heat to a strong simmer. Stir occasionally, and skim off any bubbly scum that accumulates on the top with a slotted spoon. Reduce the fruit by simmering for a good 30-45 minutes, until syrupy in consistency. Remove from heat, cool completely. Serve over cake.
I don't find myself with much time to make huge celebration cakes very often anymore these days, but I did put this one together for a friend's birthday over the summer. The only thing I knew about his dessert preferences was that he loves chocolate, because every time we'd go walking their dogs, he'd order a chocolate sundae with chocolate brownie pieces and more chocolate fudge on top at the local ice cream stop. So, hence the invention of what I deemed, the true blackout chocolate birthday cake. Like this one, with moist black chocolate layers of cake and dark chocolate fudge frosting and embedded chocolate chips and cacao nib brittle on top, is truly a sentence of death by chocolate. Everyone needed milk, but it was glorious.
In other notes, I've been finding myself avoiding blogging recently, mostly because time constraints on the tenure track keep me from "perfecting" blog posts. Sure, I've still been cooking and making fantastical desserts, but I haven't had time to write down recipes and create picture-perfect set-ups with brand new props and mood lighting each time. In fact, I've just been living and cooking in real life. Which is kind of a refreshing change of pace. It's freeing, to cook creatively and spontaneously without having to note down every minutiae, but I miss the blogging aspect, the interacting and sharing with you all part.
So here it is, the start of a new chapter in the blog: the imperfect chapter. This is now going to be Desserts for breakfast: the notebook, the journal, the not overly-crafted diary. There aren't going to be perfectly written recipes. Instead, I'm going to share a glimpse into how I normally write down recipes for myself: jotted notes, lists of ingredients. Because cooking ultimately shouldn't be about following a recipe to a t. Cooking should be about following such finely-honed instincts that you have about flavors and textures and tastes to make a recipe your own. And then sharing it with others.
So sorry but I'm not sorry for the casual tone this blog is going to take on from here on out. It's going to be this way because blogs, like everything else, need to evolve. To grow. To develop. And so this is the phase in Desserts for breakfast life where we learn to love the imperfections. Where I learn to share just because that's how people connect. Where I figure out how to live parts of my life contently, to value what's in front of me, rather than always trying to make every action serve some purpose of getting ahead. Because there's enough of that rat race for my career. And dessert should just be about dessert.
Elements of the chocolate cake for one three-layer 8-inch cake
for frosting 227 g (8 oz) bittersweet (68-72%) chocolate, chopped 2 Tbpsn light corn syrup 43 g (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter 1 cup heavy cream
1. Place the chopped chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in the bowl of a double boiler over simmering water. Heat and stir just until melted. Remove from heat. 2. Meanwhile, heat the cream in a separate pot just until boiling with small bubbles. Remove from heat and stir into the melted chocolate. 3. Let sit and stir occasionally until the chocolate has come to room temperature and is of spreading consistency. (You can speed up the process by putting it in the refrigerator, but make sure to keep a close eye on it and stir it regularly--it will set up and become too hard to spread if left too long in the fridge!)
for cake 600 g sugar 100 g rye flour 100 g whole wheat flour 113 g AP flour 135 g cocoa powder 1 1/2 tspn salt 2 1/4 tspn baking powder 2 1/4 tspn baking soda 3 eggs, at room temperature 150 g coconut oil 1 1/2 cup whole milk 1 1/2 cup hot coffee
for brittle 1 cup sugar 1 cup roasted cacao nibs 1 tspn chocolate salt, or 1 tspn flaked salt