Articles in Desserts
For me, nothing marks the passage of time so much as the disappearance of favorite restaurants. The pang for lost restaurants hit me recently when reading from my favorite of Julia Child’s books, “From Julia Child’s Kitchen,” where she comments on a place in Monte Carlo that she and her husband Paul had enjoyed in the post-war period through the 1950s.
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She confesses to “almost weeping over the end-of-an-era elegance of the room, with its string orchestra hidden in a balcony, its marble columns, its gilt encrustations everywhere, its flocks of frock-coated waiters, and its diners in evening dress.” When she returned some years later, the historic restaurant had been replaced by a rooftop eatery lacking in atmosphere. Because she avoided sentimentality and was inclined to focus on the present rather than the past, Julia accepted the loss of that restaurant stoically, saying, “it is useless to cry over lost loves.”
While I admire her for being so philosophical about the disappearance of a memorable eating place, I, on the other hand, tend to mope when my favorite restaurants are gone. I miss those vanished places that held great memories for me or simply were convenient and enjoyable spots where I mingled with friends. Everyone, I guess, feels the loss of favorite places, but for me the bygone restaurants in Harvard Square have had the greatest impact. The ordinary passage of time leads to change, so restaurants close because owners cannot meet the costs of rising rents or they simply retire and move on. Picturesque haunts where students and locals mingled, sometimes for many decades, are often replaced by generic and boring chain restaurants.
When I first started working near Harvard Square, I used to go to a place where for a couple of dollars I could get poached eggs on a muffin (or, in the New England vernacular, “dropped eggs”). They came with corned beef hash and a large cup of coffee. And later in the day one could get corned beef and cabbage (aka “New England boiled dinner”) or liver and onions. The worn-out linoleum floor made clear that this was a humble place for hungry people who might be Harvard students, faculty, staff, or the janitors who eased everyone’s lives. The place couldn’t last and it didn’t.
Gone, but not forgotten
The most recent victim of high rents is the Casablanca Restaurant, for years the Harvard Square go-to place to meet friends for drinks and perhaps a mezze plate loaded with hummus, olives, salads, and slices of flatbread. Its Mediterranean theme was carried out not only by a menu of deep-flavored dishes filled with Middle Eastern spices and olive oil, but on walls filled with murals depicting characters from the much-loved film, “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. That film is shown annually at a local theater, a tradition with a following so cult-like that famous lines in the film are recited in unison by the audience. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” we say along with Bogart when he catches sight of Bergman, with whom he has a past, entering his establishment. These days, former denizens of the Casablanca Restaurant are missing that joint terribly.
The Wurst Haus is another place that had a long history. It was a German restaurant with an extensive beer menu, and as one online wag put it, “The great thing about the Wurst Haus was that everyone could wear a plaid jacket, horn-rimmed glasses, smoke a pipe and not get beat up.” Harvard professors, pseudo-intellectuals and plain old beer-lovers mingled in an atmosphere of dark-paneled walls and sloping floors in the false security that what had been around for decades would always be around. But, in the 1990s, meat-laden and sometimes greasy German food had given way to the lighter menus expected by a more health-conscious public, thus dooming the Wurst Haus.
This change in public taste may explain the disappearance of Jack and Marion’s, a beloved delicatessen in Brookline, Mass., that gave pleasure to many with its huge menu filled with every single Eastern European Jewish dish in existence, not to mention oversized desserts. Though it closed in 1971, people are still talking about it. They shake their heads sadly, and compare it to other delis in the area that have since moved in, but none can measure up to a place that has assumed mythic qualities.
Sentimental for ice cream
Children are also affected by the disappearance of favorite places. Boston-area kids used to go to a place called Chadwick’s, an old-timey ice cream parlor best known for birthday celebrations. Waiters would ring bells, bang drums and sing loudly to honor the birthday boy or girl who would receive free ice cream that day. And apart from its birthday ceremonies, Chadwick’s was known for its “Belly Buster” sundaes, a mammoth bowl filled with 18 scoops of ice cream that would be delivered to your table on a stretcher.
And speaking of long-gone ice cream parlors, I still think about Bailey’s, a combination ice cream parlor and candy store, where sundaes were served in old-fashioned silver dishes set on silver plates. An abundance of hot fudge was poured on so that it would spill onto the plates, putting you into a quandary as to where to first put your spoon. Bailey’s was close to my office, so I could drop by on days when someone had been mean to me and find solace in a hot fudge sundae. In truth, I was known to show up even when everyone had been nice. The demise of Bailey’s is a painful loss, and to console myself I have tried to recreate its hot fudge sauce, attempting several recipes said to be the real thing, and this is the one that works for me.
Hot Fudge Sauce
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup cocoa
¾ cup sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1. Melt chocolate and butter in small saucepan over low heat.
2. Sift cocoa into pan, add sugar and thoroughly mix.
3. Add evaporated milk, vanilla and salt and stir constantly. Sauce will thicken quickly, usually after just 3 minutes of stirring.
If not used immediately, the sauce stores well in the refrigerator and should be warmed up before pouring over ice cream.
Top photo: A sundae with hot fudge sauce recreated from Bailey’s. Credit: Barbara Haber
Summer Sundays, my mother, who hated the kitchen, would take down a box of Jell-O from the cupboard and declare “Jell-O time,” to the delight of my sister and me. We loved Jell-O. It wiggled and it wobbled, sometimes falling off the spoon but always making us smile. Mom loved Jell-O too, but more because it was convenient and let her make quick desserts. This was especially important when the weather was warm; less time in the kitchen meant more time for the three of us at the beach or camping out under the maple in the back garden and reading (while Dad happily made supper).
Mom had two favorite ways of “preparing” Jell-O for dessert: with canned fruit suspended in it or with canned milk beaten into the Jell-O when it was almost set. She also had two favorite ways of topping it: with a spoonful of Cool Whip (yum) or with a layer of custard made by adding milk to a few teaspoons of orange-colored powder that came from a can (less yum to me, as I never ceased to annoy her by excavating the shimmering layer and abandoning the custard).
Jellied desserts have always been popular, but in recent years they have experienced a renaissance. Yet despite different tastes and presentations, the enduring qualities of gelatin remain; it wiggles and it wobbles, and it makes you smile.
History of jellied desserts
Jellied desserts have long had their allure.
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Sweet jellies were important in Tudor and Stewart feasts. When not dispatching wives and involved in other nefarious things, Henry VIII delighted guests with gilded rosewater jelly at Garter Banquets (the Order of the Garter was the highest order of chivalry in England, dedicated to England’s patron saint, St. George). Such jellies were status symbols because sugar was so expensive and only available to the wealthy.
Renaissance chefs created molded masterpieces such as castles and fortresses for their wealthy patrons, and later, in the 19th century, molded jellies were all the rage again. Making them, like making any jelly before commercialized gelatin was invented, was time-consuming because bones had to be boiled and the liquid clarified and cooled to make the gelatin.
Fruit jellies that focused on the flavor of the fruit became popular in the 20th century. In her book “Kitchen Essays” (1922), a compilation of the essays she wrote for the London Times newspaper, Lady Agnes Jekyll writes, “For sweets, nothing is nicer than this specially good Orange Jelly … soft and shapeless, of the color of a blood orange, and really tasting of the fruit.”
Commercialization of gelatin
The first commercial gelatin came in sheets that required a long soaking before use, but in 1889, Charles B. Knox of Johnstown, N.Y., developed a method of granulating gelatin. In doing so, he turned gelatin into an easy-to-use ingredient that the home cook (not my mom) could turn to for fancy desserts.
That same year, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, N.Y., sold his formula for Jell-O to Orator Frank Woodward. Two years earlier, Wait had come up with the fruit-flavored dessert, and his wife, May, gave it its now iconic name.
After Knox died in 1908, his wife, Rose, set up a test kitchen and developed recipes — printed on Knox gelatin packages and in cookbooks — for the home cook. The recipes also appeared in newspapers and magazines under the heading “Mrs. Knox Says.”
The marketers of Jell-O, also wanting to show how versatile their product was and created free recipe booklets; one booklet had a printing of 15 million copies.
Making jellied desserts
Although jellied desserts are not difficult to make, the wrong ingredient or misjudging the strength of the gelatin may leave you with a sweet, slightly thickened “drink.”
Avoid using fresh pineapple because it contains bromelain, a chemical with protein-digesting enzymes that break down the gelatin’s protein links, resulting in the gelatin not setting. Because heating the enzymes inactivates them, canned pineapple (heated during canning) won’t ruin a jellied dessert. (When Mom wanted to make a special dessert for company, she combined lemon Jell-O, whipped cream and canned pineapple; once, though, she substituted fresh pineapple and had to serve “lemon Jell-O soup” at the end of the meal, much to her chagrin.)
Alcohol can also affect gelatin’s setting properties, but experimenting with the amount of gelatin in a recipe that calls for alcohol can overcome this problem. If using alcohol, consider light and sparkling wines paired with seasonal fruit and present in lovely dishes or wine glasses.
Non-alcoholic jellies can be made in different colors and layered in molds that will delight children, or let each color of jelly set in a glass pan and then cut it into different shapes and arrange on plates.
Perhaps we are all children at heart when it comes to jellied desserts. They wiggle and they wobble and they still make us smile.
Sparkling White Wine Jelly With Blueberries and Strawberries
This beautiful and simple dessert has the added sweetness of fresh berries.
3 cups sparkling white wine
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¾ cup white granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup fresh blueberries (wash, pat dry and leave whole)
½ cup washed and hulled strawberries (pat dry and slice thinly)
1. Pour 1 cup of wine into a small bowl and sprinkle the three envelopes of gelatin over it. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
2. Place sugar in a small saucepan, add ½ cup water and bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 1 minute and then pour over the gelatin-wine mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin.
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat slowly until the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and add the remaining wine.
4. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl, cover and refrigerate until it has thickened enough to add the berries (1½ to 2 hours).
5. Gently stir the berries into the thickened jelly and divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes. Chill until set.
6. Serve with whipped cream.
Rosé wine makes a lovely pink jelly in which to suspend jewel-toned fruit.
For a more tart dessert, substitute cranberries for the blueberries and strawberries. Add ½ cup fresh and washed cranberries to the sugar and water mixture. Dissolve the sugar slowly and when the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes, then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
For an opaque dessert, whip ⅓ cup whipping cream until stiff and fold into the thickened jelly when you add the berries, then pour into serving dishes and chill until set.
For a non-alcoholic dessert, substitute 3 cups of fruit punch for the wine and then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
Top photo: A gelatin fruit salad. Credit: iStockPhoto
There are, say, half a dozen main kinds of cake, but the range of frostings is theoretically unlimited. I’ve been experimenting with Asian flavor ideas. I’ve made pomegranate frosting and topped it with candied walnuts, swiping a flavor idea from the Iranian dish fesenjan, and I’ve used cardamom and saffron, a combination used in a number of Indian desserts.
And I love Thai food, so violà: ginger-lemongrass-coconut frosting. (Because the Thais use coconut as raw coconut milk, I ignore about my otherwise iron-clad rule of toasting coconut before using it in this recipe.) It’s an eye-opener, fresh and elegant.
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The whole point of this frosting is to emphasize the flavors of the fresh ingredients. Ginger poses no particular problem because you can get ginger root in many supermarkets these days, and all you have to do is grate it. Then you strain out the juice and you’re in business.
Lemongrass is more of a chore, even when you can get it fresh. It’s nicely fragrant (in fact, one variety of lemongrass is used as a mosquito repellent under the name citronella) but the stalks are extremely fibrous, almost woody. It’s a fool’s errand to use a grater or even a mortar on it. For this, we have food processors. It goes without saying that when shopping for lemongrass, you should choose the freshest, least dry stalks, but you’ll have to make do with whatever the market carries.
Some shoppers may find another option, because recently some supermarkets have started carrying puréed ginger and puréed lemongrass in plastic squeeze tubes. One brand name to look for is Gourmet Garden. This is typically sold in a cold case alongside the packaged salads and refrigerated sauerkraut. To use these in this recipe all you have to do is press the purées in a fine sieve until you have enough juice.
If you don’t have access to lemongrass of any description, you can make an excellent frosting by substituting ¼ teaspoon lime zest and maybe some lime juice to taste.
There is obviously a world of exotic flavors out there. Still, though I try to keep an open mind, I don’t think I’ll try curry frosting anytime soon, basically because of the cumin, and scratch chili off my to-do list. I’ve experimented with making this frosting with fresh galangal (called kha in Thai) in place of the ginger, and I didn’t like it. Galangal is a cousin of ginger with a more pungent and distinctive flavor, but it proved way too pungent, almost mustardy. With that in mind, I’m tentatively scratching honey-mustard off my to-do list as well.
But ranch dressing flavor? I don’t know, maybe. I’ll get back to you on that.
Thai Coconut Cake
Serves 8 to 12
For the cake:
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter plus about ¼ cup, softened
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
1. Generously rub the insides of 2 (9-inch) cake pans with the ¼ cup of softened butter, then dust with 2 tablespoons of flour and shake out the excess.
2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the vanilla to the milk.
3. Beat the butter until light, about 3 minutes, then gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating 20 seconds after every addition.
4. Add 1 cup of the dry mixture and beat at medium speed just until the flour is incorporated, coaxing the flour into the mixture with a flexible scraper. Add ½ of the milk and do the same. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk. Stir up from the bottom with a scraper to make sure the mixture is uniform and beat at medium speed for a couple of seconds.
5. Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. The total weight of the batter is 50 ounces, so each layer should weigh 1 pound 9 ounces (if you include the weight of the cake pans, that will be 2 pounds 5 ounces). Bake at 350 F until the tops are golden brown all over and spring back if lightly touched, and the layers are starting to pull away from the sides.
6. Remove the pans from the oven and set them on racks to cool for 10 minutes. Overturn the pans and remove from the layers, then set the layers right side up again and leave until cool, about ½ hour, before frosting.
For the frosting:
1½- to 2-inch length of fresh ginger
5-6 stalks of lemongrass
1 tablespoon vodka
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites
2½ to 3 cups shredded or flaked coconut
Optional: 1-2 drops green food coloring, 3-4 drops yellow food coloring
1. If you can find ready-puréed ginger and lemon grass, press them through fine sieves to get ¼ to ½ teaspoon juice each. If you can’t find the ready-puréed kind, follow this procedure using the first three ingredients: Grate the ginger and strain enough to get ¼ to ½ teaspoon juice. Chop the lower, whitish part the lemongrass stalks into ¾-inch lengths and process them in the food processor (checking the blades from time to time to make sure that they haven’t gotten fouled and are still running free) until it looks like lawnmower clippings with no solid chunks, about 3-4 minutes. Add the vodka and process a few seconds longer, then sieve out as much liquid as you can. Set the juices aside.
2. Place the sugar, salt, cream of tartar, water, corn syrup and egg whites in the top of a double boiler and beat until foamy.
3. Pour 3 or 4 cups of water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring it to a boil over high heat. When it is at full boil, set the top of the double boiler over it and beat continuously with a hand-held mixer at top speed (about 12 minutes) until the beaters form deep sculptural folds in the frosting, the sheen has begun to fade, and the frosting forms firm peaks when the beaters are removed.
4. Remove the top of the double boiler and beat the frosting at high speed off heat for 1 minute. Beat in the ginger and lemongrass juices to taste. If you want to alert diners that this is not ordinary coconut cake, add food colorings to taste.
1. Set one cooled cake layer upside down on a serving plate. Using no more than ¼ of the frosting, frost the top of the layer and sprinkle with 1 cup of the coconut.
2. Set the other layer over this, right side up (flat side down), and cover the cake with the rest of the frosting. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut over the top of the cake and pat it onto the sides.
Thai coconut cake with lemongrass and ginger. Credit: Charles Perry
Canadian bakers hold the butter tart in the same esteem as their American counterparts hold the apple pie. Both are icons of their respective nations. Although, admittedly, some may disagree with the belief that the butter tart is a Canadian classic, no less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus: “noun – Canadian: a tart with a filling of butter, eggs, brown sugar, and, typically, raisins.”
Of course, we in the Colonies long ago dispensed with the need to have Mother England’s approval, but a vote of confidence from the Oxford is never a bad thing.
Neither is a butter tart.
Butter tarts a distinctly Canadian treat
It’s an English Canadian relative of the French Canadian sugar pie (tarte au sucre). For both, butter is a vital ingredient, although the tarte au sucre uses maple syrup instead of brown sugar.
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One of the first recipes for butter tarts appeared in “The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook.” This fundraising cookbook was published in 1900 in Barrie, Ontario. It included a recipe for a “filling for tarts,” which was submitted by Mrs. Malcolm (Mary) MacLeod, according to Bruce Beacock, the archivist of the Simcoe County Archives, which houses a copy of the cookbook.
Later, in 1908, the “Vogue Cook Book,” published by the Toronto Daily News, included a butter tart recipe from Mrs. G.M.B. of Toronto, and three years after that, the “Canadian Farm Cook Book” included six recipes for butter tarts.
Today, serious Canadian bakers are bound to have their own butter tart recipe, handed down from their great-aunt or their mother or clipped from a magazine and tweaked to the baker’s own taste.
My butter tart recipe came from my father and needed no tweaking. Everyone who tried his butter tarts agreed they were the best they’d ever eaten.
Dad had been a baker since he was 10 years old, when he took over kitchen duties because his mother was confined to bed for a year. Since he was too easygoing to object, his siblings consigned him to the kitchen so they wouldn’t get stuck there themselves. Although at first he wasn’t any more enthusiastic about cooking and baking than they were, he quickly surprised himself by growing to love his new job, particularly baking, which became his passion.
The cakes and pies of his youth were eventually joined by French pastries rich with cream and fruit, chocolate tarts that looked (almost) too beautiful to slice and macarons (a Saturday afternoon adventure long before they became a food trend) that shone like jewels and tasted like ambrosia.
The truth is, a blasphemous thing to admit, for sure, I didn’t much care for butter tarts until my father started making his. There were so many other delights to choose from, and the butter tarts my aunts and grandmothers made, while nice, were nothing special; but with the first batch of Dad’s butter tarts, I changed my mind.
He hadn’t been interested in making them until a package of store-bought butter tarts, with pastry like cardboard and filling like glue, so embarrassed him — they had been eaten by friends who dropped over for coffee — that he headed into the kitchen, got out his yellow ware bowl and began measuring the ingredients for pastry: flour, salt, lard, vinegar and water.
After the pastry had rested for a while, he took the wooden rolling pin with its faded red handles (a shower gift my mother happily passed on to him), and gently rolled out the pastry, cut circles with a juice glass, and after fitting them into the tart pan, crimped the edges with his finger and thumb.
While the pastry chilled in the refrigerator, he turned to the filling — which any butter-tart baker or butter-tart eater will tell you is the most vital part of the whole thing — and assembled the requisite butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, raisins and pinch of salt.
The aroma of the baking tarts made me swoon. We crouched in front of the oven door and watched the liquid bubble while the crust turned golden.
After allowing the butter tarts to cool for as long as I could stand, I bit into my first perfect dessert. The filling was still a bit too warm; it slipped down my chin and onto my fingers. When I’d finished the tart — leaning over the counter and devouring it in four gooey bites — I licked the filling from my fingers. This is still the proper way to eat a butter tart (although it’s important to let it cool enough that you don’t burn your tongue, your chin or your fingers).
I smiled, he nodded, the French pastries were delegated to second choice and my love affair with a Canadian classic began.
Dad’s Butter Tarts
Makes 12 tarts
For the pastry:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold lard
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the filling:
⅓ cup melted unsalted butter
½ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
¾ cup raisins
For the pastry:
1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut the lard into the flour until it is in pea-sized pieces.
2. In a measuring cup, stir together the water and vinegar. Using a fork, stir only enough liquid into the mixture to bind the ingredients. (Note: You might need more water, depending upon how the dough comes together and the time of year.) Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Have ready a 12-cup tart pan.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about ⅛ inch. Using a 4-inch diameter round cutter (or a juice glass), cut out 12 circles. Fit each circle into a cup in the pan. Place the pan into the refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
To assemble the tarts:
1. Divide the raisins among the 12 tart shells. Spoon the filling evenly into the shells.
2. Bake until the filling is browned on top and the pastry is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pan and eating.
Top photo: Butter tarts. Credit: Sharon Hunt
Winter citrus is as natural as can be, even though it seems like the fruit ought to be showing up in summer. Mingled among the honey tangerines, Satsuma mandarins and bags of trademarked Cuties is an unusual cross, the minneola. It’s a combination of the mandarin tangerine and a grapefruit.
The skin of the minneola is dark orange and nubby. Not perfectly round, its stem end tapers into a shape resembling a nipple. Minneola juice is darker than orange or tangerine juice. Its taste is rich but not very acidic.
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I love using minneola juice in lots of things, such as for deglazing liquid for braised pork chops or chicken. My favorite recipe is an old-fashioned frozen soufflé. The recipe calls for several specialized cooking techniques, including making custard, using gelatin, and folding egg snows and whipped cream together.
For perfect custard bases, use a double boiler, preferably one that is enamel-coated and heavy enough to provide some protection to yolk-based mixtures. To avoid curdling, do not overheat custards. Curdling is an irreversible condition in which yolks are heated beyond their coagulation point.
Be sure to keep a strainer on hand. If by chance lumps form, strain them immediately. Do not return the custard to the heat.
Overbeaten egg whites are the downfall of many a soufflé. In cold soufflés, properly beaten whites act as a binder, while hot soufflés would not rise without them. Eggs separate more easily when they’re cold, but for the most volume, beat whites after they’ve come to room temperature. Wait until some foaming has set in before beginning to add sugar in a trickle.
Cold soufflés like this one usually contain whipped cream. This, too, should not be overbeaten. Nor, for that matter, should whipped cream be over-folded into a soufflé base. If, after folding for some time, tiny lumps of white still remain, let them show. And instead of using a rubber spatula for folding, try a wooden spatula. It’s got drag that pulls the mixture along, making it likely you’ll need fewer strokes.
Best of all, a cold soufflé is a make-ahead dish. Store in the freezer, then withdraw at the end of a dinner party, ready to go. Decorate with optional whipped cream flowers and candied pieces of minneola peel, remove the collar and dessert is served.
Frozen Minneola Soufflé
2 tablespoons gelatin
¼ cup water
About 7 minneolas
1 tablespoon finely minced minneola zest
1½ cups strained, fresh-squeezed minneola (or tangerine) juice
6 eggs, separated (you will need 6 yolks and 4 egg whites)
¾ cup sugar
⅔ cup additional sugar, divided
1¼ cups heavy cream
Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
Candied minneola peel for garnish (recipe below)
1. In a small bowl, stir the gelatin in the water. Set aside.
2. Take zest off about three minneolas using a 5-hole zester, or by scraping minneolas on the finest side of a box grater, or use a planer, until you have 1 tablespoon. Juice enough minneolas, straining the juice, until you have 1½ cups juice. Set zest and juice aside.
3. To make the minneola base, separate the yolks, reserving 4 egg whites. Beat the yolks and the ¾ cup sugar on high speed until pale yellow and thick, about 2 minutes. Transfer the yolks to the top of a double-boiler. Add softened gelatin, stirring until combined. Cook over simmering water until hot and thick, about 20 minutes.
4. With a rubber spatula, scrape this custard into a large bowl. Whisk in the zest and minneola juice, combining thoroughly. Chill, uncovered, stirring two or three times, until base begins to gel, about 1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, butter a 6-cup soufflé dish. Make a collar of a folded length of wax paper or parchment paper. Butter the collar. Wrap this collar around the soufflé dish, secure with tape, then tie tightly with string. Sprinkle inside the dish and up the collar with granulated sugar.
6. Beat egg whites until foamy. Trickle in half the remaining sugar (⅓ cup) while continuing to beat whites to stiff peaks. Fold whites into gelled minneola base. Return to refrigerator.
7. Beat the cream, gradually adding the remaining ⅓ cup sugar until cream forms stiff peaks. Fold cream into soufflé base.
8. Scrape soufflé mixture into prepared soufflé dish. Freeze 4 hours or overnight. Snip string and peel off collar. Decorate with whipped cream piped from a star tip. Sprinkle with candied minneola peel.
Candied Minneola Peel
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar, plus more for dusting
1. With a sharp knife, gently scrape away white pith from peels of minneolas. Cut peels lengthwise into thin strips, then into small squares.
2. In a small pot, bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.
3. Add peel. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Scoop pieces of sugared peel out of the pot with a small strainer to a sheet of wax paper. Roll warm peel in additional sugar for a light dusting.
You can make these a day ahead and store cooled candied peel in a small bowl covered with wax paper.
Minneola frozen soufflé. Credit: Elaine Corn
Late winter is usually a somber time in the garden. But in Southern California, it’s citrus season — bringing a combination of riotous color and flavor intensity that cannot be matched any other time of the year. Whether it’s the heady fragrance of smooth-skinned Meyer lemons or the ruby red intensity of Moro blood oranges, citrus gives winter something to celebrate.
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While a simple emulsion of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice with olio nuovo is divine on salad, I went in search of decadent and found it with the help of my new BFF in the kitchen, a Vitamix blender. Pressing one button and waiting six minutes results in a custard that is pure silk — whether the final outcome is slightly chilled and mounded into an awaiting tart shell or lightly frozen and scooped onto a pool of raspberry coulis.
I’ve made plenty of custards in my day, laboriously stirring egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler, ever watchful of impending lumps while adding juice and butter.
But the Vitamix rocked my little world, and I embarked on a grand and glorious tour of possibilities. The first stop was this Meyer lemon olive oil custard – or curd, as some would call it.
The key to the recipe is to use any blender whose blades can generate enough friction heat to gently cook the mixture quickly. The thermometer reading when I completed the cycle topped off at 170 F, plenty of heat to fully cook the eggs and plenty of speed to whisk the ingredients together in a remarkably smooth finish.
But the best benefit of this blender technique might be that the controlled low temperature and fast processing time could preserve the key health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. I went straight to the best source in California to confirm my suspicions.
“Exposure to light, oxygen and excessive heat deteriorates the natural antioxidants of extra virgin olive oil and removes some of its healthy benefits,” says Selina Wang, research director of the UC Davis Olive Center. “Using the freshest oil and keeping the cooking temperature and time to a minimum help to preserve the polyphenols and antioxidants without the risk of oxidation, which breaks down olive oil’s nutrients and flavor.”
As for its taste, I shared my lemon curd with Zester Daily co-founders Corie Brown and Chris Fager when I joined them for lunch, smuggling a purse-sized cooler into a swanky restaurant. They both agreed it topped the mark for creamy and lemony, but it was the mysterious hint of a different kind of tartness, an herb-like, grassy lemon verbena flavor, that finally gave away this custard’s secret ingredient.
6-Minute Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Custard
Makes 6 servings
This versatile custard can be served warm in a cocktail glass as a satin finish to a special dinner, chilled in a tart shell with a garnish of fresh fruit and whipped cream, or frozen and scooped like gelato. Just let it rest for 10 minutes before serving to reach optimum consistency.
3 whole eggs, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup Meyer lemon juice, strained
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably fresh olio nuovo
1. Place all ingredients but the olive oil in a high-speed blender (must be capable of generating frictional heat above 160 F).
2. Turn the blender on to its highest setting and process for 4 minutes.
3. While continuing to run on high speed, pour in the olive oil and blend for an additional 90 to 105 seconds until you can see the custard firming up on the sides.
This recipe was created using the Vitamix Professionial Series 750, using its “hot soup” programmed cycle. It can be replicated by setting the blender at its top speed and running for a total process time of 5 minutes 45 seconds.
The custard can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for longer storage. When defrosted, it will return to the same creamy consistency as when fresh.
Top photo: Lemon curd in a pastry shell. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
Cultures all around the world have rejuvenating herbal tonics, taken to strengthen and support the body. Think of the spring tonics our grandparents knew and swore by. A number of these elixirs are also aphrodisiacs, employed to arouse our emotions and feelings of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, what better time to give them a try?
Botanical aphrodisiacs are often highly-prized and costly (ginseng, for example), but the romantic cocktails, cupcakes and sorbet (we got inventive!) below call for five main ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available in the U.S.
Aphrodisiac list to remember
Each has a cultural tradition of promoting health and well being while also supporting libido: Ashwagandha, native to India; damiana, found in Central and South America; horny goat weed from China; maca from Peru; and schisandra from China. All can be obtained as organic dried herbs or powders from Starwest Botanicals. Many are also available from Frontier Coop. Organic fairly-traded Ayurvedic herbs can be found at Banyan Botanicals, and if you’d like to try growing any of these plants yourself, Horizon Herbs can supply seeds.
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You may be inspired to try these treats for Valentine’s day but remember they can be enjoyed any time, alone or with a partner. Here’s to health and pleasure!
Evening Energizing Cocoa
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, a relative of the tomato, is one of the most important tonic and restorative herbs in Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life and medicine. In India, ashwagandha root is traditionally boiled in milk as a drink. It has a slightly bitter taste, so we like to combine it with cocoa to make a relaxing and restorative evening drink, adding the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate to that of the ashwagandha.
½ to 1 teaspoons ashwagandha powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1 cup milk or almond milk per person
10 drops vanilla essence
honey or maple syrup to taste
1. Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and bring just to the boil, then remove from heat.
3. Add in the vanilla and sweetener to taste.
* * *
Damiana Iced Tea
Damiana, Turnera diffusa, is a tonic herb found in Texas, Central America and tropical parts of South America. Damiana is a tonic for both sexes, balancing hormones and supporting the nervous system as well as increasing libido.
2 heaped teaspoons damiana
1 heaped teaspoon mint
some rose petals
1. Put ingredients into a jug.
2. Pour boiling water on them, brew for 5 minutes.
3. Strain and chill.
4. Serve over ice.
* * *
Horny Goat Weed Liqueur
Horny goat weed, or Epimedium, is an herb worth trying for the name alone. It is grown as ground-cover plant in dry shade, and the species used as aphrodisiacs are Epimedium grandiflorum, E. sagittatum and E. brevicornum. The leaves, which can be used fresh or dried, have a pleasant mild taste and a mild stimulant effect.
Makes about two weeks’ supply for one person.
A handful of dried horny goat weed leaves
A slice or two of orange
3 or 4 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon brown sugar
About a cup of whisky
1. Loosely fill a jam jar (roughly ½ pint size) with the dry ingredients
2. Pour in enough whisky to fill the jar and submerge the contents.
3. Put the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks then strain and bottle.
4. Enjoy a small liqueur glassful, sipped slowly, as and when you wish.
* * *
Maca Cupcakes With Vanilla Fudge Icing
Maca, Lepidium meyenii, looks a bit like a turnip and is a staple in the high Andes. Its strengthening and hormone balancing benefits are cumulative over long periods, though some people find it immediately stimulating. The powder smells like butterscotch, but blander and with a slightly bitter taste. Maca can be added to porridge, breads and cakes. Our favorite maca recipe is for these cupcakes. Matthew loves the combination of hard, sweet icing, a soft, light cake and sensuous strawberry melting in the mouth.
Makes 10 to 12 cupcakes
Ingredients for cupcakes
½ tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon corn syrup or honey
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup milk or oat milk
1 cup white flour
2 tablespoons maca powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
½ teaspoon baking soda
1. Warm vinegar, corn syrup, butter and sugar together in a pan.
2. When softened, beat until mixture becomes a creamy batter.
3. In another container, mix milk, flour and maca powder.
4. When well blended into a runny batter, pour over the cake batter.
5. Mix the two batters together to form a semi-liquid mixture.
6. Pour into 10 or 12 muffin cases.
7. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through.
8. Cool, and add icing, as below.
Vanilla Fudge Icing
For 10 or 12 cupcakes
1 teaspoon butter
1½ cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 small, very ripe strawberries
1. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and stir continually until it reaches boiling point.
3. Continue cooking until the mixture arrives at the soft ball stage (115 C, 240 F).
4. Cool a little, add vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
5. Spread on the cup cakes.
6. If the icing gets too stiff, warm it over hot water.
7. Decorate the top of each cupcake with a small, very ripe strawberry while the icing is still soft.
* * *
Schisandra Syrup and Sorbet
Schisandra, Schisandra chinensis, berries are the fruit of a Chinese vine in the magnolia family and are known as “five flavor berries” for their complex taste. Besides their aphrodisiac effect, they promote overall health and vitality, improve memory and concentration and help protect the liver, support the endocrine system and act as a powerful antioxidant.
Ingredients for syrup
1 cup schisandra berries
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1. Put schisandra berries into a pan.
2. Add the water and simmer gently with the lid on for 30–40 minutes.
3. This stage is complete when the berries have given their brown-black color to the water.
4. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
5. When almost cool, put in blender and blend for a few moments.
6. Strain through a sieve.
7. Add sugar, and bring to a boil, cooking for a couple of minutes longer.
8. Allow to cool, giving a rich syrup
Ingredients for sorbet
1 cup schisandra syrup (as above)
Juice of 2 or 3 oranges, freshly squeezed
1 ripe banana
1. Mix the syrup and orange juice.
2. Peel and slice the banana and freeze it.
3. When frozen or nearly frozen, add the banana to the syrup mix.
4. Beat with a hand blender until creamy, then freeze again.
5. Serve in a chilled dish.
Top photo: Ashwaganda. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal
During my eight years in Taiwan, I learned to adore Chinese food in all its permutations. One sweet snack I loved in particular would start showing up in the local pastry shops as Chinese New Year rolled around. This was the only time when squares of sachima could be eaten in a perfectly fresh state, the strips of fried dough collapsing at each bite, the syrup still gooey and luscious, the raisins sweet and tender.
I had been told that these were traditional Beijing treats, and I took that as gospel for a long time. But the name always confused me, as it made no sense in Chinese. Most stores displayed signs that said 沙其馬 shāqímǎ, which literally means “sand his horse” — hardly a mouthwatering image. So I started looking into this, and the more I looked, the weirder things got.
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The chef went on to relate a shaggy-dog story about a General Sa who had a penchant for yummy desserts and riding horses, and who was stationed in Guangdong province during the Qing dynasty. The general commanded his cook to prepare a different sweet for him whenever he returned from hunting on horseback. One day the cook fell behind, and by the time his boss had gotten back, he still hadn’t prepared the requisite confection, so he poured some honey over deep-fried noodles, cut them into squares and served the dessert to the general. The officer was delighted. But the cook, grumbling in the back of the kitchen, was heard to mutter, 殺那騎馬的 “Shā nà qímāde.” Loosely translated, it means “[I'd like to] kill that guy on the horse,” but fortunately this was misheard and then interpreted as the name of his new creation, 薩其馬Sà qí mǎ, or “Sa [and] his horse.”
Chinese New Year sweet’s imperial origins
The truth, as it often does, fell straight through the cracks of these tall tales.1 (There at least four more accounts on the origin of sachima, making this a sort of Rashomon of the dessert world.) This sweet actually originated in the Chinese Northeast, in what was once called Manchuria. As the Qing imperial household hailed from this cold area, they brought the treats they loved to Beijing when they arrive to rule over what became China’s last imperial dynasty. However, this didn’t explain the name. I kept digging, but soon wished I hadn’t.
You see, what I found out from some old Chinese books is that sachima is a Manchurian word whose literal definition is “dog nipples dipped in syrup,” or 狗奶子糖蘸 gǒunǎizi tángzhàn. Not an appealing image by any stretch of the imagination.
To my considerable relief, I later found that “dog nipples” was an old name for a wild Manchurian fruit similar to Chinese wolfberries, also known as goji berries. So, somewhere up the line, this sweet was just dried fruits bound with a syrup, which evolved into the more easily created fried strips of dough which are then dotted with dried fruits and nuts.
And so, after all that, what is the meaning of “sachima” in Chinese? It ends up that this is merely a transliteration of those, um, sugary dog nipples.
This recipe is a combination of traditional Beijing-style eggy puffs tossed with a sticky syrup and a big handful of goji berries, nuts, raisins, and sesame seeds to punctuate it with brilliant colors and a variety of flavors and textures. It is simple to make, a delight to eat, and fortunately, involves no horses being sanded or dogs being molested.
Sachima – 薩其馬 Sàqímǎ
Makes 64 pieces about 1 by 2 inches in size
For the dough:
4 cups pastry or cake flour, divided
¼ teaspoon sea salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Fresh oil for frying (2 cups or so)
For the fruits and nuts:
½ cup goji berries, a.k.a. Chinese wolfberries (see Tips)
½ cup plump raisins
½ cup chopped toasted or fried peanuts, or ¼ cup each chopped peanuts and pumpkin seeds
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
For the syrup:
2 cups maltose (see Tips)
Spray oil as needed
¼ cup filtered water
- Place 3½ cups flour and salt in a medium work bowl and toss them together. Stir in the eggs, make a soft dough and then turn the dough out on a lightly floured board. Knead the dough, adding only as much flour as needed until it is supple and smooth. Form the dough into a ball, cover and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, pour the frying oil into a wok to a depth of about 2 to 3 inches and place the wok on the stove. Measure out the fruits and nuts, reserving 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds for a garnish.
- Measure the maltose by heating the jar of maltose for a minute or two in a pan of hot water or in the microwave until the maltose runs freely. Lightly spray a measuring cup with oil, and then pour the maltose into the cup (see Tips). Immediately pour the still-fluid maltose into a medium saucepan; add the water, as well as the goji berries and raisins so that they can plump up. Bring the syrup to a boil and then let it simmer for about 5 minutes; keep the syrup warm.
- Lightly flour a board and cut the dough into four pieces. Shape each piece into a square and then roll each piece out to a ⅛-inch thickness, dusting the dough with a bit more flour as needed. Use a wide, clean pastry scraper or cleaver to cut each piece in half (no wider than the length of your scraper or knife) and then slice the dough into strips that are also ⅛-inch wide; the length doesn’t matter.
- Heat the oil under the wok over high until a wooden chopstick dipped into it starts to bubble, and then lower the heat to medium-high. Toss a handful of the strips to lightly to shake off most of the flour, and then scatter these gently into the hot oil. Fry the strips until they are puffy and golden brown–adjusting the heat as necessary — and then remove them with a Chinese spider or slotted spoon to a large work bowl. Repeat with the rest of the dough until all of the dough is fried.
- Use the spray oil to lightly spray a 16 x 8-inch square pan and a piece of foil that is a bit larger than the pan. Add the peanuts and sesame seeds to the fried dough. Use a silicone spatula to toss the fried dough as you pour in all of the warm syrup. Keep tossing the dough, scraping up from the bottom where the syrup will like to collect to encourage the dough to absorb some of the syrup while the rest coats each of the strips. Keep tossing and scraping until it becomes difficult to move the spatula.
- Scoop the coated strips out into the waiting pan. Use the spatula to lightly press down on the strips, back and forth, slowly and gently compressing the strips together, and then sprinkle on the reserved tablespoon of sesame seeds while the syrup is still a bit warm and sticky. Lightly press the topping down onto the strips with the spatula, using the oiled foil to protect your hands. Let the sachima come to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.
- When the sachima is firm, turn it out on a cutting board and use a large, sharp knife to cut it into small (1 by 2-inch) rectangles, or even smaller, if you wish. If you are not serving them immediately, wrap each square in plastic, place these in a resealable plastic bag, and keep them refrigerated; serve cold, as this helps to rein in the inherent stickiness. They will stay fresh for weeks, I think, but I can never leave them alone for that long.
- You may cut the recipe in half and use an 8 x 8-inch pan; measure out the half egg by beating it lightly and adding half of it (about 2 tablespoons) to the flour along with the other two eggs.
- The best goji berries are found in busy health food stores or Chinese herbalist shops.
- Maltose, a.k.a. malt sugar, is sold in Chinese grocery stores next to the sugar, usually in white plastic tubs. It appears as an amber-like solid that needs to be heated before it can be measured, so either warm the jar in a pan of hot (not boiling) tap water or heat it with short bursts in the microwave.
- Measure maltose out in a greased cup so the sticky syrup will glide out easily. (This is the only thing I remember from seventh grade home ec class.)
1. According to “Yanjing suishi ji” (燕京歲時記 ), a book about contemporary miscellany by Duncong Fucha, “Sachima are Manchurian pastries made from rock sugar and butter mixed with white flour into a shape like sticky rice that are baked using wood without ash; they are cut into squares and are sweet, rich, and delicious,” which shows that the recipe at that time is a bit different from what is made today. The word he uses for “pastry” – 餑餑 bóbó – is northern Chinese dialect and refers to a variety of pastries and breads. There is also speculation that these might have traveled from Central and South Asia over the Silk Road, since so many sweets there are composed of fried dough drenched in honey syrup.
Top photo: Sachima. Credit: Carolyn Phillips