It really did sound like a good idea. Peaches, mascarpone, zabaglione, caramels, tawny port, savoiardi … what could go wrong? A lot, apparently.

Peach Tiramisu

Peaches and Whiskers Blake Tawny Port

First lesson: do not freeze mascarpone cheese. If you find good, imported Italian mascarpone on sale for 75% off because it expires in a week, DO NOT fill half of your freezer with little blue and white tubs to use at a later date. DO buy all you can use in that week, however. Make a tiramisu a day. Make mascarpone/gorgonzola/walnut loaf and spread it on crusty bread for lunch. Hell, put it on your eggs in the morning if you have to, just use it all up before it expires. If you don’t, you’ll spend more time trying to save it when you defrost it than than a fresh tub of imported cheese is worth.

Second lesson: I’m guessing that Italians don’t make peach and caramel tiramisu for a reason. If they’re going to spend all that time making dessert, they’re going to make something edible, such as the real thing. Someone has surely come up with some good variables out there – which is what I was trying to do yesterday – my experiment just didn’t turn out that way.

I started out defrosting peaches I’d plucked last year from a nearby peach farm. Whenever I defrost a quart of sliced peaches, I’m always left with a good 1 to 1.5 cup of peachey liquid. For pies and sauces, I’ll use this “juice” instead of any water the recipe calls for. (Kitchen Tip: If it’s not needed for the recipe at hand, I’ll freeze it in an ice cube tray, perhaps plop a frozen blueberry or two into each cube, and save it for some yummy summery drink, or, preferably, to keep sparkling white wine cool on a too-hot day.) For my peach tiramisu experiment, I used a cup of the peach juice instead of coffee, melted a handful of caramels in it to add flavor and thicken it up a bit, and topped it off with 1/4 cup of Australian tawny port (in place of  the amaretto I use in true tiramisu – though the amaretto would have worked nicely with the peaches too). The concoction tasted good enough to drink — so far so good, I thought, as I poured it over the savoiardi cookies (aka Ladyfingers) — I mean, doesn’t it look like it should have worked?

Peach Tiramisu

Savoirdi (Ladyfinger) Cookies

Peach Tiramisu

Caramels in Peach Juice

Peach Tiramisu

So far so good with the caramel, peach, and port infused savoiardi, right?

Even the zabaglione egg cream thickened up to perfection:

Peach Tiramisu

And that’s where I ran into trouble. You see, frozen mascarpone turns grainy due to its high fat content, and defrosting doesn’t undo the damage. A sample tasted like sweetened sawdust. Once on my tongue, the little globules of hardened cream melted, but I didn’t think cautioning my Mother’s Day guests to retain each bite of dessert in their mouth while the custard turned creamy would work out so well, so I tried to “fix” the mascarpone. First, I beat it with the Kitchen Aid’s beater paddle. Nope. Then the whisk. Still grainy. Tried my hand-held beating wand and found myself teetering in three-strikes-you’re-out territory. Then I laid my eyes on my Vitamix. A-HA! If this beauty could pulverize kale and chard and dandelion greens into velvety green liquid for my breakfast each day, surely it could silken up a tub of grainy mascarpone, couldn’t it?

Apparently not. It tried, though, I’ll certainly give the Vitamix that, and it made sure the entire household knew how hard it was trying by the godawful noise it created while doing it. As I continued shoving the cheese into the blades with the Vitamix-provided tamper, the blender’s valiant effort paid off in still-grainy but potentially edible mascarpone.

Between the beating and the whisking and the Vitamixing, I lost, oh, about an hour trying to save the cheese – a good part of that trying to dislodge it from the blender’s blades. I finally combined the mascarpone with the zabaglione, egg whites and vanilla, spread it on top of my savoiardi cookies, and placed it in the refrigerator to set overnight. Meanwhile, the peach sauce (peaches, peach juice, sugar and corn starch) had cooked to perfection on the stove top.

So last night, after a feast of gourmet pizza (Mom’s request) and spinach salad, I brought out the dessert, placing a nice-sized square in each bowl and topping it with warm peach sauce. The peach sauce was truly fantastic, but the custard was still grainy, and the cookies had disintegrated to mush. One guest outright refused even a taste. Okay… he doesn’t eat dessert often, I can count him out. Another guest didn’t want more than a couple of bites – and he loves his desserts. Four of us ate full servings, but only one said she’d eat it again. (Thanks Mom – always a trooper!)

Maybe we were simply too full. Or maybe the dessert really did turn out that badly. Whichever the case, I will: A.not freeze mascarpone again, and: B. stick to regular tiramisu, at least when preparing for guests.

The good news? I have the rest of that bottle of port to help me get over this travesty!

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Canoodling with Caneles

January 10, 2011

I am in love — with a dessert! Not surprising with my sweet tooth, but I can’t believe I made it four-plus decades and living/traveling on four continents without ever having the pleasure of meeting this lovely French specialty, the Canele.

It’s like creme brulee in a caramelized crust. A magical custard baked in its own dish. Crunchy on the outside. Creamy in the center. Absolutely delicious.

Canele

 

I first came across them at the Oyster and Champagne benefit for Slow Food Eugene that I attended this past summer when I brought a “doggy bag” of them home for my husband. He raved about them for days. I intended to seek out the patisserie that made them — Eugene’s Caramel French Patisserie — but never quite got around to it.  And then, one day, there they were, right in front of me, at the holiday version of the Eugene Farmer’s Market’s. For five weekends of the Holiday Market, I visited the French proprietress, Barbara, and loaded up on multiple packets of these addicting delicacies, and they would all disappear within minutes of my arrival at home. Then the Holiday Market ended, and my husband and I were left going through withdrawals. I started researching recipes immediately.

Talk about overwhelming. There are dozens and dozens of recipes out there. Many of them use the same few ingredients, but the ratios are vastly different, as is the method of preparing the batter. Then there was the slight discrepancy in cooking temperatures and the huge discrepancy in cooking times — from 50 minutes all the way up to two hours — both versions at 400 degrees! Why? I’m guessing it’s because there are a lot of people out there trying to get this just right. I’ve never come across a dessert that has so much history and secrecy (the official recipe is reportedly locked in a vault in Bordeaux). Nor have I come across a dessert that could be so expensive to make! Twenty bucks for a single copper and tin mold at Amazon. !!! Fortunately, there’s a less expensive silicone version. Purists would surely scoff at the idea of using it, but at 1/8 of the price, we decided we could make do — at least until we find ourselves in France again and can import our own copper molds.

All that was left was to pick a recipe and start baking!

canele ingredients

So far, we’ve experimented only twice. Although neither was perfect, they were both a pleasure to consume. First thing we realized is that one silicone mold (8 pastries) would not suffice. The folks at Amazon were happy to oblige.

 

Silicone Canele Mold

Silicone Canele Mold

The ingredients are basic: milk, sugar, eggs, butter, flour, fresh vanilla bean, and rum — the latter being the only thing I didn’t have on hand, so I substituted amaretto. The first recipe I tried called for nearly a cup of butter — so much that the resulting caneles ended up being boiled in butter. Not that that’s an entirely bad thing, it just wasn’t the result we were looking for. We ate them, of course, and enjoyed every bite, but I started sifting through additional recipes online. The next version we tried called for only 3 tablespoons of butter, which worked out well. But it also called for a little less flour, which left the custard a little on the dense and moist side. I also think it could use a whole vanilla bean rather than just a half. And I’d like to have some rum for the next try, but I’ll have to decide whether to go for the 1 tablespoon in some recipes or the 4 tablespoons in others.

I should note that I’m not trying to improve on a centuries-old recipe — especially since I doubt any of the recipes online will perfectly match that secretive concoction. But I do plan on experimenting with versions and tweaking them until I come up with a personal favorite.

One thing I noticed is that the pastries aren’t as tall as they should be (and therefore denser), which I have a feeling is due to the custard not holding to the silicone mold as it bakes as it might on the copper and tin molds. Until I have $300 to invest in the fancy molds, I can deal with dense. On this last batch, I took one tray out of the oven after 80 minutes at 400 degrees (left) and baked the second tray in for the full two hours (right). (Other recipes call for 75 minutes at 375 on convection.)

 

Experimenting with Cooking Times

Experimenting with Cooking Times

My husband preferred the less-cooked version; I preferred the more-cooked, crustier version. Perhaps next time I’ll try somewhere in the middle…

Canele Crust

 

No matter what, all 15 of them went down very, very easily over the course of an afternoon and evening. (Yes, 15 of them, the entire batch, between the two of us! Perhaps we shouldn’t have procured that second mold. I’m writing this morning while exercising off a small portion of the calories from my treadmill desk — 342 calories burned and counting!) We tried them 1/2 an hour out of the oven and again at one hour (supposedly the preferred cooling time).

 

A Tray of Canele

A Tray of Canele

The few that remained after dinner, even though well past that 1-hour “optimum” cooling time, were perfect when paired with a glass of tawny port.

Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port

Needless to say, more experimentation is in order. I’ll gladly sacrifice myself (and my waistline) to this endeavor and eventually post a recipe. In the meantime, if you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a canele or two or three… I highly recommend Caramel in Eugene. (I didn’t see them on her website, so you might call first.) I also read raves online about Ken’s in Portland.

Bon appetit!

Puff Pastry is my Enemy

December 30, 2010

Well, at least my waistline’s enemy. It’s just too darn easy to make beautiful and yummy treats out of the stuff!

But first, my apologies for my absence these past few weeks. I had hoped to find time to post a recipe or two, but the season’s production schedule and sales kept me busy. No complaints, but I’m glad for more free time to play in the kitchen, dig through those drawers, and find long forgotten toys!

Cream-Filled Puff Pastry Horns

Last winter, I bought a couple packages of “cream horn molds” from an outlet kitchen shop. Six metal tubes in each for $2.99. Stuck the things in a drawer and didn’t open them until last week when I decided it would be a lovely idea to experiment for our family’s dessert on Christmas.

Cream Horn Molds

Cream Horn Molds by Norpro

Now, I don’t generally recommend experimenting for large family gatherings, but anything that turns out this wonderful on the first go around gets two thumbs up. With puff pastry, it’s just too hard to go wrong. No time to find these molds? There are a dozen ways to prepare your puff pastry without them; from making two equal-sized circles, cutting out the center of one, and layering it on top of each other; to folding up these triangles.

The hardest part to making these yummy desserts is deciding what to fill them with. I couldn’t decide, so I made three:

  • zabaglione cream (tiramisu filling – mascarpone, eggs, sugar, vanilla), 1/2 batch with only half the eggwhites to make it more dense (1.5 whites to 3 yolks)
  • 1/2 batch easy chocolate mousse with chopped, dried cherries
  • 1/2 batch mocha chocolate mousse (just add espresso)

They’re all simple to make, but they do need to be made at least 4 hours before you use them so they’ll be firm enough to stay where they’re put.  No time? Whip some cream, spoon it into a Ziplock bag, cut a corner off the bag, and squeeeeeeeze into the baked horns. Grate a little dark chocolate on top and you’re golden. Kick it up a notch by adding fresh berries or flavoring your whipped cream with almond or lemon or….

What You’ll Need

  • one or more packages of puff pastry (2 sheets each)
  • cream horn molds or other creative way of making a receptacle for the filling (see “triangles” link above)
  • filling
  • whipped cream for garnish and for filling the very base of the baked horn
  • grated dark chocolate for topping
  • pastry tubes or Ziplocks to disperse the fillings

The Puff Pastry Horns

  • Thaw the dough for 40 minutes, unfold, and smooth with a rolling pin on a lightly floured board.
  • Depending on how many molds you have, each sheet of puff pastry (two sheets per box) can be cut into eight or nine 1″ strips.
  • Squeeze one end of the strip around the point of the mold and twirl the strip around the metal. Lay on a cookie sheet with the end of the strip facing down.
  • Per the instructions on the back of the mold package, let the pastry rest for 1/2 hour between wrapping and baking. We waited on the first batch, didn’t on the second, and didn’t notice any difference. See that  glass of red wine in back of the wrapped molds? Might of had something to do with it. (I highly recommend having one or two of those on hand during this process.)
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Cool for a few minutes (just enough to not melt the fillings), and fill. The Ziplocks weren’t getting the dense chocolate mousse all the way to the bottom of the horn, so we dispensed just enough whipped cream in each one to fill up the point.
  • The zabaglione cream was by far the favorite, but I think the chocolate mousse complimented it well. Whatever you decide on, spoon it into a pastry tube or ziplock (cut off a small corner), flill up the horns, grate some dark chocolate on top, and serve.

Baked and Ready to Fill

Puff Pastry Cream Horns

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Between thawing, wrapping, baking, cooling and filling, it does take a bit of time to make these. Once the dough was thawed, we were filling and serving these to order within 40 minutes. During a large holiday meals, a break between the meal and dessert can be a welcome pause. If you want to serve them right after dinner, the horns can be made ahead of time, although the ones we ate that were still a bit warm were melt-in-your-mouth good. A minute or two under a broiler did the trick for leftover horns. We didn’t have any filled horns leftover, so I can’t tell you whether they’ll store well or not if once they’re filled.

My husband’s one complaint? Why hadn’t we ever made these before! They were such a success, I’m planning on making them for New Year’s Eve. Something tells me they’ll go very well with champagne.

Buon appetito~