Category Archives: desserts

Tocino de Cielo or Creme de Catalana

creme de catalana or tocino de cielo

I returned from a blissful, 11 day trip to Barcelona (with a two night detour to Budapest, of which I could write a hefty article about) where I ate and danced and lived like a Catalan princess, and skipped almost all the touristic activities that I’d be expected to partake, all in favor of getting a real feel for the city and surrounding towns. Being me, I researched a bit about Catalan food, and as I found myself in excess of 18 egg yolks one day, I sought out various versions of flan and creme brulee and…well, I stumbled on Tocino de Cielo, which, as far as I can tell, is very similar to Creme de Catalana, except it does not have the sugared, flame torched top similar to creme brulee. If you were to add it to this recipe, I believe you’d find yourself with Creme de Catalana.

creme brulee containers white and blue from art & manufacture

A pile of packages awaited me when I got back to San Francisco–among them these amazing creme brulee dishes I ordered from Edith at Art & Manufacture a few months back–telling her there was no hurry at all. I had almost forgotten they were coming and was delighted to unpack them. They made their way into a water bath the very next day, and I’ve used them for yogurt with rose jam and pistachios, Mato y mel and other dairy delights over the last week or so.

tocino de cielo

Tocino de Cielo / Creme de Catalana Recipe

Makes five 5oz dishes

Syrup
1/2 C granulated sugar

In a small pan, heat 1/2 cup sugar over medium-low heat and stirring regularly, until it comes to a medium amber color. It will clump and begin looking moist, and turn fairly quickly to syrup from there. Ensure no grains remain so that it will not crystalize. Remove from heat and divide immediately into one large dish that will hold 25 oz, or into five 6-8oz ramekins.

Custard
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 C water
one large strip orange peel
one large strip lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
hot water, for water bath

In another small pan, combine sugar, water, and citrus peels. Bring to a boil. Using a thermometer, cook until sugar reaches 220F. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove zest strips and stir in vanilla extract.

When syrup is mostly cool, preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, whisk yolks well until color lightens a bit. Whisk in cooled sugar syrup, then strain the mixture into something with a spout or that is easy to pour from. Divide the custard into the ramekins, on top of the cooled (and probably hardened) sugar syrup, leaving a bit of room at the top so you can move the container around easily.

Place ramekins into a shallow baking dish, and place into the oven. Carefully pour hot/just boiled water into the baking pan, until about 2/3rds up the ramekins or container with the custard.

If using small ramekins, less than 6 oz, bake for about 30 minutes. If using one large, shallow container, bake for 40-45 minutes. A sharp knife inserted gently into the center of one of the custards should come out clean, and they should jiggle only very slightly when moved. Do not overcook or they will crack when cooling.

Carefully remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature– do not shock by putting directly into the refrigerator. The slow cooling allows the mixture to maintain a creamy texture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold, before serving. If you used a smooth, easy container, you can invert when serving by moving a warm knife around the edges and inverting the container. I like to serve them as is.

Fennel & Stone Fruit Salad, Tri-tip on Coconut Corn Salad, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Creme Anglais Whipped Cream

Stone Fruit Salad with Cucumber, Bell Pepper, Peaches and Plums

tritip on coconut corn salad

quick flourless chocolate cake with creme anglaise whipped cream

For seven weeks, we’ve had family staying with us. They’re really nice people, interesting, appreciative, but man.. It was rough. I wasn’t conditioned for this. Never in my life did I think I’d have people living effectively in my house for seven weeks in a go. I’ve barely cooked for two months because of it, but the eve before their (very recent) departure (which was followed by 24 hours of blissful retreat in Calistoga), I made a seasonal and tasty multi-course dinner for us all to enjoy. Then, I made it again, a little modified, in Calistoga for our hosts.

Fennel & Stone Fruit Salad Recipe
Serves 4-5 as a starter
Very fast if you have a mandolin! See the mango version here.

1 small head fennel, sliced very thin, with a mandolin
1 white peach, sliced with a mandolin
1 red plum, sliced with a mandolin
1 black plum, sliced with a mandolin
1 large cucumber, cut in half, seeds removed, sliced with a mandolin
1 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, diced
1 T seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
raw sesame seeds to top

Mix it all together, and serve in beautiful messy lumps, like bedhead, with sesame on top.

 

Tri-tip on Coconut Corn Salad with Chard Recipe
Coconut Corn adapted from Heidi Swanson
Serves 4-5

1.5-2lb tri-tip or flank steak*
5 ears corn, kernels sliced off
2 T butter
1 T fresh thyme
1/2 C raw, soaked almonds, chopped
1 very small red onion (1/2 large)
1 C raw, dried flaked coconut (The bigger the better), toasted freshly
4 C torn chard

Sautee on the corn in the butter at high heat, giving it color but retaining crisp texture. Add chard, thyme and some salt to taste. Turn heat off, mix in onion, almonds, and coconut.

Season tri-tip with salt and pepper. Cook on low heat in a closed top grill for about 10 minutes each side. It will be medium.

*You could also choose to make a roast (5 lbs=4 hrs in oven at 250=rare, delicious roast beef) and serve that on top instead, or use flank steak, which you may want to marinade in garlic, whiskey, sesame oil and soy sauce for at least an hour or no more than overnight.

 

Quick Flourless Chocolate Cake with Creme Anglais Whipped Cream
Serves 5-6

No-Bake Chocolate Cake From Heidi Swanson

I made creme anglais the evening before with Gran Marnier Souffle (which photographs terribly!), and had some leftover. I mixed it into whipped cream; it was divine.

Backyard Feast: Fava Beans and Pecorino, Rosewater Fruit Salad

Backyard feast with pecorino and fava beans, rosewater fruit salad, mexican chia crackers, and raw macadamia nut cheese rolled in pistachios

Fava Beans with Pecorino

 

Rosewater Red Fruit Salad

The weather has been wonderful lately, a real treat compared to last year’s never ending “winter” in SF. We’ve been enjoying our backyard and sat out around 3:30pm yesterday to have a little backyard feast after a rough day of household tasks (and, admittedly, the diligent avoidance of all things Bay to Breakers, and the decision to not leave our own property, which has become an annual tradition on the day Bay to Breakers is held; we cannot get that drunk anymore, we are too old). Oh, and to observe the solar eclipse, which made some really neat patterns on our front door and cast an interesting level of clear, bright light onto the whole Golden Gate Park area.

I offered up a civilized bottle of vinho verde, raw macadamia nut cheese rolled in pistachios, raw “Mexican” chia crackers, raw sugar snap peas, rose water fruit salad with raw cashew cream sauce and delicious fava beans with pecorino.

 

Torta Caprese – Italian Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

I spent the weekend on a decongestant induced producivity high (that pseudoephedrine stuff really makes me unable to sit still! Sure clears out the sinuses though) which turned me into a bit of a domestic superwoman– cleaning floors, and bathrooms, and reorganizing my pantry, labeling all of my spices, and fertilizing the garden, and trimming it, and doing laundry, and making a delicious dinner of tri tip, chimichurri sauce + farro with fava beans, and washing/prepping all the produce in my refrigerator (which believe me, was a lot). To boot, I made this cake. And it’s delicious.

Torta Caprese – Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake Recipe
9 ounces (255 g) quality dark chocolate
1 cup (225 g / 2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup (25 g) dark cocoa powder (I scored some Valharona)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups ground almonds*
6 eggs, room temperature

*If you have whole, slivered, or other almonds, and a high powered blender or food processor, please toast your almonds to release the oil/fragrance for about 15 minutes at 310, and then grind into a meal (but not into a butter; you may need to “pulse” instead of blend to achieve this); otherwise, buy almond meal at your grocery.
Preheat an oven to 310°F and line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.
Slowly melt the chocolate and butter over a double-boiler. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), whisk together the melted chocolate mixture, the cocoa powder, almond extract and sugar until combined.
Add the ground almonds and whisk until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
Pour the mixture into the spring form pan.  Make sure the mixture is level and smooth on top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.
A note about oven temperature:  Make sure your oven is not hotter than 310 (or the temperature you intend to maintain through baking) when starting. You will avoid the “muffin top” problem I had by doing so; mine started at 325, so the cake puffed, and then the oven fell to 310, so it then sank, creating a two layered situation on the sides where the heat effected it most. It did take a full 60 minutes at a true 310.
Serving: I’d recommend an unsweetened whipped cream, ice cream if serving the cake warm, and/or creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese with raspberries or fruit of your choice.

Venetian Fritole Recipe (Italian Doughnuts – Fritule)

Venetian Fritole (Italian Doughnuts)

In 2006 I was living in the heart of Florence and attending culinary school. The best class I took was the regional Italian cuisine course with Marcella Ansaldo — we made a few typical dishes from pretty much every region in Italy throughout the semester. One of the recipes was for Fritole – yeast-based Italian doughnuts from Venice, traditionally eaten for Carnivale.

I posted about Fritole back in November of 2006–a few months after returning from Florence. I remade these delicious treats this morning; it is Easter Sunday and it made for a peaceful, tasty breakfast treat for the two of us. It’s a typical day in SF; the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing and it’s somewhere between heavy fog and rain, with a little bit of light poking through. We looked over our wet garden with some good coffee; fritole made the whole thing come together.

Italian Fritole inside

italian fritole with raisins

Note: You can prepare the dough the night before, leaving in a room-temp spot (not warm) overnight. Simply stir/punch down the dough in the morning, and let rise 30 more minutes before frying. It makes brunch a breeze!

Italian Fritole Recipe

1 1/2 C all purpose flour (200 grams) + 1 Tbsp
1/2 C brown sugar (60 grams; can use granulated too)
1 egg
1 packet yeast (8-10grams; fresh brewer’s yeast is great too)
1 C milk, divided (up to 200ml milk; any type)
1/4 C golden raisins (50 grams; can use other types of raisins too)
1/3 C dry sherry (or brandy, whiskey, flat champagne, etc)
1/2 tsp salt (generous three-finger pinch)
high-temp oil like peanut, safflower, or pine nut (most traditional) for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

Optional Ingredients (non-traditional):
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (add with milk) or
1/2 tsp cinnamon/nutmeg (add with flour) or
2 T chopped almonds (add with raisins; you might consider a few drops of almond extract w/ the milk too)

Combine the raisins with the sherry. You can substitute boiling water if needed. Microwave for 1 minute to warm combination and set aside to plump (5-15 minutes). Once plumped, drain the raisins and toss them with 1T flour until nicely dusted.

Warm 1/2 C of milk to about 110 degrees; add 1 tsp brown or regular sugar and stir. Add the yeast (mixture should be warm when adding). Set aside to bloom (at least 10 minutes).

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Whisk well. Use more flour if needed. Add the egg and dusted raisins, stirring gently but not thoroughly with a spoon. Add the bloomed milk mixture and stir until just combined. If the mixture is too dry (it should be sticky but combined, not runny), add more milk as needed, up to 1/2 C more. Cover the dough with saran wrap and let sit 1-2 hours in a warm spot*.

Prepare a large plate with two-three layers of paper towels (a draining rack is ok too, but the towels might remove more oil). Get some chopsticks or heat-resistant tongs ready. Put a light dusting of flour over the top of your batter to make preparation easier.

Heat oil in a wide pan with sturdy sides (like a high sided sauce pan) to medium high heat; the oil should be at least 1.5 inches deep. Once warmed, test a small dot of batter–it should rise to the top immediately and bubble around the batter, but not burn it in the course of a minute**. Using two large spoons, section just-smaller than an egg size scoops and gently place into hot oil. When deep golden brown, flip each doughnut over and cook; remove when evenly colored and cool on paper towels.

Serve with powdered sugar on top.

Makes 15 golf-ball sized fritole. 3 per person is sufficient.

*If the dough sits more than 2 hours, simply stir around to deflate and let rise 30 more minutes. This can be repeated twice if necessary.
**If the doughnuts seem to be cooking too quickly or getting too dark before you can flip them, lower the heat slightly and allow them to cook longer or else they will be gooey inside.