18 November 2010

Let's Talk Cake

It's been a while since I've posted anything and I think it's time to bring one of the greatest combinations to the blog: chocolate and pears.

Now, this is a combination that you don't see everywhere, so I was incredibly excited to see it on Justine's menu, here in Austin.  While I adore Justine's, their desserts could use some help.  That said, I'm a jerk with desserts if you hadn't guessed that based on my past (albeit few) posts.

So here is a cake that isn't too tough to make and will make people lose their minds.  Trust me.

I make a Jacques Torres chocolate/almond cake for this particular recipe, but in reality, a basic chocolate genoise or any other chocolate cake that you make would work.  The trick is that you don't want a dense cake because once assembled, this thing is going to be like a massive truffle.

Start with almost a full tube of almond paste and a little sugar.  Beat those together until they are well combined.  Slowly add egg yolks (save the whites - they are also used) plus an egg and blend well after each addition (you don't want hunks of almond paste in your cake) and beat until light, fluffy and pale in color.  Set aside.

Then you make a French meringue with the whites and a little sugar.  Once you have stiff peaks you fold the whites into the yolks.  Be very careful to not deflate this!  I find that you are less likely to deflate the batter if you mix with your hands.  Though you will get messy.  

Once all of that is done, fold in sifted chocolate and flour.  Finish by adding a little melted butter.  Because, let's be honest, butter makes everything better.  Then bake it in a buttered and floured pan (I put parchment on the bottom too).  

While that's baking make four pounds of ganache (one quart heavy whipping cream and two pounds chocolate).  Use bittersweet chocolate!  No semi-sweet nonsense.  Semi-sweet chocolate shouldn't exist.

Next, we assemble.  Once everything has sufficiently cooled down (if the ganache is still hot, you will have a hot mess to deal with) cut the cake in half so you have two equally sized layers.  Set the first layer inside a cake ring (no bottom!).  This is when having cardboard circles comes in handy - since you will need the cake to be sitting on something...  Pour a little simple syrup over the cake (with pear juice or any variety of liquor added if you are so inclined).  Pour a ton of ganache on the cake.  Make sure it gets down the side of the cake too.  There should be enough ganache in there to push the pears into.

So, pears!  Squeeze in halved, peeled, cored pears.  They should be very ripe.  If they aren't, poach 'em in white wine.  But that's not necessary if you are using some good ol' ripe and tasty pears.  Once you have those good and squeezed in, pour even more ganache over them and spread around to make sure there are no air bubbles.  Throw on the second cake layer.  Soak with syrup and top with ganache.  Tada!

This will need to sit in the fridge for a good long while (a few hours) until the chocolate fully sets up.  To get the cake out of the ring, you will need to run your torch around the edge to heat the metal up a little.  Don't torch/melt the chocolate.  Voila!  The ring will lift off like a dream.

And one more little tip.  Take the last bit of almond paste and roll it out (using powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to your pin), torch it when you have a shape you like to harden it up and use it as a plaque to write your "Happy Birthday" or "Joyeux Anniversaire!" or "Eat Me!" in chocolate.


08 July 2010

The problem with creme brulee

So let me start by saying that I love creme brulee.  I have some in the oven as I type this.

My problem with creme brulee has less to do with the dessert and more to do with the restaurants that serve it.  Every chef who's worth a damn (and even a chef who is not) should be able to make a perfect creme brulee.  It's the easiest of all recipes and - having only four ingredients - it's pretty tough to screw up.  Or so I thought.

So what bugs me is going to a restaurant and having their "signature" dessert be the creme brulee.  I'm all for having it there to round out the menu.  It requires very little effort and is good for picky diners.  Because, let's be honest, who doesn't love it?  But don't pretend like yours is something special.

I used to occasionally order the creme brulee at restaurants.  And then I realized that there is a lot of shit out there.  And that made me mad.  So now I forgo the custard.  Unless, of course, I'm in France.  If I'm at a legitimate ritzy restaurant they should really have a unique dessert.  If they do not, then I eat the cheese.

I once worked at a restaurant that made coffee creme brulee.  It was one of their signature desserts.  Sounds fine, right?  Until I was tasked with making it and learned that it was made with - wait for it - half and half.  They seem to have forgotten that it is creme brulee.  When I asked if it was a typo, they informed me that it was to offer a lighter alternative.  Hey, I'm all for lighter alternatives.  That's what the fruit plate is for.

Shortcuts rarely make food better.  Use real cream.  Use a real vanilla bean.  You'll thank yourself.  Just be prepared to always order the cheese.

06 July 2010

Why cook well?

Anthony Bourdain has asked this question.  Here is my answer!


There are basically three types of people whom I've encountered.  The type of people who read the question "why cook well?" and scoff because the answer is so obvious.  There are the people who wouldn't know a good meal if it came all over their tongues.  And then there are the people who just legitimately have no idea where to begin.

I fall into the first group.  I don't associate with people in the second group (as being a member of the first group, I can be considered a "food snob" despite the fact that my favorites are not fancy schmancy).  The last group are all too often lured into the false idea that only people like Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray have easy and  attainable recipes.  

For those people: fucking up is part of the curve!  You try things.  If they suck, you don't do them again.  And sometimes even fucking up is cooking well.  Because at least you're doing it.  

Seriously.  Cooking something delicious and cooking up a big pile of shit take the same amount of time.  They cost the same amount (I'd argue cooking poorly costs so much more).  They are virtually identical in all aspects except that with the former I am satisfied.  Happy.  Even giddy.  With the latter I am just pissed off and still hungry.  

But hey, maybe that's just me.  I personally don't like to come home from work, eat a sub-standard dinner with a glass of corked wine, watch a terrible movie and then have mediocre sex.  Like with everything else, if I'm going to do it, it's going to be good.  Because I'm selfish.  Plus, there is no reason for it not to be delicious.  

Mind you, I cook every night.  I live for the smells, the textures, the flavors, the creativity.  I am of Greek and Cajun descent after all, and my family's love of food is no secret.  So I know what things taste like.  I know what they should taste like.  Cooking (and therefore eating) well brings me back to reality after my day churning out corporate bullshit and being worked up over things that have no actual effect on me.  Whereas I've noticed a direct correlation between the quality of a meal and the level of bliss that I feel in a given day.  So knowing this, why wouldn't I do everything in my power to make it return?  I am not, after all, a masochist.  

So many of us go through each day repeating the same old shit.  There is no real variation in schedule, work or even entertainment.  Our assembly-line mentality shouldn't apply to our food.  We all need to earn a living, so there are some things with which we just have to suck up and deal.  Food is not one of those things.  With a single meal, we can transform the daily doldrums into something not only tolerable, but enjoyable.  Or, we can sit on our fat asses and whine.


I submitted this.  So vote for me dammit!