July 30, 2012

Pistachio tuile ice cream sandwiches

It's been such a hot, dry summer that all I seem to think about lately are ice cream and other ice-cold treats.  In the last couple of months, I've tried my hand at homemade ice cream and made ice cream cake, tartufo and ice cream pops, popsicles, and even crepes so I could stuff them with ice cream.  I can't seem to stop there.  Today, it's time for a quick ice cream sandwich.
I made pistachio tuiles - those thin, crisp cookies that get their name from  classic curved shape (if you choose to form them that way) that resembles antique French roof tiles.  They're sometimes called lace cookies, referring to their delicate appearance.  The last time I made this type of cookie, they were the very delicious almond-butterscotch tuiles (still my favorite thus far when it comes to tuiles), which I shaped into bowls, plates and other shapes to hold and serve with ice cream.  This recipe features pistachios and I cut the tuiles with round cutters while they were still warm from the oven to surround ice cream rounds.  I used vanilla ice cream and mint chocolate chip gelato but there are no rules other than to use what you like.
These tuiles have a caramelized pistachio flavor.  When fully cooled, they are crispy like a thin wafer and act as a great accompaniment with creamy ice cream.  Using them for ice cream sandwiches changes their texture completely; the moisture turns the cookies soft and slightly chewy.  These cookies are so thin that they take nothing away from the ice cream, only leaving you with not only something convenient to hold the ice cream between but also a lingering bite of nuttiness to go with your ice cream.  I really like the idea of using thin cookies for an ice cream sandwich and tuiles are a nice change up from other more "typical" cookies. 

Now, I have to admit that shaping/cutting the tuiles as well as cutting out rounds of ice cream may not be something you have time or want to do.  In that case, simply scoop some ice cream into a dish and serve the cooled tuiles, unshaped, alongside.
I like to spread some ice cream on top of the tuile and eat it together, the way you might eat ice cream with salty potato chips (I know I'm not the only person who does that!).  Tuile batters, on their own, are very quick and easy to put together.  It's a great way to dress up some store-bought ice cream.

July 25, 2012

A craving for crepes

When we were on vacation in Paris back in April (my first visit there), we bought a couple of small watercolors of city scenes from a street vendor.  It was on the Ile St. Louis, one of my favorite areas in that amazing city - in part, because you'll find Berthillon and their incredible ice cream there.  My husband recently hung those watercolors up and now I gaze at it once in a while and think back on that amazing trip - the beautiful sights and the amazing food we sampled.  I've got a craving for plenty of things we ate on that trip.  I can't begin to replicate most of them at home but I thought I could tackle crepes.
I think of crepes as the street food in Paris.  Being first time tourists there, we were constantly on-the-go and took advantage of crepe stands for a quick snack.  We didn't visit any special creperie; instead, we were regulars at a snack stand near our hotel in the 9th arrondissement.  Those crepes were so simple and so good, filled with nutella or, my personal filling of choice, "creme de marrons" or chestnut cream.  I love chestnuts.  It's a shame they aren't more common/popular here in the States but to make up for it, I loaded up on jars of chestnut cream and brought them back home.  They were everywhere and inexpensive.
I wish we'd had the chance to sample some savory crepes while we were in Paris.  I would've loved to try a buckwheat crepe (made with buckwheat flour, traditionally used for savory fillings).  For now, I'll just add it to my mental list of things to eat next time we visit the city and settle for my own version, which I filled simply with ham and gruyere cheese.
Needless to say, I've been craving crepes!  It's one of those things I've always wanted to try making since my husband and I love them.  Trying to keep it simple at home, I wanted a versatile and easy recipe I could use for both savory and sweet fillings.

I won't bore you with the details on my deliberations for a basic crepe recipe but just tell you that in the end, I settled on a simple one from Cooking Light, which I adapted slightly.
I liked that this recipe uses low-fat milk and just a smidgen (2 teaspoons) of sugar because to my way of thinking, the fillings provide plenty of richness and flavor.  I had some worries about the texture of these crepes using 1% milk but wanted to give it a try.  They turned out soft and tender, a good blank canvas for the filling.  If I were only making sweet crepes next time, I might use a bit more sugar and maybe add a dash of vanilla to bump up the flavor and crispness of the crepes themselves.
I have no technique when it comes to crepe-making, having never done it before, but I learned a lot in this test run and I'm happy to say it was pretty easy!  None of them ripped and I ended up with 13 small crepes to fill with whatever I wanted.  The good news is that leftover crepes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen for longer.  When we were in Paris, many of the crepes at the stands were pre-made and just re-warmed and filled to order with your choice of fillings (sugar, jam, nutella, and chestnut cream were common).  I found this worked just as well at home.
Now all the different crepe fillings were tasty (love that chestnut cream) but I have to say I particularly favored one that I filled with ice cream.  I guess it's not a fair fight whenever you bring ice cream into the picture.  It's just a knockout.
It must be the contrast of warm crepe against cold ice cream that does the trick.  I filled a warm crepe with vanilla ice cream and drizzled it with a quick Nutella chocolate "sauce" I improvised by thinning some warmed nutella (a staple in my house) with a bit of low fat milk.  My little guy and I really enjoyed sharing this as a mid-afternoon snack, hiding out from the blazing 100 degree heat outside.  And my husband loved it as an after dinner dessert after a (very long) day at work.  It was so satisfying, we repeated it again the next day.

I enjoyed my first crepe-making endeavor.  Though the crepes on their own were not as flavorful as the ones I've had at restaurants and crepe stands, I like keeping things a bit lighter and simpler at home when it makes sense.  Also, I suspect crepes are bound to taste better while you're standing on a street in Paris, even when they're simply wrapped in a piece of parchment or paper towel and casually handed to you from a street vendor.

July 22, 2012

Lighter chocolate popsicles

Back in high school, I spent plenty of my lunch money/allowance at the cafeteria ice cream counter.  Once I finished my lunch, I made a beeline for the lady behind the little "window".  Some of my favorites to buy were chocolate eclair bars and, oddly enough, a strawberry pop that had bits of strawberry seeds in it that I found extremely refreshing (odd because I'm not a big fan of strawberries but then again, we're talking sweetened juice so how bad could that be for a kid).  I remember I'd often buy two of those strawberry pops at a time; I was a big spender!  But besides that, another favorite of mine was the fudge bar - now, that should come as no surprise given my love of chocolate.
So when it came to popsicle making, after first thinking lemon, my mind veered right over to chocolate and fudge pops.  I think generally, fudge bars or fudge pops/fudgsicles are made with milk to give it that velvety, fudgy mouth feel.  That's nice but I actually like the icy texture of popsicles.  Plus, I was looking for something lighter for these very hot summer days.  So I looked to the chocolate granita recipe in The Perfect Scoop and filled the mixture into my popsicle molds.  What you end up with is a lighter chocolate popsicle.  It looks dark and decadent but is actually quite light and refreshing, with just enough chocolate taste and flavor to satisfy us chocoholics. 
This chocolate popsicle is made with water instead of milk.  Many fudge bar recipes also use a little bit of butter, which doesn't appeal to me very much here.  Unsweetened cocoa powder gives these pops a very dark look and we do use some dark chocolate but not overly much.  Two ounces of chocolate divided among five of these pretty generous popsicles is less than half an ounce per serving so it's fairly minimal but does the job nicely.  So no milk or butter - just water, cocoa powder, sugar, dark chocolate and a hint of vanilla.  It works very nicely.  You get that icy popsicle bite and plenty of dark chocolate flavor, without feeling weighed down or stuffed afterwards.
These chocolate popsicles turned out better than I thought they would be.  Unlike other desserts, I usually think fruity flavors when it comes to popsicles and other icy treats.  I figured we'd probably like the lemon popsicles I made recently more than these.  The little guy came home from camp one afternoon and I gave him a chocolate one to try.  At first, he told me he liked them but the lemon ones were better.  But as he took a few more bites, he said "it got yummier" and in the end, he proclaimed it a tie between the two.  Like him, I took one bite and another, then another, and it got better with each frosty bite.  I have to agree with my little taste-tester, it's a tie.

July 19, 2012

Phyllo cups for what else...more ice cream!

When I was a kid, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don't, I think) but I did fantasize sometimes about being a caterer.  I wasn't serious about it but it seemed like something I'd like to do.  In my daydreams, however, the job didn't involve any messy cleanup or even a lot of unglamorous prep work.  I would be catering beautiful Martha Stewart-esque affairs, with fine linen, gorgeous flower arrangements, and an abundance of delectable food.  And much of the food would be in miniature form.  I saw myself in something like a crisp, white chef's coat laying out miles of miniature hors d'oeuvre and assembling decadent but tasteful dessert tables.
I always envisioned plenty of canapés at these parties, with delicious things stuffed inside small, crispy phyllo cups, for instance.  Like puff pastry, you can buy ready to use phyllo dough in the freezer section of the supermarket.  I bought a box on a whim months ago (probably around Christmas again when I just can't resist stocking up on everything and thinking about all the food I'd like to prepare but mostly don't get around to) and it's been sitting there in the freezer ever since.  So I finally decided to make some of those phyllo cups that I always associate with parties.

To make these cups, I stacked a few sheets of phyllo dough on top of each other with some melted butter and sugar in between, then baked them in a standard muffin tin (though mini muffin tins may be more appropriate for those fantasy catering jobs).  They are great little holders for ice cream and sorbet as well as anything creamy like mousse or pudding.

You could use phyllo cups in a sweet or savory manner.  For me and for right now, it's all about ice cream.  Even though ice cream really needs no adornment, I love putting and serving it in edible cups and bowls.
I still have a lot of phyllo sheets left in my freezer.  I might have to get more creative and start working on a phyllo pizza crust or something before too long.

July 17, 2012

Lemon popsicles

We can't seem to avoid talking (alright, complaining) about the weather - it's a natural conversation starter.  Talking about how hot it is in the summer is stating the obvious but I can't help myself sometimes.  I'm not complaining - honest.  It has been hot and dry this season, giving us plenty of opportunity to be outside, have barbecues, and take road trips.  It's also meant evenings seeking refuge inside the air-conditioned house having a picnic on the living room floor while watching a movie because it's just so hot outside.  We're enjoying both sides of the spectrum.
And summer brings the full enjoyment of ice cream treats!  When I think summer, I automatically think ice cream but I also think of other frozen treats and lighter options such as Italian ice, sorbet, or granita.  And I gravitate towards lemon because what's more refreshing than lemon.  It's one of my favorite ingredients; I love to cook with it, use its juice and zest in baking, and squeeze some into my drinks.

I bought popsicle molds for the first time a few weeks ago to start my foray into popsicle making.  My son loves popsicles - it's just one of those treats kids adore because they have great taste.  I knew the first type of popsicle I wanted to make was lemon.  As the weather warmed up, the little guy started asking me to buy him some because his favorites are lemon and lime but I hadn't been able to get the lemon ones for some reason.  That's not a problem now because after making my own, I don't know if I'll want to buy them anymore.
Making your own homemade lemon popsicles only requires fresh lemons, water, and sugar.  With just a little work and some wait time, you'll bite into icy mouthfuls of what's like freshly made, lightly sweetened lemonade.  It is so refreshing and rewarding during these hot summer days.

July 13, 2012

Ribbon cake from leftovers, mixing & matching

This cake came about because of some leftover Pirouette rolled wafers that I wanted to eat/use up.  I did a little mixing and matching, taking my favorite chocolate cake (again) and instead of using the usual buttercream, layered it with a fudgy chocolate frosting that's made its appearance elsewhere before.  Like mixing things up in your wardrobe, it's fun to play with combinations in the kitchen while still sticking with the things you know and love.
Do you like these crispy wafers?  My husband and I do, and I tend to buy them around Christmas time (hence, the leftovers and impending expiration date).  Aside from Christmas, they always make me think of ice cream cake.  Specifically, the Haagen Dazs "ribbon" ice cream cake, flanked all-around with these wafers, that we always had whenever we celebrated someone's birthday at work back in the day.  My nephew recently had one of these cakes for his 9th birthday and it brought me back since I hadn't had one in years!  I used to always take the wafers off to munch first and notice the bits of fudge used to "glue" the wafers to the ice cream cake.  Maybe that's what made me think fudge frosting for this cake...
I noticed that Haagen Dazs says it uses "pirouline" wafers for their ribbon cake.  I am using "pirouette" but I figure it's a bit like "you say tomato, I say tomahto" - they're essentially the same thing.  And confession time: I actually didn't have enough leftover pirouette wafers to surround my cake (who knew it takes over 40 of them to cover a 6-inch cake!) but by the time I realized that, I'd already had my heart set on making it.  Maybe it was meant to be because I did have more leftovers of another similar wafer that are just a bit thinner and shorter (I overstocked during Christmas) so I made due by trimming the pirouettes and I hope you'll pretend not to notice the disparity too much.
It's always fun and satisfying to get into the kitchen to make a cake, even in these extremely hot summer days.  And in this case, I was working with some of my favorite components so I knew the result would be enjoyable.  I love this kind of dark, fudgy, ganache frosting above all other kinds.
But I'm not particularly good at decorating or making things pretty; it usually requires more patience than I have to do it right (I get kind of cross-eyed and dizzy because boy, it always takes a lot more time and concentration than you figure!) and I'm more into taste than design.  So you might notice my wafers are a little uneven and far from perfect but it's amazing what a nice ribbon will do.  I tied a pretty ribbon around the cake and we have my little homage to that Haagen Dazs ribbon cake (pretty ingenious name, I think). 

Bon appetit!

July 10, 2012

Tartufo and ice cream pops

Without a doubt, I've got ice cream on my mind these days!  It has been one hot summer thus  far, which naturally demands cold drinks and desserts like a nice bowl of ice cream after a barbecue or dinner out on the deck.  The Perfect Scoop is providing me with plenty of inspiration and this is one of them. 
I think of these as "bonbons" because I remember buying cartons of these little chocolate coated ice cream balls at the supermarket when I was a kid.  At restaurants, they're more likely to be called "tartufo", which means truffle in Italian, and you can tell how the name might've come about by how they look.  I used vanilla ice cream but you could customize them by using any flavor you like or maybe a combination such as a scoop of Neapolitan ice cream.  You could also embellish them a bit by sprinkling some chopped nuts or sprinkles on top right after rolling them in chocolate.
These ice cream scoops are rolled in a dark chocolate coating. Ideally, the coating should be fairly thin.  I could've done a better job with that but with rapidly melting ice cream balls to contend with, this was the best I could do.  So while these tartufi may not have quite as thin and crunchy a coating as those bon bons in the freezer aisle, they are great little bites.  They taste like little mouthfuls of ice cream sundae, with the coating acting as the hot fudge.  Use a good quality chocolate you like (Callebaut, in my case here) and the chocolate coating is as much the star of the show as the cold ice cream within.  It doesn't get much better than dark chocolate and ice cream together.
When I started making these tartufi, I thought it would be fun and easy to turn them into ice cream pops as well.  All you need is some lollipop or even popsicle sticks.  They worked beautifully (actually makes dipping in the chocolate coating very easy) and what is one a nice grown up dessert turns into a fun, easy-to-eat summer snack for both kids and adults.  Happy summer eating! 

July 6, 2012

Chocolate "Quatre-Quarts"

This is a chocolate version of the French "quatre-quarts" cake - think of it as something like our American pound cake.  Apparently (I don't want to mislead you into thinking I actually know what these things are before learning about them in a cookbook), it means "four-quarters", referring to the (relatively) equal proportions of the four main ingredients - eggs, sugar, flour, butter.
And here is the reason I made that crème fraîche.  A third of a cup of that velvety cream gets stirred into the batter, producing a lovely moist yet light texture to the cake. 

When you first taste this cake, your initial reaction may be that there's not enough chocolate flavor to it.  Taste it further and you notice the complexity and that moist texture.  It's light, not the heavy kind of pound cake you might expect, and somewhat similar to the  chocolate yogurt cakes my family and I enjoy a lot.  It's not a rich dessert experience but a great breakfast or snacking cake to have around, particularly since it keeps well at room temperature for a few days and can be frozen and stowed away for later.
I love that this recipe produces 4 mini loaves, really carrying that "quatre" theme.  Not only do I love small or miniature versions of desserts, I think it promotes moderation as well as sharing/gifting.

July 5, 2012

Making crème fraîche

Chalk this one under "very cool things you can make easily at home." 

Crème fraîche is probably best - or most often - described as the French version of sour cream.  I think it actually looks more like cream cheese when you first take it out of the refrigerator but stir it up and you'll see it's smooth and creamy in texture, with a slight tang to it when it comes to taste.  Similar to heavy cream, you can whip crème fraîche to soft peaks and use it as an accompaniment with dessert like, say, over a wedge of chocolate cake.  It is often used in French recipes for cakes and tarts.
Crème fraîche can be hard to find and rather expensive.  I was looking to make a recipe that calls for it recently and couldn't decide whether it was worth the trouble of buying the crème fraîche.  Then, I looked further into the cookbook and read the instructions on making it at home. 

It takes 2 ingredients: heavy cream and yogurt (or buttermilk).  Now, I don't know about you but I don't usually have heavy cream and buttermilk or yogurt in the house at the same time so while it is very easy to make, I can't say it's something I could whip up whenever I needed it.  But honest to goodness, the stars were aligned when I needed some crème fraîche the other week.  I had yogurt and one cup of cream leftover in the fridge.  So you take a tablespoon of yogurt, stir or shake it up with the heavy cream, let it sit for somewhere between 12 to 36 hours, and you have crème fraîche.  It keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

July 1, 2012

Homemade chocolate ice cream

I think I got a little hooked on ice cream making after tasting my first batch a few weeks ago.  Homemade ice cream is so good!  I don't have an ice cream machine; I'm trying hard to hold out because if I had one, I picture myself churning out quarts of it with far too much frequency.  So this chocolate ice cream was again made without a machine, using that chill, freeze & stir method.
I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of David Lebovitz.  His baking book, Ready for Dessert, may well be the best I've ever bought.  All of his recipes that I've tried just work and taste as good as he says (and you hope), with instructions that are simple and straightforward.  Right now, I'm completely enamored with his ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, which not only has tons of recipes for ice cream, sorbets and granitas, but also for a variety of accompaniments from pralined nuts to chocolate sauce and profiteroles.  I hear he's working on a new cookbook, which makes me super excited.
If you make this particular chocolate ice cream, get ready for a rich, true chocolate experience.  Like the terrific vanilla ice cream, this one is also French-style, or custard based, made with egg yolks (as opposed to Philadelphia-style, which is made without eggs - something I'd like to try but may need an ice cream machine for).  Also made with cream, milk, cocoa powder, and a few ounces of dark chocolate, the result is creamy, rich ice cream where the chocolate really shines.

It reminded me of the amazing Berthillon ice cream we eat in Paris, where a small scoop of ice cream or sorbet goes a long way given the intensity of the flavors.  It also made me think of a time last summer when I shared a small container of chocolate ice cream from La Maison du Chocolat with my little one while we were at the mall (we do live in NJ).  We'd never had their ice cream before and when he tasted it, he told me it tasted like brownies!  I agreed with him and maybe that gives you an idea of what this ice cream tastes like because although the chocolate flavor in my home version isn't as complex as the container we had that day, it's that deep chocolate flavor that is distinctive from what we may buy at the supermarket. 
Quite probably like many of you, my love affair with ice cream goes way back.  As a kid, my sister and I loved to eat a particular brand of rocky road ice cream that was heavy on the almonds and light on the marshmallow swirl.  So when I was making this, I couldn't help taking some of the chocolate ice cream and mixing in some toasted almonds.  The combination of smoky almonds in chocolate ice cream is divine.  I reserved this little container (very convenient ice cream storage, by the way) to share with my hubby and we enjoyed it thoroughly.  Ice cream is a happy thing.
And Independence Day is just a couple of days away!  It is hot here in Jersey and the perfect time to enjoy an ice cream cone or two.  In Paris, ice cream shops like Berthillon use these slim, slightly elongated, cones to serve a small scoop of their ice cream.  It's pretty perfect so you can save room for other treats.  I'd take one of those if I could get one but this will due quite well for me.
Have a great July 4th holiday and I hope you have a helping or two of ice cream!  I know it'll put a smile on your face. 


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