November 2011 COTM: Gourmet II: Desserts and Sweets
Please use this thread to discuss and review recipes from the chapters about cookies, bars, confections, cakes, pies, tarts, pastries, fruit desserts, puddings, custards, mousses, soufflés, frozen desserts and sweet sauces.
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Cranberry-Caramel Bars, p. 691.
These are very holiday-ish--would would make nice gifts, or be a festive part of a holiday buffet. They are also substantial enough to be passed as part of a dinner-party dessert if you included some vanilla ice cream with them. The finished bar-cookie includes a delicious flaky shortbread layer, topped with with a homemade caramel sauce mixed with fresh chopped cranberries and toasted chopped pecans, and a layer of melted bittersweet chocolate spread on top of that. You get the idea.
Despite the several steps, this is not a difficult recipe--just be sure you have an accurate thermometer to measure the caramel sauce temperature to 245 F. The second time I made this I played a little fast-and-loose with the temperature and ended up with slightly underdone, too-gooey caramel. It was still delicious but a little more difficult to eat with bare hands.
Anyway, the buttery shortbread, sweet and chewy caramel, tart-sweet cranberries, nutty pecans, and unctuous bittersweet melted chocolate provide several irresistible flavor bursts. I followed the recipe instructions exactly with one exception: the only lazy-woman's change I made was with the chocolate. The recipe specified melting the chocolate and piping it over the cooled bars. I was in a hurry so I just sprinkled the chopped chocolate over the warm caramel layer and it melted a bit and then set. Tasted delicious, though it didn't look quite as gorgeous. I'm not entirely convinced that one needs the chocolate anyway. it is a luxurious addition, but the cookies would still be nice without it.
A year or so ago, when that Gourmet cookie book came out, the one with a favorite recipe from each of the last 60 years, I checked out the recipes and this one looked terrific, but I completely forgot about it until I looked through the COTM after bringing it home from the library. In the cookie book and on Epicurious, it's called cranberry turtle bars: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
Pecan Pie Bars, p. 694
I am reporting this, though I made a lot of changes based on what I had on hand and whim. I made the shortbread base as written (pulse flour, brown sugar, salt, butter in food processor, press into ungreased pan - I lined it with a parchment sling - and bake until golden). For the topping, the only thing I didn't change was the amount of butter: Instead of the 1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup honey, 2 cups pecans, and 2 T. cream, I used 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 1/2 cups walnuts, and after it was off heat, whisked in an egg yolk and some vanilla. I also scattered about 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped (fresh) cranberries and 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, which I had pulsed in the food processor until pebble-sized, over the crust before pouring on the topping.
In other words, not exactly the same recipe! But completely, totally delicious, almost more a confection than a cookie. I noticed some reviewers said there was too much shortbread base, and I don't get it. I used the amounts and pan size specified, and the base was not very thick. In fact, it was somewhat fragile, and some pieces broke apart as I cut it. (Me: Uh-oh, can't take that to the party. Darn...). But I added to the volume of the topping with the extras, so maybe it seemed too much relative to the original; I also saw some reviewers double the nuts in that.
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I've mentioned this cheesecake on a different board, but I just wanted to direct COTM readers to the Three Cities of Spain Classic Cheesecake recipe in this book, found on page 751. I swear this recipe alone is worth the $35 I paid when the book first came out, and I've made it so often that the giant tome actually falls open to that page when I take it off the shelf. You can view the recipe here: http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/1990s/...
It's a fantastic, creamy (not NY-style dry or crumbly) cheesecake--plus it's very easy to make, and it gets rave reviews. The original recipe is wonderful, but, depending on whom I'm feeding, I often change the recipe to make it slightly lower in carbohydrates, and it's still amazing:
- I use pulverized pecans, melted butter, powdered ginger and cinnamon to make a pecan crust instead of the graham-cracker crust that's called for.
- I use Splenda instead of sugar (but I decrease the amount of sweetener).
- I also increase the amount of vanilla and lemon zest in the cheesecake batter, and add a bit more vanilla to the sour cream for the topping.
I urge you to try this cheesecake; it's truly wonderful. The Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake that follows a few pages later (page 757) is also decadent (and requires a bit more work), but if you're looking for a foolproof, classic cheesecake, try this one.
Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake, p757
So for someone who's not keen on cheesecake, I have been making an awful lot of them lately! My parents came to stay and they love cheesecake, so I gave this one a whirl and I'm glad I did because it was really good. Not quite as decadent as the Ottolenghi one, but still delicious, and quite simple to make once you've mastered the caramel.
The recipe is here:
i did make one change and used Hob Nob biscuits for the base rather than vanilla or chocolate wafers, as there weren't any in either of the stores I visited. Hob Nobs are a delicious oaty biscuit (cookie) that St Otto of Lenghi recommends so how could I go wrong? I also used slightly less cream cheese, as it comes in 200g packages here in the land of semi-metric. Otherwise I stuck to the recipe and it was a very nice cheesecake - pretty substantial - and not too sweet, with a nice silghtly bitter edge from the caramel and the dark chocolate. My parents loved it. It's also a good recipe for a crowd, as would easily serve 10.
Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake
We were invited to casual dinner party and instructed to bring desert. I asked my kids (6, 4 and 2) what they wanted to make and chocolate cheesecake was the decision. I am actually not sure I have ever made a cheesecake before, but I do like them. I thought the caramel addition might make this cheesecake a little more special and memorable for the adult guests.
Only modification I made was to increase the crumb crust recipe by 50% and use chocolate Teddy Grahams instead of chocolate wafers (a smitten kitten recc) http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2006/0... The teddy grahams did make a very tasty crumb crust, and increasing the amount of crumb crust seemed to work out well.
The cheesecake was fairly simple to put together, aside from the extra step of making caramel. I refrigerated it for 24 hours before taking it to the dinner party.
This made an impressive and well-received desert for sharing. Unfortunately, I wasn't there for the serving since my daughter threw up on their dining room carpet before dinner was served! My husband (who stayed with our son) reported back that there were rave reviews around the table. Don't think it made up for our overall bad guest behavior, but I was happy I had made the effort to make something home-made, rather than just showing up with ice cream and choco sauce!
I haven't baked these yet myself, but I just purchased cranberry-pistachio biscotti at a bakesale/fundraiser, made with this recipe according to the baker (p. 685), and they were wonderful! I'll bake a batch myself and report back.
I also baked Mexican tea cakes (p. 673). We were serving punch and cookies prior to my kids' performance in a play, and I needed something easy to prep that kept well, so I wouldn't have to bake fresh each night. These cookies fit the bill. They won't be for everyone--they'd appeal more to the shortbread/flaky cookie lovers and not to the fans of gooey. I liked them, but I can't say that they knocked my socks off.