Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie—Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
Polenta, ricotta, honey, and figs. These are the key ingredients that are in this unusual cake recipe. I don’t think I ever would have made this recipe if it weren’t for this fun, baking club. I’ve never even bought or cooked (or in this case, baked with) polenta before, so it was all a big learning experience for me.

Cornmeal or Polenta

Cornmeal versus PolentaI learned that cornmeal and polenta are the same thing except polenta is Italian. It doesn’t matter what name it is; the key is the grind.

You don’t want cornmeal or polenta that’s ground too finely. Stone-ground or medium ground is best. Instant or quick cook polenta has been partially cooked and then dried and may not give the cake the right texture. Having said this, I used a package of cornmeal that didn’t state that it was medium grind or stone-ground, but it did have a grain similar to sugar, which I read was what to look for. And the polenta I used had “express” in the title, so I’m guessing it was more finely ground and upon closer inspection was more like table salt than table sugar.

This difference was evident when pouring the batter into the pans. The polenta version was runnier. However, it didn’t affect the outcome of the cake.

I’ve never used ricotta in a dessert before, only in lasagna! It’s an Italian whey cheese that is fresh, unripened, and uncooked. In Italy, ricotta is made from sheep or water buffalo which gives it a more earthy, nutty flavor (according to Wikipedia since I haven’t yet had a chance to try true Italian ricotta). American ricotta (and Canadian, for that matter) is milder.


Light and Dark Honey

Honey is sweet, but the bee stings.
French Proverb

The color of honey comes from the nectar. The darker the color of the honey, the stronger the taste. I had two different honeys stashed in my pantry, so I decided to experiment with a clover honey (a lighter, amber color) and a buckwheat honey (a darker, stronger flavor).

Figs and such
Of course, I had to experiment with all types of figs. I bought some fresh figs before reading through the recipe thoroughly. Oops. Luckily, I picked up some dried ones as well on my trip to the market. I found some baby dried figs and Turkish figs. And, since I love dates, I had to give that a try too.

Fresh and Dried Figs
As for garnishes, I thought a crème fraiche with a hint of ginger and cinnamon would complement this dessert nicely. I found a recipe for crème fraiche in this article.

To make crème fraiche, combine 1 cup (250 mL) of heavy 35-percent cream with 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sour cream in a glass container. Cover and stand at room temperature 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well, cover and refrigerate. Keeps up to 7 days.

I found some thick double cream as well, and in a blender threw in a couple of stem gingers and some ginger syrup, a dash of cinnamon, and a bit of leftover cream cheese frosting from last week’s Tuesdays with Dorie. This was delicious too with the heat from the stem ginger. Sprinkled with the leftover candied walnuts from last week and diced crystallized ginger, the crunchiness factor was covered. To dress up the plate, I drizzled some honey over it.

As another variation, I bought some Devon cream, whipped it up, and added a few sprinkles of cinnamon and ground ginger. This turned out to be my favorite garnish.


Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake mise en place
You can find the recipe for Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake at this blog Engineer Baker or in the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. To see how the rest of the TWD group fared with this week's recipe, click here and then click on each blogger!

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake - platedTasting Notes
Some of us liked this cake more than others. It had a crunch to it from the cornmeal (or polenta) and the seeds in the figs that wasn’t what I normally expect in a cake. However, served with the spiced Devon cream, it was a nice dessert. As for the side-by-side taste tests, here are the winners:

• Polenta or cornmeal. It was a tie. It didn’t matter. Although next time I would make sure to get a medium-ground polenta so that it was more batter-like and less runny.

• Clover or buckwheat honey. The amber, clover honey won. The darker, buckwheat honey gave the cake a sweeter taste, but we preferred the lighter taste of the clover honey.

• Fresh figs, dried figs, or dates: Fresh figs won. I liked the softness and sweetness in the fresh fig; the chewiness of the dried figs and crunch of the seeds wasn’t as pleasant. I love dates, so I enjoyed this version too.

Recipe for Next Week (May 6)
Peanut Butter Torte on pages 282-283 chosen by Elizabeth of Ugg Smell Food.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fond blanc de volaille (Basic recipe for white stock)

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

White stock is a combination of meat (either chicken, veal, or fish) covered with water and aromatics and simmered over gentle heat for a few hours. As mentioned in the Fish stock post, stocks are the “foundation of the kitchen”, or the fond de cuisine. Although they seem intimidating at first, they really are easy to make and require a bit of attention now and then, but the magic happens while it simmers.

Stocks are to cooking what foundations are to a house.
Auguste Escoffier

The path to a clear stock
The mark of a good stock is clarity. Here are some tips I learned during my reading up on stock.

Tips for rinsing, blanching, and simmering
• Rinse the bones under water before starting to remove impurities.
• Use cold water not hot water. Hot water makes the stock cloudy and murky.
• Some recipes call for blanching the meat or bones first (except for fish bones which are too fragile). Then drain and start with fresh, cold water. This removes any impurities on the outside. • After blanching and after the first boil, add ice. Do this before adding the vegetables. This will thicken the fat and make it easier to remove.
• After bringing the water to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer. Boiling moves the scum around making it impossible to remove. It also could make your stock greasy since the scum could emulsify (this time in a bad way) with the water.
• Don’t stir the stock or it might get cloudy and murky.
• When pouring the stock through a fine mesh strainer or chinois, ladle it instead of pouring it so that the impurities don’t get forced through the sieve by sheer force.
• After refrigerating overnight, the fat coagulates on the top making it easier to remove.

Tips for skimming
• Skim often (about every 10 minutes) to remove the scum or proteins as they rise to the surface. After awhile, there won’t be as much scum to remove.
• Add the vegetables (mirepoix) after the bones and water have come to a boil the second time so that it’s easier to remove the scum.
• Use a bouquet garni to hold all the aromatics and herbs so that you don’t skim them off with the scum. Slip the bouquet garni under a piece of meat so that it doesn’t get in the way of skimming.

Tips for flavoring
• Use the meat on the bones for extra flavor. However, to save money, just use the bones.
• Like the saying that you should never use wine you wouldn’t drink to flavor a dish, you shouldn’t add parts of vegetables that you wouldn’t eat (like carrot peels). I don’t think your stock should be like a compost bin.
• Cover the bones with water, just to cover. More water makes the stock less flavorful and diluted.
• After you’ve made the stock, you can reduce it by half for more flavor. This reduced stock can be stored in ice cube trays in the freezer.
• Keep some of the stock in a container in the freezer to start your next batch of stock. Similar to a sourdough starter, this method reinforces the base with extra flavor.

Tips for avoiding bacteria and storage
• When the stock is finished, you must cool the stock quickly to avoid bacteria growth. Bacteria love to grow between 40˚-145˚.
• To cool It quickly, pour a bunch of ice in a sink and put the bowl of strained stock on top. Stir to cool quickly.
• Another idea is to fill a freezer bag full of ice and drop it into the bowl of strained stock.
• Stock will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. It will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator if you boil it every day. It freezes well, but thaw it and bring it to a boil before using.

Recipe for white stock

from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

makes 8 cups

4-pound chicken
3 small onions
3 cloves
3 carrots
3 leeks
2 stalks celery
6 cloves garlic
4 large sprigs parsley (including stems)
2 branches thyme
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
12 cups water

Rinse the bones under water before starting to remove impurities. Put bones in stock pot and cover with cold water. Blanch the bones by bringing the water to a boil. Drain and add cold water to cover the bones again.

While the chicken is blanching, trim the onions. Put the cloves in one onion. Trim the carrots and leeks. Make a bouquet garni with the celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

When the stock has come to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Add the salt. Simmer for 1 hour, skimming about every 10 minutes. After an hour, remove the chicken and save for another use. Simmer the stock for another 1½ hours, skimming occasionally.

Ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer. It should measure 8 cups. If it is more than 8 cups, continue reducing.

Tasting Notes
This stock has a light, neutral taste. At $3 per cup, it’s more expensive than canned, but it’s worth it. I can’t wait to use it in a sauce or soup.

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Running total: $376.19 + $24.45 = $400.64

Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 28 tablespoons

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Food Blogging

One of my favorite food bloggers, Béatrice Peltre of La Tartine Gourmande, is featured in a "Word of Mouth" interview with Victoria Prescott today on New Hampshire Public Radio. Click this link to listen to the interview called "Blogging From the Kitchen".

During the interview, Béa talks about her obsession with food, blogging, and photography. She also mentions some of her favorite food bloggers and some who have book deals:

The Traveller's Lunchbox
Lucy's Kitchen Notebook
Cook and Eat
Chocolate and Zucchini
Gluten-Free Girl
The Amateur Gourmet

It's a wonderful interview that inspired and motivated me. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie—Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a classic, favorite dessert. Dorie’s recipe has some great additions too: coconut, raisins, and nuts. I used walnuts and for fun tried using white carrots in half the batter and orange carrots in the other half.

Homemade versus store-bought

There’s no question that homemade carrot cake is better than store-bought. For one, you can avoid trans fats in homemade versions. Plus, it tastes better. I bought a package of mini carrot cakes from the grocery store to compare, and none of us liked them. They were more spicy and left a chemical after-taste.

White carrots

When I saw white carrots in the store, I knew it would be fun to try in this week’s carrot cake recipe. There are other colored carrots you can buy, such as purple, yellow, or red, but white were the only unusual ones I found before the Tuesday deadline. I found these gems after I'd made the cake and found the darker they are, the sweeter they are.

Since white carrots aren’t as sweet as the orange ones, I thought this would be an interesting balance to the sweetness of the cake and icing.

Carrot cake challenge
Over at Cakespy, they experimented with the “cake meets vegetable” angle and tried other vegetables like broccoli, snap pea, radish, parsnip, and Brussels sprouts. Head on over there to find out which one everyone liked!

I crave a “crunchiness” in every dish, so I added a couple of garnishes that would feed this craving.

For one, I made some candied walnuts. I mixed some walnuts with 2 tablespoons of corn syrup, ½ tablespoon maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon sugar. I spread this nut mixture on a Silpat and popped it in a 325ºF oven for 15 minutes. They added a nice crunch on top of the cake or sprinkled around the plate.

I also took an idea from Michel Richard in Happy in the Kitchen, and deep fried julienned carrots. Before deep frying them, I dredged them with cornstarch so that the water in the carrots didn't cause the oil to boil over. After frying, I sprinkled them with icing sugar and used immediately (or as soon as I could get everything plated and ready for the camera!). They don’t retain their crunchiness for long.

Another idea from Michel Richard was to make homemade vanilla ice cream with chunks of carrot cake in it. I took the simple route and used my mixer to stir in carrot cake chunks into store-bought vanilla ice cream. This was a great way to make plain ol’ vanilla ice cream delicious.

Finally, I made a carrot syrup from Michel Richard’s cookbook. Into some sugar syrup that’s turned a caramel color (like the caramel for crème caramel), I added freshly squeezed carrot and orange juice and boiled it down. It had a beautiful, rich color and took Dorie’s simple, but tasty dessert up a notch.

Cool baking pan and other fun stuff
I found this cool baking pan in my research about this recipe.

I also found a cute cartoon about carrot cake at this link.


You can find the recipe for Bill's Big Carrot Cake at Amanda's blog called Slow Like Honey or in the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. To see how the rest of the TWD group fared with this week's recipe, click here and then click on each blogger!

Tasting Notes
This is a great carrot cake recipe. The addition of coconut and raisins makes it extra special. Soaking the raisins in rum beforehand might be a nice variation for next time.

The white carrots were more popular in the cake than the orange ones. The cake made with the orange carrots was a touch sweeter. Although, I liked the color of the orange carrots in the cake, side-by-side, the white ones win in the tasting category.

This is another keeper recipe from Dorie!

Recipe for Next Week (April 29)
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake on pages 200-201 chosen by Caitlin of Engineer Baker.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Filets de sole Dieppoise (Sole fillet served with a white wine sauce)

Sole Dieppoise is a dish from the port of Dieppe in northern France where sole is easier to find than here in Ottawa, it seems. I’ve been putting off working through this fish dish for some time now. However, now that I’ve made it I wish I hadn’t waited so long to give it a try. It’s delish!

Sole is a white, flat fish. The word “sole” comes from sandal since that’s what this fish looks like. The fish has two sides: the underside is a beautiful shimmering white, the upperside (with the eyes) is a camouflage pattern. However, I only know this from reading about it!

The fishmonger I went to didn’t have a whole sole (joking he only had half a soul left!) for me to practice filleting. He also didn’t have any sole fillets, so I ended up buying snapper fillets and a whole Red Snapper to try filleting. The snapper fillets were my backup knowing I wouldn’t be all that successful at creating an edible fillet on my first try.

I don’t have a picture of how my fillets turned out since they weren’t photogenic! I even watched a couple of videos beforehand to try to hone my skills, but I need more practice!

Watch a pro fillet a sole
Here's a great video showing how to fillet a flat fish.

The two main stocks in French cuisine are white (fond blanc) and brown (fond brun). The key difference between the two is that brown stock is browned in the oven first. Ingredients for white stocks are put in a stock pot with the liquid. The meat used in white stocks could be veal, chicken, or fish. For this dish, we’re using the fish stock (or fumet) made for the last class.

Velouté sauce
In the world of sauces, the first celebrity chef was Antonin Carême (1784-1833), known as the founder of classic French cookery, and is also known to have made Napoleon's wedding cake. Now there’s a catering job! Carême designated four classic sauces: Béchamel, Velouté (veh-loo-TAY), Espagnole, and Allemande.

Then along came Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), a young, ambitious, whipper-snapper who updated the list of mother sauces to five: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Since Allemande is derived from Velouté, it was replaced with Hollandaise and Tomato was added.

For this dish, a Velouté makes up the sauce, which is basically just a thickened stock.

Velouté = Roux blond + white stock (veal, chicken, or fish)
Roux blond = butter + flour (Flour and butter are cooked to a light color)

From a Velouté sauce, you can make a Sauce au vin Blanc (fish stock, wine, egg yolk, and cream), an Allemande sauce (veal stock, egg yolks, and cream) or a Suprême sauce (chicken stock, mushrooms, and cream).

Watch a pro make Velouté sauce
Here's a video showing how to make a Velouté sauce.

Fluted mushrooms
This dish is garnished with mushrooms that are preferably fluted, thank you very much. Well, I’ve never fluted a mushroom before, but I found some good information about how to do this fancy technique (after the fact). I thought my fluted mushrooms looked pretty good, and then I saw the ones in this link! I think I should now go out and buy 10 pounds of mushrooms to practice.

SaffronSaffron flavors the recipe I found for Filets de sole Dieppoise. I’ve always known it’s an expensive spice, but I didn’t know it comes from the stigmas in a small crocus (Crocus sativus). The three red stigmas in each crocus are hand-picked and dried. 14,000 stigmas equals 1 ounce, which equals about 5,000 crocuses. According to this link, it takes an acre of crocuses to produce 1 pound of saffron. Personally, I think saffron’s overrated. It tastes like hay, but it looks pretty. I guess it has that going for it!

Fennel is the workhorse in this dish, providing the subtle hint of anise or licorice flavor.

Recipe for Filets de Sole Dieppoise
adapted from 911 Chef Eric’s Recipes

Serves 2

2 sole fillets, 2 lb each
2 ounces shrimp
2 ounces button mushrooms, fluted
1 shallot, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
Juice from ½ a lemon
¼ cup cream
2 oz butter
2 oz flour
2 cups fish stock
Fennel powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: Some recipes for Filets de sole Dieppoise call for mussels for a garnish as well. I forgot to pick some up when I was at the fishmonger, so I left them out.

Fillet the sole.

Flute the mushrooms and cook on low heat for 10 minutes with the half the shallots, a touch of lemon juice, a bit of butter, and salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Peel the shrimp. Add the shrimp to the baking dish about half-way through the cooking time.

For the sole, sprinkle the bottom of a baking dish with the remaining half of the chopped shallots. Pour the white wine and ¼ cup of fish stock in the baking dish. Fold the sole fillets in half and put in the baking dish. Squeeze half a lemon over the fish. Cover with parchment paper, if desired. Put in oven for 5-8 minutes, until cooked through.

Meanwhile, melt the butter. Then add the flour and prepare the roux. Let it cook gently for five minutes until it’s a blond color. Add the stock, saffron, fennel, and shallots into the roux and let cook slowly five minutes. Remove from the heat and add the whipping cream. Add the saffron and ground fennel, to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, if desired.

Tasting Notes
I wasn’t expecting this dish to be so tasty. I had procrastinated working on this dish, and didn’t really want to make it. But this was the most amazing fish and sauce combination I’ve had in a very long time. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though the smell in the house was overpowering! I had leftover sauce and extra shrimp, so the next day I enjoyed shrimp with the Dieppoise sauce, which were excellent leftovers. The hint of licorice from the fennel was delicious. It was creamy, rich, subtle, and amazing.

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Running total: $354.37 + $21.82 = $376.19

Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 28 tablespoons

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fumet de poisson (Fish stock)

In order to make the Filets de sole Dieppoise, which is next on my class list, I had to make the fish stock first. Fish stock is supposed to be made with white fish only. Do not use bones from fattier fish like trout, salmon, or mackerel.

Stocks are classified under fond de cuisine, which is the French word for stock. If translated literally, it means "foundation of the kitchen”. It is the liquid that comes out of simmering bones and meat with vegetables, herbs, and seasonings forming the basis of many sauces and soups. At its most basic, it is flavored water!

Stock to a cook is voice to a singer.

Broth, stock, and fumet
There are a few terms bandied about when talking about this liquid gold:
• A broth contains meat and bones and can be served as is.
• A stock contains bones and is used as an ingredient in other recipes.
• A fumet is usually referred to as a fish stock that has wine added to it.

Watch a pro
Here is a great video in 7 parts showing how to make fish fumet.

Recipe for Fish stock

Makes about 4 cups

1 pound fish (white, preferably)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
2 leeks (white part only), chopped
1 Bouquet Garni
10 peppercorns
1½ cups dry white wine
3 cups water

You can use the heads of the fish, but clean the fish of the scales and gills. Chop into pieces.

Prepare the vegetables. Since there won't be time to extract all the flavor from big chunks of vegetables, chop them fairly small.

In a large stock pot, melt butter. Add the fish and the vegetables. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 2 minutes. Add the bouquet garni, peppercorns, and wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the mixture by half. Stir in the water and bring to a boil. Skim off any froth. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve lined with a cheesecloth.

Tasting Notes
Fish stock is fishy. There’s not much else to say. After simmering fish for 20 minutes, the whole house smelled fishy so I simmered some cinnamon and cloves after I finished making this stock. But, the fish stock really was easy and enhanced the flavor of the sole immensely. It’s well worth the fish house smell!

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $338.43 + $15.94 = $354.37

Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 24 tablespoons