PTICHYE MOLOKO, A RUSSIAN DESSERT

Have you heard of it? In plain English it means Bird’s Milk, a very traditional Russian delicacy, also common in Ukraine and Romania. The name originates from Greek, bird’s milk implying a delicacy very hard to obtain, a rare pleasure. My encounter with this dessert deserves further explanation.

I’ve been seriously bitten by the dangerous Silikomart bug. Silikomart is an Italian company specialized in silicone molds for cakes, mousses, chocolates, anything your mind dreams, they might just make it. They can be pricey, but I found out that ebay is a delightful source to make this type of obsession even harder to control. Oh, well. The bottom line is that somehow I found myself with a couple of amazing molds and not that many recipes adapted for them. A cart-before-the-horse situation. I put google to work and next thing I knew, I stumbled upon a blog that blew my little mind away. The blog is written in Russian and… wait for it… Portuguese!  I know, it was fate. The food blogger behind it, Ekaterina, is a fantastic professional patissière who trained with top chefs in Russia.  I still have a hard time believing that I found one of the best desserts blogs out there, and she writes it in my native language. Reading her blog (Verdade de Sabor) became my routine late at night, indulging in her gorgeous dessert posts before falling asleep. That’s how I became acquainted with Bird’s Milk. A cookie base. A milk souffle-ish on top. A thin chocolate layer wrapping it all.  And a big smile when you bring it to the table!

BIRD’S MILK (PTICHYE MOLOKO)
(very slightly modified from Verdade de Sabor)

for the cookie base:
80 g of softened butter
65 g powdered sugar
5 g sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
90 g all purpose-flour
10 g almond flour
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder

for the milk filling:
100 g of egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
180 g sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
160 g water (divided in 60 and 100 g)
20 g gelatin powder
100 g of softened butter
100 g condensed milk

Chocolate cover:
400 g of chocolate 50-55%
100 g of oil (I used grapeseed)

Make the cookie base. Heat the oven to 350 F.  In a bowl beat the butter and the powdered sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one by one, constantly beating. In another bowl sift the flour and baking powder and add to the previous mixture. Finally, add the almond flour. Stir very well. The dough does not get too thick or too liquid, the texture must be creamy.

Spread the dough as a square, about 1/8 inch thick, smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 15 minutes (depending on the oven) or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Then, cut circles just slightly smaller than the diameter of your silicone mold. You can also make the dessert as a single rectangle or square, using a ring to assemble it. Your choice. Allow to cool completely.

Make the milk souffle:  Hydrate the gelatin in 60 mL ice water. Then melt in a water bath (I placed it in the microwave for bursts of  seconds, watching it very carefully). Reserve. In a bowl, beat the butter well with the condensed milk until you get a fluffy cream. Reserve.

Add the sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan, pour 100 mL cold water. Put a culinary thermometer in the mixture and bring to medium heat. Meanwhile, in the mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. When the syrup boils, add the cream of tartar. When the syrup reaches 240 F (116 ° C), remove from the heat, and add the hot syrup to the egg whites gradually. Continue beating the meringue for a few more minutes or until it forms firm peaks. Then slowly add the melted gelatin, and continue to beat. Reduce the speed of the mixer to the minimum and gradually add the cream of butter and condensed milk.

Pour the souffle into the silicone molds (I made 6 individual serving ones, but had leftover filling that I added to a smaller mold and saved in the freezer for later).  Place a cookie on top, and press it slightly into the mousse, but do not sink it in. Cover with plastic film and freeze. You can do that a couple of days in advance.

Make the chocolate coating: Melt the chocolate in a water bath or in the microwave. Add oil and stir well. Allow to cool at room temperature to 86 to 93 F (30-34 ° C). That is really pretty cold, below body temperature. You can also make that the day before and warm it up gently, without stirring with a whisk, as you don’t want bubbles to form.

Unmold the domes and cover with the glazing. Decorate with tempered chocolate if you desire. I used white chocolate drizzle.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I used this mold for assembly of our dessert. It is not a Silikomart, but I like the quality and they are quite a bit cheaper.  In Ekaterina’s blog, she used a different mold, in the “buche de Noel” shape, but you can assemble this dessert in a square format too. Whatever you do, the cookie base must be cut slightly smaller because the goal is to cover the dessert with chocolate and hide the base.  Alternatively, you could cut it exactly the same size, coat the frozen milky filling with chocolate, let it set and then place it over the naked cookie. But it would have a totally different look. I like the way she did it, so that the cookie becomes a nice crunchy surprise as you cut into the dessert.

To un-mold the domes, I advise you to get a hairdryer and heat the surface of the dome just for a few seconds – that releases them very nicely, as you can see below.  In fact, it’s amazing how often a hairdryer can come in handy when making more elaborate desserts. I rarely dry my hair, so it now lives in the kitchen… Go figure!

See the difference? I am so glad I thought about the hairdryer trick after un-molding the first one. In this type of dessert, any boo-boo makes the final product suffer. The trickiest part of the dessert is in fact the last one, the coating with the chocolate. It must be cold enough that it will settle right away instead of sliding down and not coating the surface. But that means you’ll have ONE SHOT at getting it right. I advise you to look at youtube videos to see how the pros do it, then cross your fingers and try it yourself.  Keep in mind that you won’t be able to fix the surface with an offset spatula, or go at it again a second time. Both options will result in a wavy, not-attractive coating. I opted for a drizzle of white chocolate in the end not only because of the contrast of color, but to hide some of the imperfections I left as I poured the chocolate over the dome. What can I say? I am still learning and making mistakes in the process… Speaking of the drizzle (and mistakes), my virtual teacher Gary gave me a nice tip to make them better. Go passed the dome as the chocolate drizzle falls on it, so that you get a straight line all the way across. It will be more elegant that way. Lesson (hopefully) learned.

The dessert is truly delicious and worth the effort of the preparation. In fact, it’s not that hard if you make the components in advance and take your time. You can definitely make the filling a couple of days earlier, bake the cookie in the morning, and assemble it all before a dinner party. Leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours, and remove to room temperature about 15 minutes before you want to enjoy it. Then you’ll have a perfect texture in the filling.

I know that her blog being written in Russian and Portuguese makes it a bit hard to fully enjoy it, but I urge you to go there and marvel at her posts. She is also a delightful person, very responsive and helpful. She reads and writes in English, so comments in English are not a problem.

ONE YEAR AGO: Cheesy Low-Carb Zucchini Tarts

TWO YEARS AGO: Blogging Hiatus

THREE YEARS AGO: Apricots, Three Ways

FOUR YEARS AGO: Up Close and Personal with Kale

FIVE YEARS AGOBlack Berry Cherry Sorbet

SIX YEARS AGO: Asparagus Pesto

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Chocolate and Chestnut Terrine

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Under the spell of lemongrass

NINE YEARS AGO: Greens + Grapefruit + Shrimp = Great Salad!

 

 

A VALENTINE’S DAY OPERA

Not everyone is fond of opera. I go as far as saying that it is an acquired taste. But if you switch from music to cake, the polls are reversed: most people will go weak in the knees anticipating a slice. Opera Cake is often described as a dessert in six acts. Layers of thin cake, moist with a delicate coffee syrup, separated by luscious coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. A real French classic. A real beauty. A perfect way to say I love you on February 14th. Or any other day of the year. Because this is a cake that creates its own moment. And thanks to Colette Christian and  Craftsy lessons online, Sally, the cake-o-phobe produced a version that made her very happy…

 

OPERA CAKE – RECIPE OVERVIEW

(based on Colette Christian’s Miniature French Desserts at Craftsy.com)

 

It all starts with the mis-en-place for a Joconde sponge cake. With a name like that, you know it’s going to be special. Joconde is a cake leavened exclusively by beaten eggs, with a nice proportion of ground almonds (or almond meal) in the batter. Colette gives very nice tips to make it homogeneous in thickness, because the Opera Cake is all about precision. Any small mistake in a step, and the outcome might suffer.

You can use any formula you like for the cake, I will give you one example from BBC food, very similar to the one I used from Colette.

JOCONDE SPONGE CAKE

3 whole eggs
15g sugar
100g almond flour
100g icing sugar
3 egg whites
20g granulated sugar
30g cake flour
30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Almonds and icing sugar are sifted into a large bowl, eggs added and whisked to combine.

A meringue is made with the egg whites, raining the granulated sugar slowly, until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to medium-high, and mix until the whites are at a firm peak. Add 1/3 of the meringue to the almond mixture. Add half the cake flour and half the melted butter.  Add another 1/3 of meringue, the rest of the flour and butter. Finally fold in the remaining third of the meringue.

Spread the batter as homogeneously as possible on a half-sheet pan. Try not to deflate it and bake it right away for about 15 minutes at 375 F. The cake should not get any color, but it should spring back lightly when touched at the center.

 

After baking, the cake is cut in three rectangles. Try to be precise, but don’t worry too much, as the cake will be trimmed at the very end. One layer is painted with melted chocolate and allowed to set. That layer of chocolate will be the very base of the final cake, preventing any soaking syrup from forming a puddle in the bottom.

You will also need to make a coffee buttercream, more specifically a French buttercream, in which a mixture of sugar and water is cooked to 236 to 240 F (soft-ball stage).  You can use this recipe, which is again very similar to the one I got from Craftsy. Just include 1 tablespoon of coffee extract together with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. You need coffee extract to make sure the flavor will come through without diluting the buttercream too much and affecting texture.

Apart from the buttercream, you’ll need chocolate ganache for one of the cake layers.  A regular kind, equal weights of chocolate and heavy cream, allowed to cool to room temperature and placed in a piping bag.  The buttercream also goes in a piping bag, the easiest and less messy way to assemble the cake. No need to use a piping tip, just cut the bag to form a 1/2 inch opening.

To assemble, first start with the cake painted with melted chocolate at the base. A nice soaking of coffee syrup (water, strong coffee extract and sugar, cooked until the sugar fully dissolves). A layer of buttercream. A second layer of cake. More soaking. Ganache lavishly spread on top. Final layer of syrup-soaked cake, final top layer of buttercream. Now, the assembled cake rests in the fridge for a couple of hours, waiting for the final step. Don’t worry about the way the sides look now. It will all be fine in the end…

The pouring ganache, perhaps better described as a chocolate glaze. A good formula would be 227g chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), 170g heavy cream, and 28g light corn syrup. The glaze cannot be too hot, and cannot be too cold. A little colder than body temperature will be perfect. Colette shows a nice technique to pour the glaze, so that it sits as a very smooth layer on top. Once all that is done, the cake is refrigerated for several hours so that all layers are nicely set. Do not dare cutting it before it sets, you will not have defined layers unless you exercise patience. That gave me a bit of a chuckle. Me, advising patience, the virtue I lack the most…

Then what? Then the final fun begins… I decided to cut the cake in 2 inch squares, and for that I used a very cool gadget. I tell you, just getting that tool ready made me feel like some heavy hitter baker… I know, I’m easily amused. But, seriously, just look at how cool that is:

I also used this tool to cut the laminated dough for croissants and pain au chocolat, but failed to get a picture at the time.  All you need to do is measure the precise dimension of what you want to cut (or score the surface, as in the case of the Opera Cake), and lock the rolling blades in place.  Gently roll them over the surface of the fully set cake, and you will have perfect squares, ready to be sliced with a serrated knife. The edges are trimmed off to reveal clean layers on all sides of the cut pieces. The secret is to place the knife in very hot tap water, and clean the blade after every cut you make. If you’d like to order one, here is a link to amazon.com (I do not make any profit from your purchase, by the way).

A little buttercream goes in a small piping bag couple with a star tip. And you are ready to decorate the top. Or, you can do the more authentic decoration, writing Opera on each slice. Since I opted to cut the cake small, I went with the buttercream instead. What do you think?

This cake was so much fun to make!  I started early on a Sunday morning, and tried to work as relaxed as possible. It is cake, after all, and they make me a little nervous. But, less now than in the past.

For those who celebrate…

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!


I know I’ll be repeating myself, but I must give high praise to the online baking classes from Craftsy, particularly those taught by Colette Christian.  Without her guidance, making the Opera Cake would have been a tragedy in six acts… 


ONE YEAR AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Chocolate Truffles

THREE YEARS AGO: Red Velvet Cupcakes

FOUR YEARS AGO: Valentine’s Day: The Finale

FIVE YEARS AGO: Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

SIX YEARS AGO: Dan Dan Noodles

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Sophie Grigson’s Parmesan Cake

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

RED VELVET CUPCAKES

If you are not completely overwhelmed by the influx of sweets, chocolates,  strawberries, and heart-shaped things in the blogosphere, you could be now, because I am adding one more shockingly red item to the 26.2 mile-long list. But, how could I resist joining this party, when I baked a batch of these:

RedVelvetCupcakes1
Aren’t you absolutely amazed?  Aren’t they cute? Did you notice the icing? Can you believe “I” made them? So many questions, I know… but you have to be amazed. Because I certainly am. Granted, this baking adventure was not drama-free.

RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
(from Kristine’s Kitchen)

**recipe makes 24 cupcakes, I halved all amounts for a batch of 12**

for the cupcakes:
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. (1 ounce) red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

for the cream cheese frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese (straight from refrigerator do not soften)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 – 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine eggs, oil, buttermilk, red food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix on medium speed until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and beat first on low-speed and then on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners, filling each a little over halfway full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 16-18 minutes. Let cupcakes cool in pans for 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting: Beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and mix on low-speed until incorporated, and then medium-high speed until frosting reaches desired consistency, about 3 more minutes. For a stiffer icing, add more powdered sugar. Beat in the vanilla extract. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes as desired. Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

baked

The stunning paper linings were a gift from our friend Cindy. I decided to trim their tops after baking to make it easier to frost the cakes. I know my limitations.

iced
Everything was going on well, until it was time to frost the cakes. I was set on doing a good job on these, so I bought myself a pastry bag. Not a fancy one, but a disposable, single use plastic type. I filled the bag with the cream cheese frosting,  took a deep breath, and went to work.  All went smoothly for the first two babies, then all of a sudden, I squeezed and squeezed, and nothing came out of the pastry bag’s tip.  I told myself – you are a P90Xer, you can certainly squeeze harder than that! – and that’s when I felt a moist, cold, sticky feeling on my wrist, the consequence of frosting that had found its way up instead of down, and not satisfied to reach midway through my arm, was now splashing on the floor.

Not sure if you ever had to deal with this type of situation, but there’s only one word to describe it: messy.  Very messy.  The bag gets slippery, the frosting refuses to compact down, and the Jack Russell gets overly agitated from the sudden intake of sugar. Chaos in the Bewitching Kitchen. Still, only one little cake was lost in that battle, due to jerky movements on my part and the merciless Law of Gravity.

These cupcakes were moist, tender, and the frosting complemented them quite well. The only problem was the decoration added on top. It turns out that those sugar pearls were rock hard.  I thought they would more or less melt in the mouth, but… not the case. More the dental filling destroyer kind. I will use a different type of sprinkle next time.  Because obviously there will be a next time. And when that next time arrives, I intend to do as pros do, and twist the top of the pastry bag. It’s all in the details, my friends.  🙂

BuckBoy

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

ONE YEAR AGO: Happy Valentine’s Day!

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Few Blogging Issues

THREE YEARS AGO: Dan Dan Noodles

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Sophie Grigson’s Parmesan Cake

FIVE YEARS AGO: Antibiotics and Food

 

 

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKE BARS

Where is 2014 going in such a big hurry?  It acts as if it’s desperately searching for 2015 or something, hard to believe we are in the end of May already!  Still, each month closes with the secretive deliciousness of Reveal Day in the Secret Recipe Club. For those who may not know, it is that super fun event in which bloggers pick are assigned a blog in secret, choose a recipe to cook from it, and blog about it on the exact same day (and time!).  This month I went through several cycles of hyperventilation from the moment I got my assignment. Why, you may ask?  Because I received the blog of our group’s moderator!  Can you imagine that?  It’s like having to present a seminar on the research topic of the Head of your department!   Hummmm, come to think of it, I’ve done that a few times in the past couple of years.  No wonder I hyperventilate so much…  (inside joke, laugh if you get it).

Our moderator, Sarah, is the gorgeous hostess of the blog Fantastical Sharing of Recipes. She is the Mom of two kids, 7-year-old Matthew and 6-year-old Cambria, and also has two kittens, Bella and Muffin. That seems busy enough for me, but she talks about getting a dog to join the fun! Let’s hope she will think twice before getting a Jack Russell Terror…  😉  Apart from taking care of two young kids, she also supervises 37 grownup kids in Group D of The Secret Recipe Club. For the most part, I suppose we are well-behaved,  but undoubtedly there’s a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders. I went through her site with desserts and sweets in mind, hoping to bake something to take to our graduate students.  But a lot of savory options tempted me like her Atomic Hashbrowns (with a name like that, they gotta be awesome!), her Tamale BallsPhilly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls (fusion cooking, anyone?), and her Jalapeno Popper Turkey Chili.  After struggling with several options for sweets, I could not decide between her Blueberry Breakfast Braid. and the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars.  I tossed a coin. Yes, I did.  And here is what the coin told me to do:

Bars1

 

DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKE BARS
(from Fantastical Sharing of Recipes)

for the crust:
1 sleeve graham crackers
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

for the filling:
12 oz. dulce de leche
2 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla

for the glaze:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. corn syrup
1 Tbsp. heavy cream

Prepare an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray.

Grind crackers with sugar in a food processor. Stir in butter. Cover the bottom of the pan pressing the crumbs well with your fingers. Bake at 325* for 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Pour dulce de leche on the crust and refrigerate.

Make the filling:  beat cream cheese for 3 minutes. Add sugar and beat another 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat just until incorporated. Spread filling on top of dulce de leche layer. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Cool for 2 hours.

For glaze: Heat all ingredients in a saucepan or double broiler, stirring until smooth. Cool for 10 minutes and pour over cooled filling. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Let sit at room temp for 10 minutes before cutting.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite

 Comments:  This was my first time making a cheesecake type dessert, so I was excited to try it, but a bit worried about my inexperience. My goal was to take these bars to our lab meeting, which happens early on Thursdays.  I laid out a nice schedule to make everything the evening before, taking in account that I had to meet Phil and a guest speaker for dinner at 8pm.  On my way home I stopped at the store to get the ingredients, arrived home and got busy. Each step was planned to the minute,  I was following along flawlessly. Flawlessly? Not so fast, Silly Sally… not so fast.  When making my list for the grocery store, I did not notice the recipe called for TWO cream cheese packages. TWO. I brought home only one.  Can you imagine the shiver up and down my spine? Can you picture my kitchen at that very moment? Can you, really?  Yeap.  Best laid plans.

Considering all my options and how fast the clock was ticking, I rushed back to the grocery store, faced the same cashier with a sheepish smile, and brought the second package of cream cheese home.  Drove like a maniac to the restaurant, joined the gentlemen for dinner, and…  found myself baking way past bedtime.  Best laid plans. Story of my life.

CheesecakeBars22

 

But, as usual, it all had a happy ending, although I should have remembered to bring a good knife to the lab to cut the squares.  The knife available at the department was definitely not up to the challenge, and my production did not look nearly as good as that from Sarah. I think the best way to cut a cheesecake is a very sharp knife, dipping it in hot water at each cut, and cleaning the blade with a paper towel as you go. Keep that in mind if you make this decadent dessert.   Decadent is a good way to define it, we are talking major caloric intake, but a little piece should satisfy even those with a very sweet tooth…   I wish I had made my own dulce de leche from scratch like Sarah did,  but that will have to wait for another opportunity.

Sarah, I had a blast with my assignment this month, I know it was not a secret for you, but that is part of the life of a moderator, right?  I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for always sending the assignments very early, giving us more than enough time to stalk, cook, and blog. I know that everyone from our group certainly appreciates that… 😉

If you want to check the labor of love of my fellow Group D members, click on the blue entity smiling at you at the end of the post.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Penne with Trapanese Pesto

TWO YEARS AGO: Superman

THREE YEARS AGO: Spring Pasta

FOUR YEARS AGO: Ice Cream Melts for Mango

 

OWN YOUR KITCHEN with CAPPUCCINO PANNA COTTA

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL MY AMERICAN READERS! 

You will definitely find plenty of T-day recipes (plus leftover ideas) in the food blogosphere, so I will dance to a slightly different tune, and offer you a cookbook review instead…  

_________________________________________________________

Anne Burrell strikes again with a new cookbook, “Own Your Kitchen: Recipes to Inspire and Empower.”   Knowing that on January 1st my annual New Year’s Resolution of  “No more cookbooks!”  will be in place, I ordered it on the first week of November.  I am obviously quite astute.  😉 However, after browsing “Own Your Kitchen,” I concluded that it would be worth breaking any New Year’s Resolution, no matter what the resulting karma may be.   I couldn’t wait to cook something from it, and with a dinner party approaching this dessert selection was winking at me:  a batch of  her Cappuccino Panna Cotta, that Anne describes in her delightful way:

“My version tastes like a coffee milkshake…YUM!  It’s super cinchy to make but very impressive and a perfect do-ahead… Dress it up with a little chocolate sauce and voilà, it’s fancy!”

Cappuccino Panna Cotta

CAPPUCCINO PANNA COTTA WITH CHOCOLATE SAUCE
(from Own Your Kitchen, re-printed with permission from Anne Burrell & Random House LLC)

for the panna cotta:
4 sheets of gelatin (*)
3 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
½ vanilla bean
½ cup chocolate-covered coffee beans, for garnish (I opted for chocolate-covered cranberries)
.
for the chocolate sauce:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

.
Make the panna cotta: In a small bowl of cool water, submerge the gelatin sheets to soften. They will go from stiff to soft.
.
In a small saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and espresso powder. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise down one side, open it up, and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Add the seeds and the hull to the pan. Whisk to combine everything.  Bring the cream mixture to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat.
.
Remove the softened gelatin sheets from the water and squeeze out the excess water. Add the gelatin sheets to the pan and whisk to combine. Immediately ladle the cream mixture into four 6-ounce ramekins and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours or overnight.
.
Make the chocolate sauce: Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring it to a boil.  In a medium heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate chips, heavy cream, butter and corn syrup. place the bowl on top of the pan of water. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients are combined. Remove and use immediately or store in a warm place until ready to use.
.
Unmold the panna cotta:  Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Run a paring knife around the outside edge of the panna cotta to loosen it. Set each ramekin in the saucepan for 10 seconds. Place a small serving plate on top of each ramekin and flip it over to unmold the panna cotta. If it doesn’t release, put the ramekin in the water for a few seconds more and try again.
.
To serve, ladle a couple of tablespoons of the chocolate sauce around the panna cotta and sprinkle with a few chocolate-covered espresso beans.
.
(*) If you can’t find gelatin sheets, you can substitute powdered gelatin. To use powdered gelatin in this recipe, first bloom one ¼ ounce envelope in 2 tablespoons water, then add it to the mix. ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite1

My comments on the panna cotta…   Our desserts tend toward simple rather than extravagant, and  Panna Cotta is the essence of simplicity.  It’s a recipe that you can take in countless directions by changing the flavors in the steeping cream.   The espresso powder in this version performs pure magic with the vanilla, and when the chocolate sauce joins it, the party reaches perfection.   And, because chocolate-covered cranberries never hurt anyone, I invited them too.  😉   The fact that you can prepare the panna cotta the day beforehand makes it great for entertaining.  I measured and placed all the chocolate sauce ingredients in a double-boiler, except the butter and cream that I kept in a small bowl in the fridge.  When the dinner wound down I cooked up the chocolate sauce, unmolded the cold panna cotta, and assembled each individual serving.  The softness of the cool panna cotta against the warm sauce, and the little crunch of the cranberries was out of this world!  A perfect end for any special meal, and as Anne pointed out, simple to prepare.

panacotta1

OWN YOUR KITCHEN, my review…

ABCover

If you were hooked on Anne’s FoodTV show  (and can’t quite understand why they don’t bring her back for new episodes….) you’ll love her new book.    If you’ve never watched her show, the outcome will be exactly the same!. 😉 “Own Your Kitchen” is an extension of her personality,  highlighting the fun aspects of cooking, but also loaded with culinary knowledge from her many years as a successful chef.   My favorite cookbooks not only feature nice recipes, but also share a little background about each one.   Is it a family recipe?  Is it something that the author recreated from a vacation, or maybe from a restaurant meal?  What makes it so special that I’d want to hurry to the kitchen and prepare it?   On the other hand, I don’t  need a philosophical treatise tagged to a Bolognese sauce.  Anne Burrell achieves just the right the balance between food and entertainment.

Like many cookbooks, the overall organization of  “Own Your Kitchen”  is divided into courses, but in a flexible, amusing way:  Firsts, Seconds, Brunch, Sandwiches, Sides, and Desserts.  She precedes each recipe with what I’d call a  “teaser paragraph,” that reveals interesting info about it.  In the recipe itself she highlights (with a “HINT!”) steps to prepare ahead of time, or even the day before, that will help those who are not seasoned cooks.   Lastly, after the recipe you’ll often find remarks called Anne-notations, in which she suggests possible changes, how to make that recipe your own. It’s the “inspire and empower” aspect of the book.

Now, for a brief virtual tour of “Own Your Kitchen,”  I’ll describe my two favorite recipes from each chapter.

FIRSTS
Tomato Salad with Shrimp and Black Volcanic Salt.  
Simple has never looked so decadent and luscious.  With just a few ingredients,  she re-created a recipe  enjoyed on a trip to Hawaii, a place so dear to my heart!  Of course, I had to place an order for Black salt, and this salad will be on our table whenever great tomatoes are back in season…

Ricotta Flan with Bacon, Corn, Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto.    In Anne’s words:  “…this lovely little flan says, “Hi, ricotta, you shy girl, come out and be the superstar!”  😉  You can make your own ricotta (she shows you how), or use store-bought, but this recipe would be amazing to start a dinner party, or to enjoy as a light meal.

SECONDS
Cornish Game Hens with Pancetta-Rosemary Crust. 
She developed this recipe years ago, while working in a restaurant in New York where “her paycheck kept bouncing and she was frustrated and broke.”   She left that place, but took this gem of a recipe with her.  Wise girl! I wonder if the place still exists (I bet it doesn’t) and how they feel about losing Anne as a chef.  Ha! Their loss! Come to think of it, that’s the type of recipe that has her trademark all over, using an ingredient (pancetta) in a completely unexpected way. I love it!

Balsamic-braised Brisket with Bacon and Mushrooms.   I almost picked this recipe as my first to cook from the book, because I remember it from her show on TV.   She actually wrote that the filming crew attacked the meat once the show was over.   I can imagine the scene…  Her personal endorsement:  “one of my favorites of all the recipes I’ve ever written.”  You can bet I’ll be making it during the cold months ahead of us.

BRUNCH
Farro Granola.  
To deal with the harsh texture so common in granola,  Anne uses a clever twist on the grains of farro before adding them to the other ingredients.  Fascinating, Mr. Spock, fascinating…

Homemade Ricotta.   Making ricotta from scratch has been on my list of things to do for years!  Shame on me!  Maybe this cookbook will finally push me in the right direction.

SANDWICHES
Killer Turkey Burger.  
I remember this burger from her TV show too.   She was so tired of bad turkey burgers that she took matters into her own hands, and made a great version.  In typical Anne Burrell fashion, you will find an ingredient you would not expect in the mix.  😉

Tallegio Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Honey Crisp Apples.   Her upscale version of a classic, adding crisp apples to a strong cheese and smoky bacon.  Comfort food, in sandwich form…

SIDES
Shaved Raw Cauliflower with Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette.  
  I just know this will be a winner!   She shaves the cauliflower, then takes it in the direction of ceviche.  Yeah, baby… Much to my beloved husband’s consternation, I can’t have enough recipes for cauliflower…

Yukon Gold Potato Pancakes.    These are NOT your regular potato pancakes.  Trust me, Anne adds her usual twist to the recipe, and these pancakes will top any other version.

DESSERTS
Cappuccino Panna Cotta.  
Today’s post, a winner all the way…

Sticky Toffee Pudding.     I’ve been meaning to make this dessert forever,  as I’ve never had it but it sounds incredibly tasty.   Anne’s description of her own experience in a London restaurant will convince you  to bake a batch right on the spot.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

My job is to empower you to become the best cook you can be and learn to own your kitchen. Why? Because cooking is fun and delicious.
(Anne Burrell, Own Your Kitchen)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

She definitely succeeds in doing that. First, there is no doubt she brings the fun aspect of cooking to the forefront. Diluting a sheet of gelatin in water and feeling its textural change? Fun! Making and cooking dough? Fun (and satisfying)…  Cracking the salt crust on a whole fish at the table?  Fun! Mixing bread and sausage with your hands to make a stuffing?  Fun, of course!  But, she is also a natural teacher who is able to stress what really matters in a technique. With her trademark phrase “Brown food tastes good!“, she makes sure that cooks take their time to do that first step so common in stews, braises and even roasts: BROWN your food, do it nicely, do it well. That step alone will make a huge difference in the quality of your dishes. But that’s just one example, there’s a lot more to learn from her.

The holidays are coming up, so if you want to give someone a great cookbook, order a copy of “Own Your Kitchen“. Now, if you are like me and insist on making New Year Resolutions that involve a self-inflicted moratorium on cookbooks, hurry up and get a copy for yourself: 2014 is just about to say hello…

Disclaimer: I do not accept requests or any type of compensation to review cookbooks or products. I am not affiliated with amazon.com or any other company. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I like to make this point clear.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chicken Parmigiana, the Thriller

TWO YEARS AGO: Wild Mushroom Risotto

THREE YEARS AGO: Tartine Bread:  Basic Country Loaf

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Pugliese Bread

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE “LEGERE COMME UNE PLUMME”

mousse3
Paris will always be a home away from home for Phil and I.  If we could, we’d fly back there more often, but unfortunately we go through several years of (switching briefly to Portuguese) “saudades de Paris”.  Saudade is a word from my native language that has no exact match is English. From Wikipedia: “Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone who one loves”.  The word originated in Portugal to describe the feelings of family members of sailors who would see them leave shore on the glorious days of Portuguese expeditions, uncertain of their return.  And the exact same feeling hit the sailors themselves, as the distance between them and their beloved country would get bigger and bigger.  It’s been 3 years since we’ve last been to Paris, so the “saudade” is intensifying quite a bit.  How do I deal with it? I indulge in reading some wonderful French food blogs, like Du Miel et Du Sel, where I found this post about a chocolate mousse. It was described as  “légère comme une plumme“, or “light as a feather”.  It delivered exactly what it promised, a mousse without the cloying nature that often sends it over the top for my taste. The secret? No egg yolks and no butter!  Just pure chocolate deliciousness

mousse2

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT
(from Marie Claire,  Du Miel et du Sel)

* 8 servings*

200 g dark chocolate (I used 72% cocoa)
200 g heavy cream
200 g egg whites (6 egg whites)
pinch of salt
60 g sugar

Cut the chocolate in small pieces and place inside a large bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a gentle boil, then pour it over the chocolate, one-third of the volume at a time, mixing well after each addition.  After all the cream is added, the chocolate emulsion should be very smooth, without any lumps.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt for a few minutes until they start to get some body.  At this point, add the sugar slowly, a little at a time, always whipping the eggs.  Beat until they form firm peaks.

Mix 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate, no need to be gentle at this point, just mix it all well to lighten up the chocolate mixture.  Add the rest of the egg whites very gently, folding with a spatula, making sure not to deflate the egg whites too much.  Divide the mousse into 8 serving cups, refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

We make desserts exclusively when we have guests over for dinner.  For this particular occasion, we had three very special guests at home, a Brazilian scientists who came over to give a talk, and two friends from KSU.   Our Brazilian guest not only is a great scientist and a dear friend, but once suffered through a tricky situation in our home in Oklahoma.  He came to give a talk in our former department (just like he did now at KSU), and on that evening we hosted a lab party that ended with a strawberry genoise cake.  By far the worst concoction I’ve ever made, one that my guests ate in silence, but not the “good” type of silence.  The bottom layer of my “masterpiece” had somehow turned into a solid rock, hard to cut even with a serrated knife!  I know, I know, how could anyone achieve that?  It was very embarrassing. I wanted to disappear from the face of the planet. Of course, once the initial shock was over,  we laughed about it, and everyone salvaged the top layer of the cake and left the concrete part untouched.   I’ve never attempted a genoise again, although my friend Gary, patissier extraordinaire, keeps telling me to go for it.  I will, once I get over that trauma (sigh). Anyway, I wanted to exorcise the demons of my past, and make a dessert that our guests would enjoy. A chocolate mousse light as a feather could not possibly turn into a rock, right?  Right.  This was the happy ending I was hoping for our pizza party.  You can make them big, you can make them small, you can top with strawberries, you can add shaved chocolate, or go for the kill and top with some whipped cream.  Whatever route you choose, Marie Claire said it all in her post:

Vous allez vous lécher les doigts.  (It’s finger-licking good!)

mousse4
ONE YEAR AGO:
Black Olive Sourdough Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Buttermilk Cluster

THREE YEARS AGO: Farfalle, Farfalle

THE SECRET RECIPE CLUB: CHOCOLATE ORANGE DRIZZLE CAKE

Last Monday of the month, and it’s Secret Recipe Reveal Day for my group. For those not familiar with it, the SRC is a monthly event in which food bloggers are paired in secret, and after stalking the assigned blog for a couple of weeks, they cook and blog on a chosen recipe. I was paired with royalty this month:  Lavender and Lovage is a great food blog that I’ve known long before I  joined the group.  Karen, the host, has lived in many different places, teaches cooking classes in the Southwest of France, and does a lot of research on British cooking. In fact, she is writing a cookbook about it! Her About Me page is a must read.   I had four recipes high on my list of possible choices, but finally decided to bake a cake. And one that takes creaming the butter with sugar, which proves I am a very daring person.  😉

CHOCOLATE ORANGE DRIZZLE CAKE
(from Lavender and Lovage)

for the cake:
6 oz (150 g) softened butter
6 oz (150 g) superfine sugar
6 oz (150 g) self-raising flour
3 large eggs, beaten
grated rind from 2 oranges
2 tablespoons milk
(7″ to 8″ round cake pan ~ greased and lined)

for the drizzle:
Juice from 2 oranges
2 oz (50 g) sugar
2 oz (50 g) 85% chocolate

Heat oven to 170C/350F.  Beat the butter and sugar together until
light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs and flour,
alternately, mixing well in between. Add the grated orange rind and
mix well before adding the milk to make a soft dropping consistency.

Pour the cake mixture into a greased and lined pan and bake for 35 to
40 minutes, until risen and light golden brown; test the center of the
cake with a skewer, if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Cool in the pan.

Make the orange drizzle by gently heating the orange juice and sugar
together in a pan until the sugar has dissolved. When the cake has
cooled, pour the orange drizzle over the cake in the tin. When the
cake is completely cold, take it out of the tin and place it on a
serving plate.

Heat the chocolate in a saucepan over a low heat, do not allow to
boil, and as soon as it has melted, drizzle the chocolate over the
cake, using a fork to make patterns.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

This cake was delicious, and Karen’s description of it was spot on:  some cakes that are drizzled with syrup after baking will end up soggy and overly sweet.  Not this one.  She coated it with a full layer of chocolate and decorated it with chocolate swirls, I stayed with a humble drizzle, as  my chocolate reserves in the pantry were  unexpectedly low.  One wonders why.   😉

To see what my fellow bloggers from group D cooked up this month,  click on the smily frog below.  To see who got my blog and the recipe chosen (it’s delicious!)  click here for Avril’s siteThe Secret Recipe Club will take a break in the month of December, but we’ll be back in full swing next year!

Karen, it was great to spend time stalking your blog!
I hope you are having fun on your Reveal Day…  

ONE YEAR AGO: Turkey Day, Tryptophan, and Fluorescence

TWO YEARS AGO:  The Ultimate Apple Cake

THREE YEARS AGO: Trouble-Free Pizza Dough