Chocolate Meringue

Double Chocolate Mint Meringue

If you enjoy the delicate crunch of meringue and the creamy texture of a chocolate ganache, you’ll love these sweet bite-sized morsels.

The meringue is made by warming egg whites and sugar before they are whipped. This technique, called Swiss meringue, offers better stability than a standard cold whipped meringue.  The addition of coco powder cuts the sweetness of the meringue, which made me want to add even more chocolate: a dark ganache filling laced with peppermint essence.

Makes a superb after dinner treat with coffee and Grand Marnier. If you’re going to splurge, you may as well do it right.

Makes about a dozen filled cookies

Meringue
3 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar (180 ml)
pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup sifted coco powder

Ganache Filling
7 oz (200 grams) dark chocolate (I use Lindt 70% chocolate bars)
4 ounces whipping cream (100 mil )
few drops peppermint extract

Special Equipment
Candy thermometer
Piping bag with a star tip
Baking sheet lined with parchment or a non-stick baking mat

Preheat oven to 275 F

Meringue
In the bowl of a standup mixer, or a large bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar, to combine. Bring a saucepan of two inches of water to a simmer and place the bowl over the saucepan (the water should not touch the bowl). Whip the egg whites and sugar until the mixture is warm, about 120 F (50 C). The idea is to dissolve the sugar, not create volume.

Remove from heat and whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form and the meringue is completely cool. Gently fold in the coco powder and mix just until incorporated.

Place the mixture in a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe 1 1/2” rosettes onto the prepared sheet.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until firm.  Cool before filling with chocolate ganache.

Filling
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small, heat-resistant bowl.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it just comes to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth.  Add a few drops of peppermint extract.

When the chocolate has cooled and thickened to a spreadable consistency, spoon about a teaspoon of ganache on the flat side of half the meringue cookies. Top with another meringue cookie, flat side facing ganache.

You’ll have leftover ganache (as if that’s a problem); it’s difficult to make a smaller batch.


Caramel Crème Brûlée

Photo by Caroline West

Crème brûlée and crème caramel — the two are easily confused.  Especially if you take the best part of crème caramel, the caramel, and infuse it in your crème brûlée.

Just to set the record straight, crème caramel is the light custard that’s served inverted onto a plate, caramel base up, with the golden syrup pooling dramatically at the base.

Crème brûlée is crème caramel’s richer cousin, made with cream rather than milk.  It’s dusted with sugar and torched, or brûléed, with sugar to create its distinctive glass-like topping.

The best part of crème brûlée is you can make it days in advance and there’s no fancy plating to worry about.  Simply take them out of the fridge and allow each guest the pleasure of dusting their custard with sugar and torching it.  Children and tispy guests excluded.

One of my favourite kitchen tools is a push-button starter for my burly blow torch, given to me by a student, an electrician.  It accompanies my crème brûlée to the table no matter how fancy the occasion. 

The custard is adapted from Julia Child’s crème brûlée recipe, a modified creme anglaise, found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Originally published in  EAT Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2012 issue.

Serves 10

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 fresh vanilla pod
  • ½ cup white sugar, plus additional sugar for torching
  • water
  • 8 large egg yolks

Caramel – Photo by Caroline West

You’ll want to get your equipment organized before you start. You’ll need 10 ramekins and a baking dish, or dishes, large enough to accommodate them.  You’ll also need a sieve placed atop a container (pictured below),  parchment paper, or tinfoil, a kettle for boiling water and finally, a blowtorch.

This is an easy recipe but it helps to read the recipe though to the end before you start.  Like you always do.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Line a large baking dish with small dish-towels or non-stick drawer liners.  This helps insulate and hold the ramekins in place while you transport them to and from the oven.

Pour the cream into a saucepan.

Split the vanilla pod in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Remove the tiny seeds from each side of the pod with the tip of the knife, and add them to the cream.   (Do not discard the split halves of the vanilla pods.  Instead, place them in a container with sugar and infuse with authentic flavour.)

Heat the cream and vanilla mixture until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Adding warm cream to the caramel – Photo by Caroline West

In a LARGE saucepan (trust me on this), add the sugar and just enough water to moisten the sugar. Cook the sugar on medium-high heat until it melts and turns a light amber color, approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Once the sugar starts changing colour you must be attentive –  the sugar can turn into smoking black mess in a heartbeat.
Slowly stir the warm cream mixture into the hot, melted sugar. The melted sugar will bubble madly.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with a small amount of the hot caramel cream. Add the rest of the cream in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Do not rush this process or you run the risk of scrambling the eggs.
Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a one-litre spouted container (pictured), for easy pouring.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Place the ramekins on the lined baking dish and move to a counter space that is close to the stove. Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling close to the top. Add the boiling water to the baking dish, being careful not to pour water into the custard.  The water should come half way up the sides of the ramekins.  Poke a couple of holes into a sheet of tin foil or parchment and  loosely cover the baking dish. Carefully transfer the baking dish into the oven.

Straining the custard – Photo by Caroline West

Baking time will depend on the size of your ramekins and your oven’s temperament.  Plan on about 25 minutes for small or shallow ramekins and about 45 minutes for larger containers.  The custards should be removed from the oven when they’re barely set — with the centers ever-so-slightly wobbly. It’s best to check the custards after 20 minutes to gauge the timing.

Refrigerate the custards until completely cool, at least three hours. (They can also be refrigerated up to three days in advance).

Just before serving, generously dust each custard with white sugar.  Tilt the ramekin from side to side to disperse the sugar. Using the blowtorch, carefully burn (brûlée) the sugar with the flame until the top of each custard is nicely browned.

custard ready for the oven – Photo by Caroline West


Savarin Cake

Savarin filled with tipsy fruit

Photo by Caroline West

If you like your cakes boozy and moist, this yeast cake is sure to become a favourite. Once the cake is baked, it is saturated with warm cherry brandy (Kirsch) or rum-spiked syrup. The cake soaks up the booze like a drunken sponge and swells in a happy stupor. You can, of course, omit the booze and flavour the syrup with vanilla, citrus zest, or any sober flavouring you wish.

If you’re nervous about baking with yeast, don’t let that put you off — this cake rises in its mould without any punching down or second-guessing.

I filled the hollow of my Savarin with pastry cream mousseline — a simple custard “lightened” with whipping cream. The cake is topped with caramelized pears, pistachios and a dried fruit compote steeped in wine. In the summer, fresh berries would do nicely.

Oh, those wispy golden shards poking out of the cake? That’s just a little caramelized sugar for a bit of sweet drama. They’re easy to make and I’ve explained how to do so, below.

Individual Rum Babas
Photo by Caroline West

The dough for this recipe was adapted from Julia Child’s enduring classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Originally published in EAT Magazine‘s Nov/Dec 2012 issue.

Makes one Savarin or 8 Rum Babas, depending on the size of mould.

Dough

  • 1 Tbsp instant yeast
  • ¼ cup 2% or whole milk, lukewarm
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 ⅔ cup of all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • For the Babas: 1/3 cup of currants (or any dried fruit), finely chopped

Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

For the Babas: add 1/2 cup dark rum
For the Savarin: add 1/2 cup Kirsch
Optional flavouring: vanilla , citrus zest, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise

Glaze

  • Apple or apricot jelly, warmed

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Brush mould(s) liberally with butter and dust with flour.

If mixing by hand: Dissolve the yeast with the lukewarm milk in a medium-sized bowl. Add the melted butter, sugar, salt, eggs and lemon zest and mix with a fork until well combined. If making Babas, add the currants. Add the flour all at once and, when the mixture becomes too difficult to mix with a fork, transfer it to a floured work surface and knead by hand, adding additional flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking.

If mixing by machine: Dissolve the yeast with the lukewarm milk in the bowl of a standup mixer. Add the melted butter, sugar, salt, eggs and lemon zest and mix until well combined using the whisk attachment. If making Babas, add the currants. Change the attachment to a dough hook and add the flour all at once, mixing at medium speed until the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl. You may have to add additional flour, one tablespoon at a time, to prevent the dough from sticking.

You will know that you have mixed the dough enough when you can stretch it into a thick, long rope without breaking it. The dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Savarin mould: Stretch the dough into one long rope, place it in the circular mould and pinch the ends together. The dough should only fill the mould half way to the top. (As it rises the seam will disappear.)

Baba moulds: Place the moulds on a baking tray and break off the dough in uniform pieces, filling the moulds only half way to the top.

Allow the dough to rise in a warm draft-free area for about 30 – 45 minutes or until it reaches the top of the mould(s).

While the dough is rising, make the syrup: combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir, heating gently until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the rum or Kirsch. If using vanilla, split the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, and scrape the minute seeds from the pod. Add the vanilla seeds, and the pod, to the cooling syrup and infuse for 30 minutes. (If you don’t want specks of vanilla seeds in your cakes, strain the syrup through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer.) The syrup will be gently re-heated before pouring it onto the cake(s).

When the dough has risen, place the mould(s) in the pre-heated oven and bake until the tops are golden and the dough is cooked through. Babas take about 12 – 15 minutes, Savarins about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the mould(s) and cool on a rack. Using a fine skewer or a toothpick, prick the cake(s) in several places (this will help to draw in the flavoured syrup).

Babas: Warm the syrup and pour it in a shallow bowl, such as a deep dish pie plate, and place the cooled cakes in the syrup, turning them over to saturate them completely. Place the Babas onto individual serving plates or dessert bowls and brush with the warmed jelly. Serve with pastry cream mousseline and/or fruit.

Savarin: Position the Savarin on a rack placed over a baking pan and pour half of the warmed syrup over the cake. Gently turn the Savarin over and repeat on the other side. Place the Savarin onto a cake platter and brush with the warmed jelly. Fill the center with pastry cream mousseline and garnish with fruit. Dust with icing sugar, if desired.

Pastry Cream Mousseline

Yields 4 cups

  • 2 cups milk (2% or whole)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour (or 2 Tbsp cornstarch)
  • 1 1/2 cups 35% whipping cream

In a small saucepan, combine the milk with half the sugar. Heat the sweetened milk until the mixture starts to boil. Remove it from the heat.
In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks with the balance of the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the flour and whisk until well incorporated. (The mixture will be very thick.) Add about a cup of the warm milk to thin the mixture; mix well and return the mixture it to the saucepan of sweetened milk.
Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for about a minute. The mixture (now a custard) should be thick and free of lumps.
Pour the hot custard into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and, when it is not longer hot, refrigerate until well chilled.
When you are ready to serve, whip the whipping cream to a soft peak and fold it into the chilled pastry cream.
Serve with fruit, if desired.

Dried Fruit Steeped in Wine

  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 2 cups dried fruits (figs, apricots, cherries, etc.)
  • 1 piece candied ginger
  • 1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
  • 1 star anise
  • pinch of peppercorns
  • a handful of cranberries, if desired (thawed, if frozen)

In a saucepan, warm the wine and molasses and remove from the heat. Add the fruit and remaining ingredients to the warm wine mixture and allow to steep for about 30 minutes.

When the mixture has cooled, place in a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Serve at room temperature with pastry cream mousseline, Savarin or Rum Babas.

Sugar Decorations

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 4 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup

Read the instructions to the end before you start this recipe.

Line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper brushed with a thin coat of butter.

In a deep heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, without stirring. When the sugar starts to colour (this takes about 5 minutes), swirl the pot to evenly distribute the colour. When the sugar turns golden (this take about 3 minutes), quickly, and carefully, drizzle the hot sugar onto the prepared baking tray. When the sugar cools slightly and becomes malleable — this happens very quickly — carefully drape the sugar-coated mat (or parchment) over a canister or rolling pin, sugar side up. Once the sugar has cooled and hardened, peel it from the baking mat.

To clean the saucepan of hardened sugar, fill it with water and bring it to a boil.


Smoked Mackerel

Smoked Mackerel

The flavour and texture of smoked mackerel is unlike any other fish. The flesh is ultra-moist with a smoky complexity that works best with tame ingredients that don’t overpower the fish. I’ve kept things simple by pairing my mackerel with a salad of white beans, kale, a few green olives and a good glug of olive oil. It’s not fancy, but it’s as comforting as a fleece hoodie on a chilly morning.

I picked up my mackerel at my favourite new seafood outlet, The Daily Catch, which is smack next door to my vegetable market; a happy coexistence in Vancouver’s vibrant West End. We’re enjoying a lot more seafood these days, thanks to their well stocked fish counter and ever friendly staff.

Mackerel for Two

1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling over the beans
1 shallot, sliced
1 cup chopped kale
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked white beans
1/2 freshly squeezed lemon
5 green olives, sliced
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more as necessary
2 Mackerel fillets, skin removed

In a large skillet, briefly saute the shallot in 1 Tbsp oil until aromatic. Add the chopped kale and cook just until wilted — or take it further if you enjoy your kale on the crisp side. Add the garlic and cook just until aromatic, then add the beans, lemon juice and salt. Taste the beans and kale and adjust seasoning with more lemon and salt as necessary.

Portion the beans and kale in two bowls and drizzle with a glug of oil. Top each with a mackerel fillet and serve with a lemon wedge.


Duck Confit

Duck Confit

When I tell friends I’m making duck confit they look at me suspiciously, like maybe I skin rabbits or have a gutted deer hanging in my garage.

Duck may sound exotic but the only hunting involved is rooting through the freezer section of your local grocer. Where there’s frozen turkey, there’s often duck.

Duck confit is a moist and intensely flavoured meat; tastier than chicken but not at all gamey. The skin crisps up beautifully, sort of like bacon, only better.

Confit is made by slowly poaching seasoned duck legs in duck fat (yes, duck fat) until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

While this may sound about as healthy as a bowl of poutine, duck fat  is actually one of the healthier fats  — it’s high in cholesterol-fighting monounsaturated fat.

You can pick up duck fat at your local butcher. If they don’t sell it, they’ll likely know someone who does. Use it as you would cooking oil — potatoes fried or roasted in duck fat are sensational.

Duck confit has more uses than you might imagine: you can serve it with lentils, as pictured, or shred the meat and tuck it into sweet peppers or ravioli, wrap it in a tortilla with pickled vegetables, mix it with white beans and roasted garlic, purée it into a fine pâté with pepper and cognac, or toss it in a salad, crispy skin and all.

Properly stored, duck confit lasts a month in the refrigerator.  As if you need more reason to give it a try.

——————————————————————————————–

Duck Fat and Seasoned Duck

The last time I checked, Slaters First Class Meats in Victoria and Oyama Sausage Company in Vancouver, offered duck fat.

This recipe is adapted from Michael Rulman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Originally published in Eat Magazine British Columbia Jan/Feb 2011

Duck Confit

¼ cup kosher salt
1 ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large shallots , finely sliced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 duck legs/thighs, preferably Brome Lake Ducks
Approx. 5 cups duck fat

Combine the salt with the pepper, garlic, shallots, fennel, parsley and thyme.  Sprinkle half of the mixture on the bottom of a dish large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer.   Place the duck on top of the salt mixture and then sprinkle with the remaining salt.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

Heat the oven to 240F.  Melt the duck fat in a saucepan over medium low heat.

Remove the duck from the salt, rinse thoroughly and pat completely dry with paper towels. Arrange the duck pieces in a single snug layer in a wide, shallow, oven-safe saucepan, casserole or baking dish.  Pour the melted fat over the duck.  The duck pieces must be completely covered by fat.

Transfer the duck to the oven and gently simmer, uncovered, until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, approximately 2 to 3 hours.  Check the oven occasionally to make sure the fat is gently simmering; confit can become tough if the oven is too hot.  Adjust the heat as required to achieve a very gentle simmer.

Store the duck in the fat in the refrigerator for up to one month.  Excess duck fat can be strained and stored in the refrigerator for later use.

When ready to use, brown the duck pieces, skin side down in a frying pan to crisp the skin. Then transfer to a low oven until heated through, approximately 15 minutes at 325 F.