Friday, March 30, 2012

When it's Cloudy and "Grey" - Earl Grey Pots de Creme

There is something comforting, on a dreary day, about having a cup of Earl Grey with a spot of cream.  The bergamot orange just seems to brighten the mood.  But I have discovered something even better.  It involves having cream with a little Earl Grey.  :)

Technically, this works better if you have the actual "pots de creme" that are what give this custard dessert its name.  They are kind of like a demitasse (espresso sized) cup with a lid. But in a pinch, you can use ramekins; which I have have done here, because I only have ONE of these little pots.

The only reason I have this one, is because I happened to see it on eBay, it's shaped like a thistle and I thought it would be a cool sugar bowl, which is exactly what I use it for.

Making the custard for pots de creme is just like making the custard for creme brulee.  The only real difference is the lack of a crunchy melted sugar top and the fact that it is served in a deep dish rather than a shallow one.  The plus side of pots de creme is that lack of a burnt sugar topping allows for more diverse flavorings.  As much as I love burnt sugar, even I must admit that it doesn't necessarily go with everything under the sun.  Hey, and without the sugar topping, pots de creme actually contains fewer calories than creme brulee.  Yet it is still just as smooth, creamy and delicious.  I call that a win win.

I already had my heart set on making this, since the weather was so drippy and cold, but I was out of loose leaf tea.  Instead of running to the store, I tore open some Earl Grey tea bags that I had in the pantry... bad idea.  Tea bags usually contain much finer leaves, so unless you have cheese cloth to filter the custard through (I was out of that as well) then I highly recommend using loose leaf tea. 

So the next time the sky is cloudy and gray, add some sunshine to your day and chase those oppressive blues away with Pots de Creme infused with Earl Grey.

Earl Grey Pots de Creme

1 1/2 cups (355ml) (12 oz) Heavy Cream
1/2 cup (118ml) (4 oz) Half and Half
zest of 1 Cara Cara Orange or a Meyer Lemon
2 TB loose Earl Grey Tea leaves (not tea bags, the tea is too fine)
4 large Egg Yolks
1/2 cup (100g) (3.5 oz) Granulated Sugar
Pinch of Kosher Salt

Combine Heavy Cream, Half and Half, Orange Zest and Tea Leaves in a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Remove from the flame, cover and allow the mixture to steep for 30 - 60 minutes.

Bring the mixture back to a simmer over medium heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk Egg Yolks, Sugar and Salt until the yolks are pale.

Pour Earl Grey cream into the yolks in a steady stream, whisking constantly.

Return the raw custard to the sauce pan.

Run the raw custard through the strainer to remove the Orange Zest, Tea leaves and any possible cooked egg bits. (If you used tea from a tea bag, you will need several layers of cheese cloth for straining the tiny bits)

Place ramekins, or actual pots de creme, in a roasting pan that has been lined with a towel.

Fill the ramekins/pots with the raw custard.

Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to bring the water level half way up the sides of the ramekins/pots.

If using pots, place the covers on them, if using ramekins, cover the whole pan with foil.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, the center should still be a little jiggly.

When custards are done, remove them from the hot water and place on a cooling rack.

Once the custards are at room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. (if you are using the pots, simply leave the covers on them and move to the refrigerator)

Serve chilled.

So smooth and rich, it puts American Pudding (usually made with cornstarch or gelatin) to shame.  Hints of bright orange mellowed with the smooth flavor of "Tea with Creme".  Decadent silken lusciousness!  That's all I can say. 

OK, I could say it was "wicked good" (cause it was) but I don't think that does as much justice to it.  LOL


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Flour Power - Grinding Almond Flour

Something has been tugging at my subconscious over the last week.  I am sure the seed was planted when I made Maple-Nut Macaron and, having Maple Butter-Creme remaining, Dios Torta.  Both of which contained Walnut "flour", though the Macaron could have just as easily utilized Almond Flour or Hazelnut Flour.  Thus, I began contemplating Nut Flour.

True, you can grind nuts fairly finely in a food processor, if there is enough sugar to prevent "butter" from forming as the oils are released and the nuts heat up.  The chopping of the blade and the swirling around the processor bowl causes a lot of friction which heats the nut's oils.  But what if your recipe is devoid of confectioners' sugar?  Well, there is the smashing method for the softer nuts, like Walnuts and Pecans, wherein you place nuts in a zipper bag and crush them, like cookie crumbs, with a rolling pin.  This too causes some friction and actually squeezes the oil out of the nuts leading to a slightly "sticky" nut flour/meal.

And that is the underlying problem... 

True nut flours are light and airy, just like wheat flour (thus the term "flour") and neither the crushing method nor the processor method make fine, fluffy "flour" out of nuts.  They really produce more of a "meal".  This is not really an issue for me, in most cases.  I tend to use nut meal a lot as a coating instead of bread crumbs, but sometimes you NEED the flour.  So how do you get it?

You can buy it, of course, if you can find it.  There's nut "meal" a plenty on the market, but the finer ground flour can be troublesome to track down.  It's available on the internet, but I get tired of having to "order" everything ALL the time simply because I cannot find a local distributor.  I am one of those people who needs to see, smell and touch what it is I am purchasing when it comes to food.  Nuts go stale fairly quickly after shelling & grinding, and I don't want to end up with a 15 lb bag of stale flour.

For the home cook who doesn't need 15 lbs of flour at a time, there are the nut graters... Not grinders, but graters.  (available on Amazon)  Composed of a fine grating cylinder ensconced in a plastic housing with a hand crank and a hopper for gravity feeding that can clamp to your counter.  You feed the nuts into the top, crank the handle and fine nut flour drifts out the side and into your bowl.  I decided that it was kind of a uni-tasker, as Alton puts it, so moved on to other pursuits.

Then, the other night, I awoke from a dream at 3:30 in the morning, completely gobsmacked by the implications of my subconscious nighttime revelation.  I've noticed that I often experience food related epiphanies in the middle of the night.  (yes, I do dream about food.... a lot... when I am not dreaming about computer geek stuff)  The point is, that I woke with a single thought in my head.

"HEY, I have a rotary grater for Parmigiano-Reggiano!"

Satisfied, that I had solved one of the "great mysteries of the baking universe" and restored peace to the kitchens of the world, I returned to my slumber.

Thus it was, the next morning, armed with raw almonds, a cheese grater and a lot of elbow grease, I manufactured my own Almond Flour.  (technically, I should have blanched them first, but Almonds don't have the extremely bitter skin that Hazelnuts have, so I didn't worry so much about it)

Almond Flour

What you need:
Almonds (or other nut of your choice)
Rotary Cheese Grater (with the fine cylinder attached)
Elbow Grease
Zipper Bag for storage

It helps if you know how much flour you are gong to need, by weight.  Since the whole almonds would weigh the same amount.  That is the nice part about weights in baking.  If your recipe is based on volume measurements, like most American recipes, you are going to have to kind of guess a little.  1 cup of whole almonds will be almost 1 3/4 cups of almond flour due to the amount of "air" you are incorporating into the finished product. (I need 200 grams or 7oz of flour, so I grabbed 200 grams of whole almonds)

Cold, not frozen, nuts work best, as there will still be some heat produced by the spinning grater drum. (it's primarily a precaution)

So, simply fit the smallest grater blade into your rotary grater.

Add almonds.

Press down gently on the arm and turn the handle. (and turn and turn and turn and turn and turn and re-fill the hopper, and turn and turn and turn)

Yes, it's a little bit of work, but it only took about 10 minutes of grating to produce 7 oz (200g) of Fluffy, Light, Finely ground Almond Flour!

As opposed to the much coarser "meal" you often find in the grocery store... (even though it is often labeled as "flour")

Since the flour will begin to go rancid quickly after being so finely ground/grated, I suggest moving it to a zipper bag and storing in the refrigerator or freezer until needed. (even if it's only overnight, 'cause fresh is always best)

Now I'm ready for another Torte.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hungry for Walnuts - Hungarian Walnut Torte

So what do ya do when you have left over Maple Butter-Creme?  Well, since I really didn't want to make a second batch of Macaron, I decided that I would make one of my favorite cakes.

OK, technically it's not a cake, which is a good thing, cause I am really not all that into cake.  It's actually a Torte; and like most tortes, it's made with nuts instead of flour.  Which I guess is why I like them, cause I am kind of nuts myself.  I think of cake primarily as a vehicle by which you get frosting into your mouth.  This is not true of tortes.  They are extremely flavorful and, if the nuts are ground properly and they are baked correctly, they are decadently moist and delicious in and of themselves with no assistance from any frosting.  Thus, as you will see, my frosting layers on this torte are very very thin.

This particular torte manifestation is based on the Hungarian Walnut Torte or "Dios Torta" (Yes, it looks like Spanish instead of Hungarian, but the "s" is pronounced like "sh")

Normally, it would be covered in either Whipped Cream or Coffee flavored Whipped Cream, but as I said, I made just a little TOO much Maple Butter-Creme when I was filling the Macaron.  My excuse? Well, it's really hard to make less than 2 egg whites worth of Italian Butter-creme.  At least I am getting to share this torte now.

Hungarian Walnut Torte

(Dios Torta)

Unsalted Butter, for the pans
1/3 cup (.75 oz) (22g) Panko, finely crushed
10 oz (285g) Walnuts (halves, pieces or any combination there of)
10 large Eggs, separated
6.2 oz (175g) (3/4 cup + 2TB) Granulated Sugar
Maple Butter-Creme, left over from making Macaron ;)

Preheat oven to 350°and crush the Panko with a rolling pin.

Grease 2 round 9" cake pans with butter,

line bottom of pans with parchment paper, then grease paper in each pan as well.

Coat cake pans with a thin layer of bread crumbs and set pans aside.

Shell your Walnuts, if necessary, and place them in a plastic bag.

Crush them finely with a rolling pin. (do not use a food processor, as you may end up with Walnut butter)

Place the bag of walnut crumbs in the freezer to chill and solidify the oils within the nuts. (you want the nut meal to be fluffy instead of pasty, this is why the food processor is a no-no)
Place Egg Yolks and Sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until they become pale.

Slowly sprinkle the sugar into the bowl and continue beating the yolks until thick and pale yellow, 6–7 minutes.  (this is "ribbon" stage)

Test the yolks by rubbing a small amount between your fingers to ensure the Sugar has dissolved.  If the yolks feel grainy, go ahead an beat them a little longer.

Sprinkle one-third of the ground nuts over yolk mixture and fold them in, just until combined.

Repeat the process twice to use up the remaining ground nuts. (The batter will be very thick)

Set aside.

With a clean whisk, beat egg whites in a medium mixing bowl until stiff peaks form, 2–3 minutes.

Gently stir one-third of the whites into nut mixture.

This will lighten the batter enough to facilitate easier folding of the remaining whites.

Fold the remaining whites into the nut mixture in 2 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans.

Tap the pans on a flat surface to remove any air bubbles. (you can also stab the batter with a butter knife, just like you do for Angel Food cakes)

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30–35 minutes.

Just until the torte is pulling away from the sides of the pan...

Let tortes cool in pans for 15 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, peel off parchment paper, and let cool completely.

Bring your Maple Butter-Creme to room temperature, if it looks slightly lumpy or separated, simply throw it in the bowl of your mixer and begin beating it in until it becomes smooth and creamy (makes the "slapping" sound)

Once the layers are completely cooled, place one layer on a cake board and apply a VERY thin coat of Maple Butter-Creme.

Place the Second layer on top.

Give the whole torte a very thin crumb coat.

Chill briefly (only about 10 minutes) then apply a second thin coat of Butter-Creme to the top only.

Press Ground Walnuts around the outside of the torte and garnish with Walnut halves.

MMMM It's been so long since I have made a torte, I almost forgot just how much I love them.  Mainly because they are not as sweet as cake....  I will even hazard to say that they are better for you than cake, because even though they DO contain Sugar, they are devoid of the refined flour normally present in cakes.