The April 2010 Daring bakers' challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.
I was super excited when I first read about the challenge. Heroic, pioneer-woman-esque visions of rendering lard filled my head and I couldn't wait to tell all sorts of cocktail-party horror stories. Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed when I found out that none of the butchers at Pikes Place Market carried suet.
With only days left, I turned to Nigella Lawson. I'm a huge Nigella fan, not so much for the recipes as for her evocative writing style. Each recipe comes with a story, and it just makes me feel so British, in a polished, sultry sort of way. Out of the four Nigella books I own, only one, How To Be a Domestic Goddess, carried a steamed pudding recipe. Geez, steamed puddings must be so unfashionable that even Nigella doesn't give it much attention...
The recipe I did find was for a lemon-y syrup sponge. As someone firmly entrenched in modern baking techniques, I found the instructions totally bizarre. To make the pudding, you fill a bowl with corn syrup and lemon juice, pour a cake batter on top, then steam the whole thing for two hours. Nigella promised a feather light pudding, but I had my doubts.
If I ever open my own ice cream shop some day, this will be my signature flavor. The combination of cakey, spicy gingerbread and aromatic, creamy lemon ice cream is so nicely balanced and addictive...
Before I start raving about how much better my own ice cream is compared to commercial ones, I have a confession to make: I used to be a non-believer. Sure, I churned out batches now and then from my Cuisinart machine, but the ones I made were so rich that I felt like I was eating clotted cream. I like my ice cream creamy, but with enough icy-ness to be refreshing as well. When I was making this recipe, I lowered the ratio of cream to milk to 1-1, and that made all the difference.
I made this as a birthday tart since the birthday boy wasn't too into cakes. I have an indecently large supply of Nutella, so I jumped at the chance to use up some (it was the result of a momentary lapse of judgment at Costco, I have since learned that no one can eat that much Nutella).
This tart from Pierre Herme shows off his genius at combining textures. A crumbly tart crust is first topped with a dense, creamy layer of nutella, then a layer of rich moist chocolate filling (half way between pudding and ganache) is spread on top. Crunchy hazelnuts complete the picture. Taking a cue from his Tart Grenobloise, I piped some caramel sauce on top to add some smokiness and depth.
Here's a cross-section from one of the tartlets I made. You can see all the layers very clearly.
I hosted an ice cream and movie party after picking up David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop from the library. Some flavors, like green pea ice cream, were a little out there (but then again, even Le Berthillon sells foie gras ice cream). Gianduja seemed like a safer choice since everyone likes hazelnut and chocolate. Plus, I learned a really cool tip for making the chocolate stracciatella - tiny chocolate shards that permeate the creamy ice cream so you get a little bit of (alarmingly addictive) crunch with every bite. But more on that later.
I wasn't really planning on making strawberry ice cream until I came back with a 5 lb flat of strawberries from Costco. Yes, I realize they weren't fraise du bois, but they smelled pretty good and I couldn't resist the bargain. I used a old-school recipe from Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food, but tweaked it a little by marinating the strawberries with balsamic vinegar and some home-grown basil leaves. I couldn't really taste the basil, but the balsamic vinegar definitely enhanced the fruitiness of the strawberries.
I love America's Test Kitchen. I'm a regular subscriber to Cooks Illustrated and I love their experimental approach to cooking. I wish they would take me on as a contributing writer. I'd have a grand time being scientific in the kitchen (I have a devoted kitchen calculator, a kitchen laptop equipped with matlab is on the horizon), and I already have an established taste tester pool at work. I just hope moving to Vermont isn't part of the deal...
I own the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a giant 5-ring binder of recipes that can be conveniently unclipped and taken individually to the kitchen. I was looking for ways to use up some ripe bananas, and I inadvertently stumbled upon a culinary bombshell.
You can ripen bananas by roasting them in the oven.
The idea is to pop whole bananas, unpeeled, into the heated oven while you prepare and measure the other ingredients for banana cake. After 15 minutes, the skins will turn black but the flesh will be brown, soft, and sweet.
And let me tell you, it totally works. I was rewarded with a very fragrant kitchen and lusciously sweet bananas that tasted slightly caramelized. Hmmm... I think that's how they make those intensely aromatic banana breads in Maui.