I scream, you scream…

Given our tiny Parisian apartments and limited storage space, my culinarily inclined friends will often daydream about shared purchases: slow cookers, waffle makers, raclette grills, and most recently – ice cream machines.

When Frances suggested an ice cream machine, I thought long and hard: does it really make sense to lug it uptown and downtown every week, or every time my French lifemate wants more homemade chocolate sorbet? But then a light bulb went off.

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Pumpkin coconut ice cream

Another dear friend, Meta, was leaving town for 11 months – and she is known for commencing her dinner parties with asparagus soup adorned with a scoop of homemade foie gras ice cream.

Meta agreed to lend us her ice cream machine, and so, for the last two months, it has made many trips between the 19th and the 11th in a sturdy shopping bag hung from the handlebars of our bicycles.

We started with the masters: studying techniques and flavor combinations for sorbet and ice cream from Serious Eats, David Lebovitz, and NYT Cooking. Then we started branching out and dreaming up our own combinations: Frances, most notably, for roasted peach / miso / ricotta ice cream, and in my case, for doing a mashup of two recipes from Lebovitz to make a perfect fall flavor: pumpkin ice cream with coconut milk and cardamom.

"Potimarron" - red kuri squash

“Potimarron” – red kuri squash

Lots of websites try to tell you that you CAN make ice cream even without an ice cream maker, but to be honest, if you don’t have one of these frozen turbine machines, just stick to granita. In our case, the cheapest turbine machine is only around 40 euros at Darty, so even when Meta comes back, I think we’ll be investing in some new kitchen appliances.

Pumpkin Coconut Ice Cream

Inspired by two recipes from David Lebovitz: Pumpkin Ice Cream and Coconut Ice Cream with Saffron

Ingredients
400 ml (14 oz) coconut milk
200 ml (7 oz) light cream (18% fat)
95 g (1/3 cup plus 2Tablespoons) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
180 g (3/4 cup) pumpkin puree (see note)
60g (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon dried ginger
1 heaping Tablespoon cardamom pods, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 or 2 grinds of pepper

Method

Start by preparing the bowls you’ll need: two medium, one large, plus one large saucepan.

Fill the large bowl halfway with ice cubes and some cold water, and place one of the medium bowls in the ice bath. Pour the cream into said medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in the other medium bowl until well combined.

In the saucepan, heat the coconut milk, granulated sugar, and salt over medium low heat. Once it’s hot and producing steam, but before it bubbles, take it off the heat. Whisk about three spoonfuls of the warm milk, one at a time, into the egg yolks to heat them gently without scrambling them. Once they are lukewarm, pour them into the saucepan with the rest of the warm milk and add the cardamom pods, cooking over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

Pour this custard into cream in the ice bath. Add the pumpkin puree, dark brown sugar, vanilla, ginger, and black pepper and mix well.

Cover and set the custard in the fridge overnight. The next day, pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing down on the cardamom pods to extract as much custard as possible, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze for 4-5 hours before serving.

Pumpkin coconut ice cream with a "cat's tongue" cookie

Pumpkin coconut ice cream with a “cat’s tongue” cookie

Note: pumpkin puree

Living in France, I’ve gotten used to making my own pumpkin puree for soups and pies, since we don’t have handy cans of Libby’s for sale at every supermarket. If you’re using canned pumpkin make sure it is 100% pumpkin. Other options are frozen pumpkin puree, available in France at any Picard store.

To make your own, simply cut your squash into cubes: you can peel it, or not. Squashes with thinner peels don’t need to be peeled (like a small butternut, or a kuri squash,) but bigger ones (like French potiron) are better off peeled.

Steam the squash over boiling water for 5-12 minutes, or until you can easily pierce it with a knife. Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a blender, food processor, or with a hand blender.

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Blueberry Cobbler

This is one of those dishes that missed its final photo shoot. It’s just so good that when you pull it out of the oven, you gaze in awe for a moment, and then immediately leave the room because you know that if you look at it any longer you’ll never have the willpower to give it the 15 minutes or so it needs to solidify and cool off before you should thrust a spoon into it. When you come back to heap a serving onto a small dessert plate, the last thing you could possibly thing about is grabbing your camera before you dig in.

I made this twice this summer, the first time in my mother’s kitchen in Connecticut. While traveling in the States late July, I bought a pint of blueberries almost every day and ate them as snacks while wandering around New York City in the heat, while reading in the Amtrak, and while sitting on a friend’s back porch outside of Boston.

When we got to my mother’s house, I told my French counterpart that I needed to make a blueberry dessert while we were in New England because the blueberries in France cost around twice as much. I nosed through my mother’s cookbooks, eyeing the recipes of my youth, but deciding to make something much simpler – no sour cream, no buttermilk – just blueberries, a bit of sugar, and a touch of topping.

The first weekend we were back in France we were perusing our usual Marché Aligre on a weekend morning, when I spotted a fruit seller on the corner of the square – Les myrtilles, 1 euro les deux ! 

Blueberries - two pints for a euro

Blueberries – two pints for a euro

In disbelief, I approached the plastic pint containers, expecting the berries to be covered in mold. I picked up two, three, four boxes – not moldy. I was sure the berries wouldn’t last very long (since the cheapest fruits at the market are usually waiting to be consumed immediately,) but I bought six boxes to the hefty tune of 3 euros. (Usually, a one-pint box of blueberries will cost 4-6 euros.)

I re-made my cobbler, and found that, unexpectedly, it actually tasted a bit better here in France – thanks to the better quality of our butter (sorry, Americans!)

Preparing the cobbler - before topping

Preparing the cobbler – before topping

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe: http://markbittman.com/blueberry-cobbler/

500-600g (5-6 cups) blueberries
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
75g (½ cup) all purpose flour
115 grams of butter (1 US stick) softened, plus scant extra for the dish
pinch salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Rinse the berries and dry them – I do this by letting them sit on the windowsill for an hour or so. Butter an 8 inch (20cm) square ceramic dish, and preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Gently pour the berries into a large mixing bowl and toss them with 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch, mixing carefully but well enough to ensure no lumps of cornstarch remain, then pour them into the baking dish.

Pour the other 1/2 cup of sugar into the mixing bowl along with the flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Cut the butter into thumbnail-sized cubes and incorporate it into the dry mixture along with the egg and vanilla, being careful not to let it get too soft. I mixed it together with my hands, with a bit more force than tossing a salad, pressing the flour and sugar mixture into the butter cubes with my thumbs.

Once you have a mostly uniform, but sticky and thick, batter mixture, spoon it out into heaping tablespoons on top of the blueberries.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking after 20 minutes, until it is fully golden and browning at the edges.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before you dig in!

 

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

A friend of mine told me she’d met a woman who’d asked her to do a reading in a bathtub.

“What do you mean? Like, with water in it? Naked? Or with clothes on?”

“She’s going to host a literary salon in her home and she wants to cover her bathroom in red velvet. She wants me to read from the bathtub, with LOTS OF BUBBLES. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll have anything on underneath.”

“Ok, wow, count me in. But she’s going to have food, right? Does she have anyone preparing food? What about beverages?”

I’d bugged Shannon two or three times to know who was preparing the food for this thing, and let her know that if the author in question needed help preparing the food I’d be happy to lend a hand. Finally, about a week before the first event, I got a phone call from Anne.

“I would love your help preparing the food!”

The food for first salon was fairly low-key, planned only a few days in advance: beet tartare served in endive leaves, polenta topped with roasted peppers and chorizo, deviled eggs, etc.

The Kingdom of Flowers

The Kingdom of Flowers

The second salon I helped to cater would be deemed the Kingdom of Flowers, with big ideas to tantalize guests with flower-inspired treats. Orange blossoms? Lavender? Roses? Acacia flowers? And what to pair with it – chocolate? Almonds? Meringue? Vanilla? Lemon? My mind wandered…

Lavender Meringues

Lavender Meringues

After lots of thinking, lots of testing, lots of feeding of cupcakes to colleagues and friends, I came up with the menu:

  • Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting
  • Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant
  • Lavender Meringues
  • Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake
Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

I bring you my favorite recipe amongst the bunch, which has become my go-to chocolate dessert (and it’s gluten free!)

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

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Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

An ode to the apricot, part deux : sweet version.

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Another day, another apricot inspiration. Similarly to the day when I was in the metro daydreaming about pomegranate molasses and chipotle pepper, one day a few weeks ago I was in my office, in between emails and phone calls, and that little background brain of mine was thinking about the big bag of apricots in the crisper drawer.

In the summer time, I love upside-down cakes. Gooey, sticky, fruity upside-down cakes with buttermilk or yogurt batter flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Raspberry upside-down cakes, peach upside-down cakes, why not an apricot upside-down cake?

Better yet, what about cupcakes? And what better way to decorate an upside-down apricot cake than with rosemary. But the rosemary would need something to rest upon – frosting, of course.

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And there you have it: a handful of summertime bliss.

The batter for this recipe is adapted from a cake I have been making over and over this summer: Candied Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake from Epicurious (try that one, too!) The base for the mascarpone frosting comes from none other than Martha Stewart.

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

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The one-egg wonder: Lavender Orange Blossom Cake

A quiet Saturday afternoon in my apartment. A lull between birthday parties, between seasons. Springtime is coming, or it’s here – the raspberry plants are growing. The jasmine has buds and will bloom any second now. The mosquitoes are back, bit by bit.

Springtime looms

Springtime looms

When you cook a lot, you feel this pressure to always bring something homemade and fabulous. Showing up with just wine is better than bringing a store-bought cake. And when there’s a party, well, it’s just another excuse to test recipes on people.

The lone egg

The lone egg

There was only one egg left in the pantry, and the supermarket (half a block away) was too much of a bother. I decided to let the pantry inspire me, to come up with something unexpected. With springtime imminent, I thought of the bright flavors of the orange blossom water hiding in the back of the garde-manger, of the lavender flowers I bought years ago to make a delicious cocktail, of the violette liquer in the liquor cabinet.

Lavender flowers, orang blossom water

Lavender flowers, orang blossom water

The internet revealed a plethora of options, and I used this one to loosely base my experiment: One Egg Lemon Pound Cake. Most friends thought it was delicious, but one with a particularly keen palate asked me discreetly: “Are you sure this is fully cooked?” “It only has one egg,” I smiled, glad that somebody was there to keep me in check. The verdict: delicious, but a bit dense. Try for yourself!

Lavender flowers

Lavender flowers

Lavender Orange Blossom Cake

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Cardamom Coconut Rice Pudding

A new tart recipe is in the works. I tried to make it again last weekend, but I experienced piecrust failure:

Pie Crust Failure

Pie Crust Failure

I’d like to get to the point where I don’t need to think about pie crust. Don’t need to look it up exactly, every time – don’t need to re-check measurements. Advice from Frances is a big help, but I’m not there yet.

But no matter. There was still a dinner to go to, still a dessert to make – so I did what I always do when crusts fail. I made something with rice. As I like to say, when in doubt, just make risotto.

Round rice

Round rice

This time, it wasn’t risotto – but going with the coconut theme I’d laid out, I made a coconut rice pudding. Heavy on the coconut, with a bit of cardamom, served with sunny winter fruits. No photos this time of the finished product, but trust me, it’s delicious.

Cardamom Coconut Rice Pudding

Adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe

Serves 6

Ingredients:

600 ml (20 ounces) coconut milk
600 ml (20 ounces) cow’s milk (whole or 1%)
2/3 cup fresh (or frozen, unsweetened) coconut
2/3 cup round rice
1/3 cup white sugar
6 cardamom pods
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Break open the cardamom pods just slightly, with a sharp knife, making sure the seed stays inside.

Using a large pot, bring all ingredients except vanilla extract to a simmer over medium heat.

Lower heat so the mixture is just barely simmering and let cook, stirring occasionally, about 45-60 minutes. You will need to stir and monitor more towards the end – you’ll know it’s done when the mixture resembles a clumpy oatmeal.

Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract, stirring through.

Let cool and then transfer to the refrigerator. Serve chilled, with seasonal fruits on top. This time, I used lime zest, kumquat slices, and pomegranate seeds.

Kumquats

Kumquats

Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting

Baking has never been my forté. Translating cake recipes from American to French and back again, with my Tefal kitchen scale and my trusty metal American cup measures, something always seems to get lost in translation. Yeast is called “levure boulangère” and baking powder is called “levure chimique.” Baking soda is something you buy at the pharmacy and it’s called “bicarbonate de soude.” All this confusion has led to a lot of flat cupcakes!

In the last couple of years, with a bigger kitchen, a real (enough) oven, and better baking supplies, my skills have improved. It is only very recently that I have started experimenting with cakes – not following an exact recipe and just going as I see fit, with eggs, yogurt, milk, flour, and of course, the various forms of levure.

Last week, I had a particular task at hand: give pastry-chef friend a break from always making dessert for our get-togethers.

What was left in the house: a half a bunch of golden carrots, four ripened bananas, various nuts, raisins, flours, and half a dozen eggs.

I thought about carrot cake, banana cake, banana cream pie, something with meringue, frostings, nut crusts…

Then I thought, why make carrot cake or banana cake when you can combine the two?

One of our dining friends decided to name this Bananorama Cake. But I’ll call it Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting.

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Golden Carrot Cake with Bananorama Frosting

 Ingredients
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
1 small container (125grams) plain yogurt
2 medium golden carrots, peeled and finely shredded

Icing (from Bite Me More):
¼ cup butter, softened
1 banana
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

To finish:
½ cup hazelnuts, lightly roasted and skins removed, chopped medium-fine

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Method
Pre-heat oven to 175C/350F.

Stir together flour, almond meal, baking soda, cardamom, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a food processor or mixer bowl, blend oil, eggs, sugar, and yogurt until smooth. Gently whisk in shredded carrots. Add flour mixture gradually, forming a smooth batter.

Pour batter into a medium size loaf pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then pop it out and cool for another 15-30 minutes. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting by blending all ingredients except the sugar in a food processor. Add the sugar gradually, letting it completely absorb in the wet ingredients. You will end up with a thick glaze.

Once the cake has cooled, cut it lengthwise down the middle. Spread about a fourth of the frosting on the bottom layer and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Lightly spread about a tablespoon along the cut end of the top layer and place it on the bottom layer. Top the rest of the cake with as much frosting as you please, finishing with a line of chopped hazelnuts on the top.

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Cool the cake down in the fridge for at least an hour to let it solidify. Enjoy after a family dinner with friends on a Sunday evening.

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Other ideas to experiment: a mixture of shredded coconuts and carrots in the cake; and/or a cream cheese or marzipan base in the banana frosting with less sugar.