Three Dessert Custards with Vanilla Tuile and Espresso Cream

Friday, October 26, 2007

Finished Custard Cups

This little set of desserts was an experiment. It all started when I went to Teo, home of both the best espresso and the best gelato I've yet had in Austin. (In fact, David Lebovitz sent Matthew, owner of Teo an email, which is printed out and taped to the register, saying that in a recent tour of the United States, theirs was the best gelato he had -- the best in the nation!)

I was sitting outside enjoying my usual short double cappuccino and small gelato, and Matt came out and handed me a cup. "Here," he said, "You have to try this. It's great." It was a few shots of their Italian espresso with a scoop of their "Texican Vanilla" gelato. I swirled it together with my spoon and half-slurped, half-spooned it into my mouth. It was a fantastic combination.

It was also my third, fourth, and fifth shot of espresso, so my heart damn near exploded. It was worth it.

It got me thinking about flavor combinations and how we choose the flavors we assemble into dishes. I tend to think of both vanilla and coffee as relatively European, in terms of dessert. When I think of vanilla I think of pastry cream, creme brulee, caramel. When I think of coffee, I think of tiramisu.

But thinking about them that way is kind of a dead end. It doesn't really help me think of new ways to use them.

That day at Teo I realized that they're connected in a totally different way: by their region of origin. Mexican vanilla and coffee beans come from the same region of the world. And I think flavors from a given region often have a natural affinity for one another. Not always, of course, but it kind of feels right to me, seems intuitive that they should work together.

I decided to play around, and figured I'd take this vanilla & espresso and add other flavors from Central and South America or even the Southwestern United States. I picked three: squash, corn, and bananas.

I started this whole experiment thinking primarily about flavor, but texture is no less important. I juggled a bunch of ideas. Soft warm cakes of banana, squash, or corn, sitting in a small pool of cold espresso and topped with a warm vanilla custard? Thin rolled tortillas of the three filled with a vanilla gelato and coffee syrup?

Anything could have worked, I suppose. But I decided to go with little custard cups. Each of those three ingredients became a custard, sandwiched between a crispy vanilla cookie base and an espresso whipped cream garnish.

Vanilla Tuile & Espresso Whipped Cream

First, then, the cookies. I've never made tuile cookies, but I love the light, wafer-thin crispiness, and they're often made with vanilla, so I took the first Google result for "tuile cookie recipe" and mixed up some batter, adding some extra scraped vanilla bean.

The technique for making these cookies took some practice, and is relatively unlike what the recipe claimed. First, the only way I could get them thin enough was to take a glob of batter on my index finger and swirl it on a silpat into a disk, like these:

Tuile Batter

The key is to move in concentric circles so you end up with a disk of perfectly even thickness. It needs to be exceedingly thin, too. To top it all off, you need to move quickly because if the batter heats up too much from your fingertip, it stops sticking to the silpat and you're just dragging it around.

I baked the cookies for just a few minutes, until the batter had bubbled a bit on top. The goal here was to get them just solid enough to lift off the silpat, but no firmer. Then, pull them from the oven, lift them off the sheet, and press each cookie into something oven-proof and cup-shaped. I used silicone muffin molds:

Tuile Cookies, Second Baking

Ramekins or custard cups would likely also work. Then, I baked them for another minute or two until the edges were brown and the whole cookie was at least golden.

Tuile Shells

They still aren't the most precise-looking cookies, but they do the job and just have a certain, uh, hand-made-ness to them. Ahem.

For the espresso whipped cream, I just cold-brewed some coffee so it was nice and strong, and then poured a little bit in with some whipping cream as I whipped it, adding a bunch of ground espresso beans right at the end. Voila.

Now, for each custard. Err, soup. Err, whatever. I'm calling them custards because it's convenient, and because they are custard-like, but they're all actually different. The squash component is technically a pudding, thickened with a bit of starch (oatmeal). The corn component is just a simple puree. Only the banana component is an honest-to-goodness custard, cooked with egg yolks in a double-boiler.

All of this was pretty ad-hoc, so I'm not doing a formal recipe here, but they're really pretty hard to screw up, so if you follow my imprecise lead, you'll no doubt have something quite good.

Butternut Squash Cup, Finished

I'll start with the squash because it's the one I made first, although it's the one I liked the least, in the end. I sliced up a butternut squash and boiled it with just enough water to cover and a small handful of old-fashioned rolled oats and cooked until the squash was tender.

Butternut Squash Soup

On the side, I chopped up and toasted some Scharffen Berger cacao nibs, and mixed them into the puree. Then I sweetened that with agave nectar to taste.

The oatmeal gives it a nice silkiness and a sheen; as starches go it's a good one for thickening soups. The problem was that the squash wasn't really very ripe, and boiling it won't really accentuate the flavor much, so the soup tasted extremely bland, but sweet, so it was pretty unremarkable. The prominent flavor, in fact, was the oatmeal. Hmm. Not what I'd intended.

Next time, I'd probably slice the squash the same way, maybe 1/4" thick, and oven-roast it with salt until it was a bit browned and tender, and then puree it with only enough water to make a nice consistency, and omit the oatmeal altogether. The squash has enough sugar to it that the browning flavors would be really nice, and a slight smokiness to the soup would be complemented well by the bitterness in the espresso and matched nicely by the warmth of the vanilla.

Corn-Guajillo Cup, Finished
Corn-Guajillo Puree

The corn-guajilla chowder was a superstar. It's a beautiful, vibrant orange, intensely flavorful, and was super-simple and easy to make.

First, I took a few dried guajillo chiles, sliced them into strips, removed the seeds and ribs, and soaked them in warm water to let them plump up and soften. Then I sliced the kernels off a few ears of corn, and sauteed them in butter for a bit. I added the chiles after about 10 minutes of soaking, added some heavy cream and good kosher salt, and simmered for maybe ten minutes to let the flavors mingle.

Then I pureed it, and it was perfect.

Corn-Guajillo Puree

If I'd been serving it on its own I would have added some more complexity -- a mirepoix or other base of sweated veggies, maybe another kind of pepper, maybe roasted the corn first, whatever. Since I knew it was already going with the vanilla cookies and espresso cream, I left it alone. Enough flavors, already!

It was fantastic. I served it at room temperature and then, later, chilled, and both ways it was great. Thick, creamy, and simultaneously sweet with the corn and a bit picante, acidic, and smoky from the guajillo, it was very full, comfort food, which went well with the vanilla and was offset well by the espresso cream.

The experience of eating one of these things, by the way, if you pop it whole into your mouth, starts with the cold, smooth slick of the espresso cream on your tongue, followed by the textural crunch as you bite through the cookie, after which the soup washes over your mouth, followed finally by the vanilla coming in and then the espresso mingling with the rest of the flavors for a nice combined finish. I think it's serendipity that I happened to sandwich the soup in between the vanilla and espresso, because I think it makes for a nice little experience, start to finish. In the case of the corn, if you tasted the corn and chiles first, it would overwhelm the rest of it too quickly.

Banana Custard Cup, Finished
Banana Custard

This banana custard was easy to make and delicious. What's more, it's not really that unhealthy. I used no added sugar, and only a little dairy; it's really just bananas and eggs. It came out so well that I've made it a few times since, especially when I've had leftover egg yolks or old bananas that are on the verge of going bad.

First, I took 3 bananas and pureed them in the blender with just a splash of cream to facilitate the blending. I mixed them with 5 egg yolks in a metal bowl and set it over a saucepan with an inch or so of boiling water over medium heat, yielding this improv double-boiler:

Banana Custard

I cooked that mixture, whisking it fiercely until it registered 180F on a thermometer. If you try this, you'll know it's getting there because it starts tangibly thickening around 150F and is really gelling by 180F, cohesive and pulling away from the sides of the bowl and all that.

Here it is at, I think, about 170F.

Banana Custard

For measuring the temperature I use my IR thermometer, which I love and wholeheartedly endorse, but I know it gives a reading significantly below the internal temperature (because the surface is so much cooler) so I compensate accordingly. You could also use a normal thermometer (here is the one I have, and it functions quite well) and it'll give a clear reading, but it's kind of in the way. Or, once you're comfortable, you could just do it by feel.

Once it hit 180F, I removed the bowl from the pan immediately and set it off the heat. I let it cool a bit, whisked it a bit, and when it was getting near room temperature, so I had some idea of its cooled consistency, I whisked in some more cream to thin it just a bit.

Subsequently I've used whole milk instead of heavy cream, and it comes out a bit less creamy, of course, but still tasty. And while I've always used entirely yolks (it gives it a nicer yellow color, I think, and lately I've had a lot of leftover yolks from meringues), you could substitute a roughly equivalent volume of whole eggs.

The custard is nice because it's hard to screw up. Fundamentally, as long as you don't wildly screw up the proportions (say, combine 8 bananas with one egg yolk) and cook it gently, the eggs will form that protein matrix. It's like making scrambled eggs with some banana puree mixed in. And an eight-year-old can scramble eggs! It's that easy. And impressively tasty.

Finished Custard Cups

I talked about the individual results in each section, but how were these things overall? They were really very good. I brought them to a party and one woman popped one of the corn-guajillo cups into her mouth and excitedly proclaimed it "The most amazing thing I've ever put in my mouth!"

Her boyfriend was standing nearby, but he seemed not to hear.

I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but they were good. The flavor, texture, and temperature combinations all go together surprisingly well, and I'm labeling this one a success. The only liability with it is its lack of portability: the tuile quickly sog with the liquids in them, so you need to assemble them moments before eating or the effect is seriously diminished (or, worse, the sogged bottom falls out and the effect becomes "Orange soup down your shirt.")

Assuming the portability's not an issue, though, they're definitely worth a shot. Plus, I like this kind of format: three major flavors in separate components with distinct texture and temperature, simply combined and eaten. I might have to play around with it some more. Maybe I'll try savory, next time.

How do the rest of you think up new ways to mix flavors? Any particular success stories recently?



At October 29, 2007 8:38 AM , Blogger Noel Llopis said...

Very nice and original recipe. Of course, coffee is from Mexico like tomatoes are from Italy, but that's not really important. I guess it just goes to show that plants native to very different regions do go well together.

I tend to go for the more traditional approach of mixing flavors. I usually just "think" about how they would go, but that's limiting. If I really want to try an odd combination, I do the usual smelling them together, and since taste is like 95% smell, the results are pretty close to what you'll get in the end.

Keep up the good job!


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30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Saturday, October 13, 2007

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I used to cook a lot of dried, store-bought pasta. Then I discovered that I could buy fresh pasta from such places as the fantastic Pasta & Co. here in Austin, staffed by wonderful, friendly people. And it wasn't much more expensive than dried! My life was changed.

My life changed again when I noticed that, gee, every time I make pasta, it doesn't really seem to take that long. In fact, now that I have my big butcher-block island to work on, it's really extremely quick. I decided to see just how quickly I could throw together a pasta dish from scratch, and the result? Thirty minutes.

This post is meant to be both informative and also offer an imperative: make your own pasta! It's really not that hard! I think a lot of people see pasta as some kind of atomic ingredient, and the phrase "making pasta by hand" sounds something like "making rice by hand." But it's not. Pasta is just a dough that you shape, like any other dough, and it doesn't need to do anything tricky like rise.

Without further ado, I present the thirty-minute home-made pasta & tomato sauce. I used a simple pasta dough of just flour and eggs, because I like eggs but also because they act as a binder and will make the dough elastic better than water would. Since I prefer my pasta without all-purpose flour, and opt usually for all-semolina or sometimes a blend with whole-wheat flour, that's relatively important, because semolina flour doesn't develop gluten when you knead it quite like all-purpose flour does, so you won't get anywhere near as much elasticity from the flour. When you're trying to make the pasta quickly, elasticity is a handy quality because it means you can roll it out quickly, without letting the dough rest first, and it won't break or crumble.

As for the sauce, it's kind of secondary to this post, but I offer it for the sake of completion. I used a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, some leftover asparagus, and then a bunch of vegetables and herbs I had in my CSA basket: lemon basil, bell peppers, and a few jalapeños. I threw in some chopped roast chicken when it was almost done, just to reheat the chicken for the dish.

The trick to making this whole dish, start to finish, in 30 minutes is multitasking. Start the sauce simmering first thing, and then start the pasta dough. About 10 minutes in, put the water on to boil. As you finish cutting the pasta, throw the chicken in the sauce. Everything just fits together like clockwork.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

There's the sauce, simmering away. Since I was hurried I just threw the asparagus in at the beginning, which meant it was a bit yellowed by the end, instead of staying vibrant green. Still tasted good. If I were presenting this to friends, I would have kept it separate and blanched it ala Keller in a giant pot of very salty water right before plating. But that alone would have taken 30 minutes.

Minutes to this step: 2. Or however many it takes you to open a can of tomatoes, cut up a few veggies, press a few cloves of garlic through a garlic press, and put it all in a pot over low heat.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

As the sauce simmered, I mounded the flour on my countertop, dumped the eggs in the center, and began to mix it together with a fork. You can use your free hand to help rebuild the outer wall of flour like a sand-castle in the tide as you draw the flour into the egg mixture in the center. Soon, though, it's firm enough that you don't really need to worry about it leaking out.

Minutes to this step: 9. Mixing the dough goes quickly if you've got the counter space. I suppose you could do it in a bowl if you don't, too.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Knead the dough for a few minutes, folding and pressing down and out with your hands. You do want to develop whatever gluten there is in whatever flour you use, so stretch the dough out with your hands as you knead, don't just press it down to mix it. Stop when it feels fully integrated and has a nice, silky, stretchy texture.

Minutes to this step: 14. At this point, put the pasta water on to boil.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I chose to roll the pasta dough out with a rolling pin instead of using my Imperia hand-crank pasta machine because, frankly, it's faster to roll it. It does yield less consistent thickness, of course, and requires that I cut it by hand, but for something simple like this fettuccine cut, that's not only fine, I think it's desirable. The imperfect hand cutting and hand-rolled thickness variation makes it seem more rustic. If you have guests over, I suppose it's also nice because it makes it clear the pasta is hand-made without you having to announce it and look like you're digging for praise. Which, of course, you are.

Let the pasta dig for praise on your behalf.

As for the technique, well, just keep at it, rolling from the center out in all directions. You want the dough to be about 1/16" thick. If at any point it starts sticking to the pin or counter, either dust the top with flour or lift it up gently and dust the counter underneath it with flour, and keep going.

Minutes to this step: 20. Rolling does take a while.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Cut it with a sharp knife, dragging just the tip of the knife down through it so the dough doesn't bunch up as you go. Hold it steady with the other hand as you cut. This starts a bit slow but gets faster as you both develop confidence and lose patience.

Minutes to this step: 25. At this point, tear up that chicken and throw it in the sauce.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I made more pasta than I was going to eat in one sitting. The right way to store it is to pick up a handful of pasta and gently lower it, coiling, onto the counter so it forms a kind of bird's nest. The key, though, is that you don't want any two strands of pasta to be have any significant surface area in contact, or they'll stick together and won't cook thoroughly, and you'll be unpleasantly surprised during your meal by a bite of what seems more like tire rubber than delightful hand-made pasta.

Minutes to this step: 26. Hey, it's quick.

After that, all that's left is to throw some pasta in the now-boiling water, and let it cook just until it floats back to the surface of the water. Drain it, plate it, and pour some sauce on it.

Minutes to this step: 30. Voila.

30-Minute Handmade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

For the pasta
300g (scant 2c) flour -- semolina, all-purpose, whole-wheat, or some combination thereof.
3 large eggs

For the sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
5 stalks of asparagus, cut into 1" lengths
1 bell pepper, chopped into 1/4" pieces
2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and de-veined, medium dice (BHS: Wear latex gloves!!)
2T lemon basil, finely chopped
pinch salt
pinch sugar
thigh meat from one roast chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces.

Begin with the sauce. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, asparagus, bell pepper, and jalapeño in a saucepan and place over medium-low heat.

Then, the pasta: On a counter surface dusted with flour, or in a bowl, put the flour, and make a well in the center large enough for the eggs. Crack the eggs and pour them into the well. With a fork, break the yolks and beat the eggs briefly, and then continue mixing, gradually drawing the flour into the egg mixture in the center, using your free hand to keep the well intact and prevent leakage. Continue until all the flour is mixed in.

If using a bowl, turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. If using a countertop, add flour to the surface as needed. Begin kneading the dough, folding, turning, and pressing out for several minutes until it has a silken, elastic texture.

Put a pot of water with several generous pinches of salt on to boil over high heat.

Roll the dough out on the counter with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/16". Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/4" wide strips.

At this point, add the basil, salt, sugar, and chicken to the tomato sauce.

If not using all the pasta immediately, take the pasta to be saved in handfuls. Holding them up above the counter by one end, lower the handful onto the counter, coiling it in a spiral, so it forms a little bird's nest and each strand of pasta is not sticking to any other.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and cook briefly, for just a couple minutes, until the pasta has sunk to the bottom of the pan and then floated back up to the surface.

Drain the pasta and serve, topped with a generous ladle of the sauce.

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At October 14, 2007 9:52 AM , Anonymous clumsy said...

Wow, I love that you don't even use a pasta maker! I wish I had a bigger kitchen!

At October 18, 2007 3:04 PM , Blogger Amy said...

What a lovely blog!

At October 26, 2007 5:17 PM , Blogger Joanne said...

I love your blog. You sound so kind gentle, speaking about food here you can tell you really love it.. I can't wait for the next update.


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Kitchen Herb Garden Nook

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This post isn't about cooking, but it is about food. I'd like to keep this blog away from a totally rigid one-entry, one-recipe format, so here's my first entry that doesn't concern actual cooking technique.

This entry has a corresponding Instructable to go along with it, since it concerns building something. And a corresponding Flickr set, too, in case the images on the Instructable are too small to read details like measurements easily.

Instead, it's about growing my own herbs. I've long tried to grow herbs because, well, I use them a lot, but never in huge volume, and I tire of buying them from the grocery store in a bundle at least twice as big as I need for $1.50, and then throwing the rest out when it wilts. One of my goals with cooking is to use everything, to avoid waste, and that's always been a source of inevitable waste.

Curry, Lavender

I built some box gardens for my backyard, and those were doing well while it was still raining, but eventually the blistering heat of the Austin summer managed to finish off my herbs. I've never really been much of a gardener, so I don't really know the right way to prune plants to maximize their growth, the right times to water, and generally how to keep them alive. Plus, I don't spend a lot of time in my backyard. Some days I don't go out there at all. And like they say, out of sight? Out of mind. That hasn't helped the situation any.

In one particularly egregious example, I've tried and failed to grow rosemary (from an existing plant) four times, now. Rosemary grows wild in Austin. There are stores on 6th Street whose sidewalks are lined with giant rosemary hedges. It's a little embarrassing that I can't keep rosemary alive. When I told a guy at a nursery about that recently, he couldn't stop laughing.


Well, I don't give up easily. Why not grow the herbs indoors, I thought? Then I happened to wander into a Sur La Table recently and spot this new gizmo, the AeroGarden, a sleek little black device that grows herbs (or tomatoes or other random plants) aeroponically -- they are suspended in midair, the roots hanging freely down, and the device mists the roots with nutrient-rich water and gives them the appropriate amount of light to grow them at maximum speed. It really does work; the Sur La Table I went into had one set up, and over a couple weeks, those seedlings turned into big, lush plants.

I have three problems with the AeroGarden. First, it's not very big. Even in that image on Amazon with the herbs so fully grown it looks like a jungle, I could easily use all of one of those herbs on a single meal. That's not enough parsley for 1/4c chopped. You couldn't make enough pesto for a single plate of pasta with that basil.

Second, even on Amazon, it's $170 for the device and the herb starters. And third, since it's this wacky aeroponic system, you can't just get seeds. You have to buy their starter kits, and they're about $20 each for the various kinds. Herbs, tomatoes, lettuces, whatever.

Organic, local small herb plants are generally about $2 each from any of the local nurseries, and assuming I manage not to kill them, I can grow those to any size I want. I have a giant pile of garden soil in my backyard still, enough to pot hundreds of herbs, and I have a decent wood shop.

I decided to see what kind of indoor herb garden I could build, and at what cost.

I ended up making a custom corner shelving unit out of the following materials. Every single one, save the tinfoil, was from Home Depot.
  • 24" x 48" sheet of birch plywood: $10
  • some scrap plywood I had sitting around: maybe $5
  • tinfoil: let's say $2
  • big roll of cheap plastic sheeting: $10
  • some shelf brackets: $5
  • a piece of plastic tube: $1
  • two cheap shop lights: $10
  • one old-fashioned outlet timer: $7
  • two compact fluorescent grow light bulbs: $40
  • Total: $90
Ninety bucks! Just over half the price of a single AeroGarden. And the light bulbs alone were almost half of that, at twenty bucks a pop. And, since they're rated for 10,000 hours, I shouldn't have to replace them terribly often.

Plus, I built and installed the whole thing, from scratch, in 4 hours in a single night, and it has a ton of shelf space. I have 15 different herbs on those shelves right now, each in a 5" round terra cotta pot, and there's still some space left.

It came out pretty well, if I may say so myself.

Finished Herb Garden, Lights Off
With the lights off

Finished Herb Garden, Lights On
With the lights on

It actually matches the kitchen pretty well, looks surprisingly attractive. It's also low-maintenance: the plastic sheeting and plastic tubing mean both shelves drain down into a yogurt container on the floor, so while I do have to water the plants by hand, I can just pour water on them and let them drain automatically on their own. The lights are programmed (via the outlet timer) so they bathe the herbs in fake sunlight, currently, from 9am to 5pm. Plus, if it turns out some herbs really prefer less sun, I can put the lights on separate timers and put the light-loving herbs together on one shelf and the others on the other.

It remains to be seen if I can keep them alive now, but I think my chances are as good as they're going to get: everything but the watering is completely automated, the herbs are right smack in front of me in my kitchen where I will see them all the time, and their climate is completely controlled.

If you're interested, I photographed the whole building process and posted it as a fully-annotated, ordered Flickr set. Update! I also wrote up an Instructable for it! There should be enough detail in there for you to completely replicate my design, if you want. It doesn't take terribly sophisticated tools, either: you could cut the wood with a handsaw, even. There aren't many cuts to make. Otherwise, you just need a hot glue gun, staple gun, hammer, screwdriver, and a bunch of tape.

If you're inexperienced with woodworking, you might not finish it in a single evening, but seriously, there is nothing advanced about this construction. I'm pretty confident that anyone could put this together in a weekend.

2.) Diagram

Happy gardening!



At October 11, 2007 12:22 AM , Anonymous Nina said...

WOW. That looks fantastic. I know you say that just about anyone could make that, but it probably would have taken me a few months -- at least -- to set it up on my own. Maybe the flickr set would shave that down to a few weeks. :)

At October 11, 2007 7:18 AM , Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

I actually saw the same thing you did in Sur La Table, and was intrigued. I think I may actually have to build this.

At January 24, 2009 8:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

sweet site, and sweet herb garden setup...gave me the ideas i needed to cover the exposed side of the fridge with a hanging garden. right now it's just a homage to appointment cards...not very attractive or environmentally conscious. p.s. nice stand mixer.


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Tartine Lemon Meringue Cake

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Lemon Meringue Cake

In case you needed another reason to buy the Tartine cookbook, here's some pictures of their Lemon Meringue Cake that I made this week. It's layers of lemon chiffon cake filled with simple lemon syrup, vanilla caramel, and lemon custard, frosted with thick meringue and torched to a golden brown.

It came out very well; the cake is delicious. It's so time-intensive, though, that I'm not about to make it again soon. I made the caramel, lemon syrup, and lemon custard on the first night, made and filled the cake on the second, and then made the meringue, frosted the cake, and torched it and served it on the on the third.

No recipe with this one: The scones were a relatively short, self-contained endeavor, but this one relies on several of Tartine's basic preparations and is very detailed; reprinting it all here would be like giving half the book away.

Vanilla Caramel
Preparing the caramel

Lemon Custard
Cooking the lemon custard over a double-boiler

Chiffon Cake Batter
Making the cake batter: gently folding in the egg white foam

Lemon Chiffon Cake
The finished cake

Filling the Cake
Filling the cake layers

Meringue Frosting
Delicious thick meringue

Frosted Cake
Frosted cake

Finished Cake
The torched, finished cake

This cake is fun to make because it's an opportunity to practice a bunch of different techniques using well-written, detailed recipes --the caramel doesn't even use a thermometer. The lemon custard is wonderfully simple and essential. The cake recipe is good enough that, surprisingly, it came out perfectly on my first attempt. As an added treat, you get to make two separate egg white foams in this one -- the one folded into the cake batter is plain, simple, room temperature egg whites whipped up. The frosting is egg whites, first whisked with sugar and heated over a double-boiler and then whipped up into a foam. It's a good opportunity to see the difference: in the frosting, adding the sugar right at the start prevents the foam from rising as high, and heating it up before whipping makes the texture velvety and extremely smooth.

Furthermore, while it's time-consuming overall, each component of the cake is relatively simple, and everything but the meringue frosting can be prepared days in advance.

It came out well. It's surprisingly heavy, given that it's an egg-heavy but dairy-light cake, and so much of it is whipped. I was expecting it to be a bit lighter. I guess when you soak that fluffy cake in chilled sugar syrup, caramel, and lemon custard, it gets a little bit more... solid.

So cut those slices thin.



At October 7, 2007 12:30 PM , Blogger Vince said...

beautiful job with the meringue... looks worthy of serving at tartine!

At October 9, 2007 12:39 PM , Blogger Lulu said...

Your frosting job looks wonderful!
It looks like your cake rose way higher than mine either time I made it. Did you use a smaller pan, maybe? Oh, maybe your pan is just taller than mine, I forgot that it started overrunning the sides quite a bit.

At October 9, 2007 12:49 PM , Blogger brian said...

Vince: Thanks! Sadly (and I conveniently left this out of the main post) it was like 1am when I was assembling the layers, and I forgot to soak the two center layers in the lemon syrup -- it's surprisingly confusing, the cake layer, then the syrup, then the caramel, then the lemon cream, etc. Especially when you are tired. I poured the syrup over and down the sides when I realized my error so some of it soaked in, anyway. But I think I'm going to go to Tartine when I visit SF soon explicitly to get a slice of their cake and see what the difference is.

Lulu: Thanks! The hardest part of it was slathering the meringue on in the first place, it's so viscous and gooey that it kept dragging cake crumbs through it and up to the surface, which looked awful. I ate several spatula-fuls of meringue just because they were contaminated with cake crumbs. As for the cake itself, I didn't get any pictures of it baking, but the pan was exactly to spec -- 10" round, 3" tall (I had to borrow it from Kate, I don't have any 10" springform pans myself) and the cake was domed well up over the pan when it finished baking. It actually sagged back down a bit, and one of the cake layers was more of an outer ring with no center as a result. Just like with souffles, I don't really have the knack for keeping things aloft after they cool. I think McGee talks about technique for that, I should check.

At November 10, 2007 5:01 PM , Anonymous Jill said...

O beautiful, sumptuous food porn...soooo yummy!

At December 14, 2007 12:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could have been a bit more "solid"/dense because you tried to "fold" it with a wooden spoon...a spatula might help you keep some air in that batter.

At December 14, 2007 12:46 PM , Blogger brian said...

That's not a wooden spoon, that's a Le Creuset spoonula. I'm pretty sure I folded it as gently as possible, all the practice with the French macarons and all that. If anything I needed to cool it more gradually or whatever it is you do to keep all the loft. Whenever I make souffle (which is very rarely) they tend to collapse a bit more than I'd like, too.

At March 27, 2008 2:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I'm making this cake for the first time and appreciate the tips. So far, I've made all the fillings. Tonight I'm baking the cake. We'll see what happens...


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Buttermilk Scones with Peaches

Monday, October 1, 2007


Scones are one of my favorite breakfast foods to make, especially for others. In fact, only for others, because these scones, more than any other baked good I've ever made, are significantly better fresh from the oven than reheated later in a toaster. They're still good later, don't get me wrong, but the difference is really shocking.

I think of scones just like I think of espresso: Most scones you can get, at stores, coffeeshops, wherever, are really not very good. Similarly, most espresso at the average coffee shop is painfully bitter and acidic. I'm a little sensitive to being called a food snob, and I think it's happened once or twice with the coffee, but my contention is that it doesn't take a particularly sophisticated palate to appreciate the difference. It's just that a surprising number of people have never had the fortune to drink a great espresso, or eat a really excellent scone. Once they do, I contend, they'll never go back.

On Saturday, I brought a chicken pot pie to friends who just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and while hanging out them and talking, I mentioned scones and she said, "I don't think I like scones." I asked a few questions, suspecting she'd just never had a really good one, and indeed, she described the average scone as leathery and tough.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I went straight to Central Market to pick up the couple things I didn't already have on hand for this recipe -- some buttermilk and the currants. Only, the peaches looked so good I ditched the currants and bought a few peaches instead.

I doubled the recipe, on a whim, thinking if I was going to deliver scones to one friend on Sunday morning, I might as well deliver them to more. I brought scones to 7 different homes in south Austin, all my friends who responded to my text messages, and it made for a great Sunday morning. Actually, it ran long, so it made for a nice Sunday afternoon, too. Luckily the scones obligingly stayed warm for several hours.

This recipe is straight from the Tartine Cookbook. It is amazing. The scones are buttery, warm, crumbly and soft, just the tiniest bit tangy from the buttermilk, and with a faint crust of sugar on top to give a little crunch.

I wasn't sure how I felt about reprinting a recipe verbatim, but this is one of the book's simpler ones, I don't think it's illegal, and hopefully this post will convince at least a few of you to go buy the book. You should; it's fantastic. Tartine is one of the best bakeries in San Francisco, and their cookbook lives up to the pedigree. It's full of useful tips and observations, subtle technical details of pastry and baking, and it is worth its weight in gold if you ever want to make pies, cakes, custards, croissants, any of that. Everything I have made from the cookbook has been wonderful.

With that introduction: first, take some peaches. Pit them and then dice them into 1/4" dice or so. Be as even as you can; if they're all haphazard, some will cook more than others and your scones will be inconsistent.

Note: Like I said above, I doubled this recipe, so all my photos are of twice the amount. Don't freak out that I show four sticks of butter and later say you should use only two.


After that, the dough follows a familiar pattern. Sift together the dry, cut in the butter, then add the wet. In this case, there's not actually that much sugar, but there is quite a bit of butter.

The secret to this, just like the secret to a good butter pie crust, is not to be gentle with it, not to get all OCD about mixing everything together into one homogeneous mass. Cut the butter into small pieces so you don't need to beat the holy Hell out of it to get it to combine:


And stop mixing the butter with the flour when there are still pea-sized lumps of butter in there. Fold the buttermilk into it gently, mixing only as much as you must.


It's hard to tell from that photo, but there are still chunks of butter in there, not at all combined, still about the size of peas.

I added the peaches at the very end because I didn't want to freeze them first, and if I'd mixed them in with the buttermilk they would have gotten smashed and bled color into the dough. So I just gently cut them in with my hands at the end, when I turned the dough out onto the counter:


When you shape the dough into long rectangles to cut the scones, again, be gentle! Don't knead it. Just gently pat it into shape. Cut it into triangles:


Then transfer them, using the side of the knife like a spatula, onto a buttered cookie sheet. Brush with the melted butter and dust with sugar:

Finally, bake. Even as they go into the oven, you should still see small discrete chunks of butter in the dough.

Serve them immediately, before they cool off. Eat them plain, or with honey, or clotted cream.
BHS, 11/2/07: I emailed Tartine about posting the recipe; nobody ever responded. I went there when I was just in San Francisco, and asked the girl helping me if there was someone I could talk to about getting permission. She shrugged and said, "I'd just go ahead and do it. I'm sure it's fine." At this point, that's good enough for me. Sorry for the delay.

Buttermilk Scones
Makes 1 dozen

1 ripe peach, pitted and cut into 1/4" dice
4 3/4c all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
3/4t baking soda
1/2c granulated sugar
1 1/4t salt
1c + 1T unsalted butter, very cold
1 1/2c buttermilk
1t grated lemon zest
melted butter and crystal sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 400F and butter a baking sheet.

Put the peaches in the freezer briefly so that they are easier to mix with the dough.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2" cubes and scatter over the dry ingredients. Cut together, either with a pastry blender, 2 table knives, or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but don't overmix. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.

Add the buttermilk all at once along with the lemon zest and mix gently with the wooden spoon. Continue to mix just until you have a dough that holds together. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

Dust your work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18" long, 5" wide, and 1 1/2" thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar. using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately

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At October 2, 2007 8:13 AM , Blogger steph said...

Since it was morning when I read this post, and I hadn't yet eaten anything, I decided to make scones for breakfast. Those looked so good, and I agree with you about eating them fresh from the oven. However, I was in my pj's and wasn't interested in going to the store to pick up fresh fruit and buttermilk/cream, so I found a different recipe that I had the base ingredients for, and then substituted dried cranberries and whole milk for the blueberries and cream. They turned out quite well, especially because the recipe called for fresh lemon zest- that gave it a nice kick without being too lemony. Delicious!

At November 7, 2007 11:56 AM , Anonymous clumsy said...

This recipe sounds fantastic. I'm allergic to raw peaches, but can eat them as long as they are cooked in some form. So I am always on the look-out for recipes---Thanks!

At November 7, 2007 12:05 PM , Blogger brian said...

Yeah, and the Tartine recipe uses currants, plumped up in water.

Peaches aren't so much in season right now, but you could do all sorts of stuff in scones. These days... cranberries? Meyer lemon? Persimmon? Or nuts, cacao nib, white chocolate chunks, even crunched-up coffee beans...

At August 30, 2008 6:25 PM , Blogger Jennifer A. Wickes said...

I love peaches and scones! These look fantastic.

At May 26, 2009 11:16 AM , Blogger ue said...

Thank you for posting this recipe! I've made them and they're sooo delicious. I live 3 blocks away from Tartine and these are just like theirs, only you can make an entire batch for the same price they charge for one. Even better with clotted cream...

At October 9, 2009 3:22 PM , Blogger trouble said...

I made these with two Fuyu persimmons (that were a bit on the hard side), but they turned out perfect!


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