12/31/2009

Crepes Suzette: Does Flambe Matter?

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First off, happy new year to all! I've been having a relaxing time at home over the holidays, and the break has been a good chance to try out some new things in the kitchen, including making crepes. It was Christmas morning, and we had a bunch of oranges in the house along with a nip of Grand Marnier, so I thought why not try Crepes Suzette? I've never actually eaten Crepes Suzette, but know of it as a classic recipe that utilizes flambé. The recipe I used was this one by Bobby Flay, that did not include any flambéing. An alternative recipe by Nigella Lawson states to "Warm the orange liqueur of your choice in the emptied but still syrupy saucepan. When the crepes are hot in the orange sauce, pour over the liqueur and set light to the pan to flambé them." (She also says to use store-bought crepes, so I don't know how much to trust this particular recipe.)

So what does flambéing accomplish? Is it even necessary? I had heard somewhere that it is simply for show, and nothing more. Others claim that the flames consume any alcohol in the sauce, thus changing its flavor--and then some. Wikipedia states: "Because alcohol boils at 78°C, water boils at 100°C and sugar caramelizes at 160°C, ignition of all these ingredients combined results in a complex chemical reaction, especially as the surface of the burning alcohol exceeds 240°C."



But that logic is assuming that the entire dish (or at least the surface of the food) is engulfed in flames during the process. If the flames are only above the food, this whole reaction won't happen (although some alcohol may be consumed in vapor form). This book explains that, in order to achieve a proper flambé, one needs to heat the liquor mixture to a temperature above the flash point, which is "the lowest temperature at which the liquid gives off enough vapor to ignite on exposure to a flame." Why vapor? Ethanol is more easily ignited in vapor form than in liquid form (even fuel is burned in vapor form rather than liquid). A cold liquor will not ignite because there is not enough vapor, which is why flambé recipes require heating of the liquor beforehand. Heat it above the flash point (for a 50-50 mixture of water and alcohol, it would be 75°F), and the vapors will ignite when a match is brought close to the pan.

So if only the vapors above the pan burn, doesn't it mean that the supposed caramelization of flavors doesn't really happen at all? The most that would happen, I would think, is that perhaps more of the alcohol would be consumed than if you simply simmered the liquor mixture. However, I must admit I have never actually flambéd anything, so anyone who has more experience cooking or tasting flambé dishes, give me your qualitative (or quantitative) opinions on whether it does more for your dish than create a fancy show!

12/24/2009

Happy Holidays from Lab to Kitchen!

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Hope everyone is indulging in some delicious holiday eats and drinks! Frohe Weihnachten!



And the indie rock version...

12/20/2009

Cherry & Amaretto Ice Cream

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After the more-or-less success of the fig & port ice cream from last post, I thought about other variations on this "alcohol plus dried fruit" theme. I had some leftover amaretto liquor on hand, plus some dried cherries from Thanksgiving... yes, another ah-ha moment--cherry & amaretto ice cream! This time I had less of both the liquor and cherries, so I cut the recipe down a little. No more amaretto also meant I couldn't add extra at the end if I felt it wasn't amaretto-y enough, which it wasn't, but this was not a bad thing.

The final product tasted a lot like Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia (but without the chocolate pieces, which one could easily add at the end). I would also say this had the best texture of all the ice creams I've made, due to the addition of alcohol that softened the final product and made it super creamy and scoopable.

Cherry & Amaretto Ice Cream

1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/4 c amaretto
1 c whole milk
1 c heavy cream
3 egg yolks
5 Tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
  1. Combine cherries and amaretto in a bowl to allow the cherries to soften and absorb the amaretto, for about 2 hours or more.
  2. While the cherries soak, combine cream and milk in saucepan over low heat, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. As it heats up, whisk egg yolks with sugar until they turn pale yellow and fluff a bit.
  3. When mixture is simmering, turn off heat and pour 1 c very slowly into the yolks, making sure to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. Then add back to saucepan and turn on medium-low heat.
  4. Keep stirring over heat until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Then take off heat, cover and refrigerate until it cools. After the figs have soaked, use a few pulses of an immersion blender to chop the cherries to small shreds, but do not puree. Combine with custard and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Freeze in your ice cream maker.
Also I want to note that after soaking the cherries, they didn't become quite tender, which worried me. However, after freezing the combined custard, they became nice and soft as opposed to the figs from last post, which ended up a bit more firm. All in all, a delicious treat that (in my opinion) tastes better, more natural, and packs in more robust cherry flavor than any store-bought cherry ice cream. Very highly recommended!

Next up: Italian inspiration!

12/15/2009

Fig & Port Ice Cream

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I have developed a "like" of port wine over the past year for two reasons. 1) I received a bottle of amazing (and probably quite expensive) shiraz port for Christmas last year, and it changed my mind about how port can taste; and 2) Since then, a favorite recipe of mine is this one from Giada, pork with fig and port sauce. Of course for cooking I bought a lower quality port, which I found basically undrinkable as a result of being spoiled last Christmas. But I was amazed at the combination of figs and port, and from then always thought of using them together in a dessert. Tada, fig & port ice cream!

Sound weird? It's just a riff on rum raisin ice cream, which I thought I'd hate but really enjoyed. I used dried figs, half good port and half not-so-good port (best if you use a good-quality one, but I can understand that most people won't have it lying around). But because its flavor comes through so strongly in this ice cream, I would use a better one next time. Also the significant amount of alcohol in the custard will prevent it from freezing firmly, so I would freeze it in the ice cream maker, then keep it in the freezer overnight before eating it. Texture was softer than other ice creams I've made in the past, which was actually an improvement! The figs I ended up chopping with an immersion blender because I didn't want big chunks of frozen fig, but rather small shreds of fig dispersed throughout.

Fig & Port Ice Cream

1/2 c dried black mission figs, roughly chopped
1/3 c + 2 Tbsp good-quality port
1 1/2 c whole milk
1 c heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 c sugar
Pinch of salt
  1. Combine figs and port in a bowl to allow the figs to soften and absorb the port, for about 2 hours or more.
  2. While the figs soak, combine cream and milk in saucepan over low heat, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer. As it heats up, whisk egg yolks with sugar until they turn pale yellow and fluff a bit.
  3. When mixture is simmering, turn off heat and pour 1 c very slowly into the yolks, making sure to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. Then add back to saucepan and turn on medium-low heat.
  4. Keep stirring over heat until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Then take off heat, cover and refrigerate until it cools. After the figs have soaked, use a few pulses of an immersion blender to chop the figs to small shreds, but do not puree. Combine with custard and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Freeze in your ice cream maker.
I have to warn you that I was taken aback by the smell of this ice cream, especially in custard form. It scared me a bit, that I had ruined yet another ice cream, since the custard had such a strange, almost savory scent. Originally I had added less than 1/2 c of sugar because I thought the port would be overwhelmingly sweet on its own, but I eventually had to ramp it up spoonful by spoonful. Something about the intense, eyebrow-raising smell and taste of alcohol mixed with cream and eggs made me seriously doubt this flavor's success.

Thankfully, when I froze it the next day, it was delicious... but not immediately. It required a little thought. I ate a spoonful, and it was a shock to the senses at first, then a sort of "ahh, it's port and figs" moment. Any hint of "savory" went away with freezing, which was a big relief. And yes, you can definitely still taste the alcohol.

Next up: Same but different!

12/02/2009

Apple Crisp with Ginger Ice Cream

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First I must apologize for the lack of posting these days! I have had quite a month... including swine flu (yes, really--they even swabbed my nose for it!), missing being a maid of honor because of said swine flu (congrats again, Jen + Jordan!), and hours upon hours of basement lab torture (of both the experimenters and the experimentees). On the upside, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends, actually my first without any family members present. I wanted to share the recipe that some would say was the hit of the night, haha. First I wanted to make a pie, but alas, the lab prevented something so time-consuming. So I thought, what's easy and fast? Immediately I thought of apple crisp, since I've made it in the past and as desserts go, it doesn't take very long to put together.

I found this recipe by Ina Garten that I altered a little, threw in some homemade ginger ice cream, and the results were fabulous! I really enjoyed the combination of the two, and it was interesting to see people's reactions--some favored the crisp more, others were fascinated by the ginger ice cream. Ginger seemed like a natural choice, since its spiciness would go well with the sweetness of the apples, as well as complementing the spices already flavoring the apples, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Apple Crisp with Ginger Ice Cream

For the apple crisp
6 medium to large Braeburn apples, peeled and cut into wedges
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c rolled whole grain medley (oats, wheat, barley + flax seed)
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch sized pieces
  1. In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until apples are evenly coated with juice and spices.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine flour, whole grains, sugars, and salt in a smaller bowl. Add cold pieces of butter and massage with hands until mixture becomes crumb-like and largest pieces are about centimeter sized.
  3. Arrange apples in casserole dish or ramekins, then generously sprinkle crisp topping over apples. Bake for about an hour, or until apples are bubbly and soft, but not overcooked.
For the ice cream
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c whole milk
4 egg yolks
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
5 Tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
  1. Combine cream and milk in saucepan with grated ginger and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar until they turn pale yellow and fluff a bit.
  2. When mixture is simmering, turn off heat and pour 1 c very slowly into the yolks, making sure to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. Then add back to saucepan and turn on medium-low heat.
  3. Keep stirring over heat until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Then take off heat, strain into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Freeze in your ice cream maker.
One thing to note, I had some trouble with the ginger ice cream. The first time I tried to make it, the ginger actually reacted with the milk and cream, causing them to curdle. So I acted quicker the second time and tried not to over-simmer, and it worked better, but didn't thicken to the extent prior custards have. Also I noticed when I strained the custard, there were some bits of cooked yolk that caught in the strainer, oops. But when I froze the ice cream, it came out less creamy than I would have liked, but overall not bad.

Also notice that in the picture, I used a ramekin, but that was only one of two that I put remainder apples and topping into. Don't think I was crazy and brought tens of little individual ramekins to my Thanksgiving potluck dinner! I had one of those large rectangular foil pans with high sides, and reheated the whole thing in the oven before serving it with the ice cream. If you do choose to use ramekins, make sure to cut the apples in smaller pieces like cubes, not wedges.

Next up: Not sure yet!