Blog - Sweets & Desserts
I’ve adapted this recipe to eliminate the copious amounts of dairy in a very popular dessert we used to regularly make. The Parfait Tortoni, as it was called, was basically a creamy ice cream flavored with Amontillado sherry and meringue chunks.
I made my first adaptation during the previous fall. I created a version of the Tortoni using cashew cream as the base and flavored the cream with a pumpkin puree. It was festive, delicious and very popular.
The version I am presenting below is identical, with the exception of course of the pumpkin puree, which I have now replaced with a mango puree. The result is a light, ice cream-like dessert with wonderful textural chunks of meringue, which I think is a perfect summer dessert to enjoy!
Cavallucci are traditional, rustic biscotti (cookies) that date back to 16th century Tuscany. They are now frequently given as gifts during special occasions or holidays. They are especially beloved during the Christmas holiday season.
According to some really old Tuscan cookbooks, their name seems to stem from the cavalli (horses) used for delivering the mail. It is believed that the postal workers who substituted the tired horses with new horses ate the cookies on a regular basis…presumably as a snack. At one time, the shape of a horse was stamped on the surface of the cookies, but that is rarely seen these days.
The cookies are traditionally round and fairly large with an irregular shape. Original versions were made using only flour, a little sugar, anise seeds and a couple of walnuts. Modern day versions are now made with acacia honey and sugar slowly melted over low heat, then mixed with flour, chopped walnuts and hazelnuts, minced candied citron and orange, some spices (anise seeds, nutmeg, coriander powder) and a pinch of baking soda to lighten the dough. Once cooled, the dough is rolled into long logs and divided into pieces before being baked for about twenty minutes.
There is another version coming from the seaside village Grosseto, which tend to be a bit larger and softer than most other Cavallucci. They tend to have almonds, coriander seeds, nutmeg and cinnamon…which do seem perfect for Christmas.
Cavallucci are simple to make…and are always completely dairy-free! A bonus to me and a real treat for my sweet tooth!
Strudel desserts are perfect during cool fall evenings because they really highlight the fruit inside. I like to think of a strudel as a rolled up pie – much the same as a calzone is basically a rolled up pizza. The classic recipe, of course, is apple strudel which is very difficult to beat in terms of overwhelming satisfaction. But I like to tinker a bit, so I added some pears or green figs to the recipe…you know, just to be a bit different. Sometimes I even feel a bit more bold and replace the traditional roasted hazelnuts with walnuts.
However I decide to make the filling, I always make sure to make the dough in the same manner which is more in the Austrian style.
Austrian-style strudels are typically a bit smaller in diameter than their German or Hungarian counterparts…and the dough is much crispier – somewhat reminiscent to phyllo dough. German-style strudels are typically made from a dough similar to puff pastry, while Austrian strudels are made with essentially a pasta dough which has vinegar added to it. The addition of vinegar to the dough is very important…if not a bit odd sounding at first. Vinegar will help the formation of a very elastic gluten network, which helps greatly when stretching out this dough to a paper thin consistency. I always use a mild flavored white wine vinegar in my strudel dough.
Most traditional recipes include copious amounts of butter – both inside the filling and as part of the dough. I personally think the butter covers up the wonderful fruit and spice flavors, so I replace it with oil…plus, I don’t eat any dairy products.
Rhubarb crumble is one of the very first desserts of spring using fresh ingredients. It is so delicious that I think everyone should eat this dessert at the beginning of April. Unfortunately for many, making a crumble is off limits. Gluten is often included in recipes to create the tasty browned flakes. Additionally, butter and eggs are also frequently used to bind everything together and help the browning and crisping of the crumble. But is it really necessary to include gluten and use eggs or dairy products in this recipe?
I set out to create a crumble which has no gluten and is otherwise completely free of eggs and dairy products. The end result is quite satisfying…and I don’t think I will ever attempt to make another crumble with dairy or gluten.
As a variation, add sliced strawberries to this recipe…preferably waiting until the local strawberries appear. I also think I will try apricots, blackberries and apples as the season changes.
I will freely admit having a real weakness for a good cookie…and a well-executed chocolate chip cookie rises to the top of my list of foods I crave but wish I didn’t.
I was eventually faced with an important decision after giving up consumption of all dairy products more than three years ago…either give up chocolate chip cookies or figure out how to make them without dairy. My ultimate decision is the following recipe for Chocolate Chip Olive Oil Cookies.
This dairy-free version of chocolate chip cookies comes very close to everyone’s favorite original tollhouse recipe. They should end up chewy and oozing with chocolate…an ultimate treat for all cookie aficionados! After some experimentation, I finalized the ingredient list which included a few surprises. I decided to use both baking powder and baking soda in the recipe to create a nice rise in the batter as the cookies baked. This was ultimately important because I eliminated the use of whole eggs. Originally, I wanted to make a completely vegan version…which I did accomplish. I just felt the addition of a slightly whisked egg white added a tremendous amount of structure to the final product…and without adding any additional fat (the completely vegan version eliminates the use of the egg white and adds 30 gr. of egg replacer, which is essentially guar gum, starch and a binder).
So, back to the recipe and the use of olive oil. I really enjoy baking with olive oil as I believe the final product is much cleaner in taste…allowing one to enjoy all of the ingredients rather than having their flavors muted by the overwhelming flavor of butter. I like that. But, using olive oil in recipes which call for creaming flour and fat became an issue because the mix always leaked fat and never really became homogeneous. I finally added a bit of arrowroot to help bind the mix in the final product…but more importantly, I simply changed the method. Instead of creaming the fat and flour together, I just treated the fat (olive oil) as a liquid ingredient and mixed it together like one would do in making muffins. I worked fine for me…
Finally, I used the half banana as part of my egg replacer. I was worried about this ingredient at first because I thought the flavor would become too prevalent in the cookie, but in the end, the marriage of flavors actually worked to an advantage and I was thrilled with the result.
Baking a cake with olive oil? I know, this does sound strange at first to many who are used to baking with traditional fats (think butter), but the result with olive oil is a very light tasting product resembling a sponge cake. The absence of butter allows the other flavors to become more prevalent making this cake a truly delicious and fresh-tasting revelation.
Any fat acts as a shortening in baking, because it ‘shortens’ gluten strands and tenderizes the product. Most professional bakers use shortenings made from vegetable oils. The liquid fats are made solid during the manufacturing process and the fats become hydrogenated…and these types of fats are not very health-friendly. Hydrogenated fats are mostly used because of cost considerations. They are far less expensive than butter, and they will create products with a longer shelf life. Good for the manufacturer…bad for the consumer.
Most hydrogenated shortenings are intentionally flavorless and leave an unpleasant coating in the mouth. Fresh butter on the other hand has a highly desirable flavor and melts nicely in the mouth. Butter does cost more than hydrogenated fats and has less shelf life. But for the home baker, these factors seldom come into play.
So why change fats now? Well, my two reasons are really quite simple. I think olive oil is a healthier fat alternative and I like the way olive oil performs in baking vs. butter. Butter makes such a big impression in the final product; it simply selfishly takes over and will not allow the other flavors to be recognized.
When I came across a version of olive oil cake some years ago from Marcella Hazan’s classic book on Italian cooking, well I knew I needed to experiment and try out the cake. It was stunning and I was immediately convinced on the merits of baking with olive oil.
Like bumble bees defying physics in order to fly, the Swiss have managed to disregard any health risks associated with eating high fat/sugar foods; they happily continue consuming desserts like gebrannte crème…a luscious soupy dessert made from caramelized sugar, milk, cream, eggs and a thickener – and amazingly garnished with…well yes, whipped cream.
Warning…you should proceed with caution if you are trying to lose weight or if you are concerned with your blood glucose level…oh, and gebrannte crème can be addictive!
Gebrannte crème is also called crème brûlée in the French-speaking side of the röstigraben but, please don’t confuse this Swiss classic with a baked custard.
My first encounter with gebrannte crème occurred while working at Kaiser’s Reblaube restaurant in Zürich during the late 1990s. It was a late evening on my very first day of work…Suddenly the chef yelled out for one ‘crème brûlée,’ and I immediately felt somehow relieved at recognizing a menu item. You see, I had just spent the last twelve hours trying to understand the strange German dialect everyone around me was speaking…Swiss German with a distinct Portuguese-, French-, Kosovan- or Swiss accent.
Then, out came the dessert in a large ceramic bowl. I watched with curiosity and a bit of shock as Paolo began to ladle the cream into a soup bowl. What? I know I was still technically in culinary school, but I was sure a crème brûlée was baked a bit longer than this soupy concoction. Surely I misunderstood the order, so I asked Paulo if he heard correctly. He just gazed at me with one of those I-know-you-just-said-something-but-I’m-not-sure-what looks, and simply asked me to try some. I was skeptical…but also interested.
The cream entered with a cool lusciousness somewhat reminiscent to ice cream – just not as cold. My taste buds immediately jumped to life as the caramel-flavored cream coated every part of my mouth. The flavor was vaguely familiar to dulce de leche, yet somehow more sophisticated. The intensity of the caramel was tempered by all that cream and milk…and most amazing of all…it tasted light! I shuttered…and from that moment, I knew I needed to learn how to make this dessert.
Sadly, not too many restaurants make their own gebrannte crème from scratch any longer, preferring instead to save a few francs and use one of those awful dried mixes…yikes, sort of like mashed potatoes from a box…So, to get the true experience of this classical Swiss dessert you may need to make your own. Here’s how…
One important warning before getting started. Working with hot sugar can be very dangerous. I recall a particularly awful experience I had while working in a very nice restaurant in Italy. We were making cute little sugar garnishes by piping designs of caramelized sugar onto a baking tray. I was pressed for time and decided to just work quickly…and without any gloves to protect me. What could go wrong…right? Well, as it turns out, plenty could and did go wrong. The piping bag burst open onto my hand leaving me with a very ugly burn, which took months to heal. I don’t mean to be too dramatic and this recipe is not terribly hazardous to make, but please be mindful of the dangers involved while working with hot sugar…especially if kids are around.
The next important tip is get the right pan. I like using a high-sided pan, which has plenty of room for the sugar to bubble away. Avoid using a pan which is too small or even a frying pan – unless you like cleaning up dried bits of caramel which will sizzle out of the pan and pepper your countertop.
It is also important to get all of your ingredients together before you begin. You will need the following to make enough for about 4 servings: Place 250 grams granulated sugar in your pot, then measure out 80 grams of water in a separate cup. In another separate measuring cup, mix together 4 dl. whole milk with 1 dl. cream. Finally, in yet another separate bowl, combine 35 grams corn starch, 1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar, 2 egg yolks and 1.5 dl. whole milk.
Ok, let’s put it together!
Start by caramelizing the sugar over medium-high heat – I use number 7 of 9 on my stovetop. It is really important to refrain from stirring the sugar too much until it is mostly caramelized. I like to move the sugar around a bit just to make sure it melts evenly. One other little helpful tip is to lightly coat the sides of the pan with some water. I simply get a wet brush and sort of paint the sides of the pan, taking care to not allow any water go dribble into the sugar. This little water coating helps reduce the amount of sugar that could stick to the sides.
So when is the sugar done? Good question! I like my gebrannte crème to have a very rich caramel flavor so I like to take the caramel to a very dark color – just shy of black! Look for the bubbles on the surface of the sugar to form…once they are covering the sugar it’s time for the next step.
Add the water to the sugar. Be careful here as this will cause some splattering. Some people like to remove the pot from the heat and then add the water, but that’s really not necessary. Make sure you stir the sugar well though, and get ready for the next step.
Add the milk and cream all together, then turn the heat down to medium. Stir the mixture very well. You may notice some sugar bits that have crystallized. That’s ok…if you keep stirring, those little bits will eventually melt. Try to scrape the sides of the pan to pry loose any stubborn bits – do this carefully however…too much movement could cause some splashing.
Once the mixture is relatively smooth, it is time to add the thickening mixture. Make sure you mix it up well before adding it to the caramel, as the corn starch will tend to settle. Once you add the thickener, make sure you keep stirring for a couple of minutes until you notice the cream thickening. Remove the pot from the heat, then strain the cream into a clean bowl. Place a bit of plastic wrap over the top of the cream to prevent any skin from forming…and don’t forget the quality control!
Gebrannte crème is best served cold, so make sure you get it refrigerated for a few hours. You can also lighten it up and thin it a bit by beating in some cold cream just before serving. We always did this in the restaurant…adding just enough cream to create a consistency of a thick soup.
If you really want to impress Swiss friends (or if you really like fat), then serve the cream in a shallow soup bowl and top with a dollop of whipped cream. I generally leave out the whipped cream part, but I really like having a portion of gebrannte crème with something hot…something like beignets (just in case you need more fat and sugar)…
Another variation I like…Try adding about 50 gr. of white chocolate to the hot crème and enjoy the whole thing served warm. Avoid milk and dark chocolate though, as they are too strong and will interfere with the taste of the caramel.
Sorry to those who may be on a new year’s diet, and sorry to those who may have a new addiction!
video credits: the video was shot, produced and edited by Silvia Gautschi McNulty… The tasty gebrannte crème was made by Jack McNulty…The original music was composed by Gavin Norton… The vocals were were provided by Arno van Workum and recorded in a sauna somewhere in Austria…
Rhubarb has a flavor somewhere between apples and cherries, which is where I found inspiration to create my own version of rhubarb pie.
I generally avoid spending endless hours scouring the net looking for ideas, inspiration or recipes. Books still seem a better option when I need to research anything food-related, but I do enjoy following several food blogs…and I have noticed a developing theme this spring – rhubarb is in!
David Lebovitz, pastry chef and entertaining author, recently offered his version of rhubarb tart in his popular blog, which relied on a simple compote of rhubarb and strawberries. Meanwhile, Kerrin Rousset wrote about a rhubarb ‘fruit’ roll-up in her award-wining blog MyKugelhopf. Visit some of the other major foodie sites, and I guarantee you will find plenty more how-to-make rhubarb ideas for compote, pies, tarts, fools, crumbles…
So why write about something that is already getting enough attention in the internet food world?
Well…I’ve always enjoyed rhubarb, but somehow it’s been more of an acquaintance to me rather than a true culinary friend. So now I’m taking another look…and I like what I see. read more
Rich and gooey brownies have a way of returning us to our memories, but re-creating this classic American cake can be challenging in a foreign context.
There are those times which occasional crop up when it is very easy to miss the little things you really enjoyed from an earlier time or different location. This doesn’t often happen to me, but I will admit…I do have an Achilles heel when it comes to brownies.
For some reason (a reason I’ve never really tried to figure out), I always seem to close my eyes as I prepare to take that first bite out of a rich and moist deep chocolate brownie. I simply savor the feeling of all that fat and chocolate oozing down my throat…and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. I am, once again, that sneaky little child doing something that may get him in trouble.
It’s not surprising to me the brownie is much adored in the United States. After all, this very sweet and rich sponge cake with a crisp outside and fudgy inside has been known in America at least since Fannie Farmer first published her recipe in 1896 in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. And even though this famous brownie recipe has undergone radical changes throughout the years, somehow good taste and sense eventually brings us back to the original.
Brownies are actually quite humble. They are simply made with eggs, flour, sugar, butter and chocolate, then cut into squares after they are baked. That’s it…except for the intermittent use of vanilla essence and walnuts. Simple…right?
Well…no actually! It’s just not that easy to successfully make a recipe from a source which has a different context. read more
It’s Fastnacht time in Switzerland…which, like in many countries, is a license to indulge – and what better way to indulge than eating your own freshly-made Beignets de Carnaval!
We came across the idea to make this version of beignets while flipping through our favorite 1940’s Zürich cookbook. We were actually searching for some kind of alternative to the popular Fastnachtschüechli (fun for foreigners to pronounce). The recipe we landed on was involved and included instructions on stretching the dough over your knee.
Hmm…there must be an easier way!
Fortunately, the Zürcher liked everything …well, easier and another condensed recipe followed. This version, however, involved an entirely different twist.
It seems they enjoyed putting the freshly fried dough into a clay container to keep them soft. The next day, they would season the beignets with salt and cumin, then roll them up like a…hmm…swiss roll.
Interesting, but not at all what we were looking for. We wanted something crisp and sweet – not soft, spiced and rolled up.
After some deliberation (ok…not really a lot), we decided to pursue the second method…sort of. We went ahead with the recipe and fried the dough, then simply dusted them with sugar. Abbreviated – but very good. No…they were really, really good! Very similar, in fact, to the famous New Orleans beignets – which brings us to Mardi Gras…and this recipe. read more