olive oil and vanilla pots de crème

olive oil and lemon pots de creme

I was going to call this post Little Vanilla Custards, but due to a frisson brought on by the food media I’ve been indulging in lately, I had to change course a bit. It started with the food-celebrity crush I have on Rachel Khoo. Have you seen her show Little Paris Kitchen?

My almost-sixteen year old daughter and I were having some girl time; lazing around on a Sunday afternoon and finally getting caught up on episodes of the show I’d recorded a while back on The Cooking Channel.

“Oh! Look how cute she is, mom! Can I have bangs like that, and red lipstick, and pouty lips, and that little apartment in Paris? And can I draw those fun pictures with watercolors and talk with her accent?” I won’t lie; part of me knew exactly how she felt.

The word “darling” makes rare appearances in my vocabulary, but that’s the one that describes Rachel Khoo and her adventures cooking on two gas rings, in a charming old Paris kitchen hardly bigger than a pack of Gauloises.

olive oil and vanilla pots de creme

I just got The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook in the mail. There’s no recipe for little vanilla custards - pots de creme en Francais – in there, but that’s what came to mind while I flipped through it. The book is as appealing as the show, and I’m sure it will inspire more little French food for me to cook. Rachel trained in patisserie so there’s lots of sweet, simple recipes in the dessert chapter.

The other twist in today’s recipe story comes from Nigella. I’ve also managed to acquire her new book Nigelissima, and I really like it. I believe Nigella when she says “It was when I was sixteen or seventeen that I decided to be Italian.”

I was browsing through it, hearing her dusky Nigella voice as I read through the recipe introductions. I’d already planned to make my vanilla custards, but got caught up in the photo and description of a drop-dead gorgeous, mascarpone whipped-cream layered, pomegranate and pistachio-strewn Italian Christmas Pudding Cake on page 250. Nigella soaks panettone slices for the cake in Tuaca, the Italian vanilla liqueur which she says seems “panettone in alcohol form.”

tuaca Italian vanilla liqueur vanilla  bean

Hmmmmm. Okay. I think the last time I sampled Tuaca was back in the 1980′s, while on a date with a guy who drank amaretto sours. But I could see how that brandied-buttery-vanilla-citrus flavor sensation that is Tuaca would work in a rich custard just as well as in the creamy filling of Nigella’s spectacular cake.

I had to go on an extended journey to find Tuaca, which turns out is not available in just any old grocery store, or even three (booze is sold in food stores where I live), but required, finally, a visit to the liquor mega-mart in the suburb one over from mine.

Good thing, too. Because damn if that liquid panettone doesn’t taste like a beautiful thing in these little vanilla custards.

olive oil and vanilla pots de creme

My choice to drizzle olive oil over this smooth-as-silk custard concoction came about because I heard someone whisper “olive oil gelato” in my ear as I was falling asleep one night. No, not really.

I am enticed by the idea of olive oil gelato and will get around to making it soon. I just wanted to add a tiny bit more luscious mouthfeel.

I was sent some olive oil to sample from The Village Press, a New Zealand boutique producer. They have an innovative way of packaging their cold-pressed oil; it’s date-stamped and sealed both in a bag and a black box to protect it from light and oxidation. The oil is golden and tastes buttery and peppery, like an estate oil from Tuscany. It’s pretty special and I will be using this as a finishing oil while it lasts.

If you’re interested in trying Village Press estate oil it’s available at their Amazon store.

olive oil and vanilla pots de crème

You can use 8 espresso cups (3 - ounce capacity) if you have them. Otherwise bake the pots de creme in 6 (4-ounce) ramekins.

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup milk

1 tablespoon Tuaca liqueur or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean

Extra-virgin olive oil, the best you have

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place custard or espresso cups in a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold them so they don't touch . Bring a kettle full of water to a boil.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
  4. Very gradually, dribble the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking at the same time. Stir in the Tuaca or vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small, sharp knife; slide the dull edge of the knife along the bean to scrape out the seeds and add them to the bowl. Pour through a mesh strainer into a 3 or 4 cup measuring cup.
  5. Divide the custard among the cups and put the pan on middle oven rack; pour enough boiling water around the cups to come 2/3 of the way up the sides. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the edges are set and centers are a little quivery when you jiggle the cups.
  6. Carefully remove the cups from the water bath and cool on a rack 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Just before serving, drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over each pots de crème.

Notes

Based on a recipe in the Joy of Cooking.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/olive-oil-and-vanilla-pots-de-creme/

Strawberry and Cream Trifle

When a gorgeous slice of cake appears in front of you, tall and gloriously layered, which part is your fork most attracted to?

Much like preferring certain parts of a chicken over others – I’m a thigh girl, in case you’re wondering – I’ve noticed how people like to eat their cake. Some people avoid extraneous fluff, frosting or filling and zero in on their prize: the cake; while others are happy to precisely scrape away and devour only the layers of icing, leaving naked, golden cake all alone on the plate, like Beyoncè after she’s stripped off a pink satin dress at the end of the day.

It must be a trait we carry throughout our lifetime, because it’s not only children who seem to have this compulsion. I know a few adults who would gladly mutilate a harmless cake just to get at the neon-colored icing.

I place myself in the democratic camp; I get some of everything when I dig in to dessert; a bite of moist cake, the crush of sweet juicy fruit, and a lashing of vanilla-scented cream. That’s why I think trifle is such a perfect dessert: It’s cake deconstructed and put back together.

For this trifle recipe, I baked a sponge cake from pastry chef David Lebovitz’s new book Ready for Dessert. It’s super-easy to make and even better made ahead of time – like the day before assembling the trifle. But to keep things extra-simple, a store-bought angel food cake would work just as well.

And – ssshhh – maybe even better, since you can take credit for serving a simply stunning dessert for Mother’s Day (or any day) without having to turn on the oven.

Strawberry and Cream Trifle

Serving Size: serves 4

Ingredients

For sponge cake:

5 large eggs, separated

¼ cup cold water

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups cake flour, sifted

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Grated zest of a lemon or orange

For Trifle:

¾ cup sugar

2 cups crème fraiche

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, split with sharp knife and seeds scraped

Juice from one large lemon or orange

4 cups mixed hulled and sliced strawberries and raspberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the bottom of a rimmed 12 x 18-inch baking sheet or a 9-inch springform pan with sides at least 2 inches high. Line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg yolks and water on high speed for 1 minute. Decrease speed to medium, add sugar and vanilla then increase speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture forms a ribbon when the whip is lifted, about 5 minutes. Scrape the batter into another bowl, and wash the bowl and beater.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the beaten yolks. Gently fold in the flour until completely incorporated.
  4. Whip the egg whites and zest in the clean bowl on high speed until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the yolk batter to lighten, then fold in the remaining whites.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and the center springs back when gently pressed, 15 – 18 minutes in a baking sheet or 40 – 45 minutes in a springform cake pan.
  6. Let cake cool in the pan. Run a knife around the sides of cake to loosen and invert onto a cutting board.
  7. Whisk ½ cup sugar with the crème fraiche, cream and vanilla bean seeds in a medium bowl until smooth.
  8. In another bowl, whisk the remaining ¼ cup sugar with lemon or orange juice to dissolve. Gently stir in the berries. Let the berries sit 10 minutes.
  9. To assemble the trifle, cut the cake into circles to fit into 4 wide, shallow glasses. You can use ramekins, dessert bowls or go all out and use a special trifle bowl if you have one, just cut the cake into pieces to fit.
  10. Layer cake, berries and cream into whatever serving container you’re using, ending with berries on top. Refrigerate 30 minutes to one hour before serving.
http://familystylefood.com/2010/05/strawberry-and-cream-trifle/

Vanilla Budino

Creamy. Rich. Custard.

Budino is the Italian word for “pudding”, although the vanilla pudding in the photo above doesn’t have any kind of Italian ingredients in it. It’s actually pots de crème – a Frenchified pudding – from a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. I just love the word budino!

One difference between American-style puddings and custards like pots de crème is that the former are thickened with cornstarch, while custards rely solely on the power of gently heated eggs. Custards have the edge on delicacy as far as I’m concerned, while still providing a satisfying, mouth-coating density.

I needed an excuse to use up some of my vanilla bean stash, which I ordered last month from Vanilla Saffron Imports.

If you do any baking at all, VSI is a great source for vanilla. While you can purchase your vanilla beans at the grocery store, chances are you’ll pay two to three bucks apiece for them, and they’ll be all dried up and twiggy. VSF’s beans are moist and aromatic, as if they’d just been plucked from the rain forest.

(Hint - They also carry saffron at discount prices, and it’s not the counterfeit stuff. Always look for saffron threads that are evenly dark red in color. If the package has a large percentage of yellow filaments, you’re probably paying for “filler” – actually the stamens of the crocus flower rather than the stigmas, which is the part you want)

When I worked as an assistant pastry chef in a fancy-pants restaurant, Tahitian was the vanilla of choice. Compared to other high-quality beans from Madagascar or Mexico, each of which has subtly different flavor profiles, Tahitian is vanilla with the volume turned up loud. It stands out like a Vegas showgirl in a funeral parlor – showy, plump and perfumed.

It’s a personal thing, though. I just really like how vanilla infused in a couple of cups of cream, egg yolks and sugar transforms simple ingredients into this sublime, sensual treat.

Vanilla Budino

Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
6 large egg yolks

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a water bath by placing a deep baking pan ( I used two 8-inch square pans) on a larger, rimmed baking sheet – use two sheets if you have to. Arrange eight 6-ounce custard cups or other small ovenproof dishes in the pan(s).

Combine the cream, milk and 5 tablespoons of the sugar in a large saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the dull side of a small paring knife and add to the pan along with the pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, cover and allow to infuse for 1 hour. Reheat the cream mixture until warm.

Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Slowly add the warm cream mixture into the yolks, whisking. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a Pyrex measuring cup. Pour about 1/2 cup of the strained mixture into each of the custard cups.
Transfer the pan to the oven and add enough hot water to the baking pans to come halfway to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the cups. Cover with a sheet of foil and bake 45-55 minutes, or until centers are set, but still slightly jiggly, like gelatin.

Carefully remove the cups from the pan and place on a rack to cool. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours. It can be hard to wait that long, but warm custard isn’t as appealing.

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