Friday, March 24, 2006

mmm meyer lemons!

Meyer lemons are named after US plant explorer Frank Meyer, who found them in Beijing, China. In 1908, Meyer lemons were introduced to North America and became popular in California, Florida and Texas. The Meyer lemon is a hybrid between Citrus limon, the lemon, and Citrus reticulata, the mandarin orange. The appearance of the Meyer lemon is: thin smooth unpitted skin; deep yellow to orange colour when mature; very juicy yellow-orange flesh; rounder and more tender than the standard lemon. The characteristics of the Meyer lemon are: tangy aroma/fragrance; slightly sweet peel; juicier, sweeter, and less acidic and tart than the standard lemon. The Meyer lemon plant bears fruit from November through April but are hard to find in grocery stores as they are very popular with restaurants and chefs within the regions their grown. Meyer lemons are wonderful for cooking and baking because their flavour and mellowness blends well with herbs, spices and other flavours and makes them versatile and appealing.

I was shopping at Whole Foods the other day when I came across a heap of glowing Meyer lemons. I haven't come across Meyer lemons that often and knew that I would be making dessert for a dinner this weekend; so, I decided to buy a bunch. When I got home, I went to my pastry books and took out Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere and Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters. As Alice Waters notes on the Meyer lemon, “it wasn’t until our long time pastry chef Lindsey Shere started experimenting with them that our proselytization began.” Shere has been inspiring chefs and home cooks for years with her wonderful knowledge and her insistence on quality and seasonal ingredients. Armed with inspiration, a recipe and Meyer lemons, I set out to make a lemon dessert. I wanted to make a dessert which really emphasized the flavour and aroma of the Meyer lemon. So I knew it had to be simple and clean. I decided to make a lemon tart with a sherbet and a compote.

Meyer lemon tart with a Meyer lemon sherbet and compote

The crust of the lemon tart was tender and flakey. The filling was tangy without being tart and the quenelle of cream helped to further soften the acidity. The candied citrus peel added a nice crisp sweetness. The sherbet was light and lively without being too acidic. The addition of milk in the sherbet recipe helped to mellow it. Lastly, the compote of segmented lemon with lemon sauce helped to give the taster a clear understanding of the taste, texture and tanginess of the Meyer lemon.

Meyer lemon tart

*one pre-baked short crust tart shell

2 Meyer lemons
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
6 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1/4 tsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp salted butter

makes 1 3/4 cup tart filling, enough for a 9 inch tart

Grate the peel from the lemons into a small non-corroding bowl. Juice the lemons and strain the juice into the same bowl. Strain out seeds, but force as much as the pulp through the strainer. Beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar in a heavy non-corroding saucepan just until mixed. Gradually mix the milk into the cornstarch in a small cup, then add them to the egg mixture – the cornstarch is necessary if the filling is to brown properly when baking. If you do not want to brown the tart, the cornstarch can be omitted. Next stir in the juice mixture: it will look a bit curdled when the juice is added, but will smooth out later. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the mixture. Cook the mixture over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until it just coats the spoon and is the thickness of crème anglaise. Let it stand 5 minutes to thicken, then whisk slightly to smooth it.

At this point you can pour the filling into a container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. In any case it is best to chill the filling before making a tart, but you may also pour it into the pre-baked tart shell without chilling it.

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Fill the slightly cooled pre-baked shell with filling and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is speckled with dark brown spots and the filling has puffed slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack in its pan. You can also bake the tart just long enough to set the filling, about 15-20 minutes. This will make a smooth, shiny tart.

From Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsey Shere

Meyer lemon sherbet

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 Tbsp finely chopped Meyer lemon zest
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp gelatin
2 Tbsp water

makes one quart

In a small saucepan, gently heat the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. Pour this syrup into a bowl with the lemon juice. Stir in the zest and milk. In the saucepan, combine the gelatin with the water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Once the gelatin has plumped up, heat it gently until there is no visible graininess. Add the melted gelatin to the lemon mixture and refrigerate. When the sherbet base is cold, freeze it according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.

From Chez Panisse Fruit, by Alice Waters

If you haven’t had Meyer lemons before, pick some up and give them a try. I recommend anything that any one of the Chez Panisse cookbooks suggest with Meyer lemons. I absolutely adore them and I can see why they are popular and often in limited supply. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

i heart montréal

If you don't already have it, go out and buy it! The March 2006 Gourmet Magazines special issue features our own Montréal. With glowing reviews from the writers and from Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet Magazine, Montréal gets the exposure that it clearly deserves. The Magazine highlights a number of restaurants, markets, cafes, liquor stores, cute boutiques, creative cooking stores, regular tourist attractions and much more. They also mention Michelle and Anthony's blog,
...An Endless Banquet

which Gourmet calls "one of the city's best online resources for information on dining". I couldn't agree more!

I went to Montréal for the first time at the end of January for work, but I also took a couple extra days for holiday. Prior to departing, I contacted my friend Lisa, who recommended places to visit, as well as her friend Michelle's blog. I left with a trusty travel guide and pages from Michelle and Anthony's blog. The majority of my trip revolved around eating, book buying and shopping. All the restuarants, shops and stores that Michelle and Anthony listed were fantastic; so, I pretty much just went to places they suggested during my entire trip. Some of my favourite places include: Olive et Épices, a store selling an amazing range and quality of spices, Arthur Quentin, a trendy gourmet kitchen supply store, Les Chocolats de Chloé, a lilliputian chocolate store with beautiful handmade chocolates, La Banquise, a 24 hour dinner that serves every type of poutine imaginable, and Fairmont Bagel, my favourite Montréal bagel spot.

The main highlights of my trip, however, were visiting my friends and having the good fortune to sample desserts at both
Les Chèvres
, two great Montréal restaurants.

Toqué's is known as one of Montréal's perennial top restaurants. The artistry of the kitchen is evident in every dish that is presented. Luckily for me, my friend Lisa is currently working at Toqué in the pastry kitchen; so, I was given a tour of their beautiful kitchen. The desserts that I had the pleasure of trying were:

1. apple ice cider slush with basil oil and a quenelle of physalis sorbet.
2. an eggshell bowl containing ground cherry jam, caramelized rice crispies, black truffle ice cream and caramel croquant, with a thin sheet of crispy caramel which sealed the eggshell closed.
3. a parfait that consisted of caramelized cranberries and raspberries, cantucci, white chooclate and yougurt crémeux, carmel croquant, maldon salt, rasel hanout and a cocoa tuile with spiced sugar (I could have eaten two of these!).
4. a caramelized cocoa brioche with gianduja crémeux, caramel croquant and apricot puree, lemon caramel, cacao brut, apricot carpaccio, wintergreen ice milk and caramel decor.
5. last but not least, two small cubes – one chocolate ganache, the other chewy caramel.

The desserts at Toqué were elegant, original, and plated beautifully. The combination of flavours tasted fantastic!

My other dining highlight was a visit to the sister restaurants of Le Chou and Les Chèvres. The desserts at Le Chou and Les Chèvres are designed and created by pastry chef Patrice Demers and his fantastic pastry team. Le Chou is the more casual and less pricey of the two restaurants. I made dinner reservations at Le Chou and dessert reservations at Les Chèvres so that I could try both without breaking the bank. My dinner at Le Chou was wonderful and their desserts looked tempting – so yummy and comforting. After dinner I went next door to have a dessert at Les Chèvres. Initially, I was going to order off the menu, but one of the owners asked if I wanted to have the dessert tasting menu. I immediately replied yes please! (Call ahead to see whether they have the dessert tasting menu. If not, just order off the menu; you won't be disappointed.) The desserts and the service at Les Chèvres were excellent. The dessert tasting went something like this:

1. basil sorbet with a yogurt foam.
2. pineapple carpaccio with fromage blanc mousse, carrot/clementine sorbet, carrot tuile and coriander.
3. apple compote topped with a biscuit, Chantilly cream and a pistachio wafer, served with a honey gelée and a quince sorbet.
4. a tandem dessert that consisted of: (a) diced poached pears in syrup, chocolate brownie topped with gianduja, and a crunch of caramel; (b) a chocolate and Oolong tea soup surrounding a disk of poached pear topped with cinnamon mousse.
5. a chocolate flourless cake with coffee Chantilly cream topped with black sesame tuile and served with caramelized bananas and sesame sorbet.
and just when i thought it had ended... a plate of mignardises (petit four) were brought out:
6. passion fruit marshmallow; grapefruit pâtes de fruits, orange cardamom financiers; Earl Grey ganache on mini chocolate sablés; and bite sized pistachio wafer and chocolate ice cream sandwiches.

The desserts at Toqué and Les Chèvres were sophisticated and of a very high calibre. I didn't want this sugar induced week-end to end ever! So, I thought that I would share my experience with the hope that others might have the oppurtunity to try either of these restaurants. The next time I'm in Montréal you can be sure that I will be eating, drinking and seeing as much as I possibly can. I can't wait.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Patachou is a patisserie, which has been serving wonderful classic French pastries for over 20 years. The Rosedale locale has moved across the road and is located in a newly renovated space, which has a nice and contemporary atmosphere. Their second store which opened last summer is located on St. Clair West. I decided to write about this Toronto pastry institution because I have newly discovered some of the delicious pastries they make. As usual their tarts, flans and croissants are excellent. The four pastries that I have decided to focus on include their: Gateau Basque, Peach Danish, French Macaroons and Bostock.

The Gateau Basque is a small cake with a shortbread-like pastry. The pastry is tender and flaky and the top of the Gateau Basque is crispy and sprinkled with medium sugar. The centre is filled with a delicious pastry cream, which is lightly flavoured with Pernod. It is a wonderful treat if you enjoy the flavour of anise. This pastry is a specialty since the pastry chef at Patachou is from the region of Basque and you will be hard pressed to find anything like this elsewhere in Toronto. The Peach Danish is an attractive and wonderful light and buttery pastry. It has a delicious pastry cream and is topped with a slice of peach, a touch of crumble and is lightly dusted with icing sugar. The French Macaroons are light, crisp and classic. The Macaroons come in four flavours: Strawberry, Pistachio, Mocha and Chocolate, with the Mocha being my favourite. The Bostock is a round and flat buttery brioche baked to perfection with a hint of orange flower water and is dusted with icing sugar. The Bostock here is exceptional. So if you are ever in Toronto or if you live in Toronto, check out some of the pastries at Patachou, it is definitely worth it.

1120 Yonge Street, 416 927 1105
835 St. Clair West, 416 782 0122

Monday, March 13, 2006

the panna cotta trials

I decided to make panna cotta because it is a dessert that I have never been very fond of; possibly, I just haven’t had “good” panna cotta. Initially, I thought about making panna cotta for SHF, but instead I decided to make ice cream. I felt guilty that I didn't take on the challenge. I wanted to make a dessert I didn’t like into something better – something that I might even enjoy.

Like many of the best traditional dishes, panna cotta's exact origins are unclear; however, many suggest it is a traditional Piemontese recipe. The name means "cooked cream" in Italian, and it is also known as "crema cotta". There are many variations of the recipe. Yet, it is generally made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, adding gelatin, and then setting in the refrigerator. In Piemonte, Italy, panna cotta is often flavored with hazelnuts or spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and served with a caramel sauce. Other popular pairings include fresh fruit, berries and other gelatin based desserts.

After looking through many cookbooks and pastry books, I chose four panna cotta recipes: vanilla bean; buttermilk; crème fraîche; and goat milk yogurt. I wanted to choose four very distinct, but natural, flavours for a pure, unadulterated pannacotta. Having said that, I did however pair the panna cottas with other flavours for my own interest and to show various ways that it can be served.

vanilla bean panna cotta with dried fruit poached in port with vanilla tuile cookies

créme fraîche panna cotta with raspberry wine jelly and hazelnut macaroons

goat milk yogurt panna cotta with blood orange sorbet, blood oranges and caramelized pecan

buttermilk panna cotta with mango jelly, strawberries, pineappple and vanilla tuile cookie

My preference in descending order:

1. vanilla bean panna cotta: it was soft, subtle and creamy, without being too rich.
2. crème fraîche panna cotta: the nice tangy flavour of crème fraiche helped enhance and compliment other flavours.
3. goat milk yogurt panna cotta: a good, but unusual taste; it needs to be paired with another strong flavour to achieve a nice balance.
4. buttermilk panna cotta: I enjoy the flavour of buttermilk, but it just didn’t have the same impact for me as the other panna cottas

A good panna cotta to me is one that contains quality ingredients, that tastes pure and creamy (without being too rich) and that has just enough gelatin to give it its characteristic sexy wobbliness.

5 tips on making panna cotta:

1. Purchase good quality ingredients, as there are usually only 3-5 of them in a panna cotta.
2. The exact amount of gelatin is crucial! If you add too much, you will have the consistency of jello, and if you add too little, you will have a limp liquid cream. The consistency should be a soft, silky cream that is slightly set, almost too delicate to handle.
3. If you are de-moulding the panna cotta, dip the mould in warm water to release it. If the water is too hot, the panna cotta will melt. When de-moulding, take your time, be gentle, and carefully loosen the edges with slightly wet fingers so that you can wiggle it out.
4. If you are de-moulding your panna cotta, make some tuile cookies in the shape of the base of your pannacotta (e.g. if you are making a round panna cotta, make circle tuile cookies). Place the cookie on the bottom of your panna cotta so that, when you invert the mold, the panna cotta rests on the cookie. This will help you transfer the panna cotta onto the plate without denting or destroying the delicate and silky cream. The cookie will also give you a nice crunch, which will provide contrast to the softness of your panna cotta.
5. If you are wanting to pair a jelly or fruit with your panna cotta, pick a flavour that will compliment, stand up to or help cut the intensity of this creamy dessert.

After a crazy weekend of panna cotta making, I am delighted to say that I actually do like panna cotta. Having never had good version in a restaurant myself, I urge all you who have never had good experiences with this dessert to make it at home and give it another try.

Here is the recipe that I enjoyed the most. Ironically it is the simplest.

vanilla bean panna cotta:

2 Tbsp cold water
1 3/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup homogenized milk
4 Tbsp sugar
1 vanilla bean

Pour 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let it stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Combine heavy cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Cut vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the pot and add in the vanilla bean as well. Let the vanilla bean infuse in the cream for at least 5 minutes. Bring the mixture to a boil and then take it off the heat. Add the softened gelatin and mix until the gelatin has dissolved. Strain through a fine chinios/strainer into a new bowl and discard the vanilla beans. Chill over an ice bath just until cool. Pour into small moulds, bowls, glasses or ramekins and chill for at least 3 hours. Makes approximately 8, 1/2 cup servings. It is probably a good idea to make this a day ahead as gelatin never sets as quickly as we might wish.

strawberry yogurt parfait

strawberry yogurt parfait: caramelized strawberries, crushed lemon and almond biscotti, white chocolate and yogurt crémeux, fresh passion fruit and dried pineapple décor.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

sugar high friday #17 : a trio of tea ice creams

When I first decided to write a blog, I didn’t realize the amazing commitment that many bloggers make. I have looked at a number of blogs now, and I applaud the real interest, time and love that people seem to put into them.

As I was searching about food, I bumped into a number blogs that mentioned Sugar High Fridays (SHF). Being someone who loves desserts, I did some investigation and contacted The Domestic Goddess, who was the blogger that started SHF. She was very helpful in advising me about how I could get involved. I did more research and discovered that this month’s Sugar High Friday #17: Dairy.

So, for the past two weeks, I have been thinking about dairy. I recently visited Montréal, where I had some amazing desserts made with yogurt. So, my first idea was to make a dessert with yogurt – something like a parfait. The dessert I made contained caramelized strawberries, dried pineapple, fresh passion fruit, crushed lemon and almond biscotti, and white chocolate and yogurt cremeux. The dessert turned out well, but I felt that it really wasn’t what I wanted to submit for SHF. I went back to the drawing board and thought about making panna cotta. Panna cotta is something that in truth I have never particularly enjoyed; maybe, I just haven’t had “good” panna cotta. So, there it was. Panna cotta was challenging – something that I didn’t like and something that I wanted to make well. After much thinking and not enough doing, I decided that panna cotta might be too obvious and too predictable. Instead, I decided to play around with flavours and to make ice cream. What I wound up with is a trio of ice creams, all infused with tea. The three flavours are earl grey vanilla, green tea kiwi, and peppermint buttermilk. The earl grey vanilla has a pleasant bergamot and vanilla taste that is mild and comforting. The green tea kiwi balances the bitterness of green tea with the sweet and floral note of kiwi. Finally, the peppermint buttermilk is lively, tangy and refreshing.

earl grey vanilla tea ice cream
green tea kiwi ice cream
peppermint tea buttermilk ice cream

I have always been a fan of ice cream. That is why when I came up with my flavour combinations I looked no further than Claudia Fleming for a good standard ice cream base. The green tea kiwi ice cream and peppermint tea buttermilk ice cream were favourites among my guests.

earl grey vanilla tea ice cream

3 cups milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons earl grey vanilla blend, loose (from House of Tea)
(or 4 bags)
12 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

green tea kiwi ice cream

3 cups milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons green tea kiwi blend, loose (from the Tea Emporium)
12 large egg yolks

Heat milk, cream, tea leaves (or bags) and 1 cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar together. Remove the milk and cream mixture from the heat and take out tea bags, if you are using them. Add a small amount of the milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture to temper it. Then pour egg yolk mixture into the milk mixture whisking constantly to keep eggs from curdling. Return to the stove and cook over low-medium heat , stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, or until the mixture reaches 185ºF (85ºC). Remove from the heat and strain with a fine chinois. Let it cool completely (and stir in vanilla, if making the earl grey vanilla). Chill custard until it is cold. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes approximately 1 quart.

peppermint tea buttermilk ice cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons of peppermint tea, loose (from House of Tea)
(or 4 bags)
12 large egg yolks
2 cups buttermilk

Heat cream, tea leaves (or bags) and 1 cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar together. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and take out tea bags, if you are using them. Add a small amount of the cream mixture to the egg yolk mixture to temper it. Then pour egg yolk mixture into the cream mixture whisking constantly to keep eggs from curdling. Return to the stove and cook over low-medium heat , stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, or until the reaches 185ºF (85ºC). Remove from the heat and strain with a fine chinois. Let it cool completely and stir in buttermilk. Chill custard until it is cold. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes approximately 1 quart.