Category Archives: Friday Night Indulgences

Friday Night Indulgences: Triple Creme Brie with Adriatic Fig Compote and Macrona Almonds served with Chilled Organic Yaquti Grapes

A simple composition of individually superior ingredients

My Friday night posts have, so far, featured a series of utterly delicious but wholesomeness-devoid desserts. Although I love a White Russian Cupcake or a Peanut Butter and Honeycomb Tartelett as much as the next person, I thought tonight I’d share something a little bit different. I begin with cool, creamy triple-creme French Brie, smother it in an organic Adriatic fig compote imported directly from Croatia, finish it with sublime toasted Macrona almonds, and serve the whole with refreshing and unbelievably good organic grapes. This dish makes an ideal cheese course after dessert at a very formal dinner however is sweet and crowd-pleasing enough to serve as a dessert in it’s own right. I found it paired wonderfully with a glass of French Chablis but it’s really screaming for a nice tawny port or madeira. However you enjoy it the fact of the matter is you will enjoy it…this combination is practically perfect in every way.

Begin with a nice, balanced, triple-creme brie. You don't want anything too earthy for this dish because the function of the brie is solely to cut the sweetness of the compote with creaminess and to marry the toasty-nuttyness of the almonds. A brie too flavorful will detract from the effect.

I used this Organic Adriatic Fig Spread for the compote portion, it is available at the cheese counter at any Whole Foods Market

For my plating I cut the brie into about 1 1/2-inch wedges, keep the rind on...it is 100% edible and gives the dessert much-appreciated structure and texture when you eat it. Cut the grapes into small clusters and form a neat, concentrated pile behind the brie wedges

Spread a generous amount over the face and sides of each brie wedge

With clean hands shingle the almonds over the face of the brie wedge, the compote will hold them in place.

Voilà! Chill in the refrigerator for about two hours before serving, this dish is most delicious and refreshing when served perfectly chilled. Enjoy!

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Friday Night Indulgences: Peanut Butter Honeycomb Tartelettes

No caption necessary.

Friday evening has brought Autumn to Los Angeles in a rush of cool wind, muggy weather, warm rain, and skies ranging from custard to robin’s egg to deep auburn. The days grow shorter and as I grow into the transition the distance between here and San Francisco, the home I loved for half a decade, becomes evident to me. It’s not that I miss San Francisco, per se, in fact I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s more that I miss the knowledge that the forthcoming weeks will bring bitter wind, hail, gray skies, and the promise of a season of cozy evenings inside. As I rode my bike this morning and experienced the signs of the fall in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt I realized with an equal measure of excitement and wistfulness that I have no idea what this season will feel like.

It’s this uncertainty, I think, that made me reach for something that reminds me of what Autumn was like slightly north of here. Peanut butter and honeycomb pie feels to me the perfect balance of sweetness and warm spices that remind me of San Francisco and cool creaminess which I know will make this dessert more palatable on this muggy fall night in Los Angeles. As I prepared the custard, crust, sauce, and honeycomb I was moved to hunt through my dusty collection of CDs. I was yearning to hear Schubert’s mass in G which is, for me, a harbinger of the fall. It’s sumptuousness is the perfect match to this decadent dessert and as I cooked and listened I felt a certainty that although the seasons will feel differently here all that was good in them before will continue here and wherever my life takes me. So take this recipe and prepare it yourself, take comfort in that which tastes good and feels right.

Ingredients

For the Crust

9 graham crackers

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

a pinch of kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons of butter

Peanut Butter Custard Filling

8 large egg yolks

12 tablespoons of sugar

1 1/2 cups of whole milk

1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

Honeycomb 

1 1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons of lite corn syrup

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon of baking soda, sifted

For Topping

1/4 cup dry roasted, salted peanuts

Directions for Preparation

1. Prepare and pre-bake the graham cracker crusts

Begin by measuring out your brown sugar, scoop using your measuring cup then...

...using your palm pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup.

Add the brown sugar, graham crackers, kosher salt, and nutmeg to the food processor

Purée until the mass resembles fine meal

Meanwhile melt the butter over medium heat until slightly browned and giving off a slight nutty aroma. This is called "brown butter" and by taking the time to slowly brown the butter you add an unexpected degree of flavor which will lend itself well to the graham crackers and warm spices in the rest of the crust.

Combine the brown butter and the graham-cracker-and-sugar in a bowl until evenly combined

Spoon the crust mixture generously into the tartelette pans

take a glass (I stole this one from Air France on my way home from Paris)

Press the glass evenly in the center of the mold compacting the crust mixture down

Begin pressing the crust on the sides around the cup down evenly, adding crust mixture as necessary so the crust comes to the top of the mold and forms an even, compact crust all around...

...like so.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees farenheit. Your crust-filled tartelette pans will look like this going in...

...and after baking for about 15 minutes they will look like this. Set aside and let cool completely while you prepare the custard.

2. Prepare the Peanut Butter Custard

Pour your egg yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment

Add six tablespoons of sugar

Whip on high for about two minutes. It will start out looking like this...

...and end up looking like this: light, fluffy, white, and ribbony when you dip a spoon in and pull it out.

With a small paring knife split your vanilla bean in half and...

...scrape the seeds into a small saucepan with the milk and remaining six tablespoons of sugar over medium heat. Bring to a simmer stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar is dissolved remove the bean and turn off the heat.

With the mixer's whip moving at medium-low speed slowly (and I mean slowly) pour the hot milk mixture into the yolk-and-sugar mixture.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium

Slowly bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken considerably.

Pour the simmering mixture back into the mixing bowl

Turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for a couple of minutes to cool

With the mixer moving at medium add the butter one tablespoon at a time, allowing the butter to melt completely after each addition

With the mixer still moving at medium add the peanut butter by heaping spoonful

Scrape down the sides, add the salt, and whip again at medium until the mixture is cooled to room temperature and is evenly combined.

3. Pour the custard into the prepared graham cracker crusts and chill to set

Pour the custard into the pre-baked graham cracker crust shells in your tartelette pans just to the top.

Move to the refrigerator and chill completely.

4. While the tartelettes set prepare the honeycomb

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and ¼ tablespoon of water in a large saucepan

Over medium heat dissolve the sugar

Once sugar is dissolved turn heat to high. DO NOT STIR WITH A SPOON. Stir occasionally over high heat by twirling the pan in a clockwise motion. If you use a spoon you will never, ever get the burnt sugar off of it.

Occasionally use a pastry brush dripped in water and brush the insides of the pan. This gets the sugar off of the sides and prevents it from burning, thus lending a burned flavor to the entire batch

Just as the molten sugar turns a light amber color (mine is a bit dark here, due in part to the black pan I'm using) ...

...working very quickly (the mixture is about to increase in size about 50-fold) sift in the baking soda

Whisk quickly just until the baking soda is combined, then...

Pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

Allow the honeycomb to cool for at least 20 minutes. It is ready when it is cool and brittle.

5. Prepare the Sauce

Over medium heat melt together the butter and chocolate (complicated...I know) and keep warm for pouring over the tartelettes.

6. Decorate and serve the tartelettes

Break the honeycomb apart with the edge of a flat metal spatula. The key is to get medium-sized bits while not turning the mass to powder

Arrange an odd number of honeycomb pieces over the custard like so

Arrange the peanut pieces over the honeycomb so it looks like they fell all over.

Drizzle the warm chocolate sauce over the tartelettes.

Serve with hot chocolate or coffee...or do like me and have some Kahlua and coffee with yours (if you have any leftover after last week's White Russian Cupcakes). Enjoy!

You’ll have leftover honeycomb. The honeycomb makes a perfectly delicious candy as-is or if you’re feeling adventurous melt some bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and dip the pieces in it. Let set and enjoy as a fabulously decadent treat for yourself or throw it in a cellophane bag and impress your friends with a home-made gift. They don’t need to know you gave them some rather inexpensive leftovers 😉

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Friday Night Indulgences: White Russian Cupcakes

The Dude abides.

It’s Friday night and this has been one hell of a week. We at Reclaiming the Good Name of the Epicurean, as both big fans of “The Dude” as well as his favorite drink, believe White Russian Cupcakes are in order. You heard it right, White Russian Cupcakes. These delicious bad boys have Stoli, Kahlua, and a whole lot of other devilishly good stuff in them. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 sticks of butter, softened
1 large egg and 1 egg white, plus 8 egg whites (one cup total)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup Vodka
1 cup Kahlua
Preparation
1. Bake the cupcakes

Begin by measuring out the dry ingredients. In professional kitchens dry ingredients are always weighed out on a scale. The volume of an 8-ounch measuring cup of flour, sugar, or cornmeal all have vastly different weights...thus a recipe calling for 8 weighted ounces of flour can be far more consistently measured using a scale versus using a measuring cup. Since I know many home cooks do not own a kitchen scale I'm demonstrating how to most accurately measure ingredients using measuring cups. Scoop the flour into the cup so that it is heaping, then...

...level the cup off with a flat surface. The flat surface of a dinner knife works perfectly. If you scoop the flour with the measuring cup itself you condense the flour and everything you bake will be doomed to dried-out oblivion.

Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Combine a stick of butter and 3/4 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and...

...beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

When I bake I always use a natural, evaporated cane sugar. It is opaque and slightly beige in color. The bright white C&H variety has a slightly metallic, abrasive taste which translates into whatever you're making. This kind of sugar ha a natural caramelly sweetness to it and makes your baked goods noticeably tastier. Zulka is a very inexpensive form of this kind of sugar and can be found for about 80 cents a bag at less expensive grocery stores like Superior or Food 4 Less.

I'm going to demonstrate how to properly separate an egg twice in this post, first for the cupcake itself and second when I demonstrate how to prepare the buttercream in section two. Begin by thoroughly washing your hands (you'll be using them to handle the raw egg itself...just do it, embrace it, it's what all professional pastry chefs do). Collect three small bowls, one will be used to crack each egg over, one will be used to hold the separated yolks, and one will be used to hold the separated whites. Make sure the bowls are pristinely clean and that you keep the whites and yolks strictly segregated. Crack the egg on the surface of the counter, do not crack it on the edge of a bowl or the edge of the counter, this drastically increases the chances of getting eggshell in your cracked egg.

Open the egg onto one hand taking care not to break the yolk. Even the faintest trace of egg yolk will render your egg whites unusable.

Gently pass the yolk from hand to hand letting the white fall into the bowl under you.

Drop the egg yolk into a separate bowl. You can reserve the yolk for another use by freezing it, egg yolks measure to one ounce so the next recipe that calls for egg yolks you can just pull out our measuring spoons and measure out an ounce of egg yolk from your freezer.

Pour the clean egg white into another separate bowl. Make certain there is NO egg yolk in the white whatsoever. Make sure to completely empty the bowl you crack your eggs over after each egg, this ensures that your whites and yolks continue to be perfectly separated. Remember, even the slightest trace of yolk will make your whites unusable.

Add the egg white and egg yolk to the butter and sugar and mix to combine.

Add the vanilla to the eggs, butter, and sugar in the mixer and mix to combine. I like to use this bourbon-extracted vanilla from Trader Joes

Add the vodka to the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla in the mixer.

Add 1/4 cup of the kahlua called for in the recipe to the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and vodka in the mixer. Mix thoroughly to combine.

Add half of the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine.

Add half of the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine.

Scrape down the sides then add the second half of the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, scrape down the sides one final time, then mix again just until combined.

Using a standard-measure portioning device (such as the two ounce ladle I'm using here) portion the batter into pre-papered cupcake cups. The key to getting consistently-sized cupcakes is using a measure when portioning the batter into the cups. What does in is what goes out.

Portion the batter into all of the cupcake cups and bake for 15-17 minutes in a 350 degree F oven, when a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean they are done.

When the cupcakes come out transfer them to a wire rack to cool and while they are still warm brush them lightly with a little Kahlua just so that they don't run short on booze.

2. Make the buttercream

A classic Swiss buttercream is literally swiss meringue with butter whipped into it. It is a three-part proportion, one part egg whites, one part sugar, and one part butter. 

Using the three-bowl system described above first crack your eggs on the surface of the counter

Separate the egg over the bowl by gently passing it from hand to hand allowing the egg white to drop into the bowl below while taking care not to break the yolk.

Place the yolks in a separate bowl and retain in the freezer for a later use.

Place your clean whites in a measuring cup. MAKE CERTAIN THERE IS NO YOLK IN YOUR EGG WHITES. YOUR MERINGUE WILL END UP AS EGG SOUP IF THERE IS EVEN THE SLIGHTEST TRACE OF YOLK IN YOUR WHITES. IF YOU GET YOLK IN YOUR WHITES THROW IT AWAY AND START FRESH-THIS IS WHY WE USE THE THREE BOWL SYSTEM-THE WHITES STAY WHITE, THE YOLKS STAY YOLKY, AND IF A YOLK BREAKS YOU ONLY HAVE TO THROW AWAY ONE EGG.

When you've measured out one cup of egg whites add one cup of sugar and whip slightly in a stainless steel bowl with a heat-proof whip.

Get a saucepan of water simmering on the stovetop

Place the bowl of egg whites and sugar over the saucepan of simmering water and whip constantly until the mixture is hot to the touch. Make certain to whip constantly when the whites are over the heat otherwise you'll end up with a egg white and sugar omelet that you didn't order

When the mixture is hot to the touch transfer the bowl to your stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on high speed until...

...the whites and suger have whipped into a bright white, fluffy mass that is room temperature to the touch.

The meringue is ready when you dab a spoon into the mixture, pull it straight out, and the egg white comes up after the spoon and holds a firm peak. Like so.

Add one cup of butter to the mixture ann whip on high speed until incorporated.

At first the meringue will deflate slightly and look soupy but don't freak out...

...when it is done whipping it will become semifirm, solid, and glossy.

Add Kahlua to taste and whip on high speed until thoroughly combined.

3. Decorate the cupcakes once they have cooled completely.

Outfit a pastry bag with a large star tip.

Fold the bag down so that is is about halfway folded over your hand. This makes sure that excess frosting doesn't ooze out of the top of the bag and make a sticky mess of the outside of the bag, your hand, and everything else you then touch.

Add the Kahlua buttercream to the bag and fill to the folded half-way point.

Unfold the top of the bag like so...notice the lack of frosting anywhere near the outside of the bag?

Twist the bag so that all of the excess air is absent and the frosting is held to the tip with controllable tension

Pipe a rosette onto the top of each cupcake by starting a fat circle around the perimeter...

...rounding a second circle on top of the first one, slightly in so that we taper to a peak.

Finish in the center at the top.

Repeat the process for all of the cupcakes. Your finished product will look something like this!

I made these cupcakes for my partner, she's a graduate student and she's had an exceptionally busy week. One of her secret pleasures is "pride sprinkles." If you have someone in your life with such an affinity feel free to garnish a few with some of them. They'll make him or her certain that this is a treat meant especially for them.

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