So it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have a huge sweet tooth. I love dessert and I celebrate this fact with our annual dessert party, when I make a whole bunch of desserts and a whole bunch of folks come and indulge. (If you are reading this blog and want to be included in this year’s party – usually held in October or November – just let me know!) I usually like rounding out a meal with dessert in ordinary times, but these are no ordinary times. Baking and indulging have proven to be a great distraction and way to stave off boredom and instill every day with a little creativity and fun. So here are a few that have been hits in our household lately…
Oefs a la Neige (also known as Floating Islands)
I first lived in France as an au pair when I was sixteen years old. I spent the summer working my butt off and did a lot of growing up. I returned to France as an exchange student for my senior year of high school, foregoing graduating from high school and giving me the distinction of having no high school diploma! I did far more cooking the summer I was an au pair (mostly in Nantes and Aix en Provence), but I did more exploration of French food during my year as an exchange student (in Valenciennes. It was then that I was first introduced to Oefs a la Neige. It is a very elegant dessert but it also quite simple and comforting. I had a hankering for it the other day and had a bunch of eggs on hand, so I decided to surprise David and the girls with it for dessert.
You make light meringue clouds that are poached in milk and then float in a pool of crème anglaise, then drizzled with caramelized sugar on top. It is very light but feels simultaneously indulgent. I have used different recipes over the years but here is the one I used the other night by Wolfgang Puck that I like because the poaching milk is used in the crème anglaise.
1 quart milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
8 eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup dark rum (I omitted this)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds (I omitted this too)
In a large, wide saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean to a simmer.
To make the meringues: In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff but not dry. Scoop up several large serving spoonfuls and poach on the simmering milk, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on serving plate. Repeat until all the egg whites have been used.
One cautionary note: use a large enough pot to poach your milk! Once you poach it and add the meringue, it can spill over the pan if you don’t use one that is large enough. How do I know this? Because, sigh, I speak from experience.
To make the creme Anglaise: in another large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until light and ribbon-y. Add the warm milk to the egg yolk mixture and return to the saucepan. Cook, over low heat, stirring constantly without letting it come to a boil, until mixture thickness and coats back of spoon. Strain and flavor with rum and vanilla extract. Ladle creme Anglaise around poached meringues.
To make the Caramel: in a small saucepan, cook the remaining 1 cup sugar until caramelized, stirring constantly. Stir in the almonds. Turn off heat, being careful not to burn the caramel. Carefully spoon caramel over the meringue.
Pear and Apple Crisp
So my mom sent us a gift box from Harry and David that had cheese, crackers and pears in it. I took everything out and put the basket, still filled with the confetti that surrounded the pears, of the dryer (a pet peeve of David’s because the dryer serves as a pit stop for me on the way to the recycling bin in the garage.) About a week later, David noticed that there was an entire layer of pears under all the confetti that we had totally missed. By the time he found them, they were on their last legs, so obviously I had to make a pear and apple crisp for dessert that night. This recipe works for almost any fruit and you can also mess around with the crisp by adding nuts or coconut. This recipe is adapted from one by Ina Garten (who is a goddess in the kitchen and never leads me astray).
For the fruit filling, peel, core and dice the pears and apples. (The quantity will depend on the size of your dish and the number of people you are trying to serve. I used 4 pears – one of the 5 remaining was too far gone – and 2 apples.) Mix with sugar (1/2 cup), flour (2 tablespoons), 1 teaspoon each of orange and lemon rind plus 1 tablespoon of juice from each, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon salt. (Adjust these quantities depending on the amount of fruit you are using.) Place in a greased pan (I used a glass pie plate) and top with crisp.
For the crisp, combine 1 ½ cups flour, ¾ cup granulated sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, and ½ pound (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter (if you only have salted butter on hand, then delete the salt), diced, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.
Place the dish on a sheet pan (trust me on this one – I neglected to do so and now have to clean the bottom of my oven) and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour until the top is brown and the filling is bubbly. Serve warm.
Chocolate Chip Pie with Homemade Caramel Sauce:
This is so simple I hesitate to even include it, but I posted a pic on Facebook last week and the recipe was requested, so here it is.
For the chocolate chip pie, I just make chocolate chip cookie dough and fill a greased cast iron pan with it. My go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is the one on the Toll House chocolate chip cookie bag:
Cream 2 sticks butter with ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup white sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add 2 eggs and mix well. Add 2 and ¼ cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until ingredients are combined. When making chocolate chip cookies, I then put the dough in wax paper and refrigerate. I find the cookies are better when the dough is cold. I break it into chunks, place on a greased cookie sheet, and sprinkle coarse salt on top of each one then bake at 375 for 5-7 minutes. For the cookie pie, I just put the dough in the cast iron pan and put the entire pan in the refrigerator until dessert time. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until outside is crispy and a toothpick inserted in the middle does not come out all goopy. (Some goopiness is okay because it will continue to cook a bit in the pan and will solidify somewhat as it cools.)
Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and caramel sauce.
Homemade Caramel Sauce (from www.fifteenspatulas.com)
Place one cup of granulated sugar in a saucepan and give it a little shake, then add 1/3 cup of water to moisten the sugar. Turn the heat to medium and cook (do not stir) until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup. Continue to cook the caramel and watch as it begins to take on an amber color. Do not leave it alone and have ¾ cup of heavy cream standing by. Once the caramel has gotten to a golden color, like honey, turn off the heat and immediately add the heavy cream. This will stop the caramel from continuing to cook. Now add 2 tablespoons of butter. Continue stirring until the caramel has an even texture. If the caramel seizes up when you add the cream and butter, do not worry. It should smooth out with more stirring and residual heat. The caramel sauce will look very thin and runny, but it will thicken as it cools. It has the best drizzling consistency at room temperature.