The Sugar Fix
To that end, I make caramel more often than my endodontist would probably approve. Caramel surreptitiously finds its way into scores of classic and modern classic desserts. Whether for the crunch factor it gives to crème brûlée, for the sauciness it endows crème caramel with, for lending magic to tarte Tatin, for adding depth and complexity to everything from ice cream to ganache, for being as gorgeous with fruit as it is with chocolate, for filling tarts from the simple to the spectacular, I simply adore caramel for being such an indispensable flavouring. But it's not just endlessly useful as a flavouring, it's equally adept at its role as penultimate finishing touch - think spun sugar, caramel shards and sticks and any other fancy shapes, croquante, nougatine, praline... And it sure doesn't hurt that caramel begins with that one ingredient that's always on standby, no last-minute scrambling or shopping required.
Spun sugar and caramel shards are just about the two easiest ways of dressing up a dessert, demanding nothing more than sugar, water and a bit of patience. For crystal clear instructions on the method, that found in Alice Medrich's Bittersweet or Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking (both have dedicated sections on caramel and its many dessert/decorative applications) are hard to beat.
A re-visitation of this recipe from Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook - instead of chocolate shavings and fleur de sel, I topped the island afloat in a puddle of crème anglaise with spun sugar, the traditional garnish. The slow-baked meringue hides a surprise centre of rich chocolate mousse, a secret hinted at by the chocolate tuile that sits atop. Both the wafer-thin tuile and halo of golden threads not only add to the ethereal, positively angelic appearance, but afford delicately crisp contrast to the whisper-weight, cloud-soft meringue.
Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
I bought Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Desserts virtually on the strength of its cover alone, which features this luscious ice cream cake. Chocolate cake is thickly slathered with rich caramel sauce (when frozen, the sauce becomes very thick and sticky) then layered with homemade chocolate chip-loaded ice cream and finished with almond-studded caramel shards.
For the cake component, I substituted my new favourite go-everywhere, do-anything chocolate cake recipe, the Devilishly Moist Chocolate Cake from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book. It is an oil, rather than butter, based recipe resulting in an extremely moist cake that remains soft and velvety even when refrigerated or frozen, making it ideal as a building block in mousse or ice cream cakes that have to be served well-chilled or frozen. It resolves an issue that's always bothered me about such layered constructions - refrigeration or freezing is necessary for the mousse or ice cream component, but refrigeration (not to mention freezing) does not present ideal storage conditions for a butter-based cake as it dulls the flavours and results in a dense, unappealing texture, necessitating a 15 to 30 minute wait before serving for the cake to come to room temperature, by which time the mousse or ice cream either won't be the ideal texture or will be a mess. This oil-based recipe can be served straight from fridge or freezer without compromising on the texture of the cake, and thus not compromising the mousse or ice cream layers it supports. The supremely chocolatey kick comes from the high natural cocoa content.
In her introduction to the Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake recipe, Ms. Luchetti says "I have come to recognize that the perfect ice cream, like enlightenment, is always just round the corner, out of sight. But that's fine with me. I can spend my life searching." Which, for me, bodes exceedingly well for her new book. Like the fabulous S of Chubby Hubby (who recently made this divine ice cream I was lucky enough to sample), I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of A Passion for Ice Cream, which promises hours of non-stop entertainment courtesy of this big baby.