Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Sugar Fix

Where desserts are concerned, I'm prone to gilding the lily. To the horror of the austere minimalist in me, I'm unable to curb my impulse to leave well alone. Secretly (ok, not so secretly), I think that a dessert is unfinished, incomplete, naked, unless somehow gussied up - hopefully in a fashion that's appropriate to the subject in terms of looks, taste and texture, and in the best case scenario, all three. At the end of dinner, when the palate is inevitably dulled by the sensory bombardment that is a multi-course meal, all the more reason that dessert should aim to - besides taste good - be visually appealing, a grand finale rather than a mere afterthought. Things that both taste and look good give more pleasure than things that simply taste good, which is not to say that an elegant garnish alone will salvage an ersatz dessert. So having gone through the effort of actually making a nice dessert, it would seem callous to let it down in the looks department.

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.

Île Flottante
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.


Blogger Cathy said...

Hi Jocelyn! They're both stunning and look delicious as well. I'd love to try making spun sugar someday - it does look like fun!

11:09 am, August 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So beautiful!

2:00 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

ok. this is where you are unbeatable!! Well done J.

3:20 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger siewyuk said...

as always, your desserts look spectacular and I can only imagine how fabulous it tastes! love the ethereal quality of your spun sugar...

have decided to carry on with my blog. do pop over to my blog at to visit. cheerio...

4:07 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Jocelyn - these all look amazing - I _need_ to learn how to spun sugar!!! And you're being way too modest here - all your dishes on this blog have been visually appealing, whether they're starters, mains or puddings!

4:27 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

*thump*! That was me, falling of my chair -what BEAUTIFUL pictures! I'm a recent Kuidaore convert, but for some reason, it's not so bad that I haven't known you were here - because now I have a couple of wonderful hours to spend browsing your archives, and I'm looking forward to it!:-)

4:52 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger FooDcrazEE said...

as i have always said......the pic itself makes us drool....

8:39 pm, August 12, 2006  
Blogger :: Pastry Girl :: said...

wow..they really looks great! It's refreshing to know about sugar span!

11:28 pm, August 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Whenever I come to visit you I feel like a child in a toy store. I want EVERYTHING!

And now you've done it ... you've left me no choice but to march out and by both of Lucchetti's books as I have neither. I've been trying to stop myself from buying both but clearly ... I have no choice.

As always, your creations are stunning!

12:32 am, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Alpineberry Mary said...

Those desserts look so amazing! Emily Luchetti is one of my favorite pastry chefs in SF.

I love reading your blog. You are such an inspiration!

11:03 am, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Valentina said...

J, I have minutes of total delight whenever I come to visit your blog and read your posts. I love the 'be visually appealing, a grand finale rather than a mere afterthought'. I agree with you 100% there.And I do agree with Pille in that every single item posted here is absolutely 'heavenly'.

4:40 pm, August 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just loving your work... inspiring photography, words and recipes.

9:09 pm, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Ok, how on earth did you do all that and finish all those stories?? I love that the Île Flottante holds a surprise centre. At some point I'm going to have to try the spun sugar, but then again, I have egg whites in the freezer and your macaron post bookmarked from months ago.

9:43 pm, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

just lovely - and I've just started experimenting with caramel also.. but truth be told, I'm still a little scared of them, cos' they're so temperamental... as in being quite unmanageable if the timing and heat goes just a little awry.. so you have my highest regard for reaching the 'spun sugar' stage!

11:49 pm, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Krithika said...

I cannot take my eyes off of your chocolate chip ice cream cake. Very creative !

7:45 am, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Jen said...

all I can say is wow. This is stunning. And because they are desserts, they have made my heart beat faster. I love desserts and these two are truly to die for. Bravo!

3:58 pm, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Astrid said...

"I bought Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Desserts virtually on the strength of its cover alone, which features this luscious ice cream cake"
Your photo looks even more beautiful than the cover of the book!

8:08 pm, August 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joycelyn - this is the ultimate sugar fix, absolutely beautiful! I'm actually not a fan of Île Flottante but I must give it another try after seeing your gorgeous creation :)

Could you let me know what you think of her new ice-cream book? I was thinking of getting a copy but haven't decided yet...

10:03 pm, August 14, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

Another jaw-dropping post Joycelyn, and a grand tour of at least 10 of your other amazing posts! Your picture should definitely be on that cover. Way better.

11:52 pm, August 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how you enjoy playing with your desserts - adding caramel is almost literally "gilding the lily", so to speak! Glad to know you're such a fan of Luchetti as well; her books are such an inspiration!

5:48 am, August 15, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for solving the conundrum of the ice cream cake! I never eat them because I think the cake generally tastes terrible. Now I understand why. Hopefully the rest of the world will eventually catch on!

By the way, the meringue filled with chocolate mousse is such a fabulous idea that must certainly be better than the sum of its parts.

9:54 pm, August 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, i totally agree! The finishing touches makes all the difference. Like Cinderella going to a ball, your creations always look so magnificent :)

Patience though, is something i'm yet trying to learn. Hence my blog - it sure does help me learn the word. Patience.

7:26 am, August 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely gorgeous Jocelyn! I made this dish from Thomas Keller and loved it too! Your creation is even nicer than the one in the book! But this is no surprise coming from you!

10:22 pm, August 16, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

i love it when chefs make fancy things from melted sugar. so cool

5:08 am, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Wonderful, J. I've been meaning to try an ile flottante myself for some time, but never manage to get around to it. I beat the egg whites and somehow they work their way into a mousse or something before I can properly cook them. I'm inspired, now, though!

1:35 am, August 18, 2006  
Blogger Cesar Reynoso R said...

He visto tu pagina, la fotografia y las confecciones son muy buenas, limpias y depuradas, pocos blogs como el tuyo Felicitaciones, da una vuelta por el mio, estamos en contacto.

7:02 am, August 18, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful blog!!!!, delicious recipes and wonderful photos!!!!

6:19 am, August 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, what heavenly creations, once again! Your spun sugar is picture-perfect. I once saw Ainsley Harriot whip up some some sugar nests on Ready, Steady, Cook in about 30 seconds, which gave me enough confidence to try it myself - needless to say my kitchen walls were covered in filaments of rock-hard caramel for days before I managed to clean it all up, and I was too scared to ever try it again! How do you make everything look so effortless? ;)

6:09 am, August 22, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

C'est magnifique, bravo bravo!

10:42 pm, August 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiya, i hope you don't mind, i have tagged you! You're it!

11:03 pm, August 26, 2006  
Blogger *fanny* said...

Hi J
this post exudes your love for patisserie making. You are SO talented - both in cooking and photography. My forever idol.
- fanny

3:10 am, August 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J!I 'm completly mad of your creations,thanks for those amazing pictures and delicious recipes!Wonderful!

6:00 am, August 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are by far the best food blogger i come across. very, very well-done. congratulations. you will go far.

3:15 am, August 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your pictures are fantastic! I was clicking arounf looking for some chicken recipes and these really took my fancy. Thanks


12:53 am, September 10, 2006  

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