Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vacherin Mont Blanc

When you're feeling fragile, the prospect of putting together an involved multi-component composed dessert might just be the proverbial back-breaking straw. Still, if some suitably grand dessert must be put on the table, not all is lost. There're a handful of high-impact low-effort sweets I always fall back on when time's a wastin' and I need to pull something together pronto. Enter stage left: Vacherin Mont Blanc, my most oft-used trick up the sleeve. The cooking and peeling and tamis-ing of actual chestnuts can wait for a mood more masochistic. In this particular quick fix scenario, it should be about smart shopping; if you always have a tin or two of crème de marrons knocking around in the pantry (I like the Clement Faugier brand), than you're pretty much all set. There're scores of recipes for this classic, some easy, some more elaborate (see lovely Keiko's blog for the most exquisite Mont Blanc-based desserts ever). So everytime I make Mont Blanc or a Mont Blanc-style recipe, I try to do it slightly differently.

This time round, I followed the instructions in Claire Clark's Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts, one of my favourites from 2007's bumper crop of exciting year-end cookbook releases. It's quite possibly one of the simplest recipes in the beautiful book - which ranges in scope from the modest to the most outrageously flamboyant imaginable - by the much feted pastry chef of The French Laundry. But simple here, of course, is sublimely simple.

Crisp shells of snow-white meringue hold mounds of barely sweetened, stiffly whipped cream flavoured with vanilla, rum and crème de marrons and studded with chopped marrons glacés. This is in turn enveloped by an avalanche of chestnut vermicelli. The recipe suggests plating a double-decker; while this makes for a tall and dramatic presentation, it's also a portion size that I found sufficient for 2 especially if people have had anything remotely more filling than soup and a salad to precede (hence the improvised minis in the first picture).

I spent more time tempering the chocolate for the decorations than I did making and assembling the entire dessert, perhaps a tad guilt-stricken at how painless the whole exercise was proving to be. Besides, there's absolutely no excuse for low-effort to look like no-effort!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Easy Peasy

As an antidote to all that preciousness (but in defense of preciousness, what better excuse than Christmas?), I've deliberately kept the finishing touches here fuss-free. For the lovely folks who've booked the Christmas Cupcake Class I'll be teaching at Shermay's Cooking School (see the December schedule for details) and might be checking in, here're more details about the 4 bonus recipes included in the recipe pack. As mentioned in this earlier post, I won't be demonstrating these extra recipes during class so thought it would be appropriate to give a few details here. For all their deliciousness, they're fast and simple to whip up - I think many who ordinarily don't bake very much might be inclined to do so during the festive season, and these are exactly the sort of recipes that might fit the bill, requiring as they do minimal effort on the part of the cook.

Espresso & Candied Orange
Coffee and candied citrus have a lovely affinity. This particular cupcake tastes of real coffee - as opposed to instant coffee - thanks to the use of illy espresso grounds and a dose of Nielsen Massey Pure Coffee Extract.

Spiced Honey
The personality of these will vary each and every time you make up a batch if you experiment with different honeys - mild, floral honeys like clover, acacia, heather and orange blossom work beautifully. The spicing is fairly subdued - just a grating of nutmeg and a touch of cloves - so that the character of the honey you've chosen can really come through.
Chocolate & Orange Marmalade
Jaffa Cakes are a guilty pleasure of mine, and the chocolate-orange flavours here (despite not having a "smashing orangey bit in the middle"!) remind me of that addictive little lunchbox treat. Using a quality marmalade makes all the difference, so don't be penny-wise here.

Tea Infused Gingerbread
Old-fashioned gingerbread recipes often use a splash of cold black tea or coffee in lieu of water to add depth to the flavour. This is one such recipe; the flavour of the tea plays less of a starring role and more of a supporting one. A frugal cook? You'll like this one; even leftover cold tea is not wasted and can be put to work here!