Archive for the 'fruit desserts' Category

22
Mar
13

Some gelatin desserts are more socially acceptable than others

Buttermilk panna cottas

Buttermilk panna cottas, accessorized with lemon cookies from Trader Joe’s.

Making this buttermilk panna cotta (inspiration: a recent Cupcakes and Cashmere post) brought me back to my childhood, where rainbow jello was on heavy rotation.

Ok, so maybe the only thing they have in common is the jiggle. But that’s what I was reminded of by the texture of this gelatin-based panna cotta, something you’d serve at a dinner party for grown-ups. Whereas rainbow jello is something you’d serve at a dinner party with guests whose ages are in the single-digits, or with a tongue-in-cheek 70s theme (break out the avocado-green Tupperware!).

rainbow jello

Half the fun is peeling apart the Technicolor layers as you eat it. Photo from alphamom.com.

Bemoaning the lack of jello dessert options at your local restaurant? One of the places you can still find jello options in abundant supply, apart from your local senior center, is K&W Cafeterias. I head there whenever I’m visiting my hometown in NC and need a cheap comfort-food fix.

K&W cafeteria congeal menu

The full range of congeal options at K&W Cafeterias. Would you like yours with cottage cheese?

At K-Dub, they call jello congeal, not a word you’d normally associate with anything you put in your mouth. If that doesn’t make you think twice about that green, gelatinous cube with mandarin oranges suspended within like a Damien Hirst shark tank, I’m not sure what will.

But back to the panna cotta. It’s not as solid and chewy as your typical block of jello, but it’s definitely got a jiggle about it. If you like the flavor of vanilla yogurt, I recommend trying the recipe mentioned above. It’s dead easy, just requires a few ingredients, and foolproof. I didn’t even bother straining the mixture, and it turned out just fine. Like yogurt, it’s best served up with a compote or fresh fruit. I liked it with strawberries and mangoes (if available, buy the champagne mangoes, with the yellow-orange skin. They’re sweeter than the larger ones with red-green skins and have a buttery texture).

buttermilk panna cotta avec fruit

Buttermilk panna cotta tastes like yogurt, so buddy it up with fruit.

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25
Feb
13

Blackberry-mango cobbler, barely salvaged from flatness

Last weekend, I made a rookie baking mistake.

Pioneer Women's blackberry cobbler. I added a mango, too.

On a recent episode of Pioneer Woman, Ree made this blackberry cobbler. There are only 5 basic ingredients, all of which I had in the house (or so I thought)—how could I screw it up?

  1. butter
  2. milk
  3. sugar
  4. flour
  5. fruit (blackberries, plus I added 1 chopped mango)

Here’s how: The recipe calls for self-rising flour, which I don’t normally use. Not that I noticed while I was mixing the ingredients.

The blackberry-mango cobbler, right before it went into the oven.

It was pretty before it went into the oven. Too bad I forgot the leavening agent.

After the cobbler had been baking for 10 minutes, I realized I’d added no leavening agent (no yeast, eggs, baking powder, or baking soda: the ingredient you need to make the cake-y part of the cobbler). *starts tearing hair out at potential wastage of fruit*

Luckily, at this point it was early enough to take the cobbler from the oven and mix in 1 teaspoon of baking powder plus a pinch of salt. This made the cobbler a whole lot less presentable, but saved it from turning into shortbread.

The result wasn't as pretty as it could've been, given the last-minute first aid. But it was devoured in 2 days anyway.

The result wasn’t as pretty as it could’ve been, given the last-minute first aid. That, and the fact that we attacked it.

A few other notes:

  • Add 1 stick of butter, not 1/2 stick. Reviewing a few of the user comments made me realize the Food Network recipe was off.
  • A 3-quart dish is a little large for this recipe, unless you’re ok with your slices being brownie-height. Otherwise, use a smaller dish and keep an eye on the baking time.

The final cobbler was still pretty awesome because the sugar topping creates a crunchy, chewy crust. (Try using a larger-grain sugar, like sugar in the raw). Plus, you can really add almost any fruit you want—don’t limit yourself to berries. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy, given how much sugar and butter goes into this.

01
Feb
13

When life gives you Meyer lemons, make pound cake. Maybe.

Tis the season for Meyer lemons galore

Meyer lemons. The name alone sounds delicious. I say this at the risk of being stoned by pastry chefs, but methinks they’re a bit overrated. The zest is surprisingly bitter, and the sweet flavor, while nice, isn’t as bright as a typical lemon. But these were on sale at Whole Foods (8 for $3), and I’m a sucker for a bargain. You can also find them cheap at Trader Joe’s right now.

After some initial waffling on what to do with an entire bag of lemons, pound cake began calling my name. But I was conflicted about which recipe to try. The Martha Stewart one had mixed reviews (confirmation that Martha isn’t perfect). The other recipes I came across, no critical mass of user reviews. In the end, I took my chances on this recipe from Tide and Thyme because it uses sour cream, which I’ve found helps make for a moister cake.

  Meyer lemon pound cake

The result was a very sweet, slightly bitter pound cake that was borderline too buttery. (I found 2 sticks of butter to almost be overkill for one 9″ x 5″ loaf—despite the origins of the name “pound cake” stemming from “a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, etc.”). The cake does turn out moist, especially with the lemon syrup saturating it. I screwed up the frosting, which is why this looks bald compared with the Tide and Thyme photo.

PS: I ended up using 6 lemons for this recipe, although you could get away with using fewer than that.

25
Jan
13

A respectable shortcut for apple dumplings

This is my first time out trying a recipe from Trisha Yearwood’s Food Network show. The country music star focuses on rib-stickin’ Southern home cooking. In the opening credits she says that everything’s home-cooked, but her recipes actually tend toward semi-homemade. Example: these apple dumplings, which use store-bought buttermilk biscuit dough for the pastry. Although I’m not opposed to store-bought shortcuts, I felt a little misled.

One reason I tend to stay away from using Pillsbury-type doughs (with the exception of the pie crusts) is that they’re best eaten straight from the oven. Wait an hour or so and they’ve usually already hardened, amplifying their fake buttery taste. That, and I wince when the can pops.

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings

Before these semi-homemade apple dumplings went into the oven, they were languishing in a buttery bath.

I decided to try this recipe anyway, swayed by the overwhelmingly positive reader reviews. But a few questions plagued me. Would the pastry soaking in the butter fluids actually cook, or remain factory-made pastry mush? Would the fake-butter taste from the pastry overwhelm the finished product?

I’m relieved to report that these turned out quite tasty, despite the slightly repulsive butter bath they baked in (I just about halved the recipe for 8 dumplings). The Granny Smith apple softens inside, a nice contrast to the crunchy cinnamon-dusted tops. The leftovers even held up the next day (stored without the butter sauce).

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings, from the oven.

After baking. The bottoms do bake through, thankfully.

PS: Turns out Tricia’s in good company when it comes to semi-homemade apple dumplings. Pioneer Woman makes a variation on these using Crescent Roll dough and Mountain Dew (recipe here), if you like your apple dumplings with a caffeine kick.

27
Oct
12

Miniscule fruits that I’ve tried

Unlike many Asians, I don’t consider fruits a dessert per se. But these Lilliputian freaks-of-nature deserved a mention.

Kiwi berries are like tiny, sweet kiwis without the sour bite.

Kiwi berries are really hard to find. I got these from DC’s Union Market, $5 for a small clamshell. I’d usually balk at that price tag, but after trying one, so many synapses in my brain lit up that I happily handed that fiver over. These taste like a very concentrated, sweet kiwi without any of the sour bite. They’re incredibly flavorful, and you can pop the whole thing into your mouth (the skins aren’t hairy).

Finger limes from Shanley Farms.

I’d read a lot about finger limes this past summer: small, skinny limes whose juice pods resemble caviar. Mr. X-sXe was keen on trying them, so we ordered a small bag from Shanley Farms.

Problem was, we weren’t sure what to do with them. We ended up adding them to salad dressing, but the pods were too tart to really blend in with the rest of the dressing. We ended up throwing the rest into a green juice. Gilt Taste recommends using them as a garnish or in key lime pie (which seems impractical, considering they’re not so easy to juice).

25
Sep
12

How Martha Stewart gave me a bloody knuckle: Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake

Ingredients for Marth Stewart's Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake

This was my first attempt at a Martha Stewart recipe–or more accurately, a recipe from Martha Stewart Everyday Food. I’ve tasted baked goods based on her recipes before. They’ve always been good, but not good enough for me to demand the recipe. Would this Jamaican spiced upside-down cake be any different?

The recipe (couldn’t find it online; similar one here) incorporates some of my favorite flavors: coconut milk, lime zest, fresh pineapple. I expected it to be a totally exotic, decadent take on the pineapple-upside down cake.

The most complicated part is layering the pineapples on top of the brown sugar and melted butter.

Laying out the pineapples on top of the brown sugar and melted butter, which will caramelize with the heat.

Don’t get me wrong. The cake’s decent, a solid B-. It’s just not as good as it should be given what went into it, ingredient- and assembly-wise. Like Empire Martha itself, it’s a little safe, beige, pleasant-yet-forgettable. Or maybe I’m just bitter from grating the skin off of my knuckle while zesting.

Bloody knuckle as a result of overzealous zesting.

I may have zested those limes too aggressively.

The consistency reminds me of gingerbread (due to the molasses in the brown sugar). Not my favorite texture, since it starts getting cement-like in the mouth. Also, I wanted the cake and topping to be sweeter–I’d probably add at least 1/4 white sugar to the cake batter if I were to try this again.

The finished product: Martha Stewart's Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake.

Honestly, the best part of this cake wasn’t the eating. It was the part where you flip it onto a plate and the whole thing slides out in one piece. Now that’s gratification.

25
Aug
12

A trip to the Asian grocery store reveals a deficit of delicious desserts

Here’s why you usually don’t see anything beyond mango sticky rice,* green tea ice cream, and fried bananas on the dessert menu of your favorite Asian restaurant. Desserts are not our forte.

What follows are exhibits A, B, and C of the freezer case at Great Wall, an Asian grocery store in Falls Church, VA. A few observations below on what’s wrong with Asian desserts.

Taro root popsicles at the Asian grocery store.

(1) Fruit is not a dessert. Most Asians eat fruit for dessert. Which is a lot healthier, of course, but a few oranges wedges aren’t going to satisfy any craving for a cookie.

(2) Some Asian desserts are so bad, they border on the offensive. Mochi doesn’t taste like anything and it’s a digestion/choking hazard. No, I don’t want fibrous taro root in my cake. Please keep your durian out of my ice cream. There’s a reason some Asian countries ban that fruit from being taken on public transportation (it’s that pungent).

Durian frozen desserts at the Asian grocery store.

(3) Care for a side of the toots with your sweets? Because many Asian desserts (mochi, red bean buns, moon cakes, shaved ice) come with beans as a topping or filling. Confusing and not delicious, right?

Beans do not belong in desserts.

*One of the lone beacons of light among Asian desserts is mango sticky rice (thank you, Thailand), which done properly can be divine. As can anything made with coconut milk. As long as it doesn’t also have taro root, beans, and/or durian in it.