Category Archives: Pastry

Next Up: Caramelized White Chocolate Something-Or-Other

I haven’t decided what I’ll do with my caramelized white chocolate once I make it, but there are all sorts of applications for this unusual component: mousse, ganache, pastry cream, truffles, ice cream, cake. Caramelized white chocolate has been around several years but only seems to have gotten really hip in the last eighteen months or so. A few of you have been asking about it lately so it seems like a good time to make a little of it. Or a lot.

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Making Sticky Toffee Pudding

British puddings as a rule are moist, rich and dense. Oh: and sweet. Stick toffee pudding doesn’t disappoint on any of those fronts, though the pudding itself is lighter than it may appear. Together the dates and the espresso give the pudding a deep, almost chocolate-like flavor that’s as delicious as it is hard to place, especially if you really process the fruit mixture into a fine purée. If you’re looking for an indulgent finisher for a meal, something a little different but also comforting, sticky toffee pudding is your ticket. This is of course an individual baked pudding, not a classic large steamed pudding, and I confess I quite like it. Gives you more serving and plating options.

Start by assembling your ingredients and preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter six 1-cup ramekins or eight 3″ x 2″ ring molds. Put the dates in a medium bowl and pour on the boiling water. Let them soak for at least 20 minutes.

At that point place them in a food processor with the water and chop them to whatever degree you like. I chopped mine relatively fine but left a few larger pieces because I like dates.

When your date are to the point you like them add the vanilla, espresso and baking soda.

Give that a spin for a few seconds. You’ll notice the mixture increasing volume and changing color to light brown. This is a leavening reaction from the baking soda. Who knew dates were so acidic? Not me I’ll tell you.

Anyway, begin the batter. Beat the sugar and butter in a mixer (or in a bowl with a wooden spoon) until they’re light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Scraping from time to time of course.

Next, sift the flour into a medium bowl.

Add the salt and baking powder and whisk everything together.

Gently stir that into the egg mixture, you don’t want a lot of activated gluten here. Easy does it.

Once you have a homogenous batter, add the date mixture and stir that in.

And there’s your batter.

Spoon that into your molds. For a 1-cup ramekin you’ll use about 5.5 ounce of batter. For a 3″ ring mold you’ll want about 3.75 ounces.

Bake 25-35 minutes until the tops are firm when you tap them. Put the pan on a rack for five minutes to let them cool a bit…

Then unmold them. Owee-owee-ow!!

Yikes those are hot. So then at this point you can hold them for several hours before serving or you can freeze them for up to a couple of months. Refrigeration doesn’t accomplish much. But whatever you do, when you’re ready to serve, place them on a sheet pan under the broiler with a large dollop of semi-liquid toffee sauce on top.

Let it bubble and run, the top edge of the pudding should toast a little. Forgive the focus, my cheekbones were starting to char.

Serve however you like. I favor a puddle of melted ice cream or chilled lightly sweetened cream and a few squeezings of leftover toffee sauce with some walnut pieces as a garnish. You can do what you like.

Serve immediately and await copious praise.

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The Difference Between Dark and Shiny Baking Pans

Reader Robert wants to know what the practical difference is between shiny baking pans and dark-colored nonstick versions (other than the fact that one is nonstick of course). The main difference, Robert, is that dark colors absorb more heat. That’s as true of pans as it is of clothes, even in the lightless environment of an oven. It’s why a tent of shiny aluminum foil does such a great job of preventing excess browning in a hot oven. It reflects heat energy.

A dark pan does the reverse and that’s not usually a good thing. Dark pans can not only create excess browning on edges, they can contribute to the premature hardening of surface crusts, and that can hold in rising or crust expansion. This is not to say that nonstick can’t be a good thing, however tart and pie crusts are very buttery to begin with. As a result they tend not to have a problem releasing from pans, so in that case the nonstick surface is really unnecessary. Properly prepared, just about any pan can be made to perform like a non-stick pan, so my feeling is that in general you should prefer the lighter finishes. They’re more versatile, cheaper and you never have to worry about the coating wearing off. Thanks for the excellent question. Robert!

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Making Toffee/Butterscotch Sauce

I use the slash because, while there is a clear difference between toffee and butterscotch candies there is little if any difference between toffee and butterscotch sauce. Butterscotch is generally a bit lighter in color I suppose. To produce that effect all you need to do is use light brown sugar instead of dark brown. Otherwise the procedure is the same. You’ll need:

7 ounces (scant cup) dark brown sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
pinch salt
3 ounces (generous 1/3 cup) heavy cream

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer.

Simmer it gently until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the to cool and thicken somewhat before using. It will also hold almost indefinitely and can be refrigerated for several weeks. For a smoother sauce that will flow better at lower temperatures, double the cream (at least).

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The Difference Between Candy and Sauce

My failure to distinguish between toffee, caramel and butterscotch sauces and their candy equivalents in an earlier post got me into some well-deserved hot water (syrup?). I confess it had never really occurred to me before, not being much of a confectioner, but caramel sauce is not necessarily just melted or diluted caramel. Indeed, chewy caramel candies are made by cooking caramel to the firm ball stage (248F). Caramel sauce is made by cooking sugar until it practically burns (300 – 330F or even more if you like it smoky!).

Similarly, toffee candy is made by cooking butter, brown sugar (and often some white sugar) to the hard ball stage (265F or so). Butterscotch candy, by cooking roughly the same ingredients to the soft crack stage (290F or so). This is what gives these candies different textures at the candy store. Butterscotch and toffee sauces, at least to my mind, are all but indistinguishable as they call for mostly the same ingredients (butter and brown sugar plus cream and maybe some vanilla) cooked until the mixture is homogenous and maybe a touch reduced.

So: candy, sauce. The processes for making each are surprisingly different. Shame on me for not calling that out sooner!

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Back, but…

…settling in again is about as time consuming as vacationing. I returned yesterday to 134 questions in my in-box, many of them true head scratchers requiring detailed replies. I’m about half way through…then there’s my regular mortgage- and tuition-paying job to catch up on. Such an inconvenience! I’ll do my best to get my puddings made in the next day or so. If I’m not back in earnest before the weekend try not to hold it against me!

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Farewell to the Final Ramone

By 1975, rock music had become a parody of itself. The Beatles were split up, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison were dead. A lot of the great bands from the 60′s were still playing (The Who, the Stones, The Band and the Grateful Dead spring to mind) but most of the vitality was gone from the form. Popular culture had moved on to disco and lite rock acts like Seals & Crofts and England Dan & John Ford Coley. Little kids like my sister and me were listening to the Partridge Family, the Bay City Rollers, Wings and Leif Garrett. Concert goers were thrilling to the theatrics of KISS. Intellectual types were swooning to pompous art rock bands like Spirit, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Some of it was fun, a little of it was artistic, none of it was rock n’ roll.

…as four geeks from Queens reminded us when they turned their amps up to 20 and belted out blistering four-chord, triple-speed two-minute rock anthems like Blitzkrieg Bop and I Wanna Be Sedated. They were the Ramones. They invented punk (a label they despised) and in the process revived true rock music, as defined by volume, simplicity and schlong. They never hit pay dirt in the music industry, never got to be a household name, never made any real money. But only the Beatles were more influential, and that’s not just my opinion. They were The Band That Saved Rock before Nirvana came along and did it again in 1991.

Everyone in the band had a fictitious name, which is to say they all assumed the surname “Ramone”, one of Paul McCartney’s aliases. Over a particularly bad three-year stretch at the turn of the millennium we lost three of them: Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny, my personal favorite Ramone for a long list of reasons. Tommy, the original drummer, died over the weekend. Tommy Ramone was only with the band for the first four years, but he established the seminal Ramones beat (ably imitated by his replacement, Marky). His death, how can I put it, is a real bummer. Nothing to do now but put on the It’s Alive at the Rainbow and raise a glass of the good stuff. ONE TWO THREE FOUR!!!

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Pre- and Proto-Puddings II: The Rise of “White” Puddings

One thing pretty much everyone agreed upon back in the early days of puddings was that they were a very good idea. Organs, blood and grain all stuffed into a bladder and boiled? What’s not to love? Yet the big problem for pudding lovers of the period was that puddings were prisoners of seasonality. I mean let’s face it, the average person didn’t have fresh blood, guts and bladders lying around everywhere all the time. On the farm animals were only slaughtered in cool weather to prevent spoilage (refrigerators being in very short supply in the first few millennia before Christ). Thus at the dawn of the Age of Pudding, it would have only been a once-in-a-while treat.

It wasn’t until the 1600′s (A.D.) that puddings became regular fare. This thanks to an advance in textiles that made the so-called “pudding cloth” possible. What was that you ask? Simply a piece of fine-mesh calico that a cook could spoon batter into, boil and reuse. It was a great stand-in for a bladder, and it freed puddings from the seasonal cycle they had previously been trapped in. Cooks could suddenly get creative with them. Instead of the same old blood and guts, a pudding could be made from scraps that were available at other times of year: eggs, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts…you name it. In this way pudding evolved from a what into a how.

This is how the white pudding was born. And it remains with us to this day. Of course there are still plenty of black puddings out there, notably among the Scots who still place a high value on foods like haggis, which if you haven’t tried…is completely understandable. South of there however, in England, white (usually sweet) puddings now reign, some of the most famous exemplars being plum and date puddings like sticky toffee pudding. Only very few are made in pudding cloths nowadays.

Today pudding makers use tin forms or shallow dishes — as with Yorkshire pudding — or prepare them in pans over a flame on the stove top. These bear very little resemblance to that thing that was once knows as a “pudding”, yet they can all trace their roots back to the same, ancient tradition…of cooking up odds and ends in a form, using some sort of thickener or binder to hold everything together. And that’s as close to definition of “pudding” as I can honestly get.

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Pre- and Proto-Puddings

The word “pudding”, it’s thought, comes down to us from the Latin word botellus which basically means “sausage.” Boudin is how the word occurs now in French. Pudim is the Portuguese version, pudín the Spanish. Sounding a little familiar now? Thought so. But did spotted dick and sticky toffee pudding really start out as sausage? Yes. Sort of. Here it helps to take a brief — and very general — look at early days of sausage making.

Say you’re a Bronze Age subsistence farmer living somewhere in Europe. It’s fall and you’ve just slaughtered your pig. You’ve taken all the choice cuts off the carcass for the season’s big feast, but you’ve still got plenty of other stuff left. The meat scraps you chop up and stuff in a casing with fat to make hard sausage that’ll last maybe a year. But that still leaves you with the organs and blood. You hate to waste it, but that sort of offal will start to spoil in a matter of hours if it isn’t either eaten or cooked. What to do?

There aren’t any pots or pans laying about. The stable you’re working in certainly isn’t a kitchen. And anyway, it’s the Bronze Age. So you pick out a bladder or a stomach, wash it in a nearby stream, and stuff it with the organ meat and blood plus and a few handfuls of grain or bread crumbs to bind the whole mixture together. You tie it up, boil it and presto — you’ve got a stopgap solution that will feed your family for week or more.

These were the first puddings. Known as “black” puddings today, they were distinct from typical sausages in that they weren’t part of any long-term preservation strategy. Rather they were a short-term keeping tactic that prevented the waste of valuable protein. Here is where the origin of pudding starts to resemble the beginnings of pie, at least for me. Both were common methods for extending the shelf life of scraps and leftovers. The main difference is that where pies were baked, puddings were boiled.

So fine, pudding and pies, lovely. How do we get from there to tapioca? More on that in the next installment. Gotta get a little work done.

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What’s the difference between toffee (sauce) and caramel (sauce)?

Excellent question, reader Josh! Toffee sauce is similar to caramel sauce in the sense that it’s made from sugar, butter and/or cream, the main difference is the degree to which it’s cooked. Toffee is only cooked to the point that the sugar in it melts, at which point it becomes usable. Caramel is cooked well beyond the melting stage, through all the various candy phases until the sugar molecules themselves start to break into pieces. It’s those pieces that give caramel its rich flavors and amber-brown color, since some of the chemical whatsits in the mix are actually pigments. Toffee sauce wouldn’t have much of a color (other than maybe very light brown) if it weren’t for the fact that it’s made with brown sugar, and brown sugar already has caramelized sugars (molasses) in it. Thanks, Josh!

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