Culinary Tours of Charleston hosts a wonderful Farmers Market Tour that concludes with a fabulous five course feast prepared by a local chef.
Here’s the dessert from a tour I took earlier this week – blueberry ice cream over Texas Toast French Toast with Special K crunch coating. Amazing!
For me, blueberries are a fruit laden with delicious memories of summers’ past. Hot July days of my youth were often spent picking plump, purple berries off the prolific bush on our farm and popping them directly into my greedy little mouth. Or, perhaps better yet, were our blueberry-rich annual summer trips up to Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. Mom would arm us with little tin pails as we hiked the hills, cool, salty sea breezes on our faces, in search of plump blueberries and good, lazy summer fun that filled our days and spilled over into happy, deep dreams each evening.
All these years later, blueberries from Maine (and now peaches from South Carolina), are still the fruits of summer in my mind. These delicious eclairs, adapted from my upcoming book, The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbes Smith, October 2013) are a beautiful way to put them to use.
Lemon Blueberry Cream Eclairs with a Chocolate Glaze
(Yields 12 to 16 standard-size éclairs)
(Photo by Alexandra Defurio)
A purée of fresh blueberries blended into a rich pastry cream give the filling for these beauties a regal purple color. The mild flavor of the berries is lightly enhanced with fresh lemon juice. Fresh, sugar-coated berries sit atop a ganache glaze to provide an enticing clue as to what’s inside. You could easily substitute the same quantity of fresh raspberries or blackberries using the same method for a color and flavor variation. Just switch out the garnish to match the corresponding berry-enriched filling. Make the pastry cream and the ganache ahead, so they can chill and set up, or borrow from a previously prepared batch.
These will chill nicely for several hours before serving. They are superb with a cold glass of Champagne or sparkling wine garnished with 3 or 4 fresh, frozen blueberries to serve as edible ice cubes.
This is basically a three-part process, that’s easy when approached as follows. First, prepare the choux and bake the eclairs. These will store wonderfully in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag for several days. The day before serving, prepare the pastry cream and ganache. Finally, the pastry cream is finished with a cooked, fresh blueberry puree, piped into the fresh eclairs, a topped with ganache and sugar coated fresh blueberries.
Master Recipe Sweet Choux Pastry
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk, splash of water, pinch of salt, blended together
Equipment needed: 2 silicon mats or parchment paper, 2 half sheet baking pans, one 12″ piping bag, #804 round pastry tip, pastry brush.
1 cup water
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
4 large eggs (about 1 cup), room temperature, beaten together
Egg wash: 1 egg, splash of water, pinch of salt, beaten together
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two half sheet baking pans with silicon mats or parchment paper. Prepare the pastry.
In a medium, sturdy saucepan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce heat to medium.
Sift together the two flours and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, and set the bowl nearby. Stir the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring it together. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl and let sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 10 seconds. Add half of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
Pipe the warm choux into 3″-long, 1 1/2″ wide eclair “logs.” Brush lightly with the egg wash. Bake 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F, rotating the sheets if necessary for even browning, and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a pastry rack. Pierce the bottom of each gently with the tip of a sharp knife three times, once near each end of the length of the éclairs and once in the center.
Master Recipe Pastry Cream
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
This cornerstone custard filling for both cream puffs and éclairs is mildly sweet, unctuous and pale gold in color. Egg yolks and cornstarch work together to thicken the custard, while whole milk lends creamy flavor. 2 cups warm milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a very low simmer, about 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together vigorously until they are lemony in color and thickened, about 2 minutes. Sift together the sugar, salt and cornstarch and add all at once to the eggs. Whisk vigorously for another minute. The mixture will have a glossy sheen. Very gradually at first, drizzle the warm milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Add the remaining milk in thirds, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture through a China cap and return the pastry cream to the same pan used to heat the milk. Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat. The cream will start to thicken almost instantly. Continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cream is thick enough to hold in a spoon, like a custard or pudding. Using a spatula, guide the custard into a clean, glass bowl. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract until combined. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down over the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set.
For the garnish:
1⁄ 2 cup Ganache/Hot Chocolate Sauce, recipe follows:
(Yield: 1 1/2 cups)
Cold or room temperature, ganache works beautifully as a glaze for sweet cream puffs and eclairs. I add a bit of salt, and vanilla and coffee extracts and salt to pump up the chocolate flavor. This stores beautifully in the refrigerator for a couple of days, covered. For a glaze, remove from the refrigerator for 15 – 20 minutes to soften it up for spreading. You will have extra left-over for another use.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coarsely chopped, best-quality dark bittersweet chocolate
Generous pinch sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon coffee extract
In a medium sauce pan, bring the cream up to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the chopped dark chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the sauce is a dark, chocolate color. Off the heat, stir in the remaining ingredients. To reserve warm, store in a Thermos, serve in the next several minutes, or reheat gently over low heat. To store cold, refrigerate in a covered container for later use as a glaze or re-constituted sauce.
To finish the eclair garnish:
1⁄4 cup dampened fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Putting it all together!
Blueberry Sauce to Finish the Pastry Cream filling :
2 cups fresh blueberries
1⁄4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons water
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups prepared, cold Pastry Cream (recipe above)
Bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, water and salt up to a simmer over high heat in a medium sauce pan. Reduce to medium. Cook until the blueberries begin to pop and soften, stirring occasionally, a total of about 6 to 7 minutes. Using a blender or a hand-held emulsion blender, purée the mixture until very smooth. Return the mixture to the same pan, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer until thickened and reduced to a total of 1 cup.
Refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pastry cream with the cooled blueberry sauce (“coulis”) until smooth and blended. Using a pastry bag fitted with a #802 round pastry tip, gently pipe the filling into each of the three knife piercings on the bottom of each éclair. Using a clean fingertip, garnish the top of each with a heaping tablespoon of ganache spread out into a smooth layer over the top of the éclair. Just before garnishing, run the reserved 1 ⁄ 4 cup blueberries under water and strain well. Toss with the sugar. Garnish the top of each éclair with a horizontal string of 5 blueberries along the top, pressed gently into the ganache.
In the South, summer is as much about squeaky screen doors, slowly swaying hammocks, sweet tea and fireflies as it is about watermelon, peaches, and that perennial summer staple, ice cream.
So, with the official launch of summer yesterday, it’s time to talk ice cream. Of course, there are oodles of commercial varieties available, but it’s so easy and fun to make your own. The recipe for Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream that follows (adapted from my next book, The French Cook: Eclairs and Cream Puffs – Gibbs Smith, October 2013) kicks Ben & Jerry’s straight off its Rocky Road in the pure deliciousness department.
In the book, I present it served within a cream puff and topped with hot caramel sauce (a variation on a profiterole) which is absolutely incredible. However, it’s summertime and the living is easy. Take a little baking break and serve it plain, with hot caramel sauce, or sandwich it between a best-quality commercial chocolate chip cookie, ginger snap, or dark chocolate cookie. And, when you’re eating it, be sure to give yourself license to get messy and let at least some of it drip down your chin. That’s part of summer, too. Bon appetit!
Hot Tips for Cool Ice Cream
Today’s world is filled with many first-class commercially prepared ice cream brands, but making your own is truly rewarding and simple. If you don’t own an ice cream maker, it’s worth making the purchase. My Krups basic ice cream machine cost less than $50, lasted 20 years, and made countless batches of ice cream. It is possible to make ice cream without an ice cream maker by stirring the blend with a fork every 15 minutes as it is setting up, but the results will be less creamy and less aerated. Most commercial ice cream makers designed for home kitchens use a frozen 1.5-quart container that turns while a paddle moves through the ice cream base to aid in even freezing.
Ice cream in French cooking is a frozen Crème Anglaise (see recipe to follow) for vanilla; additional flavorings can be added as outlined are in the recipes that follow. A couple of tips to keep in mind:
1. Make the Crème Anglaise the day before and refrigerate overnight before freezing. It needs to be cold when it goes into the machine to prevent crystals from forming.
2. Freeze the ice cream maker’s canister overnight, as well, for the same reasons. Shake it to test that the internal freezing agent is solid and not sloshing around. If you take these two steps, you will be rewarded with creamy, smooth ice cream in just 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Turn the prepared ice cream out into a well-chilled glass bowl or container, cover tightly, and store in the freezer until ready to use. It should store well for a week.
Recipe: Salted Caramel Macadamia Nut Ice Cream with Hot Caramel Sauce
Caramel lovers will think they’ve died and gone to France with this heady combination of caramel and crunchy macadamia nut ice cream with hot caramel sauce.
A day before freezing, prepare the Caramel Sauce (see below) and Crème Anglaise (see below). Cover and refrigerate each separately overnight.
The next day, whisk 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the cooled caramel sauce and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt into the chilled crème anglaise base. Freeze according to package directions, adding 1/2 cup coarsely chopped, salted macadamia nuts 10 minutes into the freezing process, before the ice cream is fully set. Continue freezing until set, about 15 more minutes. Warm the prepared caramel sauce over medium-low heat. Drizzle over bowls filled with scoops of the ice cream.
Recipe: Crème Anglaise
Basic Vanilla Custard Sauce
Special equipment needed: chinois or fine strainer.
(Yield: 2 1/2 cups)
This creamy, vanilla-scented custard sauce is widely served as a dessert sauce with many classic French desserts. It also serves as a base for any and all flavored ice creams. It’s a snap to make, but needs your full attention, mild heat and constant stirring to avoid a pan full of scrambled, sweet eggs. This actually happened to me once when I was making a huge batch at Fauchon with another male apprentice. Trembling under the ever-present watch of celebrated pastry chef Pierre Herme, we were able to rescue it by getting it off the heat and through a chinois. You can do the same. If it looks like it’s starting to curdle or over-thicken, get it off the heat and through a strainer. Cool crème anglaise over a water bath of ice and water in a large bowl to get it to safe temperature and stop the cooking. It will store for several days covered and refrigerated.
1 cup whole milk
1 cup Half & Half
1 fresh vanilla bean cut in half vertically to expose seeds
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Have a prepared ice/water bath prepared in a large bowl by adding a few cups of ice and 1 cup of water. Also, have the chinois or fine strainer nearby. In a large saucepan, heat together the milk, Half & Half, and halved vanilla bean over medium heat. Bring to a low simmer. Separately, combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until lemony and frothy, about one minute. Once the milk mixture is simmering, gradually stream it into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time, until it has all been added. Return the sauce to the same pan the milk was heated in, cooking over medium low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir constantly, reaching all edges and bottom of the pan. At first there will be froth on the top of the sauce. This will disappear after 3 minutes. Watch closely now. Keep stirring another minute or two, or until the sauce has thickened slightly and naps the back of the spoon. You will know it is done when you run your finger down the back of the spoon and get a clear strip that holds without the sauce running back over it or when it reaches 170F. Pour the sauce through the chinois into a clean bowl. Set over water bath and stir until the sauce is cooled. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
Recipe: Sauce Caramel
(Yield: 1 1/4 cup)
Making caramel sauce, basically cooked and caramelized sugar finished with cream and butter, is not difficult but it deserves attention and respect. Hot caramel is dangerously hot stuff. Keep your eyes on it at all times and prepare it when young children and pets are not around. It’s best to have everything measured and ready to go before you get started. It takes a few minutes to get there, but once the sugar starts caramelizing, it goes really fast. Your nose will know. Your kitchen will smell faintly of caramel after about 5 or 6 minutes. Once it’s a golden, nutty, toasted color, it’s time to finish it off. Like all of the sauces in this chapter, it stores beautifully in the refrigerator, covered, for several days. Heat gently over low heat to return to its warm, sauce form.
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea or kosher salt
In a medium, sturdy-bottomed sauce pan, stir together the sugar and water with a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat, uncovered, until the sugar granules are melted, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium high and allow to simmer vigorously, stirring here and there (not constantly or it might crystallize) with a wooden spoon. After 5 to 6 minutes, large bubbles will start forming at the top. This, along with a tepid caramel aroma, is your sign that the sugar is about to caramelize. Keep cooking, swishing the pan carefully, but not stirring, until the sugar turns fragrant and a nutty, caramel brown. Remove from the heat. Incorporate the butter in 4 parts, gently dropping into the pan and whisking gently to incorporate. The caramel will react when the butter hits it by bubbling up aggressively. Proceed with caution to prevent at burn. Return the pan to low heat, drizzling in the cream and whisking to incorporate. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, whisking to help re-incorporate any caramel that has hardened and until it becomes a thick, beautiful creamy golden sauce. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and salt. Serve hot or warm.
As we all prepare to greet fall and her cooler air and promise of crisp apples and warming winter squash, don’t yet shut the door on tomatoes and the lingering taste of summer they can offer all year round. At least in the Lowcountry, tomatoes will be coming in for a few more weeks. Here’s some ideas on how to put them to use from an excerpt from the tomato sauce chapter in my upcoming book on French Sauces (Gibbs Smith, Spring, 2013):
Les Sauces Tomates – Tomato Sauces
Though frequently associated with Italian cuisine, tomato (also called “pomme d’amour,” or love apple in French) sauces play a significant role in French sauce-making and cooking as well. One of the five mother sauces of French classical cooking, tomato sauces can serve as a garnish for fish or meat or tossed with pasta. The meaty juiciness of tomatoes make them the perfect conduit for a quick, fresh, naturally thickened sauce, often enhanced with wine, garlic, onion and fresh herbs.
When in season, fresh tomatoes are preferable to canned. Select firm, fragrant tomatoes. Plum varieties are considered ideal, but the many heirloom varieties available at farmers’ markets and groceries have magnificent flavor and color. When using canned, look for whole peeled tomatoes, preferably the San Marzano Italian imports.
Tomatoes are often peeled and seeded prior to cooking or the seeds and skins are strained after cooking. Peeling and seeding fresh tomatoes is simple enough. Trim the stem base out with a paring knife and cut a little “X” into the top of the tomato. Place the tomato(es) in simmering, hot water for about 30 seconds, or until the “X” forms little, loose skin flaps. Remove them from the water and submerge in ice cold water for several seconds. The skin will literally peel right off a ripe tomato. To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half horizontally. Gently, using your fingertips, prod the seeds from the little seed pockets distributed throughout the tomato and discard. Don’t fret if you miss a few.
One of the many advantages of tomato sauces is that they freeze beautifulyy for up to three months. Make a few big batches now when tomatoes are still being harvested and freeze them in quantities you will use as fall and winter approach. Thaw, reheat and voila, an instant taste of summer on your plate even when winter winds howl.
Sauce Mariniere – Marinara Sauce
(Yield: 6 cups)
This lovely, light sauce is worth making over and over again. It simply sings with tomato flavor that goes just as well tossed with a bowl of spaghetti as it would to dress grill fish or roasted chicken. There are countless variations on the theme, as well. Ground beef, turkey, pork, sausage, and bacon could be added early in the cooking process, or it could be finished with other vegetables including mushrooms, bell peppers and fennel. Add the fresh basil at the very end, just before serving. The sauce can be refrigerated for several days prior to using or frozen for up to three months.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed and finely chopped
Pinch sea or kosher salt and ground black pepper
6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup good quality red wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
4 sprigs each fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano sprigs tied in a bundle with kitchen string
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Pinch red chili pepper flakes
1/4 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, and pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, but not browned. Add the tomatoes. Increase heat to medium high, stir, and cook another 3 minutes. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Add the wine, chicken stock, fresh herb bundle, sugar, and red chili pepper flakes. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium, medium-low heat for 45 minutes, or until reduced by about one-third. Remove herb bundle. Puree the sauce lightly in a blender or with a hand-held emulsion blender, about 30 pulses, or until frothy and chunky-smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add the basil just before serving. Serve hot.
Bon appetit!Pin It
When I was a kid growing up in rural Massachusetts, Memorial Day meant summer, summer meant long vacations in Maine, and vacations in Maine meant long days clambering on rocky beaches and splashing in cool waters with my brothers, sister and the seven-strong O’Brien clan. Long, dreamy nights almost always sealed these happy days around a fire on the O’Brien’s beach where we would all gorge ourselves on lobster, corn on the cob, and clams. Some days, we’d tool around in our faithful Vista Cruiser station wagon and find one of the many road-side shacks serving up more of the same, with plenty of drawn “buttah” for generous dipping.
Back then, this budding epicurean and eventual chef, thought I had tasted the best possible food on the planet, and didn’t even dare to dream that I ever would come that close to that kind of taste and texture perfection ever again. Fresh Maine lobster and clams, all salty, sweet and somewhere creamy, seemed (and still do) like some of God’s finest food creations – incomparable to just about anything else.
Fortunately, the road that lay ahead has been a long and tasty one, seasoned with long stints in Paris and rural Southern France and many delicious meals along the way. Then, I arrived in Charleston, and that’s when an entirely new food love affair began. Its name is “shrimp.”
Lowcountry shrimp is like that Maine lobster, utterly delicious and unlike any other you’ll find around the globe. Whether the spring and summer’s white species or fall’s brown species, they’re coddled by the pluff mud bottoms, creeks, marshes, and tides that work in tandem to forge an impossibly distinct flavor that screams “Lowcountry.” As far as I’m concerned, any other shrimp is an imposter.
I’ve had some darn good shrimp around these parts, but earlier this week, I was like that little kid in Maine all over again, beside myself with glee that I was savoring one of the best possible things to eat on the planet.
The setting and company probably had a lot to do with it. I was invited to join my friends Genny and Hugh on their creek-side dock in Hollywood, SC for a fish fry. I’d been there before, so I knew what I was in for – lots of laughs, delicious, salt-air breezes, and wide-open vistas of sparkling water and swaying marshes that seem to go on forever until they reach the sea. On past occasions, too, Hugh has proved himself to be one heck of a great cook. The last time was a Lowcountry boil of crabs pulled up right from the dock, kielbasa, and corn, drained and poured out onto newspapers for all to enjoy.
This time, he outdid himself. The shrimp had been brought in that morning from a next door neighbor’s shrimp boat, netted from Lowcountry waters just a few miles from where we were sitting. Petite, pale pink jewels glimmered with freshness as he gave each a brief bath in buttermilk generously seasoned with black pepper and a bit of salt. After, each was tossed in the lightest cloak of seasoned flour. Then, the trick, as Hugh said, is to fry them in small batches (as in 4 or 5) so the oil temperature stays consistent. The second trick, Hugh said, as he poured the first batch out onto a paper towel, is to eat them hot from the fryer.
That part, I assure you, was not too difficult. After the first batch, the air already smelled sweetly of shrimp, and our stomachs were rumbling. The first bite was the sweetest, yielding to the slightest, just right crunch of the flour crust and right into the heart of the matter – sweet, milky, briny Lowcountry shrimp. I think the three of us went through four or five batches before we even got to the catfish. With each bite, my gratitude for the glory of the Lowcountry and her shrimp bounty, as well as the blessing of good friends, grew. And, so did my love for one of the world’s most perfect foods – fresh, fried Lowcountry shrimp. And, no “buttah” needed.
Although nothing really beats the simple deliciousness of Hugh’s fried shrimp, the following is a great, easy to prepare recipe from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2009) by yours truly that is an effortless and delicious shrimp-stuffed tomato delight – perfect for any Memorial Day or upcoming summer celebration as tomatoes just start to come into peak season.
Tomatoes Stuffed with Orange-Basil Shrimp Salad
4 large, ripe tomatoes
4 cups raw, fresh Lowcountry shrimp, shells on
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbon-like strips
1 table grated orange zest (optional)
Prepare the tomatoes for stuffing. Cut out the remains of the stem, leaving a trim, even “incision.” Cut an X into the entire top. Fan the four sections open into a circle, to open up the tomato. Using a soup spoon, scoop out the excess flesh and seeds from the inside of the tomato, reserving for another use (as in a sauce, for example). Place the tomatoes on a plate and reserve.
Rinse the shrimp and drain in a colander. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp and reduce to a simmer. Cook until uniformly pale pink in color, or until the shrimp start to float to the top, about 1 – 2 minutes; remove from the heat and drain. Rinse with cold water until cool. Shell and devein the shrimp; chop coarsely.
Place the shrimp in a large bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the basil and zest and stir to combine. Scoop a fourth of the salad and place it in the center of each prepared tomato. Form the salad into an even, round mound. Put on plate garnished with fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of grated orange zest. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Welcome to summer….or at least Memorial Day!