Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sour Cherry Jam, Lebovitz style

In case you haven't noticed, sour cherry season (or, as I think of it, most awesome fruit to bake with EVER season)is lamentably short. They're still available at the markets here in Chicagoland, but if I were a betting woman, I'd bet they won't be around for more than another week or two. If you've never worked with sour cherries, get thee to thy local market pronto and buy some. That sweet cherry pie you usually make will absolutely sing if you swap sour cherries for the bings.

No-Recipe Cherry Jam

From David Lebovitz

1. Buy as many cherries as you feel like pitting. Figure one pound of cherries will make one good-sized jar of jam. Plump, dark Bing cherries work really well, although Burlats are good, and if you can find sour cherries, your jam will rock.

2. Wear something red. Rinse the cherries, remove the stems, and pit the cherries. Make sure to remove all the pits. Chop about ¾ of them into smaller pieces, but not too small. Leave some cherries whole so people can see later on how hard you worked pitting real cherries. If you leave too many whole ones, they'll tumble off your toast.

3. Cook the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

4. Cook the cherries, stirring once in a while with a heatproof spatula, until they're wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them.

5. Once they're cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar. It may seem like a lot, but that amount of sugar is necessary to keep the jam from spoilage.

6. Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it's cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil. (Wouldn't it be a shame to burn it at this point?) Scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir as well.

7. Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it's done.

If not, cook it some more, turn off the heat, and test it again. If you overcook your jam, the sugar will caramelize and it won't taste good and there's nothing you can do. Better to undercook it, test it, then cook it some more.

Once it's done and gelled, add a bit of kirsch if you have it, clear cherry eau-de-vie which will highlight the flavor. Or add a few drops of almond extract, but not too much, or it will taste like a cheap Italian cake. Ladle the warm jam into clean jars and cover. Cool at room temperature, then put in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Robert Linxe's Chocolate Truffles

Ok. I know these may look less like something you would want to eat and more like, well, let's face it, a pile of poo, but trust me- you want to eat these. Robert Linxe is famous for his outstanding truffles, and unfortunately it's taken me until now to learn that Gourmet *moment of silence* printed the recipe with his little secret almost ten years ago. TEN YEARS. It's embarrassing how far behind the curve I am on this one. This was a fun recipe to make, and infinitely adaptable. I steeped some peppermint leaves in the cream for half an hour and added some homemade peppermint extract (the mint cream alone wasn't strong enough for my taste), but I imagine these would be great with anything from almond to hazelnut to Kahlua. Linxe's secret is that he pipes the ganache centers onto a parchment lined tray and then freezes them, then rolls them in a smear of melted chocolate in his hands to create a thin shell, then rolls them in cocoa powder (giving them the appearance of real truffles, straight from the ground. Cute, eh?). Once set, that thin coating of chocolate turns into a shell that lightly shatters as you bite into them, giving way to smooth ganache. I know you know this already, but make sure to use high-quality chocolate (he recommends Valrhona, but Scharffen Berger or Callebaut work well, too) since it's the star of the show here. It may seem expensive to use the good stuff, but you'll thank yourself in the end.


11 ounces Valrhona chocolate (56% cacao)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Valrhona cocoa powder for dusting


Finely chop 8 ounces of the chocolate and put in a bowl.

Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you'll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times — he believes that makes the ganache last longer. If you do this, compensate for the extra evaporation by starting with a little more cream.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a wooden spoon.

Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don't beat or you'll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour, then, using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch opening or tip, pipe into mounds (about 3/4 inch high and 1 inch wide) on parchment-lined baking sheets. When piping, finish off each mound with a flick of the wrist to soften and angle the point tip. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 more ounces of the same Valrhona and smear some on a gloved hand. Gently rub each chilled truffle to coat lightly with chocolate. The secret to a delicate coating of chocolate is to roll each truffle in a smear of melted chocolate in your hand. Linxe always uses gloves.

Toss the truffles in unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder so they look like their namesakes, freshly dug from the earth. A fork is the best tool for tossing truffles in cacao. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cacao. Store truffles in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fava Bean Puree

As you can probably surmise from my glaring absence over the last 3 months, things have been a bit hectic around here lately. We've been thrown a few curve balls that have kept me out of the kitchen and out of the blogging world, but the Lord has blessed us immensely throughout everything and we now have a beautiful baby girl.

Since I missed most of springtime produce, I feel like I have to play catchup on a few recipes, starting with this fantastically simple recipe for fava bean puree from Alice Waters, the queen of all things fresh and seasonal. I ate it on toasted slices from a french baguette, but it's great by itself or on pita, and you can also skip the mashing/pureeing step and eat the beans whole. I skipped out on the fresh rosemary (rosemary and I didn't get along well during the pregnancy, and I'm still a bit wary of it) and it was still delicious. This dish is equally delicious if you skip the mashing and leave the beans whole.

Fava Bean Puree
From Chez Panisse Vegetables
3 lbs. fresh fava beans
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 bay leaf
1 small sprig rosemary (I left this out)
1 sprig thyme
1/2 lemon

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Shell fava beans and discard the pods. Parboil the shelled beans for 1 minute. Drain them and immediately plunge them in ice-cold water for a few minutes to cool. Drain them again and remove their pale green skins, piercing the outer skin of each bean with your thumbnail and popping out the bright green bean with a pinch of your other thumb and forefinger.

2. Warm about 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a shallow, nonreactive saute pan. Add the beans and salt lightly. Add garlic, herbs, and a splash of water. Cook the beans at a slow simmer, stirring and tasting frequently, for about 30 minutes until they are completely soft and pale green and easily mashed into a puree. Add another splash of water from time to time to prevent the beans from drying out and sticking to the pan.

3. When the beans are done, remove and discard the herbs, and mash the beans into a paste with a wooden spoon, or pass them through a sieve or food mill, or puree with a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice to taste. If the puree is at all dry and tight, add still more olive oil. Don't be stingy with the oil; good olive oil is as important to the flavor of the puree as the beans. Serve warm or at room temperature, by itself or spread on grilled bread. Makes about 3 cups.