Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rhubarb Curd

It seems typical that I wouldn't put up a post in a few weeks and now suddenly have a few different ones that I want to put up rapidly. We'll start with this one:

Ever since a customer dropped off two overflowing shopping bags worth of Rhubarb, I have been on a bit of a Rhubarb kick. I wanted to show my appreciation by using it in as many ways as possible rather than just having a rhubarb dessert and letting the majority of it waste away in my walk in. In doing this, I realized how much fun it is and I've decided to adopt this approach to all of my menus from here on. I love the idea of things changing as the ingredients available to me go in and out of season. Right now you're seeing mostly Rhubarb - with little flutters of Strawberry. In another week or two, strawberries will be dominating. 

So, among several other items, I ran a Rhubarb Tart this past week. It was a  bit of a riff on your traditional Lemon Meringue Tart - Pate Sable crust, Grilled Rhubarb Jam, Rhubarb Curd, Toasted Meringue, Poached Rhubarb, Balsamic Strawberries, Pistachios - with a dollop of whipped Crème fraîche that is just kissed with sugar - and finished with a splinter of crispy strawberry meringue. 

Now, the reason I am telling you about this dessert is because of the Rhubarb Curd that was in it. Occasionally I will have an idea for something and not really have a good place to start - and in those instances Ill spend a while reading and comparing recipes that I turn up via google. Pretty often this leads to total failure, or at the very least moderate failure - but it frames me a bit, giving me somewhere to jump from. 

After searching for a while I realized that nearly every recipe I came across was a slight variation on the same recipe. So I went at it and made the curd and in the end it tasted just like sugar, eggs and butter. A total waste of time. 

So I after 86ing that batch I had to start over from scratch. I decided to abandon my original approach and simply use my 'go-to' lemon curd recipe, utilizing the juice extraction process for the rhubarb that I found in the shitty recipes - and simply replacing the lemon juice with the rhubarb juice. Makes sense, right? The only hitch was that I knew - after the last batch having no discernible rhubarb flavor - I would have to match the intensity of lemon juice. In order to achieve this I had to reduce my rhubarb juice by 1/2 - from 1000 g to 500 g. At this point it was nearly indistinguishable form lemon juice.  

And with that, I present you a reliable, tastes-like-sweet-rhubarb-and-butter, Rhubarb Curd - in metric, like any good pastry chef would want - for the next poor pastry chef desperately scouring the web for a good recipe.

Rhubarb Curd
Yield - I didn't check. I made about 30 x, 90mm tarts with it. 

Rhubarb Juice:
1500 g Rhubarb, Trimmed and chopped into 1" pieces
Filtered Water 

Place rhubarb in medium tail pot and cover with water by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a chinois, pressing firmly on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Scale juice (I yielded exactly 1000g) and return to heat in a clean tail pot. Reduce by 1/2 (Leaving me with 500g) and remove form heat.

Rhubarb Curd:
180 g Sucrose
350 g Rhubarb Juice
320 g Egg
180 g Sucrose
1 x Lemon, Zest of
350 g Butter, Room Temperature
3 g Salt

Combine first measurement of sucrose and rhubarb juice.

Combine egg, second measurement of sucrose and lemon zest.

Combine these two mixtures and heat gently over a pot of boiling water, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens significantly. 

The thickness you get here with determine the thickness of your curd. If you cook it to a nappe/creme anglaise consistency (around 82 C)  - you will have a very loose curd. If you push it way further than you feel comfortable, you will wind up with something that is thick and can stand on its own. How thick you want it depends entirely on its application. Do not be afraid of curdling the egg - as it is very very difficult to do. At Sperrys I made lemon curd almost daily and in my recipe I noted, 'cook until thick like mayo.'

Once you are happy with the thickness, pass it through a china cap. Tap gently on the side to push the curd through - do not press on the inside of the china cap. This can push unwanted solids into your strained curd. In the china cap, you should be left with mostly chalaza from your egg - which may look like small bits of scrambled egg whites. 

Place your strained curd in a bain marie large enough to hold it and the remaining ingredients, and homogenize with a stick blender, taking care not to incorporate air into the curd. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and place in the cooler until it has cooled to 60 C

Once curd is 60 C, begin to emulsify in the butter a little at a time, with a stick blender. Take care to not incorporate air into the curd. Once all of the butter has been emulsified into the curd - season it with the salt, top with plastic wrap on the surface, and place back into the cooler to rest a minimum of four hours, or ideally - overnight. Use as desired. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Creating a Dessert: The Story of Two Panna Cottas

For a long time I had heard about Brooks Headley's brown butter panna cotta - and how amazing it is. My first week at Pecks, Nick brought in Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts and told me to take it home and thumb through it. Aside from being one of the coolest cook books I have read in a long time - the only way to really describe it is punk rock - I noticed that it had the recipe for the panna cotta in it. Knowing how badly I wanted to try it and the likelihood that I would ever be dining at Del Posto, I scribbled it down and put it on reserve mentally. I often will find inspiration this way - reading a book or article, looking at pictures, eating out - and even just in my surroundings.

I feel silly saying that I am inspired by nature, because it has become such a cliche - but there is some truth there. I remember walking past some garlic mustard growing through the cracks in a sidewalk in Chicago on my daily commute...I was always amazed at how beautiful it was, it looked like a perfectly composed salad. I felt really awkward squatting down and taking pictures of it on a regular basis as it grew and eventually bolted over the course of a few weeks. I often think of that plant when imagining how I would plate a salad. I also constantly think of places we visited on our trip this past fall whenever I am designing a plate. I am particularly excited for my 'Craters of the Moon' dessert that is starting to take shape in my head. Its easy to make the comparisons...a salad green looking like growth, a dusting of sucre neige looking like a bit of snow, candied nuts looking like stones, torn cakes looking like mountains or pumice...the list goes on forever - and changes with context and application

Often times I will take a screen grab, a photograph, dog ear a page or take some notes...all with the idea of revisiting these things and expanding on them. A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to finally try making the brown butter panna cotta. The hiccup that always stopped me was the fact that it takes several days to make - and the restaurant is only open four days a week. But it didn't really matter..because I really wanted to try it.

While I cooked the panna cotta, I was surprised at how similar the process was to making a dulce de leche - where you slowly cook milk and sugar over low heat for a long time until much of the water has evaporated out, and the milk solids and sugars begin to caramelize. This put it in my head that I would use some dulce de leche on the finished dish - as I almost always have some kicking around. Now the dish was starting to formulate - panna cotta & dulce de leche. 

Once the base was cooked, I tasted it to adjust the seasoning and immediately I was reminded of the packages of apple slices and caramel I ate growing up. Frankly I was surprised at how strong of a caramel flavor there was, relative to the mild brown butter flavor. This balanced itself out over the next few days as the butters flavor had time to permeate throughout the base. But now I had another component for the final dish - panna cotta, dulce de leche, and apple.

Now that I was in the home stretch it wasn't long before I had the rest of the plate finished. It was made mostly with ingredients that are used elsewhere in my menu. I added a maple granola (which I use on my vegan dessert and chevre cheesecake options), a chevre mousse (we always have a tub of R&G chevre in the walk in), and some caramelized marcona almonds...because well...they're delicious and would provide a wonderful crunch that the granola wouldn't otherwise.

The completed dish: Brown Butter Panna Cotta, R&G Chevre Mousse, Dulce de Leche, Maple Granola, Caramelized Marcona Almonds, Green Apple Sorbet, Shaved Green Apple.

For the past month or so, we have been working on a tasting menu - the theme was, 'Food & Wine from Trentino-Alto Adige'. In the past, most places that I have worked in the capital district have put very little effort into themed dinners or tasting menus. They're either put together on the fly with  things that are kicking around or built with various go-to items used specifically for these occasions. This, greatest-hits approach has never sat well with me because, creatively, it seemed to defy the whole reason for offering them. There was no trying new things, no creative push.

For this dinner - our first we have offered at Peck's - we spent about a month researching the food of the region. Nick and I both ordered several books, and spent countless hours going down rabbit holes on the internet. We met with the wine rep doing the parings for the dinner and tasted many wines from the region and discussed them at length. I learned more about this regions cuisine that I ever expected - and realized how interesting it is. There were many similarities to food from Alsace, which is where many of my mentors are from - and a cuisine that is very special to me. So, not only did I have the opportunity to learn a lot about a subject and grow as a chef - I was also able to make sort of an emotional connection to the food that otherwise, I would not have.

There is a lot of blending of German and Italian food in this region - undoubtedly because of its proximity. I learned that apple strudel is a very popular dessert here. I have made strudel once before - and because of its very unique method, as well as the chef who taught me the dessert - its something that has always stuck in mind. Here I made another connection to the food, so I knew I wanted to use apples and strudel in some capacity on my dessert.

I also read quite a bit about a tart called Sbrisolona - a very popular crumbly tart...think somewhere between the topping on a coffee cake and a hearty topping on a fruit crisp with maybe just a little more texture than usual from the ubiquitous almonds found in every recipe I came across. Suddenly it clicked with me - the first great panna cotta I ever had - a toasted almond panna cotta, was taught to me by one of the aforementioned Chefs from Alsace. It was beginning to come full circle in my mind.

Toasted Almond Panna Cotta, Sbrisolona Crumble, Broken Strudle, Green Apple, Raspberry
Being in such a nurturing environment does wonders. It pushes you - creatively - to do things you didn't realize you were capable of. Being constantly surrounded by other creative types who are all functioning on a very high level and who are encouraging you to push yourself - its just a great thing to be a part of. 

In the past, I have been ashamed of my work and my food. I've always been ashamed of compromises and shortcuts I've taken - and I can't really articulate how great it feels to be part of something I am actually proud of. 

In 17 weeks - thats 67 days of business - I have sold 21 different desserts on my menu at Peck's. Here are a few:

Carrot cake, Cream Cheese Mousse, Caramelized Pineapple, Vanilla Poached Carrots, Walnuts

Olive Oil Cake, Fennel, Cardamom, Blood Orange Pearls, Orange & Ginger Sorbet, Vanilla Cream, Olive Oil.
Vegan Chocolate 'Ice Cream' with Maple Crumble
'Mocha' - Warm Chocolate Cake, Coffee Caramel, Vanilla Bubbles, Blue Bottle Hayes Valley Espresso Ice Cream, Cocoa Nibs
Gluten Free Gougeres

Bread for dinner service.