Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Luxardo Cherry Ricotta Clafoutis

What is clafoutis? It's a classic French dessert, made with an eggy flan-like batter, traditionally filled with black cherries. It's often served warm, usually with a dusting of powdered sugar, and
occasionally with cream.

Clafoutis is obviously a French word, but to my English-speaking brain it sounds almost onomatopoeic. I think of it as something cloud-like, fluffy, fruity, and sweet… and that’s essentially what it is.

This treat straddles both brunch and dessert territory. It's not too sweet. It's not fussy to make. It comes together in a blender. Yes, a blender. The filling is custardy, rich but not too decadent, and studded with roasted fruit. As the name suggests, I’ve added booze to the batter and to the whipped cream to enhance the cherry flavor, and to make this clafoutis a little extra celebratory. If you don’t have Luxardo or Kirsch on hand, you can skip this boozy addition.

This recipe lends itself to many other fruits: peaches, plums, strawberry, apple, and more. But we're deep in cherry season here in LA, and because their season is relatively short, and because cherries are like the incredible delicious jewels of the fruit world, I try to use them in as many ways possible while they're around. Of course, I love them fresh, eaten simply as is - but sometimes you want to do something special to really celebrate this fruit of late spring.

Cherry Ricotta Clafoutis with Luxardo Whipped Cream
Serves 8-10

for the clafoutis-
5 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup whole milk ricotta
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons Luxardo, Kirsch, or other cherry brandy (optional)
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pot (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup all purpose flour
1½ lb. cherries (700g), pitted (fresh or frozen)

for the Luxardo whipped cream-
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Luxardo, Kirsch or other cherry brandy
½ a vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pot (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Grease an oval 11”x 8” baking dish, or a 10”-12” cast iron pan. This recipe can be used in different-sized dishes, but larger dishes will result in less time to bake. Sprinkle a little sugar around the baking dish.

Pit all of the cherries using a cherry pitter, or halve them and remove the pits. Reserve.

In a blender, combine the eggs, ricotta, milk, Luxardo, vanilla and salt. Blend until smooth. Add the flour and blend until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the baking dish.

Scatter the cherries around the baking dish.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the clafoutis is puffed and golden and the custard is firm.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Best Easy Brownies

What makes the best brownie? I like mine more fudgy than cakey. I like rich chocolate flavor and zero nuts involved. I like something that feels decadent but isn't cloyingly sweet, or gut-achingly rich. I even have to admit that I like a brownie that feels almost like it came out of a box, with that crisped layer on top and soft interior. In my personal brownie baking quest this recipe is easily my new favorite. It relies on cocoa powder for the base, and while I was skeptical about what that would do to the taste, I  found that I like it even better than fussier versions that use tempered chocolate.

Web searches for "best brownie recipes" led to this recipe by Alice Medrich found on Food 52. Its virtues have been tested and confirmed by countless others. The changes I made are minor: I added espresso powder to the mix (brings out the chocolate flavor), and I added chocolate chips to the batter (I like a secondary note and texture of real chocolate combined with the cocoa powder). I omitted pecans, because of the aforementioned preference. Otherwise, I stayed true to Medrich's method; including beating the batter 40 times with a wooden spoon.

My only criticism is that the brownies could be thicker. I wonder how a teaspoon of baking soda or doubling the amounts and baking this in a 9" x 13" pan would affect the outcome. Other than that, these are perfect. Easy to make. They're the "best."

Double Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Genius Recipes
Serves 9-16 (depending on how you slice it)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¼ stick/150g)
1¼ cup sugar (250g)
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (105g), good quality or Dutch processed
1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour (62g)
⅔ cup milk chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C.

Grease an 8”x8” baking dish. Line with parchment so that the parchment hangs over 2 sides (will make it easy to lift out the brownies).

Cube the butter. To a medium heatproof bowl add the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso and salt. Place the bowl on a wide pot or skillet with simmering water. Stir until the butter has fully melted, the cocoa is just hot to the touch, and the mixture forms a paste. If the butter is not melting, adjust the heat accordingly.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in vanilla. Then, add the eggs one at a time; stir vigorously each time you add the egg and ensure it is fully incorporated and the batter is shiny.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour until it just disappears, then beat vigorously 40 times (this is a critical step that aids in the great chewy texture of the brownie). Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. Let cool on a rack.

Once cool, transfer the brownies out of the pan and cut into the desired amount of squares (9,16, or 25).