Some of my friends were having a Costa Rican-themed party to watch Jurassic Park.  And I said, "I’ll bring dessert!", because that’s what I do.

Only I had no idea what a Costa Rican dessert was.  A bit of googling, and I had a list of possibilities:  Tres Leches (one person was lactose-intolerant, so that was right out), rice pudding (same problem), panna cotta (too hard to transport).  And then I found a site that mentioned orange custard and orange pound cake.  I figured if I did both, everyone would have something they could eat.

So I stocked up on oranges.

Oranges

I made the custard first.  It was pretty simple – cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs, some flour to thicken it, then some orange juice and orange zest.  One that’s all combined, add a cup of milk.

I didn’t want to put it in individual ramekins, because they’re a pain to transport, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have a matching set anymore – I had 3 sets at one point, but a few have broken out of each set. Now I have just the right amount – only they’re in three different size.

So I figured I’d put it in my smallest CorningWare casserole. In retrospect, I should have doubled it to fill the casserole better, but I didn’t realize that until it was in the pan. 

Orange Custard

It took longer to bake then the recipe called for, but I expected that.  I started checking on it at 45 minutes, but it wasn’t really finished until it had been in for an hour.

 Orange Custard

I was worried the edges would over-cook, but it came out remarkably even.

While it cooled, I made the pound cake.

This was a very odd pound cake recipe. The technique was more like a biscuit dough – the dry ingredients got combined first, then the butter was worked into the flour.  Once it was crumbly, the liquid went in.

When everything was mixed, it was still disturbingly lumpy.  But my dough matched the pictures in the recipe, so I took the chance and poured it into the pan.

Luckily, the oven was still pre-heated from the custard.

Orange Pound Cake

60 minutes later, and it was done.  While it was cooling, I reduced down some orange juice and sugar into a glaze.  When it was ready to come out of the pan, the glaze got brushed on top to soak into the cake, making it amazingly moist.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture once the glaze was on it, so you’ll have to imagine a shinier version here.

They both got great reviews.  I think the custard was supposed to be softer then it was, so I may have overcooked it a bit.  No one complained, certainly, and I liked it a lot.

The pound cake was also a hit – the orange really jumped out at you, and the cake flour made it light, and the glaze made it moist.  It’s going in my regular rotation of "desserts to take places".  I think it would be equally good with grapefruit or lemon.  Maybe even lime, with some coconut added.

All in all, I considered them both a success.

( see the custard recipe )

( see the pound cake recipe )

(The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.)

Another fun challenge!  Panna Cotta has been on my list of things to try for a while, so I was excited about making it.  I decided on the vanilla option, with peach gelée on top.

The panna cotta comes together easily – it’s not as complicated and finicky as a custard or pudding.  You start by adding some unflavored gelatin to a cup of milk.  Let it bloom for a few minutes, then warm it up on the stove.  The goal is to get it hot but not boiling – you’re effectively scalding it to break down the proteins a bit and make it thicken up better.  Once it’s hot, add heavy cream, honey, and a bit of sugar.  I also added in some vanilla bean paste, but the vanilla bean particles didn’t stay suspended very well – I’d skip this next time.

After it all warms up again, let it cool, pour into dishes, and let it cool overnight.  Mine came out a bit puckered on top, but set up nicely:

IMG_5655 I wanted something to put on top, and I had some frozen peaches sitting around.  I went looking for a gelée recipe, and didn’t find anything I liked.  I started with an idea from myRecipes and used it as a springboard.  I tossed the (thawed) peaches in the blender to puree them while I bloomed another package of unflavored gelatin in a cup of club soda.  I added half a cup of the peach puree and a box of peach jello, then a cup of boiling water to dissolve it all.  I tried pouring the hot jello on top, but it broke up the panna cotta.  Spooning it carefully on top worked much better.

Next came the cookies.  This was a really quick and easy cookie recipe – add oats, flout, sugar, dark corn syrup (I didn’t have any, so I used half molasses and half light corn syrup), milk, and vanilla to a mixing bowl, melt some butter, and mix it all.  The result is a rather wet and sticky dough, which flattens out very thin when you bake it.

When I went to put the milk back in the fridge after making the cookies, I tipped over one of my panna cotta bowls, and it fell out of the fridge:

IMG_5656 Luckily, the mess took less time to clean up then the cookies took to bake.  The recipe said to let the cookies cool completely, then stick pairs of them together with melted dark chocolate.  I did that, but the cookies were far better warm, just as they were, right out of the oven.  The insides were gooey, the outside was crunchy, and they were rich and oat-y. 

IMG_5663

In the end, it all came together well.  The peach gelée worked well to add some fruitiness. The panna cotta was rich and creamy, and the cookies were crunchy.  I’m looking forward to making it again, with some different flavors – chocolate panna cotta, maybe, with cherry gelée on top?

( see the recipe )

It’s starting to feel like fall. I can walk from the back door to the garage without dying of heat exhaustion, and I’m starting to think that in another month I could turn off the AC and open the windows. 

It’s time to put away the lemon recipes for the winter, and switch to something more autumnal.  It’s still too early for really good apples, so the apple cobbler will have to wait another month.

P1040228

Instead, I found this great post from 17 and baking – maple pot de crème.  I love pot de crème recipes – I have an excellent chocolate one, but I’ve also seen caramel, coffee, and citrus versions. 

I’ve never seen a really complicated recipe for a pot de crème.  They’re all basic custards – warm up the milk, temper it into the eggs, put the eggs back into the milk mixture, strain, and bake.

This was no exception.  I doubled it, because I don’t have 4 matching pretty cups for them (did you know they had special dishes?  there’s a history of the here). I have a lot of ramekins, but they’re two different styles, and because they’re different heights, each type needs it’s own baking pan.  Instead, I made it in my stoneware French Onion Soup bowls – a double recipe made 4 big dishes full, plus the leftovers in a small ramekin in the middle.

I always put a dishtowel in the bottom of the baking pan, because it seems pointless to carefully meter the heat on the sides with water, but expose the bottom of the bowls to direct heat.  So the towel went in, the filled ramekins went on top, then it went in the oven and got filled halfway up with water. 

Then they baked for an hour.  I let them sit in the water on top of the stove for another 15 minutes or so, then put them in the fridge to chill. 

Maple Pot de Creme

I’d like to say that the big bowls were a mistake, because it’s an enormously rich dessert, but I managed to finish an entire bowl myself, so maybe they were just right.  The maple really stands out, although if I was going to do them for a dinner party, I might decorate them with a tiny dollop of maple whipped cream, with a maple sugar candy balanced on top…

( see the recipe )

Cheesecake

Last weekend, I got invited to a friend’s place for a late lunch.  She was making Boeuf Bourguignon, and I was going to bring dessert.

I immediately thought of a great vanilla-bean madeline recipe I used to make.  There were only two problems – first, madelines are really good only for about half an hour after they come out of the oven, and while I suppose I could have lugged batter and the pans over to her house, it seemed like a lot of trouble.  The bigger problem was that I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere.  It wasn’t in my recipe database, it wasn’t in any of the cookbooks I looked in, and a Google search didn’t find me anything that looked like what I remembered.

So I gave up on the madelines, and made cheesecake instead.  This is an old favorite recipe of mine – I have no idea where it’s originally from, but I’ve made it for many years.  It’s got lemon, lime, and orange zest in it, which makes it interesting enough on it’s own that it doesn’t need a topping.

But then I remember that my cheesecakes always crack on top, so maybe I’d make something I could spread on top to make it look better.  And I remembered that I had a lemon curd recipe in my bookmarks, and immediately envisioned this beautiful, perfectly flat cheesecake with 1/4 inch of lemon curd spread perfectly on top.  It was a nice fantasy

I mixed up the cheesecake.  There’s not much to say about it – I threw half a package of graham crackers in the food processor to crush them, mixed them with butter and brown sugar, and pressed the crust into a pan.  The filling was 4 blocks of cream cheese, mixed with the lemon, lime, and orange zest and juice, some eggs, plus a little sugar and a bit of flour to thicken it.  I poured it over the crust and put it in the oven.

There’s a whole series of old wives’ tales about keeping your cheesecake from cracking.  Bake it with a bowl of water in the oven. Grease the sides of the pan.  Don’t over-beat it.  Don’t over-bake it.  Let it cool inside the oven with the door cracked. 

I try to be careful about how long I beat it, and I do put a pan of water in the oven, and my cheesecakes always crack on top anyway.  This one was no exception. 

So it went in the fridge overnight to cool, cracks and all. 

The next morning, I made the lemon curd.  The recipe said any citrus juice would do, but I used 2 ounces each of lemon juice, key lime juice, and orange juice, to mirror the flavors in the cheesecake.  I’m probably going to try a cranberry juice variation around the holidays, maybe as a base for a tart, because it looked interesting. 

It’s easiest to think of a curd as a custard, because it uses basically a custard method – warm up the liquid, beat the eggs, very slowly add just enough liquid to the eggs to bring them up to temperature without cooking them, then add the eggs back to the hot liquid to set everything.  Then, in a departure from “custard”, mix in the butter. The residual heat will melt the butter and thicken up the curd. 

When it was time to leave, I looked at the cheesecake and the bowl of curd.  I looked at how much cheesecake I would have to cut off to get rid of the cracks and make it smooth – and I just took it with me, exactly like it came out of the oven, and took the bowl of curd, and when it was time to serve it, we all had slices and topped them individually with a dollop of curd.

Everyone raved about it, and no one even mentioned the cracks.

Cheesecake

( see the cheesecake recipe )

( see the citrus curd recipe )

Pineapple Flan

I had my wisdom teeth removed last week.  I haven’t had much enthusiasm for eating, and even less enthusiasm for baking.  But last night I wanted dessert.

I had a few requirements – it couldn’t be crunchy or chewy, and it had to be made with things I already had at home.

I had two cans of pineapple, so that seemed like a good start.  I had plenty of eggs, and my CSA had sent me email telling me I was getting fresh eggs in my next delivery, so they needed to be used up.

So I went looking for a pineapple flan recipe.   This one caught my eye because everything went into the blender, so I knew it would come out smooth, and I had a can of Eagle Brand in the panty.

My first attempt at the caramel didn’t work – it crystallized instead of turning into caramel.  So did the second.  For the third try, I added some corn syrup, and it worked much better.  I should have let it get a little bit darker – I thought it would darken more in the oven then it did.

It made a full 48 ounces of filling, and I don’t have 48 ounces of ramekins, so I used 2 16-ounce Corning Ware baking dishes, one Pyrex baking dish, and the rest went into ramekins.  I put a dish towel in the bottom of my 13×9 pan, placed the bowls, put in the caramel, then topped them off with flan. 

Then move the baking dish to the shelf of the (preheated!) oven, and pour hot water into the 13×9 until it’s halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  The towel on the bottom keeps the bottom of the flan from being exposed to direct heat, and the water on the sides makes them bake evenly.

I checked on them every half hour to make sure the water level stayed constant.

When they’re done, let them sit on the counter for half an hour.  At that point, you can serve them warm, or put them in the fridge, covered, and serve them cold.

Pineapple Flan

The pineapple really jumps out.  For company, I’d turn them out onto slices of fresh pineapple, but for a midnight snack, they were perfect just the way they were.

( see the recipe )