Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie

The older I get, the more I realize how fast time goes by. This may seem ridiculous coming from a teenager (17 as of this week!), but it's true. My friends and I are shocked that the school year is ending so quickly, and while we're excited for all the fun plans we have for summer, it's also kind of terrifying.
This past year has been by far the busiest, most stressful of my life; but it's also been the greatest. I had a great time with my friends, got to know my teachers better, had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places, and became more involved in music.
I also watched the seniors at my school go through the crazy college application (and audition, for those pursuing music) process, and the idea of really starting that (and not just talking about it) can be a bit daunting.
That said, I'm excited to see what lies ahead, and wow I just realized how cheesy this post got. Anyway, right now I'm focusing on celebrating the start of summer, no matter how much German diction I have to learn, or how many application essays I have to write!
This dessert is perfect to kick off a season of fresh, bright flavors. The tart lemon curd and berries are a perfect contrast to the creamy, sweet vanilla ice cream, and it's all nestled inside a crunchy, almost cookie-like pie crust. And hey, what isn't better with toasted meringue?
(Shout-out to my best friend's mother for the recipe - it's quickly become one of my absolute favorites!)
Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie
(slightly adapted from Epicurious)

For the lemon curd 
2 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup sugar 
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel 
Pinch of salt

For the crust 
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans 
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted 
3 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, divided
1/2 cup chopped berries of your choice (I used raspberries)

For the meringue 
4 large egg whites, room temperature 
Pinch of cream of tartar 
6 tablespoons sugar

For the lemon curd
Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl. Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over large saucepan of simmering water. Whisk in sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt; gradually whisk in egg mixture. Whisk until thick and thermometer inserted into curd registers 178°F to 180°F, about 8 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap on top of curd; chill 4 hours.  

For the crust Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix pecans, sugar, and butter in medium bowl until moistened. Press pecan mixture onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish (mixture will be crumbly). Bake until crust is lightly toasted, about 12 minutes (crust will slip down sides of dish). Use back of spoon to press crust back into place. Cool crust on rack. Freeze crust 30 minutes.
Dollop 1 1/2 cups ice cream over crust; spread into even layer. Spread lemon curd over ice cream; freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Dollop 1 1/2 cups softened ice cream over lemon curd; spread into even layer. Cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

For meringue Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar. With mixer running, gradually add sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue over pie, spreading to seal at edges and swirling decoratively. Freeze pie until ready to serve.
Using a kitchen butane torch, toast meringue until golden in spots; or, place pie in a preheated 500°F oven or broiler until meringue is golden in spots, watching to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. (Seriously, watch it the entire time - it can go from raw to burnt in a second.) Cut pie into wedges; serve immediately.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Perfect Banana Bread

 It deeply annoys me when people title their recipes "the best," "the greatest," or even "perfect." Who proclaimed your food the most wonderful ever created? You and your official declaration committee? Let's get real, there's a 99.99% chance your chocolate chip cookies are nothing particularly mind-blowing.
If you notice my own recipe title, you may choose to call me a hypocrite. That's kind of valid in this case, but hear me out.
Banana bread is one of those sweets that most Americans have grown up eating. Everybody has their own "secret" family recipe they swear by, and the variations on the basic formula are endless. However, my parents don't bake at all, ever, so I've spent the past seven years trying to find my perfect banana bread recipe. This is soft, fluffy, incredibly moist, and studded with slivers of dark chocolate (hi there, in case we haven't met, chocolate is kind of a necessity in my kitchen).
Thanks to a college road trip that took me and my dad through Boston, we stumbled across Flour Bakery and Cafe. (Okay, I won't lie to you, I googled "best bakery in Boston.") The place is adorable and wonderful and full of delicious pastries, and it's because of Joanne Chang's beautiful book that I got my hands on this recipe. So thank you, Flour, for helping me create my own family tradition.
 Perfect Banana Bread 

1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups or 340 grams mashed bananas)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate disks, roughly chopped (or chop up a dark chocolate bar)

Position the rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
 In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.
With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.
Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and chocolate just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the chocolate should be evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes; flip bread out of pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.
(Note: I feel that I should follow standard recipe rules and advise waiting until this has come to room temperature to taste it. However, if you were to accidentally have a piece warm out of the oven, I'd be pretty proud.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

From New York to New Orleans!

instagramming cakes all day every day
 There are a lot of great aspects to baking for events. For me, it's a ton of fun to go back and forth with whoever is throwing the event and figure out the perfect desserts for the occasion (and in the case of cakes, how best to flavor and decorate them). I think that the greatest part, though, is getting to feel like in some small way, I'm helping somebody celebrate. Last year, I had a sweet sixteen, and while the bakers who made the cupcakes, the people who set up the chairs before guests arrived, and the DJ's assistant weren't there during the party, they were all a part of my celebration in some way. So, I like to think that even though I'm not at some of the events my cakes go to, I'm actually contributing a little bit to their fun.
  My friend's dad is a caterer, and a few weeks ago, he asked me to make cakes for a dinner he was cooking for; it was for a couple who was moving from New York to New Orleans. They wanted three cakes centered around the theme of their trip, somehow tying in the NOLA flag and Mardi Gras colors, but the rest was basically up to me. We played around with some flavor combos, and one long night later, I had three pretty cute cakes.
Given that they were leaving New York, I figured the big city had to be represented in some way. There's nothing more symbolic of here than the "I Heart NY" logo, so I traced white chocolate shapes and painted them with gel food coloring.
 This cake was the most interesting of the three in terms of flavor - it was made up of layers of spice cake, filled with Meyer lemon curd and frosted with vanilla buttercream (as were all of the cakes).
The next cake was supposed to represent the flag of New Orleans. I'm all for gold accents, so I kept the borders simple and used edible spray paint and glitter to glam up the white chocolate fleur-de-lis. This was definitely my favorite of the three cakes!
Flavor-wise, this cake was pretty simple, but I'm sure it was also the most popular; it was a chocolate cake with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache filling layered with fresh strawberries.
The final cake was so much fun to make. All I was told was to include Mardi Gras colors, and the rest was up to me; so I made more white chocolate shapes, this time a crown and two eye masks, and painted them gold. I sprayed the entire cake with edible purple spray paint (seriously, this stuff is awesome), and threw in a bright green border to make it pop. The cake flavor was pretty simple, but it was a yummy combination: vanilla cake with a mixed berry cream filling.
  I'm still learning when it comes to cake decorating, and there's a lot that could be improved about these, but I had a great time making them. It's easy to get totally wrapped up in this kind of thing, and although I don't even know the names of the couple, I'm so glad I got to be a little part of their goodbye!