It’s 90°F in the shade and I just can’t bring myself to fire up the oven today. So, the only reasonable thing to do is make a 4th of July Baked Alaska with homemade ice cream and top it with flaming meringue. If you don’t want to make your own ice cream, then just get your favorite store bought brand and layer them up in a loaf pan. I used strawberry, coconut and blueberry ice creams to create the red, white and blue stripes. Okay, they’re pink, cream and purple, but the intention was right and I say close enough.
You can go as crazy or quiet with your meringue, but lighting it on fire with kirschwasser (cherry flavored booze) shouldn’t really be optional. If you don’t want the booze, just use your blow torch and you’ll have the same effect without the alcohol.
This Blood Orange Creamsicle Semifreddo was inspired by one of my first pastry mentors, Claudia Flemming. Her book, The Last Course, was a collection of desserts she created for the venerable restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, in New York. It is an understatement to say her book was a steady guide to me when I was a pastry chef, fresh out of culinary school and trying to find my voice as a chef. She was combining flavors in ways that no one else was doing at the time. She used herbs in desserts and she had an exquisite balance of sweetness, sour, bitter, and salty. Her palate was informed by the savory side of the kitchen and it made all of her desserts profoundly more interesting and exciting to me. My copy of her book was written in, dog eared and splattered with cake batter, the truest sign of respect to a cookbook and its author. That seminal book went out of print for a while, but there was a cult following that just never let it be forgotten. So, when her publisher decided to celebrate it with another printing, I was thrilled. Other than the cover there are no changes to the book and it didn’t need any, that’s how good it was and is. The desserts still hold up nearly a decade later and I was just as excited by the Frozen Orange-Blossom Honey Mousse today as I was the first time I made it in 2001. I topped it with Blood Orange Sorbet to create my idea of the perfect creamsicle and then topped it with a Rosemary and Orange Meringue. I think Claudia would approve of the combination.
The inspiration of a Cherry Semifreddo goes like this…I recently spent time in New York City and had the great fortune of meeting some of the wonderful people I otherwise only knew on social media. It still seems incredible to me that I can befriend people online, while working alone in my midwestern kitchen. These folks have been my inspiration, my support and my friends. However, it is even better to spend time with friends in person and that’s just what I did. One of the events I attended in NY gathered several of these folks and I had the opportunity to meet so many more, including Hetty Mckinnon, who writes about family, gatherings and delicious food. It just so happened that her newest book, FAMILY, was about to launch and she invited me to an intimate gathering at her Brooklyn photo studio to celebrate. Her food was EXACTLY how I choose to eat! Although I am not vegetarian, I go for clean, bright, bold flavors, in simple, but exciting preparation that don’t take me all day to make. Since I am baking all day and don’t often have time to cook. At her party she made an olive oil cake that blew my mind, which is in the book and I’d buy a copy just for that recipe.
I made this cherry semifreddo based on her recipe, because I LOVE a semifreddo and it is one of those under appreciated desserts and because we met at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee, so it just felt fitting to celebrate that with a special treat. A semifreddo is a cross between ice cream and mousse, but doesn’t require any special equipment to prepare. The texture is smooth and luxurious when allowed to sit at room temperature until it just on the verge of melting, but still partially cold, hence the name.
This post is from a while back, but I was inspired to bring it to the fore when I created a Baked Alaska for the Holiday issue of Better Homes and Gardens. You will find a picture of my Egg Nog version at the bottom of this post, along with a link to that recipe. The Baked Alaska makes a fantastic and beautiful dessert for any holiday party.
The inspiration for my desserts can come from the craziest places and this Coffee, Bourbon & Chocolate Baked Alaska is no exception. This weekend I fulfilled a dream, (one I didn’t know I had until I did it), to be a radio talk show host. That’s a generous description of what I was doing on the Weekly Dish, but it was the kind job title Stephanie March offered when she invited me to sit in for her co-host (Stephanie Hansen), who was busy being on vacation. Luckily, I was not filling this role alone, our friend Stephanie Meyer, was also on the air for the 2 hour show. I had a ball, but what I learned is that the “Stephanies,” as they are lovingly known, make this job seem so easy and effortless. They are hilarious, smart, quick and have an endless knowledge of what is going on in the Minneapolis food community (and a fair bit about the rest of the country too). I loved every second of it, but don’t think I’ll be giving up my day job.
After the show we went across the street to a neighborhood bar with a long list of coffee drinks, it was only 11am, so booze should be served with caffeine. Stephanie March ordered a coffee, bourbon and black walnut drink, because…bourbon. I took one sip and said “Baked Alaska!” We were due for a snow storm that night, and all the predictions were that we’d be trapped inside. A baked Alaska made with ice cream of espresso bean, chocolate shavings, a splash of bourbon, sitting on a layer of devil’s food and then covered with toasted meringue seemed the perfect way to weather the storm.
When the peach season is a good one, and this year it is spectacular, it is best to keep peach pie simple. There is nothing more beautiful than a perfectly ripe, juicy, smooth, sweet peach, so don’t fuss it all up with too much extra stuff. This perfect peach pie with lattice crust is really just peaches, a touch of booze, which is optional and some raw sugar (use brown sugar if you don’t stock raw). The trick is binding the peaches enough to keep them together in a neat slice, without adding so much starch that is gets gloppy. This is an art, rather than a science (that’s only partially true), because each batch of peaches produces a different amount of juice. I tend to go on the under-bound edge of the spectrum, so keep that in mind when you are making your filling.
If you happen to get your hands on a bunch of peaches and you want to make more than one pie, you can make the pie, freeze it and bake it later in the summer or even save it (if you have a really good freezer) for chillier weather, when you are desperate to remember the taste of summer.
Pâte à choux translates from French to mean “cabbage” in English. It is a far less romantic word, so we stick to the French. The truth is the puffs look just like little cabbages when piped and baked. Pâte à choux is the dough used for cream puffs (profiteroles) and eclairs. It is rich with butter and lots of eggs but made light when those eggs expand in the oven and create hollow cavities, which are meant to be filled with anything from lobster to ice cream. I pretty much only think in terms of sweets, so I’ve gone with the latter. The ice cream is made with sour cream and lemon, so it is tangy and refreshing. I top it with glossy chocolate ganache and call it classically perfect.
The texture of your Pâte à choux will depend on what liquid you use. In culinary school, we used whole milk, skim milk, and water to compare what the fat and sugars of the milk would do to the dough. I prefer the taste of the whole milk, but the crisp texture of the water, so the skim milk is a good compromise. You can do the same experiment and determine which you prefer. You can also use wheat flour or a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix. If you go GF, you’ll need more eggs in the mix, which I note in the recipe.