Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kids Make Chocolate Mousse

Can't beat chocolate in a cup
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow cook

The kids in my food appreciation classes are always begging for something sweet. They'd be delighted if we just made cookies and cupcakes every week. Well, I finally obliged. It being near the end of the school year, I figured they were due for a treat. And since we had stopped in Switzerland on our virtual world food tour, we couldn't really pass up a chance to make something with chocolate.

How about a cup of chocolate mousse?

Well, it may not be traditional Swiss, but this recipe is all about chocolate. Plus, the kids get to learn some really valuable kitchen lessons--like how to make custard, how to temper hot cream in egg yolks, how to use a double boiler to melt chocolate, how to fold the chocolate into whipped cream.
They passed with flying colors.

My wife's first comment about our chocolate mousse was, we didn't use the best chocolate. The response to that is, we do try to budget our expenses in these classes. I admit that where we might have spent a fortune on the chocolate (and you certainly may if you like), we instead opted for the Baker's brand, which provides twice as much chocolate for the same price at Ghiradelli's. And I don't think the kids noticed at all.

You won't want to start this without the right equipment: At least three stainless or glass mixing bowls, one large and two medium; a heavy 1-quart sauce pan; a double boiler if you have one (you can also just place a mixing bowl over a pot of water); a good whisk; a fine-meshed sieve. An instant-read thermometer is really helpful.

Plan on making the mousse a day ahead, then refrigerating the finished dessert overnight.

Start by separating four eggs, whisking the yolks together with 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and a pinch of salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Next, heat 3/4 cup whipping cream (you'll need another 1 1/4---2 cups altogether--later on) over moderate heat in a heavy 1-quart sauce pan until the cream is just hot to the touch. Drizzle the hot cream into the the egg yolk mix, whisking continuously, until fully incorporated. You want to slowly "temper" the yolks so they don't cook.

To make the custard, pour the egg yolk mix into the sauce pan and heat it, stirring frequently, over moderately low heat until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees, as measured by your instant-read thermometer. If you don't have an instant-read thermometer, you'll know the custard is finished when it coats the bottom of the pan fairly heavily. It will thicken quickly at this point and you want to be careful not to cook the yolks.

Remove the pan immediately from the heat and pour the custard back into the mixing bowl, passing it through a fine-meshed sieve to catch any bits of cooked egg.

Set the egg mix aside and melt 7 ounces bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, either in a double-boiler, or by placing a second medium-sized mixing bowl over a sauce pan of lightly boiling water. (You can use the same sauce pan as the one you heated your cream in. Just clean it out first.) When the chocolate has completely melted, stir it into the egg custard until fully incorporated. Refrigerate while you whip your cream. (I like to chill the chocolate mix until it has cooled at least to room temperature.)

In a large mixing bowl, whip your remaining 1 1/4 cups cream to stiff peaks. Fold about one-quarter of it into the chocolate custard, then pour the custard into the large bowl and fold in the remaining whipped cream. Fold gently, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. You don't want to knock the air out of the whipped cream. In fact, it's okay to stop folding when the mousse is still lightly streaked brown and white. Or you can continue folding until the cream is completely incorporated in the chocolate.

"Mousse" means "foamy" in French, just like the stuff you put on your hair. And that's the texture--more or less--you want to end up with when you serve the finished dessert. You can either place the entire bowl in the fridge and divide it into individual servings later, or you can scoop the mousse into cups (or cocktail glasses, if you want a really elegant effect) and place those on a sheet pan that fits in your refrigerator.

I think you'll be quite proud of yourself when you see how good this is.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kids Make Cheese Fondue

Hang on to your bread!
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Years ago, in another lifetime as a budding newspaper reporter, I wrote a rather snooty piece for the Washington Post about the proper way to make Swiss fondue.

I suppose having lived a couple of years in Switzerland I felt entitled to pontificate on how frequently the American version of fondue strayed from the authentic Swiss original I had come to know. Fondue should only be made with a blend of classic Swiss cheeses, I intoned; only the true Swiss wine--Fendant--will suffice; corn starch should never be used as a thickener in place of potato starch; the mix must contain a generous splash of Kirsch, the cherry liqueur.

Well, guess what. You can make a decent fondue with the processed Harris Teeter brand Swiss cheese at our local supermarket. Corn starch and a generic alcohol-free white wine work just fine. And the kids never missed the Kirsch. In fact they had a blast with this fondue, forming a conga line around our prep table to take turns dipping their cubes of bread in the bubbling brew.

You don't need a fancy fondue set for this either, although it helps to have a small, heavy pot in which to melt the cheese into the wine. Ours is a Le Creuset--enameled cast-iron. Also, we did not have any of those fancy, long fondue forks. We used inexpensive wooden skewers from the grocery store.

If you really want to impress your friends, by all means do seek out a pound of real Swiss cheese. Opt for 1/2 pound Gruyere, 1/4 pound Emmentaler, and 1/4 pound Raclette. These are all good melting cheeses. Your local wine merchant may carry Fendant. Otherwise, almost any dry white wine will do. You'll need 1 1/2 cups. And a good liquor store will assuredly carry Kirsch. You only need a couple of tablespoons, though, and you can substitute wine.

We used non-alcoholic wine with the kids in our classes, for obvious reasons.

First, cut a loaf of sturdy country bread into 1-inch cubes. I like to toast these a little in a 350-degree oven while we are preparing the rest of the fondue.

While the bread is in the oven, grate  1 pound Swiss cheese over the large holes on a box grater. In a small, heavy pot, meanwhile, bring 1 1/2 cups white wine almost to a boil, then gently add the grated cheese to the wine. (This is usually done on the stove top, the finished fondue later transferred to a special fondue stand over a can of sterno or some other heat source. We made our fondue on our portable butane burner at our prep table, which worked perfectly.)

Stir the cheese continuously until it is completely melted and incorporated in the wine. Then add 2 tablespoons corn starch (or potato starch) thoroughly mixed with 2 tablespoons Kirsch (or white wine). Continue stirring, seasoning the mix with 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, a generous pinch of ground nutmeg, and salt as needed. When the fondue begins to bubble, lower the heat. You want to keep the cheese melted, but you don't want to burn the bottom.

Now you are ready to start dipping your bread. Make sure the bread is firmly skewered. The rule is, any girl who loses her bread in the pot has to kiss all the boys at the table. Any boy who loses his has to buy everyone a round of drinks.

This recipe will easily make a meal for six or eight people. In fact, I challenge you to finish the whole thing.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kids Make Strawberry Shortcake

It doesn't get any better than this
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

If there's a better dessert any simpler than strawberry shortcake, I don't know what it is.
Our food appreciation classes are tooling around central Europe on their virtual world culinary tour, but I couldn't resist all the strawberries showing up lately in the grocery store. So we took a break from our foreign travels to whip up one of my favorite classic U.S. desserts: strawberry shortcake.

We don't go for that sugary, spongy stuff the supermarkets sell for shortcake. No, to my mind a genuine strawberry shortcake depends on a biscuit with perfect crumb, a biscuit with just enough savoriness to show off the ripe berries with a sweet dollop of whipped cream.

But before you get to the biscuits, you'll want to macerate your strawberries in a little sugar. Trim and cut 1 pound of strawberries into bite-size pieces, then toss them in a bowl with a tablespoon or more of granulated sugar. Set them aside while you prepare your biscuits. The sugar will draw the juices out of the berries--you'll want that to pour over your shortcake later.

For the biscuits, whisk together in a large mixing bowl  1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Into the mix cut 6 tablespoons butter into small pieces. This is your shortening, and the really fun part for the kids, because you need to "cut" that butter into the flour, meaning pinching the flour and butter together with the tips of your fingers until the mix resembles beach sand.

This takes a bit of practice. Some of the kids want to grab handfuls of flour and butter. So I work right alongside them, pinching, pinching, pinching. Each kid gets a turn, and in a few minutes it's perfectly done.

Now into the dry mix stir 3/4 cup milk. The milk activates the baking powder, causing the biscuits to rise in the oven. The dough may be a little sticky at this point. If so, just sprinkle in some more flour. The key to a great southern biscuit is not overworking the dough. You just want to incorporate all of the ingredients, then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it a couple of times until it holds together.

Pat the dough out to a thickness of 3/4 to 1 inch--thicker of course will result in taller biscuits. In our classes, we used a paper drinking cup with the bottom cut out to cut the dough into rounds. This made 15 2-inch biscuits, a perfect size for our classes. But if you want fewer biscuits but larger, just choose a bigger biscuit cutters.

Place the biscuit rounds on an un-greased baking sheet and bake in a 450-degree oven until the tops begin to show just a bit of brown, about 13 minutes. Set the biscuits aside to cool.

To assemble the dessert, mash the macerated strawberries with a potato masher. Slice the biscuits in half, or pry them in half with a fork. Spoon a generous portion of berries and their juices over the bottom half of the biscuit. Top this with a dollop of vanilla-flavored whipped cream. Then place the top half of the biscuit over the whipped cream, or cock it to one side for show.

I'll bet you've never had a springtime dessert better than this.