Free Form Crème Brulée
Aug 18th, 2010 by

Fresh Corn and Blueberry Cake with Lemon Crème Brulée, Candied Corn, and Blueberry Basil Sorbet

This weekend my sister came to dinner! She gave me two weeks notice and very specific instructions. 1. my dessert had to be delicious. 2. It had to involve caramel. 3. If I could avoid chocolate that would be great because the friend that she would be dining with dislikes it. Actually on second thought those aren’t very specific directions, but I knew that one of her favorite desserts is crème brulée. When she was younger she used to drive my family mad by eating it in microscopic bites but since I wouldn’t be there to watch her eat it, I figured I would give her something I knew she would love.

The rest of the dessert was really quite simple. Blueberries and corn are both in season right now, and not only do I love them both, but they go well together. Corn may seem like a savory-only ingredient to some people, in which case I urge you consider the innate sweetness of fresh corn. Plus corn is a little earthy and pops juice in your mouth when cooked properly. Therefore, I wanted to play up the perfectness of the corn with blueberries by keeping it simple and clean but accented by the luxuriousness of a slightly acidic crème brulée.

This dish is a vanilla cake filled with blueberries and fresh corn that sits on top of a lemon custard that has been topped with sugar and burned. It is accented by a blueberry basil sorbet that rests upon “candied corn.” I wanted to continue with the fresh corn theme so I caramelized sugar and tossed in the roasted corn kernels. I will admit that I expected to end up with fresh corn coated with caramel but since the corn was cooler and wetter than the caramel it forced the caramel to seize. So while some of the corn was nicely coated, some of the caramel   crystallized forming little nuggets of sugar. This turned out to be exactly the contrast in textures that I wanted. This dish is the simplest dish I have made yet, but I also think it may be one of my best. The textures and flavors contrasted nicely: it wasn’t too sweet, but it was sweet enough to be identified as dessert, and utilized a technique (the free form crème brulée) that was slightly unusual and interesting.

Psychodelic Fruit Soup
Aug 5th, 2010 by

Apricot Soup with Watermelon Gelee, Strawberry and Apricot Sauces, and Mixed Berry Swirl Sorbet

My mother has frequently complained about what a pack rat I am and I suppose the fact that I still have practically every paper that I have ever touched and every art project I made in elementary school stored in her house justifies this statement. However, on occasion this can be an excellent trait. For instance, the assembly for this week’s Sunday supper was the easiest yet because all I did was pull out all the little scraps that I had squirreled away in the last few weeks.

The  apricot juice that was the base for this soup is a by-product of the apricot compote that we are serving on one of the regular plates. I have been freezing off the juice every time I make the compote with the thought of making a light, cold, summery fruit soup. This week I had finally accumulated two quarts of juice, which was enough for 24 portions since I planned on adding some heavy cream and sugar to make it richer and sweeter. Instead I added ricotta that was pureed, strained, and thus silky smooth, because we had accidentally ordered too much. This was a case of necessity providing inspiration; without its nudge I might never have thought of using the ricotta, but it added both some body and tanginess and saved the soup from the possible cloyingness of cream. With the ricotta, I also didn’t need to add any more sugar: the apricots have been delicious this year, sweet and super fruity, so just a little lemon juice was all they needed to enhance them.

The watermelon gelee was left over from an experiment I did last week. I was trying to make watermelon jelly, and, because I didn’t want to cook the watermelon juice, I tried to do a cold set with pectin. I had never done a cold set before — generally, when making jelly, the fruit and pectin are boiled to activate the pectin — and while I understand that it is possible, the texture that resulted in my experiment just wasn’t jelly like: instead of spreading smoothly like a jelly, it broke apart like jello. However, it was a fun experiment, and what was leftover was perfect for this soup.

There are two sorbets in the sorbet swirl. The first one I made from the leftover berries that we serve for brunch and includes strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. I also added a little bit of yuzu, a citrus that kind of looks like a wrinkly, ruby-red grapefruit, but tastes like a complex tangerine. The other sorbet was a lovely strawberry and black pepper sorbet that my boss had made for a special strawberry dessert. I didn’t have enough of either for all the plates and since they were complimentary colors and flavors I decided to swirl them together. It may have appeared a little like rainbow sherbet once it was mixed, but it tasted delicious.

The soup was decorated with two sauces. The pink dots are made with the strawberry basil sauce from last week and the orange ones are  apricot puree, which added a zing of apricot and some extra tartness. I also added some micro cilantro mostly because I needed some green.

Not until plating this dish for the line up that we do for the servers, did I realize just how bright and tropical this dessert looked. I think its pretty even if not particularly refined and possibly a little bit retro; however, I do have it on good authority that the result was in fact as summery and refreshing as I intended.

Cheesecake Three Ways
Jul 25th, 2010 by

Ricotta Cheesecake with Local Strawberries,  Pistachio Crumble and Key Lime Ice Cream

For those of you who read this blog regularly you may have noticed that there is rarely a week where everything goes as planned. This week was of course no different.

This week I wasn’t supposed to be designing a Sunday supper. We have a rhubarb cobbler on our menu and since rhubarb is a late spring/early summer fruit, it is time to get it off the menu. However, it is a lovely light summery dessert so at the end of the season we bought two cases which was as much rhubarb as we thought we could process and sell before it went bad.   Since, this made a finite amount of compote, it was clearly time for my boss to start working on something to replace it.  Therefore, this week she came up with a strawberry cheesecake dish that she wanted to use for Sunday supper as a dry run. She wanted to make my life as simple as possible, so she made all of the components the day before and the only thing I was supposed to have to do was make one more batch of the cheesecakes because we didn’t have enough molds to do them all at once.  When I walked in for work two hours before this dessert needed to be done, I was told that instead of doing the normal 24 special dinners, the sous chef wanted to make 30 because we had had a very busy Saturday night, and we were low on a lot of our regular menu items. This would mean making two batches of cheesecake for which I had neither the time or enough ricotta. So, I changed things… a lot. The dessert that she had planned looked almost nothing like this but had similar flavors and concept.

The square piece at the back with the cone on top is what is left of the cheesecake. I baked another batch and then cut them each twice with a square cutter. This sits on top of a pistachio crumble which was part of the original design though my boss had it on top of her cheesecake. I topped this with a piped cone of no bake cream cheese cheese cake ( blended cream cheese, sugar, a little heavy cream and some lemon juice) because I was worried there wasn’t enough cheesecake after I cut them down so far. The other section of the dessert is buttons of key lime ice cream sitting on the scraps of the cheesecakes that I had cut and then put in the dehydrator for a few hours. The dried cheesecake was crispy on the outside and still a little creamy on the inside. This is topped with some cubes of fresh strawberries. The plate is finished with a spear of pulled sugar and a sauce made of pureed strawberries and Thai basil.

After all that scrambling to have 30 plates, we only ended up selling 17 of the tasting menus; but I think that the plate turned out looking nice and that it was not too similar to a generic New York  Style Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Time
Jul 16th, 2010 by

Green Grape and Tahini Mousse Napolean with Dried Grapes and Almonds

The reinvention or deconstruction of classic dishes is a time honored pastime for chefs; pastry people are no exception. Dishes that have nostalgic or personal histories — like Peach Melba and Smores — are especially fun to play with in this way. I like to read pretty much any cookbook I can get my hands on, especially those by pastry chefs at innovative places. One of the dishes that often appears in such books, but that has always seemed strange to me, are attempts to deconstruct America’s favorite sandwich: peanut butter and jelly. This strikes me as strange for a couple of reasons.  Sandwiches aren’t necessarily very sweet and so turning them into a dessert without losing their essence is a challenge. Also, while sandwiches can make a very satisfying dinner, they are generally perceived as a quick lunchtime alternative. Therefore, they seem out of context as a dessert in a nice restaurant.

So, obviously here was a challenge that I needed to take on. This week we had lots of left over California grapes and some puff-pastry dough. The goal was not to be too literal, so, instead of using peanut butter, I chose to use tahini, a paste of ground sesame seeds used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Tahini has the same nuttiness as peanut butter, but it is lighter and fewer people are allergic to it. I made a tahini mousse with white chocolate as one of its thickeners because i wanted to add some sweetness but keep it light. This got piped in strips in one layer and then I chose to make the “jam” out of green grapes, because they taste a little different and fresher then the red grapes in most grape jam.  I cut them in half and cooked them down a little into a chunky compote. These went on the bottom layer between two pieces of puff dough. The puff dough was baked between two sheet trays to keep it from puffing, which makes it crispy and flaky instead of puffy and light. These ingredients were stacked up together and topped with a toasted almond cookie. The cookie was mostly almonds with just enough dough to hold them together. I liked the way it looked like a mosaic and it added more of the nut flavors I was trying to build.  The plate was garnished (perhaps overly so) with toasted almond slices, dehydrated grape rounds and some red grape juice.

When I took this finished dessert out to line up, which is the meeting before every meal at which the servers taste specials and go over any managerial issues, the servers were very excited about it. However, someone made the comment ” oh, it tastes exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” This comment is what stuck with me when I went back to the kitchen, because it was not really what I wanted to hear. My goal was to make the diner think of peanut butter and jelly but not to actually think they were eating it. My diagnosis was that the dish needed to be sweeter, to push it into the realm of desserts. The easiest way to do this at that point in the process was to brush the puff dough with melted butter, sprinkle it with a big-crystal sugar, and re-bake it briefly. The result was even crispier and added the right amount of sugar to the dish to make it a dessert.

So, my peanut butter and jelly experiment is done. This was actually a pretty tasty dish in the end. Though it probably wouldn’t sell well on a regular menu, it was a fun thing to play with for a day.

Summer Pie
Jun 25th, 2010 by

Blueberry Hand Pies, Lemon Sherbet with a Meringue Swirl, and Palm Sugar Caramel

A high turnover rate is a chronic issue in the restaurant industry, and in recent months the pastry department has seen  more than our share. When I was hired, I was trained by D who had been with the restaurant for a little over a month. She left about a month after I arrived and was replaced by C, who decided after a month that she wanted to go back to school. When C quit two Fridays ago, my chef did what any boss who doesn’t want the hassle of training yet another person does, she hired the intern, which was a good move because our intern is smart and capable; however, she couldn’t be ready to work full time for another week.  Therefore, for the past week, my boss and I have been splitting the department between the two of us, and Sunday Supper by necessity needed to be something fast and fool proof.

I have always had a strong love for pies, and I especially liked the idea of sending out personal pies that were clearly not tarts. The blueberries we have been getting in have been delicious, so I used that as a filling and encased it in a standard flaky pie dough. I wanted to serve the pies warm with ice cream because there is nothing better then pie with ice cream; however I wanted to do something a little different — but still easy. Blueberry and lemon are a classic combination, and lemon and meringue go together. When meringue freezes it becomes the consistency of marshmallow. I thought that using this as a swirl in ice cream would be the kind of cool twist I was seeking; but that marshmallow texture kind of got lost when the  meringue was incorporated into the ice cream.  To create a texture contrast, I switched to a lemon sherbet, which still has the smooth dairy mouth feel, but is also just a little icy, which makes the meringue swirl more noticeable. A line of caramelized palm sugar finished the plate, providing a nice contrast for both the look and the taste.

This dessert was definitely a people pleaser. It is easy, pretty, delicious.

a strawberry and ginger float
Jun 20th, 2010 by

Strawberry Ice Cream and Ginger Beer Float with Carmel Sauce, Tapioca Pearls and Caramelized Popcorn

It is truly summer. Hot and sticky and the kitchen begins to feel like a furnace as the night wears on. So, this week I really wanted to do something to cool off and refresh. This plate is not quite as beautiful as some of the composed plates we have been doing, but the ginger beer soda with tapioca pearls (the glass on the left) was poured over the strawberry ice cream and caramel sauce (the glass in the center) at the table, which I think added some whimsy and excitement. The dish on the right contains the caramelized popcorn.

My boss was initially skeptical of this dessert (as many of you may be) because there is a lot going on and some of the flavor combinations seem odd, but she was pleasantly surprised. So, let me explain the thought process behind these components. I admit the starting point for this dish was caramelized sweetened condensed milk, dulce de leche, (see note) which we put on our cheese plate and currently are overstocked on. This is a rich, caramel sauce, so I wanted to cut the richness with something spicy and lighter.  The ginger beer seemed like a nice pairing, and so originally we thought of making the dulce de leche into an ice cream, but when we tried these two things together neither of us could get past the sweetened condensed milk flavor, but we thought the flavor combination could still have merit. So, we tried it with a different caramel sauce and found it much more satisfying.  The dish also needed more sweetness and some textures to keep it from being just an ice cream float. The next day all I wanted was strawberry ice cream with strawberry chunks, and, since strawberry goes with ginger, I thought that perhaps if we rearranged the dish and put the caramel sauce elsewhere that I could make it all work. The tapioca pearls were cooked in fresh ginger sugar syrup that gave them just a little bit of flavor instead of just being gummy tapioca flavored. For the caramel sauce I used the caramel sauce from our regular menu and added some soy sauce to make it nuttier and more complex. The sauce was important in giving the liquid some body because the ginger beer is lovely and effervescent but feels like water in the mouth. The caramelized popcorn was just added because I liked it. Originally I thought I could put the whole thing together in the kitchen and then stack the popcorn on the top; but when mixed, the liquids get cloudy and unattractive and the popcorn gets soggy quickly; so, it was served deconstructed.

(sorry about the picture, I forgot to take one and this one is off of the other girl’s phone which is worse then mine. Camera next week. I promise.)

NOTE: sweetened condensed milk, dulce de leche – if you take a can of sweetened condensed milk and simmer it FULLY covered in water for 2.5 hours and allow it to cool in the water for another half an hour, you can brown the milk proteins in the milk which makes a carmelish flavored thick milk substance. It is important that the can is constantly covered by water and that it is allowed to cool slowly in water because pressure changes in the can can cause it to explode

Rosemary and pinenuts… again
Jun 10th, 2010 by

Rosemary Buttermilk Ice Cream Sandwich with Candied Pinenuts, Buttermilk Fromage Blanc and Apricot-Honey Sauce


This week was supposed to be a test run for getting the rosemary ice cream candy bar from a few weeks ago onto the actual menu, but unfortunately my boss got sick and we didn’t really get to talk about the changes that she wanted to test out in the dish. Therefore, I played with a different iconic American summer food, switching from an ice cream candy bar to an ice cream sandwich and changing some of the garnishes. The cookie in this dish is an amazing lemon, rosemary shortbread cookie which has  flavors that are more in the forefront  than the cookie that was at the bottom of the candy bar. I was not satisfied with the whiskey caramel sauce that I paired with the last dish, so I traded it for a much sweeter and fruitier apricot puree. The ice cream and candied pinenuts were my favorite parts of the last dish and so they stayed, although the role of the pinenuts got diminished. I also added the buttermilk fromage blanc to replace some tanginess that was lost by dropping the truffle that had been on the first plate. I had planned to add chocolate to this dish; however, as I was plating it, I realized the dish really didn’t need this additional element and the overall effect was much fresher without it. I felt that this dish was both satisfying and a little summery.

I love spring
May 27th, 2010 by

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake with Strawberry Compote and Sorrel Ice Cream


This dessert provided a lesson. The lesson was this: just because a fruit is in season elsewhere and you desperately want it to be in season where you are does not in fact make the fruit you can get delicious. This week’s dessert should have been delicious: the lush, sweet strawberries perfectly complementing the earthy complexity of the buckwheat flour and the browned butter in the cake. However, the strawberries, while a beautiful ruby red, were in fact watery and flavorless. This made me very sad but I compensated by making them into a strawberry compote: pureeing the strawberries and adding rose wine to punch up the flavor. The sorrel ice cream, my favorite part of the dish, added a lovely color contrast. Sorrel is similar to spinach in leaf shape and size. Its flavor changes drastically as it ages; young leaves have a fruity flavor with hints of citrus; however, age increases the oxalic acid level and makes the taste more woody and harsh. Therefore, for this ice cream I used less mature leaves that imparted a pleasant, grassy flavor. I can’t say that everybody loved the result, but a number of people, including my chef, thought it was delicious. It also complemented the rest of the dessert well. This dessert was neither sufficiently complex nor interesting enough to make it onto the regular menu at Public; however, perhaps someday I will be able to develop the ideas here into a dish that will be worth offering nightly.

Ice Cream Candy Bar!!!
May 14th, 2010 by

Rosemary and Pinenut Ice Cream Bar with a Goat Cheese and Balsamic Truffle


This past Sunday was Mother’s Day and to me Mother’s Day suggests breakfast in bed and chocolates. Since there was really no way to provide the first, I designed a dessert around the second; however, because chocolate is a staple of desserts, I wanted to make the flavors unusual or at least interesting. I started with the idea that I wanted to make an ice cream candy bar and then chose a rosemary, buttermilk ice cream for its earthy, herbal attitude and tangy-ness. After that was decided the rest of the flavors and textures fell into place.

The construction of candy bars is very important. The textures need to go from the softest on the top to the hardest on the bottom. Why? The most important reason is that, if they don’t, then the middle will squirt out when you bite into the bar.  A second reason is that there needs to be something at the bottom stiff enough to keep the bar from bending in the middle. Following this principle, the bottom layer of this candy bar was a flaky, crumbly, shortbread cookie. Stacked on this base was a caramel and toasted pinenut crunch and the buttermilk, rosemary ice cream. This stack was topped with a deep, dark, salted chocolate ganache.

The truffle that accompanied this candy bar was a luscious mixture of milk chocolate, barn-yardy goat cheese and balsamic glaze that was coated in white chocolate and topped with just a little bit of strawberry powder. The swirl on the plate is a whiskey caramel. Which I liked the idea of because whiskey can be nutty and earthy which seemed like a good combination with a dark caramel but I think it may have been a little too potent.

I’m sorry that the picture of this dish is from a birds eye view, I think most of the beauty of this dish is getting to see the layers but I hope you can see the point. Overall, the dish appeared to be well received and perhaps in the near future a version of it will make the regular dining menu.

Doughnuts and Milkshakes
May 12th, 2010 by

Star Anise Doughnuts filled with Orange Cream and served with a Malted Milkshake


This week started out with a very different plan for Sunday Supper, but when Saturday arrived, the plate hadn’t moved from “interesting” idea into stellar reality and so the idea had to be benched. At that point getting something delicious made was far more important than being innovative or gastronomically original. Making doughnuts seemed an easy back-up plan because they are a people pleaser and can be fried off early and reheated to order. I tried to make them a little more interesting with the flavorings. (For those of you who have never eaten star anise (floral, licorice flavor) and orange together then you should try it in some form. When the intensity of each is right, it tastes a bit like a fireworks display in your mouth.) No problem, all the components can be made the same day and are not technically challenging; therefore, this should be something I could easily throw together on Sunday in time for the servers’ tasting at 5:30.

I hope that everybody who reads this enjoys train wreck stories because I am not looking forward to when summer really hits NYC because nothing is easy in a hundred degree kitchen. It wasn’t until 3 pm on Sunday that I began to put together the doughnut dough. Doughnuts are an enriched dough, enriched with both butter and milk, which means that one must always be vigilant to ensure proper incorporation. Unfortunately, it was a hot day and the kitchen was stifling.  I couldn’t get the butter into the dough properly;  instead of smushing into the dough, the butter was melting, making the dough impossibly sticky. I will admit to 2 minutes of panic during which I wondered what my back-up plan to my back-up plan was before I picked up the entire mixer, grabbed extra all-purpose flour and moved into the manager’s office, which has an air conditioner. Eventually I got the dough to cooperate  but not before I added as much extra flour as I dared and frustrated the rest of the kitchen staff by cutting the doughnuts in the walk-in.

All is well that ends well, right? The doughnuts were delicious, light and fluffy. The flavoring was everything I could have asked of it and was well complemented by the malted milkshake. It may not be the most beautiful or innovative dessert but as far as I am concerned: I’m glad it was a people pleaser.

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