Posts Tagged dessert

What’s Your Favorite Romantic Dessert?

Strawberry Panna Cotta 2

Strawberry panna cotta. Yes, it's pink, but is it really romantic?

Valentine’s Day, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is a silly holiday. No one I know actually knows its origin (I think it has something to do with St. Valentine . . . . and also letters . . . and maybe something about him being in jail. And that’s all I know without the aid of Google), and it’s difficult to see it as anything but a commercial opportunity created by greeting card companies (and, um,  possibly food bloggers).

But it’s certainly made me think a lot about food and romance lately, and what makes a good romantic meal. This weekend I did some research on “aphrodisiac” foods, to see if I couldn’t come up with some kind of Valentine’s-day themed dessert menu, but all my ideas seemed inauthentic and unforgivably cheesy. After all, why should I suggest that you make something with chocolate and figs, both of which are supposedly “aphrodisiac” foods, if neither ingredients mean anything to you?

Romance is so particular to each couple and their history, inside jokes, and personal tastes, that a “romantic” meal will be different for everyone. If you met the love of your life in a Krispy Kremes, a “romantic” dessert might be homemade doughnuts served with different dipping sauces. If you both love chocolate, then maybe you should make that chocolate cake from the cover of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Or if you’re both wine lovers, maybe the way you want to end your romantic meal is with a nice glass of champagne (although Lemmonex’s champagne pear cupcakes might be a nice way to end a meal too).

So, I’m curious – do you and your partner have a “romantic” dessert? And what’s the story that makes it romantic to you?


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David Guas Talks About His New Cookbook, New Orleans, and Desserts With The “Granny” Factor

David Guas, Pastry Chef, author, stove-top pudding lover. Photo courtesy of simoneink.

David Guas’ new cookbook, DamGoodSweet, practically drips with sugar. The down-home, unfussy New Orleans style desserts like sweet corn cake with root beer syrup, lemon doberge cake, and pecan and brown butter ice cream are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. But Guas’ book also overflows with memories; each recipe is accompanied by a story of his life growing up in New Orleans. The recipes don’t just give directions – they document the bakeries, stores, and local food vendors of Guas’ youth, a landscape that hurricane Katrina permanently altered.

Guas moved to the DC area from New Orleans 11 years ago, after working as a pastry chef at Windsor Court Hotel, to open DC Coast. He served as the Executive Pastry chef for Passion Food Hospitality restaurants until 2007, overseeing the desserts for Ten Penh, Ceiba, and Acadiana. Guas left to form his own consulting company, DamGoodSweet, in 2007. Faithful readers will remember that one of his consulting projects was developing the cupcakes for the Red Velvet Cupcakery. Guas is currently looking to open his own bakery – appropriately named the Bayou Bakery – although he has yet to find the perfect space.

Guas sat down with ModernDomestic last week, where we talked about nostalgia baking, desserts with the Granny factor, and what he likes to cook with his two sons.

MD: How did you end up working in pastry?
DG: I’m an “accidental” pastry chef. I applied in the kitchen at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, and all they had open at the time was in the pastry department. After some persuading, the master pastry chef decided to hire me, but only if I wouldn’t make him regret his decision.

MD: Once you got your foot in the door – at any time did you think you’d move back down into the kitchen?
DG: That was my mindset in the first couple months. But the next thing you know, I started getting pushed around shift-wise to a lot of different shifts, and I was always finding something new and interesting to learn in that department. The executive chef at the time was Jeff Tonks and he took an interest in me. Before I knew it I was collaborating on the menu with the executive pastry chef and playing around with desserts at home. Jeff offered me a position to open his restaurant – DC Coast in the summer of ’98.

MD: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
DG: The way I cook in the book is the way I like to eat – you can dive into a bowl of pudding, or a not-so-sweet, nontraditional red velvet cake. It’s a pretty true marker of how I consider myself as a person – these are down home and any-day-of-the-week kind of desserts. They’re not overly fussy. It’s a break from that à la carte mentality of component desserts – where you got your main dessert with a sauce and a crisp and a tart. The style of the restaurants I came from was fussy.

But with the economy, more people are cooking at home, and they really don’t cut out desserts because they’re trying to save money. If anything you need it more so now than ever, because it tells you that everything’s going to be okay. I call it the granny factor. There’s a lot of desserts that have the “G” factor.

MD: “Nostalgia” desserts are pretty trendy these days – do you think they’re here to stay?
Nostalgia never went anywhere. It was masked by other fancy things. That’s the beautiful thing about what those type of desserts are – they’re going to stand the test of time. The restaurants that aren’t struggling as much right now are those ones with mid price points, that know where their products come from. A great example is Elevation Burger – they fry their fries in olive oil, and the burgers are delicious. You know where the beef comes from. I don’t mind paying for that.

MD: Do you ever bake with your kids?
DG: All the time. We’ll do the simple things, like cookies and brownies on the weekend. Anther thing I do is stove-top puddings. They actually adore my chocolate and banana pudding.

Banana pudding, a favorite in the Guas household, from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

MD: How did Hurricane Katrina influence the book?
DG: That was the motivation – I wanted to get the stories [of New Orleans] down for my two sons, and to document the restaurants and the sweet shops.

MD: Are there any bakeries in the book that aren’t there anymore?
DG: Lawrence’s Bakery [also called Mr. Wedding Cake], and McKenzie’s Bakery. Mr Wedding Cake – that was right near my dad’s office, and McKenzie’s was pretty much everywhere around the city. McKenzie’s closed, but not because of the storm – but Lawrence’s did.

MD: Do you have a favorite bakery in DC? I ask this partially for my own purposes – I really want to find a good bakery in the DC area.
I don’t go to a lot of bakeries, I really don’t. If I want brownies and I don’t want to make them myself I’ll go to Artisan Confections. Saturday only he makes these Valrhona brownies that are the bomb. And he does chocolates too.

But my entire neighborhood wants me to open a place. We have Randolph’s and Heidelberg’s, and they are what they are. They’re not going to change, and they’re not going anywhere. But I bring a youthful energy to desserts.

MD: So what’s the current plan for the Bayou Bakery?
DG: Bayou Bakery plans haven’t changed, it’s just a matter of finding a space. I talk to my broker every day now. I’m looking for a turnkey operation, and those are hard to come by.

MD: Any recipes from the book you plan to sell?
DG: One hundred percent of them. We’ll have king cakes during carnival – everything. It’s my opportunity not to do the à la carte stuff.

MD: One more question – where do you like to eat in DC?
DG: I love Brasserie Becks – I love going there and getting a beer and some mussels. I love the salads. I love sitting at the bar at Ceiba or Ten Pehn. Black Salt – Jeff Black’s restaurants, is really close to our house – just across the chain bridge. Phenomenal food, great product, great menu.

Cup custard (yum), from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

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April Custard Project, Take Two: Orange Chocolate Pots De Creme

Pot de creme

Orange Chocolate Pot De Creme.

After the cupcake deluge last week, I was done with sugar. Or, well, I was done with sugar for a couple of days. As Wonk the Plank will tell you, I have a huge sweet tooth, so this was an unusual occurrence in our household. But eating multiple cupcakes for days on end (how many I’m not even going to say), will force even the most avid sugar enthusiast tot take a break.

If you’re wondering why last week didn’t have a custard project entry – that’s why.

Thankfully, I rallied this weekend. Wonk’s mother was visiting, and I wanted our Sunday night dinner to end with a fabulous and decadent dessert – I can never pass up the opportunity to show off for company. So I served up the second entry in the April Custard Project: Orange Chocolate Pot De Crèmes.

Let me first say that we loved it – I flavored the custard with orange and cinnamon, which married well with the chocolate. But I also especially loved this dessert because it was so simple, and yet so satisfying.

The pot de crème is a classic French dessert – it’s a cream-based custard that is thickened with egg yolks and cooked in small custard cups (think of it as a crème brulee, but without the burnt sugar topping). The pot de crème embodies what I love about many French desserts – it’s a rich and deeply satisfying dessert that is deceptively simple. It can also be adapted to any taste or flavor.

It allows me to show off with relatively little effort.

Begin cooking these a day in advance, since the custard will need time to cool and set. The only part of the recipe that can be a little intimidating is that you must temper the egg mixture before adding it to the hot custard – otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your custard. “Tempering” sounds scary, but all you have to do it quickly add a small amount of hot custard to the yolks and stir vigorously, which cooks the eggs without scrambling them.

Also, you may not want to make the candied orange peel, but I promise you – it’s really not as difficult as it sounds. And it adds a lovely touch and visual interest to the final dish – well worth the small amount of effort it takes.

Recipe: Orange Chocolate Pot De Creme

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The April Custard Project Starts With A Whimper

Curdled Custard

This custard is pretty to look at. But that's all it's good for, trust me.

Maybe it’s a little disturbing that I painstakingly saved all my extra money for nine months because I missed the wonderful experience of blogging while watching crappy reality TV on Bravo. But what’s really disturbing is that I’m sitting here, blogging, watching The Real Housewives of New York City and it is absolutely amazing! The new lap top is so worth the nine months of saving!

However, I am not really here today to write about the benefits of Macs versus PCs, or even about the delayed gratification of saving up the money for a big purchase.

No, I want to talk about custard.

Because I’ve decided that custard is going to be the project for April. I had originally intended that my monthly baking projects were going to involve breads and cakes and that sort of thing, and I had lofty visions of making croissants and macarons and brioche. But given that April is an extremely busy month and I won’t have many weekends to work my baking magic, this was not the month for projects that require multiple days of preparation.

Custard was the suggestion of my good friend and fellow baking enthusiast Alice. And as soon as she suggested it I knew it would be absolutely perfect. Custard is a dessert classic and mastering it is a must for the aspiring cook, as they are used in floating islands, fruit tarts, and, of course, ice cream. As Alice put it, at most custard requires “careful pot watching,” which I can definitely do.

I had fully intended to have a recipe all ready to go for you today but my first attempt at custard didn’t work out. I wanted to make a classic, simple custard, with a fruit flavoring. So I decided to use this Epicurious recipe for orange custard that had originally been intended to be used as a tart filling. Throwing caution to the wind, I made it on its own, baking it in small custard cups in a water bath.

I thought it was a little weird that the filling was so simple – just mix together all the ingredients and bake. I should have followed my intuition because my custard curdled, and the final result was, well, less than edible.

In fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a difficult time with custard. There was that unfortunate incident with the unmolding of that flan . . .



So instead of giving you my own recipe, I direct you to the excellent Cannelle et Vanille, whose rhubarb flan and pistachio crumble tart and chocolate raspberry pots de creme both look like excellent ways to curb a custard craving.

As for me, I’m confident that my next custard attempt will be much better than my first. And I’m planning on following the recipe this time.

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Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars: Economic Crisis Edition

Lavender Moon Cupcakes

Lavender Moon Cupcakes Try To Give You A Heart Attack.

In the midst of the economic crisis, it’s good to know that we can still count on The Washington Posts’ Cupcake Wars to distract us from the tanking economy.

For those of you haven’t been following the C-Wars obsessively, the Post is in the midst of a series of taste-tests of cupcakes from DC-area bakeries. I was especially excited for this round of reviews, because I had actually tried the cupcakes from one of the bakeries: the new Lavender Moon Bakery out in Alexandria (a coworker brought some in for us a couple of weeks ago, which was very sweet of her). The other cupcakes the Post taste-tested were from Baked and Wired, in Georgetown.

The Post tasters thought Lavender Moon’s cupcakes were simply “too much”—too rich, too heavy on the frosting, and too difficult to eat. Post testers were not impressed with the cupcake’s flavors, comparing the flavor of the coconut cupcake to “suntan lotion.” Testers liked the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting the best. Sadly, this week’s reviews also didn’t contain “overall” ratings for the bakeries, so I have no idea how Lavender Moon stacked up to the other bakers ratings-wise.

I thought their review was pretty spot on. The cupcakes I had were very, very heavy—the cupcakes were difficult to finish because they were so rich and heavy. The chocolate frosting tasted more like fudge than frosting, which really overwhelmed the cake. It’s like the pastry chef wanted to make a rich and decadent desert, but didn’t consider how the overall package tasted. I think this could have been partially remedied with just a little less frosting (seriously people—frosting is one of those areas where less is often more) and a slightly lighter cake.

In a first for the Cupcake Wars, Post testers gave rave reviews to Baked and Wired, praising the “mostly moist” cake and the “not-too-sweet” frosting. Their favorite was the peanut butter cupcake, likening it to a Snickers bar (the testers meant that in the best way possible). Given that these testers have been pretty tough on DC’s cupcakes, it made me want to go down to Georgetown and check them out.

And I bet I’m not alone in my desire to slink off into various bakeries and sample cupcake after cupcake this week. Given everything that’s been happening in the economy lately, I wonder if the timing of the Cupcake Wars isn’t especially serendipitous. After all that’s happened this week, I bet the Congress could really use some cupcake-fueled comfort. Or, at the very least, cupcakes could keep them awake through their late-night bailout negotiating sessions.

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Can You Really Make Ice Cream In A Plastic Bag?

Ice Cream Custard

Can a mere plastic bag transform this custard into ice cream?

I must not have been the only person who was struck by this New York Times article on how to make your own ice cream using nothing more than the power of salt water (yes, you heard that right, salt water) and the technology of plastic bags. I was less impressed by the chemistry behind how the low freezing temperature of salt water can be used to freeze custard, and much more excited about the prospect of making my own ice cream, sans an expensive and space-stealing ice cream maker.

To me having your own ice cream maker is the height of appliance extravagance. You can justify a Kitchen Aid Mixer (No really, you can. I can make my own bread—and bread is the staff of life!). You can justify a Cuisinart (I can grind my own hamburger, instantly grate cheese, and chop herbs!). But ice cream? It’s not exactly a life-sustaining food.

Still, the thought of being able to whip up a batch anytime I want, perhaps to show off the flavors of seasonal produce or to fill a batch of profiteroles, is appealing. And, I’ll be honest—serving up a batch of my own homemade ice cream at my next dinner party appeals to my deep desire to show off.

But does it work?

Why my salt water bath didn’t quite turned out as planned

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