Friday, February 12, 2016

Torrone (Italian Nut & Nougat Confection) – A Stirring Valentine’s Day Treat

The theme of this torrone post was originally about making this gorgeous candy for your Valentine, but then I realized what would be even better than making this for your sweetheart, would be making with your sweetheart.

While very easy, this procedure does take about one and a half hours to complete, and most of that time is spent standing at the stove, stirring, which is why tag-teaming this Italian confection makes the job much easier, and I’ll assume a lot more fun.

By the way, this is the real way to make torrone, and by “real,” I mean the really old way. Today, most candy makers use a much faster method, where a caramelized sugar syrup is simply added to the whipped egg whites. I’ve tried this both ways, and while the modern technique is way faster, I much prefer this method. It seems to have more soul, whatever that means.

Using this ancient technique, you don’t need to worry about precise timing, specific temperatures, or potentially painful burns. Besides, standing and stirring something on the stove for that long is surprisingly therapeutic. Watching the ingredients slowly, and magically change, as your home fills with the sweet aroma of warm honey, is almost as enjoyable as the amazing candy you end up with. Almost.

The visual clues, and times I give in the video should be enough, but don’t forget the cold water trick I showed you. That’s a great way to check you work, and sneak a taste. I hope you give this a try very soon. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from this one by, Enzo Maragucci
Makes about 80 (1-inch) square pieces:
400 g honey (about 1 1/3 cups)
250 g white sugar (about 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons)
2 large egg whites
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 rounded tablespoon lemon zest
3 cups roasted almonds (I used Marcona almonds)
1 cup roasted pistachio
2 sheets “wafer” paper (*edible rice paper)
*Follow this link for info on the one I ordered
If you don't use the wafer paper, you can just spray plastic wrap with oil, and that also works. Some people use cornstarch, but I'm not a fan. Google for many other tricks.  

- I used an 8 x 11 baking dish to mold mine in.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Zabaglione – Tastes Like Romance

When you go over the things you really want in a Valentine’s dessert, this ultra-simple zabaglione checks all the boxes. Assuming that your sweetheart enjoys things like sweet, juicy fruit enveloped in a rich, but impossibly light custard, this should work out nicely.

I like to use a dry Marsala wine, but sweet Marsala is also a popular choice. If you use the sweet variety you’ll need to cut down or eliminate the sugar.  If you’re not into warm wine foams, you can literally use any other flavorful liquid, and the technique will work the same.

You may need to change the garnish, but things like coffee, fruit juices, and pretty much any other liquor, or liqueur, will work with this technique. Experiment, and see what happens. So, whether you make this for that certain someone this Valentine’s Day, or just for a random weeknight treat, I really do hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes 2 or 3 servings:
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup dry Marsala wine
1/2 cup diced strawberries tossed with a spoon of sugar

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bacon Jalapeno Popper Puffs – Seeing Spots

I had everything I needed to shoot a brand new chicken wing video, except for one key ingredient; a working oven. Yes, my oven decided to take the rest of Super Bowl week off, as did my oven repairman, but these bacon jalapeno popper puffs came out so well, I decided to designate this as an official blessing in disguise.

These pepper poppers in puff form really did come out incredibly well, as long as you don’t have a problem with lots of unsightly dark spots. Since we loaded these with so much diced pepper, the pieces on the outside caramelized (which is chef-speak for burned), and my beautiful, golden-brown balls were spotted with golden-black.

Apparently, I’m having more of a problem with the appearance than your average viewer, at least according to the first wave of YouTube comments, but I may still try to figure out a way to make these a little more camera friendly next time. Maybe I’ll puree the peppers first, or possibly char off the skin, which I believe gets even darker than the flesh. Stay tuned.

Superficial beauty aside, if you enjoy the gut-bombs that are classic, bacon-wrapped, jalapeno poppers, I think you’ll love these shockingly light puffs. All the same flavors are there, especially when served with the easy cream cheese dip, and the prep is much easier. I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 40 Bacon Jalapeno Popper Puffs:

For the dough:
2/3 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon fine salt)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs

Then add:
2 ounces extra sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely diced jalapeno peppers
1/3 cup finely chopped bacon
pinch cayenne
pinch freshly ground black pepper

- Fry at 375 F. for about 3 1/2 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through

For the dipping sauce:
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
2 tablespoons minced green onions
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- add enough water to thin mixture out to proper dip consistency