Sweets

With Cinco de Mayo fiestas well underway north and south of the Mexican border, it is Mexican food that is at the center of all the celebrations and, of course, Mexican beer and margaritas as well. So why not make a zesty margarita pie as a final flourish for the celebrations.

The recipe that follows mirrors a classic margarita made with freshly squeezed lime juice, a good silver/blanco tequila, triple sec, sugar or agave syrup, and crystallized flaked salt. These very same ingredients provide the essential flavors for a sensational chilled sweet sour margarita confection with just a hint of green earthiness from the tequila and a crisp salty after note.

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

As popular as a pretzel crust seems to be for a margarita pie these days, I have to say I favor a classic sweet pastry crust for this pie which allows the flavors of the margarita lime curd to take center stage. Served chilled, this pie is as bedazzling and refreshing as an icy margarita on the rocks would be on a hot summer evening in the tropics.

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

Needed: 1 10 inch pie dish

Crust:

  • sweet pastry dough
  • butter for brushing
  • crystallized salt

Use your favorite sweet pastry dough recipe and chill the dough for several hours before you intend to roll it out.

Roll out the dough and place it in the pie dish. Even out the edges. Transfer to the the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Melt a small amount of butter. Remove the chilled pie shell from the refrigerator and lightly brush the entire surface of the dough with melted butter.

Then evenly press salt flakes onto the outer rim of the dough.

Line the inner surface of the dough with baking parchment and trim off excess paper so the salt studded surface of the rim of the pie is exposed. Place pie wights (or dried beans) into the parchment lined pie dough and transfer to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the salted edges are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and, using a spoon, remove the weights and set them aside to cool. Remove the parchment and return the pie shell to the oven and bake another 12 minutes, or until the interior crust is lightly colored and dry.

Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. You can then refrigerate the crust.

Margarita Pie Curd Filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons silver tequila
  • 1 tablespoon triple sec (or other orange liquer)
  • 3 oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lime juice, tequila, and tipple sec in a non-reactive stainless bowl.
Gently whisk until the ingredients are well combined.

Place the bowl over a pot of hot, but not boiling, water and gently whisk continuously until the mixture thickens and mounds onto itself.

Promptly remove the bowl from the heat and scatter the butter over the surface. Stir with the whisk until the butter has completely melted and is mixed evenly into the curd.

Remove the chilled crust from the refrigerator and, using a silicone spatula, spoon the curd into the pie shell. Spread the curd evenly and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.

Sour Cream Topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 200c

Combine the sour cream, sugar and lime juice in a bowl and stir until well combined.

Remove the chilled pie from the refrigerator and spoon the sour cream mixture over the surface of the lime curd. Giggle the pie to even out the surface and place in the oven and bake for or 5 minutes.

Promptly remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.

Lime garnish:

  • 2 seedless thin skinned limes, sliced into paper thin rounds
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a wide saute pan. Cook until the liquid is bubbling, thick, and clear. Add the lime slices and cook for 3 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the lime slices rest in the syrup until completely cool. Remove the slices to a rack to drain off excess syrup.

Remove the pie from the refrigerator and carefully arrange the lime rounds over the surface of the pie.

Cover the pie with cling film and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Serving:

About 20 minutes before serving transfer the refrigerated pie to the freezer and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. This final chill gives this pie a crisp icy sensation when served. 

Slice using  a very sharp knife dipped into water for each slice made.

Key Lime Tart

Key Lime Tart

 

This is a Key lime tart I’ve been making for 30 some years that never fails to please and it couldn’t be easier to make. There is no baking involved so the tart can be completed in less than an hour. The filling is a simple fresh lime curd that is then poured into a crumb crust and refrigerated…and Voila!

 

Key Lime Tart

Key Lime Tart

 

The Florida Keys, and Key West in particular, have enjoyed a legendary notoriety associated with the novelist Ernest Hemingway and a bunch of his famous, as well as infamous, cronies that used to hang out until the wee hours of the morning at Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s in Key West in the 30’s and 40’s. So, by association, the Key lime pie is fondly embraced as an American classic with a smooth creamy custard like filling made with Florida Key lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. The sweetened condensed milk adds a certain element of decadence to the pie, but I myself much prefer the unadulterated flavor of lime curd filling just as it is.

While the Key lime certainly holds a certain cache, this type of lime is easily found throughout the West Indies, Mexico, and as far afield as Thailand. Obviously certified Key limes are going to be hard to find, so when you go shopping what you want to look out for are smaller thin skinned limes which will have a more acidic intense lime flavor and aroma than the larger Persian limes you are probably more familiar with. Bottled Key lime juice is available, but don’t be tempted. There is no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice for this recipe.

Key Lime Tart

The following recipe works equally well using lemon juice or try using fresh passion fruit juice. (click here for recipe)

Needed: one 9 or 10 inch tart pan

Tart crust:

  • 1 ½ to 2 cups crumbs made from either Graham Crackers or Digestive biscuits
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3  teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons/ 3 oz/ 85 g unsalted butter, melted

Break up the crackers or digestive biscuits into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have a fine crumb. Add the sugar and salt and pulse until combined. Then pour the melted butter over the crumbs and pulse until the crumbs just begin to clump together.

Press the crumb mixture into the tart pan, being sure to distribute the crumbs evenly, so the crust has an overall uniform thickness.

Transfer the crumb lined pan to the refrigerator and chill until the crust has firmed up, about 40 minutes.

Lime Curd Filling:

Zest a couple of the limes before you juice them and set the zest aside.

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, strained
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces/ 85 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Choose a non reactive stainless mixing bowl the will fit snugly over a wide pan placed below it.

Partially fill the wide pan with water and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Heat the water without coming to a boil.

meanwhile place the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar into the mixing bowl and whisk together until the sugar is thoroughly combined. Then add the lime juice and whisk until completely incorporated into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl over the hot water (being sure the water is not boiling below)  creating a Ban Marie. Whisk the mixture in a continuous circular motion without creating a froth. After a few minutes the mixture will begin thicken rather quickly, so once the mixture has the consistency of a soft custard like curd, promptly remove the bowl from the heat. Scatter the small cubes of butter over the surface and once melted gently fold the butter into the curd until completely incorporated.

Remove the chilled crumb crust from the refrigerator and pour the lime curd filling into the crust shell. Giggle the pan gently to even out the filling and, if necessary, gently smooth the surface with a spatula.

Distribute the lime zest over the surface and return the pie to the refrigerator until the filling has firmed up. You can then cover the pie with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

As pictured serve the tart with a strained strawberry or raspberry puree along with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies

Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies

 

The holidays have arrived and, like myself, you are probably finalizing menus and about to dash off to the local farmers market, the grocery store, and your local delicatessen with shopping list in hand. Tis the season for home cooks to go into overdrive and, once again, manage to put a noteworthy holiday feast on the table with a certain air of relaxed aplomb.

Christmas in Buddhist Thailand is a non event other than retail of course. So every year rather than cooking a traditional western Christmas dinner I gravitate towards a meal drawn from another culture. This year I am doing a Mexican Christmas supper beginning with a Sopa de lima from the Yucatan (click here). Following that a succulent Barbacoa (click here) from central Mexico along with  frijoles refritos (click here) and a spicy slaw with apples and avocados. For dessert I’ve come up with a recipe for Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies that will be served with cinnamon ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce. Cocoa is native to Mexico and often combined with cinnamon and, yes, chile in both savoy and sweet dishes that date back to the Aztecs. The soft chocolate “lava” chunks in these cookies are a reference to the active volcanoes that dot the landscape in central Mexico, and the caramel sauce is a nod to the Spanish influence in Mexico’s evolving cuisine.

I have adapted this recipe from a recipe by Jacques Torres for his now famous chocolate chip cookies that forever changed the conversation about what the best chocolate chip cookie should be.

There may be just enough time left to add these cookies to your holiday preparations, but if not do try them first thing in the new year!

 

Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies   makes 24

  • ½ cup pecans (or walnuts) lightly toasted
  • 4 ½ ounces cake flour
  • 4 ½ ounce bread flour
  • 5 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder ( New Mexican)
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces dark chocolate (best quality), chopped into chunky shards
  • crystallized salt (Maldon)

Ideally make the cookie dough 24 hours before baking.

Preheat the oven to 325 F/ 160 C   with the baking rack set in the middle position.

Spread out nuts in a single layer in a baking tray and toast them in the oven until they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven, set them aside to cool, and turn off the oven. When cool break the nuts up by hand and set aside.

Combine the cake flour and bread flour in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nut meg, allspice, and red chile powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream at medium high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture is a light color and fluffy in texture.
Add the egg and mix on medium speed until the egg is completely incorporated into the dough. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture and mix until the flour is completely mixed into the dough.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the chocolate and nuts and, using a silicone spatula, mix until combined.

Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C    with the baking rack set in the middle position. Set up 2 cooling racks.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using a scale divide the dough into 1 ½ ounce portions. Roll the portions into balls between the palms of your hands.

For best results, baking one tray of 6 cookies at a time will deliver the best results. Refrigerate the remaining balls of dough until you are ready to bake them.

Place 6 balls of dough on the tray with plenty of space between them. Top each ball with a light sprinkle of crystallized salt, patting the top lightly so the salt sticks to the surface. Transfer them to the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Open the oven and rotate the tray from front to back and bake another 6 minutes.

Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies

Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies

The cookies should be just slightly golden but still very soft while not looking overly moist on the middle of the top of the cookie. You do not want to over bake these cookies so their texture will remain soft, the chocolate still holding its shape, once the cookies are cool.

When done remove promptly from the oven and place the tray on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then gently remove the cookies from the baking sheet and place them directly on a cooling rack.

Repeat the same process for the remaining cookies.

When the cookies are nearly cool you can serve them at once while still slightly warm.

Otherwise let the cookies cool completely and then store in a large cookie tin with the cookies stacked in just 2 layers.

As mentioned these cookies are ideal served with cinnamon ice cream. The caramel sauce is optional, but it does make a very special taste of Mexico.

French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake

 

I have read quite a few recipes for this very simple French apple cake over time, but never actually got around to making it until a few days ago. What an unexpected revelation! My expectations, as simple as this cake appears to be, were delightfully misconstrued. This cake is absolutely delicious in the best possible ways. Its moist buttery custard like texture surrounding tender chunks of apples is pure perfection. Neither too sweet nor fancy, this is a cake I, and hopefully you, will be baking again, and again, and again.

The secrets to success here are using a variety of absolutely fresh crisp apples and the best quality butter you can find, preferably a French butter or a full fat brand of butter in North America.

In my kitchen I like to keep on hand a serviceable butter for cooking and a French butter for baking and for spreading on bread and toast. The quality, flavor, and color of the butter you use when baking is going to significantly impact the overall flavor, texture, and indeed the aroma of all your baked goods. Fat content matters. French butter has maintained centuries old standards in how the cows are fed, the quality and culturing of the cream, and producing a higher butter fat content that supports flavor as well as a supple texture. President brand is a serviceable French butter that is widely available in grocery stores in the US and Europe and well worth the extra coins spent. Other brands to look for in the US are Plugra, Keller’s European Style, and Land O’Lakes extra creamy butter.

French Apple Cake

  • 5 assorted large firm apples (about 1 ¾ pounds)
  • 9 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
  • ¾ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large organic eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum (or Calvados)

In a small saucepan melt 8 tablespoons of butter and set aside to cool.

Peel the apples, cut them into quarters, remove the cores, and cut  into 3/4 inch chunks.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter is melted add the apples and toss until coated with butter. Then sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over the apples and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the apples just begin to color. Transfer the apples to a large plate and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C with rack centered in the oven. Top the rack with the baking  sheet.

For this recipe I would suggest using an oven thermometer to be sure the oven temperature is spot on.

Generously butter and lightly flour an 8 or 9 inch springform pan.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking power, and salt and set aside.

In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs until foamy. Add ¾ cup of sugar and whisk vigorously until well combined. Add the vanilla and rum (or Calvados) and whisk until combined.

Then whisk in half the flour mixture until combined. Then add half the melted butter and whisk. Add the remaining flour mixture and melted butter and whisk until the batter is smooth and thick. Then add the apples and, using a silicon spatula, fold them into the batter until evenly coated.

Scrape the mixture into the springform pan and level out the top a bit. Sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of sugar and transfer to the oven.

Monitor your temperature and baking time carefully. Total baking time will be between 50 and 60 minutes. You want to rotate the cake after 25 minutes for even baking.

Be careful not to over bake this cake as you want the texture of the cake to be very moist with an almost custardy texture. The cake will be done when a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The batter should be just set as it will firm up a bit once taken out of the oven.

When the cake is finished set it out on a cooling rack. After about five minutes run a small flexible pastry spatula around the sides of the baking pan, open the side the pan, and remove it.

Best to let the cake cool completely before transferring it to a cake platter. The easiest way to do this is to run a small flexible pastry spatula around the edges of the cake. Then slide a long pasty spatula under the cake to gently release it and then slide it onto a cake platter.

Serving:

This cake should be served either warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cake is just perfect served as it is, but if you like add a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche, or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Less is more in this case.

Bon appetit!

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