I am always hungry to taste a fresh take on a classic recipe. Too often we associate innovative cooking withchefs whose success depends on their preparation of the next awesome dish. But a new idea need not be time consuming work for a kitchen of prep cooks. I’ve made it a priority over the years to show home cooks how to get out of a recipe rut and have fun experimenting.
An adventurous group of students gathered in the Chicago's Alliance Française kitchen on a recent Saturday with just this objective in mind. Our goal was a makeover of three classic fruit desserts with the addition of a single bitter ingredient. Which would we add? How would we choose to pair and add them to the recipes? And would they improve on the flavors we already knew and loved? This kind of risk-taking is fun!
In our first experiment, we inserted a layer of burnt caramel between a pre-baked sweet pastry crust and a decorative layer of fresh strawberries and raspberries. The caramel replaced a traditional vanilla custard filling. Voila, we created an energized Berry Tart with Burnt Caramel.
To make comparisons easier, we used the same pastry shell recipe for a Lemon Tart. The bitter element in this dessert was a thin layer of very dark chocolate smoothed between the pre-baked crust and curd. Everything was going according to plan until the very last moment.
As the lemon curd was spooned over the semi-set layer of chocolate, a thin swirl of dark liquid rose up to the surface. On no! We'd created a spoiler alert. The chocolate layer had been outed. Never mind. The abstract pattern created by the drizzle became part of the experiment. I rather liked it.
(How bitter was the chocolate? The group tasted bars with 82% and 88% cocoa respectively and unanimously preferred the one with a higher level of cocoa solids. FYI: Most dark chocolate bars have 40-60% cocoa)
In the third dessert we replaced the time-honored orange butter sauce that accompanies Crêpe Suzette with a tangy Orange Marmalade. We first cooked a small batch of marmalade from Artisanal Preserves that includes the bitter peel. We poured off some not-quite-set marmalade to coat the crêpes and proceeded to gel and jar the remaining marmalade, another five minutes of work.
We completed our three bittersweet fruit desserts with ample time to sit down together and enjoy them. That's one of the pleasures of working together as a class. But, a lunch composed of three stand-alone desserts? Now that was challenging! We managed with the help of a flute of Cremant d’Alsace.
Before they left, I asked everyone to vote for their favorite. The winner was.....(drum roll).... the crêpes flamed with bitter Orange Marmalade!! My mouth is still smiling.
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