Category Archives: sweet treats

It’s the Berries: Summer Pudding

Okay, enough with the stone fruits! I’ve clearly been on a bent about that category of delicious summertime fruits. For a moment I’ll move along from the peach and plum tones of those juicy treats and give some props to the jeweltone berries.

A few occurrences conspired to put visions of summer pudding dancing in my head over the past few weeks. Random conversations. Memories. What-to-do-with-those-beautiful-berries ponderings. The last straw was when I came across this recipe in Relish magazine a couple of weeks ago. That did it. Summer pudding it would be. Friends coming over for dinner a couple nights later were to be the victims.

I first learned about summer pudding about 20 years ago. At the time I was living in France, working on various book projects with Anne Willan after having graduated from La Varenne. One interesting project had me going over to England with Chef Claude to do some video work, done at the English countryside home of one of the project’s producers. Beautiful setting, warm and gracious people, quiet environs. It was a wonderful few days. A highlight of which was a small dinner party our hosts threw while we were there. The time was late summer, I can still picture the cozy, colorful dining room and lively ambiance of conversations that evening.

Not every detail of the meal remains in my memory bank, but I was introduced to two things that night: sea beans and summer pudding. Sea beans (also known as samphire, among a number of nicknames) will have to wait for another day. But that summer pudding was a revelation: bright and bursting with flavor, despite being made with little more than berries, sugar and bread.

 

Off I went to the grocery store, my wonderful neighborhood West Seattle Thriftway that feeds me so well. This time of year they have a special rack in the produce area, featuring berries from Sakuma Brothers up in the Skagit Valley. Sure, expensive when you compare the price berry-for-berry against the standard offerings. But worth every cent given the mountains of flavor and aroma they offer by comparison. A quart of strawberries, a pint each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries.

Though I always knew summer pudding to be made with everyday white bread–a type with dense crumb and not too soft–I wanted to make mine with brioche for a bit of extra panache, as did chef Ashton in that Relish recipe. There’s a good selection of Macrina breads at my Thriftway but that day the brioche loaf came only in raisined form. Not for summer pudding. So I made perhaps an odd choice and went with Macrina’s brioche hot dog buns. Same product, different shape. Just meant a bit more creative shape-cutting to fully line the bowl.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, as is my habit. I used less water, maybe 1/2 cup. I didn’t strain the berry juice from the berries to then dunk the bread pieces in the juice. Seemed an unnecessary step to me, dirtying more tools, when the bread is going to have ample time to soak up all that juice once the pudding is assembled.

So there I was, lining a ceramic bowl with my oddball shapes of brioche buns. I cut off most of the crust and cut the buns in long slices to best replicate normal sliced bread. Gently cooked the berries a bit, then ladled them and their vivid juices into the bowl. More brioche on top. Then the perfectly-sized plate to perch on top, with a heavy can or two to weigh everything down while it chills for a good 8 hours.

It’s pretty phenomenal how much that loose, juicy berry mixture sets up over time. Thankfully, the plastic wrap used to line the bowl gives you some leverage to help neatly dislodge the pudding onto a serving plate. A friend with Anglo heritage swears Devonshire cream is the only ideal accompaniment to a “summer pud” but all I could muster up was some freshly whipped and just lightly sweetened cream.

Perfection. A great way to cap off dinner with a longtime friend passing through town with his two bright, precocious children. And it wasn’t bad for breakfast the next day, either.

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Ultimate Peach Milkshake

While driving through McMinnville, Oregon earlier this week, a sweltering 100+ temp day, my friend pulled into a local drive-in to get a milkshake. He opted for fresh peach, his son picked raspberry, while I tried to be good and forgo the indulgence. Even when the cheery guy on the other side of the drive-in window asked if we wanted a “courtesy cone” to nibble on while we waited for the shakes to be made. Inside, I was leaping up and down, raising my hand, and saying “yes, me please, I’d love a courtesy cone!!” Outside, I politely smiled and said “no, thank you.” Now I’m seriously regretting the decision.

Being good often backfires. At least for me it sometimes does. Case in point, I haven’t been able to get that peach milkshake off my mind and went to thepeach1 store yesterday to buy the fixings to make my own. And of course am now armed with the ingredients to make a few more on a whim. Oh well, I guess there are worse things to be grousing about than possibly giving in to milkshake temptation a couple more times in the coming days.

Though a milkshake’s simple enough to make without a recipe–a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, a handful of fruit or good dose of other flavoring (chocolate syrup, peanut butter, espresso), a little milk to thin as needed–I dug up the peach milkshake recipe I’d come up with for my Stone Fruit cookbook. Had just enough energy despite the heat to whip this puppy up yesterday, and it did hit the spot. And surely will again over the weekend. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Peach Milkshake (from Stone Fruit)

This milkshake ends up tasting something like a creamsicle with a fresh peach twist. I like the blend of peach nectar and fresh peach, which makes for a little more layering of flavors. Though a great snack as is on a hot summer afternoon, it could also be dressed up for a fun, casual dessert with friends–perhaps spiked with brandy or bourbon–and served with cookies alongside.

 

peach21 ripe peach

1 1/2 cups top-quality vanilla ice cream

1/2 cup peach nectar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Pit and slice the peach, setting aside 2 thin slices for garnish. Put the remaining peach slices in a blender with the ice cream, peach nectar and orange juice and blend until very smooth. If the shake is quite thick, add a few tablespoons more peach nectar or orange juice.

Pour the peach milkshake into two tall glasses, garnish each with a peach slice, and serve right away.

Makes 2 servings

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Simple Pleasures: Coffee Ice Cream

It all started with a simple hankering I had on the way home one afternoon a month or so ago. In the corner of the parking lot of my local grocery is a Tully’s. Some handful of years ago they started selling (really quite tasty) soft-serve ice cream, in coffee and vanilla, or a swirl of both if you couldn’t decide. Not too big, quality ingredients, particularly tasty cones…it was the perfect snack that I indulged in only now and then. Clearly my last visit was a while ago, because the woman working the counter looked at me funny when I ordered a coffee cone. After a few moments she said, “oh, we only have chocolate and vanilla.”

Huh?

I contacted Tully’s HQ and found it had been a company wide change last summer, the shift from coffee to chocolate (and chocolate nonfat frozen yogurt at that, geez!). He said they were considering ways to re-introduce coffee ice cream but nothing definite at this point.

Thus began my recent obsession with coffee ice cream. A few days later my husband showed up at the door–knowing of that recent disappointment–with not one but two different coffee ice creams for me. The love. He learned early in our college-days dating how much a weakness I have for ice cream. Still do.

One was a moshi version, balls of coffee ice cream wrapped in a distinctive rice-flour-and-sugar based chewy dough (this version of the dough coffee flavored as well) that envelops the ice cream. I’ve never cared for moshi and these really didn’t hit the spot too well.

What I did love was the Häagen-Dazs he brought. Not just the everyday coffee, but coffee that’s part of their new “five” line. These are ice creams made with only five ingredients. All of them share the same four as a base: milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks. Add ginger or mint or cocoa or coffee, and you’ve got a deliciously pure and simple treat. Yummy. This was a very satisfying bowl of coffee ice cream.

It was right about this time that I read an article in the Times previewing a new line of Starbucks ice creamsbeing rolled out this month. A day later (before I realized they weren’t due to be in stores yet),  I was at the customer service counter at Thriftway asking if they were ordering it yet. I jumped thecoffeeicecream1gun, but have since had a chance to taste one of the flavors, Java Chip Frappuccino, coffee ice cream with dark chocolate chunks. Really delicious. The flavor isn’t just a single-tone “coffee” element but has some of the deeper complexity you find in a rich cup of coffee. I’ll get to the three other flavors in due course: Caramel Macchiato (coffee and vanilla ice creams with swirls of caramel), Mocha Frappuccini (coffee and chocolate ice creams swirled together) and pure-and-simple Coffee (coffee and espresso ice creams swirled together).

So Tully’s may have initially let me down with the shift in what comes from their soft-serve dispenser. But thankfully that hankering can now be satisfied by a slew of new indulgences in the world of coffee ice cream.

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A New Treat at Theo

Like I needed one more decadent treat to have on my list of favorite vices…. But I found one anyway.

I had an errand to do at Theo Chocolates in Fremont yesterday (honest, I really did). While there, couldn’t help reliving a couple of my favorite bites from a previous trip. I’d picked out my PB&J, gianduja, cardamom caramel and lavender-jalapeno caramel to take home in a plain little brown paper theobig1bag.  Just about to pay and my eye spies two boxes of treats I hadn’t seen before:  Big Daddy confections that were introduced during the holiday 2008 season. The marshmallow version features a square of the white fluffy confection atop a layer of homemade graham cracker crust and rich caramel, the trio coated in both dark and milk chocolates. I’m not a big marshmallow fan, so I opted for the peanut butter version, with peanut butter praline where the marshmallow would be. There are three individual (generous) pieces in each package. Not individually sealed, however, so there’s a distinct risk that you might be compelled to eat more than one. Try theobig2to have friends around when you open the box, to avoid that temptation. I managed to stop at two. Just barely.

Oh, and for your earth-loving peace of mind, know that these Big Daddies are among the organic confections made by Theo. And Fair Trade as well.

The Big Daddy items are not in wide distribution right now, available only at their Fremont shop-and-chocolate-factory and online. Worth a visit, either way. What a delicious indulgence.

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Rich and Spicy Hot Cocoa

Yes, we are going to “spring forward” tomorrow. And the vernal equinox is just two weeks away. But the little crocuses blooming in my planter boxes can not drive away the winter chill. Earlier today at my house in West Seattle (very near the highest point in the city) it snowed for a few hours, though thankfully now all evidence is already gone. 

So regardless of what the calendar may say, it’s definitely been more like hot chocolate season than the cusp of springtime might usually propose.

A few weeks ago, just before Valentine’s Day, I received a little box from Lisa Dupar, owner of Pomegranate Bistro, with a homemade heart-shaped marshmallow accompanying a small bag of the restaurant’s signature hot cocoa mix. It’s what I’ve been warming myself with as an occasional afternoon treat these past few weeks, whisking a couple tablespoons of the mix into warm milk (enriched with a splash of half-and-half when I had part of a pint sitting in the fridge, even better!).

I’m typically not a bit fan of commercial hot chocolate, so often sweet and cloying, seldom letting the character of the chocolate come through. While I was working for Patricia Wells in Paris 15-plus years ago, one of my tasks was researching the hot chocolate spots in town. Granted, in Paris that was a pretty fantastic assignment! I remember the chocolat chaud at Angelina’s as being so thick and rich it was more like a crème anglaise sauce than a beverage. Delicious but not my, um, cup of tea.

This batch from Pomegranate, however, has a lovely chocolate character without being too sweet. And the surprising zing of spice from cayenne livens things up, emphasizing the toasty, nutty character of the chocolate. An uncommon afternoon pick-me-up.

Spicy Hot Cocoa Mix

(from Pomegranate Bistro)

1 cup milk, soy milk or almond milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar)

1 teaspoon cayenne or ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Whisk in the remaining ingredients once the milk is hot (but not boiling). Take the pan from the heat and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

You can do as Lisa did for the Valentine’s treat and pre-mix the dry ingredients in bulk and keep on hand for a shortcut cocoa to make at whim. If you use 3/4 cup each of cocoa and sugar, 2 tablespoons chile powder (less, to suit your taste, this would be spicy!), and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon — you should have enough mix for 6 cups of cocoa.

Just the thing to tide us over until all those spring blooms kick in and winter really does slip away.

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