Summer Menu Changes!

 Monday, June 24, 2013

Blondie with fresh berries we ran as a special
I always proclaim that I prefer fall baking to summer baking. It's not that I don't like summer's bounty of fruit, per se, but to me, better baking occurs when that's stripped. With fruit, you don't want to get in the way of the fruit. Good fruit can be a dessert in and of itself (although I'm having a hard time convincing myself of that right now...stuck in my apartment with no chocolate and only grapes) and you need to be delicate to not mask or overpower the fruit.

Original strawberry dessert

Sometimes I start out with what I think is a good idea, to only realize it is in fact not a great idea, and go on to formulate an even better one. This was the case with my strawberry dessert for this season. Chef Marc was down and we had been playing around with fried doughs. I initially had the thought to do a play on a strawberry shortcake, made with a zeppole and served with a basil gel and olive oil ice cream. I made all the components, and well, wasn't really excited by it. I've historically been opposed to fried desserts at a restaurant. It's partially because I think frying is a cop-out (who doesn't love anything fried) and partially because the bad memories I have from when I was a cook in a small, enclosed pastry kitchen that had a table top fryer. I'd leave every night reeking of fryer oil (perhaps why I had no luck meeting guys...) and vowing never to do that to my cooks once I was a chef. Additionally, I felt like this dessert was just too heavy. The thing about being a pastry chef at a steakhouse is you need to be prepared to follow up a 40 oz Tomahawk ribeye. With three potato side dishes. Most people who visit American Cut do not adhere to the warning to save room for dessert. With that in mind, I try to keep my desserts on the lighter side (not all of them, but most of them) and a fried piece of bread dough with an oil-based ice cream just didn't fit the bill.

Strawberry Ice Cream Cake
Back to the drawing board, I almost immediately thought of doing a strawberry and olive oil ice cream cake. I am obsessed with frozen desserts. Probably unhealthily so. I love the textures and temperature differences they add to a dessert. As a kid, the only birthday cake I ever wanted was an ice cream cake from Carvel, with those giant gel-blob balloons on it. I set out to make a lighter, grown-up version of the cake I loved so much as a child. I used strawberry and olive oil semifreddos (Italian for semi-frozen, essentially a frozen mousse) to give the cake a lighter feel. I guess that makes the term "ice cream cake" a misnomer, but it's easier for guests to visualize that than "semifreddo cake." I added layers of basil-soaked sponge cake and homemade Nilla wafers mixed with dehydrated strawberries. This gets molded into a giant cake and sliced for individual portions. Completed, it's 9 layers of semifreddos, cookie crumbs, and cake served with strawberries tossed with a little sugar, basil and mint and garnished with tiny mint and vanilla meringues. It is quite possibly one of my favorite desserts I've ever made. As I was cutting the cake Saturday night, I felt compelled to eat every piece of scrap. Maybe not the best decision I've made for my body all week, but delicious.

When I came up with my mascarpone cheesecake recipe back in the winter, it took somewhere between 25 and 30 attempts to perfect it. It was only supposed to be on for that season, but then Chef Marc declared it the best cheesecake he ever had, and it hasn't budged from the menu since. The components change seasonally, with its current iteration being cherry. Initially, I wanted to do sour cherries, but they proved to be impossible to find in South Jersey, so I went with sweet, dark cherries. It seemed natural to have the crust be a chocolate graham and to pair it with a cherry sorbet, made with fresh puree. Our corporate chef, Chris, had seen this idea to make a chocolate sauce out of equal parts sugar, cocoa, and water, making it like a light caramel and then deglazing with the cocoa and water. It tastes exactly like a liquid Oreo. The dish, overall, is super sexy with the contrast of colors: a deep blood red gelee on top of the pale cheesecake.

Almond Poundcake
I also worked on an almond poundcake with a stone fruit compote (I used peaches and nectarines) paired with a bourbon sweet tea ice cream that I think will appear later in the summer. These three desserts really made me rethink my stance on summer fruit desserts and got me excited about the possibilities. Now I think the problem is there are so many fruits available in such a limited amount of time and only 7 desserts on my menu!
Current pastry menu at American Cut


Cronut Mania

 Monday, June 3, 2013

Anyone who follows the food scene in NYC knows that in the past couple weeks the city has been gripped by a fever for...cronuts. Wait, what? Cronuts? At first mention, this does not sound like an appetizing, delicate pastry...much less something for which I would wait in line at 8 am. Nothing to me is worth being up before 11 am. Very few things are worth being up before noon.

Basically, a cronut is croissant dough fried in the shape of a doughnut. While Dominique Ansel has put the "cronut" on the map and internationally trademarked it, I first came across the idea on Francisco Migoya's amazing pastry blog, The Quenelle. It had been on my "to-bake" list for a while, and then cronut mania pushed it to the top.

Because, like I said, I will not get up before 8 am for anything, it was easier for me to make these than to wait on line for them. Croissant dough is a yeast-risen laminated dough, and if you've never had a traditional fresh-baked croissant, you are missing out. These were a revelation to me during my time at The French Culinary Institute. Growing up, I was familiar with both American and traditional Italian-American baking, but the closest thing I had ever had to a real croissant was the Costco variety (sad, I know). I hadn't made croissant dough since I graduated from culinary school. They don't make frequent appearances on restaurant dessert menus, and the dough is rather tedious and time consuming to make. The skill proved to be like riding a bike though, and my croissant dough came out beautifully. When it was finished, I rolled it out and cut doughnut shapes.

First thing on Friday, I set about to fry the cronuts. My AM production cook had pulled them from the refrigerator when he got in, so they were proofed and ready to go. I was surprised at how quickly they fried, just a couple minutes. I glazed them with wild strawberry and passion fruit glazes and let them cool. Within an hour, all 30 "doughssants," as we were calling them (not looking for a trademark infringement lawsuit from Dominique Ansel!), were gone. My verdict? Definitely delicious, but probably not worth waiting in a 30 minute line to pay $5 each. I feel like my coworkers are going to be haunting me, however, to make doughssants for every family meal from now on. They might be more convincing though if they form a line, $5 in hand!