Having fun with a less common fall flavor

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Fall is here, and that means it’s time for baking comfort foods with apples and pumpkin. Last weekend, I went wine tasting in the Apple Hill area and stopped at a farm stand on my way home. The best deal at the farm stand was a box of about eight pears for $2. I bought two boxes because I knew I’d want to bake with them.

But, before I proceed, I want to let you know that Red Pen Recipes now has a Facebook page. Like it here.

Screen shot 2013-09-25 at 8.14.25 PMI also recently purchased a ticket to see Curtis Stone in Reno. Those of you who read regularly know that I love his style of cooking. According to his response to the question I posed to him on Facebook, we’ll be having cocktails, stir-frys and chocolate. The countdown to Oct. 12 has begun.

So, back to the pears. When I got home, I started looking for recipes and found this Pear and Almond Tart recipe from Bon Appétit. I had all of the ingredients, and it sounded like the perfect way to use a few of those pears.

This recipe has three major components, all of which can be done separately and saved until you’re ready to assemble the whole thing. If you don’t want to spend hours at a time in the kitchen, do one piece at a time.

I know my crust looks burned in the photo, but it didn’t taste like it at all. I was pleasantly surprised.

The recipe didn’t say to save the liquid from poaching the pears, but I knew from experience that I could boil it into a syrup. A beautiful simple syrup is a terrible thing to waste so I decided to use it to make ice cream.

For the ice cream, I used this recipe. If you plan on using the syrup for ice cream, you have to do things just a bit differently. I’d recommend adding a fourth pear to the poaching process. Set it aside and, when you’re ready to make the ice cream, core it, then dice it and add it to the ice cream when it’s in the ice cream mixer. After the pears have cooled in the liquid, remove them. Then bring the liquid back to a boil and keep it on the heat until there’s about 3/4 cup of thick syrup. Take it off the heat and set it aside. Use it in place of the 1/2 cup sugar in the recipe by using 1/2 in the milk mixture and adding the remaining 1/4 cup to the egg yolks. I know it seems like a lot, but trust me. It works. The bits of pear in the ice cream provided a nice contrast to the texture, too.

If you’re not into that, bottle the syrup and use it on pancakes or find another way to use it. But I encourage you not to waste it, because it’s too delicious to throw away.

Pears
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled (each about 7 ounces)

Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. Can be made two days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Crust
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Almond filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
Powdered sugar (optional)

Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep chilled.

Once you’re ready to assemble all three components, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.

Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.

Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Let stand at room temperature. Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

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Vanilla ice cream ready for scooping

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I have finally made scoopable ice cream. Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is something I’ve been struggling with for a couple months now, so I was thrilled when the latest edition of Bon Appétit showed up with ice cream on the cover.

One of my best friends from college randomly decided to visit this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in about five years, so I was really looking forward to the visit. Which also meant I was thinking about what I could have for her when she arrived. I decided to give a new ice cream recipe a chance.

When tackling a new kind of dessert, I like to find a great base recipe before I really start experimenting with flavors. It turns out that can be a tricky task when it comes to ice cream. But, after trying about five different recipes, Bon Appétit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream was the winner.

I have to admit that when I finished the custard mixture, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. The custard was thinner than the custard other recipes produced. But I think that’s why this recipes works. Instead of getting a dense frozen custard after putting it through the ice cream maker, you get a nice, flavorful — and, most importantly, scoopable — ice cream.

I’m really happy with the way this ice cream turned out. Now I feel confident that I can start trying more flavors.

2Vanillaicecream072813Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water; let cool, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover it by putting plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard. It can cool overnight in the fridge and be processed in the morning.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container; cover. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Cooling down with homemade ice cream

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The recent hot weather in Tahoe has made me reluctant to turn on my oven. When temperatures hover near 90 degrees, I don’t want to do much of anything.

My best friend recently gave me his old Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, so last night I decided to turn it on and see how it went. I looked up the manual for the model online and downloaded it to figure out how the machine worked. Included in the manual were some basic ice cream recipes.

When I first decided to make the ice cream, I thought starting simple with a vanilla bean ice cream would be the way to go. Then I discovered I had some apricots that were just about to go bad. I also had almonds in my baking supplies cupboard. I used the manual’s recipe for strawberry ice cream as a guideline and improvised using the ingredients I had.

I didn’t have enough eggs to make any of the premium ice cream recipes, so the texture was more like that of frozen yogurt. The flavor was perfect. Next time I’ll make the higher-quality recipe for the firmer ice cream texture.

I stored some of my ice cream in plastic tupperware and turned the rest into popsicles. I think I might prefer this as a popsicle — it tasted like an apricot-almond creamsicle. While the tupperware is not ideal, it helps prevent freezer burn for a little while. I may invest in an ice cream-specific freezer container, because this definitely won’t be my last batch of homemade ice cream.

2ApricotAlmondIceCreamIngredients
6 ripe, soft apricots, mashed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups soy milk or whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped finely
2 drops amaretto oil
1/4 teaspoon cognac

In a small bowl, combine the apricots with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup of the sugar; stir gently and allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream, amaretto oil and cognac, plus any accumulated juices from the apricot mixture.

Stir the almonds into the rest of the apricot mixture and set aside.

Turn the machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout and let mix until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Add the apricot-almond mixture during the last 5 minutes of freezing.

A taste of Tahiti

Until Saturday, I had never attempted to make ice cream. Every recipe I’d ever seen required an ice cream maker, and I never felt that was worth the investment. When I turned on the Food Network on Saturday morning, Giada De Laurentiis was doing a show on foods inspired by her Tahitian vacation. One of the things she was making was Tahitian Ice Cream. Her recipe didn’t require an ice cream maker, so I decided to try it.

The process of making the ice cream was a lot simpler and quicker than I had anticipated. Once the cream is whipped to the proper consistency, just mix in the rest of the ingredients, put it in the dish and freeze it.

Toasting the coconut proved to be more difficult. The first time I tried toasting it in the oven, as Giada’s recipe instructed, it burned. I checked it and stirred it after four minutes and put it in for another two, but it was completely black after those two minutes. The second time I tried doing it in a pan and pulled it off the burner when it turned golden brown, but I didn’t consider that it would keep cooking in the pan after I took it off the burner. It burned again. The third time I watched it more carefully and took it off the burner when it was light brown. It cooked until it was golden brown. Third time’s a charm.

The recipe calls for light rum, but all I had was dark rum, so the flavor dominated the ice cream. Next time I’ll reduce the amount of dark rum or use light rum, as the recipe says. The consistency was not as thick as store-bought ice cream, but it was still good. The toasted coconut added a nice contrast to the texture of the ice cream. I bet this would also be good served with fresh pineapple as a topping.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 vanilla bean, preferably Tahitian
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup light rum
1/2 cup toasted coconut, see Cook’s Notes

Place 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and allow softening, about 2 minutes. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the water mixture using a paring knife. Add the empty vanilla pods. Stir the water mixture over medium heat until the gelatin has dissolved. Set aside to cool slightly. Remove and discard the vanilla pods.

Beat the cream until thick using an electric hand mixer in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the cream holds soft peaks. Add the water mixture, coconut milk and rum. Beat until thick and light.

Pour the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish. Freeze until the mixture is the texture of soft-serve ice cream, about 2 1/2 hours.

Scoop the mixture into small glasses using an ice cream scoop. Garnish with toasted coconut and serve. Freeze any unused ice cream in an airtight container.

Cook’s note: To toast coconut, place sweetened or unsweetened, shredded or flaked coconut in a single layer in a small frying pan over medium heat. Stir the coconut every couple minutes. Remove from heat when it is just starting to turn light brown. If you leave it in the pan, watch the coconut and continue to stir it until golden brown.

If freezing the ice cream for longer than 2 1/2 hours, allow the ice cream to stand at room temperature until softened, about 30 minutes before serving. Whisk the ice cream until smooth and serve.