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Raspberry Pavlova with Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream by Molly Brodak

I did it, I solved your holiday dinner party dessert problem. 

This is a showstopping dessert that is also very easy to make. Most importantly, it tastes like heaven. Truly, it is one of my favorite desserts to eat and I have never served it to someone who didn't like it. It's also gluten-free and relatively low fat, for a dessert anyway.

If you've never had pavlova before, brace yourself. You are in for something completely new. It's an iridescent dessert--shifting, dazzling, impossible to capture from just one angle. What looks at first--if you glance at the recipe--like a simple meringue is totally different from either the dried crunch puffs of meringue cookies or the foamy mounds of pie-topping meringue. It transcends all that noise.

this photo should be ILLEGAL

this photo should be ILLEGAL

Let me try to describe it. You have a crisp, delicate shell that might remind you of a meringue cookie, but not even a touch of denseness or chalkiness. Under the shell, a marshmallowy center that serves as the perfect foil to the wisp of crunch from the shell. Combined with a thick, tart raspberry sauce and an unexpected warm spice note from the cinnamon whipped cream, the dessert has a heady dose of flavor to match the otherworldly texture. It all melts in your mouth in a delectable instant, the best instant of your dinner, if I do say so myself.

The secret magic? A bit of cornstarch. And vinegar. Oh vinegar, you miracle worker! Is there nothing you can't do?

A touch of vinegar helps egg whites whip up nice and firm. But add more than a touch, and you've got real structure here, a density builds as the egg whites begin to shrink and tighten, while a crust from the heat forms and pulls away from the moist center. tl;dr version? It's a miracle of science.

delicious plate of science miracles

delicious plate of science miracles

Pavlova recipes are a dime a dozen as they are common treats in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. The recipe has an intriguing and much debated history; how it came to be associated with the ballerina Anna Pavlova is still hotly contested by food historians. In order to elevate this pav from everyday to transcendent, I tinkered with the recipe until I struck upon the perfect sugar and vinegar ratios and restyled the finished product into an impressive cake-like centerpiece. 

A few notes on planning this dessert: you can make the meringue cakes up to a day in advance as long as you keep them tightly sealed in a container--any moisture from the air and you will lose the crunch of the shell. They are also definitely delicate, and are very likely to break in moving them, but don't worry--if you plan to stack them, no one will notice the cracks since it's all going to be cut apart anyway. Assemble everything at the last of all possible minutes, since the raspberry sauce and whipped cream are going to work to soften the crunch of the shell. It's great to even assemble it at the table immediately before serving--quite the spectacle. 

You don't need any special ingredients for this recipe, except for maybe caster or superfine sugar, although that can be easily made by whizzing granulated sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds until fine.

The whipped cream I've paired with this pav is infused with flavor by gently simmering cinnamon sticks in it which produces a far superior texture and taste than if one were to just dump ground cinnamon into the cream. Super simple, super tasty. Same goes for the raspberry sauce, which is as easy as tossing a bag of frozen raspberries into a food processor, et voila.

simmer until cinnamon-y enough for you

simmer until cinnamon-y enough for you

To get smooth pavlovas, you've got to beat your meringue low and slow at first to create an even foam structure in your whites. Skipping right to high speed whipping will result in large bubbles in your egg whites which will cause cracks and gaps in your pavs. Don't rush through the process. I always make this with a handheld mixer but it certainly could be made in a stand mixer if you think your arm will get tired after holding it up for 15 minutes or so. 

it's ready to bake when it is as thick as marshmallow creme

it's ready to bake when it is as thick as marshmallow creme

I traced three 6" circles onto the back of my parchment to make 3 rounds for my "cake," although two larger circles is just as nice. There's also nothing like individual servings for everyone at your dinner party--all are wonderful. 

poof babies

poof babies

This is one of those set-it-and-forget-it recipes. Bake for about 1 hr 20 min, then turn the oven off, and just forget it. You can just leave those puppies in there for hours while you get the rest of your holiday party together. 

Just one more nearly-indecent photo if you are not convinced yet to make this beauty tonight.

 

Raspberry Pavlova with Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream

8 large egg whites, cold

pinch salt

2 tsp white vinegar

2 tsp vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, scraped

2 c (400 g) caster sugar

1 1/4 tsp cornstarch

for the raspberry sauce:

12 oz. bag of frozen raspberries

sugar to taste

fresh raspberries for garnish

for the whipped cream:

1 quart heavy whipping cream

3 to 4 cinnamon sticks

pinch nutmeg 

pinch cloves

2 Tbsp. caster or superfine sugar

1/4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper with circles traced on the back as guides for pavlova layers or individual cakes.

Whisk sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl until evenly mixed. Combine vinegar and vanilla extract or bean scrapings in a small bowl. Wipe a large glass or metal bowl and beaters with a paper towel soaked with a bit of white vinegar. Whip egg whites with a pinch of salt on low for three minutes, and increase to medium speed until whites become a uniform foam with minimal large bubbles. Increase speed to high and gradually add sugar mixture until mixture is thick, glossy, and holds medium-soft peaks (this can take up to 15 minutes). Add vinegar and vanilla, mix until combined. Scoop mixture onto sheet and smooth tops. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes for 6-8 inch circles, or 1 hour for smaller circles. Once time is up, turn off the oven and allow pavlovas to cool completely before removing from the oven (at least two hours).  

To make the raspberry sauce, allow frozen raspberries to thaw about halfway and pulse in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add sugar to taste. Strain most of the raspberry seeds out through a fine sieve. 

To make the whipped cream, simmer cream and spices on the stovetop for about 20 minutes. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks. Remove from stovetop, pour into a clean metal or glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate until completely cold. Add caster sugar and vanilla extract or vanilla bean scrapings and whip to soft peaks, then add powdered sugar and whip to firm peaks. 

Assemble pavlova by dolloping whipped cream on each layer and drizzling with raspberry sauce. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

those beautiful pink ceramic bowls by  Lenneke Wispelwey

those beautiful pink ceramic bowls by Lenneke Wispelwey

jfc

White Chocolate Fondant Recipe by Molly Brodak

I know, I know, fondant is gross. I get that. But I can never understand bakers who stick to a strict no-fondant rule when it comes to cake decorating. Fondant has its place and, really, if you make it yourself, doesn't have to taste so awful.

There are a million recipes on the internet for homemade fondant, and most consist of primarily melted marshmallows and powdered sugar. This one is no different, making it yet another recipe for "MMF" as bakers call it, marshmallow fondant. But the addition of a specific type of white chocolate and just a touch of butter makes this one, I think, the best MMF out there.

First off, let's talk about white chocolate.

White chocolate is not really chocolate because it doesn't have any...well...chocolate in it. But it does have cocoa butter, so at least there's something in there from the cacao pod.

To truly be considered white chocolate, it must contain this cocoa butter, along with a certain proportion of milk solids, milk fat, and sugar. Which is why most things considered white chocolate are not white chocolate at all. Notice the language on the packaging:

Mmmm, "white morsels." 

On the other side of things, you can get some really great authentic white chocolate from Callebaut and small-batch chocolatiers, but those I would save for, you know, just eating. 

My favorite white chocolate to work with in recipes is the Guittard Choc-au-Lait chips. They are the best tasting chips at their price point and they work as well in recipes as idiot-proof candy melts. Unlike other "white chocolates" at this price, Choc-au-Lait chips contain cocoa butter and are less sweet. I buy them in bulk.

I recently made a square cake with this fondant and it performed beautifully--no tearing at the corners, no sagging, no cracking. I kept the cake simple as a plain background for the pale pink gumpaste peony I spent days working on.

I have always been of the opinion that peonies look best in profile. Maybe because this shows off the cup-like petals better, for a more feathery, ruffled look. So I built up just one side of the flower and left the "back" somewhat flat so it would fit nicely against the side of this cake.

eeep

eeep

The fondant this recipe makes is stiffer than regular MMF, and you'll find that once it is set up you will need to warm it in your hands by kneading it, or even zap it in the microwave to get it more pliable. But I love the texture of this fondant--it has body and weight, yet can be rolled very thin without tearing or bubbling because of its durability. It also tastes much better than most fondant I've tried, with the white chocolate flavor to balance out the sweetness of MMF. 

 

White Chocolate Fondant

Makes about 2 pounds

1 16 oz. bag of marshmallows (I have found that it doesn't matter what size marshmallows they are)

1 TBSP. salted butter

1 TBSP. water

1 c. (175 g) Guittard Choc-au-Lait chips (other brands can be substituted in a pinch)

4 c. (455 g) powdered sugar, plus more as needed

shortening as needed

In a large bowl, melt the marshmallows in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between bursts until completely smooth. Be careful not to overheat. Add butter, chips, then drizzle the water around the perimeter of the marshmallows to help loosen them from the sides of the bowl, stir with a spatula until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Mix in powdered sugar, one cup at a time, using your well-greased hands to knead in the final two cups. Feel free to add a little more powdered sugar or shortening if mixture is too sticky. Knead until fondant forms a smooth ball, then coat with shortening and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in an air-tight container or zip-top storage bag. Because the white chocolate retains heat, the fondant needs to cool for at least three hours before using; overnight is best. It will stiffen as it cools.

Japanese Cotton Cheesecake by Molly Brodak

Imagine cheesecake made into some kind of tender, otherworldly cotton candy and you might be close to imagining the game-changing texture of this cheesecake. It's a souffle cake for sure, with plenty of eggs and just a little flour--but its also something else, something unique.

I was never a big fan of cheesecake, because texture-wise they come off as either solid hunks of sugary cream cheese (the unbaked type) or dry sponges (the baked variety). In fact I clearly remember a few years ago deciding that I would never eat cheesecake again--saying it aloud even, "I will never eat cheesecake again," simply because it was never worth the calories.

But then, this happened.

I found some recipes for a Japanese style cheesecake on various Asian food bloggers' sites which promised to be light and moist. Several failures and several adjustments later, my special little recipe for a world-ending cheesecake came into being.

And like all special desserts, this one requires a bit of prep. You have to make some caster sugar (no substitute--and buying it is financially reckless imho) and prepare a cheesecake pan for the water bath by wrapping it numerous times in heavy-duty foil like a maniac. But it is important. If any trace of water touches your lovely cheesecake you'll end up with a gross-ass waxy layer on the bottom. So wrap the foil very carefully to avoid tears--and use three layers.

You're also definitely going to need cake flour for this recipe and some fresh lemons. Oh, and it's important to use salted butter here because it will provide the only salt for the recipe--adding granules of salt would interfere with the airy texture of the cake.

my heart

my heart

Another tip: I always wipe the metal or glass bowl and the beaters I'll be whipping egg whites in with a little white vinegar. It eliminates invisible grease/fat that can prevent your whites from whipping up properly. 

While the icing is completely optional, I include a recipe for my lemon icing because I want to tell you the secret to lemon icing: citric acid.

If you like tangy lemony things, you need this little jar in your life. No matter how much lemon juice or lemon extract you add to any icing or cake, you will never get the fresh, zippy tang you are looking for without citric acid. Only a pinch is necessary, so I imagine the jar will last you the rest of your life. You can also use citric acid in canning, pickling, and preserving, if you are into those kinds of things.

So the flavor on this cheesecake is super lemony, and the texture is incredibly light, fluffy, moist, and melt-in-your-mouth. There's no better word for it than otherworldly.

I cannot imagine a better desert to serve at the end of a rich or spicy meal. I can see it now--guests lifted off to heaven on clouds of lemony dreams...

Buy the recipe here, and let me know how it turns out!

ascending to heaven just looking at this

ascending to heaven just looking at this

Vegan Agar Gems by Molly Brodak

The recipe for agar gems is so simple that it really doesn't need a lot of explanation--which means this post is going to be full of just tons of eye candy instead.

Agar jellies have a less chewy consistency than gelatin desserts. Instead of being wiggly and gummy like gelatin treats, their texture is almost crisp in a way, incredibly delicate and quick to melt in one's mouth. It is the perfect treat on a hot summer day or as a refreshing dessert that doesn't require firing up the oven. The recipe I have here is just a slight adjustment to the instructions on the box: I have made these slightly more firm, and you can make your gems more or less firm by simply adjusting the amount of liquid you add. 

Making these gems is also super fun. Agar sets up much faster than gelatin dessert, so it is easy to layer colors and make interesting shapes while keeping the mixture warm on the stove. I ladled out small portions of the mixture into bowls and mixed in food coloring, or added a teaspoon of coconut milk to make the mixture opaque.

mini mountains

mini mountains

I was using flexible candy molds and flexible bakeware to make the agar dessert in since popping out the completed shapes was much easier with a flexible mold. If you don't have any flexible silicone bakeware to use, just be sure to line any cake pan or container you are pouring your agar mixture into with parchment. Then when you are ready, run a knife along the sides, turn agar out, and cut into desired shapes (the parchment is important because agar dessert will break apart easily).

agar92.jpg

 

You can also make agar spheres by dropping the mixture slowly out of a squirt bottle into a glass of cold vegetable oil (strain the agar beads out with a wire strainer and rinse briefly in cold water.

A blue sphere suspended in a triangle

A blue sphere suspended in a triangle

Below you can see how to make clouds on a celery green sea: just gently drop some opaque coconut-milk-agar mix into a clear portion of agar mixture that has been setting up for about 5-7 minutes (if you drop it in too early, it will all mix together). Once that layer is set, add another layer (the "sea" layer) and then when you cut this piece up, flip upside down.

The agar has basically no flavor except for a very light herbal taste. You can add any flavorings you like to the mixture, but clear extracts are best to keep the colors bright. I recommend lemon or coconut.

I used Swallow Globe brand agar-agar powder, which I picked up at my local Asian food grocery but you can purchase this online, too. I found it was not as crystal clear as I would have liked, so if anyone has any recommendations for an agar-agar that sets crystal clear, let me know!

Vegan Agar Gems

1 oz packet agar-agar powder (7 g)

120 g (4.25 oz) sugar

750 ml (25.3 fl. oz) filtered water

2 tsp lemon extract

Coconut milk and gel food coloring

Bring water to a gentle boil in a small saucepan and add the sugar, stir until dissolved. Turn the heat down to barely simmering and add agar-agar powder, stir until dissolved. Add extract. Keep mixture warm while ladling out small portions to color. Allow layers of mixture to set for at least 8 minutes before adding another layer. Cool completely, turn out, and cut into desired shapes.

looks and tastes like joy

looks and tastes like joy

Early Spring Wagashi by Molly Brodak

I have been working on these delightful treats for a long time now and I'm really excited about these forthcoming posts. I will post about each recipe separately so the series will have three parts--what follows is a general overview, and I'll be sure to keep this page updated with links as they appear.

Wagashi is a term for a wide range of Japanese sweets. If you were going to be served wagashi at tea, you would expect a variety of tiny desserts, artfully arranged, and evocative of the current or upcoming season. Summer wagashi might be colorful and refreshing, autumn wagashi might be more subdued and warm. You get the idea.

I have been poring over websites and cookbooks and magazines for the last few months to study these treats and I wanted to stay true to the seasonal themes, but replace many of the traditional Japanese ingredients such as sweetened bean paste and chewy glutinous rice for more familiar dessert flavors and textures for American tasters. 

These adorable baubles are modeled on temari balls, decorative objects made by wrapping silk thread in various patterns around a ball. The wagashi version is made with mochi and red bean paste, but I made these with easy homemade marzipan. They are super simple but very fun and would be a great project for kids or on hot days when you don't feel like firing up the oven.

Next come the jellies. These are vegan, too, made with agar and the occasional splash of coconut milk for opacity. These are my version of yokan, which are jellies traditionally made with red bean paste and served chilled in summer, sometimes with an assortment of fruit. I made them with lemon and rosewater to keep the fresh spring feeling going. Agar sets up much faster than gelatin and doesn't need to be chilled, so layering colors and textures in this process is way more satisfying and and easy. Spheres of agar can be made by dropping it from a squirt bottle into a glass of chilled oil, just like those molecular gastronomy goobers do with their nerd-food concoctions (I am not knocking those goobers, I love them, please serve me all the nerd-food spheres you've got).

And lastly we come to the rakugan springerle. Rakugan are little cakes of dried sugar and rice flour that have been pressed into molds and imprinted with designs. They aren't delicious really, they have the chalky texture of Smarties, but are meant to serve as a counterpoint to the astringency of matcha. I started collecting old kashigata (the wooden molds made for these sweets) on ebay and they reminded me so much of german springerle molds, the connection seemed obvious. So I made traditional springerle in the Japanese molds and dusted the resulting cookies with matcha powder for flavor and beautiful light green color. I used edible petal dusts for the other colors. I also used some of my fondant/gumpaste molds to supplement the kashigata designs. The anise seeds that normally stud the bottom of these cookies were swapped out for sesame seeds, which toasted lightly in the oven and added to the subtle lemon and green tea flavors.

Stay tuned for these posts! Recipes and tutorials for all of the above will be coming out throughout March!