Monday, July 26, 2010

How Do You Make Figs Even Sexier? Add Tequila!

Mission Figs - The Angelina Jolie
 of the fruit world
We just celebrated National Tequila Day at Grange with a special menu featuring Tres Agaves tequila pairings with each course.  I had never created a dessert using tequila before, and I welcomed the opportunity to play with a new ingredient.  The dessert course was paired with their anejo tequila, which is aged in Woodford Reserve oak barrels for 18 months.  It's a beautiful dark caramel brown color, with a robust, full and complex flavor profile.  After tasting it certain flavor notes started coming to mind, such as oranges, brown sugar and warm spices.  Since fruit would also be part of the dessert, I mentally shuffled through what's in season right now, and settled on figs.  I had used some gorgeous fresh Mission figs a couple weeks ago, and although they're gapping right now I knew Turkey figs would be available.

I decided to make the main component a fig spice cake and infuse it with some of the tequila.  I combined some beautiful little whole dried Mission figs with tequila and water and simmered them until they absorbed the liquid.  Then I coarsely chopped the fruit and folded it into the cake batter, which had brown sugar, ginger and allspice in it.  I portioned the batter into individual rectangular cake molds, and while the little cakes were baking I put together a syrup to brush on them.

Tequila X 3 ...
used for the cake, sauce & figs!
I made a dry caramel with some sugar, then added orange juice, chopped fresh Turkey figs, star anise and black peppercorns.  I simmered the mixture for a few minutes, then strained the syrup to remove the fruit and spices, put it back on the stove and added a couple tablespoons of the tequila.  I let it reduce a bit to concentrate the flavors even more.  I gave Kara, our restaurant manager, a taste of the syrup and she said, "I think you just made a cocktail!"  She was right - it tasted like a delicious tequila-orange cocktail with fig and spices ... YUM!  When the little cakes were done I removed them from their molds while still warm, and brushed them with the hot syrup.

Continuing the fig theme, I decided to add roasted figs to the dessert.  I dunked more of the Turkey figs in sugar syrup, put them in a roasting pan and drizzled them with a quick glaze made with local wild oak honey and ... tequila!  I chose wild oak honey because I thought it would complement the oak barrel-aged liquor.  I baked the figs until they just softened, basting them several times.  Perfect!

It's Sexy Time ...
To complete the dessert I took a cue from the main course of the meal, which was goat, and made goat cheese ice cream.  I used a wonderful mild goat cheese from North Valley Farms, one of our great local artisan producers (see The Goat Whisperer, 6/1/09).  It made a fantastic ice cream, rich and creamy with just a slight tanginess from the cheese which went great with the rest of the components.  A drizzle of the wild oak honey on the ice cream and a splash of the fig-orange-anejo syrup on the plate completed the dessert.

It was so much fun to put this together!  I loved how the anejo tequila worked with the figs, orange and spices, and I really look forward to using it again in another dessert.  I asked Kara what liquor our next special event would feature, and she mentioned rum.  Rum and dessert? ... oh, the possibilities!

Monday, July 12, 2010

S'mall S'mores

This week I had a fun challenge.  We hosted a Tuaca launch reception at the hotel, and the night before the event I got an email asking if I could do a dessert for it.  Since Tuaca is a vanilla and orange liqueur it needed to feature those flavors and oh, by the way, could I do a s'more dessert to complement the s'more cocktail that had already been designed?

No problem!  I started conceptualizing the dessert by breaking down the components.  S'mores are simple - graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallow.  I decided to use the graham cracker sable recipe from Johnny Iuzzini's Dessert Fourplay which I knew would produce a nice thin cracker suitable for a mini dessert.  Now for the chocolate.  When I was a kid one of my favorite treats was my mom's homemade chocolate frosting on graham crackers.  I wanted to recreate that lovely childhood memory by using my favorite dark chocolate fudge icing to fill the s'more.  Mmmmmm ... bittersweet chocolate with a healthy dose of vanilla - adding some Tuaca to it was a no-brainer.  So far, so good.

Of course I needed a marshmallow component, but since we had already made conventional marshmallows to garnish the s'more cocktail I didn't want to repeat them in the dessert.  So I went with Italian meringue ... just like marshmallow, but without the gelatin.  Fast and easy to make, pipeable, toastable.  Perfect!

I had my plan - now I just had to execute it.  The first thing I did when I got in the next morning was make the graham cracker dough so it would have time to chill before I rolled it out.  Then I made the chocolate fudge icing, adding Tuaca to taste, and let it set up at room temperature so it maintained a glossy sheen.  When the graham dough was cold enough I rolled it very thin and baked it.  As soon as it came out of the oven I flipped it out onto a cutting board and used a small cutter to cut squares about 1.25" x 1.25".  Then I cut each square in half to make two rectangles.  While the mini crackers cooled I made a batch of Italian meringue.

To assemble the s'mores I piped the silky, shiny dark chocolate fudge icing on half of the crackers.  Each cracker then got a little pinch of diced candied orange (which we always have in the pastry fridge) to make them a little extra special and kick up the orange flavor notes.  Then I squiggled Italian meringue onto the remaining crackers and lightly browned them with our propane torch.  I pressed the little sandwiches together and voila!  Tuaca S'mores.

Fast and easy to make, these little two-bite treats are winners all the way around.  The icing and meringue can be flavored in a million different ways.  Once assembled they hold well at room temperature and have great eye appeal.  They're just so darn cute!  I like these S'mall S'mores so much they're now the latest addition to the petite dessert displays we do for banquets.  And every single time I make them I'll think of (and thank) my mom.