This week's post is very special to me - a guest post by Jamie from Life's A Feast. I've been a fan of Jamie's blog for some time now and I get more and more excited with each of her new posts. It's not just her easy to follow recipes, her homestyle comfort cooking, her über-fabulous retro images, but above all, it's her writing - that's what really does it for me. You've probably already read some of Jamie's work right here on Mowielicious and didn't know it: the main body for the two Food Blogger Connect posts were written by her, see HERE and HERE. There's something about Jamie's writing that works like magic for me, like I recently said on twitter: Jamie's writing makes us dream, makes us laugh and makes us fly. You can check out Jamie's blog HERE and see for yourself, but before that, please join me in giving Jamie a very warm welcome... I hope you love her as much as I do.
Caramelized Pears & Chocolate Pastry Cream Mille-Feuilles - A Guest Post.
Photography and words by Jamie from Life's A Feast.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…
- John Keats
Mowie’s blog has this effect on me. The stunning simplicity of his blog, the lushness of his photography, rich, deep colors against stark white, sensual and mysterious, the beauty of his culinary creations and I am in awe, once again breathless, speechless. His talent bursts from the whiteness of the page, his sincerity and honesty spill across the screen. It is truly a thing of beauty.
As much as beauty thrills me, as much as I yearn for all its glamour and elegance, I seem not to be able to attain it. I have created some millinery masterpieces in my time, my writing I am proud of and I am thrilled whenever it seems to touch someone’s emotions, but I rarely achieve pure culinary beauty. The food I serve is homey and good, ladled up and served family-style. Breads and desserts may be pleasing to the eye, but often taste much better than they look. So when Mowie asked me to guest post on his blog I was honored, thrilled and scared out of my shoes. How could I ever compete with the beauty he produces? What comes out of my kitchen is carnations to his roses, Folk Art to his Impressionism, 60’s mod to his 40’s dash and refinement, a family vacation at grandma’s to his exotic island holiday. So how is it that we are so alike?
I can’t remember how I “met” Mowie. Looking back, it seems that we’ve known each other forever. Something just clicked and we were friends. We are connected by humor and tragedy, he flew down and scooped me up when I needed a friend most, when I was in Florida for my brother’s funeral, he was the one who understood, who had lived through the same thing. He reached out and spoke tenderly of hidden things, emotions and loss, dark places we go to when tragedy hits. And he made me laugh, the laughter born of sadness, that wry, cutting humor we both share. And he was as fascinated by my writing style as I was by his artistic and culinary talents, each drawn to the other as a complement to our self, yin & yang, black & white, one and the same although different. And layer upon layer of similarities and differences continue to pull us together, e-mails sent back and forth like phone calls, the open-hearted confidences, the silliness and giggles and jokes like a childhood we never left behind.
How I wanted to create something special for Mowie’s blog, something beautiful, something sweet and elegant. Influenced by his creations, I aimed high, I aimed for beauty, something that would find its rightful place on his beautiful blog, something that reflected the friendship that has grown. The layers of a friendship like layers of a dessert; delicate, fragile layers of puff pastry, light as air, ethereal, gone in a touch, leaving only crumbs behind. Ripe, luscious fruit, tangy and spiced with care and adventure, changing with the seasons. A froth of chocolate cream adding sweetness, a luxurious treat: take care in creating it, pamper it, nourish it and, like a friendship, it changes before our very eyes, grows under our loving care and attention, and turns into the force that holds it all together. A dessert, like a friendship, built in layers, carefully stacked, changing form as desired, whether whim or need, a rare delicacy borne of labor and concentration, but giving back sweetness and pleasure to all who taste of it. A dessert I created for Mowie.
CHOCOLATE PEAR MILLE FEUILLES
Homemade puff pastry (store-bought can be used)
Lightened Chocolate Pastry Cream
Caramelized Pears with Cinnamon
PUFF PASTRY LAYERS for Mille Feuilles
I used about 1/3 of my recipe for puff pastry to make enough rounds for 4 Mille Feuilles.
Mixture 1 Tbs granulated sugar + 1 Tbs confectioner’s/powdered sugar
On a floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of about 1/8” (3 mm) then carefully cut into 3” (8 cm) circles. For 3-tiered desserts or 4” (10 cm) for a 2-layered dessert.
Place the circles, dusted free of excess flour, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to rest at room temperature for an hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F (180°C).
Once the puff pastry has rested, cover the circles of pastry with another sheet of parchment paper and place a second baking sheet on top. This will keep the pastry flat while baking.
Bake at 350F (180°C) for 35 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425°F (220°C). Remove the top baking sheet as well as the top layer of parchment from the pastry circles. Carefully flip the pastry rounds over to have the smoother side up. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the pastry rounds, coating them with sugar.
Bake the sugar-dusted pastry for 7 or 8 minutes until the sugar caramelizes and the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven, slide the parchment paper with the puff pastry onto a cooling rack to cool.
PUFF PASTRY COOKIE HEARTS to serve with verrines
Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of about 1/8 to ¼” (3 – 6 mm) on a floured work surface. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, carefully cut out shapes and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, brushing off excess flour. Lightly brush the tops only with a beaten egg (egg wash) and dust generously with sugar.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). If not baking the cookies right away, they can be covered and refrigerated for several hours.
Once the oven is heated, cover the pastries with either a silicon baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper and bake for 10 – 15 minutes until they start to rise and brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C), remove the baking mat or parchment and continue baking for 15 – 20 minutes more. The cookies should be golden.
Remove from the oven and gently transfer the hearts to a cooling rack. If you are afraid to break them or they are too hot, just slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet onto your work surface or cooling racks.
LIGHTENED CHOCOLATE PASTRY CREAM
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup (70 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbs (25 g) cornstarch
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) milk
2.5 oz (70 g) semi-sweet chocolate (I used dessert chocolate 50%), grated or finely chopped
5/8 – 7/8 cup (150 - 200 ml) cold heavy whipping cream
First, make a chocolate pastry cream:
Whisk the eggs yolks with the sugar and cornstarch until smooth.
Bring the milk just to the boil then pour over the egg yolk mixture, whisking non-stop so the eggs don’t cook. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, just until the mixture comes to the boil. Boil, whisking, for 1 minute then whisk in the grated or finely chopped chocolate. Stir over he heat just until you have a smooth, thickened chocolate cream.
Remove from the heat and pour/scrape into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic to the surface of the cream to keep a skin from forming, and cool.
When the cream has cooled, whip it a bit with an electric beater to make it smooth and creamy. Whip the whipping cream until stiff peaks form then delicately fold it into the chocolate pastry cream until it is smooth, well-blended and creamy.
I chose juicy, just ripe, sweet Comice pears, ½ - 1 pear per person. Conference are also good.
Peel, core and slice the pears.
To tell the truth, I didn’t really measure anything. It all depends on how many pears you are cooking and how sweet you would like them. I started by melting a large knob of butter in a heavy skillet, maybe ½ - 1 tablespoon butter per pear. I stirred in a good shaking of sugar, add a bit less if your pears are sweet, and cooked, stirring, until the sugar had melted, just a minute. I added the pear slices and stirred gently so as not to break the pears, making sure all the pear slices were coated in the butter/sugar mixture. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and cook until the pears are softened and starting to turn golden around the edges, gently, carefully, turning them over occasionally.
You can either add a tablespoon or two of Amaretto to the pears while they are cooking or after the pears are cooked, gently lift them out of the skillet onto a plate and add the Amaretto to the juices left in the pan, stir until heated through and then use this to drizzle over or around the dessert.
For the Mille-Feuilles:
Place a teaspoon of Chocolate Cream in the center of each dessert plate. Place the first pastry round on this dot of cream, centered on the plate. The cream will keep it from sliding around the plate. Pipe or spoon a serving of chocolate cream onto the first puff pastry round. Pile with cooked pears, then top with a third round. Top with a piping of chocolate cream and a pear slice. Ad a few pear slices onto the plate and drizzle with the Amaretto-spiked pear juice.
If you make larger puff pastry rounds, place one round on the dollop of chocolate cream on the plate, layer with chocolate cream and then the caramelized pears, top with a second puff pastry round and decorate the top with more cream and pears.
For the Verrines:
Fill each small verrine halfway with either pears or chocolate cream and fill the rest of the way with the other, as you wish. Serve with a heart cookie.
Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.