As you know, I’ve always had a thing for cute desserts, particularly if they’re tiny and pastel-colored. When considering what kind of sweet to make for this year’s historical picnic, I came across a recipe for strawberry lamingtons, and suddenly couldn’t get them out of my mind.
I admit I’d never actually had lamingtons before, much less made them, but they looked easy enough– cubes of sponge cake dipped in glaze and coated in finely shredded coconut. Traditionally the glaze is chocolate, but apparently strawberry is a common variation– and it’s made with jello!
So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!
After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.
I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!
The other day I was at Roche Brothers in the cheese section, when I spied a jar of jam.
I was immediately intrigued, as my love of the raspberry-rose (and often lychee) combination is well-known. I experienced momentary confusion as to whether it was quince and apple jam (due to the brand name) or raspberry-rose jam, but determined that it was the latter and decided to try it.
It’s really excellent– the raspberry is nice and bright, and the rose comes through just enough to avoid being overly floral. But what to do with it? It seemed a waste to spread it on toast, and I worried that the delicate flavor would be lost if I used it in a layer cake. But then I saw these lovely linzer cookies from Brina’s Bites and knew exactly what to do with it.
Okay, so having tried Pierre Herme’s Ispahan in panna cotta and granita, I’m ready to bite the bullet and try reproducing the exact dessert I had in Paris. Here’s a photo I took of the original for comparison:
To recap, it’s two macaron shells filled with rose-flavored cream, lychees, and fresh raspberries. Because of the chilling and resting time you’ll need to start these at least a day before you plan on serving them.
Having missed a home run with my first try at the Ispahan flavor palette (though I’d say it was a respectable double, at least), I thought I’d give it another shot with the Ispahan Granita. This one doesn’t try to replicate the distinctive richness, creaminess, or lightness of the original dessert, but focuses solely on the fruity and floral aspects.
While I was in Paris for my breadbaking course, I made a point of visiting famous pastry shops (okay, not just famous ones) and picking out the most delectable-looking desserts to enjoy, regardless of cost or calories. After all, it’s not every day one is in Paris and able to experience all of the delicious things the city has to offer! And one of the most important delicious things on my list was the Ispahan macaron at Pierre Herme.
The Ispahan is a dessert made of two pink macaron shells, sandwiching fresh raspberries, lychees, and a rose buttercream. The combination of flavors was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It was an exquisitely balanced meld of sweet and floral and fruity, with creamy and crispy and juicy textures in each bite… I just can’t do it justice with mere words. A perfect dessert. This from a woman who usually goes for chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I knew I had to recreate it here at home.
I’ll get to a perfect reproduction later, but until then I’m just trying to get the general flavor profile right. I decided to start with panna cotta, figuring that it’s light and creamy, doesn’t have egg yolks or butter to disguise the delicate flavors of rose and lychee, and is simple enough that I wouldn’t feel bad about wasting tons of time and effort if it didn’t turn out well.
After making those Spring Watercolor Cookies, I started getting the urge to indulge my “cute food” obsession by making other kinds of decorated cookies using different techniques. When a friend of mine decided to have a fancy tea party for her birthday, I knew I’d found my excuse. Continue reading →
I’ve had a thing for petit fours ever since I first saw them for sale in the Harry & David holiday gift catalogs… a flat box of perfect little cubes made of paper-thin layers of cake and filling, enrobed in chocolate, topped with an intricately-piped design. They looked like something you’d find on a tiny cake pedestal on a tea table, maybe in Versailles, and I was dying to try them– possibly while lounging on a velvet-upholstered sofa. Unfortunately, as I was only about eleven at the time and didn’t have $30 to spend on a box of cakes, my dream was not to be.
Once I got into baking as an adult, however, I realized two things: First, that the components of petit fours were amazingly simple, and second, that the assembly was going to be a pain. Nevertheless, I had my chance to make them when I hosted an afternoon tea party, and jumped at it. Continue reading →