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Archive for Holidays & Occasions

TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Éclair Party

Decorated Eclairs

Decorated Eclairs

Cake Decoratijg Pen

[1] Eclairs decorated by pastry great Johnny Iuzzini for Le Meridien hotels. [2] Decorated eclairs by Master Pastry Chef Michel Richard at Pomme Palais in New York Palace Hotel. [3] The Dsmile decorating pen makes it easy to decorate with designs or writing.

 

Éclairs are a special-occasion pastry. Only sugar-avoiders would turn down the opportunity to enjoy them.

Yet, the elongated pastry with the shiny chocolate or caramel top can be even more exciting. Just look at the photos, to see what great pastry chefs do with them.

While it takes some skill to make attractive éclairs, its pretty easy to decorate ones you purchase. You’ll find the classic chocolate and caramel toppings, but may also find a rainbow of colors and flavors: coffee, currant (pink), dulce de leche, lemon, mango, matcha, pistachio, raspberry

You can make a DIY party of it. You can make it a Mother’s Day (or other celebration) event.

The history of the éclair is below.

DECORATIONS

  • Chocolate batons, curls, disks, lentils, broken bar pieces (check out the selection at Paris Gourmet)
  • Chocolate Crispearls
  • Coconut
  • Gold, silver or multicolor dragées
  • Edible flowers
  • Mini icing flowers
  • Nuts of choice (we like pistachios and sliced almonds) or candied pecans
  • Piping bags of frosting (very thin tips)
  • Raspberries, blueberries or other small fruits
  • Sprinkles, especially gold sprinkles
  • Sugar diamonds
  • Sugar pearls
  • Wild card ingredients, like candied peel, chile flakes, curry powder, maple bacon, toffee bits, pieces of meringues or other cookies
  •  
    FIXATIVES

    Since the glaze (shiny icing) on top of the éclair will be set, you need a bit of something to adhere the decorations, plus utensils or squeeze bottles to dab them on.

  • Caramel sauce or dulce de leche
  • Chocolate spread
  • Fudge sauce
  • Hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
  • Icing
  •  
    You can give everyone the gift of a cake decorating pen (under $10), which makes it easy to write and decorate with icing. The icing also serves to affix other decorations.
     
    ÉCLAIR HISTORY

    An elongated, finger-shaped pastry made of pâte à choux (puff pastry), filled with whipped cream or custard and topped with a glacé icing (glaze), the éclair originated in France around the turn of the 19th century.

     
    Éclair is the French word for lightning. Food historians believe that the pastry received its name because it glistens when coated with the glaze. We might suggest that it is because they are so popular that they disappear as quickly as lightning.

    The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word “éclair” in the English language to the second half of the 19th century: 1861. In the U.S., the first printed recipe for éclairs appears even later, in the 1884 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln (later editions were under the auspices of Fanny Farmer).

    Many food historians speculate that éclairs were first made by Marie-Antoine Carême (1874-1833).

    This brilliant man, cast out to make his own way at the age of 10 by his impoverished family, became the first “celebrity chef,” working for luminaries: Charles, Prince Talleyrand, the French ambassador to Britain; the future George IV of England; Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Baron James de Rothschild.

    The elite clamored for invitations to dinners cooked by Carême.

    He is considered to be the founder and architect of French haute cuisine; an innovator of cuisine, both visually (he studied architectural to create amazing presentations) and functionally (modern mayonnaise, for example). He also was an enormously popular cookbook author—an big achievement for a boy who had no education, yet taught himself to read and write.

    We can only dream…and live vicariously by reading his biography.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Different Margarita Rimmers

    chili-rim-richardsandovalrestaurants

    Half Rim Chipotle Salt Guava Margarita

    Smoked Salt Margarita Rim

    [1] Something different: a chili powder rim instead of salt. Or, mix the two. At Richard Sandoval restaurants. [2] A cayenne rim (Tajin seasoning) on a guava Margarita at Dos Caminos restaurants. [3] Smoked salt rims a classic Margarita from Noble Tequila.

     

    What’s your idea of the perfect margarita? With so many choices offered from salt to flavor, Milagro Tequila conducted a survey for National Margarita Day, February 22nd, and found that:

  • 91% of people prefer Margaritas fresh over those made with a pre-packaged mix (no surprise there!)
  • 1/3 of respondents prefer drinking their Margarita in a rocks glass rather than a big Margarita glass (you folks are the minority).
  • Nearly 2/3 of people prefer salt on the rim.
  • 70% of respondents prefer drinking from the salted rim rather than through a straw.
  • The majority of people prefer a classic Margarita to a fruit-flavored one (guava, passionfruit, peach, strawberry, etc.).
  • 40% like having an extra tequila shot mixed into their Margarita.
  • 2/3 of respondents prefer a Margarita made with blanco/silver tequila rather than the lightly aged reposado.
  •  
    THINK BEYOND THE COARSE SALT

    First, there’s no need to buy “Margarita salt”: It’s just kosher salt with a higher price. You can also use coarse sea salt.

    But how about something other than coarse salt? The 70% of survey participants who want a salt rim might like a change of pace.

    Here are some options that complement a Margarita.

    You can use another rimmer that still maintains the spirit of the Margarita (and maybe attracts people who don’t want the extra salt).

    Flavored salt. There’s flavored salt, of course, in scores of variations from bacon, chipotle, smoked salts (alderwood, chardonnay oak, hickory or mesquite-smoked).

    Colored salt. You can get dramatic, with black lava or Cypress black salt, or red Hawaiian alaea salt. You can get pretty, with pink Himalayan salt.

    Heat. You can add heat with ghost pepper, habanero, jalapeño, and sriracha-flavored salts.

    Or just use “hot” spices from your kitchen for the rim: cayenne, Tajin seasoning (cayenne-based), chili powder or crushed chile flakes—straight or mixed with kosher salt.

    If you think hot rims might be too intense, make the currently trending half-rim (photo #2).

    Fruitiness. You can add fruitiness with lemon, lime and mango-flavored salts.

    Herbaceousness. You can buy blends of salts and herbs, or mix your own. Or use straight minced cilantro, or other fresh herbs.

    For starters, take a look at Seasalt.com.

    MORE ABOUT MARGARITAS

  • Is It A Margarita Or Not?
  • Margarita History
  • Deconstructed Margarita Shots
  • Frozen Grape Margarita
  • Frozen Margarita Mocktail
  • Smoky Margarita
  •  

     
      

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    FOOD FUN (For The Affluent): Lobster-Topped Guacamole

    RA Sushi, a small restaurant group in the southern U.S., has imagination and class.

    With locations in Atlanta, Arizona (5 locations), Baltimore, Chicago, Florida (3), Leawood, Kansas, Las Vegas, Southern California (5) and Texas (6), sushi lovers can experience creations that the sushi bars we frequent can only aspire to.

    While neither sushi nor sashmi, we picked this tasty dish as the one we’d most like to have for Cinco de Mayo:

    A lettuce cup of guacamole, topped with a king’s ransom of lobster.

    We’d also like to have it for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and, oh…any day.

    You don’t even need to cook: Just assemble.

    We’re making ours with a garnish of salmon caviar (ikura in Japanese—photo #2). Tobiko or any whitefish caviar (they’re available in several flavors) will do just fine. We’re also making a chunky guacamole, a better texture contrast with the lobster.

    If you’re a really affluent foodie, sturgeon caviar is not discouraged.

    You may notice the plate garnish in the photo includes herbs, spices and a drizzle of flavored olive oil. Plate garnishes add not only color and texture, but extra bits of flavor.

    RECIPE: GUACAMOLE-LOBSTER LETTUCE CUP

  • A lettuce cup, created from pliant butter lettuce (Bibb, Boston)
  • Guacamole: your favorite recipe
  • Lobster meat
  • Lime wedges
  • Plate garnish: black or toasted sesame seeds, citrus zest, minced chives or other green herb (cilantro, parsley), red chili flakes, etc.
  • Optional garnish: caviar of choice*
  •  

    Lobster Guacamole Salad

    Salmon Caviar

    [1] What better topping for guacamole than this creation, from RA Sushi? [2] Salmon caviar, ikura in Japanese (photo courtesy Petrossian).

     
    DRESSINGS

    With flavorful guacamole, you don’t need much more than lime juice as a dressing. But for those who want more:

  • Basil-Jalapeño Dressing
  • Creamy Citrus Dressing
  • Mimosa Dressing (olive oil, champagne, orange juice)
  • Spicy Lemon Dressing
  •  
    A simple drizzle of basil olive oil with fresh lime juice is also delicious.
    ________________

    *Affordable caviar types include capelin (masago in Japanese), flying fish (tobiko in Japanese), lumpfish, salmon, trout or whitefish roe. The latter two are often available flavored, with everything from mango to truffle to wasabi. They are delicious!

      

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    RECIPE: Fried Egg Quesadilla & Quesadilla History

    We don’t know what Chef Ingrid Hoffmann is making for Cinco de Mayo, but we’re breakfasting on our adaptation of her Fried Egg Quesadillas.

    A simple Mexican snack food. A basic Quesadilla are a Mexican snack food: a turnover (photo #1) made with an uncooked tortilla and a variety of fillings—beans, cheese, meats, potatoes, then folded and toasted on a hot griddle (comal) or fried.

    Regional variations abound.

  • In the northern states, it can be filled simply, with strips of Chihuahua cheese (queso Chihuahua—photo #3), a soft white cheese made in braids, balls or rounds and similar to mild white cheddar or Monterey Jack—all good melters.
  • The cheese originated in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. (Interestingly, in Chihuahua, where it originated, it is called queso menonita after the Mennonite community that first produced it.)
  • In central Mexico, the preference is for braided Oaxaca cheese (photo #4), some leaves of fresh epazote, and strips of peeled chile poblano.
  • A favorite filling is potato and chorizo; the “deluxe” versions contain sautéed squash blossoms or huitlachoche, the highly-esteemed corn blossom fungus.
  •  
    RECIPE: FRIED EGG & AVOCADO QUESADILLAS

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large whole-grain tortillas
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, seeded and mashed
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Optional: ½ jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional garnishes: crema (sour cream), salsa
  •  
    Preparation

    There are more complex tortilla recipes, including a “sandwich” style with a top and bottom tortilla, cut into wedges (photo #2).

    It can be served with sides of crema (sour cream), guacamole or salsa for customization.

    This recipe (photo #1) is a much quicker version.

    1. BRUSH a small nonstick skillet with the oil and heat over medium heat.

    2. ADD the eggs one at a time and cook sunny side up about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer to a plate. While the eggs are cooking…

    3. WARM the tortillas in a separate, hot skillet (no oil needed).

    4. ASSEMBLE: Spread the warm tortilla with half of the mashed avocado, tomatoes, pine nuts, cilantro and jalapeño.

    5. TOP with an egg, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold over and serve.

    If you’re making multiples, quesadillas can be kept warm in 300°F oven on a baking sheet, until ready to serve.
     
    THE HISTORY OF MEXICAN COOKING & THE QUESADILLA

    The quesadilla was born in New Spain (what is now Mexico) during colonial times: the period from the arrival of the conquistadors in 1519 to the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, which ended Spanish rule.

       

    Breakfast Quesadilla

    Breakfast Quesadilla

    Queso Chihuaha

    Queso Oaxaca Ball

    [1] Quesadilla, loaded and ready to fold, grab and go (photo courtesy Chef Ingrid Hoffmann). [2] A more formal quesadilla presentation requires a knife and fork, is made between two tortillas and then cut into triangles (photo courtesy Cabot Cheese). [3] Queso chihuahua from Mozzarella Company (photo courtesy iGourmet). [4] Queso oaxaca, braided (photo courtesy Food & Travel Mexico).

     
    For thousands of years, the local cuisine had consisted of the area’s staples: avocados, beans, cacao (available to the rich and famous), chiles, corn (made into a variety of foods, including tortillas), papayas, pineapples, potatoes (which originated in Peru), tomatoes, squash (including pumpkin) and vanilla.

    Dishes included corn pancakes; tamales; tortillas with pounded pastes or wrapped around other foods; all flavored with numerous salsas (sauces), intensely flavored and thickened with seeds and nuts.

    The Spanish brought with them wheat flour and new types of livestock: cattle, chicken (and their eggs), goat, pigs, sheep. Before then, local animal proteins consisted of fish, quail, turkey and a small, barkless dog bred for food, the itzcuintli, a [plump] relative of the chihuahua.

    Cooking oil was scarce until the pigs arrived, yielding lard for frying. Indigenous cooking techniques were limited to baking on a hot griddle, and boiling or steaming in a pot. While olive trees would not grow in New Spain, olive oil arrived by ship from the mother country.

     

    Bean Quesadilla

    Steak Quesadillas

    Lobster Quesadillas

    [5] Basic quesadilla: cheese and beans (here’s the recipe from Taste Of Home). [6] Grilled flank steak tortillas (photo courtesy Kings Ford Charcoal).[7] Going gourmet: lobster quesadillas from Mackenzie Ltd.

     

    The Spanish brought dairying, which produced butter, cheese and milk.

    The sugar cane they planted provided sweetness. Barley, rice and wheat were important new grains. Spices for flavor enhancement included black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant), cumin, garlic, oregano, and parsley.

    Almonds and other sesame seeds augmented native varieties. Produce additions included apples, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onions and oranges.

    While grapes, like olive trees, would not grow in the climate, imported raisins became in ingredient in the fusion cuisine—i.e., Mexican cooking.

    (Mind you, the peasant diet was still limited to beans, corn tortillas and locally gathered foods like avocados.)

    While the Spanish could not make wine locally, they did teach the Aztecs how to distill agave, into what was called mezcal.

    The pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica brewed a fermented alcoholic beverage called pulque (think corn based beer). With the barley they brought, the Spanish brewed their home-style beer.

    The development of the cuisine was greatly aided by the arrival of Spanish nuns [source].

    Experimenting with what was available locally, nuns invented much of the more sophisticated Mexican cuisine, including, but hardly limited to:

  • Buñuelos.
  • Cajeta, a type of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk. It is a type of dulce de leche.
  • Chiles rellenos, stuffed with beef, cheese or pork.
  • Escabeche, a variety of marinades for fish.
  • Guacamole (New Spain had the avocados, tomatoes and chiles, but Spain brought the cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant) and the onions.
  • Mole sauce.
  • Rompope, an eggnog-like drink.
  • Lomo en adobo: pork loin in a spicy sauce. [source]
  •  
    So whence the quintessentially Mexican quesadilla?

    It’s half indigenous, half Spanish.

  • From the New World: the corn tortilla, hot sauce and other salsas.
  • From Spain, the cheese, beef-chicken-pork and the shredded lettuce…as well as the wheat for flour tortillas and the eggs for breakfast quesadillas.
  •  
    And it’s very, very popular, from Mexican street food to restaurant far in Mexico and the U.S.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Celebrate Cinco De Mayo With Tres Leches Cake

    Plain Tres Leches Cake

    Tres Leches Cake With Fruit

    Chocolate Tres Leches Cake

    Raspberry Tres Leches Cake

    [1] Basic tres leches cake with added rum. Here’s the recipe from Bake Or Break. [2] Add some fruit garnish. Here’s the recipe from Renee’s Kitchen Adventures. [3] Go chocolate, with this recipe from The Domestic Rebel. [4] Go fancy for a special occasion. Here’s the recipe from Vika’s Home Goods.

     

    First: There is a recipe for a specialty Tres Leches cake below, Caramel Coconut Tres Leches Cake.

    Tres Leches cake is a vanilla sponge cake that is baked, perforated and soaked in three different milk products: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk. The cake absorbs the milks, making it moister and richer.

    It is then frosted with whipped cream or meringue, and often garnished with caramel, chocolate, coconut, liqueurs, nuts and tropical fruits. It’s not your grandmother’s sponge cake.
     
    Tres Leches has been a favorite cake for celebrations throughout Central America since at least World War II era, and become popular in the U.S. at the end of the 20th century (Jenna Bush Hager served it for her wedding cake).
     
    It is kin to other sponge cakes and angel food cakes, which are light and airy because they use beaten eggs to rise. Chiffon cake and génoise are two you may be familiar with. Here are:

  • The different types of sponge cakes.
  • The different categories of cake.
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF TRES LECHES CAKE

    Popular in Central America since the 19th century, pastel de tres leches (pastry with three milks)

    While the origin lacks clean documentation, food historians believe that tres leches cake most likely originated in Nicaragua in the early 1900s. The recipe was printed on the label of sweetened condensed milk cans to spur sales of the product.

    A number of recipe sources place the origin of the tres leches cake in Nicaragua, born from a recipe on the label of Nestle’s sweetened condensed milk. (More than a few recipes, from cheesecake to Chex Party Mix and Rice Krispies Marshmallow Treats, began in the development kitchens of manufacturers to promote more uses for their products.)

    Some sources say the recipe dates to 1875—but that’s the year Nestlé began distributing its condensed and evaporated milks, and seems to soon (their original purpose was to provide milk in areas where fresh milk was not available).

    Nestle Mexico cannot confirm a date, but did say that the company had published a recipe for Tres Leches Cake on the labels of milk cans sold in that country, and that the firm began manufacturing milk products in Mexico around World War II.

    Whatever the truth, “soaked” cakes had been a European tradition since medieval times: British rum cake, trifle, and fruitcake; Italian zuppa inglese and tiramisu, not to mention the soaked foods of the poor, bread pudding and pain perdu (French toast).

    The missing link is believed to be a Mexican cookbook with a recipe for “antes,” a bread soaked in wine and layered with milk custard, that appeared in Mexico in the 19th century [source].

    A search of Mexican cookbooks by journalist M.M. Pack produced these related recipes:

  • Torta de leche (milk cake), cake batter poured into a pan of sweetened scalded milk, baked, and served floating in its milk sauce.
  • Antes, bread soaked in wine and layered with milk custard and fruit or nuts, which appears in Mexico in the 19th century.
  • Sopa Borracha and Ante de Almendra, two soaked cakes from Oaxaca.
  • Cookbook author Patricia Quintana, in her book The Taste of Mexico, opines that Tres Leches comes from Sinaloa, a state on the country’s west coast across from Baja. She provides a colonial-era recipe for Viceroy’s Cake: sherry-drenched layers of cake, custard, fruit, and meringue.
  •  
    And then, a cake called Tres Leches emerges.

    As the recipe traveled from region to region, local bakers added their own touches. In the rum-focused Caribbean islands, rum was added to the “soak.” In U.S. chefs added caramelized milk to create a cuatro leches cake [source].

    Modern Tres Leches Cake

    Tres Leches Cake began to get noticed north of the border toward the end of the 20th century.

  • In 1997, Rich’s, an American food manufacturer, began to sell a premixed, liquid dairy product called Tres Riches, a soak for food-service tres leches cakes.
  • Both Häagen-Dazs and Blue Bell ice cream introduced a tres leches ice cream flavor in 2003.
  •  
    And American home cooks have created every variation: Bailey’s Irish Cream, berry, chocolate, coconut, coffee, marble, peach, pecan, pumpkin, red velvet…

    Not to mention bundts, cupcakes, naked cakes, puddings and stack cakes (the originals were sheet cakes baked in rectangular pans), iced with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, dulce de leche buttercream, even topped with a layer of flan.
     
    Many thanks to journalists M.M. Pack and Patricia Sharpe for their intrepid research into the topic. We hope they enjoyed many slices of Tres Leches Cake along the way.

     

    RECIPE: CARAMEL COCONUT TRES LECHES CAKE

    Ingredients For One 8″-9″ Cake
     
    Ingredients For The Cake

  • 4 eggs, room temperature, separated
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  
    Ingredients For The Soak

  • 1 16-ounce can coconut milk
  • ¼ cup dulce de leche (or caramel sauce)
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  •  
    Ingredients For The Topping

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup toasted coconut
  • Dulce de leche for drizzling
  •  
    Preparation

    Audra, The Baker Chick, notes that she used a 7 inch springform pan, but thinks an 8- or 9-inch cake pan works the best. “The thicker the cake, the harder it is to really get those liquids to soak. Any of those options are fine, or you could double the recipe and use a 9 x 13 rectangular pan.

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Generously butter the inside and sides of a 8 or 9 inch round cake pan* and line with a parchment round. Sprinkle with flour- set aside.

    2. COMBINE the egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

    3. BEST the egg whites on medium high in a very clean stand mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl, using a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar while the mixer runs and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

    4. PILE about one-third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Gently fold them together until smooth. Add half of the flour and continue to gently fold, being careful to not deflate the egg whites. Repeat with another third of egg whites, the rest of the flour, and the last third of whites. Do not over-mix, but the batter should be smooth, airy and fluffy.

     

    Tres Leches Cake With Caramel Sauce

    Tres Leches Cake With Caramel Sauce

    The Baker Chick’s take on Tres Leches Cake, adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe (photos courtesy The Baker Chick).

     

    5. POUR the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. While the cake is baking, combine the soak ingredients in a liquid measuring cup and set aside.

    6. RUN a knife around the edge of the cake pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment, then flip the cake right side up so it can cool. After the cake has cooled for about 15 minutes, use a fork to prick it all over, not forgetting the sides, edges and all over the top. Try to get pretty close to the bottom of the cake.

    7. USE a spoon or pour the soaking liquid over the cake, a little at a time, waiting for it to absorb before adding more. Use the spoon and gently press the liquid into the cake•. It may seem like a lot of liquid, but use as much as you can to soak the cake.

    8. CHILL the cake in the fridge for an hour or more, to really let the flavors soak and set.

    9. WHIP the cream and once the cake is done chilling, dollop on the whipped cream, drizzle with extra dulce de leche and sprinkle on the toasted coconut. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

    ________________

    *Audra, The Baker Chick actually used a new syringe to inject the liquid. You can buy similar devices for shooting liquid into cakes. She says: Pull up the liquid and then literally inject it into the sides and top of the cake. It works surprisingly well.

      

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