Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking at home: When Mexican met Mediterranean

I am planning for a dinner at home for 8 last weekend and I wanted to make use of saffron which we received from a friend after her recent trip to Iran. While a number of countries produce this exotic space known for its special fragrance and color, particularly those around the Mediterranean, it's often said that those from Iran were of the highest quality and the most sort after. Then I came across a recipe on a magazine for a Mexican dessert known as "Tres Leches" cake (which literally means "Three Milks" in Spanish) so I figured it would be interesting to match it with a saffron icecream to bring some sassy exoticity to the menu, matching creamy richness with the unique fragrance; a contrast of off-white and bright yellow colors; a fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean inspired cooking.

I am putting the recipes for tres leches cake and saffon icecream into two separate posts, as I think each could be prepared and used individually and to mix and match with other dessert recipes. I do welcome feedback to let me know how you made use of them!

1. Tres Leches Cake - Detailed Recipe

2. Saffron Icecream - Detailed Recipe

For saffron icecream, I put the churned custard into paper cups before putting them to the fridge. This way, when served, I can cut the icecream and the cup off to form a cylindrical, mini ice-cream cake - save me the trouble of making a nice quenelle of icecream which I was never able to do right.

To finish off, I made dulce de leche sauce for some added richness and pistachio for texture and balance of flavors.

Well dulce de leche sauce was another components with strong Latin American influence. Many people confuses dulce de leche with caramel, probably because they looked similar with brownish, syrupy consistency and used in similar way as ingredients for desserts, but they were made differently and in general, cannot be used interchangeably.

Caramel was made by boiling sugar until it melted and turned into syrup form, before butter was added to get the right consistency. On the other hand, Dulce de leche uses condensed milk and was cooked slowly until it's thickened and deepened in color (due to the caramelization of the sugar inside the milk). There are quite a few ways to do that, and I used one of the easiest - cooking the whole can of condensed milk in simmering water for extended period of time. I hope you were not those type who were anxious about putting the unopened can in simmering water thinking it might explode - well I was told that as long as the whole can was submerged in water you should be okay, and on the safe side, I used my sous vide machine to keep the water below boiling point so I don't have to keep an eye on it constantly.

Recipe: Dulce de Leche

Ingredients

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (375g)

Steps

1. Remove any wrapping paper from the can. Fill the sous vide machine with water to the right level (so the whole can is submerged in water) and set that to 85C. (if using traditional stove and saucepan, heat the pan of water until boiling and turn down the heat to the lowest level)
2. Put the can into the water tank (or saucepan). Keep it inside for 12-18 hours (depends on how thick you want the sauce to be). If heating on stove top, make sure to check the water level regularly so it won't dry up and burn - and a disclaimer, I am not responsible for any damage if you didn't keep an eye on it the entire time!
3. Remove the can from the water and let cool until it's not too hot to handle. Open the can and you should see the condensed milk became thickened and brown. Pour to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
4. Before it's served, heat up the sauce in the pan or put it in microwave to soften. If it's too runny, heat it a little bit more to reduce. If it's too thick, add some milk to mix until you get the correct consistency.



To assemble

1. Grind the de-shelled pistachio finely. Set aside.
2. Spoon some milk-rum mixture (from Recipe 1) into a deep soup dish.
3. Take the icecream (from Recipe 2) out from the fridge. Cut off the paper cup horizontally and remove the cup for a cylindrical-shaped ice-cream cake. Put on top of the milk sauce.
4. Dip the tres leches cake into the milk-rum mixture (from Recipe 1) for one last time, put the cake on top of the ice-cream cake.
5. Put the dulce de leche sauce in the squeeze bottle and squeeze the sauce generously on top of the cake and around. Make a heart shape, or write a name or whatever you feel like.
6. Sprinkle plenty of pistachio bits around the dish. Serve immediately.


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