Saturday, March 24, 2012

Crema Catalana (Burnt Custard)

If you walk through the Latin quarter in Barcelona, a  city located in Catalunya, in Spain,

This dessert is served specially on March 19th, St. Joseph´s Day, or Father´s Day.
Some believe that the dessert was mentioned in a catalan book written in 1324, called Llibre de Sent Sovi, (this has been contradicted, however) and that it was once called Llet Cuita. Others tell the story that nuns burned their famous flan by accident, and served it that way to a visiting bishop.

The recipe is:
4 egg yolks
2 cups of milk
1 stick of cinnamon
Rind of 1/2 lemon
20 g cornstarch
100 g sugar

I got the recipe from:
Crema Catalana and caramelized sugar disks, next to a Spanish knight miniature.
As I don´t have a blowtorch, I tried different methods for burning the cream, that I found on a couple of websites. The one that finally worked was to cut out aluminum foil disks the size of the surface of the custard, cover them with both white and brown granulated sugar, and broil in a small toaster oven for 5 minutes (check it at about 3 minutes). Take it out of the oven, let it cool, then peel off the foil. 

 Set a caramel disk on top of your custard and voilá! It no longer looks like a plain pudding, but has been disguised as a crema catalana (which is what it is, anyway).


Website of the week:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick´s Sponge Cakes

Around the 800´s, Celtic monks on the island of Iona, between Scotland and Ireland, created a calligraphy masterpiece of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in color. They used 10 different colors and only left two out of 680 pages in black and white. 

You can visit monasteries in different locations in Ireland, where it is easier to imagine the monks´lifestyle and how they might have been inspired enough to create this kaleidoscope of celtic handwriting. At the idyllic Glendalough Lake, which resembles a painting of a peaceful body of water lined by tall picturesque pine trees on either side, the ruins of a stone tower and other buildings beckon visitors to walk through them to experience the tranquillity their previous inhabitants felt daily (especially when they weren´t being invaded by Vikings). 
The Book itself can be seen in Dublin, at Trinity College (, which was founded by Elizabeth I. Its library, full of priceless antiques, features their country´s most prized possession in a very long room that reminds one of a long dining table, or an Italian museum hall filled with statues of Roman emperors. It has large shelves against its walls, brimming with books, and along the center, you can find a line of busts of Irish celebrities who were alumni of the college, such as Jonathan Swift, whose grave can be found in St. Patrick´s Cathedral.

 This now Anglican Cathedral, built in 1191 out of gray stones, has intricate woodwork decorations inside. It was erected on the site where Patrick baptized those who had converted to the Catholic religion in a plain wooden chapel. 
Inside of the St. Patrick´s Cathedral

History of the Dessert
These sponge cakes are traditionally eaten on  St. Patrick´s Day, in Ireland. They were originally cooked in a tin that produced small cakes in the shape of shamrocks, but the cakes can also be decorated by applying shamrock shapes with frosting. Some may wonder why the design involves three-leaf clovers, rather than the four-leaf version. It probably has to do with the fact that St. Patrick used three-leaf clovers to represent the Holy Trinity. In case you were wondering, the four-leaf version truly exists! They don´t only appear in Ireland, though. The first and only four-leaf clovers I have ever found were in a cloud forest in El Salvador, in Central America. Some people say that the chances of finding them are 1 in 10000. However, there are farms in the U.S. that grow them to later turn them into charms by sealing them in plastic.
The first leaf on a four-leaf clover stands for faith; the second, for hope; third, love; and the fourth, luck. 

Recipe (from and the book Irish Teatime Recipes. England: J. Salmon Limited.

2 oz. butter
2 oz. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 oz. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Dash of vanilla
White glacé icing
Green food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat egg and stir into butter mixture a little at a time. Sift flour and baking powder together and fold in. Place 6 paper cake cases into                        muffin tins and divide mixture between them. Bake for 15 minutes until they have risen and are golden. Cool on wire rack.
Set a bit of the icing aside and color it green. Coat the cakes with the remainder and let it set for a few hours. Place the green icing in a bag with a piping nozzle and pipe a small shamrock in the center of each cake. Make the outline for the shamrock first, then fill with green icing.

Glacé Icing Recipe                                                                                
2 oz. icing sugar
1/2 tbsp. water, or1 tbsp. water

Glacé Icing
Irish Teatime Recipes. England: J. Salmon Limited.

Other recipes I haven´t tried yet for Glace Icing:

1/2 cup confectioner´s sugar
1/2 tbsp. boiling water
1/2 tbsp. soft butter
1 cup confectioner´s sugar
3.3 g butter
1 tsp. milk   Stir for five minutes until heated.
1.25 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vietnamese Banana Pudding (Banh Chuoi Nung)

Smaller than the Cavendish banana
As I walked through a coffee farm, looking for ripened, blood red coffee cherries, someone handed me a thick-bladed, curved, long knife and motioned for me to use it. I held it carefully, made sure no part of me was in its path, and aimed...Slam! I hit the juicy, rubbery green trunk horizontally. "Hit it diagonally," I was instructed. I threw the knife at it a couple of more times. "Harder." I stood aside to avoid being sprayed by the water from the tree, and managed to cut a wedge in it. Finally. the knife changed hands as if it was in a relay race, as I let others finish what I had only started. They worked on the opposite side of the trunk, cutting off the giant leaves that looked like green wings with an elegant burgundy stripe running through the middle. The honeycomb center of the trunk was so white it reminded me of fish, or shark cartilage. Chunks of it lay on the ground.The magnificent banana stalk, recently cut off the tree, was taken home and hung to allow the fruit to gradually turn ripe. Fortunately, green bananas let you  gather recipes as you wait in anticipation of cooling off with banana rum ice cream, modifying classics by trying out a banana strudel, or discovering other cuisines when rolling out coconut rice banana tamales (!)

History of Bananas and the Dessert
The banana, native to Southeast Asia and India, was taken by the Arabs to Asia Minor, then Africa, and finally to America and the Caribbean, where bananas were grown starting in the 1830´s (quite recent). Another source declares that the banana made its way to Ecuador (South America) in 200 B.C. and that Spanish and Portuguese explorers took bananas to the Caribbean in the 1500´s. The date 1830 is probably mentioned because that is when it began to be grown in Florida, and also closer to the time when bananas were commercially grown and later exported, in different parts of the American continent.
In the U.S., bananas were introduced to make custards, pies and puddings around the 1880´s ( Countries or regions that grow bananas have many different names for the different kinds of bananas, as most of them are not like the standard Chiquita banana (the generic name is Cavendish). Some examples of names in different languages are: dátiles (baby), indios, plátanos/plaintains, red, fruit, manzano/apple, burro/majoncho, pisang raja, pisang nangka,
The french introduced butter and custards to Vietnamese cuisine (especially Southern Vietnam) in the 1850´s, so we might guess that at least the buttery version of the pudding appeared after that date.

The Vietnamese Banana cake is similar to Latin America´s "Budin de Plátano" or plaintain pudding. It can be served for the Vietnamese New Year.  Countries that surround Vietnam also share this dish.

1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sliced bananas (approx. 5 medium)
1 1/3 cups flour
7 eggs, beaten
15 oz. can of condensed milk, or of coconut milk
1/2 cup grated coconut (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix butter, flour, eggs, and milk together with handmixer. Fold in bananas and coconut and place in greased and floured 8 inch cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour. This delectable pudding-cake is buttery and melts in your mouth.

Authentic recipe for banh chuoi nuong:

Worldesserts' chosen Website of the week:  It classifies recipes by banana ripeness