On the Menu: Pastry expert Michel Richard says -- experiment!


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Today, Michel Richard is most famous for his D.C. restaurants, Citronelle and Central. But he began his culinary career as a pastry chef in France, working under the great Gaston Lenotre. In "Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts," he revels in his first love.

The incredible range of flavors and textures will make your mouth water as you read. There are traditional French pastries such as Chocolate Eclairs and Pineapple Rum Baba, alongside more personal inventions like Corn Cookies with a Smidgen of Curry. There are no pictures -- instead the book is decorated with Mr. Richard's hand-drawn illustrations, echoing the whimsical style of his prose.

Unlike many pastry chefs, he encourages home bakers to experiment with everything from particular flavors to the amount or kind of sugar in recipes.

"Sweet Magic" is a wonderful primer for a range of French pastry techniques. Whenever possible, Mr. Richard simplifies them based on his years of experience, promising great, consistent results with less labor. His Quicker Cream Puff Batter involves fewer steps, less cooking and a lower temperature than the traditional recipe. These are still fairly complex recipes, but precise descriptions and thorough instructions will guide you through trickier techniques, such as making an Italian meringue, working with gelatin or piping an eclair.

Still, the recipes I was most attracted to generally involved more unusual flavors and fewer tricky techniques. Maple Parsnip Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting is inspired by the classic American carrot cake, combining cinnamon, grated ginger and maple syrup with finely grated parsnips. Using almond meal as the primary flour helps give the cake a wonderfully soft, moist texture.

While the cake is relatively simple to assemble (just be sure to sift the almond meal before adding it to the dry ingredients), the maple meringue requires some equipment (a stand mixer, a candy thermometer) and careful attention. Together, they have a rustic appearance combined with a sophisticated taste.

There's nothing sophisticated about Lemon Cheesecake Ice Cream. It's simply delicious; rich and creamy with a pleasant lemony tang. It takes about three minutes to whip up the base in the blender, then you'll just have to be patient as it freezes (though a little less so if you have an ice cream maker). Sweet magic indeed.



Maple Parsnip Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting

PG tested

This is a wonderfully soft, moist cake with a balanced sweetness and lovely hint of spice from the ginger. The maple meringue is heavenly, but if you're looking for a quicker option, some whipped cream flavored with a tablespoon or so of maple syrup would also be a delicious accompaniment.

-- China Millman

Cake

  • 2 cups almond meal (or very finely ground almonds, freeze before grinding)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cups packed parsnips, peeled and finely grated (about 6 medium)
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans

Maple Meringue Frosting

  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan, line it with a piece of parchment cut to fit, then butter and flour the paper and the sides of the pan.

To make the cake, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the maple syrup, butter and eggs on medium speed until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry mixture, 1 cup at a time, until just combined. Stir in the ginger and the parsnips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the pecans in a decorative pattern on top of the cake. Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting: Pour the maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Set the maple syrup over medium heat and, using a candy thermometer, monitor its temperature. When it reaches 230 degrees, start to whip the eggs on high speed. After about 4 minutes, add the sugar to the egg whites. Once the maple syrup reaches 252 degrees, pour it into the whites in a slow, steady stream as close to the side of the bowl as possible to avoid spattering. Continue mixing on medium speed until the bottom of the mixing bowl is cool to the touch, about 15 minutes.

Loosen the sides of the cake with a knife and remove it from the pan. Let it cool completely on a rack. Serve the cake dolloped with the maple meringue.


Lemon Cheesecake Ice Cream

PG tested

Michel Richard suggests serving this with his strawberry cassis sauce, but I didn't want to buy a bottle of cassis (or fresh strawberries in December), so instead I made a quick mixed berry sauce by simmering 10 ounces of frozen strawberries, blackberries and blueberries with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water for 15 minutes, pureeing it in a blender, then straining to remove the seeds.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Place all the ingredients in a blender, hold the lid on tightly, and blend on high until very smooth, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides. The total blending time is about 4 minutes. Pour the mixture into another container and cover it. Refrigerate the mix for several hours. Process it in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

If you don't have an ice cream machine, simply pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. When you're ready to server, place the cubes in a food processor and mix until creamy. You may need to refreeze and process the ice cream one more time for optimal smoothness.

Transfer the ice cream to a covered container and freeze it for several hours before serving.

If the ice cream is frozen solid, soften it in the refrigerator or at room temperature until creamy, between 15 and 30 minutes.

From "Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts," by Michel Richard (Ecco 2010, $27.50)


China Millman: 412-263-1198 or cmillman@post-gazette.com . Follow her at http://twitter.com/chinamillman .


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