The last chapter in Modernist Cuisine at Home is devoted entirely to custards and pies, and is comprised of 55 recipes, including more than 40 variations. Here are some of our best tips for turning out delectable desserts every time this holiday seasons. Follow our advice to not only save but enhance your sweet creations.
- Give Your Eggs the Sous Vide Treatment: Just as we suggest cooking eggs for omelets and scrambles in controlled temperatures in order to achieve the perfect viscosity of this fickle ingredient, we believe that egg-based desserts need the same treatment. We fill ramekins with crème brûlée, seal them, and cook them in a water bath to a core temperature of 80 °C / 176 °F. When making a pastry cream, crème anglaise, lemon curd, or sabayon, we first cook the egg yolks sous vide (using different temperatures, depending on the dish) to fully pasteurize them, avoiding the fuss of double boilers and curdling. In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we propose eight variations of our pastry cream alone, like Amaretto, cheese, and pressure-infused coffee. Trust us, you’ll never face a boring cream pie again.
- Calculate Your Gelatin: Reviving the Jell-O wreath or planning a fancy panna cotta this holiday season? We use Knox gelatin in our panne cotte, firm pastry creams, apple foam, and fruit jellies because you can find it in most grocery stores. Gelatins are measured by what is called their Bloom strength (usually labeled as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum). Knox brand has a bloom strength of 225. If you are making a recipe (not just one of ours, but any recipe), be it a Jell-O wreath or a pâté, you can use a different Bloom strength than what the recipe calls for, but you’ll have to do a little math. You can convert the recipe to use whatever gelatin you have on hand if you know the weight (MA) and Bloom strength (BA). For gelatin A, you can find the equivalent weight of gelatin B (MB) with a Bloom strength of BB by using the formula MB = MA × BA ÷ BB. For example, if a recipe calls for 2.6 g of Knox gelatin, you could use 3.7 g of silver gelatin, which has a Bloom strength of 160 (2.6 × 225 ÷ 160 = 3.7). To make a vegetarian panna cotta, we substitute 0.8 g agar and 0.65 g xanthan for the 4.3 g gelatin the recipe normally calls for.
- Keep Your Pie Crust Flaky: You can’t have a great pie if your crust is soggy, so we tested more than 40 versions before nailing down our Flaky Pie Crust recipe. But even the best crust needs a little extra help when acting as the foundation for a pastry cream. To keep your crust crisp, let it cool and then brush a thin layer of melted cocoa butter on top of it. Let the butter solidify at room temperature before filling the pie with pastry cream. This coating of cocoa butter creates a barrier between the crust and pastry cream, which will prevent the moisture of the cream from draining into the crust, turning it to mush.
- Make Freeze-Dried Raspberry Powder: A great way to finish any dessert is with freeze-dried raspberry powder sprinkled on top. Pulse store-bought, freeze-dried raspberries (or any other freeze-dried fruit) in a food processor, blender, or coffee grinder until a powder forms. This powder has myriad uses. You can blend it into your pie crust, mix it with a little sugar and rim a cocktail glass with it, or sprinkle it over lemon curd, just to name a few ideas.
- Microwave a Cake: If you are stymied by unexpected visitors, skip our Custard and Pie chapter and thumb back to the Microwave chapter. Making individual cakes is a snap with a whipping siphon and a microwave. Siphon the batter into paper cups and microwave them for 50 seconds until thoroughly cooked. To watch Scott demonstrate this technique in a CHOW Tips video, click here.