The Almond Experience
Almonds, almonds, and more almonds: almond cake, almond blancmange, and almond ice cream are combined with oven-roasted pears. The oven-roasted pears require attention over a span of 4 to 6 hours as you baste and add sugar and rice wine vinegar; the finished pears are a lovely ruby-russet color, and the sauce has a sweet-and-sour taste. Each element could stand alone, but combined they are wonderful. Start a day ahead by making the pear garnish and the ice cream. The cake could also be made ahead of time. Chef Norman Love suggests peeling the pears with a peeler, not a paring knife, and coring with a melon baller, so they will be more attractive. Vanilla sugar, used throughout the recipe, is simply granulated sugar in which a split vanilla bean has been stored; it adds a faint vanilla flavor. Begin with the dried candied pear slices; they take two days to prepare.
Special equipment: flexible mold form with twenty-four 3-inch molds, each with a bump inside to form an indentation in the top of the finished molded blancmange
- Dried Candied Pear Garnish
- Pear - 1
- Sugar - 1/2 cup
- Water - 1/4 cup
- Corn Syrup - 1 tablespoon
- Oven-roasted Caramelized Pears
- Bosc Pears - 3
- Unsalted Butter - 1/4 cup
- Vanilla Beans - 3, split
- Vanilla Sugar - 1 tablespoon, granulated
- Brown Sugar - 3/4 to 1 cup
- Rice Wine Vinegar - 3/4 to 1 cup
- Almond Ice Cream
- Almonds - 1 cup, toasted, sliced, (see Cooking Basics, Nuts)
- Whole Milk - 3-1/4 pints
- Sugar - 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
- Ice cream stabilizer - 1 tablespoon, or inverted sugar (alt. simple syrup)
- Corn Syrup - 1 teaspoon
- Milk Powder - 1 teaspoon
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1 cup
- Almond milk - 1 quart
- Almond Cake
- Cake flour - 1-1/2 cups
- Baking Powder - 1/2 teaspoon
- Baking Soda - 1/2 teaspoon
- Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
- Vanilla Sugar - 1 cup
- Unsalted Butter - 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks),
- Vanilla bean - 1
- Eggs - 2
- Almond Extract - 1 teaspoon
- Vanilla Extract - 1 teaspoon
- Almond Flour - 1/4 cup, sifted
- Sour Cream - 2/3 cup
- Lace Sugar Doilies
- Sugar - 1 cup
- Hot Water - 1/2 cup
- Cream of Tartar - 1/8 teaspoon
- Almond Blancmange
- Almonds - 2 tablespoons, toasted, sliced, (see Cooking Basics, Nuts)
- Milk - 1 quart
- Vanilla Sugar - 1/3 cup
- Unflavored gelatin - 1 packet
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1 pint
- Vanilla Sugar - 1-1/2 cups
- Water - ¼ cup
- Egg Whites - 5, large
- Confectioner’s sugar - for dusting
- Dried candied pear slices (recipe follows)
To prepare the pear garnish: Slice the pears very thin vertically on a mandoline; you should almost be able to see through them. Slice right through the core, leaving the sliced core in the slices containing it. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saute pan and cook over medium-low heat until it dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool until it is just warm to the touch. Slip the pear slices into the syrup and set aside overnight to soak.
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat (non-stick silicone liner) or foil. Spread the pear slices in a single layer on the prepared pan. Put the slices in the oven and leave the door slightly open. Let roast until the pear slices are dried; pop or peel off the liner or foil and store in a dry place.
To prepare the caramelized pears: Preheat the oven to 275 F. Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler and slice in half vertically. Trim a small slice from the bottom of each. Core with a melon baller. Melt the butter in a large heavy ovenproof saute pan over medium heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the mixture, then drop in the pods. Add the pears and turn to coat. Sprinkle the pears with the granulated sugar. Crumble 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar over the pears. Cook until a light syrup forms in the bottom of the pan. Spoon 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar over the pears and turn them; spoon the syrup over them. When the syrup has caramelized and begun to bubble in the bottom of the pan, repeat the process. Put in the pan in the oven and cook 40 minutes. Add another round of brown sugar and rice wine vinegar, stirring to blend, and baste the pears with the mixture. Continue roasting the pears for 4 to 6 hours, depending on the size of the pears, basting every 40 minutes with the pan juices. The pears will caramelize all the way through and turn almost a red color. Remove and let cool to room temperature. Both pears and sauce will be used.
To make the ice cream: Put the almonds and milk in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Set aside off the heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain to remove the almonds; return the infused milk to the saucepan. In a small dish, combine 2 tablespoons of the sugar with the stabilizer. Add the remaining sugar, corn syrup, and milk powder to the milk in the saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. When hot, add the cream, almond milk, and stabilizer mixture. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions. Store in an airtight container in the freezer.
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a 9-inch-diameter by 4-inch deep cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper; lightly butter the parchment. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sugar mixture. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the extracts. Beat in the almond flour. Add the sifted dry ingredients in four additions, incorporating completely between each addition. Beat in the sour cream, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Put into the prepared cake pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the center springs back when touched. Remove and let cool. The cake can be made ahead of time and frozen if desired.
To make the lace sugar doilies: Spray a heavy baking sheet with vegetable oil, then wipe the baking sheet with a paper towel to remove any excess. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Place over medium-high heat until the mixture reaches 305° F; do not stir the mixture during this time. Brush down any crystals which form on the sides of the pan. Working quickly, dip a spoonful of hot syrup from the pan and drizzle in a 5-inch circle over the pan, criss-crossing the path of the syrup. You may use more than one spoonful of syrup, and can even go back over a circle after finishing several others. Create an open, lacy pattern with the syrup. Set aside and let cool; when ready, carefully lift the designs from the pan. Store in a paper bag, separated by discs of parchment, until ready to use.
To prepare the blancmange: Have a flexible silicone mold on hand; the mold should have at least eight round molds with a small mound in the center of each; unmolded, each blancmange will have a small dent in the center. Put the almonds and milk in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Set aside off the heat and let steep for 30 minutes to an hour. Add the vanilla sugar to the milk and stir to dissolve. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve lined with a towel. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of the cream and let stand three minutes; add to the milk mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Let cool.
Make an Italian meringue: Beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside. Put the 1-1/2 cups of sugar in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar reaches 238° F (soft ball stage). While the sugar is cooking, put the egg whites in the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat to soft peaks; try to time this process so the egg whites reach soft peaks when the sugar reaches 238° F. With the mixer on high, slowly pour a thin stream of hot sugar into the developing meringue, pouring between the beater and the side of the bowl. When all the sugar has been added, continue beating while the mixture cools, 8 to 10 minutes. This mixture is called Italian meringue. Gently fold the whipped cream into the Italian meringue, then fold in the cooled almond milk mixture. Fill the molds with the blancmange, then freeze for at least 3 hours.
To serve: Cut six 3-inch circles of cake. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Unmold a blancmange and place to one side of a dessert plate. Place a piece of cake beside it. Lean a caramelized pear half against the blancmange. Spoon pear sauce in the indentation of the blancmange, over the pear, and out onto the plate. Place a lace sugar doily on top of the cake cylinder. Repeat with the remaining plates. Form six quenelles of almond ice cream and place one atop each lace sugar doily. Serve immediately.