Even though Sarah is trained as a savory cook, by default she has also been doing baked goods and desserts at Rich Table. She doesn’t think of herself as a pastry chef, but her success proves otherwise. Desserts have been among some of the most popular items at Rich Table since it opened over a year ago. There is always pressure to keep some of the old favorites on the menu, but there is also pressure to introduce new items on a fairly constant basis.
Two recent additions are:
Blue corn cake with honey-griddled plums, and vanilla ice cream. This dessert is a riff on Sarah’s favorite cornbread recipe, but made with blue corn meal. I suspect that comes from her interest in New Mexico traditions. She also has a good source for blue cornmeal from Tierra Vegetables in the farmers market at the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Blue corn cake with honey-grilled plums and vanilla ice cream
Bittersweet chocolate ganache with almond butter crunch and passion fruit meringue.
Bittersweet chocolate ganache with almond butter crunch and passion fruit meringue
Panna cotta is one of the old favorites, but Sarah has come up with lots of variations that have kept it popular and fresh. Some of those variations include buttermilk, coconut, and more recently cream cheese. Panna cotta is a cousin of flan, crema catalana, and crème brûlée. Those custards are made with eggs which are cooked gently to provide thickening. Panna cotta has gelatin added for the thickening agent. In commercial kitchens, leaf or sheet gelatin is the form most commonly used, but that form is not often available in grocery stores and is a little trickier to use. That’s ok, because a perfectly good panna cotta can be made with the granulated form, although you may need to experiment and cut back on the amount of the gelatin if the finished panna cotta too firm for your taste.
Sarah’s current cream cheese panna cotta is delicious, but if you want to try it at home you will need to tinker with the amount of gelatin you use. The firm texture of the cream cheese sets up too hard with the usual amounts of gelatin.
I think her buttermilk panna cotta is every bit as good. Sarah makes it with fresh cultured buttermilk that the restaurant gets when it house-churns its own butter. That’s not practical at home, but fresh commercial buttermilk will work. That’s my version below.
Straining berry mixture for the sauce base
Containers of berry sauce lines up to go into the cold room
Blackberries and raspberries
Sauce with mixed berries
Chunks of cream cheese before blending
Blending panna cotta mixture
Mixing cream cheese with immersion blender
Sheet gelatin set to soak
Gelatin bloomed and ready to be added to the panna cotta mixture
Heated cream ready to receive the gelatin
Individual panna cottas ready to be chilled
¼ cup water
- 1 packet unflavored gelatin
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)
- Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let stand for 5 minutes or until the gelatin softens. Do not let it stand too long or it will turn into a solid blob that is hard to dissolve.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, buttermilk, and sugar. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Using a whisk or immersion blender, stir in the softened gelatin. Stir for at least a minute. Make sure that the gelatin is completely dissolved. Otherwise it will sink to the bottom and form a separate gelled layer.
- Stir in the orange blossom water and optional Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur.
- Pour into 6 6-ounce cups. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.
- Serve with fresh berries or your choice of toppings.
My son enjoys cooking, and is very good at it, but his scientist training attracts him to difficult recipes or those with a lot of instructions. This is the edited version of Peter’s biscuits. As I was collecting biscuit recipes from all of the good bakers in the family, I asked Peter for his version. He sent me some copious notes in addition to the recipe:  Don’t use rancid shortening. Probably the voice of experience.  Use a pastry blender, although a large spoon works fine.  Biscuits mix better on wood than Formica because the wood grain holds the flour.  To re-heat a day-old biscuit, put it inside a plastic bag and warm it for a few seconds in the microwave; then put it in the toaster oven for the final warm-up to remove the sogginess of the microwave. All useful suggestions either for the neophyte or experienced biscuit baker.
Other suggestions include:  the shortening in this recipe is on the low end of most recipes which go all the way up to 6 tablespoons of fat. The lower amounts of shortening produce flakier biscuits, the larger amounts produce soft biscuits. It’s only a matter of preference. Butter has more water content than vegetable shortening, so the finished biscuit is softer. Bacon grease is a good substitute, but it ought to be solid – not melted.  The less manipulation of the dough after you have added liquid the better. Folding is better than kneading so you get flaky layers.  Cold is better than warm. Be sure to chill the flour mixture before you add the liquid to get the flakiest biscuits.  Biscuits squeezed together in a cake pan will rise higher than those spread out on a baking sheet.
Peter learned the original, non-scientific version of his recipe from his maternal grandmother and then passed it on to his younger sister, who is a professional chef. She has worked in well-known restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. A common tradition in all of these places is the “family meal”. Chefs and cooks take turns preparing a meal for cooks and wait staff before evening service begins. The kitchen crews in all of those places are used to complex meals with expensive ingredients. Yet in every single one of them, when Sarah cooks “family meal”, cheers inevitably go up for her biscuits and barbecued brisket. There is never a single biscuit left when service starts.
In fact, the biscuits are so popular with restaurant staff that they will go to great lengths to get their share. One time a baking sheet of hot biscuits had just come out of the oven, ready to be passed around the table. Before anyone knew what was happening, the pan crashed to the floor, and the biscuits spilled out. Next stop for the biscuits was the trash barrel in spite of the cries of the hungry staff. One frustrated cook leaped up and went head down into the trash barrel to retrieve those precious gems.
Biscuit dough patted out to ½ inch thickness ready to be cut
Dough cut in biscuit-sized circles
Ready for the oven. Just barely touching, they will rise, but closer together they will rise even higher
Fresh and hot from the oven
A basket of freshly-baked biscuits ready for the table
What’s better with biscuits than Southern fired chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy?
PETER AND SARAH’S FAMILY MEAL BISCUITS
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons shortening (Crisco much preferred)
- ¾ cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 450º.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture is consistent and the size of small peas.
- The biscuits will be flakier if you chill the dry mixture in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
- Add the milk, and mix with a fork, being careful not to over-mix.
- Turn the dough onto a heavily floured surface. Knead the dough gently by pressing and folding. Don’t overdo it! Four foldings should be enough, and more than six is too many. Coat the dough with flour before the final folding to make splitting the biscuits easier.
- Pat the dough into a flat rectangle about ¼ to ½ inches thick. Using a two-inch biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Gather up the scraps, pat them together and flatten them, cutting biscuits until the dough is used up.
- Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until done.
Yield: Between 12 and 24 biscuits depending on size and thickness
A few weeks ago, that great blog, Baking with Sibella, http://bakingwithsibella.wordpress.com/ featured a beautiful rhubarb and strawberry galette. More recently, Sibella has shown us how to make a rhubarb and strawberry sauce. Such inspiration!
I remember days in my grandmother’s back yard in the spring. She had three very old and very large rhubarb plants growing under a huge cottonwood tree. The leaves of the rhubarb were enormous – and of course inedible – but the children would pick a stalk, pull off the outer rind, sprinkle a little salt, and then pucker up our mouths from the sour-salt taste. That was fun while we waited for the sweet rhubarb pie.
Rhubarb has been a feature of our local farmers market for several weeks, and strawberries are just now becoming available. It’s the beginning of summer, and I think of rhubarb as a harbinger of spring. Never mind that my seasons are messed up, rhubarb and strawberry pie seems like the perfect thing to bake right now, so here goes:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
- 1/3 cup ice water
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Then cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles fine crumbs
- Stir in the ice water using a fork to combine. Pull together any loose crumbs, and pat the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Pie crust mix after cutting in the vegetable shortening
Rhubarb and Strawberry Filling
Stalks of rhubarb
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups rhubarb (6 to 10 stalks, depending on siz), cut crosswise in ½ inch pieces
- 1 quart strawberries, washed and hulled
- In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla extract.
- Add the rhubarb and strawberries. Mix well
- pie dough and filling from above
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Baked pie on the cooling rack
- Preheat oven to 450°
- Remove the prepared pie dough from the refrigerator. Divide in half.
- Roll out one half of the dough into a circle large enough to line a 9 inch pie pan
- Roll out the remaining half of the dough for the top crust.
- Transfer the rhubarb and strawberry mixture to the empty pie shell.
- Dot the top of the filling with the butter and cover with the top crust. Crimp the edges of the pie and cut off any extra dough.
- Cut several vents in the top crust. Paint the top lightly with the egg white mixture using a pastry brush. Then sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
- Bake at 450° for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350° for 40 minutes longer or until done. Be sure to have a pan on a lower shelf of the oven to catch any drips. If the edge of the crust gets too dark before the pie is baked, shield it with a ring of aluminum foil.
- Cool on a baking rack.
Ready to eat