Posts by alannatobin:

Articles By: alanna taylor-tobin

Alanna Taylor-Tobin has been an avid baker and cookbook junkie since the age of 5. She holds a degree in baking and pastry from Tante Marie’s Culinary School of San Francisco, and has been working with food for the past decade. When she isn’t making postres for Destino, a nuevo latino restaurant in the Duboce Triangle, she can be found editing her blog, The Bojon Gourmet, rocking downward dog, or playing the ukulele.

On the evening of the first Saturday of every month, you can often find me and my sweetie aboard a 100+-year-old ship at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco bellowing out melodies among hundreds of other voices. We are not part of some freakish cult (at least, not in so many words). We merely participate in a 30-year-old San Francisco tradition: the Hyde Street Chantey Sing.

For the past thirty years, singers of all ages have been gathering aboard the Balclutha to belt out working songs of the sea. Chanteys are fairly simple tunes that are largely call-and-response and easy to catch on to. Once you’ve been to a couple of chantey sings, you’ll be familiar with most of the songs commonly sung.  The acoustics on the ship are excellent, the singing is top-notch, the vibe is fun and friendly, and after 11 p.m., the session opens up to include ballads and bawdy songs, which are definitely worth sticking around for.

But the best thing about the chantey sing, in my opinion, are Irish coffees from the nearby  Buena Vista  to warm you from the chilly, San Francisco bay air.

Leave the warm, covered deck of the Balclutha and walk to the end of the pier, past the creaking ships and slapping waves. Cross the street and shove your way into the ever-crowded Buena Vista, where Irish coffees were tested, perfected, and popularized 60 years ago on November 10th, 1952. Belly up to the bar, order their iconic beverage, and the bartender will present you with a cup of perfectly sweetened, highly boozy coffee topped with softly whipped cream.

After several chantey sings (and perhaps several Irish coffees), I reckoned that the winning combination of coffee, cream and Irish whiskey would make a stellar frozen dessert, and began working them into an ice cream. But I didn’t realize that the ice cream would require such a delicate balance of ingredients to showcase the coffee and boozy flavors and still set into a scoopable ice cream.

I began by consulting my ice cream bible for coffee- and booze-to-custard ratios and adapted them to my favorite ice cream formula. But as I churned up the ice cream, which wasn’t as boozy as I would have liked it, I realized that I should have decreased the amount of fat in the custard to both accommodate more alcohol and to mute the flavor of the coffee less. Fat, alcohol and sugar all prevent ice cream from freezing. Adding more of any to your ice cream will result in a more pliable product, but too much and your ice cream will never solidify beyond the milkshake stage. Fat and dairy also have the effect of softening flavors, which make it a perfect match for potent ingredients like coffee and chocolate, but too much prevents the flavors from shining through.

So for trial 2, I took down the fat content by subbing in whole milk for the half and half, and added more whiskey. But this batch tasted icy and thin, with the coffee flavor too harsh from the leaner base.

For batch 3, I split the difference, still using some whole milk but adding more cream. This ice cream took 5 tablespoons of whiskey but still firmed up to a pliantly scoopable texture. As the ice cream churned, I held the whiskey bottle and asked my other half if I should add more. ‘It’s still not boozy enough,’ I lamented. He laid a hand on my arm. ‘The problem is, it will never be boozy enough. But! You can always pour more whiskey over your bowl of ice cream.’ He’s so smart.

I’m glad I listened to him, because the ice cream was difficult enough to photograph. Straight from the freezer it is perfectly creamy, but scoops begin to melt within minutes, making challenging subjects.

Coffee ice cream is a favorite of mine, and this version rivals the best with its creamy texture, earthy coffee flavor, and boozy bonus. I used a dark-roasted swiss water decaf, made by the folks at  Coast Roast  in Tomales, CA, so I can eat as much as I want for dessert without getting the jitters.

This ice cream makes a heavenly treat by itself, but it would also make a heavenly pairing with chocolate bouchons.  And save your egg whites to bake into a luscious cake, such as buckwheat-hazelnut, chocolate pistachio  or chocolate hazelnut.

If you lack an ice cream maker, don’t fret: try David Lebovitz’ method for making ice cream without one. This recipe is particularly amenable to the hand-stirring method what with all that booze that prevents it from freezing solid.

Share this ice cream with friends, and you may unwittingly start a cult of your own; it may or may not involve singing.

Irish Coffee Ice Cream

Give yourself 1-2 days to complete this ice cream, but know that the time is mostly inactive: 1 hour to steep the cream with the coffee beans, 4 hours to chill the ice cream base, and several hours to overnight to firm the churned ice cream in the freezer.  If you lack an ice cream maker, check out David Lebovitz’s post on making ice cream without one. And if you lack a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract along with the whiskey.

Good coffee ice cream starts with good coffee; I used a dark-roasted swiss water decaf (from Coast Roast in Tomales, California) so that I can eat this for dessert and not get the jitters. For the whiskey, I use Jameson, which is my current favorite drinking whiskey, but use what you like – bourbon or dark rum would probably be tasty substitutes (though the ice cream will no longer be ‘Irish’). The amount of whiskey here creates an ice cream with a soft set that (unfortunately) doesn’t taste strongly of booze; but don’t be tempted to add more, or your ice cream may not set at all and end up like a creamy slushy. If you want more whiskey flavor (and really, who doesn’t?) splash it over individual scoops; or float a scoop in a mug of real Irish coffee.

Makes about 1 quart

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole coffee beans

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 cup whole milk, plus a few extra tablespoons for topping off the cream (see directions, below)

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

pinch salt

4-5 tablespoons whiskey (see headnote)

Combine the cream, coffee beans and vanilla pod and scrapings in a medium saucepan. Warm over a medium flame, shuffling the pan occasionally, until the cream is steaming and bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour, shuffling the pan a few times during the hour to evenly saturate the beans.

Strain the cream into a 2 or 4-cup capacity measuring cup. Slowly pour enough whole milk  over the beans to bring the mixture back to 1 1/2 cups, rinsing the beans with the milk. Press on the beans to extract any extra liquid, then discard the beans. Chill the infused cream while you make the custard. (The cream can be infused ahead of time, covered, and chilled for up to several days.)

In the now empty saucepan, warm the remaining 1 cup of milk until it is steaming and small bubbles form around the edges. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl to combine and anchor the bowl on a damp towel. Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture starts to ‘stick’ (form a film on) the bottom of the pan, and/or registers 170 º on an instant read thermometer. (This will only take a minute or two.) Immediately strain the custard into the coffee-infused cream. Optionally chill the ice cream base over an ice bath.

Now for the important bit:  stir in that whiskey!

Cover and chill the base in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 3 days (I like to put it in a 1-quart, wide-mouth mason jar.)

Place the ice cream base in the freezer for half an hour to get it really cold, stirring (or shaking, if in a mason jar) it every 10 minutes. (I also like to place the vessel in which I will be storing the ice cream in the freezer to get it cold so the churned ice cream doesn’t melt on contact.) Spin the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream will still be fairly soft when it is done churning, about the consistency of a thick-ish milk shake, but it will firm up in the freezer.

Glop the ice cream into a large jar or loaf pan, cover, and freeze for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. The ice cream will still be pliant, but should be firm enough to scoop.

The ice cream is best within the first few days of churning when ice crystals are at a minimum, but it will keep, covered and with a piece of parchment paper pressed to its surface, for a month or two.

Follow Untapped Cities on  Twitter  and  Facebook. Get in touch with the author @alannaTT.  Ogle more food porn on The Bojon Gourmet.

Untapped San Francisco writer,  pastry chef and food blogger, Alanna Taylor-Tobin shares her current favorite book, music, restaurant and more  in this week’s  Tap This.  

What I’m eating:  Tacko‘s carne asada tacos. Tender Kobe beef comes nestled in a fried corn tortilla tucked into a second soft tortilla, and topped with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, chunky guacamole and gooey melted cheese. Don’t skip the house-made red and green salsas that sit atop each table in squeeze bottles; they are spicy perfection. The fish and veggie tacos are equally superb. Wash them down with one of Tacko’s superb beers on tap, a heavenly agua fresca, or a “margaritish” made with agave wine. This Nantucket-themed taqueria, named for Nantucket’s airport, ACK, sits in San Francisco’s Marina district, which means that there are no annoying Mission hipsters to ruin your dining experience (unless they’re spending time in the Marina “ironically.”)

What I’m reading: Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling, by the creator of the internet’s most stunning food blog Tartelette. The book takes you from camera settings to composition to post-capture editing, all in one sleek paperback slathered in luscious food porn.

What I’m listening to: The Two Man Gentleman Band. These  bow-tie clad “hot jazz”virtuosos croon naughty lyrics. Favorites include “Chocolate Milk,””Fancy Beer”and “I like to party with girls.”

Most Untapped thing I did this week: Singing sea chanties on the Balclutha, a 100+-year-old ship at the Hyde Street Pier. Everyone is welcome the first Saturday of every month, from 8pm-midnight.

What I’m wearing: Organic cotton oven mitts, by Natural Home Magazine. Durable cotton the outside, soft terry cloth on the inside, they’ll protect your hands but not spoil your minimalist, green aesthetic. Available at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Co-op.

What I’m using: 2012 Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar: Apocalypse Addition. Keep track of your schedule with a different babe, and her instrument, each month. In the words of Renee De La Prade, the calendar’s creator,  “Accordions don’t suck anymore.”

 Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook. Get in touch with the author @AlannaTT.

I once got excited about Valentine’s Day. And I do mean “once”, as in, one time in my whole life. The first boyfriend I had was during my junior year of high school, and I was thrilled when he invited me on a trip with his mom on V-Day weekend. Unfortunately, my best friend, whose birthday was on the 13th, was not so thrilled when I asked whether she would mind moving her party to the following weekend so that I could attend. She then didn’t speak to me for a week, which was especially awkward since she drove me to and from school every day, 45 minutes each way. (I had failed my driving test three times.) And after all that, the boyfriend’s mom ended up uninviting me, because she hated me (she didn’t say as much, but it was obvious). Even though I spent V-Day at Buca Di Beppo with my friend-instead of sipping hot chocolate by the fire with my boyfriend-I don’t think she ever forgave me. My friend, that is. I know the mom never forgave me.

Since then, I play it safe, and have practiced rolling my eyes and drawling, “Hallmark holiday” whenever the touchy topic of V-Day arises.

There is one thing that I do appreciate about V-Day, however: that it is considered obligatory to gorge oneself on champagne and chocolate, or even better, prosecco and a gooey, chocolaty dessert. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman’s is through her chocolate stomach (yes, we have a separate stomach for chocolate; take note, boys).

As far as gooey, chocolaty desserts go, it doesn’t get much better than a brownie sundae…

…unless the brownie recipe comes from Thomas Keller. (And the ice cream is homemade and flecked with vanilla bean and fresh black pepper, the whole thing tricked out with blood orange reduction, cocoa nibs and flaky salt.) Called “bouchons” for their semblance to corks, these cakes have the nostalgic flavor and slight chew of brownies made from a box, only they’re way better because they’re French. Just kidding. They’re way better because they’re made with high quality cocoa powder, chocolate, butter, and enough salt to make them completely addictive. Their light-yet-dense, moist texture, which comes from whipping whole eggs with sugar until thick and then forcing in an unconscionable amount of butter, is what every brownie wants to have.

I scored this cake recipe from my days at  Farallon, where we served the bouchons atop an espresso sauce with milk chocolate ice cream and salted pecans. While we sold more of these cakes than any other dessert, occasionally someone would request it sans sauce, and with vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. At first I thought this blasphemy, but when I tasted the combination, I had to admit that the fresh, clean flavor of the vanilla complemented the dark richness of the cakes better than the chocolate ice cream did.

Inspired by Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life, I decided to pair the cakes with vanilla-black pepper ice cream. Molly got the idea from Mallard Ice Cream, a fabulous shop in the fabulous town of Bellingham, Washington, that I had the pleasure of visiting during a trip several years ago. Those were enough creds for me-I made my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe, stirring in the black pepper just before churning as per Molly’s instructions. Don’t fear the pepper; the vanilla comes through as the prominent flavor, with a kicky finish. Blood orange reduction adds a note of brightness to the dish without overwhelming, and cocoa nibs and flaky salt provide addictive crunch.

If you’re bojon this V-day, you probably don’t a have a ton of lettuce to drop at some overpriced restaurant where everybody and their mistress is dining. Instead, why not impress your date by baking him or her these rich little cakes?

On second thought, maybe you should give them to your best friend instead.

Chocolate Bouchons with Black Pepper Ice Cream and Blood Orange Reduction

10 servings

The amounts of sugar, butter and salt in the cake batter might seem excessive, but I assure you the flavor and texture turn out just right. I once made these gluten-free, by subbing sweet rice flour for the all-purpose, with excellent results. I’ve always used dutch-processed cocoa powder for these cakes, and don’t know whether they’d work with the “natural” stuff; Valrhona and Guittard both make good dutch-processed cocoa.  Be sure the melted butter is still very warm when you add it to the cake batter; otherwise, the cakes won’t develop the prettily glazed cracks on top (they’ll still taste great, though!). Make the ice cream base the day before you plan to serve the cakes, as it benefits from resting in the fridge overnight, and needs to firm up for a few hours  after spinning. (A wise woman once said, “You can’t hurry ice cream, no, you just have to wait”… or something like that.) If you lack an ice cream maker, or didn’t plan ahead, don’t fret; make a batch of crà­ ¨me anglaise and grind 1/4 teaspoon or so of black pepper into the cooled custard. All the components can be made in advance; the cakes keep well for several days, and reheat beautifully in the oven or toaster oven. Should you be so lucky as to have 3″ ring molds, use them to bake 8 cakes, omitting the cocoa-dusting step.

Warm Chocolate Cakes: (Adapted from the Bouchon Bakery via Farallon)

2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) sugar
2/3 cup (2 3/4 ounces) dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pans
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) flour
2/3 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use 72%), coarsely chopped (a scant cup)

For serving:
Blood Orange Reduction (below)
Vanilla-Black Pepper Ice Cream (below)
powdered sugar
cocoa nibs
flaky salt
freshly ground pepper

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 º. Brush 10 of the muffin tins with some of the melted butter and dust with cocoa powder. (The cleanest way to do this is to place about a tablespoon of cocoa powder in each tin, and, holding it over a large sheet of parchment paper, knock it around to the best of your ability, tapping out the excess onto the parchment. Use the parchment to slide the extra cocoa into your measuring cup for the cake.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until very thick and pale, 5 – 10 minutes. When you lift the paddle from the bowl, the egg goop should form a mound on the surface of the goop in the bowl for a second before disappearing.

While the eggs are doing their thing, sift together the cocoa, flour and salt into a medium bowl.

Beat the vanilla into the egg mixture. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add 1/3 of the dry mixture, beating until combined. With the mixer still running, drizzle in 1/2 of the warm, melted butter, mixing until combined (slowly drizzling in the butter ensures that it emulsifies into the eggs, resulting in a smooth, not greasy, texture). Keep going like that until all the stuff is in there. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chopped chocolate. The batter should be fairly runny and shiny, like that of brownie batter.

Immediately divide the batter among the buttered and cocoa-ed muffin cups (a spring-loaded ice cream scoop makes quick work of this), filling them about 2/3 of the way full. Bake the cakes, rotating once, until shiny on top and a tester comes out with lots of moist crumbs (there may be melted chocolate from the chunks on there, too-don’t let it fool you), about 20 minutes. Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes. Invert a cooling rack over the cakes, then grab the pan and the rack and flip everything over together. Give the pan a rap on the table, then remove it, so that the cakes are sitting upside-down on the rack. Turn the cakes over to cool right-side-up.

To serve, dust the cakes with powdered sugar. Drizzle the blood orange reduction on plates, and place a warm cake atop each plate. Make a small pile of cocoa nibs next to or on top of the cakes, and top with a scoop of ice cream. Garnish the ice cream with ground black pepper, a few flecks of flaky salt and a few cocoa nibs.

The cakes will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat in a 350 º oven for 3 – 5 minutes before serving.

Vanilla-Black Pepper Ice Cream: (Adapted from A Homemade Life)

Makes about 1 quart

The easiest way to measure the black pepper is to grind it onto a piece of creased paper, then use the paper to slide the pepper into the measuring spoons.

Save the egg whites for making  brown-butter financier cakes. They will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for several months.

1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 cup cold heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly and finely ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the half and half with the vanilla bean and scrapings until steaming and small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan. Cover and steep for 20 minutes.

Pour the heavy cream into a quart-sized container, such as a mason jar, and set aside. If you have an instant-read thermometer, have it handy.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl set on a damp towel to stabilize it. Add the sugar and salt, whisking to combine. Reheat the half and half to a bare scald. Whisking constantly with one hand, pour the hot dairy very slowly into the yolks. (This is called tempering, and prevents the yolks from scrambling.) Pour the mixture back into the pot and set over a medium-low flame. Cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot, until the custard just begins to “stick” (or form a thickened film) on the bottom of the pot (you will have to tilt the pan to see the bottom), or registers 170 º on an instant-read thermometer, 5-10 minutes.

Immediately pour the custard into the container of cold cream, stir to combine, and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Place the ice cream base in the freezer for 30 minutes, stirring 2 – 3 times, to get it really cold. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, and stir in the black pepper, then process in an ice cream maker. ‘Cure’ in the freezer for at least 2 hours for a firmer, scoopable consistency.

Homemade ice cream is best eaten within the first few days of being made, but will keep for a month or two in the freezer.

Blood Orange Reduction:

Use any leftover syrup to make blood orange sodas; just stir a bit of syrup into a glass of sparkling water (or prosecco!).

1 cup freshly squeezed, strained blood orange juice (from 3 or 4 blood oranges)
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook at a simmer, swirling occasionally, until syrupy and reduced by about half, 5 – 10 minutes. You can “test the set” and determine whether the sauce is thick enough to hold a line on a plate by dripping a drop of the reduction onto a chilled plate. Cool and store in the fridge for up to several weeks.

Follow Untapped Cities on  Twitter  and  Facebook. Get in touch with the author @AlannaTT.

Fennel grows like a weed all over coastal California. I used to love grazing on the herbaceous fronds while walking through Topanga Canyon wilderness during my childhood. (But then, I would eat pretty much anything.)

During my Potrero Hill ‘commute’ (a ten-minute walk) to Farley’s many years later, I would feel a nostalgic kinship with the forest of fennel that grows on a grassy hillside on 18th Street. Every month or so, some determined gardener would attempt to eradicate the fennel by mowing down the four-foot-high stalks. They would lay like fallen soldiers, their licorice scent wafting through the air. But to my delight, the fennel always won: the forest would re-grow to its previous majesty not a month later.

Since fennel grows so easily, I could never understand why the bulbs in the market were so darned expensive. Apparently, bulbed fennel is a different variety than the wild stuff, which doesn’t form those pretty, smooth-textured bulbs, and, presumably, it is harder to grow.

Luckily for me, Eatwell Farms has recently been gifting us large, pale green, frond-tufted orbs in our weekly boxes that brim with beautiful winter produce and eggs, and we’ve been in fennel heaven (which is not exactly the place where good fennel soldiers go, but it does smell the same). I paired one monster bulb with caramelized leeks and bacon for this savory tart.

I cooked up some lardons of super smoky, thick-cut bacon from the Corralitos Market, an old-school general store outside of Santa Cruz that specializes in smoked sausages and other meats. I cooked sliced leeks and fennel in the rendered fat until meltingly tender and caramelized, and deglazed the pan with a few splashes of white wine. At the bottom of a par-baked, whole-grain pate brisée, I put down a sprinkling of parmesan, which creates a barrier between custard and crust, then layered the bacon and veggies on top, and poured over a custard of eggs and cream, seasoned with a few generous grinds of black pepper.

It didn’t seem like very much bacon at first, but the finished tart is undeniably bacon-tastic. The lardons, which lose a lot of volume when first sauteed, seem to soak up liquid as the tart bakes, like those magically expansive sponges shaped like dinosaurs and such. I was surprised how much bacon meat and flavor ended up in the finished quiche. Isn’t there some cliché about quiche being un-manly? A “quiché”? Well this tart would be the answer to that.

Despite the abundant baconage, the fennel can be tasted, its clean anise flavor layering the sweet leeks and smoky meat. The bright-yolked eggs from Eatwell turned the custard a rich yellow. The crust flakes tenderly against the creamy custard, and all that vegetable matter makes this substantial enough for brunch, lunch or supper, accompanied by a crisp salad (preferably made with chicories and arugula to counteract the sweet richness of the quiche).

If you’re stuck with an over-abundance of fennel, try using it anywhere you would celery: in egg, tuna or potato salad, in a mirepoix, in a soup (such as Lentil Soup with Chestnuts and Fennel), or on a platter of crudites.

Or give me a call, and I’ll take it off your hands.

Bacon, Leek and Fennel Quiche

Makes one 9 or 10″ quiche, about 8 servings

If you’re not of the mind that everything tastes better with bacon (and even more better with more bacon), use the lesser amount listed here; or, for a vegetarian version, omit it entirely and cook the leeks and fennel in equal parts butter and olive oil.

Serve wedges of this tart with a crisp salad, preferably made with pungent greens such as arugula and/or chicories.

All-butter crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2″ dice
about 4 tablespoons ice water

Meat and veggies:
4-8 ounces bacon (preferably thick-cut, smoky; see headnote)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium-large leeks
about 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as sauvignon blanc)
sea salt
1 large fennel bulb, a few feathery fronds reserved for garnish

Cheese and custard:
2 ounces grated parmesan (about 3/4 cup)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few turns of freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Drizzle the ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze. Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough, gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least an hour or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12″ circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 10″ quiche pan (or a 9″ pie pan or 9″ deep tart pan), fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1″ overhang. Fold the overhang inside to create double-thick walls, and press firmly into the sides of the pan. (Hint #1: if you make the crust 1/4″ higher than the sides of the pan, you will allow for a bit of shrinkage. Hint #2: Save any dough scraps in case the crust bakes up with a tiny hole or tear; you can patch up the hole and avoid a leaky [read: not “leeky”] tart)

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 º. Remove all other racks from the oven.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pushed into the corners of the crust to hold it up.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is lightly golden, 5-10 minutes longer.

Reduce the oven to 350 º.

While the tart dough is chilling and baking, make the filling:
Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon to a bowl, leaving behind the fat. Pour off all but 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat and reserve.

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice the white and light green parts crosswise 1/4″ thick. Place the leeks in a large bowl and fill with cool water. Let the leeks sit for a few minutes, swishing them around occasionally to dislodge any dirt or sand.

Heat the skillet with the fat in it over medium-high. Gently lift the leeks out of the water, shaking off excess moisture, and add them to the pan. Cook the leeks, stirring and scraping the pan frequently with a metal spatula until they reduce in volume and begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Turn the flame down to medium low and continue cooking the leeks until meltingly tender, splashing in wine as needed when the pan looks dry, about 10 more minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Scrape the leeks out of the pan and into a small bowl to set aside.

Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, place the cut sides down, then slice the bulb thinly lengthwise. If you see any dirt or sand inside the layers of fennel, place the pieces in a bowl of water as you did with the leeks to remove any gritty bits. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat to the now-empty skillet and warm over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is golden, adding wine the pan as needed, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and cook the fennel until it is very tender, stirring occasionally, 5-10 more minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.

Assemble and bake the tart:
Spread the parmesan over the bottom of the crust. Scatter the bacon pieces over the cheese. Spread the leeks over the bacon, and finally arrange the fennel over the leeks.

In a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs to combine thoroughly. Whisk in the half and half, cream, salt and pepper. Pour the custard mixture over the tart.

Bake the tart in a 350 º oven until set-the edges are slightly puffed, and there’s no wet liquid if you peek under a piece of fennel in the center-50-60 minutes.

Let the tart cool to warm, 30 minutes or so. Cut into wedges and serve warm. The tart is best the day it is baked, but will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Re-warm before enjoying.

While the holidays may have lost some of the splendor of childhood (i.e. receiving dozens of gifts from your adoring family without the stress of reciprocating with anything better than school-made macaroni-and-paper tree ornaments), there is one aspect in which being an adult is preferable:

Boozy beverages.

This is the sole time of year when one can drink spiked cider, glà­ ¼gg, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, Irish coffee, Champagne (or all of those things mixed together in the case of wassail) with impunity. And when you wake up after having passed out on the floor/in a strange bed/at work, you can simply shrug and trill, “holidays!” and no one will even consider having an intervention for you.

As a child, I always looked forward to the store-bought, virgin eggnog my parents would buy around the holidays. Essentially melted ice cream flavored generously with nutmeg, it goes down easy, and I recall even being allowed to drink it for breakfast.

Now that I can do (almost) anything I want, I’ve learned that there are two ways to make eggnog even better:

  1. Make it yourself with freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla bean, organic Strauss dairy and Eatwell Farms eggs.
  2. Spike it heavily with brandy.

I followed a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated the first time I made my own eggnog, several years ago. Eggnog is traditionally made with uncooked eggs, but the thought of drinking raw eggs gives many folks (myself included) the heebee jeebees. Cook’s tested versions with both uncooked and cooked eggs, made similarly to a crà­ ¨me anglaise, and preferred the mouthfeel of the cooked kind.

But I found Cook’s nog excessively eggy, at a proportion of 3 eggs and 1 yolk to 2 cups of dairy. The nog also tasted salty, and the flavor of the nutmeg muted and one-dimensional. I found a formula on Simply Recipes, a recipe blog run by Elise Bauer, which called for only egg yolks. I dislike having excess whites sitting around so I compromise, using 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks for 3 cups of dairy, in a sort of mash-up of the two recipes. I use the allspice berries that Elise calls for, and add vanilla bean to the hot milk for depth of flavor. Instead of heating the nutmeg with the milk, I find that adding it to the cold cream, as per Elise’s instruction, helps to better preserve its peppery-floral flavor.

Whipping the eggs, yolks and sugar to a thick foam before adding the hot dairy not only helps the nog cook faster, it also creates a velvety mouthfeel, without having to fold raw, whipped egg whites or whipped cream into the final drink.

A tipple of brandy, which I found blended better with the flavors of the nog than did dark rum or whiskey (yes, I tried them all-holidays!), turns this into a grown-up,after-dinner beverage.

And if someone catches you drinking this nog for breakfast, well, you know what to do.


A mash-up of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated,  Simply Recipes  and my own noggin.

Makes 1 generous quart, 6-8 servings

Be sure to use freshly grated nutmeg here; it has a much more vibrant flavor than the pre-ground stuff. To measure, grate onto a creased piece of paper, then slide it into the measuring spoon.  If you must use pre-ground, try reducing the amount to 3/4 teaspoon. If you lack vanilla bean, add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the finished nog. If you get your milk hot enough (just below a simmer) you may not even have to cook the custard at all if the mixture reaches 160 º or above (the temperature at which any harmful bacteria are killed).

2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
10 whole allspice berries, lightly crushed
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brandy or gold rum
extra nutmeg, for grating over the top

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, vanilla pod and scrapings, and allspice. Heat over a medium flame, swirling occasionally, until bubbles form around the sides and the milk is steaming. Remove from the heat, cover the pot and let infuse for 20 – 30 minutes.

Place the heavy cream and nutmeg in a large bowl or measuring cup and place a fine-mesh sieve over the top.

In another large bowl, vigorously beat together the eggs, yolks, sugar and salt with a sturdy wire whisk until thickened and pale, 3 – 5 minutes (this is easier the warmer the eggs are, and doing so helps the nog cook faster, and gives it a thicker, more voluptuous mouthfeel). When the milk has finished steeping, heat it again until steaming, then slowly dribble it into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over medium-low, stirring constantly with a heat-proof rubber spatula, until the mixture reaches 165 º on an instant-read thermometer, 3 – 5 minutes. (Or, if your milk was hot enough, you may not need to cook it at all.) Immediately strain into the heavy cream.

Chill the mixture over an ice bath until cold, then stir in the brandy and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least an hour.

To serve, pour into small glasses, and grate a bit of fresh nutmeg over the top. The eggnog will keep in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.

Happy Holidays!

Follow Untapped Cities on  Twitter  and  Facebook. For more fantastic recipes and food photos, visit Alanna’s food blog, The Bojon Gourmet.  

At my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, which divides its schoolyear into quarters, summer vacation extends through late September. High school friends who left California to attend college on the East Coast would reluctantly say their goodbyes come August, and I would secretly gloat about having a full month left to goof off while they undoubtedly slaved away in sweltering weather on the other side of the continent. (more…)