I usually have a general idea of what something will taste like as I am making it, but there are those occasions when the first bite of the finished product is a complete surprise. Of course surprised can be good or bad, and this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was a delightfully good surprise.
Blanc-Manger (for those of us that don’t speak French, it’s pronounced blah-man-jhay) is cream, milk, sugar, ground almonds, and gelatin. I expected it to be like panna cotta or flan in texture and when I tasted the batter before it chilled that seemed like a logical conclusion. It behaved quite like a panna cotta or flan would when unmolded from the pan, but the moment the first bite hit my mouth this dessert immediately deviated from the smooth texture familiar to custards and other gelatin desserts. It was light and foamy as though it was effervescing with every chew. This was much more of a creamy rich mousse that just happened to be in the unexpected form of a tart. The big difference between this and panna cotta for example, is the cream is whipped and folded into the milk /gelatin mixture which incorporates air bubbles; air bubbles that pop and tickle your mouth as you eat it. It was the most delightful and unexpected surprise.
Now, a light airy gelatin tart might seem intimidating to make, but it’s as simple as whipping some cream, warming some milk, adding a few flavoring agents and spreading it in a pan to chill for a day. How perfect is this when you need an elegant dessert for a dinner party and you don’t need one more thing to do the day of? I cut out the rounds and placed them on a cocoa-star anise cookie so I could deliver these to friends and they could easily be eaten out of hand, but for a plated dessert I would opt for a thin layer of sponge cake under the tart. I spread a bit of raspberry jam spiked with Chambord and a touch of gelatin over the top. Overall I loved this dessert and thank Susan of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy for selecting it for this week’s baking activity. Susan has the recipe posted on her blog if you would like to experience the delicious effervescence yourself.
I experimented with leaf or sheet gelatin for the first time. Though there seems to be some debate about it being any better than the common granular gelatin, I wanted to try it because it’s what all the cool kids use. The trickiest thing about working with it is trying to decide how much to use when a recipe calls for granular gelatin. I have seen all sorts of different conversion rates in my research. For this recipe I settled on 3 ½ sheets (3” x 6” each) and the texture was perfect. Like granular gelatin it must be soaked in cold water before being added to anything hot; if gelatin isn’t pre-soaked it can clump and not dissolve easily when added to warm mixtures. The texture of the soaked sheets is very strange. They become very slippery and floppy, but surprisingly are still very strong. Once added to hot liquid the sheets seem to dissolve instantly, which I suspect is the primary appeal of working with leaf gelatin. The other big benefit for me is I don’t end up spilling little granules of gelatin everywhere while measuring. Somehow I always manage to spill gelatin and yeast when measuring them.
Two last little notes:
According to the food science guru, Harold McGee, gelatin doesn’t strengthen hair and nails. He says there just isn’t any good evidence to support this widely held claim. The protein found in our hair and nails is keratin and gelatin isn’t any better at creating the elements needed to form keratin than any other type of protein source. So you can eat gelatin, but you could also have a nice juicy steak, beautifully grilled piece of fish, or a tall glass of milk and provide your hair and nails with the building blocks they need.
If you want to add a little zip to chocolate cookies, but don’t want to go the common cinnamon route, try a little star anise. It adds the same warm sweetness like cinnamon, but with a fennel/anise flavor that is a nice twist.
Over 350 baking bloggers are baking our way thorough Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. 83 recipes completed 138 to go!