Part XXXI: Pretty Red Boxes
This week’s installment comes with at least a mild bit of shame on my part. I mean, look at that title up there. Jesus, I practically had to put on a powdered wig just to get to the quotation marks.
But that’s really the only way I could do this one, to be honest. Petit fours are pretty much the most pretentious culinary invention since the ortolan, and I’m pretty sure you have to have a Mercedes emblem tattooed on your AmEx Black card before you’re even allowed to order one, much less eat it. And that doesn’t even begin to get into how the damn things are actually made.
For those of you who don’t know, petit fours are basically tiny, tiny cakes made with roughly 800 layers, and somehow made to look 100% perfect every single time. Usually its a layer of white cake, then preserves, then cake, then more preserves, then icing, then marzipan, then an entire sugar recreation of the Sistine Chapel, and then it’s probably done. Maybe.
I ate one of these miniature monstrosities a couple weeks back and thought two things.
First: this looks stupid and complicated and I don’t want any part of it.
Second: holy hell this is delicious I need to make something like it right now.
So that was the first group of thoughts. The second was “I like coffee ice cream”. As you’ll see, those two turn out to be somewhat incongruous, mostly because cake doesn’t melt, and ice cream does. Honestly, as pretentious as putting the “petit fours” part of this recipe in quotes is, 90% of it is because the end product looks partially like a petit four and mostly like a chocolate recreation of the Exxon Valdez, dead animals included. Despite that, it tastes good, so I’ll teach you how to make it.
Here’s what you need:
– 1 1/2 cups whole milk
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans
– Pinch of salt
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 cup heavy cream
– 5 egg yolks
– 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon espresso
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
– 3/4 cup brown sugar
– 1 egg
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 14. oz dark chocolate
– 1/4 cup coconut oil
– 1/4 cup almond slivers
– 1 tablespoon chocolate covered espresso beans (they have them at Trader Joe’s, or whatever Whole Foods overpriced nonsense store you have near you)
Here’s how you do it:
Obviously, this one’s gonna have a lot of steps, and it’s not gonna be a walk in the park. Luckily, it involves a lot of waiting, so if you screw up you get a good long time to sit there and think about just how bad of a cook you are.
Pour the milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt, and the 1/2 cup of cream into a medium saucepan over medium heat. You want it to get just hot enough to start steaming, but not so hot that it boils. Once you see the steam, take the pan off your burner, cover it, let it sit for an hour, and get ready to enjoy the greatest smell you’ll ever smell in your whole entire life. You probably think losing your virginity to an ice cream base is a silly idea, but you’ll think about it during that hour. At least a couple times.
Fill a big-ass bowl with ice, and put a medium-sized bowl into that bigger one. Pour the rest of the cream in the medium bowl and let it chill while the coffee amazingness is steeping.
After the hour’s up, put the coffee base back on medium heat until it’s, again, steaming without boiling. Whisk the egg yolks together in another bowl, then slowly pour the coffee base into the bowl with the eggs. The key here is to whisk the whole time you’re pouring it, that way you get creamy ice cream and not creamy goop with some scrambled eggs mixed into it, since that’s what the heat’ll do to it. Once it’s all added in, pour the mixture back into the original saucepan and put it back on medium heat.
Stir until the whole thing’s thick enough that you can run a finger across the back of the spoon and leave a trail. It should take about 10 minutes, but leave it on longer if it’s not behaving.
Once it’s thick enough, pour the whole thing through a strainer into the bowl of chilled cream from earlier. Press down on the coffee beans too, don’t be lazy. You wanna get every single bit of that coffee flavor out of there. Throw away the beans once you’ve done that, add the vanilla, and stir until the mixture cools down.
Let the mixture chill overnight in the fridge, then use your ice cream maker to, y’know…make it into ice cream. Like the name says. It ain’t hard, people.
Next, the cookies.
Preheat your oven to 350. Then, whisk the dry stuff (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, espresso, and salt) in a bowl.
Cream your butter and sugar together until it’s light and/or fluffy, then mix in the egg and vanilla.
Add the dry stuff, mix until combined. See? Easy stuff.
Form balls from a 1/4 cup of dough, and flatten them with something. Try to make them vaguely square-shaped using your hands or a knife. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since they’re gonna misbehave and change into basically whatever shape they damn well please, but it will make things a bit easier later on. Also, use two baking sheets. I didn’t do that…as you’ll see shortly.
Bake for 10 minutes in the center of the oven, then let the cookies sit for a couple minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.
Once the cookies are completely cool, take your ice cream back out and let it sit for seven minutes. You want it to be nice and spreadable to go on the cookies, and don’t worry if it gets a little too melted; you’re gonna refreeze the whole mess after this.
Arrange the first four cookies in the bottom of a square brownie pan. The size isn’t terribly important, but 9x9x2’s a good number to shoot for. Just make sure you can fill the bottom of pan with cookie; that’s what really matters. Also, you may have to trim the edges of the cookies with a knife to get them to fit. Don’t worry if they end up looking ugly or deformed like mine did; it’s not gonna matter once they’re covered in chocolate. That’s totally an artistic and culinary technique there. Totally not laziness. Nope.
Spread the ice cream over the bottom layer of cookies, making sure it’s as smooth as you can get it.
After that, arrange the top layer of cookies the same way you did the bottom, cover the pan, and freeze again overnight.
Ready for the part you’re gonna hate? Too bad, you gotta do it anyway.
Melt the chocolate and coconut oil together over a double boiler and stir until it’s all melted and mixed together. You can microwave the chocolate/oil at 20 second intervals and stir in-between if you can’t figure out how a double boiler works.
While you’re doing this, run a knife under hot water and cut your ice cream sandwiches into squares, roughly one inch by one inch. This will likely not go well at all, but just get it as close as you can before you cut a finger off. Also, get your almond slivers and espresso beans ready. You’re gonna need them real soon.
Now…as you probably know, ice cream has a tendency to melt. It also has a tendency to melt a hell of a lot more when there’s hot melted chocolate being poured over it. That’s why you have to work QUICKLY to do this. What I did was do five sandwiches at a time and immediately put them in the freezer once they’re prepared. Like I said…they probably won’t be perfect. But you’ll probably do a better job than me, and hey, maybe they’ll look like actual petit fours and not garbage mounds when you do it. A man can dream.
To finish the sandwiches (this is the part you’ve been waiting for two or three paragraphs), pour the chocolate over the sandwich, and try to cover it completely. Once that’s done, quickly place an espresso bean on the top of the sandwich, in the middle. Then arrange the almond slivers around the bean to look like petals. See what I did there? You see it? It’s a flower.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. I’m sorry your kitchen looks like a chocolate slaughterhouse now, and I’m sorry your hands are probably covered in third-degree burns. Once you put one of those sandwiches in your mouth you’ll know why it had to be done. Or you’ll still be pissed off but it’ll taste really good and hopefully you’ll forgive me. Either way, maybe this week’s song will help…a song that’s probably ten times as complicated as this recipe: Summer 1 by Max Richter:
If I learned one thing from making this recipe, it’s that I’m clearly, clearly not cut out for the kind of high-brow, crazy dessert art that’s prowling the 5-stars and 3-stars these days. Sure, it’s cool and all that you can make a gold leaf and white chocolate recreation of the Vatican, but nine times out of ten all that effort’s gonna go into the art…not the flavor. My attempt at fancy might look a bit slumpy, but it tastes damn good. I’m alright with that. See you at the museums, folks.