There is bittersweet irony with the fact that Chef Rebekah Pearse was given the chop on this week's episode of Top Chef Canada (April 18, 2011) because it featured a Canadian cheese challenge. Chef Pearse, the Calgary based cupcake Queen of the now defunct Nectar, was immortalized in the Top Chef Canada previews with her catch-phrase 'cheese' as the punch-line to "we stand on guard for...' Coincidently we have just spent the entire weekend testing recipes from Chef Pearse's recently published cookbook. Quite simply, Sweet Seasonal Deserts is sensational!
It is Sunday evening, I am exhausted from baking but excited about tomorrow's episode of Top Chef Canada. Resting on the couch with my copy of Pearse's, Sweet Seasonal Deserts, I see that it looks a little worse for wear. The back cover is sticky from the Keegan's Spiced Pecans. A few pages are soggy from where I made the Whisky Caramel Sauce that we drizzled on the Sweet Potato Pecan Tarts. We also prepared, without any literary collateral damage, the Fromage Blanc with Lemon Lavender Shortbread. Despite the exhaustion and maimed cookbook it was all worth it. All recipes were delicious and garnished rave reviews from our co-workers who reaped the benefits of our weekend experimentation.
Some were speechless when they tried to explain why their Happy Monday treat tasted so good. Others were fascinated with the levels of flavour. A few demanded recipes. High praise for people that have never been ones for cooking desert let alone pastry. Our basic repertoire consists of cookies and squares at the Pilsbury Bake-Off level. Pastry has always seemed like an enigmatic art to us. Pearse's recipes produce great results and we are definitely more popular at the office as a result.
We started our weekend baking marathon by making Keegan's Spiced Pecans. We made a trip to Atwater market for inspiration but also to find pecans and special beer for making the spiced nuts. We were also on the lookout for fresh cheese for the fromage blanc and silicone moulds that are required to make the dish. For the spiced pecans, Chef Pearse recommends a "Hazelnut Nectar Beer, or any dark nutty beer" Are you starting to get a picture of the taste? Pecans infused with liquid sugar hazelnuts and the deep taste of porter beer. We opted for a La Noire Soeur (the expression is a homophone for darkness in French), The Black Nun, from Le Grimoire Microbrasserie. This dark beer has really strong chocolate notes so we knew it would be perfect. When cooked the pecans had a sweet sticky caramel coating. We were so excited with the delicious results we mentioned it to Chef Pearse on a Facebook thread. Chef Pearse responded, suggesting that we use our pecans to make her Sweet Potato Pecan Tart. Oui Chef, we thought and added this dish to our list of weekend pastry projects. Our pastry guru's advice arrived just in time because we were devouring the nuts, they really are that good, but we had just enough left over to make the tarts.
The Sweet Potato Pecan Tart is comparable to pumpkin pie but the combination of spiced pecans (that taste like nutty caramels), roasted sweet potato, vanilla tart shell and Whisky Flavoured Caramel is the creation of a unique tasting experience. Besides the levels of flavours there are also pleasing contrasts in textures. The nuts add soft bite to the silky, creamy sweet potato filling. Each bite is slightly sandy and crisp with the taste of vanilla from the pastry shell. This was the first time that we ever tried making any kind of pie dough. The recipe produces a dough that was very easy and forgiving to work with even when fixing rips and tears.
Fromage blanc, this recipe is surprisingly easy to make. The result is visually appealing with a taste like cheesecake. The fromage blanc itself has a slight citrus taste and the combination with the Lemon Lavender Shortbread only enhances this flavour. Both, the Vanilla Tart and shortbread doughs smelled sweet and delicious even before being cooked. Lemons and Lavender, need we say more?
After reading a few books on the art of pastry this was the first time at attempting some of these feats. As pastry newbies going into a weekend adventure we were able to produce some outstanding deserts. Across the board all the recipes we tested were extremely successful so Pearse's book offers you a little taste of life as a Desert Queen. Following the recipes in Sweet Seasonal Deserts will make you more popular with your friends