You’ve probably seen those jars in the dairy aisle, next to the sour cream or cream cheese. Something called crema — from Mexico, or Salvador, or Guatemala, or even L.A. And you’ve likely wondered what it was, or how exactly it was different from the nearby cream and/or sour cream. Well, stop wondering and pick up a jar. Crema is a wonderful addition to the repertoire, easily swapped for that sour cream, crème fraiche, cream or yogurt in dishes both savory and sweet. It has the texture of a thick cream, or a thinned sour cream; the tang of sour cream, but with a lighter acidity; the lightness of crème fraiche, but with a bit more salt to land it on the savory side.
The Three Points cooks first tried it out some time back when gathering ingredients for a scalloped potatoes dish. Finding ourselves at a grocery in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and looking at the array of crema brands in the cooler, we decided to give it a try. Used in place of milk, crema produced a wonderfully creamy, rich, and slightly tangy version of scalloped potatoes. The guests loved it.
Last weekend we once again found ourselves face-to-face with an array of crema, this time at the local supermarket (proof that Latin products are becoming increasingly easy to find at mainstream stores). We’d stopped in to get some cream for a chocolate ganache, but we again looked at the dairy case, exchanged glances, and said, “Why not?” The resulting ganache for our four-layer Black and White Chocolate Butter Cake was so good — reminiscent of a sour cream chocolate frosting — that we opted to frost the sides of the cake with it instead of just using it for filling (a beautiful brown sugar buttercream went on top).
Then, taking a cue from the traditional use of crema as a topping for fish tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican/Latin American dishes, we drizzled some into the fresh Red Okra Soup, where it proved a perfect match to the soups smoky heat.
It’s just the beginning.
Today’s birthday girl, Lisa, had to return home to North Carolina for her actual celebration date, but not before getting a serious chocolate fix during a few days in NYC. Lisa’s first request, a return to Brooklyn’s The Chocolate Room for flourless chocolate cake in a pool of raspberry sauce—“sex on a plate” in her words—set off our plan for a chocolate tour of the city. Not so difficult, since the location of various chocolate purveyors made for convenient pit stops on our shopping adventures with fellow summer b-day girl, Jeanine. Got to keep your strength up!
A stop by small chocolate shops wherever you visit can be a wonderful way to taste products by local food artisans, and it’s easy to sample a piece of two without spending a lot. (In my hometown of Kansas City, I always head for Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates and the more traditional comforts of Annedore’s.) Stops on our NY tour included:
- Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven. Mr. Chocolate has a few locations around the city, but nothing beats a trip to the source in Soho, where the chocolates are made. Really, who can resist a place called Chocolate Haven? Where you can sit at the marble counter and have a signature Wicked hot chocolate (frozen for summer)? Bonus: Jacques is very hands-on with the factory’s operations and was even spotted on our Saturday visit, before donning his motorcycle helmet and scooting out the door.
- Kee’s Chocolates. A low-key shop in Soho with a small, but innovative selection of truffles (and French-style macaroons) made on site. Lisa could be heard muttering ‘’mmmmm’’ every few seconds as she slowly consumed her coconut truffle while walking down the street.
- MarieBelle Sweets. Time for another Soho shopping break, where the European-style café in back serves chocolates and teas. MarieBelle’s ganache-filled chocolates are like miniature silk-screened works of art; my caramel square looked much like a blue and white Delft tile. The real surprise here was a saffron ganache that pairs amazingly well with chocolate.
Nunu Chocolates. A stop at the Atlantic Avenue storefront, where this small producer is headquartered, for sea salt caramels and a Prosecco-filled bonbon, plus some chocolate-covered cacao nibs. As Nunu’s info tells us, they contain high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants, “making them an incredibly tasty and healthy treat.” Can’t argue with that.
- Roni-Sue Chocolates. Time didn’t permit a trip to the Lower East Side for this Essex Street Market chocolate maker, known for her selection of truffles with cocktail combos like the Dark and Stormy and the Manhattan, plus a fantastic buttercrunch. But have to give a shoutout to Roni-Sue, having had the pleasure of meeting her on a previous visit, where she packed up a gift box, and even added her signature to boot.
Oh well, there’s always next year. In the meantime, think I’ll slip out for a slice of The Chocolate Room’s triple-layer chocolate cake in honor of the birthday girl.
I have long had the dream of opening a dark, smoky, Eastern European coffee shop, where the grouchy (but stealthily kindhearted) waitresses would serve handmade pastries with perfect espressos. They would bark orders, frighten tourists and hustle out the lingerers— morose poets and spies, of course there would be spies— to make room for the next trench-coat-wearing patron in need of my version of soul food.
Until that day, I am left to baking my way through the list of contenders for positions in my future bakery case.
The Indianerkrapfen (Indianer “Cup Cakes”), on Page 127 of Rick Rodgers’ meticulously researched dessert book, have always seemed a candidate for top-shelf position, though I had never made them. Rodgers is quite specific on the proper shape of these little ganache-topped, jam- and whipped-cream-filled sponge cakes: Nothing short of globes will do. While denizens of Vienna have easy access to the Indianerkrapfen molds required to produce cake orbs, we do not. The closest thing we have is the Danish apple dumpling pan, or ebelskiver, special equipment that I had yet to accumulate. And I wasn’t about to go for second-best (baking them in muffin tins). Then came Three Cubed, and here I am, proud owner of a cast-iron dumpling pan.
Indianers definitely fall into the “little balls of happiness” category of food (like Julia Child’s wine-braised pearl onions or, in general, gougères). They taste divine, especially with sour cherry jam instead of the apricot in the original recipe. However, these are a pain make. The ebelskiver produces seven cakes at a time, after which you must let the pan cool, then rinse and dry it before you can move on to the next round. The cakes also are cooled, then cut so they have a small base and larger cap (interior removed so it is just a shell), spread with jam on the inside, filled with whipped cream and topped with bittersweet chocolate. They have little to no shelf life, especially in summer heat.
Indianers do serve up the wow factor, reminiscent of an éclair—with a nice, spongy twist. A pinch of gelatin or dollop of sour cream might help the whipped cream hold up for a little while, though I cannot imagine how they keep if fully assembled. So if you plan to make these—and I suggest you do or, better, convince someone to bake them for you —finish them á la minute.
A recipe similar to that in the book can be found here, though I recommend buying Kaffeehaus and giving Rick a little love. He certainly put it into this book.