From the Chronicle Kitchen:
Fire It Up
This week’s guest blogger is the fab David Joachim, co-author of the recently released Fire It Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything. It’s the height of grilling season so hey, why not do something you’ve probably never done before—grill a seasonally appropriate dessert!
Let us know what you think about this delicious recipe—have you done it before? Are you tempted to try it out? Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win a copy we’ll be giving away to a randomly selected lucky person.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Sugar
Sugar, butter, flour, eggs, chocolate, cream… these are the things I love most about dessert. But I also love open flames, hot grill grates, and wood smoke. Can you have both? Absolutely! Grilled desserts marry sugar and fire in the most incredible way.
Think of s’mores. The sugar on the outside of the marshmallow browns and caramelizes as the center gets gooey and warm. In Fire It Up, Andy and I have our own version, Salted Caramel S’mores, but we also grill more than a dozen other desserts that go waaay beyond toasted caramels on chocolate-topped graham crackers.
We take two basic approaches to grilled desserts: direct heat and indirect heat. Direct heat is the easiest way to go. Both fruit and cake take on new life when set directly over fire. The sugar in fruit caramelizes, creating rich, brown, roasted, malty flavors that deepen the more delicate, floral aromas in the fruit’s flesh. Taste what I mean in our Amaretto Seared Apricots with Almond Praline recipe.
Like fruit, sweet cakes also get a burst of new flavor because sugar actually goes from sweet to savory as it melts and caramelizes. Tasting that savory, almost meaty element along with the sweetness makes grilled desserts completely delicious. Grill a slice of pound cake, banana bread, or gingerbread to taste the effect. Better yet, try our Grilled Glazed Donuts with Chocolate Espresso Dunk. The blistering heat of the grill melts the glaze on a donut and forms a flavorful, dark amber crust like the crackling sheet of sugar atop crème brûlee. The heat also puffs up the donut and refreshes it like it just came hot from the bakery. Yum!
Direct grilling completely transforms the taste of fruit and cakes. But indirect grill-baking expands the dessert possibilities even further. By putting the food away from the fire and closing the lid, you turn your grill into something closer to an oven, allowing you to grill-bake smoky cookies and cakes from scratch and to slow-cook fruits like watermelon. Yes, watermelon—a fruit that is rarely cooked at all. In Marinated Watermelon Steak with Pink Peppercorn Rub, we treat watermelon like a rib-eye steak: we cut the melon into a similar shape, marinate it (in rum and mint), coat it in a spice rub of crushed pink peppercorns and brown sugar, sear it on both sides on the grill, then move it away from the heat to finish cooking through. What’s so remarkable is what disappears during cooking: the water. Watermelon is 90% water. As that water evaporates (over a 45-minute period on the grill), the fruit shrinks noticeably in size and concentrates greatly in texture and flavor. Grilled watermelon tastes nothing like the effusively juicy raw fruit. Instead, it tastes firm, dense, meaty and surprisingly more watermelon-y because most of the water has evaporated off, which effectively un-dilutes the flavor of the melon itself.
One of my favorite grilled desserts from Fire It Up uses indirect heat in combination with direct heat. It also combines fruit and cake. Grilled Cornmeal and Summer Berry Clafouti highlights everything I love about summertime: plump raspberries and blueberries, quick-to-fix sweet cakes, and creative outdoor cooking on the grill. This is my go-to dessert for the July 4th holiday. Add some warmed or whipped cream, and you’ve got red, white and blue on a plate. Plus, it tastes better than any dessert you’d pull out of your oven. Who wants to heat up the kitchen in July anyway?
Grilled Cornmeal and Summer Berry Clafouti
Clafouti, a traditional country dessert from the Limousin region of France, is half custard and half cake. Loaded with fruit (classically cherries), clafouti has a crispy crust and a moist, mousse-like center, the perfect textural context for the bottom-up baking that happens on a grill. The consistency of this clafouti is further enhanced by a gritty addition of cornmeal, giving it a rustic crumb, well suited to a fire-baked confection.
Makes 8 servings
Flour and oil baking spray
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
2 pints blueberries
1 pint raspberries
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons rum or fruit brandy
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed (optional)
Light a grill for indirect medium heat, about 325°F. Spray the interior of a heavy 9-inch round layer-cake pan with baking spray and set aside.
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and buttermilk and mix together until the dry ingredients are all moistened. Fold in 1 pint of the blueberries and 1 cup of the raspberries just until distributed evenly; do not overmix. Pour and scrape into the prepared cake pan.
Put the pan on the grill away from direct contact with the fire. Cover the grill and bake until the top is browned and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 50 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.
If using a gas grill, turn the remaining burner(s) to medium. If using charcoal, spread out the charcoal bed for direct grilling. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat (you can do this on a side burner or directly on the grill). Add the remaining 1 pint blueberries, 1 cup raspberries, and 1/4 cup sugar to the skillet and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are plump and glossy. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum.
Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Loosen the clafouti from the sides of the pan. Brush the top of the clafouti with some of liquid from the sautéed berries. With the clafouti still in the pan, invert it onto the grill. (If the cake pan is still too hot to handle, use pot holders or grill gloves.) Grill just long enough to char the surface lightly, about 2 minutes. Use a large spatula (or two medium spatulas) to remove the clafouti (grilled side down) to a flat plate or baking sheet. Cover with a serving platter and invert.
Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired, and serve with the sautéed berries and a drizzle of warm cream, if you like.
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