A Tale of Two Desserts

by Elissa

I recently got to try out two new dessert recipes, both of which were excellent. While they were both delicious, they are polar opposites when it comes to the amount of labor required.  

Lemon mint granita

Lemon mint granita

Ever since our trip to Napa  I have been wanting to try my hand at making a granita. The weather here has been unbearably hot and sticky, so it's the perfect time to experiment with frozen desserts. We have an abundant mint patch near our driveway that our neighbors let us plunder at will, and I thought that a granita involving mint sounded especially refreshing.  I adapted a mojito granita recipe from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop, which is my frozen dessert bible, making it into a lemon mint granita.  The only labor intensive part of this recipe was juicing the lemons, and it was an ideal end to our book club meal last week.  See below for the recipe.

The second dessert was the most elaborate baking project I have undertaken in recent years.  Boston cream pie is one of Josh's favorite desserts, and when I saw this recipe featured on Food52 I knew I had to try it. Last weekend Josh's mom and sister were visiting, and I took advantage of having some extra help with the kids to do some serious baking. And this recipe requires some planning ahead, as there are multiple elements to prepare and assemble, and the cake is supposed to freeze for 8 hours before you trim the edges (I got away with sticking it in our deep freezer for 3 hours and it worked just fine).  

Some of the component parts of the world's best boston cream pie

Some of the component parts of the world's best boston cream pie

I started with the vanilla pastry cream, which needed to chill for several hours. Then I make the sponge cake, which made me very grateful that I have a standing mixer, as I had to separately whip both egg yolks and egg whites for extended periods of time.  While the cake was in the oven, I made the coffee soaking syrup (I used decaf since the kids were going to be eating the cake after dinner). Once I was ready to start assembling the cake I whipped cream to fold into the pastry cream (KitchenAid mixer to the rescue again).  

Filling the layers with a mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream

Filling the layers with a mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream

The sponge cake gets cut into four rectangular pieces and brushed with coffee syrup, and then you layer the creamy filling in between each layer.  After freezing the cake for a few hours, you trim the edges and pour a warm chocolate ganache over the top. My cake was (obviously) not as spectacular as the photo featured on Food52, but I thought it was still pretty impressive.  

IMG_2338.JPG

This is the perfect way to show the Boston cream pie lover in your life how much you appreciate them.  And this was close to my platonic ideal of dessert: creamy and rich, but not too heavy, with a nice dollop of good chocolate. I loved the idea of lightening the pastry cream with whipped cream--it made for a lighter and less cloying filling. I don't know when I'll have the time to make this again, but it was pretty spectacular.  

Lemon Mint Granita

2 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

zest from one lemon

1 cup mint leaves

1/2 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Combine the water, lemon zest, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat. Reserve 5-10 mint leaves and add the remaining leaves to the saucepan; cover and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Once the mixture is cool, strain out the solids. Chop the reserved mint leaves finely and mix in the lemon juice, elderflower liqueur, and chopped mint. Poor into a 9x13 pan and put in the freezer.  Stir mixture with a fork about every 30 minutes for 2-3 hours, breaking up the larger chunks of ice and mixing everything around. Once frozen, the granita will keep for a few days in the freezer.