Butterscotch Mousse with Vanilla Salt
Granny was the ultimate Southern hostess. She always kept pretty little tins of candy in her sitting room. I loved the long candy sticks, but hated the butterscotch rounds. You remember? The ones in yellow wrappers? Mama, however, couldn’t get enough of those. She’d pop them in her mouth and I could smell the butterscotch from across the room. I had no idea what butterscotch was. I just knew I hated it.
Fast forward a few decades and I’m a professional chef who still hasn’t tasted butterscotch. I just had a mental block against it. One night, I went out to dinner with a group of other chefs and somebody ordered the butterscotch pudding. Everyone at the table started raving, “Oh. My. God. This is so delicious!” I took a tiny spoonful and realized they were right. It was so, so good. That was when I discovered that butterscotch is essentially caramel and butter— a combo I adore. I had to learn how to make it. I tinkered until I came up with a silky light mousse, which I paired with crunchy nuts. When I served the mousse in tuile cups at a catering event, everyone went crazy for them! This dessert is such a well-balanced blend of sweet and salty, crisp and creamy. And every component can be made ahead of time. All you have to do is put the pieces together when it’s time to serve.
1/4 dried vanilla bean
1/4 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 vanilla bean, pod split and seeds scraped
2 teaspoons dark rum
1 cup heavy cream
12 Almond Tuiles, shaped into cups if you like or left flat
1/2 cup Candied Almonds, coarsely chopped
Catering Like Carla: The mousse can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
When I was catering, I usually made these as tuile cups filled with the mousse. Occasionally, my tuile cups would be especially lacy. To ensure that the mousse didn’t spill out through the cups, I’d brush a very thin layer of melted dark chocolate over the bottom and sides of the cups. When the chocolate hardens, it creates a seal. Be sure to brush very lightly. You don’t really want to taste the chocolate at all; it’s just there to reinforce the cup.
Makes about 3 dozen
I first leaned how to make these in culinary school and was so excited by my ability to turn out such delicious, delicate cookies. And then I got over it. I’ll be honest, making these lacy tuiles is a bit of a pain. The dough is easy enough, but then you need to spread the balls flat before baking to get a thin, elegant round. I’ll never forget the time I was cooking at the Henley Park Hotel and we had to make a ton of tuiles. We put our extern in charge of them because the lowest person on the totem pole always got the tuiles. She stayed late to finish them and did a fantastic job. She put the tray of them on top of the ice cream machine and was relieved to be done with them. Later that day, when we were spinning the ice cream, the tray went sliding to the floor and the tuiles crashed and shattered like glass. It was one of those sad slow-motion moments when you watched the shards of cookie spray up in the air. We’ve all had those moments, right?
Have I convinced you to not try these by now? Well, you still should. You don’t need to make nearly as many as our poor extern did. Plus, the dough keeps forever. You can make only as many as you need or want to eat at any given time. When you’re doing a dozen or so, it’s actually a lot of fun. Crackly caramelized almond thins are absolutely worth the effort.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups almonds, finely ground (see Note)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Note: To grind almonds fine, pulse them in a food processor. Stop before they turn pasty and start to clump; they should just be very, very finely chopped. Freezing them first helps prevent clumping.
Catering Like Carla: You can make these with any type of unsalted nut: pistachios, pecans, peanuts. Just be sure to grind the nuts very fine. Large pieces will cause the tuile batter to tear.
Sweet and Spicy Walnuts
Makes 4 cups
If you don’t consider yourself a cook, you’ve got to start here. Seasoned nuts are the very first thing I tried that made me so proud as a young cook. Before I started to learn how to really cook, I considered sugary spiced nuts a delicious how-in-the-world-do-you-make-that sorta thing. That was my mindset when I tasted the amazing nuts at an event celebrating the renowned cooking teacher and chef Anne Willan. That version was based on a recipe in one of her cookbooks. Those nuts were so good I went home, got the book, and made the recipe. It was such a great feeling! I did it on my own and it was amazing! While I passed a bowl of ’em to my friends, I was like, “Ooh! Aah! Look at these nuts!” I blew myself away with the savory, sweet, spicy balance in the mix and how crisp they were. Not sticky or chewy at all. Nowadays, I whip ’em out as an easy app. (And they are, even if you’ve never tried them before.)
Over the years, I’ve played with the sugar–spice mix to suit my tastes. The three options below are among my favorites, but you can tinker with other spices, too. Just be sure to keep the proportions of nuts to egg whites to sugar the same for each recipe style below (sweet and spicy, savory, candied) if you want to get the right texture.
This all-purpose appetizer can also be made with almonds, pecans, cashews, or a combination of nuts. Serve them as munchies on their own or scatter them on salads or simply cooked veggies.
1 large egg white
4 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Note: For candied almonds, preheat the oven to 250[DG]F. Substitute whole almonds for the walnuts. Beat 1 teaspoon water into the egg white. Omit the brown sugar, ginger, and pepper, then proceed as above.