Josh's new restaurant will be opening soon. I am only halfway done with the dessert menu. I have yet to step inside the kitchen and set up the gluten-free pastry workstation. I need to sit down with the Bar Manager to discuss ways to use his herbal infusions in the pastry kitchen. And I'm a bit behind due to a massive 10-day halt to our life to deal with three of us coming down with a violent stomach bug. Ugh. It will all get done, though, and it will all be fabulous. I'm sure of it.
But not today. Today I am not working. Today is the day we are finally celebrating Kalen's birthday with friends and family! It is also the last night that Josh's soon-to-be former restaurant, Brevetto, will be serving dinner, and a large group of us are going over there for one last meal. Today is a day for celebrating, for reminiscing, and for looking ahead to the bright future.
But I had to drop by this space for just a moment. You see, a couple of days ago I made a promise on Facebook, and I think it's time I kept it. I will probably not be posting here the recipes for all the desserts I develop for 40 Paper; this space is not about high-end restaurant baking. But there is one menu item that is so easy, and absolutely delicious, that it definitely deserves a spot here. YOU deserve it.
Fried zaleti. A bit obscure, zaleti are a traditional pastry from the Veneto region of Italy, and are usually a cornmeal-based cookie/biscuit type of sweet. Lemon zest and Grappa-soaked raisins add punch, and the cookies are dusted with confectioner's sugar when they come out of the oven. They're a nice afternoon snack, but not exactly an appropriate way to end dinner in an Italian restaurant. But I really wanted cornmeal to have a place on the dessert menu, and didn't want to have to fall back on the polenta cakes that are so popular right now.
Enter the fryer. As soon as it occurred to me to fry the batter, I knew the recipe was going to be a keeper. Not just because frying makes food taste so good, but because of the textural contrast that was formed between the crisp, crunchy outside and soft, moist interior. The cookies were now dessert. I made a few more tweaks to the recipe, added a chocolate dipping sauce, and it was finished. My first menu item for my first real job in years. It felt good.
You'll have to imagine currants scattered throughout the zaleti - the photos were taken before I added them to the recipe!
These zaleti are a perfect, not-too-sweet way to end a special meal. They're small and easy to share, and they taste great straight from the fryer or left to cool to room temperature. Any chocolate sauce, store-bought or homemade, will make them seem just sophisticated enough to be grown-up fare. Pair them with an espresso, or a snifter of the same Cognac you use in the batter, and wind your way into the gentle, indulgent hours of a mid-winter night.
yields about 20 zaleti, depending on the size of your scoop
2 Tbsp dried currants
1 Tbsp good-quality Cognac
1 Tbsp hot water
1/4 fluid cup (2oz) whole milk
25 grams unsalted butter
88 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp) cornmeal
70 grams (1/2 cup) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
55 grams (4 1/2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
zest of half a lemon
pinch fine sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
canola oil, for frying
confectioner's sugar, for dusting
chocolate sauce, for dipping
Place the currants, Cognac and hot water in a small bowl and allow to soak until the currants are softened.
In a small saucepan (or microwave-safe glass measuring cup), heat the milk over medium-low heat (or in the microwave) until warm, then remove from heat, add the butter, and swirl it around in the pan to fully melt it. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, pastry flour, sugar, xanthan gum, baking powder, lemon zest, and sea salt. Add the milk-butter mixture and the beaten egg, and mix until a smooth batter forms. Stir in the soaked currants and their soaking liquid.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3" of canola oil to 350ºF. (A candy thermometer comes in handy for this.) Fry the batter in tablespoon-sized scoops, four or five at a time, until dark golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and toss in confectioner's sugar to coat.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with chocolate sauce for dipping.