Latino sweets with French flair

Flans topped with walnut or coconut, or served on chocolate cake. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Flans topped with walnut or coconut, or served on chocolate cake.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
‘East LA Meets Napa & Bordeaux,” the recent Los Angeles fund-raiser for AltaMed health services, was a festival of Latino food, California wines and French wines from Bordeaux, a sister city of Los Angeles.
There was French flavor in some of the food samples, like the canapés of foie gras spread on pan dulce – Mexican sweet breads. Ceviche, an appetizer of lightly marinated raw fish, came garnished with aioli, the Provençal garlic sauce.
But the French flair was most apparent in the desserts.
Naturally there was crème caramel – vanilla custard baked in caramel. In Latin America, where it’s called flan, cooks often enrich the custard with condensed milk. John Verlinden, author of the Cuban cookbook To Cook is to Love, uses condensed milk in his cinnamon-flavored pumpkin flan.
At the tasting party, Chef Kiki of Flantastic presented flans in several guises – topped with walnuts or coconut, or served on a base of chocolate cake cut in squares. She also makes flans flavored with bananas, mangoes and even jalapeño peppers.
Creamy caramel sauce flavored with tequila added pizzazz to chef John Rivera Sedlar’s canelés, miniature fluted, caramel-crusted cakes popular in Bordeaux. Sedlar served the cakes with tequila-flavored whipped cream topped with candied green chili peppers. The dessert, with its spirited sauce and whipped cream, reminded us of rum baba or Israeli sabrina.
Sedlar described the culinary style of his restaurant, Eloisa, as modern southwestern, which, he said, means “Mexico meets France.” In his book, Modern Southwest Cuisine, he makes caramel sauces for several of his desserts. Caramel sauce flavored with grapefruit juice and Grand Marnier accompanies his blue cornmeal crepes, which he tops with pumpkin ice cream and candied grapefruit zest. To go with his chocolate truffle torte, he makes caramel lime sauce. (See recipe.)
Guava, which is native to Latin America, was tucked inside a sweet pastry from Porto’s Bakery, which specializes in Cuban desserts. It resembled French jalousie, a rectangular puff pastry pie with slits that give a glimpse of the filling. Verlinden makes similar pastries with a filling of sweetened cream cheese and guava paste. (See recipe.)
At the festival, tropical fruit was used to make not only desserts, but refreshing beverages. At the table of Seta Restaurant, there was Mexican-style agua fresca, or “fresh water,” a lightly sweetened beverage made from jackfruit, passion fruit and mango.
Like crème caramel, Italian panna cotta, typically made from cream, sugar and gelatin, has become an international favorite.
Chef Daniel Godinez of Anepalco’s Café prepared his panna cotta with coconut milk, beet puree and melted marshmallows, and garnished it with microgreens. You could serve it either as dessert or as an appetizer, he told us.
John Rivera Sedlar serves this sauce with his chocolate truffle torte, which he describes as a giant flat chocolate truffle served in wedges like a torte. You could use this sauce to accompany light cakes, sweet crepes or blintzes, or ice cream and fruit. The lime juice is added after the sauce has finished cooking so it keeps its fresh flavor.
Makes 6 servings
■ 1 cup sugar
■ 1 Tbsp. water
■ ¾ cup heavy cream
■ ½ cup fresh lime juice
Put the sugar and water in a deep, heavy medium-sized skillet. Heat the mixture over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until sugar melts. Continue cooking until mixture turns a medium caramel color, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Immediately add the cream, standing at a distance, as the sauce will bubble and splatter. Stir over low heat until cream is fully incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat. Then stir in the lime juice and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
This recipe is adapted from To Cook is to Love. Author John Verlinden recommends serving these pastries for dessert with a demitasse of Cuban-style coffee or as a special treat for breakfast or brunch.
He uses reduced-fat cream cheese to make the filling lighter; use any kind of cream cheese you like.
Some, like Verlinden, make this dessert with slices of guava paste, which is available in much of Latin America and at Mexican markets in the US. Others use guava marmalade or preserves. To make your own guava preserves, see the next recipe. Alternatively you can substitute other fruit preserves.
To give the pastries a golden brown color, you can brush the dough with egg glaze before baking. For this pastry, the filling is completely enclosed. To make the pastries with slits, see Note below.
Makes about 12 pastries
■ 225 gr. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
■ ¹⁄3 cup sugar
■ 1 egg, beaten
■ 1 tsp. vanilla
■ Pinch of salt
■ 225 gr. (½ lb.) guava preserves (about 1 cup)
■ 500 gr. (about 17 oz.) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed in the refrigerator
■ 1 egg, beaten with salt (optional, for glaze)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F (205°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar, 1 egg, vanilla and salt to a smooth mixture.
If guava preserves have pieces, puree in a food processor, adding 1 Tbsp. water if preserves are too thick.
Remove one puff pastry sheet from the package. If it is folded, unfold it. If pastry sheet is thick, roll it to flatten it slightly.
Cut the sheet into three pieces lengthwise, then in two pieces crosswise.
Spread a thin layer of cream cheese mixture onto 1 piece of dough, leaving the edges uncovered. Spoon a row of preserves over the center of the cream cheese. If using egg glaze, brush it around the edges.
Fold the piece of dough in half, enclosing the guava preserves and sticking the dough together at the edges, forming a rectangle or a square. Seal all edges with a fork. Transfer to baking sheet.
Repeat with remaining dough, arranging pastries on baking sheet so they don’t touch each other. Refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes before baking.
If desired, brush pastries lightly with beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes or until pastry puffs and is golden brown. Check often; be careful not to overbake. Cool on a rack.
Note: To make these pastries with slits: Spread cream cheese over only half of each piece of dough and spoon dollops of pureed guava preserves in a row over center of cream cheese. Fold dough in half, so that the portion that was not spread with cream cheese is on top. Seal edges. Refrigerate pastries for 15 minutes to firm the dough. Cut lines through top of dough with a sharp knife, about 1 cm. (scant ½ inch) apart. Gently pry cut part open to show filling. Refrigerate about 15 minutes before baking. Brush with glaze and bake.
This recipe is from The South American Table. The preserves are served as a dessert with slices of cheese and bread, writes author Maria Baez Kijac, or are used as a filling for sweet empanadas and cakes.
You can keep the preserves, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes about 3 cups
■ 900 gr. (2 lbs.) ripe guavas, rinsed, ends and any bruised parts trimmed
■ 1 cup water
■ 2 cups sugar
Cut guavas in half and place cut-side-up in a heavy 4-liter (4-quart) saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, and simmer until softened a bit, about 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a food processor or blender and let cool for 15 minutes. Process until smooth, adding a little of cooking water if puree is too thick. Pass through a coarse-mesh sieve.
Rinse saucepan, add puree and sugar, and cook uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or until the bottom of the saucepan can be seen when a wooden spoon is drawn through the mixture, about 20 minutes.
Transfer to a glass bowl and let cool. Serve at room temperature.
The writer is the author of Fresh From France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Hakinuhim (The Book of Desserts).