Around the World in 80 Plates: Barcelona, Spain

Pack your bags and don’t forget your sunscreen- For the next leg of our global cooking conquest, we’re headed to Spain! Barcelona, Spain, to be precise, where dishes sparkle with bright, bold, and fearless flavors. Making paella may be the extent of my experience with this vast, richly varied cuisine, but it’s from that generous hammered metal pan that I drew inspiration for this week’s well-traveled recipe. Rice and vegetables needn’t apply, however, because this is a job for saffron alone. The signature spice that breathes life into this savory simmered rice is just as well suited to savory tastes as it is sweet.

Ice creams still churning endlessly on my mind, a glorious, golden saffron scoop was an irresistible concept. An ideal treat for such the perpetually warm climate of Spain, or the increasingly sweltering summer days ahead for most of us at home, a fuss-free and refreshing recipe was the only way to go. Fine delicacies such as saffron need little to make any dish pop, but I couldn’t help but gild the lily further with a smattering of crunchy cashews. Lending their roasted, slightly salty flavor to the party, their gentle nutty taste is the perfect compliment.

Be sure to watch Bravo this Wednesday at 10/9c when Around the World in 80 Plates hits Barcelona!

Saffron Cashew Ice Cream

2 2/3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Saffron
3/4 Cup Roasted and Lightly Salted Cashews, Divided (1/4 cup blend in base, 1/2 chopped)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
2 Teaspoons Cornstarch
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

For starters, combine the non-dairy milk and saffron and let sit for 8 – 12 hours, or overnight to infuse.

Once the saffron has turned the “milk” a golden-yellow color after a nice, long soak, pour that liquid into the canister of your blender. Add 1/4 cup of the cashews along with the sugar, agave, arrowroot, and cornstarch. Roughly chop the remainder of the nuts and set them aside for later.

Blend on high speed until the nuts are completely pulverized and the whole mixture is completely smooth. This may take as long as 8 – 10 minutes if you’re not using a high-powered model, so be patient. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer to filter out any remaining cashew pieces. Transfer the smooth base into a medium saucepan and begin to cook over moderate heat. Whisk periodically until it reaches a rapid bubble. Turn off the heat and add in the and vanilla. Cool and then let it sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the final 5 minutes of churning, introduce the remaining chopped cashews directly to the machine while it continues to spin, evenly distributing the pieces throughout the soft ice cream. Transfer to an air-tight container and store in the freezer for at least 3 hours, to fully solidify, before serving.

Makes About 1 Quart

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For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.

Around the World in 80 Plates: Lyon, France

Moving right along on our culinary world tour, our next stop will be in Lyon, France! Although I’ve never been to Lyon, I have visited Paris, and am rather familiar with one French specialty in particular… Pastry! As soon as I learned of this destination, there was no doubt in my mind that another grand dessert experiment was in store. How many times do I have the opportunity to let loose and go wild with chocolate, sugar, and cake? Perhaps more than the average person, true, but French pastries are something different altogether.

Recalling towers of multi-colored macaron shells, spiraling upwards to impossibly tall heights, and glass cases lined with glittering fruit tarts so dazzling, they could easily be confused with a jeweler’s wares, all my inspiration could be found in one memory of one patisserie. Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of Pastry,” pairs daring flavors into modern pastry presentations, which is right up my alley.

On my “dream pastry challenge” list, (Yes, such thing really does exist! The pages are lined with ideas of croquembuche and napoleons, but those are for another day) there sat the scribbled title of “plaisir sucré.” An individual portion that unflinchingly packs in the chocolate in a layered attack that seems greater than each component would be capable of. Originally based on a hazelnut cake and hazelnut praline foundation, followed by waves of milk chocolate, I just had to put in my own little twist. Speculoos is my secondary flavor, playing harmony to many shades of dark chocolate instead. There’s a lot going on in each bite, so let me break it down for you…

Though far from perfect, it felt as though I had scaled Mount Everest when that final sheet of chocolate fell into place. It’s true, I could use a whole lot of work on my chocolate skills, but a nice transfer sheet covers a multitude of tempering sins. I’m not sure that Monsieur Hermé would approve of my eggless and dairy-free rendition on his masterwork, but I’m fairly certain that my tasters did, in any event. Who knows if the competitors on the upcoming episode will turn to pastry, but I would crown them the winner right then and there if they did the French tradition justice! Tune in when Around the World in 80 Plates heads to France, this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, to find out.

Speculoos Plaisr Sucré

Chocolate Sheets:

10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped, Melted, and Tempered

Bittersweet Ganache:

12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Speculoos Dacquoise:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Speculoos Cookies

Speculoos Praline:

1 1/3 Cups Speculoos Spread
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Melted
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal

Chocolate Chantilly

Starting with the chocolate sheets, use an offset spatula to spread your tempered chocolate onto plain acetate sheets, or chocolate transfer sheets, large enough to cover a baking sheet. Mine had been rolled up for quite some time, so in order to get it flat, I had to tape down the corners with masking tape; you may choose to do the same, just to prevent it from sliding around. Spread the chocolate very thinly (thinner than is pictured- these layers were a bit tough to get a fork through) and as evenly as possible. Allow them to set, undisturbed, until completely solidified. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can place the whole sheet in the refrigerator to help them firm up. Once solid, warm a sharp knife to allow for smoother cuts, and slice the sheet into 2 x 4-inch rectangles. Set aside.

Next up, prepare the ganache. Simple place the chocolate and “milk” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on full power for 60 seconds. Let sit for 60 seconds more, and then stir thoroughly, until completely smooth. If there are still a few stubborn pieces of chocolate that haven’t fully melted, heat again at intervals of 20 seconds, stirring well after each heating, until smooth. Let cool until firm enough to pipe. You may wish to hasten the process by chilling the mixture in your fridge, but don’t just leave it there, because it will set to hard if allowed to reach such a cold temperature. Set aside.

Moving on to the dacquoise, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.

Place the speculoos spread, water, sugar, and vanilla in your blender, and process to emulsify. Scrape down the sides of the container if any of the spread is sticking, and blend once more, until the liquid mixture is entirely homogeneous.

Separately, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the liquid mix into the dry goods, and whisk just until the two are combined to create the batter. Transfer to your prepared jelly roll pan, and smooth it out into a thin but even layer. It may not seem like enough cake to cover all that space, but just keep spreading and you’ll get there! Sprinkle the crushed speculoos cookies equally over the entire surface.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before proceeding.

For the praline, simply mix together all of the ingredients until well incorporated, and quickly spread it on top of your cooled sheet of cake. This mixture is extremely thick and sticky, so I would highly recommend lightly greasing your offset spatula before going at it. It only gets thicker as it cools, too, so don’t waste any time or let it sit there unattended! Spread it out as evenly as possible, to ensure that the rest of your layers follow suit.

Lastly, prepare the chocolate chantilly according to the recipe linked, and take a moment to thank Hervé This for his brilliance.

Okay, now we’re finally ready for assembly! Slice the praline-topped cake into rectangles measuring 2 x 4-inches. Load the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip, and pipe ganache in a zigzagging pattern across the top of each piece. Place a sheet of chocolate on top, and pipe another zigzag of ganache over that. Add another sheet of chocolate, and now grab your chocolate chantilly. Place that into a second piping bag, this one fitted with a large round tip, and pipe two straight lines lengthwise down each piece. At long last, finish it all off with a third sheet of chocolate. You’re done! Now, savor every single bite; this isn’t an ordinary, everyday sort of treat!

Makes Approximately 18 – 24 Servings (depending on how many scraps you eat during the process)

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.

Around the World in 80 Plates: London, England

Roots firmly planted in cozy New England, I hardly fancy myself a traveler, but who could be content to leave so much of the world unexplored? So many cultures to discover, beautiful places to visit, and yes, food to eat. Almost every year, I’ve been lucky enough to make one journey out of my cozy home-based bubble and see just a little snippet of some place different. Wanderlust sets in as temperatures rise, and so I’m feeling that familiar tug on the heartstrings, that longing to hop on a plane and have another grand adventure. Inspiration is always the most valuable souvenir, and these brief but influential trips have indelibly shaped my palate and cooking style as I know it. That’s why I’m so excited about Bravo’s newest Top Chef-esque program, Around the World in 80 Plates.

Trust me, TV shows rarely merit an hour break in my schedule, and not one has ever seemed like worthwhile blog fodder for a new post. However, when asked to participate in a little blogger-based competition driven by the premise of cooking dishes alongside the progression of the show, paying homage to these specific world cuisines, my answer was clear: YES! As the only vegan invited in a group of 5 bloggers, it’s up to me to represent all things meat-, egg-, and dairy-free. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Around the World in 80 Plates premieres this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, and the first location isn’t a vast departure from the norm; Stopping in London, England, dessert was clearly the only worthy offering for such a sweet-toothed country. Torn between the fruity, caramel-coated goodness of banoffee pie and decadent, toffee-flavored spoonfuls of sticky toffee pudding, I decided not to choose between the two. Instead, all the best qualities of each are combined into one, creating a Banoffee Sticky Pudding. Ultra-moist banana pudding is drenched in lightly boozy toffee sauce, and topped with brûléed banana slices. Lightened with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the still-warm pudding, it hardly needs the final crown of a crispy, dehydrated banana, but it sure does look prettier for it. Not many desserts can be described as messy and elegant all at once, which makes this playful rendition a dessert to remember.

Authentically British? Heck no. But authentically inspired, you bet!

(My original sketch- Came out pretty close to what I imagined!)

Banoffee Sticky Pudding

Banana Puddings:

1 Cup Brewed Black Tea, Still Hot
1 Cup Pitted Medjool Dates, Roughly Chopped
3 Medium-Sized, Very Ripe Bananas
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Toffee Sauce:

3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
Pinch Salt
2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum


4 – 6 Ripe but Firm Bananas
Lemon Juice
Granulated Sugar

French Vanilla Vegan Ice Cream (page 50)

Banana Chips (Optional, for a Shortcut)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 8 4-ounce ramekins and set aside.

Place the chopped dates in a small bowl, and cover them with the hot tea. Let soak for 30 – 60 minutes, to soften the dried fruits a bit. Set aside.

Peel the bananas and break them up into chunks before tossing them into your food processor or blender. Follow them with the vinegar, vanilla, oil, and sugar. Puree until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry goods so that everything is thoroughly incorporated and well-distributed, and add everything into the food processor. Pulse lightly to bring the batter together, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Once the mixture is almost completely smooth, finally add in the mixture of dates and tea, and pulse to incorporate. Don’t go too crazy though- You want to keep some nice chunks of dates remaining, and be careful not to overwork the batter.

Distribute the mixture between your prepared ramekins, and set them in a large baking dish or roasting pan, to create a make-shift water bath. Make sure that none of the ramekins are touching; you may need two separate baking dishes to hold everything. Place the ramekin-filled baking dish(es) in the oven, and quickly but carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish. Avoid splashing water into the puddings themselves, and try not to drip into the oven. Add water until it reaches about half-way up the sides of the ramekins, and then cover with foil. This will allow the puddings to steam and bake up delightfully moist and soft.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pudding pulls out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Use non-slip tongs to pull the puddings from the water bath; leave the boiling hot water in the oven until it’s cool enough to handle, to prevent any disastrous spills.

While the puddings are in the oven, go ahead and start the sauce. Place the sugar, margarine, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and slowly bring to the boil. Once the margarine has melted and the sugar dissolved, let the mixture bubble and cook for a about 2 – 3 minutes before carefully pouring in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture back up to a bubble, and cook for a final 2 – 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Finally, stir in the rum, and remove from the heat. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

To make the finishing touches, you will want to make the banana chips well in advance, or simply buy banana chips to top off your sweet tower. Otherwise, slice two bananas lengthwise as thinly as possible without breaking them into pieces; any thicker than 1/8-1/4 inch thick, and you’ll end up with chewy banana leather instead (not altogether a bad thing, but not what we’re going for.) lightly brush the strip with lemon juice, and lay them on a silpat-lined baking sheet. Slowly dehydrate at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Check on them every 30 minutes or so, and don’t expect them to be crisp right out of the oven. They will continue to firm up after they cool. If they’re still not quite crunchy once cool, flip them over, and bake again for 30 – 60 more minutes.

Finally, for the brûléed bananas, slice 4 bananas into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks, ideally on a bias to give you a bit more surface area. Place the pieces on a silpat-lined baking sheet and lightly coat them with lemon juice. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top in a fairly thick layer- Don’t be shy about it. Run them under the broiler in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes, until the sugar is melted and golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

To plate up all of these components, start by placing one steamed pudding on the plate. Spoon a generous amount of toffee sauce on top, and place a small ring of 3 – 4 brûléed banana pieces on top of that. Place a scoop of ice cream in the center of the ring, and finish the whole thing off with one large banana chip. For a more low-key presentation, feel free to skip all the fancy garnishes and just throw some toffee sauce right into the ramekin. Enjoy warm!

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

For participating this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.