I think it is about time that I talk about what I do when I am not blogging, baking, or taking pictures :) Early this summer I was hired to write and illustrate a children's picture book for a local environmental program. The focus of the program is to help young students in the region get involved with conservation projects and monthly monitoring of the bosque (forest) habitat of the Rio Grande.
The purpose of my book is to make conservation efforts and wildlife in general more accessible to students in a (hopefully) engaging and fun way.
The Rio Grande bosque in this region is right in the center of a major metropolitan area, but is home to quite a great variety of wildlife. It is important for kids to understand how interconnected it is to their own lives.
One animal that is especially prevalent and a major focus of the conservation program is the porcupine. So naturally, the spiny critter is the main character in my book.
Porcupines are quite cute, don't get me wrong, as they walk in their sloth like manner along the branches of trees, munching on twigs- and they look like big balls of fuzz :). But after drawing fifty or so of them, it can get a little tedious. All those quills!
So since I was tiring a bit of drawing the spiny little guys, I decided that making porcupine inspired treats might give me some motivation. These adorable yet dramatic miniature baked Alaskas did the trick.
While they may seem intimidating on the outside, these individual- sized desserts are really quite sweet just like real porcupines. I decided to utilize the beautiful blackberries of the season in a creamy ice cream that sits atop a decadent double chocolate brownie which is then encased in a fluffy cloud like meringue. It being the very first time I made baked Alaskas, I was very pleased with the outcome. They seem so sophisticated yet so fun and playful.
My hope is that the finished product (my book) will become a good educational tool for teachers to help them teach their students about not just the local wildlife, but how the local wildlife is an indicator of a much greater ecosystem. I hope it will help young students also respect the wild places that are just outside their back door.
Mini Baked Alaska "Porcupines"
makes 4 or 5 individual Baked Alaskas
Double Chocolate Brownies (GF)
makes 5-6 3 inch rounds or 9 2 1/2 inch squares
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Pamela's store bought flour mix (I used the Baking and Pancake mix)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8- inch square baking pan with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or a heat proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, and whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, 1 at a time, until combined. Whisk in cocoa and salt. Fold in flour mix until combined.
2. Pour batter into pan. Bake until set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Then using the rim of a glass or cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter, cut out circles of brownie and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Blackberry Ice Cream
makes about 1 pint
3/4 pound fresh blackberries
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup milk
1. Place the blackberries in a blender and puree until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, press the puree through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized bowl. Discard the solids.
2. Mix the sugar, lemon juice and salt into the puree. Then whisk in the cream and milk. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
3. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Store in an airtight container in the freezer until firm.
4. Form rounds of ice cream on top of the brownie circles and place each on a small plate or tray. Cover with plastic wrap and place back in the freezer until very firm and frozen all the way through. (Keep in the freezer right up until you are ready to pipe the meringue).
Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque Du Souffle :)
makes enough to cover 4 to 5 individual Baked Alaskas
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
small pinch of cream of tartar
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Heat egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl of a mixer set over a pan of simmering water, whisking often, until sugar dissolves and mixture is warm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Transfer bowl to a mixer and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes.
2. Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Take the individual brownie- ice cream rounds out of the freezer one at a time and place on a cookie sheet. Pipe meringue beginning at the base of the brownie, working across the entire round, so that there are no areas left uncovered.
3. Once a round is fully covered, place it in the oven and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the spikes of meringue are beginning to brown. While one round is baking, you can pipe the next, so that you can slide them in the oven one after another. When you take a Baked Alaska out of the oven, transfer it to a small dish and place it in the freezer as soon as possible until ready to serve or serve it immediately.
Meringue "Ratios" from Martha Stewart Living