by Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious.com
Pastry chef Jennifer Jones knows a thing or two about sweets, especially Mexican-influenced ones. The Charlie Trotter alum and rising star at Topolobampo, of Rick Bayless' Frontera group, was recently named the Chicago Tribune's Pastry Chef of the Year. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, Jones has shared with us four recipes perfect for any celebration. These recipes reflect the chef's love of chocolate and fruit (in particular, cherries, apricots, blackberries, and peaches) and her fondness for bold spices, herbs, and malty flavors. The key, says Jones, is to have fun and to be fearless in the kitchen! So don't worry if sometimes it takes a couple of tries (or more) to master a recipe.
Related: How to Throw a Perfect Taco Party
XOCO Churros with Mexican Hot Chocolate Photos by Lara Ferroni
To add flavor to these churros, Jones suggests incorporating a teaspoon of almond extract or the zest of an orange, or simply replace 10 percent of the flour with cocoa powder. "Be adventurous and make them your own!" To make the churros gluten-free, substitute a mixture of 20 percent potato starch, 20 percent tapioca starch, and 60 percent fine oat flour.
For the cinnamon sugar:
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the Mexican hot chocolate:
• 5 cups milk or water
• 10 ounces Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra, coarsely chopped
For the churros:
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
• 2 large eggs
• 1 to 2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
• Special equipment: Blender or handheld immersion blender, pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch star tip, deep-fat thermometer
Make the cinnamon sugar:
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. DO AHEAD: The cinnamon sugar can be made ahead and stored, in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 1 month.
Make the hot chocolate:
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat, combine the milk or water and the chocolate. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is almost completely dissolved (there will still be small pieces of chocolate) and the mixture is steaming. Transfer to a blender or use a handheld immersion blender and process until the mixture is foamy and fully emulsified, about 30 seconds (use caution when blending hot liquids). Return the hot chocolate to the saucepan. When ready to serve, place over low heat, stirring occasionally, until warm.
Make the churro dough:
In a medium pot over moderate heat, whisk together the butter, sugar, salt, and 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a simmer, stirring to melt the butter. Remove the pot from the heat and add the flour, stirring vigorously to fully incorporate it into the liquid. Return the pot to moderate heat and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until the dough is smooth and sticky, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner; cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
Following the 15-minute resting period, add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely incorporated after each addition. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip.
Fry the churros:
Line a large baking sheet with several layers of paper towels and place the cinnamon sugar in a small shallow bowl.
In a heavy large pot, heat 3 inches of oil until a deep-fat thermometer registers 375°F. Working in batches (about 6 churros per batch), hold the pastry bag just above the surface of the hot oil and carefully and gently pipe 4-inch ribbons of dough directly into the oil, using a paring knife to cut the batter at the end of the star tip if necessary. Fry the churros, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked in the center, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer as done to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet and return the oil to 375°F between batches. Toss the churros in cinnamon sugar and serve warm with the Mexican hot chocolate.
Frontera Grill's Chocolate Pecan Pie with Coffee Whipped Cream
Not a fan of coffee-flavored desserts? Jones recommends replacing the Kahlúa in the whipped cream with any sweet spirit, such as dark rum, Cognac, brandy, or orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec). Mezcal or even tequila could work well, too.
For the crust:
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 3/4 teaspoon sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the filling:
• 4 1/2 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) pecan halves, toasted
• 4 1/2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 4 large eggs, room temperature
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 3 tablespoons dark molasses
• 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur, such as Kahlúa
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the coffee whipped cream:
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 3 to 4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
• 2 teaspoons coffee-flavored liqueur, such as Kahlúa
• Special equipment: Food processor, 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, pie weights or dried beans, pastry brush, stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments.
Make the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, butter, and shortening. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) lumps of butter. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, and 4 tablespoons ice water. Using a fork, gradually stir the ice-water mixture into the flour mixture-the dough will be in rough, rather stiff clumps. If there is unincorporated flour in the bottom of the bowl, drizzle in more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, and use the fork to gently incorporate it. Do not overwork the dough, or the pastry will be tough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, gather into a ball, and flatten into a roughly 1-inch-thin disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: The dough can be made ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, up to 2 days or frozen, up to 1 week; defrost in the refrigerator before proceeding.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch round then transfer to a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold the overhang under and crimp the edge decoratively. Using a fork, prick the bottom and sides of the pie shell all over then chill for 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: The pie shell can be assembled to this point and stored, wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, up to 2 days, or frozen, up to 1 week; defrost in the refrigerator before continuing.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F.
Lightly butter a 15-inch round of foil and lay it, butter-side-down, inside the chilled pie shell then gently press to line the shell snugly. Fill the pie shell with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the pastry is set and pale golden along the edge, about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Carefully remove the weights or beans and the foil and bake the shell until pale golden all over, 8 to 10 minutes more. Brush the entire pastry surface with the lightly beaten egg yolk, and cool completely.
Make the filling:
Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
In a large bowl, combine the pecans, chocolate, and flour, and toss to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and brown sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the corn syrup, molasses, coffee-flavored liqueur, vanilla, and salt and beat until incorporated (if the mixture appears to be separating or isn't combining, swap the paddle attachment for the whisk attachment and whisk until incorporated). Pour over the chocolate-pecan mixture and stir well to combine. Pour the mixture into the cooled pie shell and bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. DO AHEAD: The pie can be baked, cooled, and stored, wrapped in a double-layer of plastic and refrigerated, up to 3 days.
Make the coffee whipped cream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a large mixing bowl with a handheld mixer, whip the cream, sugar, and coffee-flavored liqueur until the cream holds soft peaks.
Just before serving, cut slices into the pie then warm the whole pie in a 325°F oven until just heated through, about 8 minutes. Serve slices topped with dollops of coffee whipped cream.
See also: Healthy Comfort Food Recipes for Any Day
Modern Mexican Chocolate Flan
While Jones prefers to use Ibarra chocolate in this recipe, she says that El Popular and Taza chocolate are also good options-both have great flavor and aren't overly sweet. If subbing in white chocolate, Jones insists on using high-quality Valrhona chocolate.
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 6 ounces Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra, coarsely chopped
• 1 1/3 cups half-and-half
• 1 1/3 cups whole milk
• 1 (1 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick, preferably canela
• 5 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coffee liqueur, such as Kahlúa
• 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
• Ingredient info: Canela, also called true, Mexican, Ceylon, or Sri Lanka cinnamon, is a less pungent variety than the cassia cinnamon commonly used in the United States. It's available in specialty shops, some supermarkets, and online from Penzeys Spices.
• Special equipment: Pastry brush, 8 (5- to 6-ounce) ramekins, large roasting pan
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1/3 cup water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, using a pastry brush dipped in cold water to wash down any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pot, then lower the heat and simmer, without stirring, until the syrup begins to color. Swirl the pan continually until the syrup is an even, deep amber color. Immediately divide the caramel among the ramekins, swirling so it coats the bottom of each.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°F.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the chocolate until it resembles small pebbles. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the half-and-half, milk, cinnamon stick, and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Place over moderate heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, coffee liqueur, and the vanilla and almond extracts and whisk to combine. Slowly pour about 1 1/2 cups of the hot milk/half-and-half mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add in the rest of the hot milk and whisk to combine. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl and divide evenly among the 8 ramekins. Discard solids.
Transfer ramekins to a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with foil and bake until the custard has barely set (a knife inserted halfway between the edge and the center should come out clean), 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the water bath, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. DO AHEAD: The flans can be made ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.
Just before serving, run a small thin knife around each flan, then invert onto small plates and serve.
Mango Lime Ice
If ripe mangoes are not available, frozen fruit is acceptable-but stay away from the canned stuff.
• 4 large mangoes (about 3 1/2 pounds total), peeled and coarsely chopped
• Zest of 1 orange
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the mangoes, orange zest, sugar, lime juice, and 1 cup water. Process until the mixture is smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl then press gently on and discard any solids (there will be about 3 cups syrup). Transfer to a freezer-safe dish, cover with plastic, and freeze until the mixture is firm 2 inches in from the sides, about 2 hours. Scrape into a food processor and process until the mixture is slushy. Repeat the freezing and processing 2 more times, then freeze for at least 1 hour before serving. DO AHEAD: The ice can be made ahead and stored in the freezer, well wrapped, up to 2 weeks.
More from Epicurious.com:
• One-Dish Wonders: Our Favorite Casserole Recipes
• Healthy Recipes for Spring
• Blue-Ribbon Chicken Recipes
• How to Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden
by Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious.com