Cook the Books – Lamingtons and Lemon Tart

November 22, 2016
Cook the Books – Lamingtons and Lemon Tart

In this week's practical cookbook review, David Parker tackles a spectacular dessert from "modern sweet maestro" Darren Purchese's Lamingtons and Lemon Tart.

Lamingtons and Lemon Tart is a somewhat unassuming name for a cookbook from “a modern sweets maestro”. Darren Purchese is a British pastry chef living in Australia and you might recognise him as being a regular guest on Australian Masterchef, if you're into that sort of thing.

Darren admits people usually just want to see him make something incredibly difficult and showy but often he prefers to eat and cook slightly more humbly, which is what much of this latest cookbook offers. So maybe I should've tried to make the lamingtons, or the lemon tart, perhaps even the spiced apple cake and vanilla custard, or a salted caramel chocolate cake... But toward the back of the book there is a selection of pretty fancy-looking desserts and I just can't resist a fancy-looking dessert. 

Actually the Chocolate Mousse with Violet Ice Cream, Honeycomb and Aero I chose was the first page I opened the book to – it's just beautiful, I couldn't think of anything else after I had seen it. Making the chocolate aero intrigued me too...

I've wanted a cream whipper for a while, I keep seeing people use them for making foams and other cool things that look like they'd be pretty easy if I had one and I figured why not just go for it! So after a little hunt around I found a decently priced cream whipper and picked it up no worries. Then I had to find the NOS cartridges. After asking some friends who would know about that sort of thing, I managed to find somewhere that kept it in stock. I asked the man behind the counter and he showed me two options: “This one is the good one and this one is the cheaper one.” I asked which was better for whipping cream with and he shrugged his shoulders, so I went with the good one in case it was the good one because it was better for whipping cream or, in my case, making chocolate aero.

To make the aero I needed to melt chocolate with cocoa butter. I think cocoa butter is considered a "health" food so you can find it in the "health" section of good supermarkets or health stores. After melting I transferred the chocolate to the cream whipper, charged the whipper with NOS cartridges and sprayed into a container, already in the freezer to solidify the aerated chocolate. What I wasn't expecting was little drips of chocolate to be sprayed all over the freezer, the floor, the cabinets, and myself. Making the aero seemed pretty simple and I figured maybe this would be a cool trick to impress people with... but considering the mess, I think I might see what else this cream whipper can do.

With the aero chilling, I moved on to making the honeycomb. Again it wasn't too tricky a process, I heated honey, glucose, sugar and water in a saucepan until it reached a blistering 155°C then added baking soda and whisked it quickly while it rapidly expanded. Then I poured it into a baking tray I had lined with baking paper.

Because I was cooking this to serve at a dinner for 10, I was doubling the recipes. However, in hindsight, I needn't have doubled the honeycomb or aero, as I eventually had to throw out the huge container full of honeycomb that sat around the house for a couple of weeks. The aero I ate, but I probably didn't need to eat about 700g of chocolate aero...

On to the ice cream: I heated milk and cream in a saucepan until they came to simmer and removed it from the heat. Then I beat egg yolks with sugar until they turned thick and creamy. I poured a third of the milk on to the egg yolks and whisked to combine before pouring this mixture back into the saucepan of milk and cream to cook slowly until it came to a temperature of 82°C. Then I cooled this rapidly by pouring the custard into a bowl that was floating in an ice bath. When the ice in the bath had melted I put the bowl into the fridge to continue cooling.

When it was cool, I added the violet essence little by little – it was hard to tell how it would taste when frozen so I put in a little extra as I find freezing tends to make flavours a little milder. In hindsight, I shouldn't have worried. I think I could've got away with a slightly more subtle violet flavour. I also added the violet colour. I find the eggs we get from our chickens have a bit of a darker yellow than most eggs so I had to make the violet colour a little darker than I would've liked. But it I think it still looked pretty stunning.

Now I know I said that an ice cream maker is probably a waste of cupboard space and I gloated about how smart I was not to buy one and how I just borrow them from friends... well, this is the fourth time in the past year I've needed to borrow one so I figured it was time to buy one. Now I too have a stupid ice cream maker in the cupboard, right next to a cream whipper – I hope you're all happy. I put the custard into the ice cream maker and let it do its thing.

Then for the mousse I heated cream, milk, seeds from a vanilla pod and sugar in a saucepan until they came to a boil. Then I poured a third of the cream mixture over egg yolks and whisked together well, then I returned the egg yolks and cream mixture back to the saucepan and cooked until it reached 82 degrees. Then I strained the custard into a bowl with the chocolate and soaked gelatine then whisked well to disolve the gelatine. Then I gently folded the chocolate custard through a bowl of whipped cream before placing the mousse in the fridge.

To serve, I placed a scoop of mousse on a plate, dusted it with dutch cocoa powder and then topped with shards of the aero, a scoop of ice cream and sprinkled the honeycomb on top.

The ice cream was pretty amazing, unlike any other ice cream I've tasted before. I was really happy with the texture and mouthfeel of it (especially considering this was the first time I'd used my new ice cream maker) but the flavour was really unusual, perfumed and sweet but refreshing. It helped balance out the rich dark chocolate mousse, dark chocolate aero and dutch cocoa powder. They certainly were decadent and chocolatey. The crunch from honeycomb was also a really nice textural addition and, fortunately, the rest of the dish wasn't overly sweet so they seemed in good balance. My guests really enjoyed it and having the elements made in advance, it was really easy to serve up for 10 people.

The Book Cooked
Level of expertise required: While I had to buy some specialist equipment for this recipe, the majority of steps weren't that difficult for what ended up looking like a super fancy dessert. Plus, to be fair to the book, the majority of recipes aren't as difficult as this one... which, really, wasn't that hard.
How many trips to the supermarket required? Fortunately, I managed to find violet essence at a cake supplies store right near my work and violet colouring at a kitchen store I was in, when looking at cream whippers. Otherwise everything else was in the cupboard or at the supermarket and it looks like most of the ingredients in the book would be pretty easy to find – there's nothing too crazy.
How closely did your dishes resemble those in the book?  I think I'd give my rendition of the dessert maybe a 7/10? I had to get a photo before my friends showed up for dinner so I maybe rushed it a little and my ice cream hadn't set up properly so it isn't a pretty scoop – sorry! I had planned to try it again later but I ended up cutting my finger badly and visiting A&E!! The bowls I made up for my friends later that night looked slightly better than the one pictured; trust me. I think it still looked good. However, Darren is after-all a professional pastry chef and while he keeps it mostly pretty simple, there are a few cheffy flairs and the presentation in the book is pretty sharp (don't show anyone the picture in the book and you'll be fine).
Ease of readingVery easy – my one complaint was the recipe didn't specify how big a container I'd need to spray my aero into. But I quickly figured that out. Everything else was clearly explained.
Pretty on the coffee table or designed to be battered through overuse? Not to say this book isn't pretty, nor that it would it be out of place on a coffee table, but I would say this is a really usable cookbook and with plenty of inspiring, beautiful, tasty and achievable recipes I don't know why you wouldn't use this over and over.