It wasn’t until recently that, to my very own surprise, I was referred to as an artist. Let me just say that I cannot draw, paint, or sculpt, and my artistic eye does not go much further than what my art-loving mother has taught me. So how could I possibly be called an artist? Something I had never realized before is that people in the culinary world, namely chefs, are considered an integral part of the art world. It takes a very artistically skilled and creative mind to keep the palate intrigued and diners coming back for more. From the presentation to the actual ingredients used in a dish, a chef needs to be artfully inspired to create and surprise diners. I’ve decided to look back at some of history’s most recognizable paintings and explore how they have inspired me in the kitchen.
White Stripe. Mark Rothko, 1958 and the raspberry macaron
The two raspberry colored blocks sandwiching what looks like a cream ganache filling hit me as a raspberry macaron right away. It wasn’t difficult to imagine this delicious little French pastry after this Rothko masterpiece.
Ingredients [Yields: 16 macarons]
3 egg whites
200g powdered sugar
120g ground almonds
½ teaspoon raspberry extract
pink food coloring
60ml heavy cream
150g white chocolate
6 fresh raspberries
For the macarons shells, preheat the oven to 300˚F, and line the base of a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper. Make sure the ground almonds are as fine as possible by passing them through a spice grinder. Mix the ground almonds with the sifted powdered sugar and set aside. Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until soft peeks have formed, Add the regular sugar, while whipping until stiff peaks form and the meringue comes together. Add the extract and a dash of food coloring (careful because colorings tend to be very strong) until combined. Then by hand, fold in the powdered sugar and almond mixture in batches of three. Make sure the mixture is slightly runny and forms a triangle when the spatula is held up. Do not overwork or the macarons will not hold their shape. Next, place the mixture in a piping bag fitted with a ½ inch tip, and pipe 4 cm circles on the baking sheet. The most important part of the macaron making process is allowing the cookies to rest for at least 30 minutes before placing in the oven, until they have formed a shell that can be felt with your finger. Bake for about 12-18 minutes, rotating once. For the filling, make a ganache by boiling the cream and pouring it over the white chocolate and incorporating the finely cut raspberry pieces. Once cool, pipe the filling into one half of the shell and close with another, forming a miniature sandwich. Tip: although the macarons can be eaten right away, they obtain their best flavor one or two days after. This allows the flavors and ingredients to marry and mature.
Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 and Lemon Meringues
The movement of the fluffy clouds reminds me of the delicate texture of meringue. The yellow circles that imitate the reflection of the starlight make the perfect and classic lemon meringue come to life.
Ingredients [Yields: 15 meringues]
3 egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 230˚F. In a saucepan place the sugar with just enough water to make wet sand. Add the lemon zest and juice, and allow to boil. Once the mixture reaches 240˚F, in an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high speed to form soft peeks. Then, once the sugar mixture reaches 250˚F, slowly pour the sugar into the mixer while the mixer is running. Allow the mixer to run on high until the bowl feels cool and the meringues have formed stiff peaks. Place the mixture into a piping bag with a star tip and form 4 cm meringues in a circular motion. Bake for about an hour or until ready.
Las Meninas. Diego Velázquez, 1656 and madeleines
In this case, the dessert in mind is not so obvious. This painting is a self-portrait of the artist while he paints the heir to the Spanish throne: Infanta Maragarita Teresa of Spain, the royal princess, and her entourage in the Palace. In this case the casual scene and color palate of the main character reminded me of a light, sweet, and beautiful little French treat, the madeleine; a cookie that was initially prepared for the upper classes, surely fit for a royal princess.
Ingredients [Yields: 20 cookies]
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup flour
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter melted
¼ teaspoon of Salt
Butter and lightly flour a specialty madeleine mold and preheat the oven to 375˚F. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment mix, at medium speed, the eggs and the sugar until the sugar is well dissolved. Add the vanilla extract, lemon peel, and salt. Then, slowly incorporate the flour in two increments, making sure not to over work the mixture. Add the melted and cooled butter while the mixer is running and mix just until well incorporated. Spoon onto madeleine mold and bake for about 15 minutes or until fluffy and lightly golden. ■