Sweet Somethings

The executive chef at the Kauffman shares her love of baking desserts that harken to the best of summer

Laura Comer, executive chef at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

 

In my house, there’s no such thing as a store-bought piecrust.

This goes back to when I was growing up, and it runs generations in my family. My mother is a great baker, and everything in our house was homemade. Pop-Tarts and Taco Bell and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese—I didn’t taste those things until I was well into my teenage years.

Along with that tradition of making food from scratch, my family sat down at the dinner table and had all our meals together. While busy schedules mean that’s not always possible in my house today, I carry forward the tradition with homemade desserts for any type of special occasion.

I don’t cook much at home, but I bake a lot. Pastry was my first love. If I hadn’t gotten started in cooking as a cake decorator in high school, I wouldn’t have gone on to culinary school and I wouldn’t be an executive chef today. My personal recipe book is the result of 15 years of collecting recipes, and there are a lot of them. They live in a 6-inch binder that’s a prized possession.

In my cooking at the Dining Experience, I like to take these traditional dishes and ideas, and elevate them. Whether it’s the chicken and waffle entrée from our winter menu or the carrot cake ice cream sandwich on the summer menu—it’s still those flavors that we recognize and remember and love. Everything about cooking is very personal, from each ingredient we choose to each dish that ultimately goes on a menu. It gives a great sense of pride to be putting your heart on the plate.

The recipes I’ve included here—a lemon meringue tart, coconut cream cake, strawberry shortcake, and chocolate cheesecake—are inspired by my love of the homemade desserts from Midwestern and Southern cooking. They represent family favorites and feature the bright flavors of summer. Coconut was a top choice for my mom and me. Lemon meringue was my dad’s and my favorite. Strawberry shortcake is just a classic Midwestern summertime dish.

These dishes benefit from a few tips: always keep room temperature butter, use fresh fruit and fresh-squeezed juices, and don’t cheat the ingredients.

These are traditional things done in a beautiful way, and that’s my favorite way to make desserts. To do something elegant and special for your family—nothing says that quite like desserts. They scream celebration, whether it’s for a birthday or picnic.

Side dish

Laura Comer is the executive chef at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. She oversees all culinary operations for The Kauffman Center Dining Experience and for events at the venue. Her professional background includes time at Kansas City establishments including Bluestem, 40 Sardines, Justus Drugstore, Trezo Mare and Trezo Vino, Treat America, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from the UMKC Conservatory and an Associate of Science in Culinary Arts and Le Cordon Bleu Diploma from the California School of Culinary Arts.

French Lemon Tartlets
Yields 12 – 5-inch Tarts

Pâte Sucrée
1    pound unsalted butter, softened
8    ounces sugar
3    egg yolks
1    egg
3    cups cake flour
3    egg whites

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition. Sift cake flour, then add to butter mixture. Mix on low until combined. Wrap dough and chill for at last 30 minutes.

To roll: Dust counter with additional flour and roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a ring cutter, cut out 6-inch circles and line 5-inch tart pans. Chill for an additional 30 minutes to best hold shape. While chilling, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line shells with pie weights, (I line the shells with plastic wrap and fill with dried beans). Bake shells for 10 minutes, remove weights, then bake another 5 minutes until lightly golden. Brush tart shells with egg white, then return to the oven 5 more minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, unmold and finish cooling.

Lemon Curd
6    eggs
6    yolks
1¾    cups sugar
1¾    cups fresh squeezed lemon juice
4    ounces unsalted butter

Set up a double boiler: use a saucepot that will fit a bowl on top. Fill the saucepot with 1-2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. In the bowl, combine eggs, yolks, sugar, and lemon juice, whisking until well combined. Place on top of the simmering saucepot. Let cook until thickened (pudding consistency), stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Add butter and whisk until melted. Pour curd into prepared tart shells. Cover and chill until set.

Meringue
3    cups sugar
1½    cups egg whites

Set up the double boiler. Combine whites and sugar in a bowl, whisking until well combined. Place bowl on double boiler, whisking occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and pour the white mixture into a mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Whip the mixture until thick and fluffy, reaching a stiff peak. Place meringue in a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch round piping tip. Cover the lemon tarts with meringue and torch with a blowtorch (or crème brûlée torch) until golden.

Coconut Cream Cake
Yields 3 layer 9-inch cake

Coconut Cake
8    eggs, separated
12    ounces unsalted butter, softened
3    cups sugar
3    cups cake flour
1½    teaspoons baking soda
¾    teaspoon salt
1½    cups buttermilk
1    cup flake coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip whites to soft peaks. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add yolks to butter mixture, combining well.

Sift dry ingredients together. Add in increments to butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk in this order: flour mix, buttermilk, flour mix, buttermilk, flour mix. Gently fold in egg whites until combined. Fold in coconut. Divide batter between the 3 prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely and remove from cake pans.

Coconut Cream
11/4    cups heavy cream
11/4    cups whole milk
1    cup sugar
1/4    teaspoon salt
4    egg yolks
4    tablespoons cornstarch
1    cup flake coconut

Combine cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepot. Place over medium high and scald (bring it just up to a temperature right before it boils). Remove from heat. In a separate bowl combine yolks and cornstarch. Temper in the hot milk mixture. Return to stove on low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Add butter and whisk until combined. Stir in coconut. Cover tightly and chill until set.

Swiss Buttercream
3    cups sugar
1½    cups egg whites
21/4    pounds unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1    tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Set up a double boiler. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and whites, whisking until well combined. Place on double boiler. Cook until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove bowl from heat and pour into a mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Whip on high until light and fluffy, and meringue is forming stiff peaks.

Place mixer on medium speed. Gradually add pieces of butter, making sure they are getting whipped into meringue thoroughly. Once all butter is incorporated, add vanilla extract and whip thoroughly. Leave at room temperature until ready to use. (Buttercream holds for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, tightly covered. To use after being chilled, bring back to room temperature and whip thoroughly).

To Assemble Cake
2    cups flake coconut

Level cakes as needed. Place one cake on cake plate. Fill piping bag (fitted with a ½-inch round tip) with buttercream. Pipe a ring around the perimeter of the first cake. Fill ring with coconut cream. Repeat with second layer then place remaining layer on top. Frost entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. Chill to set (30 minutes in freezer or 1 hour in refrigerator). This is the crumb coat. Coat the cake with another layer of buttercream, then coat entire cake with flake coconut. Chill until ready to serve.

Strawberry Shortcakes
Yields 12 3-inch shortcakes

Shortcakes
20    ounces all-purpose flour
4    teaspoons baking powder
½    teaspoon salt
3    ounces sugar
½    pound ice-cold butter, cubed
3    ounces ice-cold buttermilk
3    ounces ice-cold whole milk
2    eggs
1/4    cup heavy cream
Sanding sugar or turbinado sugar to dust tops

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. (You want the small pieces of cold butter intact, they will help create the rise in the shortcakes.) Combine buttermilk, milk, and eggs. Add to dry mixture and mix with pastry blender, then hands dusted with flour, just until a dough forms. Be careful not to overmix! Dust a surface and rolling pin with flour, then roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Use a 3-inch ring cutter (biscuit cutter) to cut out shortcakes. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and chill for at last 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush cream on shortcakes, and sprinkle with sanding sugar, or turbinado sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden. Cool completely.

Whipped Cream
1    quart heavy whipping cream
½    cup powdered sugar, sifted
1    tablespoon pure vanilla extract

In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, combine all ingredients and whip on medium high to medium peaks (the whipped cream will loosely hold shape). Remove from mixer and whip by hand until stiff peaks form (this prevents over whipping and curdling the cream). Chill.

Macerated Strawberries
2    pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
½    cup sugar
1    lemon, zested
8    leaves fresh mint, thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and let sit for at least 1 hour.

To assemble
Split shortcakes in half horizontally. Place a heaping spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom half of the shortcake. Top with a heaping spoon of strawberries. Place other half of shortcake on top, sugar side up. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Cheesecake
Yields one 10-inch cheesecake

Crust
2    cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (grind in a food processor)
6    ounces unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan, mix together crumbs and melted butter. Press into bottom and sides of pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool and set aside.

Filling
2½    pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1    cup sugar
3    tablespoons all-purpose flour
1    tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1    cup sour cream
4    eggs
10    ounces 65 percent dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth and well blended. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides, then cream again until there are no lumps. Add the sour cream, mixing until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Fold in melted chocolate, and blend in completely. Pour mixture over baked crust. Place in a large pan and fill the outer pan up halfway with boiling water. Bake at 325 degrees for 75 minutes or until center is set (it can jiggle, almost a Jell-O consistency if you gently tap the pan). Remove cheesecake from water bath and cool completely, 4 hours up to overnight before serving. Loosen sides by running a knife around the edge, then remove sides of springform pan. Slice with a sharp knife dipped in hot water and serve. Optional

Toppings: whipped cream, fudge sauce

Fudge Sauce
½    cup heavy cream
6    tablespoons corn syrup
1/4    cup brown sugar
3    tablespoons cocoa powder
Pinch salt
4½    ounces dark chocolate (65 percent works well)
1    ounce unsalted butter
½    teaspoon vanilla

Combine cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a heavy saucepot and bring to just a simmer, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate and butter until melted, then add vanilla. Strain if needed, and chill to set.

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