Though Central Market's Chocolate Festival is technically over, sweet memories lived on last week as My Table's Pastry Chef of the Year, Ruben Ortega, taught a packed classroom the ins and outs of cooking with chocolate. Ruben has worked at several Houston restaurant institutions, including most notably Backstreet Café and Hugo's.
In fact, Ruben is Chef Hugo Ortega's brother, and began the class by explaining that although the two usually teach together, Ruben was flying solo that night while Hugo was at home sick. "I miss him already... but not really," Ruben laughed, endearing himself to the entire class with his self-deprecating, yet simultaneously confident, charm.
On the menu for tonight's class was a wide range of desserts ranging from fancy and complex to simple and homey. Things started off with an elegant dish of Bosc pears poached in red wine, served on top of a chocolate cream sauce and sprinkled with a delightfully crunchy orange-almond streusel. Not only was this dish remarkably delicious, but it was also easily manageable for the home cook. Plus the individual recipes, such as the chocolate cream sauce below, could easily be used in other dishes.
Next was a beautifully simple chocolate and raspberry tart; straightforward and yet still decadent and impressive. Then things really turned fun as we made homemade raspberry marshmallows which were then studded within a sinfully rich chocolate pudding. The marshmallows were tricky, but could definitely serve as a fun experiment on a rainy weekend afternoon.
The showstopper of the night was Ruben's last recipe: milk chocolate crème brulee with orange-cardamom cream. The inspiration for this silky wonder came from a customer who had eaten a chocolaty, caramel-based crème brulee in Chicago and begged Ruben to try and recreate it. I have no idea how close this version is to the original, and I don't care. This one is amazing. I'd add it to Amber Ambrose's list of desserts that are actually better than sex.
Sorry guys, but it's true.
Here is the recipe for Ruben's chocolate cream sauce. This riff on a classic ganache is an excellent basic recipe to have in your repertoire, and pairs fantastically with poached pears, or could be drizzled over cake or ice cream.
- 1 ¼ c heavy cream
- 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
- ¼ c corn syrup
- 2 c semisweet chocolate, cut in pieces
- ½ stick unsalted butter, cut in cubes
- 2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
In medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, sugar, and corn syrup. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate, butter and liqueur and stir to combine until shiny and smooth. (Ruben notes here to use a spatula to stir, not a whisk as this creates bubbles).
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.